Episode 17: Silaqui's Log: Perhaps Belkzen is Meant for the Giants
The second bitter fight with green hags.

After the Vault of Thorns, we returned to the boat, along with one hag as prisoner (very unwise as it would turn out). (We should have learned our lesson at Truneau and killed or released evil prisoners.) The boat eventually docked at a town and fortress, which was the captain’s base of operations. We went ashore and among other activities purchased potions at a magic shop.

When we returned to the boat, we found it about to come under attack by an ominous foe. A sixty-foot alligator, an odd saddle on its back, was carrying 3 hags, witches and sister to the hag in the hold who was our prisoner. The alligator rammed the boat, doing serious damage and swam away, travelling in a great arc and setting up for a second strike. The second slam had the alligator coming up onto the boat, its head and upper body on deck as the gator attacked the crew and our party. Everyone attacked as best we could. Draken landed several blows with his Warhammer, while Gydion and Jane inflicted major damage with lightning strikes. At one point, near disaster, Kingsley was caught in the gator’s mouth. The lion had come in close to bring Asa up to the fight – too close as it would turn out. But, the gator was finally killed by the efforts of Draken, Jane, Gydion, and Asa. Before the gator’s lifeless body fell back into the river, in a remarkable show of strength Asa pried open the gator’s mouth and released Kingsley, saving him.

My first arrow in the fight with the gator had hit his mouth, but then my attack centered on the hags who launched deadly attacks directly on me, though they were invisible. The hags had left the gator after it came onto the boat. One hag in the air near the mast was the one who first hit me with serious damage by magical weapons. I climbed half way up the mast to try and strike the hag with my sword. But, the hag was very powerful and it would take a lot to defeat her. Finally, Gydion killed the hag with a direct hit by lightning strike. At this point, another hag, the one who was our prisoner and who had broken free, ran onto the deck and jumped into the river to escape. Gydion, in a rage, changed onto animal form, a shark, as he courageously jumped into the river in pursuit. The hag was very powerful and in the underwater fight got the better of the druid. Gydion took serious damage and eventually had to back off. Sensing Gydion’s peril, Jane also assumed shark form and jumped into the river to join the fight. But, in the end, the two druids had to break off their attack and let the hag go. The druids made it back to the boat without meeting further attack.

The boat is quite damaged and will take a week or so to repair and refit. To my mind, this latest fight is typical of our experience since entering the Ghostlight Marsh. We were told by a number of sources that we would find a weapon hoard in the marsh that we would need to attack Redlake Fort. But, what we found in the marsh is very disappointing. We don’t have nearly enough weapons and support items like potions to attack a strong fort. And, what we did find we had to deplete battling hags that we would not have encountered had we not gone to the marsh on the first place. And, we were naïve enough to bring a hag as prisoner out with us.

I have become very disillusioned. I have lost sight of the original reason for our quest or what good we hope to accomplish. Belkzen is a place where all advantage is with the forces of evil. Our skills and spells are too often made powerless, while the enemy attacks with astounding and unrealistic success. I can’t help but believe that the powers supporting the agents of evil here favor their minions and have gained a control over every encounter and have weakened us by arbitrary malice. Iomedae, it seems, has no power here. She has been unable to help us. Many of our enemies can swoop in, inflict serious damage, and then disappear, while we are left with no means of attacking them, no defense. Maybe Belkzen is meant by the gods to be for the hags, the giants, and the orcs. Truneau should relocate south of Belkzen’s border. Think of this angle: by wearing down our powers to defeat the hags, haven’t we helped the giants? Haven’t we just neutralized the natural, future enemy and rival of the giants?

Why are we here? Even the townspeople we meet don’t seem to care about their own safety or future. They are apathetic and selfish. They offer us no assistance in our quest to rid their homes of evil. The least they could offer is information, but even that is denied us. A glaring example is the boat’s captain, who has seen us battle monsters in his defense but has insisted that we do menial labor on the boat to pay for our passage.

I’m ready to go home. I’m not a mercenary. I know of many towns in this world that could use my help against evil creatures — towns which would be grateful. If things get much worse, I should abandon this quest, try to convince the others to leave with me, and go back to Truneau and give them back the gold coins they gave me. I’m not a mercenary. If I abandon this quest, it will be because Iomedae has abandoned me. I will leave the bow she gifted me at her shrine in Truneau and go home.

Episode 16: Silaqui’s post about the Vault of Thorns
second half of the episode in the vault

We already entered the Vault of Thorns and battled some of the many Unseeley Fey who have invaded the vault. In the vault, at its floor, exploring, we all felt invigorated by the environment. Everyone healed quickly of our battle wounds. The floor of the giant vault is earth, and the high walls of this circular area were virtually impassible with thick intertwined vegetation.

Along with myself and our party, Turin, Draken, Janekfan and Toboe, and Gydion and Kingsley, Wynnea and her wolf Balto came as guide, and Ingrahild Nargrymkin and her puma continued to travel with us. I scouted ahead and found on the far side a hollow tree large enough to have a staircase inside. Before we could go up these stairs, a Tendriculos next to the tree attacked us. It was a monstrous plant of tree like strength and height with numerous mushrooms on it, and its tendrils attacked and grappled Toboe and Draken. Our team all attacked until the monster fell.

We ascended the stairs in the hollow tree to doors that opened into a greenhouse with many flowers and exotic plants, many in pots on tables. While amazed at the variety and uniqueness of the collection, we unfortunately discovered that some of the flowers were Extabeys, which emit a magic sleep powder. One of the plants put Gydion asleep. The team attacked the Extabeys, killing 6. Afterwards, Gydion soon recovered.
We followed the room around, went through a hallway, and finally came to fetid, foul smelling room, large and long, with two 30-foot high foul piles of rotting vegetation covered with brambles and thorny vines. Behind these two were three more piles, like the first two in size and odor. Turin exploded a fire ball which lit the chamber, and we could see another pile of vegetation with brambles at the far end. This pile was much larger, 50-feet high, and it had a large wooden chest on top. The fireball made dozens of rodents scurry for cover and singed some of the fetid piles. We could see brambles that looked alive, crawling out like arms from 3 of the 30-foot piles.

Our party had difficulty navigating the room because there were so many of us: besides me, Jane and Gydion with their animal companions, Draken and Turin, Ingrahild and her puma, and guarding the rear Wynnea and Balto. With such massive piles of vegetation and brambles, we could hardly all fit. We soon found our movement hampered by the tight space, as well as the attacks by the brambles. We all attacked the brambles as best we could.

I broke free of our party, maybe not the best decision, and ran through the piles heading for the largest one at the end of the room. I was hit and took massive damage, but luckily made it to the large pile and climbed up it onto the chest. I shot arrows down from that vantage point, while our team fought through to the end of the room, killing whatever entities animated the evil brambles in four of the piles. They did this, despite being weakened by the foul, palpable aura of rat and decay coming from all the piles.

It had been a vicious fight, and we threw at these malicious vines everything we had – hammer blows, flaming spheres, fireballs, arrows. Our party fought forward, but Wynnea and Balto stayed back. We were all so busy getting through tight spaces and battling vines that some of us didn’t notice Wynnea’s lack of participation in the fight. Only Turin, who had been suspicious of Wynnea from the first encounter kept an eye on her.

After eliminating the threat from the bramble piles, we found ourselves suddenly in another vicious fight, this one from behind. Wynnea and Balto suddenly both turned onto Green Hags, claimed whatever we might find here, and attacked. Everyone turned around to meet this new threat. Jane, the closest, was grappled by Not-Wynnea. All others attacked as best they could in this deadly fight in close quarters. I stayed on the chest, atop the largest mound and shot arrows at Not-Wynnea from across the room. Jane struggled hard to break the grapple. Gydion hit the hags with a flaming sphere. In the middle of the fight, the Not-Balto hag disappeared but was heard going through the door and running away. Ingrahild and her puma quickly ran after her, enraged at the hag and bent on revenge. Meanwhile, Not-Wynnea still grappled Jane, but Gydion hit the hag square with a flaming sphere. Although the fight continued, it was only a matter of time for the hag. Draken finally killed her with his Warhammer.

