A crossbow bolt whizzed by De’Wayne’s head, just brushing the ends of his flowing blonde locks. The bolt had been fired from away across the crater, but the shooter remained hidden. Meanwhile, the men in the pit dropped their shovels and drew forth their morningstars, and their guard drakes bared their fangs at the party. A battle ensued, in which the halfling who had first spoken escaped away to the south. More worryingly, the party identified the crossbowman as a Dark One, a diminutive native of the Shadowfell. He easily escaped to the east before the part could climb the side of the crater to the rocks where he had perched. The party turned its attention to searching the dig site.
In the center of the crater was an empty hole about ten feet deep. Seeing nothing of interest in the pit, the party turned its attention to the excavator’s tents. Hearing soft whimpering coming from one of the tents, they entered carefully, and found a human woman bound and gagged. Removing her gag, but not her bonds, the party interrogated the prisoner. She introduced herself as Cordelia Stahl, just as the party had expected. She related that she had been hired by the Gray Company to follow up a clue from an esoteric text regarding the fate of the Lost Legion. When, during her reconnaissance of the area, she was attacked from behind and imprisoned, she feared that the entire story had been a ruse put on by the Grays in order to catch her at unawares. (Nuvok rightly intuited that Cordelia had a complicated history with the Gray Company). However, Cordelia no longer believes that her attackers were affiliated with the Gray Company, since wherever she had been held, she smelled and heard goblins coming and going, and the Grays had nothing to do with goblinkind.
Althaea meanwhile searched the other tent, finding four more raven masks, and a bag of holding containing 100 gp and a heavy silver diadem adorned with raven carvings. Returning, and suspecting that her soft-hearted colleagues might have botched the interrogation, Althaea asked for a few minutes alone with Cordelia. The prisoner showed her courage by laughing in the face of the bad cop act, but was motivated enough to recall that she had heard her captors talking about “opening” something in the keep above Winterhaven. Cordelia had no clue what they could have been talking about, but thought that perhaps Valthrun could shed some light on the subject.
With Cordelia in tow, the party returned to Winterhaven and sought out Valthrun, and confronted him directly, demanding to learn what he had been hiding about the old keep. Valthrun apologized for his earlier hesitance, and explained he had been afraid that the aid he had provided to Cordelia had been to blame for her disappearance. Now, confident that Cordelia was safe, and that the party could take care of itself, he shared as much of the story of the keep as he knew.
Valthrun explained that the army of undead raised by the cultists of Orcus was not actually the greatest threat to the region all those years ago. Worse, the cultists had opened a portal to one of Orcus’ unholy sites in the Shadowfell. After the battle, the most powerful priests and wizards of Nerath were able to close, but not destroy, the portal. The closed portal could not be abandoned, so Nerath built a fortress atop the site, and stationed a garrison there. The keep was continuously garrisoned until the period of Nerath’s decline. One fateful night, however, the commander of the garrison, Sir Keegan, went on a killing spree through the halls of the keep, starting with his own family, and then meticulously slaughtering his troops, until finally, his men were able to regroup and counterattack. Finally, a group of soldiers were able to corner Keegan in the catacombs below the keep, and hew the madman down.
With this information, the party decided to share Erzoun’s letter with Valthrun. The news that shadar-kai were apparently attempting to re-open the portal both terrified and perplexed the old sage. It was bad enough that the portal might be reopened, but the mystery of shadar-kai, usually fanatics of the Raven Queen apparently cooperating with Orcus, was terrifying.
With those disturbing thoughts, the party made its way to Wrafton’s for the night, with plans to explore the abandoned keep the next day. The next gray morning, the clouds above Winterhaven were so thick that they not only blotted out the sun, but seemed to blot out even memories of the sun. The party members each awoke in a sullen mood.
Stoically, Stone and De’Wayne made their way to an audience with Lord Padraig. Stone presented the four raven masks they had discovered at the crater. Padraig appeared concerned, and demanded to know more about the bandits the party had encountered, so that he could prepare the town’s defenses. Stone suggested that the town be fortified, but refused to reveal much more. Padraig, sensing that something was being withheld, demanded more, but Stone refused. Stone also refused to comment on where the party would next be found. Padraig ordered the two out of his sight, and demanded that they return with the first shred of evidence of a plot against the town.
Meanwhile, Althaea and Nuvok visited the temple of Avandra again. Sister Linora welcomed them and thanked them for having rescued Cordelia from the bandits. She also related that early that morning, Cordelia had visited the temple before riding away to the south. Althaea huddled in close and asked if the three could speak privately. Linora enthusiastically agreed, appearing titillated, as a priestess of the goddess of travelers, to finally find herself adventure-adjacent. Althaea produced the silver diadem found at the crater and asked if Linora recognized it. Linora had seen something similar before: it was the ceremonial headgear of the Raven Queen’s itinerant clergy. This one, however, was heavier and more ornately decorated. In parting, Linora mentioned that a few days earlier, she had spoken with Ninaran about the somber mood of the town, and that the elf appeared to be on the verge of saying something important, but suddenly turned away and stormed off.
The party congregated at the gates of Winterhaven, and prepared for the expedition up the slopes to the Keep on the Shadowfell.
When we reconvene, it will be 1000, 2 Flocktime 588.