Note: The adventure recounted in this post actually took place over three separate gaming sessions. Additionally, this does not include a detailed account of the bloody events which previously transpired in the vicinity of Briarwick Hollow, and also occupied three separate gaming sessions.
This chapter of our adventure opened on the weary community of Briarwick Hollow, resting at the southwestern edge of The Kingdom of Stone. In the aftermath of a series of tragic events which resulted in the elimination of a goblin horde and the slaying of a werewolf, our heroes decided to temporarily part company. Gai’tan Shadowstar, the enigmatic nomad from faraway lands, elected to remain in the community briefly to assist in recovery efforts led, in part, by Gregor Stoneback. Gai’tan also offered to accompany a band of men from Briarwick Hollow to a nearby mountain pass, the scene of recent carnage. It was here that our heroes believed a young girl from the community was spirited into the mountains, though her fate remained unclear. While Gai’tan busied himself with these efforts, Buzz Burrfoot, the headstrong and heroic halfling, agreed to accompany the young cleric Abbiel to the crossroads west of the settlement. From there she planned to travel to the coastal city of Vemish, and gain passage across the sea to her home in Silverhaven. Meanwhile, Buzz planned to continue southward to the town of Dunnel, where he would seek further help for the citizens of Briarwick Hollow. Buzz and Gai’tan agreed to rendezvous in the city of Oris to the south in no more than a month.
Buzz and Abbiel made it safely to the crossroads, where they were met by the caravan from Vemish. They were also met by Drake and Darana Stoneseeker, travelers from the town of Dunnel. They told Buzz of an evil which had plagued their town, and obtained his assistance in loading their possessions, including a conspicuously heavy trunk, into the caravan. Exiting the caravan, which would now return to Vemish, was a rather eccentric fellow by the name of Zaranthar. Both Zaranthar and Buzz were warned to be wary of Kenku tribes which often ambushed the road to the south in order to disrupt trade or take captives for the purpose of collecting ransom. They agreed to travel together in the interest of safety.
During the journey south, the duo found themselves in a skirmish with small band of kobold fighters. While in the midst of this encounter, the adventurers noticed a hooded figure in the distance. This figure simply departed after the kobolds were dispatched, but its strange movements convinced the travelers that this was one of the Kenku of which they had been warned. Later, the duo spotted several more of these figures escorting an apparent captive into the foothills west of the road. The party encountered no more foes during this journey.
Before reaching Dunnel, the party was met by two guards stationed beyond the forest to the north of the town. The guards were insistent that nobody could be permitted to pass through the North Forest, as it was possessed by a great evil. The guards spun tales of mysterious deaths that had occurred frequently in the town for the past year, with disappearances taking place even beyond that. The townspeople believed that the forest was the source of this evil, as it was also home to the mysterious Pendor Keep, which had been abandoned for decades and was believed to be haunted. The guards also inquired as to a party of three residents which had traveled north from Dunnel. This party consisted of Drake Stoneseeker, the town jeweler and informal banker, his wife Darana, and a farmer named Kale who had agreed to join the couple as he traveled to the north to seek the aid of his sister’s family. When it was learned that Kale had not been among the party to reach the crossroads, nor was he mentioned by the Stoneseekers, the only possible conclusion seemed to be that Kale was the captive figure seen in the company of the Kenku. Additionally, it was concluded that the Stoneseekers, an affluent pair, must have offered a bribe to buy their own freedom, but not that of Kale.
Arriving in Dunnel, the pair of travelers quickly found rooms at the Singing Water Inn, and met the innkeeper, Baric Silverpool. Being an old friend of Gregor Stoneback, he agreed to send help as soon as possible, though Dunnel faced more than its own share of troubles. Silverpool gave his own account of the strange happenings in the town, which mirrored the story told by the forest guards. He pointed the party to a dwarf who was also staying at the inn, and had made known his plans to enter Pendor Keep. The party introduced themselves, and learned that the dwarf was named Novan Beregoth. Novan had accepted a commission from the town mayor to enter the keep and purge it of whatever forces resided there. In other news, the group learned that Drake and Darana Stoneseeker had fled the town with an enormous portion of Dunnel’s wealth, comprised of the savings of working townspeople who had trusted the jeweler to secure their holdings in his personal vault.
Buzz Burrfoot had two additional encounters that evening. Shortly after entering the inn, a voice entered the halfling’s mind. The voice, seemingly associated with a strange bearded man sitting alone, identified the speaker as a friend and addressed the startled adventurer by name. After Zaranthar retired to his room, the halfling approached this man, who requested that the company join him on the east perimeter of the north forest near midnight. The stranger said little more, and left.
