Rise of the Runelords

Ending the Hook

A darkened hallway loomed beyond the group as they made their way further in. Seris announced they needed to confront Lamatar Bayden so she could finish her goal of returning some of his remains to Myriana. Shortly after stepping beyond the hags’ chamber, Krac and Lor began to feel dizzy, and then collapsed to the floor.

Confused, the group surrounded them and attempted to determine the cause of their collapse.

“It must have been the dying hag’s hex—” Shalelu mused aloud.

Jakardros looked around at the others grimly. “We don’t have the time to waste. Hide them in the cave and we’ll press on.”

A murmur of agreement rippled through the companions and they stashed their friends’ unconscious bodies in the enclosed cave.

After rounding the corner into the cave beyond, they found Lamatar Bayden skulking in the darkness. His body was caked in rime, his left hand a wicked claw formed of frigid ice, and a crown of frost adorned his head. With a malevolent howl, he loosed a volley of arrows. Seris found herself in the wrong place and caught several with her body. The remaining allies poured into the room to engage him.

As Jakardros entered, Lamatar’s gaze narrowed and he turned his unbridled rage upon him. The arrows flew faster and with greater accuracy. Jakardros reeled from the blows. Bahram and Seris swarmed Lamatar to keep him from destroying their friend. As they landed hit after hit on the undead creature, he dropped his bow and tore free to eviscerate Jakardros.

Before Lamatar could reach him, the two landed simultaneously blows, and the wight collapsed into a pile of frost and bones.

“Who was that?!” Bahram asked.

“Shit—that hurt,” Jakardros winced, and dropped to one knee.

Seris chimed in, “He was the leader of the Black Arrows—Lamatar.”

They collected themselves and continued back up and out of the small adjacent cave and into the next chamber. Before entering, Seris cautioned the others to wait and allow her to scout ahead. She cloaked herself in a veil of invisibility and ventured into the chamber. Immediately to her left, she noted a stone giant standing with his greatclub raised. She peered around to assess any other threats and then ventured back out and relayed her intelligence.

The giant yelled out back up the stairs in his native tongue, “They’re not coming!”

Seris gathered her companions and instructed them to surround the giant and strike on her command. She channeled arcane energy into her allies and they disappeared from view and quickly poured into the room. She cried out the command and they suddenly appeared in view; lines of blood appeared on the giant’s legs and Rickben’s arrows buried deep in his chest. The giant struggled and futilely flailed about, but fell suddenly in a pool of his own gushing blood.

Spurred by their collective sneak attack, the group ascended massive stone-hewn stairs up into the chamber beyond. The gigantic room extended into darkness; above, the ceiling opened to the slate gray sky above. As they rounded the corner, the heroes spied Barl Breakbones sitting atop a massive stone throne. As they came into his vision, he stood—hefting his massive earthbreaker—and intoned a spell. A glowing bead sped down the steps.

Down the hill, the darkness streaked with orange flame, and engulfed Bahram. Seris, Rickben and Timber dodged out of the way. Barl reacted quickly after the exploding fireball and sped up into the air. Rickben responded with a volley of arrows. Jakardros and Shalelu joined Rickben, and unleashed arrows into the sky as well. The others gathered around and prepared for the giant to return to the ground.

As their arrows bounced against an invisible shield, Rickben’s arrows occasionally pierced the barrier. With each strike, Barl roared in rage. The arrows flew wildly, and Barl fixed his gaze upon the mounted halfling. He cried out and charged down from the sky, swinging for the tiny target. The earthbreaker connected, and the halfling felt like his body was being pulverized. Barl landed and swung again—this time connecting with the tiny ranger and knocking him from atop his mount. The force of the impact shattered his bones with a sickening crack and Rickben crumpled to the ground, utterly dead.

His companions rallied and surrounded the giant, ending his life before he could surrender. As he fell to the ground, his blood mixed with Rickben’s as it slowly pooled and ran down the massive steps.

Timber nuzzled his master and licked his bloody face. His companions gathered around and laid him atop his wolf. They ascended to the throne and searched the giant’s body and treasure for clues. They found a note indicating an imminent raid on Sandpoint.

Noticing the gear and recognizing some of his fallen comrades’ belongings, Jakardros asked the heroes if he might reclaim some of the treasure to help restock Fort Rannick.

Seris tersely cut him off, “No.” She surveyed the remaining belongings. Her allies gently prodded her, and she acquiesced after removing one piece of armor for herself. They collected themselves and their sleeping allies—who seemed to begin to rouse after Barl’s deat—and began the slow, somber trek down Hook Mountain back to Turtleback Ferry.

Bahram mentioned to his allies that they leave as soon as possible to warn Sandpoint about the attack. Seris interjected, “After we return this lock of hair to Myriana and find a way to restore Rickben. I have an idea.”

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Scaling the Hook

Invigorated with purpose, the group set out to face the Hook Mountain ogres they knew resided atop the pass. Jakardros, Vale, and Shalelu accompanied them to exact revenge on the ogres for their deeds at Fort Rannick and ensure the heroes succeeded against overwhelming odds.

As they climbed higher and higher, the heavy rain turned to thick gobs of wet snow. At the peak of the mountain stood two ogres idly standing guard in the cold. When the group climbed over the ridge, a melee broke out. They quickly dispatched the ogres without incident.

They continued on through the mountainside caverns and found an immense skeleton lining the entrance. Undeterred, they marched through and found an enormous forty-foot tall statue looming over the cavern. He wore majestic armor, gilded and encrusted with gems, and gripped a towering glaive in his armored fists. Around his neck hung a giant medallion of a seven-pointed star.

Seris grinned and began climbing. The others looked on with bemusement. As she reached the top of the statue without incident, she lifted the huge medallion off the giant’s neck. As the loop left his stone neck, the statue groaned and cracks visibly snaked across the stone. With a great crash, the statue disintegrated and Seris floated gracefully to the floor with the medallion in hand.

Jakardros yelled angrily, “Now they all know we’re here!”

They quickly gathered themselves and continued further down into the caves. Vale took point and motioned for them to follow. As he rounded the corner down the stairs, he cursed.

“Fuck. More ogres!”

Another melee broke out in the corridor. As they spilled down into the stairwell to engage the ogres, they noticed a hill giant behind them that lumbered forth. The rangers unleashed arrows upon them and managed to dispatch an ogre. As the other ogre fled, the hill giant stepped in and brought its club down upon Vale. Too slow to twist out of the way, the massive club connected with his face and smashed it into the ground with a mighty swing.

Jakardros’ eyes went wide as he saw his comrade dispatched. Vale’s blood slowly dripped down the floor. A flurry of arrows connected with the hill giant and the fleeing ogre. Shalelu growled and directed her arrows at the giant.

The massive thing fell with a crash, but the ogre fled down the steps into an adjoining room.

They gave chase, but when they rounded the corner they found a forge filled with alert ogres. They picked up their incomplete weapons, shimmering and white hot from the forge and brought them to bear on the intruders.

Lor stepped forward, channeling the destructive power of fire, and unleashed a fireball into the room. Dumbfounded, many of the ogres were incinerated by the blast. Only a few managed to find cover to survive the sudden blazing heat.

They quickly rounded up the remaining ogres and ended their resistance. They healed, regrouped, and forged further down into the caves. As they rounded the corner, they discovered three Annis Hags laid in waiting for them. The hags lashed out from their small hiding place, unleashing blasts of magical energy. One of them landed upon Shalelu, who suddenly transformed into a squirrel. Another blast of energy materialized as a fog cloud and rippled through the chamber.

