Fantasy


Ell’s Hamlet

Having destroyed Argalt’s raiders in the fens near Miselea, Hugo Tuya’s guards were now ready to return to their main journey. They would travel to Ell’s Hamlet to rest and investigate the raiders’ purpose, then they would travel on to Estala where they hoped to receive payment for the first third of their services, and take a few days to rest and enjoy life off the road. The roster for today’s session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith
  • Yoog, changeling scoundrel

Ell’s Hamlet

After their successful battle at the waterfall they rested only briefly before returning to a worried-looking Hugo Tuya on the road to Ell’s Hamlet. The journey from there was short, passing through the same complex of low hillocks and slightly marshy hollows that they had passed through the previous day, and where Rimgalt and his raiders now lay rotting. Towards late afternoon they reached Ell’s Hamlet, easily in time to clean up before the evening meal. Ell’s Hamlet was a small and secure village of only a few score buildings, set inside a combined stone wall and wooden palisade atop an ancient earthworks. The entrance road passed through a small complex of raised mounds, on which stood empty wooden archers’ nests, and passed through a wooden gatehouse in one of the few gaps in the earthworks’ lower barrier wall. From there they passed through a switchback road up to a higher level, overlooked by a smaller internal palisade, before entering the small village area itself.

Ell’s Hamlet had a single small hostelry called the Ell, right at the centre of the town, which was the primary purpose of its existence. Behind the Ell was a small barracks, and spreading out from this central square the various homes and warehouses of the local farmers. From the outer palisade of the earthworks they could look out over a mixture of good farming land broken up by small, bare hillocks and water-logged hollows. To the northwest the low peaks of the southern end of the Spine mountains vaulted into the sky, looming over the landscape like distant shadows; to the east the land stretched out in a rough and wrinkled patchwork of grey and light green and browns until it merged with the distant, darker swathe of the great forest. Everything was cool and peaceful, though a new storm threatened to gather over the sea far to the east, and they all knew that to the southwest lay the broken corpses of a squad of raiders. Looking back on their journey thus far, they thought this peaceful landscape held many secrets, and a great deal of danger and dark magic was buried beneath its bucolic scenery.

And so they set about plumbing the depths of those secrets. Rimgalt and his raiders had been sent to the Hamlet to find a man called Regald and bring back any documents he possessed, and any necklaces. Their scouts had entered the Hamlet and learnt that Regald died a year ago and his daughter had left town, so were returning to Rimgalt to tell him and find out what to do next when they saw Tuya’s caravan and made the mistake of assuming it would be easy pickings. Hugo Tuya’s guards suspected that Regald was the owner of the necklace they held, and that his daughter who left the town had died in the woods north of Ebara with her elven lover. They wanted to find out for certain, and word of valuable documents in his possession drew their attention like moths to a flame. So they sent Yoog through the town, in her generic human form, to ask questions and find out what the story was with Regald. After some time and painful conversation at a coffee shop Yoog returned to tell them that Regald had died of a heart attack and his daughter had left his house only a little later, apparently on a quick journey – she had not prepared the house for a long time away, neither preparing it for winter nor sealing the storm shutters nor putting up protection against wasp nests, and all her neighbours were angry at her when she did not return promptly. Following Yoog’s information, they set off for the house.

One of the Gull’s Sketches

Regald’s History

They found the house quickly and after some confusion and unsubtle approaches were able to break in and start exploring. It had only three rooms: a large, comfortable kitchen and eating area, a messy and cluttered study and a small loft bedroom above the eating area, set off from the main room by a curtain. The study was obviously Regald’s comfortable room, and clearly undisturbed for a long time. They explored it thoroughly, finding tools and weapons suitable for the study of a retired adventurer. In amongst this general clutter they found:

  • A partial map of the Middlemarch, with a single cross marked on it
  • A set of books describing the towns and geography of the west coast of Hadun, referred to generally as Azale’s Almanac, which is generally considered accurate and useful
  • A folio of sketches labeled “The Gull’s sketches” which contain pictures of a changeling, a human astrologer, a human explorer, and a human warrior, with probably a dwarven stormcaller they guessed was “The Gull”, because these pictures seemed more like self-portraits
  • A letter, two years old, addressed to Regald and left opened and read beneath the folio

The letter suggested that this Regald had been sent some important documents and had never translated them. But even more, they realized that the man Verbere whose widow they had robbed in Ibara was also a member of the same group as Regald: both had been written letters by Siladan the Elder, and their lives had come to bitter ends soon after.

The room above the living area was a young woman’s bedroom, in a state of genteel disorder as of a slightly messy girl preparing for a short journey. In her small desk they found a small bundle of letters written in very simple elvish from a man called Haltzel, which Itzel translated with some scorn at the way he simplified elvish grammar for a human reader. These letters confirmed their suspicions: that this girl, whose name was Azagald, had been the lover of the elven man Haltzel, and it was their remains (and her reanimated corpse) that they had found in the woods north of Ibara. The last letter from Haltzel suggested Azgald had taken Regald’s documents to him to be translated. Presumably they had met in the woods north of Ibara for a tryst and to exchange the documents, and there they had been set upon by deepfolk and cruelly murdered, with Azgald’s body left reanimated as a trap for any elves that came looking for Haltzel’s ruins. Hugo Tuya’s guards assumed also that the deepfolk had stolen the elvish documents.

Why were those documents so important? Regald and Verbere’s group had taken them from a deepfolk lair and then left them unopened for years; Siladan had found them when cleaning his study and sent them to Regald for help translating, but Regald had died of a heart attack before he could read them; after his death they guessed his daughter Azgald had been cleaning his room and found the note and documents, seized the chance to visit her lover Haltzel, and been ambushed and murdered by deepfolk north of Ibara. Had those deepfolk known she was carrying elven documents stolen from deepfolk? Why would deepfolk care about elven documents? The story confounded them. Furthermore, in the year since he sent this letter to Regald, Siladan had translated some of the work of this Aveld the Foul, learnt of buried iron, and told his old comrade Verbere about it – but Verbere had been ambushed and died on the way to the location of the iron. Was Siladan organizing the death of his former adventuring colleagues? Was the whole group cursed? Or was it just poor luck? They all agreed that they must find him in Estona and learn the truth about his past and his actions.

With that, unable to learn anything else, they left the house and Regald and Azgald’s secrets, and returned to their hostelry.

Smoke in the mountains

They set off for Estala the next morning, eager for rest and payment. From Estala they would cross the mountains through the pass known as the Middlemarch, which was supposedly safe, and arrive in the western side of Hadun before the end of storm season, from there to travel comfortably down to Estona along its eponymous river. Before the trials of the mountain crossing they would take a few days to re-equip, to rest, to make offerings, and to discuss their next plans. They made good time on the road to Estala, spurred on by the storm behind them and the promise of a good bath ahead. Towards late afternoon, however, as they crested the first of the foothills of the Spine mountains and Estala hoved into view, they realized that their plans had been confounded. Estala had been raided.

Estala lies in the bend of a river, its southern flanks protected by this deep and fast-flowing river and its northern side guarded by a stone wall that stretches from the eastern to the western edge of this large curve in the river. All of Estala is nestled inside the twin barriers of wall and water, with the northern gate of the town looking out from the walls at the looming mountains, while the southern entrance is possible only through four fortified bridges that are all separated from the mountain side by the river itself. Within this oxbow and its northern face, the town is said to be secure. Yet here they could see multiple smouldering fires, and when Quangbae used his telescope he could clearly see that the northern gate had been smashed in. The fires now smouldered, likely lit in a raid the night before and damped down during the day. He could see frantic activity in the town, as people repaired the damaged gates and attempted to make the town safe before nightfall. Hugo Tuya became very agitated at this report, and urged them into the town; convinced by Quangbae’s reconnaissance that it was safe, they headed down the hill to the river’s edge and the dawn bridge, from which they would enter the town’s south eastern suburbs.

They entered a town in quiet uproar, but did not disturb its busy residents until they had safely ensconced themselves in a hostelry near the north gate. There they learnt the horrible truth: the town had been raided the night before by deepfolk, who had overcome its defenses and broken through its northern gate, then despoiled the town itself for a few hours while the town’s defenders organized themselves. Before a solid counter attack could be mounted they had withdrawn, taking with them 10 hostages and leaving behind 10 dead citizens and 14 dead soldiers from the local levy. They had broken through the defenses using batriders, who had come over the walls in silence in the depths of night and taken the gatehouse by force before the guards knew of their presence; with the gate then open, the rest of the deepfolk force had been able to enter the town and do much damage before the remaining troops of the levy could be alerted and coordinated.

A terrible circumstance indeed but nothing they felt would affect them personally, until Hugo Tuya called them together within the hour and confessed to them the horrible truth: Hugo Tuya had no money, and had been expecting to call in a debt from his brother when they arrived in Estala. Unfortunately, his brother was one of the 10 hostages, the money Hugo Tuya had been hoping to take from his brother was buried somewhere, and if his brother died he would never get it, which would mean his guards would go unpaid, and his journey to Estona would end in penury here in Estala.

