The Windward Coast

Recification

Quentin remains standing alone before the king as his friends step away, his eyes downcast as if in thought. The king’s own gaze falls upon him in mild curiosity. Around the court people begin whispering. The Dunhillians are sure this is some sort of breach of protocol.

“What is on your mind, young one?” the king says firmly. His tone reveals he brooks no foolishness within his court.

“Your Majesty,” Quentin says, “I was wondering if you could answer a question about the realm.”

The king’s eyes narrow and he glances at Kyeran momentarily before shifting back to the young man before him. “What is it?” he asks. “And be quick. The business of the realm continues on while we bandy about.”

“I’m sorry… It is hard to try and put this into words,” Quentin apologized, half to the ruler, half to the gathered nobility. “Where I am from there are a certain number of… places… where one may lay a wreath or an offering. They are small and far between.”

The king’s expression changes from one of mild curiosity to a scowl.

“I would have thought that as we came to larger towns and cities these… places… would be more prominent,” the young druid pressed on. “Yet I see not even a stone bier or any other semblance of worship in this magnificent city. Why is that?”

The king remains silent for a long moment, his face flushed with anger. All whispering has stopped. Finally he says, “By what right do you ask your king such things?”

Quentin looks up and a ferocity is in his eyes that takes everyone aback. The king even sits back on his throne slightly. “By what right?” he says loudly and clearly. “By what right do you strip away such things?” The people of the court are openly displaying shock at the address to the throne. Some are smiling with glee, as if this was some sort of entertainment to fill their boredom.

As if remembering his proper status, the king stands, his face red. “How dare you address me like that?” he says. “I am the king!”

Unperturbed, Quentin presses his point. “The question stands, your Majesty.” To everyone in the court he appears to be a small rock about to be enveloped in the flood of a royal torrent.

“You have no idea what you speak,” says the king. “When I was a boy… probably before your own father was even a twinkle in his father’s eyes… things were much different than they are now.” He takes a deep breath.

“We were at war for a generation,” he explains stepping forward. “Our kingdom was being bled dry and by whom? By my father. He had dreams of power, which he spoke of often, and they all cried out for the blood of his enemies.”

“My father was insane,” he says with a sad note. “I prayed to the gods for help and yet they never answered. They never brought us any guidance. They are a myth and all the murdering and carnage my father wrought proved that.” He looks at Quentin with bitterness. “Only when I was almost a man did I recognize that my father was creating a religious hysteria by calling for the death of those that support other gods. When he cried for blood the priests echoed and then the gullible took up their arms and struck at the enemy in frothing fanatisicm. And they did the same to us. I asked myself how any god worthy of worshipping could let this all happen. I came to the conclusion that there were none who were.”

“That is why there are no places to worship,” he says finally. “After I challenged my father’s abominable ways he attacked me. It was then that I slew him, witnessed by my companion, Vitrik, and two of my father’s counselors. That day I swore that there would be no reason beyond necessity to do battle. I ordered the temples and the shrines destroyed; the so-called priests driven out. Without a place to gather and people to teach them the importance slowly went away and became what they should have been all along. And those priests uttered curses on me, yet here I sit, untouched.”

“You went too far,” Quentin says in judgement. “The gods were gone, but they have returned and found our world still in need.”

The king’s expression becomes incredulous. “Who are you to say such things?” he says dismissively.

Suddenly Quentin’s voice changes from the normal quiet tenor to a strong baritone and his eyes begin to glow with a pure white light. “He is ours,” comes the voice from his lips. It carries a force that spreads out like a wave across the floor and the king falls back into his throne.

“I was the first,” Quentin says, “Primus of the gods. We tried to protect you from the power of the Ancients as they vied for control of all things, but even our might was depleted.”

The members of the court utter an audible gasp at the words coming from this unassuming man’s lips. Even the king’s eyes widen with shock as he remains seated, stupefied by the statement.

Quentin continues, “We have now returned to find the world in need again and yet we are gone from the hearts of men. The dragons begin to stir and their evil will spread across these lands again as the dragon-blooded hurl themselves upon their altars of their masters. You must gird yourselves for the future.”

“Dragons?” the king scoffs. “This is some sort of dupe… and you, my friend, are nothing but a skilled trickster.” He smiles and waves his finger and shakes his head. “You almost had me there.”

