Nightfall in Brelindia

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.

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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.

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32 - The First Son
The search for the Stoic Man proves inconclusive, but the fate of the dead Trappers takes a gruesome twist.

Abbron and Bralta go combing Broadrows and the Drifts for rumors of the Stoic Man. They find little; the name doesn’t seem to refer to a criminal noteworthy. They move further up the hill, and gradually catch a lead that the Stoic Man refers to some sort of bogeyman or guardian spirit of the hospital. Visiting the hospital late at night, they hear that he’s rumored to be a harbinger of death, or perhaps a benevolent spirit — tales are that he’s been seen at the bedside of dying people, but nobody Abbron talks to can provide a firsthand or secondhand witness account.

The next morning, the group decides first to investigate Broadrows to see if there’s any word of the remaining Trappers leaving the catacombs (presumably after discovering the corpses of their fellows). While some witnesses report seeing extra laborers enter the underground, nobody remembers seeing them leave. The next order of business is determined to be reentering the crypts. Baden is fairly sure he can track anyone who discovered the corpses.

The four reenter the catacombs in the Three Towers entrance. Bralta and Baden easily find the way to the tomb where the Trappers were encamped. However, the corpses are now missing. By all signs, they were simply picked up and carried away — there are no telltale marks of ghoul feeding or dragging. Baden tracks the occasional spatter of old blood, and for some distance it doesn’t even appear that the laborers bothered to set the bodies down for a rest.

In a gallery, the trail divides: three separate paths lead away, down branching corridors. As near as Baden can tell, all three trails show signs of the bodies being carried away. They opt to choose the central of the paths to follow.

The path leads down deeper into the older dwarf works, away from the levels that have been converted to catacombs. When they reach an old house of healing, Baden hears the sounds of meat being torn and rent. They slowly approach, but are noticed by the creature responsible — an eight-foot humanoid monster, apparently stitched together from a variety of bodies. It releases a garbled roar and attacks, backed up by an eclectic mass of bones bound together in a roughly humanoid shape.

The golems are perhaps the most vicious monsters the group has ever faced. The osseous construct lashes out with sharpened bone stakes, nearly felling Bralta and badly wounding Honora. The flesh creature is even more powerful, trampling and smashing anyone who stands in its path. The more they wound it, the angrier it gets, until it smashes Baden into the stones. Only Abbron’s quick application of a precious healing elixir restores the Amaelite to his feet. Every strike against the monster causes it to lash out blindly, and each of the hunters is barely on his or her feet by the time both golems are badly hurt. Finally they receive a stroke of luck when a nasty shot from Baden enrages the corpse-amalgam to the point where it seizes and destroys its rattletrap bone compatriot like a child in a tantrum tearing apart a favorite toy. While it’s distracted, Abbron musters up some of the last of his strength and blasts its remaining joins until it can no longer hold itself together, and its vital spark fades.

Battered and exhausted, the group prepares to return to the surface and lick their wounds. They confirm that four of the bodies of the Trappers were carried here, and the monster was apparently deboning them like so much gamefowl, accumulating the bones for another project like its previous companion. They also find an odd drawing on the far wall — a massive, muscular figure extending its hands in benediction. Beneath its feet is scrawled the word “FATHER.”

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31 - The Trappers Trapped
Blood flows in the tombs under Lanthorn as half of Tulkar's Trappers find their prey is not as far north as estimated.

Baden and Bralta move about the city, making inquiries about the underworks. They determine that there are six publicly known and commonly used entrances into the catacombs and the dwarven tunnels beneath them; the brigands have simply been using a fairly public one in Broadrows.

Honora and Abbron track down the Broadrows district constable. They find the heavy-set, red-faced Constable Cuthven having an early lunch at a nearby tavern. The two explain that the Sevenstrong Brotherhood of Masons has been moving brigands into the catacomb system, but they have no proof of current wrongdoings and don’t want to confront the dwarves over the issue. Cuthven gives them permission to investigate further, and mentions he’ll pass along the news to his superior — including the presence of the Rider in White.

