For many generations the Fanjakana Empire, ruled by the Pholant family, served as just and noble keepers of Saikinosy. The peace of the region ebbed and flowed through time, but the Fanjakana Empire remained steadfast, enduring the struggles and celebrating the bounty that could be found from the land and waters. The empire endured through The Sundering of the Dwarves and the dark nights of the Contagion from Einsiedeln, providing peace and hope to it’s loyal subjects.
In recent years the Fanjakana Empire had come to face its greatest threat. It wasn’t the result of arcane meddling, disease, or famine, but instead it was the result of the lust of power and riches of one of her own sons. The Mandrata Cartel rose to power out of the seedy streets of Turbury and rose to power and prominence by dealing in the sell of magical artifacts, armor, and weapons. Arcane items had become rare since The Sundering of the Dwarves and the Mandrata exploited this by stealing and selling these items on black markets within Saikinosy and abroad.
The Mandrata were now lead by Wilhem ‘Long-Stride’ Walker, a charismatic but aging leader. In his youth he nearly lost control of the Mandrata after a concerted effort by the Fanjakana empire to eliminate the Mandrata. As a response, Wilhelm appointed a violent and brutal solider named Ruby Reid as the leader of the newly formed militant wing of Mandrata, named Tahotra. Through Ruby’s leadership, the Tahotra ravaged the countryside of Saikinosy in a rampage of kidnappings, murder, and arson.
The two great enemies, the Fanjakana controlling the majority of Saikinosy, and the Mandrata, with strongholds in the northeastern shore, had settled into a war of attrition, which only fueled the rage of Ruby. Calling on Fanjakana sons and daughters, the Fanjakana guard grew in size. Many of the brightest were called to serve as silver knights. In response to the growing strength of the Fanjakana, the Tahotra increased their boldness in raids and attacks of the citizens of Saikinosy.
Emperor Pholant and his closest advisors believed that, while the strength of their army was enough to prevent the Mandrata from gaining control over all of Saikinosy, the only way to truly put a stop to the Mandrata was to deploy small groups of highly skilled adventurers within a secret order on strategic missions to weaken the cartel. This group was to be called the Falconiers, named after a band of adventurers in the old tavern songs of bards. They devised a challenge that could be used to identify worthy candidates for the order and invitations to compete were sent across Saikinosy.
Many adventurers resolved to compete and attempted the individual challenges. Of those that were successful in the individual challenge, five diverse adventurers were grouped together for the final contest at Casaccia Keep: Balvenie an elf-cleric of Auril, Mamul Truespeaker Lakumigo, a goliath barbarian from the northern hills, Rade Capek, the roaming druid, Vigo the Butch, a drunkard drum corps deserter, and Jiántòu, a changling rogue with deadly accuracy.
The last test would put the group into battle with Knlispch, the self-proclaimed lizard king and source of many attacks on the villages of Saikinosy. After an exhaustive battle, the group was able to slay the beast and earned their victory in the contest. Still exhausted from the battle, a regent of the emperor approached the group and presented them their award.
The regent then extended the invitation to join the secret order of the Falconiers. Appealing on behalf of the emperor himself, the regent instructed all those willing to serve as Falconiers that they were being called to accompany a caravan scheduled to leave for Chepstow in the morning. They were instructed to present themselves to the Fanjakana commander to receive their orders. Those that accepted were provided a golden badge with the Falconier’s insignia and provided lodging for the evening, while the rest took their earnings and left.
The newest members of the Falconiers Brigade; Balvenie, Rolen, and Spark, set off with a caravan traveling from Cleeve to Chepstow. Several days passed on the uneventful journey. On the third day, Tahotra mercenaries suddenly rushed the caravan. The militant wing of the Mandrata Cartel, the largest organized criminal syndicate in the region, the Tahotra had become a source of fear throughout the region. The Fanjakana Empire knights quickly fell to the might of the raiding mercenaries and the rest of the travelers were rounded up. Ruby Reid, the leader of Tahotra, approached the caravan with several of his generals. Dismounting, Ruby delivered a monotonous speech about the greatness of Tahotra.
During the commotion, Vigo the Butch appeared from a wagon cart filled with hay, inebriated. After stumbling from the cart, causing several crates and barrels to tumble to the ground, Vigo chose to defy the orders of the Tahotra men and refused to relinquish his weapons. Frustrated, but not deterred, a Tahotra Commander stepped forward and striked Vigo, starting a brawl that left both Tahotra and many innocent by-standers dead, most of the deaths a result of a thunderous explosion triggered by Spark Steamwarden. However, as quickly as one Tahotra mercenary fell another quickly took his place.
Unbeknownst to the Falconiers Brigade, a changling named Jiàntóu, who had also participated in the arena challenge, had been working to infiltrate Tahotra. Unfortunately for Jiàntóu, he is targeted by several of the Falconiers as one of the Tahotra mercenaries and is nearly killed in the fight. Before anymore Tahotra or the Falconiers are killed, one of the high ranking Tahotra militants rode forward and used a magical weapon to bring silence to the battlefield, preventing the casting of any more spells which had caused much of the destruction.
Despite a final attempt by Spark to hurl bits of rock and wood at Ruby Reid, the Falconiers finally surrended their weapons and were pushed into a cage on the back of a wagon. They were taken to a Tahotra camp and watched fate they would have faced as the strongest of the caravan travelers were being forced to attack each other with roughhewn clubs. Jiàntóu, still unknown to be working against the Tahotra, was also taken to the camp for medical attention.
Shortly after arriving at the Tahotra camp the news of the death of the ailing leader of Mandrata is brought by messenger. Announcing the news to the camp, Ruby Reid then leads the majority of the Tahotra mercenaries to Turbury to pay their respects to their fallen leader, Wilhelm Walker. After the camp cleared, Jiàntóu used his roguish abilities to break the other Falconiers out of the prison. They quickly retrieved their weapons and overpowered the remaining guards in the center of the camp.
After killing the guards at the center of camp, Balvenie, Rolen, Rade, and Spark made their way to the southern end of the Tohotra camp. There they found 25 captives locked in cages. Balvenie suggested the party detonate the cages because the captives look a tad too common. As the Falconiers discussed whether to lead the captives to safety or let them roam the countryside without protection, they heard a man exclaim, "Rectum? Darn near KILLED em!"
Two Tohotra guards entered what one captive described as the camp's headquarters. Approaching the headquarters quietly, Rolen hide in the shrubs by the front door. Balvenie and Spark set an ambush at the western wall. Sparked uses his "anti-gravity boots", of his own invention, to walk up the wall and peer in the window. Inside, Spark saw one man leaning against the mantle of what appeared to be a conference room. There were also three men standing over a conference room table. Spark overheard one of the men yell, "Of COURSE I can read it, you idiot! Bring me that candle. That's a Black Claw Mage seal!"
Rolen and Balvenie devised a plan to dispose of the four remaining Tohotra. Rolen cast a minor illusion as Balvenie cast Thaumaturgy The four men turn to see a figure in black shout in a voice that echoed within the room "LEAVE THIS PLACE AND NEVER RETURN OR FACE THE WRATH OF THE DARK MAGES!"
Rade elbowed Balvenie and whispers, "BLACK CLAW Mages, genius!" as the the men in the conference room laugh "Dark mages? You guys are the worst!"
Balvenie, as he was known to do, lost his patience and fired a crossbow through the window. The four men hid and then drew their weapons as they ran for the door. Rolen and Balvenie attempt their stunt a second time as Rolen cast an image of Ruby Reid in front of the door. The men stopped and bowed at the vision of their commander. Balvenie orders the men to sit down but Rolen's control over the image's mouth makes it look like a ventriloquist dummy.
Sue the Berserker yelled, "That's it!" and threw his spear through the image and out the door. As the men sprinted through the door, Rolen crouched just outside and tripped three of the four Tohotra into a booby trap pit hidden under a mat. At the same time Spark fired the Lispmaker, another invention of his own design, from the roof, Rade, Rolen, and Balvenie take turns knocking the enemies into the pit.
After the battle, the party choose to search the camp's headquarters. They find an encrypted scroll signed in blood with the seal of the Black Claw Mages. Rolen also discovered a map with the remains of a wax seal covering the foot of a mountain range. Made recognized the mountains depicted on the map and estimated they would be a two week journey to the north west.
The Falconiers chose to lead the captives to safety before setting their sights on the mountains. As a final act of defiance, they let Balvenie burn the camp down.
After escaping the Tahotra camp with a group of twenty-five tired and hungry captives, the Falconiers set on a journey through the woods to find the nearest village. After a three day journey where there was little in way of food and water, they saw the city walls of a small mountain village. A worn sign hung from the gate and read “Welcome to Cloudmouth"
A brief encounter on the path with a pair of fur traders and a tiefling traveler delayed the Falconiers entering Cloudmouth immediately, but soon the group entered the town. Jiantou and Vigo split from the party and entered the Drunken Eagle for a meal and some ale while Balvenie and Rolen took the refugees to the trade hall.
