Nightfall in Brelindia

12 - Paying Respects in Graybanks
The heroes comb the city for news of the Abbey, and discover a few more conflicts along the way.

Many conversations between heroes and former prisoners take place over the two-day journey downriver to Graybanks. It’s nearing dusk when the party arrives. Graydon sets out to take Caelonna to the local temple to the Higher Nine, and the rest follow Abbron to the White Rune, an inn in the trade-heavy Crossways district. The White Rune caters to the rare elven travelers, and although those elves in the main room regard Honora suspiciously, Baden buys their courtesy with a round of drinks.

Over dinner, they learn fairly little. Mostly they go over what Caelonna’s already told them of the routine at Fivesaints Abbey, and Abbron makes a few subtle inquiries about brandy that confirm that the latest batch was not as good as usual. They also confirm that a merchant named Calkin acts as middleman for the abbey’s trading, and that a pious ferryman/fisherman named Cader Hooks takes the regular donations to the abbey. Once the meal’s over, Honora and Diedra strike out for another inn (choosing the Pious Man in the temple-heavy Southfalls district) and Abbron moves on to begin a round of pub-crawling and information gathering. Baden chats a bit more with Belderai, gaining the (mistaken) impression that she’s sending out signals of attraction. He deftly makes a few subtle inquiries in that direction, and discovers that although she might not have previously been considering such a liaison, she’s certainly not against it. The two retire for the evening.

Abbron moves his way through various Downriver taverns into the night, subtly inquiring as he goes. A well-off fishwife informs him that she saw the abbey’s boat one night at Felsen’s Quay, the hangout for a dangerous dredge-gang led by Corbran Goss. Corbran is apparently the only surviving Goss brother, having lost the other three in a “boating accident” after they crossed the Come-When-Called clan.

The next morning, Abbron spends a little time observing Felsen’s Quay, then collects Baden at the White Rune. The two of them meet with Honora where she’s been spending time speaking with Brother Waymark at the Valysan House of the Vigil. Waymark answers a few questions about the watch-captains, stating that he believes Downriver’s Captain Braddeth seems to be a good woman, if a little testy when she’s overworked. From there, they move on to the temple of the Higher Nine and speak with the high priest Oreian Palestone. Palestone is certainly concerned about the Abbey, and as much so about the tome-and-broken-rosary emblem on the roll of arms. However, his contact with Abbot Felderose is limited to the occasional letter, and he has no greater information. He expresses his gratitude for having the effects of Arlithane returned, and contemplates what to do about the sword.

The final religious stop is the Temple of the Unshrouded Sun in Northfalls. There they find Radiant Mother Brennarae arguing heatedly with a somewhat fatigued Graydon. The Radiant Mother takes a softer tone with the group as they approach, and offers to help however she can. She finds an illumination in a book on pacts that hints at Kyrophast’s resurrection, and the group spends some time musing about the nature of the White Rider and how many of those villains depicted on the roll of arms may have received a similar “rebirth” to Klogis. Graydon mentions that he’s discovered there was a criminal clan called the Sons of Judgment in the Shades, and he intends to inquire further. The four decide for their part to approach Captain Braddeth about Corbran Goss and the Abbey, and Mother Brennarae gives them a letter of introduction.

Captain Braddeth turns out to be testy when stressed, as advertised, but also cooperative. She mentions that she’s been suspicious of Goss for a while, who seems to be doing good business despite the loss of his brothers, but has been too pressed with inter-clan conflict to do anything about it. The Black Owls have apparently been expanding from Crossways, hitting the local Clan Shaddifor fairly badly, and the affair has taken up most of her attention. Honora, Baden and Abbron volunteer to help her with the clans in order to free her up. (Diedra, for her part, is a little lost amid the urban intrigue but offers to help as best she can as well.) Braddeth is somewhat surprised, but says if the group can “knock some heads” together and get both clans lying low, that would free her up significantly.

That evening, the Black Owls suffer a series of unfortunate surprises. Their strongpoint at a riverside warehouse is quickly overrun: one sentry is flattened by a thunderclap, a pair of sniper/lookouts are drubbed into unconsciousness by Baden, and Honora smashes open the main doors and tells the eight men inside to start running. The leader actually manages to steel his bowels and threaten her before Abbron stuns him into submission with a small lightning bolt. The remainder flee — though not far enough. After dropping off a pair of captives with Crossways’ Watch-Captain Callorick, the heroes catch up with them at a second strongpoint where the Owls are awaiting a Shaddifor counter-attack. These “owlets” are sent scurrying like the rest, and when the Shaddifor arrive a few minutes later, they receive an equally pointed (and electric) incentive to go lie low and lick their wounds for a while — “unless you need a few more wounds to lick.”