Turin had come over to the large mound where I was and opened the locked chest. We saw a ladder descending into a small chamber. There was too little space for everyone, so Turin and I went down and found a collection of weapons left there by the Council of Thorns many years ago.


In the treasure trove below the treasure chest:
+1 magic ironwood breastplate
+1 magic keen greatsword
+2 Orc Bane scimitar
10 +1 Orc Bane arrows
1 Orc Slaying arrow
1 scroll of Barkskin
1 scroll of Call Lightning
1 scroll of Summon Nature’s Ally IV
Wand of Flaming Sphere (w/9 charges)
Wand of Greater Magic Fang (w/12 charges)
Ironwood crown with a stylized thorn motif (worth 250 gp)
Ceremonial gem-encrusted cudgel (worth 150 gp)
3 pp
1,178 gp
605 sp

On Not-Wynnea:

5 Goodberries
Lesser Empower Metamagic Rod
1 scroll of Call Lightning
+1 magic Leather Armor
+1 magic Ring of Protection
holly and mistletoe
1 pair of faded leather baby shoes
1 wooden toy rattle
1 gp

Experience: 34,250 xp

Episodes 14 & 15: In Search Of... The Late, Great Council of Thorns

The Crocodile Queen failed to put in an appearance, so the party left her putrid lair to continue their eastward journey on the River Esk. A night passed, followed by a day and another night. The next day, at around noon, the landscape changed from forest to marsh; endless mire extending both north and south as far as the eye could see. After another two days, a swamp forest rose up, its willows, tupelos and stilted mangrove-like trees coming into view here-and-there, punctuating the marsh with their crowns.

At about noon on the second day, the swamp forest retreated into the distance, giving way to a marshy opening filled with hummocks of rushes and sedges. The hummocks were separated by pools of pitch-black water. It was in one of these pools that the party came across the stone that Silvermane had told them about: a flat rock etched with what appeared to be a Crown of Thorns. The adventurers headed north, led by Gydion, who was familiar with navigating wetlands. Although the druids’ movements weren’t hindered (thanks to their Woodland Stride ability), the other characters’ were, as Gydion patiently showed them all where they could safely step [of course, the two elf ladies, a druid and a ranger—respectively—didn’t need as much help as the others].

Turin smiled at the beautiful mid-summer day that was unfolding, despite the buzzing insects which were becoming increasingly loud and annoying with their stings. As they traversed the hummocks and approached the edge of the swamp forest, the druids and ranger stopped often to admire the beautiful marsh plants: blue irises, emerald cattails and pink swamp candles were the dominant species. It was a paradise for birds—Bracken and Blaez periodically needed “reeling in” by their masters because they wandered too far afield, exploring and feeding. A few times, the druids and ranger argued about plant identification, further slowing their progress (but in a good way). Taking in the sheer, untouched, natural beauty of the place, it was obvious why the Council of Thorns had given their lives to protect this land.

About 1000 feet further north, the land got drier, with the hummocks replaced with a 7-foot-high field between the borders of the swamp forest on their left and right. The druids identified the plants in the field as giant stinging nettles, so Gydion re-routed the group into the surrounding forest. The swamp forest was dark and wet, and progress was slow-going—when, all of a sudden, Silaqui was grabbed by a leafy tendril! She was able to struggle out of the snare as Draken hammered at the beast it was attached to: a huge Shambling Mound. Draken was the next to be grappled by the monstrous vegetable. Silaqui fired an arrow of elemental ice into its crown, Turin cast a Force Missile at its roots, and Kingsley and Toboe bit chunks out of its flesh. Finally, Gydion landed the killing blow with his oak staff, and the dwarf was freed.

Moving north, the intrepid explorers exited the swamp and found themselves in a savanna filled with four-foot-high reeds with intermittent willows and swamp-oaks here-and-there. Avoiding the pools of black water again made progress slow, as did avoiding the poison sumac trees (which Gydion successfully identified). It was about 2:30PM when the group noticed a duck flying towards them. It appeared to have a small scroll tied to one of its feet. It landed in front of Gydion and looked up at him. Silaqui cast Speak With Animals, and the bird informed her that he was there to deliver a message to Gydion. Taking the scroll from the duck, Gydion found a personal note from his two Druid guardians, Duskthorn and Kyrian, informing him that the will-o-wisps in the Marsh were actually reincarnated Druids from the Council of Thorns; in addition, the note said, Gydion and his friends couldn’t hope to defeat all of them—they needed to use Persuasion and Diplomacy if they were going to survive their encounters with these beings. The scroll also included a special orison [referred to here as Insect Repellent ], which deters all biting insects in a 10-foot radius. Much to the relief of his comrades, he read it immediately. Silaqui spoke a bit more with the duck while Gydion scribbled a quick ‘thank-you’ reply to his Guardians. They attached the note to its leg before releasing it into the air.

A little further north, they encountered a meandering, slow-moving stream wending its way through the savanna. They found a log rolled over one branch of the stream, and upon further inspection, found a crude animal trail. It headed north, so they decided to follow it. As they walked, some large (one-foot-long), bright pink dragonflies got their attention. Delighted, they approached another log-crossing when most of them noticed a swamp oak with a face leering at them, about 20 feet away, at the stream’s edge! Silaqui fired at it and scored a critical hit, putting out one of its eyes and causing the plant-creature to shudder and splash around at the stream’s edge. Toboe ran up to attack it and found himself the target of an oak-root which tore up out of the wet ground—luckily, it missed the wolf. Turin stepped off the trail (narrowly avoiding falling into a black pool) and fired a scorching ray at the creature, but it just shrugged it off. After a few rounds of combat, Kingsley finally landed the killing blow, biting its trunk. (Kingsley’s bite was, apparently, worse than its bark!). Draken approached the lifeless husk and attempted to hack the face off of it. In so doing, he discovered a gem-encrusted belt worth 50 gp; a wand of Hold Person with 6 charges, and 2 potions of Cure Moderate Wounds.

Following the route once more, the party found itself near a lakeshore, which the stream seemed to empty into. The lakeshore was surrounded by a quaking mat of Sphagnum moss, with low sedges, irises, ferns, and some more half-dead swamp oak trees. After almost an hour, Jane saw that, up ahead, the path ended at a rustic campsite, with a tent and firepit. At the edge of the pit, staring into the fire and muttering to herself, sat a bedraggled-looking female dwarf. After some discussion, the group decided to approach her cautiously Draken went first, since he was a dwarf, and hailed her in dwarvish. The she-dwarf turned towards him, wide-eyed. “Umlo! My brother! You have returned to me!” Then, looking past him, she cried, “Look out, Umlo! Orcs! Green-skinned devils are right behind you!” With that, she jumped to her feet and rushed them, drawing two axes as she ran. Turin pulled out his newly acquired wand and pointed, freezing her in place as the Hold Person spell took effect. While the rest of the party tied the insane dwarf up, Silaqui went into the tent and found a backpack and bedroll. She then walked around the tent and saw, to her surprise, a puma hiding in the undergrowth. She cast Speak With Animals and learned that the puma was the dwarf’s animal companion, named “Cat” [the dwarf was a ranger, like Silaqui], and that they had been exploring Ghostlight Marsh along with the dwarf’s brother and two hired mercenaries when they’d been attacked by a coven of green hags, and their bodyguard! When Silaqui asked what happened next, the puma’s memory was unclear, but he recalled that the coven had “done something” to his mistress and her brother—and the two siblings parted ways at that point. He said he was worried about his mistress and had been watching over her since that time (about two weeks ago).

