Gloriana

The Witch in the Wagon

The ride out from Dunlan Keep started out quietly. Jurian nursed his wounds. Tavion grieved his father. Ulreik and Nashia frantically poured over Sheevra’s grimoire, copying down spells before the book vanished. Gaemund rifled through his Mother’s notes, trying to learn everything he could about witches and their powers. Rhawunel and Aine guarded the prisoner with wary eyes, trying to determine why Sheevra’s face seemed so familiar. And Tyrandriel prayed to the Laughing God for the magic that would force the witch to reveal the truth.

Morel and Nashia approached Jurian. After their adventure in the Starless Market, they had more questions than answers regarding Tavion’s lost memories. Who better to ask about the truth than a man who’d known him since he was young? In quiet conversation, they learned the following:

  • When Jurian was still six or seven years old, an awful storm descended upon the hamlet of Quanmar. Frantic messengers came to Dunlan Keep with tales of luminescent knights rampaging through the town, killing and looting as they went. Cedric road out with his men-at-arms to protect the people. Quanmar was utterly destroyed when he reached it—entire buildings knocked over by terrible winds, cattle hurled to their deaths in high trees, the shrine to Our Triumphant Family blasted apart by lightning. In all the wreckage they found many bodies, but only one survivor—a young boy shivering in the rain. Around his neck was a curious silver phial on a chain. It flickered occasionally with scintillating blue light.
  • Cedric took the boy back to Dunlan Keep and questioned him to see if he knew anything. All he determined was that the boy’s name was Tavion, his family had been slain, and he was now alone. Having failed in his duty to protect the people of his fief, Cedric adopted the boy and raised him alongside Jurian.
  • Tavion never went missing or had lost memory episodes when he was growing up in the castle. He learned how to hunt, how to fight, how to clean and maintain armor and weapons, how to lead men in battle, how to act alone, and some of the trappings of courtly life. Above all else Cedric tried to instill in his adopted son a sense of justice and duty to the common people.
  • It was not until Tavion was of age that he departed Dunlan Keep to pursue a life of his own. During this time, he often went missing for long periods of time, speaking little of where he’d been upon his return. Jurian knew in his heart that Tavion had fallen in with mercenaries and perhaps worse, but turned a blind eye—nothing Tavion was doing seemed to be causing the common folk any harm.
  • Jurian actually introduced Tavion to Manard the Weaver—his own record wasn’t entirely spotless. None of the Dunlan family was over fond of King Ralzemon’s greed or paranoia, and they relied on less publicly approved company to keep an eye out for interference from Borgondhi.
  • When asked about the Witch of the Willows, expeditions into fairy, or lost memories, Jurian had little to say. His younger brother has a mysterious past, but nothing that ever made its way into Jurian’s knowledge.

With more questions than answers, at last our fleeing heroes reunited with Ser Eklos and Gaemund’s cart. They went off the roads until they could take the guise of traveling merchants, blending in among other travelers on their way to Bravewood Abbey. Hoping that the cloistered faithful of Our Triumphant Family could contain Sheevra’s witchcraft long enough for them to make their case before King Isbrand III, they made the most of their time by confronting the witch herself at last.

Wounded and dazed, Sheevra muttered a single word under her breath twice before awakening: “Tariamil…tariamil.” It was an elven honorific, meaning “Queen-Mother,” an affectionate way to address one’s ruler. When at last she stirred into full consciousness, she found herself at bladepoint, surrounded by enemies hungry for vengeance, and bound by Tyrandriel’s Circle of Truth.

Even under this solemn oath Sheevra demonstrated calm cunning. She chose her words carefully to walk around the truth without lying, answering questions with questions, only giving up information in trade, never for free. The fey heritage made itself very evident. In a duel of words, the Companions learned the following:

  • Her grimoire contains spells of the Second Circle. Sheevra’s magical power exceeds that of any of the Companions. Ulreik raced against time to copy as many spells as possible, before the binding of Sheevra’s will destroyed the grimoire.
  • Bromin put to her, plainly and simply, the question of how she ended up with his ale and why she sold it. She explained that she knew the Huldra were going to attack the caravan, she was waiting nearby, and scavenged everything of value that she could before proceeding on her way. She only sold it to Yvain Ponty out of opportunity.
  • Sheevra knew that the attack was meant to target Rhawunel, Daughter of Angren, and Corik. The fact that Tarah Arcistoth was there was only a bonus.
  • During the investigation, Sheevra asked Rhawunel if she knew where to find her brothers. Rhawunel said only that she did not know.

All while they tried to pry the truth from Sheevra, Aine pondered the Changeling’s true face. Why did it look so familiar? It brought to mind a portrait she saw many years ago, a noble visage, a member of another court—

At last Aine placed the face. Sheevra looked exactly like Princess Ottilia of Marchen. But no word of the Princess going missing had reached Borgondhi—by all accounts, Ottillia was safe in the Marchen Courts. How then could her face appear here, whispering to the servants of King Raalzemon?

Bromin recalled the tale of Princess Ottilia’s capture, on her sixteenth birthday. Goblins broke into the castle and spirited her away to a tower in the woods. King Isbrand’s eccentric brother, Prince Barasko, rode with his knights to slay the goblins and bring her home. The Princess had never been the same after that…could it be possible that Sheevra had been raised in Marchen court, with Ottilia spirited away all those sixteen years? Could the so-called kidnapping have been an opportunity for the two to change places?

If true, this meant that Mairg’s plots wove through two different kingdoms and spanned decades. Whatever she is planning, it was set in motion over twenty years ago, when Ursi Arcistoth slew Iommor. The Companions saw for the first time the terrible web spun for the mortal realms…

The question arose—what to do with this dangerous shapeshifter? Gaemund and Tavion wanted to spill her blood, one because she was too dangerous, the other in vengeance for his father’s death. But the Companions agreed, she had to be kept alive. If the real Princess Ottilia was raised by fairies, she could be an enemy of mortal kind. To have any hope of revealing the truth, they needed Sheevra alive.

At last, they asked her by who’s will the caravan was attacked, Warrick was turned against Cedric. She spoke a word for the third time: Tariamil. On the third repetition, the companions realized what she’d done—she was never muttering in her sleep. By speaking Mairg’s title thrice, Sheevra could draw the Huldra Queen’s attention. The companions were being watched, and soon it would lead to dire consequences…

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Escape from Dunlan Keep

Dunlan blood flowed throughout the highest room of the Great Tower. On the walls below, mercenaries of Wolf Company surged towards the doors, battering them with mailed fists. The house guard promised to hold them off while our heroes made their escape. News of Cedric’s death began to spread—hope flickered and died. It was time to leave Dunlan Keep, through the childhood escape route Jurian had told his adopted brother, Tavion.

Our heroes lowered ropes and squeezed through a poorly crafted arrow slit. They would have to move swiftly, lest mercenary archers sight them. Bromin took the first leap. Sighting an outbuilding attached to the keep far below, he plunged from the tower. Something went wrong on the way down and he botched the landing—instead of lighting on his feet, he smashed straight through the roof and into the latrine below.

A dull, booming voice echoed from around the corner. “Boss? Izzat you boss? You want i should still be keeping him in the box?” Puzzled, our heroes wove an illusion to conceal their presence from the stranger—a lone house guard with a dull expression in an ill-fitting uniform. The floor of the keep shook with his each step. Something was not right with the man.

One by one our heroes descended from the tower into the lowest floor of the keep. They could hear the fighting on the walls above them, but wanted to investigate this matter first. Aided by Morel’s trickster magic, they impersonated Sheevra’s voice. Sure enough, the guard was placed there by her command, watching something in a box. When they asked him to bring them the box, he walked into the castle dungeon, seized the walls and strove to rip them from the keep. Not the cleverest of individuals, and almost certainly under a spell of some sort.

