25.Gozran – 04.Desnus.4710
25.Gozran (Wealday) – The day dawned cool and bright as another small gathering of travelers appeared over the horizon following the road amid a cloud of dust and flies that trailed after the loosely gathered horsemen and the large four-horse carriage. It was a battered refurbished thing with extra springs that did less for a smooth ride and more towards threatening to throw the thing off balance and doors with no covers for the windows so that much of the dust cloud that the wheels and horses kicked up could be seen billowing into and out of the small windows. The grimy contraption was driven by a pair of gnomes who were completely hidden by goggles, long coats, wide hats and bandanas who were perched upon the driver’s seat amid levers and rods that allowed the short creatures to control beasts and vehicle. Upon the roof was a small hill of chests, baggage and parcels covered by a tarpaulin.
As it rumbled and creaked to a stop within the safety of the walls of Oleg’s Trading Post the riders traveling alongside gave the carriage extra space as it threatened to tip itself over. When brakes had been locked the gnome drivers leapt from their seat to attend to the horses and the freight respectfully. The door to the cabin swung open on its leather hinges allowing a group of five passengers to spill out into the bright sun looking for the promise of fresh air and room to stretch. All groaned and staggered towards the generosity of Svetlana who stood at the trestle table with pitchers of cool minted water to wash and drink the evidence of a very uncomfortable trip from their bodies.
Amongst them stood a young man with a shaved head and brilliant green eyes dressed in ratty dusty second hand clothes that had been obviously mended and accessorized in an attempt to make them look better than they were. He slipped his long coat off revealing his arms and neck that were a contrast of pale skin and strange tattoos that became all the more obvious as he brought handfuls of minted water cascading over them. After rubbing his teeth with his fingers and spitting a mouthful of water out into the mud he looked out across the yard.
A Brevic guard stood at the gate of the small trading post while another walked the top of the wall looking out over the plains. The beautiful young married lass was helping the young Issian couple into the small cabin at the back of the yard while the rest of the travelers sat and tried their best to strengthen themselves for the ongoing trip towards Pitax or were being shown into a bunkhouse that stood next to the gate. A small group of men sat at the farthest end of one of the outside tables and talked quietly to each other. A couple of woodmen, one of them a half-elf and the other with black greasy hair, sat sharpening arrow points. With them were a young Ulfen man with hair a fiery dark red, a Abadar-worshipping dwarf and a armored man bearing a huge greatsword who was deep in his cups. They all seemed grim as the redhead plucked a saddened tune on his fiddle and the rest spoke quietly with frowns and grim eyes except for the warrior who would fill his mug with something strong enough to be smelled across the yard and start extolling about the glories of death in combat and the exploits of a man named Zebulon.
After an hour new horses had been traded to the gnomes and those travelers unlucky enough to be continuing on thanked their kind hostess and climbed into the wretchedly uncomfortable cabin of the carriage which thundered out the gate and off into the distance. Yorick dropped a few coins into the hand of the post’s owner for a decent bowl of soup with bread after which he took his belongings to the bunkhouse to find the sleep that the carriage had stolen from him. He gave a second quick look at the strangers left in the yard and decided that he would see what could be gained, information or wealth, from a few hands of cards with them later that night.
Yorick sank into the bunk and noticed that it pleasingly smelled more of the new wood frame and fresh hay ticking than of previous occupants which for the young man was a pleasant change from his life in Brevoy and sleep soon took him thereafter…and betrayed him with terror and anxiety. Visions of the people and places that he was leaving behind stalked him, lurking closer and closer hunting him, seeking to entrap him. He tried slipping away or bluffing or threatening but the shadows of his compatriots and enemies smirked at him unfazed, and the dark nooks and razor sharp corners of old haunts loomed over him or became difficult to escape. Just as Yorick was sure that he would scream while he frantically searched for the source of the sound of wings above him he stopped short at the scene before him.
“What’s the difference Liz?! “ Yorick looked at himself shouting at Lizvetta who faced off resolutely against the Yorick before her. “Getting out from under your parents’ control is what you wanted, right? Isn’t that what you said to me over and over? ‘Make your own way?’ What’s the difference whether it’s in the guard or not?”
