SKT - Follow The Cleric

Evening the odds

The wind howled around Titan, whipping the canvas of the yurts with icy vindictiveness. This was a terrible place for a goat, let alone a whole village. Titan hated the outdoors in general, travelling was nothing but a catalogue of hardship and rain of ravenous beasts and runny shits. Only complete loons like Envar liked the wild and it made Titan weary to put on his hard face all the time. To not let the others, know how much it rankled him to be so useless and weak on the road, dependant on them for food, warmth, shelter and everything in between. Everyone knew he was not one for complaints. Titan the stoic they ought to have called him. There was even a moment, after he got his hand unfrozen, that he’d seen the distant, sparking peaks of the Spine of the World mountains and found them almost…beautiful. Now he was up close he knew better of course. This was a cruel, stark place. It offered only death.

And now it was set to take Korotir. It had been a fool notion to come here in the first place, a worse one to stay. Titan had thought Korotir to be just about the most terrible opponent imaginable in combat. When he fought, he seemed to flip between steely martial discipline and raw elemental fury, it was hard to know which was the more terrifying. This…thing Korotir was supposed to fight though, next to that he looked small and weak. Worse, he had to fight it in the open, on his own, without trickery and in front of hundreds. Madness.

Then there was the smug corpse- thing that passed for the priest around here. After the challenge was issued they’d all retired to a yurt for a vigorous, and completely pointless, debate about what to do. The problem was apparently the rules. To interfere in an orcish duel was dishonour, at best a failure to recruit the tribe’s warriors, at worse a grizzly end at the hands of the enraged mob they were surrounded by. It was ridiculous. The other side was so obviously cheating, the priest so obviously pumping her champion completely full of horrible devil magic, yet they were supposed to wait idlily by? Just watch as Korotir was torn to shreds in a battle he had no hope of winning? Korotir himself seemed to think so, every solution they had proposed had been met with a flat refusal and a resigned shrug. Titan knew the half-orc well enough to see that they’d have no sense out of him. He was well past clever stratagems and cunning ploys. Even as the debate raged, Korotir was deep in his battle-trance, he’d weighed his impossible opponent and seen his own death, was determined to meet it head on, was maybe even a little excited about it.

So it was up to the rest of them. But as mouths flapped the likes of Natalia, Atarah and Tranled proposed a lot of pretty little solutions that involved subtle magics or the winning of hearts and minds. Everyone agreed that Korotir could win a fair fight, agreed the priest was the problem, but when Titan had very helpfully suggested that he simply kill he priest he’d been dismissively shouted down with a chorus of mewling about the importance of not being seen to interfere and the rules. It made Titan seethe with anger, of course he wouldn’t be seen! When had anyone ever seen a blow coming from Titan Quickhand? Never! ‘The silent death’ they called him. Well, maybe they didn’t quite yet, but they would! As for the rules, Titan knew a thing or two about evening up the odds against a bigger opponent, and it had nothing at all to do with rules.

Perhaps they hadn’t yet learned to fully trust their technician, but they would! Titan picked his way between the tents, stepping gingerly around the filth that surrounded them. Maybe he’d been around Natalia too long. Become all soft and precious about a bit of grime. There were his new boots to consider though and this wasn’t the honest, useful refuse of the city but the long rotted carcasses of forest beasts, their gnashed bones poking all about. Titan spat. Out the corner of his vision there was movement. A little orc girl, naked as the day, elbows deep in offal that was long, long past its questionable best. Their eyes met. Titan’s nose started to wrinkle but then she realised how thin she was, she must have been ravenous. He thought back to his youth on the backstreets of Waterdeep, pilfering and begging for scraps. He’d been there. There was a moment of silent agreement, the transcendent language of mischief. Two souls seen a little too much and decided it would be better if they hadn’t. He tiptoed away.

He came to the end of the village. Just the end of a plateau really, with the sharp sides of the mountain soaring vertiginously overhead. There was an excited roar back from the centre of the village, the champions had emerged from their tents, and the crowd was humming with the anticipation of violence. Not much time. Titan took a deep breath and ran, jumped towards the mountain working his legs furiously. His last step sprang off the frozen ground, then, miraculously, his next propelled him upwards off of empty air. Up, up he went, every footfall taking him higher, just as if he were running up a hill of solid earth. Well, maybe not solid earth exactly, more like a sand dune but such distinctions were for other times. These boots were the greatest thing that he had ever owned, easily worth every privation of his adventuring career and more. If only Smyth and all the others from the others from the orphanage could see him now! Titan laughed and cackled at the sheer joy of it before remembering again the urgency of his mission.

He sprinted a path parallel to the mountain, past a jagged, jutting spur of rock that gave good cover from any wandering eyes that might happen to look upwards. Fat chance of that, a duel to the death between two colossal warriors for the fate of the tribe was the perfect distraction, and the bloodthirsty orcs would be the perfect audience. If Korotir’s lust for violence was anything to go by, they were as likely to forget to watch as they were to forget to breathe. Still, Titan was nothing if not a consummate professional, no-one could accuse him of being prone to overconfidence! He weaved from cover to cover, an otherwise torturous and impossible climb reduced to the work of a moment. Anyone who did look up would quickly dismiss the movement as a bird, a fox or some other meaningless animal.

He was high now, high enough to enact his plan. The Titan solution. Ahead was a tiny bluff scattered with a pile of boulders from some long-forgotten rockslide. He scampered over to it and risked a look at the combatants far below. The fight had started. At this distance it was like watching a pair of stick figures knock lumps out of each other but even from here Titan thought he could see that Korotir was on the defensive from that curse-amped monster Erogash and his enormous axe. The quickfire staccato rumbling of Korotir’s thunder-shield confirmed the suspicion that he was under serious assault. Titan grimaced, ground his teeth in anger and started rifling through the rock pile.

Titan considered the first he pulled out, hardly more than a stone, not devastating enough. A huge boulder was next to it, it would crush a house, much less a puny wizard- priest thing, but even one so mighty as he wouldn’t be able to aim it and a missed attack would be worse than no attack at all. Titan buried himself in the pile, furiously considering and throwing aside dozens of potential missiles while the thunder continued to ring out down below, every repetition of it electrifying Titan with further fury.

Then he saw it, the perfect rock. It was about the size of his torse, round on top, but sharp down below, narrowing to a cunning point like a cut diamond. Desperately he grabbed for it, set his feet, strained for all he was worth to pry it out from between the two huge rocks where it was pinned. All at once he came and titan had to dive away at the last moment to avoid crushing himself. That would not be a fitting end for one of his remarkable fame and remarkable-er talents. Not fitting at all.

Titan cackled as he felt its weight. He had to use his legs to lift the thing! It was going to crush that fool flat!

Now came the tricky bit. He wasn’t exactly sure how much weight these wondrous boots of his would bear. He waddled to the lip of the bluff, felt the icy wind below up from far, far below. He didn’t relish this bit, but Korotir might be in trouble and time was of the essence. Titan gulped, closed his eyes and stepped into the empty air…

He began to drop, not so fast as a freefall, but losing altitude at an alarming rate all the same. Titan began to pump his legs furiously like he was treading water. it arrested his fall but it was hard work and his heart began to hammer as he whooped in lumgfulls of freezing air.

It was hard to see much past the rock but the situation sounded like it’d hardly improved. The savage growls of the combatants echoed from below, the clash of weapons, the roar of the crowd baying for violence. Titan reckoned he could make out arcane babble of Tranled from within the hubbub, the strong resolute prayers of Atarah and Natalia. The snapping of metal rang out. Korotir would have been in dire straits indeed if they were intervening. Titan breathed a curse, this would even the odds.

He was right above that hateful priest now. An inch right, two inches forward. Everything had to be perfect. It would have been an impossible shot except for the fact that the smug, obvious fool was standing stock still, feet planted arrogantly like victory was certain. He was just about to loose when he remembered to rotate the sharp end downwards.
‘Special delivery’ cackled Titan as he dropped the huge rock.

The improvised missile dropped away. The world slowed. The axe whirred. The flail span. One second, two, three. Titan’s breath was caught fast in his throat.

Then it connected. The rock had hit the priest flush on the head, a perfect bullseye. It was a catastrophic blow. It crushed her flat, exploded her body, dark ichorhous blood and crimson black gore blossoming out instantly in every direction like the blooming of some great glorious flower.

‘Yes! That’s what you get! That’s what you get when you cross Ttian, when you cross Korotir! Ahahahahha!’ Titan danced and cackled in the air before he realised that perhaps he ought to make himself scarce. He didn’t look back down but instead just threw himself sideways as fast as he was able towards a patch of deep snow he’d seen twenty feet below. He carrened through the air, the sides of the mountain and its sharp, terrible rocks flying up to meet him and threatening a terrible impaling end if he’d miscalculated.

Then the pillowy snow was all around him. He’d made a crater in it five feet deep. Titan hated snow, but just then it felt like a hug. Had anyone seen him? Of course not, he was Titan the mighty and they were just a gaggle of ridiculous lunks.

He cackled in his hole.

View
The Circle Grows

It was another nightmare. Atarah was used to nightmares; frequent disturbers of sleep with various half-formed scenes of tragedy and horror, only emotion and flashes of imagery remaining.

The faces, sometimes, felt familiar, or like she should know them, the villages, the dangers involved. Like they were something she could fix, but there was never enough to go on.

Sometimes the dreams lingered, but far more likely they burned off in the morning sun and physical exertion of adventuring.

This one… this one felt different. Realer, crisper, every face and environment picked out in detail.

She stood shoulder to shoulder with her brother – brothers, both, Aelius to one side, grim and dark, and Ravik, grown to manhood on the other. She held a round shield in one hand and a battleaxe in the other, dressed in heavy furs and leathers against the mountain winter.

Behind her, she knew, was her family… and Natalia’s family, and other families – people she couldn’t name but knew she loved fiercely, in the strange logic of dreams.

There was an army bearing down on them. Hulking grey-green brutes with too much muscle to be real, fire like blood in their eyes, in armor just as mismatched as their bodies. At their vanguard was a pair in full plate, determination in their gaze behind the mask-like faceplates of their helms. The female of the pair blazed in sunlight, harsh and glaring, so hot she could feel it from where she stood with her brothers beneath the sheltering stone entrance of the Temple.

“Wipe them out,” came the voices of the pair in unison, a double discordance of judgment passed with no room for mercy or negotiation.

“Brace!” yelled the shield wall, but there was no time.

The armored female gestured and light, brightly sharp like ice knives, flicked over them. Atarah was struck in place, the strange sensation of movement sapped from her limbs – a vivid memory of the spider demon’s venom coursing through her – and paralyzed, she could not avoid the strike as the horde crashed through their lines. Steel bit into her side and she fell, cold.

“Stop-” Atarah gasped out with the last of the breath in her lungs. The horde overran the shieldwall as her brothers fell in the same stiff agony beside her, their eyes already glazed over, unseeing. Better for them, because Atarah was still watching when the horde reached Mama.

She was still watching when her sisters were ripped from Mama’s protection and flung against the stone walls to fall broken to the floor. She was still watching, helpless and growing colder by the heartbeat as the fire in her veins drained from her, when Mama and the other families further into the hall were cut down and left in heaps.

Atarah growled and tried to shake off the paralysis, her fingers inching forward towards the haft of her axe. An armored boot stepped onto the axe, pinning it in place, and Atarah looked up at the armored female. A sword descended – her sword, Arbiter, wreathed in angry red flame -

Atarah woke gasping, freezing cold, in the pitch black of the yurt she shared with Natalia. She hugged the fur blanket to her, casting a cantrip on the copper pendant around her neck until it shone with a gentle pearly dawn light.

“Papa?” she whispered.

