Caster's Cradle

Port Arienwen


Battle for the Hart's Wood

The adventurers arrived back to the Academy and were shepherded by initiates to the chambers of Head Mistress Ilona. Stromm laid the body of the wizard on the dais and stepped back as Ilona investigated the remains wearing a pained expression.

“We have another,” murmured Alhazred. “One of our own was taken and converted into a fowl creature. We have also returned his bones to the grounds.”

“Thank you,” Ilona said with a nod.

“Actually, there is something else.” Stromm stepped forward, “We encountered a man on the road who claimed Hindvale was under attack, his carriage was attacked by dire wolves.”

“Did you go to Hindvale?” Ilona asked, shocked.

“No.” Alhazred answered, “We felt our duties lied with you and returning the Dragon’s remains.”

Ilona breathed in sharply, her body language indicating the adventurers’ decision may have been the wrong one.

“The Three, they are everywhere. They’ve hardly given us a moment of rest…” she paused, in thought.

“Get to Hindvale, stop whatever evil you find there. I will rally our defenses here. Return as soon as you can. We must prepare for the possibility that we are facing their opening salvo.”

The adventurers headed to the stables to borrow the swiftness of the Academy’s finest horses. Before departing, Stromm, Thud and Alhazred looked for the other two but couldn’t find either the rogue nor the barbarian. The hour grew late and they were forced to set out without their full party.

It was night by the time the group arrived at Hindvale’s gates. Smoke billowed from healthy flames that still torn through the village. The adventurers made their way around the sides of the town and snuck stealthily into the residential section. The houses were disheveled and empty, signifying the flight of their residents- or, perhaps, worse. Stromm crept forward first and peered around a large building that faced the village square. There, he saw the familiar silhouettes of two harpies, busily feeding the hungry fire with debris. Stromm immediately set about scaling the building, beckoning the others to follow.

Stromm found himself alone on the roof as the others vigorously shook their heads in refusal of his plan. Stromm shrugged and turned back toward the oblivious harpies. When the time was right, Stromm dove at one of them, dragging her down to the roof. Alhazred and Thud made their way through the building’s first floor and fired upon the other harpy from below.

Two harpies hardly stood a chance against the adventurers but they had not come alone. Out of the smokey northern quadrant of the village, a sickening beast bobbed into view. Its skin was green and covered with a thick black fungus. It had no arms nor legs, only a round body fitted with a huge black eye and gaping toothy maw. A black, oil-like substance dripped from its jaws as it drew near. Four eye stalks grew from the top of its head, each eye a different color. Where its main eye focused squarely on the adventurers, the four others swiveled in all directions, searching for hidden foes.


The deadly adversary focused first on Thud, sending a paralyzing ray into the body of the dwarf. Alhazred immediately feared the creature, sensing its malevolence in the back of his mind. As he turned to face the beast, he began to hear it speak to him.

It cackled cruelly as it shot harmful rays into the adventurers, seeming amused by the violence. Alhazred tried to reason with it by using his telepathic deep speech, “Why are you doing this? Stop!”

The creature seemed unphased by Alhazred’s telepathic outreach and simply replied, “Can not stop. Must destroy.”

Alhazred continued, “Why?!”

“My master has sent me. I must obey him.”

“Who is your master?” Alhazred pried. The creature turned toward him with an air of annoyance and shot a disintegrating ray towards the elf.

“Enough,” its voice echoed in Al’s mind, sending a wave of nausea over him, “Die!”

Stromm and Al nimbly avoided the creature’s eye ray blasts while trying to finish off the harpies. Eventually Thud was freed from his paralysis and aided in the fight briefly before losing consciousness from wounds and blood loss.After a long fight, Stromm was able to end the beast’s life with a sword thrust through its soft underbelly. Alhazred revived Thud with a potion but found his head spinning every time he looked at the dwarf. He sat down too and tried to catch his breath.

After making sure the thing was thoroughly dead, Stromm wiped his brow and made his way toward the Stag & Doe which stood smoldering on the other side of the courtyard. Thud and Alhazred stayed put, still trying to process the battle. After a few moments, they heard a cry as Stromm returned to the doorway of the inn.

“They killed Alan!” Stromm said glumly, “Who will run the bar now?”

Just as Stromm hung his head, the sound of hoof-beats rang out in the village. At single horse rounded the corner carrying both Rutty and Kraown. Their expressions of anxiety quelled the others’ urge to laugh at the sight of the two.

“The Academy is under attack!” they cried in unison whirling back the way they had come, “Let’s go!”

Enemies at the Gates

The group made their way back through the forest once again. All seemed quiet in the Wood as they retraced their steps to the Academy. Rutty and Kraown went on ahead of the others, merrily chatting about their adventures.

Alhazred, Stromm and Thud reached the road that lead from the Academy to Hindvale late in the afternoon. As they rounded the corner they could hear cries coming from further down the road. As they looked for its source, Thud also noted the plumes of smoke that billowed up from somewhere a few miles down the road.

“Is that Hindvale?” he asked.

“Well, better go see what’s going on,” Stromm said with a sigh.

The three crept along the edge of the woods, staying in the shadows. Just a few minutes down the road, they could see a man standing atop an overturned carriage, screaming for help as three wolves circled. To make matters worse, the cart was on fire as well, slowly constricting the area where the man could keep himself safe from lupine jaws. Of the three wolves that prowled below, one was disturbing large, practically the size of the carriage itself. It’s fur was white as snow and a thick mist tumbled out of its muzzle with each breath. Stromm was the first to make for the carriage. He drew his sword and charged at the beasts. Thud and Alhazred followed, gathering arcane energy about themselves.

The white wolf spun to see Stromm running toward it and recoiled, thick muscles tightening. Fast as lightning, it leapt from its place by the carriage and landed with grace in front of Stromm. It roared at Stromm, unleashing a blast of ice from its maw that froze everything touched by its breath. Stromm dodged and landed a blow on the wolf’s flank. It reared back in pain as a bolt of fire, slung by Thud, hit in the chest. The white wolf cried again, calling its pack mates to its side. They abandoned their sentry of the man, who was still scrabbling on top of his flaming carriage, and ran to their alpha.

