Heroes of Hillsfar

Shackles of Blood - Part 4
The Red Plumes Camp

The Red Plumes had an outpost near the Moonsea Ride, the main trade route to and from the Dalelands, Cormyr and Sembia which cut through the Cormanthor Forest. It was a walled outpost with stables and three buildings.

The plan was a simple one. Minimus, as being the most stealthy, would have invisibility cast on him by Maire, and then sneak into the compound. There was a well there, but they had been told by the captive Red Plume there was a problem with it, and they had to bring in their water in large barrels. This was why this particular outpost was rarely used, and perfect for Captain Erlich as a base for his illegal scheme.

It went as well as could have been hoped. Despite a tall warrior type with a greatsword strapped to his back brewing some kind of potion nearby over a fire, Minimus eased the lid off the water barrel and tipped all of their sleeping potion into the water without being detected. He then moved to a hidden position where he could observe. The halfling noted there was also a live boar in a cage, no doubt meat on the hoof for later.

The tall warrior finished brewing his potion, carefully cleaning his hands. Minimus saw that there were many ingredients, including some orange headed, moist looking toadstools. The man poured the potion into two vials, put out the fire and moved inside. Two guards were on the battlement over the main gate, and one patrolled the inside of the compound. At intervals a guard would take some water inside, or put it into his flask or waterskin. About an hour later the guards on the battlements slumped over, as did the patrolling guard. The party waited a few more minutes before scaling the wall and entering the Red Plume outpost. Cundall used speak with animals to ascertain that the boar would help them if released, and let the creature out. It charged out, frustrated it had no one to attack.
“Gip is fiesty,” said Cundall.
“Gip?” asked Zelda.
“Pig backwards, that’s what I’ll call him I think.”

spiritual_wolf2.jpgAs they explored inside the building it turned out everyone they could see was asleep, including the Tinfellow halflings locked in a room. Minimus was dispatched the sleeping guards. Just as he was doing the last one, the tall warrior attacked, dispelling his invisibility. He was a strong, agile warrior, who could also cast spells. He used a misty step spell to get onto the roof where Maire and Zelda were using ranged attacks, but was surprised when Zelda with a heroic effort grabbed him and threw herself and him off the roof, landing on the ground almost at the feet of Minimus, Cundall, the boar, and seconds later Zelda’s spiritual dire wolf was summoned and joined the fray. Along with Cundall’s heat metal spell they wore the man down, who tried to escape but spells and arrows saw him put down. It was then his body changed back to his true shape of a tall, muscular elf with horns and bat like wings.
“Fey-ri!” exclaimed Maire.
“Daemonfey,” corrected Zelda. “Taller, more powerful than fey’ri. This one was nasty. It must have been that Breex Vandermast the Red Plume mentioned.” Indeed the creature had been tough, they had all taken damage from the daemonfey’s weapon or spells, and it was resistant, but not immune, to the fire damage that Cundall’s heat metal spell had been inflicting.

They looted the bodies, taking all coins and jewellery. Maire’s detect magic spell showed that one of Breex’s rings was magical, as was his wand. The daemonfey also had a scroll with the spell dimension door. Cundall opened the front gate and released Gip back into the wild. The pig trotted off with only happy thoughts on his mind.

They woke the Tinfellows who were grateful for the rescue. The patriarch, an elderly halfling farmer named Elbus Tinfellow told them the following information:

  • The clan raised sheep and farmed roots and hardy grains, and as their small farm prospered, other halflings flocked to the valley to join their farm.
  • Twelve days age a patrol of Red Plumes raided the farmstead, riding in from the south and setting fire to the homes they kidnapped the families and hauled them off to a Red Plume camp just inside the forest.
  • Oddly a human spellcaster named Breex had been working with the Red Plumes who were under the com-mand of Captain Erlich. Elbus thinks that the Red Plumes were more afraid of Breex than Captain Erlich.
  • He heard one of the soldiers say that the Red Plumes were kidnapping nonhumans and selling them to the Arena where they serve as slave gladiators in the games there.

The party looked in the stables and found a draft horse, some riding horses, and a cart. They took these and escorted the Tinfellows back to their farmlands. The halflings were dismayed to find their homes burnt, but somewhat mollified to find their crops undamaged, and most of their toolsheds and barns were untouched, perhaps so that Captain Erlich’s brother Deirk and other humans could make use of them.

“We’ll make do,” said Elbus. “It’s summer, thank Chauntea, so we won’t perish of cold. We can rebuild using the stones in the burnt houses. But we will be needing some wood.” The old farmer looked at Cundall.
Cundall just nodded, and turned away. While he hated seeing trees cut down, it was Chauntea’s will that civilisation and nature co-exist. Sometimes one had to sacrifice for the other. He would mark out trees for the Tinfellows to cut, old trees, or ones that harboured no animal nests or lairs.

“What about these intruders, and the Red Plume,” asked Zelda. “What is your will?”
“There is plenty of room in this valley,” replied Elbus. “Holding grudges just poisons your heart. The trick is to make something good come from something bad. They can stay where they have built their cabin, and work this end of the valley. When their boys come of age and have families they might need more land, but we can accommodate them.”
“You are generous,” said Minimus. “And the Red Plume?”
“I know your feelings towards the Red Plumes,” said Elbus. “I fear you have not lost any of your rage towards them. However he can work off his debt to us in the field and help us rebuild. There is justice in working hard for those you have wronged. And I think he cannot return to Hillsfar anyway. Questions will be asked, and he cannot answer them without incriminating himself. Who knows, in time he may be another settler in Tinfellow Valley.”

And with that it was settled. They spent a warm summer evening around the fire with the Tinfellows and the Widow Miller, and even the red bearded carpenter and Deirk and his sons. They still cast resentful looks at the party, but were happy to be free and to have a future away from the poverty they endured in the city. He would grieve for his brother, but as Elbus told him, the future was his to shape. They had a vegetarian meal of potatoes, beans and spices taken from the gardens. The only one who did not appear hopeful was Deriel, the elf who had betrayed the party for a chance to have her lover, Arrizz the drow, returned to her. In the morning she had gone, but left a note thanking the party and stating her intention to report what had happened to her superiors of the Elven Court, an elf community in the Cormanthor Forest who were coordinating patrols and attempting to rebuild the Cormanthor elf community after the disasters of the last few years.

The party took the draft horse and the cart, but left the other horses for the Tinfellows to use or to trade. They returned to Elventree to talk to their faction contacts about what had happened.

Shackles of Blood - Part 3
Ambushing the Ambushers

“I don’t believe you,” said Cundall, coldly, looking straight at Deriel.
“What do you mean?” replied the elf, angrily. “You just have to come with me to get the halflings and we’re done.”
“Go get them, bring them back here,” said the druid.
“They’re afraid, they think it’s not safe,” Deriel replied.
“Tell them it’s safe. We’re not coming with you,” said Cundall.
Deriel’s face crumpled and she sat heavily on the ground.
“It’s all going wrong,” she wailed.
The others looked at each other in astonishment. Cundall just smiled.
“Tell us what’s going on,” Zelda said, gently.
“The Red Plumes have Arrizz, my lover,” said Deriel. “I made a deal. They said they just needed a few more people, non-humans or human sympathisers, and they would let Arrizz go.”
“And you were going to lead us to them?” asked Zelda, shocked.
“I’m sorry, I’m just so worried about Arrizz. I thought you’d find a way to escape, at least that’s how I justified it to myself.”
“So what was meant to happen?” asked Minimus. He wasn’t sure if he was going to have an opportunity to fight Red Plumes or not.
“I was to lead you into an ambush, Captain Erlich and eleven of his men are at an ambush site. I’m supposed to whistle when I get close so they know to get ready. They also have a camp about half a mile away from the ambush site.”

There was some discussion about what to do about this development, and also what to do with Deirk, his sons, and the carpenter who were still barricaded in a room in the log cabin. Cundall was all for sending Deriel back to the Red Plumes to get them to come to the farm and into the cabin. Then torch the cabin with Deirk, his family, and the Red Plumes inside. The others were horrified.
“It’s a natural death,” protested Cundall. “Creatures die from fire when lightning starts forest fires.”
The party weren’t having any of it.
“We could drown them, I suppose,” Cundall thought out loud. “And deal with the Red Plumes some other way.”
“No, we’re not killing prisoners,” said Maire, firmly.

In the end the party decided to follow Deriel to the ambush site, come from a different direction and ambush the ambushers. Deirk and the others would remain barricaded in the log cabin and they’d leave some food and water.

Capt_Erlich.jpgCundall changed into rat shape and scouted the ambush area. The Red Plumes were in a relaxed position, not talking but waiting quietly, hidden behind bushes and trees surrounding a small clearing. One Red Plume was hidden up a tree, unlike the others he was dressed in leather armour. All the Red Plumes were carrying or had near them small crossbows. Cundall returned to the party, who had approached from the rear of the ambush site and changed back into human form, reporting what he had seen.

Maire cast a silent image spell, to make it seem as if a small group of non-humans had walked into the ambush site. There was a few seconds delay while the Red Plumes dipped their hand crossbow bolts into a vial to coat the head with a liquid and then fit it to the hand crossbow. Then the captain yelled “Fire” and they shot at the illusion. They were concerned when none failed to hit, some of the Red Plumes rushed forward with clubs, but the others found themselves suddenly and unexpectedly in combat with the party.

