The Clutch of Verthandi

Fightin' Stuff

After resting up and storing treasure in the gnoll chambers, our heroes trudged their way further into the Scoria Mines. After a leveling encounter with a couple of dwarven guards, the party descended down the path on a lift. They managed to fool a couple of guards they met at the bottom of the lift, but the fire drakes that were heating the smelter in the next room were not so easily fooled. After several bouts of bad luck the party eventually stopped getting their asses kicked long enough to extinguish the drakes and the dwarven guards in the area, but not before Rognar was very nearly taken out by a grievous leg wound.

With the party’s morale shaken, the heroes decided to take a stealthy plan of action after discussion during an extended potion-drinking circle. An invisible Eoleo took the party light source and scouted ahead, following the cart tracks of the mine. The coast seemingly clear, he waved the rest of the party onward… only for him and Rognar to fall off of the crumbling tracks into a pit of giant scorpions. However, the scorpions were subdued with relative ease and the heroes were able to progress. With Eoleo still leading the way, the party continued to follow the tracks into a room with more dwarves. The heroes were successful in sneaking up on the dwarves. Niamh and Raleria took out the dwarves on the ground floor while Rognar scaled the wall to ambush the dwarves on the elevated platform. Eoleo was able to scout ahead and found that a troop of Burned Beards under an invisibility spell were planning to ambush them… until he cast glitterdust on them. The rest of the party caught up and the Burned Beards were quickly exterminated. Anticipating their oncoming encounter with Tog and Pyrolassus the heroes backtracked to the now-vacated scorpions’ layer where they plan to rest up for the challenges ahead.

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Into the Mines
Clearing the first layer of the Scoria Mines

Emerging from their hiding place in the conical chamber of the Hackjaws, the party quickly subdues the outer defenses of the Scoria Mines and enters Tog‘s domain. Eoleo magically transforms himself into a dwarf while Rognar dons one of their slain foe’s half-helms to cover his face, the two hoping to blend into the ranks of the Sure Axes and talk their way deeper into the mines. The group first encounters the enslaved cooks for Tog’s army, who tell their liberators what they know about the mines. The heroes learn that Tog is indeed allied with a red dragon named Pyrolassus, who devours most of the army’s rations before the dwarves even lay eyes on the food. The dragon’s own minions bolster the ranks of Tog’s forces, most notably ogres such as those stationed at the upper prison. After speaking with the cooks, the heroes try to talk their way past the hall guards, including two Sure Axe warriors and a “burned beard,” a singed member of Tog’s elite guard. Eoleo tries to write the party off as bringing two mercenary recruits (the two half-elves) to Tog for enlistment, but the burned beard challenges him. Before the dwarf can raise the alarm, however, Eoleo enchants him, compelling him to wait until the party was ready to see Tog before leading them to the “fire king.”

The guards of the throne room, however, are less compelled to help the heroes: the two burned beards botch attempts to cast spells at the party from scrolls, then are quickly nullified by a blinding blast of glitterdust provided by Eoleo. The party fends off four more reinforcements and executes the two burned beards before they can cause any harm. The group then finds its way into Tog’s private study via a secret door pointed out to them by the kitchen slaves. There they liberate many of Tog’s personal effects shortly before setting about the liberation of the mines. The adventurers talk their way past some more Sure Axes in the training hall, but they are blocked from descending deeper into the mines by three ogres guarding the upper prison. Eoleo tries to bluff his way past the monstrosities by citing the authority of the enchanted burned beard leading them to Tog, but he underestimates the giants’ hostility, for they crush the burned beard with their clubs and attack. The other Sure Axes are evidently not thrilled by the prospect of working alongside giants, for they join the fray on the side of the adventurers when they hear the struggle break out. The dwarves have little opportunity to assist the heroes, however, for three well-placed arrows followed by an explosive fireball make short work of the ogres. Eoleo convinces the dwarves to take their guard duty to the outer walls, opening the path for the newly freed slaves to escape the mines via a secret passage in the conical chamber where the party sleeps. The party accumulates substantial amounts of treasure from the ogres’ payment and the nearby alchemy laboratory, mint, and forge, before returning to their refuge to rest before plunging deep into the mines, where Tog Bjorn and his draconic ally surely await.

Treasure (check everyone’s weight!)
Niamh – 2 +1 heavy steel shields (to be sold for 585 sp each in town; 15 lbs each), 10 tindertwigs, 4 doses of Large scorpion venom, 10 lbs of silver bullion (worth 500 sp), 5 gp, 628 sp
Rognar – 2 +1 heavy steel shields (to be sold for 585 sp each in town; 15 lbs each), 5 lbs of raw mithril (1,000 sp worth of forgable mithril), 2 dwarf noble outfits (75 sp each; 5 lbs each), 1 dwarf royal outfit (200 sp; 5 lbs), 1 jasper brooch (200 sp), 5 gp, 578 sp
Raleria – 6 jasper gems (90 sp each), 3 jasper brooches (200 sp each), silver and jasper clasps (250 sp), alchemy tome (250 sp), 9 gp, 258 sp
Eoleo – 2798 sp

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Storming Scoria

The party finally makes it to the mouth of the Scoria Mines, an entrance hidden in the bare rockface that Rognar and Niamh were able to detect. Rognar knocks on the door with his axe and receives a bored-sounding reply. After delivering the password, the rock wall grinds opens to reveal an empty vestibule and another door. Cautiously, the party opens the door to Tog Bjorn’s marketplace, a large but apparently empty cavern with vendor stalls. Lining the walls are two wooden catwalks that look over the narrow bridge over a deep crevasse with spikes below at the far end of the room. Directly in front of the party is a large statue of Bjorn, overlooking the area with a self-confident manner.

