Jewel of the North

Session 10

If You Go Down To The Woods Today . . .

20-22 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)

Present
Danforth
Kierke
Malus
Mani
Paelias
Rok Alim
Talak

Returning to Helm’s Hold clutching their grisly trophies, the heroes find their way barred by an eladrin patrol on the lookout for looters of sacred relics from the ruins of Sharandar, the ancient eladrin city at the heart of Neverwinter Wood. Any hostility is soon assuaged as the eladrin leader Aramil recognises Paelias as a fellow mover and shaker in the Restore Sharandar movement. A sensitive and non-intrusive body search later and the party is soon back on track.

Determined to make the most dramatic entrance possible, the heroes head straight for the Dragon’s Gauntlet to plonk down the severed heads of the lycanthropes in front of Alisara Callum, interrupting a somewhat one-sided conversation she is having with Deloran Bard as the pureblood spokesman continues to badger her about putting the Helm’s Hold leadership behind the campaign to expel the spellscarred from the town.

Impressed is indeed the word as Callum is grateful both for the victory against the werewolf raiders and the relief from the ear-bending she is receiving from Bard. She summons the pair of villagers who survived the attack a few nights earlier – Teolgar and Rannith – in the hope they confirm the heads match those of their assailants.

The pair cannot be sure, claiming that one werewolf looks much like another, and in any case it was dark. But to the more perceptive of the heroes there is something about the men’s reaction that is out of place, as if they are more shocked than joyous and more disappointed than grateful, while Kierke recognises a distinctly Uthgardti lilt to their accents.

Suspicions aroused, several of the heroes follow the pair as they leave the Gauntlet, with Danforth successful in tracking them back to a shack in the seedier part of town, although their muffled conversation within cannot be heard clearly.

The bounty for the werewolves weighing heavy in their pockets, the heroes decide to make a night of it as they go on to the Hungry Flame where Malus continues to impress Meryeth with his sensitive handling of the firebrand Halas, who sees the death of the werewolves as an opportunity to ram the bigoted opinions of the so called purebloods back down their throats.

Meanwhile, Mani returns to the Monastery to seek out Brother Satarin, to glean more information about Karadhan and Thundertrees and a renewed blessing for her dream easing dolly. The ancient dwarf is pleased to hear the name of his old friend again, the two having shared many a mead before the cataclysm that claimed Karadhan’s life, although he does not believe Karadhan and his crew came closer to finding Gauntylgrym than any of the many hundreds of dwarves who continue to spend their lives searching for the fabled Delzoun citadel.

Satarin reveals the location of Karadhan’s house in the logging village, although he counsels against the journey, pointing out the place must be nothing but ruins now, where nothing is to be found but the echoes of death that still reverberate from the appalling events of the eruption of Mount Hotenow. Seeing that the half-elf is not to be turned from her quest, he asks Mani to return with any dwarven remains she might find so that he can give them a proper send-off.

After a couple of days of rest, travel and retail therapy the heroes approach the remains of Thundertees through the swamp on the edge of Neverwinter Wood; difficult terrain created during the cataclysm when the violent shockwaves that ripped through mountain top and forest floor broke the banks of the mighty Neverwinter River.

Despite the bleak outlook of their surroundings, it appears the party are not the only recent explorers of the area, as the more nature savvy spot footprints in the soggy ground and, more disturbing still, the mark of Asmodeus, first seen tattooed into the chest of the desiccated body back in the chasm caves, now carved into several of the trees on the approach to the ruins.

Such mysteries soon cease to be of primary interest when the leaden-footed schlep through the swamp triggers an attack by some tentacled muddy monstrosities that emerge from the bubbling and stinking pools of mulchy swamp water.

The battle is joined and is turning in the party’s favour as Malus gets behind the fight and presses on to Karadhan’s hut. All seems well as he closes in on the objective, noticing only strong growths of fungus all over the rotting building and strange scorch marks on some of the planking – possibly recent, possibly arcane.

But such detective work is short-lived as the warlock is grabbed and encircled by strands of ivy lashed out by a large lump of malevolence that surfaces from a deep pool near the base of the steps into Karahdan’s cabin. With an outrageous flourish, Malus shakes off the attack as if it of no concern as he teleports out of the clinging vines and away from danger, straight on the steps and in sight of the doorway – only to then tread on a patch of pungent fungal growth, triggering the release of a cloud of noxious spores.

