The Swordlands

A Contest of Heroes
Third Session

The party quickly decides amongst themselves how they intend to win the challenge in front of them – each playing to their strengths.

Taking advantage of his Warforged constitution, Thunder engages four men in a drinking contest. Bellowing toasts praising Kord between each tankard, he matches the others drink for drink for a full hour. Eventually, as he raises his cup again, his head swimming and stomach lurching slightly, he sees that the others are incapable of standing. Although it's a struggle, Thunder turns to a nearby serving woman and she acclaims him the winner.

Across the hall, Iben had spotted a fire-jumping contest. The conflaguration in the centre of the hall was a huge firepit, fully ten feet across. Several men were engaged in a competition to attempt to jump over it – or at least, as far as they could. Even as Iben watched, another man crashed to the ground just within it, screaming and rolling over to try and put the flames out. He was promptly covered in ale by one of the serving women, before drunkenly standing up and bellowing his intention to go again.

As Iben was about to declare his own attempt, the quiet figure of Sigurd laid a hand on his shoulder. "Allow me," said the Wizard, and Iben felt a small tingle throughout his legs. "It will assist you, worry not," added the arcanist with a small smile. Iben nodded, trusting his friend, if not the magic. He took a running start at the jump, and then pushed off with all his might. Astonishingly, his leap took him clean over the firepit and some eight or nine feet further on, easily beating the other men. With a roar of acclaim, they announced him the bravest and greatest athlete they had seen, and began to toast him anew. Iben looked around for Sigurd, but the Wizard had slipped back to the edges of the room.

Iben could, however, see Aengus, his Eladrin features standing out in a room full of humans. His eyes were wide as he recounted a tragic tale of love, battle and loss to a small crowd, gesturing emotionally and keeping their attention with expert precision. At the end of his tale, at least one man almost broke down in tears, the emotion too much for him. Although others attempted stories of their own, one Fruhli of Himinborg going so far as to recount the much beloved Saga Of Rivenhart, it was clear that Aengus was the true master stoyteller, and he was acclaimed as such.

The night wore on, and finally Karl spotted his chance to make his name. An axe-throwing contest had been taking place across the hall from him – a long-haired woman standing up against a table, bravely facing the drunken throws of men in front of her. Just behind those men, a large bone protruded up from the floor. Quickly, Karl rang along this bone and launched himself into space – aided by Iben lending his weight as a counterbalance. The gnome soared through the air and launched several small throwing stars, and as they thumped in a small pattern around the woman's head the gnome twisted in mid-air and landed smoothly on his feet. He turned, bowed, and announced "Top that, gentlemen!" To the woman's relief, the contest was decreed over – no man wanted to face up to attempting to surpass that feat!

As the group celebrates their upcoming quest to join Serkeljof and the other Knights to find the king, a silence drops upon the room. Through the main doors walks, no, trots a strange creature - half-man, half horse. He is dressed in a savage style, with furs and obvious weaponry. The surrounding men seemed stunned at his boldness – for this is clearly a Beastman and as such has no place here. The centaurs tatoo's shine in the fire. As he enters, the centaur pauses for a second, staring at Thunder intently, before shaking his head and moving around the fire.

Moving to the seats that Serkeljof occupies, the centaur speaks for the firs time.

"No invite for me?" he asks, calmly. "With my brother away I would have thought you would be keen to see me." Men around the hall are being restrained from attacking this boastful creature. Frulli, the storyteller, confirms to Aengus that this is indeed the King's brother. He is also the leader of the raiders that have caused so much trouble in recent months.

"Well, I shall extend an invitation to you all. Come to my hall, the hall of Sigmund. I will show you hospitality. If you want to find it – follow the fire!" Sigmund laughs, and as men draw weapons and go to attack him he throws some sort of bag into the cauldron hanging over the firepit. It immediately begins to bubble, before spewing forth a wave of rats that leap out and begin to fill the hall. Laughing even more, the centaur disperses into a cloud of bats and flys up and out of the hall via the top window. Around the hall, knives, swords & axes are drawn as everyone tries to stem the tide.

Aengus and Karl quickly cotton on to what needs to be done and target the chain holding up the cauldron. As the swarm of rats grows ever larger, pouring forth at an incredible rate, the two heroes break one chain and the cauldron swings madly over the fire pit. No longer able to get a good purchase, the rats coming from the cauldron instead fall into the firepit with a terrible smell of scorched flesh. With the rest of the room killing the ones already free, within a few seconds peace is restored to the room. The pile of dead rats is disposed of, burnt to a crisp in the incandescent flames, and the party look around them to see many worried faces.

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"The Blessing of Kord Be Upon You All!"
Third Session

As each member of the group climbed aboard the ship, Iben spoke quietly under his breath, asking for the blessing of the village spirits in their quest. The villagers had repaired the damage to the sail, and with two days sailing ahead all where keen to be off. The dark clouds in the sky promised that it was not to be an easy journey.

