Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 16

Lanaver sees an older human man and Dwarven woman dining together, talking together in low, emphatic voices. Neither looks like an adventurer, as both are dressed in fine clothes.  Lanaver approaches, sliding into the only vacant chair at the table.

“Hey.  This is a private meeting.”  The human says.

“Find your own table.”  The Dwarf gives him a glare.

“Hey, just bein friendly.”  Lanaver says, “This place is crowded!”

“Is that why you just left your friends and decided to intrude on our evening?”  The human says, his voice acid, “We’re expecting a friend.”

Knowing that they’ve seen through his ruse and not wanting to make trouble for Madame Freia, Lanaver retreats back to watch the rest of the tavern for suspicious activity from his original table.

Tallisk shouts her drunken approval and bashes her ale tankard on the table. The human signals the barmaid for another drink, hoping that somehow she can find a way to scam a meal as well. Priorities are what they are however, booze comes first.  Although she knows drinking is a bad habit, the deeds she had run from in Denoria made it a necessity.  At least until she found a better way to cope with it.  Besides, it made her fighting style all that much easier.

“Who’s th musicer?” She asks, turning a deceptively bleary gaze at the empty chair to her left before repeating the question to the handsome man on her right. Well maybe he was missing some teeth, but who was she to judge?

“At be Rowan Red Tale as folk call er ere abouts.” The man smiles, showing his three good teeth.

The man, noticing Tallisk is drunk, idles over and asks, “What brings a lovely lady like yeself ere abouts?”  He runs his hands through his greasy hair and gives her a sleazy grin.

The barmaid arrives and Tallisk pays with her last silver, taking a full and foaming tankard with a smile. “Ain’t it obvious?” She says to the man, “I’m gettin shitfaced!  Whatr you doin in this fine esta… est… err place?”

“Just havin a drink and looken fer some female companionship.”  He says, reaching his hand out towards her barely laced bodice that strains against the ample flesh it contains.

“All tha about heroes an th like sounds great inna song but…” She gestures with her mug, coming very close to smashing his reaching hand with it.  When he reaches again, Tallisk hiccups and then releases a belch of epic proportions, blowing it into his face. “That’s fer idiots an fools right?”

“Yeah.”  He says, leaning away from the warm alcohol soaked smell of her breath.  “Only fools go adventuring.”

“Rowan… Now where’v I heard tha name?” Tallisk muses, taking a pull on her foaming tankard.  “Sounds familiar like.”

Rowan smiles at Blaizette when she brings the critic’s second meal.  “Thank you, Sweetie.” She turns to the critic and says as she stands, “I hope you enjoy your stew. I, for one, love it here. I would appreciate it if you are kind to them.” He takes a bite and begins to scribble notes with a pen that never seems to run out of ink, seeming to have forgotten she was even there.

With a sigh of resignation, Rowan gets up to casually wanders the room, playing her flute almost absent-mindedly. When she gets back to the table where Lanaver sits, she takes a few gulps of mead from her mug and whispers casually to him that seems to be a harmless restaurant critic with a magical pen. She then heads into the kitchen to make sure that everything seems ok back there. She is concerned that the magical item might have been planted back in the kitchen where there is much that can be gotten into, including fire and food.

“The venison is particularly good tonight.” Rowan says with a smile to the chef.  “Let me know if any of you have requests for music, I’m happy to oblige!”  She says, sneaking a sample a strawberry tart that’s fresh out of the oven.

The kitchen staff asks for ‘Basil Butterbarrel’s Boast’ and ‘The Lovers’ Twixt’ and Rowan promises to play their favorites when she plays her next set.  After that, she wanders back out into the common room.

As Sebastian comes back downstairs and sees a Wild Elf dining alone at table one. She looks out of place in a nice establishment like this. She wears leather armor dirty with sweat, grime, and the stains of moving through vegetation. A fine-looking bow of strange, purple-hued wood is strung across her back. Of the six tables, five of them show signs that someone at them carries something magical.

Sebastian moves to the table where the Wild Elf sits.  He notices that although her armor is dirty and her hair unkempt, the bow she carries is meticulously maintained and shows no signs of dust, dirt or stain.

“Mind if I join you?”  He asks over the general din of the other patrons.  She meets his eyes, shrugs and goes back to her meal.  At this close distance, Sebastian can identify the bow as being fashioned from Morcant Burl; a rare wood that grows only within the Quivering Forest.

“My name is Sebastian, I must say that is a nice Morcant Burl bow.  Did you make it yourself?”  He asks, “I can appreciate good craftsmanship.”

“I’m Surruk, and aye I made my bow.”  She says, obviously enjoying that he has noticed her prized weapon,  “The Quivering Woods are a dangerous place, The Starshield knights see Starvale safe against the fae and fell creatures that dwell there, but those who venture aways from Starvale get no protection but what they give themselves.”

“Yesh th woods are treche… malev… Dangerous.” Tallisk says, leaning back dangerously on her chair to interject into a conversation she isn’t a part of. “Tha’s why I like ta stay in a civiliz… Er… a town.”

Anyone who really looks beyond her disarming smile and flashing green eyes notices that she’s nowhere near as drunk as she seems, but most men are too busy looking at the generous cleavage she brazenly displays to think about her possible motives. Many women also, although in her experience men are easier marks.

“Tell me more a th Starshield knights I ain’t heard of em.”  Tallisk says with a sloppy smile.

The Elf quirks an eyebrow and says, “You must be new in town I take it?  The Knights of the Starshield are all that’s left as a semblance of law enforcement in Starvale.” She leans in closer and says softly, “Some of them are even corrupt, and they are heavy handed with innocents and those of guilt alike.” She glances about to make sure there are no guards around. “They serve Lord Ector, who rules us all here.”

“Sure, jest got in th other day.”  Tallisk says, turning back to grin invitingly at her table companion.  “How’s bout ‘nother drink?”

The man is walking away from their table, glancing back over his shoulder at her with a sour, disgusted look on his face.  Tallisk frowns, pulling out a small steel mirror to check her appearance.  Her well fitted green and cream dress is all in place, her bodice is still unlaced just a hair above the point where it would be truly indecent and her tangled mass of coppery curls are still attractively framing her plump face.

Tallisk scratches her head, “Nothin stuck in m teeth, m hair’s OK still… Maybe I’m losing m touch. Or maybe I jest got too many teeth fer him.”  She laughs uproariously at her own joke, leaning precariously back in the chair and nearly unbalancing herself in the process.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 15

Hajima gathers up his spent bolts and takes any that can be reused before following the others out of the teleportation chamber. “In such a profane place as this, I certainly won’t refuse the blessing of a goddess. I’m in complete agreement that this foul experiment must not be repeated.”

“You know,” Rowan adds, after humming a few bars of a new tune, “Perhaps Tyche herself is involved in this. I’ve heard a few tales of her revulsion for those who would pollute a dragon’s life, especially as an undead.” She looks around at the various necromantic tools that have been properly destroyed, “I’d say creating a Dracolich would particularly irritate her. Whatever the case, if any gods are involved I hope they lend their help if despite our efforts a dragon does rise from the dead. That is not something I’d like to see.”

She looks around at her powerful allies. “Though if I’m to face danger of any size or risk, I cannot think of anyone I would rather face it with than with you all.” That said, she squares her little shoulders, and prepares to face whatever is next down the tunnels.

Comforted in knowledge that they have thwarted something sinister the party returns up to the graveyard. They find Brother Keefe and he thanks them for their service. He is stricken to know of what they found beneath.

“My mind reels at the prospect of necromantic magics being practiced under my very nose. I must report this to The Alliance, for I am a member of that august order of law-abiding citizens.  It was a few of my fellow members who warned me of rumors about Xandria’s possible draconic heritage.”  He looks older than ever as he confides in them.

“Those lawless Silencers are involved somehow as well.  They have been investigating various dragon related leads over the last fortnight.  If they are part of this, then it will get worse before it gets better.”  With that, he gives Sebastian a sack of gold to distribute among themselves.

“If I may ask such, would it be possible for you to intercede on my behalf?”  Sebastian asks quietly as he accepts the payment.  “I would be honored to join The Alliance, for upholding the law while promoting peace and prosperity are at the core of my beliefs.”

“Of course youngster.  You have more than proven to be worthy of consideration in this action today.”  He says, his mouth quirking in what might be thought of as a smile.  “I will be in contact when the time for your vetting comes.”  With that he politely excuses himself and the party makes their way back to the common room of The Boiling Kettle for a well-earned drink.

The Boiling Kettle is crowded a few days later, as the Evenfeast meal has brought many hungry patrons. A young Halfling woman called Blaze, obviously one of Freia’s daughters, wears a blue kerchief and acts as the server for the meal. She manages to keep a smile despite the busy night.

“Oh Rowan,” she pleads, “Please play your new song for us! The one you’ve been writing about your tales of brave adventure!” Blaze has been nagging since she first heard the song coming together a few days ago. Murna and her baby have just left the Boiling Kettle after visiting Vellk and gifting him with some home brewed Boiling and barley bread, it seems Murna has taken quite a liking to Vellk.

