Tag: A Royal Sickness

Graveyard Consequences

Previously, the Heroes of the White Eye managed to meet some of the servants at Blackbough Mansion and some of the residents of Blackbough Village and found that the former were living under the rule of lord Oswin, while the latter lived under the rule of the Good Sisters of the Grove, a trio of folklore spirits which accepted gifts and sacrifices in return for safety and prosperity. The heroes also found that the abandoned church was littered with the writings of father Gregory, a priest who had tried to shepherd the villagers away from their superstitions and into the arms of the Platinum Father, only to find just how cruel the good sisters could be to those who opposed them.

Sixth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon in high sanction.)

Once the heroes had reconstructed all of father Gregory’s writings, and exhausted all that was to learn from them, it was well past sundown. Quentin felt that the best course of action would be to leave Blackbough; he felt it was impossible for the heroes to withstand the power of the good sisters if father Gregory, a man of faith, wasn’t able to withstand them. This elicited a sardonic chuckle from James, who was snacking on some food while leaning up against the altar.

Emrys suggested going back to Blackbough mansion. Luca agreed and asked James whether he still had some stiff drinks that he could share. James rummaged around in that mysterious bag of his and said that he should have enough to get through the night. It was unclear whether James was serious or not.

Luca took the time to memorise the writings of father Gregory while the rest gathered up their things in order to return to Blackbough. A conversation came up when Luca wondered aloud whether the villagers may be watching them. He felt that the villagers were distrustful of the heroes and Emrys briefly wondered whether the writings they had found were even to be trusted, or whether they were planted for the heroes to find. Quentin thought it could have been a test. The heroes briefly entertained the thought before abandoning it.

Just before departure, Luca noticed that there were spores and mushrooms growing on on the side of one of the pews and from between the cracks of the floor tiles. It reminded him of to a disturbing dream he had right before waking up in Old Llygad for the first time. He was chased by a black steed, engulfed in smoke and flame, through the ruins of an old church. He was certain that it had been this church that he had seen in his dream.

When the heroes left the church to make their way back to Blackbough they found that a thick mist had settled over the graveyard outside. Several figures were skulking in the mist; grotesque humanoid with deformed heads and missing their skin, exposing bloody muscle, sinew and bone. Their leader, it seemed, had a horrific addition of bony spikes protruding from its flesh at ghastly angles. It became clear that they were laying in waiting when they immediately and aggressively moved in to attack the heroes.

Despite their viciousness the heroes managed to vanquish the ghoulish creatures, but not without paying a hefty price in blood. It was when the heroes discovered that they were susceptible to fire that the tide of the battle turned into their favour. When the ambushers had been defeated, Luca noticed a tall, slender figure retreating in the mist. He thought he saw that the figure had horns. Later, when the heroes were safely back at the mansion, James shared that he had not seen any horns, but that he thought he had seen a tall, slender woman wearing a veil.

At the mansion, the heroes were received and immediately tended to. Lord Oswin made sure that their wounds were treated and that they had everything they needed, once again underscoring the laws of hospitality.

Luca had read that during the Age of Fear, when humanity was opposing the forces of chaos, law and order were considered an important way to oppose the threat. Anyone caught breaking the laws of hospitality were considered in league with demons. Humanity was so dependent on one other for survival that the laws of hospitality were considered sacred. The Age of Fear made way for The Great Waning, which in turn lead to the Age of Peace, but some of these customs survived and were still held in high regard in the more conservative and remote parts of the Verdant Kingdoms.

Seventh Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon in low sanction. Darkmoon is waning.)

You are troubled by haunting dreams throughout the night. You remember being chased through the fog-choked swamp by something large and malicious. You remember tripping and plunging into sinking sand. You tried to crawl out of the mud, but with every move you kept sinking deeper into the relentless bog. You remember feeling something pinch and you looked down to find leeches attaching themselves onto your skin. You remember feeling like you didn’t quite belong in your body; as if it wasn’t yours; like wearing an ill-fitting suit of clothing. You can’t quite remember how things ended and trying to recall other details proves almost impossible, but you feel shaken to your core and have to suppress the urge to pack your things and leave Blackbough.

Upon waking up from a terrible night’s sleep, haunted by strange dreams, Emrys felt exhausted. Blythe, lord Oswin’s majordomo, came to invite the heroes to break their fast together with the lord. The lord received the heroes in the great hall of his manor, where a large table was set up to host them. Lord Oswin was flanked by mistress Ysgith and lieutenant Aram of the Company of the Shield, the commanding officer of the house guard.

Quentin observed mistress Ysgith throughout the breakfast, to see if she had any strange leeches attached to her skin. He couldn’t see any, but did notice several red spots where he had first noticed the leech, as well as elsewhere on her skin.

Meanwhile, the heroes got a chance to talk to lieutenant Aram. They learned that there were eight mercenaries currently at Blackbough and another dozen at the hargrove. They also learned that Aram considers the elven attackers at the hargrove to be procyon due to the tactics they employ. Several men died in defending the grove, all of which were laid to rest in the graveyard at the abandoned church.

When the heroes turned the conversation to finding the ghost orchid, mistress Ysgith suggested the heroes decide what it would be worth to them, and bring an offering to the scarlet willow in the middle of the sacred grove. She implied that whatever it was that they were after, the good sisters might be able to help.

