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In the Shadow of the Wood - a frontier campaign - UPDATED 12/28


Hi all!

OK, if you happen to be reading this because you've seen my name associated with another story hour, let me tell you up front that this story hour is NOT the continuation of Small Beginnings. D'Shai and I are actually in a holding pattern on that one until we either get a fairly massive backlog of posts we can dole out on a consistent basis or until things get back to normal at his house post-baby. Don't worry, we'll keep that particular audience posted.

On the other hand, if you aren't one of those people (or if I haven't scared you off yet), I hope you enjoy what I've got for you today: a SH based on the exploits of another campaign, except this time its with me wearing the DM hat. I'm primarily writing it "keep a hand in" and to continue loosening the DM rust. And, if I feel like it, I might just pull the old switcheroo on you and let D'Shai write an update or two.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!


Halfday, 5th week of Spring, 2476 ER (Empire Reckoning)

Chase soared above the canopy of trees. It has been too long, he thought to himself, much too long. Still… Out of the corner of his very sharp eye, Chase saw movement – a rabbit – below the leaves and dipped slightly before he remembered that he had something of a schedule. Besides, there will be time for that later, after I see Wood.

For long moments, Chase glided easily into the lazy southern spring breeze. He climbed for a bit, and closed his eyes, feeling the noonday sun on his back and letting the wind pluck at his feathers. Then he opened his eyes and dove toward a familiar clearing, half expecting to be bowled over by Wood’s exuberant canine from the moment talon hit turf.

Yet when he slowed his descent and landed, no shaggy wolf greeted him. Probably just running later than usual. Oh well, I can wait.

And, perched atop a thick branch, Chase waited. He waited until the sun set, throughout the full moonlit night, and until day break. Then the druid in eagle’s form took flight to the north.

Something is wrong…


Eighthday, 7th week of Spring, 2476 ER

Fen sat on his haunches beneath the trees in the middle of the overgrown trail, running his hands over the shallow ruts that the wagon had left in the hard packed earth. In a ritual he had repeated three times since the trail left the road, he scanned the impromptu and now abandoned campsite for details about his quarry. So far, the Imperial couriers he followed had shown that they knew their basic woodcraft – aside from the trio of hastily covered firepits he had found over the past two days, they had been careful to leave nothing incriminating behind. Based on how well they camouflaged their movement off the Reed Trail and onto this little used and overrun south western path, he imagined that the Imperial felt secure enough in their skills that they didn’t expect any sort of pursuit.

Of course, they didn’t know that they were being tracked by one of the Farisian Forward Company. Fen smiled at the thought and hefted his ash bow. If he had his way, they never would; and if they proved… uncooperative… when he caught up to them, then BlackScore and her quiver full of wooden friends would take care of them under the waning moon.

He struck out on the trail at a brisk walk, following the shallow ruts where he could and scanning the growth around the pathway when he couldn’t. Throughout the morning he trudged, until he hit a long clearing in the tree cover. Then, when he stepped into the sunlight, he heard a familiar screech from above the trees. He squinted as he searched for the source of the cry, and sighed heavily when he saw an eagle with red and brown feathers drop down to perch on the trunk of a fallen tree.

“Chase,” he said matter-of-factly. “Noah told you where to find me.” The bird of prey cocked its head to the side in what Fen had come to know as a nod and gave a short, shrill squawk. “Look Chase, I’m on the trail of some Imperials carrying something important, and I don’t have time to play guessing games today. What do you want?” The bird spread its wings and half flew to the southern edge of the clearing. The eagle let loose another piercing cry and then disappeared into the forest again, leaving Fen with a clear view of a climbing pillar of smoke in the distance.

Fen cursed. Since New Year he had seen three such pillars. Twice he had investigated only to arrive in time to see the homesteads of his fellow frontiersmen burned to the ground, the adults missing, and the livestock slaughtered. On the last, he saw a babe in swaddling left for dead among the livestock and already growing cold; as cold as the young girl trampled under the hooves of Imperial Cavalry fifteen years ago.

Without a backwards glance he ran after the bird. It was time to introduce the firestarters to BlackScore.


