Our Cast of Players:
- Albrecht (Alan Bates): Human Priest, level 8.
- Artan Praxis (Dave Marasco): Dwarf Warrior/Thief, level 6/7
- Kaji the Painted (Ian Andrews): Human Wizard, level 7.
- Murky Dismal (Ricky Paginton): Hobbit Warrior/Thief, level 4/7
- Pioden (Craig Baynham-Evans): Elf Warrior/Wizard/Thief, level 4/6/6.
- William the Drover (Max Bryans): Human Warrior, level 8.
Total XPs awarded from the previous session: 19,200
Come the dawn, those of you still inside the smithy unboard the windows and get outside into the fresh air, seeking some respite from the stinking charnel house within. Coughing and stretching in the early morning sunlight you ponder what to do next before heading to the inn, Fork’s Rest.
The incongruous stunted trees are still present within the inn’s common room and Kaji approaches one with the vial of white dust retrieved from Nockmort’s store room. He sprinkles some on the tree and watches in awe as it twists and shimmers before resolving itself into the shape of an unprepossessing looking man, naked now that the torn remnants of what were his clothes fall to the floor. He looks around in panic, sees heavily armed men all around and his state of undress, and bolts for the main door in terror. Kaji sets off in pursuit which, probably only makes matters worse, before deciding to let him go.
With a lesson learned, you stow visible weapons and disperse in a much less threatening manner around the common room, even retrieving blankets from upstairs to protect the villagers’ modesty. One-by-one they are administered with the white powder, now definitively clear as the antidote to Nockmort’s dreadful black moss poison, and rescued from their lignified state. The villagers are truly grateful, showering you with thanks and questions in equal measure.
Remembering the farm house that had not been burned down, you make your way there and revivify the villagers therein, finishing with the tree in the bedroom who is restored to a comely young girl, presumably Kara, the author of the lovelorn diary that you found. On being awakened her first cry is that of “oh, Yonneth”, and you are reminded of the tree incongruously planted in the centre of the road to the west, and your first sign that something was amiss at Garland’s Fork.
You lead her gently out of the village to the west and to the fork where the tree has sprung up. Kaji discretely sprinkles a little more the white powder and the tree is transformed into a handsome young man. The pair of star-crossed young lovers fall into each other’s arms, released at last from the nightmare of their confinement. Kaji rolls his eyes as the others forget their worries for a moment and a spontaneous round of applause breaks out from the other villagers.
As the village has been ransacked over many weeks by both the bugbears and any number of opportunistic passers by, there is precious little here for you in the way of supplies or comforts. You decide very quickly to return to Moorshroud Castle and, with no means of supporting themselves, the villagers elect to come with you with a view to begging or borrowing some supplies to try and make good the damage and survive the next winter.
Without any further delay you set off, a rag-tag band heading west on the great road back into the Criestine Empire and away from Hellfrost Mountain, last known lair of the dragon cultists. The villagers make for pleasant if not speedy company on the journey, and overall the journey takes you a day more than it would otherwise, but it passes uneventfully.
Upon arrival at Moorshroud, you find the fortress in a state of some consternation. Leonal, Captain Sentri’s ranger, passed through here a few days previously with the news of Pyraxus’ resurrection. The place is on high alert and patrols are aggressively in action. Supplies are being stockpiled everywhere they can be and all is an air of grim efficiency as they await the arrival of imperial forces from Archbridge.
You are too tired and worn out to care too much about the travails of the soldiers and after having been admitted through the outer defences, spend much of the evening in the bath house and then through the night in the adjacent tavern.
Come the morning and feeling somewhat guilty, Artan seeks out the villagers and gruffly passes them a sack containing 300 silver coins. He waves aside their thanks at such generosity and tells them to use it well to buy supplies enough to last them through the coming winter, plus tools and equipment to help them rebuild and replant for next year. Their gratitude knows no bounds and Artan agrees that you will escort them back to Garland’s Fork in roughly two weeks time, giving both them and you plenty of time to rest and re-equip yourselves.
Albrecht pays a courtesy visit to the Bishop who, disconcertingly, seems to have changed his appearance again. Seeking for clues, Albrecht shows him the mithril coin, clearly of ancient lineage. The Bishop studies it and pronounces that it is a relic from the time of the Savage Kings, when the area to the north-west of here was bleak moor populated by fierce barbarian tribes, before it was swallowed up by the Great Swamp. Albrecht confirms that is where you found it and the Bishop’s interest jumps up a notch.
Have the lizardmen who infest the swamp unearthed the ancient barbarian tombs and disturbed something best left undisturbed? As this was the site of the final battle against the demon lord Frogroth have his remains been discovered? Certainly this would explain much as to the real source of the evil weapons being assembled by the dragon cultists. The bishop nods gravely at Albrecht’s further revelation that the only survivor of the original expedition into the swamp was Kaji, and that you rescued him from a band of atypically cunning lizardmen, who seemed keen to keep something hidden in the mists.
Taking his leave, Albrecht returns with the news and you consider your next options. Favoured for a while is the possibility of launching a third expedition into the Great Swamp but the memories are not good ones. At the very least you do not wish to approach via the Inn of Lost Heroes. After some consideration, you decide that your next destination with be the crystal mines to the east of Garland’s Fork. This is where your would-be assassin was supposed to collect his payment from according to the map you found in the lair of the four-armed insectoid, plus it lies roughly in the same general direction as the route to Hellfrost Mountain, your third option.
Anxious not to repeat the mistakes of previous expeditions into the wilderness, you use the time well, planning and equipping. As well as replacing your stolen waggon and horses, you equip it extensively with all manner of camping and survival gear, plus spare weapons, shields, and a plentiful supply of preserved rations. Murky even buys himself a large wardog, and spends much of the time teaching it to let him ride it. Even Kaji joins in with the excessive consumerism, and commissions a splendid multi-pocketed pimp coat to be made from his salvaged owlbear pelt. And mighty fine it looks too.
You finish off by hiring four men-at-arms – three men, Nogri, Tal, and Vermox, and an elf called Uthilian. It seems odd that none of them form part of the military garrison here but they do not seem inclined to talk about it and you do not press them. All are entitled to their secrets, after all, Rates of pay are agreed and contracts are exchanged. The quartet will act as camp guards and carry out light adventuring duties when required.
Finally, you arrange to leave your surplus gear in storage with the castellan (for a fee) and assemble the villagers, who also have a pair of carts and piles of equipment of their own. It is with quite some fanfare and hullabaloo that you make ready before the main gates. They swing slowly open (they are kept permanently locked and barred even during the day now) as the sweating soldiers push at them, and then your caravan rumbles slowly out underneath the murder holes.
Destination: Garland’s Fork.
To be continued…