Shadows over the Sunderland

wolfheart

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Shadows over the Sunderlands


Prologue

In the beginning, Anu the Earthmother fled from the mad gods of the Far Realms. She bore a world where she could find refuge. She endeavored to protect her creation from the chaos by creating several spheres around the world to protect it and keep it separate from the swirling madness of the Far Realms. Exhausted from the enormity of her efforts, she fell into a deep slumber and began to dream. From her dreams came forth the great spirits of men and beasts. Her dream became surreal and she brought forth the fey and their kindred. Her dream became dark and creatures of flame and shadow were born.

From the shadows came one who would challenge the supremacy of Anu, and he made great mischief while the goddess slept. War raged across the world as the powers vied for dominion over Anu’s creation. Many of the spirits of men and beasts were seduced by The Enemy and fell to darkness.

After an age, Anu awoke to find her creation torn asunder. With a thought, she separated the spheres. She created the middle realms between the earthly realm of Gearda, the domain of men and Celestia, her heavenly abode. The fey where banished to Faerie, the dead given a place to rest and earn their celestial reward in the Oatherwold, and the four elements were given demi-planes on which to coalesce. The followers of The Enemy were of sufficient power to forge their own realms, the icy mountain of Niflhel and the fiery pits of Muspell.

Men soon found that they could still call the spirits from the middle realms to further their aims. The fey found ways back to Gearda and founded many twilit realms, and agents of Niflhel and Muspell brought terror and pain to the world of men.

Seeing the chaos and evil that her creations had wrought, Anu wept. Her tears were of silvery mithril, which gathered at the heart of the world. It was there that the dwarves found them, which led to Gearda’s salvation. Using the tears, they forged nine great seals that have barred the spirits from traveling to the realms of mortals. The gates were hidden and jealouly protected, and over time even their dwarven creators lost the knowledge of their locations.

The seals had two unintended effects that the dwarves could not foresee. The first being the loss of the connection to the middle realms would limit the potential of mortals. Everything and everyone to come after is but a dim reflection of the greatness of the previous ages. The other being that spirits in the mortal realm at the time of the Sealing would not be able to cross the barrier back to the middle realms, even in death. The only way that is open is to Oetherwold, and that path can only lead to the Celestial Realms. Though these spirits could be defeated and their physical forms destroyed, they stay in the mortal realm and coalesce once more in time and can never be truly destroyed or banished.

More than a thousand years has passed since the Sealing of the worlds, and some of the dark powers that were brought to heel in the aftermath have begun to rise again. Some are searching for the Seals, in the hopes of shattering them and returning to their homes. Others wish to bring the world that has bound them under their sway in punishment for their undoing.


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Here now is the epic tale of a few who stood against the shadow, as can be reckoned from the manuscripts in Ealdwitain’s libraries. I have done my best to compile the diverse records of these trying times in order to give an accurate telling of the tale. Many of the texts had to be translated from such disparate tongues as Harn, Jutan, Ahkadian, and Elvish. I was not permitted access to the runeward of the Dwarves of The Crown, so any contribution or corroboration those tracts could provide is missing from this volume. Some of the conversations and actions are taken from the personal journals of the esteemed Errol Tilmaran, of which only a few still exist. Some of the tale is a sub-creation of my humble hand, using all knowledge of those present to reflect the likely chain of events. I will leave it to the reader to decipher which is which.

Humbly submitted, 17th Erntemond 1579 MC.

Sir Lars Sigferend
Knight of Letters, Ealdwitains College
Northbridge, Mercia

Our tale begins….

Chapter 1

3rd Yuletide 1309 MC

The estate of Baron Aldin Dunwall lays in the rolling hills a day’s ride north of the Ducal seat in the great city of Northbridge. The Dunwall line has held these lands near the frontier, overlooking the great Lake Dwemerand for over a hundred years. A roaring fire is set in the hearth, the last of this year’s Yule log. The Baron stares into the flames, turning something metallic over in his hands as the chamber doors open.

Seven figures are led into his feasthall, chosen for differing reasons but all here for the same purpose.

First to enter is Jeyne Woods, the baron’s illegitimate daughter. She was born to an innkeeprer’s daughter in the village of Harth’s Cross, many days to the south of Northbridge. She is obviously of the baron’s line by her appearance sharing the same golden red hair and deep blue eyes. Her mother still sees the baron on occasion, and he has made sure that she did not want for the basics. In addition to his appearance, she shares the baron’s reckless nature. She left home at an early age, preferring to survive by her wits than to grow soft toiling at the inn. She took the longest to track down of all the company, the baron’s agents finally caught up with her in a gambling hall in the Waullen Isles.

On her heals is the dwarf warrior, Grimnir Bittersteel, arrayed in chain mail, a heavy hammer hanging at his belt. He comes highly recommended by friends of the Barons who dwell in The Crown, the dwarven homeland which lies not but four days north of the Dunwall estate. He is a craftsman of some potential, and said to be fierce in combat. He was contracted through the Society of Arms in Northbridge, shrewdly negotiating a higher rate for his service than is customary for one of his few years experience.

The other warrior contracted through the Society follows. He is Lucan van Dorne, a mercenary who has traveled much of the continent in service to several lords. He is from the Sunne city of Whitesails on the southern coast and trained under the mercenary captain Tharan in the Company of the Silver Wolf. He has only recently come to the north and many have speculated why he would leave such a prestigious company. Once word of his arrival reached the Baron’s ears he made sure to secure his services for this venture.

As the rest file into the room, Baron Dunwall continues to stare into the fire. Each of the company are offered seats around a great trestle table made of oak, pitted with years of use.

A man takes a seat near the head of the table, looking about in awe of his surroundings. In a former life he was a farmer, until he lost his family to illness. He has also been a drunkard, drowning the sorrow of his loss in wine and ale. He is now a cleric of The Trinity, the three daughters of Anu; Bestla the hearthguard, Damara of the sheaf, and Sirona of the healing waters. Brother Weyland has seen much in his thirty-four years, but he has never seen the feasthall of a duke of the realm.

Next to the priest sits the northerner, Beric Sunderholm. One of Baron Dunwall’s agents found him being prepared for a crow cage in the Sweonland hold of Malmstad. He heard the story of his sad life and bought his freedom with a weregild to the family of the fisherman he had killed in a bar fight the previous fortnight. He can be seen to finger the braid of golden hair tied around his neck, all that is left of his betrothed, killed by goblins in the days leading up to their wedding. The woodsman has lived in a rage ever since, stalking the north hunting and killing goblins in great numbers. His skills will be put to better use in short order.

Across the table sits the treasure hunter and scholar, Errol Tilmaran. He is of half-elven stock, orphaned at an early age and sent to work at Ealdwitain’s College. He spent more times in the stacks than at his duties and soon the headmaster enrolled in in bardic studies rather than have him continue to disrupt the workings of the college through his inattentiveness. He has been contracted to Baron Dunwall as a means to repay the cost of his training. He sits in dread, believing he is here to teach some young whelp his letters.

And the last to enter is the elven witch, Merilwen. She is the only one in the room who came to Baron Dunwall unbidden. Merilwen is the granddaughter of the greatest diviner of the age, the elf lord Telemin. He sent her for a purpose that only they share, but through consultations with the Baron it has been agreed that her presence in the company is indeed required. She moves across the room with the grace of her kind, seating herself next to Errol. She scans the room as one who is accustomed to far greater halls than this.

As all are seated, the steward and page leave the room, and the Duke stirs.

“A shadow grows in our lands,” He begins as he turns to face those assembled. “It has taken root in the north, and its vines and shoots will spread to every corner of the realm if we do not endeavor to stop it.”