Ezekiel drove his knee into the belly of the big goblin, folding it nearly in half before bringing his heavy maul across the back of its head. The savage’s lifeless body crumpled to the ground as its even larger companion’s weapon raked across the overlapping scales covering the holy warrior’s back. In return, the young man whispered a quick prayer to the Daughter’s Son, felt the holy power guide his hand, and smote the beast. The goblin fell like a well cut tree.

Finally free of his foes, glanced quickly around for Jex. Across the smoky haze of the clearing, near the raging fire that was once the rear of Joss and Nelli’s farmhouse, his misguided and unarmed companion stood over the motionless form of another of the larger goblins as he dodged the axe of a fourth, and smaller, savage. Even unarmed, the strange man from the heart of the Empire had the upper hand; the goblin must have come to the same conclusion, for it turned and ran into the woods, leading Jex away from the fires.

Uttering another prayer, asking vigor and swiftness enough to do what must be done, Ezekiel ran around to the front of the house. The barn had collapsed into a fiery heap – what or whoever was trapped inside were long dead – but there still might be survivors in the house. The young man ran to the door and pushed only to find it blocked or barred. Lend me the strength of your Grandfather’s rays, my Lord, he prayed, and launched himself at the portal. The wood splintered as the door burst inward, with Ezekiel right after it.
The back half of the single chamber stood wreathed in flames as did the roof, which threatened to collapse with every crackle and creak. The young man scanned the smoke filled room with watery eyes, until the came to rest on the man, woman, and child he sought. They lay atop one another, largest to smallest, stacked neatly against the wall in a pool of blood being quickly consumed by the fire. Ezekiel fled the house as the roof fell, wiping away tears not entirely caused by smoke.

The young man stared at the roaring fire for a while, singing softly to himself and to the Son, and praying silently that he would see them in the Great Reward.

Some time later, Jex returned. He was scratched all about, and his loose fitting trousers had torn, but he seemed other wise unharmed. He stood beside the young man in silence as the farm burned. “You said you knew them,” he said.

Ezekiel paused for a moment, “I did.”

“And you had letters for them.”

The young man sniffed. “I do. I used to read them their letters. Joss and Nellie couldn’t read. I was going to teach little Bethany next spring.”

“Then let them hear them one more time before they make the long journey home. Give them good tidings one last time before Rao calls them as he sets.”

Ezekiel looked Jex for a moment. The older man had called the Grandfather by name. That marked him as one of the Children, and a heretic. That did not make his words any less true. The younger man reached his hand into his small satchel and retrieved a tiny bundle, and began to read.

An hour later, as the fires began to gutter, they saw an eagle fly into the clearing, followed by a large, rough looking man Ezekiel recognized as a recluse who lived west of Mansker’s Fort. The man held a long black bow in one hand, and a nocked arrow in the other. He called to the pair in a cold, hard tone.

“Tell me who did this.”
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Ninthday, 7th week of Spring, 2476 ER

Jex grimaced as the wind shifted. For much of the morning, he had had the good fortune of being upwind of his new traveling companions. Admittedly, that position came with a few distinct disadvantages – most notably the view – but he had supposed that following the big brown bear’s backside was preferable to smelling it. Now it looked, and smelled, like he would have to deal with both.

He supposed that it could be worse; he could be directly in front of the animal, like the tall, rangy man Ezekiel called Fen. Then he would be the one dealing with the bear’s breath and drool, much as he had when the beast roused him from his sunrise meditations by resting his great, furry head on the monk’s shoulder while trying to say good morning in his own bearish way.

Just as Jex’s nose was hit by the first wave of bear musk, he saw the trunk of a fallen tree just off the trail. Its passing had left a hole in the canopy and rays of sunlight streamed down. He hopped atop the log to bask in the sun and looked ahead at his companions:

Chase, in the form of an eagle, flew ahead of them, landing occasionally to preen his feathers as he waited for the rest. It seemed to the monk that the shapechanger almost preferred his bird form to his natural one: an observation Jex had made early the previous evening when Chase cocked his head to the side while listening to Ezekiel and Fen discuss where the goblins had come from.

Well behind Chase, Ezekiel moved purposefully over the trail at the head of the short column. Jex watched him as he stomped through the forest, glancing back occasionally at Fen for direction but unwilling to let the older man lead. The Servant of the Son moved as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders – as so many of the Misled did – and Jex wondered if the younger man had let the previous day’s events could his judgment.

