Evergreen Vale

24 The Survivors

Synopsis: The party makes contact with a gnomish colony in ElvenHome, and the elven survivors (children at the time of the invasion, now grown) who have taken refuge with them. The elves tell them of a hobgoblin army encamped in the path of their own forces. With the help of a young elf shaman named Earthclaw, the party sets out for ElvenHome’s sacred heart grove to commune with the spirits of the slain elf druids and gain their aid.

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23 ElvenHome

Synopsis: The party crosses the Greyspine Mountains, stopping to warn the Marshal of Westgarde about the alien taint in the valley. They learn about strange behavior by the hobgoblin forces, and make a side trip to a hidden Elven arsenal, defeating the plant guardians to claim the weapons there.

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22 The Taint

Synopsis: The party tracks the source of the alien contamination to an isolated farm in Evergreen Vale. They find the crater left by a meteorite which has unleashed bizzare, ethereal organisms that have fed on the minds of the innocent farming family and begun multiplying. The heroes succeed in destroying the taints and prevent the spread of the contamination.

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21 Under the Eye

Synopsis: Pieter tortures Lotheb for information on Sir Jared, one of the conspirators who killed his family, before killing him and hanging him from a tree. Rummy’s Swords collapses into an orgy of rioting, murders, and desertions before a new captain named Redeye siezes control with Pieter’s approval. Helo uses the magically enhanced telescope at Ironblade Keep to investigate the mysterious white star that damaged Garren’s mind, and discovers that it exists on multiple planes. The party and their mercenaries, reinforced with fresh levies, march toward the front lines, but are attacked by a strange ooze creature that appeared after a recent meteor shower. The party chooses to investigate while the army continues on. The couriers sent to warn the wizards of Enigma Keep about the white star manage to defeat the remaining Carrion Eaters during a night time attack, and win through to their goal.

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20 Bloody Gamble

Synopsis: Celestia’s Vanguard announces a crusade and pledges troops to the war. Pieter hires Rummy’s Swords in his quest to track down his family’s killers. Lady Kiri takes on a squire. Helo grows closer to the Scions. The party, together with their supply train, mercenaries, and paladins of the Order of the Golden Scale, return to Ironhome, driving off the survivors of the Carrion Eaters along the way. Pieter and Helo meet Captain Rummy and Lotheb, one of the conspirators who murdered Pieter’s family, in a game of Three Dragon Ante. They subdue Lotheb for interrogation, but are forced to kill Captain Rummy.

The party was granted an audience with the leaders of Celestia’s Vanguard, High Marshal Kesst, Father Granite, and Master Kardov. After the party presented their reasons and plans for the war, the leaders approve an official crusade against the Bronze Kingdoms and committed a battalion of heavy cavalry, a regiment of men-at-arms, and a dozen acolytes of Kord, Moradin, and Bahumut to the conflict.

Later, acting on the lead he received in response to his bounty posting, Pieter returned with Delba to Mercenary’s Row, and met with the commander of Rummy’s Swords. They were able to sconfirm that Lotheb, the man who had plied Pieter with drinks on the night that his family was murdered, was working with the mercenary company. Pieter hired the two hundred swordsmen out of his own pocket, and began plotting against Lotheb. He even went so far as to consider using the Hobgoblins of the Black Hand to slaughter the entire company to take his revenge on Lotheb.

Meanwhile, Lady Kiri returned to the headquarters of her order and requested a squire now that she had been recognized as a veteran knight. The order assigned her Nea Mistrunner, granddaughter of Judge Mistrunner, who had handled Melana’s trial. Nea was an eager, cheerful, sixteen year old halfing with red hair and green eyes. The diminutive halfling and statuesque dragonborn made for an odd pair as they prepared for the march back to Evergreen Vale.

Helo returned to the Scion Runya Alasse, and allayed many of the Scion’s concerns about Pele’s loyalty to their faction. He also made an agreement that the Scions would help him gain information about his missing past in return for the party’s aid in entering the other towers of Enigma Keep. Runya gave him some final advice that a strange plant found in the hobgoblin City-State of the Red Whip could be made into a concoction that could help him walk the hallways of his own mind.

Helo’s final stop before leaving the city was a visit to a weapon shop where he found a drow hand-crossbow, a relic from the War of Falling Stars, and a handful of crossbow bolts tipped with the drow sleep poison.

