Entering the idyllic meadow, the seven found a welcome spot to rest after the perils of Blight Swamp , however amid the pleasant surroundings an arrow thudded into the ground by Threy’s foot! A band of armed halflings emerged from behind a row of shrubbery, bidding the party state their business, and questioning whether they were operatives of the Baron… Threy gave some lip to the lead halfling who curtly replied that if Threy did not hold his tongue that they would set their bear upon him – (a low-level magic-user obliged with a Phantasmal Force of a fearsome bear, which silenced the starving cleric). Philbert stepped forward to corroborate the companions’ story – the stolen battle plans he carried more than neutralised the other halflings' suspicions. The heroes were escorted southward toward Rollstone Keep, where they would be able to speak with the local Sheriff and find lodgings.
The Five Shires
Arriving at the considerably well-armoured Keep, the seven were pleased to discover that the fortress’s no-nonsense military exterior concealed a homely and hospitable interior. For all save Drewen, that was, as many halflings refused to look beyond their age-old prejudices that dwarves were not to be trusted. After handing over the battle plans, the heroes were presented with a pouch of coins to keep them from starving. From here they headed to the single inn in town, which was run by the Fang patrol to keep an eye over potential threat newcomers. Needing to earn extra cash, the next day Karnus and Lana performed in a magical display show to earn a few more "yellows" to keep the company in good spirits.
There were no pressing issues to attend to so it was agreed to escort Philbert to his home town of Ringrise in Highshire, not too far to the west. The next morning, feeling greatly recuperated from their two days' rest, the companions bid farewell to the Keep and took to the road once more.
The Wardlystone Witch
From conversing with locals, the party heard tales of the Wardlystone Witch, a long-dead Glantrian sorceress who came to the Shires to help the hin defend their borders in subtle ways. She met her fate, it was said, at the hands of a foul being, magically summoned and beyond her ability to control. Slain by the beast, her treasure was said to have been buried within the grounds of her home.
The heroes spoke with a venerable old halfling, proprietor of the riverside guesthouse in Wardlystone, and after several rounds of drink and exchanges of tales the old hin agreed to lead the party to the site of the Witch's former home. Here they also learned the legend of Ober’s Mimbur, a great tower fabled to contain long-lost caskets of amber, jade and ebony. Arriving at the witch’s old home, no cottage remained, only an overgrown expanse of earth which might have passed for a badly tended vegetable patch. The companions checked the area thoroughly, even waving their Wand of Secret Door Detection, but could see no other recourse than to start digging. The ground was hard and having no proper tools Karnus drew forth his polished stone and began to summon a worker.
Half an hour later the torches of a hin patrol were seen approaching. The presence of a twelve foot tall elemental defiling a local monument had unsettled the townsfolk. Karnus was deep in concentration therefore Lana stepped forward, smiling to try and placate the locals. Speaking in Elvish to the lead elf named Krondar (whose only other tongue was Darokinian) Lana explained that the heroes were investigating the rumours of the witch’s legacy, since they too were magic-users and wished to see if there was any authenticity to the old tales. Luckily the elf was amicable but remained dubious of Karnus’ summoning of an elemental so close to town. Both Lana and Karnus underwent probing through use of ESP then were left to continue their excavation.
Digging continued into the night, and all began to yawn as the heroes dozed off one by one. Threy turned in for the night, complaining of cold bones and the lack of a warm bed. Drewen was set to follow when an outline formed in his dwarvish infravision – a small chest had been unearthed at the bottom of the pit, centuries old and ensnared within the roots of a willow tree. Despite the companions’ curiosity, it was decided to investigate in the morning. Word spread of the party's discovery and as the sun rose next morning, the townsfolk watched with baited breath as Lana magically shrank the roots of the tree, leaving the chest free to open. Both she and Karnus descended into the pit, to emerge bearing a Crystal Ball and an Elven Cloak respectively! The heroes’ minds thought back to the words of a song dedicated to the Witch which they had heard in the town the previous night - "…For she saw all / Yet rare was seen…".