Itzel asked about the money he had made on the journey here – the reward for defeating bandits, payment for killing spiders, and so forth. He confessed that he was seriously in debt in both Miselea and Inorat, which was why he was journeying to Estona to sell iron in the first place, and when he had arrived in Miselea he had used the extra money he made from the guards’ valiant efforts to pay some of the principal on his debts in Miselea, thus buying time to pay the rest. So he had no money. The last of his coin had been spent on their hostelry in Estala, and if they did not find money soon his journey was over. So it was that they would have to rescue his brother.

The town’s chieftain and its Myrmidon were heading to negotiation with the deepfolk in an hour, Hugo Tuya had talked his way into their entourage as a concerned family member, and the guards were to go with him to see how the negotiations proceeded. Hugo Tuya was concerned that the chieftain would refuse to negotiate, out of some misguided principle, and his brother would die. If so, he wanted his guards to rescue his brother – or at least to find out where the money was buried.

In truth Hugo Tuya seemed more concerned about the money than his brother, but then so were his guards. They agreed to his request, on the condition that their contract be significantly rewritten in their favour, and so an hour later they found themselves heading out to meet the deepfolk.

The Orc captain

The Skydeath Clan

The town chieftain was a petulant, poorly-mannered and skittish man called Amygdal, sitting atop a fine horse and speaking to his underlings with haughty arrogance that barely concealed his obvious figure. He was thin, middle-aged, with a weak jaw and a brooding, aggrieved manner. The Myrmidon Amestra, leader of the levy, was a slightly overweight woman of similar age, dressed in chainmail and carrying a real steel sword. She also rode on a powerful horse, but with obvious comfort and familiarity. Behind them 20 of the remaining troops of the levy were gathered, looking nervous but determined. Amygdal ignored Hugo Tuya’s guards, but Amestra welcomed them into the group and rode alongside them as they headed north into the rapidly darkening hills. As they walked Amestra told them that the deepfolk would likely demand food and glass in return for the hostages, with the intention of making the townsfolk’s winter tough, and would probably not free all the prisoners unless a very good price was offered. Her relationship with her chieftain was obviously strained, but she was familiar enough with the burdens of leadership not to show it too much to her soldiers.

They found the deepfolk band after an hour of careful walking, as the sun sank below the mountains and the evening light faded to grey. One of the hostages had been impaled on a stake on a slight rise, and as their group gathered around it Amestra told them to take up positions; sure enough within a minute the deepfolk emerged from the darkness under the trees ahead of them, a horde of misshapen and vicious-looking miscreants led by a huge and violent-looking white-skinned orc. Amongst the horde they saw many Griggs, scrawny alabaster-skinned nightstalkers infamous for their perfect darkvision and magical skills. There were no other orcs, but a phalanx of goblins, grey-skinned monsters the size of humans, carrying scrap spears and sneering and yelling incomprehensible abuse at the humans from behind their shields. Behind the orc captain a goblin held a banner on a long spear. The banner was a blue field over a black field, with a ragged skull image painted in the centreline, and streaks of red tumbling down the blue field from the top of the banner.

Next to the orc captain a Grigg skulked, dressed in leather robes and dragging one of the townsfolk by his hair. This man was a middle-aged merchant type, his once-rich clothes torn and ruined and muddy and his face bruised. His thighs and upper arms had been shackled together so that as the Grigg dragged him around he was forced to duck-walk and stumble and squat-jump after the Grigg. Even in the grim half-light the guards could see his eyes darting about and feel his exhaustion and terror. It was their first experience meeting deepfolk, and his fear was contagious.

The Grigg spoke, calling out to them in the deepfolk’s harsh and incomprehensible tongue as the Griggs capered and the Goblins blustered behind him. Once his voice had fallen flat on the damp earth of the clearing they watched in horror as the human prisoner’s throat began to swell, his neck arched, and his eyes flooded with tears of horror. He coughed and spluttered and then spoke in a deep, horrible voice, spitting out words in the human language with bile and rage, his throat and mouth strained with the effort of forcing his voice to unnatural volume and gravelly tone. When his speech was done he fell forward, gasping, into the mud, but the Grigg dragged him back to his knees, and they saw spittle and mud smeared across his jaw.

We are here with our demands. You will heed!

Amestra gestured for Amygdal to be silent, and spoke in return. The Grigg seemed to understand her human speech but refused to speak even a word in response; instead it forced its human prisoner to speak with its unnatural voice of gravelly rage.

We want coin

At this Amestra seemed surprised. She looked over at the guards in shock, raised and eyebrow, and asked the Grigg why it wanted coin.

When a hunter of your wretched kind flays a deer, does the deer ask what the hide is for? Does it beg to know if it will be a rug on your filthy floor, or a ragged cloak to hide your spindly and disgusting form? No! It is prey, it gives what it is made to give. So!

This speech was too much for the prisoner, who coughed up blood and fell to his side in the grass. The Grigg dragged him up again and a goblin behind it poked him with its spear. He sagged again but had enough sense not to fall. As he dragged himself back up they saw he was bleeding from his mouth.

Amestra acknolwedged the sense of the Grigg’s little speech, and asked for a price. The Grigg made its demands, for a large amount of money for each prisoner. Then added,

Except this one! I will eat it when I am done with you

After he said that the prisoner heard his own voice, and broke down in sobs. The goblins laughed and another one jabbed him with its spear. The Grigg kicked him and said something else, and with a final, hoarse gasp he added,

We will return here tomorrow night. Bring the money or we feast on your kin

And then they turned and faded into the night.

The raid

During the journey back it became clear that the Chieftain was unwilling to pay the deepfolks’ price. It was too much coin for the town to comfortably spare, and he doubted it could be recouped from the rescued townsfolk themselves. Besides, he argued, capitulation would just embolden these scum. Instead they would redouble their defenses, refuse to pay, and if the deepfolk returned would make them pay for what they had done; and if not well, 10 dead townsfolk was not such a great tax on top of what they had already lost. Such was life in the mountains, right? He added a small aside about how the tax would be unnecessary if the town were better defended, and retired to his home to leave Amestra to explain the decision to her confused levy.

Hugo Tuya’s guards returned to the hostelry and made their plans. They estimated there were perhaps 20 or 25 deepfolk in that group, and they could not leave the prisoners to be slaughtered; nor could they let their own payment slide out of their rip. They would launch a raid at first light, and free the prisoners or die trying.

As they made their plans Amestra came in and, with dour grunts, indicated her assent to their assault. She told them the likely location of the deepfolk camp, and wished them luck. They made their preparations and at first light slipped out of the town to do their work.

In the hills north of town was an old cave complex with two entrances, a narrow crack at ground level and a wider hole to a cave higher up the cliff. She suspected that the batriders nested in that higher cave, while the rest of the gang hid out in the lower part. If they entered by the upper part they might be able to creep down to the prisoners and then fight their way out with the prisoners secured.

It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was all they had. At dawn they found themselves at the cliff face, scaling a narrow goat path up to the entrance to the bat rider cave while below them the cave entrance’s Grigg guards cowered away from the dawn sun in the shadows of the cave mouth. Hugo Tuya’s guards had done everything they could to prepare for this: blessings from the local Rimewarden, some magical herbs that gave the humans power of dark vision, Bao Tap’s animal companion prepared, all potions readied for use. They would give their all for this raid.

They slipped past the sleeping bats into a narrow tunnel. They passed the hole where the batriders rested, and moved down the tunnel towards the lower level. Where it curved towards the ground floor they saw a narrow ledge, on which crouched a team of Grigg archers. Without further thought they split up and began the attack. Yoog and Quangbae crept up to the ledge to ambush the archers, and as soon as their trap was sprung Kyansei charged into the main room to confront the rabble there, followed by Itzel. Bao Tap and Callim backtracked to ambush the bat riders and slaughter them. The battle was begun.

With her rush attack Kyansei was able to place herself between the goblin guards and the prisoners, and with her ferocious valour held the goblins back from wicked sacrifice until the rest of her companions could finish off the batriders and the archers and join her. By the time they did, though, the Orc captain and his Grigg mage were in battle. Kyansei managed to dispense with a Goblin captain and some of his guards but paid a heavy price in blood. The battle turned grim and desperate and there on the cave floor they made their stand, slicked with the blood of goblin, Grigg and their own fellows as the cavern echoed with screams, curses, horrible grinding sounds and the clash of metal. More Grigg ran in, and they felt sure they would be overwhelmed.

Somehow, though, they prevailed. Kyansei fell, hacked down by the Orc captain before Quangbae could finally fell him, and Itzel too was downed by magic and arrows, but then the tide turned and they found themselves chasing the last goblins around the room, brutally finishing the whole gang. When they were done they stood gasping on a pile of corpses, surrounded by blood, pain and murder. The prisoners were spared, and somehow they had done it.

