Lost Winterspire: Into the Void

Chapter 11: The Cellar and a Secret
Moon Hills Chronicles, Part I

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As the night sank around him in the Moon Hills Inn, Brutus dipped his quill pen into the viscous ink and began to write:

Dear Atremis,

My old friend, Wizard of the Moon Hills Labyrinth and bearer of the Old Curse, it is I, Brutus!

I am unsure if this letter will reach you, but I must confess these recent events across the Moon Hills and beneath the watchful peak of the Winterspire Mountain.

It appears our secret has been exposed. Four adventurers, not unlike ourselves many years past, have shown promise in these lands. If you ever meet them, know the names of Festoon (Chris), Farin (Corey), Bal-Darok (Dylan) and Rozzo (James). They know of burden you carry: that haunting, necrotic skull of Orcus.

I can assure you it wasn’t because of a drunken ramble that you often accuse me of. I could no longer keep the hauntings beneath these hills quiet.

You see, a young lass by the name of Jaira stormed into my inn. She was no regular lady. No – by midnight of our highharvesttide celebrations she erupted with deep, uncontrollable wild magic. A magic not even your arcane books could replicate.

Perhaps attracted to the innate magic imbued into these hills, she crept into the inn’s haunted cellar. Those adventurers chased her below, hoping to rescue her. Beneath, they discovered the bodies I have been hiding. Yes, I have been burying those soulless wanderers that continually arrive at my inn seeking the artifact that you bear…

Yet, I can assure you that those adventurers manage to best those haunted spirits and rescue Jaira. However, her sorcery was wildly unstable. Farin, her sorcerer counterpart, erupted into madness with her, beating and attacking one another to restore their maddened memories.

With the help of Rozzo, we took matters into our own hands and quickly sedated the two. For now, Jaira lies in a slumber within the Moon Hills cellar. Her ally, Farin, was tossed into the wild where he once belonged. What I failed to tell those adventurers is that those spirits below cannot be bested for long. They always return within a day’s slumber and Jaira’s fate may already be sealed below…

Atremis, my old friend. The world is changing and though our adventuring days might be over, I fear we have yet to see the worst of it. Rumours speak of Queen of the Black Dragons. Yes, Tiamat’s return might be upon us. The days of our world as we know it are numbered…

All the while the city of Splendor, Waterdeep, falls into bitter turmoil as the five lords draw swords at one another’s throats.

To the north, Winterspire is shrouded in darkness. The city of Frosthold and the King of the Banners can barely muster an army to defend itself against the hags, harpies, orcs, wildmen, manticores and many savage creatures that swarm into their lands and raid their villages.

Wise Atremis, I place my drunken faith in you. If this reaches you and I am already beneath my grave: seek the peak of Winterspire Mountain. Whatever the legends claim to lay upon that peak, I fear it is our only hope.

Signed on the 5th day of Leaffal, 1214

Your old friend Brutus,
Owner of the Moon Hills Inn

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Chapter 10: Queen of the Bees

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“Here ye, here ye! Read all about it!” shouted the young boy, child of Olaf of Hailstead village. “Highharvestide celebrations begin, the Bee Queen has been vanquished, word arrives from Frosthold and the Moon Hills Inn calls for dire aid!”

In the town square, the old parchment is nailed upon a post. It is dated the 3rd day of Leaffall (October). It reads the following:

- Highharvestide celebrations began on the 28th of the Fading (September) and will continue throughout the month of Leaffall. Despite setbacks in the harvest and pumpkin production as a result of the so-called Bee Queen of Hailstead, the opening celebrations in Frosthold went off without a hitch. To all outsiders: be wary of tricks and pestering for treats. Pay no heed to the many demonic costumes and carved pumpkins. It is all in good, Illuskan fun.

- Multiple murders were reported at the Wayward Wanderer Tavern in Frosthold and will subsequently be closed. Religious fanatics of the ‘black dragon’ were implicated and the investigation continues. A dwarven mercenary, foreigner in Frosthold, has been arrested and charged with death. Some survivors have subsequently left town (Niloc, Feros, Steeb and Rozzo).

- The Bee Queen has been slain as per request by the Thane of Hailstead. After being afflicted by curses of petrification, Hailstead has been harassed by swarms of massive bees along its countryside. However, four strange looking adventurers (Niloc, Feros, Steeb and Rozzo) raided her hive and captured the insane woman. Bringing her back to Hailstead, her fate was sealed as Niloc lost a duel in exchange for her life. The Thane of Hailstead in all his glory pulled the Bee Queen to the town’s square and proceeded to behead her amongst the town’s glorious cheers. Harvest in Hailstead can now continue and our chances of surviving this coming winter are assured.

- The Bannercall has finally been answered! The Thane of Hailstead announced his support for the city of Frosthold. Warriors from the surrounding farmsteads have been called and the Illuskan war horns have echoed across the land.

- The southwest town of Westfurt in the boglands have yet to answer the Bannercall. Rumours whisper that a beautiful woman has been enchanted the many men and warriors of the city, luring them into the swamps. As its army withers, the Thane of Westfurt calls for assistance.

- Brutus, owner of the Moon Hills Inn has broken his usual silence and beckons for the assistance of any adventurers willing to offer aid. It is known that his own allies failed to answer his call as the situation in the Inn, whatever it may be, deteriorates. According to one villager in Hailstead: “The whole situation seems sketchy! I say good riddance to Brutus and his fancy inn! It’s only brought trouble and outsiders to this once peaceful land!”

- Trouble in Waterdeep! The untrustworthy foreign trade city to the south has erupted in political turmoil. The five Lords of Waterdeep and their political factions have drawn lines in the sand. Rumours claim that on one side, the City Guard and the Silverstars (Tirlonde’s Order) have accused the Knights of the Shield (Argeist’s contacts) and the Red Sashes of murdering one of their righteous nobles, Belster. Rumours claim either side hope to overthrow Waterdeeps’ shared rule. For now, only the order of the Harpers negotiate for peace and cooperation. One can only hope this turmoil will keep Waterdeep’s nose out of our Illuskan business in the north.

