Mysteries of the Nentir Vale

Onto the Black Phoenix Pass

“We are saved! Master Duggin you return! When you left and closed the Black Phoenix Pass we thought we were doomed. You are good to your word good dwarf. Please come – Antark shall water the horse – we will provide rooms for the men at the Knothole. Welcome, welome – heroes one and all!”

The portly Lord Sevrym runs out to greet the knights.
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Timbervale
Once a large town and the major trading hub for goods passing through the Ironwall Mountains west of the Nentir Vale, Timbervale has become a frontier village since the Glintshieid clan’s fall a century ago. With the loss of trade, there was little reason to travel to or live in Timbervale. Currently, a small community of loggers and farmers eke out an existence In the ruin-choked forest along the banks of the Stonefang River near the pass. Population: 750. Most people live along the old main street that bisects the village. The citizens keep it clear of the encroaching forest and in good repair by cannibalizing building materials from nearby ruins. A few locals have also made homes in various partially collapsed towers, or on more distant farms. Government: Lord and lady Sevrym are hereditary rulers of Timbervale. But their family’s fortune has dwindled to virtually nothing.

The village has no standing guard, but the people act as a militia in times of need. Great threats cause the villagers to retreat Into the three blocks walled off as the Sevrym estate.

The Sevryms have excess food and arms stored there, making it a good refuge.
Lord and Lady Sevrym invite the heroes to stay with them-and they put the knights up at the Knothole.

blackppass.jpgAlthough a bit reluctant Lord Sevrym agrees to abandon the town and as the adventurers head towards the Black Phoenix Pass the town boards up the Inn and Manor house, taking what they can they head off to the better protection of the Keep at Winterhaven. Avowing to return soon with the defeat of the giants the party heads off.

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Journey from Thunderspire

The minotaur Lord Tangarth of the Seven Pillared Hall, accompanied by Shield, his newly animated Minotaur bronze warder met with Master Duggin of the Glintshield clan and Scroopel, the goblin hero of Harkenwald in the cozy little halfling tavern. Having made their plans, they head down the Road of Lanterns on towards Fallcrest. Midway down the long corridor, illuminated dimly from copper lanterns with leering demon statues surveying their passage, they were ambushed by screeching bats, magic missiles and Maglorous – a bitter Mage of Saruun who sought vengeance from the minotaurs stealing his abode. He announced he was now seeking residence in the Well of Demons and had found new friends with Demogorgon. Black shadowy tentacles rose from his robes as he commanded his minions to attack. With the protection of Shield and the healing powers of the cleric Duggin they were able to drive the mages back into the labyrinth but they dared not follow as they had expended most of their energy staying alive. Going at a slow pace the last quarter mile to the Minotaur’s Gate, they were met with the thunder and lightning that is ever-present around Thunderspire Mountain. As the lightning illuminated the clouds, they spied vile, aberrant creatures lurking there. Cephilopoid, bat-winged flying horrors stretched out their tentacles to feed on them. Their horrid telepathic calls urged the group forward as a demonic cloaker attacked them from the rear. Duggin called out to the Lord who Crawls and chains whipped out from another dimension, binding the huge Mooncow Sire. Scroopel danced between their enormous grasp and cut bits of tentacles as he raced between them. The cloaker wrapped the dwarf up in a tight little package and when they finally freed him, he was quite blue from lack of air. The creature fled back to the far realm as this meat had too many barbs for their taste.

Fortunately the rest of the trip to Fallcrest was not as exciting for the group. Reaching the gates at night, a sleepy Captain of the Watch Toby directed them to the nearest Inn and told them he would prepare a meeting with the Lord Warden Faren Malkelhay in the morning.
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Call to arms!

