With the skeletal wizard and his minions destroyed, the party saw to their wounds and began searching the area. The first thing they did was to gingerly wrap the body of the fallen elf with spider web. In the process, they relieved him of the scrolls and tome he had snatched from the desk earlier.
The three scrolls were the maps that Snilvor told them he had come to collect. With them was a note that read:
Enclosed are the maps to the Eladrin tombs.
I have kept my end of the bargain; I expect you will do the same.
The tome was easily several hundreds of years old, but had been well preserved. A thick, leather cover protected its yellow pages, and the volume managed to escape the decay that had afflicted many of the other works in the sanctuary. A quick skimming of the pages showed that it was a biography of an eladrin wizard named Starris. The biography included bits of journal entries along with tales of the wizard’s rise to power and climaxed with his defeat of a creature called Calastryx. ((I didn’t get into this detail, but we’ll get to it one of these nights)) Tucked just inside the cover was a neatly folded paper. It was a note without an address.
I found this and believe it will assist with your research.
Forgive me for sending it with the goblins, but I am bound to this place.
Your humble servant,
In addition to this literature, they also discovered a book on astronomy that covered constellations, including those from the verse they found etched within the dragon’s skull. Beside this book was a polished bronze sextant. In playing with the sextant, they noticed that it was able to see the stars despite being indoors and during the day.
Also on the shelf was a wooden box containing a pile of gold atop a brown leather sack, which was inscribed with runes. From within the bag, Scroopel produced a large sword that had a horseshoe for a quillon, and an embossed four-leaf clover inset with emeralds on the pommel. Tiberius gave a few test swings before snapping it into his sheath and tossing his old broadsword into the magical sack.
Next, Scroopel pulled out a large crystal ball. The little goblin had to spread his arms wide just to hold it. Inside the clear crystal there appeared to be a cloudy, black substance, suspended in time and space. It was not clear whether it was a part of the crystal, or ensnared by it. At times, the clouds appeared to shift and roll, but nobody was ever able to say with certainty if they really saw it happen. Putting his curiosity in check, Scroopel returned the orb to the bag and continued searching the sanctuary.
The goblin identified a lever which deactivated the pit traps by the door, and returned the floor to its rightful place. Back in the laboratory, Scroopel dug through dusty vials and rotten parchment to find a stoppered bottle that contained a viscous black liquid. He identified the liquid as a potent but slow-acting poison known as “walking death”. There seemed to be enough for a dose left, so he added this to his pack.
Meanwhile, Shorwyn and Tiberius pondered the ancient puzzle conjured by the verse they found in the dragon’s skull and which was written in the language of demons.
“She of three lies well preserved…” Shorwyn muttered, grabbing the three gems from the goblin and rolling them in his fingers.
“… within her Mother’s breast…” he continued. Tiberius watched him curiously as the gilled elf shoved the gems square in the center of the ribcage of the partially assembled dragon skeleton Yisarn had apparently been working on.
“Cast down the darkness with the light!” Tiberius finished, pulling out a sunrod, activating it, and tossing it triumphantly among the gemstones.
The two stood back and watched. The seconds passed, but nothing happened. Shorwyn shrugged, and Tiberius walked around the pedestal. “Do you think we did something wrong?” he asked innocently. Shorwyn gruffly scooped the items up, shook his head and began idly juggling the gems as he walked away to see what the goblin was up to.
Once they were satisfied that they had searched the sanctuary as thoroughly as they could, they all gathered into the teleportation circles and cringed in anticipation as they shouted, in unison “Dal Nysteire!”
There was a flash of blue light and a crack of thunder. Electricity shot through them before the landscape reappeared and they were outside again, standing amidst the ring of stones. The air was filled with the mixed scents of singed hair and ozone. As they looked to one another to make sure all were okay, they noticed the blackened body of Snilvor sprawled on the grass at their feet. The goblin’s escape had not been so fruitful after all.
Seeing that the goblin’s cart was still there and in good working order, Erik decided it would be worth the effort to drag it back to town. Theon didn’t think the merchant would last a day on his own, and offered to help him. Anxious to return to the elves so that they may in turn return to Albridge, the others pushed on.
While meeting with the elves, Eriyel informed them that Nazin Redthorn was planning to march on Albridge. Dar Gremath and the other leaders were gathering the resistance forces
and preparing for battle. She assured them that she would take no offense if they cut their visit short, and that they would be joined by 50 elven bows in two day’s time.