Summerheart glittered, barely visible, an outline of gold and ember, sitting at the edge of her pallet. He said nothing, just patted her knee and vanished. Dawn, true dawn, was breaking outside, the light seeping in from the smoke hole at the top of the structure and cracks around the door. Atarah rummaged for her gear.

The Temple wasn’t far off now. After days, moving slowly to keep pace with Korotir’s people, they were finally within striking distance of the place. While Atarah had become no more convinced of the wisdom of the plan she had in mind, the certainty that it was what she must do had only grown. She glanced down at the length of pale fabric knotted around her waist for the purpose, and squared her shoulders.

Atarah summoned Rivka with a word, swinging up onto the great cat’s saddle and turning her head towards the Temple. She paused by the vanguard formed by Korotir and the rest of the party.

“There’s… there’s something I have to do. Wait a little while. If you don’t hear from me by sunset… then, then attack. But give me a chance, first. Tranled. Brother, will you come with me?” She held a hand out to the tiefling, ready to help him mount behind her if he’d go.

Then, she turned Rivka’s head, loping off into the cold gray day.

View
And the Sky Was Witness
Scenario 19

20 Nightal 1486

After a while waiting in the Temple of Lathander, Pyrrhus sends a projection back, telling Atarah he’ll be gone awhile and not to look for him until sunset. Nik and Titan play cards while they wait, and Titan attempts to cheat but Nik is too perceptive. Envar and Korotir go looking for a particular magical item for sale for Envar. Natalia does loops of the shops nearby, the flashy touristy ones with overpriced pretty things.

The sun sets, there’s no Pyrrhus. Atarah starts pacing; Titan attempts to reassure her by talking about How Many Issues Tranled has that they’ll have to work through – it’ll take months! Atarah is not reassured. Natalia distracts Titan with tales of a shop that sells very ornate daggers. Titan is all over that; the shop owner flatters him into buying a fancy knife with a very complicated history. It’s definitely (not) magical.

The party (except for Atarah, who refuses to leave the Temple) eventually wanders back to their Inn and buys a round for the patrons there, catching up on what they’ve done. Titan shows off his knife; Korotir is concerned about its “powers”, Envar is disbelieving, and Natalia is reassuring. They filter back into the Temple afterwards, several hours after sunset.

Pyrrhus returns with a changed Tranled in tow. The tiefling has been physically changed after his time in the Celestial planes, going from dark haired and apple-red skin to nearly the same coloring as Pyrrhus and Atarah – blonde hair and more olive skin. Titan is disappointed he can’t call Tranled pinky anymore. Atarah greets her new big brother with a hug. There is some discussion over a Solstice meal of the repercussions of Tranled’s abandoning of his ex-patron, and the other warlocks which Lorcan holds who may come after him to set an example (though he is already an example – that one can leave). There are twelve of them now, they are called the Troil<sp?>.

After the meal, Pyrrhus asks if they will come with him, north, out of the city. They have somewhere to be. Atarah is confused that he can leave, but Pyrrhus explains now with a warlock connection he has a little more leeway on the Material Plane (Atarah-meta contemplates multiclassing). Everyone gathers their gear and has the vultures follow them, and they head out of the city on foot – it is snowing too hard to be useful flying. They meet Harshnag outside of Neverwinter – he’d adventured with Pyrrhus before, while Pyrrhus was mortal, and greets him with a fist bump that doesn’t even stagger the demigod.

“North. Is this about the Eye of the All Father?”

Pyrrhus agrees that it is. Harshnag explains the plot the Ordening to the party. There is a temple sacred to Annam – the god who created the Giants, north in the Spine of the World. He is called the All-Father, and he broke the Ordening for reasons no one knows. After it was broken, the Queen of the Storm Giants, went missing. She was known as a friend to the smallfolk and often went to Waterdeep to visit. The King went missing, looking for her, but after he had gone, the queen was found dead on the shore, presumably by smallfolk. So thus, all the lesser giants are competing for the crown.

The Temple in the spine of the world has an artifact in it, the Eye of the All-Father, which can supposedly answer any question truthfully – or six of them anyways. Harshnag wanted to ask it where the King is and how to defeat the evil giants trying to take over, but when he went in he was confronted by a small army of barbarians who had taken residence inside the Temple and attacked. He came back south to look for allies to help him get in and defeat whoever was living in the Temple. It’ll take at least a week to get there… though Harshnag says that’s at his admittedly Giant pace. Probably much longer for the smallfolk.

Pyrrhus draws Atarah aside. He tells her she could ask about Aelius, but there’s more pressing concerns. Pyrrhus knows his son – her brother – is alive, at least.

Korotir says he could have access to an army to help fight whatever’s in the Temple. But… If we go to his home, it may open up something they can’t put a lid on again after.

They have been walking all this time, into the long night. Pyrrhus puts his Dad Face on and asks the party if they know why most adventurers stop adventuring?

“Uh… because they die?”

“Yes. As adventurers, you have access to magics most people never do; that to bring one back from the dead. But it requires a ritual that others who know you well must bring an offering too. It requires friends. The soul cannot return without the lifeline that investing in others brings – resurrection rituals never work for strangers. Don’t take my example as the usual. I died, and there was no one to bring me back. My body was never recovered, and my friends were gone themselves or too far away.

Don’t take death lightly. Korotir, you said when we met you would die for Atarah. But I am telling all of you – dying is easy. Living is harder. Live for each other. It’s a much better legacy." Pyrrhus is beginning to fade out, it is close to dawn. He beckons Atarah away from the group a little ways. The landscape fades away into the warehouse in Waterdeep where Atarah was held by bounty hunters. This time, it is the bounty hunters in chains and bloody, and archers drawn at them. Atarah drew her sword without

“At that academy you went to, Atarah – they taught you to wield your sword before they taught you to wield your heart. Love is what is behind your blade, Atarah. Not anger, not justice, not anything else. Every time you draw – love should be what you hold in your mind.”

“But I don’t love torturers and murderers, Papa. I can’t.”

“You can. Because they are made by the gods just as much as you or I. If you do not love them, who will? Who will show them there is more they can aspire to than brutality and hate? You, Atarah. Paladins are the light, the example, in thought, word, and deed. You must know what you are fighting for. You fight for the people, not your own glory. Here are those that hurt you. Fight for them! Defend them!”

“No! Why should I!? No, let them die. They deserve it. Papa!”

“Why should you? Because I have. I defended those who savaged me, with sorrow ended those who would not lay down arms, forgave those who repented. As you claim to uphold my name, my legacy, then so will you! You must learn to love all, Atarah.”

“Papa — !” But the dreamscape fades and Pyrrhus is gone with it into the dawn. Atarah takes a long time to rejoin the party, sulky and subdued.

Tranled gives Titan his Black Book and his badge of rank in the Zhentarim; he won’t be needing them anymore.

21 Nightal 1486

In the morning, before settling down to camp, Titan realizes he can’t feel his hand with the magic Ring he acquired previously on it anymore and frost is forming over the rest of him. The gold symbol of Asmodeus is stuck inside his frozen hand. He’s being more grumpy than usual. He asks Natalia to come away from the party, into the woods, to look at his hand, but makes her promise Not To Tell Envar, Nik, and Tranled about it. Natalia promises on the basis of Cleric-Patient confidentiality and attempts several spells, none of which resolve the problem but do help slightly defrost his hand.

Natalia asks where he got the Ring and gets Harshnag to come help. “He’s been wearing. The Ring. Of Everfrost… that’s a frost giant artifact.” It might be cursed.

Natalia notices there’s a line of snow storms leading from Neverwinter to their current location, and hears Pyrrhus remark, “Once you’re in the Spine of the World, they won’t be able to track Titan anymore,” but the demigod is gone before any questions can be asked.

Titan decides to leave it in its frozen state until Natalia can figure out how to fix it, or failing that, ask at the Eye of the All-Father. They continue traveling for several days. Tranled finds a letter in his gear addressed to Atarah in Pyrrhus’ handwriting; it is unsealed but he gives it to her unread. (ooc – “Pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip.”)

The letter reads, "A good person draws a circle around themselves and care for those within. Their mate, their children. Other people draw a larger circle and bring within their brothers and sisters. But some have a great destiny. They must draw around themselves a circle that includes many, many more. Paladins must have the largest circles – they must care for all thinking creatures. Even those the gods made with no desire but evil in their hearts – those are not to be hated, but pitied.” Atarah tucks it into her armor, over her heart.

25 Nightal 1486

Titan, eventually, frustrated and impatient, tries to hit his hand against things – turns trees and rocks into blocks of ice and covers their pack mule in frost with maniacal laughter. The rest of the party is now reluctantly informed of Titan’s problem. Tranled can finally explain the curse that’s been following Titan since Nightstone. He had bought a scroll to protect his sister’s house – to curse anyone who broke in and stole from it with a thousand years of the Fires of the Nine Hells and a thousand years of the Ice of the Spine of the World.

Titan broke in after the attack on Nightstone and stole the symbol of Asmodeus. It was an expensive curse, and since it was a scroll, Tranled can’t lift it himself. Natalia can, however, now that she knows what it is. The party gets diverted wondering if it’d be easier to just cut Titan’s hand off, get the ring and the symbol away, then heal it back on, but Natalia uses her Mom Voice and overrides everyone, setting up to cast Remove Curse.

As she begins, the wind and the storm kicks up, coating the area in thick sleet and ice and reducing visibility to nothing but whiteness and snow. “You’re mine now,” says a voice, and the demonic visage of Tranled’s former patron appears in the storm, looming over Titan and Natalia.

Tranled recognizes the spell that Lorcan, the fiend lord, is casting – to stop the removal of the curse – and interrupts it violently. “I am not part of your collection any longer!”

Lorcan howls and disappears, and the curse is broken. Titan’s hand is freed from the ice, and Natalia pries his fingers from the Asmodeus symbol and slips off the Ring of Everfrost. Atarah gives Titan a leather cord to string the ring on instead. The symbol of Asmodeus is flung out into the snow, abandoned.

26 Nightal 1486

The party is getting closer to Korotir’s homeland. He recognizes the landscape. A party of orcs dressed in hunting gear appears out of the falling snow and approaches. Korotir steps forward to speak with them – in Orcish, which none of the rest of the party speaks. He asks why they are so far south? They reply there is no food at home, they had to come this far south to hunt and are having little luck. They ask if he is coming home to take his place as leader. Korotir is.

There is news at home, which is relayed as the hunting party guides them back to the village. An old acquaintance has been agitating to be ruler, instead – Erugash. He has no confidence in Korotir’s leadership – this is not news to Korotir; Erugash has always been this way. The hunting party wonders if Korotir’s friends know better than to interfere in a duel?

There is a lesson on Orcish etiquette. Duels are one versus one, weapons allowed, no interference. Otherwise, you fight with your fists, and it’s always to the death. This is how the tribe stays strong.

They get to the village – it is a large cluster of circular framed yurts around a huge central bonfire, clustered against the base of a mountain. Orcs, half-orcs, and others are engaged in various tasks; preserving kills, tanning hides, leatherworking, etc., but they all cluster around when the party enters the village. Korotir is instantly recognized and acclaimed. Harshnag wisely stays outside the camp, content to be on his own.

The leader of the hunting party, a female Orc who guided them back, grabs Atarah by the pauldron and calls out in common, “I challenge Korotir’s mate for —” but she didn’t even get to finish her sentence before Atarah has slammed a gauntleted fist into her nose. Korotir cheers – yeah, show ‘em how it’s done!

The pair square up for a duel, the orc tries clawing at Atarah and draws the first blood, but Atarah is quick to respond with her flaming sword unsheathed. The orc’s magic slides off Atarah and the two exchange blows until finally Atarah hauls back for the final strike, both of them bloody and scorched and swaying on their feet. She hesitates, remembering Papa’s scolding – and strikes with the flat of the blade, knocking out the other orc. She picks up the unconscious female and glares at the rest of the crowd – “Anyone else want to go?” Several take long steps back. Atarah tosses the orc at Korotir’s feet, who promptly caves her skull in with his flail.