Two bronze warders flank a massive minotaur, raised scar tattoos of circular labyrinths on his arms and chest. His horns are clad in shiny metal that glints in the dim light. He is seated on a stone throne and has a huge greatspear on his lap. Behind him is a strange symbol which looks to be the combination of the device of Moradin intertwined with the Symbol of Torog. It is chiseled into a giant skull made of black rock that has bronze horns affixed to it. The hall has 4 pillars made of crystalline rock that give off a dim light. The minotaur gets up from the throne and goes over to another minotaur wearing black leathers with a cloak filled with many pockets. A wicked looking scythe hangs at his waist. He is looking intently into a crystal orb on a pedestal in the middle of the room as Minoan addresses him:

“Tangarth, my brother. Now that we have removed the Mages of Saruun and the Seven- Pillared Hall is once again ours, we must restore order. I have need of your silver tongue. Can you go to the human village of Fallcrest and speak to our enlightenment here in the Underdark? Let them know we are not beasts and have lifted the yoke of the greedy Mages of Saruun. They were blinded by their lust for power and coin. We have no such blinders and only seek what is rightfully ours! We shall restore Saruun Khel, our heritage and culture is rich and diverse! Baphomet’s curse has been lifted. We have aligned with the dwarves of the Ironwall Mountains – the Shadowed Chain. They speak of Giants – The farmland of Timbervale has been the subject of attacks. The dwarves of the place have sealed the wall and the Black Phoenix Pass has been closed. A tunnel runner arrived the other day claiming that an army of elementals and giajnts were forming. We must take this word to Fallcrest and join arms with them if we are to do anything about this threat. As you know forces of Demongorgon are still at large and the threat of the Drow is ever-present – I cannot accompany you myself. Let them know we wish to continue trade with the Vale and vanquish this new threat. I am sending you with Girthrax and Maif.”

Situated in the Tower of Mysteries, the minotaurs of Saruun Khel continue to observe the Seven Pillared Hall.

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The Poisoned Shadows

The chaos immediately following the minotaurs’ re-conquest of the Seven-Pillared Hall was slowly evolving into a stable order. Until, that is, that several minotaurs went missing on patrol or turned up dead. Chafing at the vagaries of rulership, Minoan convenes his old adventuring comrades to investigate the murders and disappearances. It is soon discovered that the sewers on the Hall have been invaded by vicious shadar-kai—tainted humanoids fanatically dedicated to the Raven Queen and native to the Shadowfell. The familiar heroes are assisted by the human mercenary Gaffas Brandt in their investigation.

Running skirmishes with the shadar-kai assassins lead the heroes to a large chamber in the sewers—home to the shadow troll Snorenaugh and his Trollshade allies. It is soon discovered that the shadow troll has no formal agreement with the shadar-kai, and merely wanted to be left alone. The monster made reference to another large chamber in which the shadar-kai’s leader plotted and resided.

The heroes of the hall penetrated deeper into the fetid sewers, only to come under an assault by vicious Wrack Abishai, a race of immortal servitors most commonly associated with the Dark Lady, Tiamat!

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Kobold Hall

There has been a great upheaval in the Nentir Vale come of late. There has been a rustling in the surrounding mountains. The dwarven tribes are restless. Vital trade routes into the Stonefang pass newly named the Black Phoenix pass have been reestablished. But this has caused a backlash; as the dwarves in Hammerfast have had exclusivity in trading ironwork in the Nentir Vale and now have new competition from the West.

Peels of lightning and thunder have been heard down in the valley below the infamous Thunderspire Mountain. Rumor has it that a great battle is imminent deep below in the ancient labyrinth of Saruul Khan and the Mages of Suruun that have run the Seven Pillar Hall with an iron fist are now caught in the middle. Black Fang Gnolls of the Moon hills have taken up the sword and tales of attacks on the Trade Road have become more and more common place.

It has been told that a minotaur ambassador has been sent to Fallcrest on behalf of the Mages of Saruun. But death follows on his heals as the town is thrown into a pitched battle with pirates, raging barbarians and blood lusting demons.

What has happened to the Illustrious Black Phoenix whose exploits include opening up the Stonefang pass and driving back gnoll raiding parties on the Trade Roads?

