Friday, November 30, 2018

#15: Minstrel's Glade

Our rest, thankfully, is undisturbed.  The shadows of Peryton Pass loom behind us, and though we managed to shake the goblins, we are assailed by doubts.  Will Westtower survive the winter without the caravan?  Will authorities in Mirabar hear our tale, and will they react appropriately?  Ultimately, we tend to the matters at hand—caring for Jent’s wounds, seeing to the order of the camp and morale of Erathmar’s men, and planning for our arrival in Mirabar.

Morning, however, presents itself as a shroud of dark, grey clouds in the distance—a sure sign of a coming storm.  Gabrielle is cold and miserable, as is her crying child.  We make what arrangements we can, though when the rain comes, everyone is miserable.  The wagons struggle through muddy patches on the road, and our pace is not great.  Wet blankets do little to warm the men or their spirits.

Ahead, the trail begins to decline, enough that the wagons and men slip and struggle to keep their footing.  Erathmar raises concerns over the condition of the road—should a wagon slide from the road, it could be disastrous—and we are presented with a decision.  Forge ahead with risk, or wait it out in the hopes that the rains will relent.  With no sign of relief from the rain, we decide to risk the first wagon descending.  We all sigh a breath of relief when the driver of the first wagon signals safe passage.

At Audric’s direction, we send everyone down the slope to meet the first wagon before Erathmar and one of his men attempt the second wagon.  For a few long seconds, we hold our breath as the wagon begins to slide in the mud, but over the course of several yards the horses regain their footing and its course is righted, the wagon descending safely.  We decide to press on through the night, and around midnight the terrain begins to level, easing everyone’s labors.

The sun begins to rise on the horizon, and while the rain has let up a bit, it’s still cold, wet and miserable.  I spare a moment to cast a blessing upon Jent’s child, protecting it from the cold and elements for a few hours.  It’s not much, but the blessing of Malar quiets the babe.  Our journey, while hard, is uncontested, and after several hours we reach the tall, imposing stone walls of Mirabar.

We’re hailed by a group of guards who question Erathmar about his business in Mirabar and the group’s travels.  We reveal the fate of the caravan bound to Westtower, and after sharing other news we are granted access to the city.  We find ourselves upon the road leading to Undercity Square, the heart of the citadel.  I ask the guards if there is an authority we should report to regarding the caravan; instead, they let us know that a guard captain will seek us out.  We share our intent to seek accommodations in Undercity Square and make haste to find succor in a warm inn.

The populace is of many races, and the sight of so many dwarves, so many people, and so much bustling energy is a shock after the rustic surroundings of the past several weeks.  Bonie reveals that she has a cottage in the city, left to her by her late parents, and invites us to join her at her home.  We accept our invitation.

Erathmar stays us before we depart, letting us know that our safe arrival is a reasonable conclusion to our arrangement.  Surprisingly, he hands us both a small pouch that contains several chips of gems, bits of ore and other valuable materials as payment for our services.  Audric and I accept, with plans to discuss the distribution of the unexpected windfall later, and part ways with Erathmar and his men, at least for now.  He reveals that they’ll be staying at The Folded Tabard, and we promise to meet up with them again soon.

We arrive at Bonie’s cottage and find it in disrepair.  She laments the condition, letting us know that it will need to be prepared for the winter.  We are surprised by a call of “Bonie!” from across the street, where a young woman emerges and embraces her in a hug.  It’s a side of Bonie we have yet to encounter, and in their greeting the woman’s name is revealed to be Eliza.  They are clearly friends, and though Eliza apparently has business at the moment, they make plans to meet up again later.

I inquire if there’s a place of business to purchase some warm food and drinks, and she sends me and Selben to a nearby purveyor.  We bring back armloads of food, and try to settle in.  The cottage is nothing extraordinary, but it is adorned with several pieces of fine leatherwork.  Bonie tells us that her father was a leatherworker, and apparently one of some talent.  We share a meal and start to discuss plans for the coming days.

