Nightfall in Brelindia

43 - Out of the Woods
The heroes leave Grinthorn Forest to its protectors, and set their sights on Tythoas Nil.

The Beast is dead. His war party has fallen around him, or scattered into the woods where Carvaron hunted them down. Honora checks his fallen corpse to find the elven locket of Arithura. They also find the Beast was carrying a strange acorn that pulses with power — likely enspelled to grow instantly into an immense oak — and some small bits of quicksilver lightning, fragments of thunderbolt in metallic form. They leave him where he lies.

After the battle Baden finds a secluded place among the elvish ruins. He prays and spends time reflecting on the good their group has done and resigning himself to what yet lies before them. During his meditations he notices a glimmer of light reflecting off a piece of debris. This flash sparks a moment of insight. Could the mirrors be used to target the Rider in White or the Faceless Gryphon? Who would understand mirror magic enough to let the group dictate the terms of confrontation? It seems likely to Baden that the Gryphon will be more active than ever, and perhaps the mastery of the mirrors could hold the key.

With the witch’s bearskin cloak and locket in hand, Honora begins the Valysan ritual to break the curse of the White Hind. The animal shudders and convulses as the binding spells are severed one by one. Finally her skin falls away, and a pale and exhausted autumn elf woman is left.

While Carvaron tends to his wife’s recovery, the four head for the “devoured village” to deal with the rest of the Beast’s hunters. With the troll-eater, the skinmage and the Beast all gone, the remaining huntsmen aren’t much trouble at all. The most trouble comes from a midden of gnawed bones that has gathered a measure of animation and undead power. The midden horror guards the entrance to the Beast’s lair under a massive tree, but with the group’s focus entirely on defeating it, it is gravely outmatched. The slayers are able to enter the Beast’s den and sift through the treasures there.

Arithura and Carvaron arrive to offer their assistance not long after. In particular, Arithura is accompanied by a pair of night bears, that she has convinced to act as pack animals for the group at least until the edge of the woods. The group loads some of the heavy coin and goods onto the bears, and they begin their march toward the Grinthorn border. Along the way, the much-recovered Arithura is able to tell the group more about the Beast. He was Kurgol of the Shrikeskin bugbear clan, a powerful hunter who crossed the first-born son of the fey Twist-Legged King. Kurgol killed the fey prince and ate his heart — and by the logic of the Twist-Legged King, that made him the new heir apparent. The Beast of Grinthorn thus gained the loyalty of his balestalker hunters, expanding his grip on the woods.

That night in camp, Honora makes the offer to plant the dragon’s tooth in Arithura’s service. She reasons that there are still threats in the woods even with the Beast gone, and this may be the best place for the spartoi to serve. Arithura remembers the name of the poison dragon Kheirtalhassa. She can’t say for certain how trustworthy a spartoi born from Kheirtalhassa might be, but she agrees to accept the gift.

They plant the tooth. A warrior in shining green scale armor pulls herself forth from the earth, a bow on her back and a pair of falcatas at her hips. Her skin is a polished wooden brown, and eyes and hair are a deeper shade of green. She demands her task, and Honora tells her she is to guard and assist Arithura. The spartoi salutes and then takes up position at watch.

They spend another day traveling and another night’s camp in Grinthorn. No more dangers present themselves; the wild animals avoid the camp, and it seems no more ogres or fey are raiding this far south. The conversation is polite but a little sparse; Carvaron is taciturn, Hassa seems to have minimal curiosity about things that don’t concern her present task, and Arithura clearly knows much of the forest and the god Faragnath but little of the outside world.

The following day they reach Harrowglen. There they meet with Bron and Brisery — Bron has yet to leave for Lanthorn, wishing to be certain the group had survived. Now that he is certain things are secure, he agrees to travel downriver to speak with the Countess and explain the recent events involving Cyr Egran and the Beast. From there he’s not certain where he will travel next — if Kindrevin becomes the new protector of Harrowglen as they hope, Bron will still have to remain at a distance until they can be sure that there won’t be trouble from Selpike.

Then there’s the question of what to do with the Beast’s mirror. After some deliberation, the group decides to wrap it up, smash it and bury it. It seems most likely that the power to pass through mirrors is granted by Zegriirgez, and the ability to master this possibly fey, possibly fiendish entity would be necessary. If the answer to this mastery is in Tythoas Nil’s library, then perhaps they would be able to discover more.