The three wolves did not look sick or cursed, but they still fought with a ferocity and malice that seemed at odds with their nature. Why was a winter wolf here in the Hart’s Wood anyway, thought Alhazred as he sent Melf’s acid arrow toward the pack leader. As the acid splashed across its fur, the beast crumpled to the ground at last.

As they regrouped, the party noticed the man had finally come down from his carriage and was walking toward them shakily. “Oh thank you for saving me!” he cried, coming to shake Stromm’s hand.

“What happened here?” Alhazred asked.

“The town, something’s attacked us, everything is on fire,” the man said, casting a glance over his shoulder toward Hindvale.

“What exactly did you see?” Alhazred continued.

“I don’t know,” the man shook his head, “I could hardly think, I just threw my things in the carriage and left town.”

Stromm crossed his arms, “I guess we should go check that out too.”

“I don’t think so,” Alhazred said, "We need to get back to the Academy.

“The sending stones, can we contact Kraown?” Stromm asked. He pulled out the bag of holding and began to rummage inside.

“Damn,” he said, pulling out three sending stones. We have them all.

“Let’s go to the Academy and then we can help the town,” Alhazred said.

Stromm looked at Alhazred for a long moment, and then shrugged, “Let’s get going then. Come along, sir, we’ll take you to safety.”

With that, they set off for the Academy with haste.

Mission Complete

The group made their way to the Dragon’s chambers. Luckily, the bugbears had not disposed of him first and he lay where he had been found by the group the first time around. They prepared him to be carried back, but left him for a short time while they looked for the second piece of their quest: the Dragon’s encrypted journal.

“The journal is probably further up in the tower,” Alhazred said to the group. Kraown stood on guard as the others inspected the Dragon’s chambers for the journal.

“Let’s try to get past this puzzle,” Stromm said, making for the door. The others nodded in agreement and followed Stromm up past the first puzzle to the fourth floor.

Rutty was the first to approach the stone doorway and read the riddle.

__Though my lands grow less and less
Where I rule, I can oppress

I can’t be heard and have no beholder
But I am found near shivered shoulder

One more clue I grant you now
Of precious metals I am made
Not hard to find me, but I can’t tell you how
In dormant kettles I have stayed__

Kraown grunted disapprovingly and left, making his way downstairs presumably to act as a lookout. Rutty began to investigate everything in the room for any possible indication of the solution. Alhazred and Thud argued about which spells to try. Eventually, the group came across a set of scrolls they hadn’t noticed before. Rutty loaded them into his arms and brought them to the attention of the wizards. “Anything in here?” he asked.

“Where’d those come from?” asked Thud confused.

“Just over there,” Rutty said pointing his chin over a shoulder.

“Hmm,” Thud knit his brows and began to look through them. " Scrolls of Silence and Invisibility."

“Silence! Silence could definitely work.” Alhazred said, grabbing at the scroll.

“I have to do it,” Thud said, “I’m the cleric.”

“Well, let’s see about that!” Alhazred said, unfurling the scroll. He began to read aloud an incantation. As his reached the end of the scroll, a burst of arcane energy rained down in a large arc from the ceiling. Everything inside the room fell suddenly, deafeningly, silent. Alhazred looked at the empty doorway. The shimmer of arcane energy that had acted as a forcefield faded away to reveal a staircase. Alhazred grinned and said something. When not even he himself heard the words, he grew bashful – of course, the spell. Alhazred made for the door, beckoning the others to follow.

As they reached the stop of the staircase, the group’s hearing returned.

“How come you could read it?” Thud asked Alhazred, “That’s not an arcane spell, it’s divine.”

Alhazred shrugged, “Don’t know, but the Dragon was a very powerful wizard, he seems to have found an arcane corollary incantation that creates silence. Let’s make sure to copy it from him. Wouldn’t want the knowledge to get lost to the ether!” Thud looked a bit confused but nodded.

Looking around, they could see that they had entered into another large marble room, this time with a pool in the center. Stromm walked up to it and leaned over the edge, “Can’t see much in there. Well, let’s see what happens when I-” he stuck his hand into the pool. Almost as soon as he had, he felt a horrible pain shoot up his hand and into his shoulder. To Stromm it resembled the feeling of being plunged into ice water, but much much worse. He withdrew his hand with a cry and clutched it to his chest. “Nope,” he said with a grimace.

“Throw something in there, maybe we can see how deep it goes,” Alhazred suggested.

“I’ve got a ball bearing,” Stromm answered, fishing in his purse with his good hand, “Here.”

Alhazred took the ball bearing from Stromm and dropped it into the pool. The ball sank into the pool normally for about a foot before coming to a complete stop. It hung there in the pool as if suspended by an unseen force.

“What the hell? Here, let’s try again.” He gestured for another of Stromm’s ball bearings. Stromm flicked one in the elf’s direction, unsure what he had in mind. Alhazred spoke an cantrip under his breath and with a flourish of his hand, the ball bearing in his palm began to glow brightly. He cast the ball into the pool. This time it sank all the way to the bottom, revealing something like a door a mere 20 feet below. “Damn, it’s magic water.” Alhazred said. He pushed himself back from the lip of pool and began to pace back and forth, all the while muttering.

“Wizards.” Stromm said, shaking his head. Thud looked at him sidelong with a grin, not knowing if Stromm’s comment was meant to be about the Dragon or their companion. Rutty turned away from the pool and began to look around, using his roguish ways to discern whether the room had any traps or other secrets.

He made his way to a bookshelf, covered in tomes like the others. Scanning the shelf he noticed a dark strap had become looped around one of his feet. He bent down and tugged on it revealing a satchel partially obscured by shadow. Upon further inspection Rutty could see that the bag’s flap was adorned with a smiling face of a red, green and yellow creature. “Woah! A bag of holding!” Rutty cried, pulling it from its corner and holding it up. The others looked up excitedly. “We can use that to carry all these bodies back to the Academy,” Stromm said.

