Carrion Crown

BM: Recap of Days 002 to 004
Mis-Adventures at Ascanor

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Mis-Adventures at Ascanor

Over the span of a few days at the lodge the party caused or were at least involved in all kinds of chaos and investigations:

Riska & Duristan:

Riska got Duristan very, very, very drunk in an effort to get information out of him (not sure why given how forthcoming he’d been until that point – maybe it was just to toy with him). She didn’t much information out of it, and Duristan made a fool of himself and was now largely ashamed to be found in the party’s presence.

Kayl & the Markiza:

The foundations of a trade agreement between Kayl (in his family’s name) and Markiza Welgory, a guest at the lodge in return for information from both her and her “hound” Ostovach (unbeknownst to the Markiza, Kayl wasn’t exactly on the best terms with his father). In return the Markiza explained that she had only arrived at the lodge earlier on the day that the party had, but Ostovach had been there well before hand preparing for her arrival. While Ostovach knew nothing of the Whispering Way, he did recall three strangers had visited the courtesan Niama about 2 weeks ago (something he only admitted away from the Markiza as he only knew this because Madame Ivanja had turned him away that evening). When asked about the werewolves of the forest, neither could provide much information, with Ostovach suggesting the party talk to Delgros or Duristan for more information.

Delgros & Werewolves:

Interviewing Delgros they found out that he was very likely on a hunt when the Whispering Way visited and cannot recall any strange visitors to the lodge in the last few weeks. He was able to provide information about the werewolves of the Shudderwood, which is good cause they couldn’t exactly go to Duristan at this point…

Kayl & the Stablemaster:

Kayl questioned the stablemaster, Quiene Steymor, about the visitors two weeks prior. She recalled that three nobles, supposedly from Courtaud, arrived during the day and left that night. During their brief stay she had been instructed not to unsaddle or unload the visitor’s horses, a not uncommon request as many nobles are very particular about their belongings. She did find their thick southern accents very suspicious for people claiming to be from Courtaud. She also states that she later heard from Ostovach that they visited Madame Ivanja.

Ivanja’s Guests:

Kayl also questioned Madame Ivanja and the courtesan Niama. Guarded by a group of Qadiran guards in the watchtower, Ivanja made it clear from the very beginning that she would never disclose specific information concerning her clients. When specifically asked about the events from two weeks prior, she does recalls four guests (perhaps 3 and a half) visited the watchtower that evening, all enjoying the services of one of Ivanja’s courtesans, Niama, to whom she offered to introduce Kayl.

After paying her a small fee, Ivanja lead Kayl to one of the private bedchambers on the tower’s second floor. Therein he found the pretty Vudrani woman who Duristan had brought to the party’s bedroom doors the night they arrived, wearing heavy eye-liner, clad in nothing but a translucent silken scarf and laying on a pile of pillows. Ivanja introduced the woman as Niama, wished Kayl a pleasurable evening, and shut the door behind her as she left. When queried by Kayl, she divulged, as she drew a puff from a glass water pipe, that three nobles from Courtaud hired her that evening and one of them was accompanied by an evil-looking, implike pet. She explained how she did nothing but dance for them until a new guest arrived, a silver-haired woodsman with a full beard who smelled like a beast, at which point they asked her to leave, although she did hear them mention the Stairs of the Moon and something called “the packlord’s heart.” as she left. She returned to her room about an hour later and found that they had disappeared.

She had little more information to give, and leaving Kayl to take his leave. Waiting for him on the outside the room was Ivanja – she told Kayl that she wanted to give him a Harrow reading, but didn’t explain exactly why – he didn’t take her up on the offer and left the tower to return to the group.

Literary Research:

While Riska and Kayl were off gathering information from people, the egg-head-ish members of the party decided to tackle the lodge’s libraries – hoping to find some information on the Whispering Way, or make some sense of the lupine lecture they’d been given in the forest. While the search of the reading library proved fruitless, the reference library was another matter.

Estovion offering to help them in their endeavour pointed them towards a collection of old traveller’s journals. These journals, written by an unnamed worshipper of Desna, record several entries describing his pilgrimage to an ancient, abandoned temple of Desna and observatory in the Shudderwood known as the Stairs of the Moon. The journal includes a description of the temple, but is lacking on directions. These pages would have seemed to have little to do with anything if it wasn’t for a suspicious piece of folded paper bookmarking them – on it was scribbled a faded note reading,

See ‘Halo of Dreams’ on page 322. Filed under Religion upstairs.

When questioned about “Halo of Dreams” and what was upstairs, Estovion somewhat reluctantly admitted it was his private study and where he kept books he was actively using – although he swore he’d never heard of any such book. Pressed he allowed them access to the shelves in his office but only under his supervision.

There they found “Halo of Dreams” (Estovion blamed Belik for not filing it correctly), a text about the Desnan faith, and its spread from Varisia throughout Avistan. Skimming it the book contains, among other things, references to a sacred Desnan relic known as the Dusk Moth, hidden in the stonework of an ancient temple called the Stairs of the Moon, as well a catalogue of legends concerning the transporting of the relic to the temple, a section prefaced with a statement that they truth concerning the relic was lost when the Whispering Tyrant conquered Ustalav and the temple was abandoned.

Turning to page 322 the found the following passage highlighted:

The origin of the Dusk Moth can be traced back to pre-Thassilonian Varisia, though the role it played in those ancient times has been lost to history. During the Age of Enthronement, Desna’s priests recovered the relic from the ruins of Thassilon, and carried it into the Shudderwood during the founding of Ustalav. There the priests constructed a temple to the goddess of dreams and disassembled the Dusk Moth, incorporating its parts into a great observatory atop the temple, which they dubbed the Stairs of the Moon. High atop the observatory, during the twilight hour, the faithful enacted a sacred ritual of communion to activate the power of the Dusk Moth, placing them in a heightened dream-state in which they could commune directly with the Song of the Spheres.

Finding nothing much else of use on study’s shelves (and not sure what to make of what they did find), the Simkin, Chhakuk, and Cathran returned below and decided to continue their research without Estovion’s further guidance.

Researching the Whispering Way they found little more about the an ancient organization of necromancers with ties to Tar-Baphon, the Whispering Tyrant than they already knew. Though, in researching the Whispering Way and members’ possible reasons for coming to the Shudderwood, they once more found references to an ancient ruin in the forest called the Stairs of the Moon. The texts they found reference its destruction long ago at the hands of the agents of the Whispering Tyrant when he still ruled over Ustalav. They also state the ruins are reputed to now be haunted by vengeful spirits.