Congratulations came from all sides as the companions took their newfound treasures back to the inn, but as they left town later that day a sudden darkness descended. The air before them appeared to tear asunder, as a hideous winged fiend emerged. Karnus and Lana hurled magic missiles, barely causing the creature to flinch, then it began to rake its claws through each and every one of the party members. As the companions attempted to fight back, the thing would fade from view to appear a short way off, then blink back into position a heartbeat later. At long last through sheer determination, sweating heavily and in pain, the party felled the beast through the combined swings of Drewen’s hammer and Threy’s mace. The Witch had been avenged.
Pressing on from Wardlystone, the party travelled north through Ober’s Mimbur, where they made the acquaintance of a jovial young hinmaiden named Mirmyra, then headed onward to Ringrise. Here the prodigal Philbert was given a warm welcome home by his many friends and clanmembers. It transpired that during the halfling’s ten year absence from the Shires his elder brother Blasco had been elevated to the rank of Krondar, an assistant of the Sheriff and upholder of law within the town, alongside a second such halfling, the self-important Toriscu Highnose.
The haunted mine in the hills
While relaxing in the homely and peaceful surroundings of Ringrise, word arrived of a party of young hin who had gone missing in the mountains to the north of town. Rumour had it that a long lost silver mine had been rediscovered, but which was haunted by an evil spirit, an undead monster which had broken free of its prison and slaughtered the silver-hungry young halflings. With nothing more worthwhile to do, the party agreed to investigate these rumours and set off for the mountains. Threy announced at the last moment that he would not be accompanying his friends, since he was undergoing a period of change and needed a while for quiet reflection. That or he was in one of his habitual sulks.
Leaving town, it took less than an hour of marching to reach a horrendous site - that of a mass slaughter where the bodies of halflings and orcs lay exposed and bleeding on the mountainside. Investigating more closely, the heroes were confused. The halfling bodies were stone cold and stiff, while the orcs were warm and had been slain only a short time ago. Vasily used a clerical chant to commune with the spirits of the dead haflings, who claimed they had been slain by their own kin. Could some-one have been trying to fake a skirmish? The companions pressed on toward the mine and reached their destination. Several wagons of silver ore stood loaded at the mine entrance, removing the former barrier that had prevented the wraith within from penetrating into the outside world. Now who knew what horrors might lurk inside or out of the mine…
Venturing in, the creature soon made its appearance - a thick grey mist which swirled into the form of a man with glowing otherworldly eyes. Standing for no nonsense and not wishing the beast to draw closer, Lana recited the incantation to summon a trio of magical missiles, which impacted into the wraith with fierce intensity. Still the fiend held itself together… this was no mere wraith. As the creature closed for hand-to-hand combat, the party’s own weapons were wrenched from their grasp and turned against them! In horror, Vasily was quick to call on Halav's might and effect a Turning whereupon the creature was retreated into the catacombs beyond.
As the party withdrew from the mine to discuss new tactics the light of torches were made out advancing toward them. A band of halfling raiders confronted the party, led by a mysterious masked hinmaiden. Fighting broke out between the two sides until a shadowy figure came creeping along the walls of the catacombs - Vasily’s turning effect had worn off. Mirmyra turned as the wraith’s chill touch affected her and drained a portion of her lifeforce … With a booming call to Halav Vasily caused the wraith to flee once more. The fighting renewed itself although the bandit leader had escaped into the mine among the chaos of the wraith’s attack. Lana invoked a Haste effect and tore along the tunnel in pursuit. Her way was blocked by more hin bandits and Lana was forced to expel a charge from her Wand of Fear in hopes this would disperse those who were in her path. To Lana's immense surprise, this came to no effect as the Halflings managed to divert the magical energies through pure force of will. (Philbert later explained that this innate ability known as "Denial" was granted to all Shire-born hin still living within the Shires). Lana was savagely cut by her attackers but made her way through, felling her opponents in the process. Lana bought enough time confronting the hinmaiden Jess Evershade for her companions to catch up. Jess quickly necked a vial of greyish potion, granting her control over the nearby wraith, however eventually both foes were vanquished.
