Session 32: A Foreboding Road Ahead

The men left Fort Mercaeus with the new knowledge they had received from Deras. They returned through the stairwell, hoping to avoid conflict by moving quickly. A loud call to arms drew their attention from a set of large double doors in the entry hall. Fearing the pursuit of Hedravol in their weakened state, the three ran as swiftly as they could to their horses outside the keep walls. They would begin to ride swiftly, looking back only momentarily to see the foreboding dullahan standing at the broken gatehouse.

Upon returning to Mercaeus, the Duke’s conscripts returned to The Shattered Talisman to rest and recover from their injuries. The piercing, essence draining touch of the possessed Deras would not heal with the rest given, and it became clear to Jozan that magic would be necessary to heal Zephyrpaw. The men took time to cautiously prepare for further trails at the Wildweeper Villa. Avaniel continued to scribe some possible spells into his tome, and Jozan took time thinking about the traps and various locked obstacles the men had encountered before. He thought it appropriate to devote some time reasoning ways around them if dangers such as these arose again. The battles ahead called for tact and swift action, so the druid thought perhaps he should fight less as a bear and more as a cat.

After rest and a meager attempt at restoring the high archer’s lost health, the men proceeded towards the villa. A short stop at Irelevi Wildweeper’s hut produced little help to the men. The daughter of the elven clan scoffed at the idea she should give more help to men who had proven nothing of their ability to actually stop the forces at work in the villa. Dejectedly, the three continued to the villa gates.

The road that spanned the tumbling foothills towards the southwest of Mercaeus created a procession, a fanfare, of any who would travel it. The adoring gatherers wore grim, motionless faces of hay and shrubs. Their dirty clothes hung about in their ripped and damaged state. The scarecrows dogged the entirety of the road towards the cursed hilltop, and at that forlorn apex, the tall exterior gates shot skyward. A veritable cluster of the road guardians lay at the gate, but they stopped short, presumably for want of a person brave enough to erect them so close.

The gates were of a black iron, and pointed tips marked the tops of them. Through the bars, more of the complex could be seen, and a pair of things were apparent: that more gates were about the complex and more of the false men stalked the fields of the complex. The oddity continued as the men looked upon these first few guardians of the gate. Some looked out to the hills, grasping the very boundaries of the complex. There were some who were frozen in poses of conversation with each other. Others looked as though their menacing forms were leaping upon unseen intruders.

The gates themselves were bound tightly in an enormous lock and chain for the size of the gate. The lock was as large as a forearm in size, and each link of chain was thick as three fingers. Both were crafted of a clearly different material than that of the gate, and it was not that of steel it had been wrought. The key the constable entrusted in the adventurer’s possession felt ill equipped to open such a barrier given its size, but they were optimistically skeptical as they noted a pair of openings in the lock. One was a slot to hold a key within. The other was a hole the diameter of a large coin. The crevice went into the lock. Above, two great statues of a man-falcon, symbols to Dom, hung overhead.

Jozan inspected the lock further. He turned the key within the lock and found the clasp held firm. Looking into the second opening, he spotted a spike within. The pointed piece was sturdy, clearly part of the device itself. It was known that some magical locks required blood in order to release them, and the men thought this might be the case. It was odd that such a failsafe was not mentioned by the constable, but perhaps that was his intent. It was clear that any travelers into the estate would truly have to desire entrance if bodily harm was required. The pointed gate tops seemed scalable but dangerous.

Avaniel took a moment before the commited to anything to check for poison upon the spike. he found none, and with a few more moments, the pair of companions did confirm the magic nature of the chains and lock. Such a grand barrier clearly was expensive, not the type of item easily obtainable by a small farming community. Curiousity put aside for now, Jozan pricked his finger upon the lock, and the blood slid down into the interior of the lock. With key in place, the knot that held the crossbar in place hinged apart. With the lock no longer an obstacle entrance to the commons was easily accomplished.

Session 31: For Want of Death, Heir, or Redemption

After the fighting had subsided, Jozan took some time to use his magic healing wand on himself and Saluhul. As he did so, Avaniel took his time leisurely checking the fallen for items of value. He found little success, finding some valuable looking jewelry but nothing of extraordinary value. Saluhul started to pace for the door that the red eyed corpse had used to enter the main hall. Jozan decided to look at the adjacent hall.

A loud crack and flash hit Jozan’s eyes and ears, and his chest felt aflame. A streak of magic lightning flew across the hall to meet him. Saluhul came to aid, but Jozan dismissed the archer. It had been fortunate he had taken the time to heal himself, and he did so once again with the magic of the wand. The ghostly sentry down the hall had been reduced to a salt like pile on the ground near the gunnery hole.

Jozan paced the space between two doors. He decided to peak within the northern door, but he could see little aside from a suit of rusted war gear. Avaniel continued his search in the soldier quarters, still finding little. He deduced that the Peroshi forces had most likely taken much of the valuable items held by the fort’s occupants. He struck a sunrod and continued to a door near the rear of the small room.

Jozan cautiously brought his hand up to open the door, and he was surprised and relieved to see the door open with Zephyrpaw on the other side. The room indeed had little to hide, an armory of sorts it seemed. Jozan began to relax a bit. Perhaps it was this ease that caused him to callously open the door behind him. The door opened to an inky claw which rended through the essence of the druid. He could feel his life energy fleeing from his body, but he managed to recover and resist the effect.

The creaking door flew open, giving a brief view of the interior to a study. A pair of bookshelves line the northern wall, and a bed could be seen in the far corner. It was the creature before Jozan that drew the brunt of his scrutiny however. The ghostly creature was little more than a dark shape with two flickering, red points where its eyes should be. A torrent of black matter enveloped the creature as it floated about the air with the new arrivals. The creature let out a sound of ravenous hunger as it spoke.

“Yes… these ones know. Kin to the dark behind the curtain of moonless sky. They know; they see; they have spoken with the prisoner. No.. their manner betrays them. Visitors they are. Visitors, old friends, spectators to my ascent. My magic is still weak from ejecting the previous child. Still, this form might suit me well enough.”

Before query could be made of the odd statements, the creature prepared to attack once more. Jozan immediately retaliated with his flaming axe, but he found his powerful strike hampered by the insubstantial nature of his enemy. The creature struck another blow upon the druid, and Saluhul found his weapons even less effective against the creature. Calling out for help, Jozan alerted Avaniel, who rushed into the armory to see the creature ahead. He opened fire but found his attack wanting.

The creature swiped once more at the druid and closed the portal to his domain, mocking the adventurers as he did so. The men would reopen the door to attack, only to find another strike at the ready when they did so. This went on for a few tense moments. Inbetween exchanges, Jozan and Avaniel recalled the advice of Irelevi Wildweeper. She had told them to use the substance in the packets she gave the men on their weapons should they have fought such creatures. They smeared their weapons, but with the difficult surroundings, and Saluhul unable to hurt the creature, they met little success.

Saluhul took a few blows; his essence draining from his body caused his facade to pale in color. Seeing his companion so injured, and feeling the sting of the life stealing effects as well, the three retreated to the armory. They prepared for the advance of the creature behind them, but were surprised to find nothing afoot save the creatures insidious taunts and laughter.

“Just a few more hours until the captain comes! Just a few more hours until night! Then, you can be taken where I have gone, where I was left!”

The comments continued to puzzle the men, but they took a short time to drink a pair of rejuvenating potions the men had gotten from the daughter of Wildweeper. Instilling themselves with protective magic, the men took a different approach. They began to break down the door under the creature’s onslaught. Once through, they fought a brutal battle with the fiend. With Saluhul’s help, Jozan was able to dispatch the creature with his now twice imbued weapon.

With the final blow cast upon the creature most foul, the fragmenting material of its body calmed in motion. A globe of black gathered and dissipated quickly, leaving the creature with blue, glowing eyes. It steadied itself, taken back it would seem by the current state of its surroundings. It took a defensive stance when it noted the men and their drawn weapons.

“Take thee away from my presence travelers most ill fated. I’ll not be taken back by the rogues of that realm most dire.”

The men were confused by the drastic change in mannerisms the creature portrayed. They came to learn that this had been Deras, adviser to Lieutenant Hedravol and savior of the Wildweeper children at the fall of their villa. When asked about the fort, he said that they would find themselves in another place entirely should they use their magics in the entry hall, or near the temple outside in the common area. If they did so, they would know terror anew in the bowels of darkness.

The men asked what Deras had meant when he said his “captain”. The spirit of Deras remarked that his body and will were not of his own, and most likely, the creature in him had not known the true title of Lt. Hedravol.

“Oh my captain of dread,” the spirit said sorrowfully, “how far the fair has fallen. He walks these halls, prisoner to the curse which plagues us all. Take heed should thou meet he who has fallen from grace. The keenest and gentlest of minds is thus fractured when influenced by the horrors from beyond. Upon horse of shadows he rides. On top of steed most foul doth he dole out punishment to interlopers.”

