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The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

Carlo-One

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Supporter
By early morning the following day, Hammer 22, they had arrived back at the Gatereach guest house in Westgate, cold and tired from their journey. Belle and Melissa preferred to rest immediately, while the others got some oatmeal from the inn before retiring. Early afternoon, the party regrouped at the inn for lunch, catching up with Jandrico Swift. Aerikoth finished early and indicated he would go see the wizard Gondeth, in case he wished to accompany them to Turnton.

Later, Aerikoth returned from visiting Gondeth and encountered Rahnee and Belle in the main guest house room. Aerikoth informed them that Gondeth would not be accompanying them to Turnton. Although the mage had interrupted a somewhat intense conversation between Belle and Rahnee regarding recent events in Reddansyr, he was invited to stay; Rahnee promised that a “cat fight” would not break out. Rahnee turned back toward Belle and reassured her that she and Brok-Tul were not angry at Belle. Rather, Rahnee was annoyed at herself for being taken as easily as a newborn puppy.

The companions turned toward discussing the aftermath of the incident at the well. In response to a question from Rahnee, Aerikoth said he thought he had seen at least one person escape, although he was not sure. Rahnee reviewed with Belle what was known of the bandit leader Jonas, who apparently was still in the Westgate prison, and Jonas’ brother, who may have been Rahnee’s captor. Belle said that his brother Marcus had departed Reddansyr some time ago, taking ship from Teziir for parts unknown. Their family, the Mynolts, had a reputation as minor, albeit crooked, traders.

Belle explained that she had originally become involved in tracking down Jonas because of a bounty put on his head for killing another Reddansyr merchant. She had found him holed up at the Spitting Cockatrice in Westgate and turned him over to the Reddansyr merchant representative in the city. When she returned to Reddansyr, Belle was warned by Ian Gryphonhawk that she was being talked about in relation to Jonas’ capture. He'd heard that the last anyone had seen of him, he had been with a blonde haired wench, that Old Tam's palomino horse was missing its mane and tail, and Belle had been seen near old Tam's farm. Belle assured a laughing Rahnee that she had not cut the horse’s tail off, just the hair, for her disguise. The three then discussed possibilities for approaching Jonas in prison, in order to gather more information from him.

Veran at this point entered the guest house, prompting Aerikoth to say that he had to check on his familiar Zeluth, but first had other information to impart to his companions. The wizard said he had heard a few things that might be of interest. First was that Jamal, the Harper bard, had not been seen in a tenday and there were whispers that she was either in hiding or deceased. Aerikoth noted that he had previously warned of this possibility. Next and perhaps not as surprising, the mage continued, House Thalavar had declared itself behind Audara Imryth in the election for the position of Croamarkh, while House Bleth intended to back their ex-Cormyrian counterparts, House Cormaeril.

Veran then mentioned he had news as well, saying that he had received a return missive from his monastery. He set a small amulet down on the table, along with the letter, explaining that the amulet was a gift sent in the hope that it would reach him in time to help combat the evil they had faced. In response to concerns expressed by Belle and Rahnee, Veran said that the letter indeed contained instructions for him to report back to the monastery once his task was completed. However, the monk continued, it would be necessary to define “completed” before complying; he did not feel that his task was done. (It is interesting to observe Brother Veran's interpretation of the Order's message. This is again an illustration of how outside the monastery walls, members must be able to think for themselves and take initiative when necessary. Veran, being on the scene and not many miles away in Archendale, was in the best position to judge the import of his own actions. --C)

Belle expressed regret that the amulet had not arrived in time for their battle with the lich, but Veran said stoically that such was the way of things sometimes, and that he did not believe it would go wholly without use. With that, Aerikoth took his leave. Brok-Tul arrived a short time later and caught up with Belle, Rahnee, and Veran.
 

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Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The Ritual of the Hand

The night of Hammer 22, the companions rested in the guest house, drifting off to sleep one by one. Aerikoth was the last to fall asleep and once he did, joined the others in a shared dream - one shared also with the lich Ashnakzeroth. As Aerikoth appeared in the bluish-tinged dream chamber, an apparently pleased Ashnakzeroth stated that they were finally all together. Rahnee wryly asked Aerikoth if he had had trouble getting to sleep. Belle was not present; Ashnakzeroth said that he had no interest in the “weakling” that accompanied them. The lich also observed that his former servant – meaning Melissa – had resisted his call. Brok-Tul’s prayers to Helm and the invocation of a protective spell were ignored by Ashnakzeroth, who said “cast your spells and pray to your foolish gods. It matters not, here in my home.”

The lich announced that he had brought them into the dream to demand they break its soul gem – the one they apparently were inside, in the dream – once they returned to the waking world. Aerikoth folded his hands into his sleeves and declared that Ashnakzeroth was not in a position to demand anything, as Brok-Tul’s fists clenched around his magical maul. The lich and the party traded verbal barbs for a short period until Ashnakzeroth, tiring of talking, said that he had been patient with them, but would now demonstrate his displeasure. The lich gestured toward Veran and the monk erupted in a fountain of blood, dropped to the floor and then slowly pulled himself up on one knee. Ashnakzeroth warned them that this would happen, night after night, until they did what he asked and broke the gem.

The companions awoke from their dream, finding themselves back in their beds at the guest house. Rahnee and Brok-Tul immediately hurried up the stairs in order to check on Veran and found Melissa in the hallway. She asked them what had happened, as she had felt the touch of the Master that night. Brok-Tul was explaining that they had dreamed together, when the door to Veran’s room opened and the monk staggered out, leaning on the doorframe for support and clutching his side. It appeared that the damage done to him in the dream chamber had not disappeared once the dream was over. (What a nightmare situation - literally - for Brother Veran! My flesh chills just thinking of the fate the abomination wished to inflict upon him. Yet I expect this will serve more as a spur for the company to find a permanent solution to defeating the lich. --C)

Veran, gritting his teeth with the pain, said that he had suffered a minor setback, while Brok-Tul quickly called to Helm for healing prayers. The monk confirmed that he had shared the same dream as the others, while Melissa went to check on Aerikoth. Aerikoth told her that he had shared the dream as well, commenting that Ashnakzeroth must be growing desperate. Melissa said that she had been able to resist his call this time, which elicited a supportive comment from Rahnee. They discussed for a short while the circumstances of the dream; Melissa believed that Ashnakzeroth had regained sufficient strength to be able to reach out from the gem that contained his soul. Aerikoth observed that the longer they were delayed in going to Turnton, the stronger the ancient lich’s essence would likely become, and in time he would be able to reconstitute a corporeal form.

After some further discussion regarding possible ways to destroy the gem, and an argument about whether it would be best to leave immediately for Turnton (Rahnee’s preference) or wait until it was light out (Melissa’s point), the companions agreed to wait until dawn, although Rahnee declared she would not be sleeping. Veran said that for his part, he would compose a note for Brother Millerjoi, the head of his Archendale monastery, to inform him of the latest.

(A search of the Order's archives revealed such a note from Brother Veran, dated Hammer 23, 1373, which lends further credence to the validity of these chronicles. It read:
"Brother Millerjoi,
It is with great hope that I write you. We have partially succeeded. The soul of the Lich is imprisoned inside a soul gem. It has been defeated, but not destroyed. We leave at once for Turnton, to meet with Arch Cleric Carlin of Helm, to seek assistance in destroying the creature once and for all. If Carlin fails, we will be out of contacts for further assistance in how to destroy the gem without releasing the remnants of the lich. It would be of great assistance if you could search through whatever documents you might think relevant. Lastly, I write to thank you for the amulet. I am sure it will come of use. Hopefully not too soon. With regard to my presence in Westgate, I believe that there is some potential here for showing the common folk the light of our faith.
Yours in Judgement,
Veran Bron"
-- R
)
 

Carlo-One

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In the morning, Aerikoth greeted Rahnee before telling her that he would be back shortly, then departed the guest house. Since Belle could not be found, Rahnee left a note in her room saying that the others were leaving for Turnton. Aerikoth returned to the Gatereach, catching up with the others, who were enjoying a breakfast of bacon and eggs served up by Goruna. Veran had passed his letter to the monastery to Jandrico, along with enough gold for him to pay the messenger fee.

Once breakfast was finished, the party gathered their possessions and headed south for the road to Turnton. The trip was uneventful, although Brok-Tul – for once – carefully scouted the area of the road where it forked off to Glees. Melissa reassured him that this time she had not planned an ambush, harkening back to their previous encounters. When they arrived outside the Turnton walls, Melissa noted the presence of the statue of the hand and asked Brok-Tul what was so special about it. The half-orc priest replied that to him, it was a reminder of Helm.