We rest like the dead, having spent the last day and a half awake and traveling.  We wake late but meet Bonie with intention to meet her employer, Abbé Lira.  She takes us across town to an aged cottage with a steeply pitched roof where Bonie raps upon a heavy wooden door.  We are greeted by an exotically beautiful woman dressed in lavish robes—Bonie greets her as Kintara.

“I see you have returned,” Kintara says.  “My master will be pleased to know.  Please enter.”  We are led through an antechamber where we wait for Kintara to return.  She leads us into the main chamber with a roaring hearth, where we meet who we presume to be Abbé Lira, though his face is hidden by the cowl of a heavy robe.  We sit, and Bonie begins to relate our tale to Abbé.  After hearing an abbreviated version, from Westtower on from Bonie’s perspective, he asks how he can be of service, and Audric fills in the pieces of Bonie’s story, stretching the history back to Shadfeld, our encounter with Carcerus and the cultists in Carrock, and events since.  Audric goes into a surprising amount of detail, even relating the events surrounding the ring.  At that, Abbé asks to see it, and Audric passes it to him.  Abbé pulls back his cowl, revealing that he’s less than a middle-aged man (likely of Northern bloodline)—surprising, as I expected someone older.  He takes measure of the ring and hands it back to Audric.

“Without fail, your path should lead you to Longsaddle.”  He explains that Audric will find a line of magi there who make study of such items, a family, and that they are the best equipped to help in this endeavor.  Audric questions the integrity of this family of mages, and Abbé provides an explanation that seems to quell any fears of treachery.  The family is called the Harpells—the lands they own comprise the bulk of Longsaddle, which is slightly larger than Carrock.  He instructs Audric to seek out Malchor Harpell, offering to provide us a guide that we might make haste.  Abbé Lira seems rather intent on Audric pursuing this journey soon.

Audric explains Jent’s situation as well, asking if Abbé Lira has some employment or placement for the warrior.  Abbé says he’ll see what he can do.  I take the opportunity to question him—who he is, what his motivations might be.  His answers are cryptic—touching on “helping the citizenry” and pursuing righteous causes, and when pressed, eludes any further explanation.  He seems a maverick, though his disposition towards Bonie and Jent, as well as his seeming forthrightness with Audric make me tend to believe most of what he says regarding his purpose.

The line of questioning seems to make Bonie anxious, and I resist the urge to press Abbé further, so I instead ask her simply if he can be trusted.  Bonie nods, responding “With all my heart, absolutely.”  That’s good enough for me.  We commit to making the journey, but not before Selben’s studies have concluded, and not before I have been able to pursue my own.

Selben and I spend the week cloistered at the inn, studying and copying furiously.  At the end of the endeavor, Selben has remastered the ability to translate the most basic magic, and I have added several potent spells to my arsenal, though not without disappointment as a few spells escape my understanding for now.  The ability to immerse myself in the arcane is a welcome relief from weeks of stress spent worrying about Korvich, Carcerus, and Kezia’s cryptic reading.

We are greeted halfway through our studies by Oreiron, a sturdy dwarf who reveals himself as our guide to Longsaddle, sent by Abbé Lira.  We make plans to leave in the coming days, and Audric pursues business about town.  Bonie reaches out to us a few days before our departure, explaining that Mirabar holds little interest for her—she offers to accompany us, and we are glad to have her sword and company in our troupe once again.

On the day of our departure, we gather in Undercity Square and make our final preparations.  Our confidence is high—the days of rest, study and preparation have instilled a positive vibe, and we are excited to leave for Longsaddle.  I hope that Audric can find peace among the Harpells, and that we find solutions to the mystery of the ring.

