The Clutch of Verthandi

Building Relationships
The Crusaders begin the arduous process of winning the trust of the Gold Quarter vampires

After briefly resting in Ordin’s private chambers, the Scarlet Crusaders ask their newfound vampiric ally about how best they could climb the ranks of the Gold Quarter bureaucracy, hoping to then use Ordin and Lady Agatha’s knowledge of the cursed city to work their way into the Diamond Quarter, where both their daunting quarries awaited them. Ordin recommends that the “treasure hunters” demonstrate their usefulness to the vampires’ cause by intentionally getting “caught in the act” of harassing the other two factions: the dark folk of the Iron Quarter, and the derro of the Silver Quarter. Ordin mentions overhearing about a planned attack on a derro resource-gathering party, and suggests that the adventurers learn more about the skirmish and beat the vampires to the punch.

Raleria and Rognar attempted to ask around the vampire camp for more information about the attack, but the undead are less than forthcoming with the intruders. Niamh and Eoleo are more successful in their reconnaissance, sneaking around the Gold Quarter and eavesdropping on spawn commanders to piece together where the attack will take place. Together they determine that the derro are collecting supplies from an old textiles mill along the border of the Silver and Gold Quarters, roughly two and a half hours from the vampire headquarters.

The Crusaders set out for the target (with their dominated minion in tow), but are briefly distracted en route by an overpowering smell of cinnamon emanating from a relatively intact warehouse. By consulting Rognar’s familiarity with dwarven cities and Blackbarrow’s journal, the party discerns that warehouses filled with spices were commonly used as covers for illegal opium trade. The group explores the warehouse interior, and finds not only a wealth of valuable spices, but also an underground opium den haunted by the psychic echoes of opium addiction. Raleria and Niamh fall prey to the fell spirits’ influence, but the effect is quickly dispelled with some charges from Eoleo’s wand. The party then decides to leave the spices here for now—valuable as they may be aboveground, the market for spices amongst their blood-drinking comrades is likely low—but take with them some scattered coins and the remaining opium stores, in the event that the vampires have some interest in the drug.

Following their detour, the Crusaders reach their destination: a textile mill presently guarded by three darklings and a handful of derro. Niamh, Owen, and Eoleo are able to sneak ahead to a window overlooking the building’s interior, but Rognar is spotted in his efforts to reach a tactically sound position. Niamh thinks quickly and guides her horse around the back of the building to the warehouse door, blocking the passage from any escape attempts; meanwhile, Eoleo lobs his last alchemist’s fire into the center of the room, setting a crate ablaze and revealing the derro working inside. Two of the darklings begin a vicious assault on the unarmored Julian, while Raleria hangs back and blasts darkling and derro alike with a swift barrage of aggressive magic. Rognar engages the third darkling, first striking it with his cold iron throwing axes before drawing Eadrom and closing for melee.

The darklings pose a significant threat to the surface folk, attacking body and equipment alike with feystone battleaxes and icy magic from within their zones of eldritch silence, but the mad derro start to panic: the three at the east entrance fall quickly to Raleria’s fireballs, and the ones inside see the burning crate and the mysterious four-legged creature blocking the exit as agents of divine wrath. Some try to escape past the vicious battle-trained horse, but even those who tumble by him fall quickly to Niamh’s marksmanship. Others take shots at the horse from a distance with crude crossbows, but the horse’s barding mixed with his rider’s agility and skill make the attacks negligible.

Eventually the derro lose all hope, and try to flee via the far exit, where Julian has fallen to the fey’s brutal weapons as the dwarf and half-elf press their assault. Eoleo cuts the fleeing derro off at the pass—knowing that the mission will be in vain if any live to tell their masters of the surface dwellers’ presence in the accursed city—by entrapping them in a field of black tentacles, which make short work of the derro and Rognar’s adversary (much to Rognar’s distaste). Eoleo then catches Raleria’s remaining darkling (the other having been incinerated by her barrage of fireballs) closing in on Raleria, and blasts it with a glitterdust spell to assist the sorceress. As the battle draws to a close, Raleria takes to the air to finish off the fleeing darkling with scorching rays, Niamh kills some of the remaining derro with arrows, and Eoleo entraps the last of the mad creatures with a tanglefoot bag. The strike is a rousing success for the Crusade, with the liability of the dominated witch removed and the only survivor a captive derro.

With time to spare before the vampires arrive, Rognar takes a moment to interrogate the prisoner (with the assistance of Eoleo’s tongues spell) while Eoleo and Niamh search the premises. Both endeavors are largely futile but at least marginally helpful: the building hides a handful of silver pieces, while the mad derro finally does let slip that his “secret weapon” missions involve “getting capsules of life force from the Sculptor.” The creature gives no hint as to what the Sculptor—or his craft—might be, but he does mark its workshop on the adventurers’ map of the city. Shortly after, the intended skirmishers arrive, taking their prisoner and unexpected comrades back to HQ.

Word of the party’s mission soon gets back to the vampire elite, as does the opium the group salvaged from the warehouse, both of which help to elevate their status amongst the undead. The adventurers return to Ordin with news of their success, as well as questions about who or what the Sculptor might be. The old vampire doesn’t yield too much useful information: the place marked on the map was indeed once an actual sculptor’s studio, where the craftsman once built golems for commission during Dragonhelm’s hayday, and the derro likely meant that this Sculptor crafts soul gems to power their night hag mistresses’ most dangerous spells, but any questions as to the enigmatic figure’s current identity remain unanswered.

What the Crusaders do know is that they have identified a crucial resource for the derro faction, and that eliminating it would likely cripple the Silver Quarter’s influence in the city. Of course, such a task might be daunting with what little information the party presently possesses, so Ordin also gave them the option of trying to retrieve onyxes for Agatha’s animate dead spells from the mining district in the Iron Quarter. Either way, the party is well on its way to earning the respect and trust of the Dragonhelm vampires.