“Silence!” roars the voice from Quentin’s mouth and the king is knocked back physically into his throne. “Know this, Lucius Alwin. Our vessels have been selected and are now ordained!” With that Quentin raises his staff into the air and jams the iron shod end through the thick flagstone of the floor.” Immediately the ground shakes and 9 streaks of light shoot off along the floor in all directions.

Pratch leaps in front of one only to have it dart around him and travel into the wall. “Aww, c’mon,” he mutters plaintively.

“But this is not all, king of the kingdom,” Quentin continues to utter. “You and your line are now bound to this land. If it dies so do you. If it thrives, so will you. Sangmar, aid me!”

And with that Quentin’s staff begins to change before everyone’s eyes. The once simple, iron shod quarterstaff begins to expand and grow. Within moments buds appear and form branches and the bottom begins to split into roots. The staff continues to transform into a tree in the centre of the court while the flagstones crack loudly and buckle under the force. Suddenly a wind blows through the court, despite the windows and doors being closed. The force of it pushes members to and fro. The entire court gasps as the eternal flame above the throne is blown out before everyone’s eyes.

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Questions and Answers

The rogues had not known what hit them. They were told about a few teenaged children ripe for the picking. What they turned out to be was a squad of battle-hardened fighters. Weapon masters and a supernatural shapeshifter wrecked the first attackers before they could even see the attacks coming. This left the rest to flee or die.

Most chose to flee, though a few who were in the centre of the courtyard were stuck to the ground by an invisible force. The whole day had gone horribly wrong for them.

Before a few minutes past many of the city watch approached the courtyard with weapons drawn and several had heavy crossbows aimed to fire. They demanded the lawful surrender of all combatants and listened to everyone’s story dutifully. They promised they would contact the palace for the Dunhill friends, but that they would still have to be detained until it could be proven who they said they were.

After most of the afternoon they were finally released into the custody of Jaker Falstaff who escorted them to the palace. The Duke was not happy with the accusations made against the group by his own city representatives. Just as he said so Pratch appeared. He had apparently been back at the palace all afternoon.

The Duke sent everyone upstairs and told them they were confined to their quarters until they left on the morning tide. Back in the quarters Pratch denied any wrongdoing and the group let it lie for now.

The next day saw them loaded on the new Royal Shrike captained by their friend Robert Montbaine. They made haste for the capital and were met by another navy vessel, the Nocturne. Apparently the King’s wizard had made good on his promise to get them a pardon.

It was at this time Baron Highrose chose to share with them a gift of a fine bottle of wine from the Duke. Everyone drank freely, but within a day Pratch became ill. Elwin and Arthur were able to save his life by combining the knowledge of nature and alchemy. His cup and the bottle of wine had been contaminated with a rare pair of compounds that, when combined, made a powerful poison.

The group’s blame shifted immediately to the Duke of Silverfell, but Roger was adamant that it could not possibly be him. When Pratch was well enough to take part in the discussion he surprised everyone by agreeing with Roger, though his assessment of why it wasn’t the Duke was quite different. He insisted it was far too obvious and the manner it took was far too clumsy. He figured the Duke would try and kill anyone in such a way that he was absolutely free of all suspicion.

Before they could come to a conclusion they arrived at Landhaven. They were immediately guided to the throne room of the King without allowing them to bathe and dress properly. After their introductions the friends stood around uncomfortably in the company of the high born for some time. Finally the King returned and asked each of them what they thought of the Vandreer and what kind of alliance they could maintain.

At the end of the questioning the King dismissed them and said he would make his mind up before the night was over. It was then that Quentin confronted the king.

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The Big City

The friends found Pratch had departed the gates in a carriage. The carriage driver offered to take them to the same place which was a seemingly random spot in the middle of the harbour district.

After a brief and bungling interaction with the denizens of the street they discovered that Pratch was seen entering the building housing the harbour master’s offices. With lack of applomb the group managed to find out that Pratch spent some time looking through the mooring records and even found a book with a torn out page.

Indignant at the theft, the harbourmaster ordered them to leave and told them he would report the theft if the group did not return the missing page before the last light of the day.

After more inept interactions with the city folk the group found Pratch had been seen playing at a local tavern. They went there and heard stories of his skill and that he had left with a bunch of other sailors to see the bazaar.

