Wednesday, February 13, 2019

#19: Longsaddle (Finally!)

The next morning, we decide to settle in and await the return of Helder’s group.  With the aid of Wyardt’s mother and father, we talk to the Anaithnid about helping around town with tasks in preparation for winter, the kinds of things that aren’t language dependent.  It is small price to pay in return for shelter while we recuperate.

As we wait, Selben and I turn to our training, each studying our respective spellbooks in preparation for the next leg of the journey.  Our wait is not long, however, and the next day the bells hail the return of Helder, though his group is much smaller than the one that originally departed, and one man is being carried.  There are calls that the fallen man is diseased, and I send Selben to fetch Klaighos, who comes slowly but tends to the man’s wounds.  When help is required, Audric and I step forward to carry the man to his home.  Helder acknowledges the gesture with a grunt.

Later, we learn that Helder’s group lost five men in skirmishes with the bugbears, as the creatures trailed them for a day and a night, but in the end his group slew eleven bugbears—a truly mighty number, though the price paid by the townsfolk of Xantharl’s Keep was steep.  Helder learns of our encounter as well, of the five bugbears slain by our group, and considers our debt settled.

Helder approaches our camp that night, offers condolences for the losses suffered by the Anaithnid, and extends his blessing on sheltering the tribe as long as we desire to stay.  The discussion is short, but the terms are mutually agreeable.

As the days past and our training concludes, the unrest of the Anaithnid becomes clear.  Our ability to communicate with the tribe is greatly facilitated by Selben’s newfound ability to magically comprehend their language, but the inability to effectively communicate anything but the most rudimentary words back to them remains a frustration.  On the final evening before our departure, we share our plan to depart with Helder, who holds no ill will against us on the matter.

Oreiron knows the way to Grunwald, the next village between us and our ultimate destination, Longsaddle.  Grunwald is a long day’s travel from Xantharl’s Keep, and Longsaddle another day and half journey from Grunwald.  Wyardt will travel to Grunwald in seven days and wait three nights for us to return.  He has offered to escort us to Griffon’s Nest from Grunwald after our business in Longsaddle is done, and we give him a modest stipend to cover his expenses.

The morning of our departure, however, the Anaithnid have decided to press the issue of leadership of the tribe, specifically of our intention to travel to Longsaddle first.  Selben, having spoken with one of the Anaithnid youth, Hershon, explains.  “Hershon believes there will be a mutiny, if the group does not set its eyes for Griffon’s Nest.  He says, the tribe has endured too much to be led further astray, and that Nazag and Omgrath would challenge you openly for rulership of the clan.”  I reply that either of the warriors are welcome to the mantle of leadership of the tribe, but that if they want our help getting to Griffon’s Nest, it’s via Longsaddle or not at all.  That seems to satisfy them, at least for the moment—they will continue to travel with us—but the threat of mutiny will not be easily forgotten.

Travel is miserably cold, but our passage is uncontested, and after a long day we reach the road to Grunwald.  We intend to skip the village on our journey, as Grunwald lies far off the road to Longsaddle, and taking Audric’s advice we offer the tribe the option to camp in or around Grunwald and await our return.  I call upon Selben to use his magic to translate, and the tribe indicates that they are not particularly amicable with the people of Grunwald, so they are not interested in staying there.  That settled, we camp for the night.

Our rest is undisturbed, and the next morning we press on for Longsaddle.  After a discussion about the possibility of conjuring mounts for the group to cut the journey in half and potentially make Longsaddle in a day, we decide it’s too risky and continue south on foot.  The terrain begins to open, light forests giving way to more open plains.  Near midday, we hear the call of a single figure running towards us from off the road to the west.  It’s a boy in distress, and he explains that his father’s cart tipped and trapped him, and that he’s been waiting for a day for help to come.

The boy’s name is Flin Kromlor—he explains that he and his father were fishing a stream a half day from their house, and that the cart hit a rock.  The cart was laden with salt to cure the fish, the mule’s legs were broken, and the cart tipped.  His story seems legitimate from the boy’s frantic nature, and it looks as if he’s been out in the cold for a day, which lends credence to his tale.  Audric and I, as well as Selben, decide to break from the group to help the boy and his father, leaving Bonie and Oreiron to watch over the tribe as they break for a midday meal.

The boy runs fast but we keep up, eventually reaching a ridge which looks down upon a stream.  At the bottom, we see the cart from the boy’s tale, as well as the dead mule and blood.  The barrel of salt is burst open upon the ground nearby.  I take point, leaving Audric and Selben on top of the ridge.  When I reach the cart, the father is semiconscious, and it appears as if he’s severely wounded.  If this is an ambush, it is elaborately staged, and we’ve bought in.

