Heroes of Hillsfar

Side Trek - The Library of Gravenhollow - Part 2
The beholder!

The battle against the beholder was as difficult as they expected. The creature had four of its magic eye stalks damaged or missing, but it still had six others from which it could shoot various magical ray attacks. The party members found themselves charmed, paralysed , pushed away and gripped by telekinesis, and damaged with a necrotic blast. The creature also had command of the magic of the cavern and caused tentacles to sprout from the walls and grapple Zelda and Cundall, also he made the floor slick and slippery making the area difficult to traverse, and made an eye appear in the wall which could shoot out one of its own eye rays. Its central eye acted as a magic dampener, which suprressed (but didn’t dispel) all magic. The troglodytes died easy enough, but were vicious with their teeth and claws. One of the troglodytes was huge, some kind of champion of their race and was much harder to kill.
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On the party’s side were two summoned brown bears – one was mobbed and killed by troglodytes – Minimus was affected by a haste spell which increased his attacks, and Marie unleashed her offensive magic when the magic suppressing eye was turned so the creature could bring its own magical rays to bear. Cundall had been hit most, but the others took advantage of this to press the attack. Minimus was severely injured but perservered. When the troglodytes were killed and the beholder started taking damage it flew up to the roof, only to be shot at with deadly accuracy by Zelda’s magical longbow and finally brought down by a lightning bolt from Marie. Everyone cheered when the beholder’s body crashed to the ground, including the escaped slaves.

A chest was found in a corner, with a substantial amount of coins of various types, some minted in the Underdark, others from the surface lands of the Sword Coast. There was a bag of gems, and a stone doll with an earth rune engraved on its chest. Marie had a strong reaction to the doll, she had seen this very thing in a dream where Cundall was holding the doll towards the ceiling of a large underground natural vault while the rest of the party looked nervously towards a river tunnel behind them. Over the years she had learned to trust herself when it came to situations or objects she had dreamed about.
“This is important,” she said, holding the stone doll. “I’ve had a vision when this is to be used. I think it will summon help for us in a particular situation.”
“Well, don’t die or get lost before we get into that particular situation,” said Cundall, “or we won’t know when to use it.”

Farewells were said to the ex slaves, and Jimjar enthusiastically shook everyone’s hand. Marie had an odd, but not ominous, feeling about the deep gnome, and suspected that they might see Jimjar again one day.

“Let’s get to this library then,” said Cundall, “so we can find a way home.”
“We’ll do so much more than that,” grinned Marie. “This is going to be a memorable experience, whether you know it yet or not.”
“Assuming we get there,” said Zelda. “Didn’t you say it chose who could find it and stopped those it didn’t want in its halls?”
“We’ll get there,” said Marie, excitedly. “I know it.”

Marie activated the ring. As before the others made sure they were touching her. This time there was no glow, one second they were in the cave, the next there was a feeling of vertigo, darkness and weightlessness and then they were standing in an intersection of tunnels. It was pitch black, and so Cundall cast darkvision on himself and Marie. Zelda could see in the dark with her elf senses, and Minimus held Companion which also gave him darkvision.
“There’s no teleport into or in the vicinity of Gravenhollow,” said Marie. “We’ll have to walk for a few hours. We just have to figure out which way.”

They took a few minutes to work out that the ring would show them the way. It glowed when Marie pointed it down one tunnel. They set off. The ring seemed to work less well the closer they got to the library, or when there was a fork in the tunnel and they had to guess which way to go, occasionally having to backtrack.
“What carved out these tunnels?” wondered Minimus, looking around. “They look too smooth and even to be natural.”
“Lava,” replied Marie. “Rivers of molten rock moving through other rock perhaps from some volcano or other. These lava tubes are formed when an active low-viscosity lava flow develops a continuous and hard crust, which thickens and forms a roof above the still-flowing lava stream. Tubes can be very deep if the lava digs a big groove in the channel, but usually they’re not too wide or deep before the lava cools and crusts over.”
Minimus nodded, absorbing that information. “So there’s no chance of there being lava still under the crust and no danger of us falling into it if we break through a thin bit of crust?”
Marie shook her head. “No, it would be unbearably hot in here if that were the case, no effective method of heat dissipation. The lava here is long cooled. Plus the smoothness of the floor makes me believe there has been centuries of travel down these tunnels, which supports that hypothesis.”
“What is a hyp… oh hello…” Minimus cocked his head to listen, as the rest did. They all heard someone singing strange tunes in various languages, the voice echoing down the tunnels. Approaching the sound revealed an unusual scene.
A many legged reptile stretched out across an intersection of passageways as if it had been sitting for a long while.
“A basilisk!” said Marie quietly. They had all heard of this creature which could literally petrify an enemy with its gaze. The party noted that the basilisk was keeping its eyes downcast as if trying to avoid petrifying anything. The creature shifted and got to its feet. It had become aware of them! The party made ready to fight, but the beast simply ambled up to them, avoiding their eyes as it looked to the rocky floor at their feet. And then another surprise. It spoke in several tongues, before trying the common language, albeit with a thick accent. Then it seemed happy with their surprised response and continued.
“About time you lot arrived! Come! The library bid me guide you to the gates, and I’ve waited too long for you already." Then it waddled off purposefully. The heroes just shrugged and followed along.
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After its initial greeting, the basilisk seemed happy not to talk, but Marie wanted to know more. She caught up with the basilisk and engaged it in conversation. The creature said its name was Veldyskar. Untold years ago a visiting stone giant druid presented the librarians of Gravenhollow with a gift – an intelligent basilisk trained to serve the librarians as a guardian and general purpose helper. The basilisk adapted readily to the timeless nature of the library and embraced his new duties with dedication. Veldyskar is called upon to deal with trouble in the library, squabbling or fighting groups for example. His usual method apparently was to turn everyone to stone and then sort it out later. Marie resolved not to get into any brawls in the library, in fact up until that point the thought of fighting in a library was a foreign concept that did not even occur to her.

A few hours later they found a massive set of basalt doors, flanked by stone giant statues. They had arrived at Gravenhollow!

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Side Trek - The Library of Gravenhollow - Part 1
The Summoning..

In the cool morning the party were eating a breakfast consisting of some roasted groundbirds Zelda had shot, along with some (safe) mushrooms and wild onions. Chauntea gobbled scraps tossed to her, and Elum foraged for sweet grasses and seeds that grew around the bases of the huge trees. Marie was reading her spellbook, while Minimus was complaining about the water situation. With no river or well nearby they had to conserve their water, which meant not using water to wash their cooking gear. They had to scrub the worst of the cooking fat out with leaves and just leave the rest. Cundall was meditating in prayer to his goddess Chauntea and Zelda was packing away her mess kit. The air was still, as usual in the spaces between the trunks of these huge trees, and very little light made it through the canopy of leaves and branches, although everyone’s eyes was used to the dim light now.

This is how they saw the glow early. A nimbus of light appeared around Zelda, encompassing her. Marie felt the tingle of magic in the air and realised something or someone was targetting Zelda. The wizard realised, without knowing how, that it was important they all were physically touching Zelda before the spell completed.
“Grab your pack, then grab Zelda,” she yelled, stuffing her spellbook into her pack and racing over to the surprised elf who was moving to get her own backpack and hoping she could move out of the magic light. This didn’t work as the glow, now brighter, followed her. When Marie touched Zelda, the glow grew to encompass her as well. Seconds later Minimus and Cundall with backpacks in hand also touched Zelda, who had begun to fade from their sight. Then they too were enclosed in the light. Elum looked up from his foraging to see no one at all in the now silent camp.