Silaqui relayed all of this to her comrades. They decided to take the dwarf and Cat with them to find the Vault of Thorns—Cat told Silaqui that he could take them back to the spot where they’d been attacked. Before they left the campsite, Turin used Detect Magic and discovered that one of the she-dwarf’s axes radiated magic, and in addition, she had two potions on her person. Upon further inspection, they learned that the axe was +1, and that the two potions were Cure Moderate Wounds and Remove Curse. Intrigued by the puma’s story, the party decided to force-feed the potion to the dwarf (who was cursing and sputtering at them as they did so). Upon ingestion—suddenly, in mid-sputter—the dwarf grew still and calm. “Where am I?” she asked. As they walked, she told them her name was Ingrahild Nargrymkin, and that she and her brother had been trying to locate the ancient tomb of a long-lost ancestor of theirs—a famous giant-slayer named Nargrym Steelhand. She said that they had reached a stone circle deep within the marsh, but before they could explore further, they were ambushed by a coven of green hags and their bodyguard. She didn’t know what happened after that, or what had become of her brother. “We have to find him! Poor Umlo!” She cried. “You remind me so much of him”, she said to Draken, through her tears.

After about an hour of walking through another large patch of swamp forest, two glowing lights appeared and attacked Gydion and Silaqui with an electric shock. The lights then disappeared, and all went quiet again. Gydion, realizing that these must be the will-o-wisp remnants of the late, great Council of Thorns, spoke. He told them that they were on a mission from Silvermane, and that they needed to find the Vault of Thorns, so that they could acquire some weapons for defeating the Twisted Hearts orc tribe. Jane chimed in, repeating what Gydion had said, and adding that she was Silvermane’s granddaughter. She produced the Ghostlight Lantern that he had given her from within her backpack. At that point, the two bright lights—one green, the other white—appeared again. Within the green one, a bearded visage was evident; within the white one, the face of an elderly woman. Introducing themselves as Mossmoon and Starshine, the will-o-wisps spoke with Jane and Gydion about the party’s mission. After Gydion expressed dismay about needing a will-o-wisp husk, the lights reassured them that nobody needed to die in order for them to procure a husk. Mossmoon told them they could lead them to a place where they could energize the Lantern with an already-dead will-o-wisp husk.

The group followed the will-o-wisps to an eerily quiet clearing: an ancient black spruce bog. The moss around their feet was slightly quaking, but mostly stable, as they strolled past beautiful terrestrial orchids, together with all manner of insectivorous plants: sundews, Venus flytraps and pitcher-plants. Black spruce dotted the clearing. The lights told Gydion and Jane to produce the Lantern and follow them into another, smaller clearing off to the side, whlie the others waited. Following their instructions, Mossmoon showed them a pile of small, sponge-like spheres on the ground. “This the burial ground of the will-o-wisps that were the Council of Thorns… those that have died, find rest, here.” Gydion looked at Mossmoon and waited. “Take one of these and place it into the Lantern while Jane holds it,” he said to him. Ceremoniously, the two Druids did as instructed, and upon doing so, the Lantern came to life with a bluish-white light. The beam it emitted shone north, further into the swamp forest. “Follow the beam; the Lantern will show you the way,” Starshine told them. Jane and Gydion thanked them, and then, the will-o-wisps disappeared.

After another hour or so, following the Lantern ’s light, the party found itself in another Sphagnum bog, with no spruce trees; only a few orchids, carnivorous plants, and ferns. In the middle stood a circle of monolithic standing stones surrounding a central menhir covered in a layer of thick, thorny vegetation. In all, eight formations surrounded the central stone: five were intact, while three were crumbled (and partially sunk into the soggy soil). Like the will-o-wisp graveyard, this clearing was eerily quiet; but in addition, a mystic energy filled the air. A certain electricity tingled in the atmosphere as the Lantern ’s glow became immediately more diffuse and soft.

Then, out of nowhere—crashing through the trees to the northwest—a huge marsh giant entered the bog, brandishing a hooked spear! With a mighty ROAR it attacked, rearing up to its full height, as the party struggled to mount a defense. Upon seeing the giant, Ingrahild screamed: “It’s the hags’ bodyguard!!”

Seeing clouds up above, the two Druids invoked Call Lightning, doing serious damage to the beast. The dwarves, meanwhile attacked it from both sides with axe and hammer. Turin cast Shocking Grasp on Blaez and sent him to deliver it; unfortunately, the giant launched an Attack of Opportunity with his , sending the tiny bird plummeting to the bog mat!

After a few rounds of combat, the giant was laid low by one of Jane’s lightning boltsThe party, for their part, suffered some damage, especially the dwarves and Toboe. Jane Stabilized Blaez, after which Turin healed him with a magic potion. Gingerly lifting the little creature into his hands, he cast a Fly spell and rose 60 feet into the air. There, in mid-air, he broke the sacred familar-bond between him and his hummingbird; and then, he released the creature into the air. It flew off into the swamp forest, looking back one last time before disappearing into the canopy. It was a difficult decision for the wizard, but in the end, he felt he had done the right thing in letting this poor, innocent creature go. Stifling his sobs, he flew north and got a good look around. A few hundred feet away, he saw the swamp forest finally end at the shore of an immense, bubbling hot spring, thousands of miles across. On its other side was another swamp forest. There was no civilization as far as he could see. Aloft in the air alone, the elf took solace in the untarnished natural beauty before him.

Meanwhile, in the clearing below, jane and Gydion read and re-read Silvermane’s instructions. As he spelled out in the note that he’d given Jane together with the Lantern, the Druids shone its light upon the central menhir. At that moment, the vegetation dropped away from the stone, and it started to hum and glow with a dull amber light. Detect Magic revealed that the stone was alive with a strong conjuration magic. The party gathered around and attempted to look for runes, or other writing, upon the central stone—but they found none.

After a minute or so, Jane—seeing no other option—touched the stone.
Then, to the amazement of everyone… the white-haired elf disappeared!

The others looked at each other, not believing their eyes. They started to discuss what they should do, when all of a sudden, Toboe—who had lost his psychic connection with Jane—touched a paw to the stone. The wolf, too, disappeared.

The group called Turin back, then, they all held hands as Gydion touched the central menhir. All of them felt a mild tingling sensation as a yellow glow, like golden sunlight, shrouded their vision. A few seconds later, they found themselves in a medium-sized wooden chamber, standing around a similar-looking menhir that shone with a pale amber glow. The stone was in a corner of the chamber, and in the opposite corner was a wooden doorway set in the middle of an elaborately-carved wooden flower. In between themselves and the floral door, Jane and Toboe were engaged in combat with three bizarre-looking, animated, roughly humanoid bundles of twigs!

“Fiddle-dee-dee, can’t catch me!” yelled one as Toboe snapped at it with his powerful jaws. Jane fired arrows at another as it fired a volley of thorn-like projectiles at her. The other party members quickly drew their weapons and closed in to assist her. Turin fired a Scorching Ray at one, setting it on fire, while Draken smashed another with Agrimmosh. “We come in peace! Please stop your attacks,” shouted Gydion—but to no avail—the wooden creatures continued their assault.

Another batch of thorns hit Turin as he flew around the room. One of the creatures seemed to teleport away from Jane and over to Silaqui, attacking her with a wooden spear as it taunted her with faerie rhymes: “Can’t catch me! Dumble-dee-dee!”. Turin cast Mage Armor on both Gydion and Draken as Silaqui fired an arrow into the creature that had teleported to her, killing it. Gydion delivered the killing blow to the one that had caught fire, and Jane finished off the third and last one.

The group cautiously approached the door. Above, a sign (in Druidic) read: “For those who love peace in nature, welcome. For those that don’t, beware of the wrath of the Vault of Thorns.” Jane read it aloud for her non-Druid colleagues, and they pondered the meaning for a second. Then, they decided to go through the doorway.