Researching the werewolves of Shudderwood, the party members find much of the same information Kayl was getting from Delgros around the same time (see above). Additionally, they once again found references to the Stairs of the Moon, specifically how the tribes use it as a gathering place for meetings and rituals. One final tidbit of information they found was that the werewolves are ruled by a single packlord, chosen from one of the five tribes, and that new a packlord must consume the heart of her predecessor to claim the title.

The rest of the time perusing the library’s tombs was rather uneventful.

The Spider’s Escape:

After a long day of researching Estovion held a feast in honour of the party’s arrival and as an apology for Belik initially turning them away. Delgros’ had returned from a hunt with a mighty stag for the feast, and the lodge was a buzz as all the visitors gathered in the dining room. While the venison cooked off in the kitchen, Delgros began to tell stories at the behest of the other guests.

Not far into his tale telling the stories were interrupted by a mighty shriek and the party leap into action. Finding a giant spider was no in the foyer of the lodge and at its feet the body of one of the young kitchen scullions. Chasing the beast back and forth they downed it and then stomped off to investigate only to find that Estovion was already blaming the grounds-keeper, Paucy Traub. Pointing out that the dimwitted grounds-keeper couldn’t truly be held culpable, Estovion accepted the blame unto himself and put Paucy under house arrest.

Not particularly believing him, the party asked Estovion if they could question Paucy but Estovion refused – stating that the poor boy had to spend some time in isolation thinking of what he’d done. And with that Estovion took off to deal with the rest of the disaster.

Feeling that Estovion was up to something the party used their skills to sneak Riska into Paucy’s shed. Unfortunately her questioning of him proved to be rather fruitless, but it was clear to Riska that he was hiding something.

Confronting Estovion:

Fearing Estovion’s further machinations they stormed his study later that evening, finding him mid-ritual. Having little time to do more than react, the ritual ended and a werewolf spirit appeared before them, launching itself at and possessing Kayl. Seeing the dire straights he was in being caught in the act and taking advantage of the chaos, Estovion grabbed a pile of papers off the table, threw them into the fireplace, and then using a scroll from his pockets disappeared leaving the party to deal with their possessed friend. Luckily through Chhakuk’s quick thinking they were able to force the spirit out of Kayl and then doused the fire.

Unfortunately many of the loose documents had been largely burnt, but the thick cover of what appeared to be a journal of Estovions seemed to have protected it’s pages. Skimming the journal, it seemed to have been recently started, perhaps continued from another volume (although any such volume could not be found) and made references to not only Estovion’s dealings with the werewolves of the Shudderwood but also the Whispering Way:

Just Over Two Weeks Prior to the PCs’ Arrival:
It appears that my past has come back to haunt me, in the form of unexpected visitors who arrived last night. Ostensibly nobles from Courtaud, they bore invitations from Adivion Adrissant in Caliphas, and Belik admitted them to see me. Their leader, a disturbing man named Auren Vrood who carried a sinister-looking, twisted homunculus on his shoulder, confided to me that they were agents of the Whispering Way, come to finally collect the debt I owe them for helping me with the spirit I discovered at the Stairs so long ago. Vrood “requested” that I arrange a meeting between him and one of the werewolves of the wood. Though I would prefer to have nothing more to do with them (for my youthful indiscretions were just that), I saw no choice but to acquiesce to their demands, lest they reveal my secrets to the Palatine Council. As Mathus is my sole ally among the packs, I will speak to him and arrange a meeting, and hopefully I can wash my hands of this whole sordid affair.

Two Weeks Prior to the PCs’ Arrival:
Vrood and his fellows have returned. Though I made my office available to them, they declined and requested a meeting with Madame Ivanja instead. Mathus arrived shortly after and went straight to Ivanja’s tower as well. I was somewhat surprised by their choice of location, but I suppose even necromancers and werewolves have their needs. I spoke briefly with Mathus after the meeting, but he was unusually withdrawn and gave no hint of what was said at the meeting.

Two Days Prior to the PCs’ Arrival:
A grave threat has befallen the Shudderwood, and I fear its origins lie at Ascanor. Unknown forces, almost certainly agents of Vrood and the Whispering Way, have attacked the Stairs, butchered Kvalca Sain, and stolen her heart for some dark purpose. Although their motives remain a mystery, this single act has thrown the entire hierarchy of the Shudderwood’s packs into disarray and violence.

I know that it is customary when a packlord dies for her successor to consume the fallen packlord’s heart. With Sain’s heart gone, the position of packlord shall fall to whoever can claim the title, either by recovering the lost heart, or more likely through force, by slaying the leaders of the four rival tribes and adopting the surviving wolves into his own pack.

Mathus has spoken with me before of his desire to become packlord, and I now wonder if his secret meeting with Vrood was the impetus behind these events. Without Sain’s heart, however, I doubt the other tribes will accept Mathus as their leader. He might find allies with the Sczarni or the Broken Ones, but the Vollensag and Jezeldans will never bow to his rule.

Mathus’s concerns doubtlessly lie with his pack, not with me, however, and I worry my alliance with the Mordrinacht shall soon be forfeit. I fear greatly for the safety of the lodge, for if Mathus moves to take Highthrone without Sain’s heart, or if it becomes known that his ascendance is due to the Whispering Way’s interference, civil

With Estovion gone, and little else to go on the party decided to head into the Shudderwood hoping to find some answers at the Stairs of the Moon. Duristan swore that he knew how to get there and offered to take them there – particularly as an apology for his previous indiscretions. And thus, off into the wood they headed…

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BM: Recap of Day 001 (pt 4)
Return to Ascanor

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Return to Ascanor

Upon the party’s return to Ascanor, while waiting at for the gates to open, they were greeted once more by the halfling porter Belik – this time emerging from the gatehouse wearing an apologetic grin and carrying a silver tray holding hand-carved wooden mugs containing a steaming beverage.

Calling them over, Belik stated:

“Please accept my most sincere apologies for both holding you up now and for my inappropriate behavior earlier. I was not informed of your coming and acted hastily on behalf of the lodge warden. I can assure you that you will suffer no further ill treatment during your stay at Ascanor Lodge”.

