“To all those hale and hardy denizens of Greyhawk who would call themselves adventures, and men and women who value peace and justice, your talents are needed urgently in the village of Ebonton.
A dark shadow has fallen upon our humble village and taken the lives of three of our people(one, a child of tender age) and slaughtered our livestock. We fear more shall be taken before long. The nature and identity of this evil remains a mystery to us. A reward of 500 golden sovereigns and the expense of travel, shall be paid to those who earn it. Please come with haste and drive this malevolent force from our land. Seek out the Birch family when you arrive.”
So reads the notice posted in many of the adventurers’ guilds and taverns throughout the Free City of Greyhawk. With a craving for adventure and hard coin our heroes set sail, traveling by long ship up the river Velv to the port town Verbobonc. And from there, they continue on foot and into the wild forests north of the Lortmil mountain range.
“The gnarled trees and thick overgrowth arch above you and grip the narrow road tightly. The night grows long and only hints of the silvery moon can be seen through the tattered veil of the forest canopy. Your breath mists in the darkness and the previous night’s freezing rain now crunches and splinters beneath your boots.
The village of Ebonton must be close; so the party has decided to travel after sundown. The thought of a real roof and a feather bed instead of another miserable night of leaking tents and the frozen ground was deemed worth the exhaustion that has now settled into your bones.
Suddenly, a sound can be heard on the wind, above the creak and rustle of the forest. It is not the warm laughter and music of the Ebonton Inn’s common room however. It is the sound of horses. Horses that first neigh in fright before screaming in pain. Though, above their terror is another sound. A piercing and terrifying shriek that rises in pitch until just on the edge of hearing and then beyond. The commotion comes from farther down the road.”
Taelin Ashblade leads the party forward to investigate. The half-elf moves slow and silent as death through the shadow-cloaked underbrush, the others trailing in his wake.
“As you approach, a deafening crack, like a clap of thunder, assaults your ears and the forest fills with a bright red light that pulses briefly before quickly fizzling to a dim, flickering purple. You hear that same inhuman shrieking once again, though a filament of rage seems to burn within it this time.”
The party closes the gap and they think they can hear the terror filled and high pitched screams of a man. The time for stealth has ended and the party rushes forward into danger.
“Ahead, through a thin haze of smoke, that stinks of sulfur and some other unidentified alchemical agent, is a small, four-wheeled, boxed wagon. The two ponies that once pulled the cart hang limp and bloody from their harnesses, their wounds are hideous. The vehicle is ablaze with a ghostly purple flame and a man’s high pitched voice, screaming for help, emanates from within its confines.
And through the trees and thick growth of the forest you see a blurred, barely illuminated shape bounding away from the scene and into the gloom with incredible speed. Smoke and embers trail from it’s body and it’s deep, guttural grunts seem pained.”
Neela Sadaju the sorceress, Shaiah the druid and Taelin the ranger pursue the creature, plunging into the darkness of the wild and frozen wood. Balasar Myastan, a dragonborn Paladin of Bahamut, rushes toward the wagon. A man’s terrified and panicked face peers from a small opening in the cart’s side, pleading for rescue.
Hearing the man’s pitiful pleading, Neela decides to turn back, hoping her magic might be of help. She returns in time to witness Balasar’s acid breath reduce the heavy padlock fastening the wagon’s rear door to a puddle of bubbling slag. The door remains closed however and the intense violet inferno blazes with abandon. The human sorceress pulls from her inner power and manifests a well used spell generally applied to mischief. A giant, ghostly hand materializes from the æther, plunges into the flames and forces the door open. It rips from its softened hinges and collapses into charred kindling.
Meanwhile, Shaiah and Taelin are foiled by the dark and labyrinthine forest. The creature has successfully escaped into the night and they rush back toward the wagon.
Neela and Balasar can barely see a small figure, curled up and choking, through the billowing smoke that pours from the rear of the cart. They convince the man to leap through the flame wreathed portal into the bracing mud of the road. However, as soon as he is able to rise to his feet the paladin needs to restrained him from leaping back into the inferno. He cries out for his precious treasures. Shaiah, a nimble halfling, leaps into the flame-engulfed wagon in his stead, searching through the searing and stinging smoke for his goods. Neela realizes that the inferno has melted the frozen mud around the cart and in an attempt to save it she uses her magic hand to scoop up large handfuls of the muck and douses the flames. Balasar lays his hands upon the diminutive man’s shoulders and calls on Bahamut for aid. The man’s burns and seared lungs are healed and he suddenly calms. Finally, Shaiah emerges from the wagon, coughing and covered with soot. She has managed to save the majority of the man’s goods and he kneels in the mud, taking stock of his wares.
After being satisfied with the state of his goods the man rushes to the fallen ponies, Lawrence and Neville, that previously pulled his wagon. He frets over their loss and once recovered he introduces himself to his saviors. The bearded gnome calls himself Pundertag Cogtop, travelling merchant and collector of magical artifacts and curiosities. He wears strange clothing that seems to be culled from half-a-dozen different empires all across Oerik, including a large crimson turban decorated with a massive and exotic blue feather. He thanks our heroes for rescuing him and rewards them with a potion of healing from his inventory. The party helps Pundertag pull his damaged cart toward Ebonton. They question him about the creature that attacked him, though he can provide little information other than that the creature wore an obscuring cloak that revealed little more than its long, wicked claws and a pair of burning eyes beneath its hood. It stood upright, though the form underneath its cloak was certainly not that of any humanoid he’s ever encountered. It also seemed to speak some awful and alien language when it wasn’t shrieking. Mr. Cogtop couldn’t explain what motivation it would have for attacking him, but was convinced it sought nothing less than his death. Only the reckless toss of one of Pundertag’s ‘sploder stones out a window and the parties’ timely arrival was able to spare his life.