Looking up through the stinking mist Malus wishes his companions had managed to keep up with his thrilling advance, or at least that he shouldn’t have listened to Talak singing Lucien in the Sky with Diamonds over the camp fire the night before, as stares at several giant mushroom men advancing towards him, backed up by a massive fungus spreading up the back wall of the shack; a massive fungus with eyes.

Overview

View
Session 11

“Some people go in through the door, others come in through the window.”
*
*22 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)

Present
Bohdan
Danforth
Kierke
Malus
Mani
Paelias
Rok Alim
Talak

*
*Mushrooms

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room,

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door

Sylvia Plath

We rejoin the party in mid-battle, with Malus isolated and in trouble while the rest of the companions struggle through swampland to get to him. Their number now includes Bodahn, who chose the wrong time to pause for a few prayers to Bahamut and is now hot footing it to the sound of sword on plant as fast as heavy armour and sucking ground allows.

Things only get worse for Malus, as yet another myconid appears from the hut to support the two vicious guards just as they bring the warlock down in a rain of savage cuts from the crystalline spines that extrude from their spongy limbs and send him knocking on Kelemvor’s door, a passage likely to be quickened by the cloud of poisoned spores that infect his wounds.

Help soon arrives in the shape of healing words from Mani and inspiring strikes from the unusually accurate Talak, allowing Malus to stand, albeit as groggy as a githyanki on shore leave. Meanwhile little progress is made by the other warriors as damage to the mushroom men is shared with the purple-headed regenerating thing behind them through some form of silent fungal communication web spreading out beneath the thickly crusted floor. Even the usually lethal Kierke and Danforth have met their match as they both take heavy hits. And still the massive mother shroom at the back of the gang simply waits, occasionally bouncing away the forays of Mani’s bear companion.

Only Paelias sees the merit in avoiding the attrition of this frontal assault as he nips around the back of the building to gain access, only to fall flat on his face as he slips in the swamp.

Inspired by the idea, Rok Alim also attempts a different course, charging at the rickety walls of the hut in the hope of breaking through to a different angle onto the fight, only to come up against the one strong beam in the place as he bounces back and down onto the mud. Angered by such a humiliating bit of slapstick he stands and tries again, with a predictably similar result; exactly the sort of incident that might gain a character a nickname, or at least a mention in one of the comic songs so popular in the taverns of the North.

Paelias finally gets up the back passage where he advances on the fungal phalanx, taking a little time to stamp on the ranks of defenceless baby myconids that cover the floor. His arrival turns the tide as one by one the custodians of the colony fall, with Malus appropriately delivering the final fatal blow.

As the party join Paelias, the eladrin reveals a feeling of guilt at his infant-squishing activities, so, to make him feel better and to share the burden, the rest of the party finish the job off with a crushing jig among the tiny truffles – only Bodahn refusing to join in the massacre on religious grounds, although you could see he was sorely tempted.

A search of the place reveals more scarring from relatively recent assaults of arcane fire and also a cleared area centred upon a journal, which confirms the site as Karadhan’s house. Although written in Dethekian runes, which noone understands, the book is not without translatable material. A series of maps reveal the location of the nearby mines dug by Karadhan and his crew, along with lists of figures seeming to assay the returns of ore from the excavations. At the back of the journal, Malus finds details of an arcane ritual and a drawing of a crystal-topped staff, which matches the description of the divining instrument spoken of by Brother Vartan.

As they move outside to breathe in the spore-free air the party glimpse a wisp of smoke in the distance, drifting up from the roof of the only other building in the village still worthy of the name, while, beneath their feet, tiny ripples drift out from the house of the slaughtered mushrooms, out and out in widening circles carrying their silent and alien messages.

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Session 12

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intention
*
*22 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)

Present
Bohdan
Danforth
Kierke
Malus
Mani
Paelias
Rok Alim
Talak

Despite a lack of dwarven speakers, Talak concocts a ritual to decipher the text of Karadhan’s journal.