- According to a scout from Frosthold, the west road is open! The Harpies that once harassed any travelers have been slain. The road to the western Sword Coast is open for travel.

- Frosthold’s Bannerhold still reports a harassing Manticore over the Wild Forests. A warning to any who seek to travel towards the east: Beware the skies! The Manticore hunts for man flesh!

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Chapter 9: “Talimar is Dead!”
Introducing Feros

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On the 28th day of the Fading and with the sun beating on her back, the wild human sorcerer ran south along the North road, heaving in panicked exhaustion. It was Jaira, the young blonde servant girl of the dragonborn Talimar. Pushing the heavy oak doors of the Moon Hills open, she shrieked “Farin! Where’s Farin? Talimar is dead!”

“Farin’s long gone, honey” spoke the bar maiden Miri, “That strange dwarf trotted off into the Moon hills days ago, hollering and screaming as he usually does.”

She was settled down with a stiff, cold brew and the promise of the juiciest boar roast the innkeeper Brutus could muster. As the young, exhausted Jaira obliged, Brutus leaned forward, carefully prodding upon Talimar’s demise.

She explained to him how her memories begin at when she took a deep puff of the Serpent Herb alongside Steeb (Steve), Niloc (Colin), Feros (Stuart), Rozzo (James) and the dragonborn Talimar. She claimed that the world darkened and in the distance a black dragon against the light of the moon appeared, soaring towards them. It was Tiamat, the World Eater. The malevolent dragon queen and bringer of destruction and the end of all Faerun.

With a massive crash, she landed upon the earth, tearing the very ground beneath them with thundering earthquakes. Her sheer size and five dragon heads would dwarf Moon Hills Inn as they towered over Jaira and the adventurers. The horned, black scaled head lunged forward, hissing with its fangs exposed and called for their obedience. Talimar responded, kneeling in submission to his queen.

“He welcomed her presence” spoke the young Jaira to a pale-faced Brutus. “Tiamat spoke to him and all of us of a prophecy. The world of man is ending and Tiamat will rise. She seeks to raise a new world under the tyranny of dragons” whispered Jaira.

She explained how Tiamat’s black claws reached out, piercing into the earth around them like cells. The black dragon’s mighty heads swung forward, eyes gazing into each of them. “She demanded we serve her to this end as bringers of a new world.”

Brutus leaned backwards, peering into his drink as if to assure he hasn’t been drugged. Such a prophecy he had heard only once before, as hogwash from the tongues of fanatical Kobolds deep within the Moon Hills Labyrinth that he once crept within.

Jaira spoke further, “And before we knew it, Tiamat was gone and the smoke settled. Talimar stood and nodded to each of the adventurers. The deal was done and we were to go our separate ways. And as Talimar turned his back with his chains still deep within my soul, Steeb handed him a parchment. It read: ‘Look up’. The very moment that slithering Talimar gazed upon the moon, a blazing chromatic orb of fire was lunged into his back. They had betrayed him and sowed the seeds of my freedom!”

Jair gasped, anxious to recall her most joyous moment, “That evil Warlock was leeching the very life from me and used my wild magic for ill-will. He had nearly killed them all too, but they held on by a thread and Talimar’s blackened blade was shattered. His life was ended with a final blow from Niloc and Talimar’s control over me ended. I was finally freed.”

Brutus stroked his thick, muttonchops as he leaned back into the darkness beyond the candlelight between them. He spoke calmly, “Young lass, this is the last you’ll speak of this tale. Tell no-one of your fate. Let us hope that this vision you speak of was but a dream, twisted thoughts by that warlock, Talimar. However, I will give you this: I will send word for the mad dwarf Farin and we will celebrate Highharvesttide and the death of your captor without worry.”

He slammed his flagon onto the bar, knocking a carved pumpkin to the side as he raised a thundering cheer: “Drinks! Drinks for everyone! Let the highharvesttide begin!”. While the inn’s patrons clamoured with joy and Jaira sank into her seat, Brutus turned to himself to fill his ale. Furrowing his thick brows with despair, he mumbled to himself “it may be our last …”

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Chapter 8: Digging Duergars

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Whispering a battle prayer the Hrothgar, deity and champion of the all worthy Illuskans, the blacksmith of the War Maiden’s Hammer, Vaul, knelt before her flaming forge. Her thoughts were filled with praise, as she now had within her possession the famed mythic Hammer of Might, forged deep within the Underdark by the malevolent Duergars. A hammer only uttered in the tales of her childhood, “The Duergar!” the stories echoed, “Underground dwarves none have seen for thousands of years!”. The hammer had been retrieved, upon her request, by Festoon (Chris), Bal-Darok (Dylan), Farin (Corey) and Rozzo (James).

Yet, within her praise lied regret; Vaul was once a great warrior of Frosthold and she longed to see the blazing streaks of blood upon the war torn snow of north. Having cleaved the mightiest of men in two during her King’s recent conquest of Winterspire, she was feared by all.

“Perhaps”, she thought to herself “it is time for Uthgar’s next generation to spill blood in his honour. Perhaps, Festoon (Chris), bearing the spirit of undead Duergar, despite his strange size and words, will carry on our great tradition of battle”. She slammed the Duergar hammer downwards upon the searing blade as she dreamt of their crusade into the darkened tomb.

Images of twisted guardians of the dead, the grey ooze, hurling their acidic brick into their bleeding chests filled her mind. “What I wouldn’t give to test my steel against such rot” she clamoured, continually striking the blade against the anvil. She pictured the hulking Duergar, mythic dwarves she only heard in tales of her youth, charging forward as their arms ripped with growth and their warhammers smashing their strength into Festoon and his allies. “An opportunity to be slain and meet Uthgar in battle” lamented Vaul.

“Death inspires us” she whispered, recalling Rozzo’s return to her smithy. “When he had first arrived, he was but a shell of a man, consumed in his own self-interest and greed. It took the blunt end of an ancient hammer to truly change him” she thought, as her blade bent into perfection with each strike. “When he returned, he spoke with honour and righteousness – a man transformed by the drums of his own demise”.