Threy becomes a local hero
Back in Ringrise, an orc tribe - the Orcs of the Severed Toes were marching on the town - and were in highly belligerent form since halflings had slain their chieftain's brother. This crime was particularly unbearable for their chieftain since it was he who had wanted the satisfaction of murdering his own brother, therefore he had decreed that the Halflings would pay dearly. The crime had in fact been carried out by the small band of bandits, not the inhabitants of Ringrise, however this made little difference to the enraged orcs. Threy, while walking the plains around town, saw the enemy forced converging. The cleric had once more in his life been touched by the nameless forces of Neutrality and felt a new strength welling within him. As plumes of smoke began rising within the town walls, Threy took hold of his mace and headed into the thick of combat.
Fighting his way through the war-ridden streets of Ringrise Threy could hear cries coming from inside one building, as two young hinlings and their mother had become trapped behind a wall of flame! Threy invoked a charm to protect him from the raging heat and strode fearlessly into the home, re-emerging with two wide-eyed hinlings and their mother who thanked the cleric profusely for saving their lives. The magical protection served well as a trio of orcs tried to swipe at the cleric with burning brands and torches, to little avail. After a swing of the cleric’s mace the humanoids were laughing no more. Seeing this apparent invulnerabilty, one grand orc sent two of his bodyguards to attack Threy, both of whom were struck down with ease, then closed himself for combat. This was none other than the chieftain of the tribe. He and Threy traded blows for many long rounds, before ultimately Threy emerged the victor!
Threy’s companions returned later that day to find their comrade assisting the wounded and organising temporary shelters while plans were drawn up to rebuild burned out sections of town. The orcs had suffered a loss of hundreds compared to the lesser number of forty or so halflings, and Threy was to be proclaimed a local hero for his great valour. Unknown to the heroes, a second wraith had arisen in the mines - a halfling unwittingly left unconscious by Lana in her pursuit of Jess Evershed. After a visit by Threy (with his newly increased clerical powers) to the mines, one glare was all it took to end the undead threat. Blasco returned to Ringrise a day or so later, having been on stirge control to the south, and was dismayed to have missed out on the past two days’ events. He was keen nevertheless to help end the bandits’ presence once and for all. Jess Evershade was tried and questioned by the Sheriff of Highshire himself and divulged the location of a secret hideout – through a hidden mountain pass to the north and into the Republic of Darokin . And so the next day the five companions bid farewell to their friends Philbert, Mirmyra and the rest of the Sharpstone clan and set out alongside Blasco in pursuit of the remaining bandits.
The heroes needed to find a way home to Karameikos and did not wish to venture back in the direction of Fort Doom , so they gladly volunteered to partake in the mission. The mountain trek was uneventful, and Blasco proved an expert guide.
At last the party uncovered a small ramshackle hut tucked into a niche of the cliff face, and ventured inside… Threy paused for a moment, passing a hand before his eyes, and a portion of the passageway glowed red - a tripwire was uncovered, leading to two tiny crossbows mounted in hidden corners of the ceiling. Avoiding the trap the companions pressed on to reach the central chamber of the hideout, now some distance inside the rock. A skirmish with the bandit inhabitants resulted, with a portion of the bandits managing to escape with loot in tow, but after a brief pursuit all of the dozen or so halflings were apprehended.
Pocketing a few valuable items of booty, the party marched their captives down through a final mountain pass and into the village of Mar as the sun began to dip in the sky. This small village was on good terms with the hin folk of the south, but all citizens took care to mind their own business. One villager was kind enough to direct Blasco to the home of the local feudal ruler – Lord Arturo of Mar.
