The Sundering of Oerik ~ A Greyhawk Campaign

Adventure Log: 18th of February, 2015
Arrival at Ebonton

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.

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Adventure Log: 9th of March, 2015
Meet the Birch Family

You stir from your slumber, still sore from the days of hard travel, yet well rested due to the solid roof above and warm bed below. As you open your eyes and begin to stretch you notice that the room is much darker than it should be. You remember not pulling the curtains last night and the morning sun should be pouring into the room, bright and warm. Your gaze flits towards the window to find the sun blocked by a creature’s humongous head. It surveys the room with curiosity, it’s gigantic eyes wide and searching beneath its thick and pronounced brow-ridge.

Balasar wakes to find this giant of a creature surveying the room. His companions, Shiah and Taelin are fast asleep. The halfling is curled up on the wide window sill beneath the humongous brute’s gaze and the ranger sleeps on the floor, his back against the rooms only door. Thankfully, the dragonborn paladin has studied many of the wicked beasts that roam the wilds of Oerik and recognizes this one as an ogre.

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He notices that this ogre is different however. This one lacks the physical scarring that invariably comes with the hard and dangerous life among the ogre tribes of the wild. He also seems relatively clean and well groomed. Balasar slowly climbs from bed and carefully raises the window. He introduces himself and asks the ogre his name. The creature says that it’s name is Nathaniel and seems friendly enough, if rather simple.

Earlier, Neela wakes in her cold and dim cell to the sound of Grun scrubbing his sick from the flagstones of the hall with a brush and bucket. Soon, Kullman releases her from her cell before escorting her and Grun(who looks terrible) to the Leaky Barrel Tavern. As they approach they notice a townswoman at the well outside the inn pulling water. She turns the crank and when the bucket reaches the top the woman gasps in shock. She lets go of the crank and falls backward in her attempt get away from the object of her fright. The bucket tumbles to the bottom of the well with a splash. Kullman rushes to help the woman and Neela approaches the well to investigate. The sorceress turns the crank and when the bucket rises above the lip of the well she can’t help but notice a man’s pale, severed head floating there, a look of indescribable horror upon his face. Kullman curses under his breath when he sees. Grun approaches, demanding to know what they’ve found. Kullman tries to stop him and takes a right hook to the chin for his troubles. Grun shoves past Neela to the bucket. He pulls the head from the water in silence before collapsing to his knees and screaming at the top of his lungs. “DARRRVENNN!”

Presently, Morn, a human, professional thief from the streets of Greyhawk finally arrives in Ebonton after a long and exhausting trip to catch up with his compatriots. He sees the commotion and approaches cautiously.

Grun’s primal scream interrupts Balasar’s and Nathaniel’s conversation.

The creature’s eyes grow even wider with surprise and what you can only conclude to be fright. It flees from the window with as much speed and grace as its massive size will allow. As it stomps down the street, looking back at the window over its shoulder, it barrels into a cart stacked high with bulging burlap sacks. The cart explodes into a shower of grain and kindling. The creature groans in pain and picks itself up. It limps toward and hides behind a small house perhaps fifty yards down and across the street. You can see it peeking around the corner with terror on its face and the sound of people shouting in surprise and confusion can be heard beneath the floorboards at your feet.

Balasar rushes out of the room and down the stairs. Taelin leaps from the second story window to the street below. Shaiah decides that rushing at an ogre in nothing but her bedclothes isn’t the wisest of actions and begins to don her armor.

Meanwhile, Grun suddenly bolts toward the treeline of the northern forest with Darven’s head clutched to his chest. Neela gives chase but soon realizes it’s a lost cause. She then rejoins the others, who have made their way down the street to approach Nathaniel the ogre. As they do, Nigel Tunamen, the barkeep of the Leaky Barrel, arrives on the scene with town watchmen(including Jern). He demands justice for his destroyed property calling Nathaniel a menace that should have been driven from the town years ago. The party manages to convince Jern and the other watchmen that there’s no danger. A woman then calls out for the watchmen to leave her brother alone. She is human and of no obvious blood relation to Nathaniel. She says that her family will pay for the damages and that her father will build Nigel a new wagon. Nigel storms off and Jern gives the woman a stern warning to keep a closer eye on Nathaniel. She then introduces herself as Lani Birch and the party tells her that they’ve come in response to her family’s call for help.

She leads the party to her father’s workshop.

Lani leads you through a large sliding door and you enter a wide spacious work shop that smells of sawdust and lacquer. Chairs, tables, wagon wheels, mugs, yokes, the shafts of spears and axes and countless other items line the walls and shelves of the room. At a work bench stands an elderly man clad in an apron and thick gloves who wields a hammer and chisel. He looks drawn and tired, like he’s been awake for days. ‘I heard all the yelling, what’s the problem now?’

Lani introduces our heroes to her father, John Birch. Also, they learn that Lani has a younger brother named Adlyn. John begins to detail Ebonton’s recent troubles from his perspective and eventually Lani manages to pressure her father into telling a more personal story of his encounter with the dark forces plaguing the village.