Blackbough and its Villagers

Previously, after surviving a fight with an ancient foglet only hours away from their destination, the heroes and their one remaining traveling companion, Isalien Willowborn, made it to Blackbough, a dreary hamlet on the side of a hillock. At the top of the hillock stood a wooden, fortified mansion which turned out to be the seat of house Blackbough. Lord Oswin, the head of the house, extended hospitality to the heroes, but was not able to direct them to finding a ghost orchid.

Sixth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon in high sanction.)

Once the servant, who had brought a crate of food to the cabin that the heroes had been assigned, had departed, Luca immediately asked the others whether they had noticed the grizzly, severed hand hanging from a leather string around his neck. James did not seem moved by it and wanted to start making a plan instead of dwelling on the servant.

Isalien and Astrid decided that they required more rest and planned to stay in the cabin. Luca and James were going to focus on talking to the different people around the mansion and in particular, James was interested in finding the servant who was shushed during their audience with lord Oswin. James hoped that the servant might be willing to share more when approached away from the lord. In the meantime, Emrys and Quentin would make their way to the hamlet in the hopes of getting some information from the villagers. Quentin could hopefully make use of ser Fulton’s shield, while Emrys could hopefully win them over with music. Before departure, Luca changed his clothing and took a moment to adopt a slightly different posture, even going so far as changing the inflection with which he spoke, aiming to seem more like a northerner.

It did not take long for James and Luca to have found the man they had wanted to speak to; a plain-faced majordomo who turned out to be a Bournemouth academy graduate who originally hailed from Rivermeet. He claimed that while he had been in Blackbough for a while, he had yet to get used to the dark superstitions the villagers believed in. He claimed that Mikkel, the servant who had brought the heroes their food, had been wearing the hand around his neck out of punishment, but refused to speak more on the subject. Increasingly more uncomfortable, he referred to mistress Ysgith, the woman who was lord Oswin’s council, in order to find out more about the ghost orchid.

Emrys and Quentin walked down the hillock into the dreary hamlet of Blackbough. They quickly noticed that there were very few villagers and those they noticed were either old, injured or nursing young ones. Strangely, they also didn’t notice many children, besides the very youngest. Another thing they did not see; if this village primarily consisted of loggers and lumberjacks, where was the sawmill? How did the people earn their keep?

Emrys pulled out his lute and sat down in the middle of the village and started to play a tune, while improvising a song which told the story of the ill queen, without going into some of the more negative consequences of her possible death. It had the desired effect and some of the villagers made their way over to listen.

An old, blind man by the name of Wyeth came over and asked one of the villagers to bring his logs. The logs were hollow, of different sizes and they made different sounds when the old man played them with sticks. His percussion nicely harmonised with Emrys’ strumming of his lute.

When the songs were done, Emrys and Quentin were able to talk to Wyeth, whom they called “the Acadian” even though he wasn’t one. He had been a log driver, who floated logs down the Ivel to Rivermeet, when he was attacked by drowners; the restless dead of those taken by the swamps. He was saved by a family of Acadians and nursed back to health by them.

Harrow the Elder, a man deep in his twilight years with a body so bent by time that he was barely able to stand unaided, was able to share that the village was under the protection of the Good Sisters of the Grove; a commonly held belief in spirits who governed what happened in the area and maintained a personal relationship with the villagers.

Old Abigail, an elderly woman of good constitution who was responsible for teaching the children of the village about plants, animals and hygiene. When learning about the heroes being attacked before arriving in Blackbough, she offered that the mist was a sign that the land felt threatened and that the sisters had sent the creature to defend the village. By extension of her tasks around the village, she was also able to talk about the different herbs and medicines that the swamp provided. The ghost orchid, however, was extremely rare and she wasn’t able to help there.

Emrys and Quentin also found that most of the villagers had been moved to the hargrove, a stretch of forest to the east that lord Oswin had wanted to start logging at. That explained the absence of a lot of the villagers. They also learned that there another way in which the village earned their keep was a bit of peat farming.

Luca and James also spoke to Nielen, a Fulham native who had moved to Blackbough a year ago in order to work the smithy at the mansion. Another discovery was that the guards were mercenaries of the Company of the Shield, of which lord Oswin used to be a member as one of the first freeriders. The company operated along the Plains of Strife.

Lastly, Luca and James found mistress Ysgith in a small garden behind the mansion. She explained that she came to Blackbough several rides ago in order to help lord Oswin achieve his goals. She was interested in helping the heroes find a ghost orchid, but wanted to know what the heroes were willing to sacrifice in order to get it. When they bid their goodbye to mistress Ysgith, James noticed that a leech was stuck on her neck, just below her ear.

When the heroes came together they shared what they had learned and came to the conclusion that they wanted to pay a visit to the abandoned church of Paladine. They were hoping to learn something more about the village and its inhabitants and were curious to see what Fedor, the scholar who had arrived in the summer, had managed to learn from his trip to the church.

Getting to the church turned out to be easy. They found the building badly damaged by vandalism and fire and that due to the holes in the roof the interior had been exposed to the elements, leaving doors and pews rotten and warped. The graveyard outside, while old and poorly maintained, did seem still used, with a few new people having been put to rest in fresh graves.