The first day of our trip is uneventful; the travel is easy compared to Peryton Pass.  We make camp for the night, splitting shifts, and Oreiron offers to tell us a tale of the “Minstrel’s Glade”:

“‘Twas named after a minstrel travelin' this same road. Went missin from ‘is friends an’ turned up along the trail a week later, killed by spirits: hanged from mid-air without ropes... with his ‘ands burned off ‘an ‘is balls ripped out. Not a vision for the faint o’ heart, my apologies, lass. ...I was but a wee dwarf when they coined the place, nearly a hunnerd years ago now. ‘Tis on dark, cold nights like this that ye hear the witches’ wailing oer the chill o the wind...

I take the opportunity after his tale to get to know Oreiron a bit.  While he is an employee of Abbé Lira, he also shares Abbé’s care for the community, and seems to like serving as a guide for causes he deems worthwhile.

After Audric awakens me for my watch, while the warrior is still awake, we are disturbed by a lulling, melancholy tune that drifts through the darkness of the woods beyond.  My instinct—after determining that it’s not a joke being played by Audric—is to immediately wake the others.  Oreiron, upon hearing the melody, immediately believes it to be the witches from his tale.  For someone who didn’t seem spiritual a few moments earlier, he seems legitimately fearful now.

Audric seems interested in examining the source of the melody, curious that it might be related to his situation with Mystra but doesn’t seem completely convinced.  He explains that he’s hearing voices in his head compelling him to come.  As I can certainly relate to fickle gods using questionable methods to prove a point, we decide to investigate, especially since Bonie seems eager to investigate it herself.  Oreiron reluctantly agrees to follow.

We push through the light woods in the dark and come upon a series of lights in the distance, questioning the intelligence of our pursuit, but ultimately it is Bonie’s curiosity that wins out, and we decide to continue.  When we get closer, the lights are revealed to be a group of humanoid women in luminous silks—clearly inappropriate garb for the temperature—and Bonie says that they’re not witches, but druids.”  I cast a blessing on Audric, who volunteers to go ahead in answer to the voices in his head, and when he approaches the song stops abruptly.

“We weren’t meant to see this,” Oreiron mutters behind us.  The forms disperse, all except for one of them that appears just ahead of us, brandishing a burning torch.  Her hair is red, deepened by the light cast from her torch, and her eyes blue.  Her face bears a striking resemblance to Kezia, even if everything else seems out of place.

“Who are you?” she asks Audric, to which the holy warrior stutters out his name in reply.  She circles us, almost out of curiosity, taking Audric by the hand, the hand which bears the magical ring.  She warns Audric:

Zeb's Marionette
“You harbor a powerful, dark magic! He wishes you to fight, nay, to kill, that he may return! He will possess you, body and soul!”  On a hunch, I reveal my crude Tarrokka deck, holding up the Marionette card, wondering if the elusive “he” she is referring to may trigger some recognition.  It seems to register, but not clearly, and when I start to lay out the rest of Kezia’s reading it becomes clear that I’m not making any sense.

She speaks to Audric, “What you are seeking eludes you, even as you search.  Your eyes are blind to its passage.”  

“To what’s passage?” Audric asks, but the question goes unanswered.

She turns one last time to look at me, a wistful look in her eye.  “My great-grandmother once used cards like the ones that you have.  She died many years ago.”

“Kezia?” I ask.

“That is my name,” she replies inquisitively.  “How did you know?  I was named after her.”

One of the other figures rushes forth and grasps Kezia’s arm, pulling her into the woods.  I cry out, “Wait, we met Kezia.  We met your great-grandmother!”  Kezia is forced away, and they disappear into the woods.  I rush to follow, but Audric holds me back, throwing words that were said to him early that day back into my face.  “You shouldn’t rush off into he woods alone at night, it’s dangerous.  There might be bears.”  I fail to find the humor in it this time, however, more curious than ever about the nature of Kezia, her reading, and now her apparent great-granddaughter who bears the same name.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

#14: Peryton Pass

We awaken in the morning to find frost on the rooftops of Westtower.  The weather is chill, but not unseasonably so—it punctuates, however, our desire to leave the wildlands and arrive in Mirabar.  Bonie’s revelations are no comfort; several options lie before us, but Falinor somehow discovering our plan seems almost a foregone conclusion.  As such, my prayers to the Beastlord have a tone of urgency.

