Heroes of Hillsfar

The Madman's Prophecy - Part 2
The Birth and the Rescue

“The first is at the place where dandelions rise above and cover the people. The virile and the virulent can be one and the same. The hell-tinged one is lost, and then several are found.” – The Madman’s Prophecy.

The madman’s note spoke of Fairborough Farms. The farmhouse, sheds, and barns on the road ahead matched the description in the madman’s prophecy. Their green-painted walls and yellow roofs make the buildings look like huge dandelions sprouting in the fields.

zelda2.jpgA pair of short figures were carrying sloshing buckets from a nearby stream toward one of the barns. A significant amount of noise emanated from inside the farmhouse itself, as if a crowd of angry people are all shouting at once.

“Hey Cundall!” greeted one of the short figures, as the party approached. She was a female dwarf girl, in human terms perhaps nine or 10. The other figure was also a girl, a young teenage half orc who smiled shyly.
“Good morning Bridd,” Cundall nodded to the dwarf girl. “And good morning Grona,” he added, smiling at the half orc teen. “Ma and Pa in?”
“You can hear them from here,” said Bridd. “Ma’s had babies since you were here last!”
“What?” Cundall appeared surprised. “I thought she couldn’t have children.”
“She’s got them,” smiled Bridd. “Six of them!”
“Six?” Cundall’s smile slipped a bit. “I better go in and see them then.”
The girls continued on towards the barn with the buckets of water, and the party moved towards the farm house.
“How do they know you?” asked Maire.
“Most people around here know me, I help with advice about farming, about planting crops mostly. I haven’t been here for over a year though. Bea and Ebenz couldn’t have children of their own so they took in orphans, in fact they took a dozen of the non-human orphans when they were evicted from Madam Delilah’s Home for Orphaned Children in Hillsfar. Good people.”

The farmhouse door was propped open with a hay fork, and the party entered the farmhouse, revealing a tumultuous scene. More than 20 people milled about a bustling kitchen. At least 10 were children of various races – none human. The adults, on the other hand, were all human.

A woman of middle years was shouting above the din. In one arm she cradled an infant human, while second rested in a sling at her waist. Three other adult humans and a young non-human held other human newborns. Between the woman and those helping her, there were a total of six human infants.

Bea’s face sported a huge smile when she spotted Cundall. “Cundall! If you and your friends are here for a meal, grab some ‘taters from the bin and peel them and we’ll cook them up for you. You’ll have to catch and dress your own chicken though.” Cundall had stopped and gaped at the babies. Each of them had six fingers. Oblivious to Cundall’s scrutiny, Bea continued.
“But before we eat, make yourselves useful. Someone needs to go and fetch Pynroth: ask the two girls outside where that boy has got off to. If any of you have any skill in husbandry, run out to the goat barn and see if Jovee’s kids are ready to pop yet. Verner, take these folks out and introduce them to Jovee. When you’re done, come back for a meal.”

Verner was a halfling boy, who was unhappy at being given another task before lunch. He took the party out towards the barn, where his sullen mood disappeared as they entered and saw the state of the goat Jovee.

High-pitched shrieks of fear and panic greeted the party as they entered the barn. A couple of dozen goats filled the barn, but most of them were huddling in the corners, shying away from a single goat in the center. The hideously distended belly of that goat showed the nanny was pregnant, but she was hideously large. Even Cundall who had dealt with many animal births in the past had never seen anything like this.

Verner started to cry and ran over to the suffering goat, but stopped in horror before reaching her. He told the party that when he was tending to her this morning, she was big but not like this. He begged Cundall to help Jovee.

Jovee was in labor, but was having problems. Cundall quickly tied up Chauntea (the pig) to a hook on the side of the barn wall, and knelt down beside Jovee. He could see legs sticking out of the birthing canal. The baby goat was big, Cundall was unsure if Jovee could survive this. He was determined to try however. Over the next few minutes Cundall assisted Jovee give birth to a large baby goat, but it was immediately apparent what the something was. The kid was much larger than a normal newborn goat, with bright red fur, and two heads that were fused together with red eyes that stared at Cundall with a mix of curiosity and scorn. It immediately stood and wobbled away with a dismissive “baaaaah” that is deep and long and more than a little unsettling.

