Fonoros

Session 40: People From Wellcliff Don't Use Horses

The men rode hard, chasing the town of Wellcliff as the sun fell fast. Nearing sunset, the traveling pair happened upon a camp being set fairly early. They approached and were greeted by the men as they rode closer. The campers were merchants traveling the roads from Northlight to Wellcliff. They would sell and buy wares from between the regions. They offered a place to rest from their journey, but Jozan would decline. As they rode past, hidden crossbows aimed upon their steeds.

Firing from their hiding places, the crossbow wielding bandits fired upon the horses, and they were put quickly to sleep. Jozan called out the trap, and the other merchants revealed blades. A bandit ambush! The men swarmed Jozan, cutting at him ruthlessly as others chased after Avaniel. Though jozan could clear each man with a single blow, the mass of blades headed his way relentlessly taxed the blood from his veins. Avaniel was quickly beset by his own problems. Casting upon his magic to oil the grass before him, he was able to buy time for his friend to get to him. The men regrouped and began to fend off their assailants. After a bloody few moments, the bandit leader, Sullivan the Sneak, called a halt to the combat for a moment.

He offered to let the men pass, to take what they wanted from the camp and leave. Jozan would not allow the bandits to keep their weapons as part of the arrangement. The bandit leader knew that replacing the blades and armor would be impossible to do, and would leave the men in a situation where crime would still be the only solution to survival, but they would be unarmed. The fight continued, and the adventurers won. Sullivan disappeared shortly after drinking from a potion. The men swiped ineffectually at the air a few moments, then tried to track the hidden Sullivan. After a short time of tracking, they discovered Sullivan had used some sort of power to take flight, making tracking near impossible for them. Another day, another loss end on this side of the mountains.

The pair finished their journey. Night was well underway when the men searched the docks for the Steelsnout. Finding it, they brought a barrel of beer to Aldrazan for use on the voyage. Aldrazan told the men that Kaspar and Herald Kirstiana Abaun were at one of the taverns in the town.

Jozan and Avaniel found their way to the establishment and gave their paperwork to the herald. She looked the documents over and returned their writs of passage. She also gave them a separate note from the Count that held a message inside.

I had little doubt on your capability to complete the Duke’s task. You have done something of a service for Northlight and Faro, and restored your credibility. I should warn you that your journey is not absent of danger. I have received word from certain individuals that something dangerous, murderous might occur at the 4 nation summit in Desov. If you head that way, be on your guard, and be wary of anyone you are not completely trusting of.

The men tanked the herald and secured lodging for the night.

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Session 39: An Heir to Wildweeper

The travelers would thus talk with the newly present spirit of Wildweeper Villa, the master of the house, Roland Wildweeper. A true curiosity would arise in the halls that day. Roland proclaimed peace and happiness were with him wherever he had been. He claimed that he had been with all his family in that place, all of his children and his wife.

He had no desire to return to the nightmare of his old reality.

Despite pleadings from the adventurers, Roland stubbornly refused to relent his curse upon Fort Mercaeus. Deras had indeed saved some of his children, but he had been part of Hedravol’s force that had abandoned his estate when it was clear the people of Mercaeus were volatile, fearful, ignorant monsters waiting for an excuse to storm the gates. It striked the men as odd that where the noble had went, he had seen all of his kin. Truly, he even knew that Deras had saved many of his children. Could he had been driven mad? If he had, why did he seem so determined and thoughtful in the world that was real to every other person?

Roland dismissed the men, ordering Marsley to remove them from his home. Upon reaching the main atrium of the mansion, Marsley took the men aside, particularly speaking to Avaniel. He suggested another way to lift the curse. Perhaps, if the men had a symbol of station associated with the Wildweepers, they might be able to trick the curse. If a strong symbol of representation was present, perhaps a person could still lift the curse as a Wildweeper might. He said a symbol of such office might be found in the sauna room under the stairwell, as it was the only room he had no true access to himself.

The men forced their way through the lockeed door under the stairs, Inside, a dirtied pool sat motionless. Looking at it, it had runes traced on its outer ridge, magics used to heat the interior water for the sauna it would seem. Looking carefully into the pool, the crack in the pool Marsley had mentioned was visible. It was far too small to grasp, but it was certainly present. Avaniel used the lever on the valve outside of the room, and the pool water receded into slits around the edges of the vessel.