Now, where was their money?

Hugo Tuya’s guards have tracked a band of raiders to a nest in the hills outside Ell’s Hamlet, and having destroyed their outriders, pounce on the leader and his band. The roster for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

They had killed the outriders in a small grove of trees on the edge of a tract of swampy ground. Following a narrow path through the trees, they came to the edge of a small, clear pool, on the far side of which a cascade of small waterfalls fell of a raised knoll. A narrow path under the waterfalls cut down to the pool’s level, and on the banks of the pool they could see a small camp ground, where probably the leader had been staying. Unfortunately he was not there: he and his remaining squad had taken position on top of the gnoll, from where they fired arrows at the guards.

Kyansei the berserker charged forward along the edge of the pool and the others followed more carefully, firing bows as they advanced. The raiders’ leader soon lived up to his name and gave up on the patient battle of archers: he came hurtling and sliding down the path from the top of the raised ground, axed raised, to meet Kyansei as she advanced. The rest of his warriors, beset by Bao Tap’s swarms of conjured midges and dragged forward by their leader’s compulsive madness, followed him into battle. Missile weapons were dropped, spear and tonfa drawn, and brutal hand-to-hand battle was joined.

Hugo Tuya’s guards triumphed quickly and almost without injury. The raider leader fell dead into the pond, and his last archers fled in terror of the guards’ fury. They scoured the camp for goods and coin, stole the raiders’ horses, and left them for the crows as they turned with renewed purpose in the direction of Ell’s Hamlet …

Hugo Tuya’s guards are traveling from Miselea to Estala, and on the second day of their journey were ambushed by raiders. They defeated the foot soldiers sent against them, but were unable to stop the leader from fleeing on his horse, and could not catch the archers who had harried them from the bushes beside the road. After the battle they caught their breath, Calim healed their minor injuries, and they discussed what to do. The roster for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith
  • Yoog, Changeling scoundrel

Regald’s Necklace

They faced some indecision now about whether to follow the raiders and risk further battle, or to let them go and proceed on their journey. Raiders this far from the Valley of Gon were unusual, but if they did come this far it was likely they had traveled in some force with a purpose, usually looting small towns and taking hostages for ransom. Given that the guards’ plan that evening was to spend the night in Ell’s Hamlet they guessed the raiders might have been targeting it, and if they had already raided it might have hostages who could be freed. They decided first then to investigate the raiders’ actions so far. They woke the sole surviving footsoldier and after some threats and promises managed to gain his cooperation.

The raider, injured and sullen, told them grudgingly that they had come from the Valley of Gon to Ell’s Hamlet to find a man called Regald. They did not know anything about this man, just that they had been given instructions: find him and bring him back, they can take anything he has but they must bring all his documents and any necklaces he owns straight to their leader in the Valley. However, when they arrived at Ell’s Hamlet they sent in a scout to investigate, and discovered that this man Regald had died about a year ago, and his daughter had disappeared at about the same time. After this initial scouting mission they had been returning to their camp to inform their captain so that he could decide what to do, but seeing Hugo Tuya’s caravan had decided to deviate briefly from their mission for what they thought would be easy money.

Calim’s ears pricked up at this story. This timeline of events sounded like it matched exactly the probable death of the elven traveler and the human woman with him, killed by deepfolk not so far from here about a year ago. In the remains of that camp they had found a necklace of a strange design, and had planned to use the necklace to track down the woman. Could it be that these raiders were looking for the same necklace and its owner, this Regald? Perhaps his daughter had left Ell’s Hamlet with the necklace after the death of Regald, to meet with this elf for some reason, and had been killed by deepfolk before she could hand the necklace over to the elf? Why then would raiders from the Valley of Gon want to find this Regald, and what did the necklace mean?

They decided to find out.

The Raider camp

In exchange for mercy the surviving raider footsoldier explained to them how to find the camp, and they set off. The footsoldier told them that their raiding team was led by a thug called Rimgalt, delegated to lead the team here by their leader in the Valley of Gon, a petty warlord named Argalt. Rimgalt was slightly crazy, probably because of the magic axe he carried, and would be hard to kill, they were warned. He was camped by a small pond under a waterfall, but the rest of his crew were stationed a little distance away, guarding a crossroads trail that led to the pool. They would have to pass this gauntlet first to get to Rimgalt at the pool.

They approached cautiously, Yoog scouting ahead and Bao Tap sending his familiar, a weasel, to scout the area. From this they soon found a squad of four more footsoldiers camped out in a small stand of bushes near the road, unaware of their approach. Yoog and Quangbae moved quietly up behind them while the rest of the group marched along the road, ready to spring a trap on the footsoldiers’ own trap.

Their plan worked perfectly, and they caught the footsoldiers in a nice little vice, but they were themselves ambushed by a squad of archers who had been hiding behind a tree further down the road, and who they had not seen. They had to split up to attack the archers, and the battle was still in full swing when four more footsoldiers advanced from the southern road to the crossroads, drawn by the sounds of battle. Although the odds were stacked against them they prevailed through surprise, magic and sheer force of will, finally vanquishing all 12 men and their thuggish lieutenant. Injured but alive, they prepared to advance on Rimgalt himself, and learn the answer to their questions about the necklace.


Image note

The picture at the top of the post is taken from Clement Mona.

The Ariaki delegation and the bridge to Ariaki from Miselea

Hugo Tuya’s guards, having vanquished the Redcap of the great forest and absorbed the evil secrets of its magic, moved quickly to the nearby town of Miselea. They needed to rest and recuperate, and had four weakened guards from the southern kingdom of Ariaki to return to their home nation after a year of hideous enslavement to the spider-fey. Miselea stood at the border between Hadun and Ariaki, on the northern side of the river that skirted the great forest, and it had a small Ariaki delegation continuously present to which they hoped to hand over their weakened and traumatized charges.

The Spider-slaves’ promise

On the journey to Miselea they spoke with the men and women they had rescued from the spiders’ nest, and though there was little they could do to ease their trauma after a year as brood-hosts and cleaning servitors for the giant spiders, they were able to learn a little more of the circumstances of their capture. The four had been bodyguards for an Astrologer, Salam of the Silver Eyes, from Alpon in northern Ariaki, not so far from its border with Hadun. He had been researching ancient beasts in a large and largely forgotten library in its crumbling Academy when he had stumbled on stories of an ancient spider lord in the forest. Perhaps under-estimating the side and evil of the spiders they would meet, and knowing nothing of the existence of Redcaps, he had hired six guards and set off into the forest to learn its secrets. They had been ambushed almost as soon as they arrived in the nest area, and had been so overwhelmed by the spiders that the entire squad had been webbed and dragged back to the lair before they could do any harm to the spiders. At the lair they had been surely destined for food – and one of them had been consumed, horribly, in front of them – before the Redcap appeared and saved them, using its magic to force four to be servitors and taking Salam and a single member of their team away for its own use. Conscious during the year of their captivity but unable to resist the Redcap’s magic, only the exhaustion, cold and the constant poisoning by the spiders had helped to obliterate their memories of what had happened to them.

They vowed to the guards that they would do all they could to help them destroy the spiders. Though they were terrified of them they also knew their ways, and had a deep and urgent desire to destroy them all. They would vouch for the information the guards passed on to the elves, and after their return to Alpon would be ready to assist the guards in a strike on the spider god – and whatever Redcap monarch lived with it – in the depths of the forest. The guards simply had to visit Alpon and call upon them, and they would come.

Rest and Research in Miselea

Miselea was a town of about 3000 people on the southern border of Hadun, on the northern bank of the river that separates Hadun and Ariaki. This small river has its source at the southern hills of the Valley of Gon and flows east to Miselea before turning north and flowing along the edge of Ariaki’s great forest – it was this river that Hugo Tuya’s caravan had followed from Inorat at the beginning of their travels. Here at Miselea the river was youthful and bold, not especially deep but fast flowing and active, splashing over rocks and sparkling in the Autumn sun under gentle weeping willows as the group entered the town from its eastern, relatively unguarded gate. Miselea’s Bailey is on the western edge of the town, looking west from stern palisades over the farmlands of the last Hadun farms before the land begins to rise to the foothills on the eastern edge of the Valley of Gon, where lawless folk live. Most of the town of Miselea sprawls across the lowlands north of the river, outside the Bailey, but there is a small rise on the northern bank where a smaller palisade separates the Ariaki delegation from the rest of the town. Between the delegation and the Bailey is a stretch of shops, restaurants and hotels, where the group stopped to rest for the evening before they attended to their errands in the town.

