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The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

Carlo-One

Explorer
Aerikoth interrupted before Vendalus could speak further, saying he wished to inquire something of him and this Brother Millerjoi. In the letter, the wizard noted, Veran had asked to research any documents that the Order believed to be relevant. The monk informed Aerikoth that they had done such research as was possible. The implantation of the lich's soul in a gem was expected, although this one seemed unusually potent, from what they understood, and they had no additional information on how to safely destroy such a gem. Shanni asked if whatever it was therefore was still trapped in the gem. Aerikoth, keeping his unblinking gaze on Vendalus, said no, it having been destroyed by a way he was still unsure about. The wizard mentioned that there were some intriguing effects in the aftermath, as he put it. (This is a useful reminder that there are some loose ends related to the Ritual of the Hand, previously described in these chronicles, as conducted by High Cleric Carlin outside Turnton. The lich's erstwhile apprentice, Melissa, was somehow affected by it. I do hope we discover more about the matter. --C)

Still solicitous of his new guest, Jandrico put a plate of griddlecakes and water down for Brother Vendalus, who acknowledged the innkeeper’s kindness and started eating in a deliberate fashion. Apparently satisfied that the monk would not keel over from hunger and exhaustion, the innkeeper turned to other business and left the adventurers to discuss Vendalus’ words further. The monk focused on eating, while Shanni recalled some previous run-ins with undead in Westgate and Dermot wondered what was so urgent about the prophecy now. Aerikoth expressed his mistrust in general of prophecies and further asserted that Clan Ironhelm owed Veran nothing. Despite this, Darrow then told the monk that, although he could not speak for the others, he believed they should look into the Night King business.

Having sated his hunger, Vendalus acknowledged to them that the Order had not taken Brother Veran's original work on the prophecy very seriously, as it had seemed like the leftovers of a madman's ravings. However, he admitted that was what genuine prophetic work sounded like occasionally. In any case, despite their doubts, the Order gave its blessing for Brother Veran to travel to Westgate. The matter of the lich was worrisome, yet seemed to have been resolved, concluded the monk, declaring that would be Brother Veran's legacy. (Although this is not in fact the end of the story, by no means do I wish to detract from Veran's deeds, including his confrontation with the fear of facing what was once one of the most powerful abominations on Faerun. Brother Veran visited Kelemvor's realm more than once while on his path to Judgment, which I would not care to do. --R)

Returning to the matter of the prophecy, Vendalus said his Order had no new information on it, but recent events had concerned them. In response to a question form Shanni, he said it related the return of an order of vampire rulers to the Dragon Coast. With a glance at Aerikoth, the monk stated that he did not put great stock in prophecy either, but they had heard troubling things as of late. Dermot encouraged him to speak further and Vendalus explained that most recently, a traveler from Westgate had been delivered to his monastery, near death. They were able to help him recover from his illness, which they discovered was part of a process of turning him into an abomination, as the monk called it. A slave to a vampire, it seemed. The victim stated that he remembered little, but that he was brought to a place where he was...converted. He was not alone, either.

Dermot prodded for further details, but was told there were few enough. Vendalus said the man had spoken of previously residing at a place called “The Shore” but could say little else about where exactly he had been, or what had been done to him. Darrow cursed while Dermot’s face darkened at this. The ranger related how they had heard a bit about the coastline around Westgate, where people had been going missing and odd skull totems had cropped up. The monk finished his tale of the vampire victim, saying that apparently he managed to escape by stowing away on a ship, then made his way to the Dalelands for refuge, arriving about a tenday ago at the Order.

Brother Millerjoi, the head of the Order, had hoped that Veran could find allies and investigate this undead threat, as prophecy or no, the rise of a vampire clan was a threat to them all. Vendalus explained that they were a small Order and did not travel outside the Dalelands often, but the matter was deemed important. The monk said he was thankful that he was able to find the adventurers, especially one of Brother Veran's former companions. With that, his exhaustion seemed to catch up with him, and he excused himself to find Jandrico and rest in the room promised to him, saying he needed to make his ablutions.
 

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Carlo-One

Explorer
The four adventurers decided to attend to their separate affairs that morning, regrouping in the early afternoon at the Gatereach. Jandrico Swift took a deposit of 100 gold from each of them for the guest house lease, promising to include personalized furnishing requests for their individual rooms. Shanni eagerly asked for a nice soft bed with a snuggly quilt and a tub of her own, as she and the others handed the coin over to the innkeeper, who then left to see about the purchases.

In response to a question from Shanni, Darrow confirmed that he had been able to touch base with their elven friend, Lomilith the wizard, who was still at the tavern they had met him in. The dwarf mentioned the elf had asked after Shanni, who seemed pleased to have been remembered. As Aerikoth had not met Lomilith, Darrow summarily explained that he was a third-rate wizard they had encountered at the Black Boot in River Gate, who was concerned about disappearances of people in the Shore district. The dwarf related how Lomilith thought the cave/sewer entrance they had found there was being used in the disappearances.

Dermot mentioned that he had looked up old stories about the first Night King and suggested that the Lathander temple might know more about the subject, as according to some, they had beat the old Vampire the first time. Both Shanni and Darrow were up for accompanying Dermot to the temple, although Shanni irreverently said it would just perhaps be to stick out her tongue behind them. Aerikoth observed that he had not had the best interactions with priests and their ilk, as the wizard put it, but he would accompany them.

Joking about the rain, which Darrow pointed out seemed to follow Shanni around like a small dark cloud, the four took the long way to the Lathander temple, forgetting at first that it was in the West Gate and not the Temple district. When they arrived, the priest on duty was finishing a religious discussion with a woman, while some other Westgate citizens were exchanging whispered rumors, earning a frown from the Lathanderite.

As the priest approached the group to welcome them, Darrow playfully punched Dermot in the shoulder, but apparently harder than the ranger was used to, as he reflexively hit Darrow back. The priest, slightly taken aback, wondered if they had a dispute among them that needed resolution, offering to assist. Darrow, who had been unfazed by the exchange, said it had just been a friendly punch on the arm and offered his apologies. Dermot went along, but wheezed a bit and under his breath told Darrow to be more careful.

The priest looked a little skeptical, but introduced himself as Jotan. As the adventurers reciprocated, he eyed Aerikoth's staff and the various weapons and armor visible, then asked if they sought potions or other aid from the temple. Dermot took the lead in explaining their interest in the old history of the fight against the Night King, Shanni nodding along in an eager-to-know manner. Jotan, appreciative of the fact that he had a willing audience, held forth on the history of the subject.

He related how before the founding of the Dalelands, the Night King had emerged from the Westgate catacombs and in a single night of blood, claimed the city for himself. The Night King never appeared in the daytime and wore a porcelain mask to cover his features, always, even at night. It soon became evident that it was a clan of vampires, let by the Night King - named Orlak - who had taken the city. Dermot interrupted, asking if it was more than one, and was informed that the court was all of the undead, it was told, and their servitors.

The priest continued, saying how the rule of the Night King had endured for more than a century of terror. Eventually, it could not be denied what the nature of the Night King's dynasty was. Yet none could stand against him, until Dawnknight Gen Soleilon and his companions came to Westgate, from the Vilhon Reach. Sent by the divine inspiration of Lathander, in Jotan’s words, Gen put the vampires to the sword and exposed them to the light, ending the reign of the Night King. Gen stayed to found the Soleilon dynasty of Westgate, which ruled for a long and prosperous time.

Despite the ending of the tale, the priest cautioned that it was rumored certain powerful items held by the Night King were never recovered. Symbols of his authority. Which meant that perhaps, the threat was never completely destroyed. One must remain vigilant against the dark, the priest concluded, and not forget the role of the Light.

Dermot expressed an interest in seeing whatever writings the temple had on the Night King, which drew a slight frown from Jotan, who explained that normally one must be of the Morninglord’s order to access temple records. However, the priest was willing to speak to Lady Sunrise Tylanna of the Seventh Rose, the head of the temple, who he suggested might hear their petition favorably – if she knew more of their motives.

At this, Dermot withdrew a short distance with his companions and conferred with them in a low voice about what they should do, suggesting they could just lay out all their information to the temple. Neither Aerikoth nor Darrow could see why they should not, although Shanni was more cautious, suggesting they should just say they read it in a scroll somewhere.