On the way they spotted what was a sign of a struggle and the surrounding people told them the sailors had gotten into it with a few of the Iron Hand, the local rogue’s guild. According to them a sailor died, but the bard was seen leaving in haste and making his way to the market.

There they discovered he made a stopover at the City Registrar’s office. The registrar was a pleasant man who offerred them a peek into the same area that Pratch was looking at. Immediately he noticed a missing ledger and began yelling and threatening the friends. He also required the ledger to be returned or the authorities would be contacted.

Only through hearing a passerby did they learn the location of a talented bard singing in the street. They hurried on and found a city watch member who directed them up an alley as the last place he’d seen Pratch walking.

Sensing they were now just a few minutes behind they rushed on down the alley and came to a courtyard of sorts behind the buildings that faced the streets. There they found a man who said he wanted their money. Scoffing, the friends told him to watch out what he asked for.

It was then apparent as Arthur’s ears picked up the first signs of ambush. More than 30 men came rushing at them from all sides. The friends gritted their teeth and began to take on an all too familiar task. The battle was at hand.

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Homecoming

By the time the group had arrived at Silverfell spring’s freshness could be felt on the air. The snows were beginning to melt and the storms were becoming less powerful on the coast. For the entire journey only Roger had wondered whether this was an unusual detour or not.

They were met by Jaker Falstaff on the docks. He wasn’t aware of the other visitors, so he had only arranged for one carriage for the Baron. Despite the inconvenience the group found it interesting to walk to the palace through the city. It was far larger than any place they had ever encountered and the press of people was almost stifling for everyone. Except Pratch. He was running to and fro, chatting and carrying on with everyone.

Once they arrived at the palace they were invited to dinner with the Duke, but were encouraged to bathe first. The members of the party found it very uncomfortable to be handled by the servants like they were, with Roger and Magnus forcibly removing them from their rooms.

At the dinner they met several nobles and a host of toadies whose names could not even be remembered. The Duke seemed quite taken with the boys from Dunhill and engaged them all in conversation. The shrewder observers of the party took note of how things didn’t seem quite right with the whole affair. However, the food was good and the group felt that whatever would come on the morrow, would come.

The next day Roger was invited to duel with the Duke. The foils and masks they used hampered Roger as much as the strange rules, but in just a few short seconds his skill overcame the impediments and he handily scored a series of points that forced the Duke to concede the match.

At that point the Duke asked Roger to join him for a private walk in the garden. Roger reluctantly agreed and joined the Duke. It was then the Duke told him of the history of the royal lines and how the Corwins were actually kings for longer than the Alwins. In fact, it was only through subterfuge and manipulation that the Alwins had obtained the throne upon the death of Geoffrey’s great grandfather. He also revealed that the current king murdered the previous one and usurped the throne from the rightful line of succession.

He pointedly told Roger that there was more money at his disposal than he knew what to do with and should one look out for the ducal interests they would be richly rewarded. Roger seemed to like the thought of having more money than he could know what to do with, so he agreed to ‘look out for the Duke’s interests’ as he said.

During this time Elwin had become engrossed with the palace’s library. He found dozens of books and hundreds of informational manuals to peruse. He was quite like a kid in a candy store, hampered only slightly by Arthur’s completely illiterate ministrations. By the end of the day he had discovered several new spell references and even found a completely magical tome that no one else could see.

Pratch had encountered Roger during this time. He confessed that he had overheard the conversation between the swordmaster and the Duke. After a disagreement as to the Duke’s intentions, Roger suggested Pratch converse with the Duke about his misgivings, sure that the Duke would set the young bard straight.

However, Pratch did not meet with the Duke and wandered into the common room set aside for the Dunhill party’s use. It was there that he laid out the maps to the very palace they were staying in. He was adamant that there was something they need to investigate, but wasn’t very clear on what that might be.

That afternoon they met for lunch and Roger confronted the Duke about what the Duke wanted Roger to do. He assured Roger that he didn’t want Roger to do anything wrong, but rather keep the bad things from happening if he should see them. He also promised to hasten the Baron’s preparations and hurry the departure for Landhaven.

Upon returning to their rooms the group discovered Pratch had disappeared. With a sigh and resignation the group decided to begin looking for him. Trouble was Pratch’s only other companion when they were not there for him.

