To the defence of Penhaligon
Penhaligon in Peril
The party headed south from Selenica toward the lower peaks of the Altan Tepes which marked the border between Darokin to the north and their homeland of Karameikos to the south. Many of the two hundred dwarves commented on how little the surroundings had changed in decades. This they knew, for it was in this region that Drewen's clan had once settled. That was, before the red dragon scattered them across the Known World. Drewen brought with him the hope of reclaiming the land which was rightfully theirs.
Heading south along the Duke's Road a company of several dozen men was spied ahead. Drewen realised for the first time how alarming the sight of a demihuman army entering the Grand Duchy must appear. He rode ahead to speak with the border guards and to explain who he and his companions were. He stated that he intended to head to Specularum to speak with the Duke and formally request domicile for his people. The guards seemed wary but thought it best not to anger such a formidable group; they allowed the party to proceed without further inconvenience.
Penhaligon in ruins
Many of the roadside villages appeared deserted, and as the party drew near to Penhaligon their suspicions were confirmed – the town showed signs of having come under heavy attack, several sections of its walls had been razed. Brimming with curiosity the party began making enquiries among the guards, and encountered Lady Arteris Penhaligon who was inspecting the breached defences. She explained that for some reason, local giants who before now had been allies of the townsfolk had turned angry and begun wrecking the surrounding countryside; just recently the town of Penhaligon itself had been targeted. The party were as intrigued as Lady Arteris as to what the giants' motive might be, and undertook to visit the giants and ask why they had turned hostile.
Riding out to the eastern fringes of the Penhaligon estate (leaving Drewen's followers to revel in the town's many drinking establishments) the party arrived at a long, narrow gorge at the base of which stood several mud huts, with an immense pile of boulders to one side. A handy supply of missiles for the giants to hurl at would-be intruders, the companions speculated. As a precaution Karnus cloaked the party in Invisibility to save them from becoming targets. As the companions drew near they noticed a large cave off to one side. Venturing inside they observed four immense mounds of fur snoring inside the entrance. They backed away but found their exit blocked by an enormous humanoid.
Meeting with the giants
Lana and Vasily dropped their Invisibility and introduced themselves to the giant, who revealed that he was called Ignar. He lived with his wife, a gnarled old giantess, his son and the widow of his brother who had recently been slain by a man clad in metal and riding a steed. Despite the giant's limited ability to converse, the party discerned that he was accusing a Knight of Penhaligon of murdering his brother. Ignar produced a lance and fabric pennant which the rider had left embedded in his brother's dead body. Surely this could not be the case, the companions thought. Might someone be seeking to frame one of the knights? Vasily communed with the departed spirit, buried beneath the cairn of boulders at the gorge entrance, and sadly confirmed the giant's claims. Lana and Vasily did their utmost to appease the giants, saying that the actions of one man should not bring hardship upon many innocents, no matter how great the loss which had been caused. The party took it upon themselves to hunt down the perpetrator, and were given ten risings of the moon within which to report back with positive findings. After that time the giants would resume hostilities against Penhaligon.
Riding back to town a crowd was found lining the road outside the gates. A trio of riders were approaching, clad in ceremonial armour... a bystander commented that this was General Volkar of the Karameikan armed forces. News had reached Castellan Keep, to the north, that Lady Arteris was unable to maintain peace within her borders. As such she risked being placed under martial law. As the General approached two waifs picked up stones and began flinging these along with loud insults. The reaction of a nearby guard was swift and merciless – he unsheathed his sword and slashed the unarmed youngsters to pieces. The crowd was aghast. As the General approached he shook his head as if this act confirmed the reports he had heard of rising anarchy in Penhaligon. Lady Arteris was enraged and despite her efforts to politely reject the General's aid, was obliged to offer him lodgings within her castle.
The party suspected that the General might be behind the attacks on the giants, as might have been the guard who had acted so disproportionately in 'reprimanding' the two orphans. The companions gained access to the prisoner, Lana masquerading as a military agent while Karnus summoned a phantasmal image of General Volkar beside her. The imprisoned guard replied that his action had been of his own choosing... but he did not sound entirely convinced. Upon reflection he remembered hearing a woman's voice before he had slashed at the kids. The only description he could offer of this woman was that she had been larger than normal. He had felt compelled to obey her suggestion... Karnus and Lana looked at one another in astonishment. A female magic-user might be at large, bent on Penhaligon's destruction.