They returned to the priest and Dermot began explaining they had run across some related information in a scroll, but was interrupted by Aerikoth, who queried if they were to speak to the priest or to Lady Tylanna about the situation and their interest. Jotan said that he would listen to their petition and then present it to the Lady Sunrise Tylanna, to hear her judgment on it. Dermot was explaining about hearing about a prophecy from a Kelemvorite when Aerikoth interrupted again, suggesting they move to a move private area, and the priest led them to a study.

There, Dermot continued by explaining something of the background of Helm’s Shadows, as the company was called, and how it had defeated a lich with the aid of a Kelemvorite, before the ranger’s time. Jotan appreciated their intention to fight any vampire menace and recalled how Brother Veran, who he confirmed had previously been with the company, had conducted a rite with a fellow priest named Oravan at the Shore, some time before. Apparently impressed with their request, Jotan suggested that they return in four hours, as perhaps the Lady Sunrise Tylanna would be able to speak with them then.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
The Shore

Shanni, being rather impatient, with that left the temple, saying she would spend some time lurking by the known Shore entrance to the underground sewers. That left Aerikoth, Darrow and Dermot free until sundown, when they would be expected back at the Lathander temple. They decided to make their way towards the Shore themselves and get the lay of the land along the way.

In the streets of Westgate they could hear rumors flying around about what had happened to House Cormaeril, although apparently with little sympathy for the Cormyrian exiles. In discussing previous run-ins with vampiric undead, Aerikoth recalled to the others their previous encounter with Tuli, the vampire spawn, at the slaver’s isle – the one that Lady Roaringhorn dispatched. In the West Gate district, they ran across some dilapidated-looking buildings near the Leaning Man inn that belonged to House Cormaeril. Curious, they decided to enter one, although they first had to satisfy some watchful onlookers. They then got past the locked door, thanks to Aerikoth’s chime of opening, only to find a disused warehouse with a thin layer of dust over everything.

Discovering nothing of real interest, they left the now-open warehouse behind and continued on to the Shore. Aerikoth pointed out the house of Thessar the Warrior at the district border, noting that he had assisted Aerikoth and some of his companions previously. They also walked past Lilda’s Festhall, perhaps the only other structure of note in the area. Dermot recalled how the last time he was there, they kept finding little piles of bones in odd corners; the ranger was unsure what to make of it.

Moving further into the district, they came across several of its poor inhabitants, who reacted suspiciously to the presence of those they considered to be rich outsiders. Darrow showed a local man and woman some gold, however, and their attitudes improved. The dwarf questioned them about the cave on the hillside and the woman replied that they stayed away from it at night, because of rats...and worse. Darrow pressed her further and she looked to her companion, who said that word was out not to go in the cave.

The local man further mentioned that he had seen a couple figures enter the cave one night, carrying a sack large enough to hold a person, although he didn’t know what was in it. The man said he knew nothing more about them, despite repeated questions from the three adventurers, particularly Aerikoth. However, he was able to recall that it had happened perhaps a tenday ago. His female companion became fearful and agitated at the lengthy questioning, but both of them ended up satisfied with a gold coin apiece from Darrow. (No doubt they were concerned about being viewed as snitches, or worse. The spectacle of a robed wizard with a magical staff, accompanied by two armed and armored warriors, must have been unusual for the neighborhood. --R)
 
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Carlo-One

Explorer
At Dermot’s suggestion, the three then headed over to Thessar’s house. Once they arrived, Aerikoth rapped on the door with his staff and a gruff voice from inside asked what they wanted. The wizard announced himself and asked if they could have a word with Thessar. After a moment, the door opened and a jovial-looking Thessar welcomed them into his home.

Aerikoth reminded Thessar of his companion’s names and the old warrior recalled that the last time they were there was after the rescue of the poor lass, meaning Shanni. Thessar was pleased to hear that Janatha had eventually been found as well. With perhaps a bit of a twinkle in his eye, he observed that they must have been busy since then, as he had heard about what happened at Cormaeril Castle. With a straight face, Darrow said it was a shame.

Despite Thessar’s excellent hospitality, Aerikoth continued, they were not there for a social call, which did not surprise their host. The wizard told him they had a strong suspicion that there was a plague within the city brought about by parasitic undead - vampires. He mentioned encountering a spawn of the creatures on a slaver island while searching for Janatha. Thessar exclaimed that this was unwelcome news. Aerikoth indicated his companions had more experience with the Shore area and had uncovered something. Dermot and Darrow mentioned previously encountering bone piles that self-animated, also hearing that things weren’t well on the Shore.

Thessar said that things had never been “well” there, by most folk's standards, although those bones sounded like something different. The old warrior observed that the Shore had been used as a dumping ground for a lot of things. Folks also disappeared from time to time, but that was the hard life. However, what the adventurers had said might explain why a chill had settled over the area, he continued. People were less friendly and there had been more disappearances. Folk there were afraid, more than usual, and even Lilda’s festhall was getting less business. Aerikoth observed that it made sense for a group of vampires, to avoid detection, to prey upon those that no one would miss.

According to the old warrior, under normal circumstances the Shore Patrol – the local gang of thugs – would take care of any real trouble. Bastards they were, but they wanted the district for their own. However, he had not seen them come around much at all in the last month or so; before, they would keep a close eye on outsiders. Aerikoth took this as a sign that they may already have been dealt with, or perhaps even recruited. The other thing Thessar mentioned was that everyone knew they were just doing the Night Masks' dirty work in the area.

Thessar appreciated their warning, saying he would start keeping his old magic weapons close at hand. He could offer no help in terms of contacting members of either the Shore Patrol or the Night Masks, but was interested to hear that the adventurers had a meeting lined up with the Lathanderite leadership, wishing them luck with that. He recommended that if they were looking for clerical help, they might want to track down the Tyrrans as well, as the former Croamarkh, Durgar the Just, was supposedly building an abbey to Tyr. In response to a question from Aerikoth, Thessar told them that he had heard it would get built out by the eastern city gates.

Calling himself a poor host, Thessar asked if they wanted some ales and of course received a positive response from Darrow. He broke some out from his stash and they got caught up some more on recent happenings, including the departure of Rahnee from the company. The old warrior said he appreciated their caring about what happened on the Shore, which precious few in the city did.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Late afternoon on Ches 28, the three adventurers departed Thessar’s house and Darrow headed back to the Gatereach, to check on the arrangements Jandrico was making for assistance with his brewery in Tallwell. Shanni then appeared, sauntering up to Aerikoth and Dermot to inform them she had been keeping an eye on the folk they were talking to. After complaining about having to keep kicking the rats away from her hiding place by the cave, she observed that they didn’t look like they wanted to talk any more. Aerikoth shared, in a deprecating manner, what they had been told about two individuals carrying a large sack entering the cave. Shanni indicated that she might have found it, describing it as an empty sack large enough to take a body and having dried blood all over it. She had decided to go no further into the cave, given the circumstances, and returned to find the others.

The three decided to take a closer look at the site where Shanni had found the bag, to see if Dermot’s tracking skills could yield any more information. They made their way to the cave and past the door to the sewers, where Shanni pointed out where the bag was lying. Aerikoth cast a simple light spell to illuminate the area, allowing his ranger companion to carefully search for signs and oddities.

The ranger observed that there was only one, days-old blood splotch area on the sack, which would fit with the idea of a single big thing being carried. He wondered where whatever was being carried had got to, guessing that someone had dumped a thing there and someone else had picked it up. he also found it odd that they had left the sack behind. Dermot concluded that it had been there a while, but there were a lot of signs of passage through the area, so it was hard to pick out anything further.

As the ranger bent down and collected a little bottle from the sack, Aerikoth asked if the others recalled their trip to Starmantle, when they were looking for Janatha, the kidnapped daughter of Teziir Council Member Queron Ulanthar. Dermot sniffed the bottle’s stopper and confirmed that it was a healing draught, a strong one, before joining Shanni in nodding. The wizard reminded them that they had journeyed on the ship called Sea Sprite and had found a stowaway named Errend. He had told them how he was living in the Shore and had been drugged and ambushed after showing up for an offer of work, then ended up in a place he thought might have been a temple, along with other captives.