The group studies their maps of the area and decides to skirt the Selpike problem. They plan to cross the river and circle through the hills to the south, rejoining the river at the Mathraine ford. The hills are sparsely populated, which should make them difficult to track and provide an less than obvious approach. And as Bralta points out, there’s certain to be less trouble with hill bandits than there might have been a few months ago, when bands like Tulkar’s Trappers and the Devil’s Dozen were a serious concern…

View
42 - The Beast of Grinthorn
The heart-devouring barghest finds the heroes at last.

The Troll-Eater and his band lie dead. As the group binds their wounds, calls on powers of healing and catches their collective breath, they begin planning to move against the Beast himself. Baden proposes attacking the village he held first. “The worst that could happen would be that the Beast isn’t there, and we whittle down the numbers of his band a bit more.”

“No, that’s the best that could happen,” says Bralta. “The worst would be that he’s there, his men are all there, and we’re surrounded and hacked apart.” Baden concedes a mild possibility that this could be the case, and proposes setting the village on fire. But as nobody can guarantee that this would give them an advantage over the Beast and his men, they decide against this plan.

The group makes camp, not quite as thoroughly concealed as before. Carvaron finds them as they settle down to rest, and lets them know he heard the Beast’s howl. They’ve successfully made the barghest angry. The group rests as they plan to deal with him. The best way seems to be to keep a running battle with his scouts — his hounds and beaters — until they cut down enough to get as close to a fair fight with the Beast as possible.

That evening the hunt begins in earnest. Early scouting reveals that the Beast is bearing down on their position, with a pair of goblin hounds close by him and a scattering of goblins, lesser barghests and fey huntsmen fanning out before him. They begin their work. Two goblins die to Baden’s arrows, and Honora cuts down one of the lesser barghests who runs too far ahead. The group closes an ambush on one of the hounds, killing it, and are surprised to see that it reverts to the humanoid form of a bugbear woman, clad in skins and teeth.

The loss of one of his concubine-pets clearly infuriates the Beast, though, and he’s on them much sooner than they’d anticipated. They make their stand on a hill where powerful storms toppled several trees some time ago, using the fallen thorny trunks as cover. The few outlying huntsmen who arrive first are easily dealt with. But the Beast arrives quickly, with his remaining hound. He tears into the group quickly.

The heroes’ struggle against the Troll-Eater informs their tactics. They’re gathered in a unified front, and they strike first at the barghest lord’s surviving concubine-hound. The Beast takes offense at being neglected, though, and begins taking a toll out of the heroes. The true power of his nature manifests in his howl, as waves of deathly energy drain away life force and sustain him further. In his hulking bugbear form he cuts into the group with sword and axe — in his warg form he savages them with vicious jaws. And he will not die. Their magic and stamina are almost at a low ebb before they actually manage to wound the monster.

But animalistic as he is, the Beast doesn’t believe in fighting to the death. Once his wounds become serious, the barghest lord turns and begins to flee. Baden pursues him, only to have the Beast turn on him. The distraction is enough, though. Abbron calls on his sorcerous winds to lift himself, Honora and Bralta above the fallen trees, and they land in the Beast’s path. His retreat cut off, the monstrous hunter of Grinthorn Forest tries to sell his life dearly, but it slips away from him at the end all the same.

View
41 - Trollflesh
One of the Beast’s lieutenants is down, and the hunt quickly shifts to the other.

They find Agriax’s “workshop” in the tumbled ruins of the elven village below. It’s full of bones, skins, teeth and hides. Among the various interesting objects are a few personal effects that seem to belong to an elven woman, a bearskin cloak sized for a slender form, and a large tooth covered in runes. The tooth seems to be draconic, and is placed in a cloth as if meant to be a gift. Honora theorizes that it’s the sort that will call up a spartoi if planted.

Bralta pores over the various rune-inscribed skins that pass for Agriax’s ritual notes. After some study, she announced that it seems likely that the curse that’s locked Carvaron’s wife into deer form must be dispelled by another ritual. The curse is held in place with two key items: her bearskin cloak and a locket she wore. Each one would strengthen the attempt to break the curse. Honora recommends they wait until they’ve beaten the Beast and taken the locket he no doubt carries before trying to break the curse, for greatest chance of success without harming the elf-witch. If they die facing the Beast, then Carvaron can still attempt to find help elsewhere using the bearskin cloak.