Confusion and frustration gripped the small grouping of heroes. They pushed through and focused on bringing down the hags. They surrounded and downed one of the monstrous women. One of them grabbed ahold of Krac. Seris darted forward, sneaking among the shadows, and slashed the hag across her arms and head. It crumpled to the ground, with its arm still holding on to Krac.

Rickben mused, “I wish you guys tried this hard when something grabs me.”

“You always manage to wiggle out of things though, Rickben,” Seris retorted.

The remaining hag surrendered, but they failed to notice as she weaved a spell upon the group. Lor and Krac crumpled to the ground in a deep slumber.

Seris stepped forward and threatened the woman. She introduced herself as Briselda, and begged to be spared. Seris indicated her life was only worth the information she could provide.

As the hag poured out information about the plans concocted to sink the village, Seris demanded new information from her to spare her life. The hag stammered, claiming she had no further information for them. They bound and gagged the hag, and the group began scheming their next plan.

Seris asserted they should form a plan to push the giant down the hole further up the cave. They argued over the validity of her plan, until Rickben butted in.

“I still don’t see how we can push a STONE GIANT down a hole.”

Seris asked the hag if there was anything she could share that would reveal information about the stone giant beyond, Barl Breakbones. Suddenly worried, she started grasping at anything she could offer, but Seris was unimpressed. Her only useful information related to the man beyond, Lamatar Bayden, and

Clearly annoyed, Seris just leaned down and stabbed the hag between the ribs.

She gasped, staring incredulously. “You…said…” and then died. Seris shrugged in response and walked out of the small cavern to meet the others.

Krac stepped forward and channeled Sarenrae’s grace to restore Shalelu. The elf materialized before them, and thanked Krac profusely.

“That was awful, thank you!” Krac just grinned toothily and nodded.

She patted Rickben’s nearby head, “And thank you.” Rickben beamed.

They gathered and readied themselves for the two rooms beyond.

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Skull's Crossing
Dam those trolls

Seris, Rickben, Renza, and Bahram agreed to ascend the foothills of the Hook Mountains to uncover the reasons behind the dam breaking.

Krac and Lor remained behind to help the townsfolk recover from the recent flooding, promising to come at the first sign of distress.

Atop the mountains, spanning the great breadth of the gorge was Skull’s Crossing. The massive wall of stone held back the waters of the Storval Deep. Thousands of skulls were carved into the dam’s face, with five larger ones decorating the middle length. The easternmost of the skulls was obscured by a steady flow of cascading water pouring through what appeared to be a recent break in the dam. At the moment, the ancient dam seemed to be holding its own against the Storval Deep, but unless the rains ended soon, the recent flood would be a minor event in comparison to what awaited Turtleback Ferry.

They spied several dark shapes moving upon the dam as they ascended the mountainous climb up a set of stairs sized for creatures far larger than they. At the apex of the stairs awaited a darkened cave with a fifteen foot sheer wall up to the darkened cave beyond.

Seris turned to Bahram, “Give me a boost up so I can get a better look.”

He acquiesced, and heaved her up so she could scan the room. Seris spied a lumbering gigantic creature with two heads that seemed to be talking to itself in Giant. Seris turned to the others and formulated a plan. She uttered a simple spell and disappeared from sight and did the same to Rickben. The two of them stepped into Bahram’s arms one after the other and then crept into advantageous positions.

Seris suddened appeared in view behind the creature, her scimitar drawing a deep red line of blood across the backs of his calves.

It bellowed, “YOU NO BRIBE ME! I SMASH YOU FOR SKULLTAKERS!”

Rickben snuck around further down the cavern and aimed his bow. Renza vaulted up as well, leaving Bahram and Timber below.

Seris tumbled beneath the Ettin and attacked again. Renza launched a bolt of searing light at the creature and it howled in agony, clearly maimed. Rickben suddenly appeared in a flurry of archery, and the ambushed giant dropped dead to the floor.

In the giant’s chambers, they managed to find:
693 gp
1,240 sp
A velvet pouch containing six 100 gp pearls
A phylactery of positive channeling
An ivory scroll tube inset with strips of jade worth 300 gp and containing:
scroll of Cone of Cold
scroll of Hold Monster
scroll of Telekinesis

They continued above, which led to the rain-slick span of the Skull Crossing dam. As they forged on, flashes of lightning illuminated ogres standing upon the precipice. A battle erupted, and they made short work of the exhausted ogres.

Ahead, a large skull-shaped structure perched atop the dam concealed a passage further beyond. Without the strength to force open the jammed stone doors, they climbed through the eyes of the skulls, which led to a darkened chamber within. Bahram stepped forward and opened a door beyond.

Inside, piles of rubble dominated the large room, along with bits of flesh, broken weapons, splashes of blood, and a few dead ogres that’d been torn from limb to limb. Thick sheets of ropy green fungus grew along the walls here, but more immediately concerning were the four trolls who turned their attentions upon the interlopers, hissing in rage and leaping to attack.

As they fought the creatures, the heroes noticed the trolls’ wounds healing before their eyes. Seris realized after a drawn-out battle that acid or fire would be necessary to halt their regeneration.

After Seris, Bahram, and Rickben collectively made short work of them with some well-placed blows, they dragged the trolls into the center of the room, and Rickben lobbed a flask of acid into the lot of the them. Their labored breathing ceased simultaneously, and they continued on.

To the west, a den contained a cache of finds, likely hidden by one of the trolls. In it, they found:
a cracked emerald worth 400 gp
a bent comb that looked like a behir (with its legs comprising the comb’s teeth) with tiny pearls for eyes worth 850 gp
a pair of lacy pink gloves of swimming and climbing that smells faintly of lilacs

A room to the south featured double doors covered with graffiti. In messy hand and in dried blood, the message in Giant read: “BELOW DWELLS WET PAPA GRAZUUL! ALL HAIL WET PAPA GRAZUUL!” Bahram and Rickben pushed open the double doors.

Stairs descended into darkness switching back and forth to doors one hundred and fifty feet below.

The cold, damp room featured a large pool in the floor, the edges of which were caked with pale yellow slime and fungus. The surface of the pool bore a similar film. The south of the room featured an impressive mound of humanoid skulls heaped against the wall.

As they filed into the room, a hulking aquatic troll with yellowed eyes, webbed hands, and finned extremities leaped from the waters and stabbed a massive trident into Bahram. Filmy water splashed about the room.

Renza reacted with a blast of searing light that squarely slammed into the troll’s chest. They scattered about the room to engage the troll, which remained in the relative safety of the waters and engaged the heroes. Grazuul, as they reasoned he was called, unleashed a flurry of stabs at Seris, who succumbed from the strikes and collapsed from her wounds. Bahram and Rickben ensured that the troll didn’t harm anyone else as grievously and the troll languished in the fetid waters, mingling with his own blood. Bahram dragged the creature from the water while Renza healed Seris back to consciousness. They lit Seris’ bedroll on fire and tossed the flaming thing upon the troll, which filled the room with the acrid smell of burning flesh.

Bahram hefted the troll’s Large +1 vicious adamantine trident off of his body.

In the adjacent room, they found a small replica of the dam guarded by a scorpion-like creature bearing the skulls of countless humanoids. Rickben entered the room first, and the huge clanging construct roared to life, the sounds of its legs clicking against the stone echoing throughout the otherwise silent chamber. It lunged at the intruder with a massive claw—entrapping Rickben within its grasp and lifting him off of Timber.