Meanwhile, Alhazred hadn’t noticed Rutty’s loot, instead he had been trying to meditate on a spell that would allow him to remove the water from the pool or perhaps something to cast upon himself that would allow him to move through it unharmed. As he did this, he began to feel a strange sensation around his neck. The feeling intensified with each passing minute, to the point where he almost began to feel as though he were suffocating. He whirled toward Thud, gasping and gurgling as he fell to his knees. Thud rushed over in shock as Alhazred pawed at his neck in confusion.

Thud’s healing instincts took over and he began to examine the cause of Al’s discomfort. Alhazred had been clawing at his neck, but Thud couldn’t see any cause as the large necklace Alhazred was wearing obstructed his view. The necklace had been the Dragon’s, it was a beautiful gold collar from the ends of which dangled small pieces of red coral. Thud pulled it off and set it aside to get a better look, but just as he did, Alhazred’s breath returned to him. “I’m…I’m okay…” he said breathing heavily.

Stromm looked from Alhazred to the necklace and back and yelled, “Give me that necklace!” With a swift hand, he scooped it up and threw it around his own neck. Quick as lightning, the burly sailor ran to the edge of pool and gracefully dived in. Water splashed over the lip as Stromm disappeared from view. The others ran to the pool’s edge just in time to witness Stromm pulling open the latch of the trap door.

Suddenly they were all standing in another doorway, one that lead into a small cosy study. Stromm pulled the necklace off himself and returned it to Alhazred. “Amulet of Adaptation,” Stromm quirked his mouth, “Let’s the wearer breathe in any environment, remember?” Alhazred looked sheepishly at the necklace in his hand and nodded, “Oh, yeah.”

Stromm clucked his tongue and walked past the elf into the room. They looked around, nearly every inch of the walls were covered in shelves overflowing with strange objects, tomes and trinkets. Looking out one window, it was clear they were now very high in the tower although the floor did not correspond to how many flights of stairs they had taken.

Thud, who stood at a table on the opposite side of the room, let out a cry, “Got it!” He turned and held up a tome to the rest of the party. “It’s not in any language I’ve ever seen, I think this is it!” It looked like a simple leather bound journal, however the writing inside was made of a combination of unrecognizable symbols and letters. They also appeared to change periodically if one looked at them for long enough.

“Good. Then let’s be on our way,” Rutty said while stashing a trinket into his robe, “We’ve got to get this to Ilona.”

The Return to the Tower

The group set out at once for the tower. This time they had the added accompaniment of Rutty McGreedy, Peter’s apprentice. They made their way through the woods at a steady pace, retracing steps from the days before. They arrived back at the tower a few hours of ahead of schedule.

The sun was still shining when they made their approach. After noticing a plume of smoke rising from the tower grounds, the group made their way into the surrounding woods to gleen the source of the fire. As they watched, they saw what appeared to be yet another unit of bugbears busily carrying pieces of flesh out of the tower and placing them on a makeshift funeral pyre. The party looked at each other, shrugging, as if to say – well, we’ve fought bugbears before. After drawing ranged weapons, they took aim and fired upon the bugbears. One was shot clear through the chest and fell to his knees before the pyre. The others, surprisingly, ducked down and ran for cover behind the tower’s stone steps. From the safety of the steps, a deep and gruff voice rang out, “Attack! Attack!”

The party made their way toward the cowering bugbears, as the calls to arms continued. In their usual fashion, the fighter and barbarian ran headlong toward their enemies, while the casters stayed a bit further out of harm’s way. Rutty the rogue spent the majority of his time hiding in a bush, but was able to pop out just in time to send off a few arrows to meet his targets.

Stromm had to maneuver around the steps to properly confront the bugbears who were returning attacks with a volley of their own javelins. As Stromm charged in, he felt a sudden chill. The light around the tower dimmed ever so slightly as a robed figure appeared in the doorway of the tower. Tattered robes billowed in the breeze as the creature practically glided down the steps toward Stromm. It’s face was completely obscured by a strange arcane shadow, and it wasn’t until the thing was mere feet away that Stromm could make out any of its features. It had an air of sickness and death about it. Its skin almost devoid of color as a black ooze poured out of its mouth and over its chin. Long black fingernails clicked together as it gathered an orb of arcane energy in front of itself. It flung the energy at Stromm, prompting the rest of the party to refocus their attention of this new adversary.

The creature writhed and squirmed away from many of the group’s attacks; it was especially fast, especially hard to hit. Thud remembered his bag of tricks and threw a ball of fur that transformed into a huge lion. The lion pounced and smacked the creature toward the ground. Just as soon as the lion’s paws were off its chest, the creature rose again to float a few inches into the air. Even with its awful and unnatural agility, it couldn’t defend against the attacks of the whole group and began to suffer blows from swords, claws and enchanted arrows. From his hiding spot, Rutty aimed at the thing, taking time to steady his breathing. He let fly his arrow; it sang through the air with speed and grace, piercing the eye flesh of the strange wizard with a splish! Eventually coming to rest deep in the creature’s skull. The bugbears had long since fallen, and thus, as the body of the thing slammed to the ground, the Wood became quiet once more.

The group gathered around the corpse. Alhazred bent down to feel the tattered cloth that lay draped over its thin frame, “These are the robes of the Academy. He must have been a student there.”

“Was he taken too?” Kraown asked with a disturbed look on his face.

Alhazred didn’t look up, “I don’t know, but I think we should take him back with us and lay him to rest.”