Jozan would use his training to sense magic about the area. He would discover a leyline. The men pensively decided they had no choice but to trust a path would become clear when they used the dangerous magic of the energy point. They would activate it, feeling the displacement of themselves and reality around them. The stone walls of the room closed around the doorway, and the crack in the pool opened wide. The new opening dropped down a scant inch onto a black stone platform with yet another leyline on it. The men once again cautiously activated this one, and it warped reality once again.

The black stone sunk far into the bowels of Fonoros, dropping them men down into a tower-like cavern roughly carved into the natural stone of the hill the villa sat upon. The leyline remained visible for a moment far overhead. Above it, the crack in the fountain closed up, locking the adventurers inside this structure. Tall Arches supported the weight of the chamber, and the furnishings inside the chamber betrayed that the Wildweepers had at least known about this room. Thus, they knew about the leylines.

Inside their new surroundings were a series of small thrones, a pair of targets for archery, and a display for a bow. Upon the display, a bow of twisted wood lay. It was crafted with white, azure, and dark colored woods. The three stocks were wound around one another to form the piece. Avaniel grasped the bow as Jozan looked at the dry, brittle arrows stuck within the targets. As the half-drow held the bow, he heard a calling in his mind that he strained to listen to.

“Fae guide thy arrows to swift victory,” the unseen speaker said.

The puzzling statement was left ill contemplated as the ground in the corner of the chamber began to crack, and earth pushed up from underneath. A ragged corpse burst from the ground, clawing its way from the very dirt and rock. It dragged itself up, flesh forming upon its bones. A black robes flowed forth from this morbid growth, and a second, winged creature clawed itself from the depths as well.

“So I’ve found you again, companions. I had hoped to find you in the Pit, but I suppose this will have to do. It is time I did some recruiting for my master,” the sickly visage proclaimed curiously.

Jozan could only assume the god of death and fate had some hand is this. He told the creature they were messengers of Yogir, that this thing should let them be. He was worried when the response came back.

“My master could never be so base. It is he who imprisoned Yogir. It is he who takes of his power. Soon you will know of him yourselves.”

Without further banter, the creature conjured up a pair of wolves from the magical aether. The things gnashed their teeth and set upon Jozan as he battled them off with his axe. The winged creature disappeared, and the bowmen set arrows about the room. The wolves dragged Jozan to the ground, piling on top of the druid with ferocious teeth.

The arrows flew into the robed creature, and jozan struggled free to strike with his flaming axe, immolating the robes around the creature before being overwhelmed once more. The creature lifted his hand to fire a black beam of energy which wracked the very soul of Avaniel, and this was followed by a ray that atrophied the muscles of the ranger to near nothingness. The flying creature above cackled as it used the wand, preparing another onslaught that landed upon Jozan.

Avaniel struggled and ached as he dropped hi pack upon the ground so that he may move. He drew his blade but could only manage a meager hit upon one of the wolves. Saluhul fired upon the flying creature, unable to connect.

Talei and Jozan were finally able to rake apart one of the wolves when the creature called out to them, “How about a blast from the past gentleman?”

A cloud of putrid vapor spilled into the entirety of the room. The men shielded themselves well, but Saluhul stumbled about, unable to shake a retching sickness from his innards. The men fought on, and set the creature low with their magic items. The wolf disappeared, the winged creature collapsed back into bones, and the cloud dissipated.

Jozan took a remaining wand from the ground while Avaniel slumped and thought. The creature had surely seemed an undead monster, yet he was unable to figure what it might be, nor did any of his training assist him in vanquishing it. He propped himself up and conjured magic to see what this new bow had in store for him. He stopped suddenly, noticing he did not hold his magically bond object within his grasp. The magic persisted and felt normal to him, however. Somehow, in this dreary dark recess, was a bow that was magically inclined, indeed bond, to him.

The men took their time using rope to reach the leyline. On activating it, they found themselves back at ground level, discovering that items in the real world did not interact with those in the strange plane they traveled to. So they went for Marsley, minus a rope and grappling hook. The caretaker pointed and his mouth was agape in shock.

“You can use it?” he started. “I mean I had always thought it true, but I couldn’t be sure until this proof. Listen closely, Avaniel. Through some strange path of fate, you have come here with the blood of Wildweeper in your veins. Only those with that blood can draw that bow.”