The party doesn’t go far into the cavern before two dwarves appear on the catwalks on either side. Eoleo charms one while Niamh makes short work of the other. The party briefly considers throwing a rope up to the charmed dwarf and climbing to the catwalk instead of crossing the risky bridge, but decides that would take too much time, and are interrupted by three more dwarves appearing across the bridge leading deeper into the mines. Rognar and Niamh take care of these troublesome foes as Raleria hatches a plan to cast fireball on the lefthand catwalk, to prevent other dwarves from entering from the far doors and shooting at the party while crossed the narrow bridge. While the catwalk catches fire, Rognar is the first to make to the bridge, followed by Raleria and Niamh. Shortly after, 2 more dwarves enter the far door on the right side catwalk and immediately ready their bows at the intruders, but Raleria keeps them busy with magic missiles. The one dwarf who enters on the left side is immediately startled by the blazing fire in front of him and focuses his energy on putting it out instead of attacking. Three more dwarves enter from the door at the end the bridge, two armed with axes and one with a bow. Thanks to Eoleo’s ward, Rognar is safe from an arrow aimed directly at him and makes short work of the dwarves with a flask of alchemical fire and his magical lightning axe, Éadrom. Sven the Sickle might have helped at some point too.

The dwarf on the left hand catwalk manages to put the fire out, but once Eoleo makes it across the bridge, the party leaves the dwarves behind and go down a massive staircase leading to a room that looks somewhat like a mess hall with three doors. On the door to left is a large map with dwarven runes that show addresses of homes within the mountain. The door to the right is plain, but sitting on the steps in front of the door directly across the room are two dwarves sharing a drink. The party uses their element of surprise to finish them, and then decides the leftmost door is the most promising.

This room is a large conical chamber with a spiral staircase curled around a small pool at the base. Three gnolls and a dire hyenadon rest beside the pool, but they spring to action as soon as the party enters. Two of the gnolls block the doorway, but are both immediately cut in half by Rognar’s cleaving blow. Niamh and Raleria kill the hyenadon from afar, and the remaining gnoll hightails it out of there through a door to the left of the party. The party uses this time to regroup; Eoleo uses his witch skills to heal everyone and Niamh decides to get an angle on incoming foes by climbing the winding staircase. The runaway gnoll shortly return with a much larger gnoll of enormous stature, fortified by impressive armor and wielding an intimidating two-handed weapon with an axe handle on one hand and spear point on the other. The team surmises that this is Yth’Ka, the leader of the Hackjaw Tribe. Yth’Ka immediately engages Rognar and deals him enormous damage, while the other gnoll flanks Raleria on Yth’Ka’s other side. With a grand display of teamwork, Raleria casts featherfall on Niamh, who floats down through the center of the chamber from her perch on the stairs and takes down the gnoll with a well-aimed shot from the air. Now it is Raleria and Rognar flanking Yth’Ka, and the team is able send him crashing into the pool, defeated.

Upon looting the bodies and Yth’Ka’s chambers, the team acquires much treasure including a gold and silver jasper-encrusted crown and some dwarven-made leather studded armor. The team takes time to heal and form the next stage of their strategy here before moving on in search of Bjorn and anything else lurking deep in the mines.

Treasure
Niamh: +1 studded leather armor (currently wearing), masterwork chain shirt (to be sold for 125 sp upon returning to town), 3 gp, 152 sp
Rognar: +1 dwarven urgosh (to be sold for 1,175 sp upon returning to town), 300 sp brass hyena figurine, 2 gp, 77 sp
Raleria: 500 sp silver crown (1 lb), 6 jasper gems (90 sp each), 7 gp, 12 sp
Eoleo: 1,754 sp (35 lbs in haversack)

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The Road to Scoria
Journey through the Aurora Mountains

Taking full advantage of Lord Ferrum’s resources, the heroes spend a week and a day preparing for their mission into Scoria. Niamh and Raleria both purchase potent magical items that augment their abilities, while Eoleo works on enchanting Rognar’s axe, charging it with crackling electricity. Once the adventurers are ready, they sit down with Ferrum and discuss tactics. The party originally decides to try to reach Scoria via the trackless Aurora Mountains, allowing relatively quick and stealthy access to the city, but after a day of breathing the thin air in the heights of the mountains, they turn back to Ogjorn. They instead decide to take the longer but safer route through the mining camps, keeping a low profile while creeping up on Scoria from the south.