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11 - The Verdict of Judge Kyrophast
Judgment falls a second time on the monstrous judge of Tygarn Gate.

The defenses of Tygarn Gate are clearly faltering as the heroes press onward. They move to the right, entering a small guard room where the walls are covered with chalk scrawls: misspelled, rambling litanies praising Fire as Purifier and Fear as Lawgiver. This gives way to a small hallway, leading farther back to an archway where firelight spills out. As they advance cautiously, the four examine doors to either side. One gives way to a room one part armory and one part archive, the rat-eaten ledgers and scrolls of the prison in years past mixed with armor and weapons taken from prisoners and other random bits of detritus. The other is another simple well and latrine. Thus reassured that they are unlikely to be easily flanked, Honora pushes into the larger room ahead.

The room is a form of chapel, with a large firepit in the center of the room and four peculiar statues representing robed judges in the corners — one hung with chains, one dripping with fire, one adorned with blades and one holding a mask before its face. The altar itself has two large crossed swords dripping with fire as its headpiece, balances hanging from their crosspieces.

And of course, it’s occupied. A smattering of the oil-smeared, mad-eyed acolytes are gathered around the firepit. A dark-robed evangelist catches up a scythe as he sees Honora enter, and the man beside him glares out of what first appears to be a devilish mask, but then becomes apparent as no mask. The evangelist condemns the intruders, but Honora has none of it — she bursts into action, enduring strikes from the devil-kin’s greatsword and an acolyte’s hammer so that she can make contact with the priest-like leader. Baden is right behind her, and carves deeply into the cambion’s flesh with his sacred axe. The fiendish blood runs and ignites, searing those around him. And one of the acolytes hurls himself into the firepit, his sacrifice bringing a thing of half-molten stone out of the flames.

The few remaining denizens of Tygarn sell their lives dearly. The fiendish half-born turns his streaming blood into wings of flame and greasy smoke, kiting away in a wash of fire. The fear-harvester shares amplified pain from each blast and cut he takes, nearly overwhelming Honora and then Abbron. But they fall — first the remaining acolytes, then the devil-blood is brought down by Diedra’s flail, then finally Honora cleaves the magma beast apart and ends the evangelist’s life with a single blow. The eruption of cooling stone nearly kills Baden, but the Chanethi healer is there in time.

With the lower portion of the prison secured, the group takes time to mend their wounds and investigate. They discover a small key (opening a coffer with healing infusions inside) and a peculiar black-handled brass gavel on the body of the fear-speaker, and search the storeroom to find weapons confiscated from prisoners. Moving to the immense balance in the execution hall to determine how it might carry them to the balcony, they find odd slots in each pan marked with black and red stones. The brass gavel fits neatly into one slot, and they return to the torture chamber on a hunch that proves correct. The deceased torturer carried a red-handled brass gavel among his implements, and with both gavels in place, the balance carries the four of them up to the balcony.

They pass through another guard room, its residents likely lying dead below, and come into the chambers of the Judge. Firepits burn to either side of the room, and four sepulchers stand in the center. A lean figure in a red robe sits on the high stone chair at the far end. It lifts its fleshless skull to face them as they enter, and they can see its eyes are blindfolded. The Judge rises, and begins to declaim them as enemies of the “justice” distributed here. Baden and Honora reply defiantly, and Judge Kyrophast tears the blindfold from his skull as his ire rises. Two gems, one black and one red, flash back at the party. Kyrophast calls for his “jury”, and the stone slabs of the sarcophagi begin to move.

The Jury clamber free, but are met with a blast of storm. As the desiccated corpses move in for the kill, Honora brings down a burst of divine energy channeled from the vaults of Valysa. One takes the full brunt and topples, its necromantic spark extinguished before it hits the ground. But the others are hard to kill — they rise up again when hacked down, even when thrown into firepits. The problem deepens as Baden abjures the Judge, drawing him forward — but also drawing his potent aura around the Jury to protect them. And then Kyrophast begins to render his verdict: overwhelming fear from the black gem in his right eye socket, waves of necrotic flame from the red gem in his left. It’s all the group can do to fight through the blasphemous judgment, and the Judge vanishes in a cloud of flame whenever someone gets too close, reappearing elsewhere to continue his torment. Finally, hewn and seared, Kyrophast flees to an open patch of stone — and that’s all Abbron was waiting for. The storm-caller strikes the Judge with a final thunderbolt, hurling him against a wall and extinguishing the lights in the ocular jewels.