He politely offered each member of the party a mug of hot coffee and then continued as the gates opened:

“If it’s convenient for you, my master requests your company at this time for a brief introduction and to offer his apologies as well.”

Accepting the invitation, Belik lead the party into the lodge, through the Great Hall, and up the southern stairs, stopping at the door to what they’d later know to be the reference library and knocking three times. In response the door creaked open, revealing a circular room with book-lined walls and at the door was a slight man in his sixties, with a long face, myopic eyes, dirty spectacles, and a seemingly permanent squint. Belik bowed low and presented a formal introduction:

“Esteemed guests, may I present Estovion Lozarov, Lodge Warden of Ascanor.”

Estovion thanked the porter and curtly dismissed him, waiting just long enough for the halfling’s footsteps to fade off down the hall before greeting the party in a somber tone:

“Please do not hold the actions of my porter against him. The error in your improper greeting was entirely mine. I neglected to inform my staff of the open invitations I gave to the Order”, pausing to wink suggestively, "and they did not recognize the reservations. Rest assured, however, that all of the lodge’s facilities are at your disposal, including our libraries. While the general library is down the hall, this one,” he said, gesturing at the book-filled shelves, “is likely better suited to your research.”

Taking a moment to briefly converse with Estovion, likely about any recent visitors they made have had, he seemed distracted and dismissive of all their inquiries, ending with:

“My apologies, but I regrettably have some business to attend to at this time. Belik is waiting for you outside the door just down the hall. He shall show you to your rooms. Feel free to ask him for whatever you need.”

Taking his leave, Estovion ascended the curved staircase at the back of the room to the office, and the party was left to wonder what the fuck Estovion was up to, or meant by “The Order”.

Returning the way they had come, they found Belik waiting for them, he promptly lead them to the two unoccupied guest rooms remaining in the lodge. Leaving them to get settled it wasn’t long before Duristan showed up at one of their doors with a pretty young Vudrani woman named Niama whom he called a witch, but looked suspiciously like a courtesan. He claimed she was the “witch” that gave him the scar-ward he’d shown them earlier. When questioned about these wards, she explained that the wards are traditional hexes she learned from her grandmother, in truth, and that she would be happy to give one to any who desired it – the all members of the party decided to decline making Duristan appear a bit put out.

With that sorted the party decided perhaps it was time for some rest, and decided to save any more investigation for the morning (although I’m fairly sure Riska wandered around a bit that night and ran afoul of a drunken playboy named Corvin who mistook her for a serving wench. She wasn’t particularly happy, but somehow didn’t kill him.)

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BM: Recap of Day 001 (pt 3)
The Flayed Carcass & The Moon Hunt

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The Flayed Carcass

Just outside the gates of the lodge, Duristan and Delgros mounted up and began to trot in a westerly direction with the hirelings and the party in tow. Travelling along a narrow winding trail, Duristan told them of how earlier in the day Delgros had led a small party of lodge patrons into the woods on what was meant to be a routine hunt. Delgros had been following the trail of a golden buck, when a frightened yelp was heard from the brush ahead. By the time the hunting party had caught up to the buck, it was only somewhat recognizable, with the sight of the stag’s flayed carcass being so terrifying that the participants fled back to the lodge in a panic, spreading rumours of the Devil in Gray, a Lozeri legend, flying among the lodge’s guests.

After a few miles of travel later they were lead to a small clearing, where the trampled ground and snapped brush showed signs of a great struggle. The soil here was soaked with half-dried blood, with more splashed upon nearby tree trunks and leaves – and yet, much to Delgros’ shock, no body. Immediately organizing a frantic search, he enlisted the party’s aid and while many of the tracks in the area appeared to be badly trampled, they were able to identify three distinct sets of tracks. One set was clearly the tracks of stag had made before its death, while another appeared to be belong to some large wolf like creature – seeming like dire wolf tracks, though with strange, elongated claws. The final set of tracks was clearly cloven, but the party was not sure of the creator, and for some reason did not consult with Delgros as they began to follow thee tracks further down the trail.

A further 50 feet or so down the trail following the tracks the party began to hear loud scuffling and grunting noises, and barely noticed the the bushes rustling ahead before trio of large boars with gore soaked heads launched themselves at the party. Hearing the now irate sounds of the boars and eager to show off his bravery to the PCs, Duristan came rushing up the path into the fray in the most stereotypical way possible, while both Delgros and Duristan’s men held back, waiting for a clear shot.

After having slain the enraged boars, Duristan immediately stomped off into the bushes from which the boars sprung, and immediately yelled for the party to join him. There they found the carcass of the stag, which after Chhakuk’s inspection the party deduced that two types of wounds could be found on the carcass — the tooth marks and tusk slashes of the boars, and a number of bites and lacerations that presumably caused the stag’s death. While the party was doing this, Delgros began to pace about the area and soon announced that he was convinced that werewolves were about – although he could give no other reasoning beyond “a feeling”.

Excited about the prospect of what he claimed would be another werewolf kill, Duristan quickly announced his intentions to wait out the night in the woods, a plan promptly derided by Delgros as a “fool’s errand”. Delgros informed Duristan that he was heading back to the lodge before sun had completely set, and invited the party to join him. This invitation was immediately countered by Duristan asking them to stay, while politely reminding the party that he was to be their ticket inside.

The Moon Hunt

With Delgros departed, Duristan got right to business insisting they set up a central camp, lay baited traps about the perimeter, and wait for the wolves to come to them. Without waiting for the party to reply, Duristan split his hirelings into pairs, instructing them to set up the camp as he dictated (pulling all manner of items from the crates they had hauled) as well keep watch once that was completed. While they were doing this Duristan poured each member of the party a crystal snifter of exquisite Ustalavic brandy from a bottle he retrieved from a sack on his horse.

With drinks in hand he entreated the party to tell him of their exploits, listening eagerly and attentively, and then following up their stories with those of his own, telling them of his own prowess as werewolf hunter. He also showed of a strange scar on his shoulder he claimed was called a scarward. He explained that the scare was given to him by a local witch and that it would give him immunity to the curse of lycanthropy. He immediately offered to hire her to provide the party members with similar scars, an offer that they were fairly wary of and decided to politely decline while changing the subject to keep him from insisting. Riska wanted nothing to do with this and decided to take to one of the trees to keep watch and give her a vantage point to use her bow.

