Fires of Illyria

Ria's Assignment

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Bruegon has picked up Andruil and escaped through the secret stair case. Ria is filled with newfound power. Magma pours out of the breach and pools harmlessly at her feet.

Illyria looks to Ria and Lohr and asks how they would like to test their new powers.

Lohr has an immediate answer. There is a town. The people of which are unhappy and the ruler is unkind. Lohr would like to overthrow it. He believes he could turn the citizenship into devout followers of Illyria. Illyria grants Lohr leave to pursue his plans. The great being of fire looks to Ria.

“What is it you desire, Ria Cragsteel?”

Ria concentrates on the ground below her. Her eyes narrow on the magma, and on her goals. “Ria need do two things…Ria need her baby. Ria need protect Ridgefang.”

Illyria speaks to her in the hissing crackling language of the fire elementals. The noises sound foreign and strange, yet she understands their meaning clearly. "Ridgefang is under my protection now. Any who cross your clan shall burn for their transgressions. You need not fear. Your loyalty is their safety. You have leave to find your child. Where is your child located? “

Ria gives a slight squirm. Hearing that Ridgefang is under Illyria’s protection is what she wished, but it sits uneasy in her stomach. She gives a deep breath.

“Vua in Athame. Ria leave her with Queen.”

“Ah. The elven queen. She has the potential to become an obstacle. While in the city…should the opportunity present itself, eliminate the Queen. You will be outnumbered. Tread carefully. The Queen will not yet know you are no longer her ally. Use this to your advantage.”

Lohr has offered to teleport Ria to the remnants of the Stormcrow. A silent, cloaked assassiny looking fellow has come to stand by Lohr.

Ria’s stomach once again becomes uneasy at the thought of killing the Queen, one who has given Ria so many opportunities to send mercenaries to Ridgefang to break the Green Tide. Someone she’s been helping for several years. Ridgefang comes first.

“Ria will do so. Ria accept teleport.”

While Lohr talks to his new assassin friend, Grigori pulls Ria aside.

“Take this with you,” he says.

He hands her a brazier containing cinders. It has the words “Surgere et ardebit” carved into it.

“You light this, speak the words on it and a powerful elemental will be called to aid you. It will only work once, so use it wisely.”

Ria’s face crinkles as she sees Grigori. She takes the brazier, and doesn’t say a word.

Grigori speaks quietly. “You need to be careful now. It will not be the success or failure by which Illyria judges you, but by your intent. I know what it is like to lose a child. Remember that you have one thing the Queen will want back: Starcleaver. Use it as a bargaining chip if you must. It is not important to us. And yes, the Queen will not know you now serve Illyria, but your eyes—they burn like embers. Same as mine. And Illyria’s power courses through you. They may sense it.”

Lohr waits for Ria.

Ria is slightly taken back by Grigori’s words, not expecting empathy from someone she’s always painted as a force of destruction. “Ria understands. Ria want to speak to you after this.” Ria walks over to where Lohr is and nods for him to begin the teleportation spell.

In the blink of an eye they are standing outside the burned out husk of the Stormcrow. Lohr tells Ria “Good luck” and is gone a moment later. Those may be the last words Lohr ever speaks to her. The streets seem nearly deserted as the sun sets.
Ria examines what she once called the closest thing to ‘home’ for a few minutes, and begins to walk over to an Athame guard.

“What can I help you with ma’am?” the guard asks.

“Ria need to speak with Queen Vallana, it about recent assault on Kilkry!”

“Hmm. Wasn’t that assualt happening today? I don’t have access to the Queen and the Sword is away. I suppose I could take you to my Captain. Let him decide if you warrant an audience. "

Ria nods, “This good! Take Ria to Captain!”

“Alright, follow me.”

Ria follows the guard to the barracks outside the castle walls. He goes and finds his captain, who introduces himself as Captain Howel.

“My guard said you had important news for the Queen?”

Ria does a salute, and introduces herself. “Ria Cragsteel needs to speak to Queen about assault! Situation am not favorable! Need to speak to Queen about important things!”

“I’ll the Queen know your here and wish to speak with her. It’s late though.”

The Captain disappears for about 15 minutes before returning. “Alright. Queen Vallana will see you. Follow me.”

Ria nods, and follows in suit of Captain Howel.
Captain Howel leads her through the castle, now cleaned from the assault.

He leads her to the Queen’s War room. The Queen seems exhausted. Her Shield stands steadfast beside her. Her owl perches sleepily on her chair. She stands from her chair.

Ria can see that the Shield has one hand on the Queen’s upper back. The other on her sword hilt (which isn’t too out of the ordinary). Ria can tell the Shield seems unsettled.

“Ria, why are you back already? What has happened?” The Queen asks her.

Ria kneels before the Queen. “Ria have news from Assault! Unsuccessful fight, Illyria am in our lands!”

The Queen sighs. “That is what I had feared. Then so be it. We are at war. Illyria must be stopped. What of the rest of your group? And the Princess and my Sword?”

“Lohr am with Illyria. Bruegon escaped, me not know where. Sword and Princess am safe.” While still kneeling Ria questions “Am Vua safe?”

“Lohr is with Illyria? As in allied? And what did Bruegon escape from? Please start from the beginning. And yes, of course, Vua is safe.”

Ria takes a deep breath.

“Stormcrows go and fight forces outside wall with Sword. Tower we go in stopped by big fire thing. We fight through streets and big but not as big fire things and lose many people to fire things. We climb town wall and evade ANOTHER big fire thing. Stormcrows and Sword fight Arctus and Leptus. We make way into escape path, and find Grigori and mean prince guy! We fight them, Grigori very much stronger now…took on Sword and me. Bruegon try and stop prince from summoning Illyria, Ria broke off from fight to help Bruegon… we failed. Lohr was stopped early and fight, by assassin! Assassin took me out too…”

She now gets a little quieter. “Illyria summoned, and give spare lives. Lohr is really strong now… Illyria let Bruegon and Sword get out. Ria…made it out with her life.”

“How have you returned so quickly? And why are you alone?”
“Before Lohr leave, he make portal for me, to have everyone know Illyria back. That you need to know before she come here.”
“You’re saying Lohr is with Illyria now? But he was the one who sent you here? What aren’t you telling me Ria. "

“Ria…made deal.” She slams her fist on the ground, and looks at Queen Vallana in the eyes.

“Ria can’t lie to Queen anymore. Queen help Ria, Queen needs to know truth.”

Ria’s eyes welt, yet flicker at the same time.

The Shield has moved in front of the Queen, sword drawn.

“Ria, you will regret this. Stand down.”

“Illyria promise Ria that Ridgefang be safe. Illyria give Ria powers to stop Green Tide. Please, give Ria Vua, I give you Starcleaver, Ria Promise.” Ria points to Starcleaver.“Ria not want fight. Ria want Vua safe.”

“All you want is your child to be safe? You think she will be safe with you? With Illyria? Nowhere is safe now. You’ve committed treason against all the free-willed people of Sarulia. This? This is the path you’ve chosen?”

“Ria want Ridgefang to be safe, as well as Vua! You not want to protect those you care about? Ria’s protected her lands! Ria can’t win against Illyria then, Ria gives Ridgefang the chance to live! Ria sorry, but it not too late! Work with Illyria! Find way to be safe! …Please…”

“Subjecting my people to the tyranny of that beast would not be protecting them. I will never submit. Illyria is the only reason your people even face the dangerous of the wilds. Illyria was the one that drove the people out of their homes. That was the horror of Illyria. People faced dying in mass in the wilds rather than face it. By allying with that beast you have made yourself an enemy of the Emerald forest. As a recognition of all you have done for me, you make take your child and leave with your life. If you ever set foot with my lands again, you will not be shown the same mercy again. Vua will be brought to a rendezvous point outside the city, just south of the bridge. You will take Vua and leave Starcleaver. Are these terms acceptable?”

A hard swallow can be heard from Ria. She should have paid more attention to her Elders and listened to their tales. She shouldn’t have trained all this time for nothing. Ria can’t help but feel like she’s betrayed everyone and herself.

“Ria accepts.”

Captain Howel reappears as if on cue.

Queen Vallana speaks to him: “Escort this woman out of the city under guard. She is to be considered an enemy of the forest, but is not to be harmed. Take her to the Galasnian Tree and wait there.”

“Yes, your majesty.” Howel motions for you to walk in front of him.

Defeated, Ria walks with her head hung, and respects Howel’s orders.

Concerned that any motion beyond going to the Galasnian tree will be misconstrued as an attempt to disrespect that order, Ria follows all of Howel’s instructions.

Howel picks up a half-dozen additional guards and takes Ria to the Galasnian tree.

About a half hour later, a second party approaches. Vua is with them. They demand Ria lay down Starcleaver and walk a dozen paces backwards. They when then let Vua come to her.

Ria sets down Starcleaver, walks the dozen paces backwards, and anxiously awaits her child.

As promised, Vua is free to go to you. Ria can see she has a backpack. As Vua reaches her, a soldier approaches Starcleaver and picks it up.

Ria embraces Vua. “Ria missed you.”
Vua is happy to see her mother as well. She has been stocked with several weeks’ worth of provisions.

Ria heads off to Ridgefang, the eyes of the forest upon her the entire way,

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Bruegon's New Path

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With Andruil over his shoulder Bruegon ran up the stairs of the secret passage. Within a few moments he had reached the top where the bodies of Arctos and Leptus lay, as well as the ashes of the fire elementals.

Bruegon paused for a moment, catching his breath and checking to see if Andruil has gained consciousness.

She hadn’t, but her breathing was steady and she seems to have stopped bleeding.
Bruegon nodded to himself at this comfort – small in the wake of what has just happened, but a comfort nonetheless – and continued towards the road outside Halicus with as much haste as he could muster.

He exited the castle. The large fire elemental that harassed him earlier still stands. It looks to Bruegon and takes a step back. It does not stand between him and the open courtyard gate.

Bruegon hesitated nervously, assuming a trap for a brief moment thanks to the caution that comes with a life of adventuring. He gathered his resolve quickly, however, and passed the elemental with a quick, beady glance, and continued out of the courtyard

The elemental made no move to attack him and as he neared the gate he saw the still forms of Amelia and Arkay.

Bruegon went to check on them, unsure he could carry all three, but willing to try if need be.
He checked for signs of life, finding none on Arkay. Amelia had a pulse. But just barely.
Bruegon tried to give some of his life to Arkay and Amelia, with the help of his ring.

Amelia stirred. “What happened?” she asks. “Did you stop them?”

Arkay remained still and lifeless.

Bruegon shook his head sadly. “No. No, I didn’t. I…couldn’t.” He looked back over his shoulder. “I don’t think they’re outright pursuing us, but it would be wise for us to retreat from here sooner than later.”