The rest, after time spent to mend, is work. The group burns the bodies of the gaolers, destroys the torture equipment, and sifts through various ledgers and manifests. They find a number of recent notes of transfers and executions, including a few from Fivesaints Abbey, a few from Kingsfall, and two from an unknown source called “Merediar.” Driven into the dais of Kyrophast’s seat is a sword, clearly that of the paladin Arlithane who condemned Tygarn Gate so long ago. They also find the paladin’s armor and holy symbol in the armory, and make plans to return them. Kyrophast’s main ledger also contains a copy of the roll of arms, and a scrap of vellum containing the abruptly severed word “ZEGRI”. The group, with the help of a recovered Graydon, gathers those things that seem to require being taken elsewhere, returns to Gallinburn, and makes plans to head down the Norfell to Graybanks.

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10 - Guttering Flames
The heroes are sobered to learn more of the array of threats spread throughout the land, and resolve to end one immediately.

Battered and fatigued, the group catches up with the liberated prisoners heading downriver to Gallinburn. Along the way, they speak briefly with Graydon, who has the most stamina left of the escapees. He admits to hearing about the growing shadow cast by this pretender to the Black Gryphon’s name, and that he understands the Count of Morsevar is very concerned that someone out there is assuming the identity of his illustrious ancestor.

It’s morning by the time they reach Gallinburn, a largish town that has seen better days. Abbron is on good terms with the innkeeper, and a long sleep until afternoon later, both heroes and former prisoners gather for an immense and well-received meal. Over food, they exchange information further.

Graydon elaborates on his hunt by explaining that he’s been hunting the headsman to this unknown “Gryphon,” a ruthless man named Hardrave. At this, the group produces the roll of arms, and Graydon confirms that the executioner’s emblem in one corner likely represents Hardrave. He also mentions rumors of “an assassin and a fool,” and that he’d just heard news of the Candle Man. It seems evident that the four lowest badges on the roll represent wanderers in the organization, individuals who move about to fulfill their various roles.

Kindrevin states that his lord Bron has been investigating the Rider in White, a known harbinger of evil; the disgraced lord feels it’s necessary to control, challenge or at least understand the herald before seeking out the master. Kindrevin knows that Bron contacted a wisewoman in the town of Barloch’s Shade to learn more, and she stated that the white signifies some form of rebirth. He reports that Cyr Egran is a younger son who seems to have come to the Rider’s attention through the process of removing his brothers from the line of succession. He also confirms that the emblem on the roll of arms resembling a wolf’s head devouring a heart seems to match reports of the band of brigands in Grinthorn Wood — the same band he and his men were searching out when they were taken.

Caelonna’s story deals with Fivesaint Abbey, a structure on an isolated island near Graybanks. She tells of disappearances within the abbey that gradually wore at the Abbot Felderose’s peace of mind and eventually sanity. Once a particularly promising and beloved young monk named Lorias vanished, the abbot began restricting the other brothers and sisters to quarters after sunset. The disappearances continued, however, and the abbot even began altering the statues of the five saints. When Caelonna left her quarters after dark, she saw Abbot Felderose praying to an unknown angel – and his prayers were answered by a strange man in white, one who matches the Rider’s description. The Rider noticed her in her hiding place, and the abbot had her seized and later given over to the Tygarn inquisitors. The former nun estimates there were about thirty on the island before the trouble began, and twelve had disappeared by the time of her discovery. She cannot be certain how many have been infected by Felderose’s madness, and how many are simply living in fear.

Finally, Belderai relates that she has seen peculiar brand-like marks on and odd behavior from clients that had been frequenting the courtesans of a professional circle called the Silken Flame. She believes that these rivals had her removed for asking too many questions and trying too hard to hold onto her clientele. Before she was taken away, she’d uncovered rumors that some sort of secret society was associated with the Silken Flame, its pass-token an orange rose.
The various stories cast a sober pall over the meal. The heroes make certain that the prisoners have enough gold to get them where they need to be. Graydon works on a copy of the roll of arms for his own purposes, and agrees to make another for Kindrevin to carry back to Bron. He says he’ll wait another few days to see if the four return from Tygarn Gate, and then head to the Kaealite shrine in Graybanks if they don’t. With that, the four travel back to the prison.

The defenses of Tygarn Gate are clearly thin. The four catch a group of six lesser initiates frantically hunting for the invaders, and dispatch the fanatics with ease. No sentries stand at the gate, but a few hardened inquisitors stand watch in the execution hall – a callused and scarred man with a long length of chain, two bailiffs with hammer and scourge, and a single initiate kneeling before a blaze built at the iron stake, whipping himself with a heated scourge. The initiate hurls himself into the fire as Honora steps forward, immolating himself and apparently conjuring some form of fiery devil with his sacrifice.