Later in the night, hours after the sun had gone down, as the brandy in the bottle was nearing the bottom and conversation had almost died out a short, horrid snarl pierces the night, followed by a smothered scream – both emanating from somewhere to the southwest of the camp. Leaping to his feet Duristan ran off into the woods following the sound, with those party members not up in trees in hot pursuit. Not far from the centre of the camp, Duristan stopped in his tracks before a huge, gray-furred werewolf with bloody jaws holding the lifeless body of one of the hirelings, throat torn open, while another body lay equally lifeless at his feet. As soon at party approached the scene, joined by only two of the six hirelings who responded to the sound, they reached for their weapons and the beast commanded them, in a low gutteral voice, to stop – demanding to know why they have entered Vollensag territory.

While the beast waited for the party to respond she immediately derided the response as a lie, stating:

“Your false explanations are meaningless. Go tell whoever sent you to stay out of wolf affairs! Let him know that his dealings with Mathus Mordrinacht and the Silverhide pack do not sit well with the other tribes of this wood. There shall be much blood spilled between our kin before a Silverhide packlord sits upon Highthrone. Mathus the betrayer shall never claim the title, and should you and yours continue to support him, the wrath of the wolf packs shall fall upon him! Now leave our territory and return to your cozy wooden den, or share the fate of these poor little sheep!”

The beast stood there glaring, expecting them to leave as demanded but the party stood their ground, continuing to reach for their weapons. Expecting this response the werewolf let loose an ear splitting howl, which was immediately followed by a second howl only yards away, then followed by another further out, and another, spreading through the darkness until the entire woods around them almost resonated with the bone-chilling noise. Duristan was more than cowed by this and turned to the party insisting, almost begging, that they return to the lodge. The party swallowed their pride and obliged – quickly helping the only two hirelings that returned to camp to pack up what they could and make a swift retreat to the lodge…

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BM: Recap of Day 001 (pt 2)
The Wolf Trap & Arrival at Ascanor

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The Wolf Trap

The second trip from Lepidstadt that day was uneventful (although unsettlingly quiet) until they reached what they estimated to be two thirds of the way to the Ascanor Lodge, by which time it had grown late in the day. Despite the sun getting low on the horizon, the party could easily make out the pale corpse of a naked man illuminated by the strands of light making their way through the overhanging canopy.

Bound to the trunk with rough corded rope hung the body of a man with mouth was agape, stuffed with large, pale purple flowers, his wrists and ankles swollen and dark with bruises marking where the bindings cut into his skin. A large silver hunting knife sat, embedded deeply in his chest – the most likely cause of death.

Approaching the corpse to investigate the party ran afoul of a trap which unleashed a barrage of bolts from hidden crossbows mounted in nearby trees. With the trap fired though they were free to safely inspect the corpse. Inspecting the flowered stuffed in the body’s mouth, the party identified the stuff as wolfsbane, a toxic plant also noted for its ability to drive off werewolves and rumoured to cure the curse of lycanthropy. Turning their attention to the bolts that had fired at them, the tips each appeared to be smeared in a greyish paste – a substance Simkin identified, though long expired, as silversheen.

With all this evidence it is clear the dead man was once a werewolf (whom revert to humanoid form on death) – or at least his killers believed him to be one. They had been told previous that werewolves may inhabit the woods, but now the threat felt somewhat more real. Feeling as though there was little they could do at this point they trudged forward.

Arrival at Ascanor

With the sun barely clinging to the horizon the trees open up on the path before them, revealing a large building who’s grounds were surrounded by a 10-foot-high, vine-covered stone wall, accessible only through twin wrought iron portcullises set within large arches inside a small half-timber watch-house, flanked on each side by a low stone tower. Approaching the entry to what the assumed was the Ascanor Lodge, they were halted at the gate by guards asking for an invitation. When they explained that they had no invitation, only a letter from Judge Daramid the guards sent for the lodge’s porter to deal with the situation.

Within a few minutes a tidy well-dressed halfling man, introducing himself as Belik, emerged from the gatehouse. Presenting him with the letter from Judge Daramid he hummed and hawed over the contents, and upon finishing gave the party his regrets – that while he appreciated the Judge’s reference, he was not permitted to allow entry without any actual invitation. Not long after the party had begun attempting to change his mind, the gates of the compound swung wide and heading for the exit was a rough-and-tumble-looking woodsman, followed by a young noble dressed in finely tailored, studded hunting leathers. The two men pushed right past the crowd of guards preventing the party’s entrance, oblivious to the ongoing dispute, followed by several scruffy-looking hirelings leading a pair of horses and carrying wooden crates marked with heraldic symbols, identified by Kayl as the coats of arms belonging to the noble house of Ariesir of Ardeal.

As they shuffled past the party, the woodsman called back to the noble, “For the last time Duristan! I’ll take you there, but I ain’t bringing my dogs!” Turning back to the party, mid-conversation with the woodsman, turned back to the party after briefly sizing them up in passing, and called to them,“You there! Fall in with me, I need more able sword-arms for the hunt!” This did not go over well, and the party did not mingle words dealing with the brash aristocrat’s pompous request. Suddenly struck with the realization that he was in the company of “real adventurers” and immediately apologized, claiming to be in the heat of great excitement and how he was even more excited now that they were here – he insisted he join his hunt with Delgros (the woodsman), telling them his plan to track down a werewolf. In exchange, he offered to treat them to dinner and accommodations at the lodge when they returned from the hunter later that night, and when told of the party’s admission issues he said he would ensure that they would his guests and Belik could no longer turn them way. See this as their way in the party agreed, and thus off into the woods they went once more…

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BM: Recap of Day 001 (pt 1)
Into the Woods

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Cathran’s Prologue:

This will only be summarized if Cathran decided to tell the party what happened. Until that occurs this is a place-holder

The Main Story:

Finally ready to head into the Shudderwood toward Ascanor Lodge after the Whispering Way, the party retrieved the letter of introduction from Judge Daramid, and left Lepidstadt. Leaving behind the Dippelmere Swamp and Vieland, the party crossed the Troll’s Tail River into the neighbouring Palatinate of Lozeri and not far ahead, the dark shadow of a massive forest of towering conifers began to rise on the horizon.

As the forest encroached on them the ominous, towering pine trees began to blot out the sunlight, allowing only occasional splinters of light to pierce through the needled canopy. Within this dimness, broken branches and occasional shrubs growing up through fallen trees formed shadowy illusions both wondrous and haunting. Apart from pallid lichens, colorful fungi, feathermoss, and wintergreen, little else could be found growing on the floor of the forest. Adding to the uncomfortable atmosphere was an eerie stillness that was only occasionally lifted by the sounds of passing birds and small animals scurrying across the dry pine needles littering the forest floor.