I call upon Malar’s blessing to heal the man as best I can, though his injuries are indeed grave.  We decide to remove the mule first to see if we can move the cart.  We accomplish that and free the man from being trapped.  I tell Flynn to gather whatever he needs from the wreckage, which he does, and together we carry his father to the top of the ridge.  By the time we get back to Bonie and the others, over an hour has passed.  The men of the Anaithnid rush to meet us and help bear the burden back to our camp.  We tell Flynn of our intention to travel to Longsaddle, and he issues no argument, clearly traumatized from the ordeal.  I tell Selben to watch over the boy.

Our travel is slowed by our new companion, but eventually we start to see outlying farmsteads and begin to relax a bit.  We decide to eschew the farms and instead camp on our own, building a fire and tending to the wounded father.  Fortunately, another night of rest is undisturbed, and early the next day we approach a cluster of cottages that herald our destination—Longsaddle.  The cottages are dwarfed by a huge manor in the middle of the village, which we presume to be the Ivy Mansion, home of the Harpells, leaders of Longsaddle.

We are greeted by folk who know the Kromlors and we’re directed to bring the father to one of the buildings, a festhall called The Night Cloak.  Workers help us carry the man inside, and we get the indication that the boy and his father will receive the care that they need.  We are greeted by Alastra, a half-elf who seems to be the proprietress of the establishment.  We negotiate a rate for shelter and meals for the group, and tell her our story.  I also hand her a small handful of gold, so that a mule can be purchased for the Kromlor family—surely, they are not wealthy, and losing a beast of burden could be a terrible loss.  Plus, small gestures such as this could lend us a lot of credibility in such a small village as this.

You get a mule!  You get a mule!  Everybody gets a mule!

Oreiron seems to know Alastra, and the two share words.  As this is technically the end of his service to us, we plan to talk to him tonight to let him know that he’s free to pursue his own ends.  In the meantime, we decide to call upon Malchor Harpell at the Ivy Mansion.

The Ivy Mansion is an impressive building and seems altogether out of place for such a little town.  We are greeted by an older woman, and Audric takes the lead, announcing our names and intention to seek an audience with Malchor.  She apologizes, but explains that Malchor is away at the moment, and is not expected to return for a few weeks.  Audric recounts our meeting with Abbé Lira, his advice for us to consult Malchor on a magical matter, and she asks more directly what specific help Audric seeks.

Audric dodges the question, and the woman further explains that Malchor would need to authorize any access to the Ivy Mansion in his absence.  “Do visit The Fuzzy Quarterstaff on your way out.  It’s a very fine place for food and beverage.”  She seems to understand Audric’s urgency, even if she doesn’t seem particularly interested in immediate action.

The Fuzzy Quarterstaff is an odd establishment.  There are handful of patrons, but more notable is a cloaked man apparently conducting an invisible orchestra, its music filling the common room.  We decide to come back at a later time, instead heading back to The Night Cloak.  Audric pulls Oreiron aside, asking what is next for the dwarf.  He indicates that he might remain in Longsaddle for a while, unsure of where his path may lead.  Audric invites him to accompany us to Griffon’s Nest, but Oreiron explains that he has little desire for such a journey.  No harm in asking, and Oreiron has been a stalwart companion.

On our third day in Longsaddle, Audric receives notification that his presence has been requested at the Ivy Mansion, so we hastily complete our breakfast and head back.  We greet Cartisan, the maid servant, and she informs us that Master Malchor has returned early, and that he will see us.  She leaves to fetch him, and returns with a tall, cloaked man, perhaps nearing fifty, who introduces himself.  “Malchor Harpell, at your service.”

He leads us into a second sitting room deeper into the mansion, one with no windows yet many portraits on the wall.  Despite the lack of windows or discernible light source, the room is well lit, probably by magic.  A crystal ball sits upon a podium in one corner, and the room is adorned with extravagant couches and chairs.  He asks Audric to explain his purpose.

Audric tells the tale of the ring, and hands the simple pewter band to Malchor.  There is gravity to the gesture, as if a great burden is being passed from one hand to another, and the man examines the ring.  He begins casting a spell, focusing on the ring.  “Indeed, it does seem a powerful artifact, and you were right to bring it here.  For me to fully understand and unravel the intricacies of a piece like this, it’s going to take time.  Would you be willing to leave this here with me?”  When asked how long, he replies “Come to me again before the new year.  Give me the next three weeks, and by that time, I will be able to either return it to you with full knowledge, or if I cannot, I will explain to you why.”