This was perhaps a month and a half past. Nathaniel and I had gone into the forest to do some logging. We ended up a handful of miles north of the village on the edge of the Misty Fen. I was looking to bring back some willow and alder. We’d not felled more than a couple when I thought I could hear something. I wasn’t sure what it was at first and paid no mind. All manner of bird and beast call the forest home and not a small number of them make strange noises. But, this sound was different. It kept droning on and on. And there seemed to be words to it, though none that I could decipher. If it was a language it certainly wasn’t the common tongue. Nate’s ax had stilled and I could tell that he could hear it too. The boy has a keen ear.
At first, I thought maybe it was fairies or pixies or some other creature of the fey I’d heard stories of when I was a child. But, I soon discounted that theory. It was harsh and ugly and sent a chill through my body despite my heavy furs. I couldn’t tell you why but I made the decision to find the source. There was plenty of work to do and my boy would have rather spent the rest of his life chopping trees than investigate, but I dragged him along anyway. After fifteen or so minutes we were very close and I could see the signs of an open glade ahead. At this point my head was pounding and I felt sick to my stomach. It was louder and I could tell that it was definitely a group chanting and their words seemed to become something more. Something alive and hateful. They seemed to slink through the shadows of the underbrush and slither from branch to branch in the canopy above, watching. And still I press on despite my instincts. We approached quietly and carefully but just before we entered the glade the chanting suddenly stopped. When we emerged from the overgrowth into the glade there was no one. Neither man nor woman or any other creature that would be prone to chant something so vile.
Nate wouldn’t take more than a few steps in and was on the verge of tears so I searched the glade on my own. And, before long I came upon something nearly obscured by a copse of vines and shrubbery. It was a carved stone, old and weathered, the size of a tombstone though roughly hewn. An image was engraved on its exposed surface and what it was I couldn’t say. Only that it was the image of a living thing, with a visage not meant to be witnessed by decent folk. And not a thing that once lived in the past. But, something still alive. Ancient and waiting… I know that sounds like the ravings of an addle-coved old man, but, somehow, I know it’s true and it frightens me in a way that I haven’t experienced since I was a very young lad hiding under his sheets.
The people who are dying, the terror that covers my village like a shroud is connected to it somehow. The full truth and the means to uncover it is beyond me however.

John suggests that the strange glade might be a good place to begin searching for clues that may shed more light on the darkness. He also suggests that the party approach a seer named Zarah that lives just north of the village. He says that she has had visions related to the recent troubles and that she may be able to aid the party in a multitude of ways.

The party decides to speak to Zarah first.

You follow a rarely used and overgrown path, eventually entering the light, hilly woods to the south of Ebonton. Soon you come upon a small, quaint hut covered in ivy and crowded by the natural growth that surrounds it. Various woven charms and mystical wards hang from its sills and eves. Smoke pours from a small stone chimney and an odd, though not unpleasant odor, hangs in the air.
You enter the small and cramped abode. The space is strewn with various bowls, vials, small boxes, stoppered gourds and other oddments filled with unknown herbs, oils and powdered substances. Everything seems to have its place though and the hut is relatively clean and tidy despite the sheer volume and variety of objects. A small, smoking hearth fills the hut with warmth and sitting before it is a small, elderly woman. Her wild, pure white hair hangs to her waist and seems to cover her like a cloak as she calmly works a mortar and pestle.

Our heroes notice that Zarah is blind though she has the disconcerting ability to reveal certain knowledge regarding the party that suggests that she sees in other ways beyond mere sight. Zarah the Mystic speaks very matter-of-factly and tells the party of her visions. She sees villagers stalked by evil and a great massacre of innocents that will come to pass. She speaks of men and women who hide behind hideous masks. A coven that would give their lives to the one who leads them. Finally, she speaks of a strange, malevolent and ancient force that has waited for aeons and dreams darkly as it slumbers just beyond the veil of this reality. It waits for someone to call it home and give it the power to cross the threshold. This is all the warning she can give the party but offers her mystical services and shows off her stock of magical items.

The party thanks her for her time and wisdom before setting off for the village and then the strange glade John Birch spoke of.

The party enters the dim wilds of the forest, navigating north along the shores of a narrow, icy stream choked with fallen leaves. John Birch leads you expertly through the rough terrain, using his decades of experience navigating this wilderness, the pace is brisk. Soon, you find yourselves approaching the sun washed glade.

The party slowly makes their way to the edge of the tree line.

From your vantage point on the edge of the clearing you look upon a serene and beautiful glade who’s snow dusted edge drops sharply into the icy bog of the Misty Fen beyond. It would be a calming view if not for the unsettling scene before you. Near the far side of the glade is a tall, rocky outcropping, slick with gleaming ice. At it’s base, nestled amongst the frosted shrubbery is John Birch’s strange stone, obscured in the shadows. And, standing stock still, with an unnatural and intense focus upon the unusual shrine are dozens of animals indigenous to the mountains and forests of the region. They all stare, their bodies like statues. Squirrels, voles, muskrats and many other small mammals peer from the brush and birds, perched on the bare, skeletal branches above, look on. A handful of beasts are the most worrisome however. A pair of tall elk, a large boar, an unusually massive badger, a sleek mountain lion, far from its den, and a pack of gaunt, gray timber wolves stand transfixed.

What power holds these creatures in thrall? And how will our heroes approach this unusual dilemma?

