People of Fallcrest, I implore you!

Gathering information, and the kobold hunt begins

On 23 Planting 588, Althaea, an eladrin rogue; Brandis, a human wizard; Baern, a dwarf fighter; and Nuvok, a half-elf cleric, convened at the Nentir Inn in Fallcrest looking for adventure. At the inn, they spoke with Serim Selduzar, a tiefling, who let on that he was in the market for real estate, but was having some trouble finding anything suitable, because of a near monopoly held by Armos Kamroth. They also spoke with Erandil Zemoar, the proprietor of the Nentir Inn, who had heard that a caravan bound for Fallcrest had recently been ambushed by kobolds near the town. He recommended that the party get more information from Lord Markelhay at the Moonstone Keep.

While waiting for an audience with the Lord Warden, the party met the dwarven smith, Teldorthan, who offered them 200 gp if they could retrieve a green dragon hide that had been lost in the caravan raid. The party accompanied Teldorthan into his conference with Lord Markelhay, and accepted a commission from the Lord Warden to snuff out the curiously well-organized kobolds who had been preying on merchants for the previous few weeks. Lord Markelhay directed the party to a ruined manor in the Cloak Wood, which he believes to be the kobolds’ hideout. He offered 250 gp if the party proves they’ve dealt with the threat by returning with the kobold leader’s bone mask.

The meeting with Markelhay was interrupted by the intrusion of Lady Markelhay and Nimozaran the Green. Nimozaran had intelligence from a friendly wizard near the Cloak Wood that the Skull Kicker kobold tribe had recently scattered its rivals, which was the reason they had become so focused on interrupting trade, as opposed to their usual internecine warfare. Nimozaran is concerned about what deeper threat may be directing the kobolds’ attacks, and offers the party an amulet of resistance if they return with an answer to that question.

Before leaving Moonstone, the party stopped by the property records room in the basement to investigate the ownership of the ruined keep that the kobolds were occupying. The gnomish clerk informed them that if the property was outside the city and not being actively farmed, it was very likely that record title was in some old Nerathian noble family, and it would likely be very difficult to determine the present ownership.

The party then ventured into the Lowtown and into the Lucky Gnome Tavern, where they made the acquaintance of its proprietor, Kelson. Kelson was in a foul mood, because his staff had failed to appear that morning. Finally concluding that he had no additional information to offer regarding the kobold raids, the party decided to call it a day. Brandis, Baern, and Nuvok, natives of Fallcrest, returned to their respective homes for the night. Althaea accompanied Baern.

The party reconvened at the Nentir Inn at 0800, 24 Planting 588, and made the 15-mile trek to the Kobold Hall. The journey took about five hours. When they arrived, the keep was in bad shape; towers had tumbled down, and there was no roof left standing anywhere. After searching for a few minutes they found a stairway down into an old basement. Brandis illuminated the tip of her staff, and Baern and Nuvok led the way down into the dark.

In the room before them a kobold immediately hissed to his compatriots. The party joined battle with four kobolds—two skirmishers and two slingers—in a room dominated by a long deep pool of green slime. They made rather short work of the guards. Brandis and Althaea remained on the stairs and rained spells and arrows respectively from afar. Nuvok and Baern brought the battle to the kobolds directly. Brandis’ phantom chasm spell was particularly effective, knocking three kobolds prone. The battle ended when Baern clove the skull of the last slinger in two with a mighty swing of his greataxe.

When we reconvene, it will be 1300, 24 Planting 588.

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Tactics and Traps

Nuvok, Althaea, and Brandis descended into the next room of the kobold manor, and encountered two kobolds in a room housing four coffins, and lined with suits of armor. They easily dispatched the two guards, before even noticing that several of the floor tiles in the room were trapped—stepping on them caused poisoned darts to launch from some of the suits of armor! Althaea carefully disarmed all of the traps. Afterwards, Nuvok determined that the dais in the corner housed a shrine to Tiamat, which prompted some curiosity, since kobolds more commonly worship their own god, Kurtulmak. The party also noticed that the suits of armor lining the chamber bore the crest of the fallen empire of Nerath: a shooting star above a three-pointed crown.

In the next room, the party interrupted three kobolds playing a game of skull-skull from atop a ten foot platform. Between the party and the platform were four coffins and another pool of green liquid. Brandis and Althaea focused their missile attacks on the kobolds above, while Nuvok moved towards the platform. The kobolds were frustrated that the party avoided the center of the room, and that they were thus unable to attack with their heavy skull-skull stone (even with their loose grasp of pendulum mechanics).