The battle was over in ten minutes. The captain was one of the first to die, his plate armour blistering hot from Cundall’s heat metal spell, and a few stabs from Minimus’ short sword. By weight of numbers the Red Plumes did manage to wound most of the party, but a grease spell from Maire, more heat metal spells from Cundall, Zelda’s dire wolf spirit companion, and managing to keep some of the Red Plumes occupied by the illusion for a short time all contributed to the party’s success.

Two Red Plumes tried to surrender, but Minimus cut them down without mercy. He lopped off the red feathers from their helmets and put them in his pack with the others he had taken. The others just looked at him. One other badly wounded Red Plume had been put to sleep by Marie’s spell, and in terror he told of what he knew. Captain Erlich and a human named Breex Vandermast decided that they would make money on the side by capturing non-humans (and their human sympathisers) and sell them to someone in Hillsfar who would place them in the arena. When asked about Arrizz, the Red Plume stated that the drow had already been taken to Hillsfar, but wouldn’t fight for a while because he was still unwell. The public wanted to see masterful displays of combat, not some sick drow being slaughtered, he said. Deriel was shocked, she had been told by Captain Erlich that they had Arrizz at their camp. He had been lying to her all the time. However the Tinfellow halflings were still at the camp, they were waiting for Deriel to return with more non-humans before bundling them into wagons and taking them to Hillsfar. As far as the Red Plume knew, there was no other patrol companies doing this, it was entirely an individual unauthorised venture begun by Breex and Captain Erlich. In fact they had been ordered not to talk about it, as it could result in disciplinary punishment for everyone if they were found out. Breex was also the one who had created the sleep poison that the Red Plumes were using to coat the hand crossbows that Captain Erlich had made especially in Hillsfar after he took a drow made one to be copied. The party had taken the vials of this sleep poison from the bodies of the slain Red Plumes.

The captive Red Plume told the party that Breex and six more Red Plumes remained at the camp, guarding the Tinfellows. They would probably remain there one more day before heading out to search for Captain Erlich and the other Red Plumes.

In the end they threw the stripped Red Plume bodies into a fast flowing river nearby. Cundall reasoned they might end up in the Moonsea providing food for marine life, or get snagged along the way, providing food for many of the freshwater crayfish that lived in the river mud, or maybe even larger animals. The other equipment, inlcuding weapons and armour, they buried until they could retrieve it to sell. Captain Erlich’s armour was valuable, so they took that, even though it was burnt on the inside, dividing it up amongst everyone to carry.

They returned to the Tinfellows farm with their Red Plume captive to rest. They put the captive in with the others in the log cabin. Their plan was to rest until around midnight, send Cundall into the camp in animal form to put the sleep poison into their drinking water and wait until it took affect, then attack.

Shackles of Blood - Part 2
The Tinfellows Farm

Minimus told the party that the Tinfellows laid their claim in a narrow valley over a hundred years ago. Just north of the Cormanthor forest, Tinfellow Valley featured a long southern exposure and a fresh alpine river. Here, the halflings raised sheep and farmed roots and hardy grains, and as their small farm prospered other settlers, both human and not, made their home in the valley.

Arriving in Tinfellow valley the heroes passed a humble millhouse to your left, its wheels turning in the alpine stream. Zelda saw an old woman come to the window and then withdraw. She gestured to the party and they knocked. A few minutes later the old woman opened the door, looking nervous.
The grey haired woman, Vigdas, said she lived alone in the millhouse since her husband’s death two winters ago
She was friends with the Tinfellows, and on the night of the raid the Red Plumes came to her door but left her unharmed when they saw she was human. She saw the Red Plumes ride off to the north. She had seen them use small hand crossbows against the halflings.
The party thanked Vigdas and moved towards the Tinfellow farm.
“Drow weapons?” wondered Zelda.
“Perhaps, or maybe imitating drow weapons, a tiny crossbow bold is a good way to deliver an insinuative poison without doing much damage,” replied Maire.

As they hiked up into the valley proper they detected the sound of sawing timber, and coming around the bend you could see a new log cabin being erected in the center of the valley. Several ruined cottages were scattered around the southern slope, nothing more than low stone walls heaped with burnt timbers. The valley was bright but cold, the hills were covered with waist high shrubs and dotted with sheep.

Cundall growled when he saw the recently cut timber for the new log cabin.
“Who is in charge here?” he barked.
“Who wants to know?” retorted a thin, bony shouldered man with several missing front teeth. Three of the youths had similar features, no doubt his sons. The other man was a large, red bearded craftsman, probably a carpenter judging by his tools and what he was doing.
Cundall changed into a wolf shape, and then back again.
“I want to know, and you’re going to tell me!”
The man, intimidated, did tell the party a few things. One was that he was Deirk Erlich and his brother was Captain Erlich of the Red Plumes eastern patrol company. It was he who had organised Deirk and his boys with a hired carpenter to leave Hillsfar because it was becoming dangerous and settle on this land. Captain Erlich had told his brother that the elves of Cormanthor Forest had killed all the halflings.
At that Zelda had gotten annoyed and protested.
“It’s just what we were told,” whined Deirk.
Cundall made them all march several hundred yards into the forest, and dig holes. Then he gave them a seed each to plant.
“These to replace what you have taken,” said Cundall. Then he marched them back again and put them into the log cabin. “Stay in there for now while we look around.”
“I’ll stay here and watch them,” said the druid. “Or we could let them go.”
“They’ll bring a company of Red Plumes on our head,” said Minimus.
“We’ll let them go when we’re ready to leave,” agreed Zelda.
Minimus and Zelda looked around the farm while Maire and Cundall stayed by the cabin.

Soon the halfling and elf found the body of a halfling male in the stream, near the spring. It was one of the Tinfellows, with crossbow bolt in his back. Subsequent investigation revealed that the head of the bolt was treated with some kind of poison, and it was decided that the halfling succumbed to poison and then drowned.
“That’s exactly what happened,” said a voice behind them. They spun to see an auburn haired elf girl with a bow. “Hello Zelda,” she said in elvish.
Deriel_crop.jpg“Hello Deriel,” replied Zelda. “Sorry to hear about Arrizz.”
Deriel’s face twisted as if with hidden grief. Then it passed.
“What are you doing here?”
“Investigating the disappearance of the Tinfellows on behalf of the Harpers,” replied Zelda. “This is your patrol area, is it not? Do you know what happened here?”
“Red Plumes came to capture them,” replied Deriel. “I managed to hide away about a dozen of them, they’re in a safe spot in the forest. You can come with me and escort them to Elventree or Lighthouse. If we leave now we’ll be there within an hour.”
“Not yet, we have another couple of party members,” said Zelda. “Follow us.”
Deriel followed Zelda and Minimus back to the log cabin. The elf scout told her story again. Cundall was immediately suspicious. Something wasn’t right.

Shackles of Blood - Part 1
Meeting Olisara Lightsong

The Cloverwall Roadhouse was a ramshackle two-story inn a day’s ride northwest of Hillsfar. The tavern offered reasonably-priced meals and lodging, and the tavern keeper operated an amateur smithy that can shoe horses and repair armor as needed.

The main tavern room was nearly empty but the sound of laughter washed up from the basement. A broad-shouldered Shou human stood in the doorframe under a banner that read “Poppet’s Playhouse”. He curtly greeted the characters.
“Where are you from,” asked Cundall, looking at the hue of the mans skin and his facial features. “I’ve not seen your like before.”
“Shou” the man replied. “I am Gai.”
“Gay?” asked Cundall. “Good for you.” The druid pointed to the banner. “Are you Poppet?”
“No, I am Gai.” replied the man. “Poppet is the puppet.”
“I don’t care if you can cast colour spray. Can’t get much gayer than that. But can we go down there?”
“2 gold pieces each,” the man held out a massive warrior’s hand.
“Marie can pay,” said Cundall, moving forward.
“Maire can pay,” said Zelda, following Cundall.
“Maire can pay,” said Minimus, grinning and following the other two.
“I guess I’m paying,” said Maire, and gave Gai eight gold pieces. “It better be good.”

The low basement was full of benches facing an ornate hand-puppet stage. There was only a few people at the front watching a puppet show. The air was cool and musty and thick with the smell of the two oil lamps that burn beside the stage. A few puppets with human features wearing red-feathered hats whack away at other puppets with elven, dwarven, and halfling features with tiny wooden swords.
Although you seem to have arrived in the middle of it, the simple puppet show depicted the recent history of Hillsfar. The puppet Red Plumes defeat pompous elves, obstinate dwarves, and scheming halflings with their swords.
The puppet show culminated as a puppet in golden armor appears. The crowd of puppets erupts with cheers of “Torin!” and “Lord Nomerthal!” The heroic poppet strikes a dazzling pose and exits the stage. The unusual production was over.
As the audience filed out a regal female elf in a simple traveler’s cloak stepped from behind the stage—the golden-armored puppet clutched in her hand.
Olisara_Lightsong_s.jpg“I am Olisara Lightsong,” she said, sitting down next to the party. She was a pale-skinned moon elven woman with white hair and piercing, blue eyes. “I know who you all are. And this is little Chauntea, hello there little goddess.” The harper elf patted Cundall’s pig who seemed to enjoy the attention.
“I believe you’ve met Gai and this is Elltrix,” Olisara gestured at the Shou man and a dwarf woman who had come out of the shadows.
“We’ve met the rainbow warrior there,” said Cundall, looking at Gai. He nodded politely at Elltrix the lady dwarf.
“Here, have your money back,” said Gai, handing Cundall the eight gold pieces and smiling. “I didn’t know you were special guests, I though you were just jerks.”
“No problem,” said Cundall, pocketing the money and pointedly ignoring Marie’s hard stare.
“Now to business,” said Olisara. “I thought a glimpse of the propaganda that passes for entertainment in these parts here might be illuminating. We who harp wish to enlist your services.” Chauntea jumped from Cundall’s lap and went sniffing around the floor, looking for dropped delicacies. Olisara continued.
“In the past half-dozen tendays, several farmsteads between Hillsfar and the Cormanthor Forrest have been raided; the farmers themselves have disappeared, never to be heard from again. The latest clan to go missing was the Tinfellows, a family of halflings who have aided my allies in the past. We would enlist to you discover what became of our friends and rescue… or avenge them.”
“I know the Tinfellows,” said Minimus. “They are good people! I used to deliver… goods.. to them.”