The inside of the building was no better than the outside; parts were badly damaged by fire and statues, paintings and tapestries were vandalised. Parchments and books were strewn everywhere, either weathered or burned. There were signs of a concerted effort to catalogue the written artifacts that were salvageable enough to be legible. Most of the writings were by father Gregory, the late priest at the church. The assumption that this cataloguing had been done by the visiting scholar.

The findings prompted the heroes to collaborate on reading through the artifacts and searching for anything the scholar may have missed. They found a few caches of writings that the scholar had overlooked and combined that with the catalogue they had found.

The villagers show no interest in following Paladine and are unconcerned about their fate after death.

The villagers are pagans who worship and obey a capricious whims of spirits who control the land and their fortune and they feel like they have a direct relationship with these spirits.

The villagers pay tribute to these spirits at a blossoming willow tree in the middle of a sacred grove to the south-east. These tributes range from small tokens to large, unspeakable blood sacrifices.

The spirits are called the “good sisters”, or “sisters of the grove” and there are three of them. They are named Memra, Druda and Gryza.

The sisters have been part of the of the local traditions for at least as far back as the first lord of Blackbough, in the seventh century. Old drawings of villagers bring offerings to three women at a grand willow tree.

The toll that the sisters have taken on the villagers over the past decades is enormous, all in the interest of small boons or benefit. They have lost all sense of perspective.

Given the opportunity, the sisters will approach you in order to strike a bargain. You just have to will it to happen and they will reveal themselves.

I have seen them drink in the blood of the first born and stretch the skins of the virgins. I have seen them dance naked in the blood soaked soil at the base of the tree. I have seen their dark pendants soak up the sanguine life spilling from their mouths after they drank their fill. The glee. The glee!

[Poor handwriting] They have promised me a reward for my sacrifice. They have promised they will let me sleep a dreamless sleep again, and release the dead in our graveyard from their control, and they will let the villagers make their own choice in who they want to follow. They promise me that the pain will soon subside. I can still pray with one hand. I can still carry the Book of Saint Catherine with me as I go and talk to the villagers. This time they will hear me and they might finally trust me, for I have sacrificed part of myself for them. Just like saint Catherine sacrificed herself for Ser William.

Arriving in Blackbough

Previously, the heroes and their travelling companions were lured deep into the fog by some promiscuous swamp lights while on their way to Blackbough to search for answers on the plight of the cursed Lyrian queen. The swamp lights eventually lead them straight into the claws of an ancient foglet. The fight was short and brutal, killing both Randall as well as Michel, with Astrid, Isalien and Luca nearly perishing as well.

Fifth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

After the battle had been won, the wounded had been revived and the dead had been recovered, James decided he wanted to chop the head of the ancient foglet but quickly found out that carrying that enormous head might be more than he bargained for. Instead, he decided to carve out the creature’s eyes and extract some of its teeth. If they wouldn’t catch him some crowns, they might be a nice souvenir.

Isalien used a thick branch of a nearby tree to fashion herself a crutch to take some of the weight off her injured leg. She began looking around for a good place to set up camp. Even though she assured the heroes that they were nearby Blackbough, the consensus was to wait until morning before heading into town. Before camp was made, Quentin lead some in giving the bodies of the fallen to the swamp by wrapping them tightly in their cloaks and blankets. Isalien asked for them to be placed beneath the high branches of a large cypress tree, hoping that they would become one with the tree as they passed.

When camp was made people took stock of their wounds and began to dress them. Astrid needed stiches and help with a dislocated shoulder. Several people were bandaged and James made good use of his healer’s kit, quickly spending many of the remaining supplies. It was late afternoon and there would be enough time for everyone to get eight hours of rest while still maintaining a watch.

Emrys created a small, smokey fire with some of the kindling that wasn’t completely soaked through. Together with  Luca he spent his watch on the lookout for those eerie swamp lights, which they saw darting around in the distance but never came in closer.

For those paying attention during their watch, they could see that the Bloodmoon was but a tiny sliver in the sky, with the Silvermoon being a beautiful crescent, while the Darkmoon stood in high sanction, casting an eerie blue glow across the swamp and the mist that undulated all around.

Sixth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon in high sanction.)

The next morning camp was broken up and despite the swelling and bruising of the fresh wounds, the journey continued. As predicted by Isalien, who still walked with the support of her improvised crutch, Blackbough was not more than two hours away.

In Blackbough, all decomposes; be it dead or very much alive. Rot blights trees, seeping sores torment beasts, and the whole swamp emits the acrid, stifling stench of decay.

Emerging from the mist, a small hillock comes into view, on the top of which stands a tall, wooden keep surrounded by a palisade. From the sides of the guard towers cling the soaked banners of the black tree of House Blackbough.

Down the slope of the hillock sits a hamlet of no more than a couple of dozen low huts made of bent logs, occasional crumbling masonry and rotting thatched roofs. A handful of sallow and bent people dressed in muddy robes tend to small gardens or are feeding a couple of sickly goats.