We share our potential options with Erathmar.  The merchant, to his credit, is on board with Jent’s desire to leave Westtower, and is supportive of what we all think is the just and right course of action.  We determine that smuggling Jent, his wife, and their child is the safest way to proceed; at least in that case, there’s a chance that Jent’s absence goes unnoticed and we depart without conflict, for we are all agreed that Falinor will surely resist if we pursue our plan openly.

We plan to depart the next morning, trying as hard as possible to emulate a normal departure.  Erathmar lets us know that he would usually leave before the sun rises, so we make arrangements for Bonie to meet Jent and his family, and to smuggle them into the wagons while we make preparations, hoping that the general chaos of our departure screens their approach.

On our last day in Westtower, Audric stops to see Shandar to thank him for what help he was able to provide, and the priest of Lathander asks that, if we see the last caravan due to arrive from Mirabar, we share the town’s dire need for supplies.  We consent to do so, and part in peace.  As a last matter of business, we decide to share our plans to depart with Falinor and catch up with him the previous night.

“Twenty-seven.  That is the number of men that have died here since the beast men attacked.  Your aid at the waterfall was certainly very much appreciated.  We could use a few more able bodies like yourselves throughout the winter.  Will you not consider extending your stay?”  Audric responds, saying that he answers Mystra’s calling, and that it renders our desires in the matter moot.  Inside, I applaud Audric’s ability to deceive without overt duplicity.  We offer to deliver a message to Mirabar, but his reply—odd, and somewhat ominous—is that his own manner of communication is sufficient.  We leave the discussion at that, with Falinor seemingly disappointed in our decision.

Bonie shares that she also harbored fears that Falinor may have tried to detain her, as well.  Though her contract with Falinor is over, she still worries that he would try to keep her here, given the town’s dire circumstances.

The night passes restlessly, as anticipation of the morning’s plan weighs heavy on my thoughts.  Jent and his family are smuggled into the wagons successfully, Jent’s wife working to keep her infant quiet.  According to the plan, I draw upon Malar’s blessing to curtain the wagon in silence, and our escape from Westtower—at least so far—is uncontested.

Once we put some distance between us and Westtower, we give Jent consent to rejoin his wife and child.  His wife’s name is Gabrielle, and their child Einin.  They share their thanks, and for the moment at least, there is a lightness and joy to the group that has not been felt for some time.

The trail is hard but not overly so, the weather chill but not punishing.  We travel a hard day, nearly twelve hours, eventually reaching the foothills.  We decide to break for camp, and the conversation turns to Peryton Pass and how we plan to make our passage.  We share what knowledge we know of the Pass’s namesake.  Peryton are intelligent, malicious creatures that are known to attack men and feast upon their hearts.  They operate in the daylight, which seems odd for such a creature, and sometimes in small packs.  The most prudent path, assuming that the moon and weather allow, is to travel as much as we can during the night, in hopes that a confrontation can be avoided.

We prepare our camp, placing defenses both along the path we came—in the case that Falinor sends men after us—as well as further along the road, in the case of some enemy from that direction.  One of the watches is disrupted by a scream in the night—perhaps the cry of an animal or some other beast, but far off, a mile or more—but besides raising the collected hairs on the backs of our necks, nothing else occurs.

We decide to split our second day of travel, half during the day, then resting until sundown and continuing our ascent into the night in the hopes that we avoid peryton and other threats.  The incline is unforgiving, and by the time we break for the morning, we are all exhausted.  As we wait for nightfall, Audric uses the opportunity to get to know Jent.  Jent doesn’t have solid long-term plans, but he doesn’t see himself pursuing the life of a soldier.  Perhaps he’ll find work as a smithy’s apprentice or some such but caring for his family is his primary goal.  Bonie feels sympathy for the man’s decisions and desire to care for his own, and shares that she may have a contact that can help Jent out.