Indeed, within minutes of leaving Kindraed (For the last time? wondered Iben to himself), the skies opened and the rain began to hammer down. For two days, in dim light and through choppy water, the group fought the elements to make their way to Himinborg. The air elemental trapped within the boat did it's best, but still water had to bailed out more or less continuously. Eventually, Sigurd hit upon a conjuration that could help the spirit fight the elements more freely, and the little ship surged ahead. Naming the spirit Ariel in thank, Sigurd asked her what the group could do in return. "I would like a pattern to be woven into the sail," she replied. "It can be very dull looking at the same white sheet all day." Grinning, Sigurd agreed.

Eventually, and with the bodies of the heroes burning with fatigue and their clothes and posessions soaked through with rain and seawater, Himimborg came into view. Several hundred a-frame wooden buildings, some several stories high, looked down on a habour filled with fishing vessels and longships. Lights shone from some windows, but largely it was dark. As the group arrives, Iben leaps out and tied the boat to the quay, urging us onwards.

At the highest point in Himimborg stands the Great Hall – both a Temple to Kord and the seat of governance. The rest of the town seems deathly quiet, the muddy streets empty of people. As he moved up the wooden steps, Thunder detected no sounds of life in the houses all about him. Ahead, a young child suddenly crosses their view, chasing a dog – but again, no sound but that of the barking animal.

Lights blaze from the Great Hall – from many windows, and from torches set all about it's huge doors. These doors are slightly ajar, and as we approach they crash open from within. A man, large and bearded, crashes through them, on fire! He throws himself to the ground, rolling over and over to put the flames out. Thunder reaches down to give him a hand back up onto his feet, and with a grunt the man rights himself. He turns and shouts "Schweinhund!" and charges back inside. Exchanging looks, the party follows him more slowly.

Inside is a scene of chaos. In the centre of the Hall burns a huge fire, more than 10 feet across. The smoke has spread throughout the room, obscuring everything after a few feet of vision. Dimly visible are many human figures – drinking, dancing, eating, fighting, joking & laughing with each other; often all at once. Bones litter the floor all across the room. Some are small, but others look much larger, perhaps those of a great beast of ancient times.

Thunder took a deep breath of the smoker air, feeling the Holy Presence of Kord manifest in the atmosphere. The life he could feel around him surged through him, filling him with energy and purpose. Raising his arms, he bellowed into the room:

"The Blessing of Kord Be Upon You All, People of Himimborg!" With his words, he blessed the room, sending a shockwave of divine power throughout. The smoke rippled as it passed, and the bones surrounding him were pushed back.

Utter silence fell across the room.

Staring at Thunder, the men & women of Himimborg stood stock still at this interruption to their festivities. A frozen tableau displayed itself around the room – four men engaged in an arm-wrestling contest, two men in an axe-throwing contest, three serving women holding giant pitchers of ale – all had stopped and were staring at him.

Slowly, a single figure moved forwards through the smoke. He was short and slight, in contrast with the others with long grey hair and a wearing black robes. Looking Thunder and the others up and down, almost disdainfully, he asks with gentle emphasis "Auslanders?"

"We are," replies Thunder. "We have come through the Gap and via Kindraed to speak with King Siegfried. My name is the Promise of Distant Thunder, and I am a Warforged of the Legion that Waits. These are my companions – Aengus, Sigurd, Karl and Iben of Kindraed. We have news that the King must hear."

"Thunder, hmm?" replies the man. "I must blame you for the weather, yes?" He indicates the windows of the Great Hall as another blast of lightning splits the sky outside. Seeming to come to a decision, the man looks across at all the members of the group. "My name is Serkeljof. I am, how you say, the King's right hand. He is not here – he went to fight with raiders, taking the best of the Knights of Himimborg with him."

The man seems very tightly controlled, keeping himself under precise pressure. Almost no emotion crosses his face as he speaks, even as Aengus and the others begin to ask him questions. It appears that the King has been incomunicado for around three months now, since leaving Himimborg, and a plan has been hatched for the remaining Knights to go look for him. Serkeljof seems to be evaluating the group as they speak to him.

"Perhaps you would care to join us?" he asks. "Obviously such… mighty heroes would be an asset to our little expedition."

Hackles are raised at the implied insult, and the party decide to prove themselves to all present. This is a Hall of contests and competitions – the Knights of Himimborg shall be shown that this group of adventurers are not to be put down!

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"Arise, Noble Warrior!"
The Distant Storm

Promise of Distant Thunder had been walking underwater for some time, feeling the tug of the boat attached to his arm by rope as a distant sensation that didn't really connect. His mind was racing, echoes of memories tumbling through his head. So much was lost! So many gaps!

The sea-floor started to slope upwards, and marching on he pulled himself out of the water and onto the shorefront. The water cascaded off him as he emerged like some sort of water spirit, his metal skin glistening in the half-light of the early morning. Looking around, he could see many human women stood gaping at his appearance – from the items they held in their hands it was clear that they had been making offerings to the sea spirits.

It appears their offerings have been answered he through wryly to himself. I need to find the others, however…

Glancing around the harbourfront of Kindraed, he could see the collection of thirteen buildings that it comprised of. All were festooned with various animalistic fetishes and tokens – a clear indicator that the people of this land were superstitious and wary of the world.

I would be, too, if I lived here. Those skeletons in the Ice Wall – if they start to come here this place isn't suited for defence.