The heroes and their traveling companion made their way up the hillock and saw that the undulating mist receded enough to reveal another hillock in the distance. On top of it stood a large stone structure with a small tower. When they approached the wooden keep they saw that it was surrounded by a wide earthen wall with a tall palisade on top of it. The gate, a masonry structure with thick wooden doors which sat in a gap in the earthen wall and which carried a sturdy wooden tower atop it, was guarded by two well-armed guards. They carried halberds and swords at their side, and were dressed in studded leather enforced by plate pauldrons, gauntlets and splinted boots. Bits of chain reinforced where the leather strips fastened the armour. The gate tower had another guard atop it, as did the towers further along the palisade, each dressed similarly, but instead of a halberd, they carried crossbows.

Quentin was pushed forward in order to introduce the heroes and gain an audience. He seemed somewhat reluctant but proved to be quite comfortable in addressing the house guard in a manner that they responded well to. The guard opened the gate and allowed them entrance on the condition that they would stay their weapons. Inside the gate there stood wooden houses, barracks, stables with a hayloft and even a small granary. A smithy with a masonry forge and large bellows was the only structure besides the gate that was made of stone. In the middle of the yard stood a tall, wooden, multi-story manse with grey slate shingles for a roof. Everything looked quite well maintained.

The guard asked them to stay in the yard and went inside to announce their arrival. Several people came out of the manse, lead by a tall, thick limbed man with a hooked nose, dark, wicked eyebrows and a thick black beard. Lord Oswin’s head was shaved on both sides and he had a single strip of thick black hair that started at a widow’s peak, ran over his head and down the back in a thick braid. Several scars marred his face; one vertical scar along the side of his head, just behind his temple in particular.

Before the heroes could speak the man bellowed;

Lady Rowyn sent you to come and collect, has she? Well, you tell her that I understand full well what my responsibilities are and remind her of her own; I have requested more men to lay claim to the hargrove and instead of sending me men, she sends me tax collectors. Accompanied by an elf at that!

Quentin assured lord Oswin that the heroes were not sent by lady Rowyn and humbly asked to continue the conversation somewhere private due to the sensitive nature of their quest. Lord Oswin visibly relaxed and invited the heroes to choose two representatives to come inside and discuss while the rest remained outside. Quentin and James decided to follow and they were lead into a large hall, simply decorated, with benches lining the side, but with some large, elaborately carved chairs at the far end where lord Oswin and some of his people took seats.

One of the people who took a seat was a woman beyond her middle years. She was dressed well, but not lavishly, had neatly kept grey hair. She seemed too old to be lord Oswin’s wife, and too young to be his mother. When lord Oswin was asked about where ghost orchids could be found, he professed not to know much about the local flora, but introduced the woman as Ysgith. She said that she had heard of the orchid and claimed that they were legendary and grew on sites of great bloodshed, but couldn’t say where to find one.

When lord Oswin was asked whether any visitors had come through in the last few months, he said that besides the occasional Acadian, the only visitors was a scholar named Fedor who hailed from the Mazurian Hills who had come to investigate the abandoned church of Paladine. Lord Oswin had granted food and shelter to him and his guards and they spent a few days in Blackbough, going on several excursions. They left just before the feast of Midsummer. When asked about the abandoned church, lord Oswin explained that his father, the previous lord, had run the house coffers dry and could no longer pay the tithe to the church. When father Gregory turned to the villagers, who had never been pious followers of Paladine they quickly turned on the father and drove him out and pillaged the church.

Lord Oswin suggested talking to the villagers to possibly find out more about the ghost orchid. In the meantime, he offered the heroes shelter.

So I offer you a fire at which to warm your limbs. Also, a place at my table and beds for you to rest. On condition ye pledge to me one very small things; to respect the sacred laws of hospitality. Also, the elf maid that travels with you will have to remain in the cabin that is provided to you and is not allowed to roam.

Quentin took the pledge and he and James were reunited with the rest of the heroes who had remained outside. One of the guards walked them to one of the cabins on the yard and banged on the door. A servant opened up and was ordered to seek shelter elsewhere. There was enough space for all; a common room had a small hearth, a table and chairs, while the two other rooms had two beds each.

While the heroes were settling in and discussing on how to proceed, there was a knock on the door. A servant had come to bring them a crate of food; bread, cheese, goat’s milk, eggs, water. There was plenty for everyone. The man carried the crate inside and put it on the ground. He wore simple clothing and wooden shoes and as he bent forward, something dangling from around his neck slipped from underneath his shirt. He quickly put it back before hastily departing, but anyone who had been looking at him would have seen the decaying severed hand that was hanging from a leather string around his neck like a macabre talisman.

Ignis Fatuus

Previously, the heroes arrived in Eastray and found their way to the Hungry Hag where they took some much needed rest. Luca explored the city for a while and learned what was going on. Upon his return to the Hungry Hag, he and James had a conversation with a strange Mazurian noble, lady Azsharastrasza, or lady Asha for short, who was looking for people to trace down her mate, whom she claimed had fallen victim to a charismatic priest of the Cult of the Dark Queen by the name of Dominik. She had tracked the cult down to Dunagore and managed to find out the location of their hideout; an ancient temple deep in the hinterlands of Eastmarsh. She also had a stone statue that resembled the one that the Sheridans found in the catacombs underneath Lynnecombe. The heroes, while intrigued, could not give priority to lady Asha and left for Rivermeet the next day, and from there would have to make their way to Blackbough on foot.