An extravagantly over-muscled orc – unnaturally so – with eyes dripping red fire, accompanied by a female albino tiefling approaches. This is Erugash, and he starts in on a speech – he challenges Korotir for leadership of the tribe! He and the tribe have an arrangement – there will be no other duels and no killing until Korotir agrees to fight Erugash. Rants on about how Korotir is a coward who had abandoned the tribe, how the tribe’s true purpose was to serve Orcus and on and on. Korotir is unimpressed, calls Erugash an idiot and he will fight him at sundown, before the druids.

Atarah senses the tiefling is undead, and they stand on defiled ground. The tiefling also carries the symbols of a Left Hand priest – the same as the Hunt Lords from Noanar’s Hold. She tells the tiefling, “Summerheart is coming for you.” Natalia can sense the arcane link between Erugash and the tiefling, whose name is Sizzica. Sizzica is empowering Erugash far beyond what a normal orc could bear and it certainly would not be a fair fight with her in attendance.

The party retires to a yurt set aside for Korotir and discusses their options, while the Druids ready Korotir for the fight with warpaint and rituals. They can’t (or won’t) break the rules the tribe has set, so they can’t kill the tiefling before the fight begins, but neither can they let her stay for it.

While Korotir prepares and the party plans, Sizzica and Erugash have been going around the camp, riling up people against Korotir. The party is frustrated there is no way they can take her out while abiding by the rules Korotir’s people have, and so the duel is set.

As always, challenges for leadership fight before the witnesses of the Druids and the bonfire in the center of the camp. Sizzica is on the other side of the bonfire from the rest of the party, up against the mountain side. While the duel begins, Titan stealthily climbs the face of the mountain with his flying boots, picks up a big rock, and aims, unseen…

Atarah cast Sanctuary on Korotir just before he entered the ‘ring’, drawing the Summerheart emblem on his armor with warpaint and using that as the focus. Erugash also had the protection of Sanctuary from Sizzica, so their first turns are spent glaring at each other; Erugash laughing at Korotir’s “cowardice” – until Korotir smashes him with his shield and knocks him down.

The two hammer at each other, both landing blows, but while Korotir appears progressively more injured, Erugash doesn’t appear to have been hit at all. Erugash goes into a frenzied rage and starts raining blows down on Korotir, and being struck by the thunder magic of Korotir’s shield with each hit. Natalia notices Sizzica cast a healing spell on herself and realizes – the two are connected far more than she had originally thought. She surreptitiously casts Dispel Magic on Erugash – a ring on his finger snaps with a flash and he visibly deflates, losing the fire in his eyes and most of the unnatural muscle mass.

Sizzica has only a moment to be startled at sudden loss before Titan’s rock drops out of the sky and reduces her to a bloody smear on the snowy ground. Erugash begins to look worried. Korotir hammers him back, into the roaring bonfire, and it is clear that Erugash is starting to feel desperate.

< parts of fight missed? – edit them in or ping Sam & I will >

Finally Korotir drops his shield and flail, picks up Erugash and holds him bodily in the fire while the other orc screams and writhes. He drops the smoking corpse onto his shield and shoves it out at the crowd. “This is what comes of following Orcus! He is a god of death and destruction and that is all he will bring you! Ulgen – it is time to move! I will lead you to a new fight, to new hunting grounds.”

The camp and the party cheers. Time for business. The tribe explains they’ve grown – which is good – but because Korotir was not there to lead them to battle, they stayed out of the War of the Silver Marches which decimated the other orc tribes in the north. Because they’ve stayed, they’ve hunted out the area and there’s not enough food to last the winter. Korotir will lead them to the Temple of the All-Father. Envar goes out hunting and manages to bring back something, and in the morning, Atarah and Natalia between them cast magics enough to feed and water the tribe for the day.

27 Nightal 1486

The tribe prepares to pack up and travel north, to the Temple of the All-Father, and a fight with the Utgarde Barbarians holed up there.

View
Heart of Summer, Crown of Winter
Scenario 18

18 Nightal 1486

As the King arrives, Taal (the groveling drow mage) vanishes. Natalia notices but is too late casting Silence – does not stop Taal’s spell. She calls out to the rest. The remaining drow warriors raise crossbows or otherwise attack whoever is nearest.

The king shouts “’Ware!” and throws his hammer, hitting both the drow running for Tranled and ‘accidentally’ hitting Tranled as well. The dwarves with the King down one drow, Natalia’s spiritual weapon menaces the rest.

Tranled gets back to his feet, yelling in Dwarvish and then Common to Stop! “Drow – you will die here this day if you do not lay down arms!” “Dwarves – Stop! Save these men so they can tell you how they got in!”

Envar drops another drow with an arrow and Tranled facepalms. Tranled shoves a drow into Korotir, who knocks the man down and holds him with a shield to the chest.

Natalia’s spirit guardians flare and swipe at something near the door; Natalia dispels magic to reveal Taal the mage making a run for it. Envar takes a shot at the fleeing Taal and Nik races to catch up, but once down the corridors, Taal vanishes in a cloud of smoke. Nik fails to find where he’s gone, and neither can Envar.

The King wishes to slay the remaining drow outright, but Korotir refuses. “This one’s mine now.”

“Then you are responsible for him. You may keep your prisoner.” Natalia explains they’d like to question the drow with truth-telling magics, but a dwarven cleric who has accompanied the King explains that Drow are all tortured their entire lives; they do not even know themselves and thus anything that leaves their mouths cannot be trusted. All the same…

Tranled notices Atarah, still paralyzed and covered in spider gore, and feeds her a potion of poison-resist. She gets up, stiffly, thanks Tranled with a gory shoulder-check (“Eugh. Prestidigitation!”), and stomps over to the rest of the group with the dead priestess.

The party asks how the fight at the gates has gone?


Meanwhile! —

Titan is back! Riding with Harshnag, the friendly frost giant. The two approach Gauntlgrym, knowing that is where the party had intended to end up, and spot three fire giants and assorted drow forces sieging the gates.

“They’re definitely here, this is what it looks like wherever they go,” Titan quips.

The Destruction Orb explodes, knocking many of the Fire Giants down and outright killing half the drow, but Titan and Harshnag took cover. Harshnag lobs Titan at one of the Fire Giants and heads over to take out the other three. Titan blinds the Giant he landed on, eventually killing it, dramatically. With great flair. Which no one sees.

The remaining drow flee, and Titan bangs on the gates. They want in, and they’ve, you know, saved the city so. The guards are skeptical but Titan persists. “So, I was hoping for a triumphant return with a very large giant friend. Do me a solid.”

Titan and Harshnag are escorted inside, where they meet up with the rest of the party. There is banter.

“I just killed a Fire Giant. By myself! It was amazing. Atarah you look awful, what have you been doing?”

“I killed a spider demon.”

Titan is rendered momentarily speechless. He recovers quickly and explains that Harshnag wants their help Saving The World! The party… mostly… agrees? But first Atarah is not doing anything until after the solstice (and a bath), and Nik wants the party to come investigate where the drow mage disappeared. They don’t find anything new, unfortunately, just a blank piece of corridor.

Tranled declares he has a present for Natalia, but firsts demonstrates magical consent by asking if he can touch her to cast guidance. She agrees, and he then produces an auto-crossbow for her. Natalia is… politely thankful.

The party manages their prisoners and takes a short rest to get cleaned up. Atarah goes in search of the cleric from earlier to ask if there’s a sun-aspected holy place anywhere nearby. The cleric doesn’t know, but she gets a vision of a Temple of Lathander and the knowledge that it is in Neverwinter from Summerheart.

Atarah goes with Korotir and Envar to the prisoner’s cell – she casts Zone of Truth and stands by while they torture information out of the drow. (Another dark side point is added to her tally.)

The drow knows little, and would much rather die, but he does tell them what he knows under the influence of Zone of Truth. They came to acquire the Fire Titan in the Forge for the Fire Giant Duke Zalto, who wishes to reforge all the Vonindod into an artifact that can destroy the dragons. The drow got in through a secret passageway where Taal disappeared; touch the elbow of the statue nearby and a door will open that leads into the Underdark. That’s all he knows, and Korotir puts him out of his misery.

The party investigates the information and discovers it to be truthful, finding the secret passageway. They will tell the King about it but will not say it came from the Drow, to keep it from being biased against.

19 Nightal 1486

The day before the Solstice. Atarah is restless and wants to leave but they have an Audience with the King first. They tell him about the secret passageway, he thanks them for their assistance yesterday and presents Natalia with a flat wood chest. Back in their lodgings, later, Natalia opens the chest to discover three steins made of black stone and mithril filigree with the names “Nik” “Atarah” and “Natalia” engraved on them and filled with gold coins. Korotir is annoyed, grabs Titan, and heads out to Voldrick’s residence, telling the rogue about the boots of flying they acquired with Voldrick. Titan is all for stealing them. Korotir kicks down the door, “Voldrick, we’re here for the boots. They’re ours—” but Voldrick is not there. They ransack the room anyways and find the boots. Titan immediately dons them.

Atarah is even more restless and packs up everyone’s gear while Natalia goes shopping with Tranled… she wants to trade in the staff recovered from the priestess for something less… evil looking. The jeweler contact gives them a paltry offer, and Tranled says they’ll take it elsewhere.

Atarah hustles everyone out of Gauntlgrym; they make it to Neverwinter by sunset. Tranled takes everyone out for something called “pizza” while Atarah searches for the temple. Titan regales everyone with tales of what he’s been up to while away, and Nik sells him on Death Dog Venom. Atarah returns triumphant, Titan interrogates Envar: “Firstly, when did you learn magic?!”

The party decides to go on a pub crawl! Tranled makes back all the money he spent on pizza and drinks via shrewd gambling (and probably betting on the inevitable fights or arm-wrestling or other physical displays of prowess Atarah and Korotir get into). Natalia is the designated healer – doesn’t drink.

20 Nightal 1486

Atarah is up before dawn (if she ever slept at all), along with Envar. The rest of the party, except for Natalia, is recovering from various levels of hangover – Kushme is being used as a pillow, Nik is hanging from the rafters, Tranled needs a sauna – but Atarah liberally lays-on-hands to get everyone back on their feet and chivvy them out to the Temple (if they wanted to come).

The Temple of Lathander in Neverwinter is a domed building on the southwest shore of the Blacklake. The walls are pale stone, the roof red tiles. The inside is filled with sunlight, no matter the weather outside; it streams through skylights and stained glass windows, pools in rippled patterns across the floor, is echoed in mosaics and polished brass fittings until the inside is glowing with warm golden light. At the far end is the altar with the symbol of Lathander set in stained glass above it – a rising sun over rolling hills – lit by a profusion of beeswax candles.

A scattered handful of Priests and acolytes tend the altar, intoning the services of the Dawn Rites, chanting and intoning prayers in the Celestial language.

As the sun fully crests the horizon, there is a nearly-visible ripple the vibrates the Temple; not quite sound, not quite physical, but something still easily sensed. It is the cleansing magical tide of sunrise. As it passes, there’s a new light source, off to one side in an antechamber to the temple’s Great Hall – a flare of zenith-bright sun.

Atarah had been waiting for it. The second it appears, she is off and running, dodging around worshippers and furniture. She drops her pack and armor to the ground and flings herself at a tall blond man, yelling, “Papa!”

The man catches her and swings her around as if she weighed no more than a child, then wraps her in a tight hug. They both have white blonde hair, and where Atarah’s eyes are pale ice, his are the deep blue of a cloudless sky.  He is clearly her father, in build and height and face. But the soul behind those eyes is far more tempered than Atarah, and bears the calmer wisdom of years and pain.