At first, the party is awed by the beauty of the mountains in the springtime, full in bloom with highland flora with nights graced by the aurora borealis. They fend off some hungry grizzly bears fresh from hibernation, but otherwise encounter no hostile life. In fact, on the fourth day they are able to befriend two dwarf trappers, Delvin and Thrick, who are disgruntled by Tog Bjorn’s aggressive rise to power. The dwarves lead the adventurers through the winding mountain passes, sharing stories and rumors of the Fire King’s activity, the possibility of giant activity across The Chasm, a coven of witches that is believed to be causing mischief around the capital, and the mysterious storms that have been spontaneously cropping up throughout the mountain range. As if summoned by its mention, however, a violent storm, which seems to emerge from nowhere, quickly engulfs the party. In their desperate sprint for cover, Niamh is able to see the cause of the mysterious storms: a massive thunderbird flying seemingly without direction throughout the mountain range, dragging the tempests along with it. The group learns this fact too late, however, for moments after they see the thunderbird a bolt of lightning streaks from the sky and incinerates Thrick on the mountainside. The party is left in shock as the thunderbird flies away, and they all help Delvin to bury his friend that evening. Delvin wishes the party luck and leaves to return to Ogjorn, where he would bring Thrick’s family the news of his passing.

Before long, the heroes find themselves at the gates of Scoria. Most of Bjorn’s forces have apparently been concentrated within the silver mines, where the Fire King is amassing his forces and building his capital, so the heroes have only to contend with a small skeleton guard of gnolls and Sure Axes. The party makes short work of the gate defenses, leaving one dwarf mercenary alive for interrogation. The party gleans from their prisoner that the main path into Scoria proper is a narrow bridge overlooked by two watchmen, who are charged with alerting the standing army of intruders so they can pepper any interlopers with arrows from high platforms overseeing the main gate. By detecting the dwarf’s thoughts, the party is able to learn that the two best ways to enter the stronghold would be by either quickly silencing the watchmen so they can enter stealthily while the defensive forces are absorbed in their games of chance, or by entering through the pass currently occupied by the Hackjaw gnolls, since the dwarves have strict orders not to disturb them (meaning no reinforcements would be sent). Either way, the heroes learn that they will need to strike hard and fast, then descend into the lowest depths of the mines in order to find Bjorn and, hopefully, his draconic ally. They lock their prisoner in a cell at the wall, loot the skeleton guard’s treasure stash (including a cloak of elvenkind that Niamh wears to improve her camouflage), then gather to plan their assault.

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Return to Ogjorn

The party returns all the slaves to their respective homes, however some of the the travelers, particularly Sialia and her family, were traveling north, and their goods went up in flames with the wagon. How will they continue their migration? The party was already going to head north. They call a group meeting.

Eoleo: Will we have to feed them all? Niamh can hunt, but that might slow us down.
Rognar: It’s kind of our fault that all their stuff is gone…

Unther informs them that Lord Ferrum‘s bounty could feed them. Lord Ferrum’s bounty is for killing giant ants. The giant ants have been stealing sheep and attacking travelers and townfolk alike, and he has offered a substantial reward for the head of the queen. The group decides to slay the queen and use the bounty to offset the cost of the family’s travel expenses. Unther says that most of the attacks have taken place in the mountains. The party decides that they will go and hunt the ants, while the family stays in Boyne.

After two days of searching for the ants, the party finds a pathway that the ants frequent. Three ants swarm down the hill towards them. Rognar draws his bow against one of the ants, but hears a sickening scraping noise as his arrow slides harmlessly across his exoskeleton. Eoleo casts a ward around Rognar, to protect him. Niamh shoots at two of the ants. Her first arrow finds its mark, but does little to slow the ant. Her second arrow sets the ants legs trembling like a catholic school girl. The first ant aims its stinger at the largest target, Rognar, but just before the stinger enters him, he feels the push of Eoleo’s ward protecting him, just in time. One of the ants makes a charge attack at Owen, poisoning him, but not seriously harming him. Raleria fires blue bolts of energy from her finger tips, striking all the ants, but alas, not enough to do more than slow the onslaught. Rognar drops his bow and swings his war axe furiously at the closest ant, severing its stinger. Its entire body collapses in a twitching mass. Following his momentum from the first ant, Rognar lets his axe continue, slicing through the thorax and neck of the second ant. Hiding behind the glow of Raleria’s missile, Eoleo does a graceful forward roll behind Owen. Niamh lands a shot right between the last ants eyes, instantly killing it, avenging her wounded horse.

Instead of celebrating their victory the group works together to heal Owen. Eoleo casts a healing hex to ensure the horse’s speedy recovery and the group prepares to track the ants. They sever the ants’ heads, to take them back for the reward. They maneuver their way up through the mountains, avoiding the other ants, slowly making their way to the nest. They discover three piles of rocks that look like cairns. Upon closer inspection, it appears that they are the entrances to the ants nests. Unfortunately the three entrances are guarded by three ants. And these ones have wings. The foes see each other and prepare to face off.