Reporting to Lady Arteris later that night her Ladyship identified the pennant taken from the giants as belonging to Sir Arcolai Hammeldar. Arteris had issued a call to arms earlier that week, and this young and notoriously rash young knight had failed to answer. The party concluded that it was Arcolai who had fatally wounded Ignar's brother... yet it was possible he might have been magically swayed into doing so. Intrigued the party took to the road in pursuit of Arcolai.
Stopping in a roadside village, Lana purchased a meat pie from a pleasant-mannered and plump matron in the market square. "Made from best left-overs," the woman smiled kindly as Lana took her first bite. The filling was indeed delicious.
Riding on the party reached Kelvin, where after speaking with Desmond Kelvin it transpired that Arcolai had been the Baron's guest just two nights before. The knight had seemed disturbed, Desmond recalled, as if ashamed of some recent misdeed, and had spoken of heading into forest land. Further investigations revealed that Arcolai had traded his horse in town, asserting that where he was headed a steed would be of no use. Surely he had not entered the perilous Dymrak? There was no choice but to stay hot on the knight's heels so the party made its way south into the depths of Karameikos' most dangerous forest.
Into the Dymrak
Betula was pleased to be in woodland surroundings, yet the party had difficulty finding a trail to follow and soon became lost. After stumbling through undergrowth for what felt like hours, the companions came upon a clearing and found themselves at the gates of a deserted and overgrown homestead. Could Arcolai be within, they wondered. They decided to stay the night inside the homestead rather than camp in the wilderness. The premises appeared deserted on first inspection, save for a trapdoor below the dark stairwell which none present could open. In the morning Lana would be able to magically Knock the door open. In the meantime they drew together straw mattresses from the upstairs bedrooms and set about lighting a fire. Karnus stepped outside to collect a few sticks but noticed something amiss and summoned his companions. All six surveyed the courtyard.
"Did we leave the gates open when we came in?" Karnus asked.
"Then who closed them?"
No-one said a thing. Not only were the gates closed, a heavy wooden bar had been put in place across the inside.
A more thorough inspection of the premises began. Lana picked through the straw-covered floor of one of the outhouses and uncovered a box. A wooden box, long enough to house a body. A coffin! In shock the box (which thankfully was empty) was dragged to the courtyard, hacked to pieces, burnt and doused in holy water. As the droplets hit the smouldering wood, the coffin steamed and evaporated into nothingness. Each of the six shuddered, for this proved their worst fears - the homestead was occupied by a vampire.
At home with the vampire
A second coffin was located (beneath a heap of timber in another ramshackle outbuilding) and was destroyed in an identical manner. This caused wisps of smoke to rise through floorboards adjacent to the locked trapdoor beneath the stairs. The smoke coalesced into the form of a pale-skinned human, clad in black from head to toe with a red sash tied around his waist. His blood red eyes glinted malevolently, his gaze dangerously compelling. After a brief exchange the vampire professed that no knight had passed this way. The party was disturbing his preparations for the upcoming Traladaran festival known as the Night of Fire, or as he termed it the 'Night of Fools', when lost hoards of treasure across the land were said to blaze visibly through the night, providing vampires with treasure-hungry mortals to prey upon. Karnus tired of the interchange, pointed a finger and sent a missile of fire careering into the rear of the downstairs hall. The resulting explosion consumed the vampire, who threw back his head and howled. From every doorway streamed rats which were under the vampire's control. Lana loosed Amber Shards to obliterate half the swarm, but precious moments were taken up finishing the remainder. Ducking and diving to avoid the vampire's life-draining touch, Drewen closed for combat. After several blows (and further missiles from Karnus and Lana) the vampire resumed misty form and floated toward the shadows beneath the stairs. Drewen hacked through the locked trapdoor, then Lana and Karnus flew down into the tunnel beneath to pursue the vampire. The cloud of gas swirled angrily, heading for an intricate wooden coffin at the end of the passage. The two wizards lost no time dousing the coffin with oil, setting it ablaze, then sprinkling holy water to quench the flames. The vampire had no coffins remaining. There came an otherworldly howl as the mist dispersed. A loose panel was located in the wall of the crypt, revealing a metal chest. Lana's wand stiffened upon being waved in front of the chest, a clear indication that the box was trapped. A stinking cloud was deliberately triggered, yet Karnus wearing his Ring of Survival flew down to retrieve the treasure trove inside the box, unharmed by the poisonous vapours.