The Lord Warden of Fallcrest, Faren Markelhay (pronounced “FAIR-en-MARK-ill-ay”) is a balding, middle-aged human with a keen mind and a dry wit. He is a busy man and sees to local matters personally, so adventurers calling on him are likely to wait a long time for a short interview. However, he is eager for news of other towns in the Vale (and farther lands as well) and never turns away someone who brings him news or waits to see him. Lord Warden Markelhay can usually be found in the Moonstone Keep in Fallcrest.

It has been rumored that since the loss of his premier knight and champion Sir Otto and the recent report that his eldest son Ernesto has gone missing he is in dire straits….

The ruined manor now known as Kobold Hall was once a minor lord’s proud holding, a walled keep overlooking the old King’s Road. That was years ago, and the lord’s name and the glories he earned are long forgotten. Today, the place is called Kobold Hall after the malicious humanoids that infest the place. The Cloak Wood has overrun the grounds, with trees growing in the midst of abandoned gardens and courtyards. Several kobold tribes dwell within the ruins, hiding in the multitude of tunnels, ruins, and cellars found here. The tribes squabble with each other, raid surrounding settlements, and attack caravans on the old King’s Road. Lately, the kobolds have become more aggressive. The Skull Kicker tribe has taken over or driven off the rival tribes. Emboldened, the Skull Kickers stole a wagon loaded with valuable cargo from a caravan on the King’s Road. As the adventure begins, the characters find themselves in the small town of
Fallcrest.

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The Battle for Albridge

The next morning, before dawn had broken, a nervous young man pushed open the door to their room at the inn while knocking tentatively. The heavy door squealed on its hinges, doing more to rouse them than the gentle rapping of his knuckles had. Seeing the adventurers stirring, he quickly reported, “Sirs! Dar Gremath sent me to fetch you. Redthorn draws near! Gather your equipment and come quickly!” The door closes sharply behind him, and his hasty footsteps can be heard banging down the stairs outside.

From then on the air was charged with a mix of excitement and anticipation. Wordlessly they strapped on their gear, inspected their weapons, and soundlessly recited incantations and prayers.

The group stepped from the Inn and looked around. The sky was only just beginning to brighten; an ambiguous grey glow that intensified imperceptibly as they stood. The air was still, and the sounds seemed muffled. A morning mist hung low in the air, and a damp chill seemed to cling to everything. Runners darted to and fro, their shadowy forms scurrying like ants preparing for a storm. In the distance they could see Dar Gremath’s banner with several figures standing at its base.

Gremath nodded to them as they approached, relief visibly washing over him and reinforcing his voice with confidence. He gave a few quick orders, then turned to them. “Redthorn’s forces will be here momentarily, so I’ll keep this short. You’re the strongest fighters we have, and I would like to keep you in reserve; close to me so that you can strike down any enemies that break through the line. That being said, it was your decisions as well as your strength that brought our allies together and gave us a fighting chance, so I leave it to your discretion where you will place yourselves during the battle.”

After a quick deliberation, the Salt Merchants decided to go along with Gremath’s plan, and would stay near him, ready to plug any holes that might open up, and to defend the banner that they all rallied behind.

The Iron Circle attacked directly, confident in their superiority. As they approached, they softened the ranks with crossbow fire, but the elves and townsfolk quickly responded with arrows of their own, taking a bite out of the advancing forces and causing a moment of confusion and doubt. The advantage was lost, as the mostly inexperienced rebel forces lacked the confidence and decisive leadership to seize such an opportunity.

The fronts collided, and many of the villagers fell. But the Iron Circle numbers were also thinned, and seeing this rallied the rebels and cast a shadow of doubt over the Iron Circle soldiers. Scroopel smirked as he saw a few Iron Circle fall prey to some of the tricks he had taught the farmers. Not the most honorable tactics, but effective.

Just as the rebels seemed to be gaining an advantage, a group of Iron Circle soldiers led by a grizzled-looking warrior flanked by a pair of vicious reptiles tore through the rebel line and charged the Salt Merchants’ position within one of the abandoned farm steads.