Audric also shares his crisis of faith over Arkhen’s petrification, revealing that Abbe Lira seemed to indicate that Malchor Harpell might be able to offer some advice on the matter.  Malchor offers a few solemn words.   “Trust that your craft may have effects and results that a man cannot fully comprehend at the time—but as long as he acts with responsibility and with goodness in his heart, Mystra will not abandon her faithful.  Sometimes, the life or death of an individual pales in comparison to the greater purpose.”

Audric asks that Selben and I be granted access to the Ivy Mansion’s library, and the mage assents, seeing as he has collateral in the form of the ring.  His business with us concluded, he excuses himself, walking a few steps before vanishing from our sight.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

XP awards for sessions 12-18

It's been a very long time since XP was last awarded, and over the course of these sessions, Audric and Zeb have several noteworthy achievements, including helping Jent's family in West Tower, usurping Crahdorn's control over the Anaithnid, and saving Nurué from the Black Rot (at great personal risk to themselves).

Story awards for the above items comprise the majority of the total for this stretch, which is 7,500 XP per character and 2,500 XP for Selben. While henchmen normally receive a half-share, Selben has been withheld from some of the party's more dangerous endeavors, so I think it makes sense to limit him to a one-third share for now. That's still enough for him to attain 2nd level, and I'll begin tracking his XP in the sidebar going forward.

This also boosts Zeb to 5th level as an abjurer. Updated totals:

  • Audric - 26,000
  • Zeb - 3,000/22,575
  • Selben (h) - 2,500

Thursday, January 17, 2019

#18: The Hunt

A pair of armed guards approach from the gate of Xantharl’s Keep, bringing summons from Helder.  The hunt is nigh.  Besides myself, Audric, Oreiron, Bonie and a pair of Anaithnid men, Omgrath and Nazag, answer the summons and we make ready to depart.  Bonie still seems pale and sickly; I take it for nerves, as none of the symptoms match the Black Rot.  Audric offers to let her stay, but she shakes her head determinedly, indicating that she’s ready to continue.

We are escorted into the keep, passing the outer palisade.  Not much of a welcome awaits us; we are brought to Helder and a small group of townsfolk, among them are Yishma, her husband, and a young man of about 20 years.  Yishma hands us a parcel of salves to ward against acceleration of the Black Rot, should any of us come to harm, and the young man is revealed to be their son, Wyardt.  Two other groups of hunters are waiting, with Helder planning to lead one of them.  We are to divide and conquer, each of us taking a trail miles apart that will take us three to four days from town.  Wyardt tells us that he has grown up in the woods and feels confident that he can lead us safely.

We are led to the southernmost of the three trails, which Wyardt says he knows quite well.  The air is cold but there’s no snow or frost; the weather is clear and makes for easy travel.  Wyardt takes the lead, sharing a few words about his parents.  He explains that they have good hearts, and that they see beyond stigmas—a trait that Wyardt tends to live by, as well.

We travel in two smaller groups, with Wyardt, me and the two Anaithnid in the front, and Audric, Bonie and Oreiron in the rear, hoping to mitigate the noise of our more heavily armored companions.  The trail winds deeper into the Lurkwood, occasionally ascending a hillock or dipping into a ravine, but so far, our visibility is good, and the travel is easy and uneventful.  After a few hours, we come across a large bootprint in a patch of broken ground, leading north from the trail.  We also find a tuft of fur stuck in the bark of a nearby three—signs that there is a bugbear presence, but we already knew that was the case.  What is surprising, however, is that the signs are discovered so close to Xantharl’s Keep.  With little to follow in the way of a clear path, we decide to continue along the trail, warier for our knowledge that the bugbear threat is close.

As the afternoon fades, Wyardt says we should push on a few hours more, and we take his guidance.  We descend into a grove and notice a disturbance with a few trees ahead.  Knowing that the bugbear are crafty enemies, we fear an ambush and decide to split the group.  Wyardt and I will take the Anaithnid and flank the group, approaching from multiple angles.  Audric, Bonie and Oreiron make a fair amount of noise, hopefully obscuring any sounds we are making in the wood, though it’s a safe bet that if there are indeed enemies, they already know we’re here.

A pair of large oaks lie ahead and pinned to each tree is what appears to be a skinned humanoid, stuck to the tree with spears and other sharp implements.  The sight is revolting, and the splay of limbs and the queer angles of the corpses' joints make it clear that the deed was torturous.  I split from Wyardt to investigate further, and it seems that they were human men.  The Anaithnid seem agitated, and after trying to communicate with them, we determine that the bodies probably aren’t Anaithnid but that they are perhaps Uthgardt—after further discussion through gestures, we discern that they weren’t a tribe friendly to the Anaithnid.