Stromm and Thud nodded in agreement. Kraown, however, bent wordlessly over the wizard and plunged a hand into his chest. Alhazred fell back in horror as Kraown pulled his hand back once more, covered up to his elbow in a thick tar-like black ooze. Had the barbarian gone mad? Alhazred shot a glance toward the others, who didn’t look particularly aghast. Alhazred looked back at Kraown as he opened his palm to reveal a small black stone. Alhazred looked closer, it was hard to see the edges of the stone as it was black as jet, and the longer it kept his gaze, the more Alhazred began to experience a strange sensation of falling, not downward persay, but away…Down, into its depths…

Like the cursed creatures the group had seen before, the cursed wizard’s flesh began to melt away into the earth the moment that Kraown removed the stone from the chest cavity. Alhazred, still sitting next to the skeleton hardly seemed to notice, as his eyes remained fixed upon the stone. Kraown closed his hand and pocketed the stone with a grunt, breaking Alhazred’s trance.

“Those stones,” Alhazred said, “We shouldn’t be carrying those stones around. There is something very wrong about them.” He blinked as if trying to clear his vision of something. Stromm shrugged.

“Smash one. See if you can,” Alhazred suggested. Thud dug around his purse and pulled a blue gem out, it didn’t have the same deep darkness to it that the wizard’s stone had had, but as Thud touched it, he felt a creeping sense of paranoia and disgust. Stromm took it and placed in on the ground. Then, with a sweep of his sword, he shattered the stone into pieces. As he did, the group felt a wave of dark energy roll over them, but it soon passed and was gone.

“Weird,” Alhazred noted.

“We better get going,” Rutty interjected from behind Thud, causing the dwarf to jump in surprise.

“Wasn’t that elf supposed to show up?” Kraown asked.

“Let’s go,” Stromm agreed and began to pile the wizard’s bones into his sack. Alhazred stared absently at the scene, “We need to take him back.”

“Not until we find the Dragon,” said Rutty, scampering up the tower steps.

The others followed behind him as the light faded. They still had much to do before they could return the wizard’s body to the Academy, including adding another of its kind to their inventory.

The Three

Peter was a rogue that worked for the Academy of Arkanum in the Department for the Procurement of Lost Magical Items. He informed the group that he often handled the Academy’s shadier business but was happy to be called upon to fulfill any sort of duty the Academy demanded of him. From the Dragon’s tower back to the Academy was a few days on foot and the group took the time to fill Peter in on the details of the past few days. Peter’s normally cheerful air had grown gloomy by the time they finally made it back through the Academy’s doors. As they arrived, he took a moment to introduce the group to his apprentice Rutty McGreedy, another employee of the Department for the Procurement of Lost Magical Items, before he whisked away to arrange a meeting with the headmistress of the Academy, Ilona Ravenwing.

After a night’s rest, the group was summoned by Peter to join him in an audience with Headmistress. She greeted them in her meeting chambers. She sat facing the door. Behind her, the floor to ceiling windows displayed the gorgeous scenery of the Academy grounds. Peter trotted in ahead of the group and bowed low, “Headmistress.”

“Peter, what news do you have?” She asked, rising to her feet. She came to meet him, taking his hands in hers briefly.

“It’s grim. Nothing good. The Dragon… I arrived too late.” Peter looked back at Ilona with a creased brow. The woman looked back dumbstruck as her hands dropped to her sides.

“Oh,” she said turning away toward the window. The room was silent for a moment before she said, “Please tell me you know the circumstances of his death. Is it as we’ve feared?”

Peter looked back at the group, “I’ve brought some folks that got to the Dragon first, apparently they’ve already made your acquaintance? At least one of them is a student here, he and a companion were rescued by the others deep in the Hart’s Wood.”

Ilona turned to look at them. As her eyes met Thud’s, her face contorted with fury, “You again! How dare you enter these halls!”

Peter, seeing her reaction stepped into her line of sight hinging forward out of habit into a shallow bow, “It’s alright. I believe there’s been a misunderstanding. They’re not bad folk.”

Ilona strode towards the group, “This one is not what he seems. This one is not honest. Tell me, why are you here. Why were you in the Hart’s Wood?!”

Stromm cleared his throat for a moment and chimed in, “Well, we’re on business from Hindvale. We’re investigating these strange beasts that have been showing up and attacking villagers. You wouldn’t help us, but one of your students told us that perhaps someone named the Dragon could tell us what the hell was going on. We went to his place and found him there. Then this guy showed up.” Stromm flung a thumb toward Peter.

Kraown stepped forward, “Yeah, and he accused us of murder. Even if we did it, it wasn’t very nice for him to come right out and say it like that. Rude.”

Ilona’s eyes narrowed on the barbarian, “Peter, explain to me why they are here?”

“Well, Headmistress, I thought you should know first hand what they found and what they saw.”

“What they saw?” Ilona looked back at Stromm.

“Yeah…” Stromm scratched the back of his head with his hand, “We don’t really know. We saw a bear. A big-ass bear. Huge. Almost got me in the end. We think it was summoned there to kill the Dragon or something.”

Peter nodded and gestured for Stromm to carry on. Stromm nodded, “And then we saw some bugbears and some elves. They went in the tower and took a body out. Then the elves left. One of them had really long glossy hair. Mentioned a guy named Eloh-deen or something.”

Ilona shot a look at Peter who stared back at her knowingly. “It is as we feared then?” she asked.

Peter sighed, “I believe so, they have encountered one of the Three. They were the ones who killed the Dragon.”

Kraown spoke up again, “Why did they put us in bags! By Dol Dorn! This is an outrage and someone must pay for this!”

Ilona gave Kraown a withering look, “Quiet, I need to think.”

Stromm hardly waited for her to finish her sentence before immediately ignoring her request, “The bugbear we interrogated also said something about the Three. Who are they?”

Peter turned to face Stromm, “In fact, I think all of these incidents are connected. The bugbears must be working for the Three. Why are they carrying out these kidnappings?”

Ilona looked at them wearily, “I’ll tell you what I know for sure: The Dragon was not just a crazy old wizard living in the woods inspiring folktales. He was working for us, trying to protect the Academy from an old enemy he was convinced would rise again. It seems he was right.”