That afternoon, the column began the march back to Evergreen Vale. The journey proceeded uneventfully, except for an encounter in the foothills of the Greyspine Mountains. Not far from where the Carrion Eaters had staged their ambush on the initial journey, they encountered the dozen surviving gnolls of the bandit band.

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19 The Scales of Justice

Synopsis: The party defeats the guardian spirit of the Tower of Summer in a spectacular battle witnessed by half the population of Enigma Keep. The Blade of Summer is recovered from the tower, but upon their exit, a confrontation between feuding factions of wizards threatens to engulf the city. Melana, the Black Wing Killer is condemned to death on the testimony of the heroes. Pieter receives a lead toward the murderer of his family. The party hires several companies of mercenaries with the (ill-gotten?) proceeds of their visit to the Tower of Summer. Lawgivers of Enigma Keep award the party full claim to the Tower of Summer and all of its secrets. The heroes negotiate a compromise with the wizard factions, from which they stand to profit handsomely. As war looms, the party’s new mercenaries begin the march toward Evergreen Vale.

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18 The Tower of Summer

Synopsis: The party enters the magical Tower of Summer, recovering a fantastic archive of Eladrin history, and does battle with the fiery guardians of the tower. Pieter is badly wounded, and the final battle with the tower’s guardian phoenix spirit awaits.

At last the heroes safely navigated the mists and reached the Tower of Summer, a smooth structure of white stone and bronze ornamentation. The upper works of the tower floated above the lower section. In the gap between them floated a fiery sphere like a miniature sun, around which orbited platforms and large red crystals.

At the tower gate, magical flames blocked the party’s entry. Eladrin script above the gate read “Only the worthy may enter. To begin your trial, you must endure the flames.” Pieter coldly used the Verminblade to summon a monstrous rat and commanded it to enter the flames. The fires did not consume the rat, but nearly drained it of life before it could stumble back out. A debate ensued concerning whether to endure the flames or attempt to bypass them and potentially bring on greater danger from trying to circumvent the trial.

Eventually they determined to enter the flames. All of them felt considerably drained by the experience, but at last the flames dissappeared and the gates swung open. Within the tower, the party confronted an overgrown fey jungle, lit by a skylight far overhead, and nourished by waterfalls that ran down the walls. The thick undergrowth seemed to actively obstruct the heroes, who realized they were being watched by a hostile sentience. Attempts at threats and intimidation provoked the vines and roots of the jungle to ensare them, until Kiri managed to placate the mysterious being and the party reached a long, winding staircase to the upper levels.

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17 Of Ravens, Dragons and Fungi

Examining the fallen elf, the magically inclined members of the party were disturbed by what they discovered. There was no doubt that Melana had received some sort of dark blessing from her patron, the Raven Queen. They also discovered on her a prayer scroll expressing her great grief over her human husband’s illness, her despair, and her plea that the Raven Queen would bring relief ‘on Death’s black wings.’ It appeared that her prayers had been answered in a very sinister manner.

The heroes carried Melana to the cold, desolate Tower of Winter, a bleak prison for spellcasters, used by the CelGuard due to a field of antimagic that prevented arcane spell casting. Kiri conversed with several officials, and Melana was carefully escorted to an upper level of the tower, where she was placed in a cage. Since her powers were not of arcane origin, and thus immune to the tower’s properties, CelGuard clerics carefully invoked sigils of binding and forbiddance on the woman’s cage. Melana, numb from the battle and the horrors she had committed showed little response to Kiri and Helo’s entreaties. The party left as the cage was slowly winched by guards to a position ten feet from the tower’s wall and fifty feet above the ground.

The party snatched a few hours of exhausted sleep before hurrying to carry out urgent items of business. Kiri reported to her order about the situation in Evergreen Vale and the encounter with Melana. Her superiors told her they would discuss the looming war and determine what aid the Order of the Golden Scale might provide to Baron Ironblade. As for Melana, she was considered a serious danger. If word reached the priests of the Raven Queen that Melana had received the blessing of the dark lady for her murderous work, there could be serious consequences. The followers of the Raven Queen might become far more violent and direct in their custodianship over death. The Order hoped for a speedy trial and a quick execution, based on the testimony of Kiri and her companions. The court would convene the following day.