Third Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

Leaving the settlement of Rivermeet behind, the heroes and their travelling companions began to make their way to Blackbough on foot. Isalien, the tracker who had plotted their course towards the east-south-east, said that it would be about a three day travel if all went well. Captain Randall seemed to lighten up at that news, but it was Michel that everyone looked to; being the only Acadian he seemed the most experience in the swamps. His face betrayed that her caveat was an important one; if all went well.

The descent from the hillock upon which Rivermeet was settled immediately saw the ground grow soggy, and after ten minutes the tall grass on either side of the narrow path had soaked the shoes, trousers and bottom of everyone’s cloaks. The small path meandered through the soggy countryside, avoiding puddles, ponds and peat bogs, and eventually strayed further away from the Ivel as the river headed south. As a result, the rushes and reeds started to make place for low-growing shrubs. Isalien said that if all went well, they’d meet up with river in a little over a day.

Again that  caveat; if all went well.

After a few hours, the area started to be dominated by large trees, cedars, cypresses and willows, with thick stems and large, slippery roots which arched high out of the ground. Isalien explained that the area often flooded with water, washing away a lot of the soil that the trees nestled in and exposing their roots. The roots were burrowed into the peat underneath the mud that the flooding brought, giving the trees the necessary foundation. Quickly grasses, ferns and bladderworts would sprout up around the trees, which in turn would become fertiliser for rosemary, buttonbush, cattails and bogspice when the water levels rose again. Water lilies, pondweed and swamp roses would thrive and the cycle would start anew.

Soon after it became clear that leeches were going to become a problem and on several occasions the group had to stop to remove them. Michel assured everyone that the mash was much worse during the warmer months, with aggressive mosquitos the size of a child’s hand attacking every piece skin you exposed. It also didn’t take long before the guides had pointed out a variety of cleverly hidden snakes and crocolisks of different sizes; though none nearly as large as the one hanging from the rafters at the Hungry Hag.

With only a couple of hours of light left, Isalien came upon traces of lizardfolk. James and Isalien scouted ahead and found that there was a large village of lizardfolk close by. The larger of them carried clubs spiked with bone and carried shields made from turtle shells. They had hung the skulls of animals, goblins and humans in the branches of trees around the village, and a quick assessment of the situation drove them to conclude that the lizardfolk were aggressive and territorial. In order to avoid the lizardfolk’s territory the group could either go around and add about half a day of travel, or they could attempt to sneak past by wading through murky waters. The group decided to do just that and managed to avoid contact with the lizardfolk at the cost of countless leech bites and drenched clothing.

That night shelter was found between the roots of an enormous willow tree where the tents were erected. With a great deal of effort a smoky fire was made. Everything was wet and finding dry wood seemed impossible. The heroes became acutely aware of the strange sounds of the marsh and found it difficult to find rest as there was every possibility to that they would be discovered by a small army of lizardfolk.

Fourth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

With clothing still damp from the previous day’s travel, the heroes and their companions continued on their way. Following their departure the groundwater level started to rise again and soon after shoes, trousers and robes were soaked through. When the heroes and their companions found themselves in the rushes on the edge of a flooded area of an enormous size it looked like the group would have to take a detour.

Before a new course could be plotted, Michel noticed a large houseboat coming into view through the pale, morning mist that was rising up from the lake. Contact was established with the people on deck who were piking the boat along through a collection of hand signals and the boat slowly drifted closer. The houseboat was home to two families of Acadians who were looking to trade. Michel negotiated a few simple trades and asked whether it was possible for the group to be ferried across the lake. The family eventually agreed when a few more trades were made. The heroes and their companions were not allowed to come into the home, but could sit on the front deck.

The journey continued on the other side of the lake until they came upon a large flooded grove of ancient cypress trees. After some contemplation, the group decided to take their belongings, hold it above their heads as much as they could, and wade through the murky waters. Anything was preferable to having to accept a detour. Having to depend on their guides, the heroes took it slowly through the grove, being extra careful to avoid crocolisks and snakes as well as patches of sinking sand; dangerous areas where the guides assured the heroes the ground would swallow them up completely.

On the other side of the grove they found that they were quickly approaching the river again, the water of which was the cause of the flood. With the remaining light a suitable spot was found among the rushes of the river, giving the group access to fresh, drinkable water. Michel used the opportunity to do some fishing  and he used his catch, together with some crawfish he dug up from the mud to create a spicy fish stew.

Fifth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

The next morning the group started moving shortly after dawn, continuing east and away from the river. The countryside changed, with slow rolling hills the further the group moved east. More trees, predominantly cypresses, birches and willows, started dotting the hinterland, and while the ground was still soggy, the swamp grounds were only contained to the low areas between the hills. As a result it became easier to avoid the dangerous lizards and snakes.

The sky became grey, overcast and dramatic. Cold air descended, and a fog came down upon the land like a blanket. Soon the heroes and their companions had a hard time seeing in front of them. When visibility had gone down to less than a hundred paces the progress slowed to a crawl. Soon after a pale glowing light appeared in the mist which seemed to be guiding the heroes through the light, but always at a distance.