The revelation was confusing and jarring for Cerellion as the ghastly servant continued, “I cannot say how this has happened, but I can give some insight.” He explained the Cerellion Lodge was an old inn that lay in Eastern Daramis to the south of the Molagona Mountains. It was used as a safehouse for the children of Wildweeper in the tense days following the Villa’s fall. It was possible that one of Avaniel’s parents could be one of the children of Wildweeper or their children.

Avaniel had known his mother to be human, given his lineage, and this would continue to haunt him on his travels to Urima it would seem. Marsley declared that all that needed to be done was for Avaniel to remove the curse upon the fort, and all would be well since he was indeed a male heir to Wildweeper. The travelers had grave worries about Roland. If they did lift the curse, it was certain it would anger the vengeful spirit. It was clear he was a creature of some magical renown. The men knew he could not leave the villa at this time, but dreaded the prospect of having him as an adversary if the situation changed. What if he should be free some day?

They would have to dismiss these worries as the continued on to Irelevi’s to consult her, tell her of their progress, and measure her reaction. She was disappointed in the outcome, but she was accepting of the situation. Her father was free, and he seemed enormously unforgiving despite the aid of the men. It was revealed that she did indeed suspect that Avaniel had Wildweeper blood as well. He looked to similar to some of the men in the family in life. She decided that it was the right thing to aid what very well could be family. She would report her satisfaction with the removal of the spirits to the constable.

A short journey to the fort later, Avaniel called out to Hedravol. The officer emerged from the fort with Deras. The appartitions of the keep drew weapons and prepared to beset the men. Avaniel then absolved the men of the curse of Wildweeper, instantly casting their forms back into nothingness. A lonely, windswept landscape and an abandoned fort were all that remained.

The men grabbed their papers from the constable, and returned their keys to him. They bid Saluhul farewell, letting him keep the scabbard and the magic sword they had given him. They implored him to use the money to cure his ill health caused by the spirit of Deras. He thanked them and departed, and the men continued on their way to Wellcliff and the Steelsnout with all haste.

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Session 38: A Spirit Unbound

The companions returned to Wildweeper Villa. After entering the atrium of the mansion, they called to Caretaker Marsley to guide them once more to the records stored at the study. The fiendish counting continued again, and would slowly, arduously continue as Avaniel looked at the records stored. Marsley suggested looking at the records around the birth of Avaniel, and it was no surprise that no Cerellions had ever been guests to the mansion.

It was at this time that Avaniel got the feeling Marsley had noticed something about him or his surname, but he was unable to pry the information from the undead servant. Jozan looked around, opening doors that the adventurers might more easily see danger if it approached. Avaniel asked why names were repeated in the guest log. Marsley replied that guests present at the Villa’s fall had to have their permission renewed to travel about the stairwell. He secretly told Avaniel that the names in both the residents records and guest records allowed the listed people free reign to go upstairs through the alarm turned barrier. He also said that although the family Wildweeper was written in as residents, no Wildweeper truly needed to be marked in the book; their passage was assured through their bloodline.

Marsley asked under what name he should be searching, and Avaniel replied. The mention of Cerellion seemed to draw another odd reaction from the butler, but once again, he dismissed it. In the adjacent room, Jozan opened the door to be greeted by a rotting husk in a faded black suit. The creature scolded the orphans as they ran about, but its attention rapidly turned to the druid. The creature angrily demanded to know why Jozan was in the Villa. Jozan called to Marsley, and the undead assuaged the worries of the newly found caretaker, Ezrahod.

Nothing was to be found in the books. The counting started to get even more unnerving, and the men hurried to the main atrium once more to the taunting calls of the creatures. On their way, Marsley stopped Avaniel, and he whispered to him, “I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but it is your responsibility to fix things at the villa.”

“Eight, a Wildweeper born late, bound in fate,” mocked the voices.

“Nine, heir of a new time. Born of different kind,” it continued.

“Ten.”

The men waited, expecting the living shadows to appear, but they did not for some time with Marsley around. The men decided to investigate the door behind the stairwell once more. They asked Marsley to unlock the large, wooden doors. He responded that the keys were held by Ezrahod, much to the dismay of the travelers. They went back to the main atrium, where Jozan thought to hatch an idea.