The group was challenged and recognized by the gate guards, who informed them that High Cleric Carlin was at the temple. Once inside the temple, they asked the priest on duty to inform Carlin of their arrival. While he was off doing that, Belle arrived, looking somewhat embarrassed as Rahnee and Brok-Tul expressed their happiness that she had made it.

Carlin strode into the chamber, the priest behind him, his face beaming. He declared that it pleased him greatly to see everyone present, as he had prayed to Helm since their departure for victory. The others then looked to Brok-Tul, who informed Carlin that they brought news and hope, asking for his aid now that Ashnakzeroth’s spirit was trapped in the cold spirit gem. Carlin’s pleased expression morphed into a frown, as he said that he could sense great evil now, albeit contained.

Brok-Tul brought out the magic pouch containing the gem, wincing and leaning back from the intense cold as he opened it, warning Carlin not to touch the gem. Brok-Tul confirmed that it was Ashnakzeroth’s phylactery and the half-orc related to Carlin what had occurred during the battle and its aftermath: the fall of Rahnee and Veran, the spirit dwarves that had come to their aid, and the party’s welcome at Clan Ironhelm. Rahnee commented, as Carlin’s gaze fell on Melissa, that she had assisted them greatly, to which Carlin replied, “Then she has earned the right to stand with us.” Veran further acknowledged her aid, saying that she had many opportunities to slip out and seek her old life again, but that she took advantage of none of them. (The bond as described between Brother Veran and Melissa continues to impress and surprise me. I am, however, forced to ask myself what other alternatives she has truly had since being defeated at the Glees crossroads by the party and then raised by Carlin. While it is noble to think she has turned her back on her former life as a servant of the abomination, she may simply be going along with the company due to lack of other opportunities for profit. Perhaps Carlin can help in this respect, by offering her a new life in Turnton. --C)

The High Cleric then asked why they had not destroyed the phylactery themselves. Aerikoth, who had remained silent until then, cleared his throat and said that the gem had a rather unique dweomer placed upon it, wherein if it were destroyed, the creature would reconstitute completely and fully at the spot of the gem being shattered. Brok-Tul told Carlin that Ashnakzeroth had entered their dreams and demanded that they crush the gem, also mentioning that the Ironhelm dwarves had refused to take it. Carlin commented that the abomination was clever and had yet to be fully defeated. The High Cleric then smiled victoriously as he declared that he knew what could be done with such a thing, saying it would be destroyed utterly. Belle asked how he could destroy it without releasing the lich; Carlin responded by saying that all would be explained in time, she having earned the explanation by fighting Ashnakzeroth.
 

Carlo-One

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Supporter
Brok-Tul placed the pouch with the lich's soul gem on the floor and Carlin took it, gasping with the shock of the cold that the gem delivered to his skin. He waved off an offer of assistance from Brok-Tul, saying that he would heal himself. Carlin then asked the companions to meet him by the statue of the Hand at midnight, if they would see the final destruction of their foe. In the meantime, he suggested that they call on the Baron. Brok-Tul uneasily declared that he did not want to let the gem out of his sight. Veran warned of its power over dreams and Rahnee urged Carlin not to underestimate what the gem held. Carlin listened to them, saying that he understood their concern, but that they all were under Helm’s hand, in this place. With that, he departed for his chamber, where he said he would seclude himself until the ritual took place.

As the others watched Carlin go, Melissa said that she could hardly believe it was almost over, with only a few hours left before midnight. Aerikoth declared that he had little intention of keeping a vigil in the temple in the meantime and instead would head for the inn. Melissa said she would accompany him and the others agreed as well, Rahnee commenting that it would be too late to call on the Baron.

At the Traveler’s Cheer, innkeeper Karl greeted “Deedee” with surprise, flushing a bit after she explained that she preferred the name “Melissa” these days. The others greeted Karl, confirming that he had rooms available and ordering drinks in order to celebrate the imminent destruction of the phylactery. Even Veran indulged in a glass of red wine, smiling as he savored it. (If the legendary Brother Veran can loosen up and have a glass of wine, there is no reason this should not be acceptable for the rest of us. --R). At a table in the corner, the companions relaxed as they reminisced about their accomplishments, speculated on how the gem could be destroyed, and uncertainly discussed their future for hours. Shortly before the ritual was to begin, Brok-Tul rose and excused himself to go to the temple and pray at Helm’s altar.

Around midnight, they all made their way outside the town gates to the large statue of the hand. They could barely see Carlin in the moonlight, standing close by the statue. The High Cleric greeted them and said that he had dismissed the guards. Carlin told them that this would be the first time he had enacted the ritual with witnesses, but that they had all earned the right. He continued, “As you have protected Turnton and the Dragon Coast from Ashnakzeroth, so shall you witness his final destruction. The Hand of Helm has stood for millennia upon this spot. Indeed, before the worship of Helm was known in this land. It is an ancient power, dedicated to the destruction of evil. I have consecrated it to Helm, and he has seen fit to bless us with its power.” (This raises a number of theological and practical questions. Apparently High Cleric Carlin has solved - somehow - the method of utilizing this ancient artifact to destroy evil magic. It also seems that its re-dedication to Helm has not affected its efficacy, nor Carlin's ability to commune with Helm to receive spells. The gods must therefore approve of this arrangement. Yet the origin of the Hand's power - unknown to the party - remains a question of import. --C)

Looking up at the sky, he said that midnight approached, and reached up to place the box containing Ashnakzeroth’s gem in the palm of the statue. Carlin then called out to Helm, declaring that tonight they placed a great evil in his Hand. Dropping to his knees, the priest cried out, “As I pray for vigilance, for strength, for courage, reach out your power and destroy this thing, forever!”

A long moment passed, then a rumbling began, rolling outward from the Hand and shaking all of the companions. Blue and white fire fell from the sky, striking the Hand as the earth continued to shake. After the fire cleared, a thin beam of white light could be seen connecting Carlin to the statue, while a similar red-colored beam ran from Melissa to it. As the earth stopped shaking, both Carlin and Melissa pitched forward onto the ground, unconscious.
 

Carlo-One

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Supporter
After the initial shock wore off, Brok-Tul ran over to check on their health, while Rahnee said she would go and tell Baron Pahar what had occurred, heading rapidly toward town. Veran calmly took Melissa’s pulse while Brok-Tul looked over Carlin. Brok-Tul unsuccessfully attempted to wake Carlin by flicking droplets of wine from a flask on him. Belle meanwhile questioned Aerikoth if it was over. The wizard folded his hands into his sleeves and, with his usual precision of language, stated that he was not entirely sure, but that there was no remaining sign of the phylactery’s existence.

Brok-Tul took it upon himself to carry Carlin alone towards town, while Veran and Belle worked together to pick Melissa up and carry her. Just past the gate, they encountered a baronial guard captain and a squad of soliders. The guard captain said that he had been informed something had occurred requiring their attention. Brok-Tul told him that they had had a visit from Helm, and Carlin and Melissa had been knocked unconscious. The captain and his men then took the two unconscious forms with them to Baron Pahar’s manor, followed by Brok-Tul, Aerikoth, Belle, and Veran.

At the manor, Pahar directed his soldiers to place Carlin and Melissa in the guest quarters adjoining his chamber. Brok-Tul and Aerikoth explained briefly what had occurred during the ritual. The Baron sent for the underpriest at the temple to watch over Carlin and Melissa during the night. Pahar said that he did not believe soldiers were also needed to guard them, as Aerikoth had suggested, although the priest was welcome to have extra hands as needed. The companions then joined Rahnee and turned in for the evening, selecting guest rooms at the manor.

The morning of Hammer 24, all of the companions, save for an exhausted Rahnee, met in the corridor outside the guest chambers and compared notes on their sleep; all were relieved not to have had any dreams that night. Meeting the Baron in his audience chamber, they walked together over to the guest quarters holding Carlin and Melissa. The priest there informed them that there had been no change during the night to their condition. While they were discussing what to do next, Baron Pahar noticed Carlin’s form stirring and Brok-Tul told the others to give the High Cleric some room. Carlin swung his arms from side to side and then slowly lifted himself up, moving next to the underpriest. His eyes still appeared unfocused as he placed a hand on the priest’s shoulder and faintly told Pahar that he was all right.

As Carlin shook his head clear and looked over to Melissa, Brok-Tul informed him that the ritual appeared to have worked, there being no sign of Ashnakzeroth. Carlin said there had been no doubt it would work, but was confused regarding what had happened to him and Melissa; he remembered completing the ritual, then nothing more. Brok-Tul related how the two of them had collapsed, unconscious, and had been brought to the manor after the ground had stopped shaking. Carlin commented that earthquakes had never accompanied the ritual before, but they were likely a consequence of the power contained within the gem. In response to a question from Aerikoth, the High Cleric indicated that he had never encountered an item of such power before, but that the Hand had been more than equal to the task of destroying it.