Jozan and Avaniel found themselves recalling their trip into the nightmarish realm that Yogir was imprisoned in. Perhaps the realm was influencing the fort as it did in the Mouth of Chaos. Could it be even the dead were not safe from its grasp? The idea was surely unsettling. They asked the ghost of Deras about the curse of the fort. On this topic, the countenance of the creature seemed to become heavy with grim foreboding.

“Thy curse bestowed upon our lot is kin to Wildweeper. It binds us here, and I worry deeply. Long I had searched in life and death for respite of the impending doom to come. I knew of the power of his ilk. I knew the injustice brought on his kin would lead to dire consequences. Despite my aid in saving his children, I could not hope to levy the curse upon the fort.

Before the dark powers did tear away my will, I found little clues to settle us at peace. If we were to be all laid rest afore the passing of a day, I think it might bequeath the power of a holy quest to relieve our souls. Such power would take though! If though wish to see us saved I give thy counsel; The dead are oft relegated to certain areas to live out the unlife. It causes great distress for them to journ out from their haunts. If thou should be overwhelmed, flee and seek repose away from the keep. Be wary though, if antagonist you continue to be in flight, they shall give chase. The rule is but a cord and not a shackle.

Of another way I can thus think to remove our dire condition. To go to the villa upon the hill and beg mercy from the patron of Wildweeper so wronged, Roland. Only the curse layer or their heir of same blood and form may do away with the forces always roaming here. I know of the boy, Aldatre, a babe at time of their home’s reckoning, but far from Molagona is he. No other man of house did I scry or behold in note nor tablet."

Upon further interrogation, the ghost revealed other revelations. He was unable to leave his room during the day as the sun weakened him greatly. He told the men he would welcome death, but only should the rest of the fort fall as well. Though he would return, he found it not pleasurable to feel the pain of death in undeath. He worried that the entity which possessed him before might return as well, stripping him of his ability to help these travelers. Though his curse made him unable to aid in the destruction of the undead in the fort, he might be able to provide counsel.

More information brought grimaces to the adventurers’ faces. Not only would they find the defeated enemies renewed by the next day, but the minions of the keep routinely repaired and replaced traps that had been used. With wounds gathering, and weariness guiding their thoughts, the men thought it might be best to avoid the fort and the dullahan within to seek the end of their quest at Wildweeper Villa.

Jozan asked if Deras might write a missive of apology to recite to the patron of the villa, Roland Wildweeper. The ghost shook its head. He had tried many times before to ask for forgiveness from the deceased noble. Each time he was rebuked. Not long before he was turned into a fiend of darkness, Deras mentioned he had been unable to contact or divine the presence of Roland’s spirit. He worried that perhaps his spirit was contained, suppressed or imprisoned away from the realm of the dead. With this knowledge in tow, the men prepared to leave Fort Mercaeus, return to Mercaeus to rest, and embark on a journey to lift the curse, freeing Roland if it was indeed needed.

Session 30: Of Necromancy and Leylines

Dispatching the foul, red eyed corpse, Jozan searched the creature. Finding little of value, other than a pouch of East Daramaian coins, the men reassessed their position in Fort Mercaeus. The skeletal cook had not been the first obstacle they had met in the stone of the old building, and without more information, the men could quickly be running into a death trap. With these thoughts in mind, the men began divining the magic of the surrounding area. True to many other oddities they had encountered on the journey to Urima, the entire fort let forth a glow of magic. Taking a bit more time to look about the surrounding area, Jozan noted the presence of another foreign aura which seemed to trail out of the door of the pantry back into the main hallway.

He followed it back into the main hall, turning to see a third come into view. The trail grew in strength before culminating in the entry atrium. The room glowed brightly, strong magics twisting about the apparition filled room. Inside, the druid could make out a very dangerous and familiar sight, a leyline to the nightmare realm. The source of the magic about the room and keep had been a distinct and powerful necromantic aura intertwined with a type of ungodly magic that had no name known to the men. The same plane ripping, reality altering magic surrounded the devious magic point of the leyline as the pair of adventurers had previously seen in other places.

This hallway leading from the atrium seemed a high traffic area. Avaniel took it upon himself to gather any information he could about their opposition in the keep proper by using a spell. Despite the central area of the hallway, Avaniel could find but a single set of tracks on the floor. Using his magic, he was able to get a visual projection of the maker in his mind. A humanoid form was seen. The countenance of the creature was nonexistent, for no sign of hair nor chin could be found atop the metal collar of the slightly rusting full plate. The crownless abomination rested a heavy gauntlet upon the crossguard of a longsword that gleamed in the dim light where it was not caked by dirt. A heraldic sash draped across the armor, grey and splotchy. Avaniel could feel the color had not always been as such. The whole suit pulsed with a black vapor that clung in a helix about the monster. In time, the miasma would gather and coalesce, forming a fleeting glimpse of a flesh torn skull gazing through flecks of gold.

With the mental image and some thought, Avaniel knew the foe to be a dullahan, a headless knight of undeath. The creatures were something of a rarity, but Avaniel had known quite a bit of lore surrounding the creatures bore of knightly corruption. He knew the blades of the wraith knights to be extremely deadly. They struck with precision that spilled blood with great efficacy, and a supernatural cold was imprisoned in the steel of the edge. Tales spoke of fiendish steeds being at the beckon call of the dullahan.

Perhaps most dangerous was the challenge of the very life force they could put on an individual. By calling upon this power, the dullahan could chill the blood of its victim, reducing its ability to fight. The effect would in turn cause great cracks in any wound. The veins would sunder; sharp barbs would seep into the flesh. Any deep wound would be of the utmost concern, and without the body’s natural ability to close wounds, a fallen comrade would surely die quickly unaided. The effect could be heightened with the acquisition of the name of the unfortunate soul to be challenged, and so it was imperative to conceal their identities. Avaniel knew this to be a dangerous enemy not to be trifled with. If they did endeavour to defeat the dullahan, they would have to be very cautious as to when they would attack. The creature could be more than they could handle alone, especially if he could mount his fiendish steed. If more soldiers of death came, it could easily be death for the three travelers. Knowing this, the men continued up the stairs to the upper floor of the keep.

Exiting the stairwell, the adventurers looked around their new surroundings. Small windows, perhaps a foot tall, were scattered about the walls leading to the exterior of the keep. The gunnery holes let the light of the exterior surroundings pour into the dust rifled air of the second story of the fort. Along the hall, the Duke’s dignitaries spotted apparitions. The things were blurred and insubstantial, and they would flicker and shake about, holding whatever tenuous grip they were holding on to this world from. The creatures were locked in place, immobile besides their oscillations. In their hands were not swords, but hammers and books. The ambiguous apparel of the undead was clearly not the armor of a men at arms. The still images held the instruments at the ready, frozen at the moment they would swing the metal towards the stone of the keep walls. Each was focused at a different section of the hall.

Saluhul exited first, and was immediately assailed by an arrows which flew into his armor’s side. The wound was not as trivial as it seemed, and the archer staggered about for a moment before steadying himself against the potent poison placed on the arrow. Looking to the origin of the arrow, Jozan and the archer saw a ghostly figure with a chisel frozen in time. He looked to be working on a wall which featured a now visible trap. A gust of air moved a camouflaged flap that concealed a triggered bow.

Jozan moved forward for a closer look, and upon entering the hall more, Talei embarked to roost on an empty coat rack. The avian gripped the rack and looked around distraught. Jozan was confused at the sudden change in attitude of the animal, but his curiousity led him forward into the hallway. Undettered from the previous trap, Saluhul moved forward to look into one of the doors in the hallway. He motioned back that it was another stairwell as Avaniel moved into the area.

Jozan Paced ahead carefully towards an apparition looking skyward with his hammer at the ready. He stepped carefully to look around the corner of the hallway. A sinking plate on the ground disrupted his focus, but that was of little concern when a great stone block fell from above. Jozan covered his head in fear as the slab crumbled around him. Looking at the mess after the sound echoed in the corridor, Jozan noticed breaks in the slab. It appeared in great disrepair after much use, and the druid doubted it could hurt any in its current state.

Turning the corner, all three men could make out noises. To the northwest, the sound of metal clanging together could be heard. The sounds seemed undisturbed with a few moments time, and the men felt sure whatever was in there had not heard the trap sprung. To the northeast, the creaking of wood could be heard. Again, there was no indication in time that any denizens of the keep had been alerted. The view of the hall and another apparition gave Jozan pause for a moment. He pointed out the the apparition was reading from a tome to an oddly out of place stone upon the ground of the keep. Most likely another trap, he informed the others.

Saluhul took the lead with his sword and shield out as the men moved to the closest door. He motioned that down an adjacent hallway he could see another ghostly figure reading towards the wall of the keep, facing a gunnery hole. The creaking wood could still be heard, and Saluhul carefully opened the door. What little could be seen inside was a pair of laying skeletons. Saluhul moved in. Attempting to follow, Jozan came forward, only to stumble, clanging his axe heavily of the nearby wall. The room burst with life as Saluhul was beset by a group of skeletal soldiers and their officer.