The reptiles stayed back and spat jets of caustic spittle at them, while the group’s leader and a handful of warriors charged up the path. The rest of the warriors advanced slowly, firing their crossbows until they were within melee range.

Using the stone wall that surrounded the farmstead for cover, the salt merchants quickly whittled down the attacking force. The brunt of their counter-assault was focused on the leader, an Iron Circle Enforcer who quickly fell to a rain of deadly blows. With the enforcer and most of his minions dispatched, they quickly closed on the drakes and remaining rabble. Far less effective at close range, these enemies proved little challenge for the now seasoned veterans.

They had a few minutes to rest and pick through the corpses before a young rider on a lean horse appeared before them in a cloud of dust. “Dar Gremath needs your help by the Radden farmstead!” he shouted, pointing in the direction of the farmstead.

A small group of Iron Circle had slipped around Dar Gremath’s fighters, who were engaged in heated battle, and were making their way towards a barn where some of the non-combatant townsfolk were hidden. Along their way they mercilessly slew wounded and set fire to anything combustible. Gremath could be seen shouting over the sounds of ringing steel, but his words were lost to the distance.

Wasting no time, the enraged adventurers brandished their weapons and charged into battle. Their courage faltered slightly as they drew closer and saw that two of their adversaries were not human. For the most part, they bore human form, save the curved horns that sprouted from their heads. However, the most prominent (and disturbing) feature was the thick, tar-like substance that oozed from their skin and dripped down their bodies, leaving a spotted trail of the fuming liquid behind them.

The tar devils fought viciously, ensnaring their foes with nets and drawing them into range of their wicked, curved khopeshes. In such close proximity, the fumes from the liquid that steadily dripped from their bodies burned the throats of anyone unfortunate enough to be near, and the wracking cough hampered movement.

All the while, a dark adept threw spells at them, and Iron Circle cutthroats slipped in and out of the shadows, striking opportunistically.

The cutthroats fell first, followed by the adept and finally the tar devils. It was a difficult battle, but in the end the Salt Merchants had triumphed. After a quick rest to catch their breath and see to their wounds, they began mutilating and looting the corpses. In the midst of their gruesome task, they spotted another group of Iron Circle warriors approaching systematically, fanned out along the countryside.

Catching sight of them, a massive, muscled man with close shaved rust-colored hair and clad in black armor shouted out to them. “You! Salt Merchants!”, his raven-black eyes twinkled with a cunning beyond that of the common Iron Circle soldiers. “You have been a thorn in my side, and your troublesome interference ends here.”

“Why don’t you just leave? Your soldiers are falling – you’re losing. What do you want with these people, anyway?” Shorwyn called out to him while the rest readied themselves for battle.

“These people were indolent and ungrateful. They cried out for purpose, and for strong leadership.” He leveled his gaze at Shorwyn. “We have come to rectify their faults, and give them the guidance and direction they so desperately need.”

Shorwyn spat. “Look around. You’re not wanted here. I’m assuming you saw our ‘message’” he sneered, gesturing to the fallen Iron Circle soldiers who were similarly mutilated. “How’d you like to be next?”

The warrior flashed a malevolent grin as he swung his leg over the saddle and landed smoothly beside his horse, tossing the reins to a nearby soldier. “You and your girlfriends” he gestured to the rest of the adventurers, “may have gotten lucky against a few low-level patrols.” He paused to yank a broadsword from the scabbard on his back “But I am no lowly soldier!” The power of his voice increased as he approached. “I am Nazin Redthorn, Champion of the Iron Circle! And you will soon be a memory.”

He charged, bearing down with powerful blows while the tar devils hurled globs of sticky, burning tar and the soldiers closed ranks around them. However, Nazin had proven to be overconfident and was severely wounded in short order. Despite harrying injuries, he made a hasty retreat, vowing that this was not over and that they would be dealt with, whether by his hand or not.