There was no sign of Arcolai however the next morning the party encountered a maiden standing alone amid the trees. This girl was clad in leathers and bore a simple wooden shield and club. Her brown hair was short and neatly trimmed. She thanked the party for ridding of the Forest of the vampire, a threat which she had been meaning to get around to dealing with. She spoke of a further peril – more undead were pestering a group of Calarii elves who dwelled not far from the party's current location. As thanks for the party annihilating the undead, she proposed, the Calarii might be convinced to act as guides and track the rogue knight Arcolai. With few other options (and seeing how they were well and truly lost) the party consented and were escorted to the elvish camp.
After initial wariness, the Calarii elves made the party welcome and shared refreshments. They explained how exactly one year ago two human hunters had stumbled across their camp, and had murdered and abused several of their females. Acting in retribution the elves had slain the humans, however their spirits clung to the camp and wreaked havoc from beyond the grave. Their touch was more chill than winter frost, the elves said, and more than once had drained lifeforce from the camp's inhabitants. The elves had no idea where the spirits dwelled, however Betula announced that she would assist. Able to converse with the forest plants, she obtained instructions and led the party to an ancient oak whose roots encircled an opening leading into darkness. The party ventured inside and followed the tunnel to where they found the ghostly shades of two human spirits. The spirits' features were twisted and cruel in undeath, the hollows of their eyes burning with intense red flame. They were joined by a third spectre, that of a delicate elfmaiden whose eyes were sombre and dark. The subterranean passage was crowded and only allowed limited movement, but Drewen confronted the lead spectre in hand-to-hand combat. Lana and Karnus attempted to get a view with which to loose Magic Missiles but to no avail. Threy invoked the power of his faith in an attempt to turn the undead but could affect only the lesser spectre - the elfmaiden. Drewen finished one spectre singlehandedly. As the creature's body dissipated the mages finally got a clear shot and took out the remaining creatures with six sparkling missiles of sapphire and amber.
As the last spectre evaporated into thin air, an armoured figure charged along the tunnel, his broadsword readied. He seemed disappointed at having no foe to take on in combat; this was Sir Arcolai who had fancied ending his days in combat with the undead.
The party returned to the camp; upon hearing of their deeds the elves were greatly pleased. Festivities went on into the night, during which time Arcolai was questioned. The party found him to be an affable and decent character, if somewhat brash and unthinking at times. He felt great shame at having slain the giant, who in retrospect had posed no danger to Penhaligon. Arcolai's mind had been in turmoil ever since. Upon being prompted by the party, Arcolai confirmed that he did indeed recall hearing a female's suggestion that he should attack the giants... Karnus used an ESP spell to verify the truth of Arcolai's words. The knight described a woman who had seemed pleasant at the time of their meeting, her physical frame much larger than normal (he did not deign to call her fat). Yet if any Charm effect was involved, Arcolai had heard no words of spellcasting.
Thoughts came together in Lana's mind. A woman who was larger than normal. Plump. Piggish, even. Fear and loathing rose within her. Acting on a suspicion which she hoped was misplaced she reached for her Crystal Ball and scried for the kindly village pie-seller from whom she had purchased a pie. The woman was in a kitchen, carving meat from a bone. The bone was that of a human child. Lana kicked herself for not having realised sooner - the woman was a devil swine, with the natural ability to ensorcel the minds of men. The pie Lana had consumed had been made from 'best leftovers'. As she came to this horrendous realisation, Lana keeled into some nearby bushes and wretched.