The fragile creatures were many, but they had little power against the might of the three men. The bones of the creatures absorbed sword blows of the Duke’s men, slowing the progress of the fight. As it seemed the opposition was thinning down, Jozan turned to watch as the door at the end of the hallway opened. He watched in internal terror as the pale, red eyed corpse ran forward and stomped upon the ground, triggering the aforementioned trap Jozan had taken such pains to point out. A bell toll sounded loudly, and soon after, the creature was joined by another group of skeletal troops.

Jozan called the others to fall back to the stairwell before they were completely flanked, and Saluhul ran to escape the room. He was caught unaware as the reinforcements swung at him multiple times, wounding him badly in his escape. Making it back to the stairwell, Jozan held the door way as his archer companions let loose arrows on the creatures. The situation was looking dire with so many foes upon them and Saluhul so wounded. Jozan fought with a desperation he has not known until now. His strikes landed with the full power of his arms and the enchantment of Issindrius upon the undead. Before long, all were vanquished, and the men knew relief for the moment.

Session 29: Visions of the Past

Crossing the threshold of the guard towers was a descent into another place entirely. The travelers felt the occasional breeze waft across the landscape to provide the only ambient sound of the area. As they traveled up the plateau, a lack of any discernible sound had been both expected and unnerving. All that was to pass upon entering the common grounds of Fort Mercaeus.

A sudden burst of noise carried to the trio’s senses. A veritable cacophony of noise comparative to the previous stimuli assailed them. The sounds of marching, the barking for formation changes, the thud of arrows upon wood, all prevailed about the left side of the keep. To the right, ears made out the sound of horses in distress, and stable masters attempting to placate the beasts. Odd forms could be made out around a dilapidated stable. An anvil in close proximity had its own mysterious caretakers. The sound of chanting carried from further the same side, prayers to Farmourn and Yueya. The men ventured that a cursory look could indicate the source of any of the commotions, but they also were reserved in their desire to explore more. Jozan, Avaniel, and Zephyrpaw could not be sure of what awaited them on either side of the fort. Then again, they knew nothing of what would awaited them within.

Looking to the right, not far to the entrance of the courtyard, the simple stable lie in disrepair from decades of ill use. Within, Jozan and Avaniel could see odd shapes, men of flesh bore of a viscous fluid that drew towards the ground with motion. The melting men poured the material through their crowns, and in this way, the falling away of their incarnate forms would continue endlessly. Faint outlines of horses faded in and out of view. The insubstantial beasts of burden were questionably real to the mind. The phantasms within would brush the creatures, joints in flexion while touching the beasts, yet no hair or changes would be shown on mane or coat. Outside, a similar creature banged about on an anvil ravaged by rust. The recoil of the oil-like mallet and the shock surging up the being’s arm rang the metal in the mind alone, for no sound ushered the hammer’s descent.

A collection of cracking, clicking, bone wrought creatures marched along the left side of the fort on the common grounds. An armored one of their numbers would at times call out for a change of direction, and his word was that of steel upon the bells of these creatures’ ears. So they heeded, and would continue upon the way until such a time another order was given them. In the time between these edicts, the leader would move between a pair of other cadres and issue them other demands. Though one was unseen by the eyes of the adventurers, the other was in plain view. Avaniel moved into position to view what was to happen next.

After another call to change their direction of march, the officer took heed to the visible group, a gathering of six glowing forms. Their shape was as none beheld by the eyes of the armies of men. The group consisted of a sextet of pathetic, shameful humanoids that emitted an aura of more animal that man. Wrought of a hazily glowing sludge, this contingent had upon them sabre and spear, and they trained in a mock combat with one another. The officer approached. Suddenly, he drew steps back in alarm, drawing his own blade. He would then call for a charge upon the gate, drawing an alert to Avaniel’s face as the creatures lurched forward. The elf called that they planned to attack!

They held formation and came forward as two lines. Just as Avaniel thought they might be upon his companions, the group stopped, engaged in furious melee with naught. They swung and oscillated forward and back. The officer would call the men to push forward, to fall back and regroup, and this continued for a few moments. Suddenly, the men closest the keep turned towards it, and a horrifying expression crossed their face as limbs were twisted and plucked from them. A spray of ephemeral mist pulsed from the mangled injuries, wine poured from a bottle taking in far too much air. The others would fall to hacking cuts that split the muck from luminous shapes.

The scene was paralyzingly astonishing to the foreigners. As seemingly instantaneous as it had started, the officer would move in a reversal of the last few moments. The effect was rapid and jarring, like viewing the slow pull back of the catapult arm only to see the timber whip back into place as it hauled its cargo skyward. The dust resettled about his feet, and he returned to his post with his men of bone.

As to the effect on the footmen, they too would in time rewind their agonies to relive them again. A perpetual torment perhaps not fitting of the crime they had been cursed for. But such was not for the Duke’s agents to decide. They had come here to deal with the curse of the fort, not condone or condemn the actions of the men within. Viewing the marching orders of the skeleton soldiers and the actions of the grotesque footman was like viewing two seemingly separate events.

Saluhul rushed to the door of the keep, which Jozan quickly opened. Moving inside to avoid anymore confrontation, Saluhul quickly let fire an arrow while retreating as he passed through the doorway. He jumped back, and then looked puzzled as though not believing what he had seen. Jozan looked inside, but he noted nothing amiss looking into the stone entryway save the door opposite. Avaniel moved in next, and it was he that would behold a gruesome sight first. He was startled. Jozan noting this, walked in as well.

Opening the atrium of the fort, the men were immediately put on their guard, as Saluhul had been. Piles of bones litter the small room, but this was not what drew such pause from the traveled warriors. All about, ethereal figures of Daramaian and Peroshi troops fell prey to an unknown force. Spectral hands ripped and tore and pulled at the troops from below. The hands would avulse and deglove the soldiers in a gruesome manner despite the unearthly quality of the image. The pairs’ stomach twitched and labored to regain their composure, but in a short time, they were well enough. The scene prompted the men to move quickly through the room, though they noticed the spectral forms seemed unable to hurt them.

The men came into a hallway after crossing the threshold of another door. A trio of doors greeted the men. Each cardinal direction was championed by a door. The men decided to go left, south. Entering the next room carefully, Jozan and Avaniel saw various rotting debris littering the room, pantry most likely before the fall. The men did not note the heavy wheezing carrying through the door so close to them as they conversed while poking about the mess.

Jozan moved towards the door to continue the journey finding nothing of note in the garbage pile. The ravenous claws within whipped out to greet him with the anticipation that had them quivering on the other side of the door. The flesh of the walking corpse was rotting and putrid, its body skeletal in places and its eye sockets glowing with red light. The creature threw itself upon Jozan, but he managed to guard himself against the sudden attack. A furious scramble occurred as Jozan illuminated the room interior by calling upon Issindrius to light his mighty axe. Avaniel let loose an arrow, but was unable to get a clear shot upon the creature; Saluhul met with a similar turn of luck.

The creature continued to attack, and Jozan let loose wide strokes to deter the beast. The festering form moved about the strikes with unnatural speed. The strikes, while clumsy, distracted the creature enough for Saluhul to let loose a pair of arrows, each ripping the visceral fabric of the creature. When one ripped the sternum, caving in the ribs, and another split the spine in twain of the beast, it was clear what the outcome was to be. The creature fell, and all was silent once more.

Session 28: The Shattered Talisman

Following the destruction of the attic whisperer, Avaniel, Jozan, and Zephyrpaw Looked about the area to discover why the creature might have chosen to attack this home in particular. Irelevi Wildweeper had hinted at the possibility of hidden secrets the mayor had been keeping. The men found little, but upon inspection of the broken porcelain mask that belonged to their assailant, it seemed the mask was far too well crafted to be affordable to a simple mayor. The three made their way back down into the home of the mayor of Mercaeus. They discovered the mayor locked inside his daughter’s room, and after some coaxing, he allowed them to enter. Sure enough, the child had regained her wits, but was still very weak.

The mayor was glad to see the issue resolved, and went downstairs to compose his approval note to the herald of Florant Asparago Durigo. During the process, the mayor was questioned by the adventurers about the mask. Though reluctant to admit any wrongdoing, it was revealed that the mayor’s father had passed it down to him after he had taken it from Wildweeper Villa. The theft of an item might have led the creature to haunt this house. After sensing something familiar to it in the home, it could have chosen this house. With the thought in mind, Jozan pondered if it might be necessary to gather up the stolen items that others in the town might have. The mayor responded that he could call a meeting, but it was not certain all the townsfolk would attend. Nor was it for certain if they would willingly allow the items to be taken back or admit they had some part in the events eighty years prior. The mayor completed the note, and the men departed to speak once again with the constable.

Finding him at the city hall posting board, the three men asked if they might receive the key to the villa gates. The constable reasserted that the three should be well prepared for anything before entering the house on the foothills, but he produced a copy of the key for them to take. Avaniel asked where the men might find an inn to rest, and they were directed to The Shattered Talisman, The Dying Duchess, The Chant and Staff, and Weary Soldier Inn. Finding some sort of magnetic pull to the name of the place, Jozan felt compelled to go to The Shattered Talisman. His decision was to be an unexpected revelation.