The tar devils and remaining soldiers proved a difficult challenge, but nothing the Salt Merchants could not handle, even at less than their full strength.

With Redthorn routed, and the Iron Circle forces unable to break the rebellion, the rest fled the field and a great cheer erupted from the rebels.

Later that evening, after the wounded had been retrieved and cared for, and the dead buried, there was a great celebration held at the Mallard Inn. Songs were sung and libations were offered for those who gave their lives. Shorwyn proved that he was unable to out-drink the dwarven blacksmith woman, Kathrid. For all of his romantic efforts, he only received a good-natured slap on the backside after he had passed out across the table.

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Preparing Albridge for Battle

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:
Gokof,
Enclosed are the maps to the Eladrin tombs.
I have kept my end of the bargain; I expect you will do the same.
Yisarn

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, Yisarn

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.

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The Woodsinger Clan (Part II)

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The forest disappeared in a flash of blue light, and was replaced with a musty, old laboratory. Crumbling parchment and discarded glass bottles littered the wooden tables. A wide set of steps led up to a raised stone loft, upon which set a table and chair of lashed bones. A trio of scrolls accompanied an ancient-looking tome with a ribbon of red silk spilling out from between the pages. A border of runes ran around the edge of the entire platform.

Not far from them were two cages, each with a snarling green-scaled drake snapping at the goblins poised just beyond the bars and hissing at the newcomers and their bright lights. The handful of goblins spread out around the room looked around, suddenly confused by the newcomer’s appearance.

A goblin on the stairs dressed in what passed as formal goblin regalia pointed a skull-topped rod and shouted, “What are you waiting for!? Release the drakes! Take them down!”

The goblins adjacent to the cages lifted the latches, freeing the captive drakes. However, with a wave of his hand, Pairin summoned a magical force that set the latches back into their locked position, and held them firm.

Without the drakes to assist them, the goblins fell quickly to blades and magical energies until only their leader, Snilvor, was left. Cornered, he quickly capitulated and cooperated.

The Salt Merchants learned that he belonged to the Daggerburg clan, and had been sent to retrieve some maps with the location of ancient tombs. He speculated that the undead mage, Yisarn, was in the next room, but didn’t know for sure, and assured the party that he only ordered the attack because they surprised him and he thought they were trying to stop him, or take the maps for themselves.

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Despite his pleading, Shorwyn bound Snilvor and left him behind one of the desks. Meanwhile, Pairin, Theon and Scroopel ((I think)) investigated the loft. Upon crossing the border of runes, they felt a chill grasp them and begin to pull the very life force from them. With a gasp, they retreated back to the safety of the stairs. Pairin again summoned a magical force to retrieve the scrolls and tome from the desk and tucked them into his pack.

Scroopel then assessed the large, iron-shod double doors. Finding no traps, he easily picked the lock and shoved the door open.

The doors swung open to reveal a magnificent mural of a forest scene covering the vaulted ceiling. The chamber was adorned with statues of eladrin warriors and illuminated by fiery braziers. Between two of the braziers, atop a 2-foot-high stone bier, lie the partially assembled bones of a dragon. Web-strewn bookshelves packed with dusty tomes line the far wall, and a thick curtain of gossamer webs obscures a set of iron doors. Two monstrous spiders sit in the webs.
Further in the chamber, three skeletons stood guard. A fourth skeleton stood among them, clad in tattered wizard’s robes. Lightning crackled and arced between its boney fingers.

Before anyone could stop him, Pairin dashed into the room and fired off a quick spell at the spiders, drawing the attention (and the ire) of every creature in the room. He and Scroopel were quickly immobilized by the the spider’s glimmering web, while the other sank its fangs into Pairin.

Yisarn pointed a bony finger at Scroopel and uttered arcane syllables from his unmoving mouth. The air around the finger thickened and condensed into a chill mist which clung to the bone. As he spoke the final word, the finger detached and slammed into Scroopel’s chest. At the same moment the bone instantly regrew, as if it had never left.