They watch the Broadrows crypts entrance that afternoon, but no other traffic comes or goes until well after dark, when six dwarves of the Sevenstrong emerge, a foreman and his crew. They tail the dwarves to the Bleak Gate tavern.

As a next step, they decide to enter the catacombs and see what they can discover. Abbron hires some local troublemakers to distract the guards keeping an eye on the square outside the Broadrows catacombs entrance, and then the four slip inside. They quickly discover most the supplies that the bandits were carrying in: reputable enough stuff. But Baden is able to detect some dirt clearly tracked in from outside the walls, and he follows the bandits’ trail deeper into the catacombs.

Eventually the trail leads to a refurbished crypt section, dedicated to a noblewoman of a hundred years past. While the others wait, Baden slips in and surveys the camp: most of the bandits are sleeping, and a couple are awake. He eavesdrops on their conversation, in which the two discuss the flaws of “the bargain,” the possibility of becoming immortal, the lack of ability to drag civilian targets belowground for “entertainment,” and the heads they’re apparently meant to take. Baden slips back to his comrades, and then the four rush the trapped bandits.

The brigands — a patchwork crew Abbron recognizes as the Serugethi remnant band called Tulkar’s Trappers — fight like cornered animals. It’s not enough. One of their number wields a two-handed hammer ferociously, and another uses a chain-and-spiked-bolas weapon with some skill, but in all the brigands are outmatched. Storm winds, lightning and axe blows fell the lot.

They pull a single survivor from the bodies, and interrogate him. The brigand knows fairly little: that they were sent to act as security for some Lanthorn figure, that a dwarf was their guide through the catacombs (though the Trapper couldn’t pick him out as distinctive), that they were offered immortality by the Rider in exchange for the heads of the four, and that Tulkar is still out at the farm. He doesn’t know the name of the would-be figure they’re meant to defend, only that he was called “the Stoic Man.” The title is unfamiliar to the group, save for the old proverb “There is no strength like that of the stoic man.”

With a sullen captive in tow, they emerge into daylight once more. Honora places their prisoner in the care of the Vigilants, and then the four steal a few hours of rest.

They reach the ranch where Tulkar’s Trappers are staying an hour after noon. As predicted, only nine brigands remain — none of which can offer any significant resistance to the power of the four. Tulkar is clearly absent — he headed into the city, claims the brigand they interrogate. Probably to meet with the person he was offering their fealty to: the Stoic Man.

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30 - The Gates of Lanthorn
The trip to Lanthorn begins with careful observation, revealing new layers of conspiracy.

The bandits from Giant’s Beacon settle into a disused farmstead near Lanthorn. Baden keeps watch on the farmhouse while the others move into the city.

Honora visits the Tower of Vigilance, where one of the Vigilants recognizes her by reputation — he also mentions that Caddifel’s group has been in Lanthorn lately, and moved upriver. The Vigilants are concerned about possible “fog wraiths,” things that arise from the lake at night to feed upon the living.

Abbron meets with an old acquaintance, Vogen, a dealer in “found objects” to curry rumors. Vogen agrees to help the group out with access to a small crypt, should they need it for questioning a captive.

Surveillance pays off when a single rider approaches the farmhouse from Lanthorn. The rider is admitted without noticeable challenge, remains there for roughly half an hour, then rides back to the city. Shortly thereafter, a dozen of the hill bandits set out, carrying packs for long travel. Their route takes them around the city to the east.

When Abbron and Bralta return with supplies (including a residue-laden dwarf liquor that translates as “Sudden Cave-in”), Baden informs them of the messenger. Bralta remains with Baden to allow him to rest before he goes to track the bandits in the morning. Abbron returns to town, and learns from bribing a gate guard that the messenger was apparently Gand, a liegeman of Cyr Egran of Harrowglen.