Honora’s quick to charge, hauling herself onto the execution block and throwing herself into battle with a bailiff and the chainsman. They hammer at her with maddened force, though she stands resolute against them. The fire-demon dives into the blaze at the stake and leaps out of a brazier near Baden, immediately attempting to engage him. Despite their low numbers, the inquisitors fight with ferocious zeal, wearing away at Honora and Diedra. Their might carries them only so far, however; the chainsman falls after a ferocious strike from the Valysan, Abbron’s storm winds extinguish the demon, and finally the last bailiff’s head is severed from his body with a strike worthy of a royal headsman.

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9 - Chain and Fire
Five prisoners are wrested from cruelty, although the liberators are sorely tested.

The four exits from the execution hall have little to distinguish themselves. The group chooses the leftmost, closest door, which leads them to a large cell-block area. Two massive, hooded headsmen turn from their stewardship to confront the intruders. Baden ducks into a nearby guardroom to confront a pair of less imposing turnkeys who try to strangle him with short lengths of chain. But the true supernatural power of Tygarn Gate manifests when some sort of chain-wrapped devil, the kind associated with the hell of Aaziphon, descends from the ceiling to join in the struggle. The devil learns a harsh lesson in conductivity, however, and although it manages to score Abbron in the ensuing skirmish, it dies by lightning and frost. The headsmen and turnkeys fare little better.

During the skirmish, voices call out from the cells. Once the guards are dispatched, the heroes free four prisoners, all of whom are gaunt and near-starved:

  • Kindrevin, a haggard warrior who claims to serve the falsely disgraced knight Bron, now called Bron the Brigand. He explains that the treacherous Cyr Egran (whose arms are those of a raven on a gallows-pole) enlisted the help of a Rider in White to falsely accuse Bron and drive him from power. Kindrevin’s small group of loyalist swordsmen was overwhelmed by enemies when they moved to explore a lead to their enemy in Grinthorn Wood; half died, the rest were sent to Tygarn, where he is the sole survivor.
  • Firinn, a hunter taken in the nearby woods.
  • Caelonna, a former nun of the Higher Nine from an abbey in Graybanks. She was “excommunicated” and sent upriver for speaking out against the abbot.
  • Belderai, a half-elven courtesan from Kingsfall. She was kidnapped and shipped to Tygarn; she has her suspicions about the rivals involved.

The prisoners eat heartily of a meal Diedra conjures, and relate that most captives are sent for sessions through the north door (undoubtedly for torture) before they are dragged away for a final time. They mention that a Kaealite questor was the last to be taken away in this fashion. The group vows to free him. They arm the freed captives as best they can, Baden going so far as to lend Firinn his bow, and set them to the river to make their way to freedom. Then they head for the torture chamber.

The raid on the torturers is swift and brutal. The head torturer is cloven by the Amaelite’s axe, hurled via divine providence into one of his own cells, and sent to the grave by Abbron’s lightning before he can so much as uncoil his whip. The two assistants cut fiercely into Abbron with their scythes, and the revenant corpse of a former victim actually possesses an iron maiden, lashing out with attached chains at the heroes. But without their master, they fall quickly. Honora frees the Kaealite quickly, and restores him to health. He thanks them, introduces himself as Graydon, and warns the group that the fanatic inquisitors seem to have allies across the country — a warning they thank him for, but of course do not need.

As the four escort Graydon out, their desire to protect him is put to the test. A large group of zealots, much like those who assaulted Drakesbend, has gathered in the execution hall. One proclaims that the omens were correct, and that the unclean are present, and his colleagues rush to “purify” the heroes. Honora and Diedra guard the door as best they can, while Abbron lays thunder and lightning on those on the other side. Baden moves about the room, striking as the opportunity presents itself. But the zealots are numerous and vicious; their blazing weapons nearly lay Honora, Diedra and Abbron low at separate points, and the healing power of the Chanethite and Valysan are only barely enough to sustain them. Once the bloody melee finally dies down, the group decides to take Graydon and find the other prisoners, retreating for Gallinburn: although Honora and Baden would dearly like to press forward and finish the zealots, the group’s strength is at a low ebb, and it’s uncertain just what the unknown Judge has left in store for them.

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8 - The Jaws of Tygarn Gate
Downriver to Tor Valland, and to the tragedy of justice perverted.

Sladdan Yale arrives as the violence dies out. Honora and Diedra tend to the injured guardsman while Abbron and Baden explain the circumstance and recommend that he take the captured fanatic into custody. The unconscious prisoner is placed in a secure basement, and after Baden is confident that no stragglers or skulkers have slipped away to cause more trouble, everyone retires.