Thunder could see a figure lying face up on the beach. He walked over to see that it was Iben, the human that had assisted him so well in the previous battle. He was not awake, but seemed to have no injury. Thunder knelt calmly beside him, lay one hand on his chest and spoke clearly: "Arise, noble warrior, and rejoin us." Iben's eyes opened, and where previously Thunder had seen a steadfastness and love of nature and the world, he now saw a burning, primal rage seeking to strike out against the abominations that might follow. The change was shocking, but Thunder also saw, deep within that rage, that it was well-founded and well-directed.

Now fully awake, Iben led Thunder to where the others were staying in one of the large wooden buildings, filling him in on the previous days events as they went. As they pushed open the door and entered, Karl, Sigurd and Aengus were all there, sat on wooden chairs and eating. Between them, arranged on a table, were the remains of another Warforged, now broken into pieces. A small sword and light metal shield had been placed to one side, also bearing the Legion's distinctive heraldric mark.

All conversation stopped as Thunder strode over to the table, seeking any information that could be gained from this body of a former colleague and Legionnaire. Examining the body, a memory surfaced in his mind.

We are forged to defend humanity from what comes he heard in his mind. When the battle at the end of the world comes to us, the Legion that Waits shall be in the front line of the war – working with, and for, humanity and it's allies against the Foe.

Picking up the sword and shield, Thunder turned to his companions. "I thank you for honouring the body of this Warforged. I can give you no further information on him than what you can see for yourself, sadly, but I shall take this sword and shield to keep his memory alive. Once we were many, and now it seems we are few. But as one of those few, I shall make my mark on this world and solve the mystery of my past." Strapping the shield to his left arm felt as familiar as if he'd last done it minutes before. "Now, tell me more of The Instrumentality that Iben mentioned on the way here."

Karl recounted The Prophecy of House Aellrinnath that he had heard from the Elder of his clan. The Instrumentality are the spies, or administration of the Eladrin – acting when a larger warforce would be unnecessary or unwieldy. The prophecy that has recently come to life is one of dire portents – King Siegfried of Himinborg is known as a good King and a staunch protector.

Leaving the prophecy aside for now, conversation turns to the rest of the Beastmen raiders. One of them had mentioned that their 'boss' was still to arrive, and so it is decided to stake out the mountain trail and wait to see if he does, in the hopes of ambushing him perhaps. Iben recants the full story of the mountain – that once it had been home to a spirit of the Elfheim, but this spirit was somehow drowned. Since that day, the mountain is marked as cursed and dangerous, and few, before us, had climbed it.

Iben and Karl lead the way back to the mountain trail, and find a safe spot to camp for a day. After Sigurd assisted with the creation of a smokeless fire, Thunder is able to begin to brew a potion that can heal the wounds of those that drink it. At the moment, he only has enough for a single draught, but he intends to take every opportunity to brew this potion whilst he can. In the coming days, the ability to fight on might be more useful than any other resource.

Whilst Thunder sits with his herbs, his liquids and the fire, Karl and Aengus crack out a variety of strange tools and decide to have another crack at the safe of Lord Wyvernhoe. Surprisingly, Karl cracks the combination almost immediately this time and starts to open it. A swirling mist emerges, forcing the door open before Karl can react, and forms into the shape of an insubstantial, bull-headed figure. Sigurd calls out that it is some sort of Guardian Spirit – and that is is not friendly!

Aengus leaps to his feet and addresses the spirit in the Fey tongue, shouting at it to dissuade it from attacking. With a roar, it vanishes. Unlocking the safe again, Karl & Aengus warily open it again. Peering inside, he recoils and exclaims "It's a minotaur head!" This one, however, doesn't seem to do anything.

The day passes peacefully and quietly, and with their superior vision Aengus and Karl watch the trail through the night as well. As a final check, the group treks back up the mountain and re-examines the cave. Everything is exactly as it was left. Returning to the village, Karl passes on the details of the Prophecy to the Elders of the village, warning them to do whatever they can to make ready for what's to come. Iben fervently appeals to them to continue to pray and make offerings, but sadly adds that the group is heading to Himinborg to try and speak to Siegfried himself.

Returning to the boat with it's captured wind-elemental, the five of them head back out to sea, onwards, to Himinborg.

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A Mystery in the Mountain (continued)
Second Session

The party left Kindraed, with Iben and Karl scouting ahead, following the mass of tracks left by the raiders. Presently, Iben held up his hand, and pointed out to the others where the raiders had evidently split into two groups. One group led towards the shore, where they disappeared, presumably by boat, while the others (a dozen or so, including one unusually large biped) headed towards the small mountain nearby, the foreboding Alfheim. Iben fought to suppress a shudder of fear as he led the party uphill, past the wards and effigies hung by the roadside by his ancestors to keep the baleful spirits of the mountain at bay. The path had changed little since he’d last braved the journey as a headstrong and impetuous youth. He’d been dismissive of the terrors of the mountain then, accompanied as he was by a pair of similarly adventurous friends. He gritted his teeth as a tear ran down his dirty cheek at the memory – one friend hadn’t survived the mountain. Brandr. The sword-thin boy with the beak-like nose, quick to rage and quicker to mirth. Iben swallowed and turned to wave his companions on.