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Gangs of Dragonhelm
Even a cursed city has turf wars

Once the Scarlet Crusade makes it into the pit at the edge of Dragonhelm, they are relatively safe from danger—for now. Eoleo and Rognar use their short reprieve to inspect Drohun’s journal, in which they find a map depicting the postern gate of which Julian spoke.

With nowhere to go but forward, the crusaders head through the gate and over a bridge crossing the abyss of a secondary moat. Ahead is a locked drawbridge into the city proper, and the sound of an angry voice echoes across the void. The crusaders are able to determine that the voice is speaking in Aklo, the language of creatures who dwell in darkness. The party edges forward and spies three darklings, huge, hideous creatures known for their stone axes and ability to emit a cone of silence—something that comes in handy while they steal children and eat their eyes. Joy.

The crusaders are almost immediately noticed by the owner of the angry voice, a dark naga. The aberration quickly makes use of its sorcery and attacks the crusaders with a lightning bolt that catches the crusaders by surprise. Even with damaged armor, however, Niamh quickly engages one darkling while Raleria engulfs another with her trusty fireball, and Rognar closes out all three with his handy cold iron throwing axes. After the naga tries to scorching ray Niamh, Raleria blasts the naga, and the team goes on their merry way.

Behind the Naga lay a passage heading up into what appears to be a warehouse, where the crusaders detect the rather unexpected sound of battle. Niamh, Rognar, Eoleo and Quallo peer through a window to find three dark stalkers leading a small force of a dozen dark creepers, Dark Folk who crop up near a strong source of darkness. They were engaged in a brutal struggle against several degenerate dwarves led by three Dwarven vampire spawn. Skirting the fringes of the battle were several derro, a race of insane fey/gnomes who shrivel in sunlight and conduct mad experiments on living creatures. As the battle comes to a close in the the dwarves’ favor, the derro drag away fallen soldiers for their experiments and the remaining vampire spawn and dwarves loot the bodies and limp away. Once the square clears, the crusaders manage to rustle up two silver swords that were left behind. Thus armed, the crusaders decide to throw in with the victors of the battle and track the vampires.

As they trek through the city, the crusaders see two gaseous-form vampires slip down the chimney of an upper-class villa that, surprisingly, looks to be in recent use. The team cautiously enters the villa and begins searching, whereupon a throw rug flies into the air and begins moaning. More flying carpets follow suit, and Eoleo and Raleria fall prone, nauseated, and vulnerable to attack. Rognar identifies the creatures as Shadow Cloakers and neatly slices through two them. Then he promptly disappears. As far as Rognar can tell, he is in a shadow labyrinth that only someone with Niamh’s intelligence could hope to escape. In a miraculous moment of clarity, he makes his way back to reality… where everything is still topsy turvy. The horse is the MVP of combat, the ranger gets stuck in the shadow maze but still does damage through a class ability, the homicidal maniac saves the healer’s life, and the sorcerer get experience from puking through the entire battle.

When the Crusade finally recovers from its ludicrous battle with the carpets-in-disguise, the two vampire spawn awaken with two silver swords at their newly reformed throats. They are intimidated into believing the crusade is a band of treasure hunters, and they are taken through a confusing series of twisting paths to the Vampire encampment. There they meant the leader of the vampires, Lady Agatha Thormont, who was otherwise occupied in a dwarven orgy. She dismisses the “treasure hunters” to Ordin, a spiritual advisor of sorts to Lady Thormont. He tells the crusaders that the Doom turned himself and most of Dragonhelm’s other lifeforms into vampire spawn, and the Dark Folk and derro slowly accumulated, attracted to the darkness of the Doom. Lady Thormont rules the old Gold quarter of the city, while the Dark Folk inhabit the Iron quarter. The derro, who inhabit the Silver quarter, are loosely led by three Night Hags, whom the derro worship.

Of most interest to the party, Ordin reveals that the Diamond quarter is the territory of Vahnsinndyr, the mad red dragon, and a brash, territorial umbral dragon who has clashed with Vahnsinndyr before. He (or she) could be a very powerful ally for one of the three factions.

In their continuous effort to wage war against the Darkfolk, the vampires are allied to Lijan, a rakshasa who trades Dark Powder to them, a resource that negates Dark Folk’s supernatural darkness, their most consistent weapon against vampires. In their attempt to ingratiate themselves with Lady Thormont and her spawn, the crusaders must help out their cause in some way, and going to Lijan seems like a good place to start.

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Dragonhelm's Postern
"Splash the water, move the air..."

The adventurers descend into Ardyn’s dungeons to talk with Julian about Dragonhelm. They hope Julian will be able to tell them how he was able to enter—and leave— the cursed city but, at the very mention of the place, Julian begins muttering incoherently to himself. The group shows him the lens to stop his raving, and Eoleo charms him. Julian tells them that there is a second entrance to Dragonhelm, a postern gate, but his motives are questionable, so Eoleo uses dominate person to put Julian in his complete control.

With a dominated Julian in tow, the group heads to the Feywood, having opted to take that path to Dragonhelm as opposed to the path that would bring them too close to the Aughisky the Kelpie Queen. They have barely made it far into the Feywood before they wander across a gnome-looking creature who identifies himself as Roenn. He claims to have been looking for the Scarlet Crusade, explaining that their presence is requested at a meeting of the Dukes and Duchesses of the forest to elect a new leader of the forest in Alymaneann’s absence. The group is immediately suspicious and they needle the gnome with questions about his motives, the motives of the Dukes and Duchesses, and the potential election outcomes. As allies of Alymaneann, they sense a coup of sorts, and when they voice this concern, Roenn suddenly disappears. Celsie rushes by the Scarlet Crusade; she has been shot in the side with an arrow, and she tells the adventurers to start running because there is a giant mob of dark fey coming right toward them.