Chaab, who was in a corner drinking with Lanaver excuses himself and leaves but mentions before he goes, “Lan, if you’re ever down by the ‘Laughing Goblin’ come say hello, there may even be work to be had.  Though you’d better watch yourself.” He warns, “The place can get quite rowdy, not a polite bunch like this lot! Have a good evening, Lanaver.”  With that he settles his tab and leaves.

Rowan smiles up at Blaze. “Well, I think I can manage that, since you asked.” She winks at her. She tenderly takes out her cittern and walks over to the small table that she’s had set up near the fire. Seeing as how she’s very short, the Halfling likes to sit or stand on top of the table.

Sebastian is found drinking, gambling or studying magic. Usually in that order. He seems to beam at the new song, not for his part but for how great Rowan’s performance is.  Lanaver is in high spirits this evening. After his company leaves he joins in the merriment, singing, dancing, and drinking more than anyone has ever seen him drink before.

“Here here!” He roars. “To the Boiling Kettles’ troubadour and her motley mix of mad men!” He swings his mug high to toast.  There is raucous applause after Rowan finishes her song, and it’s not just Lanaver and Sebastian who are cheering and whistling.  Barely a person in the bar isn’t at least clapping.

Hajima is uncomfortable at first, when Rowan begins to sing the song of their adventures together. Many of the patrons look over at their table, whispering among themselves. As a sniper and someone who grew up in the woods of the elves, he is not used to being in the spotlight. But soon enough the beauty and magic of Rowan’s song takes him up as well and he forgets the people around. He feels himself relax and enjoy her melody, quite touched that she took the time to compose this song for them.

Rowan enjoys the applause and blushes a little, making her freckles stand out. This is her first original heroic song, and she’s very pleased with its reception. Smiling, and feeling high from the applause, she wanders through the crowd, and finally back to her friend’s table for a drink and a bit to eat.

Blaizette brings over their meals when the cheering dies down and happily accepts 9 silver from everyone for the meals, drinking and lodgings this evening. After she brings the food and heads off to another table, a half-orc pulls up a chair and smiles a toothy smile at them.

“Just act normal, but listen closely.” he says through clenched teeth, “Everyone’s life might be in danger. My name is Buhrell Caah. I represent the Emerald Enclave, a group that watches over the happenings in Starvale and beyond. I was just told by an associate that a potentially devastating magical object was brought into the Boiling Kettle. We don’t know what it looks like or who has it, but I need your help in finding it. Could you split up and talk to anyone who looks suspicious, and find out if they are in possession of a powerful item? Do not let anyone know what you are doing, for the possessor of the item might set it off if he or she knows we are aware.”

Lanaver quickly checks his pockets to make sure Chaab didn’t plant something on him.  “Well, sure.  We’ll do what we can, but without more information it’s going to be tough to be much help.”

“We’ll keep an eye out sure.”  Sebastian says, “We can’t have innocent folk put in danger!”

“Oh I simply cannot abide anyone bringing dangerous magics into The Kettle!”  Rowan says, eyes wide with excitement and indignation, “We’ll stop them for sure and it’ll make a tale worth telling.”

Upon hearing of the danger to the inn, Rowan finishes her food and drink, and casually returns to her place upon the table by the fire. She plays songs that she knows well, fun, silly, but mostly instrumental, so that she can focus her attention on the crowd, and whether anything stands out as unusual in behavior or item.

Buhrell goes to speak with Blaze after the party accepts his offer, letting them focus on other patrons of the Boiling Kettle.  He sits at the bar, accepting a tankard of ale and sips it while watching the room carefully.

Rowan sees six tables that seem likely candidates. With a nod a series of brief hand gestures she points them out to Lanaver who relays the message to Sebastian.

Sebastian excuses himself, “I will retire to my room briefly and prepare my detection magics.”  He explains to his friends.  “I will let you know if I find anything suspicious.”

Rowan’s attention narrows to the fourth table she noticed, that happens to sit nearest her makeshift stage. She sees a half-elf man dining alone, playing with his food with a grumpy expression on this face. He jots notes in a small book on the table.

Rowan finishes off her current song and takes a sip of mead from the mug beside her. She sets her cittern down gently and hops down from the table. She strolls over to the half elf’s table and says curiously, and with a smile, “Do you not like my songs, good sir? You seem out of sorts.” She plops herself into a chair next to him, props her chin onto one fist, and tilts her head, looking at him quizzically. “What can I play for you, to cheer you up?”

The man looks up at Rowan, perplexed at the interruption. “Eh?  Music?  No, I’m Schuyler, a renowned food critic in Starvale, perhaps you’ve heard of me?”  Without waiting for her to respond, he nods, gesturing at his plate.  “Have you ever had such a terrible meal in your life?  Obviously this cook has used far too much Safflower oil and as a result has ruined any hope of success this dish had.”

Rowan leans back and looks at him in mild surprise. “Oh really? I haven’t tried that particular dish this evening. Perhaps you’d prefer the stew? They make a delightful venison stew. Perhaps a little heavy on the coriander, but I think that’s a matter of personal taste rather than a strong criticism of the cook. And the bread they serve with it is simply divine.”

She reaches toward his plate, “May I?” and without waiting for an answer, takes a small bite of meat and chews it thoughtfully. “Hmmm. I do believe you’re right about the oil, though I do like the spice blend they’ve used. Perhaps the cook is having a bad day. I think you should give them a second chance.”

Rowan looks around the crowded room and waves to Blaizette. When she comes over, Rowan says, “Blaize, Dear, when you get a chance, can you please bring this gentleman a serving of the venison stew? He doesn’t care so much for the mutton dish. Thank you.” And she smiles brightly at the girl, giving her a tip for her trouble.

“At once, Rowan.” she replies and hurries off to get the man a new meal with less safflower oil.

“Strange that she’d be using something like Safflower oil, those only grow in the Quivering Forest.”  Rowan muses idly, watching Blaizette wend her way deftly through the crowd of patrons.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 14

At the mention of ‘undead Dragons’ Vellk shudders a bit, knowing true fear for the first time in a long while. Thinking of his family and many others just like them out there with no protection from this kind of evil. “I agree we need to punish these defilers before they cause more trouble.”  He had quite enjoyed smashing things in the laboratory.

Lanaver slips down the spiral stair, stopping as it opens into yet another room.  This chamber’s walls are painted to look like the inside of a dragon’s lair, the scenes range from depictions piles of treasure, robed acolytes bowing in supplication, bound prisoners being served up as a meal.

The paintings focus toward the alcove in the south wall, where a pile of real gold coins form a nest large enough for a dragon to slumber upon.  Each of the four walls also has a large glyph, glowing softly in the dark of the room. In the northwest corner of the room, a teleportation circle has been etched into the floor.

The lack of wear on the etchings implies that the circle was created very recently. A thick metal rod, inscribed with sigils stands in the middle of the circle. Lying on the floor in different parts of the room are 4 dead bodies. Although the bodies look roughly humanoid, they are stitched together from various parts, including some that appear to be draconic in nature. Each one has some semblance of draconic features, such as small wings, tails, and elongated necks.

Rowan stops and stares, fascinated and repulsed by the stitched-together bodies on the floor. “Sebastian, what … what are they?”

“Zombies are my guess, animated bodies, far harder to put down than skeletons. Clerics are the best fighting these filth.”  Sebastian says, “Both the glyphs and the corpses radiate necromantic power.  They appear to be linked, the glyphs are a trap that will animate the dead if they are tampered with.”

“Then how can we disable this?”  Rowan asks, “Do you think that someone has left by this device? Or was something or someone going to be brought here? I feel as if we must destroy this place, just as we destroyed the laboratory.”

“I think we need to find a way to get this treasure out of here!” Lanaver says, his practical avarice showing itself as usual.

Rowan smiles at him, “Yes, indeed! That gold can be well used I imagine.”

“From the looks of things, each of these glyphs must be disabled separately.”  Sebastian explains, “I think Rowan and I have the best chance of disarming these magical runes, however we will need protection from those poor souls as I am fairly certain that any interaction with them at all will activate their macabre protectors.”

Hajima steps up to Sebastian and Rowan. “Do what has to be done to disarm the runes. I will fight any zombies that try to interfere.” Hajima then loosens the sword in his sheath and readies a bolt into his heavy crossbow. He then pauses and removes the bolt. He reaches into his shoulder pouch he takes out a set of specially modified ammunition that appears to have a small bundle wrapped around the head of the arrows.

The familiar smell of oil comes from the bolts. Hajima takes up a position that gives him the most range and the best angles to fire on each zombie when it animates. He sets out three more fire bolts within easy reach and then lights a torch next to him.

“When you are ready to begin, I will shoot each corpse with flammable bolts in rapid succession. That should slow them down and give you the advantage you need.” Hajima brings the torch closer to the first flammable bolt already loaded in his massive crossbow, ready to light it. He looks at Sebastian with a grin. “Which rune do you want to try first?”

“I’ve always been partial to the left.” Sebastian says with a grin “Ready when the rest of you are!”

Lanaver pulls out a pouch and scatters a double handful of metal balls in front of Hajima.  “These little beauties have saved me more than once!  Can’t hurt right?” He readies rapier and dagger and supports Hajima on the zombie approach.