“There are rumors and whispers that have some to my ears, of fell things moving in ancient holds in the Sunderlands. Goblins and worse have been encountered on the verges of the Westingdeep and the far shores of Lake Dwemerand. Just a fortnight hence, an ogre was trapped and killed by my men not a day’s ride from here. And giants have been spotted on the road to Elsir Vale by merchants coming up from the Sunne League.”

Beric noticeable stiffens at the mention of goblins, and he sets down his tankard and reaches for the braid around his neck.

“Many of you are also aware that the Queen in Kingsport has named herself regent until the young king is of age to ascend the Mercian throne,” the Baron continues. “She has done her best to quite the rumors about the circumstances of the kings sudden illness and death. Yet even now, she moves to consolidate her rule. She has called for my middle son, Aidan, to come to court. And I have learned that she has called sons and daughters of all the families that were most loyal or gained their lands from the King. She is setting up a court of hostages, insuring that none move against her as she establishes her dominion over our fair land.”

Baron Dunwall stops, looks down at the circular disk of silver he has been holding since they entered. With a snap of his wrist he flings it into the center of the table.

Brother Weyland gasps audibly as the disk comes to a stop, for he recognizes the symbol etched into the metal by a skilled hand. It is the sign of The Enemy, the nameless horror from the beginning of the world who strove for dominance against the Earthmother and who disappeared at the Sealing of the Spheres.

“But this is the most fearsome thing of all,” breathes the Baron. “The agents of The Enemy are abroad. This medallion was taken from the body of a half-goblin cultist who had been preying on the poor in the sewers of Northbridge. He was mad and gibbering when finally caught, mumbling on about the scrolls and the key. All he said over and over again was ‘Turn the Key that buried the Scrolls’. He finally went completely mad and beat his own head in against the bars of his cell.”

Silence settles over the room as the Baron lets this last revelation sink in with his guests.

Leaning heavily on the end of the table, he starts in again. “That is why I have assembled this company. We need agents working for our interests who are not directly involved in the current power structure. We have set our own designs in motion over these last several months, to counter these threats.”

“Your first mission will be to track down information about the medallion, and what the significance of the mad utterings of the cultist mean. ‘Turn the Key that buried the Scrolls’ must have some meaning that the cultist had not yet figured out. You are also tasked with tracking down these Scrolls and neutralizing them so they cannot be used by The Enemy.”

“The Priory of Movan might be the place to start, my lord.” Weyland interjects. “It is not known by many, but they have many manuscripts regarding The Enemy locked away deep within the vaults. That is one of the reasons the Priory was established, to safely house such dangerous tracts. I spent the early years of my clerical career there and know the Curate personally.”

“Fascinating, I had heard that all the writings regarding The Enemy had been destroyed in the years following the Sealing,” adds Errol. “This is quite the revelation.”

“Yes, yes, very good,” says the Baron. “This is why you are all right for this task. Your diverse skills and set of contacts will prove invaluable in accomplishing our goals.”

“I was not built for cracking books,” says Grimnir. “Cracking skulls is more to my skill set, if ya take my meaning.”

“There will be plenty of chances for that as well, master dwarf,” rejoins the Baron. “I would imagine that the burial place of these scrolls may be well hidden and guarded by some monstrosity.”

“And surly the resting place is full of traps, and treasure,” says Jeyne. “When do we get started.”

“It would seem you already have. I had thought it would have taken you some time to find a place to start your search. The revelation about the Priory of Movan has put you well ahead of our timeline.”

“I note you keep saying ‘we’ and ‘our’,” says Lucan with an inquisitive look on his face. “Who are these others of which you speak?”

“Ah, I was going to get to that,” replies the Baron. “I am but a cog in the wheels of a greater machine. There are many interests that are involved in this endeavor, and each of us only knows a part of the whole. This is done to protect the greater aims from being revealed by the capture of any one agent.”

“I can tell you, that we have acquired the rights to large tracts of land on the Sunderland side of Lake Dwemerand. I can also tell you that we have smiths in the Sunne League working day and night on arms and armor. I will leave you to fill in the rest. We are entering tumultuous times, and we plan to come out of them victorious.”

“What the Baron says is true, we have seen it,” says Merilwen. “It has been revealed in the Mirrors of Kelvanith. War is coming, and a shadow will rise, and the world will quail at its wrath before it is done. I wish it were not so, but our deeds will lead us into peril and we will all suffer torment before we rest.”

“Well, that fills me with confidence,” says Lucan. “At least now we know what we are getting ourselves ...”

BOOM, CRACK!!!

Lucan is interrupted by a sudden booming and the sound of splintering wood coming from the direction of the manors courtyard. The steward comes bursting into the room, panic clearly written across his features.

“…In to,” he finishes.
 

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wolfheart

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“I beg pardon, my lord, but the estate is under attack,” the steward states, trying to compose himself. “They have a wizard with them using fire magic, he blasted the gate. Captain Efran said they bear the queens standard on their tabards but did not make any attempt to parlay.”

The door to the feasthall opens again and a number of servants come rushing in bearing the arms and armor of the assembled company, the Barons grooms among them carrying his equipment. They rush about helping the company don armor and ready weapons.

The Steward continues, “In addition to the ruin of the gate, they have rushed for the chapel and put fire to the stables. They are using firepots, my lord. I fear the stables are a total loss. The guards are holding the mansion proper, they are setting a barricade around the front doors. The queen’s forces have not advanced otherwise, they are holding the gate, and we have been unable to identify the wizard.”

Other servants, kitchen staff and groundsmen, come into the hall from the kitchens. Fear is clearly written on their faces as they look to the Baron for direction. The Baron’s eldest son, Alton, bursts in from the direction of the Baron’s living quarters. He is armored and armed in masterwork gear befitting one of his station.

“Father, what are they doing. We sent them their hostage, what do they hope to gain from striking us openly,” Alton asks?

“I fear this was a part of their calculation all along,” replies the Baron. “They took the hostage to bring us to heel, now they must have assumed we would all retreat to our estate where they could deal with us all at once.”

Turning to the servants, he continues, “You all have my sincere apologizes, my faithful servants. It would appear the queen no longer sees my family fit to rule in her name. I would not have all of you throw your lives away. I would have those of you who wish it to leave under a white flag so that you must not share my families’ fate.”

Orders are given for a sheet to be brought from the bedrooms, and it is affixed to a pole. Baron Dunwall takes up the standard and moves out of the hall to the front doors. They are barricaded with overturned trestle tables and other furniture. He heads up the stairs to the second floor apartments and waves the flag outside one of the windows above the doors.

“Parlay! Parlay!” he shouts into the night.

There is no response for some time, and he shouts out again, “Parlay!”

Soon a figure can be seen to come out from the chapel, looking agitated. In a voice that sounds like death the figure hisses, “I will listen to your parlay. Am I speaking to Baron Aldin Dunwall?”

“I am Baron Dunwall, Yes,” he begins. “I demand to know why forces of the queen would invade my home. You have done great injury to my property already, setting fire to my stables and blasting my gate.”

“The queen has branded your family as heretical, owing to rumors at the court and verified by the symbols of The Enemy found all about your desecrated chapel. Your lands are forfeit and you are to be brought before the Queen to answer for your crimes,” the wizard retorts.

“These claims are outrageous,” the Baron stammers. “Our chapel has always been dedicated to The Trinity, and my family has served in the grace of their blessings for centuries.”

“The evidence present would suggest otherwise,” breathes the wizard.

The Baron is silent for a short time, as the gravity of the situation begins to settle on him.