The heroes felt a moment of vertigo and darkness before a sense of gravity was restored. It took a second to recover but when they did they noted they were in a cave with one tunnel leading out, and several creatures looking at them with surprised horror. There were four small grey skinned humanoids, one of them obviously of a different race to the other three, and a fish like humanoid creature. This last creature dropped a scroll it had been carrying.
Jimjar_s.jpg“You idiot,” exclaimed the largest of the grey skinned humanoids, a svirfneblin – also called deep gnome – Marie realised. They lived in the Underdark. Is this where they were? The deep gnome was speaking in the language of Undercommon to the fish like humanoid. “That is not Xelda! I told you that you were mispronouncing her name!”
“I said it right,” the fish humanoid defended itself – Marie realised its race was kuo-toa, an Underdark dwelling aquatic race. “There was an inflection over the first letter!”
“That was a bit of dirt!” shouted the first deep gnome in a manner that told Marie this point had been argued over before. “Now you’ve summoned surfacers who are probably going to kill us.”
“I told you the scroll was too high a level for me to cast,” wailed the kuo-toa. “We are perhaps being lucky it did not just explode in our faces!”
“If I can interrupt,” began Marie, speaking in Undercommon. “We aren’t necessarily going to kill you, but we might if you don’t tell us what is going on and why are we here.”

Topsy_s.jpgThe creatures introduced themselves and told their story. The largest of the deep gnomes was Jimjar, the two other deep gnomes who happened to be twins were Topsy and Turvy, the kuo-toa was Shushaar the Awakened (“he’s a pacifist,” whispered Jimjar to the party, “don’t expect much help from him”), and the other grey skinned creature was a derro named Buppido. Derro were mad as a feature of their race, but Buppido turned out to be affected by the demonic madness. He was convinced he was the avatar of the Derro god of murder.
“So why are we here?” asked Cundall. Marie translated the question to Jimjar, who explained the situation they found themselves in, and which now, through a gate scroll, the party were also now in.

“We had been captured by drow,” Jimjar began. “There were a few of us, even a drow who had been accused of murder, a quaggoth, an orc, a dwarf, even a small myconid. Drow do that kind of thing – enslave anyone or kill anyone they can’t enslave. We probably were going to be on-sold for any number of tasks, maybe even for sacrifice. Naturally we were always on the lookout for a way to escape. When the drow suddenly started going mad and fighting each other, we were able to get the key from the body of a drow guard who died conveniently near our cage. We grabbed what we could and escaped – afterwards the others went their separate ways, while all of us here were heading towards Blingdenstone – a deep gnome town and where we deep gnomes are from. Buppido’s and Shushaar’s homes are not too far from Blingdenstone so it made sense to travel together. “ Jimjar paused while Maire translated this for the rest of the party.
“Then we saw troglodytes in the caves ahead of us. We detoured into other caves, looking for a way around them. We found a big cave and passed through it into this cave we’re in now. It turned out to be a dead end. When we backtracked we found our way had been blocked off by troglodytes and their master.”

Turvy_s.jpg“Troglodytes don’t sound too bad,” said Minimus after Marie had translated. “Smelly cave dwelling lizard folk, aren’t they?”
“Their boss is the problem,” admitted Jimjar. “It’s a beholder.”
There was a stunned silence after Marie translated that bombshell. Beholders were one of the creatures of legend. If by legend you mean nightmares.
“So we were desperate," continued Jimjar. "The beholder has been in a fight, you can see some of its eyestalks are missing and it has some scarring from claws on it’s body, but it’s still a beholder. One of the things we had swiped from the drow was a scroll with a gate spell. Shushaar is an acolyte, he knows of the spell, although he said it was too powerful for him to cast, but as I said, we were desperate. We wanted to summon Xelda, a deep gnome hero of legend said to reside in the Seven Heavens, but we ended up with you lot instead somehow. Something went wrong with the spell, either the pronunciation or the magic was too powerful for Shushaar to control.”
“A beholder,” breathed Cundall. “If we slay this thing we’ll be heroes.”
“If we don’t die in the process of becoming heroes,” said Zelda.Shuushar_s.jpg
“I’m up for it,” said Minimus.
“Ask Jarjar here what reward are they offering us for saving their arses,” said Cundall. “And are they going to help us fight?”
“It’s Jimjar,” corrected Marie, aware that Cundall was deliberately mispronouncing his name. It was a Cundall thing to do.

It turned out all except Shushaar were willing to fight. Jimjar with some reluctance, but the deep gnome twins seemed keen enough – there was something a little feral about them Cundall thought. He wondered if they were criminals in their town. Buppido was convinced he could not die as a god’s avatar and so he was very willing to charge straight in and unleash “wrath” upon the beholdier and it’s minions. Marie had a bad feeling about them being involved in the fight and said so. Cundall had long learned to trust Marie’s “bad feelings” and decided that these escaped slaves should stay back and just let the party fight. In any case it was likely he and the others would be hindered by those who didn’t know what was expected of them or what to do in given situations. The majority of their battles had been won with teamwork. Then again, Cundall thought, maybe these ex-slaves could charge the beholder while the party escaped. It was their fault after all they were here. Then he dismissed that idea, they wouldn’t last any time against the beholder, and then the party would be stuck in the open. The best plan was a quick direct assault on the beholder the druid decided. He spoke to the other party members and they all agreed.

Buppido_s.jpgMeanwhile the deep gnomes, derro and kuo-toa had been conferring and agreed to give the party a magic ring they had found in the drow loot. Jimjar said knew what it was, which surprised Marie, because he did not look as though he was a magic practitioner. Then when he told her what the ring was she nearly laughed. Surely not. It would be.. ridiculous. She examined the gold band with a star ruby with growing excitement, and studied the runes engraved on both the inside and outside the band.
“I think…” she said with a quaver in her voice, “that this is a ring that will lead us to Gravenhollow.”
“Great,” said Minimus. “Does that make it more valuable?”
“Does it do anything else?” asked Cundall. “Anything useful?”
Marie sputtered indignation. “Gravenhollow is one of the most amazing places ever created. It’s… legendary. It’s spoken about at the Mages’ Guild in Hillsfar as some place that none of us would ever see. It has a sentience and won’t allow those who shouldn’t be there to even find it!”
“What’s its criteria for allowing visitors?” asked Cundall.
“I… I don’t know. Whatever it thinks might be a threat maybe.. I never thought I would ever get the chance to visit the place so I didn’t remember a lot of what I heard about it.” Marie sighed. Then she tried another tack.
“Maybe we can find lots of information about our problem, how to defeat Graz’zt, where we can find a cure for the demonic madness!”
“How to get home,” added Minimus. He didn’t read books at the best of times, going to a library didn’t sound like much fun.
“Wait, we can avoid fighting the beholder – we can use the ring to teleport us close to the library!” exclaimed Marie.
Minimus sighed. He thought he’d rather fight the beholder.
“This is a great evil that needs to be destroyed,” said Cundall. “Killing it will save countless lives in the future.”
“I know what you’re doing,” retorted Marie. “Appealing to my kind nature! Well… it might work.. But you just want to be a hero.”
“I want lots of things, as long as they are in balance,” said Cundall, smiling. “We get the glory, sure. But we rid the Underdark of a menace. That’s what I call balance.”
“Let’s vote,” suggested Zelda. “Thumbs up, we fight the beholder, then go to the library. Thumbs down we just go to the library.”
Minimus stifled a suggestion about not going to the library at all, but then thought maybe the information about the library might be useful or valuable to some people – surely the story of Gravenhollow would get him some free drinks from folk at the Tree Spirits tavern – and maybe they could find out how to defeat Graz’zt, and get everything back to normal. He longed to return to his smuggling business with Red Plumes you could count on to beat you if they caught you, not these crazy arsed Red Plumes half of whom were raving mad and destroying the farms of the non-humans.
They all agreed and when it came to it they all had their thumbs up.
“Let’s do it,” Cundall smiled. “Chauntea, we’re going to war!” The pig oinked.