The petaloid doors gave way easily, and the group entered what seemed to be a giant greenhouse. They found themselves on a 15-foot-wide bridge that spanned the plant-filled room, 80 feet above the floor below and 80 feet below what seemed to be a glassy “ceiling” above. All around them, lush trees grew, their branches teeming with birds and other wildlife. The light above made the air steamy and warm. Across the bridge, about 80 feet away, was another set of doors.

As the group walked across the bridge, they quickly realized they weren’t alone: Turin and his sister Silaqui were both cut by unseen attackers. From the buzzing they heard, they guessed that these were invisible fey borne on gossamer insect-like wings. What could they be? Gydion attempted to talk to their unseen assailants, telling them that they were Druids sent by Silvermane, and they meant no harm. However, no sooner id he get these words out that they were assaulted again! Whatever was divebombing them was clearly skillful with “flyby” attacks, and were able to maintain their invisibility even after attacking… Formidable fey indeed!

Breaking free from the crowd, Silaqui ran towards the other side of the bridge, and was once again hit by an unseen attacker. While the others behind her where attempting to pinpoint the whereabouts of the invisible creature that had attacked Turin, Silaqui narrowly avoided getting hit by her unseen attacker. She felt the buzz of its wings as it flew by. The next round, she made another mad dash, and pushed open the second set of doors, revealing an ornately-carved, wooden chamber.

A statuesque, middle-aged elven woman stood up out of her throne-like chair at the other end of the chamber, staring at Silaqui. “Who are you?” she demanded. Silaqui gave her name, and then explained their mission. “Silvermane’s granddaughter, Jane, is with us,” she added. Suddenly, she was attacked by her unseen attacker once more, and the middle-aged elf ran to her aid. “I am the Guardian of the Vault of Thorns,” she said, “And these evil fey that have invaded this sanctuary are not to be trifled with!” With that, she enveloped them with Obscuring Mist.

Outside, on the bridge, Toboe managed to use his scent ability to snag the other invisible fey creature in his jaws. Gydion came to his aid and securely grappled the gossamer-winged being. Jane approached them and asked it why it was attacking—aren’t we all friends here? It responded by saying “This is our realm now!” Jane, wishing to see the creature, cut herself with her knife and smeared her blood on its head, revealing a baby-faced fey creature with bulging, angry eyes. It stared at her venomously as she said “Aren’t you supposed to be allied with the druids here?”

The thing replied, “The druids have all gone! So this is our place now! Get out!” Jane exchanged a nod with Gydion and the others before plunging her knife into its neck: “Guess what?! The Druids are back in town!!” She then dipped her fingers into its neck and spread its blue blood on her cheeks—like warpaint—as the creature bled out. They left the creature to Turin, who began chiseling its wings off, to use as the material component to a wizard spell he was planning.

The group reached the other side of the bridge and entered the wooden Council Chamber, only to see a cloud of mist. Silaqui heard her colleagues and explained what was going on. After a few seconds, the self-proclaimed Guardian of the Vault remarked that she didn’t hear any more buzzing, so the coast was probably clear. She dropped the Mist and addressed the rest of the party. “Welcome! I am Wynnea, Guardian of the Vault of Thorns! Which of you is Silvermane’s granddaughter?” Jane approached and introduced herself.

“My dear child,” the Guardian said, taking her hand, “I am Silvermane’s wife. I’m your grandmother… My prayers have been answered!!” Jane recalled stories of her grandmother, Wynnea, but knew that she had died, long ago. “That’s true, my dear,” confirmed Wynnea, “But the spirits of the Vault have resurrected me.” She went on to explain how the Vault’s spirits must have known that Jane was on her way, and that the Fates had indeed given them a lucky turn. Jane explained about the loss of her parents while Wynnea listened wistfully.

“And who is this delightful canine companion of yours?” Jane introduced Toboe, and Wynnea replied, “Well, wolf companions must run in our family… I have one as well!… Balto!” And in ran another wolf, from an adjoining room, and licked Toboe’s face. “Oh what a happy occasion!” Wynnea beamed, “And your appearance couldn’t have come at a better time.” Gydion asked what she meant, and Wynnea explained that she needed Jane’s, and the others’, help in clearing the Vault of Unseeley Fey invaders. “Since the Council left this place, many years ago, the Vault has become slowly occupied by evil faerie,” she told them. “You must help me rid the Vault of these interlopers, and the treasure of weapons will be yours,” she told them. “Oh the possibilities,” she added, eyes wide open. “Maybe we can even reconstitute the Council of Thorns itself!”

“First, however, about this weapon stash,” asked Jane, “Where is it?” Wynnea looked at her sadly and told her that because she had been resurrected just a week ago, she hadn’t had time to fully explore the place. She also told them that the resurrection had left her memories cloudy at best, and further, the Druidic architecture of the Vault was constantly changing, ever-so-slightly. “Even if I had a map, it wouldn’t do us much good in the long run,” she said, “it’s all so malleable.”

“What’s behind these doors?” asked Jane, pushing through another set of doors to the north. They opened into a hallway, which led to a short flight of stairs, heading down. The party entered, together with Wynnea and Balto. The stairs ended upon a platform that looked across a room filled with floating lily pads! On the other side of the room was another platform, leading down a staircase to a dimly-lit closed door. The floor below the platform could not be seen, but pungent wafts of soil (smells similar to mulch) came up from below.

Turin pulled out a scroll and cast Fly on Draken, and the two of them began testing the weight capacity of the floating pads. It appeared they could hold about 200 lbs before beginning to sink downwards. As they tested the pads, Jane spotted a memorial plaque (in Druidic) on the wall for her grandmother Wynnea, and asked her grandmother about it. “Yes this is where Balto and I were buried—or, should I say, composted,” the old elf smiled, “Very sustainable. Very green. Very Druidic, wouldn’t you agree, dear?”

All of a sudden, Turin noticed a bright blue, man-sized dragonfly speeding towards him and Turin from the dark depths below them. The dragonfly somehow cast Entangle, and the wizard and fighter narrowly escaped being curled up inside the lily pads floating around them. Turin cast a Fireball at it, seriously damaging it, and Draken flew down and whacked it with his magic hammer. Silaqui then fired an elemental arrow of fire from her magic bow, doing 19 points of damage to it. After a few rounds of combat, Wynnea finally zapped the giant insect with an arc of lightning-like energy, killing it and causing it to drop to the bottom of the room, far below, with a crash. “Talk about a bug-zapper!” the old elf cackled.

With the threat from below dealt with, the group focused on breaching the chasm. The Druids all turned into hawks and flew across. Silaqui, and Ingrahild bounded across the floating pads acrobatically; Kingsley did the same, but with Draken holding a rope tied around the lion’s waist (for security). Finally, Draken ferried Toboe and Cat across the room.

On the other side, a hallway led down two flights of stairs to a hollow tree. The hollow tree was a spiral staircase (created, the Druids guessed, with Wood Shape and/or Warp Wood spells) that led down into the greenhouse they’d seen from above. They found themselves looking up at the bridge they were once on, but the air was cooler now; a 3-foot deep mist covered the forest floor. The Druids, and the ranger Silaqui, were delighted with the diversity on display before them: bamboo from Tian Xia; teak trees from distant Vudra; vines from the Mwangi Expanse; and even stranger, unrecognizable vegetation. A constant symphony of birdsong and other animal noises filled the air, and a howler monkey approached them playfully. A rabbit, too, came up to them and sniffed Jane’s boots, unafraid, as birds landed on their shoulders. Water dripped down from the bridge high above, falling like tiny rainshowers upon them. The air was full of a thousand smells, both pleasant and pungent, as they made their way across the large, round, green expanse.