Bralta also notes that she believe she’s discovered the name of the tooth. The dragon “parent” was named Kheirtalhassa in Draconic — apparently a forest dragon that attempted to occupy Grinthorn, but drew Syrakul’s attention and paid dearly for it. The tooth itself has the name of “Hassa,” which would be used in transforming it into a spartoi.

Given the options open to them, they decide to try catching the Troll-Eater first before they deal with the Beast. Nobody wants to wander into the conquered village with a lieutenant still on the loose. They leave the area and find a secure spot to rest, hiding so well even Carvaron has difficulty finding them. Once they rendezvous with the werewolf, he agrees to act as a distraction. They set up an ambush in the stone ruins beneath the star-oak, with Carvaron prowling the perimeter to take down any fleeing enemies.

The bulk of the hunting party arrives first — a pair of nastily scarred bugbears with hatchets, and a sizable squad of human and goblin huntsmen spreading through the area. Then the Troll-Eater comes into view, holding the leash of the savaged and half-feral troll Baden saw earlier. He’s a massive bugbear with black teeth and oddly trollish skin on the outside of his arms. When the battle breaks out, he releases the troll. It charges the right flank seemingly at random, barreling down on Abbron and Bralta while its master charges Honora and Baden. The beast is so crazed that its first attack is to seize a huntsman that got too close and take a massive bite out of the luckless marauder before returning its attention to Abbron.

The split flank strategy proves problematic for both sides. The Troll-Eater is a powerful, enduring foe, and the assistance of his huntsmen locks down Baden and Honora more than either would like. Both are wounded in short order. On the other flank, Abbron continues to avoid the troll’s attacks by a narrow margin, using thunder and lightning to strike down the huntsmen but having little luck in slowing the troll. He and Bralta finally make a break for the other two. Bralta’s healing chant fortifies the two axe-wielders before they’re beaten down, but the troll charges Abbron in response and hits him hard.

Abbron spreads around the lightning even as he tries to recover his strength. The Troll-Eater, refusing to fall despite the many axe blows he’s suffered, nearly cuts Honora and Baden down before his strength ebbs and Earth Dragon takes off his head. But the troll, drawn by the smell of Honora’s blood, strikes her down. It doesn’t get the chance to finish her, though — Baden’s axe, blazing with light and fire, severs the troll’s spine.

Bralta quickly moves to heal Honora’s wounds and resuscitate the paladin. The last surviving huntsman flees in terror as the troll topples, but the sound of a snarl and an abbreviated scream attest that Carvaron was indeed keeping the perimeter as promised.

View
40 - Skin and Bones
The hunt for the Beast advances to the next level, targeting the skinmage Agriax.

That morning the four hunters discuss their next move with Carvaron. Nobody wants to challenge the Beast while he has his “troll-eater” and skinmage nearby — it’s clear the best course of action is to strike while they’re separated. After some discussion of which target to take, they settle on the skinmage. They know that Agriax, as Carvaron names him, is likely to be camped near the star-oak where he tends his totems.

The question is whether or not to distract him by destroying the fetishes he’s set around the wood. While these would catch his attention, it’s also likely that they would put him inconveniently in motion or compel him to join up with one of the other two menaces at large. Ultimately they decide that Carvaron will circle around and begin destroying totems as a distraction, while they slip into Agriax’s lair.

They set out for the star-oak that morning. It’s easy to find, given its prominent place on a large hill, and the pale green lights that bob about it even during daylight hours. The traditional animal bones and skins hang f,rom its branches, but the bones of humanoids have been added to the trophies. The group slips past a few skeleton patrols and eliminates a scattering of sentries without difficulty. Below Faragnath’s tree, a small stone circle stands on a lower rise. The stones are set about with bone totems and strange scarecrows — and Agriax is there.

There are very few words offered on either side. Agriax — a lean, dirty human dressed in the flayed skins of humans and beasts — has no living allies to command. Rather, he draws on the power of his totems, animates a small coterie of scarecrows with skin-sack heads, and sends a pair of whirling stitched-together leather “wraiths” with knives along their fringes after the heroes. His own magic seeps into his enemies’ flesh, temporarily cursing them with withering before their power shrugs it off.

It is unfortunately — for Agriax — not enough. His scarecrows are smashed, his totems blasted, his skinwraiths cut apart. He falls in the center of the stone circle, the web of his fetish magics severed.