Coming up to the building, the men hitched their horses. Jozan noted the sign swinging outside, a golden talisman set with a brilliant green gem in the symbol of Fatima. The image immediately sparked a shock in the druid, who recalled vividly the talisman they had retrieved in the forest drake’s cave and sold to the noble in Northlight. Entering the tavern, the men were greeted by the handlebar mustached, eye patch wearing barkeep. After Avaniel requested food, the druid and archer recovered their voices, and Jozan promptly asked the barkeep to talk about the sign outside the establishment.

The barkeep said that the name for the tavern came from his grandfather. He owned the tavern during a time when Fort Mercaeus still stood. Having no true name, he struggled to find one until the day the villa fell. He recalled witnessing the emerging of a green dragon bursting free from the villa and flying off. In its claws, the man spied the same gold and emerald necklace. The name was immediately adopted. The barkeep himself seemed to pity the fate of the Wildweepers, but he found himself saddened that a curse should hurt generations to come in the town.

Jozan asked about the events leading up to the fall of the villa. All the barkeep knew was that one of the children of the family had been very sick for a long time. His grandfather had told him that she continued to be ill for quite some time until Sophia Fatima happened upon the area. She went to see the child, and after her visit, the housekeepers of the villa spoke of the child’s miraculous recovery. This continued for a few years, but eventually, the sickness returned. It was during this time the numerous mysterious visitors would venture to the villa. Some said they sought to cure the daughter; others claimed they were evil sorcerers that went to visit their sire at the villa.

The new knowledge brought on a whole host of new questions to the druid. As the three settled in for the night, he prepared a note to send word to Irelevi. He sent Talei with a message:


We have made a discovery that is questionably related to this area’s problems. The owner of the Shattered Talisman explained that the amulet on their sign is the representation of what sounds like something that was once property of your family. From what we gathered, it sounds like the Saint Fatima may have left this amulet as a gift and it was eventually seen to be carried off by the drake that flew out of Wildweeper Villa on the day of its destruction. The amulet is a symbol of Fatima accompanied by a brilliant green gem.

Can you tell us about its significance? Does it have any relation to the current matter at hand? We may know of its whereabouts… And the fate of that very drake. My companion, Talei, will carry back a message unless you wish to meet us in town. We stay at the aforementioned tavern. Please tell Talei to “return to Jozan” in either case.

While preparing to leave for the fort the following day, Talei returned with a reply message from the daughter of Wildweeper. It read:

Such a piece was given my sister, Vedralissan. The saintess gave her the piece to aid her with a sickness she was having. My sister had a penchant for silver, but she had shown a great desire and covetous nature towards jewelry. It was through ill fates that she became very sick at times with silver however. The saintess took a measure of pity on her but was also worried and saddened. She gave the girl the amazing necklace, but she warned my small sister and my parents with a grave portent.

She said to be wary of the nature growing in her heart for in time it might consume her. She did well after the visit, and stayed away from the metal she was so attracted to. In time though, the temptation for more wealth became too great, and she returned to hoarding precious material. She became sick again, and without the saintess to counsel us, my father spent years studying her condition. He consulted with many practitioners of magic to no avail. My sister was lost during the raid of my home, never to be found. The idea that such a necklace would come to light again is perhaps confirming her demise, for I doubt two such pieces could exist.

The information gathered in the note seemed to support a thesis the travelers had thought of since hearing about this inn. It was very likely that this drake had some connection to Vedralissan; perhaps the drake had been the lost child. A sickness brought on by silver, the possession of the talisman, a grim warning from a respected disciple of Alariel, the sight of a drake flying off towards Noongloom Wood, the evidence was stacking up beyond coincidences.

Awakening the next morniong, the men ate and departed for Fort Mercaeus. The grass moving up the slight incline towards the fort continued to lose color the closer their feet took them down the path. The light cobbling of the road began to degenerate with a complete lack of maintenance over the long years. The scarecrows watched the horse riders approach towards the guard towers and sundered gate of the outpost. The dirtied clothes and expressionless faces lay silent, eternal witness to the degradation of the landscape. Molagona lay as a backdrop to the granite giant, and the dark stone ate the surrounding light of the landscape. This highlighted the fort despite its drab coloring. Coming up the path was as though walking down a path of death into a dark abyss of a horizon.

The caretakers of the road began to trail further from their post; fewer and fewer false men lined the road. As the plateau levelled out and continued past the exterior walls, the figures all died away. It was clear enough no one would venture this close. If they had, perhaps they had not lived to tell the tale. The guard towers crowded the sky. Many men high, an observer could venture to the tower tops and easily view the surrounding landscape of Wildweeper Villa and Mercaeus. Bits of wood and chunks of stone lay strewn about the entrance to the courtyard of the grounds. It was into the dark fort that the quest of absolution took Jozan, Avaniel, and Saluhul.

Session 27: Wildweeper

After learning of the plight of the mayor’s daughter and receiving the constable’s mission, the trio took the advice of both men and went to get counsel from Irelevi Wildweeper. And so, they departed towards Wildweeper Villa upon hearing her hut lay in the surrounding foothills. Not long after leaving, they encountered her abode in the valley between a grouping of hills.

The hut of Irelevi Wildweeper sat in the shadows of the surrounding foothills. The small cottage had supports which bowed inward. The concave look of the place accentuated the fantastic look of the small building. The supports curved outward into the sky, casting light upon the surrounding area from a quartet of blazing lanterns. Tiny flecks of light darted around these fire holders. Lines of scarecrows radiated from the place, perhaps a fearful collection from the villagers to ward off the hermit. The thatched roof held solid against the gentle breeze whisking through the valley. Faint light emerged from the inside ever so slightly, and these illuminations would die off in intervals as though a candle lighting and dying.

As the adventurers drew closer to the building, they noted a design painted into the door frame. It depicted a series of archers firing into an unknown entity on the opposite panel. The arrows flew in high arcs, streaked by reds, blues, and yellows. Their monstrous foes seemed to have little in common with anything the young travelers had come to know, for their features were marred by a certain abstractness. One figure stood out among the rest. Wielding a bow, he laid siege back upon the archers with arrows of similar design. The door itself had a heavy look about it, and from within, the druid, hunter, and former soldier could make out the sounds of a stoking fire and bellows. A faint bubbling carried through the sound of the wind.

A fox looked from within a windowsill at the new arrivals, its eyes keen on newcomers. Indeed dark birds gathered above, and insects crawled about and paused, turning towards the Duke’s conscripts. The land itself had drawn eyes on the horse riders as they drew closer to the kin of Wildweeper. For the half drow, Avaniel, he had an odd feeling that he could only place as the same he would feel returning to the woods for a hunt. He was by himself at those times, with no worry of the reactions of the people of Ailead.

The hut door opened with no protest. Not the faintest screech of wood disrupted the keen ears of the wary visitors as they crept into the dim, oscillating light of the hut. A swinging lamp periodically flew behind a shade, light absent all about when this would occur save for the red glowing steel of a collection of cauldrons near a furnace. The interior of the hut was a mess of material. Scrolls, books, sketches, formulas written upon countless scrap littered every tabletop, bookshelf, desk, and chair.

“Yes, time is it? That lack of which a person can never truly accrue enough of. The moments we forever try to capture in an entity that will fade as swiftly as our bodies will. But your interest in time is not such an abstract, nor should it given what little sorrow you have overcome,” the announcement came from behind a miniature laboratory. A figure looked intent upon its activities of mixing and plunging items together in a mortar and pestle. Upon a conclusion to this, delicate hands would bring the vessel in front of a small, clear orb. Eyes, black as ink wells peered through the material and into the mortar, viewing results of labors.

The woman wore a thick, dark green cloak. Tribal markings were scattered on her face and body. Paint or tattoo, it was uncertain. A streak of dark green ran across her eyes from temple to temple. Small bone and leather fetishes adorn her neck. Light colored hair flowed from the covering hood, and it would blink in and out of existence as the overhead lantern swung about. A pair of armbands ran the span of her forearms. Runes stretched the course of these wraps, and on a slightly closer look, rings for manacle chains could be seen. Layers of black and brown leather cascaded down what could be seen of her legs. The keen eyes of the woman probed the wary minds of the adventurers.

“Well then, out with it travelers. Though I have foreseen your arrival here, I am all unknowing to your purpose at my abode.“

The rather forward address caught the trio off guard. The idea that they had been expected given the hermit nature of this woman was astonishing. The pair from Ailead would ask many questions of Irelevi about her family and the town of Mercaeus. Wildweeper Villa was the first structure on the land when it was settled long ago. From the woods near Moorhaven to the trees chosen by the Farseers, the Wildweepers had come. And family beyond that from the domain of the fey and maelstrom.

She commented that it had been an orphanage before in the time of her father’s father. Children would run about the gardens and halls. Carefree they were until the razing of the halls. She mentioned that with the fall of her family, a line would fall, the house fell to ruins, and a tradition would be cast aside from paranoia. Now, no children roamed the halls of the manor. All lie there in death.