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The Ghosts of Eventide Abbey - Part 7
Into the Abbey

It was a long and wearying climb to Eventide Abbey at the top of the shadow top tree. In fact the abbey spanned across three of the huge trees. The branches beneath their feet swayed gently as the party emerged onto a wide landing carved into the side of the tree. A set of gorgeously embossed oak doors standing before them depicted a dazzling sunset over a vast forest. To their right, the limb they were standing on tapered to a narrow bridge that stretched towards a second distant tree where another part of the abbey had been woven and crafted into the tree.

Cundall pushed open the wooden doors to see the space beyond. This wedge-shaped chamber was adorned with serene mosaics formed from slight variations in the colour of individual bark chips. Each of the six works lining the walls depicts common scenes from elven life, with the setting sun featured prominently in each. Whatever colour once infused these mosaics had long since faded, giving the room a washed-out, muted feel.
Two doors were set into the walls opposite, with a wooden lectern growing seamlessly from the floor between them. Several benches rested half submerged into the tree walls, as if in the process of being reclaimed by the shadow top tree.
“I read about the Abbey in Haedirn’s books on elven history,” said Zelda. “This room once served as the Abbey’s reception area where petitioners would be processed according to their need. Those seeking consultation on a point of divine law would be shown through the left door to be assisted by a novice; those with greater business within the Abbey would pass through the right door to be received by higher-ranking clergy.”
“You sound like a tour guide,” laughed Cundall. “Or maybe Marie when she’s…. what’s that? I felt something…”
Materialising from their invisible state, creatures that looked like balls of light appeared and attacked immediately, most focusing on Marie. They delivered a jolt of electricity, and Marie was soon on the ground convulsing and unconscious. The small undead fey creatures flitted around quickly and were difficult to hit, but the rest of the party engaged them and wore them down eventually. Marie had recovered by the end of the combat and needed some magical healing to make her more steady on her feet.
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“That was bad,” she said, looking at the burn marks where the creatures had jolted her. “They may have concentrated on me as bearer of the shade coin. If you don’t mind I’d like to go back down to our camp and recover.”
And so the party retraced their steps back down the winding stair to their camp where Elum looked at them in what could be described as surprise and wandered over to nuzzle Cundall. Chauntea jumped out of the basket Cundall always carried and was also nuzzled by Elum.

They spent the rest of the day and night resting. There was a late summer shower overnight but under the shadow top trees it had very little effect. Some water ran down the trunks of the trees, but the thick layers of leaves on the great branches kept the group dry.

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The Ghosts of Eventide Abbey - Part 6
Eventide Abbey at last...

The party travelled for another uneventful day before reaching the borders of the Elven Court. Here they encountered Bruc, an elven guardsman. He nodded as if expecting them and his face was welcoming. He addressed Zelda and they talked in elvish for some time. He gave a farewell in elvish and climbed up a tree, no doubt to resume his watch over the trail.
“Bruc was actually the one to receive our message from the eagle,” reported Zelda to the others. “He took it himself to the heart of the Elven Court, and they are deciding what to do. What with the accusations of the Red Plumes that they are being attacked by elves, this latest affront could be war between the elves and humans, but at this point that is an outside chance. It depends on the response of the First Lord of Hillsfar and also the capabilities of the Elven Court. I think someone might have to go rescue the envoy of the Elven Court. Sadly it won’t be us because we are doing this mission. Bruc said they have approached Elendil and she may send the Protectors of Elventree to extract Arias Goldthorn.”
“Damn,” exclaimed Minimus. “If were were able, I’d send a message to Stumbleduck. He might be able to help.”
“He also said there are around a dozen drow near the Abbey, the Elven Court have left them alone and the leader is unreasonable. Bruc said that if you can talk them into relocating to the refugee camps, he’ll be happy to guide them there.”

The trees grew thicker, taller as the party entered the heart of Cormanthor, known as the Starwood. The shadow tops, as the great pines were called, stretched hundreds of feet from the forest floor to a canopy so dense that no light filters through to the ground below, plunging the forest into an almost subterranean darkness.
“No wonder the drow like it here,” said Minimus. “It’s as dark as the Underdark!”

The pilgrim’s trail turned sharply here and the party continued into Starwood for a few hours.
“The abbey is just up ahead,” said Zelda.
Just then a raucous peal of laughter and the jarring, up-tempo strains of a poorly-tuned stringed instrument echoed strangely off of the trunks around them. Elven voices arguing over a carafe of wine and the rhythmic clapping of hands responding to the call of the music’s beat filled the silent wood with the unmistakable sounds of a party came from just beyond the thick brush ahead. The party moved forward carefully. A group of drow refugees were camped unaware or uncaring that the temple of an elven god of knowledge was right above their head. The drow were making no effort to conceal their presence, dancing wildly (and drunkenly) to the atonal sawing of an out-of-tune fiddle that a tall female drow was playing terribly.

Marie concentrated on her senses of arcane magic, viewing the drow.
“I think the fiddle player may have taint,” she advised Cundall. “Maybe one of the others. I speak Undercommon, I’ll go talk to them with Zelda.”
Marie and Zelda moved forward toward the group. The revelry came to an abrupt halt as soon as the adventurers revealed themselves, with the drow scrambling for weapons and taking up a defensive posture.

The dark elves before the party looked uncertainly towards the tall female drow who cast her fiddle carelessly aside; rocking unsteadily on her feet as she drew a thin blade. Despite being slurred with drink, her voice carried the unmistakable air of command as she shouted instructions to the others.
“She’s telling them to be wary, but not to provoke attack,” translated Marie to Zelda.
The drow leader’s name was Drava T’syrr. She refused to divulge any explanation for the drow’s presence in the forest. She refused Marie’s suggestion that the group relocate to the refugee camps. Marie noted the uneasy looks the others gave.
“Perhaps it would be good to be amongst our kin..” began another drow, a smaller female.
“Silence!” interrupted Drava, in a tone that was used to being obeyed. “We will stay here and drink and make music and dance. This pleases me. This is what I want.”
“I can make music too,” said Cundall, stepping forward and drawing the pipes of the sewers obtained from Doctor Jubal’s carnival. The druid knew the drow could not understand him, but he was hoping his gesture of the pipes would be interpreted correctly. Drava broke into a smile and gestured for him to play. Cundall began to play the pipes and dance, linking arms with Zelda who was wondering what the druid was planning but going along with it.
“I hope a swarm of rats are not about to appear,” whispered Minimus to Elum. Elum snorted and looked for grass tufts to eat.

Soon all of the drow were linking arms and twirling around, with Drava laughing loudest of all. As Cundall danced she accompanied him with the fiddle and danced as well.
“Block me from her line of sight,” whispered Cundall to Marie, as he began casting lesser restoration. Then at the right time spun from Marie to Drava as if to link arms and twirl her, and instead touched her and released the spell. Drava blinked and dropped the fiddle. With no more music the clapping and dancing slowly stopped. Drava sat down heavily on the log.
“Mistress, what is wrong?” asked one of the drow.
“Nothing is wrong. Everything is wrong,” she whispered, and then her voice grew loud. “I was mad, insane! And you didn’t tell me you useless kivvel!” Then her anger seemed to go as quickly as it came.
“We shall talk,” she said to Marie. The next hour was taken with Zelda and Marie talking to Drava, and Cundall and Minimus spending time with the other drow. They seemed relieved that their leader was acting normal again. They were aware that madness had taken her, but the cultural obligation to obey female nobility was so strong they had believed they were unable to do anything about it.