Pele went to the secret, enchanted inn called ‘The Hidden Door’ to visit her mentor, the wizard Runya Alasse. Runya and his fellow Eladrin wizards had formed the Scions, a faction dedicated to securing the magical secrets of Enigma Keep for its ‘rightful’ heirs. Runya explained to Pele that tensions with their rivals, the loose organization of wizards called ‘The Searchers’, were on the rise since many of the magical barriers protecting the city’s guardian towers had recently fallen. Runya was determined that the Scions gain access to the towers’ secrets first.

Even as Pele discussed the Scion’s strategy with Runya, Sir Delba was meeting with a wizard of the Searchers. Delba had received a tip that Samus had a mission to offer and would pay a large sum for its completion- funds that could be used to hire mercenaries for the war. Samus offered ten thousand gold pieces to Delba if he and his companions could penetrate the Tower of Summer and bring out its magical treasures. Samus would have first pick of the treasures, and the adventurers could keep the rest. Delba agreed, without telling Samus that Pele of the Scions was one of his companions…

As the heroes reconvened early in the afternoon, a spirited debate broke out over the advisibility of taking on Samus’ mission when there were so many serious problems in the city and back in Evergreen Vale to deal with. Delba presented his ace in the hole- a magical guide glass that would unerringly point the way toward the Tower of Summer, in spite of the confusing mists that surrounded it. Samus had secretly labored for years to attune the device to the tower, and had entrusted it to Delba for the mission. Delba eventually won out, with Pele’s support. The wizard was well aware that by treaty, her entry into the tower would secure her factions claim to it, leaving the Searchers without access. The others reluctantly agreed in the interests of supporting the war effort.

The party gathered at the hedge which surrounded the tower, and entered through the elegant brass gates. They quickly lost sight of the tower as they were surrounded by obscuring mists. As they followed the guide stone, Pele and Helo soon realized that they were repeatedly passing into and out of their home- the Feywild. The party crossed quiet brooks, stepped under the boughs of immense trees never seen in the Prime Plane, and covered far more territory than the tower grounds could have enclosed, were it not for the powerful magics woven into them. On several occassions they heard haunting melodies drifting on the breeze, or passed through abandoned fairy circles. At one point they encountered an enigmatic mirage dragon, who requested that they entertain him in return for safe passage. Pleased by their performance, he flew off, leaving behind a curious magical sack from which small creatures, such as a jewel-hued snake, could be pulled. Later, the heroes fought off an ambush by savage sentient fungi, and drove off the sovereign that drove their hive mind. For hours, they made their way deeper into the Feywild, Pele’s eyes ever watching the gently spinning gem arrowhead that was suspended within the guide glass…

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16 On Death's Black Wings

After nearly a week of travel, the caravan from Evergreen Vale arrived at Enigma Keep. The city was filled with revellers celebrating the Week of the Quiet Dead, an event celebrating the defeat of an undead horde decades ago. The streets were festooned with bones and skulls made from river clay, and brightly colored paper lanterns were hung from all the buildings. The Baron’s guards and teamsters staked out a camp site with other caravans on the edge of the Grain Seller’s Market while the heroes of Evergreen Vale went about their business in the city.

Sir Delba collected the reward offered by the Grain Merchants’ Guild for the death of the gnoll bandit, Festerpaws- 1000 gold pieces. Kiri, Delba, and Pieter passed over their officer’s shares to the grateful guardsmen of the caravan. Pele, haughtily ignoring the stares of pedestrians, spent the afternoon accessorizing her kobald’s clothing, while Helo browsed the shops of various alchemists, toying with the idea of studying the craft. Pieter visited the city court to post a bounty of 100 gold pieces for information on an individual named Artimes, with an additional 400 gold pieces for information leading to the man himself. Finally, Kiri led the wererat, Ort, to the officials of her order, the Order of the Golden Scale, for examination to determine if he could be redeemed and his curse broken.

That evening, the party were guests at the stronghold of Kiri’s dragonborn clan, the Storm Serpents. They were greeted hospitably by the formal, elegent clan of artisans and weapon masters, and enjoyed a fine meal, along with tea, potent spirits, and the music of expert harpers. After the meal, most of the lights were damped, as they were all over the city, as the Night of Whispers began, and family and friends shared ghost stories. Kiri regaled the gathering with a hair raising account of the brutal struggle with the bandit lord, Festerpaws, while Pieter, much to everyone’s surprise, told a tale from his bounty-hunting days in which he and his companions had entered an undead infested swamp to wrest a necromantic artifact from a novice spellcaster who had terrorized and destroyed an isolated village.