Rognar sighs and draws his bow at one of the ants. He had been drinking again, so he didn’t quite get it. Niamh also draws her bow, but had been drinking with Rognar, so she just shot into the wood. Sobering up, she draws again and this time the arrow flies true. The ant is wounded, but not enough. They take to the air. As they do, a worker ant charges out of one of the holes, straight towards Owen. Niamh yanks Owens reigns, pulling him out of the way. Eoleo cleverly casts a spell to enlarge the already substantial Rognar, putting him on par with the ants! Raleria, who has been itching for a little flame action, casts a fireball at the flying ants. A massive discharge appears above the group and in a clap of thunder the ants wings are burnt to crisps. The fall to the ground dead. The party stands, looking dumb struck at Raleria.

Eoleo: Wow.

The now very self-conscious Rognar makes short work of the remaining ant with his axe, cleaving the ants head from its body.

Niamh takes a careful look around and notices that most of the food is going down one specific hole. She dismounts from Owen and readies herself to fight. An ant charges out of the hole closest to her, but she is ready. Her arrow sinks into one of its eyes, causing a distinct twitch. The ant decides it wants a sandwich and wanders off. Eoleo casts a mage armor spell on himself, in preparation for the coming battle.

Raleria edges closer to the hole, casting a shield, because these ants are apparently tricky bastards. The shining aura surrounding her gives off a comforting light that is sure to attract ants.

Rognar decides to take advantage of his size and heaves his bulk at one of the piles of rocks. He manages to collapse the tower on itself, leaving the ants only two ways out. Niamh lets the liquid courage that she has imbibed lead her down the hole, landing herself in a pitch black labyrinth that is presumably filled with ants. She is immediately surrounded by three ants, who begin stabbing her. Niamh prepares to defend herself and contemplates talking to Rognar about AA. Her thoughts are interrupted by a stinger piercing her armor. The plucky lass squeezes the poison from her arm and cries for help. Niamh, still surrounded by ants, recalls that she has a sun rod and feels like an idiot. Eoleo and Raleria leaps down the hole beside Niamh. Wisely, Raleria has remembered to bring a light source. Outside, Rognar wonders where the hell everybody went. Apparently his brain did not grow with the rest of him. Feeling insecure about being left behind, Rognar yells to Eoleo to please make him “not large.” Eoleo obligingly restores the dwarf to his still-considerable size.

Meanwhile, in the tunnels, Niamh lands an arrow smack on the kisser of a nearby ant, and another in the family jewels. The ant begins to twitch and writhe. Raleria is attacked but is not gravely injured. Niamh is chased by another ant, which weakens her.

Eoleo: Don’t worry. I can reverse that. Wait, never mind.

He gives her a potion of lesser restoration instead, restoring her strength. Just to make sure, Eoleo also casts a spell to prevent further poisoning to protect his friend. He manages to do all this, while evading the other ants. Raleria contemplates her next move, thanking the True Light that she did not go drinking with Niamh and Rognar last night. (Those two need help, she thinks. Therapy or something. Eoleo and I just play cards at night. I really don’t see what all the fuss is about with the drinking I mean, is not that much fun, right? Maybe I should go with them at some point. You know, if they let me. I think Eoleo goes sometimes. I could tag along. Also, maybe I should cast some burning hands. Never mind, I like Eoleo’s face.) She casts magic missile at the ants instead, killing one of them instantly.

Rognar readies himself to leap down the hole, and tries to aim his ample padding right for one of the ants. He ass plants right on its face, and he begins to grapple with the ant. Sick of the fat jokes, he punches it in the face, while Eoleo shouts encouragement from the sidelines. The ant writhes under his weight, gasping for air.

Niamh takes aim at the ant, just as Rognar lifts its head and slays it with an arrow through the neck.

Rognar: What the fuck! That was my fucking ant. FUCKING HALF-ELVES, STEALING MY FUCKING KILLS WITH THEIR FUCKING POINTY EARS AND HIGH SHELVES.

One of the ants manages to slip past Eoleo’s guard, weakening him as he tries to protect Raleria. Attack it, attack it, the party yells to Eoleo.

Eoleo: I am three feet tall and I have a dagger that you could take on a plane, what the hell do you want me to do?!?!
The whole party: What the hell is a plane?!?!

Eoleo stabs at the ant fruitlessly, pissed at his buddies for not getting the whole “gnome” thing.

Raleria casts electricity through the ants bodies, damaging them significantly.

Rognar: I’m going to show you how a real man attacks ants.
Eoleo: I am a gnome, I’m not a real man.
Rognar: Oh, and I am a dwarf.
Eoleo: So what exactly are you showing me?
Ants: Could you please just attack?

Rognar butchers one of the ants, just because he can.

Niamh suddenly remembers to drink her potion. Eoleo tries to heal himself but is too weak.
Raleria casts light for the party, lighting the way.

Rognar creeps deeper into the cave to discover ROSIE O’DONNELL in the cave!!! The queen is huge and gross and has lain several eggs. Niamh notices that the eggs are half way through their gestation and not yet ready to hatch. She fires an arrow straight at the queen, and it sinks between its legs. It thrashes, hurling itself at Rognar. At the last second he raises his shield and wedges the ant’s treacherous jaws open, saving himself.