We light a torch to better investigate the scene, knowing that there’s little harm to come from the light.  We’ll have to light a fire for camp anyway.  Unfortunately, we find no other signs that provide any clues as to the identity of the men or motivation for their torture.  Backtracking a bit, we find a hill and make camp, setting a fire and discuss watches.  The night passes quietly and uneventfully, and our scout around the camp in the morning turns up no signs of any nocturnal visitors.  We pack up and continue, returning to the valley with the corpses.

We find them much as they were left the previous day, and the daylight investigation reveals no additional clues.  Wyardt does, however, find signs and prints from bugbears, but nothing that leads in any obvious direction, just more incidental traces.  We decide to continue along the trail, traveling throughout the morning.   Around mid-afternoon, we come to a significant descent that leads into a low valley that is flanked by rock walls.  We decide to push through as bypassing the valley isn’t pragmatic, so I go ahead of Wyardt so that if anything does happen, there’s a buffer between the groups.

At the base of the valley, I hear a rustle in a bush nearby.  Sensing an ambush, I decide to turn tail and run back towards Wyardt and the others.  Fortunately, my instincts were good—a pair of unidentified missiles whir by my head striking trees.  I retreat to the others, and we prepare to fight!

From seemingly out of nowhere, a half dozen kobolds appear in the valley, a result of one of Audric’s conjurations.  An axe is thrown from a nearby tree, striking Audric in the shoulder, heralding the advance of five bugbears, positioned in a star formation around our group.  I appeal to Malar for a blessing, while the others draw various ranged weapons.  Seizing the initiative, I throw my morning star towards one of the enemies and a ghostly manifestation of it appears several yards away, behind one of the creatures and striking it.  Bonie climbs a nearby tree and readies her bow, then a hail of weapons is thrown towards us.  One strikes me and one strikes one of the Anaithnid, and then Audric’s kobolds pile onto one of the bugbears, wounding it in several places.  Meanwhile, Audric summons forth a swarm of bats to assault another of the foes.

My spiritual weapon slams into the bugbear again, and it rushes me from the cover of the forest, fortunately missing its lunge.  One of the kobolds is devastated by a bugbear, and the bugbear struggling against the swarm of bats surges into melee with the group.  Bonie and the archers miss with their first round of arrows, as does Oreiron with his sling.  One of the bugbears charges Oreiron with a spear, and the dwarf falls to the grievous wound.  The wounded Anaithnid is wounded yet again and struggles to stand against the injuries.  The small army of kobolds manage to bring one of the bugbears to the ground, impaling it with their tiny spears.

A brutal melee ensues.  Audric unslings his axe but is unable to land a blow, though I manage to strike my foe in the head.  It is a brutal strike, but the creature stares back at me defiantly.  Bonie shoots the unwounded bugbear, and Wyardt draws forth a longsword and in a sweeping strike, beheads the creature that had been assaulted by Audric’s bats.  The bugbear retaliates against me but it’s a glancing blow, and one of the tribesmen lands a strike against a foe as well.  The melee is fierce, though the tide seems in our favor; the wounded Anaithnid slays a bugbear, and Audric cleaves another nearly in half with his mighty axe.  The ring’s magic, fortunately, is silent. 

The final bugbear engaged with me seeks to withdraw, and I charge it with a roar, striking it down with my morning star.  I growl a thanks to Malar as I ravage the creature, taking teeth from it as a trophy and five right ears as proof for Helder.  In the aftermath of the melee, Audric stabilizes Oreiron and we tend everyone’s wounds; all but Oreiron are fully healed, the dwarf being beyond our means to magically heal today.  We apply salves to the dwarf to prevent the onset, or at least delay the effects of the Black Rot.  We make a quick search of our foes, finding nothing of value beyond the crude weapons they carried.  We decide to press on a short way to put some distance between us and the valley, then to make a camp so that Oreiron can have a chance to recover.

We awaken in the morning, the only excitement of the night being a family of wild pigs heard in the woods during the middle watch.  Audric ministers to Oreiron, healing him with the blessings granted by Mystra, and it seems for now at least that the dwarf has not yet succumbed to the disease.  We press on throughout the day and encounter no signs of enemies, deciding to camp one final night, as pressing on through the darkness seems unnecessary and dangerous.

The next morning, the sky is clear and the day bright, and we arrive back at Xantharl’s Keep around midday.  No one in our group has manifested any signs of the Black Rot.  We learn that one of the other groups has already arrived, having encountered nothing along their three-day trek.  We also see a bonfire surrounded by the women and children of the Anaithnid—but upon closer inspection we realize that it is instead a funeral pyre.  Selben runs towards us, tears in his eyes, and he explains that the Anaithnid were attacked in the middle of the night by bugbears; the tribe rushed towards the gates of Xantharl’s Keep seeking safety.  The gates were opened, and guards emerged to help defend the tribe, but not soon enough to prevent a melee.  Kezia sacrificed herself so that the others could escape, throwing herself at the enemies.  Selben explains, through tears and shakiness, that she was struck down by the creatures, her blood everywhere.  Selben seems in shock, as if blaming himself for not having done more.