Not far along the path, marked in several places with strange bone fetishes, the path momentarily thinned out allowing for a brisk cross-breeze to scatter pine needles across the trail. It was there that they began to hear a noise clumsily following some distance them. Turning to investigate, not far behind them, crouched behind a behind a boulder, they found the young boy from the farm. As he began to explain his running away and following them, Riska swore she heard something overhead, and before they had a moment to here’s where my memory falters and we’re just gonna skip forward a bit…

Soon they were lead to a small clearing. There they found the ruins of a once three story tall stone watchtower. Now crumbling, and covered in blood ivy, the passing winds whistled softly through its darkened, gaping windows and the soft, haunting melody of a harp drifted along with it, compelling some members of the party to investigate.

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Unnervingly, the music stopped as they entered tower. Examining their surroundings they found themselves among the rubble of the tower’s decay, long abandoned and now covered in a thick layer of cobweb. Strewn about the room they could see six distinct cocoons stuck within the many webs, all near a large pit along the southwestern wall. As they approached the cocoons, full well expecting a trap, a horrific beast launched itself half-way out the hole. This creature, a horrific mix of humanoid and insect, slashed at them with it’s long nails, rendering some of the party paralysed, while webbing others.

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Somehow they sent the beastie fleeing without setting all the webs on fire (a hallmark at this point), which was good as upon opening up the cocoons they found Cathran unconscious inside one of them. Tending to her wounds, she awoke and thanked the party for saving her, and asked if she could join them. Recently one member down the accepted her offer – although they were somewhat wary given their past experiences.

While this was going on, Riska continued to search through the remaining cocoons – three contained the bodies of goats, on the body of a horse, and the final one the dead body of a man. Searching the body for anything of use, as is her way, Riska found a sealed envelop half-soaked in blood. Curious she opened it, but found the damage too great, leaving the writing beyond her skills. Hoping it may be of use later she pocketed it without telling the rest of the party.

With no further threats looming, they doubled back to Lepidstadt to return the boy to civilization – even though it meant the Whispering Way would get even further ahead. Once that was done, they set back on the path into the forest…

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TotB: Recap of Day 009 (pt 2)
Epilogue

With horror defeated, and the Beast freed, the party returned below to the lab to find a weakened and upon searching found Count Caromarc sealed with the large iron idol (bound in chains of adamantine) they had spotted before. Breaking the Count free, they found him to be on the edge of both madness and starvation. He thanked the party greatfully, and immediately began to insist that they go after those who did this to him, the cult of the Whispering Way. He explained that Waxwood overheard them discussing the Shudderwood while he was locked up, and suspects they may be heading for the Ascanor Lodge, since that is the only island of civility in its deadly depths.

When asked what the Way was doing here he explained how Auren Vrood, a member of the cult of the Whispering Way, had sent word to him about a month prior that the cult knew of his secret experiments with the creation of life, and that they sought to make a deal with him. And before he could explain any more, Caromarc was grabbed from behind by an invisible creature, and his throat seemingly slit. As blood splatted forth, some landed on the invisible humanoid who bolted for the trap door below, with most of the party following (Chhakuk remained behind in an effort to heal Caromac – something that proved to be in vain as the dagger must have been poisoned).

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Largely staying ahead of the party’s attacks upon him the invisible man (who seemed to be rambling to himself a bit) was chased downstairs and back across the bridge, where a trio of companions were waiting for him. Riska, being halfway across the bridge when the man reached them was the only member of the party to get a good look at them: a varisian female, a pale skinned osiriani teenage girl holding a mace and shield, and an even paler skinned cloaked varisian male bearing a pair of shortswords. Each of them wore a pendant depicting a gagged skull – much like the one she’d found previously and left unmentioned.

As the invisible man reached the other side (with Riska midway across) he yelled out “Blow it”, which was followed by a loud explosion from the tower side of the bridge, causing it pathway to fall out from under Riska. Thinking quickly Riska was able to leap and grab a hold of the other side of the bridge, but upon climbing up she was instructed by the cloaked man to “jump” and she found she did not have the willpower to resist. Upon jumping though she was able to latch her rope and grappling hook onto something as she fell, catching herself in midair while the water rushed below.

While this was occurring, the tower began to crumble, and those left on the other-side were left with no exit but the river below. Chhakuk attempted to convince the Beast, who sat cradling the corpse of the Count bellowing in agony, to run but he could not break the creature’s grief. Running below to join the rest of the party (except Riska) they came up with a plan to tie themselves together with rope, have Simkin cast feather fall, and then jump into the river below – a plan they enacted just at the tower began to crumble behind them. Riska seeing her companions fall decided to take the risk, and joined them in the icy waters below.

Swept down stream, split up, and exhausted the party found themselves on the beaches along the Lesser Moutray River. Those no knocked unconscious by the ride down the river were still exhausted and some time passed before they had a chance to regroup – and by this time the affliction set on Baelor by the vargouilles’ kiss had made itself known. The party found him in a field chasing a local farmer boy half out of his mind, his hair now missing from his head, ears growing into leathery wings, tentacles sprouting on his chin and scalp, and his teeth becoming long, pointed fangs. In an effort to subdue him (which they succeeded in doing), Simkin let loose a fireball, raining sparks down upon a field of grain near ready for harvest – setting it a fire. Turning their attention to this sudden new threat, the rushed to put out the fire, but before doing so much of the crop had been destroyed.

As they stripped Baelor of his gear (like the amoral bastards they are – I should cross out the word “Good” on all of your alignments1) they were confronted by the boy’s father, the owner of the wheat they just burnt to the ground. The skirted the issues as much as they could, providing Baelor as a manual labourer given that he was the reason Simkin used a fireball (surreee). Not really giving the farmer a chance to argue they took off back to Lepidstadt as quickly as possible.

Once there they visited Judge Daramid and collected their reward. Explaining to her the events of the past few days, she offered to write them a letter to help seek entrance to the lodge the Count mentioned, and gave them some loose directions. With this in hand they took a few days to rest, less treasures, and gather supplies, and then set off to the Shudderwood in hopes of catching the bastards that killed the count.