He told Marsley to wait on the opposing side of a close door. He told the butler to come to them should he call for help. Marsley reluctantly agreed. Sure enough, the shadows came out to do battle, though these were made of the glassy substance typical of weakened creatures. Immediately, Marsley was called. When he entered, the apparitions ran off. Jozan told Marsley to wait on the other side of the door once more, and to come to their aid if he heard fighting.

The shadows appeared again, this time fully to their faculties. The battle ensued, and Marsley joined the fray when the shadows drew close for their first barrage of muscle draining attacks. He clasped a previously hidden amulet and reached out to one of the creatures. Much to the adventurer’s amazement, the creature disappeared completely. The ravenous hunger of the shadows met the determination of the champions of Northlight, and it was only barely that the living walked away victorious. After defeating the three shades in the keep, the men went outside to finish off the last one that had been transported outside the gates. They did not find him, but neither was the last shard released from the body of Roland.

Upon reentering the hold, the creature feebly assailed them and was soundly defeated. The men went back outside and saw the blade upon the ground. Again, they sensed magic in the blade. Lifting up the implement, both Avaniel and Saluhul were pulled inextricably with the blades to strike at the haft of the pike. The black haze enveloping the haft sundered, and the shattered remains of the pike flew back into place leaving the weapon whole once more. Roland’s body slumped. The sword bearers regained their command of their bodies, and Marsley ran off into the mansion to see the fate of his master.

Roland sat upon his throne in the ballroom, and the travelers were surprised to hear the exchange between the caretaker and his master.

“Who are these people that should intrude upon the noble grounds of Wildweeper Marsley?”

“My Lord, these men were responsible for unbinding your spirit; they returned you to this realm.”

“Whom told them to release me from the binding?!” Roland shouted through his ghostly mouth.

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Session 37: Caring for more than Documents, Children, and Clerics

Entering Wildweeper Villa once again, Avaniel, Jozan, and Saluhul took heed crossing the gardens once more. A short scuffle with another scarecrow guardian was quickly dealt with, and soon enough, they entered the main area of the villa once more. They looked around shortly, discovering that a grand ballroom lay inhabited by a great number of specters. In the room sat a throne, empty. Looking to a nearby room, the men found more undead children. When talked to, the companions discovered that another pair of caretakers existed besides Marsley, Quinten and Ezrahod. They also discovered that it was probably Marsley that was caring for the body outside. The children said he would oft care for the outside grounds.

Any pondering Jozan had regarding this was cut short when the doors leading to the grand ballroom opened. The men reeled back, tension gripping their blades high and tight. The sam rotting corpse in a faded black suit stepped through the door.

“So I see you have returned guests, though I’d wager to say you might not be guests with such weapons on you.”

The men spoke to the creature, Marsley. They told him that they had been sent to help free his master, unknowingly concealing the mission to bring the family to rest as Irelevi wanted. He would tell them of his inability to find his master in some time now. He declared the spirit of Roland Wildweeper had been missing ever since the Man in Bone White Armor had placed the shards through the corpse of his patron. Jozan urged more details about this man, but his visit was short lived. He had come, placed the swords, muttered something, and left.

Marsley it seemed was in full awareness to the state of the villa. He told the men that different creatures in the villa had different views of the world around them. The children, while able to communicate with the realm of the living, thought nothing amiss. They would speak of men in black coats, and Marsley knew little of these things. He recalled scaring shadows away into the mansion at different times, seeing a pair at most.

The counting began again, and the men became worried and asked if Marsley heard the counting. He shook his head, but mentioned some other recent guests had heard something similar. Intrigued at the thought of other guests, the travelers discovered a group of four clerics had come not overly long ago. Marsley offered them quarter in the upper rooms, which they took after a time. Marsley said that when he returned in the morning to greet them, he was met with three husks, drained fo the life essence. The fourth he never found.

Marsley explained that the wheel under the stairwell was a valve to send water to the sauna under the stairs. He said it was where the folk of the house went to relax and meditate. The pool there had a crack at the bottom, however, the master had seemed very reluctant to fix it. Marsley offered quarter to the travelers. They considered it, but with the counting continuing, they thought they should act fast and learn what they could.