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Adventure Log: 31st of March, 2015
The Chanting Glade

Morn creeps slowly and quietly through the bright, snowy glade. He weaves his way between all manner of forest animals and cautiously approaches the odd stone that matches John Birch‘s description. As he passes the beasts Morn notices that the life and light is gone from their eyes. They seem nothing more that soulless husks as they stand enthralled by the stone. Morn continues on, ever more curious to discover more about this strange artifact. As he approaches nearer he notices that the sun lit glade grows dimmer and dimmer, the light seemingly devoured by the stone. And then the rogue’s vision goes dark and he is struck by momentary paralysis. A vision overwhelms Morn’s mind:

The room is dark but for the dim moonlight that trickles through the window, filtered by the driving snow beyond. A young child, a girl, sobs into her mother’s shoulder as they sit upon a small bed. The woman trembles in terror as she holds her daughter close, covering her small ears against that terrible sound. The father sits in the darkness nearby his hands covering his face, covering his tears. He tries to pretend that the shrieking outside is just the howling winter wind, but he knows that he lies to himself. The thought, that he would be powerless to protect his family should that unnameable thing shriek for them, overwhelms him.

Through sheer force of will, Morn drives the sickening and oppressive evil from his mind. His sight and faculties returned, Morn looks about the glade only to see the creatures all looking directly at him. A light now fills their eyes, a light of seething and boundless hatred.

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Shaiah, concerned by Morn’s boldness, enters the glade and slowly follows his path toward the stone, spear at the ready. Her alarm grows as she notices Morn stop suddenly in his tracks, unnaturally frozen in place. It lasts but a moment before Morn comes to and spins around in alarm, taking stock of his surroundings. The party notices some of the more dangerous animals starting to move, their anger focused on Morn and Shaiah.

The rogue backs away from the stalking timber wolves as he slowly draws the gleaming blade of his rapier. The predators bare their teeth with a snarl and leap to the attack. With a flash of steel, Morn cuts down the first wolf in a spray of crimson. He looks back to see the other two closing the distance with alarming speed.

One of the elk rushes at Shaiah, its antlers lowered as it attacks. The halfling leaps aside but cannot avoid a sharp tine from cutting a deep gash into her side. Her teeth gritted in pain, Shaiah jabs her spear and pierces the elk’s flank. The druid’s heart flares in anger at the evil power that forced her hand into injuring this innocent beast. As the elk rears up, shrieking in pain and surprise, Shaiah notices the red glow of anger flee from the beast’s eyes. It turns away in fear, limping out of the glade and into the forest.

Taelin advances into the glade, crouched low to keep his profile small. Arrows nocked, the ranger raises his bow, sending missiles whistling into the glade. Neela clambers up the nearest tree and takes stock of the erupting battlefield. The sorceress pulls on her inner fire and sends a hail of golden streaks raining down upon the attacking animals. The giant badger and the remain elk flee into the forest after the assault breaks them from the dark power that held them in thrall. The mountain lion she injured only appears angrier however. Before she can rejoice in her success her eyes grow wide as she notices the massive boar barreling down the incline directly for her tree.

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The squealing beast rams its rock-hard skull into the tree, sending a shower of snow exploding from the branches. Neela barely manages to keep her grip and avoid tumbling from the safety of the tree. The boar looks up at the sorceress with hatred in its eyes, letting out a terrible shrieking roar. Its cry is cut short however, as Balasar‘s sword crashes down upon it. The charging two-handed slash cleaves the beast in two, the gout of blood and viscera steaming in the chill winter air. The dragonborn silently flicks the boar’s blood from his blade and looks up just in time to see Morn’s foolhardy bravado in stark display. The thief rushes the remaining wolves only to be quickly overcome by the beasts’ slavering and merciless jaws. Shaiah rushes to his aid.

Taelin leaps up the low ridge toward the center of the glade, arrows flying and finds himself face to face with the hissing mountain lion, a feathered shaft protruding from its side. The great cat rakes at the ranger with its claws.

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Neela expends the last of her more powerful magic, felling more of the beasts with bolts of magical energy. She leaps from the low branches and cautiously approaches the violent skirmish. Shaiah culls power from her nature bond and pours healing energy into Morn’s torn and bleeding body. Morn is pulled from the clutching grasp of death and returns to consciousness. The remaining wolf, and final threat, puts itself into a position to defend the strange stone as if it were a den of newborn cubs. Taelin’s arrows spur it into action and it charges the ranger. It’s leaping bite sinks deep and the two tumble to the earth with a crash. Shaiah’s spear fells the wolf before it can seal the ranger’s fate and Balasar uses his holy power to bring Taelin back from the brink.

With all immediate threats dealt with, the party catches its breath and turns their attention to the odd, carved artifact that brought them here. Morn presses his luck and approaches close. He lays his hand on the stone. It sets his skin to crawling and seems to cover him with an oppressive pall of hate and fear. Shaiah joins him and finds herself overwhelmed by a new vision:

A boy trudges through the ankle-deep snow that covers the rolling and rocky slopes of the Lortmil foothills. The sheep, his charges, surround him, pawing through the snow, grazing on the preserved, autumn forage. But, the boy’s gaze is ever drawn toward that soot-black bastion nestled within those dark, snow-dusted crags of the looming mountain. Who built that terrible, broken citadel? For what purpose? What crawls and slumbers within? All questions he’s asked himself a thousand times before. With as many different answers lurking within his daydreams and nightmares. ‘Lorne, Lorne! By the gods… LORNE!’ Comes a distant call. The boy is suddenly broken from his reverie.
‘Er… uh… yes father?’
‘What in Nerull’s frozen hell do you think your doing?!’ Growls the man through his thick, frost-caked beard as he pushes forward with the aid of his shepherd’s crook. ‘Your sheep are wandering and that idiot dog is giving me a headache.’
Lorne looks over at the hound, who barks and howls uncontrollably at the dark treeline in the distance. The boy walks over an kneels next his faithful sheep dog. He pulls her close, worried by her strange behavior. ’What’s wrong girl?’ He whispers. ‘What is it?’ The trembling hound calms to a whimper and buries her nose into his furs. And then he hears it, carried high on the thin mountain air, sharp as a razor. An almost inaudible keening that chills his blood like a bitter, winter gale. And it seems to come from all around, from every direction. But, Lorne is not fooled. He pulls his friend closer and imagines what stalks just beyond the edge of that dark and twisted wood, ready to emerge onto those fields of pure, white snow.