Drava.jpgDrava agreed to relocate to the drow enclave in the first instance, and then maybe relocate to a drow refugee camp if conditions – meaning who was there – were not acceptable. Zelda agreed to guide them back to the outpost where Bruc had promised to guide them to the drow enclave.

The party spent the night with the drow. All of them seemed relieved that they would be moving to where other drow were. They appeared willing to talk to Marie in Undercommon and Zelda in accented elvish, but they did not speak any other languages and so there was little communication other than sign language and gestures between the drow and Minimus and Cundall. The feel of the group was relief and hope, and while there was some smiling and even laughter, there was nothing of the frenzied merry making that they had seen on their arrival.

Marie and Zelda told Drava and the other drow that they had found their companion Filraen Gallmass’ body in an ettercap lair. To Marie’s surprise – but not Zelda’s who knew something about drow – they seemed callously uncaring, blaming him for his madness and own demise. The heroes also found out some information about the drow, mostly from the male dark elf wizard Ilztoj A’Qaran, who was the most friendly of the drow.

  • They fled the Underdark several tendays ago to escape enslavement at the hands of fire giants. There couldn’t stay in the Underdark as it seemed filled with insane impulses. It was chaos when they left, and he has no knowledge of how things below the surface now stand.
  • The Cormanthor Forest felt strange, somehow. As if the wild impulses that have swept through the Underdark also hold sway here in parts. Had the entire world gone mad?
  • An ancient elven temple spanned the boughs of several of the massive shadow top trees far overhead. Ilztoj was curious about it when the drow first arrived, but the lingering traces of still-active magical wards persuaded him to leave well enough alone.
  • This group of drow sought only safe passage and refuge from the madness below ground. They hoped to travel far enough over land to escape the fate of their settlement, and planned on eventually returning to the Underdark once they have put some distance behind them. Ilztoj was eager for guidance and any news about how things stood in the lands around Cormanthor.

Marie told him about the Hillsfar situation and the demonic madness appearing in places. The drow mage nodded his head and stated that it seemed like they would have to wait it out in the drow enclave or refugee camp before they could return to the Underdark, there was no guarantee even if they travelled as far as the Sword Coast that they would not also be afflicted.

The following morning Zelda led the drow off to the outpost to meet Bruc or whoever had taken his place, where they would be guided to their new home. She returned and they were ready to tackle the climb up to Eventide Abbey.

To be continued…

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The Ghosts of Eventide Abbey - Part 5
Brightleaf

The next day the party had another reminder of how the demonic taint was affecting the forest. They were stalked, and then attacked on all sides by wolves, led by a demonic tainted wolf the size of a dire wolf. It had a twisted head, as if two heads had merged into one, and radiated great heat. Later when they inspected the body, they saw it had six toes. This was also the first time that Elum had come into direct danger. The mule did not panic and run off, but stayed where he was and kicked out at the wolves attacking him. Cundall used a charm on one of the wolves to protect Elum, and moved quickly to protect him as well. In the end all but the charmed wolf were dead. Cundall used speak with animals to find out that the demon wolf had been born within and grew up with the pack, but reached maturity quickly and kept growing. It killed the alpha wolf and assumed control of the pack, forcing them to attack “two legs” – meaning humanoids – which normally wolves stayed away from. Cundall released the wolf to return back to the remainder of its pack.

treant__malcolm_mcclinton.jpgThey arrived at Brightleaf’s grove mid afternoon. The path into the grove was overgrown with a solid mass of wicked looking thorns and bramble blocking the way. On the far side of the thicket, they could see the path widened into a shadowy clearing with a single large elm at its centre. The undergrowth on either side of the path was a hopeless tangle, even less appealing than forging ahead.
Zelda and Cundall called out to Brightwood, and the elm at the centre stirred. They realised that the elm was Brightleaf, a treant that acted as the guardian of this stretch of the Midwood. The party could hear some strange whispering. Brightleaf grunted and then waved a branch that probably served as his hand, and the tangled vegetation parted, allowing entry into the clearing.

Now they were closer, they could see in Brightleaf’s branches were plant, vine-like creatures, clumped together roughly in humanoid shapes. They were the source of the whispers, and they were continually talking to Brightleaf. Cundall and Zelda approached, weapons away, leaving Marie and Minimus with Elum. Cundall spoke in druidic to Brightleaf, sending greetings on behalf of the Emerald Enclave. Immediately in heavily accented common the vine like creatures – Cundall now recognised them as blights –plant creatures born of malign magic and their presence always signified trouble. He could hear them whispering to Brightleaf that the Emerald Enclave could not be trusted, that Cundall was here to assassinate Brightleaf, that he was here to challenge Brightleaf’s authority, and a dozen other comments about the threat he posed. Brightleaf did not respond to them, but spoke in a rumbling slow – very slow – voice.
“You… are… welcome… here… Your… visit… is… unnecessary… but… pleasing… Please… convey… to… your… elders… that… the… Cormanthor… Forest… is… protected… by… my… all… seeing… consciousness… and… that… all… is… well.”
Cundall’s heart sank. Things were so obviously not well in the Cormanthor Forest, and it looked like Brightleaf may have succumbed to the madness of demon taint.
“Thank you, Brightleaf. We have been concerned about the demon taint that has arisen all over the land, including the Cormanthor Forest. I am also concerned about the blights which rest in your branches, whispering lies to you.”
Brightleaf seemed annoyed.
“You… rootless… ignorants…wouldn’t… comprehend… my… methods… but… the… true… freedom… of… my… forest… demands… deep… roots… and… strong… branches… to… withstand… the… storm… of… liars… and… heretics… plotting… against… my… omniscience.”
Cundall was not even sure what that even meant. Brightleaf seemed to have some belief he was a god and even worse, a god who didn’t recognise he was being manipulated and was ignorant to the demon taint. He quickly formulated a plan.
“You are wise and powerful,” the druid said. “I have a gift for you – a rare plant from the desert lands. It will most likely die from my touch. Only you can help it flourish and reach its potential.” Cundall brought forth the desert plant in a covered glass bowl, which had been found in Haedirn’s lair. Brightleaf seemed curious as Cundall approached, but the whispering of treachery and evil entent intensified. Cundall held up the plant, offering it to the treant. As Brightleaf stooped to grasp it, he seemed to suddenly be aware that Cundall was also casting a spell, and radiated anger. It was too late however, and Cundall touched Brightleaf as he was pulling away while finishing the lesser restoration spell. Brightleaf groaned like wood creaking and staggered.

blight.jpg
Hissing furiously, the blights moved down from his branches towards Cundall who ran back to Zelda. Marie and Minimus moved up to their companions to form a tight unit. Elum edged nervously away to the edge of the clearing. The druid carefully produced the delicately etched leaf found in the elven messenger’s satchel, and activated the protection from plants magic it contained. The blights caused vines and brambles to grow around the party. The plants blindly flailed for something to grab onto, but shyed away from the area of protection in which the party sat. Likewise the blights themselves could not touch the heroes, but Zelda was able to shoot arrow after arrow at them, the magic of her bow allowing the arrows to cause damage. Marie fired off her offensive spells, and Minimus used a couple of daggers and then used Companion to lash out at any blight that came close, withdrawing is arm and weapon back into the protective area before they could retaliate. In this way the blights were eventually destroyed.