Avaniel inquired about the staircase. Marsley said that only guests escorted by a caretaker or residents could freely go up and down the stairwell. Residents were described as family or the orphans. He remarked the barrier had not always been there. It had originally been a silent alarm, but with the fall of the villa, it was reenchanted with the power to bar passage all together. The puzzle continued to spread. Avaniel asked if there were records of the visitors and orphans. Marsley nodded and offered to show them to the men.

The count reached a dreaded ten, and the men pleaded with Marsley to stay with them a moment. Marsley became impatient with time he spent sitting near the fae tree. He took his leave, and shortly after, a pair of the dreaded shadows appeared once more. They taunted the adventurers attempts at slaying them. TTheir touch was atrophy; their countenance was cold and uncaring. They sunk their claws into the flesh of Jozan as he swung his flaming axe about in defense. Avaniel made use of his new plane blade to cut at the inky material of the creatures.

Great swathes of the ink fell and dissipated from the creatures, revealing glass-like bones and a flickering pinpoint underneath. Saluhul, using the great magic scabbard Avaniel had given him, called out the command “Magic” to imbue the blade with temporary power to hurt the creatures. The fight was brutal and short.

“Yes, split us again!” the creatures yelled as their shattered glass bones fell to the marble floor before drifting off on astral winds.

The flickers flew off back into the keep. Jozan slumped down with great weariness, and the others called out to Marsley, whom appeared soon after. He could not hear any combat by his claims, and the men were very suspicious of the ghastly caretaker. They followed him through a few rooms. The counting continued. They stopped in a large study.

Many tomes lined the walls and desk of the area. Marsley moved to a shelf and pulled two large books from it. The Resident and Guest Logs were truly large. Avaniel scanned them momentarily, all the while pressured by counting and mocking of the unseen predators of the villa. These volumes were large and would take much time to peruse in depth. The men were running out of time. Marsely was unwilling to allow the books to leave the premises, but offered again to house the travelers. The three decided to leave and tend their wounds again.

Upon leaving the house proper, the men asked Marsley if there was some way to get passed the scarecrows. He responded that they did have a failsafe on them. As long as a person was not close enough for them to attack, and someone was looking at them, they would not move. On leaving the gate, the pair discovered that another shard had fallen from the body of Roland. The black blade was foreboding and dangerous looking, and the men resolved to take great care with the magical thing until they knew more about it. Their own scrying failed, and they resolved it might take another trip to Irelevi to determine what the blade could accomplish.

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Session 36: A Caretaker of Roland

The men looked about to see what was missing in the tense atmosphere of the outdoor area. They noted the absence of one of the cruel barbs piercing the flesh of Roland Wildweeper’s body. Opening the gate and surveying the ground, they discovered a plain-looking sword upon the ground.

After some observation, it was determined the sword held powerful magic in it, but the pair of magic savants were unable to decipher its true power. Looking at the body of Roland again, they noticed it was kept bound in bandaging. The cloth was layered at points, making it clear the body had a regular visitor to it. Avaniel discovered some footprints near the body, and using his magic, discovered that the caretaker was the same creature that had spoke to Jozan before he departed the mansion hurriedly. The tracks continued around the outer garden. Considering their options, and what had transpired thus far, the men felt too weak to safely continue their investigation at this time. They decided to head for Irelevi Wildweeper’s hut to rest.

After confirming their stay was at least tolerated by the daughter, the men set up camp for the night. During the nightly discussion, they resolved that it was best that they stay in Mercaeus to see this issue through, even if it meant losing their passage to Urima on the Steelsnout. After recuperating in the morning, the men noted that Saluhul had exited Irelevi’s hut. He said he had tried to garner more help from her to no avail. The men entered the hut to ask their own questions.

They were able to find out that the guardian scarecrows outside the villa should have been destroyed from the original invasion of the mansion. The men asked Irelevi for her help in deciphering the nature of the magical sword, and after a brief spell, it was discovered that the magic in the sword was extrememly potent, particularly against denizens of the foreign planes. The men invested in a few more items to combat any further dangers they should encounter before returning to their task.