Shortly thereafter, Buzz was also approached by a young man identifying himself as Rone. The young man had a suspicion that the halfling was an active thief, and requested his assistance with a job. Rone told Buzz of a safe hidden in the home of the town’s mayor, Weston Clearwater, and requested that he steal a small black box from its interior. Buzz was told to keep the gold which would also be contained in the safe for his troubles. Rone requested only the box in exchange for this intelligence. Rone insisted that the mayor was a treacherous man, and Buzz reluctantly accepted the job. Shortly thereafter he accomplished the mission, though he was nearly caught in the act.
After returning to the inn, Buzz woke Zaranthar, and convinced him to join him in meeting the strange bearded man. As midnight approached, the duo located the designated meeting place, and were greeted by this figure, who identified himself as the legendary Artumyn. As he seemed to possess intimate knowledge of the lives of both travelers, and as he spoke words of comfort directly into the minds of each, they had little choice but to accept his claim. Artumyn informed the party that Pendor Keep had been, until recently, occupied by the necromancer Baa’lam, a general and servant of the terrible Alashar. According to Artumyn, Baa’lam had built a small force within the confines of the keep, corrupting the town and experimenting with dark magic. Artumyn could sense, however, that the dark wizard had fled Pendor Keep in the recent past, and intended to pursue him immediately. He asked that the party assist him in his battle against darkness by purging the keep of whatever evil Baa’lam had left behind. He recommended that the group ally themselves with the dwarf Novan, who had similar plans though different motives. As a token of friendship, Artumyn provided each adventurer with a small bag, and informed them that these should not be opened until sunrise. He then vanished into the forest.
The pair spoke little more that evening. The next day, several events transpired. First, Buzz woke to discover Mayor Clearwater shouting animatedly at Baric Silverpool near the inn’s entrance. The mayor was in a fury due to the robbery of his home, and he was seeking answers. Buzz was also questioned regarding these circumstances, but he denied any knowledge of the event. Buzz later delivered the black box that he had stolen to the mysterious Rone. Though the halfling had many questions, he received no further answers from the young man. The group also spoke with the dwarf Novan, who agreed to allow the pair to accompany him into Pendor Keep, under the condition that he would retain half of the reward money and receive first pick of any loot. Buzz and Zaranthar agreed. The newly formed group agreed to depart after an additional day of rest and preparation. Lastly, the pair remembered to inspect the bags that had been given to them by Artumyn, and each discovered a ring inside which they promptly placed on their fingers.
On the following day, which was to be the party’s last opportunity for rest before entering the forbidding forest, the party met with the town mayor, who was accompanied by his son, Uri Clearwater. Buzz was stunned to recognize this individual as the young man he had known as Rone. The mayor, who was still greatly troubled by the theft that had taken place in his home, reiterated the terms of the commission with Novan, and learned that Buzz and Zaranthar would be joining the quest as well. He agreed to this, after stressing that the reward would be no greater than previously stated. He and Uri then left. The party also discovered that another strange figure had arrived at the inn. This was a slender young man by the name of Durgan, who humbly requested permission to accompany the quickly growing party to Pendor Keep. Though he did not outline his reasons for wanting to make the trek, he insisted that he desired no portion of the reward, and indicated that he was a capable fighter. Understanding that another friendly blade would be greatly beneficial, the party agreed to his generous terms.
Two other notable encounters took place that day. After meeting with the mayor, and later with Durgan, The party noticed an older woman leering through the windows of the inn. Upon discovery, this woman turned and fled. Buzz pursued her to her home, where he confronted her and convinced her to allow him to come inside. He learned that this was the widow Ara Wicklow. From earlier conversations overheard at the Singing Water Inn, Buzz knew the woman, known locally simply as the Widow Wicklow, to be the victim of great tragedy. The widow confirmed that, in addition to losing her husband some years ago, she had recently lost both of her sons to the evil emanating from the forest. To make matters worse, the widow was responsible for the upkeep of Dunnel’s ever-expanding cemetery, which served as a constant reminder of her hardships. Buzz informed her that he was on a mission to cleans the forest of this evil, and she offered the halfling a drink. Buzz accepted it, but did not partake. Upon exiting the widow’s home, Buzz witnessed a man with a large bag entering the forest on its south perimeter. After making a trip to the general store for final provisions, Buzz also confronted Uri Clearwater about his obviously deceptive behavior. Uri sneered and commented wryly that there was quite a bit of irony in the sight of a thief becoming flustered about a bit of dishonesty. He left without providing any additional insight to the troubled halfling.
