Into the afternoon of the second day after your encounter with the lizardfolk bandits and their magic-wielding leader, your wagon is force to halt and await the ferry to transport you, your allies, and the merchant’s goods across the wide Ancients’ Tribute. The wait is not long, and before mid-afternoon, you are well on your way across the swift-moving river. The ferryman, a boy of sixteen, speaks little. Instead, the strong lad bends his back to the task of winching the ferry and its occupants slowly along the cable. Before you have a good view of the village, a foul, sulfurous smell fills your nostrils. As the sun touches the horizon behind you, the boat comes to rest along a loading dock, and the stench is bordering on overwhelming.
Arriving in Hawksome, you found the populace wracked with a terrible coughing sickness. Using the guidance of the barkeep at the Broken Torch, you sought out the alchemist at Roots & Remedies to determine if it is even safe for you to be in the village. An arrogant confrontation with some sick locals who were simply waiting for their turn with the alchemist, led to the guards being called. Luckily the alchemist, Laurel Kreed, liked you enough (for some reason) to disperse the guards. Granted, this was after you had agreed to track down the three ingredients she needs to cure the coughing sickness (which is apparently caused by spores that infiltrate one’s lungs, forcing nearly persistent coughing which eventually tears the lungs up and the victims drown in their own blood). The three ingredients are elderwood mold, that only grows on the oldest tree in the forest; pickled rats tail, a rare root; and 7 ironbloom mushrooms, known to grow in dwarven ruins.
With the guidance of Milon Rhoddam, a local lumberjack and forest ranger, you made your way toward the first ingredient, elderwood mold. On your way there, during an act of charity rescuing a trapped firefoot fennec, you were ambushed. You made short work of the ambusher, however, and he promised to help you find great treasure if you let him go. You more or less agreed to look into it and see, and continued on your way toward the eldest tree in the forest. Eventually, you come upon a wide clearing, where a massive cathedral of a darkwood tree stretches to the heavens.
The sound of crunching leaves shatters the solemn stillness of the eldest tree’s clearing. The man called Trapper rocks back and forth from heel to toe in impatience. Crows caw somewhere in the forest behind you. A light breeze stirs leaves in the upper branches of the ancient darkwood before you, but no golden droplets of late afternoon sunlight scatter upon the ground as the foliage is simply much too thick. Instead, an eerie grey ambient light is the sum total of illumination in the glade.
Party fights some lizard thing in the tree, dispatches a most devoured but living lumberjack in a cave within its trunk and collects the necessary moss. Trapper has fled. The party makes their way to the witches hut where they fight her animated cauldron and successfully gather the rats tail.
Weapons dulled and chipped from battering on the iron construct, noses filled with the smells of a witch’s long abandoned abode, you may still feel a sense of accomplishment after achieving the second of your three goals. The one remaining task: search in and around an ancient dwarf monastery for the rare ironblood mushrooms required to cure the foul blackscour TAINT.
The party followed the overgrown path to the ancient monastery ruins. An investigation of the compound’s only remaining tower revealed the nest of a vicious, but easily dispatched, spider. Its eager mandibles were no match for Aglar’s dark armor, while the paladin’s sword had no trouble slicing through the creature’s hairy carapace. Among the ruined crates and barrels of the tower, the group discovered very few odds and ends, and also a lumberjack called Splinter, a victim of the spider’s poison and likely ally to the party (at least until he gets to know what bastards they all are).
The group continued to explore the ruins in search of the rare ironbloom mushrooms. Their first mushroom was discovered in a pile of moldy coats. Their second and third were discovered, through the help of the charmed kobold Gooberbutt or something, in the chest cavity of an ancient dwarf skeleton locked away in a secret cell. A request to Gooberbutt for the location of “shiny things,” brought the party to the monastery’s sanctuary which was immediately plunged into darkness. Shadowy tentacled creatures assaulted the party, but, despite of the advantage of darkness and surprise, the party’s coordination and greater numbers won out. The enemies defeated, the sanctuary once again is bathed in torchlight.
Party examines a mural of a gem encrusted dwarven hammer on the wall and the matching hammer on the alter. Placing the gem they found earlier into the hammer, they are able to turn it. The mural crumbles away, leaving another mural of a cloaked figure holding a lantern in the moonlight. The moon has a spot for the gem. They place it, and the entire wall and eventually the room turns blindingly silver. Light fades, and the party is set upon by two wolves. A cloaked figure crouches in the room and somehow aids them in defeating the wolves. She is a beautiful true elf woman and also apparently deaf. The party flees the monastery to see that the Darkwood forest has been replaced with brush and the stumps of harvested trees.
/Seriously, Swiftstar, you cannot go through with this.\
Her brother’s hand signs come fast and erratic, yet it was the same argument since the day they left. At this point, he need not even sign. His face expresses his condemnation well enough: It is too dangerous. These trials are pointless. They are fanatics.
Fanatics was the first word he said to her the day she came home. He met her with open arms in the orchard, and in her joy, she had lifted her voice in a song she had learned. She had never dared sing before. She had never known what it was to sing, but they had taught her, and she delighted in the vibrations traveling through her vocal cords. He stopped directly in front of her, his face twisted in a confused scowl, and he spat out the word like the lethal breath of his namesake, “Fanatic.” Granted, she could not hear him say it, but she read his lips plain enough. The sign language they taught her, and she, in turn, taught him, became just one more way for him to say that word.
Oh, Dragonstar, she thought, if only you could see beyond Grandfather’s stone wall, you might begin to understand.
