The Clutch of Verthandi

Witches in Wintervale

After overseeing the reconstruction of Scoria and ensuring a successful transition of power, the Scarlet Crusade sets out for Wintervale, escorted by Lord Ferrum and his guards. Lord Ferrum shares with the group that the divining attempts his people have made with Niamh’s red dragon scale necklace have been yielding some interesting results. The attempts have neither failed nor succeeded, which is puzzling and perhaps a little foreboding.

The group heads down the Iron Road, where they encounter a travel-worn individual heading in the opposite direction toward Ogjorn. Upon further inspection, Eoleo and Raleria Zephryl identify the individual as Lucian, the witch with whom they had previously struck a tentative bargain. Hoping the travelers can make good on their end of the deal, Lucian asks whether or not they have seen any sign of the black-haired elf for whom he is searching. When the Crusaders answer truthfully that they have not, Lucian asks where they are headed and, upon hearing that their destination is Wintervale, he informs them that Wintervale is suffering from “too many healers,” a subtle warning that Wintervale may not be all the friendliest of places for witches.

Even with Lucian’s warning, the group is stunned when they finally arrive in Wintervale; a huge mob has taken over the green, their shouts and jeers egged on by an irate, red-haired man. A cloaked woman looks on with approval from a raised platform. Rognar, frustrated and dumbfounded, demands an explanation. The red-haired man, Gustav, growls that the mob is hunting down the witches they believe are responsible for the city’s recent misfortunes: blighted crops, recent bouts of theft, and sudden deaths. Rognar demands proof that the city’s misfortune is the work of witchcraft and Gustav, whose own wife and daughter had died at the hands of a mysterious disease, takes the demand personally. He challenges Rognar to single combat, and Rognar accepts. As man and dwarf battle it out on the platform to the cheers and hisses of the crowd, the rest of the Crusaders and Lord Ferrum’s party look on, contemplating how it is that they always seem to fail at making good first impressions.

Gustav and Rognar spar, dealing damage here and there, but it is Rognar who delivers the winning blow. His prowess with his axe nearly gets the best of him as he delivers a crushing blow to Gustav’s chest. Quickly, Rognar sacrifices one of his own potions to prevent Gustav from dying. Gustav concedes defeat and is even more humbled when he learns that Rognar’s reason for visiting Wintervale is to be received by the High Court as a new member of the Valkyrie. He introduces the group to the hooded mage Caliss who, as it turns out, is the true instigator of the anti-witch mob. She “sees” things that lead her to believe witches are to blame for the city’s misfortune. Skeptical, the group asks for more information. She happily obliges and casts an impressive looking bit of magic. Raleria and Eoleo identify her “divination” as a flashy use of the prestidigitation spell, seeing right through her smoke and mirrors and suspecting that Caliss is simply making things up. Caliss then announces that she suspects Elven involvement in creating the town’s hardship which, of course, causes more than a few suspicious glances to be directed at Raleria and Niamh.

Lord Ferrum directs the Scarlet Crusade toward the Hall of Kings, where they are introduced to King Borius Halcyon, his daughter Boreas, his sons Tyndall and Atthys, and several members of the Halcyon court including Lord Dusun Borneo. House Halcyon is a relatively new house in the North; although they have Southern roots, they have married into power. King Halcyon confers with the Scarlet Crusade about his city’s witch problem and grants them three days to find the party responsible. His daughter Boreas, a crossbow-wielding, lock-picking young lady with a sailor’s past agrees to accompany the Crusaders in their search.

A wonderful ceremony is held in honor of Rognar, and he is officially recognized as a member of the Valkyrie.

The Scarlet Crusade and Boreas (disguised as a sailor) head to the Playful Porpoise, a pub whose namesake, Willi, lives in the waters out back. Upon entering they are greeted by the barkeep who offers them food and drink. Rognar gets right to the point and mentions that the group is investigating the witch problem, and the barkeep’s demeanor changes drastically. “Oh no, I will not have Willi accused of being a familiar again,” the barkeep shouts, attempting to kick them out. Boreas, realizing that this task will be impossible without a little bit of royal influence, takes off her disguise and reveals her true identity to the barkeep, who then allows them to continue with the investigation. While Eoleo goes out back to talk with Willi (making himself invisible so that no one becomes suspicious of his ability to talk with animals), Rognar, Raleria, and Boreas try to talk with the locals and Niamh perches in a corner to survey the room for any suspicious activity. Eoleo learns that ships headed South keep disappearing, while conversations with several individuals in the pub reveal that the Lumen have come down with a mysterious illness and are quarantined in the church. Boreas talks with the mason who informs her that his friend, a carpenter, has recently been robbed.