Aerikoth graphically recalled Errend’s story, how one by one the others had been dragged off to a different area, with the sound of wet screaming heard afterwards. He managed to escape or was rejected, for whatever purpose, and that was why he had decided to stow away on a boat - to get out of Westgate as quickly as he could, having little to no money. The wizard concluded by saying he was curious if this was what had happened to their stowaway, indicating the bloody sack.

In response, Shanni mentioned having found a temple down in the sewers during a previous excursion, but thought it was to Umberlee. Dermot grimaced at the tale, saying that he had no idea whether it had anything to do with vampires, but something was rotten down there. Aerikoth acknowledged that there might in fact be no connection, but also remembered hearing rumors of the parasitic undead almost since his arrival in this city.

The three agreed they should continue tugging on the thread, as Dermot put it, and the ranger moved down the tunnel towards the next part of the sewers, listening at the door he came to. Aerikoth offered to cast a stoneskin spell on the others, who thought that would be a good idea if things got bad. Dermot said he thought someone or something was moving past the door, that did not sound like a rat. The ranger then tried the door and was surprised as several zombies came through to attack them. Shanni cursed and drew her weapons, she and Aeirkoth battling their new foes from a distance as the wizard summoned a water elemental into the fight. Unfortunately its drown attack was ineffective against the living dead, but Dermot was able to use his magic weapons to dismember them.

Once that was done, the ranger admitted that maybe it did have something to do with the undead. Aerikoth again offered to cast his stoneskin spell and this time Dermot accepted it. (A rule of adventuring should be that when your wizard offers to cast a spell of protection on you, you accept it without argument. --R) Looking over the now-unmoving corpses, Dermot thought that they seemed to be wearing uniforms and observed that they might have found the Shore Patrol. Shanni agreed with this assessment, thinking that those were their colors.

The large sewer area was at first confusing, but the three adventurers soon found another group of zombies in a corridor including one that had strong magic protections. They attempted to channel their attack using some vine growths as obstacles but were unsuccessful, nevertheless again defeating their slow-moving opponents, aided this time by Aerikoth summoning a large bear. Between the undead corpses and the usual sewer filth, the three felt like they were having a nasty time of it, threatening to lose their lunch.

The moved into the next chamber and Dermot checked it over, poking at cracks in the walls and searching for something beyond the ordinary, as Shanni watched along the corridor and flitted her eyes around the room. However, they came up with nothing. Aerikoth observed that the zombies must have been guarding the way for a reason and that the individuals that brought the sack within the sewers must have had a way to bypass the undead.

Dermot, frustrated at the results of the search, eventually looked up and noticed a pull chain. He shined his torch at the chain and spotted some old blood on it, saying he was curious about where it went. The ranger then married his words to deeds and put the torch in his mouth before starting to haul himself upwards. After a short time, he called down to say that it came up in the district with the temples, then came back down to inform his companions that it was near the old spot that Aerikoth’s friends had, called the hidden house. (This "Hidden House" has a rather cursed history in the chronicles, originally having been the burned-out location for a shrine to a dead god. Furthermore, Aerikoth was away obtaining the deed to it for his companions when they decided to go after Baron Hallton in Tallwell and two of them, Brok-Tul and Veran, were killed as a result. This was made even more ironic because Brok-Tul was the one who had most desired to convert the house into a shrine to Helm. No doubt the place bodes further ill for the party. --C)

The three discussed the implications of what they found, then decided to exit the sewers. Shanni easily scrambled up the pull chain, followed by Aerikoth, who ascended slowly and weakly, breathing heavily as he emerged onto a street in the Temple District. Dermot came up last and offered words of support for the wizard, acting exhausted as well out of sympathy. After a moment to recover his breath, Aerikoth indicated he was ready to go on.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Searching for Allies

Close upon dusk, when the company was expected back at the Temple of Lathander, Darrow rejoined the others in front of it, arriving just as Aerikoth was finishing cleaning the group with his prestidigitation spell. The dwarf surmised where they had been and wondered why he couldn’t smell them. Shanni grinned and said that the wizard should use that spell on Darrow more often.

As they entered Morningstar Haven, Dermot and Shanni briefly explained that they had found the Shore Patrol, now converted into restless dead. The priest on duty immediately spotted them and escorted them to Lady Tylanna’s private chamber. After knocking three times and opening the door, he formally ushered them into the room and the regal-looking high priestess curtsied gracefully in response. They were asked to present themselves, which they did somewhat bluntly, mentioning that they were known as Helm’s Shadows. Lady Tylanna welcomed them and then dismissed the priest to tend to their flock in the temple space, noting somewhat ruefully that she wished they had more priests available.

Dermot somewhat awkwardly started to explain why they were there, but was quickly interrupted and assured by the high priestess that her priest had related their tale to her earlier. She indicated that she would have more questions regarding it, but first needed to salve her curiosity about the company itself, saying that they did not appear like a band of Helmites. Darrow chuckled and cracked a joke at this, while Dermot admitted that she had them there, explaining that he thought there were two founding members who were Helmites and named it, but had died. Aerikoth clarified that the name for some reason had remained; previously, there had been a converted priest of that god, but he was now deceased. Lady Tylanna was satisfied with this, saying that she had nothing against the followers of Helm, in any event.

They then turned to more serious topics of conversation, with Darrow and Dermot reviewing the prophecy being pursued by the monk of Kelemvor about vampires returning to rule Westgate. Shanni and Dermot mentioned the necromantic incidents at the Shore and confirmed they had seen the undead menace firsthand. The ranger said they had heard it was the Lathanderites who had dealt with the mess the first time round, so felt it was worth asking for help or advice.

Lady Tylanna observed that they were referring to the original cleansing of Westgate, by the Dawnknight Gen Soleilon. She stated that it was he who drove the original Night King from his throne, with his companions, and then built much of the city we know today, including the sewers below. It was said that the vampire threat had been eradicated, but the Night King's fabled items of power were never recovered. During the Night King's rule, as the legend went, he had catacombs beneath the city where the vampire lords ruled. She understood they were supposedly destroyed to make way for the new underground tunnels, yet it happened over a millenium ago, so who could say. Dermot inquired if there were any records, maps, or accounts surviving from that time, with Shanni pointing out that “new buggers” had moved in, as she put it.

The high priestess at this point mentioned that they were not the first ones to have expressed fears of vampires and an undead menace to Westgate to her. Dermot expressed his surprise at this, while Shanni more crudely asked why Lady Tylanna wasn’t helping them more, if that were the case. The high priestess appeared shocked at the mouthy rogue’s words, as Shanni continued to complain about doing all the work and then having to beg for help, while being kept waiting by the priest.

Seeing the high priestess’s uncomprehension and then growing ire, Dermot attempted to smooth things over, saying that it had been a trying day, with them still unsettled from facing walking dead in the sewer. Lady Tylanna pointedly replied that perhaps his companions needed some time along to recover, noting their impatience. The ranger in return emphasized the importance of their business, which the high priestess acknowledged, suggesting that they seek out the Ascetic of the Broken Ones, who lived in the southwest corner of the West Gate district. She said she was also going to suggest they look into the crowd at the Purple Lady, which was a well known conversational salon in the city. However, she did not believe they would fit in with them, given that patience and a certain skill at conversation would be required to gain information from the patrons there, pointedly looking at Shanni.

Darrow cheerily thanked the high priestess as Dermot tried to extricate the group politely, asking if they should bring her any further proof they might dig up. Ignoring further barbed comments from Shanni, Lady Tylanna said she would welcome further word of their deeds and what they came across, acknowledging that they were the first group to have obtained direct evidence of an undead threat. Perhaps the Morninglord would be able to render some more direct assistance in the future, she said, as Dermot awkwardly thanked her and moved to usher Shanni out of the room. The petite rogue instead tossed out a last comment and flounced out on her own. The ranger gave an apologetic look on the way out and Darrow shrugged, smiling amiably as he ambled through the doorway. (I must admit, should the rogue have behaved in such a fashion with the head of our Order, she would have been summarily tossed out. The fact that in response Lady Tylanna chose to ignore rather than punish indicates to me that she perhaps believes she may also need the company as allies. She had alluded to her lack of priests earlier, a forthright admission that the faith of Lathander was not particularly rich or powerful in Westgate. --C)

Aerikoth remained behind for a moment, as Shanni grumbled and complained to the others outside the chamber. The wizard warned the high priestess she should be aware that House Vhammos were deeply involved in nefarious actions, slavery and what he believed was something darker and worse. In response, she thanked Aerikoth for his words, only wishing that they had come as a surprise, and said that as a knowledgeable person he was welcome any time, curtsying to him to end the audience.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Following the high priestess’ directions, they made their way through the West Gate district to the southwest corner, Shanni still occasionally grumbling, until they came to a narrow door near a sewer entrance; the Jolly Warrior inn was also in sight. This matched the description of the house occupied by the Ilmater monk, so they knocked and were greeted by Than, a student of the Ascetic One. Dermot mentioned they had been sent by the Lady of Lathander, ignoring Shanni’s eye roll in response, and the student accompanied them inside.