The voice of “Sheevra” asked the guard to come out and assist. He emerged around the corner, straight into the waiting blades and bolts of Tavion and Morel. As he plunged to the ground, the spell enshrouding his true form withered away. His face bulged and his arms swelled until he filled the entire hallway—an ogre, concealed by magic.

In the chamber beyond, they found Jurian Dunlan, Heir of Dunlan Fief, locked in the dungeon. The ogre had the key, and so they loosed him. Jurian embraced his brother and shared his story—shortly after Tyrandriel freed his father Cedric from cursed sleep, Sheevra entered the castle and placed an enchantment on father and son alike. Jurian was entranced and locked in the dungeon, and the witch plucked a hair from his head to use as a component in a spell to steal his guise. Then she left the ogre to guard him while she set about staging a rebellion.

There was no time to learn more—doors splintered above them. Soon Dunlan Keep would be lost. Wielding magic once again to hide their presence, the companions gathered together for a last burst of speed. They broke from the castle and fled straight east, but an enemy encampment lay in their path. Bromin strode forth to convince them that they were fellow mercenaries—but a bruised and hungover sellsword stood up. He remembered the dwarf from the night that their payroll went missing. Swords scraped in their scabbards and arrows clung to bowstrings. The only way out was through blood and steel.

Desperate battle rang out. The companions put warrior after warrior to the sword, but more kept coming, and soon our heroes were covered in wounds of their own. As they finally emerged triumphant, trumpets and cries emanated from behind them—reinforcements from Wolf Company. Arrows rained down around them as they fled the field of battle, barely evading the vengeful spears of their enemies with Jurian and Sheevra in tow.

Gaemund crept through the streets of Dunlan Fief to the inn where they’d left the cart and faithful Eklos. Hooded and moving between patrols, they snuck through town and reunited with the rest of the companions. Now that Dunlan Fief was lost, the party had to make two important decisions—where to go next, and what to do with the murderous witch, Sheevra!

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The Battle of Dunlan Keep

Smoke billowed in columns from the walls of Dunlan Keep. Mercenaries patrolled the streets, commanding the locals to stay indoors. As the companions pushed their way into town, every question they asked received a different answer. The huldra were attacking. Cedric awoke from his slumber and began killing people. The mercenaries attacked unprovoked. Ultimately a single narrative emerged, a dominant rumor emphatically proclaimed by the mercenaries themselves.

Jurian Dunlan, they claimed, was behind his father Cedric’s illness. He’d been planning to inherit the fief early, by poisoning the old knight. When his plot was foiled by the priesthood of Our Triumphant Family, he went mad and seized control of the castle. Now Jurian held his father hostage in the highest room of the Great Tower, screaming madness from the rooftops and threatening to kill his own father!

Tavion frowned. None of this seemed right for the young knight, well beloved by the people of Dunlan Fief and always respectful of his father’s legacy. Could he have, indeed, gone mad? Had he been enchanted? He had to find the truth, and the companions needed to rescue his adoptive father.

It seemed the leadership of the mercenaries—fighting to seize the keep and “rescue” Cedric—was housed at the Tower of Ales, once a watchtower in the early days of the fief, now converted into a tavern. Half the companions donned disguises and went to interrogate Warrick. Though they had no proof, they suspected his hand in the disastrous situation. Tavion led the other half, bypassing enemy lines to gain access to a secret passage in the keep’s North Tower.

Gaemund disguised his group as mercenaries from Wolf Company and marched right up to the Tower of Ales, claiming to be additional sell-swords eager to join the fight. Upstairs they found Warrick, pondering a battle map and scowling furiously beneath his fancy hat. Gaemund claimed to have knowledge of a plot to use a secret passage to gain control of the gatehouse—a partial truth that earned Warrick’s ear and cooperation. They learned little from the Borgondhi emissary—he repeated the claim that Jurian had gone mad, adding that the young knight could be seen and heard shouting through the windows of the highest room. Supposedly he ranted about his birthright and being denied his heritage, announcing that he would claim what was his own.

With Warrick’s blessing, the supposed mercenaries of “Wolf Company” proceeded to the battlefield, where their colleagues had already snuck through enemy lines and reached the North Tower. Tavion found the secret entrance from the outside and the party slipped through a narrow passageway in the walls, coming upon a group of mercenaries undetected. With a flash of his knife and the illusory powers of Morel, the mercenaries died one by one, ignorant of their killers to the end. Above them, the Dunlan House Guard held the line against their enemies. This raised a problem—Tavion didn’t want to kill the house guard, many of whom he’d known growing up, but he was sure they would ill take to a group of armed strangers pushing their way to the keep. Ultimately he surrendered voluntarily to Tuur, a vassal-knight who recognized him from his youth. Tavion swore he was here to help Jurian, and though the house guard fought for their young knight, they held great fear for his sanity. The presence of the priest and princess who’d helped revive Cedric only served to aid their cause. Hoping that his adoptive brother might bring Jurian back to reason, Tuur shackled Tavion and escorted him to the Great Tower.

They arrived in the midst of chaos. Gaemund, Bromin, Rhawunel and Ulreik scaled the walls right outside the Great Tower, immediately clashing with the house guard. Impatient to reach the highest room, they nontheless avoided striking to kill. Bromin kicked them off the walls into the inner courtyard, Gaemund put many an arrow into many a knee, Rhawunel gave them the blunt of her sword, and Ulreik dove right into the melee, warding off the guards’ relentless attacks with magical barriers. They’d scattered and disabled nearly a dozen guards before Tavion arrived, in the custody of Tuur. Before the confrontation could escalate Tavion assured them that he was alright. Tuur handed him off and the companions passed the remainder of the guards (with some knee-injury related apologies) to scale the tower and confront Jurian in his chambers.

Atop the bed lay the old knight,, a knife at his throat. His son’s hands trembled as they clenched the blade and Cedric’s hair, ready at any moment to spill his blood. Tavion spoke first, demanding to know what Jurian was doing. But something else was wrong—as Gaemund entered, Jurian’s eyes flickered with recognition. When Princess Rhawunel walked into the chamber, the same. How could Tavion’s adopted brother know these two?

Through Jurian’s declaration that he was here to claim his birthright, that the Huldra were coming and Borgondhi was threatening to unlawfully claim their lands, Bromin decided he’d heard enough. With a flick of his fingers an enchantment of Sleep drifted across the room—and had no effect. Jurian’s eyes didn’t even flutter. How could a mortal display such utter immunity to this magic? Rhawunel reached out with her soul, and found the power of the fey. It was not truly Jurian at all—a faerie entity had claimed his shape.

The jig was up. Tavion and the party sprang into action. Before the false Jurian could draw his knife across Cedric’s throat, Morel cast a spell of her own. It caught the false Jurian off guard, another enchantment that broke through its defenses and left it reeling with uncontrollable, hideous laughter. Unable to focus on the fey glamour, the faerie took on its true form—and so did the room.

Cedric Dunlan lay dead, the pillows and blankets of his bed pooling with blood. She’d done the deed minutes before they entered the room and concealed it with her magic. Wearing the guise of Tavion’s adopted brother and holding the knife that slew his father, Sheevra laughed in the grips of Morel’s spell. They’d saved the elderly knight once, but they were too late to save him twice.

The ensuing battle was swift. The companions unleashed spell and sword against Sheevra, never giving her the chance to strike another blow. But her magic aided her yet—through every arrow slit in the tower poured flocks of ravens, tearing at flesh and pecking at eyes. They even attempted to fly off with a large book she held in one hand before succumbing to Morel’s spell, and spilled the companion’s blood until they were at last driven off.

With the witch defeated and bound, Tavion gazed for the last time on his father’s face. There was no opportunity for a proper burial—battle raged all around the Great Keep. Tyrandriel tended to Cedric’s last rites, calling upon Our Triumphant Family to bless his passage and reunite him with his wife in the Houses of Healing. Gaemund turned to the witch’s tome and remembered something from his mother’s notes—this was her Grimoire, the source of her power, wherein all her spells were written. Ulreik could use it to learn her magics, but it would vanish in 24 hours unless left in the witch’s custody.