Peace and calm radiates from him; a different sort of peace from that in the Shadowtop Cathedral. Where there it was a quiet, still sort of feeling, the man’s spirit is different: active and engaging, inviting – the peace of the hearth rather than the sanctum. He does not glow so much as the space around him always seems brightly lit, and  when he turns to greet the rest of the party with a broad smile, they feel as though they are coming home. As though they were children again, one without fears or worries, because here is their guardian.

He greets each of the party by their full, proper names before Atarah has a chance to introduce anyone – and whatever one’s feelings are on their name, in his voice it carries respect and affection – something to be worn without shame. “Welcome, greetings! I’m glad to meet all of you. I am Pyrrhus Auraest, called Summerheart.”

Nik doesn’t respond to his full name, and Titan is confused by Summerheart calling him “Alton” but responds when Pyrrhus asks for tales of their adventures. He’s heard some from Atarah, of course, but he’d like to hear it from them. Atarah is giddily smiling and standing as close as she can to her Papa, rendered sunnily silent.

Pyrrhus listens attentively during Titan’s full story, theatrics and all. No one usually lets him get all the way through. Pyrrhus asks for a demonstration of some of Titan’s moves – since he’s clearly, by his stories, very skilled. Titan blusters a bit, but Pyrrhus summons armor and stands at the end of the hall, beckoning. “Come on. Show me.”

Titan manages to ping an axe off Pyrrhus’s armor with an acrobatic display, which impresses both Pyrrhus and the rest of the party. Titan is congratulated, and Korotir and Tranled eagerly line up to be next.

Tranled feels a presence looming over him and a fiendish voice whispering to him. “Get out. Stop fraternizing with… these.” He starts feeling really nauseous and heads out to find a privy – in the middle of his hand-to-hand spar with Titan, Pyrrhus pauses, turns to Tranled and commands, “No.”

The whispering and the presence vanishes.

Korotir and Pyrrhus square up to spar; Atarah offers her dad her sword – his sword – but he declines. “No, the Arbiter blade is yours now. I’ve got my own.” He draws blades of fire and light from his palms. Korotir wants one too but they don’t work that way. They spar – Korotir barely hits, once, but it’s enough to shove Pyrrhus back and nearly knock him down. Pyrrhus recovers and returns the favor, knocking Korotir down after making the Temple ring from the force of the blow on the Giantbreaker shield.

After the spar, Pyrrhus notices Tranled returned from the privy. “If they ever give you a hard time again, I can help you. Just ask.”

“How do I contact you?” “Through Atarah is the easiest, right now. Stick with her.”

Pyrrhus has information to give them. He explains about the Left Hand:"
The Left Hand is a group, almost a cult of Orcus. They deal heavily in blood magic and necromancy. They’re very focused on ‘legacy’. Which usually means either cheating death, or making sure that other people’s legacy is wiped out. They like to go after noble houses, corrupting them and using their wealth to fund more blackmail. That’s what happened to the Margasters. I believe you met Othovir, who was fleeing that whole situation. That poor family…

They’re taking a particular interest in this group since most of you are a noble bloodline in one way or another. Korotir is de facto leader of a growing tribe of Ulgen. Natalia and Atarah you know. Tranled is the Bael Turath and will decide their future, for good or for ill. And Titan… well, Titan’s giftings are a very well-kept secret. That’s why the Left Hand isn’t after him.

Your bloodlines are the reason for the bounty on you and my family. My family’s existence is an insult to them. And, assuming they haven’t changed their tactics, that’s what is happening to the Cuvelier family…"

Tranled is concerned about his heritage, but Pyrrhus reassures him. “Your bloodline does not define you. It is your own choices that define your future, none other.”

Tranled has already made choices. He explains a bit about his Fiend Lord patron, and the party asks lots of questions. Pyrrhus reassures Tranled that he is on holy ground: Lorcan cannot see or hear or interfere with anything that happens here.

Tranled breaks down sobbing. He never wanted the Pact. Especially doesn’t want the fire magic – fire is what killed his parents and he hates using it. He doesn’t want his Patron. Pyrrhus says his Patron doesn’t define him.

Atarah yanks off her holy symbol and asks her Papa to bless it; to give it the same kind of effect as holy ground does so Tranled doesn’t have to deal with his patron’s interference any more. Pyrrhus smiles – “Exactly what I was thinking,” and blesses the amulet. Atarah immediately hands it to Tranled. It’ll block the Fiend Lord’s senses as long as he wears it.

There is more discussion on the Left Hand. Pyrrhus addresses Natalia, reassuring her.
“Natalia, it’s normal for you to be worried. We will keep your mother safe. You are right where you need to be, with the people you need to have around you. The Left Hand are not martially powerful. They’re a sickness, so what you need is medicine, not the sword. They tend to operate over long time scales, this has likely been going on for years, and it may take years more for their plan to come to fruition. It’s fortunate you have been away, because your presence could have forced them to take action. I know this is hard for you to hear. But you need to wait until you know who their agent is. Then you’ll be able to strike swiftly and unexpectedly.”

He tells them when they do know who the agent is, to go to Yartar and find his old friend Kolbaz, tell him Pyrrhus is calling in a favor. Kolbaz is a Harper with a teleportation ritual – he can get them inside Waterdeep to strike quickly and before the Left Hand knows they are there.

Towards the end of the discussion, Tranled asks Pyrrhus if he can be Tranled’s patron, instead. Atarah is excited for a new brother!

Pyrrhus smiles and offers a hand to the tiefling. “Tranled. Will you be one of my children?”

Tranled’s eyes widen, glancing between Pyrrhus and Atarah. “Yes!”

“Then, come with me. Excuse us, please.” Pyrrhus bows to the group and leads Tranled towards the altar. A portal opens in the giant mosaic of Lathander’s holy symbol, and Pyrrhus draws Tranled through it, into another plane.

View
The Grim Web
Scenario 17

16 Nightal 1486

The group arrives in Gauntlgrym. On the way in, Voldrick gives them a brief history lesson on the relations between the Drow and the Dwarves. One of the drow great houses has allied themselves with a powerful fire giant, Duke Zalto, who is sending others out to find mithril and adamantine to forge some kind of great artifact so Duke Zalto may lead all of them.

The Gates of Gauntlgrym are lined with statues of dwarvish elders and rulers: the most recent is of Bruenor Battlehammer, followed by Torhild Flametongue. The party leads their vultures by foot down into the city beneath the mountain, being serenated by Voldrick’s rendition of the Canticle of Gauntlgrym. Guards at the inner gates allow them passage through and find stabling for the vultures. Voldrick tells them it will likely be several days before King Bruenor can see them, and while Atarah chomps at the bit (the Solstice is near!), acquires lodging for them all.

The party decides to spend their waiting time… shopping! Tranled leads them to a contact of his, a Zhentarim ‘jeweler’ who also deals in less mundane objects and who maybe has a coin minting facility in the back room, to sell off the adamantine nose-ring and the second rod of Vonindod. The tiefling creates an epic narrative about how the nose-ring came from the fire giant attacking the Stone Bridge (because, dwarvish holy site). The jeweler offers them 6500 in gold and gems for both objects – more money than the party has seen ever. Korotir and Atarah have one thought: Plate Mail!

18 Nightal 1486

Two days later, their audience with the King has arrived. All weapons, including holy symbols, are checked at the door. There is grumbling.

Voldrick and the king discuss amongst themselves the situation, and the king thanks the party for rescuing Voldrick. He tells them that he appreciates their concern, but it is unnecessary – the drow have already attacked and been rebuffed, and a special door has been installed at the forge, magically sealed and reinforced. There is no way they can get in now.

Tranled is skeptical. “Torhild Flametongue was not exalted by the dwarves for putting in a door…. The best defense is a good offense.”

Bruenor stares him down. “It is possible that I, King of Gauntlgrym, know more dwarven history than you.”

“Explain to me then, why the dwarves hide behind their doors.” Tranled replies.

Everyone takes two steps back from Tranled and closer to Natalia, who has been polite and respectful thus far.

Bruenor laughs. “You would have to know the basics, and I’ve no time to spare to teach you. Voldrick, come.” The two retreat for a bit to a corner to speak. Nik approaches and asks permission to operate in Gauntlgrym, as he is an investigator. Bruenor thanks him but assures him it is unnecessary.

Natalia also gives a pretty speech, being very respectful of the King, and assures him they only want to be helpful.

As the party is about to leave, another dwarf bursts in with news – the front gates are being attacked by fire giants and drow, and they’ve got a Destruction Orb with them! The hall bursts into chaos. In the confusion, the party notes a group of dwarves approach the king for his signet so they may go reinforce the guards at the forge. Bruenor does not at first recognize them, but eventually agrees and hands something over.

Natalia asks for permission to go and help – Bruenor acquiesces and the party goes to the Lord Martial to ask where best they would be helpful. The Lord Martial never saw the dwarves who said they would go reinforce the Forge, acts as though that is out of the ordinary and very suspicious.

Nik, who noticed something off about the “dwarves” heading towards the forge, takes off at a monk-enhanced run, yelling for the party to follow. Natalia hesitates only long enough to ask the Lord Martial how to raise the alarm should they find something wrong, then the rest of the party follows Nik at a (much slower) run.

Nik has caught up with the troop of “dwarves”, who implore him to help them with the door to the forge so they might secure it. Nik stalls as long as he can, but the “dwarves” open the door without him and head inside. The dwarves inside call for them to halt, identify themselves. Nik declares they’re here to steal, much to the “dwarves” consternation, and chucks a spear at the nearest “dwarf”.

As Nik stalls and the party dashes to catch up, the illusion falls away from the “dwarves,” revealing a party of nine drow: a Priestess, two male mages and six male warriors. An arrow from Envar’s bow drops one of the warriors, and most of the party just manages to make it under the door before it crashes down again. Envar is left outside, but he immediately turns and begins rallying dwarves outside.

The drow mages cast spells to cause fields of tentacles to spring up from the floor, restraining half the party. The priestess tells them: “We are not here for you. Stay out of our way and you will live.” A massive spider demon crawls out from behind a statue and Looms. Tranled mouths off, and the spider is sic’ed on him. Tranled kites it around the room.

The mages cast Cloud Kill, instantly killing (or nearly) the majority of the dwarven guards already in the Forge.

Atarah, wisely (not), challenges the priestess to one on one combat, yells at the male warriors to get Out Of Her Way. The males hesitate, but not enough, and Atarah is forced to shove her way through half the warriors protecting the priestess. Most of the blows fall off her though, and she crows about how awesome the new armor is.

< stuff happens and I totally did not write any of this down I AM SORRY remind me more event sequences & I’ll write them in >

More giant spiders are summoned and protect the priestess, who takes shelter beneath the Spider Demon’s legs. Atarah slides under, a few bites from the spiders getting past the armor, and gets in a hit on the priestess before falling, poisoned and paralyzed. Tranled picks up a dipper of molten iron from a trough at the back of the forge, aims, and blasts it, creating a shotgun effect of red hot molten metal. The priestess screams and goes down, the summoned spider demon collapsing into yellow gore over both her and Atarah. Gross.

Korotir kills several warriors and a spider demon, Nik stuns and knocks out one of the mages, causing the tentacles to vanish. The other grovels before Natalia, claiming he will do whatever she asks.

The fighting is nearly over, with the powerful members dead or restrained, and the warriors dropping arms, when the doors reopen and Envar returns with the King and another dwarven squad. The drow appear to surrender arms. The King commands them all to kill the drow (prisoners), to which Envar and Korotir reply that he isn’t their king and they do what they want.

View
Peace in the Trees
Scenario 16

1 Nightal 1486

The party clears the keep in Noanar’s Hold. Natalia has a small crisis of faith, wondering if Eldath has forsaken her, but finds an Elemental Gem of Water, which she considers a sign of favor. Voldrick finds a vial of Oil of Slipperiness but can’t identify it at first; both he and Nik taste it but are only afflicted with the runs.