The path quickly became markedly steeper, and several times the tall eladrin, Aengus, had to stoop beneath low-hanging branches hung with jawbones, feathers, painted stones, teeth and other primitive wards. Despite the grim decorations, he felt something akin to a homecoming, and knew then that the Alfheim had ties to the Feywild. He held his tongue as the Kindraeder, Iben, muttered about curses and wicked spirits. That one is half mad, he thought to himself. At least.

The roaring of a waterfall came from further ahead, and again Iben was beset by memories. Here is where Brandr slipped. Iben and Porvaldr had turned when they heard a distant crunch, far below them. Brandr was gone. Peering over the sheer ledge, the boys spied Brandr’s broken form lying amongst the sharp stones below. Strange, Iben had thought then, he never even cried out as he fell. He’d never come to Alfheim, not until now. "Cursed, cursed… wicked place…" he muttered.

Finally they came to the cave in the mountain. The gnomish rogue, Karl Il-Tanith, took the lead, inspecting the cave before waving the others on to join him. As they crossed the wet scree, Sigurd the wizard noticed a series of footprints leading towards the back of the cave. Following them, the adventurers came to a tunnel leading deeper into the mountain. They all marvelled in silence at the huge stone that lay beside the tunnel mouth. It was obvious from the marks on the floor and walls that the stone had previously served as a door, keeping the tunnel sealed, though to keep something in or out was impossible to tell. The ranger swayed on his feet at the memories. And here is where we turned back, Iben gulped. Last time.

From within the cave, gruff, alien voices echoed outwards. Two creatures were engaged in a heated discussion, but none of the adventurers could understand them. The two argued a moment longer, until it seemed a decision was reached. An explosion rocked the cave, and the party members exchanged various looks of surprise and shock, but no further explosions seemed to be forthcoming. The brave gnome decided to chance some further investigation, and stepped forwards into the tunnel mouth. The short tunnel immediately opened onto another cave, but this one was a true wonder of nature. Crystalline walls and floor dazzled the eye with endless reflections and refractions, filling the air with every colour imaginable. Stalactites and staligmites shot from floor and ceiling everywhere, framing the waterfall that fell past the opening on the far side of the cave like fangs in a frost giant’s maw.

Karl motioned again for the others to join him. The room held almost a dozen odd-formed humanoids that could only be beastmen raiders. Another blue-skinned beast, kin to that which they’d fought in the burning boathouse, seemed to draw his fellow’s attentions, where it was engaged in a discussion with another beastman in the centre of a dark pool. The other was a tall, armoured creature with dark, beastial features and a white mohican haircut. A wicked-looking double-edged axe was strapped across it’s back. Between the two talking figures stood what would have appeared to be a statue, had they adventurers not previously discovered a near-identical oddity in the icy caves of Nine Mothers Gap. The group simultaneously wished that their staunch metallic ally was with them then.

The group watched on in curious silence as the blue-skinned beast, cowed by the mohawked beastman’s imposing presence, reached out towards the metallic, statue-like form with a shaking hand. As the beast placed his hand on the statue-like object soft waves of pale green energy pulsed through the figure and sent gentle ripples scross the pool. When the ripples settled a strange transformation had occured. Where the blue-skinned beast should have been reflected in the pool’s dark water, there appeared a shimmering white form of a slender, robed maiden.

The statue then slowly came to life, looking around, it’s gaze fixing on the beast infront of it.

“Designate…” The newly animated warrior paused, seemingly uncertain.

At that moment the beast’s new ghostly reflection flared brightly in the dark water. It’s tentative, searching fingers turned into grasping claws as it siezed the warforged warrior, hefted it above it’s head and threw it effortlessly through the waterfall. It turned around revealing pale glowing eyes and a blank countenance. It hefted a giant wooden club and swung at the beastman leader, a scarred orcish warrior, who, surprised, parried the blow just in time and began to defend himself.

“The beast appears possessed!” whispered Aengus.

Karl Il-Tanith, recognising a key moment to act, took advantage of everyone’s distraction to strike at the nearest beastman. The lizard-like creature let out a hideous rattling cry as it fell to Karl’s cruel dagger, and suddenly all eyes were on the gnome. Iben, Sigurd and Aengus let fly with spells and arrows as the beastial horde screamed their rage at the interruption.

Karl’s attention was suddenly and shockingly returned to his present, dire predicament as a beastman’s spear found it’s way past his guard, hooking him in the side above his belt. With a grunt of effort, his foe heaved the stricken gnome into the air, dumping him on the icy floor. Karl felt the air go out of him, but nevertheless made ready to roll to his feet to continue the fray. Sigurd and Aengus did their best to keep the beastmen back, with waves of arcane energy and lances of crackling eldritch power. After a short time, charred beastial corpses abounded, and the spellslingers had found some breathing room.

Meanwhile, Iben the hunter found himself beset by enemies where he fought to keep them from slaying fallen Karl. The man and the gnome fought back to back, Karl’s blood-slick knife dropping another lizard-like humanoid as Iben discarded his bow of yew and drew forth two woodsman’s axes. Aengus turned from where he’d just laid low one enemy with a green lance of energy to see a beastman charging him from the side, a lear of animal cunning drawn across it’s scaled face. Against his better judgement, the eladrin drew forth his gleaming silver longsword, lashing out with a perfectly-timed downward diagonal stroke and giving the creature a second smile, this one vertical, and with scant mirth. As he wiped the fine spray of blood from his eyes, the eladrin glanced across the cavern at the raging battle in the dark pool.