Before he could do anything, Jovee screamed and two kids emerged at once, along with a gout of blood. Sadly Jovee died despite Cundall’s efforts, but more kids struggled out of her, aided by the druid. Before he knew it, five more kids lie on the ground near their mother; for a total of six – a peculiar feat. Only the first born kid had two heads though. Zelda narrowed her eyes. She could swear that the first born two headed kid was growing before her eyes. She nocked an arrow to her bow.
“Do it,” said Cundall. “It’s an abomination, not natural to this world.”

2headdemongoat.jpgBefore she could fire, everyone could hear cries for help coming from a distance, echoed by Grona and Bridd from much closer.
“Pynoth!” said Verner, running out of the barn. “He’s in trouble. Again! Ma’s going to be pissed off!”
“Come with me, Marie!” said Cundall, rising and exiting the barn. “Zelda and Minimus, deal with those.. things!”

Minimus charged towards the two headed goat. It was definitely larger now. It’s two fused heads were warped and twisted and it’s red eyes were near glowing in the dim light of the barn. It gave a loud and deep bleat when the halfling stabbed it with his shortsword. It tried to retaliate by stabbing with it’s horns, but Minimus skipped out of the way. Meanwhile the other goats moved to the edge of the barn, obviously getting some running distance to charge at Zelda. The elf dropped two with two arrows, and then dodged the other three’s charges. There was a noise behind her, Zelda spun to see Cundall reappear. The druid quickly untied Chauntea the pig and picked him up.
“You’re doing fine,” he yelled over his shoulder as he left. “But I’m taking Chauntea just in case.”

As the battle with the demon goats continued, Cundall caught up to Maire. The two girls Grona and Bridd were running with them, looking scared. The screams of a boy in terror could be heard alongside someone shouting, and growling of some creatures.

Rounding a thicket of large willows, Maire and Cundall saw the pasture. The normally bucolic setting was marred by a pack of wild dogs surrounding two figures, huddling together in fear. The larger figure was a half-elf, wearing leather armor and clumsily brandishing a sickle to keep the yipping, growling dogs at bay. With a moment of surprise Cundall realised he knew the half elf – Beralt, apprentice to Nymarrath the elven druid of Elventree. Beralt had his other arm around a tiefling boy, presumably Pynroth. Tears in the half-elf’s cloak and blood on his arm showed that the wild dogs meant business. One of the dogs was much larger than the rest, obviously the pack leader. Cundall and Maire made noise to attract the dog’s attention, and then let fly with spells. Combinations of entangle and a couple of sleep spells were enough to incapacitate the dogs, which were then despatched. Cundall had been bitten once, but it wasn’t serious and a few goodberries were enough to see the bite close up and heal.

Once the battle was over the tiefling boy hugged his adopted sisters and then came to Cundall and Beralt and thanked them. He was obviously shaken and wanted to go back to Bea. As they escorted the children back Beralt advised that Nymarroth had sent him out a few days ago to gather information about anything unusual in the forest and lands around. This morning his master had sent a message via a squirrel that he was to find Cundall and give him the silver bladed sickle as Nymarroth said she’d had a vision that Cundall would need it. Cundall accepted the weapon dubiously.
“I’m not really much of a fighter with a weapon that needs you to put some strength behind it to make it cut,” he confessed.
“Yeah well you know what she’s like,” grinned Beralt. “Anyway she might be right. She usually is, although sometimes it’s many days or weeks later and often not the way you envisage when you are first told.”