The following morning they went about their business. They sold some of the material they had stolen from the bandits, Itzel visited an elven legate in the town to sell the spidersilk they had taken from the spiders, and they returned the weary Ariaki survivors to their delegation. At the Ariaki delegation Kyansei asked the Ariaki elder if he knew anything of a strange blight afflicting her land, and he promised to have the Academy at Alpon look into it. They then visited the local Rimewarden for healing, and while they were there Calim described to the Rimewarden the strange standing stones they had found outside of Ibara, and the Deepfolk bones and iron buried beneath it. The Rimewarden pulled out an old travel book, and pointed Calim to the discovery of other such standing stones along the eastern edge of the Spine mountains. For years scholars had pondered the reason for the existence of these standing stones, and wondered who made them, but seeing this finding of Calim’s he considered renewing research into the stones. He would send a letter to the Abbey in Rokun, and perhaps by the following Sun season they would mount an expedition to dig under other stone circles to see what they could find.

Thus it was that in Miselea the group set in train several strands of investigation that might see them wish to return here in future:

  • The Astrologers in Alpon would investigate the possible meaning of blight affecting Kyansei’s lands
  • The four soldiers they had rescued from the spiders would aid them in agitating for, and join, a quest against the spider god: they could be found in Alpon when the characters were ready
  • The Abbey in Rokun would be requested to begin an expedition next year to investigate the standing stone ruins on the eastern edge of the Spine – perhaps the characters could join it.

With these actions set in motion, the guards returned to their hotel, and prepared to set off the following day for Estala, on the next stage of their journey.

Raiders

They set off the following day, 16th of the Storm, heading northwest towards Estala. This journey would take them three days, with the first night spent camping in the wilderness, the second in a small town called Ell’s Hamlet, and the third in Estala if the roads and weather treated them well. The road now took them east of the headlands of the Valley of Gon, so they needed to begin showing care.

The borders of Ariaki and Hadun had been settled for some 200 years now, with little dispute over them. The Great Forest of was acknowledged as Ariaki possession, though it only nominally belonged to that nation since it was largely wild and the elves held dominion in its eastern edges. The small river that ran between the great forest and the hills to the west, marked on its eastern edge by the town of Miselea, was a commonly-accepted defining line between the two kingdoms; but at its source this river sprung from the foothills that marked out the southern edge of the Valley of Gon, Hadun and Ariaki’s Big Problem. The Valley was a fertile sweep of land bordered on its southern side by a great river, and on the north by a line of sharp peaks. At its north-eastern end it rose to highlands nestled in an arc of lesser mountains, and once its highlands had been dotted with villages, its lowlands peaceful farmland. However, Ariaki and Hadun’s ancient border disputes had never been able to settle this land as they had the great forest and the lowlands around it. To Hadun the border of Ariaki lay at the southern side of the Valley, where the river ran; to Ariaki the border was on the northern side, where the peaks rose up sharp from the fertile ground. Over time wars had been fought here, and much blood spilled, until eventually both nations fought to a stalemate and the land became, essentially, independent. Now it lay between the two nations, claimed by both but controlled by neither and instead occupied by a motley collection of farming towns and ruins ruled over by warlords, champions and thieves. At its north-eastern end these warlords would sometimes send raiders into Hadun, seeking prisoners to ransom or harvest spoils; at its southern edge pirates still worked their evil trade, and occasionally raiders splashed across the fords of the river to take wood from Ariaki forests, or attack peaceful villages for iron and coin.

So it was that on the second day of their journey, in the morning, after a restful night’s sleep in the open, Hugo Tuya’s caravan entered a pass between two shallow hills and they were attacked by raiders. Four men and a leader on horseback confronted them on the road, but before they could properly negotiate they were fired at by archers hidden in nearby woods. They attacked the soldiers and slaughtered them but could not find the archers. Finally the leader, fearing for his life, fled down the road on his horse, and the archers withdrew unharmed. Hugo Tuya’s guards realized that these raiders must be the advance guard of a larger party, and that this party might have or be preparing to take prisoners from Ell’s Hamlet. They picked up their weapons, took a breath, and prepared to follow the horse to whatever bloody end it led them …

Hugo Tuya’s guards have killed a nest of spiders and freed some human prisoners, but in doing so learnt that there is another nest deeper in the forest. They decided to raid that nest and take whatever treasures might be buried in its webs, as well as more spidersilk to sell to the elves. The roster for today’s mission:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, human explorer

They helped the humans they had rescued back to the edge of the forest, took a brief break, and returned to the site of the battle to find the next nest.

Strange doings in the nest

They found trails leading into the forest and followed them, tracking old remnants of web and traces of spider’s passing deep into the gloom. They followed this trail for several hours, until they finally reached an area of trees heavily shrouded in old webs, and realized they had reached their goal. In rare gaps between the heavy foliage they could see trails of pink and scarlet across the sky, and the gathering shadows told them they were close to sunset. A bad time to be raiding a spider’s nest, but better to do it now than to retreat in the dark. They moved forward to infiltrate the nest.

As they approached, though, they saw a strange sight: a humanoid figure, shrouded in tattered webs, moving slowly and jerkily around the trees, occasionally stopping and bending over or reaching up to perform some task that looked like it might be cleaning. Confused, two of them moved around the edge of the nest to get a closer view. They approached the humanoid, grabbed it and turned it to face them – revealing a haunted, enslaved human. This person was emaciated and filthy, their clothes tattered and in ruins, their body wrapped in old and filthy webbing. Their face and the parts of their arms which the guards could see were covered in small scars and bites, and as they held the person large spiders emerged from inside the webs, ran across their skin and disappeared back inside the nest, as if they were comfortable on the person’s body. The person moved with a listless, exhausted, zombie like affect, but when the PCs looked in their eyes they could see that they were desperate and terrified. Tears welled up as the person saw them, but they could not move or speak.

As they were trying to speak to the trapped human the spiders emerged, and the battle began.

The redcap

The battle began smoothly enough. Smaller, dog-sized spiders emerged from the webs and attacked the guards who had tried to rescue the enslaved human, but the rest of the team held back and used missile weapons against the spiders. However, things turned vicious quickly when one of the larger spiders emerged, accompanied by a shadowy humanoid figure lurking behind a group of smaller spiders. This thing unleashed a magical blast of venom on the missile-using PCs, doing serious damage on them and forcing them to separate, and as the numbers increased they were forced into melee. Fortunately in this battle Kyansei was not webbed, and was able to battle valiantly against the chitinous horde. As she fought the spiders Calim and Bao Tap attempted to attack the shadowy human. They ran over to confront it and found themselves facing a small, dun-coloured humanoid wearing armour of spidersilk and a hat that had been drenched in blood, now long-dried. It carried a dagger made of a giant spider’s fang, and as they attempted to attack it it cast a spell on them that confused them. Spiders attacked them to defend the creature, and somehow Bao Tap was bitten badly and poisoned, falling unconscious and losing the use of his arm[1]. The spiders were about to overwhelm Calim when Quangbae and Kyansei charged in to his rescue, killing the remaining spiders and then dispatching the red-capped creature before it could use its magic to enslave Calim.

With the death of the larger spider and the red-capped fey thing the battle ended, and peace fell over the shadowed glade. They began to explore for treasure and victims to rescue.

The redcap’s secrets

With the death of the fey creature the human was released from their strange slavery, and collapsed sobbing to their knees. The guards approached to speak to them, and saw hordes of spiders running out from under the webbing – the human had been carrying hundreds of them against their skin inside the webs. Calim administered some basic aid and eventually, when they had sobbed out their relief, the human told them that they (he) had been here as a slave for a year. He and four others had come to the glade guarding an Astrologer, but had been ambushed by the spiders and enslaved by the redcap. One had been killed, the Astrologer had been taken away as a prisoner, and the four surviving guards had been turned into living hosts for the spiders. They moved around the nest cleaning old webs, removing parasites, cleaning up dead bodies, and also serving as hosts for new spiders: the giant spider laid her eggs in the webs wrapped around them and they would serve as food for the newborns until they were too large to be carried. They ate little, but occasionally the redcap would remember them and cast them some offcut from an animal (or a human victim, if it served) for them to eat. As a result they were emaciated near death, exhausted, and permanently and deeply scarred. The guard told them there were three more survivors around the nest, and that the redcap lived in a cave “by the drowning pool”.

They rescued the remaining three servitors, bringing them to the centre of the nest where they gave them some basic medical care, water and food. Then they moved through the nest and down a narrow pathway to the “drowning pool”. They found a reeking pond of stagnant water, full of rotting bodies and surrounded by detritus and bones. On the far side was a small fire with a spit over it, in front of a dark cave mouth decorated with human bones. By now it was growing dark, so they lit torches and entered the cave.