A Message from Home
Gydion Reflects

It’s a rare quiet moment, although I fear it won’t be for long. We are making preparations to break the she-dwarf ranger’s camp and to proceed to find the Vault of Thorns. No one is looking, so I take out the scroll brought to me by the brave little duck, and unroll the page. My eyes trace the words written by my guardians over again, and then again, treasuring each word written in that oh so familiar script. It feels to me like the grandest of gifts, as if it was water and I was a parched desert wanderer. Although this scroll means freedom from the biting pests of the Ghostlight Marsh to my companions, it means so much more to me. It is a welcome reminder of the love and care that the men I call my fathers have showered me with all of my life, and continue to even now. It is a welcome reminder of home.

Duskthorn, the more serious of my two guardians, is tall and dark haired with startling indigo eyes that always suggest they take in far more than you, and know secrets to spare. He always had a quiet manner, but at night around the fire’s light he would spin some of the most fantastic tales to delight a young mind and inflame a growing imagination. He loves books and the written word – no surprise, then, that the scroll’s script is his – and he shared that love with me. Sometimes I’d catch a small, bemused smile peeking out from behind his great bushy beard, but it was often gone in a quicksilver flash. He could be stern if I wasn’t taking my studies too seriously, but that sternness was always tempered with compassion and kindness.

Kyrian is the shorter, stockier of the two, and the exact opposite of Duskthorn’s more reserved nature. He had an unruly mane of red curls and such spirited green eyes, as well as a great, burly mustache that made a frame for a mouth that was seldom closed. If he wasn’t laughing or telling jokes or expounding on the plants and animals we would see in the forest, he would be whistling or humming or singing a jaunty tune. Loud and boisterous, he was quicker with affection, too, imparting hugs as easily as he imparted knowledge. But please don’t mistake what I mean – I was loved and cared for by both of my guardians in no small measure, Kyrian and Duskthorn alike.

For the first several years of my life, a makeshift cabin in the middle of what I only knew as the Great Forest was our home. It was warm in the winter months, and cool in the summer months, and cozy as cozy could be. I’d share my simple sleeping loft with all manner of forest creatures that would come to stay with us, from rabbits and raccoons to squirrels to possums, and even for a short while a young bear whose mother had been slain by hunters.

In the shadow of our cabin, deer and elk would come for a visit, and there were fox and wolves and bear too, coming together in some unspoken accord of peace and harmony. I had animal friends in all corners of the woods, and I ran as wild and free as a critter myself, all under the watchful eyes of my fathers. I remember that we would play, I as a brave knight brandishing a flashing steel sword (in reality, a stick liberated from the forest floor), and they as my faithful companions or sometimes as dread adversaries that fell beneath my furious onslaught. We would bring peace to our make believe kingdom, and they would always be sure to compliment me on my dread skill in battle.

Certainly the woods had their real dangers, too – mischievous fey, magical creatures that were less than friendly, and even the occasional wicked-minded adventurer or magic wielder. Duskthorn and Kyrian were time and again more than capable of keeping us all safe from any harm that dared threaten us.

Even when we moved into the towns and cities, and I became aware that the world was much, much larger than I realized in the sanctuary of our sylvan home, they were there to guide me through, and protect me from, the pitfalls of civilization. Civilization … bah! Humankind time and time again proved itself to be far more dangerous, far more treacherous than any mere animal could be (a lesson never lost on me). Nature, my fathers taught me, was so fierce and unpredictable precisely to keep mankind humble and in awe as much as possible.

Is it odd that for some time I didn’t know that I wasn’t theirs by blood? Perhaps not, for what child has awareness of such things? We were a family, and that was the only fact I needed to keep hold of. What cause would I have to think anything other than that I was theirs? They never treated me as if I wasn’t their own, and fed me, clothed me, taught me, sheltered me, and treated me as any good father would his child. The truth of my parentage and the nature of my entrance into the world was a secret that was kept from me until I was old enough to realize the biological improbability of having two men as my parents, even in as magical a world as ours.

Even when I did learn of my origins, it didn’t matter one whit to me; our family was as strong as any created by bonds of blood. I had no need or want for biological parents, not when I had them. I certainly did not want to meet any man, king or not, who would doom a baby to its presumed death to save his own life. What stories would a man like that tell, or what kinds of songs could he sing? What lessons could he impart on me than Duskthorn could, and a thousand times better at that?

Nor did I want a mother who would so willingly give up a child for the same cause. (I didn’t understand, at least not back then, that some choices were never a choice at all.) But at the time I thought, would a mother cook for me, or attend my illnesses or kiss away my petty injuries? Would she sing me lullabies and soothe away my nightmares any better than Kyrian did?

I do remember telling them one day, after learning of my history, that I was sorry for being a burden the Spirits of the Wild placed on them. They told me I was mistaken, that I was no burden, but rather a gift from the gods to make their family complete.

When I was inducted into the Druidic order – I can say no more, for this rite of passage is sacred and not to be discussed with the uninitiated – I knew only that I was to become a servant of Nature – a friend of animals, a protector of the wild. Duskthorn and Kyrian were charged with readying me for this destiny, and at the appropriate age we traded my play swords for magical knowledge and my quarterstaff. Our pretend battles against imagined enemies were replaced with sparring and discussion of strategy and tactics. Romps through the forest became training in running, swimming, climbing and basic survival. They taught me to use a sling and bullets, and I practiced my aim. In effect, I became a warrior. Nay, I became a man. I believe in my heart of hearts that my fathers did their jobs well. I only hope the Spirits of the Wild that gave them their charge will agree.

I do not speak much of my life or my past with my fellow adventurers, not even with Janekfan who I feel the most kinship with as a fellow Druid. I prefer to focus on the present and the tasks at hand as they are as numerous as they are difficult. But there are times when sweet remembrances of the past invade my thoughts, and there will always be a part of me that longs to go back to those simpler days when I was a small boy playing with my fathers in the woods. At least then, the threats were fanciful and imagined, and vanquished all too easily with the wave of a stick sword. Back then, the weight of a world did not rest so heavily on my shoulders.

Episode 14: Into the Lair of the Crocodile Queen

Brief synopsis:

The party went down into the tunnel that was filled with fresh(er) air. Silaqui and Draken went in first. Draken, held by a rope secured by Janekfan and Asa, went into the water a bit. A great toothy beast rose out of the water and squirted acid on Silaqui and Draken.

The party retreated and then Silaqui blocked the passage with a smokestick. After the smoke cleared, Silaqui then drank her potion of Spider Climb and went into the cavern again. She shot an arrow and critted on the pond guardian, who in turn hit her with acid. Then Jane and Draken went in. After a few rounds, the guardian was defeated.

The party then followed a series of tunnels, with Silaqui spider-climbing in the lead (as a scout). They found a vertical shaft where they needed to leave their animal companions behind.

Another passage, and they found themselves in a big chamber filled with river jade, some potion bottles—all surrounded by a ring of bones. The group approached cautiously (Silaqui on the ceiling) and when they reached the bones, the bones formed into skeletal (undead) alligators! Two other creatures materialized—flood trolls—had they drunk potions of gaseous form?

Battle commenced.

Gydion held his own against two undead gators, while Draken cleaved through two—critting one and killing both.

Asa opened all the stops, downing a potion of Eagles Splendor, activating his armor of Righteous Might, and using his Smite Evil on one of the trolls. Despite his efforts, however, in the end, Silaqui killed dealt it the killing blow

Asa then turned around, killed one gator, then cou’de’graced the troll (which had regenerated!), slicing it over and over again.

Jane (buffed by a Barkskin spell) was flanked by two gators and brought down low. But, she recovered enough to kill the second troll. We hacked the remains of the troll up to prevent it regenerating.

The party filled their pockets and packs with 2000 gp worth of jade… and contemplated what to do next.

Episode 13: All Aboard the Chanticleer!