Frustrated, one of the kobolds finally opened the door below the platform, revealing a guard drake, which promptly attacked the nearby Nuvok. Even fortified by the addition of the drake, the party managed to easily dispatch the kobolds.

When we reconvene, it will be 1600, 24 Planting 588.

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The fall of the Skull Kicker clan

As Althaea, Brandis, and Nuvok took a short rest from their latest battle with the kobolds, they heard loud, clanking footsteps approaching from behind them. With their weapons at the ready, they watched as a knight strode in to the room. He introduced himself as De’Wayne, of the Fallcrest guard. He said that when he learned that Lord Markelhay had hired adventurers to clear out Kobold Hall, he knew that he had to be a part of the grand adventure. After a round of introductions, the party ventured deeper into the cellar of the ruined keep.

Ahead, the passage widened into a large, tall chamber. A wall rose before them that only reached halfway to the high ceiling of the room. As De’Wayne took his first step into the chamber, there came a rumbling from off to the right, followed closely by the deafening crash of stone on stone. A heavy boulder, almost ten feet in diameter had rolled off of a raised platform, and was bearing towards the party! To make matters worse, two kobold slingers suddenly appeared on the half-wall in front of them.

Luckily, the boulder veered, and avoided the party, momentarily. Unfortunately, Nuvok and De’Wayne were useless against the kobolds high on the platform before them, so they split up, Nuvok advancing around the left end of the wall, and De’Wayne advancing around the right. Around the corner, De’Wayne discovered a door that appeared to open into the fortified room from which the kobold slingers had emerged over the rampart. The door was barred from the inside, however, and he was unable to knock it down with a shoulder charge.

Meanwhile, around the left corner of the central room, Nuvok could now see not only the boulder coming around for a second strike at the party, but also three kobolds on another raised platform. Two were heavily armored, and one carried a staff and wore on his face the sought-after bone mask.

Althaea and Brandis dealt with the kobold slingers in their own way. First, Brandis knocked the kobold on the left off of the platform with a well-placed blast of icy energy&emdash;the pathetic creature fell directly into the path of the fast-approaching boulder. Althaea followed up by teleporting behind the remaining kobold and shoving the surprised creature to the floor below.

By this time, the heavily armed kobold soldiers were moving to engage Nuvok and De’Wayne. Worse, the masked chief began sending bolts of freezing energy at the combatants. Nuvok in particular was hard-pressed in the melee, and at one point was hit by the rolling boulder. Althaea hit upon the strategy of hiding on the ladder down into the fortified room, and only slipping up on top of the rampart every so often to take a shot with her bow. Brandis continued hurling spells from the passageway, safely out of the boulder’s path, and protected from the chief’s spells by the high walls of the fortification. Finally, De’Wayne was able to close on the chief, hack him down, and get to Nuvok in time to save the priest. The boulder then slowed and finally stopped rolling.

To satisfy Lord Marhelhay of their success below the ruined manor, the Nuvok stowed the kobold leader’s bone mask in his pack. Brandis detected an aura of magic on the kobold leader’s ruby-topped staff, and equipped herself with it. Also on his body, the party found a silver key and a note reading:

Bring back more golds from next caravan. Zarthax now want more. He eat last one to bring him unworthy offering. Say he will freeze next one to go downstairs with such small scraps. Freeze for eating later. If you want to live long, you bring back more golds next time.

Acting on the note’s clue, Althaea ventured down a corridor that appeared to end in a dead end, and, after a few moment’s concentration, detected a chilly draft coming from the wall. After she reported this discovery to the others, the party barricaded itself in the kobolds’ fortified room and bedded down for a rest before attempting to open the hidden passage. After six hours of rest, the party had recuperated fully, all assured of their readiness for any challenge that lay ahead.

When we reconvene, it will be 2300, 24 Planting 588

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Dragonslayers, and an orc ambush

The party used the silver key that they found on the kobold leader’s body to open the secret door. They descended a staircase down into the blackness, and found themselves in a rough-hewn cavern that did not appear to be a part of the original structure of the keep. The air was unnaturally cold. Turning a corner, they came upon a fledgling white dragon, Szartharrax, who proceeded to threaten them and then attack with his freezing breath weapon.

After a long battle, the party was able to slay the dragon. Searching the room, they found a locked chest that Althaea was able to open. Inside was the green dragon hide that Teldorthan had sent the party after, as well as a Lifedrinker Short Sword +1, which Althaea claimed. The time was now around midnight, and the party elected to march through the night back to Fallcrest.