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The Winter Months - Part 4
The Captain and the King

The Dunhill Six, as they were now known, had been called into a deep council with Lord Valon.

It was then he revealed a plan that had been hatched after interrogating the lone survivor of the ambush against them. The barbarians were apparently fanatical worshippers of death, explaining why they felt it was necessary to throw themselves at the enemy without regard for life. It also explained how they seemed to not consider strategic value when going to battle.

Lord Valon informed them that they were being recruited for a dangerous duty. They were to head north by sea, skirting the known areas where enemy ships had been encountered, and find some kind of authority of these barbarians and treat with them. The ship would also have a strong negotiator from the kingdom aboard and would take the lead when negotiating a peace when the time came for it.

After only a few days at sea the crew of the Gale Song referred to the negotiator as ‘Lord Fancypants’, though his name was actually Baron Samuel Highrose. The friends could see the source of the name quite clearly. The man was fastidiously clean, wore expensive clothes and refused to speak with anyone in a friendly tone. Even the captain he spoke to as if he was speaking to a servant. The men of the crew he chose to ignore for the most part.

After two weeks of travel the captain began to move them toward the coast, hoping they would have passed most of the patrols of the enemy. It was then that they were struck by a vicious winter storm. During the storm the keel of the ship was broken and they needed to beach her as soon as possible.

While stuck on the beach the Dunhill friends decided they would scout the area and see if they could find a way south. During this scouting trip they encountered a group of barbarians who were converging on them from both sides, weapons at the ready. Thinking they were under attack, the friends returned in kind until the last man was standing. When he gave up they took him into custody and began to question him.

They found out that the group of barbarians was a hunting party looking for a pack of wolves that was stalking their village. In fact, that exchange revealed that this hunting party had nothing to do with the war to the south. They regarded it as a despicable waste and that those who were responsible were a plague upon the northmen. They called them the ‘Hoonvre’ which could be translated as fanatics, so Pratch said.

Surprisingly the friends also found out that the barbarian people were split up into castes and generally lived only in those caste communities. They would work with each other only occasionally. They were the builders, the warriors and the hunters. The entire way they interacted was complicated to the point where Pratch even gave up trying to figure it out.

At that point they were brought to speak with the leader of the hunter’s village. In the squalor of ramshackle buildings, half-cured hide tents and mud-covered children the friends saw the wealth of kings as everyone had steel weapons and equipment. Even their spoons were made of the stuff. The contradiction was mind-boggling for them. Steel was obviously not rare for these people.

During a long conversation with the headman they discovered that the Vandreer had long mastered the art of forging and working with steel and should they wait just a few days a ship would likely arrive to trade things like that with them. And the group did choose to wait in the village for the ship.

As the headman had said, a ship arrived within a week. It was a slightly larger ship than the typical war vessels they saw, but in the same configuration. A high prow and stern with a deep, shallow hull and rowers benches with a flat sail and a jib line running between the prow and mast. The Vandreer did not clearly label their ships as the kingdom does, but they were told that the name was the Tjakeldur, with the captain being a man named Indor.

The group returned to pick up the ship’s crew and found the Gale Song completely dismantled. It was at that time they came up with the plan to sail south back to Dunhill and bring Valon the news of the true situation regarding the nature of the barbarian society. They sailed south, hugging the coast with the Gale Song’s crew hidden in the shallow hold and out of sight.

The third morning on their journey home they discovered several Vandreer vessels following them at different quarters. When they caught up to the Tjakeldur Indor shouted an exchange with the nearest captain and was ordered to follow them into port at the encampment of the Hoonvre.

It was that day that Magnus slew the king in single combat after the king issued a challenge to them, though Roger tried his best to get involved in the battle too. Thanks to an enchantment by the mage, Elwin, the fight was completely one-sided and Magnus stood victorious having not taken a single hit. And it was so that Baern, Son of Ul fell to the mighty Warbane, which the Hoonvre called Bryde Konger Magt (which Pratch translated as The King Breaker).

During the negotiations with the new king, Regnar, the group was invited to remain in the encampment and be treated like other Vandreer would be. Unfortunately this meant they would be tested and they were tested as various warriors attacked at odd times.