Later, one of the dragonborn present told the gathering about the ‘Black Wing Killer,’ who had murdered three people in the previous three nights of the Week of the Quiet Dead, cutting their throats in their beds. The killer had left a single black raven feather on the chest of each victim. The city council had offered a 500 gold piece reward for the killer’s apprehension. Afterwards, Nala, one of the clan elders, Nala, asked Kiri if she would take a meal to Balasar, the ‘Grandfather’ of the clan. Kiri shared a quiet moment with the wise, kindly old master in his spartan chamber, brightened only by the fine woven blanket in which he was bundled up. Saddened by the knowledge that he would soon be passing, but warmed by his serenity and thoughtfulness, Kiri left him and joined the others as they prepared to rest.

The next morning, Delba, after conferring with the dragonborn, made arrangements to hire a broker trusted by their clan to handle the arrangements of the food supplies needed by the baron’s army. Kiri went to the headquarters of her order and made her report on the events of the last few months in Evergreen Vale. Her superiors assured her that they would consider the Baron’s request for aid, though they were an order that focused on the protection of the weak rather than on wars and crusades. There was a commotion as Kiri prepared to leave, as it turned out that a fourth person had been murdered the night before by the Black Wing Killer. The party resolved to participate in the investigation, and began visiting the homes of the victims.

They soon discerned a pattern in the crimes. All the victims were elderly, married, and suffering from chronic ailments that would have eventually killed them. The window seemed to have been the chosen method of entry. All had been killed by a single stroke from a very sharp weapon- probably a razor. Kiri’s suspicions were aroused when she learned that most of them had purchased or been given a blanket made by the same weaver- an elf named Melana, who was the wife of the first vicitim, a barber. A visit to Melana revealed a very distraught woman, torn apart by the slow painful decline of her aged husband, even as she remained young and vital to human eyes. Helo and Kiri, in trying to reach out to her, discerned a touch of divine madness within her, but could learn nothing conclusive.

Kiri became convinced that Grandfather Balasar was the next intended victim, and took a warning back to the clan stronghold. Though he refused to be moved, Balasar would be guarded that night by four swordmasters of the clan, and Helo, with the help of several dragonborn, arranged a pit trap underneath Balasar’s window. With these safeguards in place, the party went to keep watch on Melana’s shop and home.

That night was the Night of the Great Chase. Black clad riders galloped through the streets, pursued by revelers armed with pouches of flour. Those who struck true recieved skull medallions, with the one who collected the most named Grand Wizard for the festivities on the following nights. It was past midnight when the streets quited. Many of the party had chosen to adopt costume to better blend in. They concealed themselves all around the home. Pieter and Helo were closest, choosing the alley at the back door. Helo hid behind some discarded crates, and Pieter posed as a passed out drunk.

Eventually Melana crept out the back door. Her highly tuned elvish senses discerned Helo’s hiding place, and she quietly approached him, but she was startled by Pieter, who stumbled into the alley, trying to fool her with his disguise. However, she quickly recognized him, and their was a sudden explosion of fluttering wings overhead as shadowing ravens swooped down on the pair, raking viciously with their talons.

Helo leapt from the crates to grab hold of Melana, pleading with her to stop what she had planned, but she struggled free, crying out “You don’t understand, I have to do this!” There was a clicking sound and a glint of shining steel in her hand. The rest of the party struck back. Pieter launched arrow after arrow, while Pele slowed down Melana with a sleep spell and Delba cut at a raven from one of the rooftops before leaping down into the street. Kiri, however, opened the shutters on her lantern, causing the ravens to recoil from the light. Calming striding down the alley, she joined Helo in trying to reason with the angry, weeping elf.

Seeing her distracted and conflicted, Helo struck without hesitation. “I understand what you are feeling, but if you’re going to threaten me with a razor blade, I WILL take you down!” Tripping her up, Helo stabbed her with his magical short sword and setting her aflame. Screaming in pain, Melana called on her supernatural powers and became invisible, slipping away from Helo’s grasp. Pele, Delba, and Pieter continued to battle the ravens, destroying one of them and injuring others.

Kiri continued to plead with Melana, not fighting back as she used her shield to ward off the ravens’ talons. Knowing Melana’s grief, feeling the same grief at Balasar’s approaching death, Kiri spoke to her. “We know what you have gone through Melana! Stop this! I need you!”