The company listens to the exchange from the barricaded entry hall. They are all armored and arrayed for a fight should it come to that. They can hear muffled voices from upstairs as the Baron and his son presumably are discussing the situation and their options.

“I will go with you quietly if I must, but I would have my servants go free. They are blameless in this and I would have them removed from the situation unharmed,” the Baron shouts out to the wizard.

“This is agreeable, send them out to the front gate and we will see they are dealt with fairly. You and your kin are my real concern, not some potscrubbers and stableboys.”

Alton Dunwall comes bounding down the stairs, a look of resignation on his features. He gathers the servants and thanks them for their years of loyal service, apologizing for putting them in this situation. He makes clear that the family is not in league with The Enemy and that it some ruse of the queens.

This is met with a general murmur of ascent from the servants.

Asking the company to stay put, he leads them back to the kitchens and the barricade is removed from that door. The servants that wish to leave are led out by one of the senior cooks. The steward, several grooms, and a smattering of other servants remain, loyalty winning the battle against preservation that has rolled through all of their minds.

Alton returns to the entry barricade and gathers the companions.

“All is not lost, we have secret ways out of our home. Ways that were built by some of our ancestors that used to be utilized for smuggling. They were instrumental in my family’s fortunes in the early days. They have been so infrequently used of late that we are sure that the queen’s forces do not know about them.”

A commotion can be heard outside as the servants approach the queen’s forces, waving a white rag.

“Yes, yes, come along!” hisses the wizard condescendingly. “Prepare to be searched, we must insure that you are unarmed and that no trickery is afoot.”

The queen’s forces wordlessly line up the servants in the sickly light of the burning gate and stables. Their breath rising like mist off the lake as they kneel in the snow, hands above their heads.

This is when Beric notices it. No breath comes from under the helms of the soldiers. “Something is wrong,” he exclaims. “The soldiers, you cannot see their breath!”

That is when the world explodes into chaos.

A half dozen of the soldiers run through some of the kneeling servants with their spears. As the rest begin to run for their lives, screaming in fear, a number of figures spill forth from the chapel. It is hard to make out features, be they seem desiccate and dressed in what had once been fine robes.

These creatures tear into the flank of the servants that have fled for the gate. Savaging them with boney hands as they track them down in the snow.

From the ranks facing the house come hurling firepots, which smash against the exterior and burst into flame.
“Did you really think we would let anyone leave,” the wizard shrieks manically. “I think our parlay is at an end!”

The wails of the unarmed servants can be heard from the courtyard as they are tracked down by the soldiers. They are hewn down to a man, their blood staining the pure white snow.

The companions and remaining servants can only watch as this plays out in the dancing light of the burning buildings.

Smoke is beginning to fill the upper floors as the walls of the centuries old manor begin to burn.

The Baron comes down the stairs, his eyes filled with tears. His face showing they are for his beloved servants not from the smoke of the house fire.

“You must go my friends,” he says. “Take the secret ways. I had planned on the company leaving by that route already to avoid any prying eyes that might be watching our home. It would seem that my caution was prescient. Alton, you must lead them out and then make for our friends in the Sunne League. They will help us restore our names and our lands, I have no doubt of that.”

Alton looks confused, “Why do we not all leave by the secret ways? Father, what are you planning to do?”

“If we do not put up some defense, the wizard will think there is something amiss. We will buy you time with our lives, my son. You must carry on and avenge our deaths. Spread the word of what the queen is capable of, and rally our allies.”

“Do not throw your life away, Father, please.”

“We must make this stand,” he replies. “Now go, before it is too late.”

Alton embraces his father one last time.

Jeyne has been watching this scene in shock. She had not been under her father’s roof for more than a few days, and now she was going to lose him forever. She makes to go to her father but comes up short, remembering her place as the bastard daughter. Her father comes to her as Alton gathers the rest of the companions. He gives her an embrace, whispering something into her ear that causes the tears to flow from her eyes. They take one final look at each other and she follows the companions out of the entry hall.

As they leave the entry, the Baron starts to put out windows and the remaining servants begin to fire crossbows out at the advancing forces. They make their way across the feasthall, noting the smoke gathering high amongst the rafters. As they enter the kitchen the smell of death assaults them and several figures can be seen silhouetted against the open doorway, the barricade sundered.
 

wolfheart

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In case anyone is curious, attached is the house rules for the Sunderlands.
 

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wolfheart

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Below is the calendar for Gearda, at least in the west. It will help to follow the entries and apply seasons to the dates.
 

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wolfheart

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The company is confronted with four of the soldiers wielding spears, who from this distance can be seen to have rotten flesh below their armor, and three skeletons adorned in what looks like funerary attire. They have broken through the loosened barricade at the exterior kitchen door in the opposite corner of the large room from where the companions entered and are shambling over the debris. A large oak work table stands between them and the undead monstrosities.

Jeyne and Lucan are the first to react. Lucan moves to the far side of the room and around the work table, using it to protect his flank. His longsword and shield at the ready. Jeyne follows and takes up a position behind the table, her short swords in hand.

Some of the undead soldiers have cleared the debris field and advance up toward the table, raising their spears and preparing to strike. Through their helms can be seen dead, lifeless eyes and mottled skin.

Alton, who had led the group into the room, pulls up short. He recognizes the skeletons garb, as time ravaged as it is, as the funerary robes of his family. The monstrous wizard must have animated his ancestors from the mausoleum under their chapel to bolster his ranks. The shock is too much for him and he falls back against the wall next to the door, unable to act.

Grimnir and Beric have no such qualms about engaging the enemy. Beric fills the space at the opposite end of the table from Lucan, and Grimnir jumps up onto the table next to Beric. They each strike at the soldiers closest to them. Grimnir's Hammer strikes a glancing blow to the top of one’s head, denting the helm and skull underneath. Beric’s greataxe does far more damage, digging deeply through the shoulder and torso of another soldier, and it crumples to the floor releasing an oily green fluid and foul odor.

Merilwen holds her ground in the feasthall and begins casts a spell that causes a nimbus of golden light to settle around her and appear to be absorbed by her skin, which thereafter has a slight sheen to it.

Brother Weyland brandishes the symbol of his order, calling on the power of Bestla, the Hearthguard, to cleanse the undead taint from this home. A pulse of blue energy issues forth in a radius around the priest, washing over all in the room. The companions feel the reassuring warmth of the energy pass through them. It has an altogether different effect on the undead, they stagger as it passes through them as though the energy has a physical presence. It does not destroy them however, and they continue to advance.

Errol is the last to enter the room, short bow in hand and arrow nocked. He steps in front of Alton and fires at one of the soldiers who provides a clear shot over the table. The arrow flies true and strikes through one of the eyeholes of the helmet, snapping the zombies head back but it does not fall.

The skeletal ancestors of the Dunwall line have cleared the debris at the door. One advances on Lucan, scratching at his shield with bony fingers. One steps over the body of the fallen zombie and claws at Beric who deftly avoids the blow. The third skeleton clambers up onto the table and attacks Grimnir, but the act of climbing up has unbalanced the skeleton and it misses. The undead forces are pressing the companions at this point, with two zombies and three skeletons having advanced up to the table or its ends.

Jeyne slices at the skeleton on the table with her short swords, one of the attacks finding the back of what was once a human knee but it fails to affect the creature. Lucan has more luck, his longsword slicing a large piece out of the side of the dead soldier facing him.

The soldier retaliates with a spear thrust that slips under Lucan’s shield, piercing his thigh. Lucan gives a grunt of pain as the tip is drawn back out of the fresh wound. The other zombie, threatening Grimnir, is not as fortunate as his thrust is turned aside by the dwarf’s shield. The last zombie lumbers up to the ranks of the others at the far side of the table.