Pratch used his wiles to intimidate his attacker before the king and cowed him into submission. In disgust Regnar slew his own man for being such a weakling that words alone would stop him. Roger slew his attacker so readily they suspected he used some kind of witchcraft on him, so he became known as Sjael Stjealor (or Soul Stealer). Of course, Arthur slew his attacker before he even came within sword reach, earning him the label of Langt Agribar (the Far Hand). Terror ran free as Quentin transformed into a dire wolf and tore the throat out of his attacker, but it did not stop there. He spoke with a voice that was not his own, in clear Vandreer.

He told them that they were cowards for seeking a release to the struggle that is life and that this worship of the end was an affront to Goremtal. He told them that true strength comes from overcoming all obstacles and that the fight should be carried on for all time, not just in the face of adversity, but that they should seek to conquer death as well.

Elwin was never attacked, but he later found out that he was referred to as the tavse folgesvend af opkomlingene, which translated to him being the silent friend of the upstarts. It was clear he was not considered a challenge and as such would be left alone.

Negotiations continued for almost a month as Highrose pursued a very good treaty with the men of the north. In the end he was able to get them to agree to cease all hostilities that gave the kingdom several very nice benefits, such as the secret of harvesting ore and smelting (which the Vandreer called ‘the secret of steel’).

Indor agreed to carry the men of the kingdom all the way to Dunhill and they set sail immediately. It took a few more weeks to reach the fishing town. The six were surprised to see most of the defenses had been finished and several towers were being erected.

When they met with Lord Valon he was happy that the campaign was over, but he was unsure of how the king would react to the revelation that the Hoonvre were some kind of religious fanatics. It was then that the group found out that the king had carried out a pogrom to destroy all temples and texts associated with worship of the gods. This explained quite clearly how worship had shifted from the deities to ancestors. Upon hearing this Quentin requests that they serve as protectors for Baron Highrose as he goes to Landhaven. Lord Valon agrees and sends the Six upon the journey.

Pratch, who had been absent for the entire council session returned with an outlandish hat and notified the group that their current attire would surely be considered a travesty and they should all get better dressed. Their resistance to his urging was obvious and they acquired only moderately presentable clothing before they left aboard the Royal Shrike. Captain Montbaine was awarded this new commission for his notable service to the crown.

It was only a day into the journey when Baron Highrose informed the captain in front of a few members of the Dunhill Six that they would be making a stop over at Silverfell. He did not explain why and simply returned below decks. He had obviously considered his station returned and the friends below him. Without arguing the captain turned the ship southwest and began the trip to the home of the Windward Coast’s grandee.

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The Winter Months - Part 3
The Mine and the Ambush

During the months before the solstice, the camp worked on quietly. Nothing eventful happened again, for which the workers were glad. They had worked their way toward Longshadow Bay and as Arthur was scouting he came across a deep pit in the ground, possibly a sinkhole. He decided to leave it for the group to investigate together, lest he be injured in the climb down or otherwise become incapacitated.

Back in camp they found an old friend, Roger, had come with the teamsters. After a quick reacquaintance they asked him to join them on their short excursion. Roger agreed, looking for anything to relieve the boredom of being land locked for so many months. It turned out the fishing fleet was stuck in harbour until the navy could muster enough ships to patrol the seas around the Windward Coast.

When Pratch was sent down he revealed it was a tunnel of some sort. Elwin and Arthur quickly realized it was hewn from the rock itself. After exploring they discovered that it opened out on a relatively shallow cove on Longshadow Bay and went deeper into the ground the other way.

After investigating the deep parts of the cave system they discovered it was something that Pratch called a mine. In it they found all manner of wealth. The previous inhabitants had left steel implements in many places, deformed by decay and rust, but still very valuable in material.

After a brush with spores that caused a great sickness in them, they encountered a series of monstrous worm-like creatures that attacked from below the ground. After a hard-fought victory the group went on to find a strange room. It was trapped and after several close calls they walked out with more wealth than they knew what to do with. They had discovered the lode of the mine: stacks of silver bars.

It was then that they decided to explore the remainder of the mine.

Near they end they encountered the mother of all monsters. A gigantic worm that could devour a man whole, even one that was Magnus-sized. But the friends were victorious before the worm had made contact with anyone.

In the last room they discovered the nest of corrupted worms and Quentin once again prayed for aid. With a violent bolt of fire the entire room was incinerated and all the creatures were destroyed.