The group decides to magically construct a chariot so that Owen can pull them, and they head down the mountain path toward Dragonhelm’s postern gate. Eoleo charms Julian to drive the chariot in order to free the members of the Scarlet Crusade to fight their pursuers. Ornagar, a woodwose and a Duke of the Forest, is close behind them. He throws up a wall of thorns in their path around which Julian is able to swerve. Eoleo sets the wall on fire. The Scarlet Crusade is then beset by an insect plague, and only Owen and Rognar escape their poison. Niamh fires off a few arrows at Ornagar but misses. Eoleo uses command to force Ornagar to flee, and Ornagar teleports, allowing the heroes to escape through a foggy miasma.

The Crusaders press on, and no sooner do they find themselves at a crossroads then they are attacked by tendriculos and a few grimstalkers. The plant creatures attack Owen, and Niamh is hit, but both horse and half-elf manage to shake the poison. Niamh responds with a well-placed arrow. Eoleo casts black tentacles and constricts both plant creatures. Raleria ravages them with a fireball, and Rognar hacks at one grimstalker with his cold iron axe. As the grimstalker runs, Owen clobbers it with his front hooves. One grimstalker succeeds in poisoning Julian and Niamh, as one tendriculos takes damage from Eoleo’s black tentacles. The other tendriculos attacks Rognar who uses his shield to block the blow, and Raleria unleashes another fireball, finishing off one tendriculos and one grimstalker. Niamh takes out another grimstalker, and Rognar attacks the third, sending it fleeing. Eoleo tends to Niamh and Julian while Raleria and Rognar kill the last tendriculos with a combination of a scorching ray and a well placed vial of alchemist’s fire. Niamh is healed in time to embed a lethal arrow in the fleeing grimstalker.

No sooner are they free of the plant creatures then the Scarlet Crusade is once again assailed by Roenn— this time in his true form: Roennaxlant, the green dragon. Eoleo is able to calm the Crusaders’ initial fears. As Roennaxlant attempts to sever Owen from the chariot, Raleria attempts to shoot the giant dragon with a bolt of electricity and Niamh fires off several arrows. One arrow hits, but Raleria’s electricity is deflected. Eoleo falls back in preparation for casting charm monster, but Roennaxlant turns and flies away, roaring behind his back that “It’s not over.”

As night falls the mountains surrounding Dragonhelm become a bleak wasteland blighted of life. The Scarlet Crusade continues down the mountain path, anxiously waiting for the next attack they are certain is coming. Sure enough, tree roots shoot from the ground and ensnare Owen, biting him and draining his blood. Niamh wastes two arrows on the vampiric tree, Rognar attacks it with his axe, and Raleria changes into a fire elemental, leaps into the hole of the tree, and sets the whole thing on fire. Owen is able to break free of his grapple, but the Crusaders have an even bigger problem: they have arrived at the postern gate of Dragonhelm.

Disturbingly, Julian begins muttering over and over, “Splash the water, move the air, then the Doom will know you’re there.” The Crusaders know they do not have much time- Ornagar and his mob of evil fey are close behind. They urge Julian to show them the way to cross the moat without “splashing the water” or “moving the air,” and when Julian begins walking what appears to be an invisible path across the moat, they follow him one behind the other. They are almost across when the mob of fey catch up, led by Roennaxlant, Ornagar, and Aughisky. To the Crusaders’ horror, the mob is either unaware of the warning and the moat’s special path, or simply does not care. Kelpies jump into the water in pursuit of the Scarlet Crusade, but their disturbance of the water alerts the Doom. Shadows descend from the heights of Dragonhelm’s walls to lay waste to the army, and a dark mass rises from the moat to consume the kelpies. The Crusaders, fearing for their own lives, take out the mysterious lens and use it as a weapon to defeat the remaining shadow creatures. Julian leads them inside the gates of Dragonhelm where they find themselves at the edge of a seemingly bottomless pit. Julian points out a path hidden in the depths of the chasm, and the Crusaders, with no other option, follow the crazed witch into the cursed city.

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Preparations in Oakwatch
The Crusade readies itself for the expedition into Dragonhelm.

The party suddenly arrives in Ardyn, taking advantage of Eoleo‘s newest spell to finally escape the hazards of the Scarred Hills. The startled citizens recognize their heroes and celebrate their return, but not before Ulmace alerts them of a dwarf intruder, who had been aggressively demanding entrance for almost a day. The dwarf turns out to be Delvin, sent to deliver Val Rognar’s profits from the restoration of Scoria and their discovery of two new silver veins, but he was inadvertently robbed by none other than their companion, Thordast, so Delvin tracked the elf to Ardyn and was demand the return of his lord’s money. Rognar dismissed Delvin and confronted Thordast, receiving his rightful earnings and spending it on some magical improvements to his armor and shield, as well as a belt that improved his physical prowess and a headband to advance his social skills.

The party then traveled to Oakwatch, after hearing numerous tales of the activity of fell fey in the Feywood. Upon their arrival, the town elders update the adventurers on the recent unpleasant developments in the forest, hoping that the heroes had discovered some means of restoring the Master of the Forest to power. They brought Thordast to the petrified dragon, and he told them that he knew an arcane ritual that could revert the earthbound state, but he would require several potent material components, most notably a diamond or white opal conduit for wind energy worth at least 10,000 silver pieces.

