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…