Seris and Timber both fled back up the stairs in terror at the sight of the creature. Rickben squirmed to try and free himself, suddenly concerned for his life.

The creature released him and clacked its claws together menacingly. Bahram moved into the room to engage with his new trident, and the creature responded with a lunge of its piercing, segmented tail.

Bahram could feel the poison quickly invading his veins with a burning fire, but he shrugged it off. The creature quickly grabbed Rickben again, constricting even harder this time. Rickben could feel his life slowly ebbing away as a few of his ribs cracked under the pressure. Renza darted in, calling upon her mastery of time to age the construct. Cracks appeared along the creature’s claw and snaked their way up to its torso.

It’s grip didn’t let up. Seris and Timber ran back to join in the battle. Timber desperately bit at the claw holding his master to the ground.

The creature pinned Rickben to the floor, squeezing even harder. It moved its other claw around his neck. Bahram hacked faster and harder, easily piercing the creature’s tough shell with his newfound weapon. Renza gripped the creature and held on, desperately trying to free Rickben from the creature’s grasp by corroding it.

It began to grow brittle, and Bahram lunged again. The fearsome scorpion crashed to the floor with a metallic clang and they took a moment to regain their senses.

An examination of the scale model revealed it radiated immensely powerful transmutation magic. The device was used to control the dam’s floodgates, but the source of its power seemed to have waned to the point where it no longer functioned.

Wedged inside a crack of the model, Seris spied a pale lavender ellipsoid ioun stone capable of absorbing six more spell levels.

Across the chamber, they entered another room filled with a small pool. Bahram activated a sunrod and dropped it into the pool. Rickben squinted and noted the framework of a hidden passage. Renza jumped down to explore and activated the panel. The door swung open to reveal another small chamber below, and when she swam into it to investigate she found another small button. It opened, revealing another small chamber. The door behind her swung close. Not interested in getting stuck underwater, she returned back through the door to the surface.

They returned to the pile of skulls and set about unearthing the door beyond. The narrow chamber within featured two curved alcoves enclosed by a dull iron portcullis. A winch next to each provided a way to raise or lower the gates, and beyond each portcullis a circle of runes glowed with a faint orange light on the floor. Inside the circle to the west was a pile of crimson ash, but inside the circle to the east was curled what appeared to be a long-dead devil, its flesh taught and dry on its bones.

When they entered, the devil reached out and feebly reached at Seris.

“Please, release me from this prison,” it rasped.

“Why would I want to do that? You’re a devil.”

They turned to one another, puzzled.

“I’ve been trapped here for thousands of years—these gates sap my strength to power this structure.”

“Then why would we want to let you go?” Seris asked, shrugging. “We’ll just power the dam with your energy again.”

The devil rasped, “You cannot power it with me alone—a creature must offer energy within both circles. Let me free, and find two creatures to place in the circles. I am no longer needed here. Even a summoned creature will do.”

Seris still wasn’t convinced. Rickben voiced his opposition to the idea of letting the creature free.

Renza chimed in, “I will not play a part in this decision, as I do not want to free the creature. I won’t stop you though.”

“My name is Avaxial.” It stated plainly.

Seris looked at the pitiable creature. “We have no reason to free you at all,” she paused. “Avaxial.”

“If you do not activate the structure, this dam will break, and the village below will be utterly destroyed.”

Seris shrugged, “We have no way to power the dam anyway.”

The devil grumbled feebly. “Fine. Free me, and I’ll owe you a favor.”

Seris pondered this, nodding suddenly and grinning wickedly, and then stepped forward to attack the bindings that held the creature.

“What are you doing?” Rickben asked.

Convinced, Seris looked back at Rickben, “Freeing it.”

The devil grinned. “Very good.”

Rickben pulled the winch to open the other portcullis, stepped into the circle, and the structure grumbled suddenly.

The creature shrieked, and was instantly reduced to ash. Rickben felt some of his life force drained away, but was still able to stand in the circle. They could feel the rush of water and heard the roar of water beneath them.

Rickben looked at Seris, “We didn’t want to let that thing free.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Fine.”

They returned to the pool of water in the room before and Rickben cast a spell that allowed him to swim faster through the water. His fingers and toes suddenly grew webbing. He continued down through the passage, swimming continuously until he had passed several compartments that closed behind him and opened before him. He felt like he was swimming forever, and his lungs ached with the need for air.

Suddenly he was free of the structure, and he swam for the surface, concerned he may drown here.

He popped up behind the dam in the Storval Deep, and swam for safety at the shore, somewhat disappointed that he hadn’t found anything more significant.

Back down in the chambers below, Rickben didn’t surface after several minutes. Timber whined desperately and paced around the pool. Renza glanced at Bahram and Seris—all of them wore a look of concern upon their face.

“Well, I doubt he’s coming back up through here. Maybe he found what he was looking for.” Renza called for Timber, and they all ascended the steps.

When they reached the top of the dam, they were able to pick out a small shape swimming for shore in the pouring rain and were suddenly relieved.

They called out to him through the peals of thunder, and Rickben swam for shore. A few minutes of climbing later, the group was reunited, and Timber licked Rickben’s face affectionately.

With the pressure behind the dam from all the rain released, they returned to Turtleback Ferry to share the good news with Krac, Lor, and Maelin Shreed.

He thanked them profusely and awarded each of the group 1,000 gold pieces for averting certain disaster.

“You’ll have to stop doing us favors soon enough,” Maelin joked, “or this town is going to be bankrupt.”

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Into the Shimmerglens
The horror of Whitewillow

Determined to investigate the mysterious lights shimmering across Claybottom Lake, Seris resolved to investigate without the burden of her constant companionship.

The Shimmerglens themselves quickly grew tangled and densely packed once Seris traveled out of sight of the swamp’s edge. As she meandered throughout the swamplands, drawn inexorably on the lure of ghostly luminescence, the silence was broken by a tiny, chattering voice.

A diminutive pixie appeared out of the darkness, and plaintively approached Seris.

“My mistress, she is…ill. Very ill. Death would have been a kindness. The land sickens with her heart, and it cannot be cleansed until her memory is purged. I cannot do this myself. Please, you must help her! You are friends with her human lover, yes? He wouldn’t want her left like this! I can take you to her—maybe you can do something. I have tried everything to cure her forlorn heart, but to no avail. She wails and moans in Whitewillow, and the trees and plants and nixies and frogs and everything are dying or worse! I can take you there! Please!”

Twisted black trees rose wretchedly from shallow pools, seeming to have lurched from the land, their arthritic branches curled into miserable tortured claws. A cold, dark mist loomed within the canopy of bone-bare branches above. Evil murmurs rode an unnatural wind that flowed forth from the glens, and shadows danced in the dark mists within.

The trees of the swampy region of Whitewillow, once beautiful and mystic with drooping boughs of sparkling ivory leaves, were dark and twisted with Myriana’s torment. Now, they shifted and moved when they should not. Shadows played cruel tricks on the sharpest eyes, and sanity shredding whispers caused even the canniest woodsman to lose his way. As Yap lead Seris deeper into the depths of Whitewillow, the degree of corruption seemed to grow. Spiders, languid and fat with poison, hung from trees. Dying birds twitched in the shallows. Slithering things with too many eyes squirted away through the water.

As she meandered on, Seris first glimpsed tall, dark-robed figures in her peripheral vision. Nothing but chill silence surrounded her, and as she focused more on the figures in the distance, enlarged skeletal claws extended from their outstretching hands as if reaching for her. When she blinked, the hands appeared as no more than the gnarled branches of twisted black trees. Seris shook off the feeling of dread that seeped into her heart, too resolute and too curious to figure out who this Myriana might be.