The friends began to discuss what they thought their best course of action was. In the end they decided to leave most of the wealth in the mine and hid the entrance. It was, after all, no good to ruin the entire economy of the north by flooding Dunhill with enough silver to buy a duchy.

Another month passed quietly. The camp was finally moving closer to town and had nearly completed their mission. One of the workers reported seeing something in the woods, but couldn’t say what it might have been.

The friends went out to investigate and as they did so, they encountered an ambush. Six barbarians were waiting for them and after an initial volley of axes hurled at all the friends they engaged in battle with broadswords and shields.

What followed could only be described as a vicious battle as Mongol was nearly killed and Quentin also suffered grievous injuries. Luckily though Elwin used his magic to heal their wounds, much to Roger’s confusion.

Upon returning to town the report to Lord Valon Pratch purposefully let slip that Roger was carrying two silver bars in his pack. Valon reacted by requiring the silver to recover the costs of the campaign. Roger handed the bars over without bloodshed… surprisingly.

The town was entertained with another epic retelling of the friends’ battles in the inn’s taproom.

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The Winter Months - Part 2
Corruption

Back in Dunhill Pratch lived up to his reputation as a skilled story-teller, painting a vivid picture for the crowded taproom of Dunhill’s only inn. There is a reason the young bard is known throughout the Windward Coast. Not since the old tales had anyone ever heard such an amazing story.

A week later Lord Valon called council about an attack that was planned. It was common knowledge at this point that the giants, now generally referred to as barbarians, were skilled warriors, but poor strategists. Despite their steel weapons and armour the kingdom forces generally fought them off with minimal casualties whenever they attacked due to their almost haphazard and chaotic style of warfare.

The commander said that scouts had found the main encampment of the enemy force. Almost eight hundred men strong, the barbarian army had camped in a poor place. With a strikingly simple plan, Lord Valon would have the infantry and cavalry strike in a pincer to the north while the militia, lead by the Dunhill heroes, would cover the side retreat avenue and ensure all the enemy were either killed or routed away to the north.

The battle progressed as Lord Valon had predicted. The enemy was routed and then began to split up, half fleeing north to be chased down by cavalry and the other half heading straight for the militia. After furious exchanges of bow fire between the groups the remaining forces clashed. In the end all that were standing were 5 militia men and the Dunhill Six. The enemy had been slaughtered to a man.

As a reward for their bravery and ability, Lord Valon then ordered that the Dunhill Six would stand guard duty over a roving camp of woodsmen as they gathered supplies for the upcoming winter months. This would enable the army to build proper defenses and to rearm and replenish their supplies.

The first month of their overwatch was uneventful. The group busied themselves with patrolling the surrounding woods and helping the loggers whenever they could..The second month the group was informed a man went missing. Upon searching, Elwin found himself irresistably drawn toward a dense copse, still green despite the deep fall weather. Only through the intervention of Pratch did Elwin regain his senses enough for them to realize something out of sorts was happening.

After they regrouped they decided to search for Bob again. Arthur confirmed Elwin’s guess that the path he was on had been the one Bob traveled down. Once again the group was nearly overcome with the urge to continue on toward a presence. Elwin once again fell prey to the need to continue, but luckily Magnus’ strong hands held him back.

In the middle of a dense thicket they found a very beautiful woman dressed in simple, but revealing garb. As she smiled at them they were once again drawn headlong to her embrace. Quentin cried out that this was an abomination and they should do all they could to destroy it.

Immediately the friends attacked and it became apparent that the creature was very resistant to normal weapons. Quentin stood back and bowed his head, as if concentrating with all care to shut out the world around him. While he did so Pratch, Arthur and Magnus stabbed, sliced and pierced the creature, but had little effect, until a stray arrow struck the tree at the centre of the clearing. The creature cried out in pain and they knew what they must do.

While Pratch and Arthur did their best to distract the foul being, Magnus began striking the tree like a woodsman; Warbane digging huge chunks out of the trunk. As the creature cried out in pain she focused her attention on Magnus and began to assault him. It was then that the glade became strangely quiet. All eyes turned to Quentin as he looked up in the sky and cried out in a loud voice.

