The party continued their journey to the Malachite Fortress, traveling south through the forest, following the banks of the Felanduin River. They found evidence of an old, paved road to the now ruined eladrin city of Tir Kitor along the riverbanks, with the occasional paving stones peeking out beneath the soil and long grass. As they traveled further, they came across a body at the river’s edge, the current washing the corpse ashore. A quick investigation revealed it was an elf male, cold, but not yet decomposed. Shivra was grim as she finished her examination, and the party unsheathed their weapons and continued south, but much more cautiously.
A distant howl carried on the breeze was the first warning the party received, and a number of answering howls put the adventurers further on edge. They gathered into a defensive formation, slowly moving along the river, all of them scanning the edge of the forest for any sign of danger.
Shivra was the first to see the massive direwolf step out from the shadows of the forest, seventy feet away. Covered in dark grey fur, it stood nearly six feet tall at the shoulder, and it bared its teeth and gave a low growl. Malroc growled in response and brandished his axe. The companions cursed aloud, as it was joined by another direwolf and a pack of lesser, normal wolves.
In a flash of grey, the entire pack sprang forward in unison, their quick strides bringing them upon the party. They pounced, fangs bared, and those that made it past the party’s defenses knocked their quarry to the ground. The wolf pack’s tactics made the ensuing combat chaotic, as the wolves were able to repeatedly swarm and drag the adventurers down to the ground.
As the party desperately fended off the wolves attacks, they were dismayed to see them joined by another direwolf and its orc master. The orc howled in glee as it saw its wolf allies tear into the besieged adventurers and it charged, swinging a cruelly edged greatsword. The ensuing fight was ferocious and deadly, but the party was able to regroup somewhat. On a more even footing, their superior teamwork and mighty powers were able to swing the battle in their favor. Eventually, they were able to kill their opponents, and the last two direwolves fled rather than face the risen fury of the heroes.
Weary from their fight, the party decided to try and find a place to rest. Seeking cover in the forest, Malroc found a suitable, defensible location. The wounded company tried to take shelter, but the howling of wolves indicated that they were still being pursued. They quickly took a vote. While some wanted to flee, the majority wanted to make a stand, and so they assumed a defensive position and awaited their foes.
The wolves that had been tracking their scent were the first to attack, their forms seemingly grey streaks as they charged through the shadowed forest. As the party fended off the small pack, the wolves were joined by their orc masters. Most were great brutes in heavy armor, wielding large, deadly axes or spiked clubs. They were also accompanied by a few orcs who used longbows to deadly effect, as well as an orc shaman capable of conjuring lightning to strike at the adventurers.
The battle was intense, and though the party was able to slay many of their enemies, the orc archers and warriors’ attacks started to break through the adventurers’ defenses. Caught in an attrition battle that they could not win, one by one the heroes fell before the orcish onslaught. As he watched his friends dying around him, Stravo made the painful decision to flee. Vowing to return and save the fallen, the half-elf bard darted away through the forest and made for the town of Westreach.
Alone and outnumbered, Malroc resigned himself to his fate. Roaring exhortations of strength to his ancestors, the powerful minotaur refused to die easily. “You may kill me,” the warden growled, “but I’m taking some of you with me!” The promise of death flashed in Malroc’s eyes as he brought his axe down upon his foes, spilling their blood across the forest floor. Inspired, he fought, dodging his enemies swings and striking back at their weak spots. The minotaur smiled grimly as another orc fell beneath his axe, but the remaining orcs managed to flank the lone hero. Malroc let out a roar as he felt a blade pierce his side. As his life force ebbed from his body, Malroc summoned the last of his strength and brought his axe across in a mighty swing, tearing across an orc throat and nearly severing its head. The minotaur dropped to his knees, covered in the blood of his opponents, and as the darkness enveloped him, Malroc had a smile on his face.
Far away, Stravo raced north along the river, his eyes red from tears shed for his fallen companions. Though his wounds burned and his muscles ached, the half-elf refused to stop. Hours passed and the bard kept running, not slowing till he saw the lights of Westreach. Exhausted, he staggered into town and toward the home of Lyris, the one ally he still knew. She wore an alarmed expression as she answered the door, seeing Stravo alone and uncharacteristically worn and haggard.
Lyris ushered Stravo into her family’s home, and the bard sorrowfully related the account of the disastrous fight. Lyris listened quietly, knowing full well the pain of losing friends. She promised Stravo that in the morning, they would find people to help him, but for now, he needed to rest and recover from the ordeal. She directed him to a guest bedroom and Stravo was fast asleep moments after his head hit the pillow.