1 Like I really should this whole thing was a pretty shitty to do.

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TotB: Recap of Day 009 (pt 1)
Schloss Caromarc - Part 4: The Menagerie & Tower

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Rising early the following the morning the party began to slowly and carefully make their way up the winding path to the north of the museum ending up in front of a large building made up of four interconnected towers right along the cliff side 200ft above the falls. Approaching the building, they descended a small stairway to a recessed iron door, from under-which water could be seen trickling and circling a small drain. Collectively they forced the door open, which was followed by a rush of water that had been pressing up against and rusting the door. Once settled the water proved to be about 3ft deep.

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Entering the flooded building the found what they assumed was once the main stairwell of the building filled with broken rock, blocking any entrance to the second-level. With water flowing from hallways to both the east and west. Picking one, they began to make their way down the corridor and upon reaching a corner set off a pit trap that had been rigged above a former drainage grate. With the path now open, the lot of them were sucked into a sewer room underneath containing a large mound of garbage and pair of tentacled beasts known as otyughs. Pulling themselves out of the water, avoiding a possible death by being sucked through a grate to the river below, they fought off the beasts, and climbed back up to the room above.

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Making their way though the rest of the building, they found it to be something of a personal zoo made up of four distinct enclosures. Taking advantage of second-floor entrances to the enclosures the fought some of inhabitants (three girallon-headed vargouilles1, a basidirond paired with two violet fungi, and some form of basilisk) while avoiding others (a black pudding). Exiting the building on the eastern side of second floor they found themselves at the edge of a 3ft-wide grand stone bridge that arched over the gorge to a high tower topped with an elaborate iron steeple, from which a huge lightning conductor called out to the skies.

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Crossing they found a stout, iron-bound, locked door leading into the tower, and once picked and opened they found themselves in a circular room containing a curving stone staircase winding along the wall up to a trapdoor in the ceiling some thirty feet above. The room was in a state of chaos – books, alchemical equipment, and bits of curiously twisted metal everywhere. A huge, broken cage stood in the centre of the room, its bars bent and door smashed open, not far from which stood a fearsome, four-armed flesh golem that appeared to have been made from dead girallons. Bellowing in anger it rushed the party who responded quickly – using the stairwell to their advantage they surrounded the beast and took it down.

Now having time to examine the contents of the room. Among the torn pages and books in this room the found a collection of soiled and torn notes pinned to the back of the entry door. Virtually illegible the notes appeared to once be a collection of notations and diagrams, with marks made in the margins in red ink. While most of the party hung back trying to help Simkin decipher any of the note, Riska made her way upwards – finding the trapdoor being made of solid adamantine, unlocked, and untrapped. Opening it she found herself in a circular room choked in webs. As with the room below, a stone staircase curved along the wall to a trapdoor in the ceiling.

Cutting away the webs as she explored, muttering to herself about this foolish endeavour of finding Count Caromarc they’d ended up on, she was taken by surprise as a vaguely humanoid creature is about the size of a cat but looking more like a toothy, winged devil (later identified as a homunculus known as Waxwood) appeared out of nowhere. When it didn’t immediately attack her she became intrigued as not only was it docile but it seemed as though it wanted to she her something. Dragging her over to a wall and frantically pointing it her new companion pointed out something Riska had missed – a number of faint chalk marks on the east wall of the room. From what she could make our, the crude chalk diagram depicted the iron spire atop of the tower, and two strange apparatuses at its pinnacle. An arrow pointed to the larger of the two devices, next to a barely legible sentence: “The Storm Caller must be activated to energize the Bondslave Thrall.”

Calling the rest of the party (spending the time to assure Waxwood that they meant him no harm), Simkin began to study the markings, but was only able to make a minute more amount of sense out of them. Clearly the Storm Caller referred to the lightning rod, but as to what the “Bondslave Thrall” was – he could only surmise that it must be some device attached to the rod, but its purpose… he was not sure beyond some sort of slave controller (this really didn’t happen this way, but it makes for better reading). As the party began to move upwards, Waxwood became agitated – pointing frantically to the ceiling above and pantomiming. The best they could deduce was that there was some fearsome creature as well as someone imprisoned.

As most of them discussed what to do, one of them grew tired of waiting (I feel like it may have been Baelor… or maybe Kayl he’s a bit of a smash first fellow), and rushed forward – climbing up to and opening the trapdoor in the ceiling. Poking their head in this person found the room above, clearly once a laboratory, was choked with huge webs – even more so than the room below and two curious objects — a large iron idol and a glass bell jar of the same size containing a humanoid form — stood against the eastern wall. Along the southern wall an iron ladder, next to which was a metal lever, climbed some 60 feet upwards to a trapdoor in the ceiling, only made visible by the light escaping from around it’s cracks. The rest of the ceiling was cloaked in a darkness from which huge chains hung somewhat flaccidly.

With the party now shuffling into this ruined lab, the creature hiding in the webs in the ceiling could now see its prey. Bellowing with rage, a stitched abomination made from the parts of at least half a dozen creatures blended together into a disgusting mass of unlife descended from it’s perch. What followed was a long and arduous battle, while half of the party engaged the creature directly, the other half climbed to the roof, opening the shutters that served as the laboratory’s ceiling in the process. Once there they found the roof, 350ft above the river below, gave access to a spire of twisted iron in a series of three triangular iron platforms. Perched at the very top stood a huge lightning conductor and numerous lightning rods. Climbing to the top they found a peculiar brass device, studded with dials and protrusions and filled with a strange purple liquid attached to a huge silvery conductor on the side of the lightning rod connected by thick, rubber-coated cables.

Deducing these were the Storm Caller and the Bondslave Thrall, Simkin set about activating them. First turning on the device attached to the lightning rod, the hum of which began to summon bolts from the heavens, some hitting the rod while others the rooftop. The second device now powered added its own high-pitched whine while the purple alchemical liquid inside it began to boil rapidly. Unsure what to do next, Riska grasped one of the handles of the second device and at that very moment became immediately aware of the the Beast of Lepidstadt, taking in it’s surrounding and even feeling some of its pain and misery.

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No longer in prison (they would learn later that it had freed itself the night they’d left Lepidstadt), it had been sleeping only a few miles upstream. Calling out to it with her mind it responded immediately as if it was in her direct control. Racing towards and climbing in the tower, it brought all it’s great might against the horrific abomination that had the bulk of the party on the precipice of death. After trading blows a top the roof, and finding themselves fairly matched Riska let the Beast control itself. Pulling on all it’s reserves the Beast gave a mighty shove and pushed horror off the side of the roof into the river below.