The internal struggle that plagued Rolen rose to the surface as he entered the hall and discovered that he could possibly sell the refugees into slavery, rather than setting them free. As he bartered for the price of gold per soul, he failed to realize that Balvenie’s patience had run thin outside. After more than a few minutes, Balvenie produced 100 gold pieces from his pouch and handed it to the refugees, telling them to get lost. He entered the hall and told Rolen the refugees had left, just as Rolen had struck a deal. After quickly back-tracking, Rolen and Balvenie left to find the rest of their party.
The adventurers were reunited in the Drunken Eagle, where they found Jaintou and Vigo sitting with the stranger they met on the road outside of Cloudmouth. Seemingly annoyed with his new companions, the tiefling, identifying himself only as "S", was quiet while the Falconiers caught each other up on what had happened to the refugees. It wasn’t long before Drex the Distiller approached the new faces and began filling them on the gossip of the town, encouraging them to get the latest news from Hogan, the proprietor of Hogan’s Hardware and Pawn and Impact Winter Survival Center.
The adventurer’s left the Drunken Eagle, departing ways with S, and head toward Hogan’s Hardware. There they discovered Hogan, a man of many passions. He was familiar with the ways of wandering adventurers and was excited to share his stories and theories on what was happening in the region, including the surprising water shortage within Cloudmouth.
After presenting the scroll with the mark of the Black Claw Mages to Hogan, he told the adventures all he knew of the shadowy organization. He revealed a large wall with connected events and individuals (connected at least in his own mind). He explained that while the Mandrata were the immediate threat, he believed the Black Claw Mages were the foul force behind the recent events. Hogan had a cipher key that was discovered near Cloudmouth, but after much anticipation, it failed to decode the message of the scroll. He told the Falconiers that, should either of them find another key, that they should reconnect.
Before taking leave, Hogan shared the news from Turbery, where Ruby Reid and the others of Mandrata had gone to mourn the death of Wilhelm Walker. Rumors were spreading of an internal power struggle for the succession of leadership. The primary parties involved being Ruby Reid, Wilhelm’s son Eric Ali, and a mysterious woman named Amara.
Departing from Hogan’s the Falconiers headed to the town hall and found themselves in a large crowd that had gathered at the mid-day market. While they pushed through the crowd, Belvenie was surprised to discover his prized flask was missing. He should to the crowd “Who took my flask!” and a trio of mountain men took offense, believing Belvenie's words were accusing of them.
A fight quickly broke out and the idling townsfolk quickly formed a ring around the scuffle, too interested to leave but not wanting to get pulled into the fight. The strength of the Falconiers quickly prevailed after a few well timed spells and the strongest of the mountain men being charmed by Rolen.
While the fight was taking place, Jiantou noticed small footprints leading away from where they’d discovered the flask was missing. Jiantou tracked the footprints and found the flask in the possession of Carvin Hollowpot, the trader they’d met as they arrived at Cloudmouth. Grabbing him by the back of the neck, Jiantou brought him to the rest of the Falconiers. At the same time, Fennick, the chief of the town council, arrived to break up the fight. The still charmed mountain man was more than willing to vouch for the Falconier’s as a character witness, and rather quickly the crowd dispersed, disappointed that there wouldn’t be continued fight.
The story of the stolen flask was shared and the adventurers, Fennick, and Carvin went to the town hall to formally charge Carvin with theft. Carvin put up a fight and tried to tell Fennick about the slaves he saw the Falconiers traveling with. As they were heading to the council, Carvin points to S, who’d been observing the fight, and said “Hey, that’s one of them too!” and Fennick demands that S join them.
Shortly after arriving at the town hall the issue of the stolen flask is quickly resolved, but the more pressing issues of the town linger in the air. Fennick expressed his deep concern that the town was running out of water and, after seeing the adventures fight the mountain men, he believed they might be up for the challenge of tracking down the cause of their well running dry.
Fennick called in Caitlyn Crookbrow and Shank, two of his assistants, to share what they’d discovered in their investigations. Shank was a man of few words, but Caitlyn had plenty to spare. She told the adventures that the town is fed by a single underground river and that the well had never run dry in the past. She’d descended into the well and it is empty minus a few puddles. The town will quickly run out of water if the cause of the well drying up is not discovered. She also shared the rumors of shadowy creatures being seen climbing into and out of the well in the middle of the night. Those who’ve seen the creatures were convinced that they were demons or ghosts and were the sure sign that Cloudmouth was cursed.
Fennick pleaded with the Falconiers to investigate. They agreed to the request and ask that S join them. S shares that he we will reluctantly join as he came to hunt a fiend, which might be the source of these shadowy figures. Fennick also commands Shank to join the group as a guide through the town and into the well.
The party went to the town well and climbed down into the damp space below. Each of them was surprised to discover that the well is a vast cavern, but there was no water. A few small puddles on the floor provided barely a bucket or two of liquid. After searching the space, they discovered a fairly crude door, camouflaged as the rock wall, covered a tunnel at one end of the well. They removed the door and see a long tunnel with smooth walls, likely the original source of water for the well.
S leads the way through the tunnel, but is exceedingly cautious when they arrive at a depression in the tunnel that is filled with water. Concerned of a pit or potential trap, he paused. Rolen stepped forward and, using his orbs of light, identifies that there is no danger and the group presses on. As they exit the tunnel, they are met with another large cavern. In the middle was a small stream about ten feet wide. To their left the stream continued and disappeared into darkness. To their right, a crudely made dam of large boulders filled a large archway. Across the stream was a cliff about fifteen feet high which seemed to be the normal “shore” of the river. It was obvious that this dam had not always been here and was the cause of the empty well.
Crossing the river was a bridge of hasty design and a wooden ladder leaned against the cliff. The adventures crossed the river, some by the bridge, others by jumping, and Jiantou used the dam as a springboard. As Jiantou landed, a javelin flew by him. Looking up, he saw two goblins on top of the dam. One of the goblins was reading another javelin while the other was trying to break some of the rocks free to cause an avalanche onto the group.
Jiantou quickly scaled the boulders and fired two crossbow bolts, causing massive damage to the foul creatures. The battle is over nearly as quickly as it started and the group pressed forward to discover what else is present in the cavern. S climbed the ladder first followed by Shank. At the top they found a rudimentary lift, already lowered to additional caves below. Nearby an entrance to another cavern was lit by the flickering flames of a fire. Jaintou, Belvenie, and Rolen joined S and Shank. They decided to rush in and take the room by surprise.
Jiantou went first and placed two precise crossbow shots into goblins that barely registered he’d entered the room. Belvenie was the next to act and he cast thunderwave which decimated the remaining brutes. After a quick search the group took a moment to get their bearings and decide their next course of action. It isn’t long before they are each standing around the lift, looking down to the level below…
Rolen, Jiàntóu, S, and Shank descended to the lower level of the cavern using the handmade lift. Pale lights cast by Rolen illuminated the path and they pressed forward into the tunnel. Feeling bold at their success against the guarding party the adventurers were caught unaware of a trapdoor hidden below ankle deep water. S and Rolen stepped onto the trap door causing it to fall out below them. S stumbled backwards, in the process pushing Rolen down and he disappeared below the surface of the water. After a few moments of fumbling, S and Jiàntóu were able to wedge the trap open and Rolen escaped. After regaining their composure, the group continue, much more cautiously, down the tunnel.
The reached a crossroad and after decided which way to explore first, they came to a large, open cavern filled with a roaring waterfall. The sound was nearly deafening. A few hundred feet from where the Falconiers entered into the cavern was another archway, illuminated with flickering torchlight. Jiàntóu, still under the effects of Hogan’s Own High-Times Elixir, which granted him the ability to scale walls like a spider, snuck to the top of the archway and surveyed the contents.
What he saw were two guard dogs at the entrance, next was a table with various beakers filled with potions and magical paraphernalia. Beyond the table were two hobgoblins, forcing a small goblin down onto a stone slab with straps at the ankles and wrists. Waiting on the other side of the slab was a figure in a jeweled black robe, holding a slender silver knife, slowly stirring something inside an ornate goblet. The end of the room contained a tall shelf lined with glass orbs next to a sturdy wooden door.
S and Rolen waited for Jiàntóu to return, but instead he rushed into the room, running on the ceiling, and fired two bolts into the guard dogs. S ran forward into the room with his sword drawn while Shank and Rolen followed after him. After S dealt a blow to an already wounded guard dog, it suddenly disappeared, blinking out of sight, to reappear between Shank and S. Frustrated, S flipped the table containing the magical items and potions causing the glass and liquids within to cover the hobgoblins. The one closest to the table shrieked, slumping down. The other yelled in anger, as she was covered by the slimy contents of the beakers and pierced by the broken glass.
Their attentions still on the dogs, Shank and S pummeled the creatures with many blows. Jiàntóu and Rolen were focused on the robed figure in the back of the room and Jiàntóu placed a bolt into his shoulder, causing the knife he held to drop to the ground.
At that moment the shrieks of the hobgoblin changed into a bone-chilling howl. The Falconiers turned to see a gruesome creature, half goblin, half wolf, rising from the ground. What was a normal hobgoblin was now a cursed beast wearing tattered clothing, too small for it’s frame. It lashed out at S, who’s sharp sword could not wound the beast.