“You emerge from the gloom of the forest into the midst of barren, snow shrouded wheat fields, starkly vivid under the waxing moon. The party now stands on the outskirts of the village of Ebonton. It is a modest hamlet of perhaps three dozen buildings surrounded by just enough crop fields to sustain it’s small population. Quite a change, having traveled from the sprawling and cultured urban metropolis of the Free City of Greyhawk.
You make your way down a narrow path between fields and pass an old mill along the way, it’s blades slowly rotating and creaking in the crisp night air. A line of crows, their dark feathers and beady eyes gleaming, cry down at you from the eves of the mill as you pass. A few suddenly flit from the roof, beating towards the looming peaks of the Lortmil mountain range, it’s jagged and frosted summit cold and luminous against the star-strewn dark of night. It’s the first time you’ve seen the mountains since you had entered the forest three days past and they’re closer and more imposing than ever. Even Celene’s small, yet brilliant, sapphire crescent can be spied just above the peaks. And then, on the rutted path ahead, you see two men with boiled leather under their furs approaching, each wielding a spear and torch.”
The watchmen, Jern and Kullman, seem wary of the new strangers, especially the dragonborn, Balasar. They warn our heroes of the danger that has befallen their village and suggest the party turn around and return to Greyhawk. Shaiah explains that they’ve come to identify and confront this evil and shows Jern a notice pulled from a tavern wall. The watchman curses under his breath when he sees the Birch name at the bottom of the parchment. He still insists there’s no work to be had for adventurers in Ebonton but leads our heroes to the inn for a much needed rest.
During the short walk, Neela notices the coin purse dangling from Kullman’s belt. Bad habits die hard and her instincts, born from years as an urchin struggling to survive on the streets, get the better of her. She makes an attempt to filch the purse but a simple mistake shows that she’s out of practice. The purse slips from her fingers to land on the ground and she soon finds her hands bound and Kullman leading her to the confines of a cold and dank dungeon cell. Jern warns the party to keep an eye on Neela while he keeps and eye on them. He leads them to the inn and leaves.
“You come upon the village inn. A sturdy and well-built two story structure with a creaking sign hanging from its eves that reads ‘The Leaky Barrel Tavern and Inn’. A warm and inviting light pours through its windows from the common room.
You step through the door and into the tavern. It’s like many others you’ve been in before if only slightly more rustic. And, the details are all there, from the aroma of warm bread and strong ale on the air, the lazy hound curled up by the crackling hearth, to the drunken brawler strangling another patron upon a worn and scarred table. “I said he’s not dead you filthy liar,” screams the attacker into his victims face, his eyes wet and bloodshot. “Darven’s alive and he’s coming back.” You notice both men dressed in watchmens’ uniforms. The man on his back with hands around his throat wheezes and beats feebly at the larger man’s arms. The few other patrons in the common room sit watching the scene, eyes wide and paralyzed with indecision. In the dark of a corner, a large man and a dark skinned woman with half-elven features sit at a table nursing their mugs. They wear identical green robes with a silver eight-pointed star on the breast. The half-elf seems ready to jump into action though the man locks her with a steely gaze and shakes his head almost imperceptibly.”
Shaiah strolls past the brutal attack and sidles up to the bar. She orders an ale from the stunned bartender and shows him the Birch families notice. Balasar and Taelin try to talk the drunk watchman, Grun, out of committing the impending murder and are finally able to ply him with the promise of more drink. The bartender responds to Shaiah’s request after the danger passes and reiterates that the Birchs’ have made a mistake and that the village doesn’t need outside help to deal with the problems that have befallen them.
Jern returns to the inn after hearing the commotion and subdues Grun before having him hauled off to a cell to sleep off his drunk. it is revealed that Darven is a village watchman who disappeared nearly a week past.
Meanwhile, Neela has discovered the comforts of her new cell in the dungeon beneath the village town hall. Kullman compliments her on her boldness but suggests that she might want to practice her pick pocketing skills some more. Kullman reveals some details regarding the events of the recent past.
~About six weeks ago people start hearing strange and haunting noises coming from the forest. The animals in the village start acting nervous and frightened.
~Days later one of Owen Hylock’s hounds is found dead in the street and horribly mutilated.
~A short time later, the old shepard, Clive Buckley and his young son, Lorne, are grazing their sheep in the foothills when they are attacked. Both of them, including half their flock, are brutally killed and partially eaten.
~Four weeks past, Tim Greenwater sets off by himself into the forest to hunt for wild game. He does not return. A few days later a search party finds him high up in a hunters’ blind torn to pieces.
Kullman’s tale is interrupted as Grun rolls down the stairs into the dungeon and is deposited in the cell next to Neela, muttering about Darven in his stupor. Kullman promises to return in the morning to release Neela.
Back at the inn, Pundertag hires a room and rewards the party 25 gp each for escorting him to Ebonton. Our heroes then ponder the remainder of their night and the warm beds that await.