Appearing to regain his strength, Carlin ordered the priest to bring Melissa to her chamber in the temple and asked the others to accompany him in order to give thanks to Helm. Baron Pahar mentioned that he would like to see the companions afterwards in his audience chamber, since he had something to discuss with them. Before taking his leave, Brok-Tul placed a large hand on the Baron’s shoulder and thanked him for his aid that night. Pahar said that it was they who had done a great deed for the land, so thanked them for it.

The companions followed Carlin back to the statue of the Hand, where the High Cleric kneeled to pray and gave thanks for the destruction of Ashnakzeroth, Brok-Tul joining him. When Carlin rose, he declared himself free of any aftereffects of the ritual, indeed feeling better than he could recall for many years. In response to Aerikoth’s queries regarding the nature of the ritual and how it had been discovered, Carlin said he was grateful for all the companions had done to protect Turnton and for that reason had shared the secret of the Hand with them, but would go no further in describing its mysteries; perhaps he would one day for Brok-Tul, should he take Carlin’s place. When Aerikoth commented that he hoped such knowledge would not be lost due to Carlin’s discretion, the High Cleric serenely declared that it was something that should be known only to Helm’s defender of Turnton. (Despite the wizard's efforts to probe the source of power of the Hand, Carlin evidently considers this a matter for Helm's priesthood and none other. Aerikoth has shown little interest - contempt, even - for religious practices, but his attention has been drawn by the strong magic of the artifact, naturally for his own purposes. --R)

Following some inspirational words from Brok-Tul, who had continued praying to Helm, Carlin suggested that the adventurers go see what the Baron had to say to them, asking them to stop by the temple afterwards. In response to a request from Brok-Tul, Carlin promised he would see to Melissa’s recovery at the temple.
 

Carlo-One

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Supporter
A Head in a Box

Back at the Baron’s manor house, they encountered Rahnee, who had recently awoken and still appeared a little shaky, although she had managed to finish her breakfast. Brok-Tul explained to her what had happened with Carlin and Melissa. Veran was about to excuse himself to go to his room and meditate, but then decided to join the others to see the Baron. In Pahar’s audience chamber, Brok-Tul updated the Baron on Melissa’s condition. Pahar assured Brok-Tul, who had expressed concern about Melissa’s future, that she would not come to harm in Turnton. Veran said that, while he did not believe she should go unobserved, she had won some measure of redemption.

Turning then to business, Pahar reached behind his high-backed chair and brought out a large box, telling the others that it had been left outside the town gates the previous day, shortly before nightfall, by unknown persons. Somewhat grimly, he set it down before the adventurers and said that at least some of them should recognize its contents. Brok-Tul, peering into it, exclaimed in disbelief “WHAT the... A ... HEAD?!” The Baron asked them if they recalled their companion from the battle of Glees, indicating the head. A shaken Brok-Tul indeed recognized it as that of their former companion, Aratae. Veran, who had not been present at the battle of Glees, nonetheless was affected and sympathetically laid a hand on Brok-Tul’s shoulder. (A grim reminder of the bestial nature of man, I would be affected as well. --C)

Pahar said that there was a note included along with the head, one which should be of concern to them. Brok-Tul picked it up and read it aloud: "Be warned that the traitor's companions will soon suffer the same fate, if they do not leave Westgate." In shock, Rahnee asked the Baron about the circumstances of the delivery, which Pahar reiterated. Aerikoth queried the Baron regarding the exact time the box was discovered. Pahar indicated that it had been found approximately an hour after sunset, so before the midnight ritual at the Hand.

Rahnee made the observation that the note said “traitor’s” companions. Brok-Tul said that the note must have been from Pahar’s rival and the Baron agreed, commenting that from the perspective of self-styled “Duke” Hallton, Aratae had been a traitor. Pahar mentioned that last he had heard, Aratae had been heading to his home village of Tallwell, in Hallton’s lands, to take care of some business; apparently he never made it to Westgate, as intended. Brok-Tul got a far look in his eyes, as if replaying the past, then stated that Aratae had shown them the movements of Hallton’s forces. Brok-Tul also commented that Hallton must be watching the roads.

Pahar, addressing Brok-Tul’s thought, said that it was possible, but that he did not believe the timing of the delivery was necessarily related to the adventurers’ arrival in Turnton. The Baron noted that it was apparently known that Aratae had assisted his forces, along with the adventuring company. Rahnee speculated that the note may have been designed to draw the company to Turnton, assuming its author did not know they were already there. Brok-Tul thought it would have been more to the point to send it to their house in Westgate.

Veran excused himself to think upon the matter in private, as the others continued to discuss the possibilities. Pahar pointed out that it seemed to be a direct threat against the company, in Westgate, rather than having to do with Pahar. He asked if they had ever discovered which of the noble Houses in Westgate had been supporting Hallton. Aerikoth said that they had not, never having captured any of Hallton’s forces that they had faced. Pahar noted that the companions had two apparent avenues to attack the problem, either investigate the Westgate end, or investigate what happened in Tallwell after Aratae returned. He noted that Tallwell was a several hours’ walk east of Glees and recommended that they stop at Glees for the latest news if they chose to go there.
 

Carlo-One

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Rahnee commented that it would do no harm to see what they might learn in Glees, since apparently their activities were still of concern to some people. Pahar stated that he had not had any trouble with Hallton since the self-styled duke’s last defeat on the battlefield; however, Hallton apparently harbored resentment against the adventurers for their role in it. Aerikoth concurred, also observing that if Hallton wished to occupy Pahar’s lands, he probably realized he would have to deal with them first. Rahnee and Brok-Tul agreed with that assessment, Brok-Tul also guessing that they might be running into a trap. Veran by this time had returned from his meditations to join the others.

Pahar ended the audience by offering them his hospitality for as long as the company needed it. Brok-Tul asked him if he had heard about a wedding being held in Turnton soon. When Pahar replied that he had not, the half-orc grinned and said that he had: the bride was a dashing rogue with a reputation as a beautiful warrior, marrying some half-breed who thought he was a paladin half the time. Brok-Tul said he would be honored if Pahar would be willing to attend the wedding. The Baron indicated it would be his honor as well; Rahnee, smiling, said they would be pleased indeed to have him there.

Aerikoth examined the box and head further and queried the Baron regarding his relationship with the Westgate Houses. Pahar replied by saying that he was vassal to no one, although he received assistance from House Thalavar out of friendship. Pahar commented that he had thought his domain too poor to attract outside attention. That is, until Hallton grew over-greedy and attempted to seize his lands, clearly with outside help. While Brok-Tul was offering some further speculation on Hallton’s motives, one of Pahar’s guards arrived and announced that the Baron’s audience for the day was waiting. The Baron recognized and then dismissed him, saying that he would be a moment longer. Rahnee said that they would leave Pahar to his duties, promising to keep him advised of whatever they learned.

As they took their leave, Aerikoth observed that all of Hallton’s forces had possessed enchanted arms and armor, which implied assistance from a Westgate House with access to a lot of magic. Brok-Tul then questioningly raised the idea of the Mercenaries Guild being involved, as Rahnee hustled them away from the audience chamber, saying they could talk about this later. Brok-Tul picked up the box with the head and followed the others down the corridor to the manor entrance.

Once outside, Brok-Tul asked Rahnee if she had received her package yet, referring to her wedding dress. Rahnee stated that she no longer cared about that, saying she would get married in Aerikoth’s underwear, if that was what it took. Walking up the path towards the temple, the group encountered High Cleric Carlin and several guards loading up a wagon. Carlin was directing the guards, who were busy moving Melissa’s unconscious form to the wagon, to be careful with her. The companions approached Carlin and Rahnee asked him where he was taking Melissa. He informed them that he had to take her immediately to see Thyxlys Jon, the head of Helm’s church in Teziir, because of certain concerns he had regarding what had occurred. Brok-Tul, sputtering, started to ask Carlin if he had time to perform a marriage, but then stopped speaking.
 

Carlo-One

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Rahnee asked Carlin if he needed company, to which he replied in the negative, indicating that he would have two temple guards and Helm’s protection. Brok-Tul told the High Cleric about Aratae’s fate, showing him the head, and asked him if he would be able to speak with Aratae’s ghost. Carlin said that he generally preferred not to do such things and in any case had to leave immediately. Brok-Tul said that he understood and asked that Carlin give their regards to Thyxlys Jon, who had been very helpful to them when they had visited.