The interior of the house was sparely furnished and contained another student, Millan, who was by the door. Their master had been seated cross-legged in the back of the room, but rose and moved noiselessly over the floorboards as the three adventurers entered his home. The monk stated that he was known as the Ascetic of the Broken Ones, or the Ascetic One, bowing to them in welcome.

The companions introduced themselves, Shanni expressing her hope that the monk would see the urgency behind their business more than the last lot, as she put it. This brought a smile to the Ascetic One’s face, as he said he found it curious that they had sought out a monk for fast action. He then dismissed his students to wander the city and return in an hour, instructing them to tell him afterwards what they had learned. (While this was almost certainly a ploy to get his students away from what subsequently might be considered a distressing and private conversation, I have to admire the monk's panache. It has only occasionally been equaled by some of the more senior members of our Order. --R)

After they had left, Dermot informed him they had heard rumors of vampires and missing people, it having been suggested that the monk might have a finger on the pulse of the issue, so to speak. The Ascetic One declared that these were weighty words and resume sitting cross-legged on the floor to meditate while they shared their knowledge. Darrow took the lead in explaining about the now-deceased monk of Kelemvor’s research of a prophecy, which hinted that a vampire king might return to rule Westgate. Once Darrow had finished, with Aerikoth and Dermot’s approval, Shanni then interjected that for their group, the business had started about two tendays ago, after encountering a self-animating pile of bones.

While acknowledging the existence of the prophecy, the monk observed that they seemed to have more material concerns as well. Dermot explained about the word of missing people on the Shore and the disappearance of the Shore Patrol, whom they had found subsequently as walking dead in the sewer. The monk termed this a grim fate for the gang, but perhaps not undeserved, although he was sure the brother of Kelemvor they mentioned would view it as an abomination. Dermot concluded by mentioning they had been sent to the Ascetic One’s abode after going to the temple of Lathander for assistance.

The monk expressed his surprise that they had won the trust of the Lathanderites so readily, saying that he was not known to many. Shanni snorted and said that it sounded more like they were trying to pass the problem on. The Ascetic One countered, asking what they would then have the Lathanderites do to their foes, whom he he had not heard named. Darrow joked that getting an ale at least would be a start, then Shanni agitatedly reiterated their concerns with what was happening with the undead in the city. The monk made the observation that they wished to strike directly, like a sword thrust, but it seemed that they did not even know their enemy yet, seeing no face to their problem.

Declaring he needed a moment to meditate upon this, the Ascetic One closed his eyes as Shanni let out an exasperated sigh. The monk folded his hands in his robes and closed his eyes, breathing slowly as he turned his attention inwards. The others stood watching for several breaths, until he opened his eyes, staring ahead calmly as he stated that he might be able to offer them a chance to strike at the unknown enemy. Darrow, Dermot and Shanni showed their eagerness for him to continue, while Aerikoth simply stared back, with an unblinking gaze.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
The Ascetic One told them that he knew of a hidden place, outside the city, where he went once long ago as part of a personal trial. It was once a place of evil, and he expected that it remained so. Dermot and Shanni were bemused by the description and Shanni questioned how this could help them. The monk said that he would prepare a map for them, so if they returned in the morn, he would give it to them, with what else he could recall that might be of use. Aerikoth asked why the monk had need of this personal trial, a question that the Ascetic One found refreshingly intelligent, although he would not share much beyond the fact that the Ilmater monk needed to find the depths of his own suffering. The wizard then added some acerbic remarks on faith-based practices being of little value to others. (The trials of a monk are often misunderstood or incomprehensible to outsiders. Why would one voluntarily take on suffering? This seems to be a major point of conflicting philosophies. Although our Order does not emphasize the concept of suffering to the extent of Ilmater's, there is still a recognition that to achieve anything worthwhile, one must sacrifice something, sometimes at a profound level. --C)

Despite Aerikoth’s philosophical criticisms and some more complaints from Shanni about the quality of the help they were receiving, the Ascetic One did not seem fazed, only warning them further that the place would be several hours away and could be dangerous, so they should be well prepared when they went. Darrow and Aerikoth thanked the monk, as did Dermot, although with an audible question mark. As the adventurers left, Shanni simply looked irritable and stalked out of the house, much as she had done at the Temple of Lathander. Once outside, she expressed at length her unhappiness with their religious interlocutors. After a few minutes, the others talked her into continuing on with their search for information. (Or perhaps the "petite rogue" simply ran out of steam. --R)

Following a decision to split up for the evening, Darrow, Dermot and Shanni shortly after midnight arrived at Aerikoth’s home outside West Gate, looking for the wizard. They were first noticed by his raven familiar Zeluth, perched in a nearby tree, who cawed at Dermot meaningfully. The ranger then knocked on the door and was immediately met by Aerikoth, who asked if something was amiss.

Dermot in response asked if anyone knew who was in the Hidden House these days, saying that someone was there now. Aerikoth recalled that large vermin typically resided there, adding that a priestess of the deceased goddess of illusion named Marise had been obsessed with the place, a former temple to Leira. Dermot explained that earlier that night, he had decided to watch over the sewer grate in the Temple district. The ranger didn't see anyone come out of it, but observed a pair of folk drop in on the Hidden House. They then came out complaining of the lack of "cattle", mentioning that maybe there'd be some in a couple of days. He tried to track them, but lost them. However, the ranger had noticed someone let them into the House, so he wanted to go see what was there.

The others were in agreement, Aerikoth saying that the talk of cattle made him believe it was the parasitic undead servitors looking for food for their masters. Shanni tried to recall whether one of the former company members had owned it and Aerikoth explained that the house belonged to Lady Roaringhorn, as she possessed the deed to it. Her husband, the late Brok-Tul, had wished to convert it to a temple of Helm. The wizard did not believe anything had been done by her since Brok-Tul’s death. Dermot remarked that it looked like she had squatters, to which Darrow replied that eviction notices were served free of charge, the dwarf being eager to go find them a fight.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Finding Victims

In the dark of the early morning of Ches 29, the four adventurers made their way through the streets of Westgate to the Temple District. The Hidden House was tucked away in a corner, a long-damaged placard out front the only indication of its presence. They eyed its entrance from a short distance and Shanni wondered if they should scope it out further before knocking, but then agreed with the others to have Aerikoth quickly cast some protection spells, then enter in order to surprise whoever was there.

Dermot stepped up to the door and knocked three times, waited a beat, then knocked a fourth time, a pattern which he had observed with the earlier visitors. His companions hugged nearby walls, in order to be out of view, and Dermot shushed Darrow as he heard movement by the door and it opened. The ranger stepped in quickly as two pale-skinned rogues expressed surprise that their visitors had returned, only after seeing him realizing their mistake. Darrow, Shanni and Aerikoth came in close behind their companion and were attacked by the two, who refused to surrender despite being outnumbered. A short, sharp fight ensued and the apparent door guards were slain, Dermot sustaining some damage in the process despite the wizard’s stoneskin protection.

Disappointed at not being able to gather any further information from their opponents – although Darrow pointed out that they had started it – the party began to search the main floor of the burnt-out former temple. Dermot examined and looted a body of its dagger and coin purse as Shanni hurriedly shut the entry door behind them. In response to a question from Aerikoth, Dermot confirmed that the two they had killed were not the visitors the ranger had seen enter the building, but looked an awful lot like them. After a moment’s consideration, Aerikoth observed that they were like Tuli, the vampire spawn they had encountered while seeking Janatha.