“…I…I have to take Arkay back,” was all Amelia replied. She quietly picked up Arkay and nod to Bruegon that she was ready to go.

“Where are we going? I doubt we can get back over the wall to the siege tower. Not with them.” She motions to Andruil and Arkay. “And the siege tower might not even still be standing.”

“I understand. But I don’t think we need to worry about getting over the wall. The enemy…they seem to want to let us leave. A cruel mercy, of the idea that they want to see us crushed a later time.”

“Very well. To the main gate then?”

“Yes. Let’s get out of here.”

As the made their way across the open area around the castle, they saw Kristoff, crawling away.

Bruegon looked to Amelia as they approach Kristoff. “What do you think we should do? I’m not sure we can carry him as well…”

“I can drag him if need be. We can’t leave him behind.”

Bruegon nodded. “You’re right. Let me see if I can pick him up.” Kristoff did not struggle as Bruegon hoisted him up onto his shoulder.

“Did we win? Is it safe?” asked Kristoff.

Bruegon answered his question the same as he answered Amelia’s. “No. We didn’t. And it’s not. It’s going to be a lot harder from now on.”

With Kristoff on one shoulder, Andruil on his other and Amelia carrying Arkay beside him, Bruegon lead the way to the city gates. Elementals and people dressed in black watch them leave.

Bruegon progressed forward, the only way he could. Now, he paid no mind to the Elementals and people watching them leave, couldn’t bear to.

Bruegon, while making their way out, said “Amelia, there’s something that bothers me. The smart thing to do would be to return to Athame and report to the Queen what has happened. But…while I was in there…Illyria threatened to destroy all the Forgehammers. I…I am honestly conflicted. I very much want to return to my people, see them to safety. But the urgency in reporting to Queen Vallana is mountainous.”

Amelia answered Bruegon’s concerns, “I must travel back to the Wulverton; to put Arkay to rest. I do not know much about your clan; but I would have faith in them. You are in no shape to travel, and I cannot take Arkay, Andruil and Kristoff back by myself.”
Amelia seemed concerned with the thought of Bruegon leaving her by herself; especially given her injuries.

Bruegon grew quiet for a moment. He understood Amelia’s words, and agreed with them, but his worries made him fearful to admit it. “You are right. I have not the strength for more hardship, and my people are resourceful, and my help is needed more immediately. I will not leave you and the others; lead on.”

Bruegon and Amelia reached the city gate, which now stood open. They exited the city and saw the carnage that littered the land outside the walls. Charred, unrecognizable bodies were scattered around. The huge fire elemental that was present earlier had vanished. They saw a few soldiers helping wounded from the field; but there are few wounded to be helped.

Bruegon looked to Amelia. “Should we regroup with the rest, and make our way back together? Or make our way as we are, and head to Athame with as much speed as possible after burying Arkay?”

“The rest of the soldiers will likely regroup at the forward camp. They will need to know what has happened. We should head there,” was Amelia’s answer

Bruegon nodded. “Very well. I’ll see if I can find Kristoff one of the healers, if any are still alive. Hopefully he can be mended enough to walk himself. I may need to carry Andruil the whole way, though.”

They met up with four other soldiers making their way back to the forward camp. Bruegon could tell from their demeanor that the battle did not go well for them. One was carrying a clearly dead man across his shoulders; he did not meet anyone’s eyes and stared blankly at the ground. One was leading a riderless horse.

Upon seeing them, Bruegon was unsure of what to say; as if all ideas and thoughts of comfort had abandoned him, he struggled to find any words that would brighten the shadow looming over their spirits. “I…..I am sorry.” he says to them.

Kristoff asked to be put down and another soldier gave him a supportive shoulder to lean on. The soldier with the horse offered to let either Arkay or Andruil be on the horse. Amelia politely declined, preferring to carry her friend the whole way.

Bruegon considered putting Andruil on the horse, but declined as well, offering to let one of the other wounded ride instead. He still had the strength in him to carry Andruil, the whole way if need be, and he was almost certain the others did not share his reserves of fortitude. Whatever can be done for others, he thought, must be done—too much has been lost to afford otherwise.

Kristoff got up on the horse, since no one else seemed willing to.

Bruegon, now free from both carrying a second body and the haste of escaping that captivated him before, shifted Andruil so that he may carry her more comfortably.
“Let’s continue on our way, then. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover before we see Athame again, and much to do once we get there.”

They make it back to the forward camp and Kristoff thanked Bruegon for helping him escape as he went to the healers’ tent. Amelia went to make arrangements for Arkay’s body.
Bruegon decided to take Andruil to the healers’, then quickly proceeded to look for the Princess. He found her in one of the command tents.

She seemed surprised to see him. “Bruegon? You are back? What news do you bring?”
Bruegon bowed before the Princess. “I am, my lady. And I bring only grave news. Our quest was a failure. Illyria has risen in power and strength, and promises imminent destruction. My allies….were taken. We…..I failed you, your highness.”

Princess Alanis paled a bit at this news. “My city is truly lost then…there are preparations to be made. But in honesty, we thought this a likely outcome. Dark days face us Bruegon. We are likely facing a war that none of us could have prepared for.” She paused. “What do you mean your allies were taken? They are prisoners? How did you escape?”

“I have thought as such the entire trip here, Princess. But rest assured – however you or the Queen may have need of me, you have my unwavering help. I will not abandon this fight now that war approaches.

“As for Ria and Lohr, they were taken by persuasion, I am sad to say. While we faced Illyria and Grigori, I experienced a vision. In it, Illyria made great promises of incredible power and the realization of personal goals, in exchange for allegiance. Ria and Lohr certainly experienced similar visions, and though I staunchly denied Illyria and her offer without a doubt in my heart, they…were not so defiant.

They are now aligned with Illyria, my lady.

I myself only escaped for Illyria’s amusement. She allowed me to pass unscathed by her minions when we fled, promising that it was so I could live to see everything I care for undone by her."

The princess takes a moment to process what Bruegon had told her. "That is most disappointing. Unfortunately, those who would put power above all else are not uncommon. I will have to send out several messages alerting our allies to their betrayal. "
She takes a rolled piece of paper and burns it. Ria’s will is engulfed in flame, as was Ria herself.

“Hopefully, Illyria will come to regret letting you live. You may go Bruegon, you may take a well-deserved rest. Unless you have something further to discuss?”

“Hopefully Illyria will regret many things in the days to come. But yes, I think I’ll rest a bit. Will we be returning to the Queen soon, though? I would very much like to speak with her.”

“I will be remaining here for some time yet. But you may have leave to return to the Queen as soon as you see fit. And what of the Queen’s Sword? Does she live?”

“Very well, and thank you. And yes, she does live, though she is weak at the moment. I carried her from Halicus myself, and I left her with the healers in the camp before finding you.”

“Good. She will likely leave for Athame as soon as she is able. You should travel together. It is hard to tell what new dangers we now face.”

“I will most certainly do that. One last thing, my Princess, if I may?”

“Please, speak your mind.”

“Ria and Lohr, in the battles to come…try to show them some mercy. I know they are the enemy now. And I know that we may very well need to kill them. And I know that the heat and havoc of war often do not afford mercy. But if at all possible…please try. It may seem as though they simply gave in to power, but if their vision was anything like mine, power itself was not the motivation for their betrayal. The promise of the safety of loved ones is….most captivating.”

“I know they were your friends, but I can make no such promise. Their fate is not up to me and they have chosen their path. But you should ask yourself if they would show you the same mercy that you would show them…but I suppose, that may be why you are here, and they are servants of the flame. "

Bruegon nods. “You are right. Their choice must carry with it the consequences. And you are right, they would likely not show me such mercy. But maybe that will be what separates us from Illyria in the end. Thank you for your time, my lady. If you have no need of help, I think I will take you up on that rest now. Though please, if you do need help with anything, feel free to wake me.”

Bruegon took his leave from Princess Alanis and walked back to the healers’ to check on Andruil’s condition. He is told that she will live, but needs her rest. The healers ask Bruegon to come back in the morning, if he need to speak with her. Being smited by a Blackguard is quite traumatic for a Paladin.

Bruegon understood completely, and promised to return in the morning. And, with that, he went to find a comfortable place for some much needed rest

Bruegon laid down to sleep, in the relative safety of the camp and fell asleep quickly, exhausted from the events of the day. His mind however, was restless.

He sees the mountain of the dwarves. Though it is not how he knows it to be. It seems younger. The rocks are scorched and heavily damaged. Soldiers and beings of fire surround the perimeter; their frustration evident. Smoke chokes the air and loud cracking booms echo through the mountains.

Within the mountain he sees a dwarven commander; Bruegon does not recognize him and his apparel is completely unfamiliar. He stands weary, but resolute, at a war table covered in maps and figures.

Someone brings him a message. “Morale falters, but we are still holding; we are still strong. And we have gotten word from the outside. An alliance has formed and promised aid; we just have to hold until they break the siege.”

The commander picks up a figure from the table and turns it over in his palm. “We will hold as long as we need too. Moradin willing, nothing shall break our mountain. “

Bruegon was now standing at the base of a different mountain. One he has have never seen before; one that climbs higher into the sky than anyone could see. The air was damp and the forest behind is filled with birdsong. In front of him was a long set of stairs that spans the base of the mountain and rises to a set of large stone doors standing ajar.
At the top of the stairs stood a dwarf in gleaming gold plate armor. A shield rested weightlessly on his arm; a Warhammer hanging at his side. His stern gaze fell upon Bruegon. Long black hair fell out from under his helmet and a magnificent black beard falls to his knees.

He turned from Bruegon and went inside the mountain.

Bruegon raced up the stairs in pursuit. There was no one there when he reached the top. Carved upon the ground was an anvil with a hammer overlaying it. The doors stood open.
Bruegon inspected the carving upon the ground. It was far from simple. The lines were carved with impossible precision. Bruegon recognized it as Moradin’s.

Bruegon stood in awe of the carving and its beauty and craft. Still, he was compelled further, and stepped inside.

He traveled through the winding corridors, always seeming to know which way to choose, letting his heart guide him.

He came to a door which lead back outside; into the hollowed out heart of the mountain. The mountain extends skyward in a circle around him. Torches lit the way with impossibly white light, as dim sunlight tried to find its way downward. A gentle slope of stairs lead upwards. Statues of dwarves lined each side of the stairs, three on each side; they held their warhammers straight out; crossing the path and blocking Bruegon’s way.

He could see the same dwarven figure from the stairs standing at the top. He stood beside a large, beautiful anvil. Behind him and the anvil was a large forge, filled with ethereal fire.