As the heroes asked questions Olisara elaborated on the intelligence the Harpers had received.

  • Seven farms had been raided in the last sixty days.
  • Several farms had been raided by persons unknown in the last two months. The farmers themselves gone, never to be seen or heard from again.
  • Olisara had not been able to locate any witnesses to these raids in her brief investigation, and only recently learned of these disappearances from rumors and messages sent by concerned relatives.
  • Most of the farms were south and east of Hillsfar.
  • The most recent—and co-incidentally—closest farmstead affected was owned by the Tinfellows, a family of halflings sympathetic to the Harpers in the past. Their farm was located less than a day away; on the border of the Cormanthor Forest. Olisara provided directions.
  • The characters were to be the first “eyes on the ground” representing the Harpers.
  • In closing, Olisara revealed a piece of information that obviously concerned her. She has received reports that the Red Plumes had been seen actively kidnapping people, but until recently, dismissed it as a tall tale; not believing the Red Plumes would go so far.
  • Recent developments, however, have lent these stories a bit more credibility. Olisara suggested that if the characters encountered a group of Red Plumes who seem up to no good, it may be a good opportunity to find out where their alleged victims are being taken.

The party agreed and decided to leave straight away for the Tinfellows Farm. After lunch.

Olisara asked for Maire to stay behind so they could talk “faction business”. They spoke for about half an hour before Maire rejoined the party, and after a meal at the Cloverwall Roadhouse, set off for the Tinfellows Farm.

Farmer's Lament
Down and dirty...

The party were on the road, heading towards the Cloverwall Roadhouse to meet Olisara Lightsong. They avoided Red Plume patrols, now numbering six instead of four after one patrol went missing, and having suffered hit and run attacks from non-human bandits.

Ahead they could see a bunch of men coming down the road, looking nervous and armed with pitchforks. They turned out to be farmers from a nearby group of farms who were actually heading to Elventree to seek help. On seeing Cundall they broke out into smiles and slapped him on the back.
“Wow,” exclaimed Maire. “You really are some kind of folk hero!”

The farmers, it turned out, had a serious problem. Something was visiting their farms in the night, tearing up fields and killing livestock. Whatever it was, it was big. Cundall agreed to help and the party agreed to come along as well.

On the trail back to their farms, the farmers explained that the creature uproots fields of crops and leaves large gouges in the soil. Livestock is found the next morning, torn asunder by powerful claws and mostly eaten. Fences are smashed, allowing those livestock that haven’t been eaten to escape and become prey for other predators (or be stolen). Some farmers were devastated, as the loss of crops and stock was near crippling. When they started noticing gouges and claw marks on the doors to their homes did they decide that the predator was outside the ability of local farmers to deal with. They decided to seek help from Elventree, Cundall in particular if they could find him, as he was known to the farmers.

When they arrived the party noticed the farms were all relatively close to one another, and not too far from the road. The farmers led the party to the site of destroyed crops, holes in the field and recently slain cattle. The holes were not tunnels leading to a lair, more a way of surprising cattle. The creature would dig into the ground some distance away and reappear next to or under their prey. The creatures seemed to travel overland. The farmers, perhaps still fearing they might yet become victims, held their pitchforks and woodcutting axes at the ready for the sudden appearance of ravenous beasts.

At the farm buildings the party investigated the gouges in the doors, the smashed fences and holes in the fields. Between them Cundall and Zelda deduced that there were three insect like creatures, each larger than a human.
“So will it be your usual fee?” enquired one of the farmers.
“Yes,” smiled Cundall. The farmers all groaned. The other party members looked at each other in alarm – had Cundall been taking advantage?
“You heard him lads,” said the first farmer. “No cutting down living trees for one year. Dead wood only.” The other party members gave an inward sigh of relief.

The beasts’ trail wasn’t particularly hard to follow for Zelda and Cundall. It led out of the farmlands into the Cormanthor Forest and to a small mound with a recently dug tunnel excavated into one side, leading down into the darkness below. Zelda, being an elf, already had darkvision. Cundall cast darkvision on himself and Minimus, leaving Maire tethered to a piece of rope behind him.
“You’ll be ok, run when I do,” joked Cundall.
“That’s not very reassuring,” replied the wizard.
“I’ll cast faerie fire on any creatures we see so you can target them,” said the druid.

They entered the dark, earthy tunnel. Roots from plants on the surface dangled from the roof and creeped Marie out as she couldn’t see them coming. Cundall could sense something moving nearby.
“Something’s coming,” he warned.
Sure enough a large insect creature appeared and immediately launched into an attack.
“Aggressive buggers,” grunted Cundall.
The creature was nasty, but not beyond the capabilities of experienced adventurers. The surprise came when it spat a long stream of acid that burned and required some washing afterwards.
“They’re called Ankhegs” advised Zelda. “It’s a good idea to kill them as soon as they are found in an area before they lay their eggs.”

The party left the body where it was (after they cut it open, just in case it had injested any gems or other valuables) and continued on.

Minimus snuck ahead around a corner and came back to report two more of the creatures and a cluster of eggs in the next wide space. The party made their plans to attack and got complete surprise. With two of them the battle was harder, and harder yet when the eggs burst open and swarms of tiny biting ankhegs swamped the party, but in the end they too were put down.

Cundall stopped and picked up one of the babies. It had two heads. He threw it down and crushed it underfoot and picked up another. This one was fine, but the next one had 12 legs instead of six.
“Corrupted,” he spat and crushed that one too.

There was nothing valuable here so they left to tell the farmers the good news. They were overjoyed of course, and promised not to cut down any trees in the Cormanthor Forest for a whole year. The party were fed and given the local wheat beer and some kind of potato liquor and there was music and dancing and everyone had a good time. There was no prejudice towards Zelda or Minimus, in fact the farmers judged the Red Plumes decrees about non-humans as ridiculous and mad.

The next day the party set off for Cloverwall Roadhouse.

The Madman's Prophecy - Part 7
Count the Dead!

“The fifth lies where the ancients lie beneath night’s marble, forgotten but not gone. The lost wealth of a forgotten time pays terrible dividends now.” – The Madman’s Prophecy

The party returned to Elventree to report what they had discovered. Marie, as a Harper, reported to Elanil Elassidil, and Zelda and Cundall being affiliated with the Emerald Enclave reported to Nymarrath the aged elven druid. Minimus said he was going to The Swaying Bough inn.

Both Elanil and Nymarath were shocked and dismayed at the report of the fey’ri and the summoning of the goristro demon, both insisted this news be taken further. Elanil Elassidil sent a messenger to Olisara Lightsong, the most senior Harper in the Moonsea area. Nymarrath thought her faction’s senior agent shoudl be informed as well, except the most senior Emerald Enclave agent was only a short distance away in the the Hall of the Unicorn – Seranolla the Whisperer, a gnome druid of Mielikki. The party were advised to keep their eyes open and report anything of a demonic nature to their faction leaders. Marie discussed the fifth prophecy with Elanil and the probability of it being the old Church of Waukeen.
“That temple has always been strange,” said Elenil. “A church of a goddess of commerce, out in the forest? Every temple to Waukeen I’ve ever known has been in an urban area. However we know someone who is there at the moment. I’ve invited…. ah, here he is.”
Walking up the path to Elanil’s tree cottage was a brawny half orc in shiny plate armour. As Elendil and Marie came out of the cottage, he bowed slightly. Elenil introduced Marie to Zern Xerkstil, Paladin of Helm, and senior member of the Order of the Gauntlet faction. Zern was polite but stand offish. Elanil suggested they go to the Cave of Silver Shadow and meet up with the rest of the party and Nymarrath. When they were all together and ZernZert2.png had been introduced to everyone, the half orc spoke to them.
“I have been told that you are going to the Church of Waukeen. One of our Order’s associates went there more than a tenday ago, a priest of Jergal named Erve. As you may know, Jergal is the god who records the death of every sentient being. Or something like that. Anyway, Erve has been a friend to the Order of the Gauntlet by giving us reports of the state of things on his travels, which has often been useful. We value Erve as an associate and are concerned that he has not returned from doing his inventory of the dead in the crypts and graveyard there. The Order asks that you give any aid you can to Erve, should he be in need, and our regards if not. Please let us know if anything has befallen him and in what manner, if at all possible.”
The party agreed they would, and Zern nodded, looking over the party as if he didn’t have much hope that they could make it to the church of Waukeen alive, let alone rescue Erve. He turned and left.
“He’s not much of a people person,” admitted Elanil. “But he is a staunch ally, and a good friend to Elventree.”