About three hours later, they came to a place where the road entered a small wood. Ahead and off to the side, a twig snapped. Suddenly, a group of nine orcs charged the party from the woods on either side of the road. The largest of the orcs carried a heavy shield bearing the device of an eye, which had been painted over with a vertical stripe of red. After a short but tense battle, all of the orcs lay in a heap at the party’s feet. Nuvok took the leader’s shield, which turned out to be a Heavy Shield of Eyes. The party also found a note on the leader’s body, which read:

We have struck our bargain with the wizard. Half the price is paid. The rest will follow when we deliver the stone. You will go to Gorizbadd and squeeze the life from those worthless goblins until they give it to you. I trust this will not require my personal attention, but with servants like I’ve had recently, one never knows.

V.

And by Gruumsh’s eye, destroy this letter! If Dreus’ plans are discovered, trust that I will have your head before she can take mine.

When we reconvene, it will be 0300, 25 Planting 588.

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Detective work

The party arrived back in Fallcrest as the sun was coming up. Over breakfast at the Nentir Inn, Erandil Zemoar revealed a letter he had received from Harkenwold:

22 Planting 588
Harkenwold
M. Zemoar,
My wife, Cordelia Stahl, passed through Fallcrest a few weeks ago on her way to Winterhaven. She stopped at your inn, as has become her custom on these trips of hers. I am writing in hopes that you have some news of her. She wrote me from your inn on 8 Planting, and I’ve not had word from her since. Did her plans change? Her work, as you know, can sometimes be dangerous, and she is usually so diligent in writing to me.
I can only conclude that something has happened to her that is preventing her from writing. I hope it is not so, but I can no longer quiet my fears. If adventurous travelers cross your threshold, please present this letter to them, and let them know that I am offering a reward of 500 gp for my Cordelia’s safe return.
My highest regards to you, M. Zemoar. Cordelia has always spoken highly of you and your establishment.
Douven Stahl

The party agreed to investigate Cordelia’s disappearance. Erandil described Cordelia as a sturdy blonde woman in her mid-thirties. She is an explorer and treasure hunter.

Next Serim Selduzar slowly descended the stairs, preceded by a drake the size of a large dog. He had two black eyes and stepped gingerly. He refused to talk about his injuries and gladly changed the subject to real estate when Baern brought it up. Serim dismissed the possibility of occupying Kobold Hall (“I’d never get the smell out,” he laughed), but then admitted that he had actually investigated it a few weeks earlier, and knew something about its history. He reported that property had been purchased by the Kiris family, the ruling family of Kiris Dahn, during the years of Nerath’s decline. However, Kiris Hoyt, the last heir of the Kiris family, is believed to have died about ten years ago when Kiris Dahn fell to an invasion by the Daggerburg goblins.

The party excused themselves from the inn, and headed for Moonstone Keep to claim their reward from Lord Markelhay. Markelhay happily had his staff hand over 250gp when presented with the kobold chieftain’s bone mask. Markelhay then mentioned a letter he had received from Lord Padraig of Winterhaven. Padraig had mentioned sightings of Raven’s Roost Bandits around Winterhaven. Markelhay was skeptical, since the Raven’s Roost Bandits were more active in the vicinity of Hammerfast and Harkenwold, and were rarely sighted even as far west as Fallcrest, much less around Winterhaven. Markelhay suspects copycats or pranksters.

Markelhay also revealed what he knew about the previous day’s attack on Serim. He heard that a group of thugs in brown cloaks had attacked Serim near House Azaer in the Hightown, but that Amara Azaer and Grundelmar, priest of Pelor, had quickly come to his aid and chased off the attackers. Markelhay supposed that the attack may have come at the hands of the River Rats street gang, though it was odd for them to operate so boldly in the Hightown streets. Another explanation Markelhay acknowledged was the possibility that the attack was driven by simple anti-tiefling prejudice. Equipped with this new information, the party headed for the House of the Sun to see what Grundelmar remembered about the attackers.

Grundelmar and Nuvok had been sometime rivals at the House of the Sun, but Grundelmar was helpful enough today. He said that he came to Serim’s aid and clubbed one of the attackers in the leg with his hammer, opining that the attacker would be walking with a limp for a while. Grundelmar did not recognize the attackers, though he believes they might well have been River Rats.

The party next interviewed Amara Azaer regarding her involvement in the altercation. She stated she had been inside her shop and and seen Serim pass by just moments before hearing shouts and a loud thumping sound. She grabbed her staff and ran outside and got in a few hits alongside Grundelmar before the attackers ran off. She could not identify any of the attackers, but feels sure that they were River Rats. Grundelmar next helped Serim into her shop, and she tended his wounds for a while. She stated that Serim seemed distressed, and in order to help him feel safe, she gave him the drake with which the party had seen him earlier.