Inside they found the desiccated remains of a human Astrologer, stuck to a wall by strong bonds of webbing. The cave was a mess of filthy rags, discarded bones and rubbish, and various basic belongings. Searching through the belongings they found some basic treasures, a book of faerie lore, and the wizard’s notebook. The first part of this notebook was research and spell notes, indicating that the wizard had come here believing that there were clues to the existence of an ancient god of spiders deep in the forest, which might hold the knowledge of ancient secrets, new magic or items. However, the last 13 pages of the book held crazed writing, just scratchings and mad rantings written on each page under headings listing days: day 1, day 2, day 3. Some of the writing was in a crazed, aggressive, unruly hand, and some of it in the hand of the Astrologer himself. It appeared he had been captured and the redcap had poisoned him and drunk his blood, using some magic to force the Astrologer to write messages in the notebook.

The characters read the notebook, and were deeply disturbed. The redcap had slowly taken the mind of the Astrologer, drowned him in the drowning pool, and kept his body as a keepsake. This creature must be some kind of fey, which lived alongside the spiders. If there was a spider god deep in the forest, was there also a redcap king or elder, capable of enslaving armies to its whims?

They must destroy the god and its fey adviser. But not now. Now, standing in the ruins of the redcap’s lair and surrounded by the horrific ending of the last mission against the spiders, they understood there more urgent task. They rushed outside and grabbed the redcap’s body, dragging it to the pool and submerging it in the pool moments before the last rays of the setting sun faded from the sky. Just in time, they had finished it off. They scoured the nest, took what they could, gathered everything that had belonged to the redcap and dumped it in the webs, then set the whole thing ablaze and fled from the forest.

There were dark beasts in there that needed to be scoured from the earth, but not now. Now they needed to find fresh air under the open sky, bathe in the light of the sunshard and feel the wind on their faces, and retreat from the horrors of blood and poison. There would be a time for killing ancient gods, and they would return to end the blood-slaving beasts of the deep wood, but now they needed to gulp the air and feel the wind on their face, and rejoice in their freedom under the open sky.

Behind them, dark and ancient gods brooded.


fn1: This should be a permanent destruction of the arm but we’re still learning the poison rules and a few confusions with orders of healing spells meant this might not have happened if Calim had known the risks of leaving Bao Tap unhealed, so we decided to make it a temporary problem – once the crit is healed Bao Tap gets his arm back. It’s been deadened by poison.

Day 1

HUMAN SLAVE
KNOWLEDGE IN THE BLOOD
MINE MINE
THIRTEEN NIGHTS, TEN AND THREE THE HORRORS BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD IS LIES

It has me prisoner. My guards enslaved. It speaks in my mind. It cannot write but it knows what writing is, it has seen our kind before. It tells me my fate. I am resigned.

Day 2

SIMPLE SMILES ELUDE PSYCHOTIC EYES
LOSE ALL MIND CONTROL, RATIONALE DECLINES EMPTY EYES ENSLAVE THE CREATIONS
OF PLACID FACES AND LIFELESS PAGEANTS

TWELVE TWELVE THE BLOOD IN TWELVE

It makes me tell it things, some compulsion over me. I can write these notes only when it dances its bloodthirsty glee. If it sees me, it will hurt me.

Day 3

KILLER, INTRUDER, A HOMICIDAL MAN
IF YOU SEE ME COMING, RUN FAST AS YOU CAN
I HACK UP MY VICTIMS LIKE PIECES OF MEAT BLOODTHIRSTY DEMON, SINISTER FIEND BLUDGEONOUS SLAUGHTER’S MY EVIL DEED
A MERCILESS BUTCHER WHO LIVES UNDERGROUND I’M OUT TO DESTROY AND I WILL CUT YOU DOWN

ELEVEN ON THE HIGH SUN OF ELEVEN

Writing hurts, the voices in my head, like venom in my hand. It keeps me here in the dark while it laughs, I cannot move except to write and speak to it. This morning it took Alassa, and it gorges on his viscera while it stares at me. I cannot kill it.

Day 4

TEN TEN THE FINGERS ON BOTH HANDS TEN TEN TEN THEY ARE MINE IN TEN

I learn more about it. Drown the body in the pool or it will come back. If you are reading this and you have killed it, sink the body in the pool or it will come back. You have until the

sunset of the day it dies. It cannot read, it cannot read this. Show it no mercy, it dreams in my blood now it is so horrible, the deeds it has done. Drown its body in the pool.

Day 5

LET’S DRINK TO THE DEAD LYING UNDER THE WATER AND THE CRUST OF BLOOD ON THE DRIVEN SNOW

NINE WHILE NINE AND I’M WAITING FOR THE RAIN…..

It is old, and it has been weak for so long. I think it is as old as the great spider in the woods. Is it her servant? I found only her lieutenants, she is far away in the dark of the great wood, but I think she commands more like this and worse. Her marshalls, in a horrifying chitinous army.

Day 6

OH, BUT YOU ARE IN MY BLOOD, YOU ARE MY HOLY WINE YOU’RE SO BITTER, BITTER AND SO SWEET
OH, I COULD DRINK A CASE OF YOU, DARLING
STILL I’D BE ON MY FEET

I WOULD STILL BE ON MY FEET

It drank my blood yesterday. It danced around and spat on me and I swear it was drunk on the blood. It has learnt some words of my tongue since it drank. I have to keep my secrets from seeping into my own blood. I think it will drink more. I cannot escape …

Day 7

AND THE CHILDREN OF THE HYDRA BORN OF BEETLE, BLOOD AND DUNG DANCE LIKE DERVISHES IN SULPHUR ON THE ASHES OF MY TONGUE

AM I FALLING, AM I WALKING?
IS THE UNIVERSE RUN DRY?
GIVE ME BLOOD, GIVE ME BLOOD OR I WILL DIE

I tried to escape last night. It seems to sleep at night. I used a spell to slide out of the web ropes. It caught me by the pool, it moves so fast. It wasn’t sleeping. It knew. It knows my secrets. I am trapped in its web. Nothing can save me.

Day 8

DON’T SAY IT’S EASY
TO FOLLOW A PROCESS THERE’S NOTHING HARDER THAN KEEPING A PROMISE

BLOOD RUNS THOUGH YOUR VEINS THAT’S WHERE OUR SIMILARITY ENDS

I wonder if my death is a ritual, bound in time. It drank my blood again yesterday, and today it held the quill pen itself. It is learning. I do not want to live on in its foetid blood.

Day 9

YOUR TASTE IS BLOOD AND ECSTASY BUT I MUST DRINK YOU ALL ALONE YOU’RE FRECKLED LIKE A SPECKLED EGG A DOVE… BUT THIS BIRD HAS FLOWN

O stay with me sweet memory
O stay with me
It drank again. I am tired. I am so tired. I cannot think. I KNOW. I cannot rest, I have lost track of time. Alassa’s empty eyes stare at me. It ate Alassa.

Day 10

I’m all alone
Matter and shadow
In the darkflow
Treading deep waters Searching for the shore Waiting for the dawn to come

Day 11

IT IS MINE

Day 12

I dreamed of you at night time
AND I WATCHED YOU IN YOUR SLEEP
I MET YOU IN HIGH PLACES
I TOUCHED YOUR HEAD AND TOUCHED YOUR FEET
SO WHEN YOU DISAPPEAR IN THE POOL
You know, I will never say goodbye
Though I try to forget it
YOU WILL MAKE ME CALL YOUR NAME AND I’LL SHOUT IT TO THE BLUE SUMMER SKY

I am losing myself. The poison in me burns. It knows my name, AND WHISPERS IT FROM THE SHADOWS. I don’t know who is writing which words now WHY DO I CARE THE BLOOD IS ALL it is inside my blood I AM THE WAY THE TRUTH AND THE END

Day 13

I’ve waited hours for this
I’ve made myself so sick
I wish I’d stayed asleep today
I never thought this day would end
I never thought tonight could ever be

This close to me

On the edge of the great forest

Hugo Tuya’s guards have almost been caught robbing a grieving widow, and now have to make amends. They need to spend several days in the wilderness pretending to track down iron they already own, to receive only a fraction of the money they had hoped to earn by selling their stolen goods in Estona. The roster for today’s adventure:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, human explorer

The guards woke up early and set out to track the sole surviving bandit from the original group that ambushed them, and to begin their thankless task of making amends for their callous thieving.

The Truth About Deepfolk Iron

They followed the bandit for a day, tracking him back to the site of the original ambush and beyond, and confirmed that he had not attempted to dig up any cache or secret hidden wealth. He simply ran away from Ibara as fast as he could, heading east to the coast road and the chance to escape from certain death in the village he had been preying on. The guards let him go once they had confirmed he was not hiding anything, and decided to go back and investigate the strange place where they had originally discovered the widow’s iron. Calim was convinced there was something more to learn from the site, and they guessed that now they knew its location they could travel there quickly and search it during the daytime.