She spied a natural pool of water created by runoff from the hulking dark trees standing in a clearing ahead of her. Seris noted no algae or larval insects dwelling in the pool, which she reasoned could mean it was poisoned. As she gazed into the pool, the gentle ripples distorting her reflection in uneven pulses, a sense of wrongness began to creep
up in the back of Seris’ mind. She froze, a spell springing to the tip of her tongue and prepared to fight or flee. Yet after several tense minutes with Yap’s persistent urgings the only sound, Seris shrugged the feeling off and pressed on deeper into the woods.

About fifteen minues of walking later, all around Seris ghostly translucent forms emerged from the trees. Fey of all sorts—spectral satyrs, ghostly grigs, phantom nixies, and sprightly spirits floated gently from the swamp around her, followed by a parade of phantom animals. The fey cavorted and frolicked as they marched, eventually washing over her. They caressed, danced through, and embraced her before passing. Seris found herself in the ghostly party’s path, riveted by the otherwordly spectacle, and was burned by their lingering malevolent energy. As quickly as they materialized, they disappeared.

Mystified, she continued through the gnarled woods. Deep in the swamp, she suddenly stumbled across a derelict ship, inexplicably located hundreds of miles from the Varisian shore. The vessel was badly worn and covered in thick dark green moss, but was completely intact and was obviously of a seagoing model. The ship was deserted, but in his quarters belowdecks, the long-dead captain sat at a moldering darkwood harpsichord carved with demons battling angels. Still dressed in his rotten uniform, he clutched in one hand nautical charts that seemed complete alien to Seris, and a silver goblet inlaid with opals in the other. A book of sheet music bearing several lyrical masterpieces sat on the harpsichord. Seris was delighted to discover the wondrous music contained within could be played to enrapture a group of listeners. When she emerged from belowdecks, a white dog sat on deck watching her with milky blind eyes. The dog stared but did nothing else, eventually wandering off into the swamp and leaving no trace it was ever actually there.

Seris then happened upon the mangled corpse of a beautiful dryad half-protruding from a tree whose limbs had been smashed from the trunk by massive clubs. As she walked closer to get a better look, she heard soft feminine whispers in her ears—”She should not have fallen in love—her heart brought this upon us—why won’t she let us go?” Seris suddenly found herself filled with regret, but also with an increased resolve to lift the curse that vexed the swamp.

The tangled swamp gave way to a relatively large clearing, a calm pool of unnaturally still water ringed by twisted, decayed willow trees. Wind blew, but the trees did not sway. It was as if the very land had died. Yap quailed at the edge of the clearing, “We’re here…my lady waits for you within. I dare not go any closer…” he said before stepping back to cower beneath a gnarled tree. A luminescent being emerged from the gnarled tree.

Clearly once soul-shakingly beautiful, the nymph was now a haggard, ghostly horror. her disembodied arms floated at her sides, exposed bone and sinew stretching toward her torso but ever too far out of her reach. Her lower torso faded away to smoke, savaged too cruelly by the ogres for even her insane ghost to retain. But her most terrifying feature was her eyes: wells of hellish horror, crying out silently in an agony beyond anything a mortal creature could ever know. She was beauty undone, and torment incarnate.

As she entered the twisted glade, the ghostly nymph rose with a howl from the waters. Her blinding beauty nearly robbed Seris of her sight as the creature came into view. In a shrieking, hate-filled voice, she lashed out at Seris.

“You have failed Lamatar! You have failed to protect Fort Rannick. YOU have allowed the Kreeg to take him! High into the mountains, he languishes!”

With a word, Seris winked out of sight and danced a few steps out of the feral spirit’s trajectory.

“Let me stop you there,” Seris scoffed, while also attempting to keep her location vague. “I’ve actually done quite a lot to make the Kreegs extinct I’ll have you know.”

Myriana spits at the mention of the Kreeg, angrily glaring off into the distance. For a moment, she seems lost in thought, but then her attentions snap back to Seris.

“Why are you here?! Why have you come? Do you have news of Lamatar?”

“Honestly? I’m not really sure why I’m here. If pressed, I suppose I’d have to say curiosity,” Seris replied, trying to keep her voice even. “Well, that and your damn persistent pixie.”

“Ah. Yap. He means well, and without him, you may never have found me. May never have arrived to help my dear Lamatar.” She pauses, suddenly irate. “You are here to help, are you not?!”

Seris considered that for a moment. She hadn’t been lying when she said she wasn’t sure why she’d followed Yap into such a dangerous place. In the middle of the night. Alone.

_“Damn it Seris, you fool of a sylph, you’ve gone and got yourself in the frying pan again. I suppose helping her is your only way out of this place alive, and you can always just lie to her. It doesn’t seem like she leaves these woods often.

But she seems to be in so much pain, and not only that, but a pain we’re all too familiar with. Do you really mean to leave her to her desperation? Have you really grown that callous?”_

With a shake of her head, Seris replied to the ghost, “Help, yes of course that’s why I’m here.”

“Oh, truly?” Her face softened suddenly. “I know in my heart he is now dead, but when I tried to reincarnate him, foul magic prevented his soul from returning to his new body.”

She stared at Seris. “Find his remains and return them to me—I need not the entire body. A lock of hair or a single finger will do.”

“If you do this, I will grant you with the gift of my inspiration. I know this to be valuable.”

“Your inspiration, huh? Well, my fellow adventurers and I are headed further into the mountains, so I will keep an eye out for Lamatar, or his remains.”

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Down comes the rain
The Turtleback flood

The group stood around both Lor and Krac back at Turtleback Ferry, observing Maelin Shreed intone the rites that would return them to life and restore their vitality. When the ritual had completed, and the deceased were returned relatively unscathed to their friends, they returned to the Turtle’s Parlor and rested for the night, resolving to return back up the mountain to confront the Kreeg as soon as possible.

The following morning, they awoke to the sounds of screams outside of the inn. A man ran through the hallways banging on the doors exclaiming that the town was flooding.

As they roused and collected their belongings, the group fled out into the streets to appraise the situation.

The village of Turtleback Ferry was drowning. The muddy, surging waters of the Skull River tore through the center of the community to fill Claybottom Lake with a terrible fury—many of the buildings that once sat comfortably on the river’s banks were already flooding and in danger of collapsing from the rushing water. A group of children and a woman huddled aboard one of the old turtleshell ferryboats, the tiny flood-bashed vessel lodged up against the general store and threatening to capsize at any moment. Beyond, the town’s church stood sold, its foundations already three feet deep in flood waters.

They clambered atop a few buildings to escape the waters, and with a rustle of air about her, Lor took to the sky and flew over to the frightened schoolchildren. As she flew over, the waters carried the massive boa up onto the side of the ferry boat. It rose from the water with a loud hiss and attacked, constricting and then attempting to swallow one of the young pig-tailed school children. Their schoolmarm screamed out in terror, powerless to do anything to help the poor girl. The rest of the children joined her in screaming.

Seris wildly dashed off the top of the roof, and with a magic intonation she was magically transported next to the snake with a flourish.

Suddenly disinterested in the tiny girl within its grasp, the snake dove at Seris, instead coiling around her in a deadly embrace. Rickben and the others lobbed attacks from the rooftops across the street. Several of Rickben’s arrows slammed into the beast, and it released its vice-like grip upon her.