“There’s a big difference, Yorick.” Lizvetta’s body was tense and her face was taut with anger and pain that leaked out of her eyes and facial twitches. “I seem to recall you agreeing with me that it was a good move.”
“That was when I thought we were staying here together.” The dream Yorick took several steps into Lizvetta’s space as he worked himself up. “When WE were staying here TOGETHER! Do you remember that part Liz…the ‘together’ parts of those talks when you said that it was me that you wanted not the money or position. So when there’s a chance for me beyond these walls you suddenly tell me you’re staying?! Where’s the together in that Lizvetta? Huh?!” The observing Yorick suddenly found himself simultaneously watching and shouting into his lover’s stony face. He could feel what he had felt and watch what had occurred at that moment as the words roared from his gut like knives at Lizvetta. “Where’s the US NOW, Lizvetta?”
The argument would build from there but the words smeared under the force of the pain they couldn’t convey. Yorick turned in anger from what was a very fresh wound only to take a few nervous steps backwards.
“I told you didn’t I, poppet?” The woman before him said sadly. She was tall and stiff. An lamppost that had revealed things Yorick wished she hadn’t but whose good guidance in his youth came through soot caked glass leading him to acts and situations that shamed him. Her arms hung like iron bars at her side. She had never seemed to know what to do with them if they didn’t have a task. Where Lizvetta could be like ice Granny Vaka was iron.
“You will put your heart in a gibbet and it will either die or flee.” Vaka finally turned her stiff gaze towards him. The surroundings shifted and attempted to close in on him. “Your future is not one for tenderness, boy, but carrion and war. You have such potential, Yorick. Did I not See, rebenok? Stay with me and you will not face masks hiding hate and poison. Lose women who adore you. Attract women who hate you. And you will not suffer the madness of shadows and gates.”
Yorick turned and ran only to be lost in a darkness of wings and whispers that filled him with dread. Glimpses of images stabbed through the swarm of wings for only moments only to be lost to the growing chaos of wordless whispers, grabbing claws and battering shadow. Stars, like lanterns, fell from the sky to consume him, a green-skinned hag cackled at his fear, mutated trolls roared to grind his bones in their teeth, numerous women’s hands grabbed at his body pulling and pushing, figures with faces of loose horrid flesh lurked behind that darkness, the soft laugh of wisteria and razors that asked for his deepest wish, and yet more women than he could count. Horrific and entrancing, monstrous and mundane, exotic and commonplace; the women were everywhere behind the shadows and they washed over him and by him until he began to feel as if he was slipping beneath the surface of the dark to oblivion. He heard Lizvetta’s last angry scorn-filled words before she had stormed out of the room leaving him echoed from far away and he gasped for air he could not find and slid beneath.
The woman’s hand was delicate but it pulled Yorick to his feet effortlessly and he looked upon an unremarkable woman of unremarkable height and build dressed in a pristine but simple brown peasant woman’s dress with a rich blue scarf draped upon her shoulders and pulled over her scalp as a hood. The woman’s features were middle aged but pleasant enough with dark hair and eyes. Yorick met her sight and looked away immediately surprised at his sudden wariness.
“Yorick Ravenswing. You are easy to See. Your Path is bright but trapped with many snares. You cannot succeed alone. Seek the man who has lost himself. He is whom you should follow and you will help him find himself. He will follow you and help you realize yourself. Sword and stag will champion you. You will cast light into the dark for those who would choose to see it and reveal the wickedness of those who would despise it.”
Yorick looked up full of questions and was amazed to see that the woman’s face was young and beautiful. Yorick smelled the hint of apple and lavender and his words fell from his lips to the floor as flakes of snow fading away unspoken. No sooner did he feel aroused by the strange mix of intensity and youthful beauty but the image of Lizvetta erased it all.“She will return to you,” the young woman whispered sweetly, “though it could mean madness or destruction.” Yorick watched in sudden revulsion as the girl’s head swiveled on her neck revealing an old woman’s wrinkled sagging visage which drily rasped, “Will you choose her or yourself to lose to madness or destruction? We shall see mortal boy, we shall see!” The crone laughed and Yorick felt sure that he could hear two other muffled laughs accompanying her as he fell backwards and scrabbled away only to fall again into the oblivion the image had just rescued him from.