Gydion handed their official Letter of Introduction to Captain Raag Bloodtusk, commander of the Chanticleer, the keelboat which would bring them to Redlake Fort by way of Ghostlight Marsh. The sturdy half-orc looked it over and smiled. “Any friend of Halgra of the Blackened Blades is a friend of mine” he said, and shook Gydion’s hand. Introductions were made, and the Giantslayers were led aboard.

Most of the party had never been on a boat before. Even to their untrained eyes, however, the keelboat appeared top-heavy and ungainly, with its wide forecastle, cobbled-together-tower-structure at the bow, and high aftcastle at the stern. During their brief tour of the 120-foot-long, 30-foot-wide vessel, they made the acquaintance of eight crew members. All eight were male, and all were half-orcs, save one: Coxswain Halrex. The scowling orc looked the party up-and-down and said, “I hope you’re good at rowing!” Captain Bloodtusk looked sad as he explained that they’d recently lost four crew to the Crocodile Queen, a reptilian behemoth who haunts the Kestrel River with her crocodilian minions. Because of the recent losses they’d suffered, everyone needed to spend part of each day below-deck, rowing the boat; in addition, each of them needed to pitch in with the ship’s chores. “Furthermore”, he added, “you must help defend the ship as necessary. These aren’t the most civilized waters!” As he turned away towards the foremast, Janekfan secretly cast Detect Magic, which revealed that the Captain’s left tusk radiated strong magic.

The party were shown their quarters: a room full of hammocks in two tiers, a lower and an upper one. “Draken, you take a bottom bunk. I’ll take a top, since I’m the alpha male!” said Asa, poking the dwarf in the ribs. “No, you can take bottom, halfling!” growled Draken. “Just because you got that big hammer doesn’t mean you get to be on top…Let’s wrestle for it!” smiled Asa, and the two began grappling. Draken’s CMB overcame Asa’s CMD, however, and the dwarf prevailed. “There’s always tomorrow night,” Asa smiled, out of breath.

After the party chose their hammocks and stowed their belongings, the ship’s cook, Gashnakh, assigned chores. Jane and Silaqui were given sounding and lookout, respectively—tasks which would make good use of their keen elf-eyes. Gydion chose fishing, a job which relied on his strong Survival skill to haul in the catch of the day in four nets. Turin, who was adept at cooking and brewing, offered to assist Gashnakh prepare the crew’s meals in the kitchen. Draken was given the task of helping take care of the ship’s eight horses, which were kept in order to be put ashore, to pull the boat upstream, when necessary. Since there were no chores left, Asa elected to do a double shift of rowing below deck, where Halrex paced back and forth, pounding her drum (to set the pace for the rowers) and hurling insults at slackers.

Everybody performed well in their assigned chores except Draken, who couldn’t manage to shoe the horses properly. Word quickly spread, and Bloodtusk’s crew targeted the dwarf with contempt. “I’m a dwarf, what do I know about horses!?” muttered Draken under his breath, scowling.

At the end of the day, just before sunset, Silaqui released Bracken to scout ahead. Ten minutes later, the bird came back with bad news: “Danger! Giant!” it squawked. The ranger raised the alarm: something was coming this way! The captain docked the boat at the river’s edge while the crew and passengers braced themselves, scanning the water ahead. They soon spotted a massive fin cutting through the water upstream. “Ahoy! Minidik, the mighty megadon, approaches!!” shouted Captain Bloodtusk. Three crew members manning the ship’s weapons fired upon the giant shark as it came into full view, its toothy maw gaping.

Silaqui fired the first shot, chilling an arrow using her magical Bow of the Elements. The Druids acted in tandem, Gydion casting Chill Metal on six arrows and giving them to Jane to fire at the monster. The shorter warrior-types in the party, Draken and Asa, had to make do with firing missile weapons at the behemoth, doing scant damage. Kingsley and Toboe were unable to attack; they watched nervously from the deck.

BAM! The river monster hit the boat with a mighty thud. It seemed intent on breeching the hull. As it doubled back for another strike, round upon round of missiles were fired into its thick hide. Seconds passed and as they did, Jane’s arrows—imbedded in the megadon’s flesh—caused extra damage because of their painful, chilly enchantment—or so the Druids thought…

In truth, the giant shark seemed to be growing larger. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Was Gydion’s Chill Metal actually making the beast stronger? They didn’t have much time to ponder that idea, however, because the combination of Silaqui’s elemental arrows (which she had now switched to electrical energy, rather than cold energy) and the ship’s catapult soon sent the megadon reeling. Grievously wounded, it fled the scene as quickly as it had arrived, disappearing into the murkey depths of the Kestrel. The crew and passengers had supper and turned in early.

The next day, the Captain announced that they would be anchored for at least one more day while the crew fixed the keelboat’s hull. The party stayed busy with their assigned chores, but were spared rowing duty (Asa got the entire day off). Draken’s animal husbandry skills were successful; he shoed the boat’s horses skillfully. He also bested Asa one more time, wrestling for top bunk that night.

The Chanticleer set sail the next morning with a strong westerly wind. After a few hours on the river, they were hailed by some men on the northern bank. Captain Bloodtusk anchored and addressed them, asking them what was the matter. “The Crocodile Queen!” they replied. “She’s on a rampage!” Bloodtusk questioned them further but they didn’t have many details, except that she’d built a dam up downriver which served as her makeshift headquarters in this recent campaign of terror. The party discussed the matter at some length, and then decided to hunt down and eliminate the Crocodile Queen once and for all. Gydion asked the captain to head downstream, past the dam, and then dock for the night; they would alight onto shore the next morning.

The night passed uneventfully along the shore (and once again, Draken rolled successfully for top bunk!). The next morning, the Chanticleer maneuvered safely around the Crocodile Queen’s dam, and then set anchor about a quarter-mile downriver. At sunrise the next morning, the party set out in search of the Queen and her followers. Climbing on top of the dam, they noted it was made of intricately-woven logs and brush. There was a hole in the middle, revealing a near-vertical tunnel dug into the wet earth on the north shore of the river. They quietly drew close to the tunnel’s lip, and listened intently, but heard not a sound. Finally, Asa stuck his head into the tunnel and was immediately bitten by two huge serpents. As he backed away, crawling on his belly, he turned and saw that there were not two serpents—but five—attached to one reptilian body. They were, in fact, facing a five-headed hydra! He’s heard of such horrors, in storybooks, but had never dreamed he would encounter one.

The rest of the party closed in and made quick work of the hydra, being careful not to sever its heads from its body (for fear of having them regenerate two-for-one!). After the Crocodile Queen’s five-headed guardian had been dealt with, Silaqui shot a flaming arrow into the hole. They watched it burn for a minute and saw, in the shadows, no apparent danger. So, with Draken in the lead, they climbed in.

The inside of the Crocodile Queen’s lair smelled of rotting flesh; the adventurers were stifled by the stench. Exploring further, they noted three tunnels branching off the main one that they were in; all were dark and malodorous, except one. They all moved towards the entrance to that particular tunnel—there was fresh air coming from somewhere in its depths, and it beckoned them in.

Next: See you later, alligator!

Episode 12: Re-taking the Watchtower
Introducing Warped Wood Hall

After traveling a few miles north, the party encountered a wooden bridge over a creek. It was then that Silaqui sent Bracken ahead to investigate. Her avian scout returned with news: a giant was up ahead. The adventurers hid themselves and waited. After a few minutes, a giant came into view: it was two-headed, leading two enormous dogs on chains. Silaqui rose from the brush and fired an arrow at the freakish aberration. Battle had commenced!