Seris uncoiled herself and brought her sword down to bear. Without ceremony, the snake slid off the boat and disappeared into the rushing waters.

Tillia Henkenson gushed all over Seris and the others as they ushered the schoolchildren to the roof. Seris and Lor clambered onto the roof with them while the others appraised their environment to determine what to do next.

They had very little time to react before a large black shape materialized out of the water. The floodwaters surged violently, and with a thunderous roar a fearsome creature emerged.

It bore a head like a plesiosaur atop a thrashing mass of tentacles and eyes. Seeing a gathering of creatures before it, the monstrosity opened its mouth and exhaled a cloud of foul-smelling breath all over Krac, Rickben, Shalelu and Bahram. All of them felt a momentary lapse in sanity and were overcome with confusion. The cloud clung to them, but after a fit of coughing, they began to fight back. Lor quickly found it was resistant to spells, and the others had much difficulty piercing its supernaturally tough hide.

It responded to the assaults with primary fury, lashing out at the others on the roof. As they begun to grow weary with wounds, the creature seemed to lose interest. It surged downriver, crashing into a few small homes and vanished into the depths of Claybottom Lake.

After the creature retreated, a cheer rose from the villagers who had gathered on the shores to watch. The floodwaters seemed to be receding. As the villagers gathered around the soaked town grounds and began to chatter, they overheard the villagers expressing relief that Skull’s Crossing had not yet burst, but the sudden rush of water seemed to indicate something dire had happened up in the mountains. Several locals recognized the creature as Black Magga from local legend and explained that the monster was said to dwell in the Storval Deep and not in the Skull River.

All signs pointed north, they explained. Something must have happened at Skull’s Crossing. When, in the past, storms threatened to spill over the dam, the structure’s floodgates opened automatically to release water pressure in a controlled flow. No one could explain exactly how the mechanism worked, as Skull’s Crossing had long been the den of a tribe of trolls known as the Skulltakers. As long as anyone can remember, the floodgates functioned without fault.

If the floodgates were malfunctioning, someone would need to brave the wrath of the Skulltaker trolls to determine what, if anything, could be done to repair the ancient Thassilonian structure before a cataclysmic flood washed the entire region away.

Maelin Shreed approached the heroes and explained that if they could solve the mystery behind the malfunctioning gate, Turtleback Ferry would offer an award of 1,000 gp to each of them.

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Lor's return
...after a brief brush with something craaaazy!

Darkness.

Or perhaps more accurately, nothingness.

Lor exists in a torpor, waiting. Waiting for anything. But then again, why does it matter? Death is timeless. So she waits.

Peering around as if expecting to see something, she sees and feels nothing. Try as she might, the passion she felt in life has left. Nothing remains. Just a soul floating in an inky blackness. Devoid of feeling and lacking any semblance of purpose.

It feels like just yesterday that she was alive with the passion for knowledge and adventure. It seems strange now that none of that matters. Eventually the Mother of Souls will pluck her spirit from this blackness and deem it ready to move in some direction.

“Anywhere but here will be better. Something is better than nothing, and anything has to be better than this,” she thinks to herself. Yet the silence persists, looming. Her mind begins to race.

Lor’s thoughts and feelings in life rush back to her. Turtleback Ferry, the town she promised to help. Her friends Seris, Rickben, Bahram, Renza. And even Krac.

The monster and his hook…

Suddenly Lor is standing, the sound of the ocean churning in the distance. Her thoughts immediately jump to “where am I? Am I alive?”

She looks down at her cloak. It’s clean. She peels it back only to see her chest unmarred by any wound. Not even a scar. Panicking, she pulls her shirt open to examine her torso. Again no scars. Not a single one from any of her countless injuries. Not even from Xanesha’s insidious spear.

Still dead. Or rather, not alive..

She collapses to her knees and sobs, unable to do anything else. Her cries are silent and make no noise, the only sound to be heard is the ocean, rhythmically swishing in the distance.

Lor looks up after collecting herself to examine around the room. A table, but no chairs, stands in the center of the room. It appears to have been a conference or meeting room, however the outside wall has been shorn away by some sort of violent force. An earthquake? Or a tsunami? She walks to the edge of the room and looks out to find herself on top of, or near the top of a mountain. The sea massages the beaches far below as she stares out at the horizon.

She turns back towards the room to find Hopkins staring back at her. Lor gasps silently at the sight, and the little weasel chitters back. He then rears up on his hind legs as hot magma spills out through cracks in the floor, coalescing around the table. Lor, suddenly feeling lightheaded, loses her balance as starbursts of white hot light pulsate in the air around her. The little weasel’s body distorts and bulges before her eyes. His little bones snap and puncture his hide, bright orange magma spurting out of the wounds. Lor screams silently as the weasel’s face cracks and reforms into a sickening scowl, his fur burns red and flows around the now humanoid face. A booming voice, speaking in Thassilonian, shakes the room.

“My machinations are not yet complete. You cannot perish before annihilating Karzoug.”

Lor shudders under the weight of the woman’s voice.

“He cannot obtain what I could not. I will not allow it! You shall be my avatar of destruction. I have already bestowed upon you a tiny morsel of my power. Can you not feel how my fire flows through you!?”

The face becomes more pronounced and nothing remains of Hopkins. The magma that had been filling the room finally coalesces into a humanoid woman’s form. She thrusts her hands skyward.

“WITNESS!”

A pillar of flame erupts from the sky outside.

“WITNESS MY WRATH!”

A second pillar of searing flame and lava flies from the sky outside, the clouds now black and ashy with dark energy. The woman’s voice booms with the force of thunder.

“My power is yours! Use it to eradicate Greed!”

A vicious shower of fire and electricity erupts outside, seemingly from everywhere at once.

“End him so that I may taste his anguish.”

The runelord produces a bright red gem and hurls it at the floor. Lor glances down at the glowing symbol as it explodes with violent energy, hurling Lor out of the room and into the roiling firestorm.

The surging flames embrace her, pulling her into their depths. They engulf her body, the storm’s wrathful energies tearing at her soul. A lick of fire hits her in the chest, tearing her open and sending her hurtling towards the earth below.

Lor watches helplessly as the ground races towards her. She tries to fly, to levitate, anything to slow her fall, but nothing works. She hits a tree branch on the way down, impaling herself and tearing it from the trunk with the impact. She finally hits the ground with a sickening wet crunch as wildlife scurries in all directions.

White hot agony surges through her entire body and the grass around her smolders as the forest is consumed by the firestorm raging above. Despite the destruction, a stag stands against the chaos and approaches Lor’s prone form, stopping to stand at her side.

The stag leans foward and dips its antlers into a nearby bush and Lor stares wide-eyed as the stag retrieves a ghostly and limp version of herself. Unable to move, she watches as the stag lowers the image onto her broken body, and with a rush of wind, fire, and emotion, the world collapses around her and she opens her eyes with a start.

Maelin Shreed stands over her, chanting some words she cannot comprehend and passing a smoking bundle over her corpse. Lor gasps for air so sharply she squeaks.

She blinks quickly and sweeps the room.

“What happened? Where am I? Where is Seris? Rickben?”

Lor stammers so quickly she trips over her words and coughs.

View
A steely advance
Ascending with heavy hearts

As the rain poured about them and peals of thunder echoed through the air, the group stood around briefly mourning Lor’s untimely demise. Rivulets of water raced down each of their stoic faces.