A few feet behind Ezekiel strode Tach Fenwood or, as he had said many times, simply Fen. The tall man seemed uncomfortable walking on the trail; twice he had pulled and nocked an arrow at the sound of a bird in the trees. The man looked competent, practiced, and more than a little uneasy. Jex supposed that if he were the one in front of Pug the bear he would be uneasy too.

The bear had appeared the night before, lumbering into the quickly made camp as the four men studied the clues the goblins had left behind. Fen, for the fourth time, was listing the clues aloud as Ezekiel interrupted. The taller man had just named the eagle talisman that each goblin wore, right after the fact that the goblins bore both war and throwing axes in a style uncomfortably close to Imperial make. Next, he would say that burning and slaughter was not normal for a goblin war party after which Ezekiel would interrupt by railing against the savages, as he had done three times before. When the bear plodded into the camp and bowled over Chase, Jex almost welcomed the danger as a diversion from the argument brewing. When the alarm proved to be false, with Chase laughing heartily and introducing Pug to the new companions, and the argument died Jex thanked Rao twice.

Jex stood for a moment more. Here he was, far from home, no closer to finding what he sought than before he came so far west, and saddled with fur unlikely companions, two of which at any one time had either fur or feathers.

Rao certainly had a strange sense of humor.

With a shrug and a sigh, Jex hopped off the trunk and trotted to catch up to his companions.


Tenthday, 7th week of Spring, 2476 ER

Fen scanned the forest for signs of the inevitable ambush. He saw all of the signs – the thickening canopy of leaves blocking out sunlight, the sudden quiet, the lack of forest debris to hide under and behind. The forest seemed so tidy, as if someone had gone through and cleaned the forest floor to deny him cover. It set his teeth on edge.

Worst, it had been hours since he lost the backtrail of the goblins that burned the farm. While the lack of undergrowth should have made their tracks easier to see, their trail was quickly lost in a jumble of others. Since mid morning he had been leading his unlikely companions down a lightly traveled road, and for the last hour they had been following a set of new wagon ruts. It was all entirely too easy, and he expected at any moment that a full goblin war party would materialize from out of nowhere armed to the overly large teeth.

Instead he heard screech of an eagle overheard as Chase flapped his wings and landed on the ground. The druid motioned toward the wagon ruts and gouged out a single line in the dirt in a prearranged signal.

“One mile?” Ezekiel asked, a little too loudly for Fen’s liking.

“Right,” Fen answered, “and keep your voice down. How many, Chase?” The druid flapped his wings more than a dozen times. “That many? This could be difficult.” He glanced over at Pug, who had begun roaming about sniffing at tree trunks. “Do you think you can get him to cause a disturbance?”

Chase cocked his head to the side and then nodded once.

“Good. OK, this is what we’re going to do.”


Fen darted quickly from tree to tree as he approached, cursing the lack of cover and hoping that the others wouldn’t be seen before they got into position. He peeked around trunk to see a score of goblins, large and small, less than one hundred yards away. Easily close enough for BlackScore to take its toll should something go awry, yet far enough away that they wouldn’t know what hit them until it was too late. For a minute, he half expected to see one of the lieutenants out of the corner of his eye, motioning the Company toward their target. Then he heard panicked shouts in goblin tongue, “Its got me! The tree’s got me!” followed by a roar from Pug.

In a heartbeat, Fen cleared the trunk and ran toward the noise. A few hundred paces away, a score of goblins of varying sizes gathered around a fallen tree, chopping at it with axes as its limbs entangled them. Behind them, Pug roared and Chase, standing on the bear’s back, screeched and the few goblins not tangled in the tree’s moving limbs threw an ineffectual volley of axes at the new threat.

Fen raced toward the tumult, drawing an arrow as he ran more out of reflex than anything else. Ahead, the goblins had begun to regroup, and he heard one of the larger ones begin barking orders. He slowed for a moment, ready to stop long enough to dispatch the goblins’ commander, when a bolt of lightning from the sky struck the goblin dead mid command; when he glanced upward, he saw no hole in the canopy and the hint of a cloudless sky. A moment later, Ezekiel slammed into the goblins’ flank, leading with his maul and felling one of the smaller goblins in a single blow. Likewise, Jex streaked across the forest floor as if flying, his feet barely touching the ground as he bounded over the patchy ground faster than any man should. With an open hand, he struck a large goblin in the neck. It dropped its axe and simply stood there, stunned.