Meanwhile at the barn all the demon goats were dead. Minimus had taken a nasty wound from the demon goat, which Cundall fixed with a healing spell. Bea and some of the other adults and children had come in to see what all the noise was.
“Could we still eat them?” asked Bea.
“I think it would be better to burn the creatures,” said Cundall gently. “We don’t know what eating them might do.”
A bonfire was made and the demon goats were piled on , followed by the dogs. The large pack leader had six toes, Marie noted, but when she checked there was no residue of infernal magic like there was on the goat bodies. And just to make sure she checked the babies – nothing. Marie sighed in relief and let the others know of her findings when she had a private moment.

Lunch was late, but there was lots of it. There was a lot of chatter and laughter. The party noted that Ebenz didn’t participate much in the conversation, and after lunch was over he went and laid in his hammock. This was unlike the industrious Ebenz Cundall remembered. He asked Bea what was the matter.
“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head.“He came back from hunting one day all listless and the next day it was like everything was too much bother. If I shout and scream enough he’ll do something, but with the six babies and the farm it’s wearing me down.”
Cundall went and talked to Ebenz, while Marie did a surreptitious detect magic. Ebenz was registering infernal magic, very faint but there. Ebenz did not seem to want to talk, but Cundall and Maire kept prodding. Eventually they found out that Ebenz had fallen down a rocky opening into the earth. He had landed without being seriously hurt, but hoping he might find some treasure horde he wandered around and got lost for about 12 hours before finding his way back to the cave entrance. Ever since then he said he had felt lethargic and lazy. There was much cajoling and threats then, as Cundall insisted that Ebenz came with them to see Nymmarath. He did so reluctantly, with Bea’s blessing, and complained all the way back to Elventree, which they arrived at around sunset. Nymmarath cast her own divination spells, and eventually cast a greater restoration spell which appeared to have an immediate effect. Ebenz eyes went wide.
“Wow,” I feel better. “I didn’t even know I had been unwell. I was like moving in a fog these past couple of weeks. Thank you!”

Elanil.jpgLeaving Ebenz at the Swaying Bough Inn for the night, the party went to see the Moonsilver Herald Elanil Elassidil in her modest cottage built into the boughs of a tree. She was serving as the de facto leader of Elventree, a position she had held for nearly a century. Famous throughout the Moonsea for her accomplishments as a bard, her true calling was less publicized: Elanil was a high-ranking Harper, and often found herself involved behind the scenes in many of the region’s intrigues.
The party told her of the madman with the Harper pin, and showed her the note they had taken from him. Then they told her about Fairborough farm and the demon goats and dogs and Ebenz. Elanil was silent for a while. She perused the note for some time before turning to the party.
“This madman’s name was Hamad, he certainly wasn’t mad when he left me. He was a Harper agent I sent into the Underdark to find out what is going on down there, and if it poses a threat to us. We’ve had a few drow refugees, fleeing.. something. You know what they’re like, all dark and brooding and reluctant to talk. But they’re scared enough to flee to the surface. It’s not good. I was hoping Hamad would be able to find out for me. It is a pity, he was a good man.”
She spent some time copying the information from Hamad’s note before handing it back.
“Please continue to follow these clues. Fairborough Farm seems to confirm that demonic forces are at work here. Perhaps that was the clue to be gained from that part of the prophecy. Where will you go next?”
The others shrugged. Cundall said “I think we’ll do the second one next. Goodroot farm. I know the owners, I’ve helped them get the best beets from the soil. They’re good people too.”

They stayed in Elventree overnight, and set out for Goodroot Farm the next morning.

(to be continued)

The Madman's Prophecy - Part 1
The Madman and the Prophecy

The party set out from Elventree, having been tasked by Nymarrath to investigate the area. She had been having some of her prophetic visions about disasters, and she had been right about the disasters that befell Phlan and Mulmaster. Now her visions were much closer to home.

Cundall_500.jpgCundall the druid and Zelda the elf ranger were both members of the Emerald Enclave, and Nymarrath was their immediate superior in the organisation. She had sent out her apprentice the half elf Beralt some days before to investigate, but the aged elf believed she needed more eyes on the ground and had requested Cundall and Zelda assist her. Nymarrath also sought aid for her two agents, and Marie Seneforth the wizard originally from Hillsfar, and Minimus the halfling fighter were recruited.