While S and the werewolf were in battle, the robed figured recoiled from the bolt shot in his shoulder. He stumbled back to the shelf, grabbing one of the glass orbs, and hurled it towards the cave entrance. It shattered and from the broken glass another werewolf emerged, howling. It lunged at Shank and sank it’s teeth into his torso. The pair tumbled to the ground.
While many in the room were engaged in the fight, Rolen was able to sneak in and levitate the robed enemy, allowing Jiàntóu to grab him and pull him from the orbs. Fearing for his life, he began to shout at the adventurers and the werewolves to stop the fighting.
Ignoring his pleas, S and the first werewolf continued to engage in the fight. Another howl was heard and Shank shoved the werewolf that’d bitten him away, he stood up and was fully transformed into a werewolf. He gave another long howl, then fell backwards, changing back to his normal form. However, when rose again he did not look like Shank. Instead, he had a featureless face and pale skin. Recovering from the werewolf’s curse caused him to revert to his actual doppleganger appearance. Seeing he was no longer in the form of Shank, he shouted, and ran from the room. The werewolf that had attacked him rushed after him, their screams and howls heard echoing through the cavern.
At this point the mage, suspended in air and held by Jiàntóu with a crosspoint pointed at his throat, had convinced the werewolf engaged with S to stand down. After a few moments of calm, she too changed back into her normal form.
The mage, the hobgoblin assistants, the one remaining guard dog, and the Falconiers faced each other down in a silent tension. The only noise was from the small goblin who’d been tied down to the stone slab as the adventurers rushed in. She pleaded in goblin and broken common to be freed.
The mage identified himself as Rick Little and was quick to offer up the hobgoblins as payment for sparing his life. Increasingly angered by his betrayal, the hobgoblin assistants shifted uneasily. Tired of waiting for the worst to happen and fueled by the desire to rid the world of fiendish creatures, S savagely attacked the hobgoblins before either had a chance to transform to a wolf, beheading them both.
At the sight of this, Rick Little begged to be left free. Using manipulation and illusions, Rolen was able to learn why he was in the caves and what his purpose was. It was discovered that Rick Little was a Black Claw Mage of low status, trying to earn his way by killing Ruby Reid at his camp near Cloudmouth. The destruction of the camp by the Falconiers changed his plans.
The Falconiers decided to bring Rick Little to the leaders of Cloudmouth to face their judgement when suddenly he cast a spell, breaking himself free of Rolen’s control. At this, S ran his sword through him, ending Rick Little’s life.
They searched the remainder of the cave, discovering another encrypted Black Claw Mage scroll, a note saying “Send Goblins first - if they return from the Watchtower then it’s safe for me.”, an antidote, and other miscellaneous items. Preparing to leave, the bound goblin begged for them to let her go and to help her free her family. Persuaded by her pleas, the Falconiers agreed to help.
They returned up the tunnel that lead to the fork and snuck up to the holding area. In one corner was a brutish Ettin, ignoring the remaining guards. Disguising themselves, Rolen and Jiàntóu deceived the Ettin, convincing him that he could be in charge, now that Rick Little was dead, and that he should kill and eat the other hobgoblins. Their plan worked perfectly and the Ettin quickly cleared the room while announcing “I eat THEIR bones!” and ran down to search for more goblins to kill in Rick Little’s lair.
Many of the goblins that were caged had been cursed. Using the antidote and the silver knives they found, the Falconiers lifted the curse, providing salvation to the hobgoblins. They gathered anything of value they could find and began their trek back to the surface to share what had been found and to let the mayor of Cloudmouth know how to return water to the village well.
Once they climbed up the wall they’d entered many hours before, they were met by a town that was still, as if it was holding its breath. They met Katelyn Crookbrow on the road and she informed them that the Tahotra has sent a party into town, tracking the footprints of the escaped slaves, and were threatening to return if the town did not provide information regarding the whereabouts of anyone involved. She beckoned them to go to the mayor to discuss options.
After a quick detour by Hogan’s store, where they were able to decode the Black Claw Mage scroll, learning it said “We require Hwindock’s assistance. Persuade her if you can - something of fine workmanship should be enough. You know the question we would ask.” They replenished a few supplies and then headed to see the mayor.
Meeting with John Stone and Fennick, they learned more of the threat to Cloudmouth. They left the robe of Rick Little with the mayor, instructing him to say the destruction of the camp was the result of a Black Claw Mage. They then left, heading towards the watchtower. They found horses tied outside the village and headed up the path. Finding a quiet place to rest for the night, they placed the small Onyx Dog statue that Fennick had given them on the encoded scroll, hoping it would decode the message. However, a large black mastiff immediately appeared and spoke, pledging his allegiance to the party…
The exhaustion of the full day spent below the surface weighed heavily on the adventures as they sought rest halfway to the watchtower. Comforted by the watchfulness of the recently acquired onyx mastiff, named Hooch by Jiàntóu, the group spent the evening in a deep slumber. Just before dawn, they were awoken by their sentry. Hooch informed the party that during the night he’d discovered a band of goblins, led by a bugbear over the ridge. He also told them that during the night her heard several strange screams and howls echoing over the landscape. Following that, he returned to his diminutive shape and was packed away.
Recalling the message that was decoded regarding sending goblins to the watch tower, the adventures quickly broke camp to investigate the errand-party of Rick Little. Flanking the group on three sides, Rolen conjured an illusion of a large butterfly to distract the small band of goblins. It quickly became apparent that this group had not had a very easy time with their task, as the sight of the illusion caused several of them to panic and run for the tree line about 300 yards away.
The leader of the group, a stubborn and bloodied bugbear, was in no mood to be taken by illusions or the other spells that Rolen cast, resisting the levitation incantation. At that point Jiàntóu called out and parlayed with the bugbear. Through this conversation he discovered that this group was sent to seek the woman who dwells in the watchtower, offering her a fine gift. However, the leader of their party who’d approached the watchtower did not complete the task set before him and ran from the tower in terror. It was at that point that this group returned through the path and stumbled into a den of displacer beasts. They barely survived and had setup camp in a fitful night of keeping watch.
By the end of the conversation the bugbear was the only one remaining as the rest of goblins fled at the memory of the beasts the day before. He sat by a fire, frustrated with the failure and learning that Rick Little was killed. With nothing else to do, he simply sat and the adventures left him on the ridge.
After a short climb up the main path to the watchtower the group was surprised as a figure emerged from the rocks. Almost immediately Rolen recognized him as Rade, the druid who’d competed in the adventurer challenge only a few weeks before. After sharing that he’d chased a were-creature up the mountains the rest of the Falconiers filled him in on the happens of the Black Claw Mages, Rick Little, and the Tahotra search party in Cloudmouth. Rade nodded in understanding and rejoined the group as they continued toward their destination.
As the watchtower came into view the Falconiers saw a very large flying beast with a rider lifting off from the ground with another figure in it’s talons. This beast was followed by two ravens. Rolen sent his hawk familiar after the creature and through it’s eyes he saw that the figure in it’s talons was the doppleganger that had impersonated Shank and had suffered the were-curse.
Knowing that their time may be short the group cautiously approached the watchtower. Rolen’s hawk circled above the watch tower and was able to observe several items of great beauty within a room that was meticulously decorated. The care with which the room was preserved stood in sharp contrast to the ruins which surrounded it. In the middle of the hazy room sat a golden lamp, etched with ancient symbols, with a small purple flame continually burning.
S called to the lady of the watchtower, beckoning her to come out to them for they brought a gift. Despite the sense of dread that washed over each of them like the waves of the ocean tide, the group stood fast and waited for an answer. What came was a voice that echoed from the inside of the keep, “Do you wish to see my power or my beauty.” The owner of the voice was unaware that Rolen had wisely focused his attention to hear the thoughts of any creature within the keep and was able to provide clues of the lady of the watchtower’s concerns.
Aware that she craved to be recognized for her beauty, S spoke, “My fair maiden, we ask for your wisdom. If we may also see your beauty, than it will be taken as a gift!” This pleased the creature and she revealed herself, first as a beautiful dwarven maiden with a flowing gown. This majestic figure faded quickly away to the true form, that of a rotting corpse, a cursed banshee.
Rolen knew that despite her gruesome appearance, this creature believed herself to be beautiful. Alerting S to this fact, S continued to try and charm the banshee while asking for the information that she’d given the Black Claw Mages who’d arrived just before. She told them that the information she gave, she only gave due to their gift; the golden lamp in the middle of the room.
Jiàntóu froze upon seeing the lamp, memories flooding through his mind. The moments of his father’s last few hours were vivid as he recognized the golden treasure sitting before him on the table. Jiàntóu was certain this was the same lamp he saw his father quickly lock away in the hidden safe in his cabin.