The night passes uneventfully, despite the thunderous footsteps nearby during the first watch. When the sun rises, the forest that was is still a memory, reminding you that the strange happenings of the previous day had not been a dream. If any doubt remained, the site of the silvery elf woman, pushing her hair from her face while devouring one of the offered rations was all the indication you needed. Gigantic, flying beasts, disappearing forests, deaf elf women trapped in an ancient engraving. It could have been a dream.
A thunderclap brings you back to the present. Dark clouds accumulating in the west snake tendrils in your direction, and the after moments the wind begins to pick up. At least it will be a relief from the previous day’s heat…
Traveling along the stream, the party encounters the strange beast once again. Soaring in from the north, despite the party’s best attempts to hide, the massive creature (that resembled an overgrown razorcrow but possessed a hook at the end of its tail) keyed in on their location. Luckily for the party, the presence of the beast startled a herd of plainsmoose nearby that proved to be a more appetizing meal.
Further into the journey, the party finally encountered other humanoids. These tall, well-muscled men posses small eyes, flat foreheads, and yellowed teeth. Their yellowish skin was hairless and splotchy. At their arrival, the elf woman uttered the first word the party has her speak since encountering her the afternoon prior. Translated from the Ancient, she spoke, “Chained Ones.”
The humanoids, organized and militaristic, used hand signals to demand the party drop its weapons. A battle ensued, wherein one of the men, armed with some sort of wood and metal staff, shot fire, smoke and thunder at the party to no effect. With two of the brutes dead and the last two captured, the party commenced an interrogation which resulted in one attempting to escape (unsuccessfully) and the other having his testicles removed by the deranged wizard. He was summarily put out of his misery, but not before the party had learned that something related to the brutes existed in Hawkshome.
Continuing on their way, a night and most of the next of a rain-filled day, brought the party to a rise overlooking the village. However, where the village once was now stands a small fortress. Unwilling to investigate during the day, the party planned to scout the stronghold during the night. Making camp in a owlbear’s nesting nook was probably not what the party intended.
The creature came upon them from the storm, and, despite putting up a fight, the owlbear was defeated. The party is now wounded and tired. Aglar and Seth are inexplicably missing, any tracks long obscured by the rains. Harmon, the ranger, is unconscious and seems ready to start bleeding out again at any moment. Thunder rattles the walls of the cave.
Bedruan and Sayid, volunteered for some midnight reconnaissance on the castle located where they know the village of Hawkshome should be.
The dark of the late month and the constant downpour lent to the stealthiness of the pair as they ascended a rise. Unfortunately, it also mandated a closer observation in order to perceive any sort of detail. Despite the rain, the absence of normal signs of life (guards on the ramparts, torchlight) perplexed the duo, and they elected to navigate around the walls until coming to a gate.
The blown out gate was only the first sign of destruction. Inside the castle, most of the towers were ruined and melted. The south wall of the castle was a crumbled ruin.
The two adventurers discovered a navigable hole in a collapsed hallway into what apparently was the main keep. Unwilling to adventure too far as a pair, instead of investigating within, they searched for a place to escape the weather and continue their investigation at dawn. The lower guardroom of one of the gate towers was in good shape, despite the upper floors’ collapse.
Content with the location, Bedruan and Sayid retrieved the other members of the group, including the wounded Harmon Kass. Finally dry, the party settled in to wait out the night.
An uneventful night passes along with the rain, and, gleaming with the reflected fire of the dawn, an unfamiliar figure strides through the blasted gates of the abandoned castle. The warrior introduces himself in the common tongue and reveals that he, too, has been transported to this strange-but-familiar land. The man seems genuine in his confusion and good intentions, so the group allows him to stay.
Scaling the walls, Bedruan scouts the lay of the land. A sizable dockyard lies in crumpled ruins where much of the village of Hawkshome once stood. No creatures move beneath his sight, save for a bobbing shadow within the pool of water just inside the western gate. Smart use of a grapple fishes it successfully and reveals the waterlogged corpse of one of the proto-human grunts encountered earlier, this one the size of a child and only a few days dead.
Determined to explore this castle’s secrets, the party elects to leave Harmon the mage, Sayid the ranger, and the strange, deaf elf woman, Hiya, to guard and tend to the gravely wounded Kendan. Bedruan the Huntsman, Renfro the bard, and the new warrior (whose name escapes me) venture into the tunnel into the collapsed keep, the warrior shoulders scraping roughly against the sides with each inch forward.
Navigating several similar, dark tunnels with only a waning gleam of magelight to guide them, the three explorers eventually find themselves inside a dungeon cell block. No living things stir, but bodies of two of the child-sized proto-humans lie stabbed and stripped in the middle of the hall. More bodies, these of human men and women, populate several of the cells. A winding passage beyond the block leads to a small guardroom, a circular trapdoor yawns open in the corner.
Investigation of the trapdoor’s depths reveal a glimmering cube of animated ooze lurking below. Clever use of fire and oil dispatches the ooze, but not without putting Bedruan in harm’s way. Further investigation of the lower passage reveals a cell block. Within these cells, lie the remains of 5 humans, for of which are piled in a storage room. In addition, the body of a tortured, male true elf is found chained naked to the wall of a solitary passage. The adventurers resolved to collect that body of all of them in order to provide for a proper burial.
Finally, within a storage room crate, the party discovers a fine suit of elven-styled chainmail and a exquisitely made scimitar, again of elven design. Also, in a backpack, they discover two potions and a letter written in flowing elven script. On the back of the letter is a map. Burdened by the body of the dead true elf, the three adventurers returned to the surface to regroup with their allies.