Erik attempted to enter the room, but rocked back on his heels as the floor gave way to reveal a ten-foot-deep pit lined with spikes. Seeing the way blocked, and the enemy’s focus on the choke point, Tiberius rushed around to the other door and attempted, unsuccessfully to break it down.

Meanwhile, Theon fired arrow after arrow into the spiders from across the pit, while Shorwyn’s voice gave them strength; the hypnotic power of his poetic words conjured water and directed it at his foes like a living weapon. Erik also bolstered his allies while engaging in melee across the pit with one of the skeletal guards.

Amidst the distraction, the forgotten Snilvor slipped his bonds and crept up behind Shorwyn. He attempted to stealthily pull his stole rod from Shorwyn’s pack, but being more of a diplomat than a thief, failed miserably. Shorwyn rounded on him with chaotic energies. Having lost the element of surprised, and being already badly injured, Snilvor leapt back onto one of the teleportation circles and sharply cried out “Dal Nystiere!” There was a flash of blue light, accompanied by a crack of thunder and crackling bolts of energy. Snilvor’s eyes widened in shock or pain, Shorwyn couldn’t tell, as he winked from existence. All that was left behind was the scent of ozone and singed goblin flesh.

Scroopel then broke free of his bonds and retreated back into the laboratory, towards Tiberius. In a swift motion that Tib couldn’t follow, Scroopel popped the lock. Tiberius let loose a war cry and charged through the now-open door. However, this door had been trapped as well, and he crashed down the pit accompanied by the spine-jarring sound of screeching metal on metal.

Meanwhile, Erik had teleported into the room after dropping one of the skeletons, joining Scroopel and Shorwyn who had leapt over their respective pits. The last remaining skeletal guard spun around and shoved over one of the braziers, spilling hot ash and burning coals onto the group, whose attention was mostly focused on the dazed Yisarn.

With a curse, the paladin tore free from the spikes and began to climb out of the pit, only to slip and fall down again. Frustrated, he bowed his head, praying for strength of body and of spirit. His eyes closed and the sounds of battle became muffled. His breathing slowed and became regular. A calm permeated his being like the warm fire on a chill winter night.

Scroopel, Shorwyn and Erik simultaneously converged on the undead wizard, landing blow after vicious blow while Theon continued to rain down arrows.

This whole time, Pairin had been desperately fending off the attacks of the spiders and skeletons, while firing back when possible and generally fighting for his life. He broke free of the corner he had been trapped in, unknowingly passing a now-invisible spider. From there he had a clear line to the skeletal wizard. Pairin conjured a delicate orb of shimmering color, which hovered above his hand. A flick of his wrist sent it hurtling directly toward’s Yisarn. The orb burst like glass in a shower of iridescent sparks, dazzling the mage and leaving him momentarily dazed.

A moment later the invisible spider materialized and sunk its fangs deep into his chest. Venom pumped through his veins, slowly beginning to liquify his internal organs. Fortunately (if such a thing can be considered fortunate), his injuries were too great and he was spared the pain of being digested from the inside-out. A trickle of blood escaped his thin lips, which had parted in a half smile. The frail elf who had only ever read about such heroics died with the satisfaction of seeing that his spell had enabled these adventurers to triumph over a great evil. His sacrifice was not in vain.

Tiberius’ eyes snapped open. His mind was clear, his focus sharp. In one continuous, fluid movement he scaled the walls of the pit and knocked aside the skeletal guard who waited waited at the top. Raising his sword and calling out to Avandra, he called down a radiant beam of searing light around Yisarn. The beam intensified and engulfed the battered skeletal mage, who screamed as his bones instantly charred and weakened before suddenly exploding in a rain of bone shards and ashes.