Rowan gives her friends a tight, determined smile and begins to play an angry tune on her flute with sharp thrills that ends in a low thrumming vibrato note.  A playful shimmer of light flickers over the zombies as Rowan’s magic takes effect.  “That will make them slower and clumsier than they already are, the great lumps.”  She says with satisfaction.

With that, Hajima ignites the arrow and fires it into the nearest zombie to the left. As the flaming bolt hits the dormant zombie, the four glyphs begin to glow with sinister light.  Fell magic reanimates the draconic zombies and they rise, shambling toward them with lumbering steps.

Sebastian runs over and magically disables the first glyph as one of the undead constructs slips the metal balls Lanaver scattered, flailing about in confusion.  The flaming zombie lurches toward Sebastian with an inarticulate moan of hunger as he tries furiously to disarm more glyphs. It reaches the wizard and slams him into the wall. Another zombie runs toward Hajima, its meaty fist striking him in the back as he is working the reloading crank on his crossbow.  Lanaver deftly jumps aside of the last zombie’s attack.

Vellk swings his axe the zombie nearest him, cutting off the zombie’s crude, draconic hand. Rowan moves up to a glyph to disarm it, ducking under an attack from one of the zombies. She successfully disables the second glyph with quick efficiency.

Tuskor notices that two of the zombies are moving erratically and realized they can’t see. He shouts, “Disable the glyphs to blind the undead filth, maybe then we can easily dispatch of them!” as the last zombie punches him in the shoulder with a rotting fist.

Lanaver moves to flank the flaming zombie, gutting it was a slashing strike of his rapier’s tip and it drops to the ground. He disengages from the melee, moving out of the chamber in the hope of attracting more zombies away from his allies. As he moves he notices the zombie he just slew beginning to twitch and it rises, moaning, from the ground, bloodied and blindly swinging its mass about.

Hajima successfully unleashes another flaming bolt, finally killing the risen zombie and then drops his crossbow, unsheathing his sword with a flourish.

Tuskor and Vellk move to flank a Zombie together. Between them they manage to sever one of its arms and break one of its legs just below the knee.  Rowan moves up and successfully disarms another glyph. The zombie next to her strikes out wildly and lands a lucky blow, slamming into the side of her head with a scaly lizard-like fist.

Sebastian moves to disarm another glyph, is attacked by one of the monsters but it doesn’t penetrate his arcane shield.  Ignoring the attack, he disarms the third arcane symbol.

Tuskor casts a spell and once again, large slithering worms creep up through the stonework and wrap around two of the remaining zombies. Vellk swings at and misses another zombie, momentarily distracted by the sight of the weird eyeless worms wrapping around his enemies.

Rowan moves through the battlefield, braving attack to get to the last glyph. A zombie, despite being blind and wounded, manages to connect a flailing fist with her shoulder, nearly knocking her over.  In spite of being hurt, she successfully disarms the last glyph.  The zombies fall to the ground unmoving, and Tuskor’s worms continue to restrain their lifeless flesh and bones.

Sebastian begins binding wounds and applying salves, seeing to Rowan first as she looks the most bruised.  Rowan looks around at the mess on the floor and shudders, but her enthusiasm can’t be held down for long and she smiles beamingly at her friends.

“That was brilliant!  Sebastian, thank you for the healing, those zombies dealt me quite a lot of pain. I seem to be more able to handle it, though. I think spending time with all of you experienced warriors is helping me to gain strength, or courage, or something.” She whistles a happy tune, trying to distract her from the extreme creepiness of this experience, and of the body parts laying about the ground. “Ugh. They really are disgusting, aren’t they?”

“We should likely destroy this last circle also shouldn’t we?”  Vellk asks, pointing at the teleportation circle set in the stone.  “Perhaps it’s just as simple as marring the circle itself.”

“Well, I certainly lack sufficient arcane power to destroy or undo the spells that created it.”  Rowan says, “It is possible that dismantling it physically would work, however you must have a care.  Sometimes releasing the energies contained within such a powerful circle can be a violent and dangerous task.”

“Well judging by the way today has gone, I think we’re probably up for ‘violent and dangerous tasks’ wouldn’t you say?”  Lanaver quips with a roguish grin.

“Ok, boys, let’s break some rocks!”  Rowan laughs aloud, a rather strange sound in this horrible place. The Halfling looks at her rapier, her dagger, then her flute, and laughs again. “I think it’s up to you men. I’ll stand watch.”

With careful effort Tuskor and Vellk use a hammer and pry bar produced from Lanaver’s pack to mar the carvings on the floor.  Sebastian looks on, his eyes glowing once again as he watches the flow of Arcane forces, guiding them to carefully and gradually bleed the power away.  As the energies in the circle fade, the gold coins in the southern alcove flicker and change into worthless wooden disks painted gold.

“Fake treasure!? I’m madder than that stupid dragon would have been!”  Lanaver says, frowning as his words make him realize what was truly happening here.  “Necromantic magic, evil dragons, rituals involving treasure and the undead.”  The color drains from his face.  “I think it’s possible these were preliminary experiments exploring the creation of an undead dragon.  Maybe even one of the powerful undead known as a Lich.”

Sebastian nods at Lanaver. “It does sound an experiment most foul. I hope we have done well in preventing such.”

Lanaver looks at Sebastian, an expression of mild surprise on his face.  “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this is a lot worse than bad, Gods and Demons man how can you be so calm?  I think they are trying to make a Dracolich!”

“Yes, Lanaver, I think so too. And so we must do everything possible to make sure they don’t succeed. We must destroy all their tools, their magic’s, their circles, and continue on, deeper into the bowels of the earth if necessary, to stop them.”

“And for anyone who doesn’t quite grasp the meaning of Dracolich let me be clear… DRAGON… LICH! It’s about as far away from okay as you can possibly get.”  Lanaver shudders and visibly forces himself to relax, “So, uh, yeah, let’s make sure this never happens.”

Rowan has gone rather pale in the dim light of her dancing lights, and her freckles stand out rather alarmingly.  She emits a rather startled squeak as Sebastian puts his hand on her shoulder.

Sebastian squeezes her shoulder comfortingly. “Bendis brought us here for even she knew such abominable use of her holy mysteries should be stopped. Just think, if it wasn’t us saving the world, who would be?”

“Bendis?”  Rowan takes a shuddering breath, philosophy allowing her to focus on something besides the horrible thought of such a powerful monster, “This feels like The Lady Tyche’s hand to me, how else were the six of us to meet at this juncture? Seems fated to me.”

“I’m sure Tyche played a part, she is a goddess of the ones who are willing to take chances like us adventures.”  Sebastian says.

Rowan looks thoughtful, “Dragons and heroes and gods, oh my!” She smiles to herself and starts humming. “I feel a song coming on.”

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 13

“Let’s keep moving shall we?”  Rowan asks, looking nervously at the skeletons and their strange restraints.

The group continues down spiraling stair, finding that it opens again into a chamber set up as a small laboratory.  Tables around the room are covered with beakers, vials, tomes, cauldrons, and pots full of alchemical agents. In the middle of the central table is a note next to a blue clay pot.

The note, written in Common, says, ‘Raaxil, I have figured out how to complete the process. When you are ready, simply pour the contents of this blue pot into the cauldron and stir. The effects should be instantaneous, but DO NOT DRINK THE RESULTING POTION.’

“Be careful in here!”  Rowan says, her small nose wrinkling in disgust.  “These are agents of foul magics indeed.  Necromancy and the arts of Evil Dragons, faugh I can taste it in the air!”

Hajima searches around the room, looking for a cauldron that matches the one described in the note. He can see multiple cauldrons, but he wonders if the contents of one of them in particular was used to combine with the contents of the blue pot.  

Lanaver also appears interested, “Poisons have lots of perfectly beneficial uses,” the elf muses. “Can we make a batch and save it for later? Is it possible?”

“I fear that mixing this potion would like as not animate the dead in the previous chamber.”  Rowan says with a shudder, “They are the guardians and I expect would obey this Raaxil person although we would not be so lucky.”

“Is there any way to interrupt the detection magic tied to the guardians do you suppose?”  Hajima asks, his brow wrinkling.

“All magics can be undone, however this is far beyond our abilities.”  Sebastian says after trading a look of confirmation with Rowan.

Hajima doesn’t understand any of this talk of complex magic. His eyes glaze over during the discussion and then he shrugs. “This looks like a dead lead then. We certainly don’t want to wake the dead unintentionally or intentionally.”

Sebastian looks over to Rowan. “Nice job putting together what all this means and is used for. I need to hit the books more.”

Rowan says “We cannot leave this blue pot of liquid here. We must not awaken the dead, but we also must not allow someone else to do it. I am concerned mostly with the idea that this might awaken the dead dragon, and that would be far too dangerous to let happen.”

“Can’t we turn the bones in the other room into dust completely destroying them before combining the mixture so nothing can come back?”  Lanaver asks.

“I know little of this type of magic, but since many bones are missing, I’m thinking that perhaps her bones are already a part of this potion. I don’t know how it would be used. I don’t know if pulverizing the bones would prevent the rise, or trigger the skeletons to awake or something else entirely.”  Sebastian sighs and runs a hand through his hair.  “This is beyond my ken, and I think we need to be particularly wary.”