View
39 - The Wounded Hunter
Baden spies on a troll-eater and the Beast's lair, and the group meets a new potential ally.

The old elven observatory is clearly no longer safe. The group marches northwest for an hour to get away from the carnage, and hopefully from any possible pursuers, and then strikes camp in a secluded hollow for some much-needed rest.

Baden examines the area around the campsite after they wake. He finds signs that some goblins have been nearby, perhaps trailing them. He follows the tracks farther northwest, then when they loop back around to the observatory.

Baden creeps carefully into a concealed spot where he has a better view of the ruin. He spies a few goblins and a pair of humans, but most alarmingly, a massive troll with huge thorns erupting from its skin is feasting on the fallen thorn-ogre’s carcass. A chain runs from a collar around the troll’s neck to the interior of the tower. As Baden watches, the chain grows taut. The troll resists at first, but then after another strong jerk, it abandons its meal and shuffles resentfully into the ruined tower. Baden keeps watch for a little longer — at one point hearing the troll roar in pain — and then quietly abandons his vigil and returns to his companions. His findings inform their decision. Whatever can pull a troll off its dinner, the group wants no part of it at present. They decide to push north for the road running through Grinthorn, there to circle around and move back south for the star-oak.

They march for what’s left of the day. Along the way, they find that several trees are showing some form of odd spiraling mutation: branches curling in on themselves, or boles and galls that look reminiscent of snail shells. Many of these trees are marked by odd bone totems; it’s unclear if the totems are the cause of the fell energy being drawn into the trees, or simply a tag.

Near dusk, they find some signs of nearby hunters, possibly a villager from nearby. Abbron takes to the air, the winds carrying him to the top of a tall tree so he can survey the landscape. He sees a small clearing with a walled village to the west, and a long groove in the treeline that is likely the road to their north. To the southeast he sees a rise with a large tree, bereft of leaves, many miles away. The tree is lit by greenish-yellow lights that circle it like immense fireflies. The group agrees that this is likely the star-oak.

While the others rest, Baden goes to scout the nearby village. He watches, listens and even climbs the outer wall to get a look inside. What he finds isn’t promising. Glyphs have been painted on the log walls, the doors of the houses have been kicked in, and there’s a strong animal musk hanging over the place — mixed with the smell of old blood. A few humans wander in and out — the place has clearly been slaughtered, and then occupied. Unwilling to risk running into the Beast of Grinthorn himself, Baden returns to report. They spend the night in another carefully concealed hollow, and then in the morning set out to the southeast to find the star-oak of the Bearskin.

As they draw nearer to the star-oak, they find more of the oddly spiraling trees that seem affected by the forest. But then they spy something unusual — a white deer, that seems to be observing them and then moving away. Honora recalls the stories of the White Hind of the woods, and encourages the group to follow it.

They do so, and the deer leads them to a small cave that smells of blood. From within, an angry and pained voice challenges them. The group carefully negotiates with the person within, telling him they were led there by the White Hind. He invites them in hesitantly.

The man occupying the cave is a hunter, clearly in pain from a wound that won’t heal. He admits that he was wounded by a silver knife from the Beast of Grinthorn — a barghest — and that the Beast is the one who cursed his wife to stay in the form of the White Hind. She was the keeper of the star-oak — an elven witch, much like Magdal — and the Beast wanted access to the tree’s power. The hunter, Carvaron, offers some information on the Beast and his lieutenants (specifically the troll-eater and the skinmage), wanting to see the invader dead.

Honora offers to do what she can to heal the wound. Removing the curse is a difficult affair, and she’s barely able to finish the ritual; Carvaron nearly dies as the cursed silver is drawn out of his blood. But once he’s purified, he begins to recover more quickly, devouring all the food he can reach. He asks the group to stay the night there in the cave. They do so, and wake in the morning to the smell of fresh venison being cut from Carvaron’s kill and roasted in the fire. The hunter offers what help he can give, particularly if it means they can aid his wife.

View
38 - Attracting Attention
A fey nobleman’s hunting party comes a-calling to see if the heroes are worthy prey.

Goblin corpses lie around the hillside by the ruined elven observatory. In the wake of the battle, the group discusses what to do — stay here and wait for more bands to come by into a potential ambush, or move somewhere less obvious? Honora dislikes the idea of leaving a defensible position, but the others can’t agree. Baden suggests fortifying the area further, making it more difficult for enemies to approach unseen and closing off possible approaches. He finally asks Bralta to weigh in.