Eoleo magically contacts Alymaneann’s consciousness to ask where they might find such a treasure (since the group is unsuccessful in determining the location of the dragon’s lair, and thus his hoard, which might contain a piece so valuable). The dragon suggests that two of the fey dukes might possess the necessary jewel: the vicious Kelpie Queen, Aughisky, and the nymph Elmira (known for her distaste of elves). He also tells Niamh that her mother was last seen traveling north to “follow the holy falcon,” some kind of missionary quest that required her departure from Ardyn, and gives her a code with which to find the savings she left for her wayward daughter (namely a well-concealed platinum coin of immense value).

The party decides their best bet is to speak with Elmira, so they stock up on equipment in Oakwatch before marching out into the Feywood, accompanied by an honor guard of two gnomes. Along the way, they are beset by four monstrous fey dragonflies, which lure them into a glade with an illusion before ensnaring them and trying to whisk them away. The party is able to fend them off, but at the expense of many resources, including one of their guards (who was taken by one of the giant bugs). The groups follows the insects’ trail and finds the seat of Duchess Elmira, who awaits their arrival. She is initially unfriendly given their violent foray into her domain and the two menfolk’s drifting eyes (although she had set them up in an unfair position from the start), and argues that the Master’s failure to keep the evil fey in check suggests the forest’s need for a new guardian, one with less sympathy for elven outsiders. Through much cooperation and compromise, the Crusaders agree to borrow and return the valuable diamond in exchange for their gnome guard’s life.

With the gnome’s life at stake, Raleria refuses to take chances by Thordast. She calls off the groups first attempt at the ritual to prompt some research of material components and arcane rituals, and the group finds numerous inconsistencies with Thordast’s supposed spell. Their stalling provokes the Elders to call an official meeting, where they challenge the party to either let Thordast complete the ritual, or have him write it out so Raleria could do it. Eventually, Raleria’s distrust of her estranged parent outweighs her self-confidence issues, and she asks for a written task analysis for the ritual. Thordast complies, retiring to a room to transcribe the ritual process.

Sure enough, when the party returns Thordast is gone, and his “ritual” turns out to be a friendly letter applauding Raleria for seeing through his ruse. As a parental reward for such social competence, he leaves for her a strange ring supposedly connected to Dragonhelm which he procured from a gambling buddy, since he knew that was the Crusade’s intended destination. Blackbarrow‘s journal describes such rings as being used to “command the elite guardians of the dwarven citadels,” but to untrained eyes the ring seems almost useless. Thordast also writes that no known ritual or spell could restore an earthbound creature of Alymaneann’s size, only a tremendously powerful creature of elemental air (which Raleria might find in the shadows of the accursed city). Disheartened but prepared, the group asks how to get to Dragonhelm, to which the Elders respond that the party could take one of two dangerous routes: passing through the Kelpie Queen’s watery lair, or taking the winding road through the Feywood with the homicidal witch Julian as their guide (given that Julian was the only one to ever glimpse the gates of Dragonhelm and return). After much debate between frying pan and fire, the group decides that Julian is the lesser of two evils, although Eoleo buys a scroll of dominate person and learns the spell as a precaution for hopefully keeping the madman under control.

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The Chimera and the Behir

After vanquishing the haunted corpse of Drohun Blackbarrow, the Scarlet Crusade heads west across the Scarred Hills in search of Karridane, the red-dragon-blooded chimera. Cotter leads, eager to rid the Scarred Hills of the “Red Scourge” and thus prove himself the true leader of the Scarred Hill Outriders. As the crusaders enter a narrow pass edged by two steep rocky cliffs, they get their first glimpse of Karridane just before they are buried in a rock slide.

Luckily for him, Eoleo was 40 feet in the air. Of the rest of the party traveling on horseback, Cotter is the only member of the party to escape being buried, though his horse was, ironically, the only one to be so. Continuing with his good fortune, Cotter manages to hit Karridane with three arrows and distract her while the rest of the team struggles to get free from under the crushing rock. Eoleo casts hold monster on Karridane, while Cotter helps Rognar get free. Owen heroically rescues both Niamh and Raleria with an extraordinary display of his excellent training. Eoleo meanwhile traps Karridane in an ice storm and then finishes her off with a lightning bolt.

His air & lightning assault earn him some grumbles from Raleria, but Cotter is only too happy to be done with Karridane and helps himself to the dragon and lion heads of the 3-headed scourge. Before parting ways, Cotter commends the crusaders on their prowess and promises never to speak of them to anyone in Scarhelm. The crusade then discover that the horns of the remaining goat head can be powdered and used to cast a fire spell with exceptionally amplified power. After searching Karridane’s lair the crusaders find an engraved javelin of lightning, a ton of gold and silver, and to the team’s surprise, several hatched copper dragon eggs. They speculate over whether this may have been Alymaneann’s nest, and decide to take the eggs with them because they can be used as a material component for stoneskin. Eoleo resolves to learn the stoneskin spell before the crusade departs.

After spending the night in Karridane’s lair, which reeked of chimera urine but kept scabcats away, the crusade sets out to find Shryllyx, Karridane’s rival. Eoleo presents Karridane’s goat head to Shryllyx, hoping to trade it for some food that wouldn’t give them firegut. However, to Shryllyx, the head was only payment enough to let the team proceed through her territory. Raleria tries to bargain with Shryllyx, but the best deal they can get is permission to hunt on Shryllyx’s land for one day in exchange for traveling two days north, relieving four giants of their heads and/or clubs and traveling two days back to deliver said trophies. This did not really solve the team’s problem of foodlessness, given that the team did not know how to prepare wild game safely and one day was not enough to develop an immunity to firegut. After much deliberation, the team decides it would better benefit their interests if they were to just fight Shryllyx herself (which earns more grumbling from Raleria).