Darrow called for an examination of the stairs heading down and after it was deemed to be free of traps, the four headed into the dark cavern below. Past the doorway, Dermot called attention to the fact that it stank down there, worse than the sewer, a fact not lost on his companions. Moving forward, they emerged from a rock-hewn corridor into a larger space and encountered hellish-looking wolf spirits, as Dermot identified them, which fought with more than animal tenacity before being defeated, leaving the ranger and the dwarf cursing their wounds.

Shanni was the first to spot several coffins by the far wall and the four companions had a moment to prepare, with Aerikoth casting additional spells, before they were assaulted from different directions by more pale-skinned vampire spawn. Darrow was paralyzed in the middle of the combat, but the others were able to finish off their enemies. The dwarf apologized for being out of the fight and moved to bandage Dermot, as the ranger had taken more wounds for the cause. Shanni and Darrow then tackled the task of destroying the coffins, the petite rogue going it at with verve, cursing the hated undead. She however still found time to slip some looted greatswords into what appeared to be a too-small bag. (Praise to those who destroy the abominations, wherever they may be found. --C)
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Dermot moved further into the cavern and then called to the others, who rapidly came to where the ranger was standing, in front of several humans imprisoned in wooden stocks. All of the people were alive, if barely conscious, but appeared unable to move or speak, due to their bonds. Shanni, impatient with her companions, yelled at them to let them out, which impelled Darrow and Dermot to action. The dwarf began undoing the stocks on one prisoner as the ranger took out a hatchet and tried hacking around the hinges on another. Shanni took the obvious route – for her – of picking the locks, looking very concerned.

At Aerikoth’s suggestion, they started pouring some healing potions into the mouths of the victims, Dermot alternating this with the contents from his personal liquor flask. One man, the first to recover, expressed his surprise that they were not his tormentors, not comprehending fully what was going on. Darrow attempted some levity and Dermot reassured him further, continuing to share his healing draught and strong booze combination. Shanni, who had finished picking all of the locks, told him that they were his saviors, like as not, and that it would be a good idea to try to get up and walk as fast as he could.

The other captives started to revive as well, so Dermot began asking the first man some questions, including why they were there. The victim was evidently still disoriented, but revealed that they had been fed upon, rubbing his neck and thigh as he spoke, then healed afterwards to keep them alive. A female prisoner started looking around and crying out for her baby, as the adventurers attempted to organize their new charges and get them moving towards the upper floor. Shanni went over to comfort the woman, as the others debated whether to investigate the only door exit from the chamber. Darrow volunteered to guard it and Aerikoth joined him, while Dermot and Shanni escorted the weak, staggering former prisoners upstairs. (Although I am admittedly cynical about much of what people choose to do in this world, including the true motives of adventurers, moments such as this can render clear our vision about what is true righteousness, as we walk on the Path to Judgment. --R)

With some effort, they all made it to the entranceway, where the first man to revive spotted the sprawled-out corpse of the vampire spawn. After being assured that they had killed it, he hobbled over and kicked the corpse, earning a grim nod of approval from Shanni. Dermot told the group they could go to the Gatereach Inn, which one of them said he was familiar with, and say they were with the adventurers. The ranger then offered them the four money pouches he had taken from the vampire spawn corpses, which worked out to one for each of the victims. After taking moment to organize themselves, a thuggish-looking man who knew the way to the Gatereach took charge, leading them through the door to the outside.

Dermot and Shanni returned below and informed their companions that the ones they had saved were on their way to the Gatereach for shelter. The petite rogue confirmed that the door was not trapped and told Darrow to just give it a shove. Beyond was what looked like a mining cart railway to Shanni, snaking around long underground corridors. It terminated in a ruined chamber lined with rubble and four coffins, which Aeirkoth pointed out was the number of vampire spawn they had fought. The wizard also recalled that it was the former altar area for the temple to Leira. Dermot enlisted Darrow’s help in moving some of the rubble, which appeared to be what remained of the altar, but found nothing underneath.

Searching the cavern room, they noted that a door which had appeared to lead to an up-sloping tunnel had been blocked by falling rubble. Shanni also showed interest in the nearby large pool of water, which looked like it could have had a bridge across it before, but there appeared to be nothing left of it. The four adventurers concluded that they had discovered what they could in the Hidden House, which the vampires evidently had been using as some sort of supply depot, as Dermot recalled from overhearing the previous visitors’ conversation. Shanni cursed and said that the Lathanderites had better pay attention now, while Aerikoth concurred that there was now proof for Lady Tylanna, in the form of living witnesses and the remains of the parasites, as the wizard put it. (I am unsure what the Lathanderites were supposed to do about this hitherto unknown den of vampire victims. The rogue appears to have much anger towards the undead - quite understandable - but also a need to blame others as part of it. Perhaps something in her past? --C)
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
The four adventurers paid close attention to their surroundings in the wee hours of Ches 29 as they made their way back to the Gatereach Inn. Darrow pointed out a nearby sewer grate in the Temple District and later Dermot noted to the others where he had lost the trail of the two visitors to the Hidden House, in the Mulsantir’s Gate district. The ranger observed that they had just up and vanished, it seemed. Aerikoth confirmed that vampires were notoriously difficult to pin down at times, given their powers.

At the inn, Jandrico Swift greeted them as they entered the building, Shanni cursing the rain again and shaking off her cloak. Dermot inquired after the four people they had sent on ahead and the innkeeper confirmed that their refugees had arrived. Jandrico mentioned that it was hard to understand their tale, as they seemed quite disoriented and exhausted, so he was at first unsure if the adventurers had in fact been responsible for sending them. Nonetheless, they had been given a place to rest upstairs. (The innkeeper was right to be initially skeptical in such circumstances, whatever the appearances. Many a con or surprise attack has begun with a small group of people appearing to be in need. --R)

Dermot made sure to both refill his liquor flask and get a mulled wine from the innkeeper before retiring, while Darrow ordered a fine ale for his own thirst. Dermot wondered if they could face trouble that night as a result of their actions, but the dwarf thought it more likely to be the next night at the earliest, since it would take their foes some time to figure out who and where they were. The companions then called it a night, with Aerikoth departing to sleep at his own house.

As the night wore on, the rain and wind howled outside and those staying at the Gatereach heard the shutters flap loudly against the side of the inn. Darrow, despite his earlier nonchalance, decided to get up and take a walk around, but found nothing untoward. Separately, Shanni went to the room that their refugees had been given, discovering that the four of them could not sleep either. The woman Layla, who had lost her baby, had been whimpering non-stop in the corner, so Shanni brought her over to her own room, in order to better comfort her. Hearing the commotion in the hallway, Dermot checked in on them, then went back to the room he was sharing with Darrow. Eventually the winds relented and the rain turned into a light patter, allowing the inn’s inhabitants to finally sleep for the remainder of the night.

In the morning, Darrow got a head start and was down in the bar room having his second ale before Dermot and Shanni joined him. The petite rogue wondered if Goruna, who was preparing breakfast, could go upstairs and comfort the woman who had lost her baby, as she might be better at it. With a straight face, Jandrico said he wondered that too, as Dermot maintained a carefully neutral expression. The innkeeper indicated he would send Goruna up to see to the woman, after she was done with her task.

Aerikoth arrived and greeted them, brushing some of the light rain off his robes. Shanni expressed some concern about the refugee group’s safety at the inn, but Dermot told her that it was unlikely they would be attacked in the daytime. Goruna then came out with a tray of sausages and eggs for the group, managing to brush against Dermot’s leg as she put it down on the counter, grinning. Jandrico asked her to go upstairs to see to the woman staying with Shanni, which she was glad to do, with a final wink at Dermot as she walked off.

Over the meal, which was hastily consumed, the question of what to do with the refugees was broached again by Shanni. She thought it worth checking in with the Lathanderites to see if they could keep the group of four safe. Darrow was not sure if they had enough pull with the temple for that, while Dermot figured they could make a donation or something. They all agreed to first head to the Ascetic One’s house, in any event, to see what the monk had prepared for them.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
The party walked in without knocking and were intercepted by Student Than just inside the threshold. He calmly accepted Dermot’s belated apology/greeting, then invited the four inside to meet with the Ascetic One, saying they were expected. Than moved to the side to stand next to his fellow student as their monk teacher offered his greetings. He then looked at the adventurers thoughtfully, observing that they had not passed a quiet night. A few witticisms were offered in return, then a more sober account of the violent rescue of four vampire victims, along with the killing of their captors. The Ascetic One was pleased that the victims’ suffering had been lifted and he said he believed they had assisted the Crying God with their deeds.