After sunrise, Baden sets out to track the twelve while the other three keep an eye on the farmhouse. He spends the morning following them up river, long enough to be satisfied that they’re likely following the river and not going directly into Grinthorn. In the meantime, the others watch a wagon arrive at the farmhouse twice — once in the early morning, once at noon — and pick up a few bandits, disguised as laborers. Six bandits are thus smuggled into the city.

The group decides to make inquiries, and what they discover surprises them: the “hired laborers” are going into the catacombs to do work under the auspice of the dwarven brotherhood of masons currently shoring up the structure. Knowing what they do of the history of Lanthorn, several suggestions come to mind — none of them good. They also find that Gand, after visiting the Flowering Grape and staying at the Rare Feast, has left out the east gate, presumably to return to Harrowglen.

The group waits one more night, and the next morning follow the wagon as it brings three more bandits into the city. Sure enough, the mountain men “unload supplies” for the catacombs, entering under the dwarves’ patient gaze and not emerging.

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29 - Giant's Beacon
Two curses are broken, a false trail is laid, and the hunt moves southward.

The next step, the group agrees, is to bring Breydan and the pregnant Tiella to Briar Bridge in the hopes that Diedra can help them as she cured the transformed locals. Naught is a more problematic case; she seems emotionally removed, and Abbron worries if they take her elsewhere, she’ll always be “the strange child.” They place her with a Lackills relative before leaving.

The trip to Tyg’s Landing with an ogre in tow has a few difficulties, but nothing insurmountable. Once they reach the town, though, they meet some resistance from a group of similarly minded travelers: a burly, wild-looking greatsworder named Orgalt, an aging Kaealite inquisitor-priest named Caddifel, and a Hunter’s Guild woman named Esraven. The three are very wary of the ogrish Breydan, but Honora convinces them of the group’s good intentions. Breydan spends the night in a warm stable, and the two groups of rovers exchange information and gossip.

At Briar Bridge, Diedra does what she can for the two wish-afflicted. She first draws the evil from Tiella’s babe, and says that although the child will likely still be affected, it will quicken normally and be born mortal. She expresses a desire to keep Tiella here until the child comes, when she can then escort the girl back. If the young lady wishes to keep her child, she may; if she cannot, then Diedra will see it placed. The next day, she turns her attentions to Breydan. The canton-master regains his original form, though one of his canines is still unfortunately long.

The group then discusses their next move. Abbron worries about the wisdom of approaching a potential Giant’s Beacon meet, and they ponder the options of observing it from afar. Deciding to at the very least leave a false trail, they head downriver to Graybanks. There they begin the process of appearing to be interested in heading to Faliene in search of the lamia, while concealing their plans to move south. They dine with Count Caelish, promoting this talk as they discuss their successes. Baden receives word from his colleague Rivinen that it’s good to know Tythoas Nil is in Brelindia; Rivinen says he intends to explore Mathraine for leads. Baden leaves a request for other members to forward sources of information on Faliene and Mathraine.

They leave Graybanks on a boat to Fivesaints Abbey, where they then diverge from their false trail and head overland to Stradways. By the night of the full moon, the four are cold-camped on a rise east of Giant’s Beacon. They watch a gathering of over fifty, possibly closer to a hundred men meet with a luminous white figure. The meeting is short, only twenty minutes or so, and at the close of it the men break off in three directions.

They track the gathering the next morning. Twenty or so headed north; the others gathered in groups of thirty or more, one heading south and the other southeast. Various signs indicate that these are mountain men, likely bandits from the southern hills. The group reasons that the northern band is likely headed to Spurwall or Faliene; the southeast to Mathraine or Grinthorn. They decide to follow the last band. Though the bandits try to cover their tracks after a while, and avoid entering settlements, Baden easily tracks them as their trail bends slightly, heading for the city of Lanthorn.