Weyland continues chanting a prayer to the hearthguard and another wave of blue energy pulses out from his holy symbol. Again the companions feel the warmth of the energy, and again the undead recoil slightly as if hit by a breaking wave on some distant shore. The enemy’s bodies are riven and rotting flesh falls from them, but they do not fall.

Beric and Grimnir both lash out with ferocious blows. The dwarf takes a mighty swing that not only shatters the body of the skeleton on the table, but follows through to remove the head from the shoulders of the zombie soldier on the floor in front of him. The ranger similarly shatters the skeleton in front of him with a great overhand chop of his axe.

Merilwen reaches through the doorway and pulls Alton back into the feasthall with her. She speaks calming words to him, which while they do not seem to have any magic behind them do much to bring him out of his shock.

Errol moves across the room and takes up a firing position behind the table, letting loose another arrow that glances off the brow of one of the skeletons to no effect.

The remaining skeleton overreaches for Lucan, unbalancing itself and exposing its neck. Lucan wastes no time in driving his sword down through the exposed bone, severing the head from the shoulders and ending the unlife of the creature. Jeyne takes advantage of the lack of a threat to climb over the table and move toward the exterior door, looking for any reinforcements that may be incoming.

The Last dead soldier makes a lumbering thrust with its spear, which Beric sidesteps. Grimnir attempts to swing at the zombie but misses as he steps into a bowl of salt on the tabletop. Beric finishes it however, as he spins around and cleaves the zombies torso in two, the follow through striking the wall of the kitchen.

Errol strides over the table behind Jeyne, and moves to the exterior door arrow at the ready. No other targets present themselves in the moonlight of the servant’s yard. The only sounds that can be heard are the crackling of the fires that have been set outside.

“The yard is clear, I don’t think anyone will see us go,” Errol informs the others.

“We are not going that way, Follow me,” Alton responds as he stumbles back into the kitchen, steadied by Merilwen.

Beric and Grimnir slide the table out of the way so they can pass without stepping over the undead, and avoiding the green oily fluid that escaped the zombies at their death. Alton then leads them to a door opposite the exterior door. He opens it to reveal a stone staircase leading down into the dark.

Weyland moves to the aid of Lucan, touching the wound and grasping his holy symbol he invokes a prayer to Sirona the Healer. Weyland's hand glows with a blue light which seems to melt into Lucan’s thigh, knitting the wound and restoring vigor to the raven haired warrior.

Lucan thanks him for the miracle.

“The secret ways leave the estate from beneath,” he motions for everyone to head down. We could use a light if anybody has one at hand.

Merilwen obliges, with a wave of her hand the tip of her staff begins to glow with a golden light.

The companions leave the carnage of the kitchen behind and descend into the cool basement of the burning manor.
 

wolfheart

First Post
Upon reaching the bottom of the stair, the company find themselves in what appears to be an average root cellar. Hung about are various herbs, set to dry. Salted meats, sausages, and smoked fish are arranged on racks in careful rows. Bags of potatoes, carrots and leeks are neatly stacked against the cool stone walls. They start to think that Alton has lost all sense.

Alton moves through the group, gathered in the entrance to the cellar. He moves to a rack containing hundreds of wine bottles and holds his hand out as if counting. He suddenly reaches out and grabs at one bottle, pulling it part way from the rack. A mechanical clank as of a large latch can be heard and the rack swings inward. Beyond is revealed a vault roughly fifteen feet wide and some forty feet long. The walls are lined with shelves containing all manner of chests, boxes and displays. It appears to be a treasure trove.

As the company move toward this newly discovered room, Beric grabs some smoked fish, and Grimnir a sausage. Beric munches on the fish, while Grimnir stows the sausage.

“What,” he says as some of the others look at him quizzically. “Who knows how long it will be until we can find provisions again.”

Aton waves them on, into the vault. “There will be plenty of stock on the other end of the tunnel. Father had arranged for full provisions to be laid for you so you could start your mission as soon as possible.”

Once everyone is in the vault, Alton activates another lever and the wine rack swings closed, sealing them in the long room.

“I don’t mean to quibble, but I don’t see any tunnel,” Errol quips.

“Have patience,” Alton replies. He moves through the vault to a section of wall about ten feet from the far end. It consists of a large display case, reaching from floor to ceiling, containing what are apparently many tokens of past adventurers. A long serpentine tail, a golden cup, a shadowbox containing mounted claws of various creatures all look to be hung in there with care. Alton slides his fingers under the edges of the frame of the case and a clicking sound preceded the case sliding back and into a notch in the wall. Beyond is revealed a tunnel of worked stone, running off at an angle into the darkness.

Lucan is about to step over the threshold when Alton stops him with an extended arm.

“You don’t want to go in there yet,” warns Alton. He then goes back across the vault room and opens a small box, removing a key. He comes back to the tunnel entrance and slips the key in a well hidden slot in a joint in the worked stone of the arch leading into the tunnel and turns it. Gears can be heard to be turning in the wall.

“Now it is safe,” he says, walking across the threshold into the tunnel.

“What was that all about,” asks Jeyne.

“The key deactivates the pressure plate in the floor,” Alton replies. “Had we stepped on it while active, a ten by ten foot chunk of the ceiling would have dropped on us. That would have severely hurt our chances of escape.”

Once through the doorway revealed by the disappearing trophy case, Alton motions that all should move down the tunnel a short distance. He then presses a stone in the wall, pushing hard. It moves into the wall a bit and then springs back. Gears can be heard to be turning again and the trophy case moves back into place.

“We should make haste,” he says. “We have well over a mile to go until we reach the other end.”

The company heads down the tunnel, moving in the glow of Merilwen’s staff. As the walk, many of the company note the grooves worn in the stone of the floor as of the passage of decades of wheeled traffic. Eventually the come to a larger chamber where some crates and boxes are stacked against the walls. They move on through an arch at the opposite end of the chamber and continue on for several hundred more feet.

Eventually the come to a stone wall, what appears to be a dead end. Alton goes to the left side of the tunnel and pushes hard on the wall. What appeared to be a dead end swings out on a balanced hinge, revealing what appears to be a stable carved out of the rock. Several of the stalls contain horses and a couple ponies, which look to the swinging chunk of wall and the newcomers without distress.

Alton leads them across the stable to the doors. The company can feel the bite of the midwinter night air as the doors are slid aside. They see that they are down by the river, at the mill owned by the Dunwall’s. The rushing of ice cold water can be heard foaming through the cataracts the power the mill. There is a modest cottage next to the mill and a light can be seen coming from curtained windows.

As they walk out into the yard of the mill, they can see the flickering glow of what must be the burning estate over the hill in the distance. Alton and Jeyne stop at the sight and share a dark look. Hey all move to the cottage and Alton calls at the door.

“Hobb, open up… All has gone wrong, we must get away with all due haste.”


-----

The door to the cottage swings open, and what looks to be a child stands silhouetted in the frame, backlit by the lamps and fire in the hearth. He motions for the company to come in, and looks around the yard before moving back into the cottage.

Once all are inside the cramped quarters, the company can see that the child is actually a Halfling, a rare sight this far away from their holds in the lands between Mercia and the Sunne League far to the southwest. There are two other men in the cottage also, both having the look of simple laborers.

“The packs your father ordered are in the back room,” the Halfling says, motioning to a doorway at the back of the cottage’s main room. He then makes a slight bow to the company and introduces himself. “Well met, I am Hobb Longshadow a steward of Baron Dunwall. I usually take care of special requests for the Baron, much like this one.”