Eventually, an eerie feeling came over the heroes and before they could react, a large, humanoid horror appeared from the fog, with malicious eyes, long claws and dark, dried skin stretched so tightly across its skull that it’s lips were torn open to reveal horrifying teeth. The glow came from the cavernous void where its chest should be, cradled by the rim of jagged ribs of its destroyed ribcage.

The mist hung thick and heavy across the marsh and the heroes and their travelling companions got ready. They had seen the enormous, ghoulish creature dart in and out of the fog and saw that the lights that had lead them into the trap were darting around nervously.

Before the creature struck, a dense, animated mist formed in which foggy duplicates of the creature formed, dissipated and reformed. These duplicates relentlessly attacked the heroes and their companions and was meant to soften them up before the creature moved in. Isalien, Randall and Michel were both quickly overwhelmed by the mist. Only Isalien ended up surviving, while Randall and Michel perished as they stumbled out of the fog and were confronted by the tiny, glowing creatures who were capable of shocking their victims.

The ghoulish creature, which Luca identified as a larger and likely much older version of the creature which attacked them en route from Bournemouth to Egremont on board the Old Queen, mostly focussed on Quentin, James and Astrid. Luca quickly lost consciousness due to the duplicates in the fog and Emrys stood over him, attempting to keep the glowing creatures at bay. The duplicates made it difficult to concentrate, made only worse when the foglet surrounded himself with illusionary images of itself, something which Emrys had also done as a precaution.

Astrid went down under the assault from the foglet, unable to keep its aggression at bay. James and Quentin managed to manoeuvre it out of the deadly mist and focussed on the knight while the rogue found opportunities to strike at it. Quentin had to dig deep in order to survive, even resorting to the abilities of Róisín; conjuring up a healing spirit and soothing his wounds with some of the nutritious berries that sometimes grew on the scabbard.

Meanwhile, Emrys rummaged through Luca’s belongings to find one of the potions that they had purchased from Ecgbrith and he managed to nurture his friend back to consciousness. Miraculously, Astrid managed to regain consciousness by herself. Together, they made a last stand against the foglet and managed to defeat it.

James recovered some of the daggers he had thrown at the foglet and took one to cut the beasts head off its shoulders in a rare display of brutality which usually was reserved for Astrid.

Mud and Missed Opportunities

Previously, the heroes set sail from Kingsport to Eastray in an attempt to retrieve the rare ghost orchid in order to dispel the wards which had been placed on the khazra head to prevent the curse on queen Isabella from being lifted. They took on a young boy who had been found floating on a raft and prevented some of the passengers and crew from throwing the child overboard for being an ill omen. They arrived in Eastray and said goodbye to captain Lorne and his crew.

First Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waning.)

Having arrived in the coastal town of Eastray, the heroes made their way to the Hungry Hag, the only tavern in the muddy town which had beds for them. Along the way, they quickly got the measure of Eastray; simple folk who mostly lived off of the trade along the delta; fishing, shrimping, sugarcane and the hides from the large lizards which could be found in the marshy hinterlands.

The inn was a two story building with old, rotting thatch on the roof. The smell of spicy stew wafted towards the heroes as they opened the door and stepped inside. The inside of the inn was painted white in order to maximise the little light which came in through the small, shuttered windows. Decorative patterns of plants had been painted on the walls to cheer the place up. A red brick hearth had a big fire roaring and most people were sitting around the hearth to stay warm and to dry their wet clothes. An enormous crocolisk of almost twenty foot in length hang high along the rafters of the roof, its skin dried and preserved, with its open maw giving a terrifying view of the razorsharp teeth that lined the inside.

Half a dozen locals had gathered and were already drinking and soon Michel had arranged for stew and strong drink, both designed to put fire in your belly. The stew was full of fish and shrimp and lathered with capsicum, while the drink of choice was rum, due to the sugarcane plantations in the area.

For a couple of silver, the heroes got a few rooms and many of them decided to catch up on the sleep they had lost in all the commotion around the young boy. Luca, not as tired as the others, decided to go sight seeing while Michel and Randall were going to make arrangements to travel upriver to a settlement called Rivermeet, situated at the conflux of the Lea tributary coming from the north, and the Ivel river from the south-east. It would be from there that the travel would become a challenge.

The first place Luca went to was the notice board he had spotted when the heroes headed from the harbour to the Hungry Hag. He found a notice about a place that specialised in fortune telling which he decided to seek out. He read a notice that suggested that the Red Custodians of the Monastic Order of St. Catherine had recently arrived in Eastray and were looking for people to help raise a new church on the outskirts of town. He also read that, just like elsewhere, the Cult of the Dark Queen were responsible for several random murders and that everyone was urged to be aware of people with wicked, jewelled daggers. Luca decided to take that notice in order to show it to James so that he could be more careful in showing the daggers he carried. There were another handful of other notices that Luca paid little attention to.

Luca quickly found the Maison de Fortune, the place where he could get his fortune read. It was a large, well-maintained home but he found that Master Beaudelaire, the fortune teller, was not at home. The young woman who came to the door claimed that the old master was probably somewhere in his cups, which reminded Luca of a man he had noticed drinking by himself in the Hungry Hag with a deck of cards in front of him. He decided he’d continue to wander the town for a bit longer before returning to the inn.