“The Pelor business is a bit much though,” she uttered aloud. “A strange sun god of agriculture!? A real warrior would praise Uthgar for a chance to gaze upon one’s own blood!”
“Excuse me”. The deep voice shattered her thoughts and she turned to the door gripping the red-hot blade with her scarred hands. “Is my great sword finished?” spoke Bal-Darok, Paladin of Pelor.

“Soon enough” Vaul spoke, standing firming before him, realizing he overheard her fierce words. “Be careful of your words against the Sun Father. His light shines upon all – even those who hide behind the cold shadow of the Winterspire Mountains” decreed Bal-Darok as Rozzo stepped in behind him, nodding in accordance of his new-found faith.

It was then on the 25th day of the Fading that Rozzo and Bal-Darok stood side by side, sun shining behind them for the first time in the history of Winterspire.

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Chapter 7: The Tale of the Gnome and the Yeti

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Scattered tomes of lore and parchments of ancient Illuskan tales laid across her busy desk. The young scholar and aspiring wizard of the stone tower of the Winter’s Library let out a sigh of exhaustion – recording the history of Winterspire was certainly no easy task. As her eyes nearly drifted into a slumber, a small sketch of a Yeti stuffing a wee gnome into its mouth caught her tired eyes.

The sketch laid upon a parchment, titled “Revenge of the Gnome”. It was a strange title, she thought, for a sketch of a massive, motherly yeti. Opening the small sketch, she found a tale – written and dated on the 23rd day of the Fading, 1214. It read:

There once was a wee gnome named Steeb.
Wizard of illusion, arcane and famed dweeb.
He came to me one fine morning ambitious and proud.
Looking for knowledge long lost he prodded and vowed.

Hoping him gone and perhaps dead, I directed him instead:
“Go forth!” I cried “To the Yeti’s Cave!”
“Find the fate of a gnome, not unlike you, wee knave!”
“It is there you find what you seek! It is there you will find yourself!”
Heeding my wise words of wizardry wisdom he set forth.
Bag over his shoulder his little legs went north.

He gathered his friends, Bal-Darok, Niloc and Farin!
Brave folk they were, perhaps too caring.
A holy orc, a tree loving warlock and a psychotic dwarf!
Yet no Yeti could stand in their upon their wharf.

They assailed the mountain, one stone at a time.
A few falls, i’ve heard, but they still could climb.
As the gnome’s Owl let lose their path to the cave.
They conquered the rock with rope, muscle and brain,
For they found a pair of young Yetis, what a pain!

With a shriek and a cry, the mother Yeti came and they were caught!
She was mad, I assure you, at a trespass onto her plot!
Gazing into their eyes and howling to their demise,
She pounded her fists but couldn’t stop their onslaught.
Picking her clean and looting her spleen,

The young gnome Steeb found exactly what he pleased!
A famed Wand of Secrets, a spellbook and some bones,
Of a fellow gnome perhaps he might have known.
And that is how I, famed Wizard of the Winter’s top floor,
Gave upon a quest to Steeb, a gnome of now famed lore.

With a sigh of relief, the young scholar closed the parchment. “Another elaborate rambling of my professor” she thought, and spoke aloud “What good is a tale such as this”. Removing her spectacles, the apprentice rubbed her tired eyes and gave a long yawn. She picked up the parchment and crumbled it with her hand, tossing it into the nearby hearth fire. “Fairy tales have no place in the histories” she whispered as she closed the old door behind her and crept down the towering steps of the Winter’s Library, eager to rest her skeptical head.

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Chapter 6: Malachite and the Itch of the Hag
Introducing Delorah

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Rattling wind howled downwards upon the fortress city of Frosthold from the peak of the Winterspire Mountains. With every sunrise, the rippling blue banners were raised beyond its blackened stone walls and the great horn bellowed across the frozen land. It was known as the Bannercall; a signal to the thanes of Winterspire that King’s army shall be assembled.

Having only recently ushered their authority across the many cities and villages of the land, it was certainly was a steep request from Frosthold.

Yet, for now, our adventure doesn’t concern conquering Kings or Illuskan armies. In fact, it begins with a few whispers that echoed across the harlot chambers of the Thirsty Vagrant, greatest brothel of Frosthold and first stop for expatriate lads and lassies.

“I saws it with mine last eye!” snivelled the scrawny, dark-haired Illuskan. “It was a green-haired tiefling, I swears on me rotting gramma’s grave!” Of course, he was speaking of Malachite (Ami) and her exposure to what is known as the “Itch of the Hag” in the north lands. “She didn’t come in alone – no siree!” he spat. “She came in with a moustached chess champion (Rozzo/James), an accordion playing halfling (Festoon/Chris) and a exquisitely subtle wood elf (Delorah/Lauren) accompanied by her snarling, protective wolf!”

“Oi! I remember that elven lass!” shouted another “I offered her a good coin for a great night and her wolf nigh bit off me willie!”

“Enough about your willie! Let me speak of the inviting tiefling!” he interrupted. “They said the green-haired gal couldn’t resist the harlot’s beauty! It was a woman so beautiful she enchanted all prying eyes! But such beauty comes with a price, they say, and the itch she ’woke with would soon have the best of her lusting thoughts!” As he spoke these words the hanging drool of the hooligans of the Thirsty Vagrant swung to the ground as they knelt forward in anticipation of this tale.

“Rumours say they had to make ‘dere way to the Violet Den!” spoke another Illuskan. “Thas’ right! Where the Dryads watch over the famed Golden ‘Shroom – the only known cure for the Hag’s itch. And she slew them too – with the help of her trusty companions of course – a wolf-girl, a bear-boy and sharp lil’ prick they say!”