With rage in his eyes, Bahram turned about and closed the distance in the courtyard, making his way to the front of the fort. Krac kneeled over and collected the rings on the severed hands arrayed on the ogres’ grisly necklace.

As they rounded the corner of the keep, an oddly mouth-watering smell wafted through the rain—the smell of smoking meat. Under an open-faced building, the group spied a hideous ogre gleefully laying out strips of flesh and roasting them over an open fire. Bahram raised his hand and whispered to everyone.

“Get ready to charge him.” A glimmer of hate flashed upon his eyes.

Seris interjected, “I have the perfect idea.” She winked out of sight and Bahram readied his weapons.

“Be ready in case Seris gets in trouble.”

As Seris dashed over to the hulking brute, she spied something more interesting: a bundle of discarded wood beneath a crude barracks across the courtyard. She wandered off course and as she got close, she could hear the guttural sounds of ogre-speech inside.

She didn’t even hesitate as she pulled free flint and steel and set afire the kindling below the barracks.

Back across the yard, the ogre cooking looked up and noticed interlopers making their way toward the group. He grabbed his ogre hook and charged across the courtyard, yelling for others to join him.

A crash of thunder drowned out his cry for assistance, but that didn’t stop him as he charged Bahram and dug his ogre hook into Bahram’s leg.

They did battle with the ogre in the courtyard, and Seris disengaged from her current venture to dash back and fight against the beast. Krac, Bahram, and Shalelu engaged the thing as Seris winked into existence, her scimitar drawing a large line of blood across the creature’s flank.

Across the courtyard, the door to the barracks burst forth with a shatter of splinters. They noticed the faces of several ogres straining against the weight of them to escape, but their bodies would not fit. As flames licked up the side of the barracks, their strained angry faces turned to agony and cries of pain went up. They quickly died out as the smoke and flame began claiming lives.

Shalelu unleashed a volley of arrows into the ogre and he fell, utterly dead.

They gathered themselves and quickly closed the distance to the keep entrance. Krac easily forced open the door, and they entered a lit fortress. Shalelu scanned the ground and grimly noted the overwhelming presence of ogre-prints.

“It wouldn’t even take a ranger to recognize these,” she laughed weakly, indicating they went off in all directions.

They turned left into the fort. Seris walked to the first door she noted and peered inside the lock. Then she opened the door. She noticed two ogres guffawing at each other, both donned in the garb of men far smaller than them. Each wore tiny helmets atop their heads with their limbs jammed into tiny suits of metal armor. They danced back and forth in place, laughing hysterically at one another. Relishing the moment, she simply closed the door.

The two ogres were too shocked to do anything for a moment, at which point Bahram kicked the door to try and knock it down. The door proved too resilient, and didn’t budge. More enraged than seconds before, he opened the door, stormed back inside, promising to avenge Lor’s death. Seeing the ridiculous ogre, he brought his greatsword down upon the unfortunate creature, and they all spread out across the room. Too constricted by the armor to effectively defend themselves, they quickly died at the heroes’ hands.

They spread out across the keep, noting areas of wanton destruction perpetrated by the ogres.

Renza opened a door leading into a dormitory, only to find it thoroughly occupied by bickering ogres. They turned to attack. As the group rallied to kill the oafs, Bahram ran into the room, cleaving through the ogres with relish. One of the ogres disengaged and ran back through the foyer to surround the group. With a great cry, another ogre joined the group and ran down the hallway to engage. Krac stepped up to fight it, and after swinging madly at the thing and dealing two hefty blows, the nightmarish thing brought its hook down upon him twice, hacking madly.

Krac stood by his orcish heritage alone, nearly dead as a gash about his neck fountained blood. He breathed a prayer to Sarenrae, suffusing his wounds with healing magic, and then fell unconscious. Renza dashed forward to staunch the bleeding. Hearing the melee outside, Bahram cleaved through the remaining two ogres and dashed out to aid Krac, interposing himself between the grotesque ogre and his friends. Shalelu unleashed volley after volley of arrows, and Bahram and Seris helped finish the giant.

They took a moment for a brief respite before continuing on and exploring the destroyed keep. The ogres had certainly done a number on the place—it would take weeks to repair the damage they’d done.

Continuing down the hallway, the group entered a room that could’ve once resembled an infirmary. The floor was slick with gore, and strewn with mangled organs and heaps of entrails. A dead fat man sat at one of the operating tables, arranged as if he were merrily spooning chunks of his own organs out of a brown bowl.

The ogre that stood over the man, arranging him artfully, turned around to reveal a face hideously scarred with half the flesh missing and bits of bone peeking through festering wounds.

He roared, raising a hook to attack, and Renza promptly shut the door and backed up. The ogre inside smashed down the door with a shower of splintering wood, and was promptly overwhelming by the group. Cleaning their weapons and choking back bile, they left the room as quickly as they entered.

Deciding to ascend the stairs, the heroes ventured into a quiet hallway. Seris tried a double door and inside found a monstrous 14-foot ogre stuffing small animals and arranging taxidermied monsters. Enraged by the interruption, the creature grabbed his weapon and engaged the group in battle.

Seris, grinning, launched an familiar enchantment spell at the creature. Suddenly dazed and overwhelmed with lust, the ogre lumbered forth toward Shalelu, reaching his arms out toward her.

Disgusted, Shalelu launched a volley of arrows at the creature, and the melee began. Everyone in the small hallway scrambled to avoid the man’s massive arms. It quickly became apparent that while he wasn’t difficult to hit, the ogre paid back any attack with incredible force. Krac, Seris, and Bahram all surrounded the creature to overwhelm him, while Renza and Shalelu fired into the fray to keep their distance.

As the battle raged, and Bahram traded blows with the creature, the man started hacking indiscriminately against the surrounding foes. Krac noticed the hook coming his way, and ducked to dodge. His reflexes were too slow, and the weapon caught his neck in the crook. The ogre wrenched the weapon forward, and Krac’s head dropped to the floor, followed shortly by his headless body. Blood spewed all around them.

Everyone’s eyes went wide at the loss of yet another friend, and the assault against the man renewed. Seris dashed through the ogre with the aid of her magic, levying her own attacks against the creature. Shalelu unloaded several arrows into him, and Bahram renewed his swipes with muscles straining from the effort.

The barbarian ogre began to look panicked, and moved to disengage through the room. As he dashed free of the room, Seris and Bahram both laid into the ogre and he fell, utterly dead, atop Krac’s headless body.

Breathing heavily from the gruesome battle, the group heaved the ogre off of Krac and collected his body.

With yet another fallen, they had no choice but to tactically retreat to Turtleback Ferry and regroup.

Loot gained today:
21 rings worth 10 gp each
Ring of animal friendship
3 x Large +1 ogre hooks
4 x Large +1 hide armor
Large +1 human bane ogre hook
belt of giant’s strength +2

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The Trip to Rannick
Ogres hit like a truck

The trip up the Hook Mountains to Fort Rannick passed uneventfully, though the groups spirit was challenged by the soul-crushing rain peals of thunder that welcomed them up the path.

When they arrived at the fort, they found it eerily silent and sneaked through the woods to access the waterfall there. They made a mad dash for the waterfall. Bahram managed to scramble in first, followed very quickly by Krac. Rickben and Renza stealthily lurked along the cliff face. Seris cloaked Lor in invisibility and she flew through the waterfall. Bahram noticed Renza having some serious difficulties swimming and climbing inside, so he jumped back down into the water and scooping her onto his back.