Prompted by Brok-Tul, Rahnee asked Carlin to also pass along word that the diviner’s words had been correct. Carlin then turned to finish his preparations, saying that he regretted not being able to spend more time with them following their triumph over Ashnakzeroth. Rahnee replied that it was all right, he just needed to come back in order to marry her and Brok-Tul in a timely manner. That earned a small smile from the High Cleric before he started giving orders again to the temple guards. (Carlin is not one to rush into premature action, so it is significant that he is now seized with urgency in the matter of Melissa's condition, after she was rendered unconscious during the ritual of the Hand. It is also telling that he is rather closed-mouthed about the situation. --R)

As the companions walked away, Brok-Tul was unable to control his frustration at having to postpone his marriage again, shaking the box over his head and bellowing in order to release his emotions. Rahnee yelled at him to stop it and the half-orc grumblingly complied, while Veran looked around to see if all the yelling would attract attention from the Turnton guards. Rahnee quickly walked back over to Carlin and asked him if there was a leatherworker in the town, receiving a negative response and a suggestion to inquire at the general store.

Rahnee returned to the others and they discussed their next steps, eventually agreeing to head for Tallwell, rather than return to Westgate. They stopped at the Turnton general store to resupply and headed north, receiving salutes from the gate guards as they departed town. Belle, who had decided to go off on her own that morning, finally caught up with the others at the Glees crossroads and was given an update on their situation as they walked to the village. There, they encountered a friendly local who directed them to the village inn.

Once inside, they passed two baronial soldiers who were evidently worried about something and Brok-Tul paused to speak with them. Meanwhile, Rahnee greeted the innkeeper, Undt, and with a flourish introduced Belle and Veran. Undt was glad to see his old acquaintances Rahnee, Brok-Tul, and Aerikoth, as well as welcoming the newcomers to his establishment.

As Brok-Tul came over to join the others, Undt commented that they had arrived at a good time for the village’s needs, as there was a problem in the fields. He said that a bunch of giant bugs seemed to have taking a liking to the village crops. The two soldiers in the local patrol had not been able to do anything about them, being outnumbered and outsized. Undt called the soldiers over and introduced them to the “heroes of Glees” who had saved the village during war with Hallton, asking them to describe the bug problem in more detail.

The soldiers explained that one of the farmers had reported seeing giant bugs, so they went to take a look. They encountered a lot of giant beetles with large pincers in the crops, too many for them to handle. Rahnee asked them how many they had seen, and one of the soldiers said that he had spotted at least three before getting away, and that there were probably more. In response to her queries, he said that they had been eating the crops with their pincers, but did not appear to be drooling acid or setting the field on fire.

Brok-Tul made a few quips to Undt about recipes for bug stew and bug juice beer, producing a guffaw from the innkeeper. Aerikoth asked Undt if there had been a history of such problems, the innkeeper replying that he had not seen bugs around before, although in recent months a number of strange creatures had been spotted in the area.
 

Carlo-One

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Brok-Tul then explained to Undt why they had come, pulling out the box with Aratae’s head. Undt, shocked at what had happened to Aratae, recalled that he had helped them out during the war with Hallton, scouting out the Hallton soldier camp in the fields. Brok-Tul said that sending the head in the box might have been a lure, commenting that it perhaps was not a coincidence that giant bugs had recently attacked Glees. Belle, running her fingers through her hair, asked if any hedge wizards or disgruntled wandering druids had been through recently. Undt said that there hadn’t been any strangers around recently, also commenting that the path to Tallwell had become overgrown due to the lack of contact with Hallton’s lands after the war. Belle still thought it a coincidence that the bugs had appeared so recently, possibly due to magic.

The companions said they would dispatch the vermin and Undt gave them directions on how to get to the fields to the northeast of the village. Rahnee asked the two baronial soldiers to come along and watch their backs, which they agreed to do. Undt wished them well as they departed, saying that he had no doubt the heroes of Glees would prevail.

Once outside, Aerikoth cast a stoneskin spell on Veran, saying he would need it more than the wizard, and also stated that he would not be using any fireball spells on the creatures, given the presence of the crops. (I must admit this to being an intelligent and thoughtful gesture by the wizard, as often adventurers instead destroy much of what they are supposed to be protecting. --R.) As they neared the fields, the soldiers pointed out in the distance a stream coming from a forest on the eastern side, where they thought the bugs might have come from. Veran volunteered to scout ahead, moving slowly away from the group and keeping low to avoid notice.

After some time had passed, Veran returned and reported what he had seen. There were two beetles with large pincers, perhaps the size of small ponies, in the nearest field. The monk apologized for not having a more precise evaluation of them, saying that his expertise ran more to the undead. He noted that there might be more in the area, burrowing underground.

The companions made ready to assault the creatures, Rahnee putting her bow away and drawing her sword as Brok-Tul cast protective spells. They advanced forward towards the fields and drew the attention of the two beetles Veran had seen. However, four other beetles soon appeared and joined the first two in attacking the group, causing a short, violent battle from which the adventurers emerged victorious. The soldiers, who had stayed a safe distance away, came up and congratulated them on their victory, saying that they never could have handled the bugs themselves.

Belle and Rahnee scouted the area by the stream while Brok-Tul decided to scout the remainder of the fields. The fields were evidently more damaged closer to the stream, where bug tracks were found. The soldiers asked if they were needed any longer and in reply were dismissed by Aerikoth, who told them to report to Undt that the beetles had been dealt with. After some more searching near the forest, the group decided they had done all they could to ensure no more beetles would bother the crops, so headed for the village.

Back at the inn, Undt excitedly congratulated them on their victory, saying that they had now saved the village twice. He offered them the pick of his rooms for the night and pointed out the washroom upstairs, which most of them evidently needed to use after getting bug parts on them. The companions each took turns using the washroom and then spent the remainder of the evening resting, talking with Undt, and discussing their situation and their history with Glees.
 

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In the morning, Undt provided them with a farm-style breakfast on the house and the companions agreed to stick to their plan of traveling to Tallwell. First, however, they made a public show of heading back to the Westgate-Turnton road, ostensibly to throw anyone off their track. However, after Belle scouted the nearby woods and found them lacking suitable trails, the group headed back through Glees to follow the now-faint trail leading from there to Tallwell.

After walking the trail for two hours, the group came to a large clearing. Rahnee was slightly ahead of the group and warned them to stay sharp; however, none of them scouted very far ahead and thus were surprised when several manticores emerged from the eastern treeline and began peppering the party with spikes. Brok-Tul and Belle were down and bleeding before the creatures were defeated.

While the two critically injured companions were being looked after, Veran made a point of thanking Aerikoth for using a stoneskin spell on him, which had protected him from the manticores’ natural weapons. Brok-Tul, while pulling spikes out of his body, said a short prayer to Helm lamenting his lack of wisdom, in that he had led with his pride rather than his experience, and asked for the power to learn from his mistake. (The gods help those who help themselves. --C)

The companions then debated whether they should make camp there and rest, return to Glees, or continue on to Tallwell. Aerikoth argued for pressing on to Tallwell, which was supposed to be only another hour away. They eventually decided it made more sense to head for Tallwell and once again picked up the faint trail east, in the process avoiding a bear that had approached to munch on the manticore carcasses.

Moving at a measured pace, the group arrived at the outskirts of Tallwell an hour and a half later. A farm house was seen off of the northern side of the road, which continued on to the village proper. Belle carefully scouted the area, finding nothing threatening beyond the cattle in a nearby pen. The group then continued down the road, arriving at the village.

A man of the village a short distance down the road approached them and asked them their business. When told they were passing through, he curtly told them to pass, then, and left. Somewhat taken aback by the cold greeting, the companions decided to see if a warmer reception could be had at the village inn, which was next to the road.

Inside the inn, the proprietor Kablin greeted them and indicated that they could use the rooms upstairs, as long as they each bought a drink. He was therefore suspicious of Veran’s request for bread and water, but agreed to the monk’s compromise of paying for an ale but receiving water. For the rest, the innkeeper provided cuts of venison, which the hungry companions downed rapidly.