The hint of a smile played over the warrior’s lips. Not only had his plan gone flawlessly, his new companions had proved even more capable than he had hoped. All that was necessary now was to feather another one of the goblin’s leaders and then hope the rest would parley. Scanning the field, he picked his target, a large goblin struggling to free something stuck in the entangling tree limbs.

Thirty paces away, Fen slowed and drew BlackScore back to his ear. “It’s almost too easy,” he said to himself.

Then, with a yank, the goblin pulled his prize free from the branches and to use as a shield against his attackers. The shield was gaunt, human, and female. She screamed in terror.

Fen growled. “Almost!”


Liquid Awesome
Well, consider this bookmarked for holiday reading!

Good to have you back, Enk, Small Beginnings or no.


Looks like I've got an audience. Well, I aim to please:


Tenthday, 7th week of Spring, 2476 ER

Chase, balanced precariously atop Pug’s back as the bear methodically mauled his way around the whipping and grasping branches of the druid’s entangling spell, watched as the goblin took his hostage. For a moment, he considered expanding the spell, and began the complex hopping and squawking routine that his avian form required to cast Circle Magic, but stopped when Fen began calmly negotiating with the goblin in the native’s own tongue.

“Let the woman go and you can still live,” the rangy marksman called. “If you don’t, we will be forced to kill every one of you.” Root and stone, thought Chase, he’s serious. As if to accentuate his point, Fen pulled back an arrow on his bow and brought it to bear on the goblin.

“There are things worse than death!” cried the goblin in return, “the masters will…” The goblin never finished his statement as Fen’s arrow buried itself deep in his shoulder. Half a heartbeat later, Ezekiel slammed against the native, knocking him away from the woman, who collapsed on the ground. The goblin snarled and shouted in return, “No survivors!” Then he whipped a throwing axe from its holster and let it fly. The weapon tumbled end over end, missing Ezekiel by more than a span, until it finally came to rest edge first in the fallen woman’s back.

In fury, Chase called a bolt of lightning from the clear sky that left the goblin a smoking husk. Then he did it again; and again. By the time the druid exhausted the spell, not a goblin was left standing. He scanned the survivors: Ezekiel stood somberly over the woman’s body with Jex nearby, while Fen began searching the ground as if looking for a trail. Pug rooted around at the edge of the entanglement, which still held several arrow-filled goblins fast. When the druid dismissed the spell, they fell as lifelessly as the branches that held them.

Only after the constant crackling and swishing of the enchanted branches ceased did Chase hear the sobs.


Jex had found them first, huddled under a wagon laden with forest debris less than a score of paces from the fallen tree. Their faces marked them as father and young son, something Ezekiel confirmed when he arrived and called them by name.

Now he watched from afar as the young man comforted the boy, lifting him up and carrying him as the boy sobbed and sobbed. He embraced the boy’s father as well, who looked on the verge of tears himself, and brought them both toward the monk. There he gently laid the boy in Jex’s arms and led the father nearer to the fallen tree. When the older man began to weep and groan, Jex patted the boy on the head and shushed him.


“Say that again,” Fen said with a disturbed look on his face.

“Simon said that there are dozens of them in there,” answered Ezekiel.

“Not that part.”

“That if one of them gets taken inside they don’t come out?”

“No. The last part.”

“Oh.” Ezekiel paused for a moment. “He said that, within the tree, the dead walk.”

“That’s what I thought you said.”

For long moments, the four men stood silently, digesting the news. Fen brought his hand to his forehead and rubbed his temples as if in pain; Jex pursed his lips in concentration; Chase simply looked sad; but Ezekiel fumed.

The young man finally snapped. “The Prince of Darkness himself could not be more evil than this!”

“Calm down, Ezekiel,” Jex said, laying a hand on the younger man.

“I will not calm down!” he cried, shrugging off the older man’s arm. “Didn’t you see what they’ve done? Can’t you see what they are? Savages!” He pointed at the corpses. “Even dead they still reek of evil.”