“Now Alton, what is this talk about everything going wrong, you are all here sooner than I expected but that is not cause for alarm.”

“You do not understand, all is lost at the estate. The Queen has sent some vile necromancer who raised our dead ancestors and sent them against us. They have put the whole of the grounds to the torch. Father stayed to give some resistance in the hopes that we might get away…” Alton speech drifts off as the gravity of the last hours events begin to sink in.

Hobb can be seen to become shaken, too. He reaches for a chair to steady himself. “This is grave news. We knew the queen was consolidating her rule, but would have never guessed she would openly move against our houses. Well then, it is truly prescient that we had planned for the flight of our new companions through the secret ways.”

Mastering himself, Hobb begins to give orders to the laborers. He tells them to get a couple of ponies loaded with the packs. The laborers disappear into the back room and come back out loaded down with gear. They squeeze past the companions and out the door of the cottage, headed for the stables.

Once the laborers are gone, Alton introduces the companions to Hobb. Hobb is especially glad to meet Jeyne, as she has Dunwall blood flowing through her veins. He also seems quite pleased to meet Merilwen, expressing great admiration for her grandfather and mother. He seems to be sizing up the others as though he knows of them and is trying to make his knowledge comport with the men present. Everyone in the company gets the impression that he may have had a hand in their selection for this enterprise.

Then the discussion turns to the task at hand, namely the investigation into the amulet. Brother Weyland produces the item from his belt pouch and lays it on the table. Unease settles over the room as the object is exposed to their sight.

“I had mentioned to the Baron that the Priory of Movan contains vaults that hold some manuscripts about The Enemy, we might learn something about this vile talisman by studying them,” offers Weyland.

“Aye, that would seem to be the place to start,” agrees Grimnir.

“That is two days travel to the north of here,” says Beric. “Surely the queen’s forces would catch up to us before we could get there.”

“That assumes they are going to be looking for us,” Lucan says. “I don’t mean to speak out of turn, but the necromancer may not have known of the tunnel. If he had, he surely would have sent a contingent here to bottle us in. It will take some time for the flames to die down and for them to search the rubble. It could be a day or more before they figure out that anyone escaped the flames.”

“Additionally, the necromancer may not know that your father had engaged us in any kind of mission, or about the amulet,” Jeyne adds. “We may have a small window to get away without them suspecting.”

“I agree,” Merilwen says. “For this purge, for it is not just here that the queen has struck, was foreseen by my grandfather. Many of the families with the strongest ties to the old king will be similarly decimated. That is part of the reason I was sent, to forewarn the Baron and to insure that we escaped the flames.”

This revelation brings the conversation to a halt, and the room becomes as silent and somber as a funeral.

“You knew this was coming?” asks Errol, breaking the silence. “Why did you not warn us, or the Baron?”

“I did warn the Baron, he was quite aware of the danger at his doorstep. But through lengthy counsel with my grandfather, this course was chosen. Our eventual victory could only be preserved by making the queen believe she has been successful, and by using agents to further the Baron’s designs. Great and terrible things have been set in motion, and we have our small part to play in making sure that the forces of good prevail.”

“Well, you could have let the rest of us in on this before the necromancer appeared, this is not what I had signed on for,” Errol retorts.

“This is exactly what you signed on for, Errol. You have longed to escape the dull existence of the college and your tomes, to find the missing pieces to the puzzle of what happened after the sealing. How could all the knowledge of those first centuries been lost. You knew that kind of secret was not going to be found in some comfortable parlor, spelled out for you by some courtly sage. Those kinds of secrets are found in dank ruins, protected by dangerous traps and vile curses, and you cannot wait to find them. This is exactly where you long to be.”

This strikes close to the truth, and Errol is cowed into silence.

It is then that one of the laborers comes back through the door of the cottage, startling some of the company at his sudden appearance. He goes to the back room and comes back out with more supplies and heads back for the stable, closing the door behind him.

The urgency of the laborers movements serves to focus the conversation back on their current plight.

“So, we need to head for the Priory. Hoping that the Baron’s sacrifice has bought us time to get away,” says Lucan.

“Yes, the Priory seems a fine place to start. But we are not all following that road,” replies Alton. “Hobb and I are going to meet our contacts in the Sunne League, to share the news of what has transpired here tonight and to make sure my father’s plans continue unabated.”

“Hobb, you and I you mean,” says Jeyne. “Father said I should go with you, which is what he whispered to me back in the manor at our parting. He wishes for me to travel with you, he seems to think I will be of use working with our allies.”

“If that was Father’s wish,” Alton replies coolly, stressing the word father. “Then I guess you are traveling with us.”

“Yes, I can see the wisdom in this choice,” adds Hobb, hoping to break the tension. “She will undoubtedly be of use, as she has seen much of the west and will help us avoid some of the pitfalls of traveling abroad. I will tell the laborer’s we will be one more in our party.”

With that, Hobb bounds out the door for the stables.

“The rest of you, then, should make for the Priory. Provisions and traveling gear can be found outside in the stable. You will also be given a couple ponies to aid in carrying your supplies. To make things clear, as father did not get to finish, you are to find out what you can about this amulet. He thinks it is a key of sorts; remember ‘Turn the Key that buried the Scrolls’. You are to find out what that phrase means, and if you can procure the ‘scrolls’ mentioned by the mad cultist. We should not be back in country for some time, but we will have an agent in the frontier town of Fairhill. I do not know the agent’s identity, but they will know you. You are to report to the agent once your mission is complete, or alternately you can flee to that town should you find yourselves in danger. Whatever you do, do not let the amulet fall into the hands of these cultists. The consequences of that would be dire indeed.”

So it was that six of the companion’s; Beric, Errol, Grimnir, Lucan, Weyland and Merilwen struck north for the Priory of Movan. Draped in heavy woolen cloaks and furs and with two ponies in tow, somewhat laden with trade goods. They looked to an untrained eye like a desperate merchant striking out into the winter on a small trade mission.

The other members of the company; Alton, Jeyne and Hobb headed to the south along the road to Northbridge. Alton and Jeyne were stowed in a wagon, under a pile of furs. Hobb and one of the laborers rode on the board of the wagon and the other laborer rode on a pony behind them.

As the figures left the mill, heading in opposite directions, a light snow began to fall and the wind began to pick up. Another fortunate coincidence, as soon the trails they left in the snow was erased leaving no clues for their eventual pursuers.

-----

The last night of the Yuletide in the year 1309 became known as The Burning Yule in Mercia. Several houses of prominent families burned in what the crown at the time described as ‘the immolation of their treacherous lines in the fires of their abyssal masters’. The lines of the Cromin’s, the Haight’s and the Lormund’s were ended that night in the flames of their estates. Other families were captured, some of them were killed, some imprisoned, and some sentenced to fates far worse.

News was spread about those targeted throughout the cities and towns of the realm. The families were accused of being in league with The Enemy and they were in part responsible for the old king’s death the previous summer. Having such news come from the queen’s own heralds had a strong effect on the commoner’s at the time. All assumed the news was true, as they had no cause to doubt the word of the queen. This was a master stroke of propaganda on the queen’s part, and did much to shade the opinions of the populace for some time thereafter. Allowing her reign to take root and providing the needed shadow of a menace at play in their midst to justify the draconian measures her rule would take in the following years.

-Lars Sigferend
 

wolfheart

First Post
1st Eismond 1309 MC

In the hours after midnight, a cart rolled through lightly blowing snow headed towards Northbridge. In the far distance, the glow of an enormous fire can be seen in the cloudy night sky, all that remains of the Dunwall estate. Hidden in a niche under a pile of furs and leather, a son and a bastard daughter both deal with the loss of a father.