The monk then offered what he called a gift and a warning to them, pulling out a sheet of rolled-up parchment. Shanni looked at the others and then stepped forward slowly. Their host waited until she and her companions had come closer, then spread the parchment out on a table, showing a map of the Dragon Coast. He gestured with a finger, tracing a path that diverged from the road to Starmantle, southeast of Reddansyr. He said it would be difficult to find and an ordinary traveler would never notice. Shanni remarked that the two skulls on the map were a bit ominous. The monk in reply explained that that once they left the Starmantle road and headed north, the beginning of the new path would be marked with two skulls. When he had traveled there, they appeared ancient - whether a warning or simply a marker, he knew not.

At the end of the path, the Ascetic One continued, was a remote area with what remained of a ruined tower; perhaps a small city once had existed there. The monk had traveled there many years ago, having heard it was a place of ancient suffering. Rumored, in fact, to have been where the original Night King came from. This last bit of information caught the attention of the adventurers, as Dermot and Shanni suddenly displayed more interest, the ranger looking at the map and trying to estimate the travel time required, perhaps two days out from Westgate. (This is a remarkable discovery and truly ancient indeed, as the Night King arrived in the city some centuries before Dalereckoning began. --C)

The monk, bowing his head, shared that he had not been successful in divining its secrets, but had indeed found suffering there. Darrow asked what he meant and was told that it was still a place of undeath. Aerikoth queried how long ago the Ascetic One had visited there, which caused the monk’s eyes to grow distant, after which he said that it had been in his youth, perhaps three decades ago. He cautioned that he did not know exactly what they might find there, but he had no doubt the ancient tower there still rose from its cursed ground.

The Ascetic One offered them the map, if they wished to journey to the tower, and the adventurers discussed the prospect. Darrow was more interested in focusing on the Hidden House vampires, believing that the best chance for catching the unknown visitors would be to lie in wait for them that evening. Aerikoth was of the opinion they should make their way to the tower, arguing that the vampires were entrenched in the city and could be found in time. Dermot, unsurprisingly given his ranger affinities, was eager to get his feet moving out of town, while Shanni remained undecided.

Shanni, with Aerikoth’s support, brought up the idea of sending a message to the Temple of Lathander, so they could watch the Hidden House. The Ascetic One offered to pass the message to the temple and, after Shanni brought up the folk they had rescued, also to make sure they were taken care of. The petite rogue in response placed a small pile of coins on the table, to be used for their needs, prompting Darrow to follow her example. The monk thanked them and as he turned to his students to begin instructing them on their tasks, the four adventurers departed, to go find death, one way or another, as a grim-looking Shanni put it.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Outside the Ascetic One’s house, the group briefly took stock of their situation. Aerikoth thought it might be in their best interest to depart the city for a time, as what they had done to the newly incarnated Shore Patrol and their removal of a feeding station, for lack of a better term, would not go unnoticed by the dark powers within the city. Dermot wanted to shift a couple of gems quickly, as the ranger put it, and Darrow said he could use some additional provisions, so they agreed to head to Shalush Myrkeer’s shop in the Market district before leaving the city.

Once that was done, outside the shop Dermot shared out the gold from the gem sales and proudly displayed a Bag of Holding, saying he had been saving for one of them for ages. Aerikoth dryly remarked that it was a prudent purchase, the wizard having a few himself. He also noted that it might be useful to store any of the considerable wealth they might run across in the city of the undead. Darrow announced that he had got himself some cheap, lighter armor, for walking about town in the future. Shanni said nothing, but slipped a glinting ring onto her finger then pulled on her gloves. Dermot shoved his prized greatsword into his new bag and started leading the way to the western city exit.

Outside Mulsantir’s Gate, the party was about to set foot on Trader’s Road when a merchant guard at the Westward Eye hailed them, warning of reports of trolls that had moved into the area. Dermot was surprised at this, while Shanni was somewhat nonplussed, saying that she had never seen a troll. She asked what was good to use against them and Aerikoth explained that fire and acid killed them. Other weapons would down them, but they would regenerate if not doused with acid or fire. Shanni in response muttered to herself about acid and switched out some of the arrows in her quiver.

As the group marched down the road, Dermot explained that they first needed to get to Reddansyr, then from there take the road heading south that eventually led to Starmantle. They were discussing how long the journey was expected to take, when Dermot looked up and issued a sudden warning to look out, as a large boulder arced through the air towards the group. They scattered, but Darrow was the slowest and took a hard hit. Now visible were a pair of large humanoids to the side of the road, along with a pile of boulders one was using for ammunition. Dermot charged the rock-hurler and hamstrung him as Shanni and Aerikoth targeted the other one. After their enemies were dispatched, Darrow sat down heavily, still a little dazed from the rock to the head.

Shanni asked if they were trolls, but Dermot confirmed that they were some type of ogre, the ranger scanning the ridgeline to the south in case any more appeared. Dermot commented that some day, a proper ranger lodge should be set up to help protect the road, although Shanni pointedly remarked that it would then become a target for boulder-tossing ogres. Dermot convinced his companions to check out the ridgeline, promising to be quick. Aerikoth then cast stoneskin spells to protect them, in the event of another encounter.

Off the road, the hills became maze-like, but Shanni spotted some very large footprints to guide their path. The trail was broken at one point, but Dermot was able to cast about and find the continuation. By this point the ranger’s promised quick excursion was turning out to be much longer than expected, but the group figured that they might as well continue to pursue it. After a short time, they saw a cave and decided to check it out. (Curiosity has killed many a cat, but for adventurers the sniff of potential treasure is difficult to resist, regardless of what business they are ostensibly about. --R)
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Before creeping softly into the cave, Dermot warned the others to be ready to run. The ranger was gone for a sufficiently long time to get both Darrow and Shanni worried, so the petite rogue slipped inside after him. The dwarf was about to head in himself when Dermot reappeared and told them to wait, explaining that he had found a small pack of giant wolves – worgs – inside. Shanni said she had seen the eyes of at least three. Aerikoth speculated that they were perhaps pets of the ogres or a hill giant.

Darrow declared that he wasn’t afraid of no puppy dogs and was eager to clear out the cave. Dermot was less enthusiastic, but game enough, just cautioning his companions to be ready to run if they had to. The party moved inside, soon encountering a pack of worgs – more than just the three spotted earlier – and then were then surprised by a group of ogres who emerged from further back in the cave. After the tense fighting was over, Dermot apologized for spotting the wolves but missing the army, as he put it, panting along with a cursing Shanni from their combat exertions. The ranger also expressed his gratefulness for having Aerikoth’s stoneskin spell.

There were bits of gold lying around and a busted up wagon, making Dermot think the ogres had been part of an organized warband that had been raiding the road. Shanni found some old, empty barrels as well and the petite rogue observed it was unlikely the ogres had put them there. Darrow, who had been checking the stonework in the cave, concurred that the ogre band must have been newcomers. The dwarf found signs of a long-abandoned mining project and Aerikoth remarked that there had been several previous occupants of the cave. Despite the slim pickings for treasure, Dermot was satisfied that at least the ogres had been removed as a threat, thanking his companions for their efforts as they exited the cave.

The ranger’s magical protection had kept him in combat but not prevented him from being wounded, so Shanni passed over her ring of regeneration to him. He slipped it on next to a golden ring and looked at them both, somewhat pensively, as his wounds began slowly closing. In response to Shanni’s questioning, Dermot mentioned that the ring was a non-magical heirloom, also briefly laughing at the idea of it being a wedding band, pointing out that it was on the wrong finger. The ranger for a time watched an eagle swoop over a nearby hill and then pulled off Shanni’s magic ring, tossing it back to her.