The paralyzing vision threatens to consume Shaiah, but the halfing manages to drag herself away from that dark precipice. The druid steels herself against the awful pressure of fear that emanates from the stone and examines it more closely. An image is graven into it surface. An asymmetrical countenance composed of unfathomable shapes and strange whorls that seem to defy earthly geometries. She thinks back to John Birch’s description and his unfounded certainty that the image is of a living being that waits just beyond the veil of this world. This artifact must be some sort of magical anchor and siphon that pulls in energy. Perhaps in aid of whatever creature is depicted upon the stone. Shaiah steps away and Taelin advances. A vision descends upon him:

The hunter’s heart pounds and his breath comes in short, shallow gasps as he cowers. The thing claws at the bark of the tree above and pulls. It can taste his fear. The hunter clutches his skinning knife in a tremor wracked fist and when he thinks of what he had seen through the trees, his mind reels. The thing slithers upward weaving its way through the branches. It needs his fear.
‘A hunters’ blind is supposed to protect the hunter,’ he silently mouths, repeating it uselessly over and over, as if it would save him from the inevitable. And then he see it, pulling and pouring itself into the blind, as inconceivable and obscene as a madman’s nightmare. The hunter screams.

The half-elf drives the evil back, the hunter’s terror still lingering in the dark recesses of his mind. The ranger backs away and gives the dragonborn a look of caution as the paladin strides ahead. The strange visions assail Balasar the same as the others and he finds himself seeing through the eyes of a hound sniffing around the dark, night-time streets of a village. Before long the hound comes upon the scent and sound of a prowling alien presence that fills the animal with terror. It attempts to flee, but too late. Finally, Neela approaches. The sorceress finds herself peering from the second story window of a windmill. The steady and familiar creaking of the mill’s blades, calmly turning in the cold, winter breeze, can be heard in the background. The dark edge of the forest looms in the near distance below and from the shadows between the moonlit boles a set of piercing, emerald eyes appear. The glowing malevolent slits are filled with hate and seem to drive fear into her like a frozen blade. The pain and terror overcomes Neela’s will and as she tries to tear herself away from the vision she finds herself plunged into a sea of impenetrable darkness with only those terrible, sickly green eyes amid the void. Stricken with blindness, she stumbles and collapses only to be caught by her friends. They hold her close and try to abate the coming torrent of panic.

A consensus is quickly reached and the only option is that the stone be destroyed. Shaiah calls upon a powerful thunderwave that cracks the stone, blasting it from its position. Hundreds of birds amid the surrounding forest canopy explode into the air as the resounding thunderclap startles them from their hypnotic reverie. The sky darkens momentarily as the avian swarm gains its bearings and dissipates into the sky. Where the stone once rested is a pattern of precious stones carefully arranged into precise geometrical patterns. Shaiah collects them. Balasar sprays the stone with his caustic breath weapon and a final blow from the druid’s spear destroys the stone for good. It releases a blast of negative energy as it is rent asunder, sending Shaiah flying backward. But, the deed is done and the glade is once again returned to unfettered peace. The enthralled animals flee back into the forest and underbrush.

With the stone’s destruction, Neela’s vision returns with time. The party starts back toward Ebonton. During the trek back, Shaiah can’t help but find her gaze ever drawn toward the shadow cloaked crags and crevasses of the Lortmil mountain range to the south. She can just barely make out the dark spires rising from a citadel, nestled amid the tall peaks.

Before long, the party arrives back at the village, exhausted from battle. As they enter the Leaky Barrel tavern they are met by a very old man(at least seventy, perhaps in his eighties) who is pushed in a finely crafted wheelchair. He introduces himself as Edwin Gullheim, owner and proprietor of the tavern. He thanks the party members for their hand in preventing the watchman, Grun, from killing a patron in his establishment. Edwin notifies the party that mayor Gilvar Fenwick has scheduled a town meeting for the late evening. The party rests until the meeting and Edwin orders his chefs to prepare a grand meal for them.

Night falls and the party notices dark clouds, full to bursting, roll in from the east. Flurries have already started and the party hurries to the town hall. They arrive to find nearly all of the town’s adults gathered. Mayor Gilvar, attended by the town’s sheriff, calms the crowd and speaks.