But study would have to wait. Horns sounded beyond the walls of Dunlan Keep. With the house guard in disarray, Warrick’s mercenaries began their last assault. The lord of the keep was dead, his son was nowhere to be found, and our heroes were trapped in the highest room of a castle under siege…

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The Beggar and the Banshee
Tales from the Starless Market

Playlist: The Starless Market

“Sidhe!” The voice was like an iron hook dragged over a courtyard. “Death to sidhe! Four hands of rings for elf-ears on strings!” From atop a crumbling stone pulpit, one crier of many held up a jangling mass of shining gray rings. The hollow hum of a great singing bowl spilled out from a shattered bell tower across the way. To the three dozen or so scáthcail loitering beneath the leafless trees in the courtyard, the song had words: Dryad’s root for banyan root, dryad’s root for banyan root. Several of the pale, slender figures already bore the whorled stain of umbral banyan tattoos; they paid the song no heed. There were more silhouettes than patrons in the Starless Market, where the shadow-fey sell murder for inks, blades and baubles.

The companions had two errands to run, one unearthly and one supernatural. First, Jurian let slip that some of the mercenaries plaguing Dunlan Fief had just been paid, and one so inclined could find them outside the walls of town. Taking the hint, the companions set an ambush. Bromin emerged from the woods as a seller of ales, and invited all of them to partake. The magic of his brew made heavy their eyes until nearly all of them fell asleep. Those who resisted found themselves with blades to their throats. The mercenaries revealed that they took orders from both Warrick, emissary of King Ralzemon, and Sheevra, the Lady in Red.

With plunder in hand, the companions chose to cash in their favor with the wicked goblin warlock, Dwenday. They spoke his name three times and he appeared to fulfill their command—guide them safely to the Starless Market and back again. Beyond the sight of the town, Dwenday led them to a rocky canyon. He snapped a dryad’s finger against a rock and the rock receded into a long, moss-obscured passageway. With each step down the cavern, the color itself faded from sight. At last they came before a natural archway, curtained with hanging moss. Something moved above the entrance, surrounded by a sibilant chittering, like a thousand crickets chirping as one. Its shadow dwarfed every member of the party. Dwenday threw worms into the darkness and sang a goblin lullaby

Hush goblin child
Hush and fall silent
The chasme will hear you
And peel off your flesh
A thousand ways to hurt
Are the joys of the chasme
If it sings you to sleep
You wake up screaming

The uplifting melody was enough to lull the fearful abomination back to sleep, and Dwenday parted the moss curtain for the companions to pass below the arch, into the Starless Market.

Starless.jpg

The courtyard stretched out to the horizon, bare white stones cracked and riddled with black ivy. Above them the sky was utterly devoid of clouds, light, or anything but a tapestry of blackness. Patrons of the Starless Market lurked in the shadows cast by flickering gray flames, invisible unless you stare directly at them. Many of the figures staring at the mortal interlopers were slender gray fairies, their flesh pierced with the iron that hates them. These were the Shadar-Kai, fairy assassins who bound themselves with iron to hold at bay the curse that drags them ever closer to the Underworld.

Any sounds seemed harsh and painful against the echoing silence, but across the courtyard they could hear the song of a singing bowl. It signaled an offer—the death of a dryad for the sap of the umbral banyan. Elsewhere, criers offered silver rings on silken strings in exchange for a child’s first laughter, a maiden’s beauty, the beard of a widowed father, and deaths. The Starless Market is where the fey go to hire assassins.

At the courtyards center a cracked and ancient fountain, flowing now with ivy instead of water. To the one side, a market stand, where a shriveled figure plied her horrific wares—the souls of corrupted mortals, now transformed into shrieking larva. On the other, a broken wall against which slumped a filthy, rag-enshrouded beggar. His name was Old Aram, older than any could remember. Morel realized with horror that the soul-merchant on the other side was familiar—he’d seen her in his dream, when she offered him the key to his curse in exchange for Royse’s bottle of memories.

They’d come to this godless place in search of The Caoineadh, who wove Mairg’s crown of roots. Perhaps they could learn something that would break her power to ensnare mortals in a life-draining nightmare. But something drew Tyrandriel to speak to the beggar first.

Rags and bandages concealed every inch of the beggar, and his breath smelled awful, but the old man’s voice was wry and humorous. Aram asked them for a boon of kindness or mirth in a mirthless place. Bromin shared ale and Gaemund challenged the old man to a game of Three Dragon Ante. The game meandered back and forth, as Aram seemed to play with a completely random strategy, folding when he had the lead and playing right into Gaemund’s bluffs—yet the result was a near perfect tie. With a laugh, Aram thanked them for the game, and offered them a trade. He revealed from below his filthy robes a cage containing an owl, and exchanged it to the party for the game. Ulreik Hras Halril gladly made the trade, acquiring her familiar. He complained about Tyrandriel’s robes, telling him “Son, you can’t go out in this weather, not dressed like this—it’s all the wrong color.” It later occurred to the party that apparently Aram could see color even in the eternal gray of the Starless Market.

Both Tyrandriel and Ulreik asked about the Rainbow Road. Much of what Aram had to say, they already knew—the Queen of Stars and the King of Storms each control the way to the Path of Seven Veils. They emerged, however, with one additional clue—each of them has a father who walks that way and frequents the Court of Stars. Could they be one and the same?

Finally, Aram told them that they seek the Caioneadh, who speaks only through a Whisperwood, for her voice is death for mortals. She could be found on the third level of the market gallery.

As they tried to move past the Seller of Souls to find the The Caoineadh on the third tier of the marketplace, she sniffed the air then called out: “”/characters/tavion-gervis" class=“wiki-content-link”>Caius? Caius, dear boy, is that you?"

How could this fallen fairy, trapped between the Fey lands and the Underworld, know Tavion’s alias? He drew closer, wary but intrigued. Sure enough, the hideous Night Hag recognized him from his early childhood—though he couldn’t remember any of it. “Caius, sweet boy, all grown up. Come to trade again, have we?” Speaking with her, Tavion and the companions learned that she was one of three sisters—Mother Waxcap, Aunty Atropas, and the Witch of the Willows.

The three sisters trade in flesh, souls and memories, respectively. Tavion learned that in his youth he struck a bargain with the Witch of the Willows, and that is why each time he leaves the fey world he loses all memory of the journey. Whatever the terms of the bargain, it involved giving his brother “Everything he ever wanted.” Atropa offered Tavion a new bargain—for Royse’s memory bottle, she would tell him all the details of his original bargain. This conflicted directly with the bargain Atropa already struck with the (hiding out of sight) Morel, but Tavion accepted it nontheless. In exchange, Atropa granted him a jet-black stone, a key he could use to access the Starless Market once again.

At last the companions trekked up the broken stairs to the highest causeway of the market. Shadar-Kai lurked in every shadow, their chains and blades twitching with hunger for mortal blood. In the shadows of the ancient archways they came face to face with a bundle of dark leaves, coiled branches and pale flowers that walked on dark, willowy roots. Thin vines waved in the air as the ambulatory plant drew in air and exhaled it through reeds, speaking for another with a haunting, hollow voice. This was the Whisperwood, speaking for the Caioneadh from afar.

Speaking with the Caioneadh was fraught with peril, for any question it disliked, any memory invoked against it made it scream with its true, banshee voice, shredding the life of mortals who hear it like fraying fabric in a terrible wind. Still, they learned of the origins of the Root Of Sorrows, lost to time.