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Session 35: A Man in Black

Returning to the main hall, Jozan joined Avaniel to look at the mysterious tree planted in Wildweeper Villa. They were certain that not only was this not a common tree, but it could not be a tree rare to these parts either. It was obviously special or very foreign to these lands. Many foreign plants were known to have trouble in soil and conditions very different from the norm. It was then that the pair recalled what the brownies near the drake cave in Noongloom Wood had said. They had told them to look for purple blossomed trees near Wellcliff to see the path to King Brightcedar, the leader of the Molagona fey. While this was not a blossoming tree, and they were still far from Wellcliff, they gathered that maybe this tree had origins with the fey as well.

The unearthly counting began to continue, and the men quickly confirmed with each other that they had indeed all been hearing the same counting. It would rhyme in a dangerous, suspenseful tone at times, and all three men were on edge. Moving to the staircase upstairs, Jozan noted a feeling of repulsion at the foot of the incline. Saluhul met similar resistance, but Avaniel moved by unhindered. Upon reaching the first landing, Avaniel spotted a pair of apparitions that materialized on the landing for a moment. A woman cloaked in white with deep red hair caressed the face of a small elven child caringly. The child hugged the woman before they faded away. The odd scene piqued the half elf’s curiousity to continue up the stairs while Jozan and Saluhul went around the side.

Going to the side of the staircase revealed a metal vessel topped by a metal wheel. A variety of pipes led forth from the quizzical item. Neither the high archer nor druid could ascertain its purpose, though Jozan ascertained it and the pipes to be magical. Avaniel continued his climb towards the second floor of the estate. It opened up on both sides to him. Arbitrarily pick a location to scout first, he opened up a door to discover a trio of apparitions looking around a room filled with hunting trophies. A pair of apparitions materialized. One, an elven man in green regalia, spoke to another elf, an archer by the look of him.

The man in green spoke, “The ritual can be carried out by the others without my presence, surely Brightcedar will understand that I cannot afford to leave my daughter in such a state.”

The other replied, “I dare not risk offending the fae. Your presence is needed. We are still new to these lands by fae and elven standards. Please come with us so our magic can remain without offense or issue.”

With the decalration made, the apparitions faded away, leaving Avaniel alone once more. The counting would continue. Jozan and Saluhul continued to the rear of the estate. Turning a corner, they spotted another ragged attic whispherer near a door. Jozan spoke kindly to the undead creature, inquiring what lie in the door. The creature said the door was locked, and that sometimes “sister and daddy” would venture into the room with strange men. He then pleaded with the men not to let Marsley or Ezrahod know he had said anything about it or tried to enter. He then scampered off to join in the hiding game once more.

Sensing danger quickly coming, Jozan called to Avaniel to come back to the group. On reaching the count of twn, there was a silence. Tense moments continued to roll by as Avaniel made his way back to the stairs. Suddenly, Jozan’s strength was leeched from his chest as a pair of shadowy talons sprang from the wall next to him and through his armor. He recoiled, and his foe stepped forth.

The vaguely humanoid shape lurched forth, a pile of rolling black vapor. A small, star-like flicker emanated from within the core of the thing. It bounded forth, contorting around the defenses of the companions, reaping the very strength from them with every blow. The furious melee continued for far too long, Saluhul finding his weapons once again ineffective against the insubstantial form of the creature. The flaming battleaxe of jozan continued to melt and burn away the fog about the monster until nothing remained but glass like bones. A few more strokes shattered the bones of the monster, and the flickering spark within swirled off.

The men quickly gathered themselves and bolted for the door, wanting nothing more to do with this mansion. Jozan was the last to make it to the door. He turned when he heard a door open and close behind him. At the doorway was a corpse in faded black regalia. The things walked on unsteady legs towards the druid.

“Welcome, are you guests to the villa.”

“No, we were just leaving,” stammered Jozan as he bolted from the door.

Looking through the gate to the gardens of the villa, the men dreaded crossing the scarecrow covered grounds. But there was something else, something missing. The men thought what it could be as the front door closed behind them.

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Session 34: An Odd Game and an Odd Tree

Jozan, Avaniel, and Saluhul prepared to enter Wildweeper Villa. The druid would lead the way, being the most healthy of the three given the tribulations of the past few days in this foreign land. Opening up the door to the main hall produced an enormous open area. A set of marble stairs led to the upper floor which overlooked the main hall. At ground level, an odd tree was planted in a stone vessel. To the sides of it stood a pair statues to Alariel. Behind the trunk of the strange plant, The companions could spot a small, now dry fountain. Four lithe, winged figures perched over 4 men adorned with bows composing the centerpiece.