Rowan lowers her voice. “Green dragons are very evil. We must do everything possible to ensure that we don’t loose an undead green dragon on the world.”

Sebastian nods in agreement.  “Anyone else have any ideas?”

Rowan has a thought. “Sometimes, when I wanted my brother Raun to do something, I’d tell him NOT to do it. He wasn’t terribly smart, you see, and would think he was getting away with something. What if this note was a means to goad this being into making and drinking the potion, and if the dragon bones are in the potion, perhaps she would then come back to life in his body? It’s a strange thought, but a frightening one. I’m torn between having this potion analyzed to find out what it does, and pouring it out someplace safe so that it can’t ever be mixed into the cauldron. For now, of course, releasing anything into this chamber might be dangerous. But, just a thought.”

“They’re just skeletons…” Lanaver shrugs, “what’s the worst that could happen?”

Rowan looks aghast at Lanaver and shivers. In a whisper she says “I’ve heard terrible tales of walking dead. Terrible.” And she shivers again, looking back to make sure there are no skeletons stalking us.

“We can destroy it all on our way out, however, we have not seen footprints leaving so it’s safe to assume our evil-doers are still down here” Tuskor paces “If we discover their dastardly plot first we can destroy the foundations of this secret tunnel and ensure no more necromancy takes place”

Hajima shudders and looks over his shoulder at all the talk of walking dead and rampaging lich dragons. “I must be a bit more superstitious than some of you. The idea of desecrating a grave does not sit easily with me – especially that of a green dragon! But that was solid thinking by the both of you. We might as well take the note and loot any alchemy supplies that can be of use to Sebastian.

“As for the potion… I’m fairly sure we won’t like the results of it either way. Raising the dead or being possessed by the vengeful spirit of an ancient dragon are both things that I have no wish to see. Let’s follow Rowan’s idea and make sure nobody can ever complete this spell before we move on from here.” With that said, he helps Sebastian gather up any tools and vials that the mage thinks might be useful. When the room has been sufficiently stripped, he looks to Rowan expectantly to see what she wants to do with the potion components.

Hajima thinks for a moment and adds, “Tuskor is also right. We should ensure this tomb is properly sealed from further intrusion when our mission is complete and it’s time to leave this place.”

Sebastian nods his agreement and gets to work collecting supplies.  Lanaver helps, and in a few minutes they have gathered some vials that look like they would be interesting, valuable or useful.  The other members of the party take half an hour grinding bones before Rowan deconstructs the ritual, safely disposing of the contents to the best of her knowledge. The note is destroyed along with the potion, removing any evidence that it existed.

Rowan sighs in relief. “Oh, my dear friends, I am so relieved to see this done.” She smiles brightly at all of them. “Now, shall we deal with those who set up this foul place?” She prepares to continue forward, waiting for at least one of her stronger brethren to precede her. Her bright smile and brilliant red hair are a beacon of hope in a dreary place.

“Perhaps one of you who can see in the dark might lead us, so that we can surprise our foes?” She smiles brightly again around at her friends. “Someone needs to be taken down a notch or three.” The sight of her slight form, prepared to battle evil, probably brings a smile to the grizzled veterans in the party.

“I’ll scout ahead and keep an eye out for traps, just keep yer lights at a distance. Don’t want my own shadow to give me away,” Says Lanaver with a wink at Rowan.

Sebastian feels like he has truly accomplished something good today one less evil in the world. He will prepare himself to move forward with his companions. He takes heart from his cheery friend Rowan, and readies his mind body and soul for the confrontation ahead.

Hajima nods approvingly. “Good work, my friends. Let’s follow Lanaver and deal out some justice to these tomb defilers that seek to wake an undead dragon.” Making sure to keep some distance between the party and Lanaver scouting ahead in the darkness, Hajima readies his bow and takes point within the dancing lights, eyes alert and peering ahead into the shadows to make sure his elf friend is not in need of any emergency aid. With that, he advances down the spiral stairs once more.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 12

“Poison gas!” Hajima exclaims as he covers his mouth and nose with a cloth from his coat. He looks down at the gems, then looks over at the carvings once more. “Quickly! I believe these gems will unlock a secret door that will allow us to escape this foul odor!” He picks up the emerald and places it in the corresponding slot in the carving of the garden and the snake. “Try to match up the other gems and carvings!”

Tuskor grabs the sapphire gem and rushes to find its corresponding location, guessing it to be the thunderstorm. He gasps as he tries to jam the stone into place, taking in a lung full of the wretched gas.

Hajima suddenly exclaims out loud, “I’ve got it! They are the colors and scenes that represent dragons! Red is fire, white is ice, blue for lightning, green for poison, black for acid!” You can almost see smoke coming out of Hajima’s ears from using his brain that hard. He’s a man of action and not the go-to guy for riddles. There’s a definite sheen of sweat across his brow, but whether it’s from using his brain too much, or the poison, no one in the group can be sure. “The black gem goes in the laboratory carving, the red gem goes in the fire carving, and the diamond goes in the winter carving.” Hajima coughs a bit more and looks quite pale.

Vellk doesn’t even bother to cover his mouth, the poison is no match for his hardy constitution.  The warrior picks up the black opal and fits it to the carving in the laboratory scene.  Rowan rushes to place the diamond in the snowy scene, trying not to breathe. Unfortunately, she holds her breath so hard that she gasps for breath, breathing in the foul vapors.

“Think evil dragons yeah? That’s the ticket!” Lanaver clicks the ruby into the final slot.  “I hate dragons, their stupid cults and their THRICE DAMNED TRAPS AND PUZZLES!”  His tirade is spoiled by a racking cough as he expels the last of the gas from his lungs

As the gems are inserted the gas ceases and dissipates as the door to the crypt groans open. The sarcophagus too groans and shifts upon stone, making way to a staircase depending below. There is dust on the stairs, it appears to have been recently disturbed by two humanoids.

Brother Keefe wheezes and gasps for breath, “Please, I cannot continue as I am weakened by this foul trap.  This violation of the crypt must be investigated!”

The stairs descend steeply and curve off to the right, spiraling into darkness.  Tuskor moves forward to investigate, peering into the darkness with his keen Dwarven eyesight.  He looks at the footprints in the dust, doubtless humanoid but are they human? Or are we dealing with a more dangerous pair of foes?

“Since we are in no rush, I suggest you all let me administer a quick antivenom.”  Says Sebastian, We could take a brief respite before proceeding. I have quite the tonic to help poisoning, but it takes a few minutes to take effect.”

An eerie hour passes in the cold, stony crypt and they all begin to feel better as Sebastian’s tonic counteracts the poison in their blood.  At last, feeling more steady on their feet they move toward the staircase. Tuskor takes the lead, utilizing his darkvision as he cautiously descends the stairs with his tusk staff in hand.

The spiral staircase opens into a chamber. Five odd humanoid skeletons, topped with draconic skulls, stand at attention, holding swords. At the back of the chamber is a large throne-like chair, currently empty, on a mahogany dais. The skeletons stand perfectly still, not even twitching at the party’s approach.

Sebastian readies his sling in one hand, his arcane focus in the other while concentrates on casting a spell.  His eyes begin to glow a soft blue color and he can see Divination and Necromantic magic within the room, radiating from the throne.

“Bash the walking bones, as was said by our friend with the rolling pin.”  Tuskor mutters, “Swords and rapiers do less to those without flesh, blood and bone”

“Most likely the divination magic I’m sensing is going to be able to tell when something living comes in the room and the necromantic magic is going to animate those skeletons to prevent us from investigating whatever this room is.” Says Sebastian, his eyes still glowing.  “Ready yourselves before we decide to go further. Perhaps we should be ready to retreat back into this doorway, to limit their attacks on us.”

“Tuskor-Dwarven druid friend, are they all within the range of your entanglement spell?”  Lanaver asks with a shiver, “Did I mention I hate tombs?”

“Vellk use this”  Sebastian hands his quarterstaff to the large warrior, “It’ll be more effective than your axe.

“Many thanks friend Sebastian, I will put it to good use!”  Vellk says with a grin, hefting the staff one handed.

Lanaver takes a lead weighted sap from an inner pocket.  “Haven’t had to use the old’ gal in a fortnight, it’ll be good to get some practice in,” He takes a few practice swings. It’s clear he’s bludgeoned a few skulls in his career.

Tuskor mutters arcane words and the strange white root tendrils emerge from the stones of the wall and floor to wrap around the dormant guardian skeletons.  “That will hold them when we enter, but be on your guard; my grubs are not indestructible.”  His companions notice that they aren’t roots at all, but small segmented worms, some oozing a kind of sticky slime and others equipped with hundreds of tiny legs.

Entering the room quietly and carefully, Sebastian skirts the skeleton guards.  Shrinking back either from the writing worms or the quiescent undead, he makes his way around the large throne like chair, noticing a hinged panel at the bottom.

“Have a look at this lads!”  He says, crouching and reaching for it with a grin on his face.

“Hold up!”  The unusually sharp tone of Lanaver’s normally soft voice stops Sebastian’s hand mere inches from the small panel.  “These things aren’t always as they seem.”