I tell Selben to rein in his emotions—the Anaithnid are sad and grieving, but not with open expression or crying.  There is nothing more he could have done.  I let Selben know that he needs to control his emotions and communicate as best he can with the tribe, promising to discuss it and grieve with him in private later.  I spend a long time before Kezia’s fire with the rest of the tribe, only turning away when necessity and responsibility dictates.  Through Selben and Nurué, I tell the tribe to make camp for the night within the walls of the keep.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

#17: Defier of Death

After the defeat of Crahdorn, the subsequent hours are spent discussing plans for the pending journey, gathering what meager belongings the tribe possess, and carrying out the sacrifice of the diseased warrior.  Trading lives is not a fair thing, but we can’t afford to slow our travel without effectively signing the death warrants of both the man and Nurué.  Kezia translates, and the tribe decides to conduct its own sacrifice, sending him along the spiritual paths with prayers to Uthgar.

We make it clear that we will do our best to see the group to Griffon’s Nest, but that it will not necessarily be a quick or direct path, and that it will not interfere with our current plan to travel to Longsaddle.  Fortunately, there seems to be agreement that Longsaddle is our best chance at determining the cause and hopefully a cure for whatever this curse or sickness is that afflicts Nurué.  Selben is instructed to continue to pursue his relationship with the younger members of the tribe, in the hopes that his can pick up some of their language so that we don’t have to rely completely on Kezia’s translation.

Ahead on the trail, we see the shambling form of a large, crimson-furred creature, larger than a man.  It looks gaunt, weakened, and hunched over—a bugbear.  After a few moments of deliberation, considering that it may be an ambush, we decide the chance that it’s diseased is even more dire, and arrows are loosed upon it.  Several find purchase, but not enough to fell it, so I charge forward and finish it with my morning star.  We examine it for signs of disease and can’t find any, but we’re not sure if it’s for lack of symptoms or just that they’re obscured by its fur.

Unfortunately, we’re not able to make the safety of Xantharl’s Keep before sundown, and we decide to camp for the night.  Even if we finish the trip, we’re not convinced that we would be allowed entry, especially with the diseased woman.  Nurué seems to have worsened, her fingertips are blackened, and she seems very much diminished.  After some discussion, we decide that Audric or I will conjure forth mounts and send Audric, Oreiron & Nurué ahead.  Mystra or Malar, or perhaps even Uthgar are with us, and nothing ill befalls us in the night.

Well before the sun rises, Audric rouses Oreiron & Nurué with the intent to leave in the predawn.  If a cure is to be found within Xantharl’s Keep, this is our best chance to acquire it.  They arrive at the wooden, picketed walls of the keep at first light.

The remaining group travels along the road and eventually reaches Xantharl’s Keep, where we are flagged down by Audric and Oreiron, who have made a small campfire outside of town.  They were not allowed entrance and instructed that the town’s priest is away at Grunwald, a day away.  Some of the men of Xantharl’s Keep had encountered bugbears and returned yesterday, and several have been stricken with the same disease.  There is also apparently no love lost between the Anaithnid of the Lurkwood and the men of Xantharl’s Keep, but it is of no consequence as we’re all barred entry anyway.

As we contemplate options, the gates open and a middle-aged couple exit the keep approaching us carrying a small pot and a basket, and Audric greets them.  They claim to have heard that there is a sick woman among us, and it appears that they have brought food.  “My wife is an herbalist, and there is a salve that can help relieve the symptoms of the rash.”  The wife’s name is Yishma, and she started putting the salve together, having seen a similar disease twenty years ago.  Yishma takes a small tin from her basket, a mixture of lavender and chamomile as well as other herbs from the wood.  She explains that the disease is bloodborne and travels very quickly among open wounds.

Audric inquires what it may have taken in the past to cure the disease, and they claim that only strong clerical magic could produce a remedy—magic such that Klaighos, the village priest, possesses.  They ask for nothing in return, and we explain that we intend to travel immediately with the hope that we encounter the priest on the road.  They explain that the village leader wouldn’t look upon this kindly, forcing upon us a decision—stay and await the return of Klaighos in the hopes that he will tend to Nurué before she perishes, or risk the doors of Xantharl’s Keep being barred if we come between their diseased men and their priest. 