The group made some small talk with Kablin, Rahnee ingenuously referring to a spot of trouble with the manticores on the road. Kablin confirmed that they were relatively common in the area, but generally kept to the forest, not liking the company of people. In response to a question from Belle about patrols, Kablin informed them that Hallton’s guards had a barracks in town, where they stayed when not out patrolling. Belle slipped out the door once she had finished her food. After a short time, once Kablin had gone into the back room, Belle returned and informed the others of what she had seen. The village contained a smith, a herbalist, a general store, and the garrison. Belle also commented that the locals she saw seemed dour and suspicious. (Given the repressive practices of their feudal lord, along with the fact that he had recently lost a war with his neighbor, Baron Pahar, this should not have been news to the company. --R)
 

Carlo-One

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Mid-afternoon found the group finishing the last of their beer and contemplating their next steps. When innkeeper Kablin next appeared, Rahnee told him that they had an “old friend” named Aratae who hailed from the area, and asked if he could point them in the direction of his parents. The innkeeper informed them that Aratae’s family, the Winnfalls, lived just outside of town to the west, also commenting that their boy hadn’t been seen for a while. Rahnee smilingly encouraged him to continue speaking and Kablin mentioned that it had been several months since Aratae had been there. He had returned to town for a day, then left the next, with no word from him since. The innkeeper made a show of trying to remember more; coincidentally, he was able to recall that Aratae had said he was headed for Westgate, after Rahnee placed two coins into Kablin’s outstretched hand.

After Kablin went back to his work, the group decided they should revisit the farm house they had passed outside the village, which evidently was the Winnfall residence. They readied their gear and warily exited the inn, making their way west in the rain to the farm. Rahnee knocked on the house door and a gruff male voice asked who it was. Rahnee said that they were friends of Aratae’s and the door swung open for them.

Inside, the companions shook off the rain and introduced themselves to Garens Winnfall, his wife Therena and daughter Aley. Once introductions were done, Garens came straight to the point and asked after Aratae. Aley’s face was a mixture of fear and excitement as she waited for the answer, her expression turning to horror as Rahnee said that they brought bad news. Garens stoically took the news from Rahnee that Aratae was dead, while his daughter began to scream and cry hysterically. Veran delivered words of comfort and wisdom regarding death and judgment, while Therena looked on with tears in her eyes. (However true the words offered by Brother Veran, no doubt at the moment they seemed hollow comfort. --C)

When Garens asked them how it had happened, Rahnee admitted that they did not know and Brok-Tul also attempted to say comforting words, mentioning that he had Aratae’s last remains. Garens, frowning, asked about the remains. The half-orc priest continued by saying that no matter how Aratae had died, at least they had his remains to present to his family; in their hearts, he would be both hero and friend forever. While Rahnee was telling the family that to honor Aratae they had felt it was their duty to see that his remains came home, Brok-Tul took his helm off of the box containing Aratae’s head and presented the box to Garens, who took it with a dread expression on his face. Before Rahnee could stop him, he opened it, exposing Aratae’s dead face. Aley ran screaming from the room and Therena appeared as if she would be sick, following her daughter upstairs. (The half-orc acting before thinking, with a tragic outcome, is a recurring theme that will be seen again. --R)

Rahnee apologized for the shock as Belle let out a deep sigh. Garens asked how they came by Aratae’s remains. When Rahnee informed him that the head had been left with the gate guards at Turnton, Garens concluded that his son must have aided Pahar in the war with Hallton, having followed his heart on the matter. Rahnee noted that Aratae’s death did not appear to come as a surprise. Garens explained that his son had been missing since the month of Uktar and it was apparent that something had happened to him. Veran respectfully offered to perform funeral rites, should the Winnfalls desire his services.
 

Carlo-One

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In response to Brok-Tul and Rahnee’s expressions of concern about the Winnfalls possibly being in danger, Garens told them he had not had a reason to be specifically concerned for his family, even if Hallton had been responsible for Aratae’s death. He explained that it would be one thing to waylay a lone traveler such as Aratae had been, another to uproot their entire family from Tallwell. In any event, they were no threat to Hallton and could be taken away by force at any time, if Hallton chose to do so. Rahnee expressed her hope that the companions’ visiting their home would not cause problems for the Winnfalls.

Aley by this point had returned and she asked if her brother had helped saved Pahar’s villagers. When told by Rahnee and Brok-Tul that Aratae had, Aley, still sniffing, said that he had been a hero after all. Brok-Tul mentioned that the Hallton forces he had previously fought had been well-equipped and, they assumed, had magical help. Garens confirmed that Hallton’s men had acquired new arms and armor several months previously, shortly before the war with Pahar started. The farmer commented that no one knew who had provided them; the self-styled Duke was not rich enough to have procured them on his own. Garens, along with Aley, then said their good-byes and went upstairs to comfort Therena, as the companions departed the house.

Once outside in the rain, the companions began discussing the note that had been delivered with Aratae’s head. Brok-Tul, embarrassed, admitted that he had left it inside the box. After some back-and-forth, Rahnee ended up sneaking back inside the house to retrieve it, using her ring of invisibility to ensure that she did not disturb the family. Once she returned to the others, she interrupted a conversation in which Brok-Tul was speculating that the Winnfalls could be informants for “Duke” Hallton. Belle and Veran joined in the speculation, while Aerikoth expressed his skepticism of the idea. (I find it hard to picture under what circumstances this family would become trusted informants for their feudal lord, who had killed the son and raped the daughter. Or indeed that said lord would need them in such a capacity. --R)

After some debate over whether to return to Glees and perhaps face manticores along the way, or return to the town inn and face possible ambush, the group went with Aerikoth’s preference of returning to the inn. The companions remained skittish as they observed a pair of Hallton’s soldiers moving around the town, although they were not challenged before reaching the inn. Once out of the rain, the group ordered food and drink and discussed what Brok-Tul would need to try casting a “prayer” on the note, in an attempt to divine information about its provenance.

Later that evening, while Brok-Tul and Rahnee were in their room, Aerikoth, Veran and Belle went back to the Winnfall house. There, they spoke with Garens again, hoping to obtain more information on Aratae’s last day in Tallwell. Brok-Tul soon joined them, having left Rahnee resting at the inn. Garens informed them that Aratae had become enraged at Hallton, after their feudal lord had enforced his so-called “first night right” with Aley. Aratae departed the town at the end of Marpenoth, returning only for the one day in Uktar following the battle of Glees. When asked who else besides Hallton would wish Aratae harm, Garens could think of no one. He also warned them that the innkeeper Kablin likely reported all he knew to Hallton.

Brok-Tul made an offer to Garens to speak with Aratae - or what remained of him - in order to give him a last chance to find justice. Garens at first reacted poorly to the idea, asking if Brok-Tul was a necromancer, but then favorably noted Veran’s reaction against the idea of being with a necromancer. The farmer said he would think about it, asking them to return in the morning. (I have heard of such spells that allow clerics to speak with the dead. Any form of contact with those souls in Kelemvor's realm would seem to be a dubious proposition, at the very least, for those of the Order. I suppose that if it is simply a matter of communication, performed for a good cause, that it might be permissible. --C)
 

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The morning of Hammer 26, Rahnee began the day by doing a credible imitation of a zombie, although zombies rarely puke as much as she was doing into her room’s night bucket. A concerned Belle went and fetched Brok-Tul, who assisted Rahnee and assured Belle that the previous night’s stew was the likely culprit for Rahnee’s condition, rather than demon possession.

The group gathered in the inn’s common room for a breakfast of porridge, Rahnee looking rather pale. Aerikoth’s raven familiar Zeluth winged out the open door to escape from the inn’s confines, even though it was raining outside. Despite the weather, Veran declared himself ready to perform Aratae’s burial rites, should the Winnfalls wish it. Belle, hot under the collar after hearing the night before what had happened to Aley, exchanged some heated words with Aerikoth and Brok-Tul, perceiving them to be insensitive to Aley’s plight at the hands of Hallton. She rose from the table and stalked outside to get some “fresh air.” Rahnee queried the others about the previous night’s conversation while Veran followed Belle outside.

After a short time, the group reunited outside the inn, with Belle mostly mollified, and headed for the Winnfall farm. In response to a question from Rahnee, Brok-Tul indicated that he had all the elements needed for the ritual to speak with the dead: incense, a bowl, a prayer to Helm, and silence from the others when the time came. Once at the farm, Garens let them inside the house and heard Brok-Tul’s proposal to enact the rite - which would be done to help find justice for Aratae - to be followed by the burial of Aratae’s remains. Garens told the cleric of Helm that he would do what was necessary and went to fetch Aratae’s head.

While Garens was away at his task, Brok-Tul explained to the others that he would have perhaps five minutes to ask a handful of questions once the spell was cast, and solicited ideas. Rahnee made a number of suggestions for asking when/where Aratae died and Aerikoth observed that Aratae may have been tortured for some time prior to his death.

Garens returned with the box containing Aratae’s head and placed it on the floor, opening it to reveal his son’s dead face. “Cast your spell then, priest” he told Brok-Tul. The half- orc cleric carefully expressed his respect for the family prior to beginning the spell casting, which took close to ten minutes. Rahnee guarded the door to prevent any interruptions while the others remained completely silent, allowing Brok-Tul to concentrate.