Bralta muses a bit, then offers, “If we light fires and block off entrances, they may turn it into a siege. They can bring everyone they can to surround the place, and wait until they’re ready.”

They decide to stay at the hill for a time, but not setting any obvious fortifications. It will be up to the enemy to approach close enough to get a good view. Baden chooses a hiding spot downslope, in the hollow of a tree cluster, while the others conceal themselves within the tower. Grieve chooses the lower story this time, avoiding the thorns upstairs that hampered his archery skills.

An hour or two before dawn, Baden hears enemies approaching. The heavy footfalls of an ogre are easy to pick out; the goblin scouts keeping low and close to the ground are stealthier. A few scouts creep ahead of the main group, and a voice calls out in the lilting speak of the Otherworld. “Hello, the hill! What difficulties have you been having?”

The speaker comes into Baden’s line of vision with the main body of the hunting party. He seems elven at first glance, but there’s little of the mortal in his features, and he wears fine hunting clothes made of the skins of peculiar fey animals. Another of the Balestalker rangers accompanies him, an elf with a twisted, clawlike right hand. The ogre Baden heard is another of those thorn-bearing brutes, one with a beard-like array of briars growing from its chin. A small group of bugbears and goblins round them out, the beaters and squires of the hunting party.

Baden’s observation is suddenly cut short. A humanoid figure lunges out of the tree concealing him — a wooden semblance of a human woman, made of dark wood and thorny branches. Its hollow eyes are alight with a greenish balefire, and it rakes out at Baden, drawing blood.

That strike signals the fight to begin. The thorn-ogre charges the breach in the tower wall, followed by hunters. The bale-dryad steps from tree to tree, cutting Baden off from his companions. The fey aristocrat in charge watches the violence with amusement as he strolls leisurely toward the fray, while his balestalker sends arrows at the heroes and a lone goblin cheers them on from the rear.

Outside the tower, Baden’s isolation is a problem. The dryad is able to cut him badly before Bralta can intervened with her runecantor healing. The thorn-hulk gives Honora as good as it gets, while the balestalker’s splintering arrows endanger everyone in the fight. The bale dryad splits away from Baden, vanishing into a tree to reappear from the huge tree in the tower. It drops among the three defenders and exhales a cloud of stinging, blinding smoke that hampers Honora until she calls on a blessing to purge its effects.

The fey peer joins in the fun, but it’s a mistake. The thornhulk finally falls, and though the dryad begins leaking dangerous balefire when her torso’s cracked, she doesn’t last long before Abbron blasts her into splinters. With the various hunters felled by axe blows, thunder or Grieve’s arrows, the huntsman becomes the primary target. He seems almost surprised and offended that the mortals are able to wound him, and at last dies to Bralta’s hammer and Grieve’s bow.

The balestalker flees, leaving only the one goblin that had tried to avoid engaging in combat. Baden cuts her in half, then pursues the balestalker. The enemy is just as swift as he is, and it becomes an endurance test through the uneven, briar-thick landscape of Grinthorn. Though Baden is able to mark the fleeing balestalker with his axe’s edge a couple of times, his stamina finally runs dry and he must give up the chase.

Baden returns to the group, who’s already packed and discussing their next move. The villages to the north might provide some cover, but they’re a long trek through enemy territory away, and it’s uncertain if the residents would help them. The group decides to make their way to the star-oak said to be in the wood; it may be a focal point for the Beast’s attention. Grieve parts way with them, setting out to rejoin Bron’s band, and the four head north.

View
37 - Going A-Hunting
The four stake a claim to a corner of the Beast of Grinthorn's territory.

Once the four heroes are certain that Cyr Egran is well and truly dead, they first secure his sword, Lamentation. They carefully avoid touching its hilt or blade at any point, sheathing it by touching its scabbard and then bundling it in several layers of cloth.

The townsfolk in Harrowglen are very alarmed by the recent clashes, but Bron’s arrival helps calm them. The group discusses strategy with the deposed knight over drinks at the White Hind. Bron tells them what he knows about the Beast:

  • Some say the Beast is the child of one of the scattered forest settlements that still exist within Grinthorn, but Bron suspects he’s something more otherworldly
  • He has a number of hunting packs, and has made tenuous allies with the balestalkers and their thorned ogre minions
  • There are other ruins within the wood dating back to Telenvar, some of which the Beast’s packs use as camps and cache sites. Bron knows of a nearby one, a former observatory.