Asa landed a critical hit on one dog while Draken hammered the other. The Druids and their animals, meanwhile, focused their attention on the giant himself. Draken landed a critical hit on the wolf he was attacking, causing 45 hit points of damage—killing it instantly. After a few more rounds of coordinated effort, the party took down the two-headed colossus, with Silaqui landing the killing blow. A search of its body turned up 1500 gp in coinage, and the following magic items: one potion of Cure Light Wounds; a manual (in Druidic) of how to use something called a Warped Wood Hall; and two scrolls full of druidic spells, including Produce Flame and Warp Wood.

A bit further on, the watchtower came into view, and Silaqui went to investigate. Creeping up quietly, the elf ranger noted that the Trunauan military base was bigger than they’d anticipated: in addition to the watchtower, there were two other buildings—including a wooden one resembling something one might find in the First World. It had a very strange, fey-touched architecture that Silaqui hadn’t seen before. Outside, within a wooden palisade, orc soldiers practiced their warcraft under the watchful eye of three ogres. Her elf-ears picked up grumbling among the orcs: they were complaining that the ogres always got to eat first, and never left them enough food. She also heard them talking about prisoners that needed feeding—and after following the orcs’ movements, she saw where they were keeping their captives. After silently watching and listening for a few minutes, Silaqui sent Bracken back to beckon her friends to join her.

The group crept up as quietly as they could and positioned themselves such that Gydion could Warp Wood through one part of the palisade, while Janekfan could Warp a hole in the opposite side. Silaqui distracted the orcs by firing flaming arrows onto the roofs of the watchtower and the wooden hall while the Druids worked their magic. Soon, everyone was inside—chaos erupted and the three ogres shouted orders at the orcs to defend the fort.

Gydion, Kingsley and Draken battled a seemingly endless stream of orcs while Jane, Toboe and Asa focued their attention on one of the ogres. Asa shouted at it, effectively intimidating it, while Toboe and Jane took down a few orcs in the ogre’s company. Many orcs and two ogres later, the Giantslayers surrounded the last of their opponents: one slobbering ogre and three weary orcs. Suddenly, the pillars outside the wooden hall transformed into wooden golems, while bolts of green mystic energy erupted out of the top-most window of the hall, injuring Asa (who was now six feet tall, having activated the Righteous Might ability in Uskroth’s armor). Jane sprang into action and fired an arrow through the window—and hit their magic-using opponent! The shutters slammed closed, just as the rest of the party took down the ogre. Next, Jane took out the last golem with a Flaming Sphere.

Their orc and ogre enemies now defeated, Gydion pulled out one of the scrolls and cast Warp Wood and entered the twisted-wood structure. He searched the first floor and found nothing, and then stared at the stairs: they were of strange construction—he’d not seen anything like it before. Focusing his prayers on the Warp Wood magic he was commanding, he found that he could move the stairs—and the rest of the structure—into any shape he desired.

He went searching for the villain up the stairs and down the hall, but found nothing but an empty room. There was a bloody rug below the shuttered window—the window through which Jane’s well-aimed arrow had hit its mark. It appeared that whomever Jane had hit had hastily ran around the room, gathering everything of value, leaving a trail of blood. Meanwhile, Jane realized that she had, in her possession, a small Druidic manual which explained how to use the " Warped Wood Hall " in front of her.

Gydion ran back down the stairs and spotted an opened back door he hadn’t seen before. He surmised it’d been flung wide open by their now-escaped, unknown, magic-using assailant. With their wizard foe nowhere to be seen, he walked back to the front of the house and helped Jane with the manual. After a little while, the two were able to reduce the enchanted Hall into a compact, portable 1×1×1 foot square.

While this was going on, Draken and the others put out the fire in the watchtower (caused by Silaqui’s flaming arrow), and then freed the prisoners in the third building. The prisoners explained that they, like the people in the tree whom they’d rescued, were Iomedeans on a pilgrimage to the sacred Sanctuary in Trunau. After healing, feeding and arming them, the party sent the prisoners onwards to Trunau while they investigated the watchtower.

From the top of the watchtower, they could see several miles in all directions. They spotted the Kestrel River to the north, and what they assumed was Captain Raag Bloodtusk’s boat anchored on shore. They also saw Turin, accompanied by several Trunauan militia men, approaching from the south. Within twenty minutes, Turin and his men arrived, among shouts of joy and hugs of camaraderie.

Seeing as it was almost nightfall, the party decided to spend the night in the relative comfort of their Warped Wood Hall, twisting the internal walls to create comfortable quarters (and beds) for all six of them. After enjoying a peaceful night’s sleep, they woke and headed north, reaching the riverboat in just under a half-hour.

Episode 11: Onwards North to the Kestrel River
Bulettes and Bears, Oh My

The party left the Trunau Council of Defender’s meeting with a mission: journey to Grendelsek’s headquarters at Redlake Fort, defeat her and her nefarious Twisted Hearts tribe, and recover the missing part of the mysterious geode map. They had a letter of introduction for Captain Bloodtusk, the half-orc who would transport them to the fort via the Kestrel and Esk Rivers. They also had a map of their route, the hammer Agrimmosh, and Uskroth’s armor to aid them. The adventurers set forth into Lower Trunau to sell the loot they had recovered from Uskroth’s tomb, and buy additional potions of healing for their trip.

Their haul from the tomb had brought in 430 gp for each party member, in addition to the 350 gp of treasure they already had in coinage. After buying their healing potions and other sundries, the group deposited the following items in their Countinghouse vault: the giant-skeleton’s enormous crown (from the Plague House); Skreed Gorewillow’s alchemist’s kit; the skald’s wardrums; and the orcish collars of Enlarge Animal (which they found would not work on Kingsley and Toboe).

That evening, the party divided up the magic items between them. Naturally, Draken was given stewardship of Agrimmosh, while Asa (who had spent the afternoon finishing the razing of the Plague House) received Uskroth’s armor. The group pooled their remaining money to commission various potions and scrolls from Turin. The wizard had already been working on a few items, and informed them he’d need just two more days to finish the rest.

On the second day after the Council meeting, Janekfan and Gydion and their animals, together with Silvermane and his wolf, communed in Hope Pond. They combined their Druidic powers to cleanse the sacred body of water of giant blood, and other foul pollutants resulting from the Battle of Bloodmarch Hill. After they finished their ritual, Silvermane went into his cave and emerged bearing a lantern and a scroll. The scroll explained that the lantern was a magical Ghostlight Lantern, created by the Council of Thorns before their demise, in order to help allies find their secret Vault of Thorns—a treasure-trove of magic weapons specifically designed to help defeat the orcs of Hold of Belkzen, hidden deep within Ghostlight Marsh. Since the Marsh was on their route to Redlake Fort, Silvermane told them he thought it prudent for them to stop and retrieve the items on their way. The (non-magical) scroll told them that two Druids and a dead will-o-wisp husk were required to power the lantern: one druid should hold the lantern, while another inserted the husk into it. Upon doing so, the lantern would emit a beam of bluish light that would show them the way to the Vault. (The lantern possessed other magical properties as well). He told them that their journey would begin at a rock etched with a circle of thorns, on the banks of the River Esk, soon after they reached Ghostlight Marsh. He kissed them both and wished them good luck in their quest.

The next morning—the third day after the Council meeting—the Giantslayers met at Trunau’s city gate to begin their journey north, to the Kestrel River, where Bloodtusk’s boat awaited. The militia gave them a trumpet-music send off while the townsfolk showered them with droneberry petals. Chief Defender Halgra of the Blackened Blades appeared, wished them good luck, and warned them they had a dangerous road ahead in order to reach the boat. She smiled, gave them an additional 1500 gp each, and wished them good luck. The party mounted their horses (Asa chose to ride Toboe instead, with Jane’s permission) and headed north into the velvety mist of the midsummer morning.