I seize the opportunity to push Bonie on her contact, as we have left the matter untouched until now.  She reveals that he is the Abbé Lira, an abbot who keeps residence in Mirabar.  He is not a political figure or member of any known organization, he’s more an independent operator.  Audric questions his title of abbot and asks what his fealty may be, wondering if he is associated with a church or priesthood but she reveals that she doesn’t actually know.  His intentions, however, seem to lean towards good more than all else, helping those that need helped, so she and Larimo never had need to question his motivations.  Their trust in Abbé Lira is enough for me, and Bonie agrees to arrange a meeting for me and Audric.

We pick up our journey at sundown, preparing for a vigorous ascent.  We wind around mountain trails, blessed by a strong moon to illuminate our path.  It reveals a mangled heap ahead, perhaps twenty feet from the trail.  As we approach, the scent nearly overwhelms us, and we begin to make out horrifying details—a wrecked wagon, slaughtered horses, and what appears to be a mangled corpse.  Almost certainly, this is the caravan bound for Westtower.

The corpse is revealed to be that of a dwarf.  Scattered about are blankets, hides, tools—and to the best of our ability, we determine that the wagon toppled from the path above.  Erathmar and his men spare a few precious minutes to load what can be salvaged onto his wagons, and we continue our ascent.  We get to the ridge where we believe the wagon may have fallen from—there we find mounds of loose dirt, and around them are drawn the symbol of an anvil and hammer.  We assume these to be dwarven graves, which hint at a potential survivor or survivors.

Besides the grave, there is only one area perhaps fifty feet from the trail where a cave or alcove may lie.  We spur the wagons on while Audric and I investigate.  It is indeed a shallow alcove and lying in the back of it are several unmoving forms.  There are two more dwarven corpses, one of which has a recently amputated leg.  The other is mutilated, but both seem to have been cared for, their wounds mended.  We leave the alcove, but before we can rejoin the caravan, we hear screams.  On the rock faces, we can see several attackers—goblinoids with eyes that glow in the moonlight.

With sword, spell, and arrow we seek to drive off the foes, but they approach from several angles, dividing our response.  I am able to buy some time against one of the groups of goblins, but not before Jent is felled by several of the creatures.  Fortunately, Audric brings one of his conjurations to bear, resulting in an opposing pack of hobgoblins—larger, meaner kin to the smaller goblins—that fights on our side.

While Erathmar and his men see that the horses don’t bolt, we rally and manage to drive the foes off into the night.  Bonie shares that goblins are not known to inhabit the pass—given how strategic the placement of this pass is, and that the other caravan was also attacked by goblins, she thinks this could be a bigger strategic move to isolate the Khedrun Valley.  Whether this is pure speculation or if it has some root in truth we know not, but Mirabar needs to know, in any case, as the goblins we’ve encountered so far seem to possess more intelligence than usually evidenced by such creatures.  We travel the rest of the night safely until sunrise, where we break for a rest.

DM's note: The goblins bear the following mark upon their foreheads, drawn in a primitive war paint. The symbol is unfamiliar.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Secret Travelers

It was a cold morning in West Tower, though the frost coating the rooftops would vanish well before highsun. Bonie's nimble feet padded silently from the lodge where she'd slept, finding Audric and Zeb alone in the village, the pair having just convened with Erathmar to ensure that preparations to depart remained on schedule.

The girl wore her customary dark leathers and roan overcloak. Her blond hair, as always, was tied back, her longsword sheathed at her side. Sapphire eyes bore into her companions with urgency. She spoke to them in whispers.

"Jent and his family must accompany us to Mirabar: the man, his wife, and their babe, an infant. No one but the merchant can know."

In-character replies are welcome.