We decide to stay and await the return of the priest, and Kezia explains the situation to the tribe.  The husband explains that the disease is progressive, and that if it spreads from Nurué’s fingers to her arm, then there’s a chance it will corrupt her entire body—amputation would be our best option to delay progression of the disease, in that case.  We thank them again for their ministrations and their kindness, and they depart.

Later that day, another figure leaves the gates flanked by a pair of soldiers, this man armed with a pair of swords and leathers.  He carries a barrel under his arms, and Oreiron explains that this is Helder Mornstone, leader of Xantharl’s Keep.  We gather Bonie and Oreiron, and Helder greets us, inquiring after our afflicted and her condition.  Upon seeing Nurué, he explains that she may be the worse off, but that he must prioritize his own men before outsiders.  He asks how we came to travel with “barbarians,” which sets my blood boiling.

I spit on the ground in front of him.  “It’s a foolish man that claims to direct the will of the gods, to ‘prioritize’ who is to receive their blessings.”  From his collar he withdraws a token, the head of a unicorn, a symbol of Mielikki.  “A foolish man, indeed.”

Hackles rising, I ask if our tribe is unwelcome outside his walls.  “If you were, you would not be here, I assure you,” he replies grimly.  He deposits the barrel, explaining that it is full of dried meats and cheeses, enough so sustain our group for a few days.

I thank the man, dryly.  “I’ll be sure to spread word of the hospitality of Xantharl’s Keep.” Helder does not reply to the statement but produces an offer that may ameliorate the situation.  Accompany his men into the Lurkwood to deal with the bugbear threat, and he will take Nurué’s diminishing condition into consideration when Klaighos returns.

“Done.”  I hold out my hand, to seal the bargain.  Before Helder can respond, Kezia grabs me and pulls me aside.  “You will not force us to work for this man, for this village.” 

“Do you want to save Nurué, or not?  She’ll likely die waiting for this man to expand his generosity to include her when the priest eventually returns.”

Kezia storms off, speaking to the men of the tribe rapidly.  We’re not able to comprehend the words, ere she spits a reluctant compromise.  “Do as you will.”  It is a cold response, and hints at more conversation to follow later.

We send Helder away, letting him know that we’ll produce an answer in an hour’s time, giving us a chance to deliberate.  After discussing the decision with Kezia further, she explains vehemently that the tribe is to be consulted first on matters of such import, especially those that entail dealing with villages outside the Lurkwood.  Coming to a realization, I think I may have discovered the source of her anger.  “So you want the opportunity to be mad at me about it, but you want me to do it anyway?”

“Yes,” is her reply in a surprisingly sultry tone, leaning into me.  Her reply, and the response her physical proximity elicits, leaves me speechless.  I decide to leave the decision to Audric, since he is admittedly the most sensible of the group.  His answer is surprising, that he intends to accompany me on the hunt.  “So you wanted the opportunity to be mad at me about it, but you want me to do it anyway?”  It’s not clear that Audric wants to join the hunt, or that we should be involved with it at all, but he reluctantly agrees.

Both Bonie and Oreiron are on board with the hunt, each for their own reasons.  Loyalty, duty, guilt—whatever the motivations, they are not important, and we are glad to have their aid.  Bonie has proven herself a stalwart ally.  Selben is to be left with the Anaithnid, as he would be too much a liability on such a deadly venture.  Audric sends word of our acceptance to Xantharl’s Keep.

The next morning arrives a small contingent of men accompanied by a withered old man, eyes white from blindness, and we assume that he is Klaighos, the priest.  He is brought to Nurué’s side, Kezia seated nearby, and the man examines Nurué’s arm.  He begins chanting in preparation for a spell, utilizing a fetish, a pair of hands bound together with rope.  At first it appears as if they are wooden, but upon more careful inspection, they may be actual withered hands.  In either case, they are a symbol of Ilmater, the Suffering.

He stares at Kezia with a piercing gaze, as if seeing through the blindness.  He utters something in an unknown language directly at her, “Mortem disfidare,” before returning to the incantation and finishing the spell.  “It will take time for the ailment to subside,”  he explains, returning to his usual demeanor.  He lays a hand on her forehead.  “However, she is saved.  Ilmater has smiled upon you this day.”

Audric shares a blessing from Mystra as Klaighos departs, to which the priest nods in acceptance.  “And that of Malar, as well,” I shout, not to be outdone.  Klaighos snarls in response but makes no other gesture, instead turning his back on us as he returns to Xantharl’s Keep.

Audric asks Kezia what it was that the blind priest said.  She replies softly, “It means ‘Defier of Death.’”