The next morning, the interrogation of the fanatic goes poorly. The unfortunate man seems split between a fanatic dedication to a perverted sense of justice — describing the world as full of criminals and wickedness — and a deep, consuming fear of something. Abbron recognizes the marks of magical conditioning: someone has apparently used fear magic repeatedly on this wretch to help break him into this near-mad state. Though Honora and Baden greatly want to somehow reach him, he is beyond their assurances — he cannot even reconcile the genuine justice that Honora describes with the “justice” that his band metes out with fire and iron. He babbles some odd references to “a burning eye,” “the consuming flame” and a “dark eye,” but the only soothing mercy the group can offer for him is an axe’s edge. Honora travels with the villagers who cart the bodies half a day away from the town, and lays the corpses to rest with a Valysan ritual; Baden spends the day in contemplation.

The group leaves Drakesbend the following day, traveling by foot down the riverside road. Within four days they reach White Fork, and contract a rough-tongued old bargeman to carry them to Tor Valland.

Tor Valland is a large town, more sizable than Rellinford. It seems a little rougher and more patchwork in culture; most of the citizens seems happy that the Baroness doesn’t interfere with their lives too much. The group makes inquiries about town, learning of the local troubles (leucrotta and perytons are apparently a recurring concern), the band of red-dressed fanatics (they had been noted coming through town, but did not stay so much as a night), and the history of the prison near Gallinburn. Apparently Tygarn Gate was once a bastion of justice, but it went corrupt, and began meting out punishment to even the innocent. When a paladin from the lower heartland came to challenge them, they captured and executed him — but according to local legend, his death brought a great curse on the prison. The judge and his men turned on one another, subjecting one another to the same tortures and executions they had visited on the blameless. The prison has apparently stood empty since then.

Honora writes a letter of intent and sends it to the Baroness’ keep; it draws attention, and Vydesier drops in to visit them at the Red Oak to learn more of their intentions. Baroness Vydesier clearly retains some of her old bandit instincts, even if she’s settled into a more domesticated lifestyle. She notes that the wolf’s head and bleeding heart badge was known among the bandit rumor paths, tied to the Grinthorn Wood in the south. She knows little else, but recommends that the group ask the Count of Graybanks’ herald should they make it that far, and offers to send a letter to him in case they run afoul of trouble somewhere along the way.

The four hire a barge the next day to take them to the old quay near Tygarn Gate, and then to wait for them in Gallinburn. They draw near to the prison as it’s getting dark. Baden scouts ahead to find that Tygarn Gate is built directly into a cliff face, with a small courtyard lit by guttering braziers that defends twenty-foot doors that have been rusted open. The guards are few — a handful of crossbow-armed lesser bailiffs, and two warriors in similar armor to the one that had accompanied the raid on Drakesbend.

The wind and rain and distant thunder seem to make as good a cover for their attack as any. They dispatch the guards efficiently, though Abbron is wounded in the process as another disembodied shadow joins the fight. When the last guard is down, they slip inside. Beyond the gates lies an immense vaulted room, apparently dedicated to public executions of varying sorts. A balcony suitable for a judge’s pronouncements sits high on the far wall, with a massive set of scales below it like some form of elevator. With no immediate threats issuing from the doors to either side, the group pauses to catch their breath.

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7 - Fires In Drakesbend
Two parties ask questions in Drakesbend, but one is not so gentle or just.

The barge stops in the town of Fourthoak before moving on to Drakesbend, where Abbron and Baden mingle with the locals and gain some minor snippets of information. They learn that the canton-master of Drakesbend is the woodsman Shaddan Yale, who seems to have kept the peace for some time.

In Drakesbend, the group continues their investigation. They learn that Klogis apparently worked out of a farmhouse after murdering the owner, an old man named Grawley, and turning his victim into a scarecrow. Though nobody in the village could find or interpret actual proof of Klogis’ misdeeds, Yale made the call that he was guilty enough to face trial by river.

The next morning, Honora, Diedra and Abbron work on bringing the Grawley house back to respectability, while Baden roams the grounds and discovers Grawley’s grave. They find signs that Klogis returned to the house after his “rescue,” including a charcoal map scrawled on the hearth that indicates the location of two of the Gryphon’s armigers. Diedra blesses the house, and they return to Drakesbend proper.

That evening, they speak with Sladdan Yale, who is as reticent as his reputation. Yale is still forthcoming enough to grant them a few bits of information, however, such as the disposition of the former bandit queen who is now Baroness of Tor Valland, the battles against wild men and rumors of sirens and hags around Mere Lorelay, and the news that there’s an old prison near where Klogis’ map had shown the eye-and-fire glyph.

After Yale retires, the sound of a watchman’s bell rings out; Honora immediately moves to armor herself as Baden goes to investigate. A large party with many torches has approached the village gate, and Baden overhears them threaten the guard “not to stand in the path of justice.” With the scales of the emblem fresh in his mind, he immediately returns to the inn to warn the others. The group steps out into the village street to a cry of pain; the pilgrims have forced their way in, burning the arm of a guardsman in the process.