As to the curse laid on the land by Roland Wildweeper, she would comment that sometimes the crimes of men are so great that a lingering power of justice stays behind to enact the will of the departed. Malevolent or divine, mundane or mystical, such things are not known of the origins of this phenomenon. If the outrage of the departed grows ever higher, it runs over its initial scope and boundaries eventually.

When asked if she would help the adventurers save the mayor’s daughter, Irelevi scoffed at the idea. Assisting the bigots who slew her house and ruined her home? The idea was as laughable as it was despicable. However, Avaniel made a plea to her for assistance saying, “We hold no ill will for you and would hope you harbor none for us. We intend to risk our lives to not only do what needs to be done for our goals but also to end a curse that strikes those who wrong you not. It would be a great help if in return we could also accomplish this one small task so that we may be granted the support we need in order to continue our journey when this is all done.”

Irelevi said she cared little for the mayor’s daughter, but the words struck her in a way she was unsure of. She claimed that while she was unnerved at the premise of trusting a kin of the drow, the smell of magic and a general, indescribable instinct drew her to trust Avaniel’s words. Upon some consideration, Irelevi made an offer. She would assist the adventurers if they would agree to put her family to rest. The group agreed to the proposition. Upon the pact being complete, Irelevi divined and told the men the following:

“A dire surge of anger, loneliness, and revenge stalks the homes of the guilty, and all are guilty in Mercaeus. A child without home or love, forced to wander about in the night for a child to name as friend. I have seen such things. Look to the guilty’s house for answers. Seek that which is hidden, that which he laid to rest with blade and torch. Only then might the daughter be freed of the sins of the father.”

With the conclusion of her visions, Avaniel and Jozan believed they had desciphered the cause of the mysterious illness plaguing the girl. Attic whisperers could create effects that were very similar to what was described. While slightly different than the norm, it was close enough to make them feel confident in their assessment. They thanked Irelevi, and asked if she had anything that might assist them in banishing the curse upon the land. In response, she produced three potions to bind their wounds, and two paper packets. She said that if the material inside these pouches was poured over a weapon, it would be able to strike at the formless nature of many undead.

Knowing that preparations would be key in whatever path they decided to take next, the men decided to purchase a few more items, such as holy water, from the potion brewer. After the transactions, they returned to their horses outside. With little delay, they departed back for the mayor’s house to confront their now revealed foe.

The mayor led them to the attic of the home. As the Duke’s men pulled down the stairwell to the attic, a rush of dry, dusty air coughed out from its bowels. The burst stung the eyes and elicited coughs that they quickly muzzled the best they could. The light from the hallway illuminated a cloud of dust mites twirling about in the air. Ascending the stairs, their eyes tried to focus on the surroundings. The usual fare it would seem. Piles of old equipment and tools littered the floor. Dried goods lie in barrels awaiting whatever disaster they were stockpiled for. Always, with each new step, a slight sob or whimper could be heard within the bowels of the dark room. It became all too unsettling to catch a shadow move here or there. The paranoia of this whole town was starting to take root in the hunter and druid, and they didn’t care for it.

The three slowly entered, and Jozan went ahead of the others. He called out to any creature that might be hidden. Suddenly, he was beset by a creature. This thing resembled a gray, emaciated child, with cobwebs, rags and dust for clothes, and a small, painted doll head sat on its shoulders. A ratty cloth hung about the dirty porcelain. The creature passed a hand over the face of the druid as it bit at him. The teeth sunk in, and Jozan tried to call out in pain for help. he was astonished, and horrified to note his voice would not issue forth. The creature called out the the others in his voice! It said Jozan was merely startled by a spider, and without the druid able to protest, the others believed it.

The creature continued to attack the druid, and a sense of dread crawled over the others. An aura pervaded from the creature which stole the courage of the body and mind. After a short struggle, Saluhul entered after Jozan. Noting the attack, he joined the fray, only to have his voice similarly taken. Avaniel came forward, and instilled his fury against the denizens of the undead upon his companions. The battle ended soon after. With the porcelain mask shattered, the creature fell into a pile of rags and trash, and all about was quiet. This included the voices of the High Archer, and the druid of Sinohi.

Session 26: The Secret of Mercaeus

As the adventurers from the Steelsnout awoke on the road to Mercaeus They spotted an inn on the horizon. Closing in on the tiny travelers’ lodge, it was clear that the Blue Phantom was as quiet and eerie as the name implied. Saluhul Zephyrpaw, Jozan, and Avaniel Cerelion continued on the path past the scarecrow tended, empty fields on the hut. As Jozan passed the cottage, he was beset by two monsterous giants.

The misshapen things whirled about large clubs overhead, yelling a warcry as they set upon the druid. Jozan knew the beasts to be ogres, and he knew what this meant: these beasts would stop for no goodly race. Talei took to the air to fight off the beasts, and both Zephyrpaw and Cerelion let loose barrages of arrows. The great clubs smashed down upon the shield arm of Jozan, sending the shuddering percussion through his arm. As ferocious as the onslaught had been, the arrows proved the mightier, and in time the beasts fell.

Looking inside the Blue Phantom, it was clear the inhabitants had left in short order. Items were scattered about, and food rotted on tables. With no signs of battle or blood, it seemed the owners had escaped any brutality. Searching around a bit, the travelers picked up what they could salvage from the building and thugs and returned to the road.

The trio entered the small village of Mercaeus from the north. Even upon entrance, there was a certain weariness to the town, a foreboding gloom that stretched the main streets. The streets were not absent of life though, and people crossed the road here and there toting their bags. The vast majority of buildings in the town were small cottages for the townsfolk to rest after the toil of the fields was over. The town was too far removed from the sea to make its living off the azure waves, and no river split the surrounding lands. All these people received from Fonoros was towed up from the bowels of the earth beneath them. Scarecrows littered even the common areas of the town. The raggedly clothed guards blew about on the whims of the breeze, and their sheer numbers made the champions of Faldrin question if these objects truly populated this town.

The townsfolk regarded the Duke’s new recruits little when they walked the streets. Whether they were too concerned with their matters at hand, uncaring to their presence or oblivious to it, the men could not tell. Avaniel and Jozan anticipated the first step to placating the Duke lie in speaking with either the mayor or constable. From their vantage point in town, they could see two previously hidden landmarks.

To the west, along the flat ground of the dry plains, one could make out the form of Fort Mercaeus. Two tall towers sat in front of a sliver of wall against the horizon. The Duke had mentioned this place as of particular note when he was made aware of the undead in the area. Neither man had visited this area previously, but both could almost feel an aura of dread crawling out towards the small village from the place.

To the southwest, the druid and hunter noted a large villa overlooking the town on the sloping foothills. Fog lay in the tiny valleys of the mounds. The large home was clearly gated heavily, and there was a certain stillness to land around it that was curious. Despite the brisk wind blowing over the surrounding areas of Mercaeus, no motion was present on that hill, and a collection of scarecrows sat as silent sentinels to the peaked structure.

Jozan flagged down one of the citizens to ask about where the mayor and constable could be found. The gruff, sullen man provided information about where the mayor’s home was, where the constable office was, and said that either man might be found in the town hall if they were about. Upon asking about the scarecrows, the man replied, “The scarecrows about this town are intended to ward off evil spirits roaming from abroad, and many have taken up bizarre ritual music and dance in the night to the same end.”

Asking more about the fort, the man expressed that it was built some one hundred years ago to protect the inland cities near the ports of Northlight and Wellcliff. Eighty years ago, it was said a curse was laid upon the place, and it fell to treason during the war not soon after. The place has been a gathering area for ghosts and the spirits of the dead soldiers since. A few times it had been attacked to be recovered for use, and each time, all that comes from the fort are bodies hauled out by mysterious pallbearers. The men would drag about carts of dead men to pile outside, then fade away into the fort once again.

Of the villa on the hill, the man spat. He cautioned the travelers to stay far away from the place. No good could come from travel there, and there was a reason a dense line of scarecrows lined the road to the place. He remained silent on any details of the place however, and both men had the feeling that this villa had a similar demoralizing effect on the citizens of Mercaeus as the drake had on the farmers of Faldrin. Until another time, Wildweeper Villa would remain a mystery. The man was on his way, and in parting words, cautioned the newcomers to be wary at night for Ol’ Headless.

The group went to meet the mayor. The nondescript man invited the adventurers into his home to talk. He mentioned not having known what the constable would ask of the men, but he understood their situation to a small degree. He was under the impression there was no ill dealings that lead to the arrival of the Duke’s servants which relieved the pair somewhat.

When asked of Ol’ Headless, the mayor said, “After the fort fell to a curse some eighty years ago, Mercaeus continued to be a waypoint through the central plains and hills east of Molagona. The people here oft speak of haunted areas near the fort and old villa. Over the years, the folk of the town have become a superstitious bunch. For every person claiming to have witnessed the macabre visage of some abominable minion of the darkness, you will find another quick to discredit it. That is, until they too become rambling and paranoid. The Ol’ Headless you speak of is a tale of a headless corpse who roams the land at night seeking its lost head.”