The party rode out the next morning (the elves returned their horses which they had found wandering in the woods) bound for Penhaligon with Arcolai in tow, for they intended to clear the knight's name. The party reached the town a day later to hear reports of tragedies - massacres on consecutive nights, several townsfolk had been found mauled to death. Corpses had even been found floating in the castle moat. Some evil beast was clearly at large and had free run of the town. The party informed Lady Arteris of their suspicions that a devil swine was behind the killings, and defences were heightened accordingly.
Karnus scried upon the woman day and night, and observed her walking through the hills outside Penhaligon. Sometimes she was alone, at other times she was accompanied by an enormous man whose face was partially obscured by a leather mask. Through the clairaudience ability of his crystal ball, the blue-robed mage heard scraps of conversation, these mainly relating to carnage, pain and slaughter. The pair were congratulating one another on a job well done.
The devil swine revealed
The next afternoon Arcolai led the heroes to the village where he had encountered the devil swine in human form. Once there they asked directions to a dwelling which the woman had been seen entering and leaving regularly. With the sun setting on the western skyline, the party ventured in. Inside was dark. It occurred to Lana that she had not scried upon the woman for some time. She withdrew her own crystal ball and gazed into its depths. She observed the woman standing in a dark place, a dagger clutched high in one hand, ready to stab downward. Lana's eyes widened in fear and she whirled on the spot. The woman lunged at her from a darkened corner. The party reacted in self-defence - hammers and maces landed heavy blows, and magic rained. Within moments the woman lay dead, her form reverting to that of an immense hog. Inside her kitchen a dozen human corpses hung from the ceiling rafters. The party shuddered and left the building.
Riding back north to Penhaligon (for the giants' ten days had been and gone and a report needed to be made) a pack of wolves was spied running in the opposite direction, into hills to the east. Acting on a hunch, the party gave chase, thinking since the moon was high that perhaps these might werewolves responding to the call of some lycanthropic ally of the devil swine. Some of the werecreatures spoke with the party, bidding them to flee while they still had their lives. The master of their pack was coming. Indeed the master appeared not long after. Each member of the party regretted having not heeded the wolves advice. For this was Silvereye. Long ago the Black Eagle Baron and Bargle the Infamous had subjected a werewolf to inhuman torture by pouring molten silver into his eye socket. While it came close to killing him, this heightened the lycanthrope's power tenfold, creating the most demented and powerful lycanthrope in the Grand Duchy. The party was exhausted from the earlier encounter with the devil swine, and could scarcely put up a fight against this formidable foe. Silvereye brought an early end to the fight by striking magical fear into Karnus, Lana and Betula and sending his werewolves after them as they fled for their lives. Drewen, Threy, Vasily and Arcolai interposed themselves and at great pains slew the lycanthrope pack. When the party regained its senses, Silvereye had slipped away.
Exhausted in body and spirit, the party rode through the night to reach Penhaligon by dawn the next day. Word reached town that the giants were approaching, having heard no news of progress. The party rode out with Lady Arteris, having persuaded her to forego the company of any other bodyguard as a display of trust toward the giants. The party informed the giants that they had investigated the slaying of Ignar's brother, and that they had avenged his death as best they could - the being who had compelled Arcolai to attack had been slain. Yet a greater foe existed, one whose identity and motives remained unclear... for now. Much remained to be done to put right the harm which had been caused, and to prevent further slayings. Arteris and the giants agreed to work together to do what they could against the mysterious foe which had targeted them both. The town and surrounding villages would be rebuilt with the giants' help. As thanks for their aid Arteris agreed to proclaim the lands where the giants dwelled out of bounds to all travellers, so that the giants might enjoy peace when they did not choose to have contact with the townsfolk.
Thus disaster was averted and friendship was rekindled between the stone giants and the people of Penhaligon. Exhausted by weeks of travel and hard toil, the party begged Lady Arteris' leave to rest within her town walls, before taking to the road once more. After regrouping with Drewen's clan in the camps outside Kelvin, the companions' next stop would be Specularum - home at last.
You may return to the Main Page or the Site Overview