Brok-Tul finished his prayers, then asked three questions of Aratae’s remains. In each case, Aratae’s dead lips moved to mouth a short answer:

“Please tell us exactly where you were, when you died, that we may find justice for you.” Answer: “Hallton.”

“And, what happened to you in Hallton, before you died, until you died?” Answer: “Torture.”

Rahnee mouthed the question “why” while Belle did the same in suggesting “who.“ Brok-Tul went with Rahnee’s suggestion and asked “Please tell us, why were you tortured?” Answer: “Traitor.”

(I am not as dismayed as are other members of the Order at the clerical intervention of speaking with the dead, when used judiciously, for example as a last resort in an important investigation. However, frivolous or unhelpful castings only cheapen the deed (and the dead), I believe. Did the party really find out anything truly new or of import from this macabre ceremony? Did it bring any comfort to the Winnfalls to confirm that Aratae was tortured before being killed? --R)

After the third question, the head lost its animation and lay there, inert. Garens grimly stated that they had confirmed that Hallton had Aratae tortured to death, and asked Veran if he were ready to do the burial ceremony. Veran said that he was and asked the farmer where it would be held. Garens said that they would bury him on their property, by a stand of trees, and politely declined Veran’s offer to dig the grave, saying he would do it himself. Garens then picked up a shovel and, taking the box with its grisly contents, headed outside in the rain to begin digging.

The group followed Garens outside and remained to watch him, although the farmer advised them it was unnecessary to stand around in the rain. Rahnee clutched her coin necklace and murmured a prayer to Tymora. After a short time, Garens finished digging and went to fetch Therena and Aley. The two wept when they saw the little scene in front of them, continuing to shed tears while Veran said his ceremonial words. Garens also offered his respects to his son, then quickly shoveled dirt into the hole, covering the head. He thanked Veran once again, then all of them, for what they had done.
 

Carlo-One

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Confrontations and Consequences

After the rigors of their respective ceremonies, Brok-Tul and Veran decided they needed to meditate and reflect on what had just happened, going a short distance into the nearby woods to do so. (This is a commendable practice, as the toll from dealing with the dead can be difficult to bear, whether it is magical or not in nature. --C.) Upon their return, they found Rahnee, Belle and Aerikoth sitting under the eaves of the farm building. Rahnee informed Brok-Tul that while they were gone, the other three adventurers had gone to visit the Mayor under the pretext of finding a place to put a wizard tower. This prompted a series of inane questions from the half-orc, with Belle contributing wittily to confusing things, before Rahnee starting pulling on Brok-Tul’s war braids. Aerikoth then calmly explained that they had in fact paid a visit to Mayor Haman Amraphel and his wife Grani. The Mayor informed them that they could visit “Duke” Hallton’s estate, located a few hours to the east, if Aerikoth was interested in working for him; the Duke had lost his most recent practitioner of the Art.

Brok-Tul suggested that Aerikoth pretend to be interested and visit Hallton, in order to get as much information as possible from him. This prompted a debate about the group’s next steps, which included the possibilities of further investigating Hallton or simply departing for Westgate, now that their duty to Aratae’s family was done. Aerikoth declared that he would be willing to visit Hallton’s estate, but not be employed by him. The wizard pointed out that they already knew what Hallton had done to Aratae, so he saw no need for feigning alliance with the self-styled Duke. Aerikoth also argued that it was irrelevant to try and find out who Hallton’s secret patron was, something the others disagreed with.

During the resulting back-and-forth discussion, Veran argued for returning to Westgate and attempting to uncover there who had sent the box and note, while Rahnee, Belle and Brok-Tul attempted to talk out various ways of getting information from Hallton, including infiltrating his estate. Aerikoth eventually agreed in principle with the idea of approaching Hallton and attempting to elicit information from him. However, the group nevertheless now seemed more interested in returning to Westgate.

As they headed back toward the inn, it being time for the noon meal, a guard captain in Hallton armor approached them, backed by several squads of soldiers. He introduced himself as Captain Edwyn and inquired after their names and why they were in Tallwell. In response, Rahnee introduced herself and Veran and Brok did likewise. Rahnee inquired why Edwyn was asking about them and the captain replied that Duke Hallton had received reports of mercenaries in his domain, ones who matched the description of those who had fought at Glees. Not batting an eye, Rahnee told him that he was right, while Brok sent a short prayer to Helm skyward. When asked again by Edwyn why the companions were there, Rahnee in a bored tone commented that they were looking to speak to the Duke in the hopes of being hired. Edwyn informed them that they, having been in the service of the Duke’s enemy Baron Pahar, were not wanted on Hallton lands and should depart.

Saying that the Mercenaries Guild would hear of this, Rahnee turned and walked away, the others following; Brok-Tul made a parting comment about the Guild head Palla, to further give the impression that they had been sent by the guild. Once back by the farmhouse, Rahnee slipped into the trees to watch back down the road, while Belle led the others toward the trail to Glees. Rahnee rejoined the others just in time to hear Aerikoth chanting the words of a spell, after which the wizard disappeared.

Confusion reigned once Aerikoth had departed, the others trying to figure out what he had done. Brok-Tul, on Rahnee’s suggestion, prepared to try and detect any magic in the area, to see if perhaps Aerikoth had left some trace. Veran meanwhile went back up the road to see if the soldiers had moved any closer. He soon came running back to inform his companions that soldiers were setting fire to the Winnfall house, estimating their number at twenty. Brok-Tul immediately roared a challenge and a prayer to Helm, charging back up the road, with the others following closely behind.

The resulting battle was hard-fought and long, with approximately half of Hallton’s forces using their bows to target the companions while the others joined in melee. Rahnee received the brunt of the archers’ attention and fell to the ground, bleeding to death. Unfortunately, by the time the others had finished off the remaining soldiers and noticed her plight, Rahnee had expired. Searching desperately, Brok-Tul pulled a scroll off of Rahnee’s corpse and hurriedly read it; it was a spare Raise Dead scroll, which brought Rahnee back to life, albeit gravely injured.

Meanwhile, Veran and Belle had turned their attention to the farmhouse and located Garens behind it; the farmer informed them that everyone had made it out safely. They then frantically fought the flames still licking at the farmhouse, eventually extinguishing them as Therena and Aley cheered them on.
 

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Garens thanked the companions for saving the lives of his family, as well as the house, asking them what they would do now. In response to Brok-Tul’s suggestion to talk to the Mayor, Garens stated that it had been Hallton who had ordered the torching of his home, so speaking with the Mayor would do little. As the others discussed the need for Garens and his family to leave Tallwell, Veran moved among the dead soldiers, saying words over them and closing each of their eyes in turn. Eventually it was decided that Therena and Aley would have Belle accompany them for security to a secret place in the forest known to the Winnfalls, while Garens volunteered to guide the rest to Hallton’s estate in order to finish things with the erstwhile Duke.

After confirming that the others indeed wished to take on Hallton in reduced numbers, and stating that they could expect no help from Tallwell’s villagers, Garens made sure to gather everything useful available from the house, coming up with some food and healing herbs. Brok-Tul provided the farmer with one of his spare magical swords and Veran, after confirming that Garens had previous militia training and could use plate armor, gave him a suit salvaged from one of Hallton’s men. Garens struggled into it, thanking Rahnee for her help in buckling it on. As a final gift, Brok-Tul handed Garens a magical ring of protection.

Rahnee indicated that the plan was to scout around and see what they were up against. Garens said that it would not be a problem going through Tallwell, as there was no longer any threat there from Hallton’s soldiers, so the four re-entered the village, stopping for a spell in order to take advantage of fresh water from the well. They then headed east along the road to the Hallton manor grounds.

Once there, Garens pointed out the manor, which sat at the top of a hill and was enclosed by a wooden palisade. A few abandoned outbuildings lay nearby. Rahnee said she would scout ahead, when an uncomfortable-looking Garens said he was not good at such things. Brok-Tul and Veran accompanied her and the monk used his stealthy skills to circle the manor, reporting back that there were two guards outside, with more probably on the inside. After Veran confirmed that the other two wished to proceed, in spite of the monk’s better judgment, they walked up the misty slope to the manor gate.