During his trip around town he purchased some wooden shoes, which, while excellent to traverse the mud in, were hard to adjust to. It would take him a while before he’d get used to wearing them. Luca noticed the same graffiti that he had noticed in Kingsport, of a caricature of the lord steward fucking a ravenheaded person while holding a wolfheaded person on a leash. It seemed the same discontent that had struck Kingsport had also found its way to Eastray. During his walk he listened to the conversations of the locals in an attempt to study the particular accent of the region.

Luca learned that a curious and mysterious woman had been seen walking around town. She was said to be of exceptional beauty, with long, red, curly hair and an alabaster skin, wearing a rich green dress. Rumours were that she was beguiling and that surely she was a witch. Another rumour he picked up was that a knight had been seen walking around town wearing a shield on his back depicting the banner of house Downwarren. Luca didn’t quite understand what the significance of that was, but it was clear that it made a deep impression on the locals.

When Luca returned to the Hungry Hag he found the old, well-dressed man with the deck of cards still siting and drinking at a table by himself. He introduced himself to the old man, who appeared to have been afflicted by a strong case of cataracts to both eyes and was nearly blind. The man appeared to be quite tipsy, but was willing to tell Luca’s fortune. He introduced himself as Bertrand Beaudelaire and he had a calm but nasal voice. He asked Luca some questions about where he was from and how old he was and what Luca’s aim for the reading would be. Luca wanted to know his long term fortune as well as the short term success for his companions.

Master Beaudelaire then asked Luca to draw three cards from the deck which he had been shuffling with great dexterity. Luca drew three cards. The first one was The Eye and the Hand, a card which depicted an eye being held aloft above a stormy sea by two hands. The man concluded that Luca was a seeker of knowledge in the face of tumultuousness. The second card that Luca drew was The Moon and the Mirror, depicting the Silvermoon in high sanction above a placid lake. The image reminded Luca of the way in which the Silvermoon had reflected off the waters of Lake Llygad. Master Beaudelaire concluded that instead of knowledge, Luca actually sought enlightenment. The last card, The Jewel and the Thief, depicted a man reaching out for a large ruby. Master Beaudelaire asked Luca if he had made a deal in return for knowledge, which was something Luca confirmed. He concluded that Luca was very ambitious and was willing to make dangerous deals in order to be successful. He concluded that he could not divine anything about Luca’s long-term success, but he believed that in the short term Luca and his companions would be successful.

The old man refused payment for the reading and in return Luca arranged to pay for the man’s rum for the rest of his stay. Luca agreed this with a young boy who was working behind the bar. He noticed that the boy had a severely mangled left hand which he could hardly use. It seemed as if he had many of the bones in his hand broken which never healed properly.

When James woke up from his rest and joined Luca, the two decided to spend some time trying to find the szygani encampment which supposedly lay on the outskirts of the south of Eastray. Luca filled James in on the things he had seen and heard in and around Eastray and the two made their way. They found the camp after a slippery and soggy jaunt across town. The szygani seemed to be weary of the two until James drew the attention of a confident and cocky szygani swordsman who wore a rapier at his side. The swordsman introduced himself as Bailuk and asked how he could help the heroes.

When the conversation was over, James had learned that Eastmarsh was the home of the Acadians, a distinct group of people who hardly considered themselves Lyrians. They were weary, insular, xenophobic and superstitious people, not unlike the szygani. The szygani considered themselves travellers, and “people of the path”, the Acadians considered themselves the travellers of the delta. Szygani travelled by vardos, the colourful horse-drawn wagons they lived out of, while the Acadians lived on houseboats. James had also learned that Rivermeet was a trading hub where the hinterland and the coastland connected in trade. Acadian families would come to Rivermeet to trade items from the swamp for items being brought into Eastray from other parts of Lyria.

Returning to the Hungry Hag, James and Luca found that Emrys had struck up a conversation with a familiar face; Oliver, one of the two merchants that the heroes had saved from duplicitous mercenaries just outside of the Inn at the Crossroads. He explained that his brother-in-law, Trent, was still in Kingsport, taking care of the business, while he had just come in from Càrceres with a large shipment of salt, which he had traded here for sugar and rum, which he was intending to bring back to Kingsport the following day. Luca asked if he had any interesting passengers on the ship ride into Eastray, and Oliver explained that he travelled with a strange Mazurian woman of great beauty. The ship had picked her up on a short stop in Dunagore.

It would be Oliver and Trent’s last trade before winter. While he explained that his company was considering investing in iron in order to capitalise on the shorting market with trouble brewing along the northern border with the Daerlan empire as well as the orc invasion throughout the Elder Foothills and the Plains of Strife, James audibly yawned in disinterest. The young man cut his conversation short before departing for his room to turn in for the night.

James briefly spoke to Leonie in order to gather more information on Rivermeet and whether or not he might be able to count on someone to arrange for things when he arrived. Leonie said that she was quite well connected in Eastray, but that she had few reliable connections in the hinterlands of Eastmarsh. While she had been living in Eastray for the better part of her life, she was not native, having come up from Fulham, and as such there were quite a few weary Acadians who still saw her as an outsider. She gave James the name of a man named Marcel, who might be able to help.