Niamh initiates the battle by running away…and then shooting Shryllyx with three arrows. Raleria joins Eoleo in the air as Rognar charges Shryllyx on horseback and gashes her front two legs with his axe. Eoleo casts suggestion on Shryllyx, and gets her to “submit” to the team and bring them food and tribute. Shryllyx brings a dead Scarhelm outrider (with trail rations in his pack), a twisted wooden wand of daylight, and three fist-sized topaz gems. Having completed the terms of the suggestion, the spell wears off, and, much Raleria’s dismay, Shryllyx resumes her attack. Aiming for the closest target, Shryllyx traps Rognar between her jaws, making it impossible for him to fight back before he is swallowed whole! Unable to fight his way out, Rognar suffers heavy damage from Shryllyx’s tightening gizzard and the team begins to wonder what Rognar would become if they had to resurrect him. Thanks to his throwing axe, Rognar finally manages to cut his way out of Shryllyx’s stomach and lands in a bloody mess beneath her. Eoleo casts glitterdust on Shryllyx, who blindly tries to stomp Rognar with six of her legs, but fails. Rognar manages to roll out of the way just as Niamh brings Shryllyx down with 3 final arrows.

After looting Shryllyx’s lair for more money and magic items, the team makes its way northeast to see Ophemet, narrowly avoiding 3 cinder ghouls hovering above the charred remains of two giants. On their return, Ophemet tells the team that Raleria’s lens is actually a phylactery connecting a dwarf lich, now known as the Doom of Dragonhelm, to the mortal realm. It can be used to glean moments of sanity from the mad dwarf’s mind, and to magnify light spells to dispel shadows. This means that if the crusade can somehow reawaken the artificial sun beneath the mountain, they could use its power, magnified by the lens, to destroy the doom.

Ophemet also tells the team that Dragonhelm is not, in fact, abandoned. Apart from the Doom, the Red Dragon that resides there has fallen under the spell of the Doom and become mad itself. There are numerous other shadows there under the Doom’s control, but there are also other denizens of Dragonhelm, both living and dead, that may be interested in becoming allies with the Scarlet Crusade in a battle against the doom. Additionally, Dragonhelm rests on a waterfall to the east and may be the site of innumerable treasures, so it’s possible that the team may be able to convince Raleria’s miser…er, I mean, father to come along. Not to mention the reason he’s around in the first place is to help restore Alymaneann, who may be another potential ally, so the team wouldn’t be facing the Doom alone.

Finally, Ophemet warns the crusade that the four giants Shryllyx told them of are likely scouts for a giant army, possibly the one referenced in the prophecy of the Clutch of Verthandi. She also implies that it’s likely the giant army is led by the fourth and final red dragon, who, by necessity, is most likely as intelligent as the Dragonhelm dragon is mad. Before the team goes on its way, Ophemet cryptically tells the team to “be careful confronting a giant army; you don’t want to be barking up the wrong tree.”

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The Second Death of Drohun Blackbarrow
The Crusaders break the curse of Drohun Blackbarrow, and find some other work along the way.

After consulting with Ophemet, the Scarlet Crusade heads southwest in search of Drohun Blackbarrow‘s undead body, in hopes of permanently putting the revenant to rest. On their way, the party encounters six scab cats, which are by turns grappled by Eoleo’s black tentacles spell, pummeled by Owen the horse, punctured by Niamh’s arrows, and zapped by lightning spells and axes.

Following the battle, the party immediately notices two rift drakes flying toward them – or rather, toward Owen. The party sets up an ambush around Owen, who is attacked by projectile acid, but with clever use of flight and invisibility, the team is able to take down both drakes, charming one to attack the other. The charmed drake reveals that his name is Kershwin, and agrees (while charmed) to accompany the Scarlet Crusaders to battle Blackbarrow.

The party is finally able to apprise their status and while healing up, Niamh and Rognar find that they have contracted Firegut from the scab cats’ claws. Niamh and Rognar decide that to try to ride it out and develop the first stage of immunity instead of using remove disease again, but they have to wait a day for it to manifest.

As the party continues on its way, they find it’s difficult to occupy the truculent drake, so they suggest that Kerhswin go entertain himself by wiping out the spriggans at the oasis, which he agrees to do only if he gets to keep all their loot for himself. While Kershwin is off hunting, Rognar and Niamh have a hard three days trying to fight off Firegut, but aren’t able to shake it by the end of the third day. Deciding they have spent too much time waiting, Eoleo is forced to dispel the disease. Still a day before Kershwin returns, the party is surrounded by a six-man gang of House Harlow outriders. The outriders proclaim that they are searching for two half-elves, a dwarf and a gnome fitting the team’s description, and despite official papers from Lord Ferrum and the party’s best attempts at bluffing, the outriders attack on the order to take them “alive if possible, dead if necessary.” Really a poor decision on the outriders’ part.

After some thorough trouncing (on the part of the Scarlet Crusade), some of the outriders attempt to flee to warn “Cowlick,” but are quickly nuked by fireballs. The rest are similarly dispatched while one surrenders. The complacent outrider, Rodin, divulges the identity of “Cowlick,” a.k.a. Val Korrick Redcliffe, the leader of the Scarred Hill Outriders. He also tells the team of an area covered in shadow that Blackbarrow is known to haunt, and that there’s a RED DRAGON residing in the area as well, much to the vexation of Shryllyx, whose territory borders this “Red Scourge.” In their amazement, the party asks Rodin why House Harlow never did anything about the red dragon in their territory, to which Rodin gives them a mumbling, bullshit sort of answer. Apparently, pursuing the Scarlet Crusade and nursing Syrion’s wounded pride is more important to House Harlow than saving their subjects from periodic dragon attacks.

