The Clutch of Verthandi

Witches in Wintervale part II

After enough time passes for the party to recuperate from the Grey Render/zombie attack they return to the Playful Porpoise and fish around for more rumors. After asking around they discover the following: First, many ships have been disappearing from the bay due to suspected supernatural causes. Second, a local herb/spice garden in town run by a woman named Annette has begun to suffer from a mysterious blight. Last, Hargo the gravekeeper has been suffering from intense nightmares that have prevented him from sleeping for days. After rumor-fishing the party comes back together and decides to first investigate whatever is happening at the graveyard.

However, on their way to the graveyard they come upon a burning tavern! When they hear the cries of three people still trapped on the second level the party jumps into the action. A flying Rognar enchanted with cat’s grace speeds into the building and carries one of the victims out. After containing the flames with magic, Eoleo gets to work on healing the first fire victim while Niamh rushes into the first floor, aided by a protection from energy spell supplied by Raleria. Under the protection she is able to mostly avoid the exploding wine as she pinpoints the location of the other trapped citizens. Unfortunately, out of nowhere a reckless wannabe-hero tears his way into the building only to pass out from smoke inhalation shortly upon entering. Niamh is successful in dragging him out before the foolish man is harmed. Rognar, after having some trouble with smoke, succeeds in breaking down a door in order to free one of the citizens and quickly rushes in to save the other one. Outside Eoleo and Raleria are successful in healing all of the people who were trapped in the fire.

After the fire, the party interrogates the survivors to see if they know how the building might have been set ablaze. One man comes up to Eoleo and accuses him of being inside the building when it lit, casting suspicion on him. However, a red-haired gnome woman resembling Eoleo proclaims herself as being the one the man saw inside the building. She tells the party that there were men inside of the tavern wearing brown cloaks who kept aggressively staring at her. A merchant named Kayla announces her ownership of the tavern and proves to be furious at the loss of her investment. Kayla reveals that the brown-cloaked men were snooping around the bar that day asking after a gnome of Eoleo’s description. Suspicion is removed from the heroes and is cast on the seedy-looking brown-cloaked men. The party members discusses quietly amongst themselves and agree that organization that would most likely to want Eoleo captured and/or set on fire would be House Harlow, but there is no way to be sure without tracking down one of the leering men from the tavern. Kayla, wanting those who set fire to her tavern brought to justice, pays the Scarlet Crusade 22 gp to track them down. She also produces a coin from House Harlow saying the suspicious men used to pay with it. Thinking they were on the right path to finding the arsonists, Niamh succeeds in following their tracks…

…Until they disappear in the town’s green where the lynch mob grows more and more restless. There, Caliss accuses Eoleo of witchcraft, but Eoleo manages to turn the crowd. The party goes back to the tavern just to check to see if there is any chance the fire was started through any magic means. A detect magic spell disproves any magical involvement with the fire.

By this time, night has fallen. The Scarlet Crusade returns to the town green where they find a wildly vicious crown surrounding Zavik, who is bound against a stake. Caliss calls out to the crowd and says the castle guards informed her that Zavik is indeed a witch and that with his execution the town would be one step closer to peace. The party presses the guards for evidence suggesting Zavik’s guilt. One of the guards turns out to be related to the head Lumen and immediately regrets his accusation when he discovers that Zavik has been an ally of the Lumen. The party explains that the Lumen gave Zavik sanctuary despite his race and that it wouldn’t make any sense for Zavik to cast a plague on one of his only allies. Angry that the crowd is becoming placated by these new facts, Caliss lashes out and says that Zavik must be a part of the coven (which normally consist of a witch, a hag, and sometimes a sorcerer with an accursed bloodline). It is at this moment that Eoleo mimics Caliss’ “divination spell” by casting prestidigitation before everyone in the lynch mob and exposes her for the fraud she is. Accusations are suddenly thrust in her direction. Gustav, Caliss’ ally, steps up and challenges the Scarlet Crusade to a trial by first blood – Whoever draws blood first is the victor of the dual. The dual concludes almost embarrassingly quickly as Rognar charges in and cleaves the pair with his axe, ending the fight in a single move. Panting and bleeding, Gustav tells the party that they have one more day to find who the real perpetrator is. An emotionally drained Raleria snaps back saying that they have just revealed him and his partner as frauds and from here on out the pair should have no authority over the case. The Crusaders then demand that Caliss be taken into custody. Quallo is sent to keep tabs on her while the rest of the party continues their investigation.