Eoleo is still recovering from the poison and heals himself so that he can better help his friends. Raleria hurls another fireball at the giant ant, covering her in flames. The blast consumes the entire abdomen of the queen, and burst all of the egg sacs.

Rognar: I WAS GONNA DO IT!!! Fucking half-elves think they are so fucking smart.

The group wipes off all the ant guts, cuts off the queen’s head, and climbs out of the hole. Once out they find that they are covered in even more ant related goo and spend a lot of time cleaning themselves.

Eventually they head back to Rognar’s home town and start poking around. They are brought before the town guards. The party holds out the ants heads to the guards.

Guards: What are you names?

When the guards learn that Rognar is among the party, they demand that he come before their lord to answer for his association with the Sure Axes.

Guards: Surrender your weapons immediately.
Rognar: I am not ok with that.
Eoleo: Compensating much?
The guards demand all spell component pouches and weapons. Niamh decides to try to bribe them, but accidentally gives them money with the enemy’s seal on them.

Rognar: Look, if I was with the Sure Axes still, I would not have come here!
Eoleo: You sure about that, genius?

Raleria dials up the charm, but the guards are clearly gay and lead the party away. They enter a longhouse where before them there is a council of humans, dwarfs, and a halfling. A large human is sitting on a wide throne, gazing steadily at them. Judging by the seal on the throne, this is Lord Ferrum. There is also a steward of the lands. Rognar spots Maina in the crowd.

Lord Ferrum regards the companions seriously. He charges them with the crime of being affiliated with the Sure Axes. Rognar pleads not guilty. Javal, dwarf at the lord’s right hand leaps to his feet.

Javal: Rognar and the Axes are Villains. As the steward of the people of the mountains, it is my job to defend my people, and bring these villains to justice.
Lord Ferrum: Convince the dwarf of your innocence.
Unther: (stepping forward) Rognar is a hero! He freed us!

Lord Ferrum demands to know who was behind the enslaving of the halflings. The group tells him that it was the Hackjaw Tribe, and decides to bring in their prisoner, Dilek. Dilek, who was hoping that they had forgotten him, as they apparently did when they fought the ants, admits to everything. The steward of the mountains remains unconvinced. He claims that they are using intimidation against the prisoner.

Lord Ferrum, however, is convinced. The dwarf is deemed innocent. Unfortunately the Steward of the Mountains wont give up. The guards bring up the illicit coins and the poison that they found on the party.

Raleria smiles at the Lord.

Raleria: We got those while we freed the halflings!

The halfling in the crowd backs her up.

Lord Ferrum: Have you done nothing other than hunt gnolls?
Raleria: They attacked us, we were just defending ourselves.
Eoleo: Sorry, you have a problem with us saving your people? Really?

The lord remains unconvinced, and asks for further proof. The group tried to think of what they can offer him. Someone reminds them very subtly to show the lord the head of the queen ant. Raleria offers it to him with a saucy smile.

The lord rewards the party for their troubles and thanks them. In addition to the thanking, he clears their records of all association with the Sure Axes.

Lord Ferrum ask the party to join them in his private chambers (without winking). The group is lead into the longhouse’s study, where a fine fare is laid out for them. Lumen Hoden is seated at the table awaiting them. At the table, the lord apologizes for the aggression of his lesser lords. He tells the party that the nobles are frustrated with his reliance on sellswords and stewards without titles, and that he is afraid that he is on the brink of open war.

Lord Ferrum: And now I have been approached by the Lumen of Aurora’s End, with ever more bad news. My lady, you have a scale around your neck do you not? May I see it? So I see that its true. I would like for my mages to examine this scale. May I do so? I fear that we are facing something far worse than the Sure Axes.
Eoleo: I am not sure that the two issues are as separated as you think. The gnolls are riding hyaenadons with red dragon blood and these gnolls were highly organized. I mean, you know how gnolls usually are.
Lord: Then our paths are linked. Unfortunately, Bjorn has holed up in some tiny little howl that is incredibly defensible I have a favor to ask of you. I want you to find you’re way into Scoria, liberate the prisoners held there, and remove Tog Bjorn from power, by any means necessary. I can offer you as much as I possess. And of course, a lot of dwarfish mead.
Niamh: Keep it away from Rognar.
Rognar: Fuck off.
Lord: I will help you as much as I can. You may stay here as you prepare for your journey.