Just as Luca and James decided they might want to turn in for the night, the door to the Hungry Hag opened and a woman of surprising beauty walked through the door. The stories they had heard about this mysterious woman all day were confirmed; long, red, curly hair, a heart-shaped face, large green eyes and fine features, clothed in an expensive, green velvet dress with brown leather boots which seemed to have remained mostly clean from the muck of the Eastray streets.

With her entrance came a chill across the remaining patrons at the inn. James and Luca eventually struck up a conversation with her. She claimed to be a noble woman by the name of Lady Azsharastrasza from Mazuria who had travelled to Eastray in search of her “mate”, Laurencjusz, or Lorek for short. Lady “Asha” as she preferred to be called, had been at court in Dom Ludova, the capital of Mazuria, when a charismatic cult leader named Dominik had taken advantage of her “mate” and convinced him to join the cult, which was dedicated to the worship of the Dark Queen. Lady Asha eventually followed a trail of the cult to Dunagore, where she found a member of the cult and managed to find information on where the cult was hiding out, an ancient temple deep in the hinterland of Eastmarsh.

She showed an improvised map and a strange stone statue, which resembled that strange statue that the Sheridans had retrieved from the catacombs underneath their estate; a round, conical statue narrow at the bottom and wider at the top with the engraving of an eye at the top. Lady Asha was lead to believe it would act as a key of some sort to the ancient temple the cult was using as a hideout.

James and Luca tried to work out whether or not they could realistically help Lady Asha out without potentially losing too much time but ended up concluding that this wouldn’t be possible. They also couldn’t convince the strange lady to join them with a promise of tending to her quest on the way back from Blackbough. The ended up saying good night as the heroes prepared to depart early in the morning. As they fell asleep they had a suspicion that it would not be the last time they met Lady Azsharastrasza.

Second Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is low sanction.)

The following morning the heroes woke up and had a quick breakfast. Michel LeBlanc, the Acadian guide had arranged for travel to Rivermeet on a barge. The weather had remained unchanged, with a continued drizzle and gusts of wind. The Ivel river was broad and muddy and had countless arms of different sizes which all flowed towards Eastray. The further upriver they travelled, the more marshy the area became, with reed and cypress groves lining the river to the point where it become unclear where land stopped and river started. They also saw the large amount of crocolisks and snakes that inhabited the waters and started to wonder what it would be like deeper into the hinterland.

They reached Rivermeet late afternoon. It sat on the conflux of the Lea tributary and the Ivel river and it was a small settlement mostly intended to allow for different Acadian families to come together for trade. Michel spent most of his time trying to arrange for transport further upriver. Due to an absence of inns or other lodgings, the night was spent in the tents that Randall had arranged. Two people to a tent, four tents each, set up around a soggy campfire on top of sheets of treated canvas which kept the ground water from seeping into the tents.

Third Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

The following morning Michel was still unable to secure river transport and the conversation lead towards alternatives. James was keen on either paying or stealing a boat, but Michel advised against it, as it would probably meant upsetting the Acadians. Having angry Acadians after them while they were on their soil was probably not advisable. Isalien reckoned that it would be either one day by boat upriver, and another day on foot to Blackbough, or three days on foot, give or take half a day. Eventually, the group decided that setting off from Rivermeet would probably be best and that securing a boat upriver was probably going to take more time than they would gain.

As predicted, the terrain started to change rapidly, with parts of the travel requiring them to wade through waist deep waters. There were several challenges along the way. The first was a large village of aggressive lizardfolk who barred the way. They were primitive, carrying clubs spiked with bone and shields created from large turtle shells, but their numbers were just too great. James successfully plotted a course through the lizardfolk territory by wading through murky waters and sneaking past. It was risky, but it meant avoiding a detour which would have added another half a day of travel to the journey.

Fourth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

The following day the heroes came upon a large Acadian family living on a house boat. They were initially suspicious of the heroes, but Michel, with the help of the heroes, managed to convince them to allow them passage across a marshy lake on their boat. This managed to shave off half a day of travel which was a welcome bit of good luck.

Later that day day, a grove of ancient cypress trees, hung with Carcarian moss. It would be dangerous to travel across the grove since it would force the heroes to wade through murky waters for several hours. The heroes decided to trust Isalien’s keen senses and decided to take the risk rather than add another day of travel to their journey in order to avoid the grove. Luck was on the side of the heroes and they managed to avoid any risky situations with the dangerous wildlife.

Fifth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

Getting closer to the area of Blackbough, the sky turned overcast and a fog settled over the land. Visibility was reduced to about twenty feet or so and travel slowed down. Soon, an eerie glow was seen darting ahead of the heroes through the mist. The source of the glow was unknown, but it seemed to be guiding the heroes through the mist. Calling upon Luca’s knowledge of strange phenomena the heroes decided to trust the light ahead of them in order to keep up the pace and not lose the gains they had made over the last few days.

After a while the eerie notion started to creep up on the heroes. The hairs on the back of their necks started to raise up as they had the feeling that they were being watched. It was at that moment that something horrifying materialised from the fog.