The path behind Bruegon had vanished, leaving nothing but a white abyss. Bruegon got the feeling that, if he so choose, he could walk into the light and leave this place.

Bruegon banished the thought of leaving this place – he is drawn to this, compelled to be here. He feels his place here in his heart, though he does not know quite why. He does not try to force his way past the guarding dwarven statues and their blocking warhammers. Instead, he looks to the Dwarven figure, fell slowly to his knees, bowed his head and asked “Am I worthy to approach?”

The dwarf at the top of the stairs spoke with a voice so thunderous it could split mountains. “Your worth is the reason you are here. Approach the first stone guards."

Bruegon is physically shaken and impressed with the magnitude of the voice that has addressed him. He stands to his feet, however, and approaches the first stone guards as instructed.

He comes to the first set of hammers blocking his path. Written upon the top hammer in glowing white dwarven letters reads “Uphold Order”.

“Shall you uphold the order and laws set forth, as long as they are just and fair? Even when they are inconvenient? And they will be inconvenient.“

Bruegon nodded. “I shall.”

Light raced along the statues holding the hammers and they raised their hammers upwards; allowing Bruegon to pass.

He came to the next set of hammers and these read “Maintain honor”.

Again he is asked a question, “Shall you live a life of honor and valor?”

“I shall, always.” Again, the statues allow him to pass.

The next hammer read, “Protect the Innocent”.

“Shall you do everything in your power to keep the innocent from harm? Putting the lives of others before your own?”

“Such has been my motivation for all my life. I swear to do so from now on as I ever have.”
The hammers lift and Bruegon stepped to the last set of hammers blocking his way.
“DESTROY THE WICKED” glows upon this last hammer.

“Above all else, do you swear to relentlessly hunt evil in all its forms? To root out darkness and restore the light? To stand against what others would flee from, and have no fear in your heart for you know Moradin stands at your back?
What say you Bruegon Forgehammer? The dwarf that stared into the fires of one who would be a god. Do you pledge yourself to me? To be the hammer that strikes down the wicked and the shield that keeps others from harm. To fight in my stead and protect our people? To protect all people?”

Bruegon stepped past the final statues, and raised his right fist to his heart in salute.
“I swear to fight against evil, wherever it shows whatever face it bears.
I swear to undo darkness, and bring your light to those that have none.
I swear to stand unyielding against whatever adversity may threaten myself or others, confident, fearless, and proud to stand with the strength of Moradin within and around me.
I pledge myself to you, Dwarf-Father Moradin, now and forever. I pledge to act as your hammer against the evils and wrongs of the world, and as your shield for the innocent and helpless. I pledge to fight and protect for you, for all Dwarves, and all who do not align themselves with evil.”

Moradin gave a slight smile under his beard as he beckoned Bruegon forward.
“Come, my child. Place your hand upon the anvil and affirm your choice. That you, Bruegon Forgehammer, accept the power of a Paladin of Moradin and all that that entails. Swear it here, upon which the first dwarves were forged. “

Bruegon stepped forward, unable to restrain the joyous smile that had taken over his face, rising up the steps, he glanced back and forth with awe at Moradin and the anvil. As he reached the top, he stood staring at the anvil.

“To touch the anvil the Dwarf-Father made us with…..there are no words for such an honor.”
Bruegon placed his hand reverently upon the anvil, and turned to Moradin.

“I swear to be a Paladin of Moradin, and accept the power and responsibility that comes with it.” Bruegon bowed his head before the Dwarf-Father. “I swear this with all my heart and soul.”

“There are few worthy of the calling, but there is greatness in you Bruegon. You have already shown me as much. Now, show me more.”

With Moradin’s final words, Bruegon awoke abruptly. It was morning. Gently flexing his hand, Bruegon savored the lingering feel of the anvil upon his hand.
“I promise to make you proud, Dwarf-Father.”

Bruegon stood and readied himself for the day, before making his way to the Healers.
He entered the healers’ tent and found Andruil. She was awake and donning her armor.
“Andruil! It is great comfort to see you on your feet and well again.”

“I hear I have you to thank for that. You saved my life. I am in your debt.”

“Ah, you owe me no debt. I could not leave you behind; Forgehammers do not abandon those in need. But, even if you choose to acknowledge such a debt, I’m sure you would have the chance to repay it soon enough. There are dark, hard times ahead, and I’m sure we’ll both be facing danger many times over in the days to come.”

“Yes. Princess Alanis briefed me earlier. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about your friends. Though I can’t say it surprises me that your wizard would be swayed by power; those who stand for nothing are easily tempted by the dark. Not you though. I can sense a change in you.”

“Thank you. Their betrayal is…difficult to bear. But, you are right. And methinks I may just have to summon the resolve to defeat them regardless, in light of recent understandings. For you are right. There is a change in me. As I rested, I had a vision. An incredible experience, where I witnessed dwarves I have never met nor known – yet were strangely familiar somehow – banding together in a time of struggle. Where I found myself before a great entrance, bearing the symbol of the all-mighty Dwarf-Father, and standing before a godly Dwarf and his anvil and forge. He spoke of resolutions to his cause, of loyalty and unwavering strength in furthering his light. He invited me to stand before him, and I swore to him my allegiance.

Moradin has charged me to be his Paladin, and I have accepted the responsibility proudly."
Andruil smiled. A sight Bruegon had not seen before. “I thought you carried yourself like someone with divine fire in their heart. It is a great honor to be called. It is a difficult path. But one with reward beyond measure. Tell me, the Princess said you wish to travel back to Athame. Is this still the case?”

“I do. I would very much like to speak with the Queen again and tell of her this news, and there is certainly much to prepare.”

“I too must travel back. The Queen will undoubtedly have need for me. Unless you have other business to attend, I say we depart within the hour.”

“I do not, I’m free to leave whenever you’re ready.”

Andruil and Bruegon made their preparations to travel back to Athame, and deliver their news in person.

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Lohr's First Misison for Illyria

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The Death of the Stormcrows Part 1 of 2
Illyria Rises and Friendships Fracture

Bruegon and Ria were sharing their tales around a table at the Stormcrow. They had both faced trying circumstances and were glad to share drinks with each other, which Gregory was happy to provide. It was getting late, when Lohr returned, but they were all happy enough to sit and drink for a while longer. Bruegon had relayed the news about the necromancer, who was certain that Illyria was going to be here soon, and when it arrived, no one would be safe. With new information about Illyria, and what Starcleaver and Talasarin were for, Lohr feels like the Queen cheated him out of fair payment for his part in retrieving them. He plans to confront her about it. Bruegon talked him out of trying to gain an audience with the Queen in the middle of the night.

Given the danger they were likely to face, Bruegon set about questioning Ria about Vua, and how Ria was putting her in danger. Ria and Bruegon argued about the best place for Vua; with Lohr offering to send her to Goldmer, or even leaving for Goldmer with her, as he was not sold on the idea of fighting an ancient evil. The arguments went on, well past the closing of the Stormcrow, until an exhausted Ria abruptly declared she was going to bed. Bruegon and Lohr retired to their rooms as well.

During the course of the night, the smell of smoke roused Lohr from his sleep. He awoke to a veiled figure climbing in through the window, knives drawn. Awake and on his feet, Lohr grabbed his staff and tried to knock the person out of his window, to no avail. A fight quickly started, and the noise from next door awoke Ria. She too faced an assassin in her room. With her greataxe in hand, Ria set about killing the intruder. It was not too long before Bruegon was also awakened from a peaceful sleep to immediately face a combatant. Quickly, their rooms started filling with smoke.

Ria made quick work of the assassin fighting her, and went to Lohr’s room. Breaking down the door, Ria lunged at the assassin. Fire was now creeping up from the floor below, and they needed to act fast. Cobbling together a quick plan, Lohr grabbed on to Ria’s back and cast a fly spell on her as Ria charged the assassin. Ria grabbed the assassin and the three of them went through the window; the floor collapsing behind them. Ria threw the assassin to the ground as hard as she could before dropping Lohr safely on the ground. Ria had to go back for Vua. Bruegon had fought of his assassin and with hammer in hand, started to go from room to room looking for guests in need of rescuing from the burning inn.

LOHR
Lohr, now safely outside the burning inn, sees guards running in different directions. Some carrying buckets of water, some with their weapons drawn. He stops one of them and asks them what is going on. Lohr learns that the Stormcrow is not the only building burning, several others are as well, including stables and graineries as well as other residences and shrines. He also learns that assassins have been reported within the castle walls. After sending a magic message to Vua, Lohr took off for the castle, moving as fast as he could.
When he neared the outer walls of the castle grounds, he saw one guard fighting one assassin outside the castle gates. Bird reported that there were 6 assassins combating 5 guards on the inside of the gate.

Lohr cast invisibility on himself to get closer to the assassin before readying his crossbow. When he was within range, he struck from his invisibility hitting the assassin squarely in the back. After a few more bolts, and strikes from the guard, the assassin lay dead.

The guard told Lohr that the gate doesn’t open from this side, but there is a lever on the tower above the gate that they could use to open it.

Without a grappling hook, the guard took an arrow and some rope and started attempting to shoot the arrow over the top of the wall, hoping it would find purchase.

BRUEGON
Bruegon started in the room closest to his. He broke down the door, and started searching. He found an unconscious man, and instead of wasting precious time to carry him to safety, Bruegon opened up the window and dropped him outside. Bruegon methodically cleared all 8 rooms on the top floor of the enflamed building, rescuing three people (all of which were dropped out of their windows), before escaping himself.

RIA
Ria had dropped off Lohr and flew back into the building in search of Vua. Wandering up and down the smoke filled hall, Ria and Vua yelled for each other, though the snapping and breaking of fire eating through the house deadened their calls. It wasn’t until Vua received a magical message from Lohr, telling her that Ria was looking for her in the hallway, that Vua left the relative safety of the stairwell and made her way to Ria. Once reunited, Ria carried Vua to outside. With Vua safe, there was one more person Ria wished to help. With Bruegon clearing the top floor, Ria went back in for Gregory. She went back through the opening on the top floor and down the staircase. She used her greataxe to hack away the wall that separated the lower hallway from Gregory’s room. With the wall destroyed, Ria grabbed Gregory and pulled him out. Not wanting to face the fire upstairs, Ria broke a hole in the wall and escorted him outside. She started to check rooms downstairs, but the fire had engulfed too much of the tavern and she was forced out. She had done all she could on the inside.
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Reunited at the front of the Stormcrow, Ria and Bruegon divided their efforts once again. Bruegon went around collecting all the unconscious people laying on the ground by the burning building, and Ria started to throw water on the fire, refilling her bucket from a nearby well. As Ria threw her second bucketful of water on the building, it collapsed in on itself with a series of loud snaps.