Now the party headed for the Septarch’s Tower to speak with Nimozaran about what they had learned in the ruins beneath Kobold Hall. Nimozaran was surprised to learn that a dragon was lairing beneath the old ruin, but quickly rationalized that it was probably one of Bitterstrike’s brood out of the Winterbole Forest. As promised, Nimozaran rewarded the party with a cloak of resistance, which Baern promptly equipped.

Still unsure of the identity of the wizard referred to in the letter they had found on the orcs, the party cautiously mentioned that they had encountered a small band of orcs on the road west of Fallcrest. Not detecting any deception in Nimozaran’s response, they displayed the letter to the wizard, and he was greatly troubled by it.

Nimozaran explained that his friend Treona, a native of Kiris Dahn, was a scholar with a special interest in the slaying stones of that lost city. Against Nimozaran’s advice, Treona had begun sharing her research with another wizard, Dreus, via a form of magical remote communication. Nimozaran concludes from the letter that their research has led them to believe that a slaying stone still remains in the ruins of the city, and that Dreus has hired a group of orc mercenaries to find it and return it to her. Nimozaran believes that Dreus intends to reverse-engineer the slaying stone, and sell new ones to the highest bidder.

The slaying stones were commissioned by the ruling family of Kiris Dahn, ostensibly to protect the city from outside invasion. The stones were imbued with magic that allowed them, when used, to kill one living being anywhere within a few miles of the city. Each stone was good for one such use. Although the original idea for the stones was that they would be used against the leaders of invading forces, in fact, most of them wound up being used by younger brothers of the ruling family against their elder brothers, or by competing advisors against one another, or by the ruling family against peasant leaders agitating for expanded civil liberties. In the end, life in Kiris Dahn became untenable, and when the goblin forces invaded, almost no one was left in the city who was willing to fight for it. The remaining slaying stones were long believed to have been expended in that final invasion.

Nimozaran thus encouraged the party to seek Treona out for more information about the stones, and urged them to thwart Dreus’s plans, to avoid the tragedy of another Kiris Dahn. Nimozaran vouches for Treona’s honesty, but admits that she is a bit naive. Treona lives in a tower on the King’s Road north of the Cloak Wood.

The party next headed for Teldorthan’s smithy to return the green dragon hide they had recovered from the Kobold Hall. He rewarded them, as promised, with 200 gp, and congratulated them on their victory over the dragon, reminiscing, “The first one is always the sweetest.”

Finally the party turned its attention to the Lowtown, to see what else it could learn about the attack on Serim. They started their investigation in the Lucky Gnome but small talk over drinks and darts brought them nothing they didn’t already know from the tight-lipped clientele. Next they headed down to the Lower Quays, where a merchant shipment was being unloaded from a boat. In addition to the crew unloading the shipment, a number of others milled around on the docks watching. One of these onlookers, the party noticed, was walking with a limp. Althaea and Baern approached this one at an opportune moment, while the rest of the party hung back and tried to look inconspicuous.

Seeing the approach of the dwarf with a giant axe strapped to his back, the limping man intoned, ‘Oh no, Kelson sent you didn’t he? Listen, it wasn’t what it looked like. I can make it right with Kelson. You’ve just got to give me a chance.’ Playing on the man’s fears, Althaea got him to admit that he had been moonlighting for an organization known as the Fell Court, led by one Melech Ambrose, a tiefling. The man next produced a letter which he claimed had been written to him by Melech:

Staunton,
Serim Selduzar has proven a particularly tough nut to crack; it will take some persuasion to get him into the fold. He is staying at the Nentir Inn. You will recognize him. Make contact near House Azaer in Hightown. Amara will intervene, of course. Follow the usual protocol: it is more important that Serim fear for himself than that he be injured. You will have your usual fee for this service.Needless to say, nothing should connect me to this enterprise. Inquiring minds should be able to follow a trail of breadcrumbs back to your erstwhile employer.
Speaking of whom, do you have anything to report with respect to our other arrangement? Is Kelson making plans against my organization? Does the fool even suspect our existence? Write soon.
Your friend

The man, identified now as Claude Staunton, claimed that he had more letters like this one saved at his home, which he had always intended to turn over to Kelson. Althaea agreed to let Staunton live on the condition that he turn the letters over to Kelson before midnight.