The Caioneadh remembers when the Tree grew in the fifth kingdom, sending its roots out to ensnare mortals and feed off their misery. The phoenix came to roost in its branches and burned it to ashes, which scattered across the winds of dream. Now only the roots remain, spread throughout the kingdom. Those roots can never grow back into a full tree, and yet they spread, devoid of a guiding will, blindly seeking the cruelty that makes them strong. Caioneadh has woven a crown more than once, but each time it demands a terrible sacrifice.

When Iommor died, Mairg mourned not only for her son, but for every Huldra ever slain by the people of Marchen. Never mind the lives taken by Iommor’s claws—a single Huldra life can last hundreds of use and participate in beauty humans can never imagine. With Ri Searbhas biding his time and hiding his designs from her, she took matters into her own hands. Mairg came to the Starless Market and asked the Caioneadh for a crown of roots. The Caioneadh’s price was terrible—The life of a queen for the crown of a queen. It was not long after that Mairg’s loyalists stormed the lands of Angren, slaughtering Queen Dakona and attempting to seize her children. Only through the valor of Corik Tel’Maerlyth did Rhawunel escape. Caill An’Angren killed his way to freedom and Nabac An’Angren was forced to make a bargain with a dragon to hide from Mairg’s forces. At last, Mairg received her crown, and with it she began to draw power from mortals across the land.

The only force known to permanently hold back Mairg’s power lies in the hands of The Grey Wanderers—a Protection spell can hold the Crown at bay for a night, but it must be repeated each time the victim falls asleep. The Caioneadh ill took to questions about the Wanderers, screaming into the companions’ souls with rage when asked. Nevertheless, they gleaned some facts from the ancient banshee. The Grey Wanderers are the messengers of Ash and Embers, last remnants of the fire that burned the original Tree of Sorrows. Perhaps their ways hold secrets that could destroy the Crown that makes Mairg stronger every day.

As the party departed the Market, Tavion took Morel aside and told him about the deal Atropa offered him. Both questioned why the Seller of Souls held such an interest in her sister’s wares, memories, but agreed to work together. Unfortunately, when they walked back into the world of light and color, all memory of their visit was gone from Tavion’s mind. Even attempts to recount the events to him ended in failure, for where others could understand or read written accounts, he was blocked from comprehending them.

Their journey back to Dunlan Fief met with a sudden interruption—they had been gone several days, though it was hours for them, and smoke rose from the city. Dunlan Keep was under attack!

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Curse of the Bog Witch -- Part 2

Fleeing from the Rattlebog and the horrors within, our heroes stumbled back to Toadstool Hollow. Slaying the witch was beyond their strength, and if they were to liberate Morel and her home town from the curse, it would have to be by other means. Battered and discouraged, they turned in for the night.

That night, Morel had a dream. The Witch of the RattleBog argued with a shrunken head on her table. Morel’s gaze swept into the eternally screaming mouth and out another shrunken head, this one held in the wrinkled purple fingers and filthy yellow talons of a hideous cloaked figure riding on a coal-black horse with hair of fire. In a phlegmy and ancient voice, the figure offered to give Morel the words of the curse, that it might be broken—for a price. With a gesture, the cowled horror showed Morel a vision of the Tower of Nails, with a silver ewer glowing with blue light at its heart. “Bring me this from Royse, and I will give you the key to your curse.” Upon waking, Morel revealed this vision to his compatriots. Tavion realized the magic scintillating within the silver bottle is identical to that within the talisman he carries around his neck—the one holding memories he has lost. The silver ewer must contain memories, but whose? And why does the nightmare-rider want them?

In the Borgondhi Hinterlands by the side of a beautiful lake, the party encountered a group of footsoldiers let by Ser Callek—a Borgondhian Knight with a rude demeanor and distinctive nose. Surrounded by these soldiers was a forager, clad in simple raiment and wielding a homemade bow with arrows. While Tavion and Princess Aine hid in the wagon, the rest of the party answered the guards’ challenge. They presented Sir Eklos, Knight of the Pendant, and Tyrandriel acted the part of a humble acolyte. They successfully talked their way past the guards, attracting the attention of Sir Callek, who reluctantly yielded to the pious authority of Our Triumphant Family. The plight of the forager led the more compassionate of the party to ask her crime—Sir Callek answered that she was poaching. Tyrandriel recalled that a Knight of the Pendant can intercede on behalf of any criminal, taking them into the church’s custody and delivering them to perform Penance instead of a harsh sentence. Penances include service to the community and can be onerous. Sir Callek was again unhappy but unwilling to cross the church, so he released the poacher into their custody (swapping her iron manacles for rope bonds).

Once they got her away, they discovered that her name was Berwyn. A strikingly beautiful hunter and forager, she was not truly in the woods to steal the king’s deer—in fact, her husband had fallen ill, and she sought the Gray Wanderers. The party learned that the Gray Wanderers had been forbidden from entering Borgondhi by decree of King Ralzemon himself, on accusations of heresy and heathen practices. Nevertheless, Berwyn had heard of others across the kingdom falling asleep and never awakening, remaining unconscious and wracked with fever dreams until their strength relented and they perished. She also heard that the Gray Wanderers came to some of those afflicted in the night, and when they departed the sick awakened and recovered. She hoped to find them before they moved on, but when cornered in the woods by Sir Callek she panicked and went with hunting instead of heresy.

This news troubled the party. The symptoms of this sleeping sickness reminded them of their encounter with the Mists of Arkaley. In that small town in Marchen, the mists afflicted young children exclusively. Now it seemed that the affliction was far more widespread, and came not only with the mists or to the young—people across Marchen, Borgondhi, even fair Gloriana itself were falling asleep, never to awaken. Moreover, this had been going on before the Mists of Arkaley rolled in. Since her homestead was on the way to Dunlan Fief, they stopped by to check on her husband. A woodsman and lumberjack by trade, he’d been in a fitful sleep for two days. His body grew weak and thin, his flesh pale and withering from dehydration. In between bouts of spasms he muttered incoherently, pleading or arguing in gibberish born of no language.

Rhawunel’s divine sense did not reveal the presence of any unearthly forces, but the man was clearly wracked by dark magic. Tyrandriel sprinkled the woodsman with holy water and invoked the protection of the Laughing God, and the fits stopped. With the healing touch of Rhawunel’s magic, he woke up long enough to embrace his wife and drink water. While conscious, he recounted a tale of horror: he dreamed he was buried beneath the earth, his skin crawling with worms and spiders, while roots slowly grew into his flesh, consuming him and drinking his blood. Above the surface he could hear the voices of his children, telling him he belonged there and they did not want to release him.

When the companions spoke with the children, they found no signs of malicious intent or supernatural presence. The man also said he’d heard his wife, his long-dead father, the woman who spurned him in his youth, all scoffing at his pleas for freedom from his torture. It seemed the magic did not invade or possess his body; instead, it imprisoned his mind far away, in a dark and wretched place.

The companions considered what they knew. They feared this to be the work of Mairg, but how could her power reach so far away from the Caonach vale? What magic ensnared the minds of so many mortals, with no discernible pattern? And for what purpose?

Ulreik Hras Halril found a possible answer in the Mordavian Transcripts. They spoke of a Crown of Roots, which grants the wielder the power to “Send their will out across the Fifth Kingdom and the land.” They recalled the words of Nuinn, who told them that Mairg first tried to seize the miller’s children through Faerie, and when prevented there, reached out through “The Fifth Kingdom,” before being driven out “by ashes and embers.” The goblin Dwenday told them Mairg went down to the Starless Market and made a trade for a Crown of Roots, shortly before Rhawunel’s family was attacked and driven out of Angren. And finally, the Transcripts mentioned a “Root of Sorrow,” that drank from pools of suffering and grew fat on hate’s carrion.

Mairg was brewing something terrible in her forest palace. Could it be that she was leaching the life of humans across all the land, drawing their power unto herself for some malevolent purpose? And what does this have to do with her obsession with the Prophecy of the New Day?