The mayor would continue with his proposition, "I am not overly certain how to express this. The town has been haunted for many a year, ever since the fall of Wildweeper Villa it would seem. We sent word for so long to so many religious centers. Duke Durigo was the first to show much care. Please, I’m not sure what the constable will ask of you, but I want you to cleanse this house. Often the times have been of late that my daughter and son have spoken of voices about the house. They say they have played with something. At first I thought it the whimsey of children.

Not a week ago, my daughter has fallen into some sort of living death. She sleeps in her room for all the days and nights. We’ve tried what we can muster in this small town to no avail. Please, save my daughter, and I will give you petition for what you need."

After the request was made, the group asked to see the child. Finding her in a state of death-like sleep, observations and theories began. A faint aura of magic was present on the girl, but not so much as to imply the presence of a magic incantation. Avaniel realized this effect could be similar to the life stealing properties of some undead, but he was uncertain as to what type of creature would elicit this response.

Upon Saluhul asking if anyone might be able to tell them more, the mayor commented that if they required counsel, to seek out Irelevi Wildweeper. The woman lived in an old hut on the outskirts of town. She might have knowledge of the ailment of the mayor’s daughter. He cautioned them that she was quite caustic towards those of Mercaeus given what had happened to her family. After learning this, the men went to see the constable about his task.

The constable office lie near the heart of the town. It was a rather small building, but it was to be expected from such a small town. Opening the doors to the brick hut, the trio saw a few deputies casting lots upon a table in the middle of a half dozen empty cells. A man with a stern brow and sterner burnsides marched towards them saying, “You are the adventurers from Northlight then? Well I’ll not waste your time more than need be, as I have heard your time might be short. I want you to investigate Fort Mercaeus and Wildweeper Villa. There has been heavy ghost sightings in the area, and some have began to become brazen of late. Some of the outlying farms report livestock deaths and disappearances. I would normally account these to wild animals if my deputies had not seen the monsters attacking themselves.”

The constable looked to the weary men about the table. It was a mix of disgust and helplessness in his eyes. The same look had been seen on the patrolling deputies. The constable sighed deeply before continuing, "The fort is open, we’ve had no success barricading it off sufficiently, the ghosts merely tear it down. As to the villa, I have the keys to the two primary gates. I keep that infernal place holed up at all times. Gives people some piece of mind I suppose, and maybe it lets the souls at rest there find some peace while keeping those that haunt the grounds contained. Ask the mayor what he would have you do, and get rid of the ghosts at the fort and villa. I don’t care much for what it takes; make sure they will not return. I’ll have Irelevi divine the grounds afterwards to check if the problem has been resolved. This is an eighty year curse gentlemen, and you haven’t much time. I wish you luck.“

The curtness of the encounter was not lost of the men. The constable appeared to have little faith in the ability of the newcomers to solve such an issue. Feeling the information they had gathered prior to meeting the constable, they briefly asked about Irelevi. It seemed she had a slight acquaintance with the constable. He was new to the town, and while she bore great hatred for the townsfolk, she held no ill will towards him. This was encouraging to the adventurers. With any luck, Irelevi might view them in the same fashion

Session 25: A Plea to the High Archer

With preparations finished for the road, Avaniel Cerelion and Jozan left for Noongloom Wood. It was their hope to contact Saluhul Zephyrpaw once again, and hopefully they could get him to come with them to Mercaeus. With Kaspar unwilling to follow the group to Mercaeus, the pair felt themselves shorthanded for what very well could be the dangerous path ahead.

Upon nearing the hidden path towards the Zephyrpaw home, the pair became both predator and prey. A hulking owlbear began charging towards the mounted adventurers who had disturbed its meal. The horses began to panic, and both Jozan and Avaniel quickly dismounted to engage the beast and avoid danger with the creatures. Jozan sent in Talei to attack the creature, and was horrified when the ursine smacked his companion to the ground, holding him to the earth. Avaniel let loose arrows which flew into the woods, hampered by the heavy foliage that foiled his marksmanship the first time in these woods. The horses began to run from the creature, and Avaniel turned fast enough to only prevent one from fleeing.

The burly animal began to rip at Talei with more ferocity as the bird found escape difficult. Even escaping the creatures grasp only lead to another heavy paw imprisoning the fragile avian. Jozan, his hand guided by a force he had not quite known, called to Issindrius to empower his axe blade and darted through the undergrowth and low hanging branches towards his divinely appointed servant. Fury would not drive this blade as it did in the drake’s cavern but another force entirely. The druid beset his axe upon the beast with this force at hand, making the owlbear’s head a cloven form. Blood and yellow fluid surged from the wound, and cracked bone fell about the covered floor. Avaniel let loose an arrow that landed true, and the beast was felled.

After the pair had chased down the terrified horses, they made their way to Zephyrpaw’s home. Inside, Saluhul was fixing the damage caused by the goblins not a few days before. His wife, Herana, and neighbor, Denega Deepwallow, sat discussing matters until the pair’s arrival. Jozan tried to implore the former high archer to their cause, but the attempt proved in vain. The archer had more pressing matters to address with winter being a stringent deadline to stock the storehouses and repair the home. Down trodden, the pair asked for advice with the handling of the situation. Zephyrpaw had little information regarding Mercaeus; he had only a small roaming territory from his home. Denega was able to advise the men that some undead were fabled in myths and tales to be unhurt by nonmagical weapons.

The revelation did not sit well with Avaniel. He had an idea though. Producing coins, he offered to pay for carpenters from nearby Faldrin to assist with the fixing of furnishings while Saluhul travelled with them. Jozan had already offered a horse to the elf earlier to appease him. The archer was still troubled by the need to continue hunting, but Herana was there to bolster the adventurer’s call. She would hunt in his stead while she awaited his return. Saluhul finally agreed, and the now three made their way back to Northlight.

After a quick purchase of combat trained horses, the three men rode off the southern road towards Mercaeus. After over a dozen miles, they set camp for the night and awaited the challenges of a new day. If Kaspar could be trusted to hold the Steelsnout to its word, the druid, hunter, and former soldier would have five more days to settle the affairs at Mercaeus and ride on to Wellcliff.

Session 24: A Close Call with the Duke of Faro

The theater thus concluded, Duke Florant Asparago Durigo demanded further explanation from Avaniel Cerelion and Jozan. Kaspar, Alexander, Akiko Nivaye, Augustin Gonzalo, Parlow Menfu and Count Harlan Wells sat with great interest in what would be said to account for the forged document. Thinking to placate the noble somewhat, Jozan began to feverishly apologize. He told the Duke he had not known that the document was a forgery given by another person. He implored the Duke to let them show their merit to the exemption by performing a task for the Duke.

The Duke seemed reluctant to take the minor lie, but after some support from Kaspar and Augustin speaking to their valid claim to the other writs, the Duke thought on what task would be appropriate. He decided the pair should travel to Mercaeus to investigate claims of undead rising in the area around the town and near Fort Mercaeus. The pair quickly agreed; a chance at adventure and life was preferable to the gallows. The Count would send his herald to inform Captain Jacob of the arrangement, and the Herald would acquire the previous exemption from the group. He told them Mercaeus was some forty miles outside of Northlight, and roughly another forty would take the group to Wellcliff when the job had been done. He asked that the group present documents from both the mayor and constable of Mercaeus to his Herald in Wellcliff that attested to the issue resolution. With the issue resolved, the Duke, Alexander, and Augustin left. Avaniel once again expressed his regret to Akiko over her missing son, and she departed soon after with Parlow.

Jozan began to ask the Count questions about the rumors surrounding him. Upon being asked if he was a spy, Wells indicated his frail form. Jozan claimed a master spy could be capable of such deception. The Count laughed, stating that the King’s field agents were quite a different cut of cloth physically from himself. Still suspicious, Jozan dropped the subject when Avaniel asked why the Count had not come to Faldrin’s aid before. Harlan said that he had yet to dispatch an investigation unit to the village, and he was unwilling to dispatch troops on unconfirmed claims. He slyly admitted to being quite busy with the preparations for the Festival of Fools party as well.

The group presented their gifts, and the lot departed from the booth. Jozan and Avaniel asked Kaspar if he would come with them to Mercaeus, but the courier said he was unwilling to delibrately put himself in danger. He offered to make sure the boat picked up the pair at Wellcliff after their duties had been fulfilled. After bidding their farewells, the pair departed by the magical carriage back to the Steelsnout.

After being reprimmanded by the Captain, the group gave their documents to the Herald, and the pair thus packed for the journey. Early in the morning, before the Steelsnout departed, Kaspar awoke the pair to see them off the dock. Walking away, a final prank lay waiting on the docks. The pair fell through a set of illusory planks and fell into the water below. After swimming out to much laughter from the townsfolk, the group made preparations for their departure to Mercaeus.

Session 23: The Masquerade

The adventurers were whisked away to the Count’s manor in Northlight. The mansion of the Count of Northlight laid on a large estate in the northwestern section of the noble quarter. The well cobbled roads carried Avaniel, Jozan, and Kaspar’s carriage past the relatively crowded buildings of the normal aristocracy into a more open area. The estate was surrounded about its tall, hedged and gated perimeter by various social structures. It was as if a blot of vegetation had bloomed from the very stone of the town. The estate seemed so expansive as to allow only the tops of the high peaked roofs and an auxiliary tower to appear over the generously blossoming rose hedges. The deep green of the plants made vision into the compound from outside the gate impossible to the casual observer.