When we reconvene, it will be 1200, 25 Planting 588.

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The road to Winterhaven

The party stayed the night at the Nentir Inn and awoke to a gloomy day. Rain and mud slowed their progress along the King’s Road, and it was already 1600 by the time they reached Treona‘s tower. A pack of hungry wolves attacked when the party was almost under the tower’s eaves, and at times it looked like various members of the party would be dragged off into the woods for a snack, but with a little help from Treona herself (in the form of a well-timed magic missile), the party managed to kill or drive off the animals.

Treona was expecting the party after she had been magically apprised of their coming by Nimozaran. She invited them in to dry themselves by her fire. Over tea, she explained more of the history of Kiris Dahn and of the slaying stones, and more of her own history with Dreus.

With respect to Dreus, there was little to tell. Treona admitted that she knew nothing about the wizard; had never seen her face nor heard her voice. She had simply been ecstatic to find another person whose enthusiasm for the slaying stones matched her own. Treona admitted that she never hid any of her discoveries regarding the stones from Dreus.

Treona then explained how she had discovered the existence of a ninth slaying stone. Eight slaying stones, she explained, had been commissioned by Kiris Declan, the ruler of Kiris Dahn, and were created by the Merchants of Invention, an association of arcane engineers. Dreus had recently discovered an old record indicating that Declan’s son, Kiris Chad, later secretly commissioned and procured a ninth slaying stone. Although there were records confirming the use of the original eight slaying stones, there was no record of the ninth one ever having been used. Treona believes that the ninth stone most likely is still hidden in Kiris Dahn, and that the intercepted letter indicates that Dreus intends to claim it for herself and to make new stones for sale to the highest bidder. Treona urged the party to go to Kiris Dahn and find the last slaying stone before Dreus found it, in order to prevent another tragedy like the one that befell Kiris Dahn.

When the party agreed, Treona went on to explain that the stone would most likely be found either in the city’s library, one of its temples, or in the Kiris Mansion. She then handed over a map of the city with these and other locations marked, as well as three ritual scrolls and three peacock feathers which were to be used as components for the rituals inscribed thereon. Treona explained that when the ritual was performed, a ghostly image of the stone would appear if it was nearby.

With their business concluded, Treona invited the party to unfurl their bedrolls before the fire and stay the night. After a hearty breakfast the next morning, she saw them off. From Treona’s tower, the party headed northwest along the King’s Road toward Winterhaven. It was a 45-mile trek by road, and the suddenly hilly terrain made the going even slower. In the mornings, the hilltops looked like islands in a sea of fog; the fog didn’t dissipate until after noon. For two full days they journeyed uneventfully. At dawn of the third day, they could see the walls of Winterhaven high up on a bluff some miles away. Some distance above it, nestled among the lower crags of the Cairngorm Peaks was a crumbling, abandoned keep.

A couple of hours after breaking camp, the party was traveling along the road in the very shadow of the bluff upon which Winterhaven sat. At that moment, so near their goal, a mixed group of kobolds and goblins emerged from hiding and attacked with a great whoop. The kobolds were rather easily dispatched, but the goblins proved more of a challenge. Making matters worse, one of the goblins was a hex hurler, who variously immobilized, blinded, and otherwise cursed poor Nuvok, making it difficult for the cleric to engage in melee. Althaea, meanwhile, was like a ghost, slipping stealthily in and out of the tall grass and surprising her foes again and again with strikes from her sword and arrows.

The party finally emerged victorious, and while searching the body of the hex hurler, they found a note that read:

Keep an eye on the road for new slave stock. What Erzoun doesn’t know won’t kill us. Secrete any prisoners at the hideout until there is time to transfer them to Vohx. Erzoun may have claimed the yellow-haired one for herself, but the rest will be ours. You will have no trouble from Lemnas. he too believes that this operation could be more profitable in the meantime.
- BALGRON

When we reconvene, it will be 1000, 29 Planting, 588.

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On Cordelia's trail

The party (less Baern, who elected to stay behind in Fallcrest to attempt to break into the real estate business) soon entered the gates of Winterhaven. Within, they met and took up with a local ranger, the dwarf, Stone Graves.

Within the city, their first stop was Wrafton’s Inn, where the proprietor, Salvana Wrafton, recalled Cordelia Stahl’s stay there a few weeks earlier. Salvana did not know what Cordelia was doing in Winterhaven on her most recent visit, but remembered that she had met with the town sage, Valthrun, the old farmer, Elian, and the huntress, Ninaran. Valthrun, Salvana told them, lived in the tower behind the inn, and the other two could often be found at the inn in the evening.