“I am sorry Alton. Father really seemed to be a great man.” Jeyne says in a reserved tone.

“Do not call him that again,” he replies abrasively. “You may carry his blood, but you do not have the right to call him ‘father’. Why he spent time and resources to search for you is beyond my comprehension. He should have been relieved that you were lost, and left you that way.”

Jeyne is taken aback at the hostility. She should have seen it coming as Alton had not said two words to her in her days at the estate leading up to the events of the previous night. But she thought the loss of their shared parent would have softened that edge.

“Had he not come for me, and the others, his death would have been in vain. At least now we have a chance to avenge him and carry on his investigations. Something is at work here, something larger than you or me or the Baron,” she says.

“I could have handled all of this myself,” he says. “I told him as much, but he kept insisting that this was the better way.”

“Then trust in his wisdom.”

“It seems I have no choice. As that is all I have left now.”

Jeyne lets Alton’s words hang in the clinging air of the compartment in the wagon. She turns herself into a more comfortable position and leaves the firstborn son of the Baron to brood in the dark.

-----

2nd Eismond 1309 MC

The light snow and gentle winds of the previous day are but a memory as dawn breaks on the second day of their journey. Augmented by the proximity to the great lake Dwemerand, the storm grows in intensity. The stinging wind drives snow into the eyes and every loose fold in the cloaks of the companions and slows their progress. They take some small comfort in the thought that tracking them in this storm will be near impossible for the necromancer and his minions.

They have traveled without sleep, wanting to put as much space between them and their presumed pursuers as possible. They are flying to the relative safety of the Priory of Movan, still a half day away as near as can be told. The decision not to stop seems all the wiser with the recent deterioration in the weather.

The ponies are starting to labor, fighting against their instinct to go to ground in the storm, and they are becoming more unmanageable with every passing hour. Weyland and Lucan have been doing their best to keep the animals calm, Beric aiding them when necessary.

Up ahead, through the sheets of snow, it appears that a tree is down across the roadway. Beric frowns as he notices wisps of smoke as from the burning of newly cut branches coming from the area directly behind the tree. There is also what looks like some sort of crude shelter.

“We’ve got trouble ahead,” he breathes to the others, and unsheathes his greataxe. “Bandits or worse I would guess.”

The company has been noticed too. Four forms can be seen to be moving about behind the cover of the fallen tree. One barks orders to the others in the unmistakable, guttural tongue of goblins. The bandits appear to be unpacking crossbows from leather wraps designed to keep them dry in the storm. One bandit, a female and the one giving orders, stands up from behind the log and fires an arrow from a longbow.

The arrow bites into the flesh at Beric’s thigh and he roars in pain. He does not allow his wound to slow his progress. He, Grimnir and Lucan begin to charge the barricade.

Merilwen, after casting a spell of protection on herself, makes eye contact with one of the bandits. She seizes his will and causes him to fall into a deep slumber. The bandit slumps to the ground, dropping his still unloaded crossbow.

Weyland lets go of the reigns of the ponies to cast a spell of blessing which radiates out from him through the storm like an ethereal blue wave, bolstering the company.

Errol let’s fly an arrow at a bandit who is breaking for the woods on the roadside opposite their little shelter. His arrow finds purchase in the side of the bandit before he can reach the cover of the trees, an impressive shot in the swirling winds of the storm.

The female bandit runs for the woods, rounding about their shelter to disappear into the wood.

Lucan breaks off his charge to head into the wood in the direction of the female bandit.

Beric reaches the felled tree and jumps up onto the log. The bandit, a swarthy half-goblin, fires his crossbow but the bolt goes wide. Beric does not hesitate; he launches himself from the log driving his greataxe into the shoulder of the hated goblinkin. A boiling rage clear on his face being the last thing the poor bandit sees before falling into unconsciousness.

Grimnir leaps the log at its thinner end, landing atop the slumbering bandit. He finishes the sleeping goblinkin by making a paste of its face with his hammer.

The bandit that was wounded by Errol fires its crossbow from the safety of the dense wood at the distracted dwarf, but the bolt skips off his shield.

Weyland finishes his spell and then realizes the ponies are bolting from the clatter of the battle. He chases after them but is only able to catch one, who he manages to calm down enough to be manageable. The other pony disappears into the storm, along with much of their provisions.

Lucan stalks through the trees looking for the bandit leader. He is surprised by a whirl of motion exploding from the storm. The female half-goblin grins grimly as she looks in Lucan’s eyes, satisfied that the thrust of her sword up through his ribcage will finish him. She whispers something in goblin, pulls her sword from the wound and disappears again into the storm.

The wounded bandit breaks from his cover after seeing the quick deaths of his fellow bandits. He runs wildly up the road, away from the company. As he flees, Errol lets another arrow fly which strikes the bandit in the back, dropping him face down in the snow.

As the chaos and clamor of the skirmish subsides, Merilwen looks about. Straining to see through the blowing snow she notices the absence of Lucan. Errol says he saw him head into the wood after one of the bandits. Errol and Grimnir head into the wood with weapons at the ready, calling their companions name.

Weyland leads the one pony up to the barricade and ties it off to a sturdy branch on the felled tree in the road. He moves over to Beric and examines the arrow wound.

He is interrupted by shouts from the wood. Grimnir and Errol have found Lucan and Grimnir has returned to the woods edge and is frantically summoning the priest.

Beric tells him to go and Weyland follows the dwarf back into the wood. It takes seconds for them to come on the grisly scene; Lucan is slumped against a tree with blood draining from under his armor to pool beneath him in the snow. Errol stands guard over the body, arrow nocked and scanning the wood for any threat.

Weyland and the others pull the helm and scaled armor coat from the downed warrior. Weyland gasps at the sight of the gash in Lucan’s ribcage. Weyland pours the healing power of Sirona into his friend. The bleeding stops but the wound does not fully seal, the flesh remaining torn and wet.

Lucan gasps as the healing magic repairs the damage to his internal organs and snaps him back to consciousness. He looks up at Grimnir, Errol and Weyland and then looks about frantically for his assailant. Sensing he is not in imminent danger, he relaxes and lets Weyland dresses the wound and bandage his ribs. They help him to his feet and wrap him in his winter gear. He is led back out of the wood to the group at the barricade. He winces as he walks, each step aggravating the freshly sealed wound.

Beric sits on the log, working the arrow out of his thigh with the tip of his dagger. Weyland helps him get it loose and cleans and bandages that wound as well.

Merilwen has been investigating the shelter behind the felled tree. She finds a stash of loot which looks to have been from previous victims of the bandits. There are also some blankets and putrid foodstuffs but nothing else of interest.

Errol and Merilwen search the bodies of the bandits for anything that might be of value or give them a clue to their identity or any purpose beyond petty thievery. They note all of them are mongrel half-goblins, the perverse and vile product of goblins capturing human victims. They bear no other markings of note, but Beric makes a mental note to search for the hovel that birthed these abominations once the weather breaks.

They are still a couple hours away from the Priory. The storm seems to be intensifying, and Lucan is in no state for traveling swiftly on foot. The decision is made to lose the provisions from the pony and Lucan is hoisted up awkwardly onto its back. They make their way up the road as fast as the storm and their condition will allow. Soon the barricade disappears behind them in a swirl of windblown snow.

The trudge along and start to feel almost claustrophobic as the storm continues to rage around them. They would have lost their way entirely if not for Beric’s skills as a guide and tracker.