With more questions than answers, the companions needed to set off to Dunlan Fief and the Tower of Nails. Eklos halted them—in his authority as a Knight of the Pendant, he gave Berwyn her penance: to stay with her husband and aid him in his time of suffering. He revealed that he’d met two of the Gray Wanderers and shared a meal with them while traveling to Arkaley. They were coming the opposite direction, towards Borgondhi, and while calm and polite they revealed little. Eklos stated that the Church was still uncertain about this new order, but thus far had no reason to persecute or hunt them. Ralzemon’s hostility was unexplained.

To compound this all, as they bid Berwyn and her husband farewell, Tavion learned one last startling rumor: Cedric Dunlan himself had fallen victim to the sleeping sickness. They hurried on the rain-swept trails to the central city to learn more.

The companions arrived in a town rife with activity. Caravans of food, leather, raw metal, tools and weapons streamed to the city gates. Not only were conscripted soldiers of Dunlan Fief watching the roads, but Tavion recognized numerous mercenary companies patrolling the grounds. There hadn’t been this many soldiers in Dunlan Fief since the last time the old knight rode to war. Rumors flit left and right about the sleeping sickness—its grip on Cedric dominated, of course, but others were afflicted, male and female, young and old. Bromin learned that only humans were falling prey to the disease—dwarves remained unaffected. The party needed to learn three things: the location of the mysterious Woman in Red, the condition and events surrounding Cedric’s illness, and everything they could about the Tower of Nails.

Once inhabited by Ulreik’s friend and fellow ex-student of the Academy, Florian, the Tower of Nails now hosts a reclusive man named Royse. Unlike Florian, Royse was expelled from the academy after a loud disagreement with the Alfar Council of Elders. The tower itself occupies a mountain pass that was once a key holdout against the Huldra, rendered useless when King Geirr and his knights invaded the lands and founded the kingdom of Marchen. Royse keeps little company but a thick-necked manservant. Supplies are delivered once a week by George the Farmer or his family. The Tower is renowned for its telescope, the top floor has partially crumbled, and there is an oubliette below the bottom floor. Nashia’s research revealed the history of the tower and the lack of any secret passages, as well as a general floor plan. Morel’s dream did not reveal the specific location of the Ewer of Memories. Bromin got Farmer George drunk and agreed to take the next shipment of supplies up to the tower, and Ulreik wrote a letter of introduction hoping to visit Royse as a fellow ex-student of the Academy. With multiple routes of entry prepared, they hoped their mission to retrieve the Ewer would succeed.

Gaemund and Rhawunel went in search of the Lady in Red. They learned she’d arrived before the party and gone to see someone at Dunlan Keep. Their questions, however, garnered the unwanted attentions of several mercenaries nearby. The quick-witted Gaemund managed to lose their tail and follow them in return. It seemed that the mercenaries had a vested interest in keeping the Lady in Red’s affairs secret. What could it mean that the woman who sold Bromin’s stolen ale, from the caravan where so many died, now had a secret meeting at Dunlan Keep? And if all these mercenaries were preparing for war, with whom, and why?

Meanwhile, at Dunlan Keep, guards and mercenaries halted Tavion, Aine and Tyrandriel, still in the disguise of a Priest of the Church. In Cedric’s time of illness, no guests or visitors were being permitted. This forced Aine’s hand—she revealed her signet ring and declared herself the Blood of Borgondhi, Aine, Daughter of Helena von Borgondhi, Granddaughter of Ralzemon von Borgondhi. Once the guards verified her credentials they let her and her compatriots into Cedric’s chambers. The elderly knight lay in agony, muttering to himself just as Berwyn’s husband did. Tyrandriel spoke the words of the Prayer of Protection and Cedric’s mind returned to his body. The acolytes of the church quickly administered healing herbs, prayers of restoration and water, and Cedric awakened. Face to face with his adoptive father for the first time since he fled, Tavion requested a moment alone.

The spell of protection could not last forever. Though he wondered at the risk his adopted son took to visit him, Cedric embraced Tavion warmly (but weakly). He recounted dreams of being buried beneath the earth, roots digging into his flesh, the voices of his own son and long-dead wife taunting him from above the ground. He feared for his fiefdom—Cedric confided in Tavion that shortly before the sleeping sickness set in on him, he had argued with an envoy from King Ralzemon. The Crown demanded that Cedric raise more soldiers and horses for the army, at great burden to his own people. When Cedric refused, a messenger told the King’s envoy that someone had arrived. The envoy departed with a scowl. That very night, the nightmares began.

Now leadership of the fief falls to Cedric’s son and Tavion’s adopted brother, Jurian Dunlan. Cedric trusts in his son’s honor and judgement, but the weakness of his father may leave Jurian vulnerable to the hounding pressures of the crown. Ralzemon prepares for war, and Dunlan Fief may be swept up soon enough. As he fell back asleep, Cedric asked Tavion to keep himself safe.

A change crept over Tavion. The man who raised him from the time his village was razed and his parents were slain, the pillar of strength who showed him that justice must be tempered by mercy, that patience and understanding can coexist with decisive action—that man lay dying in the grips of a distant witch’s curse. His fingers clenched on his daggers, and in the silence of his heart Tavion pledged to drive them into Mairg’s heart, no matter how many lives he had to take along the way.

Mairg’s power was growing by the day, and with her designs on Marchen and several of our heroes’ families, it was clear that she must be stopped. How to thwart her designs—or even what those plans are—remains undiscovered. Confronted by the suffering Mairg inflicted not only on her own family but on so many others, Rhawunel called upon the spirits of Dakonaand Corik Tel’Maerlyth. During their years on the run, Corik tried to teach her the traditions of his order—protect the innocent and the weak. Nurture beauty and life in all its forms. Wield the sword only in defense of that which cannot defend itself. Yet Rhawunel’s heart cried out for vengeance, to swear the same oath Tavion took in silence.

Corik’s offered her his counsel in this time of grief—do not turn on Mairg in hatred and wrath. Instead, stand between her and those she harms. Stand for them, not against Mairg and her plans, and you will find peace. Dakona revealed to her daughter that her own death was not out of hatred, but utility—like all those wrapped in the roots of Mairg, Dakona was sacrificed in exchange for some terrible gift. She called upon Rhawunel to become the leader that the lost people of Angren need, to find her lost brothers, and to save the Huldra from the mad queen’s designs.

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Interlude -- Letter from the Academy
Personal possession of Ulreik

When Ulreik Hras Halril was expelled from the University, it was shortly after receiving word that a colleague, correspondent, former student and friend had passed away. Florian was an older man who’d studied at the University in his youth before arguing with the Alfar instructors and leaving. The two of them shared a fascination with the Faerie World, and a suspicion that the Alfar were deliberately withholding knowledge from their mortal students.

After leaving the academy, Florian took to the Tower of Nails, a fortified keep in the lands of Borgondhi. There he continued his studies, taking advantage of the isolation to observe the night skies and the movements of the stars. Ulreik discovered Florian after talking with some older students who remembered the man, and the two began exchanging letters, offering each other encouragement and helping with research the other could not pursue.

Of all the books, journals, notes and scrolls Ulreik lost in exile, this letter was a lonely survivor. Perhaps the mysteries contained within will help Ulreik pursue the knowledge that shut the doors of the academy.

The below is PLAYER KNOWLEDGE, not CHARACTER KNOWLEDGE, to everyone but Ulreik

TO THE RIGHT NOBLE, and learned, Ulreik Hras Halril, who studies most diligently at the Academy of the blessed city of Gloriana in pursuit of the light of knowledge and revelation of the mysteries of creation,

It gladdens my heart to receive your missives. It seems at times that we are but permitted to view the shadows as cast by the rising sun, and given no torch or lantern of our own. But in you I have found a scholar who refuses to bask in awe, who fashions lenses to focus that light, and hopes in time to ignite from it a fire of our own—unbequeathed, unburdened by gratitude, and free to spread as we see fit.