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Gnolls, Gnolls, Gnolls

The adventurers track the gnolls back to their base camp where, with little more than a few well-placed arrows and spells, they efficiently dispose of the six gnolls gathered around the fire and the gnolls sleeping companions. Determined to find some answers, the party explores the camp, stumbling upon a talking blue bird in a cage. The travelers heed the bird’s plea of “help” and release it from the cage, whereupon the bird beckons the travelers to follow. The blue bird leads them to a cave-like opening hidden behind some brush, inside of which is a young Halfling, unconscious and clinging to life. It takes the effort of the entire group and several days worth of rations to heal and revive the girl. The girl, Sialia Springborn, tells her tale to the travelers, recounting how her family, tired of being mistreated by the Elves in their homeland, ventured out only to be caught by gnolls. Sialia’s grandmother ensured that Sialia was able to evade capture, and ever since Sialia had been struggling to survive on her own. She had made the mistake of eating some numbing berries, which had been the major cause behind the deterioration in her health. It doesn’t take long before the adventurers realize that the blue bird, whom Sialia has named Babbles after her strange (and somewhat estranged) aunt, is actually her familiar. Unsure of whether or not Sialia knows this information herself, Eoleo approaches the subject tactfully, ensuring the somewhat tentative Sialia that witches are not always deserving of their bad reputation. Sialia shares with the group that her aunt was, in fact, a witch, and that she (Sialia) possesses clairaudience/clairvoyance. She also tells them that her family is being held captive not far from where they are, in a gnoll slave trader encampment. The party agrees to help Sialia by rescuing her family from the gnolls. While the party rests, Sialia and Eoleo trade spells. The next day the group splits up for reconnaissance missions to gather information about the Hackjaw Tribe encampment. They learn that Sialia’s family is being kept, along with many other slaves, in a pit in the center of the camp. The leader of the encampment is missing, but the second-in-command, Kithnil, and a dire-hyena-riding gnoll warrior remain at the camp. Most surprising to the group is that a dwarf by the name of Dilek also resides in the camp. Rognar Olep remembers Dilek from his days with the Sure Axes, and immediately the group becomes wary. Knowing that the gnolls and Dilek are, for whatever reason, attempting to capture 50 slaves, the group begins to brainstorm an attack strategy. After much deliberation, they decide attack at the moment the gnoll guard switches, and to set off several different diversions around the camp in the hopes that the prisoners can be freed in the time it takes for the gnolls to deal with the diversions and assemble. After a little persuasion, Sialia agrees to get caught by the gnolls in order to inform the prisoners as to the plans. Once inside, Eoleo and Sialia send messages to one another, and Sialia informs them of a dwarf prisoner by the name of Unther who has agreed to help them fight the gnolls. Using alchemist’s fire, a fire elemental, Eoleo’s obscuring mist, and strange noises conjured by Raleria, the group begins the assault. With Niamh shooting at the gnolls from the high ground astride Owen, and Rognar busy removing the wooden spikes around the slave pit, Eoleo and Raleria take on those in command. It doesn’t take long for Raleria to fry both the dire hyena and his rider, and Kithnil is felled not long after. With the help of the fire elemental, the group kills the remaining gnolls, and Eoleo discovers Dilek hiding, invisible, in his tent. Once certain the prisoners are free and safe, the group questions the dwarf and learns that Tog Bjorn, the captain of the Sure Axes, wants to use the slaves to mine treasures from the mountains in Scoria… treasures to be given to a red dragon.

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Words on the Wind and the Literal Cave from Hell

With Rallyvast vanquished and Alymaneann earthbound, the party decided the best course of action would be to travel north to the capital city to gather rumors that may indicate red dragon activity. They rode to various cities on mounts summoned by Eoleo and chatted up the town locals and inn keepers for interesting information. They gathered a number of insights — There were stories of unusual thunderstorms occurring in the Aurora Mountains. They extrapolated that Syrion had rather detailed descriptions of at least Eoleo and possibly Rognar. They heard that Royce had risen in political standing in Hillcross and that he may be in alliance with House Harlow. Possibly the most disturbing story was one which entailed mercenaries and citizens seemingly preparing for war in Ogjorn. One story that grabbed the party’s immediate attention was talk of a cave to the northeast (in the Scarred Hills) that was linked to some deceased fire mages. On moonless nights a red glow would appear in the area. The heroes decided to set off towards the cave the following night.

Just before entering the cave, Niamh cast resist elements on three of her companions to protect them from the extreme heat radiating from inside. Since she only was able to cast the spell three times, she trudged through the cave willfully resisting the heat on her own after shedding unnecessary parts of her armor to keep herself “well ventilated.” As they delved deeper into the cave, they stumbled across a room full of sparkling gemstones. Wanting to press on, the heroes decided to see what else they could find in the cave before extracting the gems from the room, much to Rognar’s many protests.

Eventually, they reached the final cavern of the cave which contained three skeletons and a sparkling stone in the center of the room. Eoleo was able to sense a magical aura emitting from the room. Rognar went up to touch the sparkling gem, which then triggered a rock-slide to occur in front of all of the exits of the room, trapping the party inside, leaving them at risk to fry in the blistering heat of the cavern. After many failed attempts to remove the rocks from the exits, the heroes realized that spirits contained within the skeletons were the cause of their boiling ensnarement. The group changed tactics, and after an embarrassing number of blunders (Raleria actually succeeded in missing her target using magic missile. More than once.) they were finally able to destroy the skeletons and release the spirits possessing them. Since the cave calmed and returned to a normal temperature, the team traveled back to the room with the gemstones only to find that they had disappeared as well, leading them to believe that they were only illusory in the first place. They left the cave.