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28 - The Wishing Imp
A child's wish brings the heroes to the troubled town of Lackills.

The two days down the old elven road to Briar Bridge pass without meaningful incident. Abbron, Baden and Honora are all recognized, and receive a hearty welcome from the grateful town. They receive invitations to Baron Jyrall’s keep for the evening feast, where they catch up with Diedra. Her supplies were stretched thin, and a few of the reverted men retain some small animal qualities, but overall it’s been a great success. Jyrall has invited her to remain in town until spring, so that she might bless the land — and he seems quite attentive to her overall.

The group leaves the next morning, well-rested. Traveling upriver is sufficiently difficult that they find it quicker to ride up the roads alongside the Norfell than to commission a barge. The journey is peaceful up until the third day. That evening, as they approach the town of Tyg’s Landing, a strange smoke curls around the group like a dust devil. A wrenching sensation passes over them, and the smoke clears — to reveal that they are now elsewhere.

The time of day is the same; it seems they’re still in Brelindia, though now in the foothills closer to the central vale. They stand on a road leading to a small walled village, with a sturdy cabin nearby. A young girl, around ten or so, runs from the cabin and cries out “You’re here! It worked! You’re heroes, aren’t you?”

Before any questions can be properly answered, another shout comes from behind them. “There! It’s them!” Turning in the saddles, the four note a quartet of soldiers in similar livery to those that ambushed them on the road out of Spurwall. The newcomers are equally hostile, and in the ensuing fight it turns out they possess the same unnatural reserves of strength and ferocity. But they fare no better than the Spurwall hunters did, and are brought low.

Once the hunters lie dead, Honora and Baden work at dragging their corpses into the woods away from the homestead, to keep predators from growing too bold. The young girl, who identifies herself as “Naught,” invites them into the house to tell them what’s going on. “People keep making wishes,” she says, “but they’re terrible.”

Naught explains that there was a stranger who visited the inn some time ago, and left behind a bottle that people have been using to make wishes. But all the wishes are going bad. A miser wished for gold, and found a bandit trove — and the bandits found him. A man wished for the love of a neighbor’s wife, and now all three are dead from a violent brawl. The priest is dead and the canton-master’s missing. Naught even mentions her parents wished to keep her strong and safe from all the wishing, but they were taken instead. So she used the bottle to wish for heroes to come and help them — and the hunters must have come as well, as the “twist.” When asked to produce the bottle, she runs to a chest — but the bottle is gone, and she doesn’t know who took it. Baden finds the tracks of a human man out back, headed into town.

They enter Lackills. The tracks are no longer visible in the town square, so the group visits the Tribute Inn instead. They soon establish their credentials and willingness to help, and the innkeep confides in them. Yes, his daughter received the first wish before she sold the bottle to the town miser Havall; it becomes clear she wished for a handsome suitor, and now she’s with a child growing abnormally quickly. Bralta heads off to examine the girl and see what could possibly be done. In the meantime, the innkeeper shares more details on the various wishes. Half the town hasn’t wished, but most are too afraid to do so now. Bralta returns with the news that it might be a difficult birth, and perhaps someone like Diedra would be able to help.

A scream rings out, and quickly the hunters investigate. At a large house — possibly the canton-master’s — a massive ogre has seized a youth. But the ogre is not immediately violent, and Honora and Baden separate it from the young man. Honora deduces that the ogre is the missing canton-master Breydan; “You wished for strength, didn’t you?” His son had apparently wished to see his father again, after stealing the bottle from Naught. The group confiscates the bottle — a narrow-necked thing with the smoky form of a sardonicus curled up within — and takes the ogrish Breydan back to Naught’s house to spend the evening.

With the information they’ve gathered, they piece together that perhaps the surest way to rid the land of the bottle is to wish that its master would come and take it away. This seems risky, of course; the “master” will likely force a show of strength, and it seems likely that the Lackills priest died from this very thing. At length Bralta agrees to be the one to make the wish, as she has the most lawyerly wording skills.