‘I thank you all for gathering here today so that we may discuss recent events. As we are all aware, a great evil has descended upon our humble village and has taken the bravest and most innocent of our numbers. This dark force is remorseless and without mercy. It hunts and stalks us. And I know why. We have, all of us, sinned. Each in our own way, in our hearts if nothing else. We’ve brought this terror, this punishment, upon ourselves and we must all repent. When you all retire to your homes tonight, each of you, prostrate yourselves before Nerull. Confess your sins! Pray and beg for forgiveness and perhaps we may find redemption in the eyes of the gods who have forsaken us.’
A murmur pours from the crowd. A look of dejected hopelessness is upon nearly every face. Tears and wails of despair erupt from some villagers and others have already sunk to their knees, shouting out to Nerull for forgiveness.

A stout man, with a clean shaven head and clad in the silver-on-green vestments of a cleric of St. Cuthbert, steps from the crowd. He turns toward the gathering and introduces himself as Oromund Pell. He and his acolytes arrived in the town just a few days prior and the party recognizes his entourage as the man and half-elf woman from the previous night in the tavern. Oromund addresses the crowd.

‘I beseech you all to be calm. Your good mayor is wise and speaks truthfully about the pall of sin that has spread like an infection throughout your village. Judgment is at hand and the gods shall exact the punishment we all deserve. For that we should all be thankful. But, the gods are wise and not without mercy. Your despair gains you and the gods nothing and only serves to make them ever more bitter and uncaring toward your plight. Seek the light and wisdom of St. Cuthbert. Only through your devotion and obedience, shall this hateful wickedness be driven from your lands. Of this you can be assured.’

The party speaks up and tries to reason with the town’s people. They explain what they found in the chanting glade and try to convince the people that a real and concrete threat works against them. The crowd is impervious to reason however and turns on our heroes. John Birch steps forward, anger on his face.

’I’ve had enough of this! Enough of all of it!” John Birch steps forward from the crowd. His face is red and his jaw tight with anger. ‘It isn’t our sins that are killing us. It wasn’t your or my sins that put young Lorne in an early grave before his thirteenth summer. If that’s something you believe then you’re crazy or stupid or both. We need to take action and defend ourselves!’

The crowd seems to take some stock in his words. And then, the doors to the hall open. Zarah the Blind Mystic enters, cane in hand, and walks to the front of the room. John takes her by the arm and she turns to address the people.

Zarah gazes blindly at the crowd. ‘This evil is flesh and blood. It rends us with tooth and claw and your prayers will not stop it. Only the strong sword-arm and the potent spell will lay low this malevolent force.’

A renewed anger spreads through the crowd. There seems to be an inherent distrust among the people for Zarah. John raises his voice once again.

‘And I’ve seen some of you around the village. Acting strange, like you’re not the same people I’ve known for decades. People I’ve seen grow from mere babes into good men and women. I’ll not point fingers, but you know who you are. The people you were would never let our village fall so far and let all this come to pass without action. I can only hope, from the bottom of by soul, that you’re not involved in all of this. Hope is a rare commodity these days however.’
‘A bold and disturbing accusation Mister Birch,’ says the Cleric of St. Cuthbert. ‘More disturbing however is your casual disregard of the divine powers that obviously protect you and your family. You seem to take more stock and trust in this… godless mystic.’

The crowd is firmly on the side of Oromund. Tempers grow heated and accusations fly from the crowd at Zarah. Taelin takes charge and moves to escort the mystic from the town hall. A townsman even tries to accost Zarah, though the ranger is easily able to thwart his attempt.

Before the pair can exit, the doors of the hall burst open. A haggard woman, greatly distressed, stumbles inside.

‘Help! Please! She’s gone. I-it took her! Oh, gods please! My baby is gone.’

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Adventure Log: 13th of April, 2015
The Search for Cleeah

The town’s woman collapses in the entry way of the town hall, exhausted and panicked. The cold and snow from the growing storm outside swirls and howls into the packed and silent room. Morn immediately recognizes her from his vision and whispers as much to his companions. A man then breaks through the stunned crowd and rushes to the woman’s side. John Birch identifies the two as Becka and Victor Hollen. Their young daughter, and only child’s name is Cleeah.

A rising murmur of panic spreads throughout the gathered town’s folk. Sheriff, Ethryk Gullheim, steps forward and calls for calm, asking Becka to explain what’s happened. She says she was at home with Cleeah and that she heard a commotion coming from her daughter’s room. There was the sound of splintering wood, an unearthly screeching and a child’s scream cut ominously short. She rushed into the bedroom to find Cleeah gone and the latched shutters smashed and scoured. She called out her daughter’s name and looked out the window but could see nothing through the dark and the snow. She then rushed to the town hall for help. Ethryk tells everyone to quickly return to their homes, but calls upon a dozen or so to remain. They head for the Hollen home to investigate.

Our heroes follow but remain out of sight. Eventually they come upon the home and find the crowd gathered around the torn and smashed shutters. The ranger, Taelin, then notices unusual tracks leading away from the Hollen home. They’re unlike any tracks he’s ever seen and seem to be heading north into the forest. The party then hears the sheriff organizing his men and women in groups and tells them where they should each start their search. The party sets out ahead of them and follows the tracks into the northern wood. After a short while of tracking Taelin cannot help but be suspicious of how easy the tracks are to follow. There seems to be no effort to cover signs of passing and the tracks even seem to take a slower but easy-to-follow route through the wild growth. The party grows more cautious and soon comes upon another sign. A child’s toy, a stuffed owl, lies next to the tracks, slightly dusted with snow. They must be close.

The party picks up the pace and soon catches up with their quarry.