The party next paid the learned and enthusiastic Valthrun a visit. Brandis did most of the talking. Valthrun reported that Cordelia had talked to him when she was in Winterhaven a few weeks earlier. He said that she was searching for a nearby crater, at the bottom of which she believed a dragon was buried. Cordelia was not interested in a dragon’s hoard, which had likely been picked clean over preceding centuries; rather, on this trip she was interested in the creature’s remains. Valthrun doesn’t know the location of any craters nearby, but directed Cordelia to Ninaran, who still frequents the wilds around the town, and Elian, who did so in his youth.

At dusk, the party headed back to Wrafton’s, which was now beginning to fill up with patrons. Salvana pointed the party to old Elian, who was just then easing into a chair with a foaming ale. Stone sat down easily across from his old friend, and chatted away. Elian drew the party a map to the old crater southeast of town, which he remembered from the hunting trips of his youth: the same crater to which he had directed Cordelia weeks earlier. He also related that his son, Annis, had seen some of the reputed Raven’s Roost Bandits from a distance on a couple of occasions. Elian himself had seen no such thing, stating, “I don’t see so good these days.” When asked about Ninaran, Elian stated that the elf usually kept to herself, and might not be seen in Winterhaven for weeks at a time. Then, looking towards the door, he muttered, “Speak of the devil…”

Ninaran was striding into the inn at that moment, and motioned silently to the barkeep for two drinks before making her way to a table in a still-empty corner of the room. Althaea approached the hunter, and offered her a drink, but Ninaran rebuffed her. The hunter related to Althaea the same thing she said she had related to Cordelia weeks earlier: that there are no craters in the area, and that it would be safer not to poke around in the wilds with all these goblins afoot. When asked about the goblins, Ninaran reported that they were holed up in a cave behind a waterfall south of town. Finally, Althaea pressed for one too many answers from the elf, and Ninaran dumped out a drink on the rogue’s boots. Stone then intervened, and apologized for his new friend. Ninaran responded, “Keep your friends in line, Stone. I come here for the noise, not for the company.”

A general shout of welcome then erupted in the little inn: ‘Lord Padraig!’ Indeed, the mayor of Winterhaven was then entering the tavern. The man gave a silent wave to all assembled, bought a mug of ale, and then sat down alone to drain it. Stone, who had been employed by Padraig in the past, approached and made small talk about the goblins, the bandits, and the missing explorer. Padraig offered the party a bounty for clearing out the goblins in their waterfall lair. He also said that there were indications that the goblins and the bandits in the area had formed an alliance.

As Stone was winding up his conversation with Padraig, Ninaran motioned Althaea to approach. The elf pointedly did not apologize for Althaea’s wet boots, but did suggest that the party should closely scrutinize Padraig. The mayor, Ninaran explained, fancied himself a warlord, and had become frustrated by his inability to increase the size of Winterhaven’s militia. Ninaran would not be surprised if Padraig were in league with the Raven’s Roost Bandits, in an attempt to scare the town into devoting more resources to its military forces.

Having learned much, the party retired, and in the morning headed south towards the waterfall, stopping on the way to interview Annis, Elian’s son, regarding the bandit sightings. Annis reported that he had seen a man wearing a black raven mask at a distance four or five months earlier. He did a double take, and when he looked again, the man had disappeared. One of his friends said that he had seen two of the masked men together, again at a distance, but isn’t sure whether he believes him.

As the party approached the waterfall, they found a group of kobolds and goblins lying in wait for them. Brandis opened the battle by unleashing her dragonling familiar’s breath weapon on a group of kobolds. Althaea meanwhile took to the trees and fired arrows from the shadows. Stone, Nuvok, and De’Wayne hacked, slashed, and bashed their way into the fray. In the waning moments of the battle, when most of the foes were bleeding on the ground, one of the goblins attempted to retreat into the waterfall cave. Brandis and Althaea combined their efforts to stop it before it could gather reinforcements, Brandis striking with a phantasmal assault, and Althaea finishing the stunned goblin with a well-timed arrow.

When we reconvene, it will be 1200, 30 Planting 588.

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Lemnas' demise, and a traitor in Winterhaven

The party discovered three entrances to a cave behind the waterfall, and Althaea snuck in through the northmost one. Slinking around corners, she was able to see that a central room directly behind the waterfall was occupied with at least a few goblins and kobolds; she was unable to get a good idea of how many. Althaea signaled back for Stonegraves and Nuvok to carefully follow her, but they unfortunately made a bit too much noise and alerted the occupants to their presence. A goblin shouted, ‘ Lemnas, they’re here!’ and the battle was on.