Yorick awoke with a start and sat up out of his bedroll soaked with sweat and fumbling with half-remembered suggestions of a nightmare. He almost had images in his mind’s grasp when a deep voice knocked them away.
“Are you well?” asked the dwarf Yorick had seen earlier. “My friends and I are about to play some cards and wrest what of the bandit’s liquor we can from Corbin’s grasp before he drinks it all. You look troubled. Care to dispel some of your cares with us? I am Brother Zero, Inquisitor of Abadar.”
“I…,” hesitated Yorick curious as much by the dwarf’s name as by his own immediate though usually hard to earned trust in the dwarf, “Yes, I think I would like that, thank you.” Yorick stood to wash and change after his distressed sleep wondering after the unusual dwarf that exited the bunkhouse. Yorick couldn’t shake the feeling that he knew or had heard of this Brother Zero but couldn’t place where or how.
That night six strangers gathered to drink, gamble, remember lost friends and forge new relationships that would lead them down paths that they couldn’t presently imagine.
26 – 27.Gozran – The party rode out for the next two days to explore the surrounding grasslands heading towards the Shrike River and the Noman Highlands but always returning to Oleg’s to rest.
28.Gozran (Starday) – The hard ride was softened only by the gentleness of the day. A warm sun and cool breezes had made it possible to reach the Shrike River with time enough to explore the miles around its banks. In no time Markoa had gained a good sense of the land here about and had brought everyone to a curious ruin of a burned out house beside the river that bore a thick but rotting rope across its span. A signpost at either end of the ruined bridge reads “Nettles’ Crossing—5 coppers—ring bell for service.” A rusty bell hangs by each sign. Topper looked nervous but Regik was filled with fear and sought to flee the place but not before Markoa climbed across the river to the other side. As his feet dropped to the ground the water of the Shrike River parted and the grotesque form of a rotting bloated corpse rose up and started walking across the water towards the larger number of people. His bloated and sloughing flesh and algae covered bones stank of the rot and the river bottom and the corpse carried a boatman’s pole that was as good as a weapon. The corpse identified himself as Davik Nettles and called on them to put away their arms for they were no enemies of his until his yellowed eyes fell upon Regik. The corpse pointed to the terrified man and called him murderer and ordered he be brought to him for vengeance. Markoa interceded and accepted the solemn task to kill the Stag Lord and throw his head into the Shrike River and to not deviate from that task lest Nettles rise from his uneasy rest and claim the faithless man as his own along with those he stood for. With that the undead Davik Nettles returned to his watery grave and the party decided to put some distance between them and the revenant and settle in for the night. Around the fire Regik recounted the tale of the ferryman’s refusal to pay the Stag Lord, driving him off with his hounds and his weapon, only to be surprised in the night caught in a burning house until, aflame, he ran to the river only to be shot dead by the bandits. Regik had been one of those bandits ordered to murder the man.
During the night a small band of mites attempted to assault the band but they were easily dispatched with a fair amount of prejudice given the party’s past painful dealings with the creatures.
29. (Sunday) – The group moved south along the river finally convinced by MikMek the kobold that had been following the party for days to return to his people in the caverns there, the Sootscale tribe. MikMek had told the party, in his pidgin Common and poor kobold Draconic, that his chief had sent him out to look for a way to save the tribe from following a cruel, dangerous and powerful kobold named Tartuk. The party approached and began to talk with the guards but orders were soon given from the shadows and a pitched battle took place at the entrance to the caves. Brother Zero tried to enter the caves but the narrowness of the passages caused him to rethink things.
It was then that MikMek threw the “god” of the kobolds, a small statue of a devil called “Old Sharptooth” in kobold-Draconic, out to the party and was slain by Tartuk for his efforts. Tartuk’s power over the tribe dashed as Chief Sootscale took possession of the figurine and smashed it he slipped away and the fighting stopped. Markoa noticed a crow leaving the cave and marked the passing footprints of a kobold and deduced that the sorcerer was attempting to flee invisibly. He did not get far and his familiar only slightly farther before the arrows of Markoa dropped them.