Suddenly, ahead, you see something half-buried in the snow. A dark burlap sack, bulging and motionless. Just behind it, obscured by the shadows, is a dark figure, clad in a dirty, yellow cloak. You notice an unnatural, undulating movement beneath its robes and the slits of its eyes burn with a sickly emerald radiance from the darkness under its hood. It beckons you forward with a motion of its long, skeletal claws.

Our heroes call out, asking what it wants. The creature responds in a tortured and rasping voice. “We want… you to die… in terror… in agony.”

It lets out a hissing and derisive chuckle as it drifts backwards, fading into the shadows. And emerging from the driving snow are five robed, humanoid figures. Upon their faces are hideous ebony masks, fashioned into various demonic visages. The steel of their blades flash in the torch light.

The party rushes into battle, their enemies barely visible through the roaring blizzard. Arrows whistle as they fly through the dark, magical energy crackles and steel rings against steel. In what seems to be but an instant, the dark cultists lie bleeding in the snow. The burlap sack is opened and young Cleeah is revealed. She is unconscious though appears relatively unharmed physically. The young girl is revived and it is obvious that her memories of this night and the creature that spirited her away will be carried with her for years to come. Her stuffed owl is returned and seems to bring her some modicum of peace.

One by one the cultists are unmasked. They are villagers of Ebonton, men and women seen about the town, though none whom the party has had close contact with. And finally the mask of the final cultist is lifted. Victor Hollen’s skin is pale and the snow beneath him drinks greedily of his life’s blood, but he lives. His eyes are glassy and struggle to focus but are still filled with hate and cruelty. “My life for his vile darkness, the blood of my blood for Gholyameth…” he croaks and rasps his final words through clenched, bloody teeth. His body then breathes its last and lies still, collecting the heavy flakes of the storm.

The cold is biting and saps our heroes’ strength. They realize that they could be in serious trouble as they stand in the middle of the forest during a terrible blizzard. Cleeah is bundled up and the party follows Taelin’s lead as the ranger attempts to navigate through the dark woods and back to Ebonton. Before long the party emerges from the tree line and into the fields of the village. They trudge and push the final distance through the fresh, knee-deep snow. Looking back they see the torches of the returning members of Ethryk’s search party in the distance; far fewer than had originally set out however.

You stumble back into the village, freezing and exhausted. The worst of the storm has passed but the wind and snow still howl through the valley. The sign in front of the Leaky Barrel dances madly on its chains and the door bursts open. Lani Birch runs out into the cold. ’He’s gone,’ her voice is filled with stress and anger and her face is a mask of hopelessness. ‘They took him!’

The party attempts to calm Lani down and asks her what happened. They make for the Birch workshop and Lani relays the events of past few hours along the way. It seems as though the stress of recent events have pushed the villagers to the breaking point. They organized into a mob shortly after the search party left and came upon the workshop demanding the family turn Zarah over. They called her a witch and a demon, accusing her of bringing this calamity upon Ebonton. After the John Birch’s adamant refusal to release her the mob forced its way in and took Zarah by force. The blind mystic was dragged to the town hall and was mere seconds away from swinging from gallows when Oromund Pell and his acolytes came upon the scene. The cleric of St. Cuthbert seized control of the maddened crowd and rebuked them for their hubris. He told them that it was not their place to judge Zarah’s fate. But, that it was the purview of the gods. In their shame they acquiesced. Taking charge of the mystic, Oromund told the crowd that Zarah would be taken up the mountain pass to the abandoned convent of Istus, where the goddess of fate would judge her. Pushing his way through the throng John Birch cursed Oromund, saying that entering the convent defenseless was a guarantied death sentence. In a final fit of frustration and hopelessness John struck the cleric and made a quickly foiled attempt to rescue Zarah. The acolytes subdued the old man and after Oromund picked himself up off the ground he decreed that John would join the wizened mystic in the convent for judgment. There was nothing John’s children could do and soon the clerics were mounted along with their bound prisoners, heading for the mountain pass.

The party arrives at the workshop to find a sobbing and inconsolable Nathaniel along with the brooding Adlyn. Our heroes pledge to rescue Zarah and their father and agree to not openly reveal their knowledge of the cult that exists among the town’s people. Lani pries up the few boards of a hiding place and pulls out an exquisitely crafted hunter’s shortbow. She gives it to the party, saying that her father crafted it shortly after the troubles started and had Zarah enchant it with some sort of mystical power. She says that it is the finest weapon John has ever made and would be most useful in the hands of heroes.

The party gives their thanks and sets out in pursuit after gathering their gear from the inn. Just before they begin their ascent though, the party notices someone has been following them. They call out to the darkness and Grun, the town watchman, reveals himself. He says that he witnessed the party’s battle with the cultists and examined the aftermath. He trusts the party and seeks to help them in anyway he can. The party agrees to let Grun follow and begin the journey with an extra sword-arm at their side. The way up the pass is treacherous and frustratingly slow in the wake of the waning storm, coupled with the dark of night. Hours pass and before long a pair of torches can be seen winding down the pass toward the party. Oromund and his two acolytes approach. Their prisoners are nowhere to be seen. Shaiah and Balasar waylay the trio as the other party members hide behind a rocky outcropping nearby. Oromund demands the two stand aside and allow them passage. The halfling refuses, accusing them of bringing strife and panic to the already oppressed village and for potentially murdering the two innocent people they left in the convent. The cleric claims that Zarah and John will be judged fairly by Istus and that they shall only die by her will. Shaiah’s hot heart gets the better of her and she launches an attack. The paladin takes a stance of non-violence and moves to shield the halfling from retaliation. The clerics’ divine magic is strong however and the companions agree to a temporary truce. Oromund and his followers pass with a final warning against entering the convent or crossing their paths again.