The wood elf swiftly manifests the tools of his trade. Unrolling a tightly rolled leather bundle in a clear, safe space in front of him he whispers, “Lady Luck be with me.” and goes to work with his lockpicks.

After a few tense moments, a harsh metallic click announces that the lock has been picked and Lanaver leans back on his heels, taking a deep breath.  Vellk wipes an annoying bit of sweat off his brow and the rest of them let out a collective sigh.

“There was a poison needle trap on this one… it was cleverly done, however I’ve managed worse.”  Reaching inside, he withdraws a sparkling gemstone and holds it up to glitter in the torch light.  “Ahh… well worth it.”  

Sebastian, his eyes still glowing, reaches inside the opening and withdraws a wrapped and sealed Vellum scroll

Lanaver looks up from his kit as he puts it away and notices Hajima with the rolling pin for the first time.  “You gonna make ’em into biscuits with that, eh shooter?” He smirks.

Hajima just chuckles at Lanaver and pats him on the head as he kneels on the ground before him. “We’ll see how well you do trying to stab a skeleton. I’m sure that will be much more effective than bashing it to pieces. I look forward to witnessing your expert display of deadly skill.”

“Oh yeah, that’s why I got the nighty-night here.”  Lanaver grins, patting his sap, “It’s not very big but it packs a wallop!”

“Let’s keep moving shall we?”  Rowan asks, looking nervously at the skeletons and their strange restraints.

The group continues down spiraling stair, finding that it opens again into a chamber set up as a small laboratory.  Tables around the room are covered with beakers, vials, tomes, cauldrons, and pots full of alchemical agents. In the middle of the central table is a note next to a blue clay pot.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 11

The crowd at the Boiling Kettle is sparse for the Highsun meal. Lanaver, Rowan and Hajima are lingering at their usual table, trying to decide whether or not to order another round.  It has been a few days since their daring rescue and subsequent run from the Goblin Caves, and they’ve been taking it easy, nursing wounds and mending equipment.

The youngest of Madame Freia’s daughters, Grelinda, is clearing the table after a pleasant meal. Grelinda’s short hair is tinted an odd shade of coppery green, and she treats the flatware roughly as she stacks it on a tray.

“Stupid boring work.” she mutters under her breath. Before any of the party can comment, the door of the Boiling Kettle opens and a cool draft plays through the room.

A tall, dour-looking human glances around, and his sallow expression finally settles on their table. He removes his tall black hat to reveal a balding pate. “I apologize for disturbing you,” he says in a deep, monotone voice. “I assume you are adventurers for hire, and I seek your expertise for a small matter.”

Rowan smiles up at him, and gestures for him to pull up a seat. “I am Rowan, and if your task is to our liking, we would be happy to help.”

“What she said,” Lanaver says, toying with his mug of ale.

“I am Brother Keefe, Priest of Kelemvor with the title ‘Keeper of the Dead’.”  He drones, standing at the side of the table with his hands hanging limply at his sides.  “My Residence is in the Valhingen Graveyard, most holy and revered ground in all of Starvale.  I am, if you will, the overseer of the permanent residents who have committed their remains to my care.”

He pauses and looks from face to face, taking in the mixture of fascination, disgust and fear playing across their faces.  “I am also in charge of disturbing their rest when necessary and the need has arisen for that unfortunate task to be performed.”

His voice drops to a dry, reedy whisper.  Evidence has been brought forth to the clerics of Kelemvor that one of the long-standing residents of the cemetery, Xandria Welltran, was not in fact human, but a polymorphed green dragon.  This is a serious matter that must be handled with delicacy.  I must now enter the crypt and inspect the body to confirm or disprove these claims. I fear that there may be more to this than meets the eye, but the other priests of Kelemvor mocked my concern.”

“You’ve told us the job, what’s it pay?”  Lanaver asks in his usual mercenary tone.  Rowan gives him a stern look but realizes she was wondering how much this dour man would have to pay her to get her to go into a graveyard and dig up a body.

“If you accept, I offer a fee of one hundred gold pieces and a scroll containing a spell that will help protect you against the undead.”  He says, “Keep in mind this must be kept quiet.”

Hajima gives a short nod. “I would be happy to help you and will gladly offer my services as a bodyguard during your inspection. Some of us have served in such roles before, I expect my companions would also be amenable. How soon would you like to go? If there are expected encounters with the undead, then perhaps a trip to her grave during the daylight hours would be prudent, just in case.”

“I would not wait, sir.” He says, rubbing his hands together. “I would go at once if your party consents to my offer.”

Rowan listens intently, her brow furrowed, “I have little experience with dragons or the dead, but will gladly aid you in your inspection to the best of my abilities. I can promise you that these, my friends, are worthy companions in time of need. Yes, very worthy indeed. Let us just grab our things, then, shall we?”

They disperse to their room, gathering weapons, armor and equipment as well as rousing Tuskor and Vellk from where they were relaxing and reading.  Before they leave the Inn, Hajima quickly turns back and enters the kitchen area. Returning shortly, he now carries a heavy wooden rolling pin used for baking bread. When the others look at him quizzically, he shrugs.  

“We learned at the military academy that the best weapon for fighting the undead is a sturdy club. They do not feel the bite of a sharp blade as living creatures do. Since we must leave immediately, this will have to do.” He then tucks the big rolling pin into his belt and follows the others outside.

Brother Keefe leads them to the Welltran Crypt in the Valhingen Graveyard. When they arrive, they might be surprised to learn that the graveyard is actually quite well maintained, if somber.

“Doomguide Yovir Glandon, my superior and the senior member of the Most Solemn Order of the Silent Shroud, personally sees to the maintenance of the grounds.”  The Brother says in his dull monotone, “He is very thorough.”

The crypt of Xandria is a nicely appointed stone and marble building, roughly 20 feet square. Brother Keefe produces a key to unlock it. The interior is equally fine. The walls are carved and painted with various scenes showing a lovely human woman in different locales: looking toward a snow-covered peak, standing in the rain of a thunderstorm, sitting in a comfortable room by a roaring fire, holding a venomous snake in a garden, working with bubbling vials in a laboratory, and many others. The lid of the marble sarcophagus in the center is carved with the likeness of the same beautiful human woman in the prime of her life.

Hajima admires the paintings and the figure they so vividly depict. “A woman so beautiful, it is easy to see why others might try to name such powerful charm as magical. It seems she had quite the varied pursuits in throughout her life as well.” He then slowly approaches the sarcophagus and scans it for any sign of disturbance.

As Hajima inspects the paintings, he can see are scrape marks on the floor around the sarcophagus, showing it can move. He puts his weight against it, however pushing does nothing.  Running gentle fingers over the walls, he sees that five of the carvings have a place in them where something tiny could be inserted.

“I wonder, do these carvings have anything to do with the paintings?”  He muses, leaning close to examine them.

Vellk strides forth and heaves against the sarcophagus lid. It rumbles and you hear the sound of stone shifting on stone as it slides off, revealing a jumbled pile of bones.  A quick investigation by Lanaver shows that these are definitely not human bones—many of them are draconic in nature. It is also readily apparent that at least half the bones that should be there are missing.

Also embedded in the skull in place of teeth are five tiny gems: a red ruby, a green emerald, a black opal, a white diamond, and a blue sapphire.  The rogue sees the tiny gems are all the same size and shape, cut like identical incisors.

A few moments after the lid is removed and the sarcophagus contents examined, a scraping sound echoes through the crypt. The door slams shut, and a hissing sound announces that some kind of gas is entering the crypt. It does not smell pleasant.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 10

It’s a weary, sore band of adventurers that makes it back to the Moss Family farm.  They are met by Millivent, who has cooked a huge feast of crayfish and wild leek stew.  She weeps openly, laughing and crying as she welcomes her family and their farm hands back into the farmstead.  A stiff, earthy flavored brew Haldred calls bog ale is distributed in quantity and Rowan’s spirits lift enough that she plays a few jaunty tunes on her flute.

After a few bowls of the spicy stew and a mug of ale, Vellk excuses himself.  “I’m taking first watch.  We don’t know if those critters will have the stones to follow us out here without their leader but I’m not taking any chances.”

“Aye, it will be good for us to stay there in case they come back in the night.”  Hajima says, his mug of ale sitting untouched although four bowls of stew passed his lips.  He has carefully disassembled his crossbow and is cleaning the trigger mechanism while two of the adolescent Moss children watch with wide eyes.

“I thankee fer savin us.”  One of the peat farm workers says, shuffling his feet awkwardly.  “We ain’t got no funds but we grabbed that big nasty critter’s shield.  Might be worth sommat.”

“No further reward is necessary my good man, we are glad to help.”  Sebastian says with a gracious smile, accepting the shield.  “I too was a farmer before I went into the military.”

Rowan pauses in her playing and approaches Chaab. “I am Rowan Wildpiper master Chaab. I’m sorry we couldn’t recover your things. Do you know these people?”

“I know them not, Halfling Rowan.”  He says between drinks of bog ale,  “I was taken prisoner afore them.  I know I ain’t much ta look at but if you kind strangers would help me back ta town I can offer ya a reward.”