They entered the caves behind the fort that wound around, through a storage room, over a chasm, and near a small catacomb. When they entered the catacomb, an angry specter burst forth and reached into Bahram’s chest—tearing free a bit of his soul. The room exploded into a flurry of attacks and the specter soon fell. They collected themselves and walked down the hallway.

Upon reaching a switch that opened a hidden door, Seris flipped the switch and they sneaked out into the courtyard of the fort. Krac and Bahram stumbled in the corridor, and the ogres looked over, momentarily stunned to see strangers in their midst.

Seris put up her hands in a gesture of good will, brandishing her Sihedron medallion.

“Hello, friends, we are here to meet with your master.”

They didn’t buy it.

“You no belong here! Sneaky bastards! We kill!”

The ogres charged. Seris scrambled out of the way, winking out of sight. Bahram and Krac ran into the fray and were quickly joined by Rickben, Lor, and Renza.

Lor launched fire all around her, tearing into the ogres with unbridled wrath. One of the ogres—a misshapen and pox-ridden horror—took notice. He stepped forward, frowned, and brought his hook down to bear on her.

The hook ripped easily through her flesh—like a kitchen knife through butter—and Lor gurgled, a look of shock and dismay upon her face.

She fell to her knees with a thud, and then plopped onto the ground. A pool of blood inexorably crept from around her as Krac leveled his falchion at the murderous creature and renewed his assault. Renza dashed in and accelerated time around the ogre, which aged him immediately. Rickben dismounted from Timber and charged in with his longsword held high. Krac then rammed his sword into the creature’s chest and it slumped to the ground with a sickening squish.

Bahram danced through several ogres with his gleaming sword, hacking apart ogres and staining his armor with their blood. He seemed to lose himself in his fury, and he only snapped free from his blood rage when he noticed no further enemies around to eviscerate.

The group gathered around Lor with a palpable sorrow. Timber came forth and nudged her corpse, and Rickben gathered her up and placed her body upon his mount.

“I’ll take her back to town. Maybe Maelin will be able to help her.”

Renza stepped forward and closed her eyes. A shroud of hazy energy covered Lor’s body. “This should preserve her body in time to restore it back to life.”

They nodded at one another. Seris added, “Then we will rid this place of the ogres while Rickben takes Lor back to town.”

Rickben dashed off with a sense of urgency.

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Retaking Rannick
Interrogations and coin tosses

The following morning, they awoke at the Turtle’s Parlor and left to visit the mayor Maelin Shreed and meet with the Black Arrows to inquire about retaking Fort Rannick. As they were convening for breakfast, Krac and Rickben noticed two more individuals with sihedron tattoos. They quickly moved to cover them up when they caught them subtly glimpsing, and scurried out of the common area.

“After breakfast we’ll take care of that curse, Bahram,” Lor reassured him. They all calmly and quietly ate, preparing for the day ahead of them. Bahram sulked visibly. The rangers came downstairs and then departed for the town hall.

Seris grinned, staring at Shalelu. “Hey Rickben—want me to follow them?”

“No! No-no….no.” He quickly grew several shades redder.

Noticing Bahram’s reticence, Lor approached him after breakfast and began intoning a spell. The magical energy washed over Bahram’s body, but was met with resistance, and the curse persisted.

Bahram stood up, “Is there is a decent healer in town? I got real money…” A woman noticed his awkward inquiry and approached him, explaining that Maelin Shreed may have the ability to ease his burden. He dashed out the door and flicked a silver to the helpful woman, who quickly pocketed it.

They arrived at the Church of Erastil to find Shalelu, Vale, and Jakardros speaking with Maelin regarding their suspicions about the fort. Upon seeing them, they rangers welcomed them to join the conversation and introduced them to the mayor, who received them with warm welcomes.

Bahram stepped forward to introduce the group.

“My name is Bahram. I’m an exotic barbarian from far off wastes. I’m finding it hard to get refreshed. Wondering if you might be able to help me find some relief. "

Seris cut in, “You’ll have to excuse my friend. He’s really only good for one thing—smashing things—and he’s suffering from an ailment that makes it harder to do that.”

Bahram glared. “I do other stuff.”

Everyone stared. “I lift things…and then put them down again.”

Silence.

Lor piped up, “Speak up Bahram so we can all hear you.”

“I seem to have picked up a curse. Flying ogre bitch.” He grumbled, frowning.

Maelin smiled warmly and explained that in order to lift the ailment, he could retrieve a scroll he’d reserved for the purpose in the back.

“Sure. I can wait,” Bahram shrugged, nonplussed.

Maelin disappeared into the church with a promise to return. The rangers all spoke off to the side, clearly discussing strategy.

Bahram approached Lor. “Hey Lor—monitor this bastard, I don’t want a bad spell. I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. Which isn’t very far.”

“What makes you think he can do any better than I can?”

“This is his job. I just don’t want him to curse me twice if he’s one of those branded individuals.”

“Hrm, I guess that’s a valid concern, but cursing you wouldn’t really be a good way to keep his cover if he really is nefarious.”

Bahram grunted. “He might assume I’m not very bright, or magically attune.”

Lor bit her lip, grinning. “Both of which being at least a little accurate.”

He sighed, “…admittedly…”

“It’ll be alright, " Lor brightened.

Seris cut in. “I can watch too, you know.”

“Don’t make it weird, Seris,” Lor cut her off.

At that moment, Maelin returned with a scroll tube in hand. Bahram told Renza to look it over, which she did happily, stepping forward to retrieve the scroll and read over the faded ink.

“You perv,” Seris teased.

“I am not!”

“Uh huh…” Seris poked in her general direction.

“If anything YOU’RE the peeping tom.”

Renza just shook her head and smiled, beginning to intone the words of power. The magic washed over Bahram and…the curse was still left intact; it stubbornly clung to him.

Visibly frustrated, Bahram drew out a silver and threw it in the direction of Maelin. It hit him square in the chest before he could react. He stared down at the coin, dumbfounded.

“Got another one?” Bahram pinged him with another silver.

Maelin’s face curdled immediately, as if he’d just imbibed sour milk.

“How dare you!? Do you know how much time and effort goes into penning such a spell? It’s worth far more than a silver, and your ungratefulness doesn’t inspire my generosity.”

Flustered, Bahram took a step back. “I’m sorry. I’m prepared to make a significant donation. You know, for the poor people.”

Maelin shook his head.

Seris stepped forward, bowing slightly with outstretched hands.

“Maelin, we are prepared to take back Fort Rannick with the direction of the Black Arrows, but we do need our barbarian to be able to hit things with his full strength. Do you know this spell that can lift the curse? We require little in the way of money to re-take the fort, but we will not leave for the task until our barbarian is restored. Can you help us?”

His face lightened at her reassurance.

“Of course. Come back and visit me in the morning. I shall commune with Erastil and prepare the spell.”

Bahram stepped forward and enthusiastically shook his head, apologizing profusely for his complaining.

Maelin waved away his concerns, explaining it was nice to have such capable adventurers in town to assist them.

The group stepped toward the Black Arrows and requested the opportunity to speak with Kaven Windstrike before they met to formulate a strategy. He nodded grimly and explained they’d need to go for a walk to a small house in town.

Five minutes and a brisk walk across town later, they approached a small two bedroom cottage and Jakardros led them inside. He nodded at an elderly woman cooking at the stove, “Dora.” She smiled grimly at him, and they all walked past.

Jakardros led them into a small side room, where they stood around a crudely drawn map of Fort Rannick. He explained that there would be several different ways by which they infiltrate the fort, and expounded on the limitations and advantages of each.