When Kershwin finally returns, the party asks him about the dragon, to which he responds, “Bitch.” He then tells the party that her name is Karridane and she is in fact NOT a red dragon, but rather a chimera with dragon blood. The party then has a tough time deciding what to do with Rodin, and they finally decide to put him in Kershwin’s care, instructing him to kill Rodin if he tried to escape or harm the party.

The party makes its way closer to Blackbarrow’s territory, but as his name suggests, the land gets darker and darker, and a vicious windstorm ends the stint of good weather. In a tiny lean-to, the party spies a travel-worn man in a faded Harlow outrider uniform. Rodin reveals that this is Cotter, the former leader of the outriders before Val Korrick. After a terse exchange, Cotter allows the party to share his meal and his shelter as they agree to slay the chimera together once Blackbarrow has been put to rest. Because the storm impedes Kershwin’s flight, Rodin attempts to escape but is quickly nuked by Raleria’s fireball.

Rid of that unwanted baggage, Cotter accompanies the party to a dark vale in the heart of Blackbarrow’s haunted territory. The team beefs up on potions and enchantments before venturing farther. They soon see a small dark shape clawing meaninglessly at a sheer rock wall. When Eoleo calls to him, the revenant of Drohun Blackbarrow turns and shrieks, rendering Eoleo, Rognar, and Kershwin immobile from fear. Blackbarrow launches himself on Rognar’s cowering (though enlarged) person, and latches his long, sickly fingernails around his throat. Cotter and Niamh discover that only some of their ranged attacks land on his shifting, shadowy skin, so Eoleo casts dancing lights to dispel the effect. No longer cowering, Kershwin flees, the charm notwithstanding. Blackbarrow moves on to the next immediate threat, launching himself at Niamh. Raleria then pulls out Blackbarrow’s book, sending him into a fit of self-loathing. Rognar charges and slashes at his prone back, rendering him lifeless. To keep it that way, the team completes the ritual burial of Blackbarrow’s body at midday, hoping that’s the last they’ll see of his haunting presence.

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Into the Scarred Hills
The Scarlet Crusade learns the secrets (and dangers) of Dragonhelm, the Scarred Hills, and Drohun Blackbarrow.

After a lengthy journey filled with the infuriating circumlocution of Raleria’s justifiably estranged father, the party returns to Boyne to investigate the mysteries of Dragonhelm in the Hall of Heroes. When they arrive, they are introduced to a green-haired gnome druid named Tigwin, a resident of Oakwatch and admirer of the Crusaders since their liberation of Ardyn. Tigwin was sent to Boyne by Elder Milni to research Dragonhelm as well; apparently the less benevolent residents of the Feywood have become increasingly active in the Master of the Forest’s absence, and the Elders believe that the fell powers of the dreaded dwarf city may be responsible for these fey predations. Over the course of his studies of Drohun Blackbarrow’s original journal, however, Tigwin began to suffer disturbing hallucinations and restless nights, an infamous side effect of delving too deep into Blackbarrow’s writing. When the heroes meet him, Tigwin is extremely sleep-deprived and deathly afraid to be out of bright light.

When Tigwin shares his findings with the Crusaders, however, they are surprised to hear him mention a mysterious lens made of adamantine. Raleria produces the lens and shows it to Tigwin, who excitedly opens Blackbarrow’s journal and shows it to the party’s spellcasters. The passage details the Doom as some kind of sentient and malevolent creature of pure shadow, something that may have once been a dwarf itself (or at least posing as one), and that the only weapon the dwarves had that could fight it was this mystic lens, which could channel the light of another dwarven artifact known as Daedal’s Sun and use it against the Doom. Tigwin’s excitement becomes manic, and he presses the group to leave for Oakwatch immediately. Fearing for the gnome’s sanity, the party convinces Tigwin to spend a night resting to recover his strength before they all leave. Reluctantly, Tigwin agrees.

That night, Raleria and Eoleo, the two party members who read Blackbarrow’s journal, are visited by a hideously disturbing image of Blackbarrow himself, now an eyeless, ragged corpse of a dwarf begging not to be left alone in the dark. The apparition merely frightens Raleria, but Eoleo is subjected to a freak accident in his waking fear, leading the party to believe that they, too, have been afflicted by whatever evil haunts Tigwin and the accursed journal. Furthermore, when the sun rises, the party discovers that Tigwin has stolen the journal and the lens, fleeing into the Scarred Hills in search of an enigmatic wisdom known locally as Ophemet the Seer. The party inquires after the gnome and the seer, but no one has seen Tigwin or believes that Ophemet actually exists. The only lead they find is a grumpy ferryman who could possibly smuggle them into the hills without alerting the wardens of these broken lands: House Harlow, the corrupt noble house who occupied Ardyn and sent catspaws after Eoleo in Wintervale. Tired, disgruntled, and directionless, the party stocks up on food before venturing into the hazardous wilderness of the Scarred Hills.

A simple enchantment is all it takes to get the Scarlet Crusaders across the river, but from there the heroes are rapidly subjected to the hills’ brutal heat (a problem magnified by a heat wave) and ferocious wildlife, namely a pack of bloodthirsty manticores. The party fends off the winged beasts and locates some hunting trails, but with so many restless nights Eoleo and Raleria are unable to replenish their energy for spellcasting, forcing the party to make camp until they can all get a good night’s sleep. On top of this, Niamh is not accustomed to the eldritch terrain of the accursed hills, and she loses Tigwin’s already fragile trail. Disheartened and lost, the party settles into a small natural alcove to recover and regain their bearings. The strong-willed spellcasters are ultimately able to fight off the evil that plagues their sleep, resting easy and recovering their magical energy, but just as fortune seems to be smiling on the heroes again, Raleria and Rognar are suddenly stricken with a staggering illness.