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

#16: The Anaithnid

“You’ve shared a ghost story with us, Oreiron, now I’ve one to share with you.”  Once we return to the safety of the campfire, I lay out the tale of the events in Shadfeld, only this time we don’t exclude the part with Kezia and the reading.  Bonie seems surprised by the revelation, but not offended.  More taken aback by the queerness.  “We all have our secrets,” she admits.  Oreiron has never heard of anything like it, nor anything that provides any more insight into the situation, and they both seem content to try and comprehend the story and any meaning the encounter may have.

I explain the meaning of some of the cards to Selben—relating the Beast to Carcerus, the Traitor to Korvich—explaining that the rest of the cards are, as of yet, puzzles to be discovered.  I’m curious to see if he has any reaction.  Selben picks up the Necromancer card, staring at it intently and shaking of what appears to be a moment of weakness or confusion, as if he has some attachment to the card.  I quickly shuffle the cards into a pile to ease the tension.

After an awkward silence, we resume our watches, though I can’t help but shake a lingering desire to run into the woods at night in the hopes that he finds Kezia’s progeny once again.  The forest remains silent the remainder of the evening, as if nothing had happened.

When we awaken, it’s to our discovery that Bonie is no longer among us.  We call out and she returns to camp, bearing a spent torch.  “They weren’t ghosts, they were real.”  Apparently, she has been carrying out the exploration that has been nagging me all night.  Behind her, in the Lurkwood beyond to the east, a plume of smoke rises from a hill.  “Come look, it’s not far."

We crest the hill, in the same direction of our journey the previous night.  From atop the hill, the vantage point is fantastic, granting miles of visibility.  East of the hill, there appears to be a bonfire plume.  I join Bonie with Selben, looking back to Audric and Oreiron. “You coming?"

We traverse the wood towards the plume of smoke, reaching a small hill where the bonfire is not far beyond.  We decide not to split the party and continue.  Though the trees become denser, most have fallen by this point in the year and visibility is good.  Beyond, we discover a small encampment of several crude tents with figures moving about.  None appear to be obviously warriors, several are women or older folk, so we approach.

One has red hair, potentially the Kezia from the night before.  As we get closer, we get the sense that we’re being watched and discover a pair of guards or huntsmen with longbows pointed at us.  They shout something in a language we don’t understand, and I try to defuse the situation.  The men don’t seem to understand, but our shouts are heard by the red-haired woman—it is indeed Kezia.  She explains that we are friends, and bids us to enter the encampment.

There’s perhaps a half-dozen crude tents, all surrounding a large bonfire with a roasting spit, all hastily constructed and obviously signs of a nomadic community.  A large, gruff man emerges from one of the tents, approaching.  I inquire of Kezia his name, and she reveals it to be Crahdorn, leader of their tribe.  There is some disdain evident in her voice.  I ask if there’s any appropriate greeting, but she ignores the question and starts speaking to Crahdorn in the strange language.

“He feels that you have come in answer to our prayer.  We are in need of a healer.”  I explain that Audric and I are instruments of our individual faiths and ask her to lead the way.  She leads us to a crude tent wherein a man lies, one of his legs recently amputated.  He has lesions, apparently from disease as opposed to wounds.  Kezia explains that her tribe had been battling with a vicious tribe of goblinoids, bugbears, over territory in the Lurkwood.  They had been skirmishing with the bugbears throughout the fall, and those that were wounded in the fights are the ones falling victim to the sickness.  They call it maildé nor, the “black rot.”

Kezia’s tribe was split into two groups, the larger seeking the sanctuary of Griffon’s Nest, a far-off place of succor for her people.  The smaller group, Kezia’s, was too weak to catch up and they’ve been stranded in this part of the forest.  Less than a dozen of their original number remains.  The dance in the forest last night was a prayer for strength to rejoin their kin.  She reveals that her brother, leader of the tribe, is with the larger group, leaving Crahdorn as the de facto leader of the remnants.

I ask her how it is that she speaks our language, but no others do—she reveals that she can understand some languages intuitively, without study.  I inquire what her folk call themselves, and she hesitates before answering “The Anaithnid.”  If there is significance in that name, we don’t know it.  Kezia reveals that her clan venerates Uthgar, the Battlefather.  

It is a faith with which I am familiar, sharing many aspects with the parts of Malaran faith that I relate to.  Crahdorn seems anxious for an immediate response, so I challenge his authority, telling him to see to his camp and leave this situation to us.  He stands down, at least for the moment.

From the state of the ill-struck man, Kezia explains that it’s likely he’ll not live for much longer, perhaps a day.  Audric attempts to bring the healing magic provided to him by his goddess Mystra to bear—the man looks refreshed, with a renewed vigor, but it does nothing to combat the advance of the disease and the man is still clearly in pain.  I bring a different spell to bear, testing a blessing of Malar to dispel any evil that may have hold over the man.  I burn a bundle of twigs and grasses, spreading the smoke over the man’s head and lay a hand upon his forehead, but no relief is evident.  Audric attempts a divination to discover if the affect is magical in nature, and it appears that it is not.