“Of course, you are more than welcome to come back with us.” She smiles warmly at him, and then around at the family. All exhausted. She smiles again, and pulls out her flute. “I think a little cheer and relaxation might do us all good this evening.”  She resumes plaing for a while, not the bright sprightly tunes of earlier but more sedate and relaxing music.

As the comforting music plays, Vellk and Tuskor take watch of the peat farm.  Chaab shows them that the shield was using was actually the scale of a black dragon. While it acts simply as a regular shield, it is a trophy that can be carried with pride.  After a time, Hajima relieves the tired Vellk and helps Tuskor keep an eye on the slumbering farm.

Music lulls the folk to sleep and everyone sleeps the deep slumber of the exhausted. Vellk yawns as he lays his armor in an orderly pile near the front entrance where he takes a long rest.  His axe, however, stays within easy reach of his hand.

After most are asleep, Rowan puts away her flute and snuggles up next to the fire for a good night’s sleep. Relatively unused to battle, she suffers several nightmares, and is restless. Finally, after much tossing and turning, she drops into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Once the others are either out on guard or asleep, Chaab begs a smoke from Lanaver.  “I ain’t had a pipe in days.”  He explains.  While Lanaver prepares his pipe, Chaab confides in him.

“I was sent to investigate activities we think are related to the Cult of the Dragon.”  He says, hands clutching his mug of bog ale.  “The Ruman have been investigating some of strange happenings in the area.  A black dragon had made its lair here for a time, and until recently it was working with a group of humans for some reason.

“When I came to investigate, I found that a group of stalwart adventurers had slain the dragon but perished in the act.  Some enterprising group or another cleaned out the hoard while some other group, or perhaps the same one was harvesting parts off the wyrm’s corpse.  It was shortly after I’d found out that ghoulish little tidbit that I was captured by a veritable army of Goblins.”  

He shudders and takes a deep drink of his bog ale.  Lanaver puffs his pipe alight and takes a deep drag before proffering it to Chaab.  When the man reaches for it, the Elf grabs his wrist in an iron grip.

“You’re a worshiper of Ruma, and the Mad Goddess doesn’t care about much beyond spreading chaos, death and destruction.”  Lanaver’s dark eyes flashed, and his grip tightened.  “So I want to know why you’re telling me this.”

Chaab took the pipe carefully in his left hand before expertly twisting his hand so that Lanaver’s grip was broken.  He took a drag on the pipe and exhaled smoke out of his nose, meeting the Elf’s gaze.

“You saved my life.  I figured I owed ya something.  Here’s something more, there are hundreds of Goblins in that cavern system.  You and all these people need to get the hell out of here.  I don’t know what they’re planning but someone has the green skinned bastards are well organized.”

“Hmph.”  Lanaver grunted, “Fair enough.  I appreciate the warning.”

“It’s the least I could do.”  Chaab replied, handing the pipe back.  “Thanks for the smoke, I’m going to get the first decent night’s sleep I’ve had in ages.”  With that he simply lay on the floor and was asleep in moments.

The peat farm was not attacked during the night, largely due to the diligence of Tuskor and Hajima.  The pair managed to track and kill several Goblin scouts, attempting to prey on the farm. “Sure’n this will keep the dastard Goblins at bay a while.” muses Tuskor as he cleans his staff.

“Aye,” says Hajima. “The Goblins hereabouts have suffered much this last day. Perhaps it will make them wary, although I wouldn’t count on them just going away.”

“Good lady.”  Lanaver says seriously to Millivent as the woman helps her husband dish out a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and a strange tea made of the leathery leaves of a swamp plant.  “I believe it would be foolhardy for your family to remain here.  There are hundreds of Goblins in that cave yet and I would not want further harm to come to your familiy.”

“I don’t like the thought of leaving our place.”  She says, looking around at the cozy home, “But we can rebuild if need be.  I won’t risk losing my family again.”

“It is certainly disturbing to think about giving up our home.”  Haldred said, but he took his wife’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.  “But Millivent has the right of it.  We aren’t going to put our family or our hired folk in danger by staying.  The Starshield Guard will hear of this, for all the good it’ll do, but mayhap if we make enough noise about it we will get some kind of compensation or else a patrol to come out here.”

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 9

Sebastian calls out to Aesis for protection rushes over to bind Rowan’s wounds. Vellk and Tuskor bravely stand back to back between them and the growling Warg.  The former brandishing his axe and giving their enemies a grin that rivals the massive wolf’s and the latter hefting his spiked ivory quarterstaff.  

Tuskor runs toward the two remaining Goblins, brandishing his staff and bringing it down on the stone floor with a resounding explosion.  Arcane runes flash out from the impact and a thunderous boom reverberates through the chamber.  The two creatures take a faltering step backward but howl their defiance, preparing to retaliate.

Vellk takes a cue from his Dwarven companion and leaps forward to the attack.  His axe bites savagely into the side of the warg.  It howls in pain and bites him on the thigh before he can get out of reach of its teeth.

Rowan rushes to help Tuskor the instant Sebastian ties the bandage on her arm, stabbing over the Dwarf’s head, barely missing the green skinned monster as it jumps back out of reach.

Sebastian seeing the dire straits that his squad is in steels his resolve and he tries to remember his military training. He runs over the checklist in his mind. First assess the severity of the wound, second apply tincture powder (ground Acacia, Figwort, Oak Bark, White Willow Bark) and mandrake root directly to the wound to staunch the bleeding. Apply absorptive and sticky bandages (coated with Sea Buckthorn Oil and Copaiba Balsam) to the wounds.

Hajima sizes up the health of his comrades and the imminent threat of the enemies. He mutters to himself, “This bugbear must be stopped, no matter the cost.”  He takes careful aim again and waits for an opening.  When the monster opens its mouth to shout an order, Hajima fires a speeding bolt directly into the left eye of the bugbear.

The monster shrieks in pain, “Margk rakka kallanzarh!”  It shouts gesturing at the party with the hand that no longer holds the Warg’s chain.  After issuing the command, likely for their deaths, it jerks a javelin from a quiver on its back and hurls it into Tuskor’s leg.  The Dwarf stumbles, reaching for the missile transfixing his leg before his eyes roll back in his head and he slumps to the ground, unconscious.

Lanaver runs to assist Vellk, using the pack tactics so recently exhibited by the wolves against their larger cousin and striking it from the other side while it’s distracted by the larger warrior.  He opens grievous wounds with his blades but it fights on with wild animal rage.

The Warg attempts to savage Vellk again but the leg Lanaver wounded buckles at the last minute and the warrior evades the gnashing, yellowed teeth. The two Goblins round on Lanaver, slashing out at him with scimitars.  One blow skitters across his dagger and slices away the skin of his forearm when he tries to parry but the other hits him in the side, hacking through his leather armor and cutting into flesh beneath.  He topples to one side with blood running freely from the wounds.

Rowan springs into action, striking out at the Goblin who cut into Lanaver’s torso and piercing him through the throat, killing him.  “Get back from him you green skinned fiends!”  She shouts, her eyes bright with the exhilaration of combat.

The fierce attack and swift killing of his fighting partner startles the last Goblin who turns to run.  The moment his back is turned, Rowan’s rapier stabs into it with ruthless efficiency.  The point skewers vital organs before she twists it and pulls it out and her foe collapses to bleed his life out on the cavern floor.

Sebastian, still running through his mantra of field medicine, moves to assist the fallen Tuskor.  Hacking off the end of the javelin with his sword, he draws the weapon from the wound, sterilizing it and staunching the bleeding before wrapping it tightly.

The Bugbear, clutching his bloodied eye socket, the bolt protruding through his fingers, advances on Vellk, to flank him with the Warg.  Raising his morning star, he smashes it into Vellk’s armored shoulder with enough force to nearly drive the big man to his knees.

Hajima drops his crossbow and approaches the Warg at an oblique angle, waiting for the right moment before stabbing it through the spine.  It yelps and goes prone, twitching, trying to control its body despite the debilitating wound.

Baring his teeth in defiance, Vellk swings his axe in a counter stroke at the monster’s blind left side.  The weapon bites deeply into the monster’s jaw and neck, nearly severing the creature’s head.  With a surprised gurgle, it topples to the ground, lifeless.

A brief silence descends before it is broken by the sound of greater alarm coming from the earthen caverns beyond. The sounds of scores of Goblins shrieking in alarm and readying themselves for attack. Vellk sneaks into the room where the bugbear and his minions came from.  He sees that this room  is better furnished than the previous rooms, with some serviceable tables and chairs, some flagons of ale and haunches of roasted meat are on the table.  

Several passages lead out of the room deeper into the cave, but he sees what he is looking for at the back. There are two large cages at the back of the room, one holds the prisoners taken from the peat bog. In the other cage sits a human dressed in black underclothing, the kind you would typically wear under armor.

“Keys, I need keys to free the prisoners!”  Vellk shouts.

Rowan finds keys after rifling through the disgusting belongings of the Bugbear.  Now that the adrenaline of fighting is gone, his stench threatens to make her gorge rise.   She tosses them to Vellk who proceeds to unlock the prisoners from their cages.