Bron offers to send his man Grieve — a dour summer elf — to show them the way to that cache site so they can begin their hunt. The group accepts. Rather than risk reprisals falling on Harrowglen proper, they return to Toad Rock to camp out the night.

In the morning, Bron and his crew bring a last bounty of food for breakfast, and exchange pleasantries before Grieve leads them deeper into Grinthorn Wood. The elf is not particularly sociable, but offers some advice when asked.

After the better part of a day, the group finds the broken observatory atop a large hill. Baden finds a number of tracks that imply goblins, at least a dozen. The trees have enclosed what must have once been a clearing for the tower; one has bent almost sideways and forced its way into the second story, filling it with thorns. The four find a goblin cache, and settle down to wait.

That night a hunting pack approaches the tower on Honora’s watch. She rouses the others quickly, and they lay into the goblin bandits. A pair of scarred bugbear hunters put up more of a fight than the wily goblin veterans can, but the heroes control the terrain and the pace of the battles. Unfortunately, during the fight a single goblin escapes Grieve’s arrows and flees into the night, sounding a warbling, high-pitched horn.

View
35 - A Swift Rescue
Caught between the forest and a possibly mad knight, the four decide to rescue Brisery as the prelude to striking at Cyr Egran.

Honora heals the leg of Torishka, the huntress who’d observed their camp. Bron thanks them for their assistance, but asks what they’re doing in the woods. Abbron confesses they’d hoped to meet with Bron, and that they have business with Cyr Egran and particularly with the bandit-lord called the Beast of Grinthorn. Bron recommends they rendezvous at his camp, preferably by splitting up and covering their trails.

In order to confuse any potential trackers, the group heads back to their camp, then sets out further upstream. They reach a pond a few hours north, then set out following Bron’s instructions. Grinthorn is difficult going, and they arrive at Bron’s camp not long before sundown.

Bron “the Brigand” and his folk have set up camp in an old elven town that was swallowed by the forest many years ago. An stone elven tower still stands, though most of the actual domiciles are long gone. Kindrevin greets the three he recognizes as they arrive, and is pleased to meet Bralta. The outlaws share fire and food and drink, and the heroes offer gifts of their own.

Soon the topic of Bron’s exile comes up. Bron relates that he was on fairly good terms with Grastan, Cyr Egran’s older brother and son of Baron Esgravan. He was visiting Selpike at the time, and he and Grastan went hunting. However, Bron’s memory is hazy about the actual events. He describes witnessing the events as if from behind a pane of glass. He saw himself run furious, and cut Grastan down. He barely recognized himself. To this day he doesn’t know if he was drugged, enspelled, or something else. He was taken captive in Selpike, and then shipped downriver to Lanthorn for judgment. When the boat stopped in Harrowglen for the night, Kindrevin led a band of his loyalists to rescue him. They fled into the woods, and have lived there since.

In the time Bron and his company have been outlaws, they’ve had several skirmishes with the Beast of Grinthorn’s men. Bron reports that the band has a number of ragged, vicious men to its name, but that it also seems to attract more fey stragglers. The thorn-ridden ogres and their Balestalker companions that hunted Torishka may have some connection to the Beast, for instance. Bron’s never met his rival face to face, but he knows that the bandit king has consumed one town that stood within the wood. His goals are unclear, but may involve pursuing the White Hind, or gaining mastery over a certain tree. Bron shows them a relief within the elven tower depicting another star-oak, this one dedicated to Faragnath, elven god of beasts, fury and skinchanging.

The group decides their next move should be to free Brisery; even if Bron can’t easily regain his position as knight of Harrowglen, it’s best his sister be removed from immediate danger. Cyr Egran wears an old sword of late, and has been reputedly growing less mentally stable. They decide to strike during one of her infrequent trips into town to show that all’s well. The plan is to stake out the treeline and watch for the visit, then snatch her from horseback and lead pursuers into the woods, where they can thin Egran’s forces a bit before heading immediately back and taking him down.

The first day of their vigil, there’s no activity. They spend a little time preparing a deadfall in an ideal ambush location. The second day, though, Brisery and her group of four escorts heads to town. The group rides on them, and successfully pulls her and her maid away. Horns ring out and a small band of pursuers sets out — sixteen, on foot.