Once they had almost reached Trader’s Road again, Darrow spotted something a short distance away, then bent down to pick up something shiny and green from the ground. This immediately drew Shanni’s attention, as the dwarf came back tossing an emerald into the air and catching it in his hand. Dermot ruefully questioned how he had missed that, to which Darrow replied with a smile that he was closer to the ground. The dwarf figured that one of their “friends” had dropped it during the earlier fight, noting that the grass had been trampled down around it. Shanni also was not happy that she had missed spotting it earlier, muttering to herself that she was slipping. The dwarf got in a few more friendly jibes at the ranger’s expense, as they reached the road and started the long walk west to the Reddansyr crossroads.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Fourteen hours later, Shanni wondered out loud if they were there yet, it having gotten dark ages ago, she pointed out. Even Dermot admitted it was getting late, but then he spotted the path leading south from Trader’s Road to the village of Reddansyr. They turned that way, the ranger gaining a little more spring in his step even as Shanni started to lag behind. After a short while, Dermot and Darrow reached the outer walls and were hailed by the militia guards.

Dermot responded, saying they were friends looking to rest before taking to the road in the morn. Back a ways on the path, Shanni - looking as if she could walk no further - eagerly accepted the idea being carried into the village by Aerikoth’s summoned huge water elemental, despite the wet. At the mage’s unspoken command, the elemental slung Shanni up with one arm and held her high, as Dermot and Darrow appeared, wondering what was going on. The ranger was bemused by the spectacle, but rallied and helped the party get past the dumfounded Reddansyr militia, who did not know what to make of Shanni’s chosen means of conveyance.

After being waved through the gate, the party headed for the Giant’s Folly inn. Once they had spotted its trademark ship-for-a-roof, Aerikoth ordered the elemental to set Shanni down, then dismissed it. By this point, it was very early morn on Ches 30, so they were glad to see the inside of the inn and receive a greeting from its proprietor, Ian Gryphonhawk. Despite the late hour, a bard was also playing for a group of customers, mainly mercenaries judging from their equipment.

Darrow immediately plunked down some gold in exchange for ale, as Ian remarked to Aerikoth that Helm’s Shadows seemed to have acquired a new recruit, meaning Dermot. The innkeeper was then even more surprised to see a grumpy, tired and wet Shanni enter in their company. Aerikoth drily remarked they had more than one recruit since their last encounter. Ian then solicitously arranged for food and drink for the group, as he went to check on the available rooms.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
As Ian was leaving, Shanni wandered over to the common room’s brazier and stood there, shivering, as Aerikoth regarded the notice board. The elven bard continued singing softly in the background, strumming a tune on his lute with evident skill, which impressed even Darrow. The others seated themselves at an open table, listening to the music, while Shanni remained by the fire, trying to dry off and muttering to herself.

Erinetta, the barmaid at the Giant’s Folly, soon came by with several ales. She told them that Ian had said drinks were on the house for them, mentioning something about a "troll tab”. Darrow, pleased, took that as a challenge, while Dermot praised Ian’s character. Aerikoth however declined the offer, wishing just water, while Shanni continued glaring around and tried to pick a fight with a nearby female mercenary.

The bard finished strumming and cradled his instrument, as several mercenary patrons clapped. Darrow by this point had already polished off two ales in short order, but had slowed down with his third in hand. The elf acknowledged the applause and accepted a few coins tossed at him from the crowd. Erinetta returned with Aerikoth’s water and the wizard explained that the “troll tab” was due to the exploits of the previous incarnation of Helm’s Shadows, having cleared out a large group of trolls on the Starmantle road. Shanni, apparently having failed to start an incident, grumpily came over and sat down with the others.

Erinetta brought over a mulled wine for Dermot and looked at Shanni questioningly, wondering if she wanted something warm as well, then placed another down in front of her. Shanni muttered a brief thanks, picking up the drink and hugging it to her small body. Aerikoth remarked that Ian must be doing well, noting the size of the crowd and also the fact that the innkeeper had to be reminded of their special deal the last time they were in town.

Ian Gryphonhawk came by their table, mentioning that there were a lot of guests at the moment, but he did have one room available upstairs that should fit the party. Aerikoth brought up the fact that his new comrades had noticed the boat on the roof and had not heard the tale, which Ian was pleased to recount. He described how he had decided to retire from an adventuring life and was living in Teziir. He had visited the Giant's Run mountains a few times, including a trip to Darrow’s home, Clan Ironhelm. After Ironhelm won the giants' war, as they called it, there were still a few of them roaming around, but no longer much of a threat.

Ian had been drinking with one of these giants – which he called a story in itself – when he decided to make a wager. He needed help building the Reddansyr inn and had the rights to an old piece of salvage in Teziir harbor. To make a long story short, the giant lost the bet and he had to haul the boat there, as well as help build the inn. Ian had figured it would make it a destination for the curious as well as the thirsty. (Indeed, the Giant's Folly was well known up and down the Dragon Coast, although I am not sure how many people actually detoured to the village of Reddansyr to see it. --R)

Noticing Shanni’s exhaustion, the innkeeper then excused himself, saying they could talk more in the morning, wishing them a pleasant evening. Dermot and Darrow both agreed calling it a night would make sense, while all Shanni wanted to do was to get dry and go to bed. The petite rogue finished her drink then began marching upstairs, looking bedraggled and forlorn. Aerikoth noted the fact that only one room was available, so he thought he would make different accommodations for the evening. Dermot and Darrow wished him a good night, then followed Shanni upstairs to sort out the sleeping arrangements.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
After a restful and long night’s sleep, the party gathered once more in the Giant’s Folly common room, nigh onto noon. The bard from the previous night was playing once more, singing softly to blend in with the tavern conversations. Dermot went over to tip the minstrel, as the others discussed Shanni’s dream of a big house with comfy beds and a bath. Once the song ended, the ranger wandered back to their table, as Erinetta carried over a rather large platter of food, including fresh boar meet and some stinky but tasty cheese.

As they were tucking into the meal, Ian Gryphonhawk approached and told them he had some news, mentioning several things that had occurred since they were there last, over a month ago. He first mentioned a troll scare near the Reddan River bridge, which had been troll country in the past. (It is a strange thing, the penchant trolls have for bridges, yet perhaps it is also understandable. If they are in the business of waylaying travelers, what better place? --C) Aerikoth then suggested that Dermot show the innkeeper the Ascetic’s map, in the event he had more knowledge about the area. The ranger produced the map and smoothed it out on the bar in front of Ian. He observed that it looked recently drawn and not by a professional scribe, points which Dermot acknowledged. However, he was able to recognize the area well enough, being further along the Starmantle road from Reddansyr.

After confirming that they planned to head that way, Ian asked them to bring back any word of his son Killian, if they could. The innkeeper’s face blanched as Aerikoth described their destination as a city full of undead, but continued on, describing how his son had set out on a foolish adventure, as he put it, some months prior when winter was coming. Killian had thought to explore the Starmantle road, to see what the dangers were. At the time, prior to its clearing by the Scarlet Company, the road had been closed due to the unusual presence of beasts, not to mention the harsh winter. Ian, hanging his head slightly, wonder if perhaps his son had heard one too many tales of his own past as an adventurer. Shanni and Darrow shared a grim look, evidently thinking about Killian’s potential fate. (It is unlikely that they accurately imagined what in fact ended up happening to the erstwhile adventurer, although it was certainly grim, as will be seen. --R)

Returning to the map, Ian examined its features more closely and queried if the skulls marked on it were real, which was confirmed by Dermot. Pointing to the area where the tower was marked, the innkeeper said that no one ever went there, largely because there was no reason to, observing that it would be several hours' travel in the wilderness north of the Starmantle road. When Ian mentioned the Scarlet Company was the last to fully traverse the road, so would have the most recent knowledge, Darrow told him that they had ended up at opposite ends of some bad business recently, so hadn’t really talked about the Starmantle contract.