The carriage pulled to the exterior guardhouse and presented papers to verify passage. The well armed guards inspected them and nodded. They gave signal to the gatehouse to open the plot of land for entrance, and the ivory, green, red, and pink transport pulled through. The interior of the complex was a staggering field of green grass. Bushes and trees sat nicely trimmed and shaped into various creatures and objects. Ahead on the main road, the three spied a fountain of glowing, pale stone. Statues of classical muses, poets, and philosophers adorned the centerpiece of the sprawling, spouting monument. The carriage was to follow a gleaming, white road lined by elegantly posed statues which bisected into a circular path to the front of the manor, around the fountain. The approach gave full view to the mansion of the Count.

The building was rectangle of design, with both shallow, triangular overhangs and tall, sharply acute rooftops. The bright red walls of the building were littered with three neat rows of windows lined in white. The floors of the building were noted by streaks of forest green that encircled the structure’s perimeter. Accents of pink scattered about the architecture, and a variety of small tapestries hung over the topmost windows. The designs on these were all related to art and writing: quill and paper, easel and brush, and horn and note among others. The first floor itself seemed considerably larger given the height of the glass panes, and the companions figured the majority of the festivities might be found there.

As the carriage pulled to rest, partygoers began spilling out into the vast outdoor areas, pursuing each other in revelry. A few sat upon the lip of the fountain discussing matters. The guests all wore bright, tight fitting clothes, many with rather odd color schemes that seemed nonetheless appropriate for this gathering.

The dress wearing heroes ascended the steps to the front of the manor. A quartet of guards stood at the ready, and as they moved towards the door, one of them moved to push the portal open. Entering the tall, intricately carved doors at the front of the manor, the drake slayers beheld a tall, vaulted room. A semicircle stairway brought two paths up to a second, wider stairwell that lead to the second floor of the mansion. The floors were of deeply contrasted marble. Above, a collection of tiny glass sculptures hung suspended above the main hall. The angelic figures projected light from hands, eyes, or weapon, though the light source was not entirely evident. An enormous central chandelier was shaped into sprawling rose bush. Various luminous gems composed both leaves and flowers of the creation, and silvery material traced the path of branches in the thicket. Large archways led off the the right and left to separate rooms. To the left, a dining area; to the right was a hall filled with portraits in view.

In the middle of the semicircle, below the landing, a group of six people posed in motionless poses, covered in a white paint. They easily could be mistaken as statues, if not for the changing of their poses every few moments and the rippling of straining muscles holding the isometric poses. A number of the partygoers laughed as others joined in a game of the performers art. Others stood about the area enjoying the playing musicians and singers.

Rushing down the stairs from the landing, Herald Chris approached the newcomers and, after blowing a comically buzzing horn, announced their arrival. “Esteemed guests of Count Wells I present to the the recent heroes of Faldrin, and champions during the recent raids upon Ailead’s hospitality, noble, and republic districts: Jozan of the Grove of Lamatus, Avaniel Cerellion of Ailead, and Kaspar Ottokar of Woristrom.” Chris waited for a small contingent of applause to sound before once again blowing the odd horn, which drew assorted odd laughter as the guests mimicked woman and men.

“But tonight is a time naught of gloom but entertainment and merriment.” The announcement came from an individual upon the top of the staircase. A mask of a jester adorned the man’s face, and his clothes colored a mix of greens and ivory. About the attire, slight ringing could be heard as rose shaped bells rang lightly in the perfumed air. The man trekked down the steps to the first landing, a cape of myriad colors following closely to him. He continued his speech in rhyme.

“By name this night we find a detriment.
And so I ask the adventures of the new
Whose names have now surely paid them due.
To take upon monikers most befit
of the clothes in which they sit.
What say you, champions of Ailead,
How shall we address thee when we feed?”

Noting the man’s taste for clever wordplay, the three men thought for a moment before Jozan answered first, “Why, the name shall I hold is Lady Tanda Merryweather.”

Picking up on the trend as well, Kaspar tried to add a melodic ring to accompanying his companion’s name. “Only if I many be Lady Priscilla of the Feather.”

The poorly costumed Avaniel completed the exchange with his response of, "You may address me as Vanya, Alexandra.

“And so the names of maidens fair.
Shall be known to witness here and there.
Enjoy extravagent encounters at ease.
And to my guests,
your stories shall surely please.
A toast then,” the masked man said as he raised his glass towards the art above.
“To the new friends.
May heroism never end
The tyrant’s will twist and bend
And the powers always send
Those with power to tend.”

The gathered people raised glasses and toasted away, continuing their previous activities soon after. The herald remarked to the trio that the man was Count Harlan Wells. She claimed he wanted to participate more fully in the festivities himself, but his servants convinced him it would be somewhat necessary for guests to be able to tell the host apart.

The adventurers left their gifts with the herald to give to the count. They asked about the festivities of the night, and they were told an art exhibition and a theatrical performance were planned for later in the night. When asked where they could Augustin Gonzalo, the herald was more secretive.

“Truly, one of the delights of the masquerade is the mystique and mystery. Little fun would be had if one did not have to hunt their friends at such a gathering,” Herald Chris jested.

The three looked about the guests, and Jozan and Avaniel both caught sight of the old veteran and his student from Ailead, Alexander Scipio. The military men introduced themselves as Alexandra and Altresca, and they were currently speaking with Gregor Baranzar, or Draforga for this gathering. The merchant and architect said he expected his “zoo” to be near completion within a year.

The druid and hunter asked of Ailead, and Augustin told them the situation had become tense. Continued fighting with the unknown aquatic foes near Ailead had led the Republic of Ailead to seek aid from the west. A military envoy from Port Casmin was expected within the month to help quash the uprising with force or diplomatic measures, though many doubted bloodshed was avoidable. Patrols had increased underneath the city, in the sewer system. Bands of dark folk were still routinely showing up during these incursions.

Jozan mentioned the dark folk attack on the Steelsnout, and both Alexander and Augustin seemed confused that the creatures would have access to such seafaring ships. To their knowledge, the creatures had limited shipbuilding skills. Jozan continued to tell them of the explosives they found on the vessel as well, but he stopped short of mentioning the sinking of the ship and the emergence of the Barbaroi. Alexander in particular seemed distraught with these developments. Avaniel and Jozan asked if either of the men could decipher a message they had gotten earlier from the creatures, but neither man knew the tongue of the creatures.

Baranzar asked about the adventurer’s story about the drake of Faldrin. After briefly speaking about it, Jozan mentioned the creature seemed supernaturally powerful. Kaspar commented on the possiblity of a silver weakness in the creature. Augustin and Baranzar were intrigued at the notion of an immortal beast. Avaniel commented he had wished they could have captured the beast for Baranzar, but the old dwarf seemed less inclined to accept the creature. He claimed to have gotten the idea after a particularly dangerous run in with a large green bear. After praying for his life from Dom, he claimed to have had a vision. He viewed a hawk from on high which descended to the ground and demanded he cease his butchery of animals. Baranzar agreed, and the bear departed. He was loathe to stop his passion of the hunt, but an idea came to the dwarf. He wished others to see the wonders of the world, and thus conscripted trappers to bring rare creatures to him for citizens to view.

Moving to a different subject, Avaniel asked Augustin if he knew any information about the peace summit to be held in Urima. Augustin figured it would probably include Czar Kainus al’Raohtuck Kadacov, King Nerod Eldenberry, a representative from the war capital in Sinohi, and perhaps a pair of individuals from the Urima High Council. He also hinted at the strong possibility of the summit turning volatile given the numerous alliance treaties and hotheadedness of the leaders.

The men all excused themselves, and Kaspar wandered off to handle his own amusement. Jozan was prepared to do the same until he heard someone mention the name Bu-Jinwen from the art gallery. Jozan could scarce believe his ears, and hurriedly dragged Avaniel with him to investigate. Avaniel heard mention of the name as well, and point out a group of six that were talking to the person. As the went to investigate, the pair spied the Count placing a piece of paper behind a picture of a white flower meadow. Avaniel moved to investigate the note, but he was spotted by a guard and told not to disturb the painting. Both men were puzzled by the painting, and Jozan was only able to tell the flowers were either quite unique or the figment of the artist’s imagination.

Moving back to the group of six, the men spotted “Bu-jinwen” clad in a form fitting samue. The long coat crossed over at the front and was sashed with an obi. A brilliant cascade of blue lotus patterns were placed sporadically about the garment. The person wore a curved blade and pen at the hip. To its opposing side was a small, ceramic ball which rang lightly when the subject turns.

A mask covered the lower half of the face and featured a grimacing, caricaturesque mouth with a long, thin mustache. The eyes of the guest were keen, and pointed ears showed the elven heritage of the guest. Long hair is wrapped around the forehead and coiled about itself to produce a headband of the silken black stuff. Despite the mask, it was clear this was not the Bu-jinwen the pair knew.