She went on, "Long ago, there was an evil organization known to us as the Order of Bhaal. Members of the order called themselves Deathstalkers and worked to fulfill a singular mission, to restore the fallen god Bhaal to his former glory in the pantheon of deities. They were convinced that knowledge of the ritual that would restore Bhaal was contained within one of the most sought-after magical relics on this plane of existence, the Book of Vile Darkness.

Certain members of the Order were very powerful wizards, necromancers and sorcerers and in the end, somehow, they were able to obtain the Book. Those of us who walk to the path of Goodness at the Academy were made highly aware of their acquisition of the Book as it threatened to alter the balance between good and evil forever. Luckily, we had a plan.

The Dragon had long since infiltrated their order, he acted as a Deathstalker for many long years before he finally had an opportunity to escape with the Book of Vile Darkness. Before he was able to flee the temple where they had hidden it, the Dragon came face to face with a very powerful cleric of the Order, Malella. The Dragon defeated her, ruining the Order’s hopes of restoring Bhaal. However, the Order had not been vanquished by this act alone. When the Dragon killed Malella, he orphaned her triplet sons. All of them were preternaturally gifted in the dark arts and already posed a significant threat even at such a young age.

After he left, the Dragon feared that the Three would be taken under the wing of another sorcerer, Malella’s partner, Saggoth. For one hundred long years the Dragon has waited in that tower, listening for signs of the Order’s return and the rise of the Three now entering elven adulthood."

“They found him. That would be my guess. They found him and they wanted revenge. The Three all have different areas of expertise. If I had to bet, I would put my money on that dire bear being the Druid, Elodin. Fenris is a wizard, and the last of them is Shadrack, a necromancer,” Peter said.

Ilona nodded, “Listen, did you find anything in the tower that might explain how they found him or what he knew about them?”

Thud stepped forward and revealed the journals and books they had collected from the tower, “Here, we have these. They’re in Draconic.”

Ilona took them and began to leaf through them. “No,” she said, “These aren’t his encrypted journals, just his secondary ones. Did you find anything that looked like it was written in code?” Thud shook his head.

“Well then,” Ilona sniffed, “I have a mission for you. I can pay for your services, although I am still unsure of whether or not you are up to the task and if you are prepared to take this seriously.” Kraown grumbled, attracting another withering look from Ilona.

“Return to the tower and retrieve the body of my dear friend along with his journal. Perhaps it is hidden in a place you didn’t visit.”

Alhazred cleared his throat and said, “Headmistress, the area is full of wizard’s puzzles and traps.”

Ilona raised an eyebrow, “And aren’t you a wizard? If you’re not up to the task…”

“We’ll get it done,” Stromm interjected.

“Good,” Ilona said, “For your trouble, you will receive 2000 gold pieces upon your return to the Academy. Make haste. I do not want the Dragon’s journal to fall into the wrong hands. The fate of the Hart’s Wood could be at stake.”

Everyone in the party left with quick bows, Thud however remained behind. Thinking of the task ahead, the party joined Peter in the hall. “Look, I have to go away on some other business. We need to know more about Saggoth. I’m going to do some reconnaissance. In my stead, I’m sending my apprentice Rutty McGreedy. He’s a clever lad, I believe he will be asset. I’ve given him some of my belongings to aid in your quest. Go with the gods.” Peter flourished his cloak and strode away, leaving the party to gather their things and retrace their steps to the tower.

Peter and Barry

The interrogation started off as expected, with the party taking turns shouting intimidating words at the chained bugbear. He looked like a juvenile, his fur still looked scruffy in patches and his tusks were a bit smaller than some of the others’ had been. At first he didn’t say much, either from lack of caring or lack of knowing.

“Who do you work for!” cried Kraown slamming a fist into the wall just behind the bugbear’s head. The bugbear glared up at the barbarian and snidely said, “Bale. I work for Bale.” The party recognized this as the name of the bugbear leader they had previously seen downstairs.

“Who does he work for?” Stromm asked, arms crossed with irritation.

“The Three.” The bug bear said, flexing against the manacles.

“And who are they then?” Thud asked from across the room.

“Elves,” the bugbear spoke again. These were likely the elves the party had just encountered. One of them said he was coming back.

Stromm rounded on the bugbear for another line of questioning when suddenly a group of 5 bugbears burst into the room. The party hadn’t thought to send someone as a lookout and the bugbears, used to sneaking through the forest, had got the drop on them. Bale was among the group. Entering with morningstar held high he growled, “Surrender or die!”

Just as he began to move toward the group, another voice rang out. It sounded human, male and quite jolly in fact, “I don’t think so!” Everyone in room froze as the bugbear nearest to the doorway screamed and fell to his knees. Protruding from his solar plexus was a long dirk, glistening and wet with his blood. A hooded figure stood behind him, face obscured by the thick ashen cloak he wore. “Hmm,” he clucked, pushing his hood back to his shoulders to reveal the visage of human with a rye smile. Bale turned to face the newcomer, eyes wide with fury.

“Barry,” the rogue called in a raised voice, “You can come in now!” A deep booming from the floor below ended with the appearance of a lumbering stone golem. Upon entering the room, he immediately made for the nearest bugbear. The rogue fell back to the wall as the others prepared for the fight ahead. Whoever these folk were, they seemed to be on the party’s side.

The bugbears launched their attacks, one succeeding in knocking Alhazred to the floor with one vicious blow. The chained bugbear began to pull and wrench at the chains hoping to break free and join the fight. Bale went for the fighter while Thud ducked out of harm’s way to try to save Alhazred from the grip of death. Witnessing the wizard crumple under a bugbear’s morningstar, the stone golem walked calmly over and flung the offending bugbear into the wall with such force that he didn’t get up again. In a moment, Alhazred was restored and set his sights on Bale who was in the midst of trading blows with Stromm. The rogue and the stone golem worked in unison to defeat several other bugbears.

On his third try, the chained juvenile bugbear broke free of his chains, and crashed towards Thud who was concentrating on the bugbear leader. His advance was stalled in an instant by Kraown’s axe. “By Dol Dorn’s hairless scrotum I shall slice you asunder!” he boomed, chopping at the beast.