Jozan was drawn to the appearance of a quartet of small figures. These ragged forms were very similar to the creature the men had encountered in the attic in Mercaeus. Dull, faded, frayed clothing was draped over their forms, and they covered their concealed faces with wooden arms. They began to count.

Saulhul leveled his bow to fire, but Jozan stopped him, telling him to hurry for cover. The men tensely hid to see what would develop, Avaniel waiting behind the second closed door. After more counting, Jozan thought perhaps the creatures were in the midst of a game of seeking. He would gamble much in his newly conceived plan, but he thought it the best option. One of these creatures was dangerous enough. Could they hope to defeat four? He motioned secretly, telling Avaniel to hide poorly. The ranger needed little help in that given his gear.

Upon hitting the count of ten, the creatures called out loudly, “Okay, we’re coming!”

Three quickly moved away from the main hall, but one ran straight for Jozan. The druid hoped he had not been mistaken as the curtain concealing him was ripped aside. The creature hopped backwards in apparent shock. Jozan congratulated the child undead in finding him, asking if he could see his companions. The creature nodded, and soon it was clear no danger was immediately present. Jozan tried to question the creature, but it would only reply that the men should speak to Marsley if they were guests to the “party”. The little thing would also comment that at least the men weren’t scary, “not like the men in dark coats an hats at least.” The creatures then scampered off departing.

An odd whisper reached the men just then. Though not audible, it was as though it spoke within their heads. It spoke a single word, “One.”

The men took a moment to look about the room a bit, Avaniel moved towards the tree in the middle of the room to look upon it, while Jozan went towards a side door and opened it. Gazing into this open area, he could see a grand carpet stretching its golden embroidery across the tile of the floor. A huge, glass chandelier crowded the vaulted roof of the chamber. The sparkling fixture had an almost dreamlike quality to it. A small contingent of wayward spirits drifted listlessly about. Their drapings were monochrome and fanciful, those well suited to the festivities of a celebration. No expression of happiness spread over the faces of these apparitions though. Their faces wore scowls and facades of sorrow upon their brows.

Looking down the hallway to the south, a few looked and pondered the surrounding artwork hung upon the walls. A collection of doors lined the boundaries of this space. The grandest of these was an enormous double door ahead of the entry hall.

Then, as if confirming the whole madness of the scene, but another single word was spoke in the minds of the men once more. Looking at each other, it was clear; it was no coincidence; they all had heard it.

“Two.”

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Session 33: Men of Straw, Cloth Uncouth

Inside the gate, The trio noted a row of the unliving men along a central path. They yearningly reached their hands forward, intruding upon the walkway itself. Along this path were a pair of gates the lead to small gardens. The gates had no visible lock, and the interiors of these contained more scarecrows, some flowered hedges, a statue of some sort, and an odd colored tree.

Ahead, the three men could see a figure held on high upon a pole. A feeling of dread and wonderment flowed from the dim outline. Jozan inspected a scarecrow that was nearby, discovering the thing had metal joints. Consulting Avaniel, the hunter said he had known of things called scarecrows that existed in the lands of artificers and wizards, but he knew nothing of them.

Jozan stayed behind while Avaniel moved forward. As he came forward, the eyes of all the surrounding scarecrows flared into brilliant flecks of flame. Avaniel found himself spellbound by the oddity. He struggled to move, but was far to curious about the creature before him to lament and danger. Jozan, fearful of what the blazing eyes could portent, called for the others to rush for the second inner gate near the homestead. Saluhul ran quickly past towards the gate, smashing into the scarecrows as he went. Jozan turned back to regard the main path, and he was in shock that two of the scarecrows now reached through the bars of the side garden gates. They stood motionless at present, but the druid was certain they had not been there previously.

Saluhul reached for the gate. He called back that there was another lock. Jozan called to Talei to bring the keys to the High Archer, and it was done in short order. The second gate was unlocked, and he waved the others forward. As Jozan passed Avaniel, he noted that the hunter made no motions to move with the others. He moved back to shake him to his senses. Avaniel looked around in a daze as Jozan ran past one of the creatures. It was then he was struck with a heavy, club-like appendage of the creature.