Tentatively, they approached Brightleaf. His branches and leaves shook as he turned to look at the party. The cracked bark of the treant’s massive face drew together in a deep frown.
“My… forest… suffers… and… I… have… been… unsound. There… are… wrongs… to… be… righted. Thank…you…for…showing…me…my… failure. I… have… much… work… yet… to… do.”
“Madness affects many creatures, none of whom appear to be aware of it. How will you protect yourself?”
“I…. have… friends… and… associates… who… can… cast… the… same… spell… you… just… cast… on… me… and… greater… spells… too… They… will… happily… cast… these… on… me… daily… if… I… ask… this… of… them..”

They talked with Brightleaf until the late evening. Brightleaf told them that there was no cure above ground, at least not in the Cormanthor Forest, that would protect or cure the madness, other than restoration spells. He thought that maybe the party should look to the Underdark if they were to find a cure, or better yet, prevention. Brightleaf mentioned an increase in small numbers of drow refugees appearing in the forest. Most he had been able to direct towards the refugee camps or the drow enclave, but some were resistant to his guidance, especially those affected by madness.

The party spent a peaceful night in Brightleaf’s grove.

(to be continued)

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The Ghosts of Eventide Abbey - Part 4
Giant of a problem...

The following day the party were continuing along the trail towards the centre of the Cormanthor Forest, known as Starwood. They were discussing their dreams the night before – everyone had a terrible night’s sleep, plagued with vivid dreams of madness and terror. The large, powerful figure that had featured in everyone’s dreams they believed to be Graz’zt, the demon lord, and the three smaller or perhaps just less powerful figures, they decided between them, must be his underlings. The colour red again featured prominently. The dreams were so bad the party needed some recovery time, and it took much longer getting underway in the morning.

hill_giant.jpgAround mid-morning the trail opened into a larger, open area. This otherwise placid, serene clearing was sullied by a harrowing sight. There was a large stag with fur the colour of alabaster lying in a bloody ruin on the ground. Pinned beneath it is the body of an elf; clad in tattered leather armour. Standing over the stag and the elf were two immense forms – hill giants! The giants were each holding a bloody club and were grunting at each other.

Not having been seen yet, Zelda, Minimus and Marie moved off into the bushes, while Cundall walked out to meet the giants, hoping to dissuade them from any violence. However they spoke only the giant tongue, and Cundall could not make himself understood. Marie, who could speak giant, realised they were discussing how best to cook and eat Cundall and whether or not to cook him with or without the elf. The wizard whispered to Zelda what was happening and the elf took the initiative and shot two quick arrows at the giants. The battle was on! Cundall used call lightning to terrorise and damage the hill giants, although perhaps just made them more enraged along with the damage, Minimus charged in and bamboozled them with his quick strikes. Marie used a few damaging spells. Despite their size and bulk the brutes were quickly overcome and crashed to the ground. Around the same time the brush at the side of the clearing rustles and exploded as a number of immense forms emerge from the cover of the forest, the ground shaking beneath their feet. The sounds of the combat had attracted more of the hill giants, as well as their giant boar pet. The giant boar charged Minimus, goring him with it’s tusks. One giant smacked Marie unconscious with its great club. Cundall used a potion of greater healing on her, and her wounds healed. She tried to rise, but a club smashed her down again. This time Cundall took a potion of greater healing from Marie’s own belt and gave it to her. A similar thing happened again, as the giants were not slow in realising the wizard was getting back to her feet. This time Cundall also took damage from a giant club, and moved away from combat to cast call lightning again, using the cloud he had formed with the first spell to give the second extra power. Then he changed into bear shape, not to charge into battle but in case the hill giant brutes charged him while he was concentrating on maintaining the spell. At the worst moment, Zelda’s bowstring snapped, and she had to spend some time fishing for a new one, stringing it, and then resuming her volley of arrows.
‘I wonder what elves use for bowstrings on a magic bow,” wondered Cundall. ‘Unicorn pubic hair, perhaps?”

The battle was harder than the first time. Zelda summoned her spirit dire wolf companion to join the battle, and although he did much damage with his great teeth, he too fell before the giants’ clubs. As a spirit though, he was not truly dead, simply the energy holding a corporeal body together was dissipated. Zelda knew she would be able to summon him again the next day. When she was able to, Marie stood up – tottered up perhaps, her body broken and face bloody – and let loose a powerful stream of magic missiles from her wand.

In the end the giants and the giant boar were vanquished. The party spent some time recuperating and using their healing magic. The dead body of the elf was examined, and Zelda found that she knew him – not well, but knew his name and that he served the Elven Court as a messenger. The messenger satchel he carried held a wooden flask containing a potion of animal friendship, and a delicately etched leaf that functioned as a scroll of protection from plants. There was also an urgent message, written in elven, for the Elven Court. It seemed that the elves of Cormanthor recently petitioned First Lord Torin to repeal the law that outlaws non-humans from his city. His response was to hurl their envoy, Arias Goldthorn, into the arena. Zelda knew that Arias was the Emerald Enclave’s chief contact in the Elven Court, and they would want him back alive.
“Not much we can do about that now,” said Cundall.
“We need to get this message to the Elven Court,” replied Zelda. “This is urgent.”
“Everything is urgent,” sighed Minimus. “We can’t do everything.”
“I’ll take this to the Elven Court,” suggested Zelda. “The rest of you continue on to Brightleaf’s grove.”
“We might need you,” protested Marie. “We’ll be splitting our strength.”
“I have an idea,” said Cundall. “I can summon a bird to take the message the rest of the way. How far is the Elven Court from here?”
Harpy-Eagle-Images1.jpgThey worked out that the border of the Elven Court was about the range limit that the animal messenger would fly. Even then it would only reach a guard post, rather than the heart of the elven community. It would have to do though. The druid summoned a forest eagle, smaller than most mountain eagles, but quick and agile. Cundall used his nature magic to talk to the eagle and give it instructions, while tying the message to its legs. Zelda had written more on the bottom of the message, explaining what had happened to the messenger and who she was. They released it, and it flew up to the top of the tree canopy, circled once, and then flew east.
“Right then,” said Cundall. “Off to see Brightleaf.”

(to be continued)

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Marie's Journal
Journal entry of Maire Seneforth, 1491 DR

As we continue further into the Cormanthor forest we are met with increasing threats. Clearly, this immediate geographic region is being affected by the taint that seeps from the Underdark. In fact, I have detected several areas were the taint seems to be seeping from the ground below, but I have no idea whether those areas correlate to any settlements, landmarks or other points of interest in the realm below.

My companions and I seem to be free of the taint for now. However, I wonder about the recent bloodthirsty actions of my companions towards the Red Plumes, particularly the men. Minimus I can understand – whilst I do not fully condone his murderous retribution, I can understand his need for revenge upon the minions of Hillsfar. Cundall, however, worries me. He seems to justify his actions as “balancing nature”….if he bothered to examine and study the wilderness from an objective point of view (I have several excellent texts I can lend him) he would understand that nature is rarely balanced and often swings from one extreme to another – hardly a desirable paradigm to base one’s morality and philosophy upon. At first I thought his actions may be a sign of madness, now I suspect it to be merely senility.

However, like Minimus I can hardly blame him. I fear that this situation may continue to escalate, if the corrupt government of Hillsfar is not directly confronted. The Red Plumes are merely pawns and it saddens me to think of the innocent men and women who are being corrupted and ordered to do these despicable acts. I cannot help but think of my brother Dorian.

However, like Minimus, I will never acquiesce to the tyrannical and xenophobic dictates of the First Lord of Hillsfar.

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The Ghosts of Eventide Abbey - Part 3
Only YOU can prevent forest fires...