The armoured orc swung his wicked axe in a reckless arc, beheading one of his fellows. Staggering forwards, unbalanced by his attack, the beastman chieftan was struck in the back of the head and killed instantly by a massive club wielded by the blue beast. Breathing hard, the beast then dropped it’s own weapon, clutching at the grievous wound it bore in it’s chest. The adventurers all cried out in surprise as the few remaining beastmen fled from the cave, leaping through the yawning cave mouth at the far end and disappearing into the thundering waterfall.

With obvious effort, the blue-skinned creature bellowed to no one and everyone, this time in the common tongue: “We are not your friend, but neither are we your enemy. There is grave danger! The instrumentality knows!”

Aengus, noticing for the first time the odd disparity between the creature's appearance and it’s reflection in the water, addressed the beast thusly: “How long can you maintain control?” to which the beast answered “He knows!”, pointing cryptically at the bemused gnome, Karl, before keeling over in the shallow water, it’s dark blood quickly mingling with that of it’s former allies. In the eery silence that followed, all eyes turned to the gnome, and Aengus asked “What did the beast mean, Karl?”

The gnome could only shake his head as he answered wearily, “Signs and portents, milord. Sign and portents…”

Epilogue

The party tended to their wounds and searched the fallen, discovering two items of note upon the body of the apparent chieftan: A rune-engraved suit of metal armour, valuable despite heavy battle damage, and a runic greataxe, which Aengus and Sigurd quickly reveal to be enchanted. Iben claimed the axe as his own, while the armour was taken to be traded or sold in town. The party then found their way to the base of the waterfall to where the warforged had evidently fallen, but recovered only ruined parts, which they nonetheless kept (just in case).

Cinematic Interlude 

or

Convenient Time for James to Mess Around with Joe's meticulously tidy Wiki

(This is a tiny story to describe inn-game/in-character/whatever Iben's transition from ranger to barbarian when WotC released their playtest version of aforementioned character class. It takes place after the party return from Alfheim, during the following night before they leave for Himinborg with the dawn.)

Iben sat on the cold shore, his bare feet warming by a driftwood-fueled campfire. A dragonfish lay in the coals, it's skin crisping and curling while it's eyeballs melted and ran down it's scaled cheeks. Iben swung his shaggy head towards Kindraed as more shouts came from the stricken town, but couldn't summon the strength to go and help. The blaze was manageable now, they would cope without him. His jaw clenched reflexively and tears carved channels through the grime and blood on his cheeks as he thought of the raid on Kindraed. His people! To think they would come here and threaten the people of the sea! 

Iben felt his eyes close, yet still he saw. In the world behind his eyes he saw the dragonfish charring in the fire suddenly burst into flames, it's eye sockets spouting great gouts of flames that seemed to lick at the clouds above. The dragonfish seemed to moan and writhe in the flame. He was aware of a terrible heat at his back, and turned to see all of Kindraed burning. Terrible horned and scaled shapes ran amok in the streets, cutting down Iben's kinfolk and shouting, screaming and bleating, roaring and reveling in their triumph.

Iben cried out softly, choked with rage as a violent spasm seized his chest. He collapsed by the flames, clutching at his leather jerkin, struggling to breathe. The roaring, laughing beastfolk came closer, Iben could hear the cries of his kinfolk as they fell, could feel the spray of hot blood on his forehead and cheek, but still he was gripped by pain. The impotence was infuriating, enraging. He let out a rising shout, almost a scream of fury as he reached for the mighty longbow of yew that had been his companion for so many long years, but when his fingers closed on it they were burnt. The mighty bow was wreathed in flames, charred black and brittle. Iben pulled his fingers back, reached instead for the runic axe he'd claimed from the beastman chieftan in the cave of ice beneath Alfheim. As he hefted the ancient weapon aloft in his burnt hand, Iben felt power and fury surge through him. The beastial cries of the enemy grew fainter until they'd disappeared completely and the flames engulfing Kindraed died.

Finally the smoke was blown away by a cold wind, and Kindraed disappeared with it, replaced by dark hills and cold, bare valleys full of twisted, beastial humanoid creatures. Looking down, Iben saw he was knee deep in bleached bones. The pain in his burnt left hand flared briefly. Iben's fears for his people were crystalised in that instant, his fear of destruction at the hands of inhuman marauders from across the sea. He began to speak, but only an inhuman growl came out. His burnt hand shot with pain as he gripped the haft of his heavy axe tighter, focusing his mind. With effort, he managed to form words again, but they came out thick and heavy as though he'd never spoken before: "I will take vengeance for all Kindraeders, now and forever… The skulls of beastmen shall hang from my belt, my pommel, my saddlehorn, my prow! Their pelts shall line my boots, I will wear their horns on a helm, their fangs and tusks and claws on a thong about my neck… I will grind their bones, their gizzards and their kings beneath my feet, and burn their cities to the ground."