The strikes of the creature elicited a primal fear within the two men as they exchanged blows with the wooden creature. It swatted about mercilessly upon them as they mustered the courage to retaliate. Across the yard, Saluhul turned to open fire upon the creature. After a few tense moments, the creature fell, and the men rushed hurriedly to the inner gate. They ran by as they crossed the morbid figure they beheld from afar and crossed the gate. Closing it behind them, they paused for a moment. Avaniel was shocled to note the appearance of another scarecrow, this one prone, on their side of the gate.

The men took a moment to look about, trying to spot any who would pose a threat to them. Seeing none, Saluhul moved to open the front entrance of the villa, but Jozan stopped him. Bewildered by an impaled form on the other side of the gate that they passed, Jozan suggested they take a closer look before entering the building. Avaniel and Zephyrpaw were concerned, but they saw no one follwing them. Much information might await them. Avaniel moved to pull the fallen scarecrow away from the gate. The thing lashed out at him in retort, and was promptly ran through and hacked by the three men until it lie in pieces. They men carefully opened the gate and looked upon the display.

It was upon this mark that all came crashing down. Upon a pike was held aloft the corpse of the man which the men sought. He splayed out, impaled, arms stretched to either side. The man in noble’s clothing wore a simple crown of dirtied metal. The design of dress, the crown, and form of the pitiful creature thus put on display felt innately elven.

The faded green and filthy white of the clothing had showed the age of this body well, but it the body itself was oddly well kept. Bandaging was wound tightly where it could be seen upon the dilapidated nobleman. The body.. woe eternal for the body! It was not sufficient the it be held aloft on such a macabre platform, but through the torso were driven three long shards. The vicious barbs were completely through the flesh of the executed. The whole of the scene was silent, but a resonating power was present in the vision alone.

This was Roland Wildweeper. In his dying breath, hoisted upon on high, how filled with divine inspiration had thou been to condemn all those present so that all may hear through lungs deprived of air and drenched of blood. This was what the people of Mercaeus had done, and whether they were saviors of the land from evil or fiendish bastards that set upon a peaceful samaritan’s home, there was nothing noble to be seen on what was left of the patron of Wildweeper Villa.

To the sides were statues of elven women, shattered and broken. It was common practice to destroy the memory of fallen people. Perhaps these were tribute statues to previous Wildweepers. Regardless, these would stand no more. The men began an investigation.

A quick inspection revealed great magic in each of the three shards, and a more powerful, sinister presence about the pike and body itself. The origin of the magic lie concealed from the men, but a quick thought lead them to believe that the shards might be part of a ritual. This would confirm Deras’s suspicion that the old nobleman was being constrained somehow. Cautiously, Jozan moved to pull the shards from the body to no avail. it felt as though trying to rip a great tree from the ground. The men were determined to continue into the villa for more answers.

The men closed the gate once more and stopped in front of the double doors. Next to the adjacent fountains and flower planters, they spotted a translucent form. The spirit had the clothing typical of a gardener, and he appeared to be attending the brush nearby. Avaniel tried to speak with the creature, but it seemed unconcerned by the workings of the world around it. The ranger thought to touch the creature, but thought it a poor idea given his previous experiences with the touch of the undead.

The villa stood imposingly into the sky. It was indeed rivaling the height of the towers that served as the gatehouses to Fort Mercaeus. It sported the same steep roofed design that had been a popular fixture in the noble houses of Northlight. Along the acute angle of the roof, a series of small stone arches produced a path up to a circular plate at the apex of the facade. Upon it was the insignia of a stark, blue colored arrow. The image cut a distinct line, and was probably of significance to the household in some regard. The arrow pointed skyward.

The first floor of the front of the structure had a multitude of windows the were easily the height of two tall men, but azure curtains that were drawn over the glass prevented clear view of the interior. The white stone of the house was split into two and accented by borders of an earthen brown. The upper floor had a protruding ledge that allowed not enough room to walk upon, but enough to casually lean upon as one could study the surrounding land from the upper windows. These were presented in trios, three arches with the center stretching taller than the other pair around it. The first floor windows had small outcroppings as well, shingled things that gave depth to the whole structure.

The carved wood of the door prominently showed a variety of winged figures about the edge of the wood, and it waited patiently for the companions to open it and venture within.

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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.

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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.

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