A blink and the words of his father, words that Jiàntóu had never understood the meaning of, suddenly became quite clear. “Tell her she’ll have to wait. When it’s ready, I’ll bring it myself!” For so long Jiàntóu had wondered whom his father spoke of and what it was that he would bring. The memory that accompanied these words was hazy. Jiàntóu tried to recall whom his father was speaking to, but only dark shapes remained. Shapes cloaked in long, black robes. Jiàntóu had resolved himself that the Tahotra was at the center of his father, Jamparing’s, death. Now, his conviction wavered as he learned that the Black Claw Mages were involved.
Becoming tired of the conversation and wanting to get his hands on the magical lamp, Rolen turned his attention from the thoughts of the banshee and instead blinked to another plane, sneaking into the watchtower and grabbing the lamp. As soon as he laid his hands on the lamp, the banshee screamed, causing mind-numbing pain to all those who could hear. The ringing in his ears caused Rolen to unsuccessfully blink and escape the watchtower.
Without hesitation, Jiàntóu rushed into the room, grabbed the lamp, and escaped with it right outside the Banshee’s lair. Rolen directed his hawk to swoop down and grab some of the other fine treasures that were on the ivory shelves. This distracted the banshee long enough that the whole party was able to get outside the watchtower walls. Rolen's familiar was unable to escape the touch of the banshee and it faded away. At this, S cast darkness within the walls of the watchtower.
From this deep darkness they could hear the weeping of the banshee, not in anger but in utter sadness. The treasure which she valued above all others, this lamp, was taken from her. While Jiàntóu’s mind was focused on stealing more of the banshee’s treasure, Rolen and S’s attentions were on the lamp. When Rolen approached S, the purple flame grew much larger. This caused great uncertainty between the two adventurers. Both could recall that the lamp was of great power and very ancient, but neither knew the purpose of such a lamp.
Overhearing their conversation from within the darkness, the banshee called out, saying that what they are discussing could not be. The lamp’s flame would only rise when the recipient of it’s message was near. She could not believe that anyone but herself would receive a message.
S, believing the words she spoke, reached out and touched the lamp. Immediately the flame shot into the air and formed the shape of a gauntlet. In its palm was the figure of an eye that changed from purple to a deep crimson blue. The color intensified and the eye blinked away, followed by the gauntlet closing into a fist. A yellow spark grew from the grasp, forming a long curved sword. Following this, the colors and shapes faded away and the lamp no longer displayed a flame.
S dropped to his knees and whispered to himself, “Helm…” S knew little of his father, only that he had named him “Sorrow” and have given him his sword he’d used as a paladin. This sword, named Judgement, was long with a yellow hilt, and bared the watchful eye of helm on it’s hilt. Sorrow had known his father served Helm, but little else.
As S’s thoughts were drawn away, his spell of darkness lifted and all could see the miserable banshee. She offered the information she’d given the black claw mages in return for the lamp. Finding little use and heeding her warnings of curses, the Falconiers returned the lamp in exchange for the information.
Hwindock, as she finally shared her name, told them that the black claw mages were seeking powerful magical artifacts from ages long ago. She’d told them that several were to be found in the Temple of Tendrombohitra. She also gave them a clue as to how to gain access to the treasures.
Taking leave of the watchtower, the group returned down the path towards Cloudmouth. Along the way they were ambushed by the displacer beasts that had attacked the goblin party the day before, but the creatures proved little distraction for the group. Upon their defeat, Rade chose to leave the party, wishing to remain in the wilderness.
Rolen and Jiàntóu disguised themselves and entered Cloudmouth to discover that the Tahotra were making a spectacle of their interrogation of the mayor. Rolen, casting a spell of fear on the whole gathering, caused all those in the market to run in terror. With that the group took horses, mounted, and got on the main road to head to Chepstow, where they would seek the aid of the Fanjakana, sharing what they’d learn and to determine their next course of action.
The travel to Chepstow was often filled with silence. Jiàntóu and Sorrow lost in their own thoughts. Questions regarding the lamp consumed Jiàntóu while Sorrow was only concered about the message it contained. Rolen simply looked forward to the recognition the killing of a Black Claw Mage would bring him in the presence of the Fanjakana.
The adventurers traveled away from Cloudmouth on their stolen mounts towards Chepstow, where they planned to search for the Fanjakana garrison they were heading for with the caravan. Jiantou’s thoughts were fixated on the lamp and the mystery as to why it was in his father’s possession all those years ago. S was lost in his own thoughts, pondering the message he’d received. Rolen was still frustrated with the lack of treasure discovered on his journey thus far.
As they neared Chepstow, their journey slowed due to large crowds on the roads. They were unaware that the Festival of Tem-Et-Nu was underway in Chepstow. After traveling for several days with various groups, including Tsy Mitombina Bazaar, a travel-weary circus with rough looking performers and large animals, the adventures arrived a large queue leading into Chepstow through a security checkpoint. Along the city wall and guarding the gate were soldiers dressed in Fanjakana armor, distinct with it’s polished silver and rich blue sashes.
As the group neared the gates they were approached by a Fanjakana captain who introduced herself as Yuldra. She was a striking woman with complete heterochromia, one iris was blue while the other was green. On her shoulder was an aged green faerie dragon. When the group asked to speak with a Fanjakana commander, informing Yuldra that they’d been a part of the caravan that had been hijacked several weeks before, she was in disbelief. Rolen and Jiantou showed their Falconier’s badges, but they meant nothing to Yuldra. However, after a short interrogation Yuldra lead Rolen, S, and Jiantou through the crowded streets towards the Garrison on the south bank of the Riandrano River.
Once they reached the colonel’s outpost, a large stone and wood mansion within the fortified garrison, Yuldra leads them up to the top floor to the colonel’s office. She stopped them at the door and informed them that the colonel is new to his job and that the only reason she brought them to him was that he is the only known survivor of the Tahotra raid on the caravan the adventurers claimed to be a part of. With that, she knocked on the door and opened it to a sparsely decorated room. A large desk, a table, and a few chairs were the only furniture.
Sitting behind the desk was Sebastian, the sergeant in charge of leading the caravan that set out from Cleeve and whom quickly fell after leading a failed charge against the raiding Tahotra. A new scar on his face mirrored a faded one and he wore a large eyepatch emblazoned with the Fanjakana crest. Sitting across from Sebastian was a finely dressed half-elf whom was introduced as Belegorn, the spymaster of the Fanjakana Empire.
As Rolen entered the room Sebastian immediately recognized him from the caravan and rose, exposing a wooden peg from below the knee on his left leg. He’d been exuberant when they’d originally met him and he seemed even more so now as he heartily greeted the group. Sharing the story of his miraculous resurrection at the hand of a wandering druid and his excruciating journey, crawling from the site of the raid to Chepstow where he was healed and made Colonel after the departure of the previous, incompetent colonel.
The group recounted their adventures since the raid, skipping over their meeting with Hwindock. Colonel Sebastian was completely taken with the tale and at the end congratulated the three on a job well done. Belegorn was less impressed, which infuriated Jiantou. Quickly taking his appearance, Jiantou surprised Belegorn with a deft move, tripping him and drawing his crossbow. Belegorn, wise of when to pick a fight, submitted and tried to hide his admiration of how sly the demonstration proved to be.
By this time, Colonel Sebastian was convinced that the Falconier order of the Fanjakan Empire should be continued. The group learned that from the raids, all the known Falconiers were dead or missing. The Emperor had desired the Falconiers to be under the supervision of Belegorn and the special operations unit of the Fanjakana army. With the return of Rolen and Jiantou, there was still hope for the group. Sebastian extended the offer to S, whom accepted the position, thus joining the Falconiers order.
Colonel Sebastian requested that the Falconiers assist in the investigation of a double-murder that took place in Chepstow the evening before. With the festival happening, nearly all the Fanjakana guards were occupied with crowd control. There was also indications that the murder had been conducted by the Mandrata. In addition to the brutal murder itself, there was a bust of Emperor Pholant found at the scene which Sebastian showed to the Falconiers. When he removed the black cloth that covered it, the bust spoke in a raspy voice, “Mandrata Rises.” Repeating the phrase until covered with the cloth again.
The Falconiers agreed to investigate and Belegorn was instructed to escort them to the special ops armory in the garrison. As they left, Sebastian extended an invitation to watch the festival fireworks from the colonel’s barge, “the best seat,” he promised. Thanking him, the Falconiers went to the armory and were loaned a variety of useful magical items. They learned that for years the Fanjakana had kept detailed lists of all the magical gear in their garrisons, but due to thefts by Mandrata, they’ve become very secretive about what they log and loan out. Finally, each member of the Falconiers received a set of credentials, signed by the Emperor and by Belegorn, granting them full authority to act on behalf of the Fanjakana Empire in service as Falconiers.
Before they left the armory, Belegorn entrusted the knowledge that the heir apparent to the Mandrata, Eric Ali, had arranged a secret meeting to negotiate a truce with the Fanjakana. The Emperor, wishing to see the plague of the Tahotra raids stop, had granted Belegorn the authority to broker a deal for a large section of Saikinosy to be given to Mandrata to form their own state. The hope was that this would ensure the support of Eric amongst the other Mandrata leaders and prevent Ruby Reid from taking control of the Mandrata. The meeting was set to take palace after the festival. Belegorn was apprehensive and confused, however, as the two men who had been murdered at the docks the previous day were his Mondrata spies. It was they who had infiltrated Mondrata and relayed secret messages to Eric Ali leading up to this critical meeting.