Althaea used her advanced position to attack the charging goblins and kobolds from behind, while De’Wayne and Brandis circled around to enter through the waterfall itself. The enemies stood their ground as best they could, but were clearly outclassed. They continued shouting for the absent Lemnas… who eventually appeared.

In a dark corner of the cave, he materialized, seemingly out of thin air. He had gray skin, adorned with numerous tattoos and piercings. His eyes were black orbs, and his long hair was elaborately styled. Without a word, he raised his wand toward De’Wayne, who instantaneously experienced a flash of light and a wave of nausea, like a migraine.

Now the party was attacked on two fronts: Althaea was occupied with a goblin in the rear of the cave from whom she couldn’t disengage, and Nuvok and De’Wayne were closing on Lemnas. Brandis had mercifully avoided melee, but Stonegraves was flanked by two goblins, who were finally able to hew the stoic dwarf down. Nuvok now raced back across the cavern to aid his fallen friend, and after a quick prayer to Pelor, Stone was back on his feet.

Three goblins now fell in rapid succession, with Althaea, Brandis, and Stonegraves all claiming kills, while Lemnas found that he could not safely disengage from De’Wayne. Finally, Lemnas was forced to teleport away from the knight, but his freedom would prove shot-lived. While the rest of the party converged on him, Brandis circled back outside the cave and blocked the exit Lemnas was heading for. In just a few moments, the gray-skinned man was dead. He had not spoken a single word.

Althaea, now getting her first clear look at their exotic attacker, recognized Lemnas for what he was: shadar-kai, a humanoid denizen of the Shadowfell, typically fanatically devoted to the Raven Queen. On his body the party discovered a small key.

Inside what appeared to be the cavern’s sleeping quarters, the party discovered four raven masks, each sitting atop a neatly folded black cape. In the southeast corner of the complex, they found what appeared to be a prisoner’s quarters, now unoccupied, with chains and manacles along the walls, and dirty straw strewn across the floor. In the northeast corner of the complex, they found what appeared to be Lemnas’ quarters. The key taken from his body fit a chest therein: inside was 500 gp and a magical broadsword, which De’Wayne claimed. Both sides of the hilt were adorned with the royal crest of Nerath, a three-pointed crown with a shooting star above it. On a table, the party discovered the following correspondence written in common:

Lemnas,
You forget yourself. You answer questions. I pose them.
Nonetheless, ignoring momentarily that it is none of your concern, preparations go slowly. I’ve no experience with these rituals. Relics of the Lost Legion might provide some better clue, but I begin to suspect that Fate has played us a cruel joke. So much the crueler will it prove to our guest if she does not soon turn up something useful. She may find that she has dug her own grave at the bottom of that crater.
Regardless, my work will continue apace. Even if I must fall back on nothing but my own wits, I will eventually decipher the rituals to re-open the portal. I have made progress already. Samminel’s conquest will be delayed in the meantime, but leave him and his displeasure to me.
I ramble. None of this concerns you. Report to me what you can about the actions of our agent in the town. I have no faith in the purchased loyalty of these simpering primes. The ties of blood mean little to me, and so perhaps I am needlessly suspicious of them in others.
Erzoun

Among the party, only Brandis was familiar with the legend of the Lost Legion. She explained that centuries earlier, before the founding of Winterhaven, Nerath had sent several legions northward to deal with an uprising of cultists of Orcus, the Demon Prince of the Undead. After a difficult battle with the cultists and their demonic and undead allies, the armies of Nerath were victorious. While the rest of the victorious legions bivouacked afterwards for the season, one of the commanders intended to lead his legion southward, back to Nerath. Although the legion should have reached Gardmore Abbey only a few days later, it never arrived, and was never heard from again. It was unclear to Brandis what relics the letter might refer to.

Also on the table was another short note written in Goblin. None of the party read goblin, but Brandis performed a short ritual which allowed her to read it. It said: “Lemnas, adventurers headed your way. Be prepared.”

The party now began its return trek to Winterhaven, full of questions. Who was Erzoun? Who was her agent in the town? Could it be Lord Padraig himself, as Ninaran suspected? Who was Samminel, and what were his plans? What portal? And finally, would Cordelia Stahl still be alive when the party made its way to the crater where Elian had directed them?

When we reconvene, it 1800, 30 Planting 588, and the party will be re-entering the gates of Winterhaven.