With everyone rescued, and nothing more to be done for the Stormcrow, Ria and Bruegon hurried to catch up with Lohr at the Queen’s castle. Vua was left in the care of a nearby guard directing civilians to safety.

They approached the castle and spotted Lohr standing alongside a castle guard beside the closed front gate. It was apparent that they were trying to rig a rope to climb up over the wall. With the fading power of Lohr’s fly spell, Ria carried everyone up onto the wall’s path. The guard went to open the gate from the tower controls and Ria and Bruegon went down into the inner courtyard to aid the guards fighting off the intruders. Lohr readied his crossbow and started firing at the nearest enemies. Down in the fray, Bruegon made a sprint for the closed castle doors, steadfast in his determination to aid the Queen. Reaching the secured doors, Bruegon started pounding on them, demanding to be granted entrance. Ria began hacking her way through enemies, aiding the guards most in need first. Bolstered by the aid of Ria and Lohr, the guards made quick work of their enemies, taking far fewer casualties than if they had not been reinforced.

With the battle settled, a higher ranking guard approached Bruegon and confirmed his identity as one of the Stormcrows, a known ally of the kingdom. The guard used a hidden mechanism to open the doors and led Bruegon, Ria and Lohr into the castle in search of the Queen. They had not been in the castle for long before they came to an area with a half-dozen bodies strew about the ground; bodies wearing gear very similar to the assassins they had already faced.

From a connecting hallway a figure approached them. It was Andruil, the Queen’s loyal guard and Sword of Athame. She recognized them and told them the castle has been secured and both Queen Vallana and Princess Alanis were safe. The guard accompanying them game a very audible sigh of relief, followed by “Thank Larethian”. He then asked Andruil what her orders were.
Andruil instructed them that, though the castle was secure, the city was not. There were still enemies within the city and people in need of help. Bruegon tried to convince her to immediately take him to the Queen, for he had important news. Through brief questioning and reasonable logic, Andruil determined that the news could wait until the city was under control and convinced Bruegon of as much.

Back out into the city, they spent the rest of the night rooting out remaining enemy forces, putting out fires and aiding the injured and displaced. With the morning light starting to chase away the darkness, and the city seemingly under control, Andruil led the Stormcrows back to the castle for their desired meeting with the Queen.

Upon meeting with the Queen and Princess, they discussed an array of topics including: the Queen’s knowledge of Stormcleaver, Talasarrin and Illyria, the Order of Scorched Earth, the lack of information regarding Illyria and Bruegon’s encounter with the necromancer convinced that Illyria was rising soon. During the meeting, the Queen received word that during the same time-frame as the assassination attempt last night, Grigori Hakon escaped from the Eye of Koradain with the help of several members of the Order of Scorched Earth. They also believe these same criminals were the ones that Sergeant Tolar and his Golden Owls encountered several days ago. One of the Order involved in the escape was captured and was being brought to the city for questioning. She would be here by mid-afternoon. The Stormcrows agreed to wait to question the prisoner.

The prisoner told them everything. Illyria would walk the mortal realm one more, and very soon at that. Not only had the Order been sent to retrieve General Grigori and kill Queen Vallana and Princess Alanis, but forces had been sent to eliminate the leadership of all of Sarulia’s dominate races. She even confirmed the Queen and Princess’s suspicions that King Servanius played a part in this. It was true. King Servanius was the leader of the Order of Scorched Earth, and it was by his command that these assassinations took place, and that he would be instrumental in Illyria’s rise to power.

Queen Vallana had one question for the Stormcrows; how did they feel about killing a king? If King Servanius was moving quickly, then so must they. The rest of the day was spent formulating their plan. At the first light of the following morning, the Stormcrows, Andruil and Princess Alanis set off on horseback towards rendezvous with forces loyal to Alanis in the city of Kirrahe.

The group traveled south, through the Emerald forest and towards Elganon’s Way, the crossroads that let travelers cut between the Emerald Forest, the Kilkry Kingdom and the Kalas Republic. As they approached the Way, it became clear that there was a Thunderguard of centaurs engaged in battle with Fire Elementals.

Dismounting and leaving their horses with the Princess, Lohr took to higher ground while Ria, Bruegon and Andruil went to directly aid the outnumbered centaurs.

After the fight, Andruil spoke with the leader of the group before returning to the horses with the rest of the party. She confirmed that the centaur council had been attacked and only three of the original ten members remained. With nothing further to be done here, they continued their journey, now cutting north to Kirrahe. They reached Sothmere within a few days.

As they approached Sothmere, it was obvious that there were far more people here than when Ria had last visited. Small tents had been put up nearly everywhere and people crowed the area. As they moved through the street, Ria broke off from the group to pay a visit to her old friend Sheriff Milo Korvic. Asking around, she was directed towards the town hall, where she found Milo attending to several busy looking people. He seemed weary and tired as he looked over documents and directed several people, but when Ria got his attention, a warm smile was immediate.

He was happy to see Ria again and welcomed her company, though she could not stay long. They chatted for a bit, discussing the recent happenings and whether Milo could offer any aid on Ria’s quest. Milo. Sothmere had already sent almost everyone capable of fighting north, and those who remained were needed to help with the refugees. Though Milo could not offer her any aid, he did promise to keep her in his thoughts.

On her way back to rejoin the group, Ria found Wanda Korvic, who was just as happy to see Ria and Ria was to see her. They too, talked about the recent state of things. Wanda had been kept busy trying to make all of Sothmere’s new, residents happy and in good spirits; a job that was both demanding and draining. She wished Ria a safe journey and a swift return.
Rejoining the group, they left Sothmere and headed to Wulverton.

Upon the approach to Wulverton, it was clear that it was in the same state as Sothmere. Though there were fewer smaller, civilian tents, there were far more military tents here than in Sothmere. Retrieving the missive that Ser Wulver had sent Ria, she told the group that she was going to search out Ser Wulver to see if he could offer any aid. Bruegon went to visit the smiths, Lohr went to seek out any bookstores or libraries and the Princess and Andruil kept themselves unnoticed.

Ser Wulver had already sent most of his forces to Kirrahe, but he did provide Ria with two person guards to command as she saw fit, Amelia Hart and Arkya Nlatrik, as well as three discount markers to use at the shops. Ria, with her two new escorts, returned to locate the rest of the group.

Lohr was able to find a couple tomes with relevant information and then joined Bruegon at the smith, where he commissioned a new crossbow.

The crossbow took a full day to be created, so they remained in Wulverton until its completion. Neither Andruil nor Princess Alanis were pleased with the delay, but agreed to wait anyway.

With Wulverton behind them, their next stop was Kirrahe.

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An Arl's Ransom
Lohr's Discovers his love of "Fireball"

With Bruegon having returned to the Forgehammers, and Ria traveling to gain insight to her life, Lohr found himself alone, with little to do. He decided to travel north, past Kalessin and to the southernmost part of Southern Thandras. He found work soon afterwards and was standing in the courtyard of Arl Neruda’s fortress of Stenhold. The fortress had seen better days; there were gaps in the thatched roofs, and some of the stones were crumbling.

After a few minutes of standing around the yard watching the soldiers drill and masons repair the stonework, a lightly armored woman approached and introduced herself as Alenka, the Arl’s steward. She led Lohr to the doors of the main hall and as she pushed the doors open a single gold coin fell from her pocket. She didn’t seem to notice as she motioned for Lohr to follow her. As Alenka started to continue onward, Lohr picked the coin up. He intended to keep the coin, but thought Alenka may have dropped the coin on purpose. Could this be some sort of test? Curious, Lohr returned the coin to Alenka. She seemed disappointed.

Alenka and Lohr entered the main hall where a short, stocky man stood in the center of the room, being fitted into a suit of gleaming plate mail by servants with downcast eyes. He looked to Alenka and Lohr with irritation before giving a grunt of pain and spinning to cuff one of the servants on the head, pinched by the greave the servant was fitting. He turned back to Alenka and Lohr and curtly asked, “Well?”

Alenka introduced Arl Voychek Neruda to Lohr, who explained why he was a suitable candidate for employ. The Arl didn’t seem too concerned with Lohr’s qualifications and began to explain what he needed done. Most of his soldiers were away dealing with a border disagreement and he needed someone capable to travel with Alenka to escort his children from a neighboring town where they had been visiting. They would meet with Ser Bridget at a way point almost a day’s walk from here where she would leave the children in their care and return home. For this simple task, the Arl was willing to pay 100g total. Lohr, knowing the Arl had a modest library, requested further compensation. The Arl reluctantly agreed that Lohr may take one book of his choosing from the library as additional payment.

With the matter of payment settled (and Lohr being assured that the children were adolescents, and not infants), Alenka and Lohr set off in the direction of the waypoint.

They were several hours into their journey when they came to a shallow ravine. The stakes of what used to be the bridge stood solemnly, with no bridge attached. As they inspected the bridge several shouts were heard from the nearby woods. From the tree line ran half a dozen armed bandits. The Arl had said they were having trouble with bandits, so really, an ambush should not have come as a surprise. Before the bandits could close on them, Lohr sent a fireball in their direction, severely burning several of the bandits. Alenka, sword now drawn, placed herself between Lohr and the bandits, protecting the wizard from physical harm. Between Alenka’s sword, and Lohr’s spells, the bandits fared poorly and were quickly dispatched (though Bird claimed first kill in the battle). To cross the ravine, Lohr simply placed a fly spell on Alenka, and she carried him across.

Alenka noted a clearing not too far on the other side of the bridge where they could stop and rest for lunch.

Breaking for lunch, Alenka and Lohr sat in silence. Eating their food. It was then that Alenka chose to speak. She asked Lohr if he thought the Arl was paying him enough for this job. She, on the other hand, knew a way to increase their money tenfold. This got Lohr’s attention very quickly. Daring to confes her plans to someone she didn’t know very well, Alenka continued. Alenka said that, hypothetically, if they were to kidnap the children, they could ransom them back to the Arl. Hypothetically, they could do this without the children even knowing what was happening. The simple would tell the children it was too dangerous to travel back home at this time. Then they, Lohr and Alenka, would go back to Stenhold and tell the Arl that bandits had taken the children and demanded payment. They take the ransom, return the children, the Arl pays him for escorting the children and then they both disappear. She could even guarantee that Ser Bridget, the contact bringing the children to meet them, would be open to such a plan. Lohr did not object to this scenario; however, he did want to ensure that the children came to no harm. He did not give Alenka a definitive answer regarding his support.