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The Woodsinger Clan (Part I)

The Salt Merchants marched south, through the dense forest. The air was warm, almost stifling, and in stark contrast to the chill rain and mist just a few days prior. Dar Gremath had been elated to learn that the people of Tors Hold would now be free to lend their assistance to the resistance ((pun originally unintended, but left in for awesome)). Though there was no lack in spirit, he worried they might still not possess the strength to defeat Nazin Redthorn and his Iron Circle army in open combat. Their only other option for support was in the Woodsinger Elves, a nomadic tribe of elves who generally keep to themselves, but occasionally trade with the people of Harkenwold.

The party stopped along the path to get their bearings and adjust their equipment. The thick air made it difficult to concentrate, and all were taken aback when a voice shot from somewhere in the forest gloom, “Hold right there, strangers. We would speak with you.”

An elf dressed in a short, green and brown tunic stepped from the shadows and into the open. He approached the party, a hand raised in a gesture of peace. “My name is Israfen of the Woodsingers. You are not from Harkenwold, nor do you appear to be associated with the mercenaries from the Iron Keep. Who are you and what is your business in the Harken Forest?”

“We are The Salt Merchants.” replied Erik, disarmingly. “And we, incidentally, seek the Woodsinger Elves on behalf of the people of Harkenwold.”

The elf tilted his head to the side. “Salt merchants? I’m not sure you’ll find much trade here…”

“Not just salt merchants… THE Salt Merchants.” Shorwyn pointed out with a mix of pride and disdain. “We do a lot more than just sell salt.” he added.

The elf nodded. “Very well. What is it that you wish from us?”

“We have come to seek your aid in liberating the people of Harkenwold from the murderous Iron Circle, who have invaded these peaceful lands and captured my uncle… Baron Stockmer.” Erik explained cordially.

Israfen raised a delicate eyebrow. “Indeed. Well, clearly this is a matter for Eriyel. We will bring you to her.”

Two more elves materialized out of the underbrush and led the adventurers along barely visible footpaths through the thick wood to clearing where an elven encampment along a clear stream. There Israfen introduced them to a middle-aged elven woman with dark eyes and long green-gold hair.

Eriyel listens patiently, while the party makes their case. She speaks calmly, without haste; offering thoughtful, logical arguments, to which the party respond with equal insight. After a moment of silent reverie, she looks up and meets the gaze of each in turn. “You ask us to risk our lives for you. If you were to do the same for us, we would be honor bound to match your selflessness. It is, as you say, a ‘fair trade’.” Before anyone could ask, she continued, “There is an undead wizard, named Yisarn, who has taken up residence in a sanctuary, hidden beneath a ring of standing stones near the ruins of an ancient Eladrin village called Dal Nystiere. He has now allied with the Daggerburg Goblins, our sworn enemies.”

A brief discussion was all that was needed for the party to agree to help the elves. With a nod, Eriyel introduces a frail-looking elf wearing embroidered robes and carrying a staff. “This is Pairin. He will be your guide. Please look after him as one of your own and see to his safe return.”

As they arrive at the circle of stones, they notice a covered cart setting just outside of the circle. Scroopel also spots a large spider up in one of the trees and points it out to the others. Theon identified it as a Wood Spider. “They’re solitary, and probably won’t attack us.” he assured them, but Shorwyn wasn’t convinced. Pairin suggested they leave the creatures of the forest to themselves and be on their way.

Shorwyn kept a wary eye on the spider with his rod grasped tightly in his hands, and the words of a spellsong on his sneering lips while Erik silently crept up to the cart and peered inside. He mouthed the word “Goblins”, and the others drew their weapons. Theon glided silently up alongside Erik and pulled back the flap of the cart with one hand, his sword raised in the other. With calm precision, he silently slit one of the goblins’ throats. Its throaty gargle mingled with the snoring of the others and went unnoticed.

All was going well, until Erik decided to try to hop onto the cart, but winded up shoulder-checking it instead. The jolt immediately woke the goblins inside, and the sounds of the ensuing battle roused the spiders as well: one from each tree leapt silently to the ground and advanced on the party.

Scroopel attempted to parlay with one of the Goblins, but wasn’t convincing enough. Before Scroopel ran him through, the enemy goblin revealed that they were under orders from someone named “Snilvor” to kill anyone who attempted to interfere or enter the sanctuary.