They finally arrive at their original destination, the graveyard. They approach Hargo and ask if anything strange has happened to him lately. The old man looks tired and frail as he explains that he hasn’t been able to sleep in weeks because of constant night terrors that have been plaguing him. He describes visions of Dusun Borneo becoming a zombie and raising an army of the dead from the graveyard. Eoleo examines him and discovers that his constitution has been compromised. He attempts to dispel the curse, but it doesn’t work, leading the party to believe that the poor gravedigger is under the influence of a witch’s hex. The heroes bring Hargo to the Arcane Constables to find a way to break the hex. One of the wizards, Eoleo, and Raleria work together to successfully dispel the hex. The party meets up with Hargo again the next day after the old man got some long, over-due rest. He is grateful towards the group, and after finally resting his mind is clear enough for him to remember that he had seen a man with greasy black hair skulking around the graveyard. Hargo says that the man is named Luker and that when he inquired what Luker was doing at the graveyard he responded that he was “looking for friends.” The last detail Hargo could recall was that the man had a grotesquely large centipede resting on his shoulder. Niamh and Raleria recall that they had seen a man fitting that exact description the day before when he crashed into Raleria and cursed her. Happy to finally be getting a lead, the group travels to Annette’s spice garden.

When they arrive it is evident that the garden has been hit by a blighting hex. The Crusaders ponder over why the witch would target a garden. Niamh inspects the plants and suggests that many of them could be used as healing spell components. The party concludes that the witch and/or witches and/or coven responsible for the plague of the Slimy Doom starting up at the church would probably think to destroy the spice garden in order to prevent anyone from using the spices’ healing properties. The party talks to Annette. She tells them that Dusun Borneo had visited her because he wanted to enlist her help taking care of the town’s fields. Not wanting to abandon her local spice garden, she refused and Lord Borneo left in a huff. Upon hearing about this disagreement, the party pays a visit to Lord Borneo, who has the ability to remove the blighting hex, but stubbornly dictates he would only remove it on the condition that Annette comes to work for him. They relay his offer to Annette. She resists, but in the end they compromise so she only goes to help in the fields for three days a week and managing her local shop the rest of the time. Dusus agrees, and he is able to lift the blight in an inconspicuous manner. A grateful Annette bestows three vials on anti-plague on the heroes, as well as the knowledge that Luker had been skulking around her garden a few days earlier.

At a loss of where to go next, the Scarlet Crusade returns to the Frozen Bowsprit to fish for more rumors. There, they hear that one of the guards of the graveyard has mysteriously gone blind. They visit the guard and remove his blindness, and then discover that the greasy-haired, centipede-lugging Luker was certainly responsible for the attack. The party begins to feel as though things are looking up after gathering quite the weight of significant evidence to accuse the man, only to have their spirits dampened as Quallo returns bearing news that Caliss escaped her confinement by teleporting. Her jailbreak only reinforces the group’s suspicion that there is a coven afoot.

The Scarlet Crusade hurries back to the mob on the green to reveal their suspicions. The highly status’d Rognar stands before the crowd and gives them the report. The mob is faced with the details, and even Gustav finally agrees that Luker and Caliss must be brought to justice.