The group heads to the carpenter’s shop which is full of ornate furniture and talismans designed to ward off evil. The carpenter tells the Princess and the Scarlet Crusade that he had been commissioned to carve a wand. He claims it was his most valuable piece of work, and that it somehow disappeared. When the group asks him if anyone else knew about the wand, he tells them about a half-elf with a patchy beard named Zavik who had been loitering around his shop recently. The group heads to the Frozen Bowsprit, another pub, to search for Zavik. They find him at a table in the corner, alone except for a small, feline companion. Zavik is twitchy and on edge, and provides vague answers to the group’s questions. Suddenly, Zavik bolts, vaulting out the window and running down the street. The group wastes no time; Boreas jumps out the window after him while Niamh sends an arrow in his direction that draws blood from his shoulder. Rognar also takes a shot and embeds an arrow in the small of Zavik’s back. Both Niamh and Rognar join Boreas in the pursuit on foot and Raleria casts fly on herself to give aerial pursuit. Eoleo casts glitterdust on Zavik to make him easier to spot and then conjures a pony to join the chase. Boreas spots Zavik in a crowded marketplace wearing a stolen cloak and hat. Rognar races to the stables to free Niamh’s horse and the group chases Zavik through the streets.

It is obvious that Zavik is a witch and his cat familiar, Vance, because he manages to avoid obstacles too easily, and eventually teleports himself halfway across town. Boreas manages to shoot him several more times with her crossbow as the pursuers close in on him, and it is Boreas who eventually intimidates him into submission. They bring him in for questioning, but soon learn that this is not the individual responsible for Wintervale’s misfortune. Although he admits to stealing the wand, it is clear that his intentions were simply to sell it for profit, and that he possesses no knowledge of the curses that have been plaguing the city. Zavik explains that he has been spending most of his time with the Lumen because they offered him friendship when the rest of the city treated him with suspicion. Boreas orders that he be detained and kept safe within the walls of the castle.

The next morning the Scarlet Crusade again finds the mob booing and jeering on the town green, this time at a spectacle on the platform. To one side stand three Arcane Constables— representatives of the Wizard Academy whom King Halcyon had summoned from the South to assist with the curses. With them is Atthys Halcyon whose obsession with wizardry and the Academy is a point of much contention both in House Halcyon and among the anti-wizard Northerners. On the other side of the platform stands a prissy-looking elf with black hair, smirking over the limp, bloody body of a boy. Boreas demands to know what is going on while Eoleo tries to heal the wounded boy.

The prissy elf explains that he is the representative of sorcerers to the North. He had made the argument that wizards such as the Arcane Constables are unnecessary due to the superior magic that sorcerers possess. He used the boy, a sorcerer just come into his power, to bait the Arcane Constables into a duel designed to prove magical prowess. One of the three Arcane Constables had risen to the challenge and defeated the boy. Boreas demands an end to the senseless show of force, but her cries go unheeded. Instead, the elf riles to crowd further, claiming that defeating a boy is no real show of power. Angry, the Arcane Constable calls out a challenge to the “most powerful sorcerer” in the city. His two companions look as though they disapprove, but do not do much to convince their fellow wizard otherwise.

From the back of the mob where the Scarlet Crusade stands watching, Raleria steps forward to accept the challenge. She marches to the platform, and the prissy elf makes a deal with the wizards that, should Raleria win, she can choose from three of their relics. Raleria struggles through the first half of the duel, trying to cast protective wards around herself only to be denied by the wizard’s magic. When it looks as though Raleria is getting close to yielding, Eoleo subtly hexes the wizard with his Evil Eye, causing him to miss Raleria with his spell. Raleria seizes the opportunity to blast him with several lightening fireballs, and eventually forces him to yield. For her relic, she chooses magic adamantine lens whose purpose and origin are unknown. As the crowd disperses, the Scarlet Crusade engages the prissy elf in a conversation. The elf introduces himself as Thordast. Raleria is shocked and repulsed to learn that this slimy, pretentious manipulator is her father, and she rips into him for stringing her mother along. Thordast shows no remorse, and even seems amused at Raleria’s anger when she reveals that she is his daughter. He claims that there are two people in this world—those who are charming and those who are tedious—and that he is certainly the former of the two. His slick charm, circuitous speech, and pretentious nature are enough to anger the entire group, especially Niamh, but their anger is nothing compared to the betrayal Raleria feels. When Thordast requests to talk to Zavik (with the hope of gaining another follower), he requests that Raleria goes with him. Hesitant at first, Raleria eventually agrees, and Boreas decides to go with them the following day.