The next day the party went to visit Joyella at the Zhentarim camp near Elventree. It was a busy camp, there were men and women training with weapons, there were goods, carts and horses coming and going. Joyella caught sight of them and waved cheerfully.
“Do you need someone stealthy with picking locks skills?” she asked, hopefully.
“Nope, we just came for our reward,” replied Cundall.
“Oh,” said Joyella. “Well, I have it. The Zhentarim look after family, so they were more than happy to pay.” She disappeared into a tent and came back with a pouch of coins. Cundall inspected it’s contents. He was impressed.
“150 gold pieces, nice,” he said. “Thanks. The Zhentarim must value you.”
“Family,” repeated Joyella. “Not really of course, but that’s what it feels like. As long as they get their cut, they’ll help you, look after you, and never give up on you.”
“We’ll come see you if we have need for a stealthy lock picker,” said Cundall.
“Please do,” said the gnome, waving as the party left.

“You can’t help but be impressed at their organisation,” admitted Cundall.
“And their change,” said Zelda. “That new Zhentarim leader really made them focus on commerce rather than military domination. Seems to have worked, they’re much more widely accepted now.”
“The old Zhentarim sound like jerks,” said Minimus. “They seem like any other faction now.”
“Not so,” said Maire. “They may not be bent on conquest any more, now they just want a monopoly on commerce, trying to set themselves up as the only company to deal with in regard to caravan security for example. Did you see all those warriors training? They’ll all be Zhentarim guards for hire, undercutting the competition.”
“Are you sure you don’t have some kind of biais?” asked Minimus. “The Harpers and Zhentarim have been enemies throughout the ages. But now they’ve changed, are you sure you’re not hanging on to old hatreds?”
“I am not…” Marie retorted, before being interrupted by Cundall.
“We have bigger fish to fry than bicker about factions,” said the druid. “Onward to the Church of Waukeen!”

The old church of Waukeen was about a day’s travel away from Elventree. The abandoned church and overgrown graveyard were exactly where they were told. Surprisingly, the place was not uninhabited. Two humans in loose-fitting peasant garb moved among the gravestones, which were made of a black marble. They led two lumbering rothé, attached to harnesses. It was hard to tell whether these caretakers were trying to fix gravestones, pull them up, or do something else entirely. The party approached warily, and as they got closer the humans suddenly shifted, shedding their illusion and were revealed as horned, bat winged elves. Zelda snarled “Fey’ri!” The party could see that the rothé were dead, their corpses animated by foul magic. The battle was on.

Because the party were ready, they were able to leap to attack. The rothé usually liked to charge anything that threatened them, however the party was on them before they could lower their horns and move. It ended up being a short battle in the end, the fey’ri were outnumbered and the rothé, although tough, were not up to the task of taking on experienced adventurers.

It was apparent now that the fey’ri had been digging up corpses, there was a pile of them stacked near the old church.
“The rothé are no doubt from the Allano farm,” said Marie. “Very cheap labour.”
“Keys,” announced Zelda, having searched the bodies she found a set of large iron keys.

The church building was in terrible repair. Much of the stonework was crumbling, and after going inside they party found that the fine appointments that usually decorated a temple of Waukeen had long since been looted.
However, at the back of the abandoned church, a set of marble stairs descended to a great iron door with a newly oiled lock. The keys that the characters found on the cultists outside fit the lock.

Upon opening the door, the party saw it led into a massive crypt. Every wall contained multiple niches in which rested skeletons long dead. Smaller stone rooms with stone doors filled the crypt as well, obviously the final resting places of more wealthy and influential members of the church.
Immediately in front of the party stood a human wearing the garb of a priest of Jergal, the god of burial and interment, the keeper of the Book of the Dead. His glasses were askew, and there was a strange dark glow on him that made him look blurry.
“More fleshy bodies for my master’s army,” said a voice that came from the priest but was definitely not the priest’s. “Protect the braziers!” he called to someone or something that they could not see deeper in the room. More fey’ri appeared, a couple of them seemed to be spellcasters.

Once again the party lept into battle.
“Don’t hurt the priest,” called Cundall. “Knock him unconscious if you can!”
Zelda despatched a fey’ri about to cast a spell with an arrow to the throat. The other spellcaster was a daemonfey, she could see that now, taller, bigger wings, darker skin. She fired another arrow this time at the daemonfey, but missed.
Meanwhile whatever had possessed Erve the priest of Jergal, was doing serious damage. It just had to touch someone and they became weaker and took magical necrotic damage. Minimus had been affected, as had Marie. And the party were not able to hurt the priest at all.
Marie could feel arcane magic coming from the braziers that the possessed priest had called for the fey’ri to protect. She had an idea. She concentrated on the arcane magic coming from the brazier and used her knowledge of magic to stop it, and then snuff it out. The possessed priest screamed in frustration and attacked anew, this time Cundall suffered the debilitating attack. Marie moved to the next brazier, after Minimus cut a path through the blocking fey’ri, and snuffed that one out as well. She could tell now that touching the brazier and knocking it over would work, but it would do damage to anyone touching it. When the last brazier was extinguished, the priest collapsed to the floor and a creature of darkness arose from his body.
Shadow_Demon.jpg“A shadow demon,” yelled Marie. Now that it did not have Erve’s body for protection the party could attack it, having defeated all of the fey’ri and the daemonfey. It was tough, and was resistant but not immune to their weapons. Eventually they wore it down and the battle was won.

Cundall used healing magic on Erve, who sat up blinking. He recovered his glasses and thanked the party for the rescue.
“I wonder if it might be too much trouble to ask for an escort back to Elventree,” the priest said. “It seems much too dangerous to work here at the moment.”

Back at Elventree in front of Elanil, Nymarrath, Zern, Seranolla and three people the party hadn’t seen before, a small dark haired human, a white bearded dwarf and a tall thin drow. They were introduced as Chaab of the Zhentarim, Dornal Whitebeard – the dwarf representing the Lords’ Alliance faction, and Murssvayas Dhuurniv the drow who apparently was acting as some kind of emissary from a drow outpost.

Murssvayas_Dhuurniv.jpg“Let me get to the point,” Erve was saying. “Being possessed by that shadow demon allowed me to glean information from it, as well as overhearing the conversation between it and the fey’ri. It seems that the fey’ri are aware that the Dark Prince, the Demon Lord Graz’zt has been summoned from the Abyss and is residing in the Underdark, underneath the Moonsea area. The madness and chaos of the Abyss that he brings with him is affecting something they call the faerzress and transmitting the madness to many creatures.”

“If I may,” interrupted Murssavayas Dhuurniv, the drow emissary. “The faerzress is an unusual magical energy pervading much of the Underdark. The origin of this mysterious arcane power is unknown. Legend claims it is an ancient elven magic dating back to the time when we dark elves were first exiled from the world above. We, and other Underdark creatures, use the magical properties of areas suffused with faerzress to protect our settlements. Areas suffused with faerzress can range in size from a few dozen feet across to several miles in diameter, and among other things, provides a dim light.”

Erve continued. “The Church of Waukeen was just a front for worship of Graz’zt. Even the non-fey’ri who attended there were cultists of the Dark Prince. The fey’ri were going to create undead from all of the corpses and let them run amok in the Cormanthor Forest and Hillsfar region. They seek to sew chaos and discord. They are also recruiting disgruntled non-humans and arming them, telling them to attack Red Plumes. They want to create as much chaos and madness as they can so that Graz’zt will be attracted to the area.”

There was much discussion about the presence of Graz’zt and what that meant for the Moonsea lands. The party found out that Graz’zt was the demon prince who had mated with members of the evil noble House Dlardrageth to become daemonfey, and had provided incubi and succubi for the noble elf houses allied with House Dlardrageth to become fey’ri.
“No wonder the fey’ri are becoming more bold,” said Marie to Cundall.
“Yeah, they’re acting up because Daddy’s home,” replied the druid.

Later after everyone had left, Elanil approached the party.
“Olisara Lightsong, the most senior Harper in the Moonsea lands, has asked to meet you. You can find her at the Cloverwall Roadhouse, about a day’s travel northwest of Hillsfar. I request that you go there after you have rested.”

The party agreed, and made their plans to leave in a couple of days time.

The Madman's Prophecy - Part 6
Something terrible..

“The fourth holds the great thundering beasts, but the beasts are gone, to give way to a greater thundering beast with death in its eyes. They await at a place of ancient elven evil.” – The Madman’s Prophecy

The party discussed the fourth clue of the madman’s scroll. Between them they decided that Allano’s rothé farm was the place to go, primarily because of the clue of elven evil. Zelda knew from elven lore that there was a fey’ri bolt hole there. Fey’ri, knowing they would be killed if discovered by elves, created many bolt holes – underground areas where they could be safe and perform whatever vile deeds they wished without discovery. As far as the elves knew this one had been abandoned over a century ago. Cundall suggested – half jokingly – that it was time to leave the Moonsea area. The Sword Coast was a nice place to live, he said, his cousin Marjorie had sent him a brochure saying Waterdeep was lovely this time of year, and maybe – now that Phlan and Mulmaster had experienced such devastation – it was now the Hillsfar region’s turn for disaster.

roth_.jpgAfter resting for a day at the Spring of Blessed Life, the party set off for the rothé farm, which was about a day’s travel from the Spring. A rothé was a large beast popular in the area as beasts of burden, a source of meat, and occasionally as mounts. This particular farm was one of the largest rothé-raising establishments in the Hillsfar area.