Unfortunately they lost the path, cutting overland to the northeast of Ibara, and there was not much light left when they arrived at the burial site. They worked quickly, splitting the group into two. One group searched the area around the burial site, looking for any sign of skulls or other remnants that were not buried with the iron itself, while another group – led by Calim – dug back into the site and explored the bones in more detail. The first group found nothing, but Calim’s group were able to determine that the bones in the burial site were deepfolk bones, and they were old – much older than 100 years old. They had found something ancient, but could not tell if it was a burial site or the location of some ancient battle, since buried by time and forgetfulness.

They also found a magic amulet, but Itzel concluded it was deepfolk magic and dangerous to wear. They kept it in case it might be useful later, and made camp for the night.

The next day they returned to Ibara, and handed over their stolen iron – all 10 ingots – to Hugo Tuya, as he expected. They made a good show of pretending they had dug it up on this trip, and of looking forward to their reward. Pompous as ever, he invited them to join them in trading it with the bailiff, and they set off to the Bailiff’s residence. Here they were led into an office, and a strange ritual took place: Hugo Tuya took out a piece of cured leather and laid it on a desk, and he and the bailiff then carefully drew each ingot out of its sack singly, sprinkled salt on it and placed it reverentially on the leather. When his guards asked him what he was doing, Tuya explained to them that Deepfolk iron was cursed, and any attempt to take possession of it was fraught. The best thing to do was to melt it down immediately, thus dissolving the curse, but even then it was best if storing it in a house to salt it, lest the curse cause the house to burn down before the ingots could be melted. Had they taken the iron with them, Tuya told them, thus taking possession of it themselves, they would have inherited the curse, and all its unseemly consequences: snapped wagon axles, spoiled food, arguments between friends, impotency, and other wreckage[1].

Quangbae made a nervous joke about how it was a good thing they had been honest about the iron then, wasn’t it? And they returned to their hotel.

The road to Miselea

The next day they set off for Miselea, the next town on their journey. Miselea is two days’ journey from Ibara, on the border of Hadun and Ariaki, a good town for trade in a slightly dangerous place, not so far removed from the Valley of Gon. From Miselea they planned to turn northwest and head to Estala, skirting the edge of the Valley of Gon.

The road to Miselea cut close to the great forest, running alongside a small stream never more than 500m from the looming mystery of the elves’ southern homeland. They followed it happily until mid-afternoon, when someone in the party suddenly heard a baby crying. They stopped and began to search for the sound, soon finding it: there was an abandoned camp between the road and the forest. They approached cautiously but found it empty, except for a baby that had obviously not been fed or cleaned for about a day. The camp’s other five occupants were nowhere to be seen, but there were obvious signs of a struggle, and spider webs strung around the perimeter of the camp.

Spiders had taken this camp. Big spiders. The guards decided to follow and rescue whoever they could, while it was still light. They headed into the forest.

The spiders

They walked on into the forest, and the spiders found them soon enough. They were moving in the trees above them, crawling through a network of webs on the trees and waiting for the chance to attack. The guards started shooting, and the battle began.

The first wave of spiders stayed in the shadows of the lower branches of the trees, throwing webs and missing, but then a second wave emerged from the undergrowth after the party separated, ambushing the archers who had moved back to cover their friends. These spiders had bodies the size of large dogs, and horrible hairy legs stretching meters away from the bodies. Fangs like daggers chittered and dripped venom, and they fired webs to try and entangle the guards. The tree-lurking spiders dropped to the ground to attack their melee squad, and they began hacking at the hairy, disgusting, chitinous thugs.

Soon a much larger spider, with a body the size of a small horse, emerged from the shadows of the trees. It spat acid in Kyansei’s face and then entangled her in webs, and began dragging her into the woods. Calim and Quangbae rushed into help her, and somehow wrested control of the battle from the spiders. They drove back the small ones and freed Kyansei with fire on the web, and then the battle turned. Soon all nine spiders, including the giant leader, were dead in the glade, oozing ichor into the web-strewn carpet of dead leaves beneath their feet.

They found the captured humans a short distance away from the ambush site. There were five humans hanging cocooned in a huge complex of thick webs. One was dead, partly eaten, and so completely invested that even its bones had liquified; when they cut open the cocoon holding this body it fell out as a sack of vile-smelling fluids, with no shape, barely recognizable as the human it had once been. The other four they cut out, heavily poisoned and barely alive. They put them under guard in the corner of the spiders’ lair and searched through the webs for treasures. The webs were surprisingly clean, the spiders’ feeding being so complete that nothing was cast aside, and they were able to gather large amounts of high-quality spider silk to sell in town. They cut some venom from the smaller spiders to turn into anti-venom, and Quangbae fashioned himself a halberd from the fangs of the giant spider.

As they searched the webs they realized that these spiders were newly arrived in the area. They must have been pushed out of their original lair by some other, more powerful force of spiders, deeper in the forest – giant spiders of this kind did not usually venture so close to the edge of the forest. Were they to venture further in and fight off the beasts they found there they might be able to gather some truly rare and splendid spidersilk, from one of the older spiders that live in the great forest, and maybe some truly potent venom. They looked at each other and back at the injured, nearly-dead human trappers, and considered their fate.

Life was short, and the death they had witnessed was terrible, but spidersilk was valuable, and the chance to gather it rare. What should they do ..?

 

 


fn1: Including upgrading the difficulty of every single skill check they made, including selling it: and if they roll a despair on the attempt to sell it, well, they decide to keep it, and the curse goes on …

The view northwest from Ibara’s Bailey

Hugo Tuya’s guards are in Ibara on the evening of the 7th of the Storm. They have just stolen a grieving widow’s treasure, and have received an invitation to meet the “elven delegation”. The roster for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian

Yoog is still recovering from the poison she took when the guards found the map to the grieving widow’s treasure (which they have stolen), and Quangbae has opted to stay in their hotel to look after her.

The elven delegation

After their meeting with Mrs Verbere (at which they stole her treasure) the guards received an invitation to visit the elven delegation, a pair of elves who had visited Ibara from the nearby great forest for the annual meeting to renew the trade ties between the forest elves and the town. These elves had heard of the group and knew of Itzel, and presumably wanted to meet her. Itzel, fresh from robbing a grieving widow, felt it would be wrong to decline an invitation from two senior members of her community, and she and the rest of the group walked down the street from their hotel to the Wittan House, where the elves were staying.

This house was unlike many other houses in Ibara, being a three-story wooden structure built entirely above ground. It abutted the western palisade of the Bailey, and from its western and northern rooms guests could look out over the landscape around Ibara. The guards were led to a large, comfortable public room on the third floor of the building, where they found the two elves standing near an open balcony looking out at the sunset. The two elves were:

  • Eveltzel, male, tall (for an elf), with silver hair, blue eyes, very pale skin and wearing simple robes
  • Halildaliel, female, shorter than Eveltzel but still tall (for an elf), muscly with copper hair, green eyes and faintly golden skin, wearing a spidersilk jerkin and carrying a slender steel sword

After some small talk the elves explained why they had called Itzel. Before their departure for Ibara a dreamspeaker in their home had learnt of the death a year ago of an elf somewhere north of Ibara. They wanted the group to travel north to find the body of the elf and return the body and belongings to them so that they could be properly honoured and laid to rest in the forest. In return for the work they would give the guards a few steel arrows, a spidersilk underslunky, and a potion of healing. The mission would likely require two days and one night.

Of course the PCs agreed. Their only concern was how to convince Tuya to give them another two days to pursue their side mission. They gave no thought as to how to explain to their own consciences the hypocrisy of taking this job when they had used the problem of double contracting as an excuse to rob a grieving widow of her worldly wealth.

They returned untroubled to their hotel.

The reanimate

The next morning they found themselves beset by good luck. At breakfast Hugo Tuya informed them that the Bailiff was paying them a bounty for breaking the bandit group east of Ibara, but it would take two days for the Wittan to release the money. In the meantime he gave them two days to relax and do as they wished (“On my coin of course!”) They thanked him profusely and set off for the forests north of Ibara.

It took them a day to find the location of the body, and just before they did they were attacked by a bear that nearly killed Kyansei. They took this bear’s cub as their own, to raise as a future animal companion, and almost immediately after the battle discovered a small camp in the woods, at the entrance to which lay a skeleton impaled on a stake. Perhaps the bear had been searching this camp? The body looked as if it might be the elf they were searching for, though it was hard to tell from the mouldering rags left stuck to the bleached bones. In the camp they found a small tent with two bedrolls inside, and various detritus scattered around the camp itself. While searching for more evidence Itzel disturbed a corpse, which emerged from the shadows of the trees to attack her. She fled back to the camp and the whole group gathered around her to fight it. This shambling, stinking ruin of a body was a reanimate, the weakest form of undead, shambling forward through the camp trying to kill them with nothing more than its twisted, filthy hands. They destroyed it quickly and, searching its body, confirmed it was a human woman wearing a rotting nightgown. Had this been the other member of the camp? They found an amulet around the reanimate’s neck, which they kept. They guessed that the elf had come here to meet this woman, they had been ambushed by deepfolk, the elf had been impaled on the stake and left to die and the human woman had been reanimated and left as a trap for anyone who came to the camp. Typical deepfolk trouble.