With progress proving difficult and their food supplies running low, Niamh investigates the surrounding hillside to search of any sign of Tigwin while Eoleo tends to his comrades. Niamh cannot locate the druid’s trail, but she does find a lone human, badly wounded and exhausted. The party identifies the man as a Scarred Hills outrider, an elite Harlow cavalry soldier specially trained to repel the monsters of the hills and keep them away from highways and settlements. The outrider’s training was insufficient, however, when his platoon was attacked by an unusually large and organized pride of scab cats⎯the iconic predators of the greater hills regions⎯which killed his companions and horses and left him in his compromised state. In return for food, shelter, and healing, the outrider tells the party what he knows about the landscape and its dangers, including firegut, the disease present in all flora and fauna native to the hills that has afflicted Rognar and Raleria. Desperate to make up for lost ground, Eoleo summons a horse and sends the rider on his way the following morning before treating his friends’ illness. It is shortly after this that the party realizes that House Harlow probably has eyes out for Eoleo and his companions, so they quickly track down their ungrateful guest and magically compel him to seek his fallen companions in the dangerous wilderness.

At last, the Scarlet Crusaders are well-rested, well-fed, magically mounted and warded against the elements, and still undetected by House Harlow. Unfortunately they still have no heading, with Tigwin’s trail now five days cold and only a crude map as a resource. Thinking that the outriders must have some sort of communications base in the area, the adventurers ride southwest, following the trails Niamh found the day before. They do discover a Harlow outpost, but Niamh discerns from afar that it has been abandoned by the outriders and is now crawling with scab cats, most likely the pride that attacked the outrider’s platoon. The Crusaders play it safe and continue west, bypassing the ruined tower. This does not keep them completely safe, for another pride of the beasts chases them across the sandy terrain, but with their strength restored the group makes short work of the animals an continues on its way.

The party comes across a herd of aurochs grazing in a relatively hospitable tract of land, so Eoleo uses the opportunity to magically inquire about Tigwin, Ophemet, and the surrounding area. The cattle had not seen the druid and did not know anything about Ophemet, but they did tell the party that the pride of scab cats residing in the abandoned outpost is led by a Pack Lord, a scab cat lycanthrope unique to the Scarred Hills. This explains why the scab cats are so plentiful and organized, and gives the heroes all the more reason to avoid the outpost: not only are the cats numerous and dangerous, but their lycanthrope leader is intelligent and can only be wounded by silver weapons. The aurochs also warn the party about the nearby territory of a “landshark,” a massive burrowing predator that eats anything and everything it crosses. Still without a lead, the party continues west, concluding that at least that would bring them closer to Dragonhelm. Along the way they come across a small oasis inhabited by violent spriggans. Eoleo and Raleria easily coerce the nasty fey into cooperating with a potent display of fire magic, and from these wretched monsters they actually get a heading: the spriggans point them northwest, where they claim the party will find Ophemet the Seer.

Along the way, however, the Crusaders spot in the distance none other than their fugitive, riding atop his vermin companion, a large bee named Beeswald. The party tears after the gnome, who tries to throw them off with his druidic magic, but the Crusaders ultimately apprehend him and reclaim the cursed book and the lens. Tigwin looks even more exhausted and desperate than he did the night he disappeared, so the party decides that everyone must rest for the night, believing that if Eoleo and Raleria could shake the book’s curse, then the unlucky gnome might be able to as well given proper support. As befits their luck, however, a massive thunderhead breaks the heat wave, and locks the party in their makeshift shelter for the following day as well. In another haphazard escape attempt, Tigwin transforms into a cat and tries to flee into the darkness, but before the heroes can reach him the fell spirit of the book claims the poor gnome’s life. They find Tigwin’s body a short distance away from their shelter, a look of fright forever frozen to his face.

Depressed by the loss of their misguided ally, the Crusaders decide to wait out the rest of the storm before continuing their search for Ophemet. Unexpectedly, though, the seer finds them first: a large gynosphinx infiltrates their camp and asks to examine their tome. The party warns Ophemet about the book’s curse, but the brazen sphinx takes it anyway and magically discerns its history and condition. She tests the heroes with riddles before telling them the history of Drohun Blackbarrow and his accursed journal: the historian was one of the few dwarves to survive the coming of the Doom, which gradually drove him mad with grief and fear (he never spent a night without candlelight after the fall of Dragonhelm). His madness was so complete that it severed his sentience from his body: his spirit was bound to the journal, bestowing his fatal fear upon anyone who read it, while his body remained animated as a revenant, an undead monstrosity doomed to scour the Scarred Hills forever in search of a way to fight the Doom. According to the sphinx, the only way to remove the curse from the book⎯and to permanently put Blackbarrow’s body to rest⎯is to give Blackbarrow a proper dwarven burial in broad daylight, relieving his fear of the shadows and the grief that fuels his enraged body.

In exchange for a riddle from Eoleo, Ophemet provides the party with the proper dwarven burial rites, and agrees to learn what she can about the lens. She takes it back to her cave in the northern hills to research, while the Crusaders try to lift the curse from Blackbarrow’s journal by putting his revenant to rest.

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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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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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The Scarlet Crusaders

After resting, the team uses a lift to descent into a very roughly-cut room and immediately encounters two trolls. The team earlier learned that trolls have the ability to regenerate, and are essentially immortal unless made vulnerable by acid or fire first. Niamh attacks with a poisoned arrow, but it gets lost in the attempt. Raleria attacks with fireballs while Rognar takes cover behind a support beam, shielded from the troll’s attacks. Rognar attacks the trolls and fells the first, while Niamh finishes off the second.