The trail heading east off the Moonsea Ride was located and the party began to move into the wilds of the Cormanthor Forest. They hadn’t gone far when they came across an unusual scene. A shallow pit forty feet across and perhaps fifteen feet deep at its lowest point sat just off the trail. A one foot high ridge of displaced dirt and loose stones encircled the depression, and the smell of rotting meat pervaded the air. There were several downed trees – mostly smaller pines – in the area surrounding the pit. The ground nearby was stained with blood and occasional scraps of fur. Smaller trees and shrubs showed signs of having been trampled flat, and several carcasses of deer and boar were strewn about in the pine needles, badly mauled but uneaten.

Cundall volunteered to investigate. He got to the edge of the pit when the ground rumbled and a large creature erupted out of the ground and attempted to bite the druid with its massive beak like jaws. The creature looked like some kind of massive armoured badger with a shark like head and huge claws.
Bulette.jpg“Bulette!” exclaimed Zelda. These were nasty, dangerous bad tempered creatures, and she realised they had just wandered into a mating nest.
The party had only just gotten into a battle formation when a second bulette leapt out of the trees, nearly bowling over Maire and Minimus.

The creatures were more intimidating than they actually were and the party’s experience and skill saw them through. The creatures did cause some injuries on them though, and Cundall used some of his healing magic to close the wounds of the others and himself.

The rest of the day was uneventful. Animals were present, but skittish and quick to flee whereas before some might have been curious about the party. Maire’s senses noticed some demonic taint in some areas of the forest, all but one off the trail, and they skirted around the affected area.

That night they camped and slept, but everyone had dreams about something evil, or rather some things that were evil. One powerful being, as well as three smaller, or maybe just less powerful beings. The colour red was also prominent in everyone’s dreams or, in the case of Zelda, visions during her recuperative trance. They discussed these in the morning over a quick breakfast. Then the conversation turned to more personal things.
“Do you have any siblings?” Zelda asked Marie.
“A brother, he is… was.. training to be a Red Plume but was morally against the Great Law of Humanity. He left before his training was complete. He’s recently come to Elventree and actually joined the Protectors. I haven’t managed to catch up with him yet. How about you?”
“My mother and father only had me,” said Zelda, unaccustomed sadness in her voice. She hadn’t had to think about that for a while.
“Cundall?” asked Maire, steering the conversation away from Zelda.
“Lots of brothers and sisters, some I don’t even know. I think my mother, who I love dearly, liked the company of men too much.”
Marie decided this was shaky ground also, and turned to Minimus who interrupted her question to ask if there was any more breakfast. He clearly did not want to be involved in that discussion.
“Let’s pack up and get ready to move out,” said Cundall, throwing Minimus a couple of pickled eggs and a packet of jerky.

The morning passed uneventfully. They were considering stopping for a midday meal, when Zelda smelled death on the air. More specifically, a rotting corpse. She moved ahead and scouted around. Just off the trail the elf found a large tree with three deer carcasses, each in various states of decomposition. Two were no longer edible, except by the most hardy of carrion eaters, the third would be that way in a day or so. Each had meat from the body cut off with a blade, as if by someone who had no idea how to butcher an animal. She examined the bodies to see what might have killed the creatures. Each had its throat cut, but also a single, puffy puncture wound as if stung by a scorpion’s tail. She stopped and listened. Was that… snoring? Looking up she could see a nest of sorts up in the branches of the tree and the snoring seemed to be coming from there. Zelda decided to return to the party and report what she had found.
“I’ll go check,” said Cundall after hearing the report. He shapeshifted into a squirrel and swarmed up the tree. He peered into the nest, seeing a small creature maybe one foot tall, with red scaly skin, and leathery bat wings. It was roughly humanoid, and it’s small, ugly face was relaxed as it snoozed. It had some blood on its hands, but the druid could not see any knife or other weapon. Cundall scurried back down and ran back to the others.
“It’s a demon or something,” he said. “Still asleep.”
There was some discussion as to how to deal with the situation, which ranged from killing it to leaving it and moving on. In the end, Zelda was nominated to wake it up and talk to it. She walked over to the tree and called up to it.
“Hey, you. In the tree. Wake up!”
There was a yawn from a small voice and a bleary face peered over the edge of the nest. The creature climbed slowly down, flapping its wings occasionally to keep its balance. It sat on a branch about Zelda’s head height.
“Oh hey,” it said in a squeaky voice in the common language. “I didn’t hear you arrive. What time is it?” It brushed away some nest material that had been stuck to its face.
Zelda had not been expecting that question. “About an hour before midday,” she replied, gesturing for the others to come over.
The others arrived and asked questions of the creature, and found out the following:
pypyap.jpg

  • The creature’s name was Pypyap and was an imp familiar to a sorcerer.
  • His master Filraen Gallmass is a drow afflicted by madness.
  • Filraen had come up with a bunch of other drow, escaping from Szith Morcane, but he became paranoid and thought the other drow were conspiring to kill him, so ran away.
  • “He’s a great guy, ruthless, smart but no common sense, you know the type.”
  • Filraen’s latest dumb decision was to go and charm some ettercaps to use as slaves. “Even I thought that was stupid.”
  • If asked why, he said that Filraen’s charm person spell wouldn’t work on an ettercap. He attributed the mistake to Filraen’s madness.
  • He left Pipyap behind to look after his gear, which has been hidden. Pipyap would not reveal the location of Filraen’s gear until he had proof that Filraen is dead. “I gave my word!” Pipyap moaned. “That means something to me, even if it doesn’t to all these demons roaming the Underdark.”
  • Pipyap really liked being on the material plane, and intended to be very, very careful about dying.
  • Pipyap doesn’t generally like drow, he thinks they arepoor decision makers because of their chaotic nature. * He loved food and other pleasurable activities not available in the Nine Hells.
  • He also looks to thwart demons whenever he can.
  • The ettercaps had a lair about two minutes walk off the trail.

Zelda and Cundall were concerned. Ettercaps were bad news, evil, cruel, and capable of doing a lot of damage to an area by using webs indiscriminately to catch prey – which was anything from the size of a rat to a human or elf – bigger if they could manage it. They were usually only found in wild, unpatrolled areas, not within striking range of a trail. It bore investigating.

Ettercap.jpgThe party moved off in the direction indicated by Pypyap. Once out of sight of the imp, Cundall loosely tied up Emule to a tree. They continued on and found an area with great masses of webs draped on and between trees. There was a large area of bushes and small trees bound together by these same webs, making it look almost like a dwelling. This was obviously the lair. They entered by the first entrance they found, and were immediately attacked by a giant spider from the rear which had dropped out of a nearby tree. At the same time an ettercap stepped out of what could be thought of as a passageway inside the lair and attacked. The battle was fierce, and another giant spider and two more ettercaps joined the fray. Cundall ran outside and fought a giant spider with a flame blade but unfortunately mistimed an attack, and the flame blade struck the side of the ettercap lair, staring a fire. Using a haste spell Cundall ran through areas inside the ettercap lair, opening up all the human sized cocoons. Many were drow, some were elves, there was even one fey’ri. The freshest body was a drow and Cundall took it outside with him. At this point the ettercaps and giant spiders were all dead, but the lair was well and truly ablaze and likely to set fire to the trees and bushes around it. Marie had some success using ray of frost to put out some of the fire, and Cundall cast call lightning to create a small storm cloud that drizzled on the nearby trees to stop them catching alight. In the end they managed to stop a forest fire, but it had been a close thing.