The amulet

They gave the woman the rites of salt, gathered up the body and belongings of the elf, and returned to Ibara with them. They kept the amulet for themselves, thinking that they might be able to use it to find the identity of this woman at towns they traveled to. It depicted a huge wave swallowing the sun, and had been carved quite carefully out of what the guards guessed was obsidian or some other volcanic rock, though of course none of them were experts on such matters. At Ibara they handed the remains over to the elves and returned to their hotel for a much-needed rest

Mrs Verbere’s revenge

Unfortunately as soon as they arrived they were called to a meeting by Hugo Tuya, who was waiting for them with Mrs Verbere, the grieving widow they had robbed. Hugo Tuya bought them drinks and settled down for a meeting, speaking in his expansive good employer tone. He commended them on their loyalty in refusing to take a second contract but assured them he was happy for them to do so in this case. While they were away on their private work Mrs Verbere had come to Tuya and explained the second contract issue, and he had agreed with her that she should have the service of his guards for such an important personal mission. They had gone together to the bailiff and interrogated the remaining surviving bandit, from whom they had learnt that the bandits had never opened Verbere’s box, though they had killed him and taken his gear. Thus, the treasure spoken of in the letters Verbere had received must still be there. Hugo Tuya had negotiated with the bailiff and they had come to a fine agreement over the iron spoken of in the letter, and come up with a plan. Instead of giving the surviving bandit the salt death, the bailiff would brand him and release him. The PCs would then follow him and see if he went to some secret cache to find the iron. If he did, they were to kill him and return the iron. If not, they were to let him go and head to the location of the iron, where they would dig it up and return it to the town. Tuya would then sell it to the bailiff, giving 50% of the proceeds to Mrs Verbere and 20% to his guards. A fine payment for an easy job, did they not agree!?

They did not agree, and though morally outraged at this theft of their rightful possessions, could not actually tell Tuya that they already had the iron. Instead they tried negotiating with him to change the terms of sale of the iron, and were finally able to convince him that they deserved 30%, not him. Finally Tuya agreed, commended them on their good morals, and recommended they set off after the bandit first thing in the morning.

Could Hugo Tuya’s guards find a way to defraud the grieving widow of her rightful belongings a second time, or would they have to finally give her that which belonged to her, and which they had already stolen from her once?

 

Hugo Tuya’s guards have defeated a bandit gang and stolen their treasure, and now they make their way to the town of Ibara to rest. After the battle they chose to rest near the site of their victory, because Yoog was still recovering from poison and they had wasted half their day’s travel fighting. They set up camp on a small hillock near the road, where they could keep sight of their wagon, and slept well. The Archipelago has no moon, but the night is often illuminated by sepctral fingers of silvery-grey light that flicker high overhead in the night sky. Called the sunshard, these are generally believed to be the sun’s promise that it will return in the morning, and are generally seen as a good omen for the coming day. On this night they appeared in their fullest glory, waxing so bright at times that they glowed a pale green. The guards enjoyed this show and the strange, otherworldly form that the world around them took on under the ghost lights before they slept, hopeful for good things to come with the dawn. The roster for today’s session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, human explorer with an interest in crafting and metalwork
  • Yoog, changeling scoundrel on the run from a job gone wrong

The following day they resumed their journey, and two days later arrived in Ibara without incident.

Ibara

Ibara is a small town of perhaps 1500 people built at the fork of a river. A stream from the great forest to the south and the highlands to the north join here before taking a more sedate course eastwards to the sea, along the road the PCs had taken from Inorat. Ibara stood at this confluence, with most of the town sprawled over the northern banks of the rivers and a small portion on the southern side. The town’s Bailey rose from the north bank of the river, built on a natural rise that ran perhaps 300m along the river bank. The Motte stood on the south side of the river in the fork, connected to the Bailey by a strong wood and stone bridge. The area west of the Motte was partially protected by an oxbow lake and a wide marsh linking the two streams, so that attacking from the west would require wading through sodden fields and reeds. In this marsh the people of Ibara harvested their famous frogs, while in the farms on the eastern side of the town they grew corn and barley. The town itself was surrounded by a low and largely decorative palisade, and the Bailey barely maintained its basic defensive structure, because Ibara had not been seriously attacked by deepfolk or any other major force for perhaps a century.

The PCs entered the town towards late afternoon under a light rain, and took accomodation in a hotel called the Precipice that stood on the rise next to the Bailey, commanding an impressive view of the river below and the looming Motte. They took dinner with Tuya, his “niece” and assistants, and here deployed on him the lie that they had determined to use to escape his watch for the two days they needed to go and find Verbere’s iron stash. They told him that Yoog’s poison remained bad, and that they needed to travel outside of town to find certain herbs and other materials necessary for an elven cure that would work against the poison and finally rid Yoog of it. They guessed it would take two days – one to go to the area where the herbs could be found and one to return. Hugo Tuya’s “niece” perked up at the possibility of two days resting in town, and as they had expected Hugo Tuya agreed to the plan in order to placate her. They would set off early the next morning while Tuya enjoyed a day’s rest in the hotel.

The iron

The next morning, bright and early, the PCs left Ibara heading north east to find the location of the iron cache. They traveled all day to the approximate area noted on the map that came with Verbere’s letter, reaching it towards afternoon as the second of the season’s storms began to roll in from the sea. Against the increasingly heavy rain and the driving winds they searched calmly and patiently for clues, losing energy and patience as day darkened to night and their clothes and equipment became soaking wet.

Finally, after some hours of searching, as the sun sank below the horizon and the storm crouched angrily over the forests, they found a small path leading off the main trail and into a dense patch of trees. Something about it resembled the notes on their map so they struck inward, pushing through dripping branches and slipping and sliding on the mossy ground until they broke into a small clearing on a slight rise. Here the trees drew back from the high ground, seeming strangely twisted and stunted, and they found a circle of four rough-hewn stones standing at the four compass points, just as the map had promised. In the centre of the circle a large stone lay on the ground, partly submerged and slippery with moss. All the stones were ancient, cracked and worn, but clearly placed there by someone. Tuya’s guards gathered at the edge of the circle, staring at the ominous standing stones in the dim circle of light thrown from their lanterns, and looked uneasily at each other. Lightning flashed overhead and the trees creaked and rumbled in the heavy wind, but the centre of the stone circle felt still, as if somehow the wind had blown around it. Somewhere beyond the comfortable orange circle of light from their weak lanterns a shadow moved, and Itzel jumped at the though that something stalked them.

Still, there was iron to be had. They moved to the location the map noted and began to dig. Using the bone pick and rough scrap shovel they had bought in Ibara the going was initially difficult, but after perhaps an hour they opened a hole into some kind of underground chamber, and suddenly a large section of ground collapsed, dragging Calim knee deep into the ground and revealing a low-ceilinged room beneath the rise. The room stretched back underground into darkness, and in the faint light of the lanterns held above him Calim could see bones gleaming white on the ground. He looked up into the shadowed faces of his colleagues standing around the rim, suddenly framed in stark brilliance by a flash of lightning, shrugged, grabbed a lantern, and began to crawl inside.

Once in the room the earth above stilled the sounds of the storm and he found himself in a cold, dark, damp cave. The floor was littered with white bones, obviously humanoid, perhaps mostly arm and leg bones, that had been scattered seemingly with no order and purpose across the whole space. Strange, whispering sounds emerged from the darkness beyond his weak lantern light but when he moved towards them and shone the light inward all he could see was the dark wall of earth at the back of the cave. He moved in a little more, doing his best to resist the urge to flee, and saw it: an oiled leather sack leaning against the standing stone. He slithered forward through the wet earth, trying not to touch the bones, until he could reach out and grab it. Behind him the light of his colleagues’ lanterns disappeared in the gloom, and all he had was his own weak orange light to press back against the whispered warnings and strange sounds coming from the darkness. Telling himself it was just some strange sound effect from the storm, perhaps channeled down from the stone above, he dragged the sack forward. It clinked satisfactorily and carved a track through the dirt with its weight. Grunting with pleasure, Callim began to drag himself backward until he saw his friends’ light again. He scuttled backward rapidly then, dragging the sack with him, and was relieved to emerge back into the orange glow and feel the cold rain on his face. They helped him out of the hole and gathered around the sack. Inside, as they expected, they found 10 perfect ingots of high quality iron, stamped with a horrid emblem of a leering skull. It must be a deepfolk emblem.

In any case, they did not care: they had iron! They hurriedly filled in the hole they had made, packing it so it would not collapse again as it had done when they had first dug it open, and scuttled back to the road, casting anxious glances over their shoulders at the strange, silent circle of stones. Who had built it? What was buried there and why? Why had Aveld the Foul been there, and why had he left the iron? Questions to be asked in the sunlight no doubt.