The party had only traveled about two miles when they were intercepted by Jagrin Grath and Kurst Grath, bloodied and out of breath. They warned the party that they were returning from a routine patrol of the farmlands to the north of town, when they discovered a two-headed giant had taken over their northern watchtower. The patrol attacked the tower, but the giant killed 14 of the 16 men in their troop—the Grath father and son were the sole survivors. They asked for the party to defeat the giant and reclaim the watchtower on their way to the river. Jagrin told them it was about 5 miles north (their entire journey was 18 miles), and wished them godspeed.

About a mile further on, Silaqui sensed danger and sent Bracken to investigate. The bird came back and warned them of something in the underbrush to the east of the road. Suddenly, they were attacked by a bullette, crashing noisily through the reeds and shrubs. While the rest of the party battled the rampaging creature, Kingsley caught the scent of something peculiar—a human—and raced into the shrubbery in hot pursuit. Gydion followed and, using his Woodland Stride ability, quickly caught up with his lion. They heard a male voice laughing in the distance as they came into a clearing containing a tent and a chest. At that very moment, the bullette disappeared—it had only been an illusion! Silaqui and Asa ran into the underbrush and searched the campsite while Gydion attempted to track down man he and Gydion had been chasing. Asa opened the chest, releasing a fiery, magical trap that injured himself, Silaqui and Kingsley. Gydion, meanwhile, discovered to his dismay that the laughing voice had gone silent, and the man’s tracks irrecoverable. Bewildered, bruised, and burned, the adventurers recovered a number of potions and Druidic scrolls from the chest—as well as their spooked horses—and continued north.

A few miles further up the road, they came upon a curious sight: two dire bears clawing and growling at the base of a huge oak tree. They were looking up into the crown of the tree. As the party drew nearer, they could see the objects of the bears’ attention: a half-dozen frightened humans hiding in the branches above. Their clothing was emblazoned with the holy symbol of Iomedae. Jane and Gydion put together a plan: Jane would cast Entangle on a patch of ground between the bears and themselves; and Asa would command their attention. When the bears charged them and became Entangled, Gydion and the others would pick them off with their missile weapons.

The plan worked perfectly. Jane missed spectacularly with her arrows, until the final round, when she landed the killing blow on one of the creatures [but not before it mauled Asa—who entered the Entangled area—rendering him unconscious]. The other bear freed itself enough to reach the edge of the Entangle effect—only to feel the power of the mighty Agrimmosh, for fifteen points of damage. When the second bear fell, Gydion woke Asa with a potion of Cure Light Wounds while Jane dispelled the Entangle enchantment.

The party approached the tree and called out to the humans. As they drew near, they witnessed magical bolts being shot at the humans from the other side of the tree—but try as they might, the couldn’t see who was firing them. Two of the humans were already dead on the ground, having fallen to their deaths as a result of getting shot! The party helped the four survivors to the ground, while searching the treetops for the guerilla attacker. The humans explained that they were worshippers of Iomedae, on a pilgrimage to Trunau, to visit Tyari Varvatos’s Sanctuary. Asa welcomed them, hugging them, and expressing the party’s deepest sympathies. After burying the dead in an Iomedan ceremony, they healed the pilgrims. The party then fed them a light meal, and sent them on their way south to Trunau, with Iomedae’s blessing.

Relief, Drinking, and Contemplation

Following the carnage of that fateful night, Janekfan and Toboe immediately lent aid to the burning city of Trunau. They toiled through the dead of night alongside their fellowship and into the morning rescuing creatures and quenching the blazes that painted the remaining structures as red as the spilled blood on the earth. Lives had been lost this night and it was with a heavy heart Jane set to burying those who had become friends and acquaintances, comrades in arms against a foul scourge.

Over the coming days Jane healed where she could and used what magic remained available to her to brace or rebuild falling structures. She sent Toboe to scout the surrounding land with orders, not to engage, but to inform. How many enemies still lurked in the surrounding wilderness? Were they retreating? Were they regrouping?

She and her brother, Draken, lifted what spirits they could in the tavern-regaling survivors with tales of heroics and daring, of the brave men and women of Trunau who had fought so valiantly to keep claim over what was theirs. Nights were spent in the company of friends and survivors. Though there was still so much left to do, they were all stronger for the hardship they had faced in both the attack itself and reconstruction. These were new bonds forged in the fires of shared adversity, and not easily unbroken.

Days fell into an arrangement of sorts, wake, rebuild, end the time with drinks and merriment. But it was in the quiet of the night, when all else had retired but sleep remained unreachable, with naught but the stars and small insects to accompany them, Jane and Toboe would sit outside the dwelling of her grandfather. She would think then, on a question that had plagued her since her parents’ untimely death, Toboe a still and silent sentinel: could she have done more?

When the light, a promise of new things to come, would creep above a harsh and beautiful horizon, Janekfan would make the same vow:

“Next time, I will fight harder.”

After the Fire (post-raid thoughts from Asa, Paladin of Iomedae)
A post by Asa del Ray, Paladin of Iomedae

The Battle of Bloodmarch Hill has ended, and Trunau is stronger for it. I, Asa, however, remain traumatized. The raid brought back memories of the cruel death of my partner, Amos, four years ago, at the hands of an orc-general. I saw that general’s face in every orc I vanquished during the Battle. That horrible visage haunts me every day. My training as a Paladin of Iomedae since that time has served me well, but it is so difficult to let go of the anger I have over the tragic loss of you, Amos—my great Love.

The first few days after the raid are now a blur. I remember spending hours in the Sanctuary with High Priestess Tyari Varvatos and the others, Laying on Hands, and applying Holy Mercies to cure survivors’ fatigue. I also used my new divine spellcasting ability to cast Cure Light Wounds. I must admit, I was stunned by the arrogance of some of our wounded warriors. Every time someone thanked me for healing them, I would say, “Don’t thank me, thank Our Lady of Valor, Iomedae.” But would they? No. You would think they could spare a few moments of prayerful gratitude, but none did. A few of the non-believers actually scoffed loudly—I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from saying something rude in response. Oh, Amos! how I miss you at times like this. You were always so gentle, so welcoming, so peace-making…so full of Love. A lamb among wolves. Just as Iomedae commands us to be.

Every day, as soon as my divine healing abilities were spent, I would lend a hand to help rebuild Trunau’s city walls. One week later, almost all the holes have been patched, and the city is secure once again. I for one am certainly breathing easier! It’s always amusing to see the humans’ faces when I demonstrate my strength. I may be a halfling, but I’m one of the strongest halflings in town, and I can move bricks and stone with the best of them.

Today, we burned the Plague House, as Iomedae commanded Tyari to do. After rescuing what artifacts and relics we could, we set it afire—as the High Priestess told us, we simply cannot risk the structure being used again by Trunau’s enemies. Funny thing is, as we planted explosives in the basement, two of our acolytes discovered a recently-dug, unfinished tunnel leading underneath the city—Silaqui had been right: the orcs were attempting to tunnel into the city from the old Church! Silaqui has always been a kindred spirit—so good and so noble. I must admit I enjoy them all—from the nomadic druid Gydion to the obnoxious dwarf, Draken. Indeed, they were all touched by the Light of Iomedae’s Sword, in the depths of that Plague House, as well as the Sanctuary, and that makes them kindred spirits to me.

Tonight, we burn our dead in the Flame of the Fallen. I remember when your body was cast into that eternal fire, Amos, so many years ago. What a sad day that was. But, if not for your death, I would not have become the halfling I am today. You died for justice, and in doing so, you gave me new life in Iomedae. Oh, Great Lady of Valor, let Your spirit continue to flourish and grow within me, so that I will never tire of the struggle against the darkness.

Tomorrow, I begin preparations for a river journey to the Mindspin Mountains. The Mindspins! The mountain range that Iomedae Herself commanded me to journey to, when She first healed me and took me into Her care. That which She prophesied, will now come true. I have seen so much suffering this past week in this fair city; I am glad for the opportunity to end my people’s plight, once and for all.


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