Our heroes catch their breaths and soon continue up the pass once again.

Your winding and treacherous path up the mountain has come to an end. The convent now stands before you. It is a towering ruin of dark gray stone built into the mountain side, pressed upon from all sides by massive snow drifts. Age and neglect have broken what was once a true feat of architecture and artistry. You notice a set of great double doors that appear to be the only proper entrance. They stand wide open and the darkness beyond seems to beckon.

What evil waits beyond the threshold? And will our heroes find John and Zarah alive within?

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Adventure Log: 11th of May, 2015
The Convent of Istus

You now stand in the dimness of the convent’s large entry hall. It’s high, vaulted ceiling is supported by four cracked and splintered pillars and to either side the walls are hung with a multitude of large tapestries, faded and falling apart with age and exposure to the elements. It is obvious that, at one time, they would have been magnificent to behold. Also, between the tattered remnants of the tapestries, you see that there once stood statues. They now lie broken, their pieces scattered among the snow shrouded flagstones. At the far end, double doors, slightly ajar, lead further into the structure.

The party investigates the room, searching for clues. The statues appear to have been deliberately smashed and defiled. Further examination reveals the first of many horrors to be found within the walls of the convent.

Beneath the rubble and ice you see what seems to be the remnants of two skeletons. They are both covered in the tatters of ruined, though obviously fine, fabric. Around their necks are simple pendants in the shape of weaver’s spindles with three small threads hanging loose from the coil.

The bones of the skeletons have nicked and gouged by what were certainly thin, razor sharp blades. Their pendants are most likely holy symbols of Istus and they are gingerly removed from the skeletons’ necks and placed into pouches. Approaching the doors at the far end of the hall proves ominous.

A chill, even greater than the biting wind that howls through entrance, seems to fill the chamber as you notice low, echoing whispers from the halls beyond the doorway.

Our heroes steel themselves and press on. They enter a dark, branching corridor and leads in multiple directions. The see no source of the whispering. They choose a direction and come upon a badly scorched door with iron banding warped by an intense heat. They smash through to the other side and find themselves in what appears to be a library.

Though many decades have obviously passed since this room was consumed by fire, the stench of smoke still hangs heavy in the air. You see that nearly every inch of wall space is occupied by tall book shelves. Most of them have collapsed and nearly all of the books and scrolls here were reduced to ashes but there seem to be small areas, here and there, spared by the flames. In the center of the library is a long, heavy table, scorched and blackened though still standing.

A search among the blackened parchment and ashes turns up a blackened, though intact, lock box. Morn makes quick work of the lock and pulls out sheaves of records and logs along with some goodies.

The party moves on, exiting through the opposite door and into a new hall way.

A long corridor, steeped in darkness, stretches in either direction. You step into the hall and suddenly, from the gloom, materialize four ethereal apparitions. They seem to radiate an eerie greenish-blue ghost-light though it does not drive back the shadows of their surroundings. One of the phantoms is a young woman clad in the plain vestments of an acolyte. She leads the other three down the corridor. They seem to be travelers, two men and a woman. They are loaded down with packs and bedrolls.
‘The three of you must be exhausted from your trip up the mountain side,’ says the acolyte shyly. ‘I hope your quarters are sufficient, we seldom see visitors at the convent.’
’We’ve been on the road for weeks sister,’ assures the eldest of the travelers, a hansom, sharp featured man in his middle years. ‘At this point a simple roof would make us feel like royalty. This is more than we deserve.’
‘Then please, make yourselves comfortable and rest. Mother Euthalia will speak to you in the morning.’ The acolyte gestures to two open doors and turns to leave. After a moment, she hesitates and turns back with an awkward smile. ’I’m sure Mother Euthalia will be willing to help you and your people. I have this feeling- that Istus has woven this moment into the fabric.’
‘As do I sister,’ says the man, with a short laugh and disarming smile. ’We’ve been looking for a place just like this.’
After the acolyte has stepped out of the corridor the three travelers give each other knowing looks and all walk into the same room.

The party decides that the wisest decision is to move in the opposite direction of the apparitions and decide to head through the door to the south.

Beyond the threshold is a large, open courtyard swept with snow. And over the low, crumbling, crenelations to the south and east is a sheer drop of perhaps a thousand feet or more. The first aspect of the area you notice is a shrine of smashed statues surrounding a tall, blackened obelisk. Next, built into the western wall, are a number of tall stained-glass windows, mostly intact. And finally, are the trees and shrubs that rise from the small islands of frozen soil in the center of the courtyard, their skeletal limbs reaching and rattling in the swift mountain winds. And from those branches are suspended a pair of locked iron cages. At the bottom of each creaking prison is a figure, huddled and shivering.

Our heroes approach cautiously and quickly realize these prisoners are John and Zarah, half frozen to death in the exposed courtyard.

As you approach, the surrounding vegetation of the forgotten garden begins to writhe and awaken. What you once though were just harmless masses of branches, roots, vines and twigs begin to undulate and advance toward you in a vague mockery of humanoid form and locomotion.