Alenka and Lohr continued on their journey. The sun was just beginning to set as their neared the rendezvous point. It became clear that something had gone terribly wrong. The smell of burning hair mingled with blood and wafted through the air. An overturned wagon and several dead soldiers and bandits lay unmoving on the ground. Several wolf hounds had been slain; one of which had fallen into the fire pit. There was no sign of Ser Bridget or Alenka. Alenka and Lohr searched the camp for clues. Lohr checked the overturned wagon. He did not find the children, but he did find a heavy lockbox. Breaking the box, Lohr recovered a hefty sum of gold, and, since the box was ornate and well-crafted, he kept that too.

Alenka had just found some tracks and called Lohr over when they heard the howl of a wolf followed by a scream. They hurried through uphill through the woods towards the sound. They emerged from the forest on the left side of the hill, separated from the other side by a narrow gorge. On the opposite side of the gorge was a switchback trail that lead up to a small hollow in a rock formation. It was there that Alenka spotted Ser Bridget. Nearly a dozen bandits and half as many hounds were making their way up the trail, slowed by crossbow bolts from Ser Bridget. Alenka took a running start and leapt across the gorge, putting her above the bandits, and below Bridget.

Lohr let loose a fireball, scorching the bandits and slowing them as Bird made his way to harass them. Not wanting to injure Alenka or Bird, Lohr put his spell book away and took out his crossbow. Between the crossbow bolt, the claws of Bird, and the sword of Alenka the bandits and hounds fell. Alenka had taken only minor injuries in the fight. Lohr made his way back down to the bottom of the trail and went to meet with Ser Bridget and Alenka, who were now both at the hollow.

When Lohr reached the top, he could see the children. They seemed somewhat shaken, but unharmed. Alenka then approached Lohr, and out of earshot of the children, asked him if he had committed to the plan. Lohr agreed. Ser Bridget told the children they would remain and set up a camp while Lohr and Alenka returned to Stenhold and cleared the way. The children, none too happy to be staying in the wilderness, were at least pleased to know they would not be traveling again soon. Lohr and Alenka rested for the night and traveled back to Stenhold.

Before they reached the fortress, Alenka advised Lohr to let her do the talking, as the Arl is far more likely to believe her than an outsider.

They met with Arl Neruda immediately. Alenka explained that Ser Bridget’s group had been ambushed by bandits, and that the children had been taken hostage. The bandits were demanding payment in exchange for the lives of the children. Neruda did not seem too concerned about the welfare of his children, but wanted the matter resolved quickly. He send Alenka and Lohr to pay the ransom.

Alenka and Lohr left Stenhold with a chest containing 9,000gp. The made camp outside Stenhold, setting wards and alarms upon the chest—to keep the gold safe from each other as well as bandits.

They reunited with Bridget and the children the next day and made their way back to the fortress. A single owlbear, one that was incredibly capable of dodging fireballs, made their journey difficult, but a solitary owlbear against Lohr, Alenka, and Bridget stood little chance.
Upon returning the children, Alenka and Lohr received their payment and then promptly left the premise.

Shortly, after having their children returned, the Nerudas learned from the children that they had not been kidnapped at all and had been safely with Ser Bridget during the few days of their “kidnapping”.

Stenhold now has several wanted posters posted for “Lohr the Wizard”, “Alenka Corgrave” and “Ser Bridget of the Province of Corbain”. Wanted for kidnapping, treason, and crimes against Stenhold.

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Stone and Steel Part 2 of 2

Clovis XXVI and Bruegon walked through the front doors of the manse. The entrance was cluttered with crumbled stone and old decaying wood. They walked straight ahead through the opposite door way and were presented with a couple of different routes. Clovis went right, and found two empty bed rooms. Going around the corner to the left, they spotted a man standing in front of a door that lead to one of the towers. This man obviously saw them, but made no indication that he was interested in fighting or opening a dialogue. As they tried to make contact, Bruegon realized that this man was wearing an identical cloak to that of Dimitri. They had found Oswin, but he was clearly under some sort of control. Resolving to deal with that problem later, they headed through a nearby door. Opening the door, Bruegon and Clovis were confronted by almost a dozen undead. One after another, the undead came at them and they were cut down by Clovis’s greatsword or smashed by Bruegon’s hammer until there wasn’t a single zombie standing.

Clovis and Bruegon picked their way through the undead corpses and reached a door on the opposite side of the room. This door lead them to a larger, empty room with three doors; one on each wall at the back of the room. Bruegon realized that the stones in this room had recently been repaired and were in far better condition than the front of the house.

Cautiously approaching the door at the back of the room, Clovis pushed it open. Clovis saw a hooded figure standing on the other side of an elevated table, a table that had a man tied to it. A gag muffled the man’s screams as the cloaked figure recited an incantation. A pale glowing white essence was drawn from the man and absorbed into a small, marble like stone held in the outstretched hand of the cloaked figure.

As soon as the figure notice Clovis, they shouted to unseen figures to capture them. Two constructs, nearly identical to the ones in the forest, went after Clovis. One grabbed them, and the other went after the now noticed Bruegon. Bruegon and Clovis struggled, but the constructs were larger and stronger and they could not get out of their holds as they were dragged into separated barred cells.

Clovis was able to slip free once inside the cell and began to fight the one that had grabbed them. Bruegon was not quite so fortunate and was locked in his cell without too much of a struggle. Bruegon’s construct locked Clovis’s cell, trapping them inside with the construct that they were fighting. Clovis and the construct were wearing each other down, both becoming badly damaged. Realizing that the fight was futile, Clovis XXVI yielded. Taking their weapons and belongings, the two constructs left. Several hours passed as they sat in their cells, trying to think of a means for escape. They lacked the strength necessary to bend the bars and had neither the equipment nor skills to pick the locks.

As they waited, a dwarf flanked by one of the constructs came into the cell room. He stopped at Clovis’s cell and told them that he had come to repair Clovis’s damage, if Clovis wished. Bruegon was filled with questions and began questioning the blacksmith. The smith was the one who made the constructs, but he wasn’t too willing to explain any further. Clovis gladly accepted the offer of repair, but as the dwarven blacksmith set about fixing Clovis, Bruegon objected. Loudly. Bruegon feared that it was some sort of trap, or trick and demanded that the blacksmith leave. So he did.

Not to long after that, the cloaked figure came to talk to them. Bruegon returned every question she asked with one of his own. She was fairly forthcoming with her answers. She was building an army of constructs specially crafted and equipped to fight the fires that Illyria would spread. The constructs would fight the fires and fire elementals while the zombies would make excellent cannon fodder against Illyria’s mortal troops. She had complete control over both. She would remove the souls from the living, attach them to the constructs (as the constructs needed the souls to power and direct them), and use necromancy to bring the person back as a zombie bound to her will. Her methods were harsh, but she was only taking people who were likely Illyrian agents and those who would likely only be a liability to everyone when war did break out. She was certain that Illyria would arrive soon and wanted to be ready. Bruegon tried valiantly, if desperately, to convince her that this wasn’t the best way. That there had to be a better option. He also demanded proof that Illyria was coming. He wanted to know what made her so unshakably certain that Illyria was rising. She evaded the answer. She told her constructs to take Bruegon to the inner chamber. His soul would make an excellent construct; even if it would be a waste of one of Forgehammers finest.

It was here that Clovis XXVI interjected. They had a counter offer for her. They would work for her as a guard—if, she allowed Bruegon to leave. She found the proposition interesting and thought it over before agreeing to Clovis’s terms.

Binding Bruegon’s hands, he was released from his cell (along with Clovis) and escorted to the bridge. At the bridge his hands were freed and his belongings returned to him.
Bruegon crestfallenly made his way back to Greendeere. Upon reaching the town, he went and informed the Magistrate of not only the fate of his children, but of the danger still present threatening his people. Bruegon was able to convince the heartbroken magistrate to convene the townspeople and advise them to travel with him to the Forgehammer clan to take refuge.

Once back at Forgehammer, Bruegon was informed that Emissary Adan would be travelling back to Athame and wished for Bruegon to join him. Bruegon returned to Athame, and to The Stormcrow where he found Ria, who was also quite crestfallen from her recent adventure.

The Forgehammers sent a small contingent of fighters to further investigate the manse, but there was nothing left there. The necromancer, blacksmith, Clovis and all evidence of what had happened there was gone with no indication of where they had moved to…

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Stone and Steel Part 1 of 2

Bruegon Forgehammer had returned to Clan Forgehammer in the Tevos Mountains to have his Warhammer repaired after it was nearly destroyed in his battle with the Illyrian Blackguard Grigori Hakon. Queen Vallana, of the Emerald City Athame, sent two royal emissaries, Adan and Sarana, with Bruegon to begin negotiation that would lend the dwarves the aid of Athame in their unending battle with the goblin horde.

The smiths of Clan Forgehammer are very talented and worked to quickly repair Bruegon’s hammer. The smiths had also repaired a Warforged that had been brought to them to fix. This Warforged’s name was Clovis XXVI.

Now that Bruegon’s hammer was fixed, one of Forgehammer’s young diplomats, a cheerful and optimistic man named Garreth, approached Bruegon with an assignment to complete before he returned to Athame. The Forgehammers had been alerted to the fact that several people had gone missing in the last couple of months around the small, nearby human town of Greendeere, including both of the Magistrate’s adult children. The clan would like Bruegon to investigate while the elven emissaries continue their negotiations. To assist Bruegon, the diplomat introduced him to Clovis XXVI; a freelance sell sword that the Forgehammers had decided to hire on as a guard.

Bruegon and Clovis made quick introductions before preparing for their departure the next day.

Bruegon and Clovis left Clan Forgehammer early the next morning and followed the Old East Road towards Greendeere. About midday, and a quarter through their journey, they began to hear the unmistakable sound of fighting. Quickly making their way around the bend in the road, the found themselves witness to a small band of goblins attacking two men and their wagon. Bruegon charged the goblins. Clovis charged after the dwarf. Caught by surprise, the goblins fared poorly against the duo. The two men, traders heading to the mountains, thanked them for rescuing them and told them everything they knew about the disappearances, which was not much as they had spent very little time in Greendeere. Bruegon was tempted to try to track where the goblins had come from, but knew he had a duty to fulfill and turned his attention back to reaching Greendeere.

Clovis and Bruegon made camp that night alongside the road. The night was uneventful; though, Bruegon did see a shooting star.