As they struggle against the storm, they think they can hear the baying of wolves over the howls of the wind. Every so often they can see the forms of wolves stalking at their flanks. This keeps the company on edge as the fear of the wolves gets magnified by the limits of their senses in the storm.

They move with as much speed as they can muster in their current state. Lucan finds it harder to stay on the clearly agitated pony as he hovers on the edge of consciousness again. A limping Beric bends his will against the wind, keeping the company on track. The others are beginning to struggle as the snow steadily cakes layers of ice on their fur and leather cloaks.

They round a bend in the road which on a clear day would open onto a stretch of the trail with views of Lake Dwemerand and the rocky palisade on which the Priory sits. A wolf dashes for the woods from the roadside, baying as it goes. Another noise can be heard, however. The resonant tolling of a great bell rides on the wind.

Weyland exclaims that this can only be the bell at the priory. For in his time there it was common practice to ring the bell during storms to lead travelers caught on the road to the sanctuary of their halls. This knowledge raises the company’s morale and gives them a clanging beacon to guide their newly excited footsteps.

They have not traveled more than a hundred feet more when the storm erupts with a rush of fur and fangs. The wolf that broke for the woods has brought a small pack around to attack the party. One wolf charges into their center, and launches itself at the pony hoping to take it down. Another wolf rushes in trying to trip Merilwen, snapping at her heels.

She reels and mutters some arcane syllables. A fan of lightning erupts from her fingertips, causing the wolf to convulse and scorches its flesh. The wolf scrambles back to the wood, yelping in agony.

The wolf is somewhat successful in downing the pony, it stumbles and deposits Lucan face down onto the snow. The wolf is on Lucan in an instant, snapping at his neck. The heft of the cloak on his back saves the injured warrior from too much harm. Grimnir rounds on the wolf, driving his hammer into its side. The crunch of bone can be heard and the hind limbs of the wolf go limp. It reals and gnashes it teeth at the dwarf.

While the attention of the group is focused on Merilwen and Lucan, another trio of wolves appears out of the swirling snow. One nips at Errol but cannot find a hold on him as he twists away. Another goes after Beric, perhaps attracted to the bloodstained bandage around his leg.

Beric sees the wolf in time and brings his axe to bear against the creature. Blood and gore fly in the wind as with a mighty upswing the wolf’s head is sundered. The effort unbalances Beric as his weight shifts to his wounded leg and he falls into the snow.

The last wolf launches itself at Weyland, knocking him to the ground and making the reigns of the pony fall from his grasp. The pony bolts in a frenzy of fear and disappears into the storm. The wolf lands on Weyland’s shield, pinning it between him and the beast. He can feel the breath of the wolf as it snaps at his helmet trying to bite through the metal. Several puncture wounds open up in the cleric’s face.

Errol draws his sword and takes up a defensive position as he and the wolf that attacked him circle and look for an opening. Merilwen steps into this fray, she unleashes an arcane scream that tears at the flesh of the wolf and dazes it. Errol wastes no time in driving his sword through the neck of the beast, spilling its life out on the snow crusted road.

Grimnir wastes no time in coming to the cleric’s aid. He drives his hammer into the spine of the wolf while it tries to tear away Weyland’s helm. The crunch of bone is heard again, and this wolf goes limp as well.

It takes little time for Beric and Grimnir to finish the two damaged wolves.

Weyland uses a prayer to heal the lacerations on his face, restoring it to the weathered visage to which the company was accustomed. He checks on Lucan and finds he thankfully has not been further injured.

Grimnir and Errol hoist Lucan between them and the company limps on toward the bells. The wolves who fled do not return, perhaps looking for some easier prey. And over the span of an hour the bell continues to grow louder as they close in on their destination.

Once the bells have grown close, Merilwen waves her hand over the tip of her staff and a bright light bursts forth.

-----
Malvenos stands peering out into the storm from the gate tower of the Priory of Movan. The half-elf has the sharpest senses amongst those dwelling in the priory, and so is given this duty in times of especially bad weather. As the bells toll in the chapel’s tower behind him, he fights to stay attentive to his task. Who would be so foolish to have set out into the high country in this kind of weather?

He is surprised to see a light flair out in the snow. At first he thinks it is some trick of his mind. But the light persists, and it appears to move back and forth as though someone is trying to signal him. Roused from the monotony of his task, he leaps up and begins to strike an alarm bell, calling down to the other occupants of the priory for help.

-----
Another clang can be heard through the storm now. They must have seen the light of Merilwen’s staff at the priory and are sounding another bell. A wave of relief comes over the companions as they now know they are not going to be lost in the storm.

Soon, a trio of lights can be seen in the distance. As they grow closer, they can be seen to be lanterns carried by robed figures. The figures are shouting something against the wind and swinging the lanterns as they walk. As the two groups meet in the midst of the storm the priests welcome them to the Priory of Movan. They help the companions carry the nearly lifeless form of Lucan as they cover the last few hundred feet back to the gates.

They are drawn inside and guided to a small room in the base of the gate tower. Lucan is brought straight to the infirmary. They are set in front of a fire and the priests take their snow caked cloaks to hang on pegs near the door. They are surprised to see Weyland among the company and cheerfully greet him as one who has returned home from a long journey.

Weyland is taken away to the chapel to consult with the Curate, Father Ruan. The others are brought broth and bread, set in chairs and wrapped in fresh blankets. One of the priests applies a fresh bandage to Beric’s leg. The company sits in silence for some time, enjoying the hot meal and the warmth of the fireside.

-----

A wagon rolls to a stop outside the river gate to the city of Northbridge. Alton and Jeyne lie silently in the false bottom, under piles of fur and leather, listening to the muffled conversation going on outside.

“Hail, gatekeeper!” The halfling Hobb calls out to the imposing structure.

A head appears from a hatch high on the wall, “State your business traveler,” the guard calls down through a light snow.

“I come from the north, bearing furs and leather for the tailor Burwick,” the halfling replies. “Why is it the gates are shut during the light of day?”

“Ever since the Burning Yule, the Archduke has ordered the gates closed. It is rumored that some of the treacherous rats are still abroad. Stand down and prepare to be inspected.”

The gate opens slightly and a couple guards sporting halberds step out into the snow. They approach the wagon, telling the halfling and the two laborers to step away. The one laborer, Jon, dismounts from his pony and ties it off to the wagon. He steps away with arms raised to show he has no weapon. Hobb and the other laborer, Berne, hop off the wagon and do the same.

“What are you talking about, the Burning Yule. What nonsense is this?” Hobb asks, trying to pry what information he can from the gatekeeper.

“You don’t know bout the Burning Yule?” says the gatekeeper.

“No, we spent the yuletide on the road, coming down from near The Crown.”

“Well, it’s only the biggest news in ages. Seems there were a bunch of noble families secretly worshipin’ The Enemy. The queen’s forces rooted them out, though. Razed their manors and drug a bunch of ‘em out in the streets. Hanged ‘em all.”

“Gods preserve us,” Hobb exclaims. He makes a great show of making the sign of Atar and shudders at the description.

The guards who came out to the wagon are distracted by the ongoing conversation, and only give the wagon a cursory scan. Seeing only bundles of furs and leather, they wave up to the gatekeeper. He disappears behind his hatch and a moment later the gate opens. The guards wave them through and go back to their posts.
 

wolfheart

First Post
3rd Eismond 1309 MC

Alton Dunwall sits alone in the cellar of a candle maker’s shop in one of the southern wards of Northbridge. He quietly despairs at his current state, never having felt so helpless in all his young life. At the mercy of those who are searching the city for a way to safely escape to his father’s contacts in the south. Not a fortnight before, he was a celebrity in this city, now he is a fugitive who cannot show his face for fear of being taken into custody.