Suddenly, a brutish half-orc interrupted their tale and strong-armed his way through the crowd. “That’s enough from you ‘lot! I don’t want no’ rumours of tieflings, hags, dryads and funguys in my inn! Its bad enough I’s have the King’s bannermen breathing down me neck. There ain’t no ‘green-haired’ devil-girl and there ain’t no ‘pretty-ass-hag’ in these lands! Be quiet with ya!” and with those orders, he slammed his hatchet into the table, scattering the hooligans in all directions.

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Chapter 5: The Misty Rock
Introducing Niloc

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Two days after Bal-Darok’s call for vengeance echoed across the canyon of the Dampwalk Bridge on the 12th day of the Fading, a young and beautiful blonde cracked open the doors of the Moon Hills Inn. She sat her bosom upon a cold wooden stool, catching the eye of all those who have an appreciation for the female form (notably Rozzo) as she stuck her nose into an ominous looking book made of bark and twisting twigs.

All the while Steeb sat upon his little legs while discussing magical intricacies with the serpent tongued dragonborn named Talimar. Seeing some potential in this wayward band of adventurers and grateful for providing him with a lump sum of gold from Hailstead’s petrification crisis, Talimar offered Steeb a chance to do his bidding: to venture west beyond the Dampwalk Bridge and locate the fabled ‘Misty Rock’. Within the rock, Talimar claimed, lies numerous magical treasures, artifacts and two items of particular interest: a stash of smoking Serpent Herb and a necklace bearing four mummified fingers of an elf. If they were able to bring these artifacts to Talimar, he would award them handsomely.

Suspicious but nodding in agreement, Steeb the aspiring gnomish scholar agreed – but not before selling the dragonborn the ominous bone smoking pipes he had come across a week prior. It became clear how important these smoking pipes were to Talimar, who offered 50 pieces of gold and a magical scroll of his choice.

During these moments, Rozzo, who had successfully introduced himself to the bodacious blonde and brought her fine flagon of ale, found himself at odds with her strange and chaotic personality. Nobody around could quite put their finger on it, but there was certainly more to this strange woman than their eyes could detect. The blonde quickly darted away and approached the table righteousness in the far corner – Jesus, Tirlonde and a Knight of House Belster gazed upon her with suspicion.

Concerned over the well being of this blonde’s sanity, Tirlonde inquired upon her strange, ominous book. When grasping it with a tremor of divine sense, the elven Paladin nearly dropped the tome, immediately tossing it back to the beautiful woman. As also confirmed by Jesus, they both sensed dark whispers from ancient fey. Smiling as if in retort, the blonde tossed her twisted book into the nearby fireplace, laughing as it burned. Turning to Jesus, Tirlonde insisted that Jesus keep a keen eye on this women – especially now that she joined ranks with Rozzo and Steeb who were preparing to explore a tumultuous magical vault.

Each with their own goals and tasks before them, the adventuring crew (an unnamed human blonde, Rozzo, Steeb and Jesus) decided to head west towards The Misty Rock. Trekking far across the autumn coloured plains lands of the west, Steeb shared with them his recent discoveries in his absence. The curious gnome had traveled a days march north of Hailstead and found before him the fortress city of Frosthold, located at the base of the Winterspire Mountains. This city, the local guards claimed, is now considered the capital of Winterspire. While his time within the great city was brief, Steeb had learned that a Yeti cave was located east of the city on the side of the great mountain range – but divulged no further information.

Suddenly, their conversation was interrupted as they arrived at the wailing canyon of the Dampwalk Bridge. Bursting from the tall plains grass, a monstrous owlbear lunged towards them. Roaring and squawking with rapid ferocity, the monstrosity charged towards Steeb. Out of nowhere, the blonde (Colin) shouted she knew the language of monstrosities and spoke nothing but gibberish to the Owlbear. Ignoring her words, the owlbear pounced upon Steeb and snapped down upon his small body with its beak, knocking the wizard unconscious.

After lobbing an arrow from his longbow forward, Jesus drew his greatsword and charged forward as Rozzo and the blonde dashed to safety across the bridge to the opposite side. Despite his valiant effort, Jesus found himself no match for the owlbear and after a series of piercing swipes and clasping pecks, he was thrown to the ground. Meanwhile, Rozzo and the blonde fired as many deadly bolts, vicious words and shadowy hexes they could muster.

Steeb, now lost within his own unconsciousness, felt the surge of his gnomish heart beat rapidly as his lungs suddenly gushed with air. With his black, gnomish eyes looking to the sky he rolled over only to see the rear of savage Owlbear squawking at his allies upon the broken Dampwalk bridge. Realizing how dire the situation was, the gnome conjured a phantasmal force – building a wall of illusionary flames behind the monstrosity. With flames rippling at its back, the Owlbear leaped forward in desperation, slipping upon the cold stone and falling to its demise.

Gasping for breath, Steeb fed one of Brunnhilde’s goodberries into Jesus’ unconscious mouth, returning him to conscious life. Nodding in mutual agreement, they decided to rest for an hour, heal their wounds and continue as quickly as possible to their destination.

With Steeb performing a ritual of detect magic, they arrived at the Misty Rock that stood in the distance. With every step, the fog thickened until they could see no further than their own reach. Placing their hands upon the ominous 30ft rock, Rozzo crept ahead, placing his Rapier in every random crack he could find. As luck would have it, the bard’s rapier piercing directly into an illusionary keyhole, opening a door directly inside the strange rock.

Inside was a fanciful hexagonal room made of polished marble stone and covered with piles of embroidered carpets. On each side were bookshelves, swords and suits of scaled armour. In the middle and in the north corner, two oak tables stood: one covered in tools of a herbalist and one with a single decorative chest.

Anxious for any magical treasure he could get his hands on, Steeb darted forward towards the far chest, quickly opening it with his stubby gnomish fingers. Naturally, the chest was trapped with a trick of sorcery, sapping all the magic from Steeb’s spellbook, scrolls and nullifying his goodberries. As the rest of the adventurers wearily explored the strange room, they discovered piles of papers, notes of the occult and songs of Baphomet – the goat headed demon lord popular among ogres, giants and fiend worshiping warlocks.