Soon the party head off to investigate the other building, although the presence of more signs of Asmodeus carved into the trees dictate a cautious approach to the hut, which they soon discover to be empty, but obviously recently occupied. Tanning racks stand in the garden, while the interior hints at a spartan but neat existence – dwarf-sized clothes, neatly made bed, the smouldering remains of a fire and a chest full of sewing equipment.

Close inspection of the ground outside tells a less peaceful story – footprints, lots of them, leading away from the hut, with an indication that at least two of the group did not travel willingly.

The trail is easy for Mani to track and it is soon apparent that it leads in the direction of Karadhan’s mine. A few hours later this is confirmed as the footprints go through a rickety entrance into a cliffside.

The passage down the mineshaft matches the map in Kharadan’s journal, although the tunnels and galleries reveal some odd details – while most of the mineworkings seem soundly constructed, there are areas which have obviously collapsed only to be dug out again – albeit in a somewhat slovenly fashion, and from the inside out. Rok Alim also feels a dim awakening of some ancient elemental juice in his veins.

On reaching a junction the party finally hear something other than the echoes of their own footsteps – an oddly discordant rattle of what sounds like picks on stone to the right, while a muted and undecipherable chanting drifts down the tunnel to the left.

With the fate of whoever has been dragged here in their hands, the party take the left fork and soon come upon a vast mined-out gallery that now hosts an obscene ritual led by a mage and overseen by a female dwarf clothed in a robe of human skin – they are surrounded by obsidian scimitar wielding guards and gibbering cultists drooling over a pair of extremely nervous looking victims, male and female, buff, and tied down to stone tables beneath an obelisk of stone and timber raised to some devilish entity.

It is not long before battle is joined, spells and flaming arrows are flying (much to Talak’s delight as he fixes on the archer who carries such a fine looking weapon) and the ritual is interrupted. It is a tough old struggle as the party fight their way up the gallery towards the victims, but as the battle turns and the mage falls, the dwarf flees for the rear of the gallery, disappearing around a corner and summoning Balol, a nasty looking cambion, to cover her escape.

“Actually, Favria, I was busy you know,’ the somewhat miffed creature shoots at the back of the retreating dwarf, before taking up a position to block any pursuit.

With Malus’ advice ringing in his ears, Kierke rushes at the obelisk hoping to curb the power of the devil, or cancel the ritual or just break something. Crashing into the mound the barbarian sends splinters of wood and lumps of rock flying everywhere. In particular, several heavy and jagged lumps crash into the prone victims still tied to their slabs, much to the delight of the cambion, who found the whole incident very amusing.

There was nothing anyone could have done.

Meanwhile, with Malus’ advice ringing in his ears, Danforth circles around the winged evil one to jump into the ventilation shaft to chase the dwarf, only for the cambion to send a fireball up his arse and the warning shout that if he didn’t come back at once and let her get away, there would be Hell to pay.

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Session 13

Where There’s Muck, There’s Money
*
*22/23 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)

Present
Danforth
Kierke
Malus
Mani
Paelias
Rok Alim
Talak

Flushed with the success of their intervention in the hellish goings on in the abandoned mine, the party feel confident enough to engage in a bit of banter with the bound cambion, Balol – the sort of devil (and devil, mind you – not demon – something completely different) you could imagine being quite a hit at the more sophisticated supper clubs in Neverwinter, had not his origins played quite so heavily against him.

Eventually fatigue and a desire to move things along a bit overcome the thirst for knowledge of Asmodeus and the Nine Hells and the party move off to rest for the night before investigating the strange hammering sounds heard deeper in the mines.

The party awake refreshed and continue to creep down the tunnel, the air becoming hotter with each step while the tapping sounds become clearer. The heated atmosphere also reeks of rot and decomposition, or, to such hardy souls as Kierke and Mani, brought up in less civilised environs – the sweet smell of home cooking.

Frustrated in his hopes to practice his training against undead creatures, Paelias seems to lapse into a strange trance, just as the party enter another dusty gallery, in the centre of which is a deep pit, the source of the stench, where some twenty feet below lies a rippling mass of decomposing bodies, liquefied entrails and some shiny things.