Expecting to spend a few days in Chepstow, the Falconers made their way to the Fat Chalice, a seedy inn that had one available room and stables for the group’s horses. After ordering some of the finest Chepstow Ale and renowned fish tacos, Rolen noticed a man drinking in the inn with a sword hanging on his side that matched the style of the Tahotra mercenaries that raided the caravan. Alerting the others, the Falconiers questioned the barmaid and discovered where the man was staying in the tavern. S remained in the hall while Rolen and Jiantou went to his room to investigate.
Quietly they stole into the room and discovered a sealskin backpack containing little more than a ritual scroll of water-breathing, Standing water on the floor near the window drew their attention out to the canal that ran behind the inn. It seemed to them that someone very wet had climbed into the room. The location of the window and some rickety ladders on the exterior of the building provided a very secluded way of getting in and out of the room.
Convinced that they should now investigate the scene of the murder the adventurers headed toward the docks. On the way, Jiantou could not resist the urge to case Belegorn’s room in The Swan, an aristocratic hotel near the Fat Chalice. Shifting his appearance to that of Belegorn, Jiantou convinced the concierge to let him into the room, perhaps the best in the entire hotel, and also to fetch a freshly pressed suit, which happened to be Belegorn’s finest. A bit of snooping confirmed Belegorn’s credentials, and Jiantou left to catch up with S and Rolen on their way to the docks.
Yuldra led the Falconiers to the sight where the bodies were discovered. She knew very little of what additional discoveries had been made which left the party to search on their own. Despite recent rains washing away most of the signs of the murder, Jiantou was able to track bloodstains back to the edge of the water. Diving under he discovered another sealskin backpack, identical to the one they discovered in the Fat Chalice. Inside the pack they discovered another scroll, this one for the ritual of Magic Mouth. Immediately their thoughts turned to the talking bust they’d been shown in Colonel Sebastian’s office.
Further investigations turned up nothing else and the Falconiers instructed Yuldra to fetch Belegorn and meet them at the Fat Chalice. Rolen returned to the inn immediately and began conjuring his familiar. S and Jiantou had personal business they wished to attend to. S headed towards the multi-temple, where he’d been told a priest of Helm may be found, and Jiantou went to the Tem-Et-Nu temple library.
When Jiantou arrived at the library he was allowed to visit the archives. He was shown the collection of books and artifacts by an old halfling named Kishi, who made sure to remind Jiantou to not touch any of the special collection. Many of the materials were indecipherable, written in what seemed to be an ancient dwarven script with illustrations of strange and forbidding landscapes. Scribbled in the margins were notes made in common that spoke of an ancient door between the planes of existence and a powerful presence that had aided its inventor in creating it. One of the artifacts in the collection was labeled as a piece of this ancient door and, despite Kishi’s warnings, Jiantou touched the shard of concrete. At that moment, Jiantou fell into a daze for several minutes. When he awoke, he felt as if something had probed deep into his mind and awoken a piece of him he didn’t know existed. Stumbling up from the artifacts and scrolls, Jiantou returned to the streets and headed toward the Fat Chalice.
After departing the rest of the group, S headed toward the multi-temple. On the way the pestering calls of the carnival barker pushed S into anger. Looking to stop the annoyance, he caused the fire juggler’s lit torches to explode and inadvertently caused, what he thought was, a small fire. The carnival members all rushed to put out the blaze while S continued to the multi-temple.
The multi-temple was an oval building with flags of the various gods of the realm hung from the awning. As S walked around he could not see anyone who appeared to be a priest of any god, let alone Helm. As he circled the building he was approached by a seedy looking man who claimed to be a priest. S demanded to speak to a servant of Helm, but the man, who called himself Mr. Coward, informed S that there was no priest of Helm here. Mr. Coward explained that he could perform prayers on behalf of Helm or any other god, and he flipped through a small box containing various tracts to each god. Frustrated at this news and still angry about the carnival, S conceded and pushed the man into one of the prayer rooms.
Mr. Coward put on a small headband emblazoned with Helm’s icon and fetched a tract from his box. He quickly muttered a quick prayer to Helm, finishing by asking for two silver coins as payment. As soon as Mr. Coward finished the prayer a bright light filled the room, causing Mr. Coward and S to cover their eyes. When the light faded a tall and frightening, angelic figure stood in front of them. He spoke only to S, stating he was called Alistair and that he was a messenger of Helm. Alistair told S that Helm was calling to him and that he should seek him. His ominous message was that the peace S sought would be forged in war. Helm was granted three questions. The answers solidified in S’s mind that he must track down the black claw mages to find the fiend which pulled at his mind to draw him here. Alistair gave S an amulet of Helm which would allow S to call on him in times of need and then departed. S exited the prayer room, passing Mr. Coward who was living up to his namesake, shrunken in the corner.
S met Belegorn and Yuldra as he arrived at the Fat Chalice. As he entered he told them to wait until they heard a scream, leaving them looking at each other puzzled. The man they’d come to believe as a member of Tahotra was still drinking in the hall. S approached the table and, without warning, unsheathed his dagger and drove it through the man’s hand into the table. At the sound of his screaming the hall went silent; the only noise was that of Belegorn and Yuldra rushing through the door.
The man refused to cooperate with the investigation and S called for Rolen’s assistance. Rolen, once again proving himself to be excellent at unveiling the inner thoughts of another, questioned the man and discovered that he was a member of Tahotra and that Ruby Reid was responsible for the mission to murder the men, whom he didn’t know were spies. Further questioning revealed that there was another member of Tahotra in Chepstow, but he did not know his whereabouts. The only useful information they received was that the other mercenary was quite disfigured and had only one ear.
Taking the mercenary into custody, the Falconiers, Yuldra, and Belegorn placed him upon one of their horses and paraded him through the town, hoping to draw the attention of his accomplice. Despite their intentions, they were unable to find the other member of Tahotra. They were, however, subjected to the aftermaths of the circus fire caused by S’s frustration. A peryton and two mammoths had escaped their shackles and were causing carnage to the festival attendees. A well-timed casting of a net and some creative mental manipulation allowed for the Falconiers to quickly subdue the threat, not without the loss of innocent life. Despite the somber mood, Tristan, a priestess of Tem-Et-Nu, declared that the festival must go on.
Once they arrived at the garrison, the group imprisoned the Tahotra mercenary and informed Colonel Sebastian of what they’d discovered so far. Torn between his desire to track down the other Tahotra and to watch the fireworks of the festival, Sebastian asked that the group keep watch while he took his place on the barge. S stood watch near the navy dock, Rolen went to the other side of the river and used his owl familiar to search the crowds for the one-eared man, and Jiantou climbed to a higher vantage point on the garrison wall.
The fireworks were spectacular, as always, and there were several loud cheers from the festival goers. One after another, Tristian set off the rockets which filled Chepstow with shimmering lights, smoke, and load noises. As she neared the end of the presentation there was a massive explosion from the colonel’s outpost. The noise drowned out the sound of the fireworks and the crowd while a large fireball rose into the air, eventually fading away into the black smoke.
Jiantou quickly raced across the garrison wall reaching the colonel’s outpost before most of the other Fanjakana guards. He discovered a grappling hook and rope slung over the exterior walls. S stood guard near the dock, awaiting Sebastian’s return to shore. They were rushing towards the outpost when S saw Rolen leaping from boat to boat to cross the river. He was unable to make it across before the Fanjakana river patrol forced the boats away. Flashing his Falconiers credentials, Rolen commanded the boat to dock and he joined S. They reached the outpost just in time to see Sebastian rushing into the fire to search the rubble for survivors.
Seeing the carnage and remembering that his familiar had seen some strange cloaked figures over Graham Fairmount’s estate, the site of the planned meeting between Belegorn and Eric Ali. Rolen suggested they investigate. Sending his familiar to find Jiantou, the two other Falconiers made their way through the crowd to edge of the city where the Fairmount estates sat. Jiantou joined them shortly after they arrived and informed them that Belegorn had died in the explosion.
The Falconiers, assuming that the Tahotra had learned of the negotiations between Eric Ali and the Fanjakana, decided to try and salvage the meeting without brokering the deal. Jiantou used the suit of Belegorn’s he had received from the concierge and shifted into his appearance. He knocked on the estate’s door and Graham Fairmount greeted him and took him to the barn, where Eric was waiting.
Rolen sent his owl familiar into the barn through the chimney to observe the meeting. Despite failing to say the password, Jiantou was able to persuade his way into the meeting, relying on the confusion as a result of the explosion to justify his appearance and not following the agreed upon meeting procedure. Eric was visibly disturbed and suspicious of Jiantou, but continued the discussion. However, his frustration continued to rise as it became clear he would not receive the expected granting of land. The only thing that seemed to please him was the idea that he might be able to meet the men that Ruby Reid was hunting, the ones who burnt down his camp. The ones who now had a price on their head and the Tahotra hunting them down.