The next day they arrived in Greendeere close to midday. Greendeere was a small, but well established settlement of no more than a couple dozen buildings with the Old East Road running through the middle of the town. The road brought Clovis and Bruegon to a tavern at the edge of town where three drunk men stumbled out the door and into their path. Looking for a fight, one of the men immediately insulted Bruegon. The other two were too focused on fighting each other to path them any mind. Bruegon tried to take the high road, but when the man started throwing rocks, Bruegon stepped in to fight him. Clovis, whose mission was to assist Bruegon solve the disappearances, felt that fighting drunks was outside of the mission parameters and resolves to let Bruegon fight alone. That changed when one of the men found a chair to break over Clovis. After that, the fight was quickly wrapped up with two of the men unconscious on the ground and one running away as best he could in the state that he was in. The owner of the tavern, Declan Cormack, witnessed their handling of his drunken troublemakers and invited them in for a free drink. Never one to turn down free drinks (or an opportunity to gather some information), Bruegon accepted.

Declan served them at the bar and was more than happy to chat about the town. When asked about the disappearances, he told them that the ones disappearing were mostly no one of note; beggars, layabouts, people who really didn’t contribute to the town’s prosperity. The only notable people to disappear were Nikola Gabriel (the blacksmith’s eldest son), Anto and Esra Falstaff (Magistrate Falstaff’s two, adult, children,) and Oswin Rylef (a hunter that lived near the forest). No actual children had vanished. Deciding that their best course of action would be to speak with the Magistrate, they got directions from Declan. By this time the sun was starting to set, so they planned to meeting with the Magistrate in the morning and Clovis would patrol the town during the night, looking for anything suspicious.

Clovis spent the entire night wandering the empty, dark town. Never once did they spot anything of interest. With both the sun and Bruegon up, they headed to see the Magistrate. They approached the Magistrate’s two story house, the ground floor of which acted as his office and knocked. The door was answered by a modestly well-dressed man who welcomed them in and asked them what they needed. Upon hearing that they were sent by Clan Forgehammer to investigate the disappearances, the young man took them straight to the Magistrate. Magistrate Falstaff welcomed them into his office and asked them, “My assistant tells me you are here about the kidnappings?” After explaining that the Forgehammers had sent them to investigate, the Magistrate became visibly relieved. He told them he would do anything he could to help them. His tone turning grim, he asked them to follow him to the basement.

In the basement there was a table with something being covered by a sheet. Pulling back the sheet, the Magistrate revealed a body. It was clear that this person had been zombified. Magistrate Falstaff explains that this used to be Nikola, the son of the town’s blacksmith. He had been missing for nearly two weeks when he turned up three nights ago, as a zombie, to ambush a pair of hunters in the north forest. One of the hunters, Dimitri, made it back alive and informed them what had happened. Dimitri said there were other zombies that took his brother Oswin alive. Dimitri had recognized Nikola and brought his body back. If they are to investigate the disappearances, they should talk to the surviving hunter. Falstaff also told them that not too far north from where Dimitri and Oswin were attacked lies the ruins of an old manse, built out over the coast on a cliff.

The final piece of information that the Magistrate provides is that he had told all this information to a Paladin two days ago and she set off to investigate in the forest and has not yet returned.

Clovis and Bruegon left the Magistrate’s house and headed straight out of town to the Rylef brothers’ hunting cabin at the edge of the north woods. They approached the cabin and knocked on the door. The door was answered by a young man wearing a worn green cloak with a brown pattern. He nervously asked if he could help them with anything.
Dimitri invited them in and shared a bit of food and drink with them as he reluctantly described the incident in the forest. With a bit of convincing, Dimitri agreed to lead them to the spot in the forest where he last saw his brother.

Dimitri grabbed his bow and led them out past his cabin and into the woods. Along the way they encountered a bear, which was promptly scared away by the fierce shouting of Bruegon. After several hours, Dimitri indicated that this was where he and his hunting partner were attacked. Dimitri wished them the best of luck and headed back towards his cabin.

Clovis and Bruegon searched the site for any clues, but without finding anything substantial, decided that their next course of action would be to head farther north to try to locate the ruins of the manse.

Night fell, but they pushed on, wanting to get there as soon as possible. People were missing and time was their enemy. Bruegon, with the dark vision innate of dwarves, lead, with the torch carrying Clovis trailing 50ft behind him.

As Bruegon made his way through the darkened forest, he saw a faint white glow in a humanoid shape ahead of him. He signaled to Clovis to wait, while he investigated. As Bruegon drew nearer, the glow became more solid until Bruegon could make out the appearance of an elven woman in plate mail. Without introductions, the woman told Bruegon that she knew why he was here and that he was close to answers. Prompted by questions from Bruegon, the woman identified herself as Kalas Skandaar, a Paladin of Corellon Larethian, and a member of the Champions of the Just. She had been investigating the disappearances when she met a force more powerful than she. She had one request: if he came across her body, would he return her sword to her order. Bruegon promised to fulfil her last request. She told Bruegon that if he was ever in need of her, he may call to her for aid and she would do what she could.

Trudging on through the night, Clovis XXVI and Bruegon made excellent progress. It was just a little past sunrise when Bruegon started to a clearing. Clovis joined him. They stood outside a large circle of scorched earth, the epicenter of which was a charred and blackened corpse encased in armor, surrounding which was over a dozen burned bodies and half a dozen of some sort of armored suits. Bruegon carefully picked his way to the body in the center. He recognized the armor as that matching the ghost he had spoken with. Gently, he removed the sword from her hand. Upon inspection, the sword was still in pristine condition, untouched by whatever had burned everything else. Bruegon’s familiarity with forgecraft was sufficient to allow him to recognize the blade as being made from cold iron, but not where it was from. He placed it in his pack, with full intent of returning it to the Paladin’s order.

Clovis went to inspect one of the armored suits. Larger than even they, the suits appeared hollow, save for being filled with water; and each had a name engraved into the chest. They checked all of them that they could and found one with Nikoli written upon it. Perplexed, they further tried to unravel their purpose or origin. Picking one up, Clovis shook it. The sharp tang of something hard hitting metal resounded from within the automaton. Cracking open the chest, they round a dark, marble sized gemstone that emanated a dull violet glow. Bruegon placed the stone in his pack, and though he may have imagined it, he could have sworn that the paladin’s sword didn’t like being near the stone.

As they prepared to continue on their journey, the creak of steel caught them by surprise as two of the personless suits of armor came alive and attacked them. Though damaged by the Paladin, they still put up a decent fight, as they had the ability to shoot jets of water from their palms, obscuring visibility and knocking their opponents back. Bruegon and Clovis prevailed, though they were more cautious now than ever.

The forest starts to eventually thin away and the distant sounds of waves crashing against rocks can be heard. Bruegon and Clovis had reached a bluff overlooking the ocean. Several hundred yards away from them they can see the ruins of the manse. The manse was built on an outcropping and the only way to reach it is by the old bridge connecting the outcropping to the bluff.

They reached the stone bridge, which was in fairly good shape, save for some missing railing. As they crossed the bridge, a terrible screeching sound was heard from the manse. Up over the manse came a zombified Wyvern, landing on the far side of the bridge. The wyvern approached them, ready to defend its home. Bruegon initiated the fight by throwing his battering ram at the wyvern, which was batted away. Clovis XXVI and Bruegon fought hard against the wyvern. Clovis with their greatsword and Bruegon initially attempting to use the hammer of Grigori Hakon. The wyvern was eventually slain, though not without inflicting severe wounds to both adventurers. Working their way around the slain wyvern, they reached the front gate of the manse.

Continued in Stone and Steel Part 2

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Amber Rage Part 2 of 2

Ria and Gwen had been riding for a couple hours since crossing the river, and they were approaching a hilly range that separated them from the forest. They saw a wagon and a cooking fire where a large man in furs stoking the embers beneath some roasting meat. They approached cautiously. When they drew nearer, two large dogs with grey-and-white coats started barking at them. Gwen was immediately excited by the prospect of dogs to play with. The crow perched patiently on a nearby spruce tree as the group came to a stop.

“Welcome to my fire! If you mean me no harm, please come, sit, and share me meal!” the large man in furs bellowed over the sound of his dogs. He did not seem perturbed by either Fenris. “I am Branik. I trap in these woods.” Branik was a bear of a man. Tall and stout with a voice to match and long brown hair and an equally long beard.

Now that they were closer, they could see his wagon contained many different animals. Gwen did her best to ignore the furs and meats and focus on the dogs. Ria sat with Branik and enjoyed some of the roasted meat while chatting. Branik offered Gwendolyn some fruit instead, which she accepted.

Ria asked Branik if he had seen any of those afflicted with the Amber Rage. He had, though he did not have a name for the affliction until now. He had ran into a few of them, but nothing his crossbow and his hounds couldn’t handle.

Thanking Branik for sharing his fire and his food, the party continued on towards the forest, following the flight of the crow.

The thickly wooded forest was cold, dim, and damp; a blanket of fog covering the ground. And as they continued further inwards, the forest gave way to marsh, and the fog persisted. They followed the crow through the marsh, until it landed upon a jutting branch from a fallen tree, and fell over dead.

Correctly assuming that this was where they were to perform the ritual, they unpacked the cooking pot and prepared to perform the ritual. They stoked a suitable fire and Ria dumped contents of the bag into the cooking pot to let it boil. The stench was nearly unbearable, so much so that Ria could not keep her stomach settled. Attracted by the smell, a giant crab came scuttling out of the water. Ria and Fenris made quick work of the crab, and settled in to await the firesprites. As dawn approached, Gwen peered through the retreating darkness of the swamp and saw a flicker of yellow, followed by another, and then another. Soon, a dozen of these lights had appeared, all moving closer to them. They swarm around the pot and Gwen and Ria can see that they are tiny flaxen humainods with humming insect-like wings. The tiny creatures evaluate the pot and then, shaking their heads sadly, fly around each other while beginning to sing a haunted melody. Gwen tried to commune with them, but they seem uninterested in anything she does or offers. They begin to leave.

Quickly, Gwen and Ria hopped upon Fenris and gave pursuit. The firesprites moved quickly and were difficult to spot in the morning sunlight, and soon only their sad song was left to guide them. But the hearing of a dire-wolf is exceptional and Fenris could keep to their trail.

They followed the singing for nearly an hour before passing through a thick patch of swamp bushes and emerging into a grotto. The land is higher behind the grotto and jutting rocks hang over a pool of greenish water fed from above by a sporadic waterfall. The firesprites have stopped here, flying in an erratic pattern and continue their wailing dirge.

Gwen and Ria climb down off of Fenris and investigate the area. The song of the firesprites fills Ria’s mind and she realizes that the rocky outcroppings are actually the remnants of a building. And ancient, beautiful and forgotten place. The song the firesprites sing is a testament to its loss. Although Ria doesn’t quite understand why she knows this, she believes it and shares the information with Gwen.