A powerful lightning bolt struck the creature and she howled in pain and was thrown back. Magnus turned again to the tree and hewed it with all his might. Warbane struck deep and the leaves turned white. At that point Arthur and Pratch struck the creature simultaneously, causing gaping wounds to appear. They struck again and the creature fell to the ground, dead.

Quentin would only say the creature was called a dryad and was a foul abomination, a corruption of nature’s spirit and power. With little ceremony they buried Bob and left the copse. Even as they went the copse turned to the normal browns and oranges associated with the normal time of the year.

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The Winter Months - Part 1
The Wizard Calls

As they had intended to do, the Dunhill Five took on the task of routing the bandits from the region of Waterton. To make a long story short, they scaled the mountain, slew the captains and their leader. But also they took the head of the troll that was also a servant of the band. As an added bonus they found an old friend, Quentin, trapped in a cage in the brigand’s lair.

The people of Waterton gave them a hefty reward for their work and with that money they secured passage back to Dunhill. After nearly 5 months they would be returning home.

On the fateful day they returned, the teens discovered that the kingdom was at war, confirming the rumours heard in Waterton. The Village of Camden had been razed by the giant barbarians. Anonorad was only saved by the timely intervention from the garrison at Auran Ilse. Stories about the clash were flowing freely from the townspeople and Pratch immediately began to make note of them.

Magnus returned to Marcus with whom he had left a great slab of steel. The smith revealed a great axe like no one had ever seen before. It was huge and weighed easily three times as much as the next heaviest weapon. “I call it Warbane,” said Marcus proudly. “This is my masterwork.”

Upon seeing their return, Brennor called them to his council where they met Lord Valon, the new commander of the armies of the north. The king had put him in charge of the forces and demanded a quick end to the war. The kingdom could not face a long-term struggle against a foe to the north while Galsea to the south could attack anytime.

Lord Valon listed to Pratch’s description of their journey and made the decision to include them in the Dunhill Militia since they were too young to join the army proper… and quite frankly, he thought Pratch, Elwin and Quentin were not cut out for the life of a soldier.

No sooner did they return home than did a ship appear in the harbour at a distance from the docks. It was obviously a war galleon of some kind. However it flew no flag and had no demarcation upon the prow. The stern was facing away from the town, making it a mystery. Soon a shout came that the Dunhill Five should come down.

Members of the crew rowed to the dock and informed them their presence was required upon the vessel and they advised it would be very dangerous to say no to the man doing the inviting. Grudgingly the group accepted the invitation and got on the boat. Immediately the crew set sail and moved the vessel out into the ocean. Pratch recognized the captain by his red hair, youth and swagger.

This was the pirate vessel Nocturne and the captain was the legendary Captain Brian Cross, who had taken over his first pirate vessel in a mutiny when he was barely older than Pratch. Since then he had become known throughout the waters of all three kingdoms as the most cunning and violent pirate in the last two hundred years. In fact, the vessel they were on was formerly part of the Royal Laurentian Navy and was called The Royal Shrike or some such thing. Brian’s renaming of the vessel brazenly showed how he didn’t fear even the sea’s revenge. He curtly told them to stay out of the way of the crew and keep away from ‘the wizard’ if they knew what was good for them.

They sailed out for nearly a month into the ocean, straight into the maw of the waves and wind. The captain was overheard saying they made good time and Elwin realized that they had a steady wind to the stern the entire time.

It was at that time they spotted a huge hulk on the horizon, a ship in dimensions far bigger than they had ever seen before. As they approached it was clear the behemoth was made of steel. While the greedy gaze of the ship’s crew and the Dunhill Militia stared at the equivalent of the entire wealth of the kingdom they were startled by the mage’s appearance on deck. He commanded the longboat be lowered and that the friends from Dunhill would join him in investigating it.

Torn between trying to figure out the mage and the ship, the friends focused on the ship and decided to split up. They discovered that the ship was a relic long abandoned, having been picked over thoroughly by whomever had found it before. Any metal bits that might be taken with them were rusted to almost a valueless state.

It was at that point the entire ship shuddered and they heard a deafening roar overhead. When they got to the bridge where they had left the mage they spotted a dragon strafing the ship and leaving a wake of fire hot enough to melt the steel of the ship. The wizard commanded them to leave and stayed to fight the dragon.