Now they were heading on the road west from Elventree through the Cormanthor Forest, not really sure what they were looking for. Both Cundall and Zelda had known things weren’t right in the Cormanthor Forest. Cundall knew the animals were on edge, and there was an uneasiness amongst the fey. He had heard, but not seen, of some animals being born different, for example they might have six toes, or they might grow to a large size soon after being born and turn aggressive and dangerous. Zelda knew that something had changed of late within the forest Cormanthor, and not for the better. The animal denizens of the wood were fearful, keeping to the edge of the trees – or fleeing all together. Many of the dryads and other tree spirits were uneasy and sense a ‘wrongness’ that they could not identify. Not having the same affinity with nature, Marie and Minimus were oblivious to the distress of the land, although Marie knew that lately the people of Hillsfar had grown restless, lustful and greedy. They clamoured for new spectacles to satiate their hedonistic desires; desires the Red Plumes were only happy to profit from.

They were perhaps an hour from Elventree when a muffled shout burst from a copse of trees off the road, and an old human man wearing torn and bloody clothes staggered into view. The blood on his clothes came from small cuts and scratches rather than any large wound. His charge toward the party was slow, ponderous, and shaky. Before they could even draw weapons or ready spells, he collapsed in the grass. He was still shouting, however, although the words grow fainter and fainter with each passing moment.

The party cautiously approached the man on the grass. They could see he was old but not elderly, injured but not fatally, and appeared to be suffering but for no apparent reason. He kept shouting the same words, like a mantra, over and over. His sentences were long and rambling.

Cundall gave the man a goodberry he had created with a spell earlier, and while this healed a few of his scratches, it had no affect on his overall deteriorating health. Nothing the party could do assuaged the man’s pain or madness, and he suddenly vomited on himself. Cundall looked to see if his goodberry was amongst the vomit. Zelda saw what he was doing and made a face. It wasn’t there anyway, at least not in any retrievable form. The man then died at the feet of the characters after repeating his message several more times.

After doing what any adventurer would do (searched the body), the party found the man carried few belongings nor had any distinguishing features. A Harper pin was found in on the inside of his jacket, an empty sword scabbard at his waist, and a well kept dagger still in it’s sheathe also at his waist belt. They also found a scroll which matched the words he had been repeating, as well as some writing underneath as if the man had been trying to investigate those very words himself. Maire examined the body using detect magic and found a lingering effect of possible infernal magic.

The party buried the man where he had fallen, with Cundall providing words to speed the man’s soul on its way to whatever reward awaited him in the afterlife. He then used his druidcraft cantrip to create the illusion of falling leaves over the man’s grave, and then to make a flower grow over the body. When he was about to burst into singing “The Circle of Life” the party decided that was enough for the unknown man and packed their things to move out. After a brief discussion they decided to alert Elanil Elassidil, the leader of Elventree and senior Harper agent next time they went back to the village about the man on the assumption he was a Harper agent because of the Harper pin.

The scroll had a kind of vague prophecy written on it, and some scribbled notes after each paragraph, as if the writer was investigating the meaning of them.

There is a message from this land’s new master, but it is hidden five-fold.
– new master?

The first is at the place where dandelions rise above and cover the people. The virile and the virulent can be one and the same. The hell-tinged one is lost, and then several are found.
– Fairborough Farm? It must be.

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.
– Beets? Goodroot perhaps?

The third is at the spring of blessed life, where the haunter protects and the protectors haunt. The water runs on, of course, and must be freed for all.
– The Spring of Blessed Life. Rumoured to be haunted.

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.
– Rothes? Undead?

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.
– Temple of Waukeen? Definitely not Tymora.

Cundall knew that the first item on the madman’s prophecy was Fairborough Farm, which was only a mile or so south towards the Cormanthor Forest. They decided to go there first.

To be continued…

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