Despite losing his breakfast, Malus is soon shinning down this hellish well to reach the treasure, which turns out to be the rod of some less fortunate soul who had trod a similar path. Before Malus is able to chirp about his gains, however, those above ground are attacked by bloodsucking stirges, followed up by a wave of dustwalking dwarf zombies, one with a bucket obviously keen to pull up some of the nourishment from below.

Faced at last with the undead foes he so craved, Paelias can only stand and stare vacantly, his mind lost in some eladrin time warp, while the undead horrors attempt to drag and throw the heroes into the well to add to the meat store. A few go down for a most disgusting swim while a deep thunderous rumbling sound echoes down the tunnel behind them, but eventually the zombies are pulverised, the bats dispatched and party ready to go on to uncover the secrets of Karadhan’s mine.

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Session 14

Who’s Laughing Now?
*
*23 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)

Present
Bohdan
Danforth
Kierke
Malus
Mani
Rok Alim
Talak

Sweating out their very essence in the oven hot air, the party ignore the rumbling echoes behind them and push on into the depths of the mine. Eventually the heroes discern a red fiery glow in the distance and, creeping up to reconnoitre the source of the light, Danforth discovers both the origin of the tapping and the site of Karadhan’s inspiration.

A vast chamber of Delzoun origin opens up before him – Is this an outpost of fabled Gauntylgrym? There is no time for archaeology, however, as in the distance a team of grey dusty dawarves hammer away at a stone face riven with fissures that open up a view into a great boiling fire beyond.

More jagged echoes of steel on stone ring from various passages extending out from the chamber while between the party and those breaking into the lava flows stands another long dead dwarf, bigger than the rest, and at his side the very same sceptre drawn in Karadhan’s journal.

Despite Paelias’ absence, who, despite his talk, seems to have taken flight at the first sniff of undead opposition, the party take up their standard negotiating stance and charge in for a bloody resolution.

Before long an undead horde surrounds the heroes as dwarves pour in from the side tunnels, to be joined by ferocious flying fiery things belching out from the cracks in the rock opened up by the zombie miners. But fortune favours our brave explorers as enemies are dispatched and the sceptre is retrieved just as the chamber begins to collapse in on itself as lava pours on from the shattered walls.

They can practically taste the first pint waiting for them in either Neverwinter or Helm’s Hold as the party sticks a collective finger up at Balol, who has returned to his post in the gallery of the sacrifices. The devil seems unconcerned at the insolence, and offers only the cryptic response to the taunts, ‘Well I must say, you do have some interesting enemies.’

The party’s demob happy mood soon dissipates however, as at last they discover the source of the rumbling heard earlier – A cave-in that blocks the main exit. The party remember there is another way out – the ventilation shaft taken by the Asmodeus-loving dwarf in her escape – the shaft still guarded by a smirking Balor.

Negotiations ensue that see the devil happy to let the party use the tunnel – as long as they agree to do some unspecified task for him at some point in the next year, or, should they fail, surrender a soul to him. Balol finds it difficult to understand why the party should balk at such a generous offer: giving over a soul and joining him in Asmodeus’ domain is no bad thing – after 500 years of cleaning out the charnel pits the damned are rewarded with a brush – and there is so much to experience in the Nine Hells – it could take an eternity to do all of it . . .

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session 15

Sympathy with the Devil
*
*23-25 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)