Eric Ali abruptly stopped the meeting saying that he would make it worth it if Belegorn could convince the men Ruby was hunting to go to the last dock to the east of Chepstow and say to the boatman, “Destination Turbury.” With that Jiantou, disguised as Belegorn, was escorted out of the barn.
Thud, thud, thud. “Open up! It’s Yuldra and I come with urgent news.” The mid-morning sun filtered in through the grime covered window, ash from the explosion and fire coated the exterior, piling on the sill, and accosted the weary adventurers’ eyes. The events of the previous day were still fresh on each of their minds; the explosion of the colonel’s outpost, the midnight meeting with Eric Ali, the Fanjakana soldiers, led by Colonel Sebastian, working to restore order.
Slowly the group rose from their bedrolls and greeted Yuldra. She informed them that they’d cleared the rubble of the outpost and that Colonel Sebastian requested their presence. Leaving them to get their items, Yuldra went down to the tavern to wait. As they were getting ready, Jiàntóu once again spoke to S in infernal, asking an innocent question about what they should do. Still frustrated from the events of the previous day, S was unable to hold back his disdain for Jiàntóu’s use of his language and he struck Jiàntóu, telling him, in common, not to speak to him in infernal. Jiàntóu retaliated by pulling a dagger and gashed S across the shoulder. S responded by drawing his own blade and cut Jiàntóu across the side, trying to knock his weapon out of his hand. Jiàntóu responded by using his newly found powers granted by the Great Old One, causing excruciating pain to echo in S’s head. Shaking off the noise, S drew his longsword and readied himself to strike. Jiàntóu, stepped back and raised his hands. S hesitated then sheathed his sword, saying that they’ll settle this another time and that Jiàntóu is not to speak to him in infernal again.
Yuldra was surprised to see the state of Jiàntóu and S when the group arrived downstairs, but there were more important issues at hand. She lead the group through the town to the ruins of the outpost. There were several canvas tents raised and Fanjakana medics were tending to the wounds of soldiers and civilians alike. Yuldra brought them to the tent nearest the outpost where Colonel Sebastian was standing, head hung, next to the nearly unrecognizable body of Belegorn. Sebastian was wrapped in bandages and had burns on his hands and arms. As they approached the tent Yuldra explained that Sebastian had led the way in rescuing people from the outpost, rushing into the fire without regard for his own safety. Many within the outpost during the explosion were seriously wounded, but only Belegorn had perished.
Sebastian welcomed the adventurers, feigning the exuberance they were familiar with, but the sadness of the previous day was too heavy to hide. He lamented that none of the clerics in chepstow were knowledgeable in resurrection and he knew nothing of the druid that performed the same rites for him. Sebastian then shared what they’d learned from Belegorn’s notes, which had been left with a scribe. Belegorn had uncovered that the Mandrata was moving a magical item through Chepstow under the cover of the festival and that a ship had beennreported leaving at first light. Belegorn believed that the destination was Turbury via Pashiavo, which was a long journey by boat. S asked if the notes mentioned the Black Claw Mages and Sebastian told him that Belegorn had written, “can’t let the mages get it” in his notes, but he knew nothing of the mages. That was enough for S to agree to chase down the boat and recover the item. The rest of the Falconiers agreed to follow.
Sebastian told them to go to the dock where they’d find the Silver Strike, a large war boat of the Fanjakana. He informed them it wasn’t the fastest boat, but it was well stocked with supplies and able soldiers. When the adventurers arrived at the dock they discovered there were three boats there. The Silver Strike was a large, and seemingly slow, military barge with a large crew. A few slips away was the Veiled Shadow which was being loaded by a crew of tough and seedy looking men. In the last slip was a small, streamlined boat gilded with gold and decorated with ornate carvings of horses. “Graham Fairmount’s The Pedigree” was written on the cabin.
Vigo couldn’t resist the decadence and immediately boarded “The Pedigree”, followed by Jiàntóu. As they boarded the captain asked them what they were doing. Jiàntóu said that they’d been given permission to commandeer the vessel. When the captain asked for credentials, Jiàntóu pulled out his crossbow. Terrified, the captain fled the ship, but the crew was busy preparing the ship and did not see the captain leave. Jiàntóu announced that they were going to use this ship for official Fanjakana business and that they crew should get in their rowing positions. He then positioned himself behind the wheel and set the boat off. Trying to remember his time as a youth on his father’s boat, Jiàntóu attempted to steer the boat out of the dock, gouging the side of the boat along the pier. After another attempt the ship was away and it’s appearance of speed proved true.
The crew of the Graham Fairmount was well trained and, despite Jiàntóu’s difficulties captaining the fast vessel, they powered the boat down the river on the first leg of the long journey towards Pashiavo. They floated for several uneventful hours, seeing nothing more than the thick forests and muddy banks of the Riandrano River. Rade kept a sharp lookout, though, and spotted something unusual amongst the floating logs and vegetation near the right bank. It was a creature altogether unique, one he’d never seen before. At first glance it appeared to be a bit of floating log with vegetation on it, but it was actually the head of a humanoid-sized creature, its ears hanging down the side of it’s head, its thick, reedy hair hanging like rotting vegetation into the slow current, its eyes squinting in the sun, watching the boat as “The Pedigree” passed. As they got closer, S noticed that Jiàntóu was drawing his crossbow from it’s holster. S was too late in his attempt to stop him from taking a shot and Jiàntóu placed a bolt into the neck of the creature, which immediately disappeared under the water, leaving only the tension between S and Jiàntóu.
As the ship continued down river the crew grew more weary. They rounded another bend and entered a series of shallow canals and hammocks. Navigating the boat through the narrow passage, the adventurers spotted a low hanging branch with a dozen small, winged reptiles perched on it. It was inevitable that the boat would knock the branch. Rade shared that these were pseudodragons and that they tend to be skittish around larger creatures. Rolen, standing at the front of the ship, cast an illusion of a dragon flying overhead which caused all but one of the small creatures to dart away into various burrows. As the boat grew closer Rolen was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to feed the remaining pseudodragon, a plump and slovenly looking one, a sandwich. Quickly running to the cabin despite the questions of the rest of the groups, Rolen started grabbing any food he could find. Jiàntóu fired a bolt at the tiny red dragon, but it remained on the branch, wounded and bleeding. Rolen hurried back to the front of the ship and held out the food. As he approached the tiny creature he felt a surge in his magical powers. The pseudodragon ate as it swore fealty to Rolen by way of broadcasting images of many future meals provided by Rolen’s hand. S stepped forward to pull the bolt from the small dragon and, as he laid his hand on the creature, a healing force unexpectedly surged through his arm and the wound of the creature healed. Rolen continued to hold the dragon as the group continued down the river.
Walking back to the cabin, S saw a series of puffs of smoke rising into the air. Concerned, Rolen commanded his familiar, a hawk, to fly back and investigate. Upon it’s return Rolen informed the group that the creature that had been spotted swimming in the river was on the shore making smoke signals. Alarmed, the group began searching the shores for any movement. Rounding another bend in the river, the group saw the wreckage of another ship along the bank. Vigo, who’d taken command of “The Pedigree”, piloted the ship carefully next to the battle-worn vessel. The name “Jeremy Belmont” was painted across the back. The hull and deck was gouged with long gashes, many looked to be from a large beast while a few had the appearance as if a blade had slashed them.
The Falconiers explored the Jeremy Belmont, discovering an encrypted Black Claw Mage scroll, a map with the route marked out and the phrase “Amon Sur - The Red Dawn” written in the margin, and a strip of velvet fabric with red piping. As the group examined the scroll, Jiàntóu summoned Hooch from the small onyx dog statuette they’d received in Cloudmouth. Hooch was able to determine that the blood was spilled just two hours before and that the bodies had been dragged into the river.
Further searching turned up no additional clues and S urged the group to press on. Jiàntóu, still fuming from their skirmish in the morning and the attempt at stopping him from shooting earlier, pushed S while he was walking past. Unsuspecting, S was taken off-guard and began to fall overboard. At the last moment he reached out and grabbed Jiàntóu, pulling him over as well. As they dropped into the water, a strong undercurrent quickly pulled them out into the deeper area of the river towards a rocky area where the river was running rapidly. Seeing that S and Jiàntóu were heading toward the rapids, Rolen quickly cast a water-breathing spell on the group. Jiàntóu and S were swept into the rapids but were luckily able to grab hold of the rocks and signal to the group to come after them.
Vigo grabbed the wheel again and set the ship into the river. Moving quickly The Pedigree swept past the two feuding Falconiers into a calmer alcove in the river. However, as the boat slowed, the Falconiers were surprised to discover the alcove was full of creatures similar to the one they’d seen earlier in their journey. Each creature, roughly the size of a man, had long, muscular arms and an elongated face with drop ears like a hound. Their hide was a mottled, greenish brown. They had long, dread-locked hair that started on their head and ran down the back of their long, hunched necks. The hair had a greenish tint from the algae that was growing in it. The creatures’ legs were shorter than their arms, and their claws were webbed. The bit of clothing they wore consisted of pieces of hide and woven reeds, with necklaces of skulls, bones, and claws. The sound of their language that reached the Falconiers over the water consisted of clicks and guttural sounds. It sounded like they were saying “gulo gulo klo klo” and Gulo was the name for them that eventually stuck.