(This is the sole place in these chronicles where I must criticize Brother Veran's decisions. A monk's obedience to his Order and principles does not imply that he must similarly obey whatever plan is put forward by his comrades of the moment - especially when they are not of the Order. Veran, somewhat surprisingly, showed independent thinking in the matter of Melissa - which I personally do not fully agree with, but nonetheless respect. Here, however, his lack of assertiveness had terrible consequences. I would say that this is one of the principal lessons to be taught us by these chronicles. --R)

Outside the gate, they were challenged by the two guards, who appeared to recognize Brok-Tul, likely from a description they had been given. The half-orc declared that they were Helm’s servants and wished an audience with Duke Hallton. The guards quickly opened the gate and then ducked inside, locking it behind them and leaving the adventurers outside. Showing his determination to advance at all costs, the half-orc cleric unlimbered his maul and declared that he had a key. Several powerful swings later, the gate was broken and the three adventurers advanced to the manor’s entrance. Pausing for a moment to prepare themselves, they then charged in, Brok-Tul yelling “HELM AID US!”

Several guardsmen were waiting in the entrance chamber and more of them quickly emerged from a nearby barracks to engage the three. However, their skills were no match for that of the adventurers in a straight-up melee and were quickly and efficiently cut down. Moving down the hallway to Hallton's audience chamber, they prepared themselves to face more foes, with Veran slipping into the shadows and Brok-Tul quietly chanting the words of a prayer for a glyph of warding.

As Brok-Tul walked into the chamber to cast his spell, several heavily armed and armored guards, Hallton's personal elite, rapidly moved to engage him and spoiled the spell's effect. Rahnee and Veran came to their comrade's defense and intense fighting erupted inside the chamber, moving to the corridor outside as Hallton screamed encouragement to his men and epithets at the adventurers.

Veran went down first, bloody and unconscious, but was able to rally to his feet as the other two fought on. Although a few of Hallton's elite guards by now had fallen, Brok-Tul could no longer hold off the rest and was the first of the adventurers to die, spilling his life's blood on the cold stone floor. Rahnee attempted to execute a fighting retreat, but was rendered unconscious. Her opponents then went back to finish off a helpless Veran. (A terrible end for a legend in the Order. He certainly misjudged his foes, or as my predecessor "R" believes, ignored his own judgment regarding the situation, which may well be worse. --C)
 

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Demonstrating once again her great constitution and luck, Rahnee managed to revive herself and made her way as fast as she could, bloody and battered, out the manor entrance. Soon afterwards, she surprised Garens outside, appearing in front of him and declaring that she would go back inside to die with her husband. She ordered Garens to flee the area and rejoin his family.

As Garens turned away and ran, Rahnee slowly turned back to the manor, death in her eyes as she readied her weapons. Although she used her ring of invisibility, she was unable to sneak past Hallton's remaining guards, who were on the lookout for anything out of place. After a flurry of combat that was carried outside and down the manor hill, Rahnee fell again. The two guards who had pursued her outside, now believing her dead, returned to the manor to check in with Hallton.

Tymora nonetheless was indeed with Rahnee that day, as after a while she was able to slowly drag herself to her feet and, finally admitting defeat, stumble off near-dead towards Tallwell. The village grounds were deserted, a boon for Rahnee as she attempted to move through the town unnoticed. She finally reached the scorched Winnfall farmhouse and collapsed on the floor inside after bandaging her wounds as best she could. (The presence of Kelemvor in the world is evident to all, not just those of our Order, as death is undeniable. Tymora's domain is much less concrete, but on occasion the influence of the Lady in the world can be just as undeniable. --C)

* * *​

It was early evening on Hammer 28 when Rahnee, Belle, and their new dwarven companion Darrow Ironhelm walked in the door of the Gatereach Inn. They were evidently looking for Aerikoth, as the dwarf bellowed his name in the common room after entering. Jandrico Swift appeared and informed them that the mage was not currently in the inn, but smilingly indicated that they could ask Jokull about his whereabouts, since the two had shared breakfast. Upon hearing Jokull’s name, Rahnee exclaimed her surprise and pleasure, heading off for the corner where the innkeeper had pointed him out.

The Cormyrian warrior was just as pleased to see her, but became instantly saddened when she haltingly explained what had happened to Brok-Tul and Veran. Brief introductions were made between Jokull, Belle, and Darrow, before Rahnee led the others to their private guest house meeting room. There, Rahnee told Jokull of the events that had unfolded following the delivery of Aratae’s head to Turnton.

After the battle at Hallton manor, Belle had returned to the Winnfall farmhouse and found Rahnee. The two of them then made their way to the village of Glees, then on to Turnton to request Baron Pahar’s help. There they had met Darrow, who had traveled from the Clan Ironhelm citadel in the Giant’s Run mountains in order to see if he could enlist the aid of Helm’s Shadows in exploring his clan’s lower delves. He had agreed to lend his axe to their cause in the meantime. The three then returned to Westgate in search of Aerikoth, after receiving a promise of assistance from Pahar.
 

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The group could hear the rain outside as the door to the guest house opened. On edge, Rahnee, Darrow and Belle readied themselves for a fight as Jokull went to the entrance and greeted Aerikoth, who had just entered. As the phlegmatic wizard brushed water from his robes and joined the others at the table, a murderous glint appeared in Rahnee’s eyes as she expressed concern for his health and questioned why he had so suddenly disappeared back in Tallwell. Her hand gripped her sword hilt as he explained in his usual monotone that he had decided to leave for various reasons, above all because he had an engagement to keep and wished to show them the result of his actions; something that he would prefer Brok-Tul and Veran to witness as well, as he had done it because of them and Rahnee and Belle.

Rahnee’s sword almost unconsciously came into her hand as words lashed out from her towards the mage, informing him of what had occurred with Brok-Tul and Veran’s deaths, in her words all because Aerikoth “had an appointment.” He showed no reaction beyond lifting an eyebrow as Jokull intervened to avoid bloodshed. Rahnee dropped her sword and, screaming imprecations at Aerikoth, cried and raged at him while attempting to overturn the table. Eventually, because of the efforts of Jokull and the others, she calmed down enough to hear Aerikoth speak, although she and Belle remained doubtful of his motives. The wizard stated that he now understood her reaction and, although his gesture of thanks now seemed somewhat pointless, he showed them what he had disappeared in order to obtain: the deed to the Hidden House, which would have fulfilled Brok-Tul’s dream of a shrine to Helm in Westgate. Rahnee broke down in tears again upon seeing it.

(However cathartic this conversation was, I cannot help but wonder if all questions were truly answered. Why did the wizard pick that moment to depart, with no warning? Perhaps it was simply a matter of ego, yet there seems to be something more behind it. The decision by Rahnee and her fallen companions to proceed with their assault on Hallton's manor was, nonetheless, their own. Upon them fell the judgment of events. --R)

The following morning, Hammer 29, saw the group gather in the Gatereach to break their fast, Aerikoth having arrived a short while before the others. After enjoying some of Goruna’s omelets, they decided they needed to re-equip and walked to Shalush’s in the Market District. Jokull, Aerikoth and Darrow returned to the Gatereach guest house, where Darrow changed into his new armor. The three then stood around waiting for the two women, Rahnee and Belle, who eventually showed up. Confirming that everyone was ready to depart the city, they headed for the southern route to Glees.

The trip to the village was uneventful and a Baronial guard captain named Renthor greeted Rahnee as soon as she stepped into the inn. He and a squad of six soldiers had arrived the previous day, under orders from Pahar to await the companions and offer their assistance. Rahnee told the captain they would leave for Tallwell at dawn, even though Jokull and Darrow were eager to press on, so he ordered his men to make camp for the night. Rather than share a room with one of the others, Aerikoth joined the guards, taking possession of one of their tents to sleep in.

In the chill morning air, the companions readied themselves and the soldiers struck camp. The march to Tallwell took three hours, the group deciding not to divert to pick up the Hallton magic armor that Belle and Rahnee had previously buried at some distance away in the woods. Belle carefully scouted ahead while the rest followed, the baronial soldiers forming a rearguard. The village was almost devoid of activity and the group traversed it unmolested, heading east towards Hallton’s manor.

The companions and Pahar’s men paused to rest as they reached the Hallton manor grounds. A sense of uneasiness gripped some of them as they contemplated the way to the manor, the site of Brok-Tul and Veran’s fall, and periodic tremors shook the ground, source unknown. Belle and Jokull moved off on their own, making a wide circle around the grounds in order to find and hopefully prevent any reinforcements from arriving. Meanwhile, Aerikoth prepared Darrow for battle by casting a stoneskin spell on him.

Rahnee took the role of scout, moving across the field and up to the ridge where the manor lay. After a time, she returned, white-faced, to tell the others that their departed comrades’ heads had been placed on poles outside of the manor wall. She had also been unable to disable a trap she had detected on the path leading to the building itself. Aerikoth observed that they would need to secure the gate in order to prevent the defenders from sealing them out. Rahnee concurred and assured an impatient Darrow that they would be moving to the assault, also giving a grisly order to the dwarf: to remove their dead companions’ heads.
 