Suddenly overcome by exhaustion, Iben collapsed backwards on the ground by the fire, the axe falling from his hand to lie beside him. The last thing he saw as he passed out was the burnt skull of the dragonfish gazing at him, wreathed in flickering flame… He dreamt that night of burning landscapes, the world aflame, yet cold. He felt like the dragonfish, swimming blind through unknown depths, unheeding of the peril that lurked all around… 

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A Mystery in the Mountain
Second Session

Aengus, the eladrin spell-slinger, whirled about at the massive crash and gasped at the sight of horrid beast that now presented itself, roaring strange words in a harsh alien dialect. Aengus had scant seconds to assess the situation: Iben and Sigurd were trying to free the trapped fisherman, tied by his ankles upside down from the ceiling, and Karl the gnome was nowhere to be seen. He decided to play for time. "Hail!" Aengus called out, revealing his position on the first story walkway above the beast's head, "Can you understand me?" The creature swung it's great shaggy head about, quickly locating the eladrin on his rapidly disintegrating perch. To Aengus' great surprise, the creature responded in some rough alien tongue, it's taloned fingers curling into a fist as it spoke. Aengus decided then to stop wasting time on pleasantries and summoned forth magical energy, using his innate ties to the feywild. Crackling green energy coiled around his slender arm, which he directed down towards blue beast. The beast was taken by surprise, and staggered to one side as the luminous missile tore into it's flank. Karl saw a chance and took it, coming up behind the blue beast and sinking his dagger into the creature's unprotected back. The beast howled with pain and frustration. Aengus showed his awareness was no less keen than the gnome's, and unleashed a second spear of energy directly into the blue beast's face. The torrent of eldritch power lanced directly through the eye and burst out the back of the creature's skull. It collapsed, utterly lifeless, into the flames, but not before Karl could pluck one of the rune-inscribed skulls from it's loincloth for later inspection.

Sigurd and Iben quickly had the fisherman down and took outside where his fellow Kindraeders began to nurse him. The party questioned the party on the night's events. They discovered that a raiding party of reptilian humanoids, along with an orc and possibly other evil creatures had struck, looting the stores and asking, somewhat cryptically, "What's in the mountain?" They were of course referring to Alfheim, the peak overlooking Kindraed, sandwiching the tiny village against the dark shore. For all of Kindraed's long existence the Alfheim had been a source of great fear and mystery. Iben remembered his own explorations of the small mountain as a boy, before the cloying superstition of his people got the better of him. It was said that the mountain was linked to the Feywild, that mystical home of the elves, eladrin, gnomes and other fey creatures, but none could say exactly how. It came out that Ingo's daughter, Inga, had been taken by the raiders, and the Kindraeders said in hushed tones that they'd taken her to the Alfheim. Ingo implored them to go after his daughter, and the party decided to set off immediately, hoping the catch the villains unawares.

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Shadow over Kindraed...
Second Session

The party sailed through the night toward the fishing village of Kindraed, though it quickly became apparent that the damage done to the main sail by Aengus's errant magic was severe indeed. They came to a decision to set ashore earlier than intended and travel overland to Kindraed rather than row all the way around the spit. The warforged valiantly volunteered to tow the boat behind himself along the shore, and to meet them at Kindraed. That was how they left him after putting ashore, walking grimly into the waves, tow-rope in hand. Slowly the boat lurched after him, seeming to the unaware observer as though it must be crewed by ghosts.

After a short overland trek, the group – sans warforged –  crested the wooded rise above Iben's home town of Kindraed, and all stopped in shocked silence at the sight before them. Kindraed was burning! Iben let out a muffled cry of horror as he raced headlong down the snowy slope towards the town, the others following close behind. As he got closer, the hunter noticed that the boahouse was burning; the town's only wooden building. The townspeople had gathered around and were working quickly to contain the blaze that had already engulfed the building's high walls. Ignoring his fellow townsfolk's exclamations of surprise at his sudden return, Iben rushed towards the stricken boathouse. The Kindraeders were shouting something about raiders, but Iben dismissed them as fanciful: Raiders had never dared to strike so close to Himmenborg. From within the boathouse came cries of fear. The villagers were clearly busy with the fire itself, and so it fell to the adventurers to attempt a rescue. Thinking quickly, Sigurd conjured forth a magical ray of ice, temporarily making a safe entrance to the burning building via the window. The party barreled through and once inside quickly located the fisherman, Ingo, trapped inside.

Meanwhile, Karl Il-Tannith, the gnome, was hanging back on the wooded hillside above the town. He kept his keen eyes peeled, scouting for any danger that might present itself, or any clue to the mystery of the burning boathouse. So preoccupied by his task was he that he scarcely noticed the approaching thump thump thump of approaching footsteps. A moment later Karl was almost bowled over as a massive blue-skinned humanoiid thundered past him towards the town! He made out a strange cluster of spikes across the creature's shoulders, and a crude club that looked as though it had been fashioned from an uprooted tree. Cursing himself for his lack of awareness, Karl gave chase to the creature, taking care not to attract it's attention. To Karl's horror, the blue beast crashed headlong through the side of the burning boathouse, the very building into which Karl's companions had disappeared just moments earlier!