After a few moments the firesprites begin diving into the pool of water. Soon, all the firesprites have vanished. Hesitantly, Ria takes out the flameless lantern provided to her by Wanda Korvic and climbed into the pool. Ria swam through the pool and broke the surface on the other side to find herself in a large cavern dimly lit with the glow of firesprites, who now sung a more subdued melody. The cavern has many large, easily walkable caverns branching off from it, though most are not at ground level. Gwendolyn and Fenris broke through the surface behind her. From their position in the pool they could see the form of a giant coiled snake on the other side of the cavern. Quietly climbing out of the pool, they readied their weapons and approached. As they drew nearer, they realized that the “snake” they saw was just molted skin, meaning the true snake was larger than expected.

As they look around the cavern, a large, horned serpent pokes its head out from one of the side caverns and hisses. It slithers down into the large open cavern and faces the party. Gwen, as any good druid would do, tried to placate the serpent. She was rewarded for her effort by receiving the sharp end of its horns. The battle was bloody and arduous, with the serpent alternating between goring them, biting them and constricting them with its massive body. Grievously injured, Gwen managed to deliver the final blow to the snake’s head with her shillelagh.

As the serpent fell dead, the firesprites let out a screeching wail and disappeared into the tunnel, leaving the adventurers in the dim glow of Ria’s lantern. Taking a few moments to patch themselves up, they picked the tunnel the serpent had come out of as the first location to search. They climbed up to the opening and continued onwards
.
They came to a large chamber with several exits and firesprites flitting about. A sickly green glow emanated from a crusty substance lying in clumps on the floor. The smell here is overwhelming, an even more intense version of the stench from the soup made to attract the firesprites in the first place. They had found the shadowmoss.

Ria entered the room by herself, empty sack in hand and prepared to collect the shadowmoss. As she stepped into the room, the firesprites’ song shifted to depressing, and futile. As Ria listened to their song, she suddenly understood the relationship between the guardian serpent and the firesprites.

The guardian serpent was more than just the protector of the firesprites’ food, but also its creator. The guardian ser¬pent itself is a magical creation of the firesprites. When it dies, one of the firesprite’s young becomes the next guard¬ian serpent. Ria understands that there were once many colonies of firesprites, each with its own guardian serpent. Over the centuries, guardian serpents have been destroyed and the firesprites that each supported along with them. Now, only this single colony remains. The shadowmoss left over when a guardian serpent dies is the only thing that sustains the firesprites long enough for a new guardian serpent to mature. If this shadowmoss is taken away, then they doom the firesprites to starva¬tion and extinction. As before, Ria doesn’t understand how she knows this information, only that it’s true.

It takes the entire amount of shadowmoss to completely fill the back Stoyanka had given them, and Ria regretfully collects it as fast as she can, trying not to dwell on the consequences of her actions. The firesprites do not interfere, but they sing a haunting funereal song as Ria collects the moss. Ria finishes collecting the moss and rejoins Gwen in the tunnel. She does not tell Gwen what collecting the shadowmoss means for the firesprites.

They exit the way they came and make all haste to return the shadowmoss to Sothmere. Fenris winds hid way through the swamp and into the forest where he abruptly stopped. Gwen relays to Ria that there are several people lying in wait up ahead. They advance cautiously and are confronted by a large man wearing furs and carrying an axe.

He asks them to stop and if they have seen any afflicted with the Amber Rage. Ria explains the situation they are in and the mission that they are on. As Ria introduced herself, he notices her clan name. He is familiar with the Cragsteeles. He seems much more amiable to them after confirming that that was where Ria was from. He informs her that, he too, is from the Faorian Wilds—Clan Wolfmane. He signals for the rest of his party to join them, and a little over half a dozen warriors appear from the woods around them. He feels obligated to explain the situation to Ria.

The shamans of his clan created the Amber Rage to try to use against the goblins that threaten his clan, something that Ria can understand. The rage was supposed to turn the goblins on themselves but several of their people became infected as well. To make matters even more dire, there has been a breach in the Faorian Wall where it runs through this forest, allowing the infected to gain access to this side of the wall. He is ashamed that the actions of his clan have endangered innocent people. The shamans that created the rage have been put to death, so that the secret of the formula died with them. His group is out here tracking those that came through the wall. He also assures Ria that the breach in the wall is under heavy guard. His party is out here hunting down and destroying the infected. He offers to escort them if they wish, but understands that they cannot keep pace with a wolf. He has them promise to kill the infected if the cure does not work. He sends them on their way, wishing them speed and luck.

They make great time and are quickly out of the forest and continuing on towards the hills when they spot a lone rider at the top of the next hill. They stop and the rider approaches them. He introduced himself as Ser Wulver of Wulverton and explained that his town was attacked by the ragers. One of his sons died and his other son is infected, as well as several other villagers. He needs the shadowmoss to cure them. He had performed the same ritual as them, only when the firesprites appeared to him he understood that their shadowmoss had already been stolen and they showed him who did it. He demands that they hand over the shadowmoss. When they refuse, he gives a signal and half a dozen archers appear at the top of the hill and take aim. Fenris breaks into a full sprint to escape, but catches an arrow in his back lag and Ria is grazed by an arrow as well. Ser Wulver’s horse is not fast enough to catch up with Fenris.

Fenris runs, and runs hard until they reach the river. He gets a short rest as they take their ferry back to Witchford, but once back on land he runs through the town and is waved down by Lazlo. Lazlo tells them that after they left, Ser Vilem called for a blackhaller (a state sanctioned arbiter) from the closest city. Ser Vilem seemed intent on executing those that were infected. With this new information and the sun setting on the third day since their departure, Fenris runs with renewed speed and purpose to reach Sothmere in time. They make it up the switchback trail to the road to Sothmere quickly and nearing Sothmere when they pass several soldiers digging graves alongside the road. The smoldering ashes of a pyre still glow from the burning of several bodies. As they pass, several crossbow bolts hit Ria and Fenris.

“I’m sorry. Ser Vilem’s has ordered us to keep you from the town,” says Kristoff, the soldier that had previously helped dress Ria’s wound. The soldiers engage them in battle. As the soldiers are picked off in the battle, Kristoff yields and surrenders himself to them. They bind his hands and take him with them to Sothmere.

They arrive in Sothmere to find the infected citizens tied to stakes, snarling and growling, kindling piled at their feet. Bogdan stands next to Ser Vilem, with a newly sharpened blade for Vilem to use on the throats of the infected. The blackhaller, Ser Gelda stands impassively next to Vilem. Many of Vilem’s soldiers stand at the ready. Sheriff Milo sits on the ground, defeated and inconsolable. Old Stoyanka stands beside him, sorrowful.

All turn to look at the trio as Fenris runs towards them, Ria shouts that they have the shadowmoss. Stoyanka and Sheriff Milo seem to brighten at this news, while Ser Vilem scowls. We have the shadowmoss, Ria repeats. Ser Vilem protests. Stating that it is too late. That it won’t work. Ser Gelda agrees with Stoyanka that there is no harm in trying, much to Ser Vilem’s displeasure.

Stoyanka spent several hours behind closed doors preparing the shadowmoss cure. She emerged with a foul spelling green sludge which was distributed to the infected. Some brave volunteers forced those already within the rage to swallow the mixture. Ria forced down her allotment of the cure. Within several minutes she started feeling better and the sickly yellow of her wound started to fade. Those tied to the stakes became calm and though exhausted, were well enough to be helped away.

Oleg was grateful that Gwen and Ria had risked themselves to help find the cure and gave Gwendolyn a small set of juggling balls for her to practice with.

As Sheriff Milo thanked them, Ria noticed that there was a little bit of the cure left over and asked Stoyanka if she could have it. Having no reason to keep it, she gave the mixture to her. Ria asked how long it would take to get to Wulverton and in what direction they needed to travel.

With directions and a small amount of cure left, Ria, Gwendolyn, and Fenris headed to Wulverton. Within the hour they had arrived at the town gates and asked to see Ser Wulver, who came out to meet them. He showed no hostile intent towards them.

Ria shoved the remaining cure into his hands and told him what it was. Ser Wulver had no words to express his gratitude, but asked that they did not tell anyone that they gave him the cure.

Exhausted from their adventure, Ria accidentally let it slip that the firesprites would die out. Gwendolyn was horrified to hear what she had taken part in. She could no longer stand to be around Ria and departed from her company.

Ria decided it was best if she and Vua returned to Athame and to the comfort and familiarity of the Stormcrow.

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Amber Rage Part 1 of 2

Ria had set off from Athame to get some space and do a bit of soul searching after her encounter with En’Ril Wrathorn. Her travels brought her to the southernmost part of the kingdom of Kilkry. While walking along the road she spotted someone picking apples off the side of the road, a short distance down the hill. She approached them to find that this person was part deer. She had antlers and the sloped face of a deer as well as a deer like nose. Ria offered to help pick the apples. Gwendolyn was her name, and she didn’t need any help. Ria hopped up into the tree anyway and picked a few apples for herself. They chatted for a bit before Ria returned to the road. There, she encountered a middle aged man driving a cart. This man was heading to the Ground Breaking Festival at Sothmere, a town a few hours from where they were. Sothmere was building a new fort, and was having a celebration to mark the event. He asked Ria if she wanted a ride. Ria was a little excited by the prospect of a festival and agreed to travel with the merchant. After a moment’s deliberation, she went and asked Gwendolyn if she would like to go to the festival as well. She needed a little more information about the festival, but quickly agreed when she found out there would be pies. Calling for her direwolf, Fenris, Gwen traveled with Ria and the merchant all the way to Sothmere.

Leaving Fenris away from the festivities, Ria and Gwendolyn made their way through the booths. Ria met Sheriff Milo Korvic, sheriff of Sothmere and organizer of the event. He warmly welcomed her and wished her to enjoy herself. They first met a kindly merchant named Strom who was open to a friendly chat even though neither Ria nor Gwendolyn were interested in his wares. They also met Bogdan the blacksmith, who was every bit as mean as Strom was kind. Bogdan didn’t seem to care too much for the Korvic family and was to spiteful of them to keep his comments to himself. Gwendolyn was very amused by the performance of the elven entertainer Oleg and his sister Dielza. Dielza was an excellent singer who made the air come alive with music while Oleg drew everyone’s eyes with an expert juggling act. Gwen was so dazzled by the juggling that she asked if she could attempt it. Oleg happily supplied hew with three small balls and a little instruction. Though Gwen’s skill was nowhere near that of Oleg’s, she still enjoyed herself. Ria saw a young woman made uncomfortable by the presence of a knight, who Ria would learn was Ser Villem. Quick thinking on Ria’s part helped the woman, Wanda Korvic, daughter of the sheriff, escape the unwanted presence of the knight. Both Gwen and Ria attempted to outshoot the archer Fiala, with Ria coming quite close, but still losing. Gwen managed to trade half a dozen apples for an entire pie, much to her delight. Lazlo, a hulking beast of a man, challenged any who passed to an arm wrestling competition. Ria, unable to resist a challenge of strength, eagerly accepted his challenge. Ria’s strength was greater than Lazlo’s, and she trounced him fairly. Lazlo Karsgard, being quite good-natured, gave her a hearty congratulations and a few prize coins for her effort.