He takes some small comfort from the thought that his younger brother, Alik, is already in the south far from the reach of the queen’s forces. He frets for his middle brother, Aiden. Had he been one of those pulled into the streets and hung, no news of this has been able to be confirmed.

The sound of footsteps in the shop above calls him back from his tortured reverie. They are light steps, not the heavy steps of the armored guardsman who had visited the shop soon after his arrival the previous day. It may just be a customer, but the muffled sound of conversation does not have the sound of simple business.

He moves to a panel that hides the niche he has used as a bolt hole since they arrived. Footsteps can be heard coming near to the door to the cellar. He begins to duck inside as a figure comes bounding down the stairs, but stops when he sees that it is Jeyne.

“You should see it out there; the city is covered in fresh snow. It is really quite beautiful,” she says. Jeyne has a bundle of clothes in her arms which she deposits on a table in the center of the room. “I hear the storm is still blowing hard up by the lake.”

“There are a lot of watchmen about, and everyone is talking about the Bloody Yule,” she continues. “You can’t enter a shop or tavern without someone bringing it up, it is really kind of amazing.”

“I am glad you find it amusing,” he says with more than a hint of sarcasm. “What is this you have brought?”

“Our disguises, we are going to be leaving soon,” she says. “Hobb arranged it. Fortunately for our purposes the world thinks you are dead. It will make getting away much easier.”

“They think I am dead?”

“Yes, the talk on the street is that you and your father burned in the estate fire.”

“I do not know how to feel about that.”

“You should also know they think you burned in the hellfire of your own blasphemous rites. The watch seem to be extremely well informed about your cult activities. More than common watchmen should be. And they are free in talking about this. I did not even need to flirt with them to get any of the information. It is as though they are under orders to spread the word. Some are even tying you to the mad murderer from the sewers that we got the amulet from.”

“That is ridiculous. I hope you told them it was not true.”

“Oh yeah, I told everyone who would listen about how the queen attacked us with undead soldiers, and I also threw in that you weren’t dead but hiding in the city,” Jeyne snaps, this time being the one to employ sarcasm.

Before Alton can reply, Hobb is suddenly there. He seems to have appeared out of thin air. He carries a bucket and a couple of bottles.

“Well, time to make the two of you look less ‘Dunwallish’,” he chuckles. Setting down the bucket and flashing Jeyne a broad smile.

“What do you mean?” Alton asks.

“We can’t have you running around with those wavy red locks. People will recognize you right off,” Hobb giggles.

Hobb then relays the plan in full to Alton, Jeyne adding details as needed. The first step involves dying and cutting the hair of both Alton and Jeyne. They are to don the peasant’s clothes that Jeyne brought with her, so as to look less noble. Once disguised, they will leave the city among the company of a group of Waullens, who Alton’s father had dealings with. They will head west to Dunsaine on the coast.

Hobb has to stop to explain that the overland routes to the south are all being watched for any signs of the overthrown houses or their liege-lords moving against the queen. For contrary to the watchmen’s tales many escaped the Bloody Yule and are abroad or in the wilderness. Caravans are being stopped by roving squads of horsemen, live ones, who are searching for any signs of the wayward nobles.

They will take a ship from Dunsaine to the Waullen Isles, and from there to the south. The will call on the Fairbairns in Cyrwith. Hobb speculates that they may be able to enlist the deposed noble family in the next stage of his father’s plan. He does not elaborate on what that next phase is, but assures them that the help may well be needed.

Dyed and shorn, Alton curls up on a cot in the corner of the cellar. He falls into a restless slumber, preparing for their flight from the north the next day.

-----

A cold wind can be heard through the stone walls of the Priories infirmary. The storm that bore down on the company the previous day has not abated. The snow continues to pile up and drift outside this stone sanctuary in the rough northern hills of Mercia.

Lucan lies in a pallet that has been stuffed with fresh straw to increase his comfort. The wound of the goblinkin’s blade has continued to fester, and the priests are speculating that the blade was poisoned. He is feverish and has had horrific dreams, a cold sweat soaking the linens and his clothes.

The others had come to check on him in the early hours of the morning but were quickly sent away by Sister Doria. She will not allow any to approach him and chastises them for barging in and disturbing the other patient.

In another pallet rests another man, who also appears to be stricken with a fever. Wild tattoos can be seen twisting up and down his bare arms and his hair and beard have many random braids embellished with golden wire and other odd baubles. His visage a stark contrast to the fine features of Lucan next to him.

They are left to the care of the Sister for the remainder of the day. Beric returns at midday to have the dressing changed on his leg wound, but otherwise the patients rest undisturbed.

-----

After the morning prayers, Weyland returns to the study of Curate Ruan. They had a short discussion the night before when Weyland had arrived back at the priory out of the storm. Ruan invites Weyland to sit and the two resume their conversation of the night before.

“This disk, it has grooves on the back as though it should fit into a niche or something.” Ruan points to the evil amulet resting on a low table between them. “And I have detected some taint about the item. We should all avoid touching it with our bare skin.”

“I had figured as much, Father,” Weyland replies. “I am ill at ease in its presence, and was tormented with visions of shadows out of the corners of my eye as I carried it here. This might have been an effect of the storm and lack of sleep, but something tells me it was more than that.”

“I dare say it was probably your stress that allowed it to work on you. Whoever of your company carries it should also carry one of the protection charms that we use when accessing the Black Vault.”

“I understand, Father, your wisdom in this is without reproach.”

“I have also reconsidered your request to search the Black Vault for information about these scrolls the madman spoke of.”

“Father, thank you for this boon.”

“I had a dream last night. I was alighted on the back of a great eagle and we flew off over the lake. As we approached the other side and entered the airs over the Sunderlands I perceived of a shadow on the horizon. It grew steadily and smokes and mists began to roll about me as the eagle twirled and dove. We then ascended up through a torrent of flame and ash, breaking out over a land scorched and scarred. In a flash, I was back in the priory, standing in the gloom outside the Black Vault, and the door heaved and cracked with the sound of thunder.” A few beads of sweat break on the brow of the aged Curate as he relays this tale.

“Blessings of Atar!” Weyland exclaims.

“I take this as a sign that we are to unseal the vault. I shall allow you and the scholar Errol to enter the vault and examine the manuscripts. You will both wear the charms and in addition I will pray for some miracles to further ward you against the taint in that room. You will be allowed to enter tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Father. You are most kind.”

“Before then, however, I would like to take advantage of you and your friend’s presence. There are some mundane tasks that could use the help of some extra hands.” The Curate pauses, looking about his study uneasily. “And there is another matter that will require some discretion. It is a blessing that you have arrived at this time as I need fresh eyes to explore a mystery here in the priory. Some odd things have been happening of late.”

“Odd, how do you mean odd?” Weyland seems puzzled at the look of the old man as he speaks. He has always known Father Ruan to be a man of calm and composure.

“It would be better if we discussed this with everyone,” He replies. “There are many who have tales to tell and I would like many eyes on the room as one among us may know more than they are letting on. Some of the other priests think this is some sort of curse, but I suspect it is of a much more mundane origin.”

“Yes, of course. Whatever you think best.”

“I would ask that you keep your eyes open for anything amiss today as you go about your tasks. We will discuss everything over the evening meal.”

“Very well, Father. I will take my leave.”

“Yes, please see Melvanos. He will assign some tasks to you and your companions. Something that fits their skills,” the Curate finishes.

Weyland rises and bows. He quietly leaves the Curate’s chambers and returns to the others.
 

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