Placing my hope in your continued prosperity and wellbeing, I put to you the enigma I mentioned previously in our correspondence. For the bond of fraternity that we share as students of abjuration and with respect to the confidence of our long friendship, I implore you to retain this mystery between ourselves. It is my fear that the benefactors do not mean us to pour over the inscription below, for in my moments of brightest hopes I feel that it may hold the keys to this cage of knowledge they weave.

During my apprenticeship, before I took my leave and withdrew to the Tower of Nails, I strayed from the dormitory well past curfew—a sin that, while regrettable, can be remembered by all who have completed their studies therein. While seeking a glimpse of a fellow student who had caught my interest (in a not altogether intellectual way, I will admit), I happened upon a balcony over a room I had never tread before. The chamber below was inscribed with elaborate stone runes, circles within circles, and at their epicenter a basin rose from the floor. Across the waters two voices debated, one in a soft and melodic, the other with words few but like distant thunder. It was Runda herself and a stranger to the academy. He wore curious garments, a coat of sheening black or leather. His hair was cropped short in a curious fashion. I could see the burden of terrible secrets in the lines on his face. At his side he carried a thin chest or coffer, emblazoned with runes of dreadful power. The language they spoke was unfamiliar to me, but it was clear they disagreed. In my wonder I leaned over the balcony, and though the vaulted ceiling was inscribed only with stars of an unfamiliar sky, reflected in the water shone the runes I write below.

Though it is plain to me that these are elven script, and though they remain seared into my mind as fresh as that night I crept from my bed and witnessed two terrible powers in debate, nothing I have done with them has revealed any new truth. I have crossed them and translated them and all my efforts are in vain. Perhaps a fresh set of eyes and new ideas can bring me out of this long cast shadow.

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The first row means in the old elven tongue “By the root,” as does the last row read backwards. I fear I can decipher no meaning from the rest of it. In my years I have pursued the truth of this mystery alongside my other, more reputable studies, and the only mentions I have found of this phrase stem from an old Huldra song. The song is called Nornogamon, or The Wheel Upon the Hill, and only the dusk elves of the Marchen woods know its words. The best I can tell is that it concerns the coming of a Dökkálfar to a place called Magardh gan réaltaí—”The Starless Market"—seeking the key to a “Road of Seven Veils.”

My search for such a place or the full text of the song has produced nothing, and it is my hope that in the library of Gloriana, and with eyes undimmed by the fog of time, you may make of this something greater. What it portends I cannot say, but I am firm in the belief that if Runda and the strange peer of hers found it a point of contention, certainly it points to knowledge beyond yours or mine.

I apologize for the delay in sending you the transcripts of the Mordavian Tablets—they are on loan to a scholar named Euthynos. Perhaps you two are acquainted—inquire with him for their delivery. Best wishes to your health and success in your studies, and may the light of wisdom shine ever on your path.

Yours ever in friendship and scholarly endeavor,

Florian

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Curse of the Bog Witch -- Part 1

While Ulreik Hras Halril and Nashia Arie pondered the meaning of the Mordavian Transcripts, our heroes dealt with what they’d learned during the fair. Yvain Ponty acquired his so-called “Oakstump Stout” from Bromin Firebeard‘s robbed caravan, the same caravan that saw the deaths of Tarah Arcistoth and Corik Tel’Maerlyth. Given the state of the brew Yvain was pushing, the ale must have been acquired from the wreckage of the caravan and sold very quickly. With no other leads into the attack on the caravan, the party decided to investigate.

In another twist, Morel’s transformation in the throes of the Curse of the Bog Witch has worsened. He has shrunk several more inches, more mushrooms are sprouting from his flesh, and he’s gained the ability to see in the dark. Concerned for the progression of the curse, the party resolved to find a cure or break the curse as soon as they could.

Tavion Gervis went immediately to the HONORABLE AND LOYAL ORDER OF WEAVERS AND DYEMEN, where he spoke to the snub-nosed guild representative Wimblington, asking if there’d been any acts of thievery or crime within the town. Wimblington asserted that the Guild knows all the operators in Calchester and aside from petty thievery and pick-pocketing, nothing gets done without their approval. That being said, there WAS a caravan that came through recently that acted suspiciously. They had far too many guards and were bound for Dunlan Fief in Borgondhi.

Tyrandriel consulted with Tilly Carosi, the singer and faithful of the Laughing God who’d warned them about the Borgondhi thugs working with Frederic Arcistoth. Tilly saw the same caravan and knew they were too well armed to be merchants, or even common thieves. These were people on a mission, and with ill intent for the land of Marchen.

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At last, Bromin, Gaemund and the rest of the party confronted the disgraced Farmer Ponty himself. When they came to his farm in the morning, he was blackout drunk in the mud—Mrs Ponty exiled him from the house until he’d sobered up and cleaned off. Nashia was more than happy to awaken him with a toned-down application of her Shocking Grasp spell. Jolted back to consicousness and surrounded by some people he’d just as soon enver see again, Ponty was eager with the answers.

  • Yvain bought all the ale from a traveling merchant lady. She was passing through town in a hurry. His wife was none too fond of how the lady dressed, talked, or looked at Yvain.
  • The lady had acquired a bunch of ale on her travels. She shared with him some secrets of its brewing—secrets he later spewed when claiming to be the brewer, with a few creative touches of his own.
  • She had blue eyes, black hair, and many armed guards. Her boots were not Farraud/Calchester make. She wore a red cloak, a black dress, had a wagon adorned in lanterns, and feathers at her belt. Her caravan was well guarded and seemed to be carrying whetstones, feathers, and other goods for sale in Borgondhi.

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One thing was certain—whoever this woman was, she had VERY swift access to the site of the caravan attack, and she was headed to Dunlan Fief. In the absence of any better leads, the heroes chose to pursue her. They set out for the edges of Marchen, on their way to Borgondhi.

Many of the heroes had reason to fear traveling to Marchen’s neighboring kingdom. As the daughter of a disgraced princess, Aine risked discovery and harassment for her lineage. Nashia Arie knew that spies from House Bothotlo of Elam were working with agents of Borgondhi—how far did the conspiracy to kill her and claim her priceless scroll go? And worst of all, Tavion Gervis was returning to the land he grew up—Dunlan Fief, ruled by his foster father and brother—a land with a price on his head!

Disguised and concealed within Gaemund’s cart, the party made their way through the Marchen woods. Two days into their journey, ravens flocked around the path ahead, drawn to fresh meat. Morel and Gaemund crept forward, wary of signs of slaughter. Up ahead in the road was a man clad in the armor of a knight, lying beneath his butchered horse, moaning incoherently. The rest of the party approached carefully, but there were no signs of danger. Morel went to go help the man, who bellowed a warning at the sight of him—through a mouth filled with blood. His tongue had been cut out so he could not tell of the danger lurking in the woods—a Huldra ambush!

Eight warriors burst from the bushes, firing arrows into the caravan. Those within the wagon ducked for cover, but the Huldra’s leader commanded the plants and roots around them to rise up and crush the humans. With the power of druidic magic, he trapped them all within. Only Bromin, Tavion, Gaemund and Morel avoided the spell. But the counter attack was fierce—Morel leapt atop the dead horse and with lightning-fast rapier strikes struck down the leader’s wolf companion. Aine, Nashia and Ulreik chanted within their vine-wrapped prison and unleashed a barrage of magical power at the Huldra leader, cutting him down in a barrage of light. Bromin jumped to the ground and charged at the nearest warrior, and with a single mighty swing of his maul he shattered the huldra’s weapon and hurled them into the air. The raiders clearly expected merchants and travelers, not warriors and spell-slingers.

In the aftermath, a single Huldra survived. Tyrandriel tended to the broken man’s wounds while the rest interrogated the Huldra warrior. He had little to say—other warbands like his had steadily crept into human lands, deeper than ever before, to extract eternal vengeance for the slaughter of their people during the Invasion of Marchen. Morel worried for the safety of her village, Toadstool Hollow, no more than a day’s travel away. If the Huldra could reach this far from the Caonach Vale, could her home town be in danger?