When the sun rises, they march out into the field. Bralta shakes the bottle and calls out that she wishes for its master to come take it back. Within the bottle, the imp’s sulfur-yellow eyes open. A handsome man then appears, dressed something like a noble out for a travel. He points out that he will take the bottle, but must be forced to leave. When the hunters announce they intend to send him back to Hell, he assumes his true form — a pale devil with an extra set of jaws, wearing half-melted armor. He swallows the bottle, and uncoils a whip of flame.

The stranger from Hell is one of the strongest foes the hunters have ever faced. He moves quickly, strikes hard, and hurls fire. He even coils his whip around Honora and takes to the air, dragging his victim through the ground as a fiery furrow erupts behind her. He even wishes for an enemy to take on his woes, and the imp’s eyes light up from within his gullet. But for all his power, the stranger is no Lord of Hell. He is finally sent back below in a rush of flame at the edge of a sacred axe.

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27 - Dinner With the Unbroken
The heroes enjoy the hospitality of Cyr Bastaan, and find a sympathetic enemy.

With Chassidos gone, Honora and Baden collect the heads of the fallen capricaurs and bring them back to Spurwall as proof of their efforts. This causes a small stir in the town, which draws Sergeant Caeth. The sergeant gives them news that Cyr Bastaan would like for them to attend him at the evening feast. The group accepts, and Caeth sees to having the capricaur heads placed on pikes around the village. Honora debates whether or not to attend in armor, and finally decides on prudence.

Shortly after dark, two grim-looking veterans wearing black tabards set with boar’s tusks and carrying black shields appear to escort the four to the feast. They admit to being servants of Cyr Bastaan and not town militia, and Baden places their accents as likely not local to the village. They bring the group inside the manor to the feast hall, where a rather generous feast has been laid. Two archers, also wearing the black tabards with tusks, stand guard. Cyr Bastaan is not yet present, though; a servant explains that he is attending his wife. Though encouraged not to wait for Cyr Bastaan, the four do not touch the food — only Baden feigns sipping at some wine as he discusses tapestries.

Cyr Bastaan arrives some ten minutes later. He’s a large, stout man, and his squire Joval is of similar size. He apologizes for the delay, explaining that he usually takes food with his wife to aid her. Then, with a serious demeanor, he states that although he’s aware he should treat them all as dangerous, he considers them his guests, and he would not poison the food against them. Honora, Baden and Bralta are all sufficiently reassured that they decide to trust to his hospitality, and begin to eat. Only Abbron refrains — and though Cyr Bastaan helps himself to a slice or two of very rare boar, he subtly fails to keep it down.

After some conversational talk, Bastaan dismisses his squire. The group then begins to discuss the matter of Bastaan’s allegiance and their opposition to his lord. Bastaan takes the position that he is bound by an oath to his lord, and could not renounce it. He also explains that although he cannot betray his lord by speaking of his secrets, he can discuss the goal — to lift the curse of Syrakul on the land. “What if there were a king in Brelindia again?” he asks. Further, he asks the heroes if they might consider joining with the forces of his lord. Bastaan seems to have little love for the other liegemen of the Gryphon that the heroes have slain, and professes an interest in having worthier fellows in the cause.

The four decline the offer, pointing out the various cruelties that Bastaan’s lord condones. Bastaan doesn’t deny it, but remains adamant where his loyalty is concerned. He also admits that he will go to war against the heroes if his lord demands it of him. Baden and Honora are particularly taken with the plight of Spurwall’s knight. The group comes to something of an understanding with him: he will allow them to depart in peace, as befits the rules of hospitality, but he will treat them as enemies if they return.