Honora, Abbron and Bralta hand over Brisery and her handmaid to Bron and his crew, and then make for the ambush point. Baden hangs back and peppers the group with arrows. He manages to slay four of them before they hit the treeline, at which point they advance very slowly and carefully. The men seem unwilling to abandon the chase, but don’t favor their odds in more openly rushing into some form of ambush. After a few more shots, Baden falls back and leads them to the ravine.

The ambush goes well at first, and they quickly cull some of the less practiced men. But a few are particularly dangerous, including a pair of hardened Devil’s Dozen warriors and a pale man in Egran’s colors who displays remarkable determination. The Devil’s men manage to overpower Honora, toppling her and cutting into her armor’s seams to injure her. Abbron draws on his reserves in order to knock them back, and Bralta is able to keep the paladin’s life from slipping away long enough for the four to rally. The Devil’s men go down, one losing his head to Baden’s axe, and the last to fall is the pale man of sturdy constitution. Examining the bodies after the battle, though, they find that the pale man may have already been dead when he begun the battle — his blood hasn’t flown like a living man’s, and there’s an old, open blade wound into his chest that was likely left by a sword.

View
34 - Harrowglen
The trail moves from Lanthorn to Harrowglen, and the choice of facing Cyr Egran or the Beast of Grinthorn.

While Honora, Abbron and Bralta speak with Doctor Kravoss, Baden spends time among the autumn elves camped outside the Lanthorn gates. The private matter he sees to there he treats with great discretion. Even when he returns to the others, he says nothing of where he’s been: only that it was important to his people.

The others relate their conversation with Kravoss to Baden. While it’s clear that Kravoss might not be telling the entire truth, the possibility that the Stoic Man can’t be destroyed without killing Kravoss as well sits well with nobody. The group decides to press upriver from Lanthorn. The next obvious stop seems to be Harrowglen, where they can look into the question of Cyr Egran and the deposed Bron the Brigand. After some heavy debate about whether to approach the town directly or move into the forest to search for Bron, the group finally decides to take the road there, speak with outlying farmers without entering town proper, and then decide on their next move.

They follow the road for the better part of a week, occasionally dipping into Grinthorn for hunting or to check for signs of enemies. The forest has unusually thick underbrush, with heavy presence of thorny bushes sporting small, hard red berries. Baden successfully brings down a good-sized deer on one hunt, but on another nearly rouses a stirge colony hibernating inside a hollow oak.

The group reaches the outskirts of Harrowglen as it’s getting dark. They visit a farmhouse, and initially have trouble getting the suspicious farmers to take them at their word as honest travelers rather than fey or other things creeping from the woods to deceive mortal folk. Eventually they win the farmers over (with the help of a few gold coins that remain gold even when touched by iron), and sleep in the barn. In the morning they’re invited to a humble breakfast, where they learn that one of the possible friends of Bron remaining in town is the tanner (and taxidermist) Brolith.

Visiting the tanner’s shop, they find Brolith talking to a trapper (later identified as Haerick). The conversation is tense, and Haerick eventually leaves, giving the group a suspicious eye on his way out. The group manages to convince Brolith that they’re concerned with justice, and would be prone to take Bron’s side. The tanner/taxidermist relates a few of the significant details of the feud, including the fact that Egran has Bron’s sister Bresily captive as a guarantee of “the Brigand’s” good behavior. She seems to be treated well, and comes into town roughly every week, but is always guarded. Brolith has also seen the bandit hillfolk “new recruits” come to town, and assumes they’re staying at the knight’s manor.

The group decides to leave visiting town (or storming the tower to free Bresily) for later, instead planning to move into Grinthorn. They leave an obvious trail to the landmark of Toad Stone, a common campsite, in order to entice any of Egran’s men who might go hunting for them. Baden carefully secures the camp with woodcraft before they spend their first night in the forest.

In the morning, Baden checks his telltales and finds the group has been spied on. The spy was apparently human, and watched them for a bit before heading off to the northwest. The four quickly break camp and follow the trail. An hour or so into the woods, they hear the crashing of something large moving through the brush, and then hear the cry of a wounded woman.

Racing to the scene, they interrupt a dread sight — two towering ogres, wooden thorns protruding from under their skin, closing on a fallen huntress. Balanced atop the shoulders of one of the ogres is a lean figure, elvish or hobgoblin, wearing hunter’s garb and with a crude green glass shard over one eye. Another of the fey snipers lurks in a nearby tree, and they open fire at the heroes on sight.