The relief of everyone finally getting on the same page is extremely short-lived as Luker attacks the crowd from a far-off building in the scariest fashion imaginable, namely, by summoning a cloudkill and effectively killing off 1/4th of the people in the mob and then barfing up a swarm of giant wasps. The party jumps into action. Rognar, taken by surprise, hurriedly tries to shoot a bow in Luker’s direction but is caught off-center and accidentally hits a member of the panicking mob instead. The wounded individual is unfortunately trampled and killed in the chaos. Niamh jumps on her horse, nocks an arrow, and lets it fly towards Luker. She is frustrated to see her arrow fly off course when it comes into contact with Luker’s protective wind wall. Things look a little brighter as Eoleo manages to dispel the gas, sparing the rest of the mob, but then everything goes back to looking a little darker when the party realizes that they’re about to be squashed in the panic. Raleria casts fly on herself, and, with the aid of Rognar, bellows at the mob to calmly evacuate the premise. Their efforts prove to be in vain as they watch poor Eoleo and Niamh get stomped by the crowd. Matters get even worse when Luker casts confusion on the mob, keeping them from evacuating further as they all start fighting amongst themselves. Rognar, who is now running towards the building Luker is perched on, is attacked by the barf-wasps and injected with their poisonous venom. Eoleo does his best to dispel Luker’s protection from projectiles, but fails. With no way to effectively attack her opponent, Niamh takes initiative in getting the mob out of the scene by shooting an arrow into the fray. The mob-members are infuriated enough to follow her as she rides away from the battle on Owen. Raleria catches up with Rognar and casts globe on invulnerability around herself, unwilling to become a sitting duck as she did in their last big battle. Rognar shakes off the effects of the poison before it can do any real damage and hurls an alchemist’s fire at the wasps. Luker attempts to cast blindness on Eoleo, but also fails during casting. In response, Eoleo unleashes a black tentacles spell on the balcony Luker was standing on and grins to see black binds wrap themselves around Luker’s limbs. Not seeing much benefit to fighting off a swarm of wasps, Rognar takes off running away from them towards the building again. Raleria finishes off the wasps by frying them with a fireball. Unfortunately, Luker breaks free from the tentacles and disappears into the building. Eoleo follows him through a dimension door, and almost immediately regrets it. Luker meets him with a bestow curse spell, befuddling Eoleo’s mind and preventing him from casting many of his own spells. He sprints out of the building, leaps from the balcony, and gently drifts down as a result of Raleria’s feather fall spell. At this point, a well-missed Niamh returns to the scene, mob-less and ready to fight. Her enthusiasm is dampened to see that amid all the chaos, no one has yet been able to remove the wind wall. Raleria conjures another fireball and aims it at the doorway, damaging Luker. Rognar follows suit and attempts to aid in burning the building by tossing another alchemist fire onto it. Luker, not amused by the poetic irony of the party trying to set him on fire, responds by casting ray of enfeeblement on Rognar, weakening him. Regardless, Raleria, Eoleo and Rognar continue throwing fireballs and alchemist’s fire at the building. Panicking, Luker tries to infect Niamh with pox pustules and curses when he sees her resist it. Raleria tries to electrify Luker, but fails because Luker had apparently take precautions against her electricity. Sensing inevitable defeat, Luker teleports away, thus ending the battle on the town green.

King Borius calls council with the battered heroes. He informs them that there has been trouble at the bay, which has been plagued with fires, and that there is a storm brewing to the east. The party shares their theory that a hag from a coven is wreaking havoc on the bay. They suspect the coven is hiding somewhere in the graveyard and request to take six guards with them to investigate. Borius sends them on their way with their requested guards and orders his other guards to keep the bay, well, at bay.

Night has fallen by the time they arrive at the graveyard. Niamh spots a set of tracks which lead them to a hidden entrance into the Othel mausoleum. After getting Hargo to unlock the door, the party decides to leave the guards at the entrance to keep watch while they explore the mausoleum. Inside, Niamh stumbles upon a loose stone that spins her and Rognar into a secret chamber (in a very Young Frankenstein fashion). The rest follow by using this mechanism. Inside the secret chamber, they inspect a trap only to trigger an attack from two undead skeletons. The party disposes of them with relative ease. They continue down the narrow corridor until they come upon a dimly lit room. They see the coven sitting in a triangle mumbling chants. Thinking they have the element of surprise on their side, the party sneaks into the room in fighting-formation. Eoleo initiates battle by casting glitterdust on the coven, but is taken aback when the coven doesn’t react in any way. Too late, the heroes realize the ritual is an illusion! Suddenly, a cage of energy surrounds the group, trapping them inside. Matters get worse when Luker, Caliss, and a hag appear and use veil to take on the appearances of Rognar, Raleria and Niamh respectively. Everyone in the party is able to shake the reverse effect of the veil, except Niamh who unfortunately takes on the appearance of the hag. The coven jeers at the trapped heroes as they exit the chamber to make their way to the King’s court in their new disguises. However, what the coven didn’t expect was that Eoleo prepared dimension door twice that day. He teleports to the outside of the mausoleum to tell the guards to go help his friends, and then rides off to the castle before the coven can reach it.