On their way back to town, however, they were attacked by gnoll slave traders. Once they vanquished one party, another group ambushed them from behind. The second party was in the company of a half-dragon dire hyena. In hopes that they could interrogate the gnoll riding the strange hybrid about the creature’s origins, they tried to leave it alive only to be ultimately frustrated by the forgotten fact that no one in the party could speak Gnoll. They defeated the party, but many questions were raised. They planned to track the gnolls back to their base in the heroes’ next adventure.

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Rallyvast
Slaying the first red dragon

The heroes make a small detour to the nearby Mistwillow Isle to retrieve a rare mistwillow branch, a material focus for the ritual required to bind Rallyvast to a wild boar. The quest is short but productive, as the party fends off a kelpie and some monstrous spiders en route to their prize. Now prepared to face their first red dragon, the heroes march to the rim of Rallyvast’s lair. They lure the dragon out with ritualistic cries of adoration and an offering of silver and gemstones. Rallyvast is initially hostile, threatening to devour the adventurers, but together they fabricate a story of their false allegiance with Alymaneann and their discovery of the copper dragon’s next prank on the proud red. The dragon buys their bluff, and insists that they lead him to where Alymaneann is realizing his next scheme.

Ironically, the heroes lead Rallyvast straight into Alymaneann’s next prank, for at the border of the Feywood the copper dragon and his followers spring their trap. They activate the ritual and bind Rallyvast to the body of a wild boar, transforming him into a monstrous boar-dragon hybrid. The heroes surround Rallyvast and fight a pitched battle with the weakened beast, Rognar barely staving off the dread curse transferred by Rallyvast’s tusk throughout the duration of the ritual. The battle suddenly turns sour, however, when the enraged red breathes fire at Raleria and Alymaneann, consuming the mistwillow branch in a plume of flame. As the ritual begins to falter, Alymaneann leaps into action, substituting elemental air from his own body as a replacement for the mistwillow branch to keep the spell active. In a final surge of aggression, the heroes bring Rallyvast down for good.

The first spawn of Verthandi is slain, but not without casualties. In the aftermath of the disrupted ritual, the heroes and find that their draconic ally has become “earthbound,” petrified by the absorption of his elemental air. Only potent magic from a creature steeped in elemental air can restore Alymaneann to his mobile state; meanwhile, Casuarina warns the party that, in the dragon’s absence, the evil fey and hostile denizens of the Feywood would soon grow out of control, making the forest a dangerous place for outsiders. The adventurers promise the denizens of the Feywood that they will return if and when they can restore Alymaneann to his natural state; for now, however, there are still three red dragons afoot. With their only lead on the Clutch of Verthandi now dry, the heroes prepare for a long march back north toward Wintervale, where they hope to find some more clues as to where the next red may be hiding.

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Oakwatch and Ardyn Reclaimed

After hearing about several more Elven laborers who have gone missing, including Niamh Ceallach’s friend Reina, the travelers decide to follow the tracks into the Feywood, hoping to learn more about the disappearances. They engage in a brief struggle with a pack of wolves, and Eoleo discovers a daze monster wand. The group then stumbles upon a river and a Nixie hiding beneath the water. The Nixie ignore’s Niamh’s request but Raleria manages to successfully communicate with her, and the Nixie agrees to lead them to where they can find Reina and the other Elves who have supposedly disappeared.

The Nixie leads them to Oakwatch, a gnome village built in the trees, where they are greeted by Ulmace Zelkova, another of Niamh’s Elven friends, and the three Elders of the village, Kraily, Milni, and Neewick. They explain that the village has been granting amnesty to any of the elves who manage to escape Ardyn, and that Niamh’s own mother had, until very recently, been living there. The travelers are brought up into the village where they are introduced to Casuarina, the Heartwood Lady, who is bound to the tree at the heart of Oakwatch. The Elders and Casuarina share their concerns with the travelers: although they would like to help the Elves, they are worried that their small village will not be able to accommodate them all should more and more elves continue to escape Ardyn. Ulmace argues that they should organize an assault against Ardyn, but the Elders argue that such a move would alert Syrion Harlow to the existence of Oakwatch, and that Oakwatch’s defenses would be no match for an assault by Ardyn.

When Eoleo points out that most of the armed forces in Ardyn are sellswords, however, the council and the travelers devise a plan to sever the sellswords’ allegiances to Syrion and Ardyn by spreading the rumor that Ardyn is haunted. The council acknowledges the plan might work, however, they need the assistance of the Unicorn Celsie who, due to her own desire for vengeance against Ardyn, would never agree to allowing the sellswords to run free. Realizing that the person who has wronged Celsie might actually be Joreth, the travelers decide to pay Celsie a visit to see if they can persuade her to help them.

As they make their way to Celsie’s part of the Feywood, the group is attacked by a large bear. Remembering the advice the Elders gave them about not harming animals in the Feywood lest they anger Celsie, Raleria mimics the sound of the bear’s cubs being attacked and the bear deserts the group to protect her cubs. When they finally come upon Celsie, only the women approach her, respecting her preference for females. After explaining why they sought her out, the women learn that Celsie wants to avenge the death of her mate who was killed by Joreth. Joreth now uses his horn, the very life force of the unicorn, as a drinking goblet. The travelers promise Celsie that they will return her mate’s horn to her, and she agrees to help them with their “assault” on Ardyn if they should succeed.