The unmistakable stench of death assaulted their senses as they approached the Allano rothé farm. In the pastures beyond the barns and farmhouse, large furry lumps lay rotting. Dozens of dead rothé, old and young, littered the fields. A few were missing heads and legs.

A thorough inspection of the farm and surrounding area showed no sign of any of the residents, living or dead. Approximately 20 people must have lived and work on the farm, and there were signs of a struggle but no blood in the living areas or barns.

Just as the party were about to give up on their investigation regarding what happened here because of a lack of evidence, Zelda noticed that the fey’ri bolt hole she was expecting to see was not present. They decided that maybe one of the many barns had been built over the top of it, and so they re-inspected the barns in detail. It was then they noticed a few fresh scuff marks that ended in the middle of the floor in one of the larger barns. The middle of the floor, once inspected closely, had a trap door in it. After Cundall inspected it for traps (“What? I’m the party rogue now?”) they swung it open to reveal a wooden ladder affixed to a shaft leading down into darkness. While the stonework was obviously old, the wooden ladder looked new, perhaps less than a year old. They dropped a torch into the shaft, and it fell several hundred feet. At the bottom it looked like there was a smudge of red around the torch on the floor. Blood? Minimus volunteered to go first and climbed down the ladder. It was a poor carpentry job, and was a little wobbly, but seemed solid enough. At the bottom Minimus saw there was blood spatter and the floor was not exactly a puddle, but was sticky. The blood was perhaps a day or so old, he judged. The halfling picked up the torch and looked at the single passageway. Only one way to go then.

weasel2.jpgThe others followed down the ladder, Cundall taking his time as he was being careful with Chauntea the pig. At the bottom they discussed what to do. Cundall decided he would use his druid shapeshift power to change into an animal and explore further. He was unable (yet) to change into a creature that had darkvision or could fly, but as a weasel he would have enhanced smell and hearing. In weasel form he scurried along the passage, encountering nothing except spiders, cockroaches and rat droppings, until he got to an open area. Cundall the weasel couldn’t detect anything from smell or sound, but he felt there was something. He moved forward and touched the base of a statue. Quickly he scurried backwards, and as he did so, felt with his agile paws that words had been chiseled into the ground in front of this room. Not liking this, Cundall retreated back to the party and resumed human shape. He told the party what he had seen, and they set out together with Marie holding the torch.

Now they could see it with the flickering light from the torch, they could see that the room ahead was decorated in a very strange motif. The bas-relief carvings and other stonework were delicate and finely crafted, seeming elven in nature. However, the scenes depicted were terrible and shocking: “demonic” was the best word to describe it.
“Fey’ri,” said Zelda, her face grim. To the elves in the Cormanthor Forest, the fey’ri were one of the historical enemies of the elves, every bit as much as the drow or orcs. Unlike the drow though, the fey’ri – through their association with demons, the part they played in several elvish civil wars, the difficulty in finding them when they did not wish to be found, and the devastation they brought with them when they did choose to show themselves – had the status of elvish boogeymen. They were so fearful that tales were not even told of them to frighten children. They were even more horrifying and shameful to the fair folk because they had been, and still were, elves.

In this room six massive statues stood with backs to the wall, three on each side, leaving a walkway between them to an exit at the far side of the room. The three statues on the left depicted elves, while the three on the right were carved to represent demons. The two sets of statues faced each other, and each pair shared certain features, indicating the dual nature of the fey’ri. The first pair wielded wicked swords, the second pair highlighted spiders and snakes, and the last pair wielded scourges and arcane wands.

Etched onto the floor in Elven was a phrase that read: “To pass, you must speak the titles of each of the three, divided by three.” Then etched into the floor below it was a long string of letters: TLLHOAERDSDYLVAAEGYNOEONRMY.

Cundall spoke elvish and worked at the problem but couldn’t quite get it, until Zelda suggested that he try using every third letter. He worked out the first title as “THE SLAYER”. He needed Maire’s help to get the other two from the remaining letters, while Minimus, totally bored by puzzles, amused himself by playing with Chauntea the pig. Finally the druid and wizard worked out the other two names – “LORD VENOM” and “LADY AGONY”.

Cundall spoke these out loud and strode forward. As he said each name, the statues bowed slightly. The party were through. The next room around the corner appeared to be another puzzle. This room continued the motif of elf and demon co-mingling. Nine gaping demonic maws adorned the walls of the room, each with a number on them: one through nine. The maws were holes in the walls large enough to climb through, but the gaps were filled with a magical darkness that obscured what was on the other side. Sticking their head in, poking a staff through, throwing a copper piece in did nothing.

The floor and the rest of the walls formed a mosaic that obviously represented the Abyss, the home of the demons. The infinite layers of that horrific place were represented with breathtaking and terrible beauty.
“Art worthy of elves, subject matter worthy of demons,” said Maire, running her hands over the walls. It surely must have taken years to create this artwork.
“There’s something around here they don’t want anyone to see, or at least delay them, maybe while they wait for us,” said Zelda. She was uncomfortable with something so secret and shameful for elves as the fey’ri being seen and spoken about by non-elves. They only reason Zelda knew anything at all about the fey’ri was that elven scouts were told a brief history and as much information as they needed to know to identify them and their works.
“Look carefully,” said Cundell. “Especially around number six there. If it’s going to be any number I think six will be it. Six has been a recurring number we’ve seen lately.”
They studied the area carefully, and found that the gaping demon maw numbered six did indeed have more wear and tear than the others. Minimus volunteered to go through first. He jumped through and disappeared.
“Right, now let’s go home,” said Cundell. “Never liked that little jerk anyway, he never laughed at my jokes.” The others just looked at him. “Just kidding,” said the druid, sighing. “Let’s follow him.”
The others all made it through the portal and landed in a small slice of hell.

manes_s.jpgThe large room they found themselves in was supported by four thick pillars of purple stone. A dead human body was lashed to each with manacles and chains. By the looks each had been tortured and then gutted. Bubbling cauldrons of vile goo cooked over fires in the four corners of the room, with an odd arm or leg sticking out of the cauldrons.
“Guess we know what happened to all the farm folk now,” murmured Minimus.
In the center of the room, resting on a purple stone slab, was a grotesque form. It looked like the head of a rothé had been attached to the body of a human.

Behind the slab was what must be a fey’ri. It resembled an elf, but with horns and large bat wings, and it was bigger and more intimidating than Maire was expecting. Its face and arms were covered in blood, and it cackled madly at the party’s appearance. “Perfect. When my creation rises, you will be its first meal!”
From out of the each of the four columns stepped four vaguely humanoid mounds of flesh. Later they would all know that these creatures were minor demons known as manes. Similarly, baboon-like demons (again, later they would know they were called dretch) leapt from the cauldrons and moved toward the party threateningly.

dretch2.jpgThe battle was ferocious. The dretch clawed and bit, and emitted a strong, noxious cloud that sickened those who breathed too much of it. The manes however did not attack, but ran towards the human/rothé on the purple slab. They threw themselves on it, and in some ritual magic, fused themselves onto the creature with a flash of magic and increased its bulk. New manes appeared from the pillars where the bodies hung and rushed towards the monstrous corpse to do the same thing. Cundall used an entangle spell to snare them, but only slowed them down.

incubus_demon_by_shoker91-d3enakb.jpgMeanwhile Minimus vaulted onto the purple slab, intending to launch himself at the fey’ri. However he tripped and bounced on the prone abomination on the slab, but through some miracle of luck, bounced off it exactly right, landing on his feet in front of the surprised fey’ri who he skewered several times with his shortsword. The fey’ri staggered backwards, trying to stem the gushing blood from it’s throat and died within a minute. Minimus turned back to help his friends with the dretch, being a little more careful this time, particularly as he was also slowed Cundall’s entangle spell.

Between magic and weapons, they had killed all but one of the dretch, ignoring the manes demons that appeared from the pillars and then threw themselves onto the body on the slab, disappearing into its body with a flash of light, fusing with it, increasing its mass yet further. It was huge now.

As the twelfth manes demon was absorbed into the corpse, a loud explosion rocked the room, sending the party all flying, and destroying the last dretch. Where the terrible corpse had just rested there was now a creature more terrifying than anything the party had ever seen. As tall as a giant but with the head of a bull, it emanated wicked power and burned their eyes; temporarily blinding them. It took the party in with a red-eyed stare, bellowed, took a step towards them and then disappeared. Something horrifying had just been unleashed onto an unsuspecting world.

The party sat where they had fallen, badly shaken. Marie used her arcana sense in a belated attempt to work out what had been going on. Summoning magic was evident, of course, but also a teleportation magic had been woven into the summoning. She mentally berated herself for not trying to disrupt the ritual, even though she had been fighting for her life against the dretch. The bull demon – later they would know it was called a goristro – had been summoned by the fey’ri with this horrible ritual and they had ensured that it would be wherever they wanted it to be, with the teleport. Lucky for the party, not so lucky for the world, perhaps.