There’s some investigation into what would cure Natalia but all Voldrick can think of is a Wishing Ring.

Atarah searches for papers, or writings, or anything that would clue them in on the place, but only finds incredibly detailed and boring hunt records. She tosses it into the pile Korotir is amassing to burn. The Keep is reduced to ashes.

2 Nightal 1486

Back in the Inn, the last Devaross brother returns from his hunt. The other two are dead. Natalia remembers gossip from Waterdeep that their father had recently died. He is grumpy and terse, and stalks up to his room (which Titan meticulously put back after tossing it, so nothing is noticed as wrong). Atarah follows, bangs on the door and without waiting for an answer, says, “Whatever the wights promised you — they’re dead now.”

The door opens slightly. “And what do you know of the Lords of the Hunt.”

“I know they attacked me, and now they’re dead.”

“…I want to be left alone.”

The last brother packs up his gear and leaves. Nik asks him if he’d like to sell or barter anything, but they cannot come to an arrangement. Devaross rides off.

3 Nightal 1486

The party informs Narth that they are leaving, but if the wights return, to send them a message and they will come back to finish them off. Natalia decides to sacrifice her crossbow to Eldath, by breaking it and hanging it on a suitable tree in a sacred grove. Atarah thanks Rivka and unsummons her for now.

4 Nightal 1486

It’s a short day’s flight to Shadowtop Cathedral, which is only found by noticing a difference in the trees. They can’t get under the canopy, which is too thick, so fly a few miles away to a river to come in from under the canopy. Nik and his vulture blunder into the branches and he decides to jump off and run the last of the way. Atarah takes a branch to the face to prove that wearing your helmet is important.

The Cathedral is rows of giant redwood-like trees, in rows like columns. The area just feels peaceful, and makes everyone feel calm and happier. Atarah, Natalia, Voldrick and Envar realize it is consecrated ground, and Envar recognizes it is consecrated to Corellon, the elven god he follows. The party looks to Envar for clues what to do, since it feels like an Elvish place.

There is sad panpipe music; Nik finds the source – a satyr by a freshwater pool. Envar brings out his flute and plays an accompaniment. The Satyr is Greenwhistle; he’s not a healer but tells the party to stick around and Tirlang the Ent and his druid friends stop by the Cathedral every few days. The party settles in to camp. Natalia feels healthier here already, doesn’t get sicker.

5 Nightal 1486

Titan informs the party he’s going to go off to find a his own giant and he’ll catch up with us at Gauntlgrym (where the drow & the fire giants are heading, within or near Mithril Hall). Atarah tells him to catch up with her on the Solstice and she’ll introduce Titan to her Dad.

The party waits for the next three days before Tirlang appears.

8 Nightal 1486

Tirlang arrives mid-afternoon; he is a very large Tree Ent who grumbles at seeing the party. The druid with him, a half-elf female named Thara Shindel, approaches and asks what they need? They explain the problem with Natalia, and Thara attempts a restoration, which fails. She will consult with Tirlang, but he does not like outsiders. Before she does though, she explains the purpose of the Emerald Enclave, who protects the Shadowtop Cathedral. It is useful to know around here…

Thara talks to Tirlang, who comes over, grumbling, and asks to see Natalia. He offers a woody palm and brings her up to his face to see her better. After examining her, he has good news and bad news. Natalia opts for the good news first.

“You can be cured. You must simply go sleep beneath the Grandfather Tree, which is a very large tree some miles east of here. You will have to convince the dryads to let you stay.”

“And the bad news?”

“Ah, you are young. The young must know everything. When you get to be my age you want some blissful ignorance. The bad news… the poison was from a tamed Deathdog, was it. Its masters practiced blood magic. The disease afflicting you is part of a bloodline curse, but you are not the subject. An ancestor of yours is the source of the curse. As long as the source is under the bloodmagic curse, the masters can track the descendants.”

Natalia trades very concerned looks with Atarah. Envar asks how to remove it, and whether the source is hurting like Natalia was.

“No, no, the source is merely the carrier. The greater magics can remove the curse.”

Nik is impertinent, asking the Ent if he has weapons store. Or something. Tirlang puts a bush on him. Thara offers to guide them to the Grandfather tree, and Greenwhistle asks to come too, since he has a dryad crush there he wants them to help him look good with. The party informs him Natalia comes first, and he’d best not interfere. Dryads are allies of the Emerald Enclave – what the Enclave values, so do they.

Korotir asks Tirlang how to ensure dead undead stay dead, talks about the wights. Tirlang says any enemies of the Left Hand are friends of the Enclave; the Left Hand has many necromancers. Korotir wants to hunt them all down, Atarah is fine with playing bait – they’ll come to the party.

They’ll go to the Grandfather Tree in the morning, as the magics and discussion has taken most of the day. Nik talks to the Satyr about weapons store; they talk about being not in a city. Actually what Nik wants is a viol so he can play music too; Greenwhistle helps him make one from the local materials.

9 Nightal 1486

The Grandfather Tree is really easily found as it’s huge. There’s four smaller (relatively) trees beneath it, and people at the base; a group of centaurs and a group of Uthgart barbarians. The party flies to the opposite side of the tree from both of them and lands; the barbarians are quick to approach in a defensive fashion.

The leader is Neeral Orcsbane (Atarah sidles in front of Korotir, just in case) of the Treeghost Tribe and asks what the party is doing here. Envar answers, as they’re speaking Elvish, and the barbarians will escort them to the tree itself, if they promise not to disturb any of the burial mounds. The party agrees.

Four dryads approach and look immediately annoyed at the presence of the Satyr; Atarah drags him a ways off so as not to disrupt negotiations. Again, Envar and Natalia do the talking, as the ones who speak Elvish. Korotir tells Envar to tell the Dryads he wants to join the Enclave, to help Natalia get permission to stay. Envar also offers a potion of healing, as a symbol of their intent. The dryads allow them to stay, points out the Centaurs are there for the same reason (they’ve been hit with a curse of charnel-stink).

Korotir has been regaling Daphne the dryad with stories of fighting undead and fire giants; Natalia notes she seems very into him. Atarah asks the dryad what her side of the story is with Greenwhistle; she thinks the Satyr is just a creepy loser. Atarah nods and goes to explain the concept of consent and creepiness to the Satyr.

Later that evening, the Rod of Vonindod starts vibrating. Envar investigates, finds something in a hole under the tree that doesn’t look like a burial grave. He informs the lead Dryad (Daphne, the one Greenwhistle has a crush on) about the find, and how every time they’ve found a Rod of Vonindod or adamantine artifacts, Fire Giants bent on destruction soon follow. Daphne tells him to please remove it.

They find an adamantine three-quarter circle like a torc but that is big enough to be almost a belt for them. Natalia identifies it as an ancient Hill-Giant Chief’s nosering. The Rod stops vibrating.

They sleep beneath the Grandfather Tree.

10 Nightal 1486

In the morning, Natalia is completely healed. Korotir is welcomed into the Emerald Enclave. Thara thanks the party for the respect they’ve shown these holy places. She gifts the party Silverberries from the Lost Peaks, and says she would be happy to call them friend. She asks if they would accompany her to Jalantar and her friend there… she really wants to fly on a vulture.

The party agrees; it’s more or less on the way to Mithril Hall and Gauntlegrym. They have to hunt and feed the vultures before they can leave, and Nik fails to make friends with his vulture again. It’s a two-day flight to Jalantar.

12 Nightal 1486

In Jalantar, Thara introduces them to her friend Quinn, and tells him all about flying vulture-back. He’s happy they came with her and offers the party tea, tells them about his former adventuring days. He’s missing his left ear to Uthgardt barbarians, tells them about his encounters with Old Gnawbones, too, the Ancient Green Dragon the party has heard of before.

In thanks for escorting Tharra, Quinn gives them some of his old adventuring gear – Winged Boots, a Gem of Fire Elemental, and several healing potions.

While in Jalantar, Atarah looks for bounty posters. She finds several, one of which is for her and her family, the other for the entire Party, with recent information. The bounty drop is still Noanar’s Hold. There’s another for a Worvil “The Weevil” Forkbeard for 5,000gp, wanted for stealing a magic item by the Frost Giant Jarl Storvald. Atarah takes the two relevant posters and stuffs them into her pack.

They restock and head towards Mithril Hall and Gauntlegrym. It’s two hundred and twenty miles or so; a four to five day flight…

View
Epilogue: Lords of the Hunt
<After the events of Bloodlines and Riches>

Wight-5e.png
The tattered armor of the undead Lord of the Hunt clinked against his skeletal warhorse as he crested the ridge next to his companion. In life, they had been dignified looking gentlemen. Now he couldn’t tell his compatriot’s horrid face from his own. He looked away towards their castle keep which was now burning in the distance. “We should have spread them out more. Letting Korotir and Atarah regroup was a mistake.”

Lord Crannon shook his head, leathery skin rasping against old armor. “No we should have drug them farther. Let the prey tire itself out first. I didn’t expect the monk to be right on my tail after covering so much ground.”

Lord Savann tightened his grip on the reigns. “No, we should have focused harder on Natalia. Killing her would have crippled their morale.”

“We couldn’t very well do that and man the rock slide at the same time.” There was a prolonged silence as they watched a great billow of smoke come pouring out of their former home. A section of the roof collapsed in.

“No… we couldn’t. We needed reinforcements. We should regroup with the rest of the Left Hand.”

Crannon made a spitting sound, a hollow gesture when his body no longer produced spit. “We’ll have our revenge, sycophants or no. A huntsman’s pride in single combat is not foolishness. Still, this is a setback. We need to move on more bloodlines lest Orcus become displeased with us.”

“What more can we lose?” Crannon’s face stretched back as he watched the burning castle. “What of House Daerivoss?”

Lord Savann cocked his head as if listening to the wind. “The deed is done. One more House has fallen to the Left Hand. Now we can focus on Auraest, Cuvelier, and the Ulgen bloodlines. I honestly thought we were going to get the Warlock. I lined him up perfectly for you.”

Crannon goaded his horse in a circle, leaning back in the supple leather saddle. “Where’s the new saddle I bought for you?” He treated him with a rotted, pointy toothed grin. The Hunt Lord hefted his bag of gems in his hand. “Raise the Bounty. Add the whole sorry lot of them. We want our prey run ragged when we finally slit their throats.”

View
Bloodlines and Riches
Scenario 15

30 Uktar 1486

Tranled, released from his missions with the Snail, catches up with the party the evening of the fight on the Bridge, making a very dramatic entrance by jumping off his vulture. They spend the evening catching up and healing, to finish their journey to Noanar’s Hold the next day.

The Feast of the Moon, 1486

The vultures are skittish and harder to handle after the bridge fight, but eventually settle down and the party continues their journey, arriving in Noanar’s Hold in the early evening. Voldrick and Titan “volunteer” to stay with and guard the (expensive) vultures on the outskirts of town where they won’t scare anyone.

The rest of the party heads into the town to find an inn and get rooms, a handcart for lugging the delivery, etc. They find the White Hart Inn, which is built for many more people than it is currently holding (the party). The Innkeeper, Narth, is an apathetic guy, who other than demanding payment in a monotone voice and telling the party to stay out of certain rooms belonging to the only other lodgers, doesn’t talk much.

Atarah gets Natalia and their rooms settled, runs into the other three lodgers coming out of their rooms. They’re dressed in hunting leathers, and leave without acknowledging the party. Nik asks Narth where all the people are. He only says the Hold has fallen on hard times lately, and no one leaves.

Tranled requires sauna time.