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Homecoming

I will catch a dragon fish and feed her to the Fey,
Who look down from the mountain where they watch our children play,
They look out from the silver stream that falls from up on high,
They watch our children dance by day, by night they watch them lie.

I will catch a dragon fish and feed her to the moon,
That lights the silent waters of the ancient Fey lagoon,
From the darkness of the ocean to the black and sandy shore,
But a ripple on the water and the moon will dance once more.

I will catch a dragon fish and feed her to the land,
Where once there walked a maiden fair, the moon upon her hand,
Her foot trod lichen carpet and her brow with garland lain,
Lies now below the water where the palened lass was slain.

I will catch a dragon fish and feed her to the sea,
Where once were halls of golden boughs now shall sorrows be,
The weeping of the hours pass before the sun shall rise,
Upon that pool of blackened glass where my fair maiden lies.

I shall catch a dragon fish and turn it on the hearth,
In my home of mud and timber on the black sand path,
The house of all my fathers where my children shall be born,
From whence we hear the whispers till the coming of the dawn.

From ‘Homecoming’, a traditional song from Kindraed

The evening draws near as the survivors of the Aurora make landfall after the battle of Nine Mothers Gap. The boat can sail no further as the sail was damaged by an eldritch misfire in the chaotic escape. As the chill descends once more, Iben suggests that the party continue along the shore to Kindraed, the small fishing village he calls home. The Warforged knight, suggesting that he will bring the boat after them, ties a heavy rope to the prow. Holding the other end he walks slowly and purposefully into the sea, disappearing beneath the waves. The boat lurches, and turns slowly in the water as the rope creaks taught. The party watch as the boat seems to drift into the growing darkness.

By torchlight the companions clamber across mussel-spined rocks and stretches of coarse sand as they follow the coastline eastwards. With night soon upon them they round the final point, and from across the rock-ringed bay they espy Kindraed. But to Iben’s horror, all is not well…



The ancient settlement of Kindraed has stood here on the black sandy shores of the Kindersee for hundreds of years in the shadow of a dark mountain known as Aelfborg. The presence of Aelfheim touches upon every aspect of the lives of the Kindraeder. They offer wine to the spirits of the woods so that in their revelry they will leave the hunters unharmed, they sing to the stars, whose reflections in the night sea are the spirits of the fallen, and they burn effigies to keep malignant spirits deep within the mountain, as it is said to have been cursed long ago. The wind, the waves, rain and fire, night and day, Alfheim is as much a part of this world as all the gods in the heavens, for whether malevolent or benign, the spirits must be tempered with ancient practices that lie at the heart of this community. The 13 houses of Kindraed are large and round, built from stones and mud about a central hearth. The villagers are skilled in their crafts, old crones shrouded in coarse black cloth gut dragonfish with a razor sharp knife in their wizened hands. Fishermen cast their nets far across the green waters of the Kindersee, and mother work their looms with spit and spindle while the children tend their fathers pigs in muddy pens on the slopes of the mountain.

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An Orderly Withdrawl
First Session

"Back to the boat!" hollered Aengus, as the new skeletal legion closed in. Further cracking noises in the darkness, combined with the continuing stamp of bony feet from behind the ranks, made everyone swift to comply.Iben cut the rope holding the boat in place as each person climbed aboard. For a second he wondered at allowing the Warforged aboard – could he really be trusted? – but then thinking of his actions and the way he had healed Karl made his mind up.

Sigurd spoke again to the elemental powering the boat, bidding it take them with all speed back out of the cavern and on their way. With a mighty breath, the boat leapt away from the ice-ledge, skeletons pouring forwards after it. The cavern ceiling and walls began to crack and splinter under the strain, chunks of ice raining down from above. The boat scraped through the opening back into the fast-flowing current outside, riding over the remains of the Aurora for the final time and leaving that doomed boat behind forever.

Any hopes that the skeletons would be left behind as well was soon dashed, however. Caves in the Icewall all around them soon had more figures emerging from them, all clutching weapons. Several leapt down into the boat as it passed, and battle was joined once more. Iben smashed one back with an axe as Aengus fired another green spear. The skeleton he was aiming at ducked, and Sigurd cursed to see a neat hole burned in their sail. Within seconds, however, Karl had struck down the swift-moving foe and ditched it over the side.

At the front of the boat, the Warforged knelt, one hand holding his morningstar. "My Lord Kord!" he called out. "Grant us safe passage through this day, so that we may do your bidding furthermore!" As if to emphasise his point, a skeleton that had been quietly trying to board the boat on one side was smashed back into the water by a mailed fist, the Warforged glaring down at it.

Looking behind, Sigurd spotted another boat of similar size following them. Peering through the gloom, it appeared that black-clad figures were fighting on that boat, too, but they also seemed to have time to draw bows and fire across the water at them.

"Ware arrows!" cried Sigurd, ducking down. The shower of arrows rattled into the boat, but did no lasting harm. Finally, with further exhortations to speed and despite a few more skeletons attempting to hitch a ride, the boat suddenly burst free into clear water, leaving the ice behind. Looking around, it appeared that both the skeletons and the persuing boat had been left behind in the Icewall.