The first skirmish in Grinthorn is a bloody one. The ogres’ thorns cut and tear at their opposition, and the hobgoblin balehunters loose arrow after splintering arrow. When the ogres are toppled, the hobgoblins attempt to flee — but Baden is faster, and the group gains sudden assistance from a tall man wearing the elaborate plate armor of a Brelindian knight, emerging from the forest. When the enemies are defeated, Honora moves to heal the fallen woman. The group then begins introductions with her and her ally, Bron the Brigand.

View
33 - The Stoic Man's Father
Abbron, Honora and Bralta follow a letter from "a friend" to the Lanthorn hospital, where they learn a great deal about their enemy.

The four nurse their wounds over a night at the Hidden Star. Come the morning, Baden has vanished before sunrise — a letter he leaves explains that he has come into contact with another of the brothers from his order, and must render assistance in a matter of discretion. Abbron, Honora and Bralta discuss the next possible plan over an extended breakfast. It’s uncertain if the other passages might lead to two more “children,” or to the father himself. As they mull over their options, a dark-haired woman, still bundled against the morning cold, approaches their table. She drops a letter on it, nods, and leaves.

The letter, from “a friend,” advises them that the path they are on will anger the Stoic Man, and insists that he cannot be slain — only angered. It goes on to plead with the group that they relent in their quest, and not enrage the Stoic Man further.

Honora visits the Tower of Vigilance to share the letter with the ranking Vigilant Tangryph, and tell him of their efforts. The Vigilants know the legend of the Stoic Man, but little about his actual workings. Tangryph can offer little advice, but some support.

Abbron has difficulty learning more that morning, save that the Sevenstrong Brotherhood has become more defensive in their ranks. That afternoon he does better, however, and identifies the woman who brought the letter. One of the gang of thieves he hired describes her as Renneth, a worker at the hospital morgue who used to have ties with the “Diggers,” a gang of flesh-and-bone men turned overall smugglers, robbers and extortionists. He informs Honora and Bralta, and the three resolve to visit her that evening.

They enter the hospital after midnight, talking their way past the guards, and meet Renneth at the morgue. She quickly points out that she didn’t write the letter; when pressed, she reveals it was written by Dr. Kravoss, a surgeon at the hospital. Given his penchant for working late, he is likely still in his office.

The three call on Kravoss, who takes a moment to recognize them. He admits to sending the letter, and explains that he knows more about the Stoic Man than anyone else in Lanthorn. When Abbron asks to share that knowledge, Kravoss responds that he’ll answer a question for a question.

The two parties interrogate one another. Kravoss spends his turns asking questions about the hunt for the Stoic Man, how the group learned of him, what this “vassalage” organization is like, what their ends may be. In return, he shares several key pieces of information about the entity under Lanthorn:

- The Stoic Man is a golem of his creation, the finest of his kind and nearly invincible
- The Stoic Man hates Kravoss, but cannot destroy or harm him
- Kravoss and the Stoic Man are life-linked; killing Kravoss would give the Stoic Man mortality, but if it finds a way to break the link it may become truly immortal
- Kravoss used a dwarven lightning forge under Lanthorn to create the Stoic Man
- The Stoic Man’s work is to create a “family,” using the lightning forge; he is unlikely to make much progress on this until spring comes and storm season with it
- The players slew one of the Stoic Man’s three “sons,” his truest creations; Aaroth, the furious one, and Absath, the dutiful son still live, while Acnevar, the enthusiast is now destroyed

From this information and their own, the three deduce that perhaps the Stoic Man’s role in the vassalage is not simply to provide powerful soldiers (though that is certainly part of it). If Tythoas Nil is able to break the life-link with Kravoss, then the Stoic Man would gain immortality, at least according to the doctor’s claims. Honora suspects that he would use it in the Faceless Gryphon’s service to help oppose Syrakul, and thus aid the Gryphon in breaking the Curse of Kings.

All this digested, the three decide they have a new goal — to destroy Tythoas Nil before lightning season. They return to the inn to get some rest. Along the way, Honora and Abbron argue about their next move: whether to travel through Grinthorn to potentially meet an ally in Bron the Brigand, the dispossessed knight of Harrowglen, or whether to take the road to Harrowglen and attempt to contact any friends or allies he might have left in the town without running afoul of Cyr Egran.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.