Invigorated with purpose, Seris calmly walked down the hallway with the rest of the group in tow. She marched over the bed and slapped Kaven awake.

His eyes widened and he pulled back.

She demanded to know what he knew of the fort and the disaster that befell it.

Lor quipped, “Hello Kaven! Good to see you’re awake.”

He grumbled softly, his jaw clearly broken. Seris asked Lor, “You wanna fix his jaw so he can speak?”

“…nope.”

She paused, grumbled, and then walked over, letting arcane energies flow into his jaw. The bone popped back into place, and Kaven moved it side to side.

“Yeah, fuck you too, lady,” he jabbed back at her.

Seris redirected him, asking where he got the tattoo. Lor grumbled.

“Lucrecia gave everyone the tattoos.”

“…so not with a needle?”

“No. With magic.”

Lor looked introspective for a moment. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Think we can cut the ink off of him? Like, flay it off?”

They discussed a plan to manufacture tattoos to sneak into the fort and pretend to be agents bearing the Sihedron rune, briefly forgetting the man shackled to the bed.

“So are you going to kill me now? Get this over with? I’m sick and tired of just sitting here waiting to die.”

Seris grabbed his hand, drew a dagger, and stabbed it through the palm, affixing it to the wall. Blood flowed freely down his hand.

WHAT THE FUCK?!” He screamed. “You fix my jaw, and then you stab me! What do you WANT?”

“Why did Lucrecia give you the tattoo? Why’d she tell you to betray your fellow rangers?”

“I love her. Seriously—this isn’t going to go anywhere. Just kill me.”

“Alright, honestly Seris he has a point. Let’s either cut it off now or get to work finding another solution.”

Seris called in Krac, and told him to break his jaw again. Krac shook his head at Seris with a look of disappointment on his face.

“I cannot—it would be against the will of Sarenrae to strike a man who is shackled.”

Lor, clearly disappointed, shrugged at Kaven. “You’re a lucky man, Kaven. Sort of.”

Bahram appeared at the doorway and flicked a silver at the man. It landed near him on the bed.

The others filed out of the room and they went back into the living area.

“We will leave tomorrow. We just need you to lead us to the fort and we will clear it for you,” Seris claimed. “I think our best bet lies within the secret entrance in the waterfall.”

They retired for the night, agreeing to leave at sunrise in the morning.

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Let the banjos twang
Into the Hillbilly basement

The group descended the basement and entered a storage room with myriad crates filled with useless odds and ends. After briefly searching the belongings, it was quickly apparent to the group that the piles of things inside represented unwanted garbage the Graul’s no longer wanted. Shalelu and Rickben arrived, intensely curious about the rooms they raced past upstairs to reach the basement. Renza and Bahram remained upstairs to fight off additional ogrekin that charged in from the woods around them.

The rest of the group continued down the hallway and entered a room filled with fungal spores, patches of mold, and an oppressive, drenching humidity. In the corner a huge animate plant sprung to life and ambled forth, heading directly for the door. The group steeled themselves for an attack. Seris called out to Rickben down the hallway.

“Hey Rickben! There’s food down here!”

Suddenly excited, he raced into the room atop his wolf.

“What’s all the commoti—oh shit! What is that?!”

The monstrous plant let out a terrifying shriek, lashed out with its tentacles, and plucked Rickben off his wolf.

“Seris! You said there’d be food! You didn’t say I’d be the food!”

“I didn’t say who it was for!”

It pulled Rickben towards its hideous maw, despite his thrashing and his allies’ attempts to kill it and unceremoniously swallowed him.

Rickben struggled briefly, but was quickly paralyzed by the creature’s digestive enzymes, and he just lay there.

With a renewed fury, the rest of the group intensified their attack and quickly killed the creature. Seris hacked at its underside, and Rickben came pouring out in a cascade of sickly-smelling goo.

A bellow erupted from the doorway—their commotion had attracted the attention of another ogrekin.

YOU KILLED MUCK! I KILL YOU!” A beastly, towering ogrekin lumbered inside and thrust out his finger at the group. “GET ’EM, BOYS!”

Two enormous rats chittered and dashed forth to attack the group. Lor, suddenly concerned for their safety, vomited forth several swarms of wasps. They flew for the ogrekin, who momentarily ignored them and unleashed fury on the group.

As the battle raged and the wasps swarmed him, he screamed out, “WHY?! BEES?! WHERE THEY FROM?”

Taking advantage of the distraction, Krac ran forth and brought his falchion down upon the beastly man. He dropped with a thud, and they quickly finished off his rats.

Rickben, shaking off the numbing feeling in his limbs, came to. “Oh gods, that was horrible.”

Everyone murmured agreements. They glanced around the room and found a closet filled with a cache of loot:

+1 amulet of natural armor
+1 ogre hook (on the ogrekin man)
+1 hide armor
potion of cure moderate wounds
gloves of arrow snaring
agate-studded gold ring worth 50 gp
a necklace of emeralds and silver worth 350 gp
a large sack and a ruby-inlaid red dragon-scale cloak clasp worth 600 gp

They wandered back out of the fetid room and headed back toward the stairs. On the way out they ducked into a side room and curled noses as the smell of rot and old blood washed over them. Piles of gore-spattered skin lie heaped in the room. A horrid rubbery face robbed of its skeleton and muscle lay deflated on the table. Not interested in searching the room, the group ascended the stairs and made for the barn.

With a muscular heave, Krac flew open the door and they rushed in. Three ogrekin ran to block their way. One ran charging for the group and Rickben downed him with a flurry of arrows. Lor unleashed a fireball into the room and ended another. They overwhelmed the last unfortunate victim and ascended the rafters to enter doors on the two sides of the towering barn.

Inside the doors they found a massive spiderweb, populated with an ogre spider that climbed out to greet its guests. In the corner they spied three unconscious men chained inside a cage. Seris jumped down into the web to combat the spider and became lodged in the sticky webbing. They moved to intercept the spider and managed to slay the monstrous thing before it sank its fangs into Seris.

Shalelu exclaimed, “Jakardros is in there!”

They regrouped and opened the cage. Lor ministered healing aid to them and they opened the door to let them out.

When the man Jakardros came to, he looked around and thanked his new allies for their timely aid. They introduced themselves, and Seris and Rickben both noted a tense nod between Jakardros and Shalelu.

They healed the others back to consciousness and asked them what had happened. Jakardros introduced his companions, Vale Temros and Kaven Windstrike.

Jakardros explained the circumstances of their capture, including the patrol they endeavored to complete and then the unexpected ambush by the terrible Graul family. He looked at his companions and asked, grim, “Have you found any other rangers?”

Seris shook her head, and described the horrors they had seen in the basement. Jakardros frowned.

Many of the group noted a Sihedron brand upon Kaven, and Seris prodded him about it. Throughout the conversation, Krac noted the man stumbling through a few lies and finally chimed in, grunting “You’re lying.”

Jakardros flew into a frenzy, asking questions about the man’s allegiances, and the others prodded him for information about where he received the rune. Jakardros, Shalelu and Vale agreed to take Kaven back to town for the night where they would find out what he knew and then exact the swift justice afforded to Black Arrows—immediate beheading.

Collectively, the group decided to return to town and meet them in the morning.

As they left, Seris dashed back toward the house, exclaiming she’d just need a minute. A few minutes later, as she ran back toward the group, they saw a heavy black smoke begin to pour from the front door. She grinned with immense satisfaction and they turned back to the path back to Turtleback Ferry.

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