With the healing presence of the Laughing God (disguised with the rites of Our Triumphant Family), Tyrandriel brought the wounded man back on his feet. The huldra had broken his arms and cut out his tongue in order to lure other humans to the site of their first strike. Handed a quill, ink and parchment, the man identified himself as Eklos, Knight of the Pendant. He’d received Vesta Piota’s message and was just now riding to Arkaley to deliver the town from the pagan magic enshrouding it. The heroes assured him that Arkaley was delivered from the terrible mists, its people safe. In his current state Eklos felt the best course of action was to return to the nearest abbey of his order. The party decided to protect him on his journey.

At last they arrived in Toadstool Hollow. All of Morel’s townsfolk share the curse of the Bog Witch with her, and as such they do not trust outsiders. The little hovels and moss-covered huts of the people have been boarded up to keep out the light. Villagers wear heavy clothes and cloaks to hide their appearance, but they cannot hide the fungus that occasionally sloughs off their skin as they transform bit by bit into mushrooms. The people were glad to see Morel and eager for any news of salvation from the curse. All she knew, she’d learned from the Archfey Nuinn—the curse can be lifted by killing the witch, convincing her to lift it, swearing fealty to a being more powerful than her, or by finding the flaw in the curse.

It was at that moment it occurred to Morel and company that they had a group of nine well-armed, magically trained adventurers.

In the depths of the Rattlebog, just hours east of Toadstool Hollow, they arrived at the foul-smelling lake known as the Dark Hollow. Sickly willows clung to the few islands of mud rising above the bubbling waters. A well maintained wooden pier wound away from a slime-covered house, the path illuminated by flickering green lanterns. Eyes glared out from the branches of the gloomy canopy, observing the interlopers. And growing from every conceivable surface were creeping fungi—toadstools on the islands, shelf fungus feasting on the trees, mold and mildew and all manner of slime.

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Something about the very air disturbed the magically sensitive among them. Ulreik opened his Sight and saw magic infusing the entire lake. The Dark Hollow is a place neither entirely here nor entirely there, floating between the Mortal and Fairy kingdoms. Distrustful of the water, they approached the Witch’s hut cautiously along the pier. Morel used her new grappling hook to scale one of the willow trees. All the heroes watched the witch’s hut, looking for a point of attack.

Unfortunately for them, a point of attack found them first. Morel had just enough time to spot something in the water, and Nashia and Aine released crackling witchbolts into the murk. The electricity arced through the water, enraging the beast below, and it exploded through the walkway with a roar. Heroes flew left and right, some of them plummeting into the water, as those who held their feet reacted to the monster—a troll! It snatched at them in anger until they drove it beneath the surface with magic and weaponry.

Nashia scarcely made it to one of the mud islands, only to have the toadstools there pop and blast her with poisonous spores. Even worse—a cackling voice arced through the swamp. “CHILLLLDREEEEEN!” it called, and each of the piles of toadstools emerged from the earth—they were merely the heads of fungal creatures, infested with poisonous spores, mindlessly following their mother’s orders to kill the interlopers and feed their corpses to their young brethren!

Things went from bad to worse. The troll continued to tear apart the wooden pier, threatening the heroes again and again with the unknown horrors of the bog. Swarms of the mushroom thralls approached, and they found themselves hideously outnumbered. It was then that Morel discovered he could hear the thoughts of the other “children,” and even communicate with them. With a burst of will and cunning, she suggested that more interlopers could be found behind the house. That drew off half the Children, leaving an opening for the heroes to escape. At that precise moment the troll burst from the water, seized Morel, and dragged him into the water!

It took the combined efforts of every other hero to rescue their friend. Morel struggled as the Troll clutched his throat, trying to choke the life out of him, stabbing away at the beast with his daggers. The mages unleashed magical power into the water, accepting the risk of striking their friend. Gaemund leapt into the water, seized Morel and Bromin hauled them away. They banded together and fled the swamp, with the Witch’s cackling taunts at their heel.

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Interlude -- The Mordavian Tablets

The original Mordavian Tablets are lost, one of many treasures plundered during the reign of King Neverwas. Still, many scholarly transcriptions and translations of the tablets remained in the libraries of the Academy of Gloriana — as one of the only known pieces of Dokkalfar literature, it has been the subject of great speculation and inquiry. Due to peculiarities of the Dokkalfar rune set, translations can vary wildly.

Recently, the scholar Euthynos has busily acquired every possible copy of the Tablets, no matter the scribe or state of the translation. It seems only one escaped his grasp: that in the vaults of Ursi Arcistoth, Knight of Calchester. It is in poor shape, but the scribe who did the translation was dutiful and thorough.

Came to the Dokkalfar Grotto a man of gold. He came up from the Pools of Fire and was set upon by the deep watchers. In his arms a shade clinging to flesh, a daughter woven of gossamer and glass. They saw he was made of flesh and gold, not a spirit or devouring demon. How was it he came from below, unheard and unlooked for?

I am TARAS, said he, and I have come from the Gates of Death. I tore them from their hinges and conquered Death, and I return with my daughter. Let none prevent me. Said the watchers, all the kingdoms have heard the din of the wrenching gates. We will not prevent you. Speak with the Sage and rest.

A meal was set before TARAS and his daughter, who ate but little. The Sage saw that TARAS was filled with fire and light. A new day comes, said he, for you are the Dragon of the Brightest Noon. When Dusk, Night and Dawn are born anew, what will you become? Said TARAS, my people are beset by the King of Storms and his sons, the Four Winds. I will overthrow them as I have overthrown Death.

Ours is the Moonless Night. We know the deep ways and the secret paths, the Road of Seven Veils and the Root of Sorrow. If you learn the Dragon’s song, you will walk the four worlds as one—but there will be no new covenant if you do not heed the Dokkalfar, who keep the Pools of Fire, the Scintillating Path, and the Fifth Kingdom, said the Sage

We walk the world of Mortals. The Sky Kingdom makes war upon us. I have sundered the gates of the Underworld, and the Fair People keep their ways secret. I have the counsel of Silver-Clad Jonil and the wisdom of the DARASTRIX. Yet of kingdoms I know four, said TARAS.

Paths of mind and wandering, barred to the children of Dusk, Dawn and Night. Enshrouding all as a mist, bending to the wills of the learned, flowing through all kingdoms, reaching into the shadows of the soul. A fog that conceals us from Beyond the Stars. You walk the land at night without seeing your own feet.

Three paths are there to the Fifth Kingdom. First is the Scintillating Path, the Secret of the Sage. It is barred by ash and embers. The Path of Seven Veils winds through all kingdoms. TARAS Golden asked of the Path of Seven Veils. It is all that remains of Seosh and Seosha, who battled each other beyond the Seventh Gate. Now it winds between the worlds, invisible to the unlearned, perilous to the unwise. It is kept by the Queen of Stars and the King of Storms, your foe.

TARAS Golden asked of the Root of Sorrow. A tree grew in the Fifth Kingdom, with roots that spread beyond the stars. They drank from pools of suffering and grew fat on hate’s carrion. But the Phoenix came to roost in its boughs, and burned it to ash. The dead roots remained, never growing, ever mouldering, wound between the kingdoms. Who wears those roots as a crown will send their will across the wilds and the Fifth Kingdom.

Asked TARAS golden of the Crown of Roots. Only the Caoineadh of the Starless Market can weave such a crown. Asked TARAS golden of the Starless Market, and said the sage:

Take a sheer black stone in hand
Go where mountains meet the land
When clouds conceal the moonless sky
The starless market’s gates are nigh

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The Calchester Fair Affair -- Part 2

CABER TOSS

Bromin and Tavion both compete while Tyrandriel and Gaemund make coin by racketeering the spectators. Tavion does surprisingly well but Bromin wins.