The warrior, spits on the Bugbear’s corpse and despite looking thin and wasted picks up the monster’s morning star.  “Thank you, strangers, I am Chaab. You have saved me from yonder filth, but we must flee now, for they come!” He points down the corridors where the sound of Goblin feet can be heard flapping on stone, a strange accompaniment to their guttural cries for blood.

Sebastian applies healing balms and bandages to Lanaver’s wounds, bringing the rogue out of his unconsciousness with a bottle of smelling salts after he finishes.  Together they begin to carry the comatose Tuskor towards the exit.

Everyone moves from the Bugbear’s room, back out through the guardroom.  Hajima Jom offering sniping cover while Chaab and Vellk take the position of rear guard.  Rowan leads the refugees, working with Haldred, Millivent’s husband to keep people together.  

“Do you know how many of them there are?”  She asks.

The peat bog workers are terrified but grateful for being rescued.  Haldred is carrying one of his daughters and chivying the rest along, but otherwise cannot offer much in the way of information or assistance.  “I ain’t seen naught but this place here yer – ah – ladyship?”

Rowan ignores the talk of title or rank, smiling encouragingly at the prisoners.  “It’s all over but the running my friends!   We have to get outside and fast.  There’s a cart outside, and a donkey. Head toward town as fast as you can. We will guard your retreat!”

“Wait!”  Lanaver sprints to the front of the line of hurrying refugees.  “There’s a trap just outside the door that might make some noise and perhaps do worse if the falling stones start an avalanche.”  

Rowan watches him helping the prisoners out, keeping an anxious eye on the cave “Hopefully they will be disheartened by the death of their leader and his warg and will not follow.”

Rowan helps the weakest and slowest into the wagon, as well as encouraging the worst wounded of her friends to climb aboard.  “Easy up there little one.  Watch your step there.  Here, grab his arm please.”  Her assistance is slightly hampered by anxious glances towards the cave entrance, looking for enemies.

Hajima and Vellk are last to leave the cave. “Run!  Why are you still here?  There’s a veritable swarm of the green skinned devils behind us!”  Vellk punctuates the statement by hurling a hand axe into the cave mouth.

Rowan pulls her war pipes from Bo’s tack, pumping the bellows and unleashing an ear splitting shriek, hoping to frighten them and slow them a little.  Either their bloodlust or Rowan’s piping confuses the Goblins for as the wagon begins to roll away, they boil out of the cave and run smack into the traps laid there.  String tangled in their feet and a tumble of rocks cascades down on them.  

Howls of rage become screams of pain, and Hajima fires bolt after bolt into the writhing mass of Goblins until the wagon is out of range.  After a few nervous minutes of speedily jouncing along on the wagon, they begin to breathe easier.  The sounds of angry Goblins fades away as the stolid donkeys widen their lead.  After a few bends in the trail no sign of pursuit seems to be coming, so they slow the speed of their flight.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 8

Not able to see properly through the chamber, Rowan whistles a short spell.  Colorful flickering lights illuminate the den and they spot a large wolf pelt door covering the entrance to the chamber beyond.  Rowan nods at her friends and backs against the wall near the wolf pelt door.

Taking advantage of the momentary illumination from Rowan’s spell, Sebastian gives the room a swift search.  The guardhouse is largely empty, only having an alarm bell and a few odds and ends, but there are some very clear markings showing that some heavy things have been dragged through the archway covered with wolf hide.

Rowan moves the lights over to the farthest corner of the room, so that they won’t shed much light through it.  She looks at Lanaver and waves him over, “You can see in the dark right?  Take a look behind here and scope it out for us.”

Lanaver creeps up to the pelt door, giving it a cursory inspection before attempting to peek through the side, moving the pelt with the tip of his dagger.

Hajima wrenches the bolt from the corpse of the Goblin he slew.  After a brief inspection for damage, he cocks the thick arms and loads the salvaged bolt back into the weapon.  He approaches near the wolf pelt, ready to rush in and cover Lanaver with crossbow fire if need be.

Past the wolf pelt into the earthen chamber, Lanaver sees three more Goblins. Two of them are cruelly beating a pair of wolves in separate cages.  The wolves seem to have noticed them and are sniffing the air, snarling and yelping but their dim witted Goblin handlers don’t seem to understand why they won’t quiet down.

The third, more observant Goblin is making his way toward the wolf pelt to investigate the commotion he heard in the entrance chamber. He calls out in Goblin as he walks toward the waiting party, drawing a cruel looking short sword.

Lanaver’s sharp eyes spot two more doors covered with wolf pelts at the far corners of the chamber containing the wolves. “Have a care, one’s coming and there are two more beyond.  They have a pair of wolves in cages that seem to have scented us also.”

Lanaver closes the gap between the approaching Goblin and himself in three swift strides. He pulls the rapier free of the scabbard with a steely rasp while his free hand finds a dagger from the leg sheath. Just before he gets close enough to strike, he cuts to the right to insure the wizard and sniper have a clear shot if needed. He stabs the Goblin with his rapier, finishing it off with a gutting strike from his off hand dagger.

One of the Goblin handlers unlocks the cages the wolves are in before turning to run into the next room, yelping in alarm.  As the wolves spring towards the approaching party, their ferocity distracts Hajima Jom.  He fires from the hip at the escaping Goblin, but the bolt misses, slamming into the wall and shattering on impact.

“Quick!” He exclaims and points to the fleeing Goblin, “Stop him!”

Sebastian hears Lanaver’s words and shifts, pointing his orb toward the fleeing Goblin. An arcane burst of frost shoots from the gleaming orb, freezing the Goblin solid where he stands.

The leading wolf sprints at Lanaver and sinks its teeth into his leg. Despite Lanaver’s best efforts, the savage attack pulls him from his feet to lay prone in front of the snarling, drooling beast.

The fleeing Goblin falls to the floor clutching at his swollen head, his eyes bulging in pain. Rowan is whistling a slightly discordant tune and staring at him, her eyes softly glowing with blue light.  He soon stops screaming and begins to convulse before eventually laying still, dead, from the power of her strange magic.

Tuskor strikes the wolf standing over his companion with a two handed blow of his tusk staff, attempting to render it insensible.  He knows the animals are innocent of the evil the Goblins have forced them to, and cannot bear to kill it outright.  Although he strikes true, the wolf has been lathered into a frenzy by the punishment of its Goblin trainers and it seems to shake off the strike.

The other wolf lunges at Tuskor from the other side in a classic wolf pack move, but the Dwarf’s feet are more solidly placed.  Although its teeth tear at his flesh and draw blood he manages to stay upright.

Seeing the wolves approaching, Vellk runs the aid of his friends, fearing that his delay in action may cost them their lives. The warrior leaps into battle, cutting off the head of the wolf threatening Tuskor with a single stroke of his mighty axe.

The wolf Tuskor wounded backs away slowly growling with his hackles up.  A thick line of dark blood runs down the side of his head, dripping onto the earthen floor.

Lanaver clutches the bite wound and grits his teeth, “Medic!” He calls out to his team.

Rowan approaches the injured wolf, her hand out as she croons softly to it.  “There there, we’re friends.  Friends, it’s OK, I’m going to get you out of here, to set you free.”  The wolf hesitates and sniffs her offered hand before biting into her bicep and shaking her like a rat.  The Halfling woman is thrown from her feet, only barely able to keep her grip on her weapons.

Lanaver retreats as Tuskor and Vellk leap forward to assist Rowan.  Before they get to the wolf, an expertly fired bolt from Hajima Jom’s crossbow pierces the animal through the neck.  The wolf stumbles to the ground, tries futilely to rise before breathing its last. As Hajima stealthily moves forward to join his friends, a voice calls from the other room in the Goblin tongue.

The voice is deep, louder than a Goblin and lower of pitch. It is harsh and the speech is garbled, as if the speaker has mouth full of flesh. “Marak kish nek, ekognish ba-ahuka asik!” the call echoes from the chamber beyond.

Rowan does not speak Goblin, but fiercely clutches her rapier, getting up from the floor.  She gasps in pain and limps toward where Sebastian is bandaging Lanaver’s leg.  A truly foul smell emanates from the room beyond, making the scent of Goblin and mangy wolf smell like fresh air.

Hajima steps forward in front of the others with another bolt loaded in his massive crossbow. “Fear not, friends! Stay behind me. Sebastian, do what you can to help the wounded. I’ll cover you!” He then crouches, bracing his weapon on one knee so as to be ready to fire upon the monster as soon as it enters the room.

“Thank you my friend.”  Rowan says, playing a short but bracing melody on her flute.  

Hajima feels the warmth of her magic infuse him with power, steeling him for the fight to come.  Small flickers of arcane power surround him in the shape of bars of music as the spell takes effect.  A sense of confidence and deadly purpose fills his entire being. He has never been as sure of victory in any of his years of combat as he is right now.

The fallen wolf resists Tuskor’s attempts to help it or calm it and snarls until its last breath. Infuriated that animals had been kept and tortured in such a way, Tuskor rises to his feet with a dark gleam in his eyes. He mumbles the ancient words that transform his staff into the spiked monstrosity and turns to face whatever comes into the chamber.

After several tense moments pass, they hear the sound of a wooden chair being upturned and a harsh order from the deep voice beyond before three Goblins emerge from the pelt doorway at the far left end of the chamber. They cry in alarm as they spot the party, a sound partially silenced as Hajima’s crossbow hurls a bolt into the first one’s eye, killing it instantly.