“Rest,” groaned Cundall. “I need.” He was injured from being bitten and clawed by dretch, and sore from being flung to the stone floor by the arrival of the goristro. “Are you ok Chauntea?” the druid asked. The pig grunted, having been shielded from the worst of the blast by Cundall’s shield.
“Agreed,” said Maire. “We need rest. But please, not here.” She waved a hand at the corpses.
They moved to the gaping maw they had arrived at and found themselves back in the room with nine gaping maws. Minimus couldn’t help himself and had to satisfy his curiosity and jumped into another maw to see if it took him somewhere else. It did not – it just spat him out again, but gave him some necrotic damage to be going on with.
“Ow,” groaned Minimus. It felt like his very bones were stabbing him. “That hurts.”
“Try another one?” suggested Cundall.
“No thanks,” said the halfling. “I’m not curious any more.”

Over the next day they buried all the bodies (except the fey’ri). Marie took as many notes as she could about the awful ritual and the fey’ri body prior to them burning it.
“You know,” she said to Zelda, “Even though it died pretty quick, I wasn’t expecting a fey’ri to be so.. I don’t know, striking? It had a lot of power but didn’t get a chance to use it thanks to our halfling warrior.”
“That one was not a fey’ri,” said Zelda. “It’s a daemonfey, they are generally more powerful than a normal fey’ri. Fey’ri are the offspring of incubi and succubi and elves, which gives them certain abilities and traits above that of an elf, but a daemonfey is more powerful yet as it has the blood of a demon prince in its veins. They are of the elven noble house ”/wikis/house-dlardrageth" class=“wiki-page-link”> Dlardrageth, one of the few evil elf noble houses. This particular daemonfey was young, so not too powerful, probably an apprentice to a more powerful daemonfey."
“Which means,” thought Marie, “that the master was probably wherever that bull demon teleported to, to contain it maybe, or force it to serve.” They were both quiet for a while.
“Wonder if he’ll come looking for the slayers of his apprentice?” asked Maire.
“Maybe we should hurry up and leave,” said Zelda. “I have a bad feeling about this.” She went and explained to the others what she and Maire had been talking about. They were all packed and gone within the hour, heading back to Elventree, with Cundall telling everyone about the marvels of the Sword Coast.

The Madman's Prophecy - Part 5
The Spring of Blessed Life

“The third is at the spring of blessed life, where the haunters protect and the protectors haunt. The water runs on, of course, and must be freed for all.” – The Madman’s Prophecy

Minimus2.jpgThe following morning the party found themselves on the edge of the Cormanthor Forest, at the headway of the trail that led into the forest and to the Spring of Blessed Life. The trail was well marked and clear, as it was frequently traveled. They found the walk pleasant and the trail easy to follow. However, that soon changed.

As the canopy got denser and the sunlight failed to filter through, a sense of darkness or foreboding filled the area. The chirps of the smaller fauna disappear, and a humid haze covered the ground. Ahead of the party a human man was sprawled on the ground just off the trail. He moaned and tried to push himself to his feet, but then he collapsed again. Nearby a cart with a broken wheel lay next to a tree, slightly off the trail.

The party rushed to his aid. He was conscious but in a bad way. More goodberries from Cundall helped him recover somewhat. He told the party his name was Wittel, a teamster who transfered goods from the farms around Hillsfar into the city. He and his wife, Dottee, just learned she was pregnant with their first child, so they came into the forest to drink at the spring. He remembered traveling up the trail but then several figures leaped out of the forest and attacked. They looked like wild dogs, but one of the attackers was definitely larger than a dog, and was wielding a weapon. When questioned he described it as a curved blade. During the one sided fight Wittel was bitten and struck, and fell senseless to the ground. When he regained consciousness, he found he had been left for dead and his wife was gone.

Wittel showed them an old silvered shortsword that belonged to his father. He brought it for protection, but he didn’t know how to wield it with any skill. Minimus’ eyes lit up.
“Would, ah.. would you consider selling that blade?” he asked.
“Uh, I guess,” considered Wittel. “It’s not like I can use it, and any money would really come in handy for building our house. How about 20 gold pieces?”
“Done,” said Minimus. Then he realised Cundall had all the money they had gathered so far.
Cundall was more in mind to barter. He was sympathetic to Wittel of course, but money was money.
They came to an arrangement of 15 gold pieces, which Wittel was less happy with. However he perked up when Zelda gave him 5 gold pieces out of her own belt pouch.
“Finish your house,” she said, smiling.
“Thank you,” said Wittel. Smiling back. Then his face clouded. “But only if we can rescue Dottee.” He went and retrieved a large mallet from the wagon, one used to bang wheels onto spokes. “I feel more used to wielding one of these,” he said.

Wittel insisted on accompanying the party to look for his wife, and he gladly accepted his place at the rear of the party marching order. Despite the goodberries the teamster was still in rough shape. However he refused healing, saying that he would be fine and that Dottee might need it more than him.

Moving deeper into the forest, the party began to realize something wasn’t quite right here. The sun appeared briefly to guide their travels toward the spring, only to appear later in the wrong place, showing that they had somehow got turned around despite Zelda’s best efforts and expert navigation. She frowned. She never got lost. Magic was at play here for sure.

Sudden unearthly shrieks rang out from behind trees, but investigation showed nothing there. Strange lights draw them down a side path, only to disappear just before they were close enough to find their source.

It was shortly after the last strange phenomena that Minimus at the front of the party, discovered a pit trap. By falling into it. He discovered an old elf skeleton at the bottom, which also spooked him. As he was climbing out with assistance, he felt breath near him and his head was enclosed in a gas. He quickly held his breath and moved out of the cloud, feeling light headed from just a whiff of it and somewhat panicky, which was unlike him.

“Something invisible!” said Cundall, casting faerie fire hoping to illuminate whatever had attacked Minimus. It didn’t work, whatever it was had moved quickly out of the area.
“This is strange,” said Zelda, looking at the pit trap. “The trap is newly dug, but the skeleton is old. And look here, there are drag marks indicating it has been dragged here and placed in the pit.”
“As if to scare us,” said Maire. “Just like all of the other weird things we’ve seen.”

They continued on, Cundall taking the lead this time, and his knowledge of the natural world helped him spot another pit trap before anyone tumbled into it. They skirted around it and continued.

The strange lights, sounds, and unnatural effects increased the further the party traveled into the Cormanthor Forest. Spectral shapes occasionally floated at the edge of the mist-shrouded path, only to melt away upon closer inspection. It was difficult to tell even what direction they were traveling now.

Unexpectedly, the trail opened into a small clearing. The center of the cleared area contained a grisly scene of dead and mutilated bodies, all human. Their wounds look like a multitude of bite marks made by small canine creatures. Just as the party started to investigate, a noise interrupted them. Coming into the clearing from a different direction were two humans, a male and a female. They were covered in sweat, are breathing as if having run, and had a wild look in their eyes.

Immediately the party were on guard. The newcomers told them their names were Francesca and Voltz, and that the six of them, indicating the four bodies on the ground, were followers of Mielikki, and they came to leave offerings at the Spring of Blessed Life. Some dog-like creatures attacked, but the couple escaped into the fog.
“Beware,” whispered Maire. “They hold scimitars, similar to the wounds that we found on Wittel.”

Francesca and Voltz approached smiling, and then a cloud appeared around the head of the male. Instantly Cundall cast another faerie fire spell, this time catching the outline of an invisible flying creature in the shape of a very small dragon with butterfly wings. However before they could take action on that, something was happening to Francesca and Voltz. They growled and burst out of their clothes, taking on the aspect of some dog headed humanoids.

JackalwereCreature-1-.jpg“Jackelweres!” said Maire. “Kill them, they are evil. Leave the fairy dragon alone!”

Battle was joined. The jackalweres were immune to normal weapons. Zelda’s first arrows did not hurt the creatures. She took the offered silver sickle from Cundall (the one Beralt had given him, stating that Nymarrath had foreseen it would be useful) and attacked hand to hand. The jackalweres summoned jackals who joined the fight. The invisible faerie dragon, clearly outlined by Cundall’s spell breathed a colour spray spell on the jackalweres, blinding one of them. Minimus leaped forward, wielding the silver shortsword that had once been Wittel’s to deadly effect.

The battle was soon over. Two jackalweres and six jackals lay dead. Cundall had received some injuries, but he healed himself.

The faerie dragon became visible and flitted down to talk. Only Marie could understand her, and they spoke in both Sylvan and Draconic. Through Marie, the party learned that the faerie dragon’s name was Zook, as well as the following information;

The jackalweres are part of a group of four who have been using the Spring of Blessed Life as a lure for prey. Zook was a good creature, but was not strong enough to tackle the jackalweres on her own, and so she used magical illusions to try and scare people away from the Spring. She had placed the skeleton in the pit as well, anything that she thought would warn people away. These two jackalweres were going to try and lead the party to where the other two jackalweres and more jackals were waiting, and then attack by surprise. Sensing this was her best chance of being able to defeat them, Zook had intervened, causing the jackelweres to blow their cover and change. The silvered weapons were no doubt a surprise to them, they had been used to being immune to harm.

faerie_dragon_by_mancomb_seepwood-d8pvnt7s.jpgWittel asked about Dottee, and Zook told him that she had been taken to the Spring where the other evil creatures were waiting. The party set off at once. At the Spring they were able to turn the tables on the jackelweres and their servant jackals. It was a tough battle, but the party were victorious. Dottee was not badly hurt and she was reunited with a thankful Wittel. Then they both drank the waters of the Spring of Blessed Life together.