1 This encounter was of particular note as Baelor was kissed by one of the vargouilles, something the ramifications of which would not immediately be clear.

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TotB: Recap of Day 008 (pt 2)
Schloss Caromarc - Part 3: The Living Museum

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Facing the slender rope bridge hanging between this building and another on the far western side of the gorge, the party slowly and carefully attempted to cross. For the nimbler members of the party this meant slow and planned crossing. For others it was more of a crawl. As the first party member made it midway across the bridge an unforeseen magical trap sprung, summoning a fierce fallen angel known to the party as an erinyes. Cackling with glee upon seeing the “fun” she’d been summoned to partake in, she flew high above the gorge and began shooting flaming arrows at those on the bridge. Those who had made it across began providing suppressing fire to help their companions still on the bridge, as well as Riska venturing back out onto the bridge to help those who remained across.

With all party members across they rushed forward and luckily found that the doors to this new building were unlocked. Bursting through as she landed on the broken abutment behind them, they found themselves in a room crammed with cabinets full of weird, alchemically preserved creatures, including a pair of ice mephit wings, several large spiders, parts of a dissected giant slug, and the digestive tracts and proboscises of three stirges (I’m sure they shivered with disgust at the mention of stirges). Thinking quickly they manoeuvred cabinets in front of the doors just as she began to bang on them. Using all of their might they held her back long enough for the spell that summoned her to expire.

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After taking a brief moment to breathe, they pilfered some vials from this room, quickly healed and opened the door on the southern wall finding themselves in a room seemingly dedicated to creatures of the sea. Domination their attention was the skeleton of a sea cow hanging from the ceiling, but after taking that in they found that numerous jars sat on shelves within the room, containing alchemically preserved octopodes, tubeworms, the head of a skum (a hunchbacked, green-skinned humanoid has a wide, frog-like head), an eel-like creature with fangs, and a strange, mermaidlike creature with the upper body of a monkey and the tail of a fish, which they identified as a ningyo.

While they found little of value among the shelves, Riska found a spiral staircase leads up to a second floor, hidden behind a secret door. Climbing the stairs they found a room similar to the one below, but this time dedicated to creatures of the air. Three dissected, preserved harpies sat in huge bell jars in this room, along with jars containing four stuffed bats, the skeletal front legs and head of a griffon, and the preserved wing of a roc which was slowly losing its feathers. A door lead north from here while a ladder lead up from here to a trapdoor in the ceiling. As Riska climbed the ladder she found it to be armed with a magic trap that was beyond her skills to disarm.

Unable to head upwards without entering immediate danger, they opened the northern door and found the large room on the other side to be crammed with crates and boxes. Being the greedy buggers they are, the party of misfits began to dig into the crates finding them containing many curious like they saw on display in previous rooms – animal bones, stuffed birds, and many more preserved creatures. Upon opening one of the large chests in the southern portion of the room, out of it flew the animated severed heads of two medusae which attacked the party on sight. Fortunately the party was able to defeat these beasts without being turned to stone. Unfortunately they found nothing of value.

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Returning below they found the ocean room contained new occupants, a faceless flesh golem chained to which were six imp-like creatures identified as homunculi. As the museum’s guardian began to swing semi-blindly at the party, unintentionally smashing some of the contents of the shelves, the party set about tackling the beast front on. It wasn’t until the incidental death of one of the creature’s homunculi did they realize that such an action would weaken the beast. Refocusing their efforts on these much weaker targets they fell the beast without hurting themselves too badly.

Once again they healed quickly and this time exited the room to the west, finding yet another room of organized displays – a stuffed bulette so realistic that it at first seemed alive faced the entrance, while cabinets along the walls contained a partially dissected bugbear, a partially transformed doppelganger, and a complete goblin dog, all preserved in alchemical fluids.

Finding nothing of use, they exited the room to the north and found themselves in a room is filled with weird-looking preserved creatures. Two elaborately carved and painted sarcophagi stand against the eastern and western walls, while a pile of chains laid in the centre of the floor. In the north west corner of the room a stairwell could barely be spotted from the entrance. As they made their way into the room a mummy launched itself out of the western sarcophagi, and after they spread out to face the mummy they found the eastern sarcophagi was not what it appeared as it began to attack the party (who promptly identified it as a mimic). Burning through nearly the last of their prepared resources they felled the creatures, and explored this room and the one below.

In the main-floor room they found little of interest, but below they found a storage room containing three large and empty crates, along with three large, sealed, opaque black glass jars. Baelor decided to open one such jar, and found within it the alchemically preserved head of a creature so revolting that he was instantly weakened (strength damage bitch). For some reason he blamed Riska and they got into yet another loud argument that had to be diffused by the other party members who had now began to question having brought Baelor with them.

Returning above they opened the northern door of the room that contained the mummy, and on the other side found themselves outside and in front of an exposed, winding, narrow pathway that climbs the bare rock face north, presumably to the buildings they could see off in that direction. Deciding that they were too taxed, and that they museum was now (relatively) safe, they holed up on the upper floor, hiding the entrance, and hoping nothing horrible would come before morning.

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TotB: Recap of Day 008 (pt 1)
Schloss Caromarc - Part 2: Manse & Alchemy Wing

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Rising the next morning rested despite the cold hard floor of the mansion’s gatehouse, the party proceeded once more to the locked entrance. Knowing now what to look for Riska identified that the trap had not reset itself, and that the door was clear for her to take her time with. After a few minutes of working, she popped the lock and the door opened into a large entry chamber. Therein a huge portrait hung above an enormous, lit fireplace with exits north directly to the left or right. A set of steep stairs rises to the right, alongside a door leading east.

As they entered a strange animated object of metal and flesh lumbered out from under the stairs and immediately attacked them. The creature, a mixture of metal and organics, initially seeming more for decoration than for a purpose. Awkwardly hobbling over to the party on it’s two huge, scythe-like forearms, and slamming into the party, defending it’s home.