They took the body back to Pypyap.
“Yep, that’s him,” said the imp. “I guess I’ll have to find someone new to help. Say, how about you guys? I’m very loyal, and helpful.”
“We’ll talk about it,” said Cundall. “Now did you say there was some of your master’s belongings you now no longer needed to guard?”
There was, but it wasn’t very much. Some underdark coins, a cooking kit, bedroll, but there were two scrolls with spells on them that Marie was very much interested in.
“So how about it?” said the imp. “I can join you guys, right?” He produced a small folding knife from who knows where and carved a bit of flesh off the newest deer carcass and popped it in his mouth. “You guys should try this! It’s sweet!”
“Stay here Pyp, and we’ll make a decision over there,” said Cundall.
The party moved out of earshot, leaving the imp behind.
“I don’t want the thing with us,” hissed Maire. “It’s a creature from the Nine Hells, and cannot be trusted.”
“I agree,” said Cundall. “It’ll betray us to its true master at some point.”
“It could be useful as a scout,” suggested Minimus.
The others disagreed, and it was decided for the good of the world they should kill Pypyap.
The moved back to the place where they had left the imp, but it was gone. There was a brief invisible motion some distance away, and a squeaky voice screeched “You guys suck!”
The imp had obviously turned invisible and snuck up to listen into the conversation. It was now gone. They hoped anyway.

The party continued on their way east, following the trail that would bring them closer to Eventide Abbey.

(to be continued)

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The Ghosts of Eventide Abbey - Part 2
An old foe...

Zelda addressed the other party members, over a map laid out on a table. They were in the Tree Spirits tavern, which was very quiet at this time of day when most of Elventree’s inhabitants were working.

“Cormanthor is an ancient forest,” she began, “whose origins were long forgotten even before the first elves walked the land. It is divided into three regions. First, the Rimwood: loose, low growth that spans a ten-mile perimeter around the forest’s edge.” She pointed to the border of the Cormanthor Forest on the map.
“Second, the Midwood, the bulk of the forest, where a dense canopy shelters a thriving variety of plant and animal life.” She pointed to a large area further into the map forest.
“Finally, the deepest, oldest section of Cormanthor is known as the Starwood, where shadow top trees soar hundreds of feet overhead, an unbroken blanket of leaves blocks out the sky, and it is here that the oldest elven civilizations were born.”
“Very dramatic turn of phrase,” whispered Cundall quietly.
“She’s been talking like that since she’s been reading those elven books,” whispered Minimus. “Reading – it rots your mind.”

“The ruin of Eventide Abbey is located within the Starwood, southeast of Elventree,” said Zelda, giving Cundall and Minimus the eye.
“Forging directly into the wood is not advisable, as those unfamiliar with the forest’s twisting paths would soon become hopelessly lost. I won’t get lost but there is always a chance we could become separated and then maybe we’d not find you again. There is, fortunately, an old path that was used on pilgrimages long ago. That’s the one we’re going to take. To find this path, we’re going to take the Moonsea Ride south from Hillsfar, into Cormanthor.” The elf pointed to the road leading out of Hillsfar leading south through the forest to the Dalelands and Sembia.
“We’ll pass through the Rimwood, and recognize the beginnings of the Midwood when we start to see white ash and beech trees mixed in among the pines. Then we’ll look for a path branching east off of the Moonsea Ride near the border of the Midwood, and we’ll find the trail.”

“How long will it take us?” asked Minimus.
“Traveling to the site of the Abbey on foot can be achieved in under a tenday at a brisk pace,” replied Zelda. “We’ll probably take a bit longer though, as we may not be able to travel fast all the way.”
“What if we take horses?” asked Maire. “Surely the journey can be made a couple days shorter by using mounts?”
“The terrain won’t favour horses, I’m not sure on the state of the trail, but I know some parts are difficult and I’m worried a horse will break a leg. We can bring Elum though, mules are much more sure footed than horses. The journey though Cormanthor isn’t just a stroll in the woods, as the unprepared soon learn. The deeper stretches of the forest can experience total darkness even at Highsun, and scaling the ancient trees can be as perilous as any mountain climb. Some even find resting in the forest to be difficult, their senses overwhelmed and their dreams troubled. Plus we have the added problem of the madness of Graz’zt infecting some parts of the forest, making animals and even spirits and fey more unpredictable, more wild, vicious, more dangerous.”

“Let’s get prepared then,” said Cundall. “We’ll leave tomorrow.”

The trek started early in the morning. The party left with a few (human) merchants and traders on their way to Hillsfar to sell items made or collected in and around Elventree. It was a two day uneventful journey to Hillsfar, but unsettling in some ways. While the merchants and traders they travelled with were known and friendly, people they met on the road were less so. The people the party passed along the road outside of Hillsfar drew hoods and averted their eyes from a distance; these were unfriendly times, and a stray glance was as likely to earn them a drawn blade as a greeting. At Hillsfar the party avoided the city and then turned onto the Moonsea Ride south. The Moonsea Ride was a wide, well travelled path, and travellers were common. Again everyone seemed overly cautious, as if previous bad experiences, or ill rumours had affected how they interacted with strangers.

A huge patrol of Red Plumes led by an officer was encountered. The party were challenged, and Cundall and Marie went to meet the officer and his escort while a thunder faced Minimus and wary Zelda stayed with Elum. When asked Cundall stated that they were truffle merchants and presented Chauntea the pig as proof and that the non-humans in the party were cheap labour and protection because “these are dangerous times”. The Red Plume officer did not appear to be particularly bothered about the non-humans. He seemed to be interviewing the party as a matter of course rather than because of any real suspicion. Cundall and Maire noticed that most of his patrol – spearmen for the most part – were young.
“New recruits for the most part,” said the officer, observing their gaze. “Lathander bless them, we’ve had to hurry them through training because of the losses we’ve incurred.”
“Attacks?” asked Maire.
“Some,” admitted the officer, “but also many desertions, and.. well.. many becoming… unfit for service.. if you know what I mean.”
“We do,” replied Cundall. “That madness has taken hold all over the land.”

Marie suddenly froze, she felt a disturbance in The Weave, the force where all magic came from. Something large and powerful had teleported nearby. Then a crashing sound from the forest as a huge shape pushed aside trees to step onto the road next to the bulk of the Red Plumes. Everyone’s blood froze as the giant bull headed demon bellowed a challenge. The party recognised it! It was the goristro demon that had been summoned by the daemonfey, it seemed years ago now but was surely only a few weeks. It still had Minimus’ dagger stuck in it’s head!

goristro_s.jpgThe party and the Red Plume officer recovered from the surprise quickly. Zelda was already shooting arrows into the beast, and Minimus was yelling “I want my dagger back you [halfling expletive]” and hurling more daggers at the creature, looking for vulnerable spots to keep it at bay.

The white faced Red Plumes responded to both their officer’s orders and their training, they attacked en masse and plunged their spears into the demon’s body. The weapons did not do as much damage as they hoped, the creature was resistant to mundane weapons, but when Minimus joined the fray his magic sword Companion sliced into the demon’s flesh easily enough. Still, the minor damage done by the spears and swords of the Red Plumes were creating scores of wounds on the beast which leaked black, smoking blood. Meanwhile Cundall had summoned a small storm cloud and rained lightning on the goristro, heedless of the Red Plumes it also caught in its area of affect. He then shifted into giant goat form and charged the monster. Marie cast all of her offensive spells at the beast, and Zelda continued with her hail of arrows. Meanwhile the giant demon was cutting down the Red Plumes several at a time, using it’s huge fists and stamping with a great hoofed foot.

By the time the battle was over, Minimus and Cundall had both been wounded, but only two Red Plumes had survived, a grizzled veteran sergeant and a young spearman, not old enough even to shave. The body of the goristro had dissolved into foul smoke and an evil smelling, dark residue on the ground.

The Red Plume sergeant was red faced with rage, and abused the party for their indiscriminate use of spells resulting in the loss of his men. He vowed he would report them to the Red Plume army commander. Cundall decided that wasn’t going to happen, and attacked. The rest of the party were forced back into combat and the veteran sergeant and smooth faced boy were killed quickly.