The Nocturne was already turning tail and running when they returned. They watched while the dragon killed the mage and settled in to devour the steel of the ship, burning it until it was glowing a bright orange colour and then tearing it apart with massive jaws.

Stunned by what they had witnessed the group returned to the cabin and found the mage calmly sitting in the chair drinking tea. He was a little singed, but otherwise looked unharmed. He explained that the dragon was an unforeseen enemy and apologized for kidnapping them from their home.

At that point the teens’ eyes were drawn to a myriad of baubles around the room. Elwin picked up a golden disc and was told it was called the Soulforge. “What do you want more than anything?” asked the wizard.

Elwin thought about it for a while and said, “Power.” Immediately he was wracked by pain as his body began to be consumed by power. When the pain had gone he coughed and stood up, clearly a sickly ghost of his former self. But at the same time he felt a connection with the mana strengthen and his own grasp of magical concepts increase vastly. It had come at a price, but he was willing to pay it.

Arthur found a small figure of a stag to his liking and asked if he could keep it. The mage shrugged as if to say it was up to him. Magnus found a small statue of a hunter, strong and powerful. Quentin found a small crystal wren and took it. In the end all the members of the party had found something in the trove of gifts that seemed tailored to them.

As they returned to Dunhill the winter storms began, but the Nocturne was untouched. In fact, they made it back in record time. As Brian Cross bid them farewell Pratch asked if he thought it wasn’t bad luck to have a wizard aboard. He simply smiled and said, “Lad, I’ve flaunted the gods by renaming my ship, been chased all over the three kingdoms by entire navies and now I’ve survived a wizard and a dragon in one voyage. We’re bloody immortal, we of the Nocturne.”

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Waterton

The city of Waterton seemed to be a the largest any of the group had ever seen. Low walls with a small gate seemed to do more to prevent sheep from wandering in than prevent any kind of assault, but inside they found a virtual metropolis compared to Dunhill.

First a visit to the Prancing Pony and the ladies of the evening therein taught Elwin all the worthwhile things he had been missing with his bookish past. It was in this place that Pratch wound up spending the rest of his coins, proving once again that the wrong women will cost you a lot.

After their adventure in the dark corners of the Pony, the team found The Chateau, which is one of the finest dining houses and inns in the city. They all ate, bathed and secured a spot in the common room for the night. However, they still had little means to make their way from Waterton to other parts.

Magnus then guided the group to a weapon dealer who had a reasonable representation of a two-handed axe. The group decided to trade in the weapons from the bandits in exchange for it. It was in this spot that they had heard about an invasion happening on the Windward Coast and how the weapons they traded would probably be heading up that way to help the fight.

A meeting with Gary Ross, the local deputy, revealed that the bandits they killed on the road to the city were just a small part of a supposed much larger group run by a man named Stefan Woburn. He offered 1,000 brass for the capture of Woburn and the scattering of the bandit group to the wind.

Later on that afternoon they found a small library in town; not much more than a small shack near the centre of town. The proprietor was a man named Melvin Tailor. Though the collection was small by any large city’s standards, this was more than Elwin had ever seen in his life. When asked to see his rarer books, Mel gave them a peek at a rare book that piqued Elwin’s interest. Inside he saw the first clearly written incantations and rituals for spells in his entire life. Normally they are much more occluded in subtext and much research has to be done to decipher them. This must have been a book that came directly from a powerful mage’s personal library. They asked how much it would cost, but Mel said he would not part with it for anything less than 4,000 brass. In the end he did show them some more reasonably priced items and relayed an offer to pay them for a task. It seems that the aforementioned bandits had stolen one of his book shipments.

At the end of the day the companions had determined they would arrest or kill this Woburn character and do their best to scatter the bandits to the wind.

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Wanderlust

Finally, it’s happening—getting out on our own. It’s one of those things I’ve been wanting to do since forever. This really is what it’s all about—from telling tales of heroism and glory to the savage orcs we met (and they still enjoyed even though they didn’t understand much of it).

Our journey takes us from that forgotten, urine-smelling village where we met the old, wise shepherd and is going to turn toward the city. Now, with some coin in our pocket and adventure in our veins, we start back toward home. It’s not that I miss it too much—but some…Guenther though, he’s the one that needs to get back…his folks are going to kill him for being gone so long…to me, it feels like it was just a night away—to the others, it feels like months.

Learning so much.

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