The greed and the lies

They spent an uncomfortable night huddled on the road in the waning storm, and woke early the next day to clear skies and reassuring sunlight. They set off early after a cold breakfast, and returned to Ibara by mid-afternoon with their treasure carefully hidden on Itzel’s faun[1]. They bathed, rested, and carefully secreted the iron where they hoped Hugo Tuya would not see it by accident, but in the late afternoon their careful activities were interrupted by a messenger from the hotel staff: a woman waited to talk to them downstairs.

Not expecting visitors, they dressed quickly for a meeting – carefully managing to remember not to wear armour or carry weapons – and descended to find a harrowed, tired-looking middle-aged woman waiting for them in the hotel restaurant, a brace of ales sitting on the table with her. She bade them sit and introduced herself: she was Verbere’s widow. She had heard they returned from breaking a bandit group and wondered if they had heard of him? He had set out some days ago “to make some money” and had not been seen since.

They said they knew nothing of such a man, but she told them about his treasure box and they admitted they had it. They handed it over to her, and she opened it to read the letters. Once she learnt of the iron she explained to them that she and her husband had fallen on hard times and really needed this iron to escape from debt, which was why he had left to find it. The bandits must have killed him and stolen the iron – had they found it in the bandits’ possession? They told her no, they knew nothing of it[2].

Then, she concluded, it must still be buried at the site noted on the map. She asked them if they would be willing to go and get it for her, and split the proceeds of selling it? They requested time to confer and then decided as a group that no, this iron was theirs, not hers, and they would not share any of it with her. They returned to the table and told her that though they would like to help her they could not: they were contracted to Hugo Tuya and could not, sadly, accept a double contract. So it was that sadly they must decline her generous offer. Perhaps someone else could help her? Calim and Bao Tap gave her a little money to tide her over while during her difficult time, and they again apologized sadly for not being able to help her. She gave them a resigned expression of disappointment, and left them to their ales.

They had lied to a poor bereaved woman, while upstairs her dead husband’s armour lay in their closet along with the treasure he had died searching for. Had that been wise? And had it been worth it?

They concluded yes on both counts, and did not think on it further. The iron was theirs and the past, like Verbere, was dead and gone.

 


fn1: Itzel is an elf, and has a small deer-like creature as a beast of burden

fn2: A small Genesys rules footnote here. When the PCs buried the hole in the ground they did a check to make sure they properly covered it, and they rolled two advantages. I asked Kyansei’s player how to use the advantages, and she said they enabled her to shore up the hole so that it would not collapse if dug into again. She did <em>not</em> say that she covered it up so that it was not clear it had been recently disturbed. So should Verbere’s widow lead an expedition to the cache in the next few days, she will no doubt discover that it has been very recently dug up and the iron taken. She may even see the drag marks in the underground chamber from Calim’s amateur efforts at moving the iron. It won’t be hard for her to figure out what that means, and who knows? Maybe she can rile the town up in defense of her recently bereaved husband’s legacy. Would she do that? I guess we’ll find out in session 4 …

I am made of stone
Walk the narrow line where nothing cuts you
Deeper than your own blade
I am the storm, my voice is the river
Take from me I fade into you
Fade the warriors, fade the black world into this fairytale
Fade, take to the sky

– Eilika Tribe meditational (Before the Battle, Psalm 4)

Hugo Tuya’s Guards have been attacked by bandits on the road to Ibara, but drove them off in a short and vicious battle. They now collect themselves, check their charges, and prepare to follow the surviving bandits to their camp. The roster for today’s adventure:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, human explorer with an interest in crafting and metalwork
  • Yoog, changeling scoundrel on the run from a job gone wrong

The guards think there is money in this, and perhaps some stolen treasures, so they quickly organized themselves. Calim tried his medicine skills on some of their wounds (thankfully light) and failed, and then they set off after the fleeing bandits, following their fresh tracks back along the road to a narrow trail they had not noticed on their journey. They cut into the woods and followed the trail up a gentle slope until they reached the bandits’ camp, nestled amongst maple and alder trees perhaps half an hour’s walk from the road.

The bandit camp

The camp was a ragged collection of wagons and tents arranged around a central fire and table. They had obviously been based here a while and were not planning to move on – it was not even clear how they had managed to move the wagons (no doubt stolen) into the small clearing in the first place. Hugo Tuya’s Guards approached carefully, but it was obvious that the camp was largely unoccupied. The two guards they had chased were hiding behind wagons near the entrance to the clearing, bows in hand, waiting for the inevitable.

They attacked. Their plan was simple: they fired their bows into the camp and then Kyansei charged forward into battle. Unfortunately they had underestimated the numbers and guile of the bandits. There were six more hidden in the forest, who opened fire as the battle started. Their leader was also lurking in the trees, firing his bow. Within moments Yoog and Quanbae were brought down by arrow fire, and the situation began to turn against the guards. Fortunately they had Kyansei, who tore into one group of archers and killed them very quickly, while Calim and Bao Tap tussled with the leader. Behind them Itzel cast shrouds of fire on the warriors, hoping to burn their enemies. It worked, and after a few more seconds of brutal hack and slash the battle was over. All but one of the bandits lay dead, and the camp was theirs. They took the final bandit captive and searched the wreckage.

The treasure box

They found little to justify their valiant attack: a few coins, a suit of leather armour and a healing potion. At the back of the tent they found a dead semi-naked man but with characteristic sense did not bother to investigate the cause of his death. On the table in the centre of the camp they also found a small, well-crafted box that appeared to be of dwarven make, and unopened. Yoog, just recovered from the battle, attempted to pick the lock on this box and opened it easily, but also was struck by a small needle trap. The poison began working immediately, and Yoog sickened horribly[1].

Inside the treasure box was a map and a letter. They read the letter:

 

Siladan the Elder

Sundered Cliffs

Third watch road, the red house

 

23rd of the Harvesting, 1011

Verbere of the Flame

Ibara

My dear Verbere

I confess to some trepidation in writing this letter, for I know how deeply you felt Ashen’s loss and you blame me for it. I hope you will read it with a milder heart than 20 years hence, and will accept this token of remembrance and restitution for my mistakes.

I hear you are living comfortably and quietly in Ibara, with a good wife and family, and plying your trade still though in quieter and humbler manner than during our fiery youth. I do not pretend to believe that you care about my current situation, given the manner of our parting, but I tell you briefly that you may sense whether to trust my information. I have taken a position as archaeologist in an Academy in Estona, where I teach a little and also do a little research. After our parting I gave up on harsh living on the road, overcame my anger at the academy, and finished my studies as an astrologer. Here then, you see I know something of what I speak.

I have learnt in my studies that near Ibara there is a small cache of deepfolk iron, pure in form, cast in ingots, that was left forgotten there some centuries ago. I stumbled on word of it in the footnotes of a scholar known only as Aveld the Foul. Why he left it there I do not know but Aveld the Foul was a famous coward and endowed with a sixth sense for danger, so it is unlikely he would have found it if there were any risk. Perhaps a raiding party stashed it and fled, then died before the knowledge could be passed on, and perhaps Aveld the Foul left it there because he had no strength to carry the load. In any case, whatever the reason, I know the land around Ibara is safe and little-traveled by deepfolk, and no rumours have come to me of walkers, so I give you this information freely and ask nothing of you in return – not even a response to this message – except to hold some kindness in your heart for me as you grow older, and remember me for the better things we did together, and not for that tragic last night in the hills. I hope this small token of my regret for those events will help you in your future, though I hold no hope that it will soften your hear to me.

I owe you at least this. The map is copied from the notes of Aveld the Foul, and I expect it will take no more than a day or two from Ibara to find the cache. From Aveld’s notes it is not so heavy that you will need a horse, but worth considerable amounts regardless. My best wishes to you and yours, and know that I remain ever,

Your comrade in arms

Siladan the Elder

 

So, there was a treasure buried outside Ibara, the very town they were heading to. All they needed was perhaps a day of spare time and they could liberate it. It appeared that this “Verbere”, whoever he was, had gone to find the treasure and been ambushed by these bandits – at first the guards assumed it was his body in the ditch, but their captive informed them that the body had been the bandit who first tried to open the box. Now all the bandits were dead no one knew about it – except perhaps Verbere’s wife and children, but what did they matter? The guards packed up what they had found, tied a rope around the sole survivor’s neck, and trooped back to the wagons. They were just a few days away from riches, and the glorious fame that awaited bandit hunters in Ibara!


fn1: I don’t know anything about poison rules in Genesys yet, so I just made it up. Basically you do a hard resilience check every hour and if you fail you take a crit. The first two crits Yoog took were pretty nasty, and I’m using this house rule that if the number of levels of your crits is greater than your wound threshold you die, so pretty much within 4-6 hours Yoog was going to be in big trouble

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