The invaders are clearly zealots of some ilk, most carrying torches and wearing red, mud-stained robes. One has a brand visible, in a now quite familiar design. Among them is a single armored figure, with sackcloth draped over his armor rather than any form of tabard. Honora proclaims that if they are seeking the people who killed the Candle Man, they have found their targets — and with proclamations of judgment, the fanatics rush into battle. Many seem to have some sort of blessing of fire: the two most agile zealots ignite their weapons, and the ironclad enemy emits fire from beneath his armor, even breathing gouts of it over Honora and Diedra. Baden discovers the difficult way that some of the cultists immolate themselves in searing explosions when dealt a mortal blow. On the other hand, Abbron demonstrates that winds themselves can be lethal, hammering the would-be agents of “justice.” The struggle is further complicated when another murderous shadow leaps from hiding; it almost manages to have Baden’s own shadow strangle the elven avenger before it, the last of its group, is blasted apart. And with that, it’s silent again in Drakesbend, with a number of corpses lying in the mud — and one unconscious, concussed zealot.

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6 - The Subject of Reprisals
The reasons for Captain Gaelvas' reticence are made clear, the Baron of Rellinford shares what he knows, and a familiar face returns.

The group doesn’t discuss their doings in Tor Skalane much when they return to Rellinford, with one notable exception. When Honora relates the events to Baron Ardroch’s guard-captain Gaelvas, he responds with dread and immediately excuses himself to inform the Baron. His actions seem to indicate more fear of reprisal than fear of the heroes’ survival, so the group retires to the Falcon Tavern to while away the rest of the evening and wait to see if Gaelvas returns. He doesn’t; rather, the group notices that more of the town guard seem to be absent from their usual posts.

Two hours past midnight, Baden wakes to the faint sound of horns at the Baron’s keep. He rouses his companions and heads immediately there. The keep is on full alert, with most of the lights and activity seemingly coming from the tower that houses the personal quarters of the baron’s family. After finding that the guards are less than immediately helpful (apparently somewhat confused by the contradictory orders given by these new arrivals), he and Abbron let themselves into the keep and open the way for Honora and Diedra. The four assert their way into the tower, where the Baron and his family are kept under high guard in a very well-lit room. One of the guards had reported seeing a shadow moving with no man attached to it; further negotiation reveals that Ardroch is fearful for his wife and daughter, having received a threat from the same “Faceless Gryphon” that acted as Klogis’ patron. With Klogis and the swordwraith of Tor Skalane both dead, Ardroch is worried that the unknown warlord will exact a toll. Honora suggests that perhaps he should kick the lot of them out openly in the morning for going against his wishes, thus focusing any watchers’ attention on them instead of the Baron.

As the conversation unfolds, Baden notices the fingertips of a shadow sliding quietly back out from under the room’s door. Immediately the avenger lashes out with a powerful Amaelite abjuration, searing the shade with holy light and pulling it fully into the room. He, Honora and Abbron invoke their full might, and the thing is blasted into nothingness before it can manifest its power. It leaves behind only a poorly-scrawled threat, one obviously meant to be left behind any assassination. Abbron moves to check on the guards, and finds they have been dropped into a deep, nightmarish sleep but are otherwise unharmed.

This display seems to hearten Baron Ardroch, and he offers his full assistance to the group. Though he doesn’t know much about the figures on the roll of arms, he’s able to identify the arms of Cyr Bastaan the Unbroken, the knight-protector of Spurwall to the west. Bastann allegedly took a wound during a boar hunt that would not heal, and has suffered from it ever since. He also recounts that a body was pulled from the river many settlements downriver some time ago, notable because it bore a brand similar to that of the stylized flame-circled eye in the balance pan. Finally, he agrees to write them letters of introduction that may assist them in the courts of other lords and knights on their journey. His family is also impressed with the group, and his wife Guenphyr spends a good amount of time speaking of the gods with Baden, Honora and Diedra while his daughter inquires of Abbron where he gained the power of the storm.

The next day, Ardroch holds a public ceremony in which he praises the group for dragging the horrors of Tor Skalane into the light, even when he had done what he could to warn them away. Content that this bit of deflection may suffice, the group charters a barge to take them downriver to Drakesbend, where they can ask about the Rider in White.

The barge-master and his sons are willing to take the group, once given a little coin to make up for any profits lost in an off-season trip, and they prove cheery enough conversation partners, at least until the group comes within sight of Tor Skalane. The barge-master even knows more of the story of the branded corpse in the river. He mentions that the body was found downstream from Gollingford, and that it was a lean man with long hair, probably unhealthy before the river’s stones (and any potential murderers) did their work. However, the conversation is interrupted as the barge skews toward a fresh-fallen tree — one that has been set as an ambush.