After that final evening’s rest, the party finally entered the forest. The group now consisted of Buzz, Zaranthar, Novan, and Durgan, and it took little time to learn that something was wrong within the confines of the forest, as there was no animal life to be found anywhere. Buzz, however, was perplexed to discover that the insect life of the forest seemed inexplicably drawn to him, though he was not bitten at all. Upon finally reaching the doors of Pendor Keep, the group was confronted by a horrid ghoul, which they dispatched. The party circled the keep and even mounted its roof, but apart from finding that a portion of the outer wall seemed to have been rebuilt from mismatched stonework, they discovered no other accessible entrance apart from the front door. The dwarf simplified matters quite a bit by losing patience and storming into the keep ready for a fight. A fight was indeed waiting, as the group found that the keep was occupied by undead forces. Apart from skeletons, the party also spied a young man disappearing through a secret door. Buzz recognized this young man as the individual he had seen vanishing into the perimeter of the forest with a large bag.
The party fought its way into the keep, and after dispatching many skeletons, found itself on the second floor. It was here that the party discovered a rope bridge suspended over an unusual pit which seemed to extend into the bowels of the earth below the keep. The pit seemed to be a relatively recent addition to the keep, as it was clearly forced into the structure, with random stonework used to fortify its outer walls. The stench drifting upward was almost unbearable. The purpose of the pit was at first unclear, but the group noted the nearby presence of blood and a bag containing only a human finger. It was also on the second floor of the keep that a curious Buzz touched an eight-foot statue standing ominously at the end of a hallway. The immense statue immediately came to life, and the party was clearly outmatched by this foe. Battling desperately in retreat, the party found itself on the far side of the rope bridge; that is, all but Novan, who remained locked in battle with the brutal living statue while the others fled. When both Novan and his opponent stepped onto the rope bridge, it collapsed into the dark void below.
The group made an attempt to rescue the fallen friend, lowering Buzz on a rope. While the rope was insufficient in length to reach the pit’s bottom, Buzz discovered to his horror that Novan’s corpse was being steadily devoured by a grotesque man-like creature. Buzz was retrieved from his precarious position, and the party mourned the loss of their ally. They pressed on, however, and at last entered battle with a final group of skeletons protecting the young man that the party had spotted upon entering the keep.
Quick work was made of the skeletons, but Zaranthar found himself injured during an exchange of magic missiles with the unidentified young man, who was then brought down by a crippling blow delivered by Durgan. The party demanded an explanation as to his actions, and he proceeded to give a full confession.
The young man’s name was Cohr Wicklow, and several years ago, he, his brother, and a third friend had encountered a man in the North Forest. This man, who identified himself as Bane, had taken up residence in the abandoned Pendor Keep, and immediately impressed the impressionable young men with his magical abilities. He promised to teach the young men of his power and to bring them great wealth if they would serve him. Cohr and his brother, Ham Wicklow, came from a family of very small means, and their mother had become greatly financially indebted to Drake Stoneseeker since the passing of their father. It was therefore easy to see why the boys were drawn to the offer. Their friend, however, came from a very affluent family, and it was instead the promise of power which seduced him. Cohr and his brother had begun secretly recruiting young men from the town for Bane. These young men were brought to Pendor Keep. Cohr broke down in tears as he recounted the fact that none of these unfortunate individuals survived. Some of them had been converted into undead forces previously encountered by the party, and the rest were used for terrible purposes of which Cohr was grateful to be mostly ignorant. Their friend, however, had been given a different mission. Cohr did not know the details, but it involved locating and retrieving a weapon of some sort. Cohr did not know if he had been successful. It was only later that the trio of young men learned that their master had a different name, and was actually the terrible Baa’lam. About one year prior, something had changed, and Baa’lam began disappearing for weeks at a time, and almost always staying away from the keep for longer periods of time than normal. But before he did so, he changed Ham Wicklow into a terrible creature in order to secure the loyalty and silence of Cohr. Ham was walled within the dungeon, as he presented a danger to everybody. Cohr had managed to sustain the thing he called his brother all this time with the help of his mother, but he had denied to himself the truth that Ham was dead. He begged that the party set his brother free of this world, and gave them a key.