While Niamh returns to Vance’s house to touch up her disguise, Eoleo, Raleria, and Rognar travel back to Ardyn to plant the seeds of discord. Eoleo finds Joreth drinking out of his unicorn horn goblet, and cleverly convinces him that his killing the unicorn has effectively cursed the entire city of Ardyn. Disturbed by this news, Joreth decides to leave town and hands the horn over to Eoleo. The rest of the tavern, upon hearing Eoleo’s declaration, begin to whisper and worry about the “curse” as well.

Celsie gladly offers her services to the travelers and the village of Oakwatch after she is presented with her mate’s horn, and the travelers once again return to Ardyn to cause a bit more confusion. Eoleo and Raleria cast several spells to create noises and chaos throughout the town, Rognar goes to the tavern to talk up the curse a bit, and Niamh convinces the bear and her cubs that the group encountered earlier to wreak havoc in the town stables. With the help of the Elves and the residents of Oakwatch, the group successfully rids Ardyn of its sellswords and sends Syrion riding off into the distance.

The travelers have little time for celebration, however. The four Red Dragons they are hunting are still at large, and they have reason to believe that one of them may not be far off. Casuarina takes them to consult with the Master of the Forest, Alymaneann. As they follow Casuarina, the travelers cannot help but notice the destruction and devastation of the forest around them. Their questions are answered, however, when they meet Alymaneann, who turns out to be a purely hedonistic 700 year old copper dragon. He has been amusing himself by containing Rallyvast, the irritable and rash Red Dragon. Despite the amusement Alymaneann derives from pulling pranks on Rallyvast, he agrees that it may be time to put an end to him. After a little research, the group learns that this area was once the site of magic gone terribly awry. In an attempt to create the perfect hybrid soldiers, the ancient House Lycan, former rulers of the area, magically spliced humans with wolves to create an army of lycanthropes. The plan backfired, however, when the lycanthropes could not be contained, and began infecting others at an alarming rate.
The travelers propose to Alymaneann that he use his magic to recreate this “splice,” only this time with Rallyvast and a pig, the animal that most accurately matches his personality. The hope is that Rallyvast’s powers will regress to the mean and therefore make it easier to defeat him. Alymaneann agrees to the plan because turning Rallyvast into a pig “sounds hilarious,” and the travelers begin to formulate a plan to lure Rallyvast out of his hideout.

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Arrival to Ardyn - The "Cursed" City

After a days of traveling, our heroes arrived to the outskirts of Ardyn where they ran into one of Niamh’s childhood friends, Vance, who was able to impart useful information to the party about Ardyn’s situation. He advised them to visit The Grey Fox, a tavern run by Joreth, to try to gain audience with Syrion Harlow, who was responsible for the takeover of Ardyn twenty-five years in the past. Not only did Vance provide the party with useful information, but he was able to help Niamh and Raleria disguise themselves so they could go unnoticed in the city.

When they arrived at The Grey Fox, Eoleo and Rognar were able to foster friendly ties with Joreth by feigning to be his drinking buddies, which ended up with them earning and audience with Syrion. When meeting with Syrion, Rognar and Eoleo discover that many elves working in the labor camps have mysteriously disappeared to the east, north and west of Ardyn. Distressed by the disappearance of his laborers, Syrion agreed to hire the pair to investigate the disappearances.

Meanwhile, while Eoleo and Rognar were gaining the favor of Joreth and Syrion, Niamh and Raleria investigated the disappearances inside the labor camps themselves. After lying to a particularly lecherous guard they were able to find Niamh’s old friend, Reina, who recognized Niamh through her disguise. She was able to impart information about the Feywood to the pair of half-elves and agreed to spread the word to the other laborers of their presence and to make sure help them in whatever way possible.

The party reconvened and pooled their information. Altogether, they knew that to the east there were reports of aggressive animals and disappearances that resulted in only spattered pools of blood. To the west there were tales of people who, upon seeing a mangy grey fox, were never heard from again. To the north, people were flat out disappearing. Intrigued by the rumors of the mysterious grey fox, the heroes decided to travel west to unravel the mystery. On the way they encountered an assassin vine that managed to ensnare Eoleo, but the party was able to pull him out of its grasp with the rope Rognar was carrying. They pushed further into the wood after defeating the vine and overcoming the hypnotic pattern surrounding it. Eventually, they encountered the grey fox. Much to their dismay, they discovered that the animal was the familiar of the feral and insane Julian, who, upon encountering the party, began sucking Rognar’s life force from his throat. A great battle commenced between the party and the feral witch, which ultimately resulted in Julian trying to run away only to be thwarted by Niamh’s arrow.

With a captured Julian, the heroes returned to Ardyn where Eoleo and Rognar were able to turn Julian into Syrion. Though this resulted in no tangible reward, Syrion had it arranged for Eoleo to gain his vision back since he had been blinded by Julian in the battle. It was determined soon after that the heroes would head north on their next excursion.

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