Afterwards Zook also told the party that she was affiliated with the Harpers, and provided them with information. Now the Spring was safe again, the faerie dragon thought she would be able to leave the area and report to Elanil Elassidil in Elventree.

The party added up all the loot. The jackalweres sported thick golden ear rings, and they had accumulated loot from their victims. There was even a scroll of comprehend languages which Maire took. Cundall pointed out there was no way they could ever find out which victims owned what loot, so the party should keep it all. They burned the bodies of the jackalweres and jackals, and buried the bodies of the pilgrims. They escorted Wittel and Dottee back to the wagon and helped them repair it. The couple headed back to their home.

The party camped at the Spring of Blessed Life for a day, recovering and enjoying the sounds of nature returning in full force. The read the madman’s prophecy again. The next clue spoke of rothes and a place of ancient elven evil. Maire and Zelda both knew something of this and together they worked out that Allano’s rothe farm would be the best place to start. A rothe was a hardy cattle like creature, used for meat, fur, as beasts of burden, and sometimes for mounts. Near the farm Zelda knew of some ancient ruins that she believed were once populated by fey’ri, the ancient enemy of elves, but were also from elves, much like the drow. This then, would be their next stop.

The Madman's Prophecy - Part 4
The Rescue of Gerard and Gwen

Marie2.jpgThe madman’s words spoke of the Spring of Blessed Life. Local legends stated that those who drink from the spring before important events—childbirth, marriage, or coming of age, for example—find good health and good fortune for years afterward.
Recent rumors, however, speak of the area around the spring becoming suddenly haunted and unwelcoming. Supernatural phenomena drive people mad as they seek the spring, pilgrims of the spring go temporarily blind as they seek it, and several people have not returned from pilgrimages there.

The party headed back past Hillsfar on the road north of the Cormanthor Forest towards Elventree. They were perhaps a day away from Elventree, when the party heard loud voices and laughter coming from up ahead. The road was at a part where it moved through an outcropping of the Cormanthor Forest, so visibility was limited. A large rock also sat on a bend in the road, so Minimus and Zelda crept up, using the rock as cover and peering through the bushes to see a small patrol of Red Plumes, four of them including a sergeant, apparently hassling a half elf merchant and his human partner. They Red Plumes were looking through the saddlebags of a bored looking pony, throwing bundles and packets of herbs and spices onto the ground and laughing.
“Where did you steal all this from? asked the sergeant, a strong looking man with a scar down his face and a black moustache.
“I didn’t,” replied the half elf wearily, as if he had explained this several times already. “I’m a herbalist, just passing through the area with my wife.”
“A likely story,” growled another Red Plume, opening a packet and sniffing it. “Disgusting!” he exclaimed and threw the packet away.
Zelda signalled to Cundall and Marie they should stay back, she didn’t want to leave Minimus because he looked like he was about to charge towards the Red Plumes, but the other two had already heard what was happening and decided to try and diffuse the situation. They came around the corner, surprising the men.
“Good morning,” the druid said, cheerfully.
“What? Who are you?” spluttered the sergeant, who did not even have the good grace to look embarrassed being caught out bullying travellers.
“I am Cundall, druid of Chauntea. And this is Chauntea,” he said, gesturing to the pig under his arm. Cundall spoke proudly, hoping they might have heard of him.
“Good for you. Now piss off, we’re dealing with illegal immigrants here.” Obviously the sergeant wanted some privacy while he dealt with the waylaid pair.
“I thought I heard him say he was passing through,” replied Cundall, still smiling.
“That’s what all the illegals say. Now be on your way, citizen.”
“And what about that good lady?” he said, pointing to the red headed woman who was holding onto the half elf herbalist’s arm. “She is human, at least.”
The sergeant leered at her. “She obviously isn’t too fussy who she associates with. I reckon she might like to associate with us for an hour or two before we let her go. Erk!”
The last exclamation was because Zelda’s arrow had ricocheted off his helmet, staggering him.
“Chauntea dammit, Zelda!” exclaimed Cundall. “Oh sorry,” he said to the pig who had turned to look at him.

The battle was joined, the sergeant was a tough fighter, the other Red Plumes not so much, and even the half elf and his partner had tried to throw spices into a Red Plume soldier’s eyes and the half elf had got a spear in the gut for his trouble. A few of the party were wounded, Minimus had taken the brunt of the Red Plume sergeant’s blows, but some healing magic from Cundall revived him, and a few goodberries helped the half elf back from death.

“Thank you for your assistance, although now I fear we will all be hunted by the Red Plumes,” said the half elf. “My name is Gerard, I am a simple herbalist. This is my wife Gwen. We are leaving the area and heading east to ”/wikis/elmwood" class=“wiki-page-link”>Elmwood, and then onto Mulmaster. He and Gwen began to collect their scattered herbs and seeds.
“I have an idea,” said Cundall, helping them gather their goods. “We’ll hide the bodies, bury them in the wood a ways in. But their armour and weapons might be valuable. How about we estimate what you might be able to sell them for in Mulmaster, and you can give us half of that.”
Gerard brightened a little. “That will certainly be profitable. With all the trouble they’ve had there they will sell well, I think. And Dobby here,” he rubbed the pony’s neck, “can certainly carry it all. It’s a deal, providing I have enough coin. If not I can perhaps provide other recompense, I have some potions.”

In the end they settled on a sum of money, plus a potion of fire breath and two vials of acid. Cundall borrowed the pony to carry the bodies a long way into the forest and, after stripping them of armour, weapons and other possessions, buried them with the help of the others.
“Where are you folk off to?” asked Gerard, packing the last of the bundled Red Plume weapons and armour onto the pony, who was looking less happy now.
“We are heading to the Spring of Blessed Life,” replied Zelda.
“Oh,” said Gwen. “My sister Dottee and her husband are on their way there now. She is expecting her first baby. If you see them, mention that you saw me and that we made it safely out of the Hillsfar area.”
The party looked at each other. If the rumours about trouble at the Spring were true, they had better hurry.
“We will,” said Maire. “We are in a bit of a hurry, so we’ll leave you now. Please don’t tarry, I’d advise against bumping into another patrol.”
“Gods, yes,” replied Gerard, packing more quickly. “I don’t want to be caught with this load. We’ll be off momentarily. Farewell.”

The party continued towards the Spring of Blessed Life, with some urgency in their stride.

The Madman's Prophecy - Part 3
Surprise at Goodroot Farm

“The second runs red with the blood of roots, where an heiress lies and hides her pain in long wooden boxes. She hides more than that though, but only to keep what is hers.” – The Madman’s Prophecy.

The party took three days to get to Goodroot Farm, the second prophecy that the Harper agent Hamad had named on his scroll. The weather was warm and sunny, it being the first month of summer, and Elua’s Ride – the name of the road that ran to Hillsfar north of the Cormanthor Forest – was well maintained. Goodroot farm was located on the western side of Hillsfar. Cundall had been there, helping the Goodroots (the name of the beet farmers) with his knowledge of crops, but not for several months.

Red-Plume_cropped.jpgThey passed several Red Plume patrols on the way, and the party moved off the road to let them pass, or rather, to avoid any unpleasantness, as the Red Plumes would often abuse their power. Everyone noted the barely restrained enmity displayed by Minimus everytime the patrols went past, to the point where one of the three would always stand near the halfling as they were worried he might yell abuse, or worse, attack them. For their part the Red Plumes would avoid eye contact with the non-humans, and might nod curtly to Cundall or Marie, but most often ignored the party.

One of the nights was spent at The Docks, while still unfriendly to non-humans at face value, the proprietors of the inns and other businesses were less hostile, even friendly, when no Red Plumes were present. The Docks was a vibrant, noisy, salty, rough-and-tumble place, alive with the accents of a dozen tongues spoken by the vast collection of sailors and foreign merchants who were there. Several times the party heard someone say that “Hillsfar’’s soul is not in the city, it is here in the Docks.”

Marie decided she would visit Hillsfar and stay overnight there while the others stayed overnight at The Mermaid’s Bosom, the better of the two large inns (the other being The Rusty Nail). Zelda put in an order for more arrows, which Marie said she would get for her. True to her word the wizard came back with a couple of dozen arrows, which Zelda stowed away in her pack. They continued on towards Goodroot Farm, only a few hours travel northwest.

The fields surrounding Goodroot farm teemed with laborers, mostly non-humans, picking beets. Some of the beets they saw being harvested are twice as large as a halfling’s head.
“And that’s saying something!” said Cundall, grinning at Minimus’ scowl. Then as he looked ahead, Cundall said “Uh oh.”

On the porch of the farmhouse, four human soldiers dressed in red cloaks, chain shirts, and helmets with red feathers decorating them surrounded a half-elven girl. She was definitely not an adult, but she nonetheless stood defiantly with hands on her hips, giving the four humans a piece of her mind, despite their spears and shields. The leader of the Red Plumes was a tall, muscular woman who was using her finger to point at the woman as she sneered at her, obviously telling her off.