Yet, their investigation was interrupted as Rozzo lobbed a trusting punch towards the helmet of a conspicuous suit of armour. As his fist touched the armor, a magical trick engulfed his mind – swapping his consciousness with the nearby human blonde. With that, two long swords, both suits of armour and an embroidered rug animated with enchanted life and quickly floated towards the trespassers.

The animated rug quickly flew into the air, blocking the entrance and smothering anything in its path, wrapping itself around them in hopes of suffocating the life out of their fleshy bodies. In assistance, the swords and armour clashed with their foes. Rozzo and the blonde, both lost in each other’s minds, managed to toss witch bolts and a shattering boom, rattling their foes. In celebration of one another’s spellcraft, they struck a pose together and their hand’s touched – immediately returning their minds to their proper place. Meanwhile, Jesus drove his greatsword forward as the creatures swarmed around him, echoing a thundering smite and ripping one of the floating swords to pieces.

Despite their initial acts of triumph, all didn’t go as planned. Steeb, who hurled chromatic orbs of lightning at all those in his path, found himself on the brunt end of a spiked fist of a suit of animated armour, knocking him unconscious and with internal bleeding. Jesus, on the other hand, seemed to have expended all of his luck as he escaped the Rug of Smothering’s wrath only to be smashed with an uppercut from one of the suits of armour, followed by a crushing stomp upon his knee, completely severing his leg from his body.

Steeb, once again finding life within his wee gnomish heart, slowing stood to his feet. Brushing his bloodied hair out of his eyes he gazed towards the carpet with vengeance, conjuring a massive chromatic orb of flame and hurled it towards the rug, quickly igniting it. In assistance, his allies poked and prodded with rapier, spell and staff at the remaining animated objects, vanquishing those that remained.

Nonetheless, their victory was not without deep injury. The blonde pulled Jesus’ decapitated body from beneath the burning rug as Steeb channeled frosted orbs at the remaining flame within the enchanted room. Coughing with exhaustion, they decided to rest for the remainder of the day within this strange dimensional room – full well knowing the risks it might entail. As expected, the room trembled with instability within a few hours, swapping all of their minds. Knowing they only need to touch one another, they quickly reached their hands forward and decided against any antics in one another’s bodies.

During the rest, they brought Jesus back to life who quickly pulled out his carpenter’s tools and fastened himself a peg-leg from the remains of a burnt table. Bitter over his seemingly permanent injury and mistrustful of his misfit allies, Jesus scoffed in their direction. The righteous Paladin stood upon his last remaining foot and bid them farewell – planning to locate Bal-Darok (Dylan) and seek retribution for his perceived transgressions.

The blonde, realizing her jig was up, decided to reveal her identity to those who already suspected it. Removing ‘her’ spell of disguise self, it was revealed that ‘she’ was indeed a tiefling man with long grey hair and bearing the horns of a ram upon his head. His name was Niloc (Colin), a Warlock of the Archfey. Cackling in utter madness, he pulled the twisted spellbook out of his backpack in confusion – believing it to have been destroyed earlier in the fire.

With two vengeful Paladins now hidden within the wilderness, the remaining misfits decided it was best they travel as quickly as possible back to the safety of the Moon Hills Inn. With Steeb carrying Talimar’s artifacts safely in his scholarly backpack, Rozzo and Niloc joined him as they trekked back to the Moon Hills Inn – even subduing a pack of wolves that attempted to derail them.

It was then on the 13th day of the month of the Fading that Talimar’s jagged smile stretched across his copper dragonborn face as Steeb and his allies returned into the warmth of the Moon Hills Inn…

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Chapter 4: Belster the 'Missing'
Introducing Festoon

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Cheers roared across the Moon Hills Inn as the majestic musical notes of a rustic accordion echoed across the ale soaked tables. The one, the only, Festoon Almighty (Chris) danced his halfing legs across the inn, entertaining all those who lent an eye or ear. His talent certainly didn’t go unnoticed, as the green-haired Malachite (Ami) clapped with glee as she acquainted herself with the infamous entertainer and introduced Festoon to a former colleague of hers, Argeist ‘the Contact’.

Eager to recruit such an outgoing entertainer, Argeist offered Festoon an opportunity to make some quick cash: head west towards the Dampwalk Bridge and find the nobleman by the name of Belster. After extracting any information regarding Tirlonde, Paladin of Tyr, slay him. Doing so, insisted Argeist, would send all those who oppose the criminals of Waterdeep a stern message. Eager to earn some solid coin and with the two smiling faces of Malachite and Rozzo (James) welcoming him into the fold, Festoon (Chris) agreed.

Two tables across, Bal-Darok (Dylan) nodded in agreement with his ally, Tirlonde. Beside the righteous Paladins, the mad sorcerer Farin (Corey) who eerily pledged assistance in exchange for gaining their trust.
As both Bal-Darok (Dylan) and Farin (Corey) turned towards the doors to exit the Moon Hills Inn, they were met with a grinning Rozzo, renewing his support for ‘the Paladin cause’ and pledging his benevolent service. As the moustached human pulled his backpack up with a trot, a small spider pounced inside.

Deep within the lost caverns of Rozzo’s backpack crawled Festoon, reshaped into a small spider. Within moments a poisonous snake sprang forth from a conspicuous pocket. It opened its wide jaws and pierced its noxious teeth into Festoon’s fuzzy body, expelling him from his transformation as he exploded from the back of Rozzo.

And with that, the merry band of ‘not-so-bad-and-not-so-great-excluding-the-holy-half-orc’ adventurers traveled north towards the Ogre’s crossroads, hoping to rescue the privileged son of a wealthy man!

Led forward by Bal-Darok and riding his righteous camel (Festoon), the adventurers passed the old decayed tower and continued west, deep into the flat wetlands. It wasn’t long they noticed they were being tracked by a befuddled gang of northern apes, leaping out in a noticeable ambush.

Wailing with frothing saliva, the apes hurled their arms and toss rocks at their supposed prey. Yet, this would prove to be their last hunt, as the apes were quickly dispatched by sword and sorcery.