That night, the group visits the church. Boreas picks the lock, and they enter to find six Lumen along with High Lumen Kelso moaning in the pews and oozing a greenish slime from every pore. Eoleo examines them and discovers the disease is Slimy Doom, which can be contracted through touch. Boreas immediately thinks of Zavik who had spent time with the Lumen and whom they had escorted to the castle. Fearing an outbreak, Boreas sends Rognar to quarantine the cells in the castle and calls for a villager to round up all the mages in the city and send them to the church to help with healing. Boreas, the only member of the group to make physical contact with Zavik, has contracted the disease. Fortunately, it takes 24 hours for the symptoms to manifest, so she is quickly healed. She sets off with Raleria to find the Arcane Constables so they can help heal the sick. On their way they come across an individual with greasy black hair, who mutters something at Raleria as they walk by. She threatens him, but he quickly vanishes.

Back in the church, Lumen Kelso appears to be Patient Zero. Eoleo heals him as much as possible, but he requires magical attention that Eoleo cannot give. Eoleo and Niamh set to work healing the six other Lumens and manage to cure three of them; however, both of them also contract the disease in the process. Eoleo successfully heals himself but cannot heal Niamh. Raleria and Boreas return with the wizard whom Raleria had dueled, and with the help of the group they move the quarantined Lumen to the castle where the wizards can set about healing them.

The group then sets out for Dusun Borneo’s residence; they hope to question him to see what he knows about the recent misfortunes that have befallen the city. Borneo, a wheat tycoon, seems to have risen to power and wealth almost too quickly and easily, and the group becomes suspicious, especially when they notice that his pet bird sitting in the corner has become unnaturally quiet. Assuming that they have discovered that he is a witch, Borneo calls his guards (whom he has enchanted in order to ensure their cooperation)and disappears via a dimension door. Boreas pleads with the Scarlet Crusade to leave the guards alive for fear that her father would not look kindly on her murdering their subjects, but the guards show no such mercy to the Scarlet Crusade. Raleria shouts out that one of the members of her party has contracted a very contagious disease and that the guards should stay away. The guards decide not to touch any of the group, and the Crusaders and Boreas dispose of them with well-placed arrows, blows, and spells.

When Borneo returns, prepared to battle the Crusaders, Boreas chooses a diplomatic route and negotiates with him, promising him safety from the mob and the protection of the royal family. Borneo finally agrees. Eoleo finagles a way to speak with Borneo one-on-one, and reveals that he, too, is a witch, therefore, his group harbors no ill will towards him.

With Borneo now on their side, the Scarlet Crusade leaves Borneo’s residence and walk out into mass chaos. The lynching mob that usually rallies on the green is there, but heading towards them is another mob— this one a mob of zombies. Far on the other side of the green, a grey render smashes apart buildings. Just as the Crusaders ready themselves for battle, a group of enchanted guards rushes them from behind. As the mob stampedes toward them, Rognar climbs a nearby building and begins shooting the zombies with his bow. Raleria attempts to cast fly to attack from above, but her spell fails. When she then tries to cast invisibility, her spell fails again. Eoleo experiences no difficulties casting a spell, which leads to group to believe that someone is watching Raleria and deliberately blocking every spell she attempts. Frustrated, she takes cover behind a building. Eoleo casts a spell that causes tentacles to sprout from the ground. The grey render narrowly avoids them as he continues his rampage. Meanwhile, the guards gang up on Boreas and deal several severe blows, but she manages to slide under their halberds and begins shooting her crossbow at guards and zombies alike. Niamh calls for Owen and takes on the grey render. She literally rides circles around him, peppering him with arrows and luring him back into the patch of tentacles where he is ensnared and brought down to the ground. Eoleo, Rognar, and Boreas finish off the zombies, and the entire group helps tend to those who were bitten or splashed with zombie guts. Still reeling from the battle, the Scarlet Crusade returns to discovering the identity of the witch responsible for Wintervale’s chaos.

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