1 Nightal 1486

At breakfast, the party sees only two of the hunters returning. One of them has a serious wound (by a rapier like the ones they carry) and refuses Atarah’s attempt to heal it. Nik asks “Who killed your brother?” – they do not answer and go straight up to their rooms. Natalia thinks she recognizes them as nobles from Waterdeep – the Devaross brothers.

The party shrugs – not our business – and decides to go get Orthovir’s delivery completed. On the way out of the tavern, one of the brothers yells at a loitering Tranled to stay out of their business.

Back to the Vultures with a handcart to collect the gear, they don’t notice anything unusual. The woods are full of chirping songbirds, there’s game and scavengers. Nothing out of place. They collect the saddles and start towards the keep, up a series of switchback trails.

The keep is tall and solid, with no windows – there are the frames of them, but they’ve been bricked up. There is only a solid wood door and a knocker. Everyone stares at it until Atarah, impatient, bangs on the door.

A very grumpy, elderly dwarf answered and allowed them to put Orthovir’s saddles inside. Nik annoys him by asking for a signed receipt for the saddles; they learn the dwarf’s name is Amreth Nolabar.

The anteroom of the keep is coated in thick dust except for a small path that is clearly made by the dwarf, and the walls are covered in cobwebby hunting trophies: animal heads, mostly. There’s a prominent portrait of a noble in plate mail (no resemblance to the dwarf). Party is suspicious, but, task completed, start back down the trail back to town.

Halfway down, a two-headed dog jumps out of the bushes and latches onto Natalia’s leg. Envar stabs it, Nik stuns it with a blow to the head, and Atarah ends it. She attempts to pry the jaws off of Natalia’s leg and discovers the bite is poisonous. She manages to shake it off quickly, but it’s set in in Natalia and none of Atarah’s limited spells will remove it. Nor are Natalia’s spells working.

Korotir, Atarah, and Envar load Natalia into the cart and decide to seek help in a temple in the town, if there is one, while Tranled and Nik stay behind to study the corpse of the two-headed dog and see what they can learn of it.

Banks of fog start rolling down the mountains, covering the trail and reducing visibility. Korotir feels the presence of Orcus, is unnerved. Then, there is total silence. Supernatural silence.

Envar notices it first, eerily silent boulders rolling down the trail towards them. A landslide! He gets the others attention and they all try to get out of the way of the tumbling rocks and debris. Only Envar manages it, grabbing Natalia from the cart and dodging into the woods to the side of the trail. The other two, battered by rocks, feel themselves wrapped by ropes and dragged from the area. Kushme is left behind, hiding beneath an outcropping.

Further up the hill, Tranled and Nik are also wrapped in silence, but manage to notice horseman bearing down on them. Nik dodges the lasso tossed at him, but Tranled is not so fortunate and is dragged into the forest.

The horseman circles around and comes back at Nik, as another two-headed dog (Death Dogs) lunges out of the bushes. It bites him but doesn’t get locked down. The horseman, a skeletal creature with stringy hair and glowing eyes, speaks:

“We have cheated death. We have conquered that which calls to you. If you serve Orcus, you will never die. Join us!”

Nik declines. He punches the skeletal warhorse in the ribs, downing it, and flees in the direction Tranled was dragged.

Envar, still holding Natalia, is running, trying to get down the hill. The skeletal Wight rides up beside him. Envar slashes and misses, tries to find a place to make a stand. The Wight calls to him. “We can give you revenge. Rimedal will be here soon. Your greatest prey. Join us. Kneel.”

Envar says nothing but attacks again, getting a good hit on the wight and the warhorse. The horse screams and rears, flailing at Envar with its hooves as another Deathdog darts out from beneath and bites at him.

Korotir, dragged away from the rest of the party, finally gets loose from the ropes around him. Another Wight, with a Deathdog companion, confronts him. The dog bites at him. The wight calls to him as well. “Orcus is displeased with your cowardly abuse of inheritance. We will kill you, take back the shield, and paint the mountains red with blood.”

“Funny that you call me a coward when Orcus is a conqueror of cowards. Get off your horse and fight me. Just us.”

The wight does so, grinning, and casts Compel Duel on him. Korotir takes the first hit from the wight’s longsword, then hits back with the flail and shoves him down with his shield.

“I will never yield!” yells the Wight.

“Looks like you already are.” Korotir hits him again, growls, “Now stay down!”

The wight tries to get back up but Korotir smashes him back down with a final blow of the flail, shattering the creature’s skeletal form into disparate broken bones. Korotir snarls at the Deathdog, which had been thinking about attacking but now, frightened, runs off. Kushme arrives, and Korotir tells the cat to find Atarah. They run off into the fog together.

Meanwhile:
The wight dragging Atarah stops after a time, and she struggles to her feet as the creature circles her on his warhorse. The ropes are still tangled around her.

“Daughter of Summerheart,” the wight snarls at her. He charges, tries to cut her down from horseback. Atarah gets out of the ropes and draws her sword.

“Get down here and fight me proper,” Atarah tells him, casting compel duel of her own. The wight dropped from his horse and approached. Atarah hit him twice with all the might she could summon from Summerheart behind the blows. The wight fell to pieces in an explosion of divine sunlight, easily seen in the fog.

“Daughter of Summerheart. You’d better believe I am.” Atarah grabbed the warhorses’ reins and hauled herself up.

Korotir and Kushme emerged from the woods and Atarah gave the half-orc a hand up as well. Riding double, they turned the skeletal horse in the direction of Envar and Natalia and charged.

<…>

Tranled got hit by trees, but manages to get out of his ropes as well and stand as the wight that was dragging him wheels back around. The wight tempts him:

“You didn’t think just anyone could become a warlock, did you? Lorcan chose you because you are the last remains of Bael Turath. Join the Left Hand and we will give you your inheritance as Tiefling King.”

Tranled misty steps out of there, heading towards the flash of light in the fog. The wight gives chase.

Nik is running, trying to find Tranled, when a wave of fear crashes through the fog. He sees the thing he fears most in this world, which appears as a figure in white robes: hooded and cowled. He turns, runs faster. It pursues.

Envar found a place to make a stand; Natalia is under cover and he is standing guard over her, slashing at the Deathdog trying to drag her out. He kills it, narrowly missing being shot by the Wight’s arrows.

Tranled also falls prey to the wave of fear. The image of his Fiend Lord appears. “Tranled…”

“Oh, uh. This is not really a good time… if we could, maybe, talk later?”

“Your parents died because they refused the call of the Left Hand. They were more experienced than you. You will not survive disappointing us. Serve the Hand.”

“No!” Tranled denies it, spits poison in the face of his Lord, and turns – running the other way. He passes Nik (“Tag, you’re it”) but the wight that was chasing him gets in a hit. As he runs, the vision of his dead mother appears to Tranled, tells him how disappointed she is in him…

Nik snaps out of the fear and comes back to fight the Wight. It takes a hit and then flees into the forest, along with the first Wight to deal with Nik.

Atarah and Korotir are yelling for Envar; he hears them and responds, then dives for cover with Natalia. Atarah and Korotir burst from the woods and charge Envar’s wight. The two skeletal horses crash together in a splinter of bone, and between the two of them and Kushme, the wight is defeated.

The party regathers, some cowed, some triumphant, and make it back down to the village, bearing four recovered saddles (because really, the wights won’t need them anymore and it would be a shame to leave Orthovir’s good work out in the woods).

It turns out there is no temple in the town, no healers but themselves, but Narth says there’s druids who can heal in the woods to the east, in the Shadowtop Cathedral. Since they had business that direction anyways, they resolve to go there next. Natalia is stable; ill but no longer terribly wounded. But her magics are still unavailable.

In the Inn, Atarah asks Titan to unlock the door of the missing Devaross’ brother’s room, to see if they can solve some of the mystery. All they find are wills from his other two brothers, leaving everything to the dead one (Ranthar). Titan opens the other rooms and finds similar arrangements in each. They have no other valuables aside from a handful of currency.

They can’t leave the town under the thrall of the wights, so the party decides to air-drop onto the keep via Vultures and break in. They search the keep but find no wights, only the crotchety old dwarf. He was the castellan for the hold back when the Hunt Lords made their pact with Orcus, and remained in that capacity. The party clears the keep of valuables and then burns it to the ground.

2 through 4 Nightal 1486

They spend the next few days ensuring the wights do not come back and checking the countryside for signs of them. None are found, nor do the wights return….

View
Burning Bridges
Scenario 14

20 Marpenoth through 2 Uktar 1486

Titan and Korotir are “working” for the Snail in Waterdeep for roughly a tenday and change, posing as unemployed swords-for-hire. They get several jobs doing boring guard work for various elements in the city, using their positions to sneak into offices and extract samples of stationery for the Snail’s “paper expert.”

While in the city, Korotir turns in the Fire Giant’s ear for the bounty it is worth, but is recognized as being part of the banned group. He is not evicted from Waterdeep but is warned against coming back. Doesn’t matter, got paid.

The work pays off, despite its mind-numbing nature: the Snail’s expert identifies the office which issued the edict against the party and the Snail can move into phase two of his plan: insinuating an agent into the offices. This phase cannot be helped by the presence of Korotir and Titan, and the two meet back up with the party in Daggerford after the rest of them have successfully raided their new Vulture mounts.

2 through 6 Uktar 1486

Since leaving the Temple of Air, the party has convinced their vulture mounts to trust them even without the benefit of the Air Acolyte robes, which are gratefully discarded. Lata informs the party that the best saddlemaker in all of Faerun lives in Goldenfields, and once the cultists have quit chasing them, they should go back and get geared up.

In Daggerford, after reconvening with Titan and Korotir and discussion with the Snail, the party decides to go back to Goldenfields (minus Willy, who, task for the Snail complete, is rewarded with his own desired information: his lost companions have been seen, and he is given the location).

On the flight back, somewhere in the Forlorn hills between Nightstone and Goldenfields while the party has settled for the day, Envar, Atarah and Korotir go hunting for vulture and people food. A pack of crag cats ambushes them, dropping down from above. Two of the cats are killed, and Korotir manages to knock the third unconscious, having determined to make a pet out of it. They drag all three bodies back to camp and Korotir asks Natalia to take a look at the unconscious one.

Natalia determines that the crag cat is female and a recent mother. Atarah and Korotir decide to go find the cubs; Envar declines, bloodied and thoroughly done with the whole situation. He feeds the vultures on the dead cats, saving their pelts. Korotir and Atarah track down the den and return with one month-old crag kitten. The mother proving untamable, Korotir settles on the kitten as his new pet, killing the mother and saving her pelt.

6 Uktar 1486

They end up running into Naxene first, and ask her to identify the Rod they’d picked up from the Giant, as well as does she have any diamonds they can buy? For Natalia’s spell components. Naxene doesn’t have any but she does know someone who might… Several hours later, they’ve somehow canvassed most of the town and come up with two suitable diamonds for Natalia (properly paid for, of course. The rod is identified as a Rod of Vonindod, which can locate objects within a thousand feet or locate adamantine artifacts within several miles, a number of times a day.

Envar runs into some Emerald Enclave elves, who invite him back to a celebration of the elvish god Corellon… he stays with them for almost the entirety of the time the party spends in Goldenfields, returning with a deep blue star-studded cloak and new magic.

They do end up finding Orthovir Margaster, the saddlemaker, who disparages the quality of the saddles the vultures came with and promises them better ones… for 80gp each… they need ten of them. Orthovir proposes a discount: deliver an order of completed saddles to Noanar’s Hold, along with his agent Nik and he’ll take 200gp off the final price. The party agrees after some hasty conferencing with the Snail, since he had told Atarah about the drop point in Noanar’s Hold and she doesn’t want to wreck his investigation there. Orthovir is a Waterdhavian noble as well, and Natalia recognizes him from many years ago.

The party has two tendays to wait in Goldenfields while the saddles are completed. They acquire, through barter and coin, fur-lined leather flying gear, including goggles. A set is left in Goldenfields when they leave, along with an extra Vulture, for Tranled whenever the Snail is finished with him.

