Heroes of Hillsfar

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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…

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 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.

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 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 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 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.

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.

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.


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