The pair walked in on a discussion. Iberum was still in the midst of an undead outbreak. The appearance of the creatures was becoming a regularity as of late, yet none of the fiends had attacked the populace. The curiosity further compounded on the thoughts of officials when attacks by paladins and clerics was met with non-aggression. Some residents claimed the same dead continued to rise, but no evidence or precedent of this had been seen.

The men began a subtle bombardment of questions upon the person, a woman. She responded that she was from Sinohi, and here as a guest of the Count. She told the men she had a son of the name Bu-jinwen, and was somewhat confused and interested when Jozan mentioned they had travelled with someone of that name. They agreed to speak at a later time, and Jozan and Avaniel began to leave as the woman asked for tales of Moorhaven Manor.

The men turned just in time to see a person headed towards the meadow painting. The woman seemed out of place, as though she didn’t fully understand the masquerade theme. The prominent cheekbones lead the eyes to hair she had cut messy and short, but a structured messy. A prominent hairpin was shaped as a curved, silver dagger.

The skirt she wore was quite feminine, tiered, dark blue, and silver threaded. The blouse, however, was a type of yellowing bone white. A thin scarf of light blue wrapped about the neck of the girl. It was as if she took the theme to mean “messy as a man” or unkempt as a woman.

The men watched the women take the note from its concealed location. A guard moved to inform her of the “no touching” policy, but the women threw her arms up and began to back away. The guard conceded the point, and the girl walked away followed by Avaniel and Jozan. She paused for a time to watch the living statues at work. Jozan and Avaniel overheard other guests suggesting the Count was a former spy of King Nerod, and he was involved in the assassination of many political rivals and foreign military leaders. They gossiped that Wells was granted his nobility and the family name of the previous Count of Northlight by the king for his service. The former count died under mysterious circumstances, and many still wonder if Harlan Wells is truly his son. All records of the Count were reported lost in a fire which damaged much of the estate and an adjoining records building near the old estate. The old estate has since been turned into a mausoleum that some of the guests assumed had many hidden secrets.

The woman was on the move again, this time to the dining area. She joined in on a conversation between Augustin, Alexander, and Chetris Agallis. The out of costume man was an apparent aide to the Farseer of Urima. The unnamed woman praised the young Scipio as the first in line for conscription if a war should break out. The young man had already wrote a pair of essays being studied at the Palcanod, Escagaea, and Castagion military academies. Alexander spoke of his visits to the establishments were he was often poised new solutions to old battles he knew nothing about. Augustin mentioned the solutions were period specific, and were often as good or better than the original plans of attack. Chetris mentioned he had caught ear that this has earned Alexander both admiration from the new guard of military leaders and scorn from the traditionalist old guard.

The embarrassed young man frantically looked about for a break in the praise he was receiving. Seeing Jozan and Avaniel, he moved to them and talked to the pair, cutting them off momentarily from following the girl as she went off towards a smoking room. When the pair caught up, she was missing. Jozan rushed off down the halls of the mansion to find traces of her, and a short search of a pair of side rooms from Avaniel garnered no information. The hunter then returned to the main hall. There, he observed the Count placing another message in the hand of one of the living statue performers. When Wells left, Avaniel went and pocketed the document.

Meanwhile, Jozan ran down the halls of the manor in chase of the young woman from before. He rounded the corner leading back to the art gallery and tried some doors, which were locked. As he continued down the hall, a door opened ahead. From within, a guard escorted a collection of men towing artist instruments to the gallery. The guard went to Jozan and reminded him that the count wanted his guests to stay at the mansion front until their presence at the theater was requested later in the night. Jozan conceded the point and went with the artists. In the gallery, the artists began sculpting. Jozan overheard rumors of a certain guest. Parlow Menfu was rumored to be involved in many research projects regarding the origins of different intelligent species. The guests circulated that he had been seen at the orphanages in Orsini, Basoy, and Saint Sophia. The combination of the two rumors had put people in the manor at ill ease, but they were assured by the matrons and patrons of the childcare facilities that his studies were minor. The benefits to the community were major monetarily.

Seeing a familiar face, Jozan wandered over to a man that looked ill equipped for this party. He was a large man in both height and weight, and what was visible of his face was the stern, utterly taciturn expression of Anatoly Olnarov. He wore a brown and black silk burqa. Though lovely in its own way, the dress suited neither the mass of the Peroshi, nor the clothing style of Northlight. If this seems to bother the man, it was unseen through the translucent veil. Jozan quickly spoke with him about Sosimo Primo Santos. The Peroshi said he had not heard from the man, as his business with him was unneeded given the exemption he was able to acquire for his shipping concerns.

Jozan watched as a tall man with long, curled blonde hair acted as a model for the artists. The man, Duke Florant Asparago Durigo, wore a billowing skirt and half sleeve blouse of light pink hue. A small, brimmed fedora encircled by a red ribbon upon the noble’s head, and a red mask covered his face. The mask was accentuated by a pursed pair of white lips and small, dangling earrings bored through the ears of the piece. Jozan could not have guessed the impact of this person’s appearance at the count’s manor. He left to the main hall and met with Avaniel. There, the two looked at the letter before and were shocked by the contents.

I dare say you might be quick to the dash.
To spy on your host and think him an ass.
To feel I am blind to your prying and poking.
You must think I am quite a joke king.
But fear not you, supposed heroes of late.
If you have questions of me, ask at the theater quite late.

Somewhat humiliated, the pair resigned themselves to the dining hall. After sharing the note with a soon laughing Kaspar, the pair awaited the start of the theater activities. Kaspar revealled little new information, other than the supposed fencing expertise of the herald, whose name was Kirstiana normally. They did not have to wait long. After a time of eating and light discussion, the trio’s attention was brought to the main hall. There, the herald began listing off seating arrangements for the guests. The three drake slayers found themselves in seemingly good company since they were assigned to a private box with the Count himself.

The men were escorted up into the private booth, and beheld the private theater Count Wells had built is his manor for his actors. The booth was home to The Count and his herald, the Duke Durigo, Akiko Nivaye, and Parlow Menfu. After some short banter, the Count and Parlow began to play some sort of strategy board game while the play continued. Menfu seemed to have a keen interest in the adventurers, and Jozan soon discovered that he knew of Jericho to some extent. His line of studies had lead him to cross paths with Jozan’s former mentor. Parlow also seemed to have had a run in with “another Cerellion” at one point, but talk shifted towards Parlow’s background.

He mentioned he was an orphan out of Pa Goi in Sinohi. Early in his life, he stowed away on a ship to Urima, and his interpersonal talents led him to work as a diplomatic aide there. He spent much of his time as a negotiator with Daramis, and was later naturalized to Daramis in his adult life after meeting his late wife, Julia, who died 2 years later. The group reflected on how far they had come as well. A person need not have a noble birth, or even family, to be a person of great influence on Fonoros. During the conversation, Jozan noted the Count pocketing a message he had picked up from one of the game pieces on the board.

The play continued, a simple story about the shades of gray in wartime. As the play’s singers began to reach the heights of a particular piece, Harlan Wells poised a frightening question to the Duke of Faro. The jester masked man asked the Duke where he had met the adventurer’s from Ailead before. A rush of nervousness washed over Jozan and Avaniel as they recalled the forged document Roger had made for them to break through the trade embargo. The Duke, as expected, answered he had never seen the men before. In a desperate attempt, Avaniel haphazardly tried to change the subject, only to be rebutted with some anger by Florant. Avaniel admitted to never having known what the Duke looked like. He thought he could make it seem as though the man they received the writ from was mistaken for the Duke. The phrasing used made the Duke only more suspicious though. The Count waved the issue off for the moment, suggesting those gathered enjoy the play and each other’s company for now. The sound of boots could be heard climbing the stairs to the both. The Count’s guards no doubt.

In a more somber discussion, the companions told Akiko that they had been travelling with her son. They told her he disappeared during their travels, and they had yet to see him since. The Count realized and explained the impact of the curse near Easthaven Island. All who used magic near the island vanished, not to be seen again. While worry was visible on Nivaye’s face, she seemed somewhat less concerned. Her son had left once before mysteriously; she could only hope for his return again. The Count questioned why the adventurers travelled near Easthaven to begin with, drawing more fearful feelings in Avaniel, Kaspar, and Jozan. As a few moments passed with no answer from Jozan and Avaniel, Ottokar blurtted out that they had merely been checking the condition of the pirate ports so they could report back to Primo Santos. He mentioned the recent pirate attacks on the noble vessels to bolster the lie, and the Count seemed caught off guard by the explanation and mannerisms of the courier. The matter was dropped, and the play continued.

At the play’s completion, the guests applauded. The booth praised the Count’s patronage of the arts, and settled in to talk once more about the mysterious writ of Duke Florant Asparago Durigo. Jozan and Avaniel once more struggled to find words, and the anger of the Duke continued to heighten. Augustin and Alexander seemed to want to help the travelers, but they saw no way to do so without incriminating themselves in the matter of the forgery. All eyes lay on the pair, and the duo was certain the arrival of the Count’s guards would be swift if their answer was not sufficient.


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