Niamh scouts out the next room while invisible, and finds a large number of imprisoned slaves below a platform with four dwarves, one with impressive armor, a shield taller than he is, and a massive warhammer with the head of a dragon. Niamh reports back to the group, which decides that the best course of action was to march in like they own the place. The impressively-armed dwarf turned out to be none other than Tog Bjorn himself. Tog says he believes the True Light has shined down upon him for delivering Rognar to him. Rognar offers Tog mercy before engaging in battle, but he refuses, as the party expected. Tog commands his men to attack, but to leave Rognar for him. One of Tog’s Burned Beards uses a scroll of haste on all of Tog’s forces, but the team soon takes care of him. The other two dwarves attack the team but are quickly blinded by Raleria, and Rognar finishes of the second, leaving only one blind Burned Beard left in the fray. Seeing things turning the wrong way, Tog attacks Niamh’s bow, but is not very successful, though he manages to push Niamh off the edge of the platform. Fortunately, she manages to grab the wall and drop safely down. Tog and Rognar fight it out until it seems like Tog is on his last legs. Using what he thinks is his trump card, Tog calls to Pyrolassus… who doesn’t answer. Raleria then fells Tog with her magic missiles, and he dies with Rognar’s foot on his back and the words “Fire King” on his lips.

Rognar takes Tog’s hammer and armor from his dead body, and Niamh takes his keys and releases the slaves, who say Pyrolassus is in the next chamber. Hearing his leader’s death, the remaining dwarf surrenders. Eoleo goes to scout out behind a pillar but Pyrolassus sees him anyway. Pyrolassus is a huge red dragon whose enormous size is almost completely due to her excess amounts of fat, contrasted against her small, atrophied wings. She sits atop an enormous mound of treasure, surrounded by bones and wooden pillars supporting the stone ceiling. Pyrolassus tries to charm Eoleo into bringing her the bodies of the dead dwarves, but he resists it and launches an incredibly effective lightning bolt at six of the wooden pillars. Pyrolassus flicks a acid arrow at Eoleo as Rognar runs in and smashes one column with his new flaming warhammer. Raleria follows up with a fireball, and Eoleo casts an ice storm near Pyrolassus. Niamh shatters an alchemist’s fire on the column Rognar originally attacked, while Rognar moves on to another. Unfortunately, Pyrolassus has had it with the threats to her chamber and aims a massive fire blast at the team. Raleria is out of range and Niamh is protected from the energy, but Eoleo and Rognar are nearly knocked unconscious by the blast. Just then, the remaning pillars can’t take any more and the ceiling collapses in on Pyrolassus. This is good news for the team’s fight, but then a more dangerous threat manifests: the mountain itself.

Water from the Titan’s Goblet lake pours in through the ceiling, flooding the chamber. The team makes a hasty exit, literally in Rognar’s case, who drinks a potion of haste in order to increase his speed through the water. Niamh uses her ranger skills to run from the threat, while Raleria casts fly on herself so she can carry Eoleo to safety, and then returns with a rope to help Rognar struggle through the rising water. The team makes it back to the last lift and after much effort winches the lift up the shaft. At the top, they see a group of slaves still imprisoned behind iron bars. Raleria and Rognar burn and smash through the door while Eoleo scouts ahead and sees a dwarf trapped in a predatory gelatinous booby trap. The water continues to rush in, knocking slaves and heroes alike off their feet. Rognar remains as the last of the slaves escape the cell. As the water rises, Raleria returns to help Rognar, who drags the remaining three slaves along with the help of Raleria’s rope.

Raleria flies over the open trap door, and Niamh successfully jumps across, followed by Eoleo, who doesn’t quite make it and clings to the door. Fortunately, Niamh pulls him up in time to avoid an attack from the carnivorous jelly. To prevent the trouble of having everyone else jump over the trap door, Eoleo casts suggestion on one of the panicked slaves to pull the trap door lever that Niamh was able to detect, herding all the slaves to safety. After much running from rising water, Niamh and Eoleo take the first two loads of slaves up the first lift while Rognar brings up the rear. Raleria flies one gnome slave up the shaft, dodging the descending lift. Despite the slaves’ panic, Rognar intimidates them enough to get them on the lift in as orderly a fashion as possible and help him winch it up. At last, everyone escapes the Scoria Mines as the mountain collapses.

The present surviving Sure Axes quickly surrender and the freed slaves cheer. Within days, all the surviving Sure Axes have surrendered and the team is back in Ogjorn at a council with Lord Ferrum and the other nobles. The lords debate over what to do with liberated lands, and instead of returning them to Javal or awarding them to one of the other nobles, Lord Ferrum bestows them on the team responsible for their liberation, and invites Rognar to join the Valkyrie. Lord Ferrum and the team begin traveling to Wintervale, where Rognar’s initiation will take place. During this time, Eoleo brews new potions and learns remove blindness/deafness from a recovered scroll, and Rognar uses his smithing skills to resize Tog’s magical plate armor to fit himself. Since Éadrom the waraxe is Rognar’s signature weapon, Rognar decides to hand the dragon hammer over to Niamh, who was desperately in need of an effective melee weapon.

In order for the the bards to sing of the team’s heroic deeds at the coming celebrations, Lord Ferrum asks which name the team would like to be identified by. After much discussion about their past adventures, group diversity, and present goals, the team decides on the name the Scarlet Crusade. As a newly-landed Valkyr, Rognar has to decide upon a sigil for his fiefdom. With the team’s help, Rognar decided on Éadrom, his magical axe, and the red lance of St. Georgia, crossed in front of crackling lightning. Rognar also discusses with his team who to appoint as stewards of his fiefdom while Rognar continued to search for the remaining red dragons with the other Scarlet Crusaders.

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