Meanwhile, inside the forcecage, Rognar, Niamh and Raleria try to fight their way through the magic trap. Matters get worse when Caliss returns to make sure they don’t escape. However, she is then trapped in by the guards who were told by Eoleo to help. They are unsure of which of the two Ralerias they should attack when both protest vehemently that she is the real one. The guards then ask the two to list three people they have helped in the city. The real Raleria rattles off a list easily, turning the guards’ swords towards Caliss. The battle begins as Niamh shoots an arrow between the bars of the forcecage and successfully skewers Caliss. Raleria then casts deafness on the opposing sorceress in an effort to prevent her from casting any verbal spells. It works, and Caliss is left defenseless. Niamh quickly finishes the job by releasing an arrow into Caliss’ face, causing her to collapse on the stone floor, dead. Rognar is able to finally break through the cage and the heroes go to meet Eoleo and King Borius. The king informs the group that he called for the arrest of the coven when they arrived after Eoleo had filled him in on the circumstances, but that as soon as he did so the hag was able to teleport herself and Luker away. He believes they had fled the city for good. He thanks the Scarlet Crusade for their work and tells them that he will have his guards continue the coven hunt from there.

The days that follow consist of tying up loose ends and relaxing. The Arcane Constables are able to restore Niamh to her original form. They also perform an autopsy on Caliss to confirm that she was indeed the daughter of a hag, making it apparent to everyone in the group that she was likely the daughter of the hag they encountered. They wonder idly if they would be hearing from the two remaining members of the coven, but decide not to dwell on the idea, or in the city, much longer.

Finally, a celebration is thrown to honor the heroes who succeeded in ridding the town of certain terror. Wine, food, and relaxation is enjoyed by all at a great feast, during which Quallo and Dusun Borneo’s familiar play and exchange spells between the two witches. During the feast, the Scarlet Crusade receives many gifts from inhabitants of the city. Rognar is presented with a pair of magical cold iron throwing axes once wielded by past valkyrs, an ornate flask filled with magical mead, and some mithril from Kayla the merchant. The lumens approach Eoleo and bestow onto him a wand of lesser restoration, scrolls of inflict serious wounds, an amulet of natural armor, and foxhide arrow-snaring gloves made to fit a gnome. The Arcane Constables give Raleria custom-made white gold bracers of armor crafted specially to have lightening designs, along with a wand of blur, and the handy haversack of her dreams complete with hand-crafted wind clasps. Finally, Lord Ferrum walks up to Niamh and hands her a tome with a fire opal embedded in the cover. The book is titled “Districts of Dragonhelm and Their Namesake Heroes.” He pulls the group aside and tells them the book may contain useful information regarding their quest. He takes on a grave demeanor as he tells them that Rychel was finally successful in her divinations, thanks to the scale Niamh wears around her neck. He turns to Niamh and informs her that the dragon who killed her father is very much alive and dwelling in Dragonhelm.

The party decides to return to the Hall of Heroes in Boyne to research other works by Drohun Blackbarrow, the author of “Districts of Dragonhelm and Their Namesake Heroes.” Additionally, they make a note to look into the properties of the lens they acquired after Raleria’s duel. Somewhat reluctantly, they also decide to convince Thordast to accompany them on their way so he may continue on to Ardyn to see what he can do about reviving Alymaneann…for a fee, of course.

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