Durgan also questioned Cohr as to a party of elves that may have come to the keep some time ago. Cohr revealed that such a party had sought audience with his master, who had obliterated them immediately. It was the bones of these elves that now lied scattered in that very room, as they had been transformed into animated skeletons by the dark craft of Baa’lam. Durgan had recognized his father’s bow among the ruin, and now deduced that his father’s skeleton had been among those dispatched. Buzz demanded to know the identity of the third young man who was in service to Baa’lam, and it was revealed that this was none other than Uri Clearwater. Buzz therefore understood that he may have inadvertently assisted Uri in the retrieval of the item Baa’lam desired. Cohr then begged for death, and Buzz quickly delivered the finishing blow. Durgan retrieved his father’s bow, which was engraved with elven symbols.
The group stabilized Zaranthar, and then investigated a small room that was found locked near the stone statue’s prior location. This was found to be a storeroom that had been mostly emptied, giving support to Artumyn’s theory that Baa’lam had abandoned Pendor Keep. The room contained only a few scattered coins, and a small stack of black books that had been left behind. The halfling attempted to retrieve these, only to be met with an explosion of green fire and terrible pain. The books, apparently a final trap left behind by the dark wizard, were reduced to ashes.
Weary from these struggles, the party at last found its way to the locked dungeons below the keep. The wounded Zaranthar remained above, while Buzz and Durgan ventured into pitch darkness, greeted by the terrible stench of death. Durgan was quickly swarmed by rats, but the rodents displayed no such hostility towards the halfling. Opening the door to a small chamber, the group at last discovered the creature lurking below the keep. A gruesome zombie, formerly Ham Wicklow, was found feasting on the remains of the unfortunate Novan. The bodies of both the dwarf and the stone guardian from above were scattered in pieces. Buzz and Durgan engaged and defeated the creature, and mourned once more their fallen friend. On and near his body they found his hammer, a black key, and a small wooden figure which resembled the dwarf himself, though much younger.
Returning at last to Dunnel, Buzz immediately moved to inform the Widow Wicklow of the fate of her sons. Upon hearing the news, the frantic widow attacked Buzz, urging him to strike her down and allow the mother to join her children. In her ravings, it was revealed that she had been aware of the fate of her sons all along. She had been personally responsible for poisoning the people of Dunnel, and her unique position in charge of the town’s cemetery allowed her to enable her son Cohr to carry fresh bodies to the accursed Ham. Buzz sadly rendered her unconscious and delivered her to the town guards, recounting her tale.
Back at the Singing Water Inn, the group again met with Mayor Clearwater, who asked for details regarding Uri’s whereabouts. With this question, the group learned that Uri had fled the town of Dunnel. The party relayed the events that had transpired in Pendor Keep, with just a bit of embellishment as to the number of skeletons dispatched, and requested their reward from the mayor. The mayor at first offered only half of the promised reward, as Novan no longer lived to collect his portion. Upon the protests of the group, he increased the sum from his own personal stores, but the party still found themselves with less financial gain than they had initially believed. The recent theft by the Stoneseeker family had left the town in dire need. The party also informed the mayor of what they had learned of the deaths that had taken place in the town, and of the activities of his son Uri. The mayor was clearly upset, and told the party what he knew of the box which Uri possessed. Having his own suspicions of his son’s interest in the family relic, the mayor had secured it in his safe, and ordered an enchantment which prevented any other member of his bloodline from locating the item inside. His family had been entrusted with the safekeeping of the box, but the mayor himself was unaware of its contents, and unable to open it. Visibly upset by the news of the day, the mayor left.
While at the inn, Buzz also encountered the wife of Kale, the farmer who had been taken by the Kenku. Feeling partially responsible for failing to free her husband, Buzz left behind a large portion of his reward to enable her to pay her husband’s ransom, should such notice be received.
The innkeeper Baric Silverpool also revealed that the old man, secretly known to the party as the wizard Artumyn, had left behind a message for each to be delivered upon their return from the keep. Each individual reviewed their personal message, though Novan could now receive his own. It was at this time, however, that a dwarf made his presence known to the group. He had overheard much of the day’s discussion, and wished to learn the fate of Novan, revealed to be an associate of the dwarf. After delivery of the tragic news, the party entrusted the message intended for Novan to the dwarf, who introduced himself as the cleric Brell Stormforge. After reading its contents, Brell humbly requested permission to join the party as they hunted down Baa’lam. The group consented, and collectively decided that the best course of action would be to head south to the great city of Oris. Buzz had learned from Artumyn’s message that his friend Gai’tan would be waiting there at the the Inn of Three Spears. More importantly, as Artumyn believed that Baa’lam had fled southeast, it seemed likely that Uri had left the town in this direction as well. The party only hoped that they could overtake the young man before he was able to deliver the mysterious stolen relic to his master.