Korotir spends his time acting as the Captain of the Guard, the position he’d claimed from Strog after the fatal duel, and also learning from the druids the lore of animal training. His kitten grows rapidly, from chicken-size to mastiff-sized, and now bears the name QujmeH (Kushmay), despite Natalia’s suggestions of “snowball” and “marshmallow” and other white-themed names. It’s not even half-grown yet.

Atarah takes over an abandoned building from the giant attacks and works to refit it as a chapel to Summerheart (AN: fic forthcoming), and also visits the druids before they leave to Noanar’s Hold to get her hair dyed as an attempt at disguise.

27 Uktar 1486

The party, including Orthovir’s agent Nik, packs up and sets out for Noanar’s Hold, going north through the Dessarin River valley. They quickly settle into a flying and hunting routine. One night Voldrick tells stories of a great stone bridge spanning the valley, built by the dwarvish god Moradin. It’s become a site of pilgrimage and since they’ll be flying right over it, he’d like to stop and see it. The party agrees.

30 Uktar 1486

They reach Stone Bridge. It is impressive, being a single-arch bridge two miles long across the river and valley, fifteen feet wide and several hundred feet high. While Voldrick prays and readies himself spiritually for the walk across, Natalia also prays to her watery god. Korotir and Atarah spar, learning to fight around Kushme. Titan makes disparaging comments, probably, and Envar practices the flute.

As they start across the bridge, Korotir and Nik decide to race. Nik, being a monk, leaves Korotir in the dust fairly quickly. Only to come running back just as fast, yelling “Tall man!”

There’s a fire giant and two hellhounds quickly approaching Korotir – who is far ahead of the rest of the group, due to the race – at the top of the bridge.

Korotir stands his ground against the giant’s chain-whip, attacks one of the hellhounds and manages to shove it off the bridge. The rest of the group runs to bolster Korotir, casting shield of faith on themselves. Voldrick and Titan are quickly left behind (shorter legs!). Atarah whistles for her vulture but fumbles the first attempt to swing on while running.

The other hellhound spews firey breath at Korotir, the giant swings his great sword – and Korotir crumples to the ground.

Envar is running as fast as he can and Atarah manages to get onto her vulture. Nik makes it back to attack the other Hellhound, who snaps at him but misses. The giant also attacks Nik, distracted by this… small one… and does not finish off Korotir.

Atarah leaps off her vulture once it is in range, landing with blindingly bright sword point-first into the giant’s clavicle above the protection of its plate mail. She hangs on.

Envar looses a shot as he runs, Nik hits the hellhound and frightens it away with his terrifying monkliness. Envar finally gets to Korotir and spares the dying, only to be flicked off the bridge by the flat of the giant’s sword to fall several hundred feet to the river below. He calls Atarah’s circling vulture but doesn’t manage to get on it in time.

Korotir gets to his feet, woozy but alive.

Atarah and Nik get in a hit each that the Giant shrugs off before staring, amazed, at Korotir. Most things he smashes to the ground do not get back up. He hits Korotir, who – blocks, with shield and Thunderblade. The blade snaps, its magic melting into the shield. The giant staggers back, shaken, and Korotir smashes him with his shield to the sound of thunder. The giant falls.

Natalia calls up the waters, trying to save Envar, but he hits too fast. She calls her own vulture to get down to him quickly, but doesn’t get a good grip. Natalia and the vulture hit the water hard. She heals Envar from afar, bringing him back to consciousness, and the two start swimming to shore. Natalia’s vulture limps its way back, injured, and Atarah gets back on her bird, flying less panicked to get down and help tow the two in the water.

Voldrick and Titan finally catch up in time to not be able to help, aside from Voldrick healing those in need.

The giant falls from the bridge and washes downstream, where his corpse is picked over for loot and then offered to the vultures. Titan takes several vials of burning giant blood. The party camps on shore beside the bridge for the night, thoroughly bedraggled.

View
What the Left Hand Does...
While Tranlid was away he made a friend.

A windowless room with a musty smell and oppressive yet diminutive size. In its middle lies a desk with mounds of parchments and ledgers fill and nearly overburdening the desk and the rooms sole occupant. Tranled sits hunched over a particularly convoluted ledger making notes as he untangles the unnecessarily complex accounting systems put into place.

“500 gold pieces for toilet paper? Well least someone is having more shit than me.” Tranled snorts to himself and looks up to see that there is no one to laugh at his good material. He rocks back in the chair and stretches out to the chorus of small pops from joints and a prolonged sigh from his lungs. He rubs his eyes with the palms of his hands then looks at the mountain of parchment in front of him. He considers what brought him so low and remembers his encounter with Shalvus Martholo. The so-called Zhentarim agent of Goldenfields. The Snail still will not let him talk about why he self-promoted Martholo to death.

Tranled breathes in deeply taking in the musky, smoky, after sex smell of the room and rocks back to the table and his shit paper investigation. One of the clerks that bring the unending supply of parchment work told Tranled that this room used to be one of the ‘entertainment rooms’ and had been emptied out especially for Tranled.

He feels the footfalls as well as hearing them. The steady booted steps of one in armour. With the light from under the door changing to the curt knocking, he had gathered his wand loosely in his hand. When you cook the books for the Zhentarim sometimes people get burned. Tranled calls out “Enter.” in a monotone. The door opens even before the second syllable has ended. Tranled calculated that if his visitor meant him violence he was in deep trouble.

Filling the doorway was a Tiefling in plate armour. The sheen of the armour was that of silver but gave an iridescent purple as the light caught its edges. The orle of a shield protruded behind with a épée hung from a belt and a rod of obvious magical power in a short sheath on the hip. When Tranled’s eyes rose to meet their silver counterparts in his unexpected guest he suddenly realised that this armoured interloper was female. She stared down at him and Tranled recognised the look of someone reevaluating the terms of a contract. Whether that was in his favour or not he was bound to find out.

“I would offer you a seat, however, I have none to offer. Although I dare say you might want to stand,” offered Tranled.

“The Snail said that you were interested in the Left Hand and that you used more words than you needed to.” She said in a clipped tone that made every syllable sound as though it had a wall built around it. Tranled rose at the name and asked her to come in and close the door.

“Yes and I want them and all that associates with them dead,” he said with nearly contained vitriol.

“Then I think we can work together as I have heard of a cell operating in the village of Peenbrook two days south of Daggerford,” she tempted.

“Now before we go off and slay the anarchists may I know who my most charming travelling companion is?” questioned Tranled in icy tones.

“I am Promise, are you coming?” pressed Promise. She opened the door and left without waiting for an answer.

Tranled quickly scribbled a short missive to the Snail, snatching his satchel and cloak and trusting the letter in hands of the clerk as he left the Shining River Inn. “I am off to see about some account irregularities give the Snail this.” He did not give the clerk time to retort.

They stopped wordlessly at Promise’s lodgings while she collected her own pack and cloak. They continued in an equally untalkative manner down the south road out of Daggerford.

The journey to Peenbrook was uneventful and the only words crossed between the Tieflings were information relating to their task. Promise revealed what she knew about the activities of the Left Hand and Tranled informed her of the contract out on the Auraests of Waterdeep. She volunteered no information about herself and Tranled did the same.

Upon seeing Peenbrook for the first time it lay in a flattened river valley with thin pillars of white-grey smoke coming from forty or fifty huts, cabins and houses of different sizes. Only one stood with a second story and looked as though it was near the middle of the village. The village basked in the afternoon sunlight and the sound of linen snapping in a stiff breeze.

“Looks idyllic,” commented Tranled.

“People say that the cities and towns are where evil is found. Wolves don’t live in cities,” said Promise icily. Before entering the village proper Tranled cast prestidigitation on himself to remove the signs of rough travel. He offered the same for Promise, “I shall clean myself,” she said with a chilling tone.

Walking through the village Tranled and Promise receive worried looks from the villagers. They seem to be going about their usual business but give the Tieflings a wide berth. Tranled questions many of the villagers as he and Promise move from the outskirts of the town to the large building near its centre. The villagers know of the disappearances but blame the local wolves. When Promise questions them about the Left Hand they all claim not to have heard of the group. None of the villagers really want to look the Tieflings in the eyes.

The large building turns out to be an inn. The ground floor is walled in grey rough hewn stone with the top floor in the same light coloured wood as many of the surrounding houses. Smoke pours out of multiple chimneys. The normal hubbub of a popular tavern welcomes the pair as they enter. It slowly dissipates as Tranled and Promise move to the bar counter and begin to be noticed by the patrons. The innkeeper has his back turned as he pours a tankard of ale. He turns and slightly jumps at the sight of two Tieflings across his counter. With ingrained muscle memory from years behind the bar, he does not spill one drop from the tankard. Carefully he places the tankard on a tray and the young man who was waiting and trying his best not to notice Tranled and Promise takes the tray.

“Obard, after you drop those off, go to the kitchen and see when will the stew be ready.” says the innkeeper. The young man nods quickly and turns with haste. He turns to the pair and says, “Welcome to the Crossed Arrows. I am Hune. What will you be having?”

Tranled leans with one elbow on the counter, “An ale for me and for my companion….” Tranled looks to Promise and she orders, “Ale and answers.”

“Well I can provide the first with pleasure but the second, I am not sure if it will be to your liking.” Says Hune as he turns and reaches for two tankards and begins to fill them with a steady hand. The back of his head shines with reflecting light from the lanterns and fireplace. “People have already told me of the questions that you have been asking around the village.” Says Hune as he places two brimming tankards on the counter.

“Are you the alderman?” Intones Promise.

With a short barked laugh Hune says, “Ha, hells no. It’s just when folks get a run in with an unexpected Tiefling it gives them a scare. Bump into two and they have a desperate thirst. People have a hard time forgetting that saying about Tieflings. One’s a curiosity, two’s a conspiracy….”

“And three is a curse.” Finishes Promise with a tone that implies that she has heard the proverb too many times.

“Right”, smiles Hune opening his arms, “people can be a bit… prejudiced with their thinking.”

“Well, aren’t we lucky to meet a free and open-minded spirit to answer our questions.” Smiled Tranled.

“Since you already know our questions let’s get to the answers.” Probed Tranled then sipping the ale.

Hune sighs and begins to gather empty tankards from the counter and passes them through a hatch at the back of the bar. “The Crossed Arrows used to be a hunting lodge popular with minor nobles from Daggerford and further. Deer were plentiful in the forests around Peenbrook and my father built this impressive inn off the coin of the nobles spending the summers and sometimes winters hunting. It was good times for all in the village. Most of the nobles were good shots but not hunters. They brought in pregnant doe, fawns or bucks with barely four points on them. We were blinded by the coin and instead of chastising them as I would a local, congratulated them on a fine hunt. We did not listen to the druid and his warnings about the deer population. We thought it would last forever,” heaved Hune as though he had a stone weight on his chest.

“What has this to with missing people?” Pressed Promise. Hune looked up and replied, “The wolves used to hunt the deer. Now that they are all but gone they hunt the sheep and the odd unfortunate that finds themselves out after dark.The most tragic was the Farlins girl. She was in love and had arranged to meet a boy at night. He raised the alarm when dawn came and she never arrived. The boy still comes into the inn and drinks the grief away on occasion.”

“Well then what of our second question?” leant in Tranled.

“The backhand or dead hand?” quizzed Hune.

“Left Hand.” Said Promise in a tone that made Tranled flinch. Hune paused for a moment and then collecting himself by starting to wipe at unseen spills on the countertop and not making eye contact with either of the Tieflings.

“Sounds like some of them secret societies that are so popular in the big towns. The noble types would try to impress us small town folk with tales of their secret meetings and handshakes and rubbish. Sounds like rich people that have time to waste on nonsense.” Then stopping and looking steadily in Promise’s silver eyes, “Times here don’t allow for playing silly buggers in secret shenanigans.”