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More clues, and De'Wayne gets randy

The sky was beginning to darken as the party reentered Winterhaven. At Wrafton’s, they met Elian, already a few pints in, who confided a troubling dream to Stonegraves. As he was napping on his porch in the early afternoon, he dreamed that he had awoken in a cold sweat in his bed, in the dark of night. In his dream, he knew that there was something lurking in his closet. After what seems like hours, he crept to the closet door, and pulled it open… but nothing was there. “I don’t mean there was nothing strange there,” Elian explained, “I mean there was nothing there. It was like the edge of the whole world was behind that door. It was terrifying. I was sure I would fall into it. I thought everything would fall in. And then I woke up.”

Throughout their night at the tavern, the party tried to get answers to many of the questions that had arisen over the course of the day’s events. Regarding the Lost Legion, only Valthrun could add to what Brandis remembered: he said that many theories had been floated to explain the legion’s disappearance, including that they succumbed to a curse placed on them by the cultists of Orcus and slaughtered each other on their way back to Nerath, or that Orcus himself had laid them low out of revenge for their interference. In passing, Brandis mentioned something about a portal (referred to in Erzoun’s letter to Lemnas), and Valthrun stonewalled, refusing to say anything more on the subject.

When Lord Padraig arrived later in the night, Stonegraves approached and subtly showed the mayor the raven mask in his pack. Padraig seemed quite pleased to offer Stone his bounty, somewhat quieting the party’s suspicions that the mayor was in league with the bandits. Padraig asked Stone to come take possession of his reward at the city’s inner gate in the morning.

Before turning in for the night, the party combed the streets of Winterhaven for any additional clues. Nuvok made the acquaintance of Sister Linora, a priestess of Avandra, who was engaged in her evening prayers at the altar of Winterhaven’s small temple. Linora said that she was not local to the area, and knew little about its folklore, and directed Nuvok to Valthrun for questions about the Lost Legion.

De’Wayne and Brandis meanwhile approached the guards at the outer gate, who mentioned that the mood in the town had been strangely edgy lately; they’d been called in to break up more fights than usual, and more than the usual number of petty criminals had been placed in the stocks for a few hours. The head of the guard tersely warned the two adventurers not to make any trouble for the Winterhaven guard, and went on to suggest that they’d both live longer if they’d settle down in one place like normal people. De’Wayne barely heard his advice, so distracted was he by the looks of one of the other guards on duty. Indeed, at the end of his shift, the guard furtively made his way to De’Wayne’s chamber, where the two warriors made noises that ensured Brandis, in the adjoining room, would get no sleep at all that night.

Finally, Althaea and Stone made the rounds of the town later into the night trying to spy anything suspicious. Stone stayed low, wandering the streets, playing drunk, and schmoozing the town guards as he passed them, but saw nothing untoward. Althaea meanwhile surveyed the scene from the town’s many roofs. Spotting an open window in the third floor of Valthrun’s tower, she observed the pattern of the guard’s sweeps, and at an auspicious moment, made the easy climb and peaked inside. She heard Valthrun snoring in his bed near the window, and could see an oil lamp still burning on a table across the room, covered with stacks of books. Althaea crept in silently, and learned what she could about the books on the table. They appeared to be volumes of local history: on the town, the keep, and the battle with the cultists that brought Nerath into the area. She was unable to learn more under the circumstances, and crept back out the window and returned to her room at Wrafton’s.

In the morning, after breakfast and a quick shopping trip to Thair Coalstriker‘s smithy, Stone claimed the 500 gp bounty on the heads of the Raven’s Roost Bandits. Then the party headed south for the crater that Elian had marked on their map, hoping that there they might find some clue as to Cordelia’s whereabouts, and that the explorer would still be alive when they caught up with her.

As the party approached the crater, all but De’Wayne put on one of the raven masks they’d obtained in the waterfall hideout. Down in the crater was a campsite of a few tents, occupied by several humans and a couple of guard drakes, as well as a halfling. On spotting the party up on the bluff, all of them instinctively went for their weapons, but the halfling quickly changed his tune, yelling up to the party, “So you’re alright then? Good. Anyway, take those masks off. You know you’re not s’posed to be wearing them out in the open without orders from up top.” Then, noticing De’Wayne for the first time, the halfling added, “Wait, who’s that?”

“Prisoner,” Stone explained, thinking fast.

“Ain’t supposed to take no prisoners,” the halfling retorted, and reached for a weapon. Then, from somewhere unexpected, a bowstring twanged.

When we reconvene, it will be 1400, 1 Flocktime 588.

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In the shadow of the Keep

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.

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