Present
Bohdan
Danforth
Kierke
Malus
Mani
Paelias
Talak

Weighing up the options it doesn’t take long for Malus to decide that out of weeks of digging, fighting Balol or simply meekly acquiescing to his bizarre request even though it is sure to lead to no end of trouble, he opts for the latter; noting that this is not the first questionable pact he has ever entered into.
One fiery handshake later the party are free and Malus has a strange mark on his palm resembling an incomplete sign of Asmodeus. The question remains if Malus made the deal out a sense of self sacrifice for the good of the party, or whether the promise of arcane knowledge from the Astral Sea, albeit from the home to legions of devils, proved too strong a lure for the warlock.
At last able to breathe the relatively fresh air of above ground the party notice the entrance to cave shows signs of activity, leading to the conclusion that the cave-in that had trapped them had been no accident. Although it s fair to say that advanced detection work really isn’t this lot’s strong point so no further information was gleaned from the site.
Eventually the party arrive back at Helm’s Hold, having found no sign of the poisonous dwarf or her devil-worshipping cohorts. The town appears peaceful and busy, apparently freed from the fear of assault by the werewolves.
With several of the party preferring to sit around drinking in the Hungry Flame it was left to Malus and Danforth to go to the monastery and look up Brother Vartan who confirmed the translation of the ritual in Karadhan’s journal to activate the staff and presumably destroy any tainted crystal such as the one found at the bottom of the chasm.
An audience is found with Brother Satarin, who is pleased to see the party return but is disappointed that no news of his old friend’s fate has come with them. He too confirms the chant but also thinks that the handwriting in the journal seems to be subtly different, and that it is possible the chant was written by a different hand to that responsible for the other journal entries.
Meanwhile, back in the tavern, the drinkers’ sojourn is interrupted by a dark shadow passing over the ground accompanied by a series of oohs and ahhhs from the citizens outside. As the heroes investigate the biggest response to the sight of a green dragon flying rather erratically in the sky comes from Bodahn, who, letting out a fairly appalling roar of anger, runs demented in the direction of the beast’s flightpath, which eventually takes him headlong back into the forest with only around 60 miles to go before reaching the foothills of the crags – the mountain range the dragon appears to be heading towards.
Eventually the rage passes and Bodahn falls to the ground exhausted and lost, or at least he would have been lost, had not Kierke followed his friend form the bar, either from concern over his safety, or for the promise of a fight.
But, as is becoming a pattern for these in-between adventure type sessions, Talak manages to end the day with a song as he performs in return for the party’s stay in the pub’s bunkhouse. This time, as he sings the saga of the party’s adventures, he even has the songwriting help , or at least the ‘I’ll say it but you’d better right it down ‘ songwriting help from Kierke:

There was a half elf called Malus
Who was faced with a devil so callous
His bravery fake
He took the handshake,
To be forever in Hell sucking ph*****

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Session 16

Knight Errant
*
*25-26 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)

*
*Present

Danforth
Kierke
Malus
Mani
Paelias
Talak

Deciding to trek back to Neverwinter to pursue their various agendas, the party come across a wagon on the road, its wheel broken and guarded by a knight bearing upon his shield the emblem of a yellow skull on a horned. It seems familiar, but refuses to come specifically to mind. A tiefling in loose robes is attempting to repair the wagon, with little success, while a pair of trained drakes laze around nearby.

The knight introduces himself as Sir Tyros Halfhelm, another familiar sounding name, and is glad to see the party. He has been employed to guard Lerix the tiefling, one of Neverember’s tax collectors on his tour, and would welcome some help in fixing the wheel.

Despite this being one of the oldest tricks in the book, the party are only too happy to oblige, when they suddenly find themselves surrounded by bandits – arrows flying – and a leering Sir Tyros demanding their goods or their lives.

Preferring the latter course the party charge into action but soon realise that they might be up against it this time as the arrows find their mark, the tiefling lets fly with his dark magic and the knight proves a vicious and durable adversary. Danforth’s best efforts leave little more than a dent in his opponent’s armour and is soon regretting his failure to find some suitably enchanted armour of his own as he goes down into an oblivion he is becoming all too familiar with. Malus too finds himself dizzied with the knight’s strikes although still manages to trade insults with the bandit leader.

Mani ties up the tiefling and the drakes with her bear, Paelias keeps some semblance of honour with his sword while Talak does his best to keep the party alive but it is with great relief that Kierke finally arrives from his dump in the woods only to get tied up with an unusually resilient minion.

Eventually the crisis passes and the fight begins to go against the ambushers, most of whom flee, apart from sir Tyros who, swearing fealty to the Company of the Fallen, prefers death to the dishonour of the gallows that surely awaits.

The surviving bandits melt away into the woods while the tiefling takes time to grab a book from the wagon before he too makes his escape.

The wagon reveals a great pile of silver and gold coins and a tax ledger and it doesn’t take long for Paelias to grab a useful looking sword. A decent hoard, but there is still feeling that the greatest treasure might have escaped with the tiefling.

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