The remaining goblins rushed from the cart, one going in each direction. They didn’t get far before Scroopel slit one’s throat and vaulted over the cart to stab the other in the back. Meanwhile, each other member of the adventuring party was occupied with his own spider.

After killing off Snilvor’s minions and the hungry spiders, Pairin revealed that the standing stones held magic that would transport them into the sanctuary, provided they first pour dragon’s blood onto it and speak the name “Dal Nystiere”. The party gathered as he trickled the last of the precious liquid onto the altar. Green, glowing runes spread across its surface. The glow gathered intensity, creating a glowing sphere that engulfed the entire group. “Dal Nystiere!” Pairin shouted, and in a flash of blue light, they were transported into a dimly lit laboratory. There were several large tables covered with loose sheets of parchment and dusty bottles. A wide staircase climbed 10 feet to a stone loft, atop which rested a wooden desk and chair made from lashed bones. A band of runes ran around the edge of the entire platform. A pair of cages rattled, barely containing the snarling drakes within.

And the room was filled with goblins.

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U Mad Bro?

((Last “Bro” title – I promise!))

The horses trudged wearily through the thick mud as the rain continued to fall in fat, lazy drops. It tapped a steady rhythm on the hoods of their traveling cloaks and kicked up a fog that only became thicker as they went. A damp chill penetrated their armor more effectively than any enemy’s weapon thus far. Even the water-loving Shorwyn was on the lookout for a dry place to hole up.

Theon nudged Erik and pointed towards a large, shadowy shape, barely perceptible through the thick mist. “Is that what I think it is?”

The merchant broke into a wide grin. “It sure is.” He turned to the rest of the party. “Farmhouse. Should we stop and invite ourselves in?” By anyone’s modest estimation, they were only an hour or two outside of Albridge, but none protested.

The muted glow of a lantern appeared farther down the road. “It’s them!” cried a gravelly voice from a blurry figure perched atop a cart or large mount.

“Take them!” snapped a woman’s voice from behind one of the trees. At her command, three more figures emerged, almost indiscernible from the tree trunks at their current distance.

Immediately, Scroopel lept from his pony and took one step up the embankment before his feet went out from under him and he fell flat on his face.

The others moved forward and were met by an Iron Circle brigand riding a rage drake, and a volley of crossbow bolts and flaming tendrils.

As the Salt Merchants advanced, two pair of Iron Circle rabble hopped the stone fences and joined the battle: one pair from behind, the other from the front. The pair attacking from the rear ran right past the mud-covered goblin without noticing.

With their focus firmly on their targets, the rabble never saw Scroopel until the tip of his dagger was protruding from one’s chest. Before the other could turn, Scroopel had thrown the dagger, embedding it in the base of the man’s skull where it would stay for the rest of the encounter.

Meanwhile, Erik and Shorwyn finished off the other pair and then turned to assist Theon, who was locked in combat with the drake and its rider. But Theon matched them, a weapon in each hand, giving at least as much as he took – dropping the rider and, eventually, the drake. But not before the drake had knocked Erik to the mud and tore into him hungrily with claws and teeth.

The rest of the brigands advanced in formation, while the drake seemingly grew stronger the more wounded it became.

The adept, the woman who was leading this group, moved forward to give aid to the drake’s rider, but he was cut down nonetheless. Her overconfidence put her into harms way and before long, she was laying in the mud with her soldiers.

After the battle, Theon gathered some of the least damaged cloaks and tabards while Shorwyn hacked off the woman’s head and mounted it on a pike in the road. The rest watched with grim expressions as he returned from one of the men’s corpses.

Shorwyn stood in front of the severed head for a moment. The eyes stared at some fixed point above the trees, and the mouth hung open. “If they weren’t mad before… They will be now.” He shoved a dismembered penis into the mouth of the severed head to punctuate his statement, then turned and marched into the abandoned farm house without looking back.

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