When the next day dawned and the sun illuminated the morning sky, Stravo woke to find himself more thoughtful and somber that he could ever remember. After quickly washing himself and cleaning his gear, he left the room to find Lyris. The bard found her in the kitchen, a quick meal already prepared. She knew of people that might help, after a quick breakfast, the pair of half-elves left to find some aid.
Lyris knew of a cleric in town that might possess the power and knowledge necessary to raise Stravo‘s companions. She led her friend through the old city streets and arrived at church dedicated to Pelor. There she introduced him to Quinn Bronn, a human priest. He was older as humans reckon, perhaps in his mid 50’s, balding with whisps of gray hair.
After Stravo introduced himself and explained his predicament, Quinn seemed genuinely moved. The old priest said he had the resources to enact a raise dead ritual, but that he was too old and frail to accompany the bard back to the spot where he lost his friends. Quinn did have other contacts throughout the city, so he might be able to gather a group of adventurous individuals to aid the bard in an attempt to recover the remains of his fallen allies.
Stravo nodded somberly, and Lyris reassured her friend that no matter who Quinn found, that she would join him in his adventures and restore his companions. When they met again with the old priest, he had a number of new faces accompanying him.
The first was Brathis the Bold, a mighty paladin of Pelor. Fate or divine guidance had led his adventures to Westreach. The stories of Stravo and his fallen allies indicated that they had worked for good, and to protect the settlements of Hawkstone Vale. With orcs and worse creatures preying on the innocent, Brathis would help the bard eradicate them and revive his friends.
Next was Vorsk, a powerfully build dragonborn. Stravo recognized him as the innkeeper of the The Smiling Siren, but the dragonborn’s muscles and the ease of which he handled himself with weapons and armor left little doubt of Vorsk’s prowess. The draconic warrior hinted that he had served some time in mercenary companies, and while running an inn was a nice rest, it would be good to see a bit of action again.
Finally, Quinn smiled as he introduced Alena, a youthful, attractive and scandalously dressed eladrin witch. Orphaned at a young age, Alena had learned the arcane ways by picking up bits of knowledge gathered from certain town elders who lived just outside of Westreach. She was familiar with the forest and her growing curiousity and desire to test her magical skills prompted her to answer Quinn‘s call for aid. The frown on Brathis’s face as he studied his new ally, as well as her imp familiar, clearly showed his skepticism, but the paladin stoicly said nothing.
Stravo thanked them for their willingness to aid him. Concern for the fate of his slain friends drove the half-elf though, and he asked that they leave as soon as possible. Quinn nodded and invoked Pelor’s blessing upon them as the new party gathered their belongings. Lyris imparted her gratitude to the old priest, and the group left to find the bodies of Stravo’s companions.
The group made haste, talking and introducing themselves as they walked along the path Stravo laid out for them. A traveling ritual from the bard enabled them to cover ground much more quickly, and with some luck, Stravo was able to return to the site of his previous adventuring party’s last stand.
The signs of the earlier battle was clear. Blood was spattered along the ground and trees, and the earth was marked by boot prints and drag marks. Alena even managed to find a few discarded weapons among the forest undergrowth. But there were no sign of any bodies, or Stravo’s fallen friends.
Stravo cursed in frustration, but the howling of wolves echoing through the forest left little time for contemplation. “To arms,” Vorsk growled, and he and the paladin moved to protect their allies.
The wolves came at them from all sides, though with careful positioning, the warriors managed to keep the beasts away from their spellcasting companions. The witch and wizard’s spells arced through the forest, blasting their foes. And the bard waded into combat, crying for vengeance, his great fullblade slicing hungrily into his enemies. The wolves stood little chance against the combined fury of the party, and there were no orcs to help them.
After the battle, they searched for tracks, or some clue of what happened to the missing bodies. They could not find anything recent, but Alena and Vorsk found some older orc tracks heading south. Having little else to go on, Stravo led them to follow the tracks. After following a winding path, the trail soon led back to the river, and the old road to Tir Kitor.
The sun was shining, and the weather was warm, with a gentle breeze. In the distance, they could make out the ruins of the eladrin city. There were no obvious signs of activity from the abandoned settlement, and as they approached, they saw that the most prominent tracks skirted the city altogether. The party had a quick debate, as some wanted to investigate the ruins, while others wanted to stick to following the tracks. In the end, Vorsk decided to wait for the others outside the city limits. The rest of the group would do a hopefully quick investigation of the nearby buildings.