“We still don’t know why they’re doing this,” said Chase, “they could be…”

“You don’t understand,” Ezekiel said, more coldly this time. “I can see it in them.”

The men fell silent again. For long moments the only sounds they heard were those of Pug scratching his back against a tree a stone’s throw away.

Ezekiel again broke the silence, “Whether or not you come with me, I’m going to put an end to this.”

“No one said anything about you going alone,” said Fen. “But if we do this, we’re going to do it right.” The rangy man’s hard eyes scanned the other three men. “Chase, I need you to take to the air and give us an idea of the lay of the land. I want to know where that tree is, what’s around it, and any natural terrain we can use to our advantage – hills, drop offs, waterways, anything. I’m going to see if we can catch up to Simon and the boy and escort them close enough to the trail to get them back to Mansker’s. The old man will know what to do.”

“Where and when do you want to meet?”

“About a mile north of here, far enough away that we won’t have to worry about the scavengers that will be arriving shortly.”

Chase turned, his face flowing like quicksilver at his nose became a beak. As his feathers sprouted from new wings, Jex’s voice came from behind him, “And what should Ezekiel and I do?”

“You’re both religious men,” Fen answered matter-of-factly, “I suggest you pray.”


Chase flew under the ever thickening and ever taller canopy of the trees, his eagle eyes picking out details in the waning light while he mentally mapped the forest floor. I wonder if this would be easier as an owl, he thought, it’s like an endless night under these leaves. We’ll have to make sure that we bring our own light when we come.

Chase had swooped lower to get a closer look at the ground when the stench hit him. It was cloying and sickly, like a rotting stump. He climbed to escape it, but it clung to him like a spider’s web. The stink grew stronger as he came further south.

Worse, the darkness deepened at the same rate as the odor. In the darkness, Chase’s eagle eyes watered, and he finally roosted on a leafless branch over one hundred feet from the ground to clear both his vision and his head.

As he rested, he began thinking. This is all under Wood’s protection, so how could he have not told me about this? A tree large enough to shelter a small tribe of goblins and some men? How could he have missed it? It must be at least…

In the growing darkness, he saw the outline of the tree’s trunk. It’s bark was so dark as to be nearly black, and it looked sickly. Its leafless limbs wound their way through the high canopy, as if leeching life from the healthy trees around it, while the ground below was ringed with ditched filled with some vile liquid. And it was immense, larger than Mansker’s Fort – maybe even larger than King’s Crossing.

That’s not the home of a tribe, he thought as he fled the sight, that’s the home of an army.


Seconday, 8th week of Spring, 2476 ER

Ezekiel moved quickly along the banks of the creek. “Do you think they will take the bait?” he asked.

“We can only hope,” Jex said from behind him. Even with the quick pace Fen had set throughout the morning, the older man had yet to sound out of breath. “Though I must say, even if your plan doesn’t work it at least it will get rid of the stink.”

“That is a blessing, I suppose.” The young man glanced at the water as he trotted; already channels of fast moving water had cut their way through the slimy cover as it washed the sludge downstream toward the tree. A quick sniff told him that stench moved with the slime.

A few dozen paces ahead, Ezekiel saw Fen slow as the bear in front of him stopped. “What’s wrong, Fen?”

The tall man turned and put a finger to his lips, and then made his way almost noiselessly back toward Ezekiel, motioning for the two men to meet him halfway. He answered in low tones, “Chase just gave the signal. They took the bait and are heading this way. Looks like your plan to break the dam and wash away whatever poison those goblins have been feeding the tree did the trick, Ezekiel.” Jex patted the young man on the shoulder and smiled in approval. “But now we’ve got to move. Chase is going to lead his pet bear around to the hole he saw and you and Jex are going to follow. Meantime I’m going to do some more reconnaissance. Got it?”

The woodsman turned and moved away without waiting for an answer, breaking away from the creek bed and angling to meet the bear that had already begun to move deeper into the forest. In the distance, Ezekiel could make out the dark outline of Chase gliding from branch to branch, as if he were one of the Gatherer’s ravens leading the doomed to their final reward. With a shudder, he followed.