The fight ended with horrific acts that caused even the boar-tusked Festoon to raise an eyebrow, as Bal-Darok slammed his boot in vengeance on the corpse of an ape and Farin, grinning and chuckling with his hand axe, scalped the face of an ape completely off. “A new face!” giggled the dwarf, as he stuffed the bloody mess beneath his blackened chain shirt. As if to divert the madness in a direction of gruesome festivity, Rozzo popped a rock out of an ape’s (now) toothless mouth and batted it far over the horizon. An act, legends say, the children of apes will fear for many years.

As they approached the bridge and having discovered the corpse of the squire Yon, the northern sun set in the distance upon the orange flat lands. In front of them, a figure sat with its legs dangling upon the shaky wood of a half-build bridge. The ancient, decaying stone bridge reached across a great rift across the plain, splitting the land with deep cliffs. Having only been partially repaired, the bridge was connected only with two creaking planks of wood.

Anxiously shouting toward the human, now identified as Belster, the adventurers crept past shining shards of ice that guarded the bridge. Belster, beckoning they cross the bridge with a jolly grin, the adventurers immediately stood in their tracks. Farin quickly conjured a spell of Charm person upon the noble, revealing that he was already under such a spell. Bal-Darok, pressing his thick orcish fingers upon his skull, sensed a foreign evil within the ice and drew his glimmering blade. Knowing they found themselves within a trap, a torched was tossed into a nearby stack of wood, triggering elemental shrieks from a four emerging Ice Mephits.

Flapping their frozen wings the Ice Mephits darted up and spat chilling mists of flog and frost, coating their foes and the bridge in slippery ice. Stepping his heavy boots forward, Bal-Darok slipped upon the bridge’s frozen stone and found falling air beneath his feet.
Immediately, the hairy dwarven arm of Farin grasped his wrist, and the mad sorcerer winked his solid silvered eye. Before Bal-Darok’s divine eyes, Farin’s veins pulsed as if filled with the tides of chaos as his arm yanked the ironclad Paladin safely onto the bridge. Every man, creature and mephit turned their gaze upon the strange dwarf, who immediately grew 6 inches in height with an unexpected smile.

However, it wasn’t long before the Ice Mephits interrupted their shock with jagged claws and breath of ice. Festoon, now transformed into a hulking bear slammed his massive paw upon any mephits that lay in his path and devoured their impish heads. Farin unleashed jets of burning flame, melting their frozen bodies into puddles of water while Rozzo, having swung with his grappling hook across the gaping chasm, tossed spells of Sleep and whispers of dissonance into his foes, leaving them to drop deep into the rocky pit.

Recovering from his fall, Bal-Darok set his eyes upon Belster, stepping forward and knocking the flabbergasted noble unconscious. Having quelled the elemental threat, the adventurers dragged Belster towards the burning logs and woke him. Weeping with fear and confusion, Belster’s bladder unleashed itself into his silk pantaloons as the mad sorcerer Farin adorned his newly acquired ape face and let out a maddened howl. Believing to be held captive — but comforted by Bal-Darok’s assurance they represented Tirlonde’s rescue party, Belster agreed to stay by their side until returned to safety.

Soon the witching hour crept upon them and the adventurers decided to camp for the night. Bal-Darok, mistrustful of his allies, insisted he stand watch over Belster without the blink of an eye.

Within moments everyone had drifted to sleep. Bal-Darok, however, vigilantly watched the rising and falling of a noble’s pampered chest. Only one man awoke that night, as Farin stood with a nod and slipped off into the night after receiving a gift of gratitude from Bal-Darok. A few hours later, Rozzo and Festoon awoke — yet suddenly, Bal-Darok felt a conspicuous wave of slumber fall over him.

The conniving grin of Rozzo reached from ear to ear and the Paladin dropped to the ground in a deep slumber. With a nod to wild Festoon, Rozzo stepped over the half-orc’s hulking body and drove his rapier deep into Belster’s heart, ending the noble’s life. Each grabbing an end of Belster, they hurled the body off the cliff and away from prying eyes. Having previously extracted any information regarding the plot against Argeist and his crew, their dirty deed was done and they hurried into a pretend rest, as Bal-Darok rubbed his eyes and stumbled to his feet.

Bal-Darok, bitter and confused by his slumber, was unwilling to believe any words that justified Belster’s sudden disappearance. He stood his ground and refused to step one foot away from the decaying bridge. Catching themselves in a pile of lies, Rozzo and Festoon agreed to return to the inn, hoping Bal-Darok would soon follow in agreement. The bard quickly jumped upon Festoon’s leathery horseback and majestically dashed towards the sunrise.

With the wind blowing in across the flat plains, Bal-Darok sat upon his rug with legs crossed and surrounded with ritual candles. After whispering many prayers to Pelor his meditation was interrupted by a burning light. Looking up towards the rising sun, he saw his incense smoke suddenly swirl, forming the face and beard of Pelor.
“Speak. My child of the sun. What is it that troubles you? Do you seek the truth?” spoke the half-orc’s deity.

With a nod, visions of truth flashed deep into the Paladin’s heart. Bal-Darok’s ‘allies’, it seemed to him, had murdered Belster in cold blood. Gripping his greatsword, the hulking Paladin stood to his feet and whispered an oath on the 9th day of The Fading. An oath, one can presume, he will surely uphold…

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Chapter 3: Trouble in Hailstead

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With the autumn skies of 4th day of The Fading (September) behind them, an adventuring party was formed: with two paladins, Jesus (Brett) and Bal-darok (Dylan) accompanied by the two misfits, Rozzo (James) and Steeb (Steve). Speaking with the Paladin of Tyr, Tirlonde, it became clear that two objectives lay in their path towards the Winterspire Mountains.

The first, Tirlonde appealed to them that one of his fellow adventurers and accompanying squire (not unlike themselves) has been missing for weeks. He was tasked to head west of the Ogre’s crossroads to secure and rebuild the Dampwalk Bridge, a bridge that connects the bog and plains of Winterspire’s west.