Across the room, Thud and Alhazred used their arcane skills to distract Bale long enough for Stromm to land a gruesome blow against him, severing his paw at the wrist. Despite Bale’s continued retaliatory blows, his strength had left him with his blood. After a final morningstar swing sent him off balance, he fell heavily to the ground and bled out in a matter of moments.

“Well, I guess it’s time for introductions then?” The rogue said as he pulled an errant dagger from the body of a felled bugbear.

He flourished his hands in front of him before bowing low to the group, “My name’s Peter and I’m here to rescue you.” Popping up again he nodded cheerfully before adding, “You’re welcome.”

He continued, “Now then, which one of you is the Dragon anyway? You don’t look like old wizards.” He gasped, “Unless, of course, you killed the Dragon!”

He flourished his cloak again and drew a dagger from his belt, “Then I’ve just gone and killed the wrong folk, haven’t I?”

Kraown looked indignant at this accusation, “They put us bags.”

Stromm sheathed his sword and put out a hand, “We didn’t kill him. He was already dead when we got here, pretty much.”

Peter froze, dagger still raised, “The Academy will not be happy about this.” He sighed and cast a glance toward the stone golem.

“The Academy?” Alhazred asked. “I’m from the Academy, is that one of our stone golems?”

Peter nodded, “Why yes, this is Barry the golem. He lives outside the gates and serves the Academy of Arkanum. They sent me here after they received a distress call from the Dragon. Strange things have been happening in the Hart’s Wood of late.” The knowledge that one of the group was a member of the Academy seemed to put Peter at ease, and he flicked the dagger back into its place on his belt.

“But wait,” he hesitated, “Why are you out here then? Did the Academy send you too?”

“Not exactly,” Thud answered a bit sheepishly, remembering the incident there days before.

“We’re investigating the happenings in the Hart’s Wood for the town of Hindvale,” Stromm added.

“Someone put us in bags!” cried Kraown shaking his fist in outrage.

Peter looked quizzically at Kraown, “There have been disappearances. Do you know who took you?”

“It was a bugbear, I know…but I have no memory of being taken,” Kraown answered. Alhazred concurred.

“Well then,” Peter said with another sweep of his cloak, “Let’s return to the Academy. I’m sure they will be able to shed some light on the subject. They will want to know that the Dragon is dead. They will want to know everything you’ve told me.”

The party agreed to go with Peter and Barry back to the Academy, perhaps with the help of the rogue and Alhazred they would be able to learn more about what was happening here.

Tower of Riddles

The adventurers couldn’t quite understand what they had just witnessed but they knew they wanted to get back into that tower. The bugbears stood motionless and silent in the rain. Looking around, Stromm noticed a second floor balcony that could offer some way into the tower besides the front door. Recalling his time at sea once again, he climbed a nearby tree quick and easy as if he were making his way to the crow’s nest of his old ship.

He proceeded then to leap with relative ease onto the stone balcony. He knelt where he landed tied a rope to the stone railing. Tossing the rope down to the others, he crept towards the glass doors into the tower. Behind them everything looked dark, quiet and undisturbed. Meanwhile, Kraown and Alhazred had made it up to the second story, only Thud remained below. He gripped the rope with all his strength and jumped, only to come crashing down in his plate mail. The ear of the nearest bugbear swung in his direction, followed by a turned head. The creature couldn’t see what had made the noise through such a thick layer of mist and rain so he moved from his post to investigate. Stromm cursed under his breath and motioned for Thud to the rope to his body. Thud hastily complied and began backing as far away from the bugbear as possible. Luckily, Kraown and Stromm were able to use their combined strength to heave Thud easily to balcony with seconds to spare. The bugbear walked on toward the forest and disappeared from view.

Inside the tower, the party found itself in the corridor where they had previously encountered the dire bear. All was quiet now though as they entered. In the bedchamber they found the remains of an old wizard. His simply robes were torn and tattered, and he lay face up in a pool of blood that originated somewhere in his mid-section. The party suspected this was indeed the Dragon, as his garments and armaments belied his skills with the arcane. When finished with their examination, the group proceeded to the third floor to see what else the Dragon had been up to.

Upstairs, the party was able to find a host of magical items, potions and trinkets that were apparently not booby-trapped like those in the dungeon. They also came upon a large white marble room. It had no furniture and little adornment on the walls. Against one wall was a large fireplace and standing in the center of the room was a pedestal. Atop it a single crystal ball rested accompanied by an inscription.

As the river to the sea,
So at night, soft wings to me

“It’s a riddle.” Stromm said, eyeing the writing etched into the pedestal. The party immediately began to search the room for clues, as they looked they came across several useful items: The Collected History of Hart’s Wood Volumes 1-7 and a Multilingual Guide to Cyphers. Just as they came upon these items, the suit of armor which stood in the marble chamber sprung to life and proceeded to attack Kraown. The party soon came to realize that with each passing minute that they left the riddle unsolved, the chance of being attacked by the agents of the tower increased. Kraown, trying to contribute lit a fire in the fireplace. When nothing happened, he began to throw nearly everything he could find into the flames. Magical tomes, trinkets, and even the now lifeless suits of armour went in. As their power was released yellow and pink smoke began to billow into the chimney.

Thud realized that perhaps fire was the key to this first riddle and slung a fire bolt directly at the crystal ball. The instant the flames touched the crystal, the walls began to hum and move revealing a staircase up to the fourth floor.

On the fourth floor, the party encountered another riddle, harder this time.

Though my lands grow less and less
Where I rule, I can oppress

_I can’t be heard and have no beholder
But I am found near shivered shoulder

One more clue I grant you now,
of precious metals I am made
Not hard to find me, but I can’t tell you how
In dormant kettles, I have stayed_

As the party struggled to find the right spell to cast, they suddenly began to hear commotion from the outside. The smoke from the fire on the floor below had been seen by the party of bugbears who were now making their way upstairs to investigate. Stromm thought fast and pulled out his sack of a thousand ball bearings he never dreamed would come to use. Stromm dropped them all into a bucket and set a trap for the first bugbear to approach, God willing.