A second later, a brawny Bugbear with dark, shaggy hair and a greasy black and brown beard bursts through the door on the other side of the chamber. In one large, clawed hand he holds a cruel looking Morningstar. In his other hand a short, rusty iron chain which is collared to a monstrous, savage looking warg. Its slathered lips peel back revealing long, brutal fangs and it growls menacingly at the wounded adventurers.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 7

After traversing the swampy bog for the better part of an hour, they finally come to the end of the trail. It leads directly into the mouth of a cave in the side of a hill rising from the bog. Brush and other low vegetation allows them to easily hide and observe the entrance from a distance.  Hajima can see a Goblin talking to a human-sized figure dressed in a heavy cloak that obscures its face. Creeping closer on his belly, he manages to get within earshot of the pair.

The Goblin is speaking in the Common Tongue, “Only one raiding group return. They bring prisoners. Other raiding groups return soon. No more snake coin people found.”

The human nods and says, “Excellent. Tell Gorrunk that my friends and I will pay lots of coin and give lots of gifts for all of the dragon artifacts you can find. I’ll give a bonus if you kill any other humans who you find near your home.” The goblin nods and enters the cave, while the cloaked figure whispers a word and simply vanishes.

Hajima moves back to the others who are still concealed in the foliage of the bog and reports what he has just seen and heard. “The mysterious individual has escaped us, but we now have confirmation that the captive farmers are in this location. It seems these goblins are well-organized and we have been following only one of their raiding parties. Our duty is clear. We must shut this operation down.”

“You say they are to seek dragon artifacts?” Tuskor muses. “What if we claim to have one and are looking to buy the prisoners as slaves?”

Hajima ponders for a moment. “I fail to see the connection between local farmers and dragon artifacts. Why are the Goblins doing this? It makes no sense. Local farmers have no access to, or knowledge of, dragon artifacts. This seems more like a slave trade operation that is also being used to locate these artifacts. Perhaps once we secure the compound and free the prisoners, we can then question one of the Goblin or Hobgoblin leaders for more information.”

“We may want to consider the possibility that those other troops may return at any moment.” Vellk replies, “It might be a good idea to set up a trap or at least some kind of warning signal.   A string of bells or the like.”

“The dwarf has a point, and it’s not the first time we’ve peddled false wares.”  Lanaver muses, turning to the big warrior.  “I just wish I had grabbed some trap kits, dammit we’ll just have to improvise.”

“A warning signal would be helpful, indeed. We will be infiltrating the compound and don’t want any other Goblin raiders flanking us. Perhaps Sebastian can use his alarm spell on the entrance to the cave? That should alert him if anyone follows us later.”

“Indeed, and time is of the essence. However we do not want to put the prisoners at risk” Tuskor thinks a moment. “Perhaps a distraction while the stealthier members of our group locate the missing villagers? Luring out many as possible?”

“So who wants to come with me, or am I doing this solo?”  Lanaver asks,  “If they’re hurt we’ll need to mend the wounded so they don’t slow our retreat…” He trails off in thought while looking the group over.

“The residents of this region will never be safe as long as these creatures are allowed to den up here.”  Hajima says, “We must rescue these poor farmers and whoever else they’ve managed to kidnap.” He shoulders his massive crossbow and continues to watch the opening of the trail and the entrance to the cave for any change in the comings and goings of those inside.

Sebastian speaks from military experience. “We are going to need cover. Goblins don’t have sharpshooter like we do. I seem to recall there was some scuttlebutt about a clan of gobbers called the ‘Foul Water Clan’ that moved in here a couple months back.  Filled a power vacuum left by a young dragon that was slain.”

“Perhaps the death of this dragon is the reason the Cult of the Dragon is interested in the area.”  Vellk says, scratching his chin, “I can’t think of too many reasons humans would take up with filth like Goblins otherwise.”

Rowan listens to all this information with a solemn face. “I will go inside. I can do a bit of healing, if my powers are not used in other ways, and I’m small and find it easy to hide. She looks at her comrades and smiles a grim smile. “They may outnumber us, but without their powerful friend, I think they might just find us a bit much to handle.”

Tuskor looks to the cave entrance and then turns to Hajima. “Does it seem as though any of these foul Goblins are at the entrance at the moment?”  He asks, knowing that Hajima has been keeping a look out. “Perhaps Rowan could first check the entrance is clear, with the crossbow users ready to fire should she be spotted”

“Then, if all seems clear the group could move up and set some kind of trap in the entrance, should any Goblins return or to delay pursuers should we need to escape quickly”

“I think I’d be better suited to sneak up and lay a trap,” Lanaver interjected, “I’m not quite as tiny as she, but I’m as sneaky and far more devious.”

“Of course” Concedes Tuskor. “Is the coast clear?”

Rowan looks to her adopted brother and says, “You can do this, brother!” and briefly touches his hand. A tingle of magic passes between them, almost an electric shock of power.

Lanaver plots out his path and cautiously moves from cover to cover, trying to use the terrain and what bit of shade the morning light provides to his advantage

Hajima keeps the cave entrance and the surrounding area clearly in his sights as he covers Lanaver’s approach with his heavy crossbow. He readies a bolt to shoot the first goblin or hobgoblin that spots Lanaver. His dark clothing seems to blend into the shadows where he stands beneath a rock outcropping and his stillness makes it difficult to see him, even for the companions who know where he is.

“Once that trap is laid maybe someone should climb on top of the cave to get a better look around the area or Tuskor-Dwarven druid can you speak with a bird and have it scout for us?” Sebastian thinks for a moment. “I can alarm the entrance but I will have to be within 30 feet.”

With the current tension in the air, Vellk tries to keep his armor and metal bits quiet. “I’m ready when you are he whispers.”

“Apologies master wizard, but though I can speak with animals, it requires an element of preparation.”  Tuskor says,  “Unfortunately I did not spend time enough this morning communing with nature in that way to use such an ability.”

“I understand the dilemma Tuskor, choosing one’s powers can be the bane of wizards as well.”  Sebastian says with a sigh, “We were rushed into this excursion and had no chance to properly prepare.”

Hajima turns to Lanaver and hands him some of the crossbow spare parts. “You are welcome to these, my friend. If it proves too difficult for us to effectively trap the entrance, then we will have to do our best regardless. Time is of the essence. Those raiders will return eventually and who knows what is now befalling those farmers. Let us best set what trap we can and then push on swiftly and cautiously deeper into this complex to rescue them.”

Lanaver approaches on cat feet and although he hears some soft, guttural mumbling coming from behind the eastern wall where the passageway turns south, he doesn’t encounter any of the enemy. Lanaver also sees that small holes riddle the wall, allowing for viewing up the passage by creatures behind the wall. There are piles of rubble large enough to allow characters to hide as they move up the passage.

Using pieces of the dismantled crossbow, some string and a few cleverly situated stones, Lanaver set the trap, outside the entrance to the cave.  Anyone carelessly entering or exiting would cause a small avalanche upon hitting the trip line.

Lanaver signals for the group to move up. As his friends approach, he inspects the east wall and attempts to peer through the holes.  If there is danger, he wants to find it before it finds them.  Through the holes, he spies three Goblin guards engaged in a quiet game of cards instead of keeping watch.

Rowan moves quietly up to the entrance with her friends, using the boulders to stay out of sight of the holes, all the while listening and watching for danger.  Hajima follows on her heels, crossbow at the ready if enemies appear. He moves from cover position to cover position, avoiding the eye holes as well.

Lanaver stops Sebastian and Rowan in their tracks. He points out a crude goblin rock trap on the floor just after the entrance to the lair. After being shown the trigger, a stick seemingly innocuously wedged against the wall, they are able to sneak around it.  Sebastian nods a thank you to Lanaver, and he dexterously steps past the trap, his dagger in one hand and his crystal capped wand in the other.

Rowan whispers as quietly as possible. “Let us take the guards as quickly and quietly as we can, while they are still unaware of us.”

Tuskor’s voice is a low rumble that doesn’t carry beyond a few feet. “If I see a group of them together I may be able to restrain them using the forces of nature in the earth beneath them – which might make it easier for you to pick them off from range before we close on them.”

Lanaver turns back from the corner, “There are three of them, drinking and gambling when they should be on watch.” He draws a throwing dagger and at a nod, you all explode into surprising action Tuskor outstretches his arms and weaves a spell. Strange root-like tendrils sprout up from cracks in the rocks, looking like blind cave worms as they wrap around a pair of the Goblins in a vice-like grip.

Hajima rounds the corner, taking a knee and firing a bolt at the largest of the three goblins. The bolt takes him fatally in the throat, dropping him. Rowan bursts into a sprint and covers the ground quickly to her foe. She stabs the surprised goblin through the chest, nearly felling him as Lanaver’s thrown dagger finishes the job, taking him in the forehead.

Vellk creeps up, as quietly as his armor will allow and silently finishes the final goblin guard before alarm can be called. Sebastian waits with spells ready as a brief moment of tension passes.  When no sounds of running feet or shouts of alarm sound, they realize they are thus far undetected.