The second, was a plea from the village of Hailstead, north of the Ogre’s crossroads. Once a quaint, Illuskan village, Hailstead has fallen under a presumed ‘curse’. The Thane (leader) of the village has been turned to stone and since then, so have three others! Tirlonde, hoping to establish a constable within town to avoid such happenings again, tasked the adventurers to investigate the village and choose one villager to uphold justice.

As the adventurers agreed that Hailstead needed the most assistance, they set out – but not before the half-orc Argeist hailed some of his lackeys. Argeist, increasingly aware of Tirlonde’s plot against him, offered them an opportunity to sunder the Paladin’s goals. If they are heading to Hailstead, he asked them to recruit one villager to the criminal cause. In doing so, Argeist would have eyes on all those who head towards the Winterspire Mountains.

Leaving the Moon Hills Inn behind them, they set out north towards Hailstead. Within hours, the savage land retaliated at their presumed trespass, as giant spiders crept from the nearby rocks in the Moon Hills and ambushed them. Despite their presumed threat, they were quickly and effectively dispatched – the queen spider herself becoming engulfed in a flaming chromatic orb by Steeb, the master gnomish wizard.

By 2am on the 5th day of The Fading, they arrived at Hailstead. Quickly stopping at the Northwind Lodge, they decided to rest for the night – but not without some antics, as a costumed Rozzo crept throughout the house and robbed the innkeeper, bearing witness to a dwarven night of passion! Waking from their slumber, they set out to investigate the town. Speaking with Olaf, they learned that the town believes the many outsiders, not unlike themselves, are the cause for their curse. Olaf, however, was a man of reason and offered them further assistance, if they needed it, and went inside his homestead.

Hoping to discover the cause on their own, they approached the statue of the Thane who stood looking surprised. Having purchased a single scroll of Flesh to Stone, Steeb conjured the spell and cured the Thane. Jolting from his recovery, he thanked them and revealed that all he could remember was a midnight stroll and a small creature, less than three feet tall, jumping out towards him. Returning to his homestead for rest, he left them to their own devices.

After exploring the far edges of the town and inquiring with a few other villagers, they investigated the Hunter’s homestead. Beneath a large bed, conspicuously in the middle of the room, they found a latched door leading into a cold cellar. Carefully stepping into the meat cellar, they noticed a large crack and burrow in the side of the wall. Anxious to vanquish his foes, Bal-darok peered within it, only to see a swarming flurry of bats emerge and three, panicked (and hungry) Cockatrice.

Lashing their beaks forward in chaos and their eyes glowing, they pecked all those in their path. With unfortunate luck, Jesus found a single peck turned his arm to stone – progressively spreading up his arm and eventually his whole body, leaving him petrified.
The remaining adventurers unleashed as much strength as they could muster and vanquished the remaining Cockatrice. Having found the source of the town’s ‘curse’ (presumably a few captured Cockatrice by some overambitious hunters) they met with Olaf and the Thane to devise a plan. They agreed to have Olaf, funded by his Thane, to retrieve multiple scrolls of Stone to Flesh and cure the remaining villagers of their affliction.
With that, all but Steeb traveled south to the Moon Hills Inn and arrived on the 6th day of The Fading. Bal-darok spoke with Tirlonde, requesting that he use his powers to return Jesus’ petrified body – but warned them it would take many days. Despite not recruiting any villagers for the cause of justice on behalf of Tirlonde and Argeist with no contact to establish his criminal contact, they were offered portions of their reward for, at the very least, vanquishing three frenzied Cockatrice.

As two days passed with Tirlonde and Bal-darok returning Jesus’ petrified body back to flesh, the sun rose again on 6am of the 8th day of The Fading…

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Chapter 2: Argeist's Task
Introducing Bal-Darok and Malachite

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The Moon Hills Inn towered in the distance as two strange, inhuman creatures approached. One was a large, chain-mailed half-orc and the other was a tall yet skinny and mysterious cloaked tiefling. Both left the North Road and their past behind them as they traveled towards the Winterspire Mountains that dominated the northern skies.

The first was the Templar soldier of Pelor, Bal-darok al-Brandr (Dylan), wielding a greatsword that hunched over his authoritative shoulders as he swung the great red-oak doors open. The second was a trickster cleric named Malachite (Ami), a green haired tiefling, ex-convict and criminal of Waterdeep. Her eyes quickly dashing in both directions, she gently stepped inside before the heavy steps of the Paladin ahead of her. Despite having never met in their lives, they gave each other a slight nod, as if to confirm their converging destinies.

Meanwhile, the conniving human Rozzo (James) and his new-found gnomish wizard and ally, Steeb (Steve) gorged and drank in cheer at Brutus’ famous bar. Flagons of ales clashed together in triumph as Brutus’ congratulated their victory over the Ogre of the North Road, now open for travel for the first time in weeks. It was 10am, on the 3rd day of the month of The Fading (September) when Bal-darok lean his imposing body over the bar and met Brutus and what would become his reluctant allies as he ordered his modest room, paying 9 days in advance. Oddly, it seemed to him, the 10th coin fell gently though the uncracked floor of the inn and was never seen again.

Behind him approached Malachite (Ami), hiding her devilish features under her black hood. Nodding to Brutus, she shadily enquired with Brutus about any means of income – having only recently ‘left’ prison, Malachite found herself in dire need coin. Brutus quickly directed her to the master of names, Argeist the Contact; the rogue who always had unseelie work for those who seek it. Having passed Brutus’ a piece of her personal narcotic (which the inn-keeper happily ingested), she turned her tail and stepped towards Argeist.

It was during this moment that Bal-darok (Dylan) turned his attention to the long-haired Tirlonde, blonde Paladin of Tyr. Always looking to recruit those to righteousness, Tirlonde offered the half-orc Paladin an opportunity for justice – to work undercover with Argeist and form an indictment of judgement upon his criminal activities. Seeking to bring his swift justice to a forsaken land, Bal-darok agreed, flashing his glowing eyes for such an opportunity.