They travelled for the remainder of the day and then made camp. Shorwyn cooked some fish and then took the first watch, followed by Scroopel and finally Tiberius. During his watch, Tibs thought about all that had happened since he returned home. There was a lot that still didn’t make sense, and a lot that troubled him. His mixed emotions about the orcs’ enslavement, and worries that he wouldn’t be strong enough to help the people of Harkenwold battered his soul, which no amount of plate armor could protect.
Without conscious thought, he dropped to his knees in front of the fire, planted his sword in the ground before him and rested his forehead against the pommel. “Avandra,” he whispered, “Grant me your guidance and the strength to do what must be done.”
The sound of a twig snapping broke him from his religious reverie. He followed the sound and his sharp eyes picked out a shadowy figure darting between the trees. He watched for a few moments as the figure methodically approached them. As soon as he felt the time was right, he leapt to his feet and yanked his sword free. “Show yourself!” he called.
His companions’ eyes popped open. Scroopel was on his feet before Shorwyn had separated dream from reality. The goblin dashed off on the heels of the paladin as he crashed his way through the forest toward the retreating shadow. His sensitive vision and small, agile frame gave him an advantage over his armored friend, and soon he had outdistanced Tibs and was gaining on the other creature. A goblin.
Thinking he was close enough, Scroopel dove, arms outstretched to tackle the other goblin. The other goblin was just as nimble, and slipped his fingers like a wet worm and disappeared into the night.
Thom woke with a start. His breathing was rapid and beads of sweat rolled down his bald pate, soaking the ring of hair above his ears. The vision had been so clear. And so disturbing.
A warrior clad in gleaming platinum armor stood atop a knoll surrounded in darkness, save for the light that seemed to emanate from his plate mail. In two hands he held a sword that burned with an inner radiance. At his feet was a sundered shield that bore the crest of Avandra. This same crest was emblazoned on the tattered tunic that hung loosely over his shoulders, tossing in an unseen wind.
A horde of lifeless, animated corpses pushed their way over each other to get to him. They clawed at him with grotesque, rotten limbs, seeming always able to find him despite their cloudy, sightless eyes.
Above it all hovered a ghostly head of a hooded figure, enlarged to the point where it seemed able to devour the entire scene with a single swallow, had it so desired. A raspy laugh echoed from within the folds of the black fabric as the knight fought desperately. Its two, pale hands were raised, one to either side. With its left, it continued to coax more bodies from the ground, while the right worked a set of nearly invisible wires that led down to the knight, like a marionette. The harder the knight fought, the more undead seemed to appear until they seemed to stretch for as far as he could see. The mysterious figure cackled wildly and began raising his head, allowing more light to penetrate the veil of shadow cloaking his face.
That was when he had woken up. He swung his feet off of the hard, makeshift cot upon which he had slept and onto the cold, damp earthen floor of the barn. The barn was to be used as a shelter for the weak and injured during the attacks. Thom vowed to himself and Avandra as he donned his vestments and slipped on his boots, that he would find and help the knight in his vision.
The heroes arrived in Albridge early, and were met with a mix of exuberant pats on the back and cold glares. Clearly some thought this group would be their salvation, while others believed they had led them to the jaws of the beast. A young man with a makeshift spear, ill-fitting helmet and a padded leather jacked ushered them to an empty farmhouse on the outskirts of town where Dar Gremath was meeting with the other resistance leaders. Some of the faces they recognize: Reithann and Bran Torsson, especially. But a great deal of the others are unknown to them.
Seeing them, Gremath gives a broad smile. “Good! You made it.” He waved them over. “We’ve got every free man and woman who can fight from all the villages here. But even so, the Iron circle matches our numbers. They’ve got better arms and armor, and most of them are trained soldiers.” There were several nods, and a few grumbles. “Still. With your help, we’ll give them a hell of a fight! After all, we’re fighting for our homes! For our livelihoods!” The assembled leaders nod grimly, and with a noted lack of enthusiasm.
After a moment of awkward silence, a portly man speaks up. “Is this really wise? You all heard what happened to Marl… Burned to the ground. Every living thing they could catch was killed. I can still see the smoke all the way from Dardun! If we fail…” He let his voice trail off.