Jex shadowed Ezekiel as the younger man darted from tree to tree. The two had quickly fallen into a pattern since Fen’s departure. Wait, look, run, repeat; it wouldn’t have been possible if Chase hadn’t had a “discussion” with Pug that ended with the bear being left behind. The discussion itself was disconcerting: forever more, the monk would have the image of an eagle arguing with the bear in its own ursine tongue branded on his memory. In the end, Pug plopped down for what Jex was sure was a sulk. Now, that same eagle guided the two through the ever darkening wood, and as the light dimmed Jex soon lost sight of the druid.

That left him with only one guide, and he followed that guide as best he could, moving quietly from tree to tree and careful to never lose sight of the younger man in front. When, through the ever deeper darkness, he saw Ezekiel stop, he assumed they had reached their destination, and peered around his bark covered cover to see the tree that Chase had described two nights before.

The tree was twisted like a man bent with age and withered by illness, and it reached upward as if in defiance, its branches clutching at shadows in the darkness. Around it, in a great circle, was a moat full of the same green sludge that so recently filled the creek they had just left. Near the root was a cavernous opening lit by a series of torches on poles. Chase’s description had not done it justice in size or in spectacle, and even without the omnipresent stink from the sludge Jex was overwhelmed. He found himself wondering if their diversion would make much of a dent in whatever garrison the tree housed.

Jex stared at the tree for a long moment, until he saw Ezekiel signaling out of the corner of his eye. The monk waited a moment, and made his way to the young man’s position.

“That thing is huge,” Ezekiel whispered.

“Yes it is,” Jex said in return.

“And I think I saw someone in the opening.”

“Where?” Jex sidled around the tree trunk until he could get a better look, and saw four figures emerge from the hole in the tree. “Never mind. I see them. Two goblins and two men. The men are carrying buckets, and one of the goblins has a torch.”

“They headed this way?”

“No, toward the sludge.”

“Think we can make it there?

“Not before they kill the men. And I don’t want any more dead men on my conscience right now. But if we…” Jex’s voice faded as he saw a possible opening.

“I think I might have an idea,” Ezekiel whispered, “see I have this hat.”

“Follow me now.” Jex bolted from behind the tree and to another, and then another, hoping that Ezekiel was close on his heels. A glance over his shoulder proved that the young man was a few paces back, but would make it.

“You plan on telling me what that was about?” he gasped when he arrived at the new hiding place.

“The goblins just passed behind a tree. I saw the chance, and took it.”

“Tell me next time.” Ezekiel panted as he tried to catch his breath.

“There won’t be a next time,” Jex whispered. “By now they’re on their way back. This is as close as we get, unless one of us is a goblin.

“That’s what I was trying to tell you before. I think I’ve got a plan. When I started doing delivery for the Post, the Temple gave me a hat that allows me to change the way I look. It makes it easier for me to look presentable when I have to deliver to someone important. I’m not sure, but I think I can look like a goblin with it.”

Jex regarded the young man for a moment. “How would I be able to tell you apart from the real thing?”

“The hat. It doesn’t always look like a hat, but it’s always red. I’ll make it look like a red scarf. Good enough?”


“We’ll just walk right up and get a better look. I’ll be your goblin escort.”

“Just make sure that Fen doesn’t put an arrow in you.”

“Good point. You go first,” said Ezekiel, as he fished out a small, plain red cap from a satchel and set it atop his head. Jex watched as his features ran like water, eventually settling into something green and hairy. “How do I look?”

“Like a goblin.”

“Then let’s go.”


Fen crept from tree to tree as he wheeled around the trunk of the woody fortress back toward the north. The sabotage of the dam looked to have done its job: except for a pair of goblins guarding some human slaves carrying buckets, he hadn’t seen any sign of organized sentries. The open area around the tree seemed as dead as the tree itself. Even then, he was certain that the inside of tree held both more goblins and more slaves. The torches around the gaping hole in the tree were the clue: human slaves needed light to see, and needed guards if they were to remain slaves.

In the canopy induced twilight, Fen watched as the bucket bearers and their goblin guards trudged back into the opening. He gathered his feet under him, ready to move closer, when he saw Jex appear from behind a tree across the clearing. He was followed by a goblin. Fen could see no sign of Ezekiel.

The forest fighter uttered a soundless curse and hefted Blackscore, taking aim at Jex’s captor.