Four canoes, each with four Gulo surrounded the boat while on shore several more were wrestling with a large net spread spread out over thrashing water. As the Falconiers assessed their present situation, a large hook was cast down from a nearby cliff falling just short of the boat. Quickly a Gulo on the cliff pulled the hook back in. Jiàntóu, still clinging to a rock amongst the rapids but in position to see the rope, shot his crossbow, causing the rope to split in half. As the hook was being pulled back, eight of the Gulo in the canoes jumped into the river. Seeing this, S let go of the rock and used the rapids to drive him toward the boat. The Gulo under the water were focused on boarding the ship and did not see S arrive behind them. Taking a dagger, he drove it into the back of the closest Gulo to the rear of the ship.
Jiàntóu followed S down the rapids and soon appeared above water, crossbows pointed at the closest canoe. As he prepared to pull the trigger he was immediately filled with the same overwhelming sense of curiosity that had washed over him at the Temple of Tem-Et-Nu. His mind reeled as a will outside his own overcame him with a desire to see these creatures more closely and study them. He rushed dangerously close to the enemy canoes and found himself investigating the gulo. After a few moments of this Jiàntóu was able to wrest back control of his body, regaining his own will, and quickly jumped back into the action.
Leaping from the ship at the closest canoe, elbow outstretched, Mamul landed on the craft and catapulted the two Gulo onto the deck of The Pedigree. The Gulo quickly struck several of The Pedigree’s rowing crew, killing them easily. The Falconiers did not hold back, slaying the creatures through sword and sorcery. At the same time, Rolen unleashed a well placed magic missile, severing the hook which sunk quickly to the bottom of the river. The Gulo on the shore let go of the net they were holding when they saw the hook was severed.
Unembumbered by the net holding it back, large creature rushed towards the boat. From the deck, the Falconiers could see that it was a very large, reptilian beast with a long neck. From under the water, S was able to see that it was a plesiosaurus and it was preparing to strike the boat. Drawing his sword, S swam forward and drove it deep into the sternum of the beast, causing it to rear back in fear. Drawing on his training, he withdrew and then struck the beast again with such ferocity that the creature recoiled.
While the battle with the plesiosaurus raged in the water, the rest of the Falconiers were battling the remaining gulo in the canoes and climbing aboard the boat. Rade made use of his command of ice and shattered several of the creatures. Jiàntóu was accurate with one crossbow bolt after another. Vigo, drunk with strong mead and the fervor of battle, sang a song of one of the Falconiers of legend, a cantankerous dragonborn wizard, ending it with the casting of a cloud of daggers, a favored spell of the legendary wizard. The gulo on the cliff began chanting, causing thorny vines to grow from the deck of the ship, piercing anyone who walked near them.
Mamul climbed back onto The Pedigree, passing several of the gulo in the process, so that he could battle the biggest foe, the plesiosaurus. At this point, S had landed blow after blow, gutting the beast, and had begun hacking at the base of its long neck. Grabbing a javelin, Mamul leaped from the boat and drove the point of the spear into the blowhole at the top of the plesiosaurus’ head. Held fast, Mamul took a small hand axe and gouged out the left eye of the creature. As it reared back in pain, S unleashed a mighty strike, slicing through the bone and tissue of the creature, severing its neck from it’s body. The weight of Mamul carried the head and neck forward towards the ship and as he came down Mamul landed on his feet and used the momentum of the fall to hurl the long neck over his shoulder, much like the suplex maneuver used by the wrestlers in the empire courts.
At the sight of the slain creature, the remaining gulo began to flee. Rolen cast another round of magic missiles, but as he aimed the bolts a great, uncontrollable power surged through him. Instead of the small surges of energy he had expected, a great explosion of lightning erupted from his fingertips, burning through the remaining gulo on the ship and nearby.
Looking around, all the remain gulo had fled and the Falconiers were faced with a surprising calm in the alcove of the river. The body of the plesiosaurus faded away, revealing itself to be magical in origin. With nothing else to fight, the Falconiers disembarked from their ship and followed a well hidden trail through the woods. Along the way they found the marks of small, webbed footprints dragging several larger objects. Hooch could smell the scent of the crew from the Jeremy Belmont and followed the trail to a small tributary. The Falconiers discovered a small bone statue on the path and used it to decipher the scroll, revealing the message “Amara, we have found the Treasure of the Frost Plains. We hope to arrive in Turbery in three months. Will send news if we can arrive sooner.”
The Falconiers arrived at the tributary to discover two canoes and the marks of two more that had recently been pushed into the water. Boarding the canoes the Falconiers set off, hoping to recover this “Treasure of the Front Plains” from these strange new enemies by whatever means necessary.
The search of the river bank had not provided any further clues despite their assistance by Hooch. Mamul and Rade, having enough of the river, opted to search through the forest. Hooch, Jiantou, Rolen, Sorrow, Vigo, and Bartholomew, the sole survivor from The Pedigree crew, set off in two canoes to follow the tributary westward.
The dense forest on either side of the creek was thick and humid, quickly obscuring the hulking figures of Mamul and Rade. The water was brown and murky and it was difficult to see how deep the river was. As they traveled, Hooch was at the front, sniffing and helping guide the way. After half an hour of steady rowing the Falconiers found themselves facing a sixty foot precipice rising extending as far as they could see to either direction with the creek meeting the sheer cliff.
Rolen sent his falcon familiar to scout above and discovered that the creek continued on the other side of the rock face, running under the precipice. A hidden valley with steep cliffs were on either side and approximately 3 miles up the tributary was a large waterfall with several small thatched structures near the base. Adjacent to the water fall was an ancient looking stone tower built into the cliff face and several caves. Approximately fifty gulo could be seen in and around the structures.
Still under the effect of Rolen’s water breathing spell, the adventurers slipped over the side of the canoes and entered the water. Having tied themselves together with a length of rope, they slowly made their way through the murky water, following the creek through it’s underground tunnel. After several moments, hooch jerked on the rope, having spotted several shadowy figures in the water ahead of the group. Jiantou, being nearest to Hooch, quickly fired a bolt at the closest figure which he’d recognized to be a gulo. Despite the difficulty in seeing, the group quickly overpowered the guards, with Sorrow’s short sword dealing the final death blows to each.
The group continued through the tunnel and surfaced after a quick search by Rolen’s familiar. They found a wooden walkway raised above the swampy ground which wound through the thick vegetation until it lead to a large clearing in the swamp. The wooden plank way they were following spread out into this clearing, creating a circular platform with three additional paths branching from it. Sensing that they were pressing forward into a dangerous situation, Sorrow told Bartholomew to take the left path and find shelter. Jiantou gave him a knife and he went on his way.
As Bartholomew was leaving, Jiantou informed the group that he would scout ahead on the path leading to the village. Distracted by beginning to untie himself from the rope, Jiantou did not see the trigger of a trap and as he stepped into the center of the platform the boards collapsed around him. Unwisely, Sorrow cut the rope to protect himself from being pulled over as well. Jiantou fell thirty feet and landed safely on the thick, moist vegetation that filled the bottom of the pit.
As Jiantou looked for a way to climb up the muddy walls and the rest of the adventurers prepared another piece of rope to throw down, a mound began to rise from the middle of the pit. It’s form was difficult to identify, with long vine-like arms and rotten vegetation covering its surface. As it stood it towered over Jiantou. Without hesitation Jiantou pulled out his crossbows and rushed the creature and sank two bolts into its hide. Vigo threw a rope down and Jiantou reached up for it, tossing his crossbow into the air, planning to catch it as he was pulled to safety.
The shambling mound reared back and hit Jiantou with two punishing blows, engulfing him. The rope pulled taut as Jiantou disappeared from view. Vigo threw a javelin into the pit, but missed the monster. S leaped into the pit, repelling down the rope, landing in front of the creature and making three brutal attacks with his greatsword, Judgement. Hooch followed after S but failed to grab hold of the creature with his bite. After being struck with Rolen’s magic missiles, the creature spit Jiantou out and made several attacks towards S. On the first hit, S cursed the creature in infurnal and called forth hellish flames. The moisture of the vegetation covering it’s form did not catch and the fire caused little damage. The second hit on S saw the creature close in and engulf S as it had Jiantou.
As Jiantou appeared, Vigo sang a song of healing for Jiantou while Jiantou pulled a knife and slashed at the mound. S was also attacking from within and a powerful blow pierced the creature and S severed it’s form in two, emerging from within while the creature crumbled in defeat. S growled “Next time, check for traps” and climbed out of the pit using the rope. Jiantou dispelled Hooch and followed.
With much more caution, Jiantou set off down the path he’d initialyl went to search. The rest of the group quietly followed about forty feet behind him. Jiantou came upon a small gulo child and silently bound the creature before the rest of the adventurers could arrive. They tucked the wriggling child out of sight and continued toward the gulo village.