A needle blight and a multitude of twig blights jump into action, tearing themselves from their flowerbeds, and move to slay the new intruders. The battle is pitched and violent. The twig blights are cut down easily enough but the incessant hail of needles sprayed by the needle blight proves a significant threat. Soon enough the horrid creature is destroyed. But from the mass of vines, roots and branches that form its torso erupts a trio of woodland creatures. A squirrel, weasel and platypus move to avenge there recently destroyed home, but these are no ordinary creatures. Their skin is a putrid grey-green and their fur falls out in clumps. Exposed bone can be seen through the rotting flesh and their eyes are dead and lifeless. The undead creatures prove resilient to attacks that would fell their living counterparts but are eventually dispatched. With the monsters destroyed Morn makes quick work of the rusted and frozen locks holding John and Zarah prisoner. They are pulled from their cages and moved indoors. The party finds what seems to be one of the convent’s guest rooms and bundle the two trembling figures in any blankets or sheets that are handy. John gives his thanks, through chattering teeth, for the rescue but seems only concerned for his children back in Ebonton. Zarah, however, grabs the nearest of our heroes and speaks of visions and portents that have assailed her since entering the confines of the haunted convent.

“‘As I lay in that cage, feeling the life drain from my body, I dreamed a waking dream. I saw an old woman, long dead. She sits at her loom, working the fabric, knowing her death is near. She has been in her chamber for more days than she can remember; with no food, no water. They cannot breach the entrance, her goddess will not let them. She works the ancient and secret techniques into the intricate webbing of the loom, one shining strand at a time, crafting her last and greatest creation. But, alas her vision fades and the darkness takes her. Her work sits incomplete and her tormented soul howls in impotent rage at the injustice.
She waits still, her anger and hatred seething. For decade upon decade she is forced to see that luminescent thread sit taut and unmoving on its magical spindle and think of what might have been. Ever it is the thread that my vision comes back to. What it can create, what it can undo is boundless. You must recover the spindle and its thread. It is the only way to stop what is to come.
’”

The party promises to investigate further and leaves Grun behind to defend and care for John and Zarah.

Our heroes continue exploring the convent and return to the first branching hallway. They take a different path.

This long chamber seems to have been a dining hall at one point. Long tables and benches fill the space and a massive hearth, almost big enough to walk into, is against one wall. Candelabras are spaced along the tables and the dust of time and solitude covers every surface. The thing that strikes you the most about this room is also the thing that fills you with the most horror. Three large chandeliers are suspended from the high ceiling and from those chandeliers hang the remains of five skeletons. The frayed rope of nooses are hung about their necks and the tatters of their robes hang from their bones like death shrouds.

Besides the skeletons hung from the chandeliers there are four skeletons in this room. All are priestesses and acolytes. Some seem to have been hacked apart. One skeleton is nothing but remnants in a pile of black ashes. The party searches the dining hall and its adjoining rooms. Balasar enters through a door to the north and finds himself in a privy. He can hear the sounds of a heated argument emanating from one of the privy shafts. Taelin enters a kitchen strewn with bones and ash. The others are searching the main hall when something unexpected happens.

Without warning the ash-choked hearth and the wick of every candle upon the tables and chandeliers spark to life with a dim green-blue flame and an unsettling eldritch light fills the hall. And then the din of hushed conversation, the clink of silverware and the sound of footsteps begins to fill the air. Finally, the source of the sounds materialize from the shadows. Translucent apparitions now fill the hall, sitting at the tables and walking about. They are all women, mostly clad in the simple robes of acolytes, some in the vestments of full clerics. A few of the novices nearby converse over their meal and you catch a bit of it.
‘I was just in the garden earlier and I saw the camp fires in the valley,’ says one half-elf woman over her meal to the two others across the table. ‘Do you think they could be a band of Orcs or Bugbears?’
The youngest of the acolytes looks skeptical. ‘I don’t think so. There would be more of them wouldn’t there?’
The third pushes at the boiled vegetables on her plate with a fork, worry on her face. ‘What if it is Orcs or Bugbears or… something even worse and they attacked the convent? They’d kill us all.’
A sharp featured matron suddenly appears behind her, looming. ‘Your only worries should be your studies and your projects in the weavers’ cloister. There is no place in this convent for a neophyte who spreads worry and fear. Besides, I have personally been to old Umara’s observatory. We managed to convince the old curmudgeon to tear her far-glass away from the sky and point it towards the valley. They are people, just like you and me. They are not armed for war. They have no siege weapons and our walls and faith are strong. So stop worrying and spreading rumors. And finish your meals- I’ll be back to check.’
‘Of course priestess,’ say the novices in unison. They smirk at each other as the priestess walks away with her back turned. And then, an ominous low rumbling begins to shake the room. Clouds of dust begin to fill the air and an unearthly rasping moan rises until you can feel it in your chest and in your bones. The double-doors to the south suddenly fly open and the moan becomes a roar. The raging wind that pours from the portal brings an inky shadow that seems to crawl and flow up and over every surface. The apparitions blow away like mist before a hurricane and the ethereal flames are extinguished as the dark touches them. Then a decidedly feminine voice calls. ‘Be gone interlopers. The living have no place here. Go or join… our… ranks.’ And as soon as the screaming gale arrived, it subsides. The doors from which they issued fly shut with a resounding slam and silence hangs heavy in the air.

Our heroes stare at the door in shock, pondering their next move.

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