Carlo-One

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As the group readied their weapons and began moving forward, a ghostly form appeared in front of them – “Brok!” exclaimed Rahnee, as Pahar’s men made signs of warding and Darrow thought they had been spotted by guards. The ghost, smiling, said that he had been drawn back, which meant that they had not given up on him. A moment later, he had disappeared, but Rahnee still seemed to be carrying on a conversation; even the normally unflappable Aerikoth stood staring, confused. Once she was finished, a determined look on her face, she gave the order to move forward. (The ways and means of the dead are sometimes confusing. A common thread throughout history, however, is that those spirits with an overpowering need to conclude unfinished business may return as haunts. Brok-Tul most certainly falls into this category. --C)

As the adventurers and the baronial soldiers started making their way up the manor hill, the two guards inside the wall shouted an alarm and ran inside, barricading the door behind them. Avoiding the trap on the way up, the companions once again bashed down the gate and reached the door. Although Darrow was eager to bash it, it opened easily to a knock spell from Aerikoth. The companions readied themselves for a charge and swiftly entered the manor.

Inside, a number of Hallton guards engaged them in the entrance hall, but were no match for the group, who then made their way slowly down the corridor to Hallton’s audience chamber. Hallton, hearing them coming, shouted out for his guards to charge the intruders. Several heavily armed and armored men moved to do their lord’s bidding, engaging the companions at the chamber’s opening. A savage melee ensued and the captain of Pahar’s men went down, although his soldiers stood firm and were able to form a shield wall in front of Aerikoth, who hurled spells into the ranks of their foes.

When the fighting was done, Hallton’s guard was dead and he himself had vanished after drinking a potion during the fight. Rahnee, no fool, immediately thought to start tracing his blood trail, bringing her adventuring companions with her while Pahar’s guard stayed in the audience chamber. After several minutes, the adventurers went back to the chamber, where they spotted Hallton’s form retreating into his antechamber. Cornering the erstwhile Duke, Rahnee and Darrow cut him down without mercy, Rahnee stabbing him over and over again as she cursed him to his grave.

The remaining soldiers from Baron Pahar’s guard headed back to the manor entrance to sweep the area, as the companions looted Hallton’s body and searched his chambers. In an underground torture complex, they found a note in a cipher which none of them could read, which Aerikoth kept for future reference. Inside Hallton’s personal chamber, a trapped chest was disarmed by Rahnee, but nothing was found inside. Aerikoth, concentrating, was able to tell that the chest was magical in some manner, but nothing more.

A short while later, as the group was completing their sweep of the manor and nearby grounds, Rahnee and Aerikoth heard a scream from outside. They moved quickly and found a baronial guardsman standing over the charred form of Darrow; the guard explained that he had come as soon as he had heard the scream, having been searching outside for possible graves, under Rahnee’s previous orders. Rahnee was able to quickly administer healing salves to the dwarf, who confirmed that he had tripped a fire trap on the spiked head of Brok-Tul while attempting to retrieve it. After finishing her ministrations to Darrow, Rahnee examined the pole with Veran’s head and disabled a similar trap, taking both of the heads into her possession and placing them in her magical bag of holding.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
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After the group finished looting the Hallton equipment and rigging stretchers for the bodies of the two baronial soldiers who had fallen during combat, they slowly made their way down the manor hill, heading away from that grim place without once looking behind. As the group reached the outskirts of the manor grounds, Belle reappeared, immediately taking in the stretchers and the tired but victorious mien of her comrades. Hugging Rahnee, she was informed of what had happened, Darrow chiding her with a smile about her missing the fun.

Rahnee then told Belle that she wished for Belle to help them search the manor basement again, not understanding why Hallton had run underground, but then came back upstairs into the corridor where they had found him. The adventurers trooped back to the manor, where Aerikoth spent time examining Hallton’s chest further, while the others went underground to go over the torture chamber once again.

Finding nothing, the companions emerged from the manor and discovered Jokull making his way up the hill. He reported that he had seen no other enemies and then was filled in on the results of the battle. It was decided that Aerikoth would teleport to Turnton with Hallton’s chest, while the others made their way overland to the town. Aerikoth said the words to activate the spell and disappeared, while the others made their way along the path from the manor back toward Tallwell.

Around midday of Hammer 30, Rahnee, Belle, Darrow and Jokull arrived in Turnton, having had a chilling encounter with a group of winter wolves along the way. Darrow had got the worst of it, as his beard was still frost-brittle. They met up with Aerikoth in Baron Pahar’s audience chamber, where the Baron offered his thanks for their success and his sympathies for their loss. Rahnee expressed her sorrow at the loss of Pahar’s men and offered to provide compensation for their families.

Turning to business, Pahar told them that he had decided not to occupy Hallton’s lands, at least until the identity of Hallton’s secret backers was uncovered, judging the risk of a confrontation with them would be too great. As soon as High Cleric Carlin returned, Pahar planned to visit Westgate and confer with his Thalavar allies regarding the situation. Rahnee, smiling slightly, informed Pahar she had told the Mayor of Tallwell that she should be considered the seneschal of Hallton’s estates until further notice. The Baron observed that this made Rahnee a target, something which she indicated was intentional. Belle muttered something to the effect that she was not quite as enthusiastic about the prospect of being a target. The companions also discussed the mystery of Hallton’s chest and the lack of treasure found at his manor.

In the end, it was decided that Aerikoth would teleport back to the guest house with Hallton’s chest, which could then be delivered to Castle Thalavar for further investigation. An impatient Jokull departed the audience chamber without any further word, prompting an apology from Rahnee. The others said their goodbyes to the Baron and departed, with Aerikoth teleporting out soon after.

(Jokull's contempt for authority figures has been evident throughout these chronicles. Is his attitude the result of his past treatment in Cormyr and his current status as an exiled Purple Dragon? Or is it the stereotypical Cormyrian hauteur and arrogance towards outsiders? It is hard to say. However, the fact that the warrior has managed to avoid fighting in his company's major battles, both against the lich Ashnakzeroth and the self-styled Duke Hallton, means that he has fewer accomplishments to be arrogant about. --R)
 

Carlo-One

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Prodigals

After Aerikoth had magically vanished, Rahnee, Jokull, Veran and Darrow departed Turnton on foot and arrived in Westgate in the evening, having encountered and defeated a vicious worg pack during their journey. As they entered the Gatereach compound, Aerikoth came out and greeted them. While they were discussing the day’s events, a fashionably-dressed elf emerged from the Gatereach, apparently on his way out. However, he stopped upon hearing Jokull’s voice and then went over to the Cormyrian, shouting a greeting. Jokull stared at the elf a moment before recognizing and welcoming him.

Dinendal Calafalas expressed his happiness at being able to join Jokull and - referring to the others in the company - Jokull’s “band of helpers.” Introductions were made amid some open-mouthed gaping at Dinendal’s characterization of the group. It was explained that Jokull had encountered Dinendal in Marsember. The elf, apparently having great interest in Jokull’s tales of adventure, had decided to venture to Westgate to assist Jokull in his quest. The group, including Dinendal, entered the inn and availed themselves of Jandrico Swift’s drink selection. Jokull offered to put Dinendal up in the guest house while the elf was in Westgate. Jandrico was asked to obtain new keys for both Darrow and Dinendal.

The following morning, the first of Alturiak, the companions gathered in the first floor of the guest house, except for Dinendal and Belle, who had been out during the night. Aerikoth departed to seek out two spells he needed at Aurora’s Emporium. Dinendal then showed up, although he had to exchange bellowing greetings through the door with Darrow in order to gain entrance. Aerikoth returned from his outing and went up to his room, while in the meantime the others had decided to go out in search of a smith, at Darrow’s insistence, and spend time in the Market district.

By that evening, the companions had all returned to the guest house and, tired from the day’s activities, went to sleep. After a dream-filled night, Rahnee, Jokull and Darrow roused themselves and went outside to the Gatereach compound. There, Rahnee sparred with Jokull, besting the Cormyrian warrior after several rounds of fighting. After a short break, Jokull then took on an eager Darrow, who however had to admit once their session was done that Jokull’s skills were better than his that day.

Having heard the battle sounds outside the guest house, Aerikoth and Dinendal joined them, then the group went into the Gatereach for breakfast. Although Goruna’s griddle cakes were memorable, the real highlight of the meal was Darrow’s axe slipping as he sat on his stool, resulting in the weapon's sharp edge taking a chunk out of Aerikoth. The mage was as unflinching as usual and the wound healed itself within a minute, although it should be noted that Jandrico was somewhat shocked at the scene.
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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