He also shares some new information with them about the surviving members of the Gryphon’s legion. Baden mentions the elf-lich Tythoas Nil, and Bastaan says he knows of him, but has never met him — the creature remains in an old ruin to the southeast, apparently creating soldiers without flesh or bone. “Faliene will remain in her ruin,” the knight says, “but the assassin will be after you soon enough.” He speaks of “the hunter of Grinthorn” and “the Stoic Man of Lanthorn,” the two strongest of the remnants, to the south of the land. He has little more to add about the Rider in White — “a herald, not as swift as Zegriirgez but more certain.” They speak obliquely about what might happen if Bastaan were freed from his oath by the death of his lord, and although Bastaan seems to have little faith the heroes could accomplish this, he does not speak against the concept.

The feast closes with a toast to the people of Spurwall, and a dessert with brandy set aflame. Bastaan abstains, something Baden notices. Then the group take their leave of the knight — and prepare to leave immediately, before word can reach the Faceless Gryphon and he can order Bastaan to come after them. They plan to ride east for Briar Bridge, then find their way south to Grinthorn Wood and the city of Lanthorn.

They set out at midnight, and camp just before dawn outside Spurwall’s territory. But they have been followed — the two soldiers and two archers with black tabards have apparently run after them without tiring, and they strike out at the party. The skirmish is bloody but swift — the heroes’ fatigue has dulled their edge, and their pursuers are swifter and stronger than most mortal men should be. Baden and Honora are nearly in bad trouble before the Gryphon’s men are dead. Examining the corpses, they find the men’s teeth are stained pink and their gums are dark. Honora suspects they have been under the influence of something derived from blood.

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26 - Spurwall
The road leads to the domain of Cyr Bastaan the Unbroken.

The witch Magdal thanks the four for their assistance in defending the Bonfire Ash. She informs them that there are many bands of capricaurs scattered throughout the woods, and at least one seems to be allied with an Overworld musician further east. Honora, Abbron and Bralta return to the inn, while Baden rests and meditates at the Valakynd — he also inquires if Magdal is “passionate” herself, but the weary witch informs him that she is not seeking to bear a daughter at this time, and he is… replete with solar energy.

They reach Spurwall the next evening. At the Spitted Boar, they begin trading news. They learn several things of interest:

- The village was attacked by capricaurs three years ago, but Cyr Bastaan scattered the attack.
- The villagers know of the music, and avoid it. Only a few dare sleep outside, such as the huntress Dristella.
- Cyr Bastaan does not ride out any more, in part because he cares for his wife, who fell ill not long after his wound.
- Bastaan’s huntmaster also died on that ill-fated boar hunt, to be replaced by the son Samtan.

Bastaan’s sergeant Caeth also stops in the tavern, and inquires the traveler’s business. They inform her that they intend to strike at the nearby capricaurs. She seems to dislike the thought of stirring them up, but wishes them luck.

In the morning, they visit the huntress Dristella. Baden picks up some odd jealousy from her when she mentions Caeth, but she has little bad to say about the sergeant. She advises the travelers on how to find the capricaurs’ territory.

Following her lead, they find the edge of said territory and discover something unusual — old bones, the remains of at least eight capricaurs strewn across the forest floor. The remains seem to have been here since the summer. Proceeding further, they alert a capricaur scout, and chase it back to the lair.

Once the capricaurs have the advantage of numbers, they engage. Their leader also emerges, a satyr piper that compels them to strike with his music and shouts about “a treaty.” The beast-men put up a good fight, but are not strong enough to overcome the travelers. The satyr cringes and grovels when badly wounded, and only one of his “revelers” is left standing.

The satyr (who gives the name of Chassidos) explains that on Midsummer night, a knight with twin axes tore apart his band and told them to draw no closer to the walls. He describes the knight as wearing a fur cloak and boar-tusks on his helm, and claims that the earth shook beneath his feet and boars tore apart many of the capricaurs in the woods. They deduce from the satyr’s odd speak that he is a newcomer to the material world, and elicit a promise from him to retreat back to the Overworld in exchange for his life.

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25 - Snow and Ash
A roadside inn visit draws savagery in from the storm.