Shorwyn saw his opportunity and seized it. “If you fail, you die. If you run, they’ll follow. If you hide, they’ll find you” He walked towards the man with slow, measured steps until he was standing directly in front of him. “I am from the Iron Circle region,” a collective gasp went up, and the crowd stepped back. The fat man flinched. “Yet I fight with you! You have one option: To fight. To win. And I’ll not sacrifice my life for a fat coward like yourself.” Shorwyn was now nose-to-nose with the man, practically snarling.
The rotund man stepped back and dabbed the sweat from his upper lip. “Of course we’ll fight.” he said, his face scarlet. “I just… wanted to make sure all other options had been considered. Excuse me.” he blurted and quickly shoved his way out of the barn, into the open air where he could be seen taking deep breaths of air and loosening the collar of his shirt.
Dar Gremath gave an approving nod. “So, you think we can win? Can redthorn be beat?” he asked honestly.
“We’ll find out, won’t we?” Shorwyn retorted, the bitterness and sarcasm still lingering.
Dar Gremath nodded again. “When the battle comes, I’d like to keep you in reserve. You’re our best fighters, so I’ll need you to plug any holes that may open up. Until then, we need to pull this army together. We need a good plan, a good place to fight, and someone to draw our troops together and inspire them. You,” he pointed to each of them in turn, “can do that. We have until tomorrow morning.” With that he turned and began speaking sharply with a few of the other leaders.
For the time being, the Salt Merchants split up. Each going about preparations in their own way.
Scroopel gathered any of the militia that would listen to him, and gave tips for fighting dirty. And for spotting someone who was fighting dirty. When those lessons were complete, he worked to conceal the hiding places where the children and others not in the fight would be hiding.
Tiberious poured over the maps, thinking back to his days training with the army. There were a few positions and maneuvers that would favor a less experienced army and reduce the effectiveness of armor and superior weapons. He shared this information with Dar Gremath and then headed out to the town square. Hoisting himself up onto a pedestal he spoke out in his best speaking voice.
“*Countrymen! Free men and women of Harkenwold! Friends! Hear me and take solace in my words! I know you have fear. I know you have doubt. The Iron Circle are well armed, and well trained. And you are but simple farmers.” Passersby stopped to listen, and the crowd grew. “You think it is impossible for someone like you to defeat soldiers like them. Well I am here to assure you that you can defeat them. No! That you WILL defeat them! If you can swing a scythe to harvest wheat, then surely you can cut down your oppressors. And I promise they will fall as easily as wheat.” Dubious eyes looked up at him. He could see the kindled fire in some of their eyes, but many still needed convincing. “As farmers, you know the truth in the saying that ‘you reap what you sow.’ Well, the Iron Circle has sown nothing but destruction…” He paused for effect, and then continued in a level voice. “…and the time of the reaping has come.*”
The crowd burst into a mix of cheers and war cries as they all dispersed to grab whatever weapon they could find.
Meanwhile, Shorwyn was at the tavern with the least enthusiastic bunch he had ever seen. Most had come to try and drink away the inevitable battle. Others to numb themselves so they would not feel the death that was inescapable.
A single note rang out and echoed through the somber bar. The voices hushed as the patrons looked around, half-interested, half-annoyed. Shorwyn’s smooth voice gently rose from beneath the muttering voices.
The purple blue sky stretches out over me
Like an Azure Shield that slows my aggressors
The strumming intensified, as did his voice.
Invisible guardian zephyrs come forth!
Blanket me in your cool and gentle breezes.
Vacant stares were replaced by curious glances.
Icy waters of the deepest abyss
encapsulate me in your deadly grip
Glasses paused mid-sip.
Stop my attackers, make them feel pain!
I am the vengeance of the deep dark seas!
The patrons looked at one another, sobering expressions on their faces as the final note clung to the air. An elderly man stood slowly and walked up to Shorwyn, looked him in the eye, and dropped a gold coin into his cup so that the entire tavern could see and hear it. He then turned and walked away.
Shorwyn grinned, hopped up onto the table and began again from the top. An hour and several songs later, the entire bar was singing together (though not necessarily in tune). Mugs lay forgotten and spilled as the drunks left the tavern singing together.
Though it was obvious they enjoyed his songs, Shorwyn felt that he hadn’t made enough of an impression. That was, until early the next morning when he heard the tune of his songs whistled by a boy brushing a horse. As he walked about town he heard others chanting the words as they prepared for battle. Even their footsteps seemed to march in time to the beat.
He smiled as his companions approached. They were ready.