Ian then brought up Old Hamish, a forest recluse whom Lady Rahnee – a former party member – had stopped by to talk to earlier in the month. She had been looking for information about his daughter Belle, who had traveled with Helm’s Shadows for a while, the innkeeper informed them. He also warned that Old Hamish wasn’t very social, living about two hours’ walk outside of town, in a hut with a small stead in the forest. (I too am curious about what happened with Belle, who stood with the party in their epic fight against the ancient lich Ashnakzeroth, but seemed to fade away afterwards. Perhaps there is more to the tale. --C)

At Dermot’s invitation, Ian marked the location of the hut on their map, taking his time to get the location as precise as he could. According to the innkeeper, Old Hamish was the most knowledgeable person about the countryside, having lived in the area longer than most anyone. Ian said that normally he would recommend asking the bard, given their profession’s penchant for travel, but this one had come from Cormyr. Dermot nonetheless thought this would be useful, so went to approach the bard, as Darrow headed back upstairs to put on his armor and Aerikoth watched Ian work on the map.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Darrow returned and found only Dermot remaining on the ground floor of the inn, in conversation with the bard. After some more ales for the dwarf and discussion of news from Cormyr, including the bard’s mention of encountering their former companion Dinendal, Dermot and Darrow went to find Ian, who had just finished his additions to their map. The innkeeper pointed out the route to Old Hamish’s place, which was in a remote part of the countryside, south of the Reddan River bridge and then requiring anyone visiting to traverse a marshy area into the deep forest to the east.

Despite the remoteness of the location, given no other immediate concerns, the ranger and the dwarf decided to make the journey, leaving word with Ian in case Aerikoth or Shanni inquired after there whereabouts. Dermot also made some purchases from Ian’s equipment stocks, including rations and some volatile clay flasks, which would be helpful if any trolls were encountered. The bard had resumed playing in the common room and strummed the final few chords of the ballad he was playing, ending on a high note, as he watched Dermot and Darrow leave.

The two passed the Reddansyr militia at the gates and, three hours later, arrived at the Reddan River crossing. At first everything appeared benign, but then a small group of trolls emerged from near the bridge and rushed the two. This was a mistake on their part, as Darrow’s axe and Dermot’s swords put them down quickly enough, followed by their applying fire to their opponents’ remaining wiggling limbs. Dermot took a look at their tracks, which led west, and found a spot near the treeline which apparently had been a favorite ambush spot for some time, judging by the signs left there.

Moving back to the bridge, Dermot eventually found a faint trail heading southeast, where the map indicated, and followed it. He and Darrow then spent the next two hours finding and losing the trail in the wild marshland, eventually ending up in a boggy forest area. It appeared to match Ian’s description of Old Hamish’s place, so they cast about and discovered a hut perched atop a hill, above the more waterlogged terrain.

Darrow went up and knocked on the door, which was soon answered by an older, grizzled-looking man, who asked what he wanted. Dermot introduced himself and Darrow asked who he was. Old Hamish, unsurprised at their appearance, having heard them coming half the forest away as he put it, acknowledged who he was and somewhat grudgingly invited them in.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Inside the cabin a hound greeted them with mixed enthusiasm and growling, but was calmed by the old ranger, who told “Runner” that his two guests weren’t trolls, although they smelled like it. Dermot whistled and held out a hand to the hound, but evidently his smell was still a turnoff, as Runner retreated. Dermot made introductions and explained that they had just fought some trolls, but was chided by Old Hamish for not washing themselves afterwards. (Bathing is an ever-practical matter which adventurers often neglect. --R.) Darrow then dug around in his pack and produced ales for everyone, as a sort of peace offering. Their host appreciated the drink, taking a long swig and recognizing it as better than what Ian sold at the Giant’s Folly.

After the dog had been ordered outside by his master to keep watch, the three talked and drank some more. Darrow then explained about their search and asked Dermot to show Old Hamish the map they had. Dermot pointed out the place with the skulls, about a half-day’s travel from where they were, as the old ranger scrutinized the drawing. He mentioned that he had been on the Starmantle road before, albeit not recently, but had no knowledge of the place that was marked, as no one he had heard of had gone into that part of the wilderness. Dermot admitted that there was only one person they knew of who had, and he didn’t have much good to tell. (Such is how the truly dangerous mysteries of the world are kept secret, being found in places with no reason to venture near - and then those who survive the experience are few in number. --C)

Shrewdly, Old Hamish thought that their quest had more to it than treasure, which Darrow confirmed, saying it was about undead. This prompted their host to recall that his daughter Belle had last come to visit a few months ago, but was at first reluctant to speak much of where she had been. Eventually she had told him the whole story, having gone with some adventurers to fight a lich in the Giant's Run mountains - blood magic, evil, everything you can think of was involved, he said. Darrow mentioned that Belle had traveled for a time with their group, before Dermot’s time, having later drifted apart.

Old Hamish stated that he hadn’t seen her since. However, a Lady Roaringhorn had come to visit him a few tendays prior, saying she was one of Belle’s companions. Darrow and Dermot confirmed they knew her and dwarf noted that she was now taking care of some family business. The old ranger informed her that Belle had left for Elversult, feeling she could not live with the villagers in Reddansyr; he also added gruffly that his home was no place for a woman, especially his daughter – who maybe was too much like her old man.

Eyes lingering again on the map, Old Hamish placed a finger on the spot the ruined tower of the undead was marked. He observed that it was not close to the road, but its location might explain some disappearances in the area, over the years. Dermot asked about Killian Gryphonhawk, whom Old Hamish had not seen, although Killian’s father Ian had come out to see him about a month after Killian had left, hoping the old ranger could help. Unfortunately, he had nothing to offer.

Returning to the map, Old Hamish pointed out the segment of the Starmantle road nearest the tower, which he said had its share of disappeared travelers over the last few decades, perhaps for much longer than that. Darrow concluded that it was worth investigating, at any rate. Their host cautioned that only small groups and individuals had become victims, no large caravans of the like, and there were no survivors around to say if it were trolls, raiders, or what. The old ranger said it was normal to have a wilderness road be a perilous place, but it was a bit different not to have a reason for it.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Old Hamish cocked an ear and said Runner was scratching at the door. Dermot immediately understood the implication of this, turning towards it with his hand falling to his sword. Loud barking noises were then heard and Old Hamish muttered that this was not good, as Dermot worked hurriedly to relight his torch. As the barking continued, Hamish told them to stay there as he took a quick look. Although Darrow volunteered to go instead, the old ranger told the dwarf that he would wake the dead, preferring to use his knowledge of the forest instead.

Returning quickly, Old Hamish told them that it looked like trolls all right, a pack of them. Darrow asked how many there were, saying they could handle four or five - perhaps more in a pinch, added Dermot, if they were smart about it. A pounding sound started up from the far wall of the cabin, evidently trolls attempting to batter down the structure. Old Hamish said he had taken a quick count and there were at least several around the house, as Dermot let out a mild curse.

Darrow and Dermot knew they had to get outside before the building collapsed and welcomed the old ranger’s assistance in the fight. Shouting “For Moradin!” the dwarf burst out of the door and began swinging his mighty axe at all of the trolls in range. Dermot was next out, working to backstab and apply his burning torch to those trolls hewn down by his companion. Old Hamish gamely brandished his sword as well, but by the end of the fight was leaning against a cabin wall, bleeding, as Dermot and Darrow surveyed the downed and burned troll bodies.

The dwarf immediately moved to bandage and tie a poultice to Old Hamish’s wound, as Dermot called out to see if he was all right. Drawing a few slow breaths, the old ranger mentioned his appreciation for both Darrow’s bandaging and fighting skills. The dwarf explained that he had a lot of practice in both, his mouth having got ahead of his fighting in his youth.

As they went back inside, Runner started barking again at the mound of burnt troll parts, but Old Hamish ordered him to guard the door again and the hound fell silent. The old ranger explained that normally the troll packs in the area didn’t bother him, so it must have been the scent of the troll spoor that drew them. He therefore advised that the two adventurers wash that off in the river before heading back to Reddansyr. Dermot said they would finish burning the troll corpses and wash up, apologizing for the incident and leaving a quiver full of arrows as a gift. They exchanged goodbyes and Dermot and Darrow departed the cabin.

The two adventurers worked out a way to use their cloaks to drag the troll parts away from the cabin for disposal on the way to the river. Despite the hour-long walk required, they decided it would be for the best, dragging their morbid load the entire distance. By the time they reached the Reddan River, Dermot was exhausted and Darrow grumbling about their smelly burden.

Darrow gladly heaved the troll parts into the river and then quickly stripped off his armor, going to wash himself while Dermot kept watch. Their roles were then reversed, Darrow declaring he was going to need another ale after this while Dermot rinsed off the troll blood and guck. Darrow reckoned, somewhat contentedly, that they had got an even dozen trolls that day. After another three hours, they made it back to Reddansyr and were applauded by the militia on guard, once they had told their story of defeating the troll bands.
 

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