“Minimus and Zelda, stay here,” whispered Cundall. “Marie, you better come with me.” He sauntered up towards the confrontation with Chauntea the pig trotting behind him.
The druid smiled and said “Can I be of assistance?” He nodded at Constance, the half elf girl who he knew as the daughter of the owners.
The tall Red Plume woman turned and stared at the druid coldly. Then she said “Unless you are a legal representative of the Goodroot Beet Farm, I have nothing to say to you. Move along or you will be arrested.”
“But I am, Captain,” said Cundall, lying glibly through his teeth. “I am part owner of the farm. But I have no hand in running it. I leave that to Constance here, and her parents.”
“Sergeant,” corrected the tall Red Plume. “Sergeant Dassandra.” She turned back to Constance.
“You tell your parents that they have been legally ordered to have eight barrels of dye ready for us by sunrise tomorrow. If the shipment is not ready, the First Lord has demanded that the Red Plumes take possession of the farm due to this breach of contract.” With that, the four guards turned and left the porch, moving out of the yard and down the road where more Red Plumes waited with their horses. When they rode off, Constance hugged Cundall. She sobbed for a moment, looking broken and lost. Then a look of hope played across her face. “Perhaps you are the answer to my prayers. Does Chauntea work in such a manner?”
“I don’t know,” said Cundall, looking at Chauntea the pig. “Do you, Chauntea? Oh wait, you mean the Goddess. Right.”
Constance gave a wan smile at the humour. She looked past Cundall and Marie, out into the fields where the beet harvesting continued unabated. “If you follow me, maybe we can help each other.”
The half elf girl led the characters into the farmhouse and then down a set of steep wooden stairs into a large cellar. Many doors led to other rooms from the main cellar. The place was filled with casks, barrels, and containers filled with a variety of substances useful in either farming, preserving food, or making dye.
She walked to a corner of the cellar, to a pair of long wooden boxes. She hesitated and levelled a serious gaze at the party.
“I’m sorry,” she said and opened the box. In it were two half-elven bodies wrapped in tarps. Cundall recognised them as Constance’s parents, Dale and Mika Goodroot. They looked peaceful, except their faces wore unsightly growths, bulging beneath the skin – and in some places breaking through in horrible purple ulcers.
“I know this looks terrible, but it is not what you think. I found them in this condition. I hid them because they told me to. You see, I am not currently old enough to inherit the farm from them. If the authorities learn they are dead, Hillsfar will seize the farm and turn me out. If I can hide their deaths for just a few months, I will be old enough to inherit the farm.” She bit her lip. “There’s something else.”

Leading the party to another door in the cellar, Constance removed a sturdy oaken bar. Before she opened the door, she said, “When I found my parents down here in the cellar, they were not alone. He was with them.” She opened the door and shone her lantern into a darkened room. The room contained empty casks and barrels pushed to the walls. In the far corner, slumped again the far wall, was a drow elf. The grotesque growths covered his face and arms, just as Constance’s parents. He was still alive, but his breathing was weak.

“That’s Arrizz!” said Zelda. “I know of him. What is he doing here?”
Marie examined the drow.
“Their pathological condition is due to darkborne rot – a fungal infection that rapidly overtakes the victim. It originates from the Underdark, and it has no natural cure – even lesser restorative magic and abilities have no effect. The victim’s body either fights the infection, or it doesn’t. Otherwise removing the infection requires a greater restoration or greater magic. Thankfully, none of us are at risk, it is not contagious, nor are their any disease vectors, you can only get it from direct contact with certain fungal spores in the Underdark.”
Marie continued to check the drow, looking through his pockets. She found a rolled up parchment in his coat pocket. Written in Common, the parchment was a contract between the beet farm and the drow, named Arrizz as Zelda had said, who was acting as a liaison with an unnamed svirfneblin (deep gnome) city in the Underdark. The contract was for an exchange of gold for beets and beet-byproducts.
“There is nothing strange or illegal about the contract itself or the terms,” announced Marie.
“Wow, mum and dad said they were expanding into new and unusual markets,” said Constance. “I didn’t realise how unusual.”

Cundall assisted Arrizz, making him more comfortable, giving him a goodberry which eased his breathing slightly. The drow’s eyes fluttered open. He was very groggy, but seemed able to answer questions. He basically provided the same information as the contract described. He admitted being a smuggler who brokers deals between interested parties both above and below ground. He had been meeting secretly with the Goodroots about bringing beet products to some of his customers. Because the svirfneblin like to do business directly, Arrizz had taken Constance’s parents to the deep gnome city of Blindingstone. They had all just got back and he was staying in the basement out of the sunlight, when he and the Goodroots came down with this terrible malady.

Duergar_attack.jpgIt was at this point without warning, the door of this cellar room slammed shut, and the lantern flew from Constance’s hands, plunging the room into darkness. Constance shrieked.
Only Zelda was able to see in the dark, and she saw two grey skinned dwarves with chainmail ready to attack the blind party members. Duergar – grey dwarves from the Underdark! The elf called a warning and attacked the unexpected enemy to protect her friends. Cundall quickly cast fairie fire on everyone in the area, and suddenly everyone was illuminated and outlined by a blue light, making them visible and easier to hit. Realising the battle could quickly turn against them, the two duergar suddenly changed size until they were much larger than a human, drawing an amazed gasp from the heroes. The battle was joined. Cundall was quickly taken out, not by the duergar, but by a mis-cast sleep spell from Marie. She had misjudged the strength of the duergar, and they were unaffected by the spell. The druid, Chauntea the pig, and the recently revived drow Arrizz all slumped to the ground, comotose in a magical slumber. Luckily their input was not needed, and Zelda and Minimus were a match for the grey dwarves, supported by Marie who judiciously cast magic missile instead of another spell that might go awry.

At the last moment Minimus turned his blade from the killing blow that would have sliced into the last duergar’s head, and the flat of the blade laid out the foe on the floor. Once everyone was revived, the duergar was quickly tied up and questioned by Marie, who spoke Undercommon. The party found out the following information.

  • The two duergar were bounty hunters who had been sent by a noble house of a faraway drow city to capture (or kill) the drow Arrizz, who betrayed the house and struck out on his own. The duergar were named Geel (now deceased) and Gritt, used invisibility to enter the farm from an entrance to the Underdark about a mile away, found the room and got into position without being seen, before attacking.
  • The closest drow outpost to the Moonsea surface lands was Szith Morcane, and had been attacked by fire giants but they had been repelled. The fire giants were said to be in league with demonic forces.
  • Something bad and demonic was happening in the Underdark. All kinds of Underdark folk were going mad, either narcissitic, or lethargic, murderous, or laughing hysterically at serious matters, and many other manifestations.
  • Gritt had heard rumours of demons invading the Underdark, but had not seen any. He had also heard of something immensely evil and powerful had appeared, but no one would talk openly of it.

The duergar, in addition to their weapons and armor, carried well-made manacles and coins and gems with a total combined worth of around 200 gp, Marie estimated. They also had a wanted poster, written in Undercommon, detailing the crimes and a description of the drow Arrizz. In a nutshell, his crimes consisted of his leaving his drow house without permission.

In exchange for this information, the surviving duergar, Gritt, was allowed to leave and return to the Underdark, but without his weapons and armour. He complained about what his life expectancy might be but did not expect, nor received, any reprieve. He walked out of the door, picked up a sack and made to leave.
“You can leave the sack,” said Cundall, loudly. The grey dwarf dropped the sack which landed with a thud and trudged off, no doubt thinking revengeful thoughts.

joyella.jpgThe party opened the sack and out tumbled a female gnome, very groggy and sore from being dropped on her head. She said her name was Joyella, and gave the following information.

  • Joyella was a rogue, and a member of the Zhentarim faction. The Zhentarim had asked her to join a party to find out more information about the Underdark and what was happening down there. She ran afoul of the drow after her party attempted to rob an underground drow caravan but failed (she claimed it was the greedy adventurers, she had been against the idea). The other adventurers were killed, but she escaped, and a bounty was put on her. She was tracked and captured by the duergar.
  • There is a Zhentarim faction camp near Elventree, and Joyella stays there when not on faction business, or doing her own business on the side. Which the party guessed might be relieving merchants of their fat purses by stealth.

Constance was in a state of near shock, so they brought her back up to the house. They brought Arrizz too, and put him in a comfortable bed, closing the shutters tight so the light would not disturb his sensitive eyes. The danger was over, but they still had to decide how to help her meet the Red Plume deadline.

In the end they all talked to the workers. Even though they had been working all day, Constance explained that they all had to work all night or the Red Plumes were going to take over the farm and they’d all be jobless and homeless because they were non humans. The party pitched in as well, even Joyella. Arrizz, or course, was still too unwell.

In the morning when the Red Plumes came the dye was ready. Sergeant Dassandra inspected the dye, looked at everyone’s red eyes and exhausted posture and scowled.

“Don’t be late again,” she growled, and signalled for the other three Red Plumes to bring the cart.

The party stayed with Constance for another day, sleeping for most of it, except for Zelda who only needed to enter her meditative like state for 4 hours to feel refreshed. She went hunting and brought back enough meat for everyone for when they woke.

When it was time to leave, Constance gave them all a big hug and the workers crowded around and shook their hands and slapped them jovially on the back.

It was time to investigate the third mystery – the Spring of Blessed Life.


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