As the sun began to set, Sheriff Milo announced that a grand feast would be held in the largest tent in near the center of the fair grounds. Everyone began to settle in for the feast, including Ria and Gwendolyn. Sheriff Milo, with Wanda at his right and Ser Villem at his left raised a glass to make a toast. As he did he was interrupted by the sounds of dogs barking. He paused and began again, but the dogs continued to carry on. Then, screams were heard. Voices shouting “RUN!” could be heard in the distance. As the people in the tent looked around anxiously, an axe ripped through tent behind Sheriff Milo and a crazed looking man with jaundiced skin and dried blood covering him came through. He went to strike Milo, but was grabbed by Wanda, who suffered a gash across her arm from the dagger in the man’s off hand. Ser Villem then put himself between the man and the sheriff.

As the man came through the tear in the tent, the people seated for the feast began to panic and flee. Someone knocked over a candle and the tent and dried straw began to catch fire. A man similar to the first jaundiced man came through a second tear in the tent followed by a goblin whose dark red skin had taken on a yellow hue as well. Ria and Gwendolyn both went to engage the two newcomers but were hit with a noxious odor emanating from the man and goblin. Trying to settle their stomachs, Ria went after the goblin as Gwendolyn tried to deal with the fire. Ria advanced on the goblin with her greataxe. Her battle with the goblin ended almost as quickly as it began, though Ria suffered a horrible bite from the goblin, just at her lowest ribs. Already the wound began to burn and a sickly yellow color began to spread across her skin in a spider web weave. Gwen quickly realized the fire was uncontrollable and turned her attention to the human that had entered with the goblin. Ria was also moving to intercept this one, but she kept a careful eye on Ser Villem and his opponent. Ria was relieved to see the kind old sheriff and his daughter escape the blazing tent through the hole the first attacker had made. Between the two of them, the crazed man fell. Ser Villem had vanquished his attacker as well and had already left the tent.

As they exited the tent, Fenris found them and Gwen quickly climbed atop him. Several yards away a wagon sat, with a goblin on one side and a human on the other. They were both jaundiced and were trying to grab at something under the wagon. A young boy darted out from under the wagon and made to flee, but the goblin was after him in an instant. Gwen and Fenris charged after the goblin as Ria went after the person at the wagon. A single goblin is as much of a challenge for the jaws of a dire wolf as an unsuspecting person is for the greataxe of a barbarian. Gwen had to coax the young boy up on to Fenris, promising him he was safe. They then returned to the wagon to try to lure out the other child that was under the wagon, the boy’s sister.

Before they accomplished that, they noticed the merchant Strom swinging a mace at two more of the attacks from atop his wagon. A wide swing cost him his balance and the merchant fell from his wagon. Ria ran to his aid as Gwen took the boy off the back of her wolf to allow the wolf the freedom to attack. Strom was very appreciative of the assistance and thanked them for saving his life. Gwen was able to convince the young girl to come out from under the wagon and join her brother.

On her way back to the wagon Ria spotted a woman running over to a man dressed as a trapper.

“Oscar, you made it back!” she exclaimed.

But as Oscar turned around, he displayed the same sickly yellow skin and wild eyes that the other attacks had. He made to strike the woman, who had dropped to the ground to avoid the strike. Before his blow could land, Ria’s axe hit him square in the head with a muted thud. Ria retrieved her axe and walked back to Gwen, Fenris and the children, the woman she had saved following her. She recognized the children and promised to find their parents once it was safe.

Moving through the tents, Gwen and Ria encountered Oleg and Dielza. Dielza was on the ground, leaning against a wagon wheel; a large cut down her leg. Three of the violent attackers stood across from her. Between her and the attacks was Oleg. Oleg was injured and visibly exhausted, he was holding his own, but just barely and not for much longer. Gwen, atop Fenris, charged the attackers. He desire to help Oleg outweighing a more tactical approach. Ria followed suit, keeping care to stay out of Fenris’s way.

By this point, Ria was nearly as injured and tired as Oleg, when two more of the crazed people came charging at them. Before they made it within range, each tumbled forward into the dirt, as dead as the rest; two arrows sticking neatly out of each of their chests. The source of the arrows was Fiala, who was walking towards them, Lazlo at her side, though it was clear that Lazlo was favoring his left side.

A few minutes passed as the group listened to the festival grounds grew quiet. The sounds of fear gave way to the gentle clanking of metal as troops from Old Fort Sothmere marched into secure the area.

Ria approached a young Fort Sothmere Soldier named Kristoff and showed him the wound on her side and asked him if he could find a healer. Kristoff went off in search of one, while Sheriff Milo and Ser Villem gathered the people together. Sheriff Milo instructed everyone to convene at the town hall to discuss the situation.

Ria and Gwen went to the town hall with everyone else. As Sheriff Milo began the open discussion, Kristoff returned to Ria with a salve and bandages. An old woman, Stoyanka, visited several of the wounded and examined their injuries. She then explained to Sheriff Milo that the raiders had been afflicted with Amber Rage-an incredibly potent poison that afflicts the mind as well as the body. She recommends that all blades be burned clean as well as burning the bodies of the raiders. She also warns against anyone trying to keep some of the poison as one would not even need to touch it to become inflicted, merely having it near you for long periods is enough. The Amber Rage takes hold within only a couple days, usually sooner. Those infected will become enraged and violent and seek out those who are uninfected to attack. Among the infected are Wanda, Oleg, Dielza, Lazlo, Ria and a handful of other villagers.

Ser Villem, understanding the severity of the situation, ensures that the Fort will be able to adequately protect those who are uninfected and there is room enough for them to stay there during the night. He also suggests that the infected be put down, and their bodies burned as well—for the greater good. Bogdan the blacksmith agrees. Sheriff Milo and, understandably, those infected object to this plan and the sheriff reminds Villem that he is not in charge here. Old Stoyanka offer a solution to the impasse between the sheriff and the knight: there is the possibility of a cure. In the forest, there is a substance known as Shadowmoss. If someone were to gather enough Shadowmoss, she could brew the cure. Sheriff Milo asks for volunteers. Ria volunteers, both to save herself and the others. Gwen, agrees to go as well; mostly for Oleg’s sake. Satisfied with the two volunteers, Old Stoyanka instructs them to try and get some rest before meeting with her in the morning—she will give them further instruction then.

There was nothing for anyone to do but worry and wait until the morning arrived.

Ria, Gwendolyn, Sheriff Milo, Wanda, and Ser Villem all met with Stoyanka in the early morning light. Stoyanka gave Gwen and Ria three items. The first was a large empty sack, instructing them to fill it completely with Shadowmoss. The second was a bag containing some sort of thick liquid. The final item was a bag containing something, several somethings, that were moving. She also gave Ria three small vials of some sort of brown liquid. The vials were to help stave off the effects of the Amber Rage during Ria’s journey. She was to take one each day. For the villagers remaining, after three days the Amber Rage would be irreversible.

Stoyanka then explained what their quest would require. She called down in a language unfamiliar to all those gathered and a large crow flew don and landed on Ria’s shoulder. Stoyanka told them that the crow would lead them to where they needed to go. The third bag, the bag that contained something moving, was food for the crow. Once there, they were to dump the contents of the second bag into a large pot and boil it. This would attract the firesprites of the Shadowgrove. The firesprites would lead them to the Shadowmoss.
Sheriff Milo gave them a map of the area to make their travels easier as well as some supplies for their short journey. Wanda gave them a flameless lantern to light their way. Ser Villem gave them a cold, unhappy stare. Stoyanka gave them a final farewell and the crow took flight.

Climbing atop Fenris, Gwendolyn and Ria bid farwell as Fenris followed the crow away from town and into the hills. They followed the crow for several hours until they came to a sharp bluff in the land covered loose rocks, with the Sudrand River below them in the valley. Luckily, Fenris was a very surefooted wolf and had no trouble descending into the flat valley by the river. The river was both swift and wide where they were, so they consulted their map before making an unnecessarily perilous crossing. A few miles north of where they stood was the town of Witchford, a small town with a river-crossing; so north they went. When they neared Witchford, they found the town to be eerily quiet, so they did not enter it. Instead, they skirted the edge of the town to reach the dock. The river here was much wider, but also much calmer. The Witchford ferry was a simple build consisting of large timbers bound together. A rope had once been strung across the river reaching from shore to shore, but the end of the rope at the Witchford side hung in the water, drifting in the slow current; upon closer inspection, it appeared that the rope had been cut. The ferry itself now floated listlessly several feet from the shore.

Ria and Gwen were able to recovery the ferry and get it back to the shore, but they did not have enough rope to span the width of the river. Reluctantly, they headed into town.
They found that the town was quite for good reason. Several new corpses were scattered about the street that separated the two rows of buildings that made up the town. Carrion birds hopped about looking for choice portions of the newly dead. Ria began searching the first building for rope, to a little success. Gwen and Fenris both turned to face the open second-story window of a two-story building from which a muted “thud” had just originated.
When Ria emerged from the building she had been in, Gwendoyln quietly told her of the sound they had heard. Curiosity winning out over cautiousness, Ria the Athletic jumped up the open second story window. Peering inside she saw an injured old man on the floor. The “thump” they had heard was him falling out of his chair. He had his knee tightly wrapped and one shirt sleeve was stained heavily with blood. He seemed relieved to see Ria, but Ria recognized the jaundiced color of the Amber Rage crawling across his skin.

His name is Josef Karsgard, and he asks for news from Sothmere. Ria relays what she can regarding the attack during the festival and what her mission is. Josef is concerned about his son Lazlo, and asks if he still lives. Ria is able to confirm that Lazlo survived the attack. Josef is visibly relieved at this news. He asks is Ria can complete two favors for him. Ria, being the kind hearted soul that she is, agrees to fulfill the dying man’s last requests. He asks that Ria deliver the Karsgard family sword to Lazlo when she returns to Sothmere and that she not let him turn into one of the mindless ragers. Ria completes the latter part of Josef’s request and returns to Gwendolyn, with the last length of rope they need in hand.

Tying the lengths of rope together, the grappling hook has enough length to reach the other side of the river and the group manages to pull the ferry to the other side of the river.
They make their way north to where they had separated themselves from the raven, and continue pushing themselves onward.

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