“Did we have to do that?” asked Maire, sickened to have to shoot a crossbow at the young soldier.
“We didn’t want to be hunted by them,” replied Cundall. “Life is cruel, Marie. These are hard times. It was bad luck for them, but they are an evil force, it had to be done for the greater good.”

The next few hours were spent stripping the bodies and digging a mass grave. The bodies were buried about half a mile off the road, their armour and weapons marked by a twisted ash tree.

To be continued…

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The Ghosts of Eventide Abbey - Part 1
The mission..

The next month and a half the heroes spent with their own pursuits. Cundall gathered all the ingredients and created a batch of healing potions , Marie left for Hillsfar to use the Mage’s Guild facilities to craft a wand of magic missiles, Zelda resumed her patrols of the Cormanthor Forest on behalf of the Elven Court and studied the books on elven history she had rescued from Haedirn’s lair, and Minimus sought tutelage and practiced lock picking.

Elanil.jpgWhen the party were all back together in Elventree, Elanil invited them to speak with her in her modest cottage built into the boughs of a tree. After initial pleasantries were exchanged, she withdrew a small parcel of expensive cloth from a hidden pocket in her jacket, and opened it to reveal a plain coin. It didn’t look like much, just an old coin weathered nearly black with age, and the heroes recognised it as the shade coin they had found in Haedirn’s lair. The obvious care with which Elanil Elassidil, the Moonsilver Herald of Elventree, handled the relic suggested there was more to it than meets the eye. Elanil lifted the coin delicately from its velvet wrap, holding it away from herself with some distaste as she offers it to you for inspection.

“I appreciate you answering my call so quickly…the little shadow magic remaining inside this coin could prove to be the key to righting an old wrong that has long distressed my family. My ancestor was a knight of the now-ruined elven kingdom of Myth Drannor named Meira Faerenduil. When the elves departed in The Retreat, they left guardians behind to ward their most sacred sites. Meira swore an oath to the elvish god of knowledge Labelas Enoreth to defend one of his temples from their long-time enemies the Netherese, a magic strong human empire who the elves had been at war with. The Netherese never came, and Meira eventually died but her spirit was bound to the Abbey she had sworn to defend. She does not serve alone, however, and the temple, named Eventide Abbey, is likely to contain the spirits of its defenders, and may still house active magical traps designed to thwart intruders.”

She held up the coin. “This is a shade coin, a token of favor long-used to signify rank in the Empire of Netheril. It still contains lingering traces of shadow magic that marks its bearer as an agent of Netheril. My family and I believe that bringing the coin to the heart of Eventide Abbey will allow Meira to fulfill her oath to Labelas Enoreth by defending the temple from the Netherese. Then her spirit, and those of the others there, can be finally laid to rest.”

Elanil sighed. “Normally of course we would handle this within our family, but as you know the Cormanthor Forest is not what it used to be, this madness of the demon lord Graz’zt is seeping up from the Underdark and infecting the animals and plants of the forest, making it a dangerous place. I need someone who can take care of themselves to do this for us. You need to know this is not official Harper business, I am funding this out of my own pocket. You will do me a great favour to take this on.”

The party looked at each other and an unspoken agreement was reached.
“We’ll do it,” said Cundall. “Is there anything we need to know? Is it just a matter of bringing the coin into the temple? Or will your ghostly ancestor have to fight us?”
“Firstly,” Elanil replied, “you have Zelda, who will know how to get to Eventide Abbey and have a good idea of the perils you face on the journey. Seranolla from the Hall of the Unicorn is probably one of the few in Elventree who might know more, see her after you leave here. Eventide Abbey was constructed centuries ago by elven treesingers. Massive shadow top trees were gradually coaxed into the desired position, and the Abbey took form high in the tree branches, much the same as the architecture here in Elventree, although the trees there are much older and bigger. Lastly, I suspect you will have to put up a fight, I do not think simply taking the coin into Eventide Abbey will be enough. How that plays out is up to you. You can fight and then run away, you can even win the fight against the spirits. I suspect either would work, although I would prefer if you were to be there to see her laid to rest, which means you would have to stay and win the battle. Please do not do this at the cost of your own lives, of course.”

The heroes had no other questions for the moment and so they stated their agreement to take on this mission.
“The road to Eventide Abbey is long,” said Elanil, “and time is short; I know not what dangers you will discover there, but preserve the coin because if it is lost, or the last strains of shadow escape the shade coin before my ancestor’s spirit is freed from her oath, all will have been for naught. Take the coin and give Meira a battle worthy of a bard’s song, and I will feast you properly when next we meet!”

The party got up to leave Elanil’s cottage.
“Oh, Marie, if you would stay,” asked Elanil.

After everyone had left Elanil said “As you know the drow outpost of Szith Morcane has been overrun with Fire Giants and their slaves. This has driven a number of the former inhabitants of the outpost, plus those from leagues around the area, to the surface to seek refuge. Most of these are drow, but there are a few duergar and stranger races, most of which are creating communities on the edges of the Cormanthor Forest. There are now at least two drow refugee camps, as well as the enclave just outside of Elventree. Many of these drow are struggling with the madness of Graz’zt, although their clerics and ours are slowly dealing with the problem. The new refugees do not understand the problems we are experiencing on the surface, and for their protection and to avoid any Hillfarian entanglements, the drow must be convinced to cooperate with the factions. Therefore if you do encounter any drow, you must convince them to join the other refugees at the forest’s edge or at the drow enclave near here. Assure them if they behave themselves, they will not be harmed. They are likely to be suspicious of surface dwellers and hostile to any such suggestion; convincing them to join us will be difficult. I know you can speak Undercommon, which is what they will speak mostly, so that is an advantage. If they are suffering from the madness, then they will likely be even more difficult on top of the natural drow suspicion, but I have faith in you all to do your best.”

Seranolla.jpgMeanwhile Zelda and Cundall had made their way over to see Seranolla. The Hall of the Unicorn was a serene place, even by the generally placid standards of Elventree as a whole. The entrance to the temple was carved into the hollow trunk of a vast oak whose branches spiraled overhead, resembling an enormous pair of antlers. Wildflowers and colorful mosses grew along the walls, and a sense of peace and harmony soothed any who approached.

Sweeping out the temple’s archway with a crude cob broom was Seranolla. The gnome wore simple green robes, and sprigs of fern wound through her hair. As she looked up at you from her task, her eyes widened.
“Oh…oh! You! You’re here already! Come, come!” she called over her shoulder as she bustled inside.
Through the doorway the heroes could see an enormous wooden statue of a unicorn, captured in flawless detail. “Let me see, where did I put the saucers now?” floats out from a side room as the gnome reappears, bearing a platter of fresh honey cakes and a steaming pot of tea. “Now we can make for a proper welcome! Now, Elanil’s already given me some of the basics of her mission for you, and I’m so glad you are going to help. But while you’re in the area, there’s a little something that you can do to help the Emerald Enclave.”

She patted Zelda on the knee.
“If it were anyone else, I’d be giving advice about how to get there, what to watch out for, the usual. But with you, dear, I know you won’t be getting lost and I know you know the way. I’ll not give you any unwanted advice. However, one of the guardians of the wood, a treant who calls himself Brightleaf, watches over the small residents of Cormanthor. He is a friend to the Emerald Enclave, and provides occasional wisdom regarding the state of the wood. None of us have heard from him in some time, and we’re concerned by the silence. Your path to Eventide Abbey will take you near Brightleaf’s grove; pay your respects on our behalf, and do anything you can to assist him as caretakers of the wood. That’s all.”

She smiled brightly. “More tea?”

(to be continued)

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