We are a granted a day by Crahdorn to rest and recover spells, Audric willing to attempt on more prayer in the morning.  I ask Kezia if she has any more thoughts about our conversation from the previous night.  “Sometimes I have memories of people I’ve never met, and events I was never a part of.”  She reveals that we weren’t one of those memories, but she was nonetheless drawn to us last evening, and again when she saw us upon the hill today.  I feel like there’s some significance to the words but can’t piece together anything meaningful.

Audric is left alone with Kezia, who seems to have more than a passing interest in the warrior.  He asks her how she knew that he carried the ring, or at least how she knew he was in possession of a powerful artifact, but she answers his question with a question of her own, about her great-grandmother Kezia.  Audric relates the tale of our encounter, and Kezia says that her great-grandmother died on the day she was born, and that’s why she bears her name.  “That is not all of hers that I have come to bear.  My great-grandmother had an ability.  Some would call it a gift, others a curse—the gift of sight.”

Around the middle of the day, there’s a commotion in the small community.  One of the women has discovered the rash upon her arm.  Kezia doesn’t think she was wounded, but the woman discovers a small cut on her arm, revealing that she cut herself on a briar when retreating from the hill last night.  “To this point, it has been only men.”  The camp seems shaken by the discovery.

The rest of the day is tense and somewhat sobering.  The camp is very poorly rationed, so I share Maglarosh’s magic spoon, providing plain but filling and healthful sustenance for all in the camp.  Crahdorn seems extremely tense, and focuses his intent on Bonie, regarding her with a sneer.  He says something crude, obviously offensive, in his tongue, and we compel Kezia to translate.  “He told two of his men to bring her to his tent shortly.”

Weapons are drawn hastily, Audric and I but a moment behind Bonie’s own blade, and Crahdorn exits his tent.  Kezia confronts him, saying something incomprehensible and perhaps mystical.  Unsure whether it’s a spell or some other form of compulsion, we ask Kezia for an explanation.  She replies that “Crahdorn says he will not lay a finger on any of our group this night.”  Not convinced at all of Crahdorn’s integrity, I cast what protections I can upon our camp as well as outside Crahdorn’s should his intentions prove contrary to his vow.  Fortunately for all, nothing untoward happens throughout the night.  Audric prepares Mystra’s blessing, one of the most powerful yet the warrior has brought to bear, and we all wait, tense.  The entire camp shares our anxiety and anticipation.

When the spell is cast, there is no visible effect.  Kezia asks what happened, sensing our disappointment, and Audric explains that we’ve done all that we’re capable of doing.  Crahdorn overhears and becomes enraged, barking out more orders, presumably angry at the inefficacy of our help.  He gestures again towards Bonie.  Kezia translates, saying that he demands a sacrifice for our failure, and that we’re to be detained.  We stand, ready to defend ourselves, but two of Crahdorn’s men intervene with bows.

Audric and I immediately bring the wrath of our respective gods to bear.  Not wanting to slay the entire encampment, I inform Kezia that anyone who interferes will die. Whatever Crahdorn’s intentions, they will not come to pass this day.  A wave of rats is summoned forth to attack Crahdorn, gnawing at the exposed part of his lower body.  I freeze the air around his limbs, paralyzing him amid the tumult of voracious rats.  The bowmen, shocked by what’s happening, fire two awkward arrows but they are far from their mark, as if the men are almost afraid to fire.  

We try to calm the rest of the men of the camp, letting them know that we have no desire to hurt anyone else.  “Crahdorn demanded a sacrifice,” we explain, gesturing towards the fallen leader.  I step forward to end Crahdorn’s life, and none bar my way.  I shove a knife through his jaw into his skull, and he crumples immediately.  I reach down and cut a trophy from his belt.  There’s a tense moment of silence as we decide what to do, knowing that the next words carry great importance. “How soon can you be ready to travel?” I ask Kezia, meaning the whole camp.  “We leave to find help for those sick among you.”

“There is still time to save Nurué,” referring to the diseased woman.  “We must hurry.”  Others in camp begin to speak, and Kezia translates.  “They say that you defeated Crahdorn… the tribe is yours now.  You must help me find my brother, in Griffon’s Nest.”

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Map of the lands north of Longsaddle

The villages of Xantharl's Keep and Grunwald lay betwixt the city of Mirabar and the hamlet known as Longsaddle. The safe haven called Griffon's Nest lay somewhere beyond the Lurkwood.

Click to enlarge

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.