The group spends a day in Severill recovering from their clash with Hardrave. Baden keeps the signet ring from Faliene, just in case. The day after that is spent on the river, when they’re dropped off at the small village around the fallen bridge from the elven road to Faliene. Snow falls all that day and intermittently through the night; it reaches a few inches before they set out down the road the next morning.

Partway along the road, they find the tracks of a campsite and wagons traveling in the same direction, likely a few hours ahead. When they draw up to the Three Spirits Inn, they note three Vaisafir wagons across the road from the inn, drawn up around a small campfire.

As Baden enters the inn, the innkeeper says “I thought I told you to… ah, my apologies, I mistook you for someone else.” Baden lets the comment slide for a bit, and Bralta takes the opportunity to inquire about the spirits that are the public house’s namesake: brandy, whiskey and the Lokvan-created korzalka. One round of korzalka with pepper and honey later, the group is ready to settle in and eat.

A few rounds and a meal later, Baden buys two bottles of spirits and visits the Vaisafir camp. The sentry greets him, and explains that their group is traveling to the nearby Bonfire Ash: one of the nation’s Valkynd, a tree sacred to Adramea. They plan to leave offerings there, as one of their number is expecting her child soon and they hope for the goddess’ blessing.

At the same time, Abbron inquires about the innkeeper’s distaste for elves. Their host responds apologetically, and explains that there are rumors from up Spurwall’s way of people going missing after hearing music in the woods — a fey threat for certain. Abbron points out that there are few fey predators that prefer a warm fire and rooms indoors to the dark woods, but the innkeeper claims to still be worried of things that gain power when invited inside.

Baden meets the leader of the caravan, an older autumn elf named Asraeil. As they converse about events, the sentry stands more alert, hearing something moving in the nearby woods. Baden quickly discerns the threat — four hulking capricaurs, open brands on their chests glowing dimly like embers, drawing slowly around the elven camp. He sends the Vaisafir sentry to the inn to collect his companions. Abbron is the first out the door; Bralta and a panicked maid hurriedly help Honora into some of her armor before following.

Baden charges the capricaurs before they can charge him. Two accept his challenge, and two more move for the Vaisafir wagons. The other heroes move to intercept — Honora cuts into one that is smashing its way into a wagon, and Abbron takes up position on another vehicle to begin calling the storm. The capricaurs are overmatched by the speed and power of their enemies. One cuts down the Vaisafir sentry, but Baden invokes the healing power of Amaelin in an instant, and catches the autumn elf’s spirit before it can leave the body. With the fury of a winter storm and powerful axe blows, the capricaur marauders are finished.

In the aftermath, the four notice heat lightning flashing in the clouds overhead. Honora points out that the brand is emblematic of Mal Zath, and Baden realizes that the Blood Bull would be delighted by a sacrifice by lightning — the Bonfire Ash itself. They evacuate the Vaisafir to the inn, Abbron taming the innkeeper with a few expertly chosen arguments for solidarity and compassion. Then Honora dons the rest of her armor and they head for the sacred Adramean tree.

They reach the Bonfire Ash within a few hours. The elf-witch guarding the tree is expending the last of her stamina to keep away the lightning hurled by a hulking minotaur war-priest. The four slam into the minotaur and his four branded capricaur aides, and engage in a bloody battle of touch-and-go. The minotaur sends searing bolts of lightning through their ranks as a response to Abbron’s storm-calling, and even calls on the fury of Mal Zath to temporarily possess Honora. The capricaurs dodge and charge, and are ruthless opponents. Though the elf-witch offers some assistance by directing the lesser roots of the Bonfire Ash, she has too little strength to make a real difference. Not a one of the heroes escapes without injuries, but the divine power of Valysa and Amaelin, as well as the healing chants of a runecantor, keep them in the fight. The minotaur is the last of Mal Zath’s children to fall, but fall he does.

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