Gazing at the newcomers, both Rozzo (James) and Steeb (Steve) nodded in agreement: whomever these two are, they bring adventure and opportunity for coin and knowledge alike. Quickly making amends with the druid Brunnhilde, whom was suspicious of the Ogre’s death, they approached Malachite who was engaged in shadowy conversation with Argeist the Contact.

Argeist, fully aware of Malachite’s (Ami) criminal reputation in Waterdeep, offered her a chance to rejoin the unsavoury underworld that filled her past. Her offered her a gig for gold. First, to travel northwest of the crossroads and locate an encampment of savage wildmen. Second, she was to offer them a (fake) Deer Skull of Challenge – a ritualistic symbol of combat they would be honour-bound to oblige. Thirdly, by defeating them in barbarous combat, the wildmen would owe her their freedom. From there, she was to bring them to Argeist, who would sell them as gladiators for Waterdeep’s deadly, underground arenas. Reluctant to renew her criminal activities after the horrors she suffered in prison, Malachite agreed.

As if fate led them directly to her, three adventurers, two of which Argeist was fully familiar with, approached her – all fully willing to join her in her unseelie task and acquire some criminal gold. Bal-darok, Rozzo and Steeb quickly set out for the north road, eager (each for their own reasons) to encounter the wildmen and complete Argeist’s task.

Travelling across the wild forests of the north, they found themselves tripping over angry trunks are tough as iron and thorns are sharp as daggers. It appeared to them the savage forest was weary of their foreign boots that clamped downward onto their ancient roots. For hours they travelled, slicing their way through and occasionally shivered from the piercing howls of wolves and wildmen in the unforeseeable distance. It wasn’t long before Bal-darok, leading the pack, drew his greatsword and ordered they halt – a throng of poisonous snakes and hungry wolves leaped into their view, having been hunting them for hours.

Rising victorious from nature’s beasts and quickly skinning the defeated wolves, Rozzo gently lifted one of the poisonous snakes and, with Malachite’s cantrip of mending, muzzled the snake and tied it under his upper sleeve. Realizing the sun was setting above the Wild Forest’s canopy, they decided to quickly head deeper towards the wildmen’s encampment.
As they approached the blood thirsty encampment from a distance, they witnessed a massive bonfire settled within a muddy ring of combat and multiple humanoid heads impaled on many stakes. Emerging from the nearby hide tents was four blonde and red-haired wild men and women with two raging boars. They roared and cheered at the notion of city folk foolishly coming to their camp, as they typically flee in agony from their unrelenting raids.

Each of the adventurers nodded in agreement, they were to present these tribal warriors with the challenge as planned and bring them back to Argeist in one-piece. Yet, it remained undecided if they would release these men and slay the Contact in his tracks or acquire the bounty as planned. And with that, Malachite held the Deer Skull high with both hands, quickly halting the wild men’s mocking words. They knelt unconditionally, scraming the ‘Wardruna’ has chosen them for combat and readied their arms. This was the fight for their freedom and, at least to them, their opportunity to be slain (or emerge victorious) in bitter combat. An honour that all wild men of the north strive for, above all.

The fight was bitter and caught the adventurers off-guard as the boars suddenly charged, knocking their mighty half-orc to the ground as handaxes were thrown and great clubs smashed into their chests. As fast as he could, Rozzo spout many of his whimsical spells of sleep, dropping three of the tribal warriors into a deep slumber. Steeb evoked acidic chromatic orbs into his enemies, as Malachite tore necrotic wounds into the flesh those she could reach. Bal-Darok, standing to his mighty feet, unleashed his divine greatsword into his foes, all while channelling ethereal shields of his faith. The tribal warriors and their creatures were certainly dispatched, but not without inflicting deeps wounds into their foes.

Agreeing to quickly tie them together with their hempen rope, they awoke the wildmen and confirmed their submission. “We are bound to you” they spat, “for the calling of the Wardruna is here, and the world’s end has finally come”. Confused over their ramblings, Rozzo enquired. “We have all dreamt it” the tribal warriors spoke, “The north will open like the wounds our enemies and the blood of all will be spilled – the Wardruna is our eternal conflict and your end”. Shocked by their prophecy, Bal-darok couldn’t help but notice their runic writings upon the nearby trees that spoke of a similar end. Steeb, quickly flipping through his history books, confirmed only two words: “the end” and “the giants”.

With little time for further words from savage tongues, they party quickly healed their wounds over a long, well-needed rest and made their way back to the Moon Hills Inn. By then, it the next morning had arrived while Argeist waited patiently for their return. Convincing both Argeist and Brunnhile, whom had requested they free any mistreated and captured animals they encounter, to meet them outside of the Inn, they completed their task. They gave the orders to the wild men to follow Argeist into bitter conflict under Waterdeep’s arena and received their monetary reward. Bal-darok, however, exchanged secretive words with Tirlonde – proving to him that Argeist was indeed guilty as charged, plotting to bring him to justice in the coming days.

As for Brunnhilde, eager to hear of news of any rescued animals, instead was met with a call for a bargain. Rozzo and Steeb requested she use her powers for their favour to speak with any animal they acquire in exchange for the freedom of a boar they recently acquired. Reluctant to share her forbidden druidic powers with outsiders and having already gave them a scroll of Animal Speaking to discover these gifts on their own, she rudely declined their proposition. Both Rozzo and Steeb retaliated with bitter complaint, feeling that she was ungrateful – they had both nearly lost their lives and Rozzo even tripped over nature’s brutal roots!

Deeply disappointed in each other and Brunnhilde realizing her newly acquired partners may not seek to help balance nature and civilization in such dire times, she turned her tangled hair and left the Moon Hills Inn. “Perhaps you are right” she spat, “I shall return to the land I have been tasked by my ancestors to protect and leave your greedy civilization!”. And with that, she darted northwards into the moors in the distance and the adventurers retired themselves into the Moon Hills Inn after nearly two days of quest. It was then on the 4th day of The Fading (September) at noon that they each sunk their heads into fine ale and hearty meal. At least, for now…

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