Lying in wait for the group are a mixed group indeed. The most obvious threat is the massive two-headed troll that pulls itself from the water. Baden’s sharp eyes are able to pick out another living shadow concealed among the branches — like the one discovered in the Baron’s tower, it resembles an emaciated man with wild hair. Most significantly, the strange mind-bending scarecrow that fled Tor Skalane appears to be directing the attack. The shadow and the scarecrow both evoke terrible powers, blinding the heroes and directing them to attack one another (Baden scores a vicious hit against Honora as he’s wracked with delirium). The two-headed troll is a terror in its own right, though it isn’t able to chop Honora apart as quickly as it’d like. Baden is nearly forced into the river, but the shadow can’t outlast him despite its insubstantiality, and the scarecrow is finally torn apart and flung in all directions by Abbron’s storm. Able to focus all their attentions on the troll, they finally bring it down, cauterize the stumps of both necks, and allow the bargemen to decide whether to roll its corpse overboard or take it with them downriver and see what they can sell it for.

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5 - The Secret History of Tor Skalane
The final secrets of Tor Skalane are unearthed, and largely laid back in peace.

The group considers the roll of arms, noting the symbol of the fallen swordwraith and what clearly appears to be a representation of Klogis, the Candle Man. The emblems are largely unfamiliar, so the consensus is to investigate fully later. Honora is still very interested in finding the shrine to Valysa, and Baden is increasingly curious about whatever relic the giants came in search of.

Exploring further down the corridor from which the undead Mardrakes emerged, the four find more caverns, these seemingly under the keep proper. The worked area here includes a large pair of double doors and a portcullis. Baden’s keen perception discovers a small cache, containing rotting oiled cloth protecting a small silver key and a valuable topaz. The silver key, coupled with one of the larger keys from the wraith’s keyring, opens the double doors onto a vault area, where a book on a pedestal is guarded by a strange creature. Seemingly one part clockwork sphere made of gold and precious gems, one part arcane entity, Baden and Honora recognize it as a pluton, a celestial servant of gods of wealth. The pluton is amenable to conversation (even though its name, being essentially a phrase in the Pria Elerial as spoken by a celestial carillon, is hard to transliterate). Speaking with it, they learn that it is bound to guard an oracular work, that it still must guard the work for nearly a year and a half, and that it wounded a younger man wearing the Madrest tabard many years ago. Seeing no reason to interfere with its guardianship, the group withdraws.

The room past the portcullis features a large stone statue of a guardian with a hammer, one that animates to protect the Valysan shrine behind it. Observing that the guardian is inscribed with celestial glyphs, Baden and Honora deduce that the glyphs are a mnemonic for a Valysan hymn, one that Honora remembers. As she sings, the guardian steps aside to let them pass. The shrine features a statue of Valysa, wearing a shining metal helm. Honora meditates for a moment, then takes the helm, guessing that it is meant for a champion such as herself.

Meanwhile, Abbron notices a reflective surface on the far side of a partially collapsed corridor. A full-length mirror stands at the back of an alcove there, apparently once sealed off with its own door. Abbron immediately becomes suspicious, and when Baden notices his own reflection wink at him, it is decided to leave it behind immediately. The group closes out the investigation of the caverns, finding only a wooden staff that seems to contain some measure of the power of lightning, though the staff seems too flawed to reliably channel it.

The western end of the caverns have two exits up: a rotting ladder that leads up to a secret trapdoor outside the wall (which Baden risks life and limb only mildly to investigate), and stairs leading up to the basement of the keep. These stairs emerge in a small shrine, one dominated by an eight-foot statue of what seems to be a fire giant. The icon appears to be of giantish craftsmanship, perhaps designed for a household shrine. Deducing that this is likely the stolen object that brought the giants to Tor Skalane, the group opts to leave it be and leave through the concealed exit. They pass through a decaying bedroom and a study occupied by moldering books on swordplay, and find themselves in the portion of the basement already traversed. Thus reasoning that their work in Tor Skalane is done, the group returns to Rellinford for rest and some initial queries about the contents of the roll of arms.

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4 - The Hill's Heart
The evils at the root of Bone Hill are laid bare, and some hope besides.

As the group rests for the night, Baden notes a faint green light coming from the exterior tower, but it fades after a few minutes. After an early breakfast, the group descends again into the lower caverns. They cut into one of the locked doors, the one with a faint sense of impending evil, and discover in the corridor beyond a secret door and more undead guardians. Two zombies seeping with some sort of alchemical fluid are in the vanguard, under the direction of a pair of undead wizards (later revealed to be Cavredd and Iosli Mardrake). It’s a tight squeeze in the corridor, with the zombies tying up the axe-wielders (and exploding in horrible gouts of fluid when destroyed) as the revivified arcanists cut deep wounds with acid and cold.