As the first bugbear came loping up the stairs, Stromm released the rope holding the bucket aloft and one thousand ball bearings came clattering down into the stairwell, staunching the bugbears’ approach. Two of them fell outright down the stairs as the other tried to avoid falling prone. The party now had the upperhand. Thud used his newly discovered Bag of Tricks to summon a lion to the group’s aid. Kraown, his superior strength to chop downward at the beasts, as Stromm’s trap continued to make the stairwell difficult terrain. In the end, one bugbear was left alive. Stromm used his manacles to bind him and the party prepared for their first interrogation, not quite remembering that the bugbears had been four in number, not three.

Elves in the Wood

Safe from the bear for the time being, the adventurers now had to determine if there was a way out of the wizard’s treasure room. The homunculus, in the same hurried and frantic manner, began to buzz towards the other side of the dungeon. It flew with its pointer finger outstretched, pointing into the darkness of the hall. Halfway across, its flight grew erratic. Its buzzing wings began to sputter and it veered off course crash landing into a pile of gold pieces. It lay for a second, grimacing in pain before it dissolved into a pool of green ichor.

Alhazred, knowing the most about these creatures stalked over to investigate the homunculus’ remains. “The wizard is dead. Homunculus can’t survive without their master’s life force.”

Kraown returned to the stone gate that sealed them in and began to listen for sounds of the dire bear above, he heard nothing.

“He was pointing this way, there is probably a way out over here.” Stromm said, making his way through the heaps of treasure. At the far side of the open dungeon were three rooms, all overflowing with trinkets, magical items and wizarding tomes. Thud, on his quest to collect important and rare magical items for his master, began to grab whatever he could find off the overflowing shelves. Just as his fingers clasped an object, Thud was plunged into darkness as a mysterious creature covered his head.

It began to smother Thud with its thick leathery skin that stretched between its appendages a full 360 degrees. In the center of the creature’s body, now directly on top of Thud’s head, was its mouth, full of hundreds of razor sharp teeth.Thud grabbed at the thing, trying to free himself from its embrace. Stromm and Kraown, who were nearby examining other treasures, rushed to Thud’s aid. As the seconds slipped away, Thud began to feel a sting in his lungs as he realized he was going to run out of air.

Stromm and Kraown launched attacks at the beast, hacking away at its large red eye. As Stromm’s great sword sliced through its hide it reared back with a horrid wail, releasing Thud. The rest of the battle was fought in pitch-darkness as the creature deployed its magical defenses, but the adventurers worked together to corner and defeat it. Alhazred had apparently become lost in a book and hadn’t heard Thud’s muffled cries, nor the clanging of steel on stone. Still absorbed in the literature, he didn’t seem to notice Thud’s entrance into the room post-battle either, nor the dwarf’s breaking of wind in his general direction. It wasn’t until after the other three discovered the secret passage to the outside that Alhazred pulled himself away from the Dragon’s tomes. Revolted and confused by the sudden stench, Alhazred rejoined the others.

The party followed the passage to a door. Behind it, they could hear the roar of a heavy rain. They opened the door to find themselves on the outside of the tower. Just as the last of them exited the passageway, they spotted a group of four armed bugbears leaving the woods and heading towards the entrance of the tower. Of the four, the one in front was the most formidable. He stood nearly a head above the others and wore thick leather armour adorned with metal spikes. Laying around his thick neck was a string of teeth and fangs of various sizes. The party froze in place, hidden by the heavy rain and fog, and watched the bugbears come to a halt before the small flight of stairs that lead to the tower gates.

Emerging in the blink of an eye and seemingly from nowhere, three elves appeared hastily following after the bugbears. While two of the elves wore mail and carried halberds, the other was dressed in the finest of emerald robes. Gold embroidery covered nearly every inch of the rich cloth and even though the robes fell all the way to the ground, not a bit of mud nor drop of rain seemed to find purchase on them. The elf in front strode with purpose toward to largest bugbear, black silky hair streaming unnaturally behind him as if it were a sunny spring day. “Bale” he cried angrily.“Bale! Where is Elodin? Where’s my brother?”

The party crept closer to get a better view of the exchange. The four bugbears and three elves now stood at the foot of the tower stairs. The bugbear leader, Bale turned to face the elf, “Just arrived. Don’t know.”

“Into the tower! Find him!” The elf cried hopping up the stairs and disappearing through the gate. The bugbear nodded to the others and followed. Those outside the tower stood in silence, rain pouring off their faces. Night had begun to fall, further obscuring the scene. In mere minutes, the elf and Bale returned into the night. The elf held a bright wand out above him as Bale trailed behind. Just as Bale stepped through the tower’s threshold, the party could see he carried the naked body of yet another elf. This one was pale, with short tawny hair. In the arms of the huge bugbear, he looked almost like a sleeping child.

The robed elf looked visibly annoyed, “Why did he have to confront the Dragon alone, that reckless bastard!”

He descended the stairs and immediately began to cast some sort of spell in mid air. A faint glimmering of arcana hovered just before him as he said, “Shad, the Dragon’s dead. Saggoth will not be happy. Elodin went after him, he needs your help.” With a flick of his hand, the arcane energy faded. He turned back to Bale, “I’ll take Elodin to Shad, then I’ll return. Wait for me here, it shouldn’t be long.”

Bale nodded and handed the elf he carried off to the two elven guards. The robed elf summoned another burst of arcane energy. Pulling his hands apart, there was a loud crack as the energy tore through space to create a portal. On the other side of the tear, the party could see torches burning against a stone wall.

The four elves stepped at once through the portal and the tear snapped closed with a crackle. The rain was starting to ease as night fell in full. Bale motioned to the others to spread out and keep watch as the party huddled against the tower trying to make sense of what they just seen.