Brother Zero came to terms of alliance with the chief of the tribe and the party received gifts of thanks from the kobolds and moved off to explore the rest of the area and make camp.
30. (Moonday) – The party travelled over the Kressel Crossing at the confluence of the Thorn and Shrike Rivers. Here they were seen scouts of the Stag Lord who reported to their leader hiding in his fortress.
01.Desnus (Toilday) – The group scouted the environment around the Stag Lord’s Fort getting a better idea of what they were up against. They stayed with Carl Hunter and discussed their options regarding removing the Stag Lord once and for all and decided to do some more scouting before committing to a fight that could well be the end of them all. It was decided that they would scout more around the fort and observe the fort first, gathering as much information as possible with which to plan their attack.
02. (Wealday) – Entering the edges of the Narlmarch Forest following upstream the swift but shallow flow of the Skunk River the group came upon a scene of chaos as a group of gnomes fought to keep their ponies and wagon from being swept away. Gnome men on both sides of the river stood on the banks and shouted and scrabbled desperately to try to free the wagon from the mud and the threat of being swept away as a bruised and soaked gnome gentleman stood upon a hillock and shouted orders.
The quick assistance of the group saved the animals and belongings of the gnome expedition and after many a long hour of transporting the rest of the wagons and ponies across the group were invited by Jubilost Narthropple to rest with his expedition for the evening. Food and drink, song and story were the order of the evening. Jubilost, wealthy and flamboyant explorer, mapmaker and raconteur, filled the adventurers with tales of lost dwarven outposts, the ruins of far Iobaria, ancient elven strongholds and the human ruins of doomed Taldan colonies and Khellid barbarian cairns.
During their sleep Markoa and Regik were visited by the apparition of Davik Nettles who left them little rest as he voiced his displeasure at their deviation from dispatching the Stag Lord.
03. (Oathday) – The rising sun found the rest of the group rested and they were all resupplied and rewarded with a hand drawn map of the features of the Greenbelt already discovered by the expedition.
Brother Slade and Corbin of Gorum felt that it was time to think of attending to the Stag Lord and it was agreed that Nettles’ curse forced the issue even further so the group moved towards the Fort. The group surveyed the Fort and made their plans careful take the information that Zebulon Pike had gathered for them and what Topper Red and Regik knew into their plans.
04. (Fireday) – The windy and cloudy dusk found the invisibly ensorcelled group moving steadily up the road to the gate and an invisible Markoa flying above the men until the attack commenced. What ensued was a battle that hadn’t been seen in the Stolen Lands in generations. The gates of the fort were difficult to overcome and with the Stag Lord’s archery threatening the lives of everyone in sight it was looked as if things would go poorly for Brother Zero and his men. The underlings of the Stag Lord fell to Markoa’s arrows and Yorick’s spell while the stealthy Nisroch of Nidal, one of the last of the Stag Lord’s lieutenants, almost threatened to end Brother Zero with his vicious knife thrusts but the inquisitor wouldn’t undone so easily and cut the murderer down. Corbin roared with the fury of Gorum and his greatsword shone red with blood but his wound knitting prayers to Gorum also saved many of his compatriots. It was the words of the party and the drunken, failing and cowardly actions of the Stag Lord that finally undid him for Akiros Ismort, his right hand man and a formidable warrior in his own right, had endured enough of the Stag Lord and betrayed him. The warrior moved to the gate release and opened the gate for the party and soon the Stag Lord fell from the wall and was finally beaten and killed. Ismort and the four remaining bandits surrendered and, finally, the depredations of the Stag Lord in the Greenbelt were done.
Markoa claimed the Stag Lord’s helm and discovered that the bandit leader’s crimes included profanity for it was sacred to the true Stag Lord, Erastil. After cleaning it, he donned the helm and was amazed at the powers it granted him. The party bound their captives and rested their weary bones and made plans for the rest of the fort come the dawn.