Pulling back for a moment — the secret door seems to be the source of the evil miasma — the group opens the other locked door in the nearby cavern, which fills with daylight and warmth. Baden and Abbron succumb to a glamour that compels them to enter a nearby study and take their ease. Honora and Diedra resist and join them. The study has many books, a comfortable bed and a skeleton chained to the wall. Honora notices that it seems to be intelligent but not malevolent, and frees it; the ensuing interrogation reveals something of the backstory of the Mardrakes and the keep. During the course of the “conversation,” Ainlocke reveals a useful treasure to the group (a mug, platter and pitcher enchanted to provide fine nourishment), and Honora smashes the glyph enspelling the Amaelite and the stormwalker. Baden uses Iosli’s orb to lay Ainlocke to rest, and Diedra buries the remains with Chaneth’s power.

Steeling themselves, the group then passes through the secret door. Stairs lead down to a desecrated cavern. The Wraith challenges them here — notably, it wears a tabard that shows the two-headed Madrest panther with one head severed and a snake’s head growing from the stump. Two mummified bog-things come to the wraith’s aid, and it also calls shades from its sword during the fight. The necrotic power is almost overwhelming — almost. Finally the wraith of Tor Skalane falls, and the group claims the spoils from its lair before retreating to less unholy ground.

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3 - The Bones of Tor Skalane
The murderers of Bone Hill may be gone, but older threats are found down in the dark.

The prospect of fighting ghouls while still fatigued and worn is deemed unappetizing, and the four retire to a campsite down by the main road. The tree cover gives them good shelter from the rain rolling in, though they can’t see the keep from the campsite. Late in the night, a few lantern lights can be seen bobbing out in the woods, but the group puts too much stock in local superstition about wisp-lights to investigate.

The rain hasn’t let up by morning, so the trek back up Tor Skalane is an unpleasant one. It quickly proves to be the least of the day’s unpleasantries, though.

Unblocking the armory door, the four head for the stairs. The familiar reek does indeed turn out to be ghouls: a scuttling group, amid the remains of former prey. One of the ghouls has greater charnel power than the others, calling up choking grave dust and summoning clutching hands from the ground to hold Baden and Honora in place. Both sides attack furiously; a ghoul nearly makes a meal of Abbron before it’s hacked and blasted apart, and the knife-wielding leader of the ghouls glances resentfully at a nearby door before Baden’s divine power and Abbron’s conjured storm pull it apart.

The group sifts through the remains and finds some clues of prior visitors to Tor Skalane: in particular, the sword and mastercraft plate of a Brelind warrior, and the gear of a fallen dwarf. Both doors exiting the ghoul’s room are locked, seemingly to seal the ghouls in. Exiting, the group finds a long basement corridor that winds around some large dungeon cells (one of which seems to hold the remains of a man only a few years dead), past a large guard room and into a storeroom with interesting furniture stacked under layers of dust. Baden notices some disturbance in the dust that hints a secret door in the storeroom’s wall: once found, the door leads to a long corridor under the courtyard, perhaps a secret escape route.

The corridor leads to a basement level of the large tower that is part of Tor Skalane’s outside wall. The tower is not unoccupied, though: the skeletal dead of Bone Hill pour from both up and down stairs to attack. Most are old, ragged remnants that seem to date back to the keep’s fall, though several retain a deadly edge. The dead aren’t equal to the sacred might of the Valysan and the Amaelite, however, and Abbron is able to unleash more thunder and lightning to tip teh scales further. After the fight, Abbron heads up to the rotten upper story to investigate, but his weight is too much; the wooden floor gives way, splintering on the stone floor below (and revealing a few treasures as it does so). The power of storm saves Abbron from a similar fate.

After some conferral, the group decides to go farther down from the basement level, using the stairs in the tower. A corridor deep below the keep leads to a stone door that guards a large cavern, natural but somewhat smoothed out by human hands. This lowest area houses more of the dead: a 10-foot hulking corpse and a scattering of ancient skeletal soldiers. The guardians are quickly overwhelmed, but also reinforced by more skeletal soldiers — and to complicate matters, the massive hulk rises again after being cut down, dividing the battlefield. By the time the skeletal champions are cut down, the four living heroes are in a bad way. They pause long enough to ascertain that the most skilled and lethal of the skeletons seemed to be wearing black-lacquered armor with a cat’s paw motif: perhaps the two-headed panther of Lord Magrest, perhaps the paws of the Black Gryphon. Then they retreat to safer ground, the storm still coming down around them, to find a safe place to regain their strength.

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