Encounters with Strange Bags

Stromm and Thud tromped through the woods on their way to the Dragon’s tower. They were close and ready to get out of sight of spying eyes. Hopefully the Dragon would be friendly and not, well, a dragon.

Turning into a clearing, the party practically ran headlong into a tall, furred creature. It stood around seven feet tall and carried a morningstar in one hand. In the other, it pushed a rather large sled pulled along the underbrush by two docile wolves. The creature had tawny coloring and the facial features of a bear but was otherwise humanoid.

“Bugbear!” shouted Stromm dashing towards it. It swung back at Stromm and encouraged its canine companions to enter the fray. Try as they might to bite Thud, they remained tethered to the sled and couldn’t gain much ground.

On the sled were two burlap sacks. One laid motionless like so many potatoes while the other, our adventures noticed, began to writhe and emit muffled cries. Suddenly, the bag turned a deep shade of crimson.

The bugbear continued to trade blows with Stromm while Thud tried out his newly acquired skills in wizardry on the wolves. The crimson sack, or perhaps the caster within, found its voice and began to chant causing a dense fog to descend on the scene from the foliage above. The bugbear stepped away from Stromm and disappeared from sight. Stromm, often called upon to fight blind, slashed away in his usual fashion and managed to discern the location of his foe by following the creature’s screams of pain. The bugbear had lost a lot of blood by this point and soon succumbed to his wounds.

Stromm beelined to the sled using his navigators sense of direction and began to untie the crimson sack. Inside he found a frightened but seemingly unharmed high elf. His mage robes were tattered and caked with mud and he lay prone in the sack, bound by his hands and feet. He had managed to get his chin over a strip of cloth that had been used to gag him, however. Instead of pursuing a line of questioning, Stromm instead went to inspect the other sack. Inside, Stromm encountered the welcome sight of one Kraown, the barbarian youth from the [[Stag, Doe & Kraown | Stag & Doe]]. He was tied in a similar fashion to the high elf, though his consciousness was only now returning to him.

Though the high elf remained bound, he used his fog spell to his advantage and scooted away from the others. Unsure of his assailant’s identity, he was keen to flee the scene entirely without another thought. The others ignored his wishes and made chase. The wizard soon found himself up a tree surrounded by foes.

“We’re not your enemies!” cried Thud.

“Stand down,” Stromm called up to him, “We’re on your side, are you from the Academy?”

Kraown, freed of his bounds, joined the others at the foot of the tree, “What happened? Why were we…in bags?!” The young barbarian looked warily back toward the sled, still enveloped in a cloud of dense fog.

“I don’t remember.” The wizard said with confusion. “Who put me in there?”

“The bugbear,” Stromm called. “He dead.”

“Oh…well then,” the wizard answered. Almost at once the fog began to lift.

The wizard, feet on the ground once more, bowed with his arms outstretched. “I am Alhazred the mad.”

“I’m Thud E. Thump,” Thud answered cheerfully.

Alhazred looked up with a sneer, surveying the others. The high elf pulled himself to his full height once more and brushed as much mud and dirt from his robes as he could manage.

“You’re from the academy, right?” Stromm asked, leaning on his sword. “We’re on our way to see the Dragon about some evil magics.”

“We’re in the Hart’s Wood?” Alhazred asked, looking around.

“The Dragon’s tower is just over there,” Thud said, gesturing to the North East. “By the way,” Thud pulled the blue gems from his pouch, “Do you know anything about these?”

Alhazred approached the dwarf, intrigued by the appearance of such a mystical object. Thud recoiled as he reached out toward the stones, clutching them close. Alhazred, nodded and kept his distance. He looked back at Thud with a sneer, “How has one cavern dweller such as you come to possess these?”

Thud balked, visibly offended by the comment. Stromm answered in his stead, “We’ve been finding them in beasts we’ve slain. Cursed and frothing at the mouth, these giant monstrosities have been coming out of the woods to attack townsfolk near Hindvale. Don’t know about the bugbear though.”

“And you think the Dragon knows something about this? I should accompany you, he used to be a scholar at the Academy, I will be of use here as my knowledge of Arcana is undoubtedly far superior to your own.”

Ignoring the insult, Kraown nodded, “Yes, I’ll come too. I want to know who dared trap me in that bag!”

Some time later, the party arrived at the base of the tower and found the gates open. As they entered, they heard sounds of a battle above them. First a roar of a massive beast, then a crash. They ran to the next floor, drawing their weapons hastily. The flight of stairs opened into another large hall. From their vantage point they spotted a dire bear striding headlong into a room in the middle of the level. Just as the bear jumped out of view, a small winged creature buzzed into the hall and made right for the group. Its flesh looked bruised and saggy, its face a flat plate leading into a truncated pig-like nose. Alhazred recognized the creature as a wizard’s homunculus, a servant constructed through Arcane power. It beckoned to the adventures frantically and sped toward the other end of the hall. Another crash reverberated through the walls as the creature passed the room that contained the bear and flew instead to a stairway at the other end of the hall.

It flapped its hand again as one by one the adventures followed. Stromm, excited by the sounds of battle, forgot himself and began to absent-mindedly sing a sailing tune. The huge beast took immediate notice and galloped out of the chamber back into the hall. With the rest of the party passing the doorway to the stairway, Stromm was still several strides away. The presence of the hulking enraged monster behind him brought him out of his reverie, and Stromm made haste to rejoin the rest. Before he could pass through the door, the bear lunged for him raking him with one huge set of claws. Stromm grabbed the gash it left in his shoulder and stumbled downward.

The party found themselves in a dungeon, with veritable mountains of treasure from gold pieces to chests to jewels. They had no time to spare examining the bounty. The homunculus flitted frantically around a heavy stone wheel attached by a chain to stone slab serving as a dungeon door. Kraown used his strength to lower the wall, just as the bear managed to squeeze itself into the stairway on the floor above. As the stone came to a rest on the dungeon floor the party realized they had survived the bear, but had locked themselves in.


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