The young man named Obard calls to Hune from the hatch that the stew is ready. A smile comes over Hune and his seriousness disappears. “Now can I interest you in something to eat?” he slaps his hands together as to put a full stop on the previous lines of conversation.

“What meat is in the stew?” Asked Tranled.

“Ha!” Barked Hune, “Veg. We have no meat.”

Promise and Tranled take their bowls to a secluded table and the locals gave them their space. Tranled suggests that they stay at the inn and then make their way back to Daggerford. Promise agrees about staying at the inn but she wants to question more locals in the morning. Tranled relents and goes to Hune to book rooms for the night.

“One night or two?” He asks.

“One for the moment. We will decide tomorrow. Could you give us directions to the Farlin’s house in the morning?” Asks Tranled.

“It’s a farm and a fair bit off normal tracks. I’ll get Obard to lead you there for a small fee.”

Tranled goes back to the table with two more tankards. They drink wordlessly. Promise is the first to finish. She tells Tranled that she is going to bed. Tranled has one more and makes his own way to his room. He falls into a deep, half drunk sleep.

Hands on him, pulling, hushed whispers. Tranled tries to reach out but his hands are bound. He begins to kick but his legs are similarly bound. He shouts and can feel the air leave his lungs, however, no sound leaves him.

“Quick! It won’t last forever.” Hisses a shadow by his head. Tranled’s usual excellent vision is befuddled and he can only see shapes and shades of darkness. Two, three? He is bound and tries to struggle. A blunt pain in his stomach warns him.

“Move again and I’ll go for something more sensitive.” Threatens the shadow. They bundle him into the hallway. Tranled knows he has to time this perfectly. He thrashes violently just as they pass Promise’s door. One of the shadows trips and falls onto it. A blunt pain blossoms in his groin, turning into a ringing throb of unpleasantness. Tranled jackknifes in pain. The second pain on his side. Then the sound of a door opening. Tranled hears the intake of breath from the shadows as a welling darkness sweeps over him. There are sicking, sticky sounds of a sword being unsheathed from flesh. Not long lived yelps come from the shadows as they are clipped like dead flowers from a bush.

Promise cuts the bindings and props Tranled up against the wall. He tries to speak but only the ghost of a whisper comes out. Blurred shapes now have outlines but no detail. He feels Promise take his head in her hands as she scrutinises him. She then leaves wordlessly and returns to the pop of an uncorked flask. With a single word, “drink” she brings the rim of the flask to Tranled’s lips. He quaffs the solution and feels a brightening sensation come from his stomach. He nearly immediately starts to see more clearly and can start to speak.

“Are they dead?” he questions with a croke. Promise points with her now crimson épée at two figures slumped over each other with blood pooling underneath them. Tranled stands to move away from the ever approaching edge of the blood.

A door on the far end of the corridor open and Hune in his nightgown holding a lamp. He hisses a curse as he approaches the bodies on the floor. “By Tymora’s tits what happened?”

Promise answers for the still recovering Tranled. “He was poisoned and assaulted by these men.” Hune looks with disbelief at the bodies and Tranled. Promise strides over the fallen men and makes Hune backup defensively. Tranled can now see clearly and now notices that Promise is in a single long undershirt. Her bare feet slap slap in the puddles of blood and don’t seem to affect her. Promise presses Hune. “Who are these men?”

Hune splutters, “He,” pointing to the body slumped on top, “is Jarnis. Old Farlin’s boy. The other is a farm hand of theirs from out of the village, Olliner I think.”

“Get your son, he is going to lead us to the Farlin farm tonight.” Commands Promise.

“I will not have Obard be involved in this.” Says Hune shocked. “I will lead you there myself.”

Tranled attempts to take command of the situation. “Let us all get dressed and meet downstairs. “Then we will leave.”

A few minutes later Tranled meets Hune downstairs and is shown the jimmied lock on the kitchen door. “After the deer were gone and the wolves became bolder everyone started to get locks for their doors. This,” he points at the crude broken device, “…was all we could afford.”

The solid steps of Promise signal her arrival and readiness. “Lead us to Farlin.” She commands.

With a torch raised high Hune leads the party down a path in the forest.

“Does your son know of the bodies?” Asks Tranled.

“Yes, but I told him and his mother to stay in their rooms until I return. They have no need to deal with that amount of blood. I doubt they will listen to me,” huffs Hune as he walks.

After half an hour the forest clears and the dark shapes of buildings appear in the distance. Clouds dark and heavy with menace loom over the horizon.

“This is the Farlin farm,” puffs out Hune.

“We will deal with the rest from now. Go home to your family and get that lock repaired,” suggests Tranled.

Hune accepts the offer and before he turns to leave utters “Gods be with ya.”

Promise unsheathes her épée and equips her shield and starts to walk with measured steps towards the buildings. Tranled with his wand firmly in his left hand follows behind. As they draw closer to the buildings they appear lifeless until they pass the barn and a nearly inaudible chant can be heard coming from within.

Promise stealthily pries the doors of the barn apart and moves inside with Tranled following. The barn is in disarray with several dead sheep arranged in a circle, heads pointing towards the centre. Promise and Tranled inspect the sheep and discover that their throats have been slit. The chanting has become louder and is issuing from a trapdoor that has the remnants of the sheep blood flowing into it.

Promise kneels down to inspect the decent and motions wordlessly to Tranled to follow as she shoulders her shield and sheathes her épée. She descends gingerly and signals that it is safe to descend to Tranled. As he plants his boots on the floor he sees it is slick with blood. Funnels in the floor channel the blood down a shallow ramp. The chanting has become louder and nearly hypnotic as torch lights play in the distance of the tunnel. Tranled follows Promise as she is silhouetted against the light.

They both emerge into an eight-meter diameter, three meter high, hand hewn cavern. Blood has pooled in the middle and at the far end is a crude ring of bones, skin, sinew and rotting flesh. Four figures in rough flaxen hoods chant at the ring unaware of Promise or Tranled’s presence.

“WHICH FOUL MASTER DO YOU SERVE!” Booms Promise. Tranled ponders the same question as he sees the figures stiffen and turn.

As their darkened gaze fell upon Promise and Tranled it seemed as the temperature of the cavern dropped. The silence was broken by Promise unsheathing her épée and holding it loosely in her hand.

One of the outlying figures turns to the one closest to the foul circle, who has the rough approximation of a dark stone amulet around his neck. The amulet bearer commands, “Hold them back; I need time.”

Two of the cultists pull dull notched short swords and rush Promise. She batters one with her shield and parries the other with her épée but with two attackers she is defending and cannot strike out her own blows.

A third cultist draws out a small crossbow and levels it at Promise. Tranled backs up to get a better line of sight on the crossbow cultist, sights him with his wand and unleashes a purple shimmering force. A small cloud of smoke appears on the upper chest of the cultist and he is thrown bodily against the far wall.

The cultist begins to prop himself up on his elbows as blood starts to stream from his nose and ears. Tranled smiles at he can see that this will be a short battle.

Promise has used the distractive opportunity of Tranled’s blast to wing one of the cultists and batter him away so that she can bring her full fury on a single foe. She thrusts and connects with soft stomach and as she withdraws the blade an exhalation from the cultist. He doubles over and drops his sword. Promise with a backhand sweep cuts the cultists from mid chest through the collarbone. He slumps with a wet squelch in the blood soaked earth. Promise turns her attention to the now recovered but wide-eyed cultist whom she battered with her shield.

Tranled begins to take aim at the still prone crossbow wielder as an arm comes across his neck and a sharp and blossoming pain races from his lower back. Another set of arms grabs his left arm and tries to dislodge his wand. Tranled sees the Crossbow cultist recover and takes aim from his prone position. Tranled hears the twang of the loosed bolt and closes his eyes.

When he open his eyes again he is right behind Promise as purple cloud start to recede from around him. He wheels around in time to see the bolt sink itself into his unseen attacker.

Hune’s face is a mixture of disbelief and shock. He still holds his left arm as though he was choking a ghost with his right hand holding a blooded dagger. Obard is next to him with his own near comical expression and arms out straight as though he was holding onto an invisible rope.

Tranled puts his thumbs together and splays his fingers towards the father and son. A hell’s worth of fury fans out from his hands. The start of their screams was evaporated in the heat blast. Their proximity to the small tunnel’s mouth acted like the focus of vortex as the fan funnelled up the tunnel and they died where they stood.

Promise dispatched the remaining short sword cultist by bisecting one of his legs and then a quick thrust in his chest when he fell to the sticky ground.

Tranled returned his attention to the crossbow wielder and had no qualms in concaving his chest with a pinpoint blast to his sternum.

That left the amulet adorned cultist. As he turned the inscription on the amulet was glowing. Tranled could read it from where he stood and knew that Promise would also recognise the Infernal script. “Orcus worshiper.” Spat Tranled.

Tranled tried to vault over Promise as the cultist touched his amulet with his left hand and reached out towards the pair with his right. Promise snatched Tranled out of the air and drove him unceremoniously to the ground. She sunk to one knee and pulled her shield down to guard both herself and Tranled.

No sooner had she dug the base of her shield in the wet earth did storm of black swirling darkness surround them. From his low vantage, Tranled could only see the shield acting as the bow of a ship crashing into the blackest sea.

As suddenly as it had started the torrent disappeared. Tranled could see that Promise had paid for protecting him. As she lay on her side the left side of her face was a ruin with large weeping wounds where her raven locks curled. Her shield was all but useless with only the leather straps being recognisable.

The cultist was on his knees with both hands squelching through the bloodied mud. Tranled had lost his wand so drew his dagger and tried to remember if he had ever stabbed someone before. “First time for everything.” He fumed.

As he took his first sucking and smacking step the head of the cultist snapped up and his hand shot to the still glowing amulet. Tranled stopped. He felt his will leaving him and could not command his legs.

The cultist started to rise and pulled the hood back to reveal his face. The pact with Orcus had a high price. His eyes were sunken and rimmed with black. His skin looked like the overused blotting paper that Tranled used in his ledgers.

Those dark eyes looked deep into Tranled and sought a kinship.

With near blinding swiftness, Promise rose to her knees and threw her épée. The all steel arrow flew true and straight at the chest of the cultist and then as fast as it was loosened it stops just in front of the cultist.

His eyes turn from their interrogation of Tranled’s soul to bear with fury at Promise. She, in turn, unsheathes her rod and a blast propels the épée through the cultist. The resulting force pushes him to the back of the cavern and the épée pins him to the middle of the cadaver circle.

Tranled moves to help Promise to her feet. She put up one hand to warn him off and after a moment gets up with confidence. She walks with purpose towards the pinned cultist and Tranled joins her.

She lifts his head and the dark eyes are truly lifeless now. The amulet has been shattered and his blood is turning the flax cloak a vile violet.

“Is Orcus the patron of the Left Hand?” Muses Tranled as Promise puts a boot on the chest of the cultist and pulls out her épée. “I don’t know,” confesses Promise, “but it would make sense.”

As they walk back up the small tunnel they can hear the crackling of a blaze. From the bottom of the short shaft, they look up at what must be a vision of the nine hells. Both wrap their cloaks tightly around themselves and pull their hoods up. Walking through fire for a Tiefling is not pleasant but survivable. As the climb out of the trapdoor and the barn they see that the nearby farmhouse has also caught alight.

Everything is a roiling inferno. Tranled thinks of another farm in another place. The brooding clouds losing their own fury. He pulls down his hood to let the rain onto his face.

Promise cannot see his tears in the rain.

Epilogue:

Tranled arrives at the Shining River alone looking worse for wear. He is sent, without ceremony, into the office of the Snail.

“Hope you brought some of that shit paper with you. You are going to need it.”

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