As the party entered the ruins of Tir Kitor, there was a moment where they could feel a slight tingle and Alena’s imp familiar became agitated. Another step later, they saw the sky darken with clouds, the wind became stronger, it began to rain and they could see occasional flashes of lightning nearby. On a suspicion, Lyris took a few steps backward. Another slight tingling sensation, and the weather was once again sunny and pleasant. For her companions further in, it was still stormy and tempestuous. This all but confirmed some sort of magical ward or barrier surrounded the city, and the weather within was different from the weather without. She told the others of her findings, and they voiced their speculations on the nature of the warding. It seemed to do them no ill, so they continued their exploration.
Brathis led the way, and the first notable, intact building seemed to be an old manor house. The image of two griffons combatant was etched in the stonework above the door, as well as on the great wooden double doors themselves. There was the sound of some commotion inside, and as they cautiously approached, they could make out the forms of some dark red, demonic creatures ransacking the house, looking for something.
A lucky bit of stealth enabled the the party to sneak close and get in to defensive positions. The fiery demons soon were alerted to their presence and moved to attack them. Stepping unflinchingly toward their enemies, Brathis waded into battle with the unholy fiends. The demons started to flank the paladin, but the bard was ready to aid his friend. Pressed into frontline combat, Stravo did not hesitate to bring his fullblade to bear, hacking at the fiendish opponents. As the warriors engaged in melee with their opponents, the witch and mage continued to blast away at the foul creatures with their spells.
After the defeated demons collapsed into piles of ashes, the party began to examine the ruined manor. After a bit of searching, Alena found a small, silvery signet ring hidden beneath the remains of a shattered cabinet. The eladrin witch placed it on her finger and admired it. Much like the main door, it too bore the image of griffons combatant on it. That image was again repeated on another set of locked doors leading downward toward a basement or cellar. These other doors gave off a faint magical aura, and while they remained locked for everyone else, they opened at Alena’s slightest touch.
Behind the door there were stairs, leading to a crypt beneath the manor house. There was an upper crypt, where rested the most honored members of the family, and a larger mausoleum, where the rest of the family’s remains lay. A heavy mist swirled and clung to the mausoleum floor. As they cautiously explored the undercrypt, they discovered a large, ornately decorated sarcophagus, lying in a place of honor. As they approached, the mist began to coalesce into the forms of ghostly figures and they rasped a warning to the party.
“Only the blood of House Gryffonsheld may enter here safely,” the phantasms warned. Almost in response, the ring on Alena’s finger pulsed. The witch told the ghosts that she did not know her parents or their lineage, but the specters did not attack or tell them to depart. The party asked a few questions, and the ghosts spoke freely.
The spectral figures related that the city had been destroyed by an ancient primordial, Ty-h’kadi, an elemental being of storm and lightning. It had originally been bound beneath the Redstone Hills, near the Malachite Fortress. Some unknown force had released it, and it rampaged, destroying much of the fortress. After it escaped, it rampaged through the countryside, until it came to Tir Kitor. As it attacked the city, the eladrin High Mages realized that they did not have the power to stop it and the city would soon be crushed beneath the primordial’s assault. They appealed to Corellon, who gave them a powerful ritual that would imprison Ty-h’kadi and bind it once again. The cost of the ritual was great, however, and would require the sacrifice of the High Mages’ lives.
The High Mages made the sacrifice, enacted the ritual, and saved what was left of the populace, capturing Ty-h’kadi, and raising a ward about the city. This ward kept the evil elemental creatures trapped within, as well as preventing their allies from entering the city. The trapped creatures have begun looking for ways to disrupt the ward. The spirits warn that if the elementals or demons find a way to disturb the resting places of the High Mages, that may weaken the warding and allow their escape. On a greater scale, this too may weaken the binding that imprisions the primordial.
The party pledged to help the spirits, to keep the High Mages’ bodies safe, and to keep Ty-h’kadi safely locked away. In gratitude, the spirits offered the party some items of magical power, to aid them. In addition, they promised additional aid as the heroes prove themselves worthy. The companions thanked them and after a brief rest, returned to Vorsk, who was bewildered by the story they related to him.
The reunited friends continued following the original trail, which led around the city and to a small group of buildings that was once a merchant’s waypoint. As they investigated, they were ambushed by what appeared to be one of Stravo’s former companions, Shivra.
Hissing a curse toward Stravo, she directed swarms of giant spiders to attack the adventuring group, while she darted in to attack from the other flank. She surprised her former ally, blasting the group with spells that Stravo had never seen her enact in life. With her spiders, Shivra almost proved a match for them, battling them fiercely. As the party killed the last of the spiders, Shivra vanished into the shadows, vowing that she was not yet done with Stravo. Shaken and wearied by their battle, the party returned to the crypts beneath Gryffonsheld Manor to rest and recover.
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