The armour, weapons and bones of their foes still littered the bottom of the boat. The Warforged, Karl and Aengus sifted through them, finally coming to the conclusion that there were at least three different factions amongst the skeletons from clues found in the insignia worn. The bones were dumped overboard, but the armour and weapons kept for possible resale. The sun shining down on them, they set sail for Kindraed.


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The Skeletons Attack
First Session

Reacting quickest of all, Karl ran towards one skeleton and buried his shortsword into it's ribcage, shattering it. Although the skeleton faltered in it's approach for a moment, the necrotic energy driving it on still raged, and it raised it's weapon high. However Aengus, from his position next to the newly-awakened Warforged, called forth a spear of brilliant green and flung it from his hand, and the skeleton collapsed into the snow. Aengus then moved off to one side, his form fading into the background and he invoked the power of his fey pact.

Two more skeletons attacked the Warforged, blades shining in the light. Smashing his morningstar into one of them, he invoked his Righteous Brand, gesturing for Iben to follow up his attack. Two arrows sped from Iben's bow in as many seconds, and another skeleton crumbled away. The second, however, proved a more elusive foe, it's confident movements and sharp attacks causing the Warforged to suffer a scrape along one arm.

Sigurd, standing near the boat on an icy ledge, turned to see two more skeletons climbing out of the water, their rictus grins promising nothing but pain should they reach her. With a yell, she cast a Thunderwave and a roar of sound struck them both, causing snow to explode out in all directions. One managed to get it's shield in the way, blocking the damage, but the other was pushed back and shaken, falling prone on the edge. It's bones almost cracked under the pressure, but it managed to climb back to it's feet, the light glittering off the icy patches on it's skull.

The skeletons moved in as a group, striking swiftly at those nearest to them. Karl, in particular, found a new foe engaging him and Sigurd, wounding him in the shoulder. With a simple turn and gesture, the Warforged called out a Healing Word, and Karl was astonished to find the wound closing up. He grinned back at the skeleton, hefting his blade and matching it stroke for stroke.

Staying on the edge of the battle. Aengus threw another magical spear, this time managing to curve it around his ally to strike home. Karl, taking advantage of the distraction, slipped into a flanking position with a shouted "Thank you, my Lord!" and attacked his foe from behind as it attempted to slice Sigurd in two. Sigurd, in turn, had made a patch of ground even more icy, causing the skeleton standing upon it to pick it's way carefully toward her rather than running forwards.

All the time, the sound of marching feet was coming from further into the cavern. Were reinforcements arriving? And for who?

Still standing where he had been discovered, the Warforged smashed forwards into the swift skeleton he faced, and as he connected a thunderous roar sounded in the cavern, causing a fine mist of ice to fall from the ceiling. This magical augmentation of his strike dazed his foe, and Iben was able to swiftly dart round behind it, drawing a pair of axes as he went, and do more damage. Finally, with a muttered blessing, the Warforged charged his weapon with fire and swept it through the skeleton's ribcage, crushing it utterly. The fire spread throughout the rest of it's bones, and they quickly burnt to ash.

The tide of battle turned, and Sigurd, Karl and Aengus quickly dispatched the remaining two skeletons, with Iben scoring the final blow. His arrow penetrated the skull of the last skeleton, and the light in it's eyes faded as it slumped to the ground.

As each combatant took a second to catch their breath, the Warforged pointed towards the back of the cavern. Following his gaze, the group could see a further legion of skeletons emerging, and with further cracks and more splintering of ice, more foes started to push their way out of the ice and began to move towards them. The situation looked bleak.


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The Warforged Stirs
First Session


The blue light spread throughout the Warforged's body, illuminating each joint and link. As it reached the floor, it began to spread out across the room, racing across the snow and ice to several other pillars and shapes. Slowly looking from one figure to another, the Warforged appeared to come to some sort of decision. It's mouth opened, and for the first time in more than two hundred years, it spoke.

"Designation: Ally" it stated, staring at Iben. Iben realised that it was looking at the religious icons that he wore around his neck. Quickly, he found an icon of Kord and raised it. "Ally!" he called out.

The Warforged looked down at it's own feet, seeing the ice melting away around it. Letting the morningstar fall to the ground, it stretched out it's arms and shook the accumulated weight of years free from it. Splintering and cracking, the encasing ice fell away slowly, raising a small cloud of ice-dust on the floor. The blue light went with it, spreading further out into the room and flooding the columns of ice that surrounded everyone. At the feet of the Warforged, a symbol of magical power glowed briefly in the floor.

With a loud crack, one column shattered in place! Breaking out from inside was a skeletal figure, clad in the remnant's of armour and clutching a battered axe. It's head turned towards Karl, the nearest living creature to it and it began to advance.

Within seconds, several more loud cracks and crunches heralded the arrival of several more skeletons from around the room, one wading through the water to approach. Dimly, Aengus could hear sounds of more movement from further within the cavern, echoing through the ice.

The Warforged turned it's attention to the skeletons, turning slowly to face the nearest. "Designation: Foe!" it cried out, snatching up the morningstar from it's side and taking a step to form a defensive line with Aengus. The others all drew weapons as well, instinctively closing up a little.

With a terrible rattle of bones and the click of feet on ice, the skeletons attacked!


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