Melana, unseen, but still trapped in the narrow alley bitterly yelled back “No! I can only bring release, on Death’s Black Wings!” Helo, listening and watching carefully, moved like a snake, catching Melana on the temple with the flat of his blade. The razor clattered to the street as Melana dropped unconcious. The remaing ravens exploded into black feathers that dissolved like smoke. Quiet settled in the alley as the heroes gathered about the fallen elf, wounded in body and soul, lit by the wavering yellow light of Kiri’s lantern.

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15 The Carrion Eaters

Under orders to replenish the army’s depleted food supplies with a visit to Enigma Keep, the party organized a caravan and started the journey east. Their associate, the halfling Jaxom, was in charge of the teamsters. The wererat, Ort, now in Kiri’s custody, would make the journey to seek release from his curse, and judgement for his crimes. He now suffered under the touch of a silver manacle, which prevented him from taking on his monstrous aspect. The baron assigned a strong escort of fifteen men-at-arms and fifteen light lancers. As a final parting gift, he distributed 500 gold pieces to each of the heroes, in recognition of their deeds on his behalf. Unexpectedly, he also assigned a squire to Sir Delba, the baron’s own son, Niki, an intense and dutiful fifteen year old. Of those gathered, only Terrafina noticed the insincerity in Delba’s modest words of acceptance.

Entering the Eastern Foot Hills, the various members of the party did their best to safeguard the caravan- Kiri deterring potential attackers by her very presence, Pieter by his careful scouting, and Delba by his leadership of the guards. Terrafina prayed regularly for the safety of the caravan, and one evening was granted a warning vision- predators circling the camp, and a strange, howling laughter.

On the second day in the foot hills, Terrafina’s warning was vindicated. At a bend in the road, a gnoll waited atop a ruined stone watchtower. This was Festerpaws, leader of the Carrion Eaters; one of the most dangerous bands of outlaws that infested the hills. He tried to extort gold and horses from the caravan, but the heroes were having none of it. Weapons were drawn, and Festerpaws signaled his followers to attack. Thanks to Pieters sharp eyes, the caravan was not caught off guard as axe wielding gnolls poured down from the forested hill sides and arrows flew from concealed archers.

Calling upon his newly trained drake, Pieter pinned down half the gnoll vanguard, using a combination of sword and archery skills, the threatening presence of his pet, and a dire rat summoned by the power of the mysterious Vermin Blade. Kiri ordered a volley of crossbow bolts from the men-at-arms, cutting down many gnolls, and then roared in defiance as she fought several foes at once, daring any of them to threaten the caravan while she still stood. Terrafina called upon the light of Pelor, attempting to blast Festerpaws from the tower, while Delba organized and deployed the lancers to crash through the gnoll lines, even as he steadily fought his way toward Festerpaws. Pele displayed her usual arcane mastery, as well as her strong affinity for fire, burning through the cackling masses of gnolls that sought to come to grips with her.

Finally, after enduring several arrows, Delba reached the top of the tower, and shoved Festerpaws over the battlement before he could react. The unfortunate gnoll hit the ground dazed, and just as he was struggling to his knees, he looked up to see the pitiless face of Terrafina, who smashed him across the jaw with her warhammer. His troubles were not over, as the bold Sir Delba leapt from the twenty foot tower and came crashing down on him, feet first. The bandits bones crunched as the knight athletically rolled and sprang to his feet, unharmed by the drop.

Climbing unsteadily to his feet, Festerpaws saw that the spearhead of his forces had been wiped out by the heroes, and that the remainder of his gnolls were being driven back by the other caravan guards. Ordering a retreat, he evaded his foes and fled for the woods. However, Pele was not ready to let him escape. Stepping forward, she incanted and unleashed a volley of magic missiles that killed the notorious bandit lord, just inside the imagined safety of the woods.

Delba and the former bounty hunter, Pieter, bantered briefly over who would claim credit for the death of Festerpaws in Engima keep, before Delba ordered Niki to cut off the monster’s head and paws to be displayed on the end of his lance. There were some uncomfortable looks exchanged among the party as Niki took up the dead bandit’s axe and grinned broadly as he hacked off the limbs, spraying his face with flecks of blood. With their grisly trophy on display, the caravan continued east on the Red Road, now over half way to their destination.

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