His Lordship’s son was named Rimas, a good for nothing layabout who tried his best to pick a fight with Threy. Drewen introduced himself and the name Goldenhammer rang a bell… Lord Arturo directed the young dwarf to visit the home of a fellow clanmember living locally by the name of Curick Goldenhammer! This distant relative was many times removed but was nevertheless descended from the same as Drewen. While Lana and Threy stopped by the local cheesemakers’ to sample some produce, the old dwarf spoke to Drewen of how an attack by a treasure-hungry red dragon had cast their people from their ancestral home to the four winds, as far as Mar, Selenica, Highforge to be near the Stonebreaker clan, and even further afield. Even after Drewen’s father slew the dragon in single combat, it was unlikely that any dwarf would be able to reunite the remnants of the clan.
The stronghold's magist begrudgingly agreed to transport the prisoners back to Ringrise, which he knew well, where they would be brought to justice before the Sheriff himself. The next morning, Drewen paid a second visit to Curick’s house to announce his departure, and to bid the old dwarf stop by the Flying Ferret Inn if ever his travels should take him into Karameikos. Hearing that the young folk were planning to venture through the mountains, Curick hefted up an axe and locked his front door, bidding Lana run to buy some provisions from the supplies store. The old dwarf was to replace Blasco as their guide.
Blasco had been transported back to the Shires the previous evening, and had promised Threy he would attempt to persuade Philbert into returning the scarab brooch. The younger halfling apparently had a habit of developing attachment to new possessions, so Threy decided not to hold his breath.
Trekking through the mountains the journey was uneventful, save for some indepth discussions between the two dwarfs about "interesting" rock formations along the way. Eventually Curick announced that he had led the companions through the most treacherous part of the pass – from their current location they would find the correct trail without great difficulty. Thanking the old dwarf for his help, the party continued onward. Trekking downhill the companions stopped in baffled amazement a short while later. Curick had assured the heroes that the outlying lands were wild and uninhabited, yet before their eyes stood a tall tower.
The construction stood around a hundred feet tall, crooked in places, and the more the heroes surveyed the strange building, the more physically unbelievable its construction seemed to be. In the midst of these thoughts the companions’ concentration was broken by screeching sounds from overhead. Two winged lizards descended, sunlight glinting off their dark red scales and the horns atop each of their three heads! Acting in self-defence, Lana and Karnus let out barrages of magic, while the remaining heroes grabbed weapons for combat.
Lana had just enough time to Haste the party, but then as she prepared a magical Shield one of the dragons landed, stabbing its razor sharp horn into her side. Drewen let out a battle cry, and with two swings of his hasted hammer the dragon moved no more. Blows rained a short while more upon the second beast and both Threy and Karnus were spiked also, until at last the dragon-kin was slain.
Drewen took a moment to catch his breath, then asked the other companions what manner of creatures they had slain. A strange voice answered, a highish annoyed tone – “well I would call them my pets!”. A short and balding man in greasy off-white robes appeared before the party with a look of peeved annoyance on his chubby face. He explained that he was the owner of the two rare creatures known as feywings, which he had charmed while trekking through the southern Shires. The companions argued that they had no way of knowing that they had trespassed onto the wizard’s land, and had believed the feywings to be wild monsters attempting to kill them. The wizard partially accepted this line of argument, and agreed not to disintegrate the five Karameikans on the spot. Still, he had been deprived of his two pets though and demanded some sort of compensation, as he eyed the party’s wands with interest. A look of horror stole across Lana’s face. It was decided that the party might survive without their magical cooking pot. After a great deal of debate and barter, the wizard accepted the pot. The party stayed the night before headed off feeling refreshed the next morning.
Descending from the hills later that day, the bustling port of Athenos came into view. The sun shimmered across the vast expanse of water, showing off numerous large vessels, one of which the heroes hoped might provide passage to their homeland. Walking through the streets of Athenos, food was first priority and the companions took seats in a local eating house. Finding the only free table, the five seated themselves alongside a strangely familiar dwarf, eating his stew alone... it was Gorrick Sourbeard - the murderous dwarf who had escaped them in Darokin City ! Sourbeard was far from overjoyed to see his former pursuers, but stated that he had no wish to fight or cause a scene. Therefore the two groups went their separate ways, the heroes heading to the docks of Athenos to book passage back to their beloved Karameikos.
Read on to the party's return to Karameikos and the catastrophic news which awaits them:
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