As they rounded a corner, the Falconiers saw many gulo of all size and shape. Jiantou used his ability to cast minor illusions to fake the call of a gulo in distress. Several of the male gulo rushed to a shallow cave and emerged with spears. They rushed towards the direction of the sound. The remaining gulo also fetched spears but stood guard in the middle of the village. Rolen rushed towards them and cast fear, causing the rest of the gulo to flee in terror.
The adventurers entered the cave where the gulo had fetched weapons and discovered a small store of arms, including several poison-tipped darts and spears. Jiantou, having studied the art of poisons, rubbed several of his bolts on the poison darts and carefully placed them in his crossbows. Vigo stepped on one of the poisonous newts that were used to tip the darts and poison coated the tip of his boot. A large crate in the corner contained a vast store of drow gold coinage and many expensive gems. As the group investigated the treasure they heard a deep growl come from the entrance of the cave. Turning around they saw a large sabertooth tiger standing before them. Over the sound of the growling they heard the fast pitched clicking they’d heard in the bay where they’d been attacked previously by a conjured plesiosaurus.
Jiantou took a swig of the “High Time’s Elixir” granting him the ability to climb on the walls and ceiling. He rushed out of the cave and saw three gulo standing near the stone tower. One was dancing wildly and clicking loudly, the second was larger than any of the other gulo and he carried two spears, and the last was also larger than normal but was wearing an ornate, chiefly headdress and shells. Jiantou recognized the wild dancing and shot two bolts into the dancing gulo. The poison that he’d placed on the bolt caused the gulo to immediately drop to the ground, paralyzed.
As soon as the gulo dropped to the ground, the summoned sabertooth tiger faded away leaving the adventurers free to escape the cave. Rolen pulled out a small pouch of dust and threw it into the air. As soon as it landed on Vigo, Sorrow, and Rolen, the dust caused them each to disappear. Vigo rushed out of the cave and attacked the largest gulo with a javelin but missed with his target. As he threw the javelin he became visible, the invisibility ending on his attack.
While invisible, S held back a moment from the attack and quickly searched the stone tower. Not discovering anything he dashed towards the paralyzed gulo shaman. As he was passing the chief gulo he felt a sickening feeling. The chief gulo caused the same reaction within him that all fiends caused. His attention was immediately focused on the chief and he shifted his rage towards the chief.
With Vigo now visible and close, the largest gulo and the chief gulo lash out and landed brutal blows, nearly knocking Vigo unconscious. Jiantou fired two bolts into the chief as his attention was on Vigo and Rolen launched a barrage of magic missiles. Vigo jumped and kicked the chief gulo. The blow was perfectly accurate and a large amount of the poison on Vigo’s boot was rubbed off on the chief’s face. As Vigol landed after his kick the chief gulo dropped to the ground paralyzed.
Surprised to see the chief fall, the largest gulo roared and lashed out at Jiantou, landing two devastating blows and rendering Jiantou unconscious on the ground, heavily wounded. Vigo had been hiding behind Jiantou and he fell to the ground with Jiantou’s inert body on top of him.
Enraged by the presence of what he believed to be a fiend, S savagely attacked the paralyzed chief. The large gulo, evidently the bodyguard of its chief, took the opportunity to lunge at S, but S reposted the attack and drove the blade of his sword across the large gulo’s face. Shocked by this, it reared back in rage and pain to attack S but tripped over Rolen, who was still invisible and was trying to stabilize Jiantou.
Turning his attention to the chief, S raised his sword and heard the chief mutter a string of curses at him in abysmal. S drove his sword into the chief’s throat, slaying the gulo. Without hesitation he then drew out his sword and slashed the large gulo as it fell to the ground. Vigo, lying under the dying Jiantou, stabbed at the prone Gulo bodyguard with a javelin.
The gulo shaman, recovering from his paralysis, rose and, after seeing S slay the chief, pointed and began a high pitched series of clicks. S saw his greatsword begin to glow as if being heated by a fire and resisted the urge to drop the weapon, only slightly burning his hands.
Jiantou was inching closer to death and began coughing blood. With the large gulo on the ground within striking distance, Rolen turned his attention to him and cast a spray of poison to cover the writhing creature. Rising to his feet, the large gulo’s attention was still on S, who’d killed his chief. With a roar he lashed out with his spear and a gnashing bite. S retaliated with a swing of judgement but missed. Remembering the bracers of burning he received in Chepstow, he pointed at the gulo brute and unleashes a mighty flame that engulfed the gulo. As the flames vanished, the lifeless gulo fell to the ground next to the chief.
S turned towards the gulo shaman and rushed towards him. Too far to attack, S pulled a small vial of red liquid from a pouch on his hip and downed the contents. Erupting from his mouth was a stream of fire, similar to that of a dragonborn. The shaman managed to evade most of the fire and began dancing around, conjuring a bramble of thorn bushes to grow from the earth. With the thick thorns between him and the Falconiers, the shaman retreated around the tower toward the waterfall.
Rolen, tracking the shaman with his falcon, cast a final barrage of magic missiles, each connecting with the retreating gulo - the last one delivering the final death blow. While their attention was on the shaman, Jiantou sputtered a final cough and was then still, his lifeless body on top of Vigo. Unaware of his perished ally, S approached the chief and chopped off his head, lifting it high into the air for any remaining gulo to see.
It was then that Rolen and S discovered that Jiantou had died. Vigo scrambled to his feet. While they looked at Jiantou’s body, the remaining Falconiers heard a loud clapping come from the sky above followed by the distinctive sound of leathery wings beating against the wind.
An enormous green dragon drifted down, landing in the village, and eyed the adventurers. "Well done, gentlemen,” the dragon snarled, “I was just going to eat them, but that was far more entertaining. Would you mind staying? Perhaps for the rest of your natural lives? You could, I don't know, worship me and prepare my meals.”
S hastily replied to the creature, infuriating it with his lack of respect. As the dragon offered a final chance for them to worship it, S grasped the amulet of Helm around his neck and called for aid from Alistair. Not knowing what was coming, Rolen pulled out the magical item he received in chepstow, the “heat seeking missiles of blindness and deafness,” and fired it at the dragon. The last thing the dragon saw before he went blind and deaf was the glowing blue form of Alistair, the deva sent to serve S in times of need.
“What aid do you seek, Sorrow?” Alistair asked upon forming. S quickly said that his party was in great danger, a dragon was before them and one of them had already perished. “What do you seek first: pain or healing?” Alistair replied. Without hesitation S answerd, “Pain.”
With the word, Alistair turned towards the green dragon and polymorphed into a large golden dragon. S grabbed the lifeless form of Jiantou and dragged it around the corner into the cave behind the waterfall. Vigo ran after S, but before Rolen could make a move Alistair, in dragon form, unleashed a mighty spray of fire at the green dragon, who retaliated with a noxious cloud of poisonous breath. Rolen was caught in the cross fire and was immediately killed.
S and Vigo stayed hidden in the cave as the dragon fight raged outside. S felt the presence of fiends while the walls shook around them, and they could see a long dark tunnel disappear in the back of the cave. Outside, they heard growls and screams and could see bursts of flames. After several moments the roars subsided and they again heard the sound of leathery wings beating against the air. They rushed out to see Alistair returning to his angelic form, visibly wounded but not near death. S approached Alistair and they communes together with Helm.
Allowed three yes or no questions, S asked if his journey will take him down the tunnel behind the waterfall. “Yes,” Helm answered. “Will you provide me aid, whoever this tunnel shall lead?” “Yes,” Helm answered. “Can I call on you without your symbol?” “No,”came Helm’s final reply. Following their commune, S asked Alistair if he could raise his fallen allies, Rolen and Jiantou. Alistair informed him that he can raise the dead, but he can only raise one before he must return to Helm. S called for Alistair to raise Rolen from death.
Lifting Rolen’s limp body high into the air, Alistair looked toward the heavens and spoke a deep, guttural word of power. A blue light wrapped itself around Rolen, then faded away. The ashen color faded from his cheeks, and his eyes slowly opened. Setting him down gently, Alistair then spoke a healing word for Rolen, Vigo, and S before returning to Helm.
As they looked around they saw that the gulo were slowly returning from the swamp and were staring in amazement at Rolen. Several approached and throw themselves prostrate toward him, revering the purple skinned drow who could return from the dead. A small gulo pulled the rags he was wearing over his head, mimicking Rolen’s green cloak. Rolen was all too pleased for the attention and worship of the gulo. Exhausted from the pursuit and fight, the adventurers looked for a place to rest, which the gulo villagers were eager to provide.
Each of the adventurers were uneasy as they reflected on the day. S informed the others that he intended to follow the tunnel behind the waterfall wherever it may lead, even if it lead to the heart of the Underdark. Vigo said he would follow, but Rolen had no interest in returning to the place of his ancestors. They pressed him, asking for any advice or council he could give. “Stay away from drow,” came his characteristically tight-lipped reply. They ate the meal of fish provided by the gulo and slept uneasily as they waited to see what tomorrow would bring.