    After defeated the construct, the party began to explore the mansion, finding no further resistance in this building. Within they found:
  • A library with shelves crammed with books line the walls of this room with a comfortable leather chair sitting in the room’s centre
  • A cramped, tobacco-stained room smoking room wherein two plush chairs sat around a small lit fire. Numerous tobacco jars stood on a shelf next to a pipe rack filled with strange pipes.
  • A pair of trophy rooms, crammed with taxidermied animals and stuffed heads.
  • A billards room with a large table filling up most of the chamber, a rack of cues on one wall, and a brass and gold score checker hung by the door
  • A dining hall with a vaulted ceiling adorned with gilt. Filled with a great dinging table, twelve chairs, and a huge lit fireplace on the far wall, above wich hung a pair of halberds
  • A group of four storerooms crammed with items in boxes and on shelves – one room containing household wares, one wine, one foodstuffs, and coal in the final one
  • A large kitchen containing a roaring stove, several workbenches, and a spice cabinet. A bell hung above the stove.
  • A pair of unoccupied guest bedrooms with white sheets cover the four-poster bed, wardrobe, and dressing table in these luxurious guest rooms that are rarely used. A locked door in the southern room lead out to a narrow stone balcony with no handrails.
  • A room containing 3 simple cots are arranged within this chamber with numerous drawings (depicting a stone bridge) and books littering a nearby table.
  • A tidy master bedroom containing a resplendent four-poster bed surrounded by oak furniture wherein they found a hidden (and trapped) cupboard containing some items of note, including a figurine of wondrous power (ivory goats).

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Finding no evidence of living inhabitants, they pushed forward and exited the mansion via a northern door that opened onto a narrow, 3ft wide, stone bridge without a handrail. Once again, far below the roaring river waters thundered as they were drawn over the edge of the falls. Taking their time they carefully made their way across they found themselves in a large workshop with alchemical equipment strewn all about the floor, which they assumed was caused by an explosion of some kind that ripped away the western wall and floor, and has since started being repaired as indicated by the area being wreathed with scaffolding. A hallway lead off to the west. Upon entering the room a group of rust monsters scurried out from under some of the rubble and below the scaffolding and set their focus on the tasty morsel that was Kayl’s wardrobe.

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After dealing with them, Kayl was left with damaged armour, and a room that had barely survived the chaos of the combat. Having a moment to breathe and not wanting to press their luck staying in the ruined building, they took the western hallway and found themselves in front of a slender rope bridge hanging between this building and another on the far western side of the gorge.

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TotB: Recap of Day 007 (pt 2)
Schloss Caromarc - Part 1: Arrival

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As the party arrived at their destination, the fens gave way to a deep, rocky gorge at the northern edge of the swamp, where a peculiar group of buildings, clung to the steep cliff edges above half a dozen plummeting waterfalls. Beyond a fortified gatehouse, they could see a stone bridge arching over the raging torrents below. Beyond this was a fine, fortified manse and beyond that across yet another stone bridge a ruined building that appeared to have partially collapsed into the river below. From there a slender rope bridge lead west to a strange tower pierced with beautiful stained glass windows depicting bizarre beasts. A further building could be seen to the north of this, but how it could be reached was impossible to see from their vantage point. And even beyond that, the a great tower rose from an isle of stone to the sky, ending in a great steeple topped with a huge lightning conductor.

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Approaching the two-story stone gatehouse leading to the castle, each corner of which was topped with a crenellated tower, the found the main gate is closed, and guarded by two large, troll-like canines with oversized jaws, creatures identified as trollhounds. Upon seeing the party the trollhounds howled balefully, raising attention from those in the tower, and attacked the party. No long into the fight did several trolls gather atop the parapets of the gatehouse, two of which promptly began throwing rocks down upon the party, while the third, who was larger than the others, took his time notching bolts into a monstrous crossbow and launching them at the party.

Now under constant fire, the party dispatched the hounds as quickly as possible and moved to enter the gatehouse only to find it barred from within. Collectively they threw all the strength they could muster against the door, and burst through to find a broad chamber with a vaulted roof and three somewhat frightened (albeit ready to fight) goblins inside. Two large fires burned in the room, spiral stairways climbed up in each corner toward the ceiling, and the gate on the far side of the room was barricaded with timber and furniture. The bulk of the party ran up the stairs to deal with the trolls, while a few remained downstairs to dispatch the goblins, one of which surrendered rather than be killed.

As the rest of the party moved upstairs to case the area (and look for treasure) Riska began to interrogate the goblin, who readily revealed that he hated the trolls and happy that they were now dead. He readily informed Riska that group of humans left the area some time ago, he didn’t understand why the trolls did not attack and no information as to what the humans looked like (as all humans look alike to goblins). He also explained that on the other side of the barricade were another troll and trollhound keeping an eye on a monstrous dog across the bridge guarding the mansion. For her surprising kindness, he gave her a small amulet depicting a gagged skull that he found in the gatehouse and pocketed. Later on, when she revealed the amulet to the others they identified the gagged skull as the symbol of the Whispering Way – the cult that was responsible for the death of their late friend. Letting him go, the remainder of the party returned having found nothing above outside of items on the larger troll’s corpse, and searched the main room finding a few items of value, including a stained and ragged gray tunic with blue trim among the items found the barricade (unfortunately for them they didn’t figure out the significance of it).

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Clearing the blockage away, and opening the door they took the troll and trollhound on the other side by surprise, and quickly dispatched them. With that dealt with, they could now take in the broad stone terrace. Having no rails along its edges, and across it to the north, the 10ft wide stone bridge (also without rails) arched above a waterfall that drops into the river two hundred feet below leading to a fortified manor house clinging to the cliff on the far side, guarded by yet another beast similar to the one they encountered outside of Vorkstag and Grine. As they made their way across, the beast attacked trying to force them off into the river below. Miraculously this didn’t happen – they pushed back and watched the beast tumble below.

Now having time to take in the other side of the bridge, they found themselves on another small cobbled terrace with a curious looking iron door depicting a scowling sun being devoured by ravenous clouds. Finding the iron door to be locked, they first searched the area and found a hidden bell-pull hanging by the eastern side of the door. Pulling the bell, sound could barely be heard beyond the door, but nothing of note happened. With no other options left, Riska attempted to pick the locked door, and in the process set off a trap, summoning a Huge air elemental to repel them. Once again a miracle occurred (I wonder how….), and they defeated the elemental by exhausting the last of their resources.

Clear that they would no longer be able to find Caromarc and return before the Beast’s execution, they made the decision to make camp in the guardhouse and continue into the mansion on the following day – hoping to clear the creature’s name posthumously. Plus they wanted the gold from Daramid.

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