Farmer Gern’s hog loomed massively over the rest of the competition, but when it came time to weigh the hogs, Gern’s sow was larger than it was heavy. Turns out the man misunderstood the rules of the contest and had been feeding his sow beans. The crowd laughs and boos, and as punishment the judge makes Gern grab that pigs tail while she presses on its stomach. The relentless and hideous fart reduces the pig’s diameter significantly and leaves Gern gagging. Farmer Dinkle’s sow takes the prize.

Bromin met Tilro Farraud, who expressed familiarity with the plight of the Firebeard Clan. “A terrible omen, for the volcano to go quiet. If the old gods can die, what does that say about the rest of us?” Tilro was very proud of his clan’s history—protecting the corpse of King Geirr during the war against the Huldra—and took poorly to Bromin’s disregard for his family’s beliefs. “Our duty is with our people. Wherever they are, that’s where we belong.” Bromin also discovered that the Farraud clan always enters their own ale into the brewing contest—not to win, but simply to add to the festivities, as a gesture of hospitality and mutual friendship.

THE SECOND DAY

Several members of the party participated in the traditional Pig Wrestling. A single pig was covered in grease and set loose in a pen. There was a brief controversy as the original chosen pig was actually a rare, sweet smelling floral pig and far too expensive to be used for such a contest—indeed, Lord Mayor Loxias’ wife nearly battered him for abuse of the sweet creature. Instead, they went with Butters the pig, who caused a great mess and got grease on Morel’s clothes in particular. The Lord Mayor sends his apologies. Fortunately, he won!

In the vicinity of the pig wrestling, the party heard a hubbub caused by one Yvain Ponty, a local farmer, touting his Oakstump Brew. The party asked nearby townsfolk about this man and learned that he’s never tried his hand at brewing before, but after meeting a modicum of success as a farmer he’d come up with a fairly large batch. Nothing he said really indicated that he knew what he’s talking about, and his neighbors described him as a serial dabbler.

  • “The malt is from my very own fields! Wheat I raised myself and watered just a mite extra. The lands of my farm are positioned PERFECTLY to catch the sun as it breaks around the bulwarks of our town, lending their might and potency to my brew!”
  • “I cannot share my gruit of course—that would give away my secrets! But there’s a bit of bog myrtle, some honey, yarrow, a blossom or two…”
  • “Every oak tree I’ve found I’ve cut down and hollowed out the stump, Once I seal the brew in there to ferment, the oak wood mellows the secret ingredients I add, making them not only palatable, but delightful beyond comprehension!”

Since the success of their endeavor depended on winning the brewing competition, members of the party quietly threatened and extorted Yvain to throw the contest. Their efforts paid off not immediately, but further down the line.

As the day wound down, Gaemund tracked his brother to the alleyway outside of a tavern. Frederic was still recovering from his injuries when he met a mysterious robed figure who spoke in a sibilant voice.

“The whole reason I’m helping you is for the sake of my family. There’s still not a word about my mother. Excuse if I’m not raring and enthusiastic right now.”

“Until your mother returns, your family needs you more now than ever. You must help us, and we can assure your brothers’ future.”

“What, by spying on some strange girl in the tavern?”

“She is a lackey of foreign powers, and thwarting her will reward you greatly."

“Fine, fine. Don’t forget, you’ve promised me a business for EACH of my siblings. Enough to get our lives back on track. What do you want me to do?”

“Stay close and watch the inn. When their guard is down, search through her things. Above all else, look for…That is the key to your future. And trust no one else.”

Nashia Arie recognized the hissing voice as the sign of the Dragonborn, denizens of the distant empire of Elam. What could agents of that land be doing here, and what did they have to do with Gaemund’s brother?

THE THIRD DAY

Jugglers, singers, poets and playwrights gathered in the town squares of Calchester for the third day of the celebration. Poets recounted the song of the Man in the Moon, but of particular note were the comedic stylings of Tilly Carosi, a musician and storyteller. She performed a work of her own composition, The Donkey’s Song, , which was definitely NOT a series of insults aimed at Baron Yorlen. It seemed to Tyrandriel that Tilly had her eyes on him, and he was not wrong—they shared a common faith in the mysterious Laughing God. She promised to speak with him later on a matter of great import.

Many of the other plays and performances of the day were morality plays, retellings of the tale of Patient Father and Fearless Mother. Others were the cautionary play, the Shepherd and the Huldra, the bombastic Clouds Come to Earth, and raunchier fare—a bit about a milkmaid who cheats on her husband by claiming to be a forest spirit drew great laughter from the crowds.

Afterwards, Tilly revealed to the party that she had been keeping an eye on the wayward Sons of Arcistroth, for ill fortune follows their wake. It seems that Frederic has fallen in with agents of Borgondhi and perhaps of something even more sinister. Tilly gave them the location of a hunting lodge in the woods, abandoned for many years, that recently showed signs of habitation. Though Frederic had never been there, she suspected the strangers he was meeting were holed up there.

And it was none too soon, for that very night…

THE FOURTH DAY

…Nashia woke to find her Dragon Scroll missing! She had yet to speak to any of her compatriots about the contents or import of the scroll, but insisted that it had to be recovered. Gaemund agreed, but only if Nashia would reveal the truth about her scroll—if the party was to risk their lives for it, he felt they deserved her trust. They set out to the woods to confront the thieves.

With a burst of magic and bladework, the party stormed the hunting lodge. Over a dozen thugs and bandits held the perimeter, led by a dragonborn sorceress — Kava of House Bothotlo. The heroes scattered and slew her hired men, all of them paid with the coin of House Borgondhi. As for Kava herself, they pried the scroll from her claws and demanded to know what she wanted it for. “The Future,” she hissed, “of the Empire.”

Back in town, Nashia admitted to the party that the scroll was the original copy of the Prophecy of the New Day, written by Taras Halfdragon himself after the War of the Four Winds concluded.

That night Yvain showed up once more to promote his brew. Under duress from Gaemund and Bromin, he decided to give it all away and not participate in the competition the following day at all.

(They also drank a lot and drained some of his kegs as well)

THE FINAL DAY

At long last, the day of the feast arrived. Bakers and butchers brought their finest fares to the table, and Ursi Arcistoth herself opened her coffers to sponsor the eating and drinking. Shepherd’s pies, breads, buns with frosting and all manner of country delicacies graced the tables. Music and drunken cheers resounded off the cobblestone streets. At long last, the Lady Knight tried all the brews presented by the artisans of Calchester, and Bromin and Morel’s work triumphed! The heroes presented themselves to the irascible Lady of Calchester and requested their boon: access to the Mordavian Transcripts from her library. Surprised and displeased by the request, she nontheless granted them their wish.

As they walked up the hill to Arcistoth Keep, Bromin happened to notice the discarded kegs that Yvain Ponty had stowed. The farmer never brewed anything in the first place—he’d purchased it all from a mysterious salesman traveling through town. It bore a familiar symbol—the same that Bromin used to mark the ale (continued)

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Interlude -- The Donkey's Song

The Calchester Festival tests more than feats of strength and agricultural acumen. Poets and singers come to the fair to draw the crowds, earn a coin or two, and hopefully win the favor of the city council. Tilly Carosi took the prize this year. Aside from having a husky voice that carries across the room, her sarcastic sense of humor is a crowd favorite.

The cattle lows, the rooster crows
The sow squeals in her den
But loudest of the animals
The donkey brays YOR-LEN!

Uncontent with fur of gray
Hee-haws for silk and gold
Enduring hardships every day
Like soup that’s three bells old

His stable is not big enough
The straw he eats too stale
Truly, life for him is tough
So close to Huldra vale

Behold the donkey’s mournful fate
A life of ease—alas!
He dreams of kingship but of late
He acts more like an ass!

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