Snow fell on the shores of Odisvalk as The Adventurers made landfall at the end of 3 day journey by way of Captain Stenwall’s Arturan. Though warmed after felling a belligerent yeth hound (their welcoming committee), many of the party were unused to the cold weather and dealt with the weather in their preferred ways, whether through magically enduring the elements, as with the Druid Musushi and Cleric Layla or through magically “enhancing” the material generosity of their new friends, as with the Sorceress Elythia. The Fighter Rooke and Ranger Thomas elected to rely on their fortitude to weather the… weather.
Through a coordinated effort of magical coersion, charm, and good old fashioned pestering, the group pried information from the surviving halfling, Fustar the Living Coward. He spoke of an inland camp, and whispers of druids. Namely, the existence and return from abroad of a fellow named Scala the Open Handed. Though his whereabouts were unknown, the group made note of him and prepared to trek inland. By nightfall, Fustar agreed to guide the group. Also in tow was Grog the Rat, new animal companion to Musushi, and what little remained of the Arturan’s stores, to the legendary annoyance of their captain and employer. The group made plans to sleep and make that trek in the morning.
Which they did. There was one nightmare (Thomas’s) and much walking.
It was along the way to the inland camp that the group encountered a gaggle of migrating crows, huddled around objects of great interest. One shout (Elythia), one arrow (Thomas), and a handful of resigned shrugs (everyone else) later, the birds became agitated and attacked! A fierce battle broke out that ended in an avian dinner for the party (to the joy of Musushi). As the flock of crows were largely murdered to death, the team investigated that which captured the birds’ attention so. Lo, it was the rotting carcasses of the remaining halfling patrol that were not as alive and cowardly as Fustar. A gruesome sight, it was. One still clung to a medallion; a badge of his house. And they had cloaks. Holey, but warm. The group collected these and proceeded to the forward camp.
As the team came to the ridge overlooking the forward camp, they witnessed the aftermath of a local cataclysm. The debris-ridden crater in the middle of the town marked the epicenter of a monstrous explosion. The charred district surrounding it marked the subsequent fire. No teams could be seen repairing the damage, but halfling citizens walked the spaces between huts that served as streets. And smoke rose from the hearths of larger mansions. Steeling themselves for the unknown, the group made to enter the town and moved toward the crater.
They were met by a curious fellow; A warmly-dressed halfling with an entire inventory of bead products on his person and a wild look in his eye. His name was Henrik, a local merchant down on his already bad luck. Through broken common, he attempted to sell his wares to the party, but they were having none of it. Musushi offered gold for information, Thomas waved their most expensive spear menacingly, and Rooke nearly force-fed the halfling a head-sized block of cheese! That made the halfling speak… slightly more fluent common.
The report of Henrik was a grim tale of hysteria and dark omens. And began with a non-descript oaf by the name of Olaf Twistfoot, marked by his name as the local invalid. However, he put the entire town to shame when he alone journeyed to the Serpent Hills to investigate the fallen star that everyone was so panicked by. With no word for a few days, he was soon followed by a band of outriders1… who also discovered his charred remains. They brought the burnt husk that was once Olaf back to Kholedzund. He had barely pushed up his first daisy before calamity followed him. The central storage facility, home of the stores that would sustain the town, suddenly exploded.
Mystery washed through the town. For many, it was the only kind of washing to be had for many years. And as usual, the next order of business was to root out the cause of past and future misfortune, wherever it was to be found (or not to be found, as it were). Neighbor turned on neighbor. Brother on younger brother. Many a halfling was thrown over the edge of a cliff by those who had known them since the time when they were halfling-lings. Present company included.
Yes, Henrik himself admitted to participating in the executions. He was not proud of it, but had since come to his senses and lived a more peaceful life of beads and coin. And amulets. When bidden, Henrik recognized the deceased halfling’s amulet as that of the Warmhearth house. Pursuing the only clue they had, the group wanted to learn more. Rooke holstered his cheese.
When they made their way to the Warmhearth manor, they were introduced to a wizened halfling woman. It was Ingond, the matriarch of the Warmhearth family. And she was loaded. A sizeable retinue of councilmembers was gathered around a… well, warm hearth laden with food and drink. She confirmed Henrik’s story while he danced in a corner or something. After some poking, they learned that she was from Raduun. And very interested to hear of that land’s political machinations.
Beset by strange happenings, Ingond seemed slow to believe that the group could help her town. Nevertheless, she was quick to offer an array of furs, which many of the group purchased. Elythia in particular turned her finely tuned eye to highest quality furs and gained a garment that would assist her greatly in her quest to not freeze to death.
Soon (but not as quickly as most), Ingond grew bored of the group and passed them to a younger halfling well practiced with a harp that influenced the smoke in the wide hall (by halfling standards, anyway). He introduced himself as Hralf, the grandson of Igond. They spoke of the song of the history of the land of Odisvalk (jeez louise), which he exquisitely recited, and, more importantly, druids. It happened that Hralf was acquainted with Scala the Open-handed, but knew not where he was or even that he had returned. He did mention a few likely hideouts, should the need arise to seek him out.
After recounting some of the society of the area, Hralf revealed that there was indeed some way to gain the favor of the Warmhearth house. Being all about that favor of local powerful people, the group agreed. And were quite surpised when they were led to an arena.
It turns out that there’s not much to do at the edge of druid territory. And with the sudden cancelation of a dancing troupe and duel with a Dorasean knight, Khaladzhun was fresh out of entertainment. There were half joking whispers of a second purge of the city (hahaha but seriously, though).
After an afternoon of banter, Hralf entrusted the entertainment of the town to this new group of strangers (mainly because he had no choice). When bidden, Musushi gladly and, historians agree, somewhat stupidly agreed to play the part of Ethwulf of Dorasea, who had left his armor. His metal plate armor. Made of metal. More on that later.
The rest of the group eagerly joined in the opportunity to crack some skulls in fights of their own. All but Layla, ever the pacifist. However, she did remain to cheer on her team in their pursuit of violent entertainment.
Then it was on. First up, was Thomas, facing down not one, but two opponents. One of the halfling variety and the other a gladiator beast (call it a one-and-a-halfling). In a series of deft attacks and strategic betrayals, the crowd cheered for the victor, “Danger Ranger.” Even his halfling opponent, White Lock was impressed after digging arrows out of his arm.
Next, Elythia squared off against a feral goat, most deadly of feral things. It was thenthat the team discovered that they could place bets on the outcomes of the fights, which they employed in support of Elythia (after non-zero consideration of alternatives by some). In the end, an elegant and vicious dance as Elythia dodged charge after charge ended with a corpse of a ram thoroughly cooked by sorceress fire. Elythia marched out of the arena amidst cries of “Incinerator.”
The third to fight was Rooke, who stared down Garthar of house Bearclaw, a fierce halfling, all of three and half feet, with a two handed hammer to match. Theirs was a mighty match, pummeling strike after pumeling strike. Rooke literally used every weapon in his pack, including many wheels of cheese. To everyone’s surprise, these were the least effective weapons employed. The halfling’s boasting got the better of him. A handful of crucial strikes brought the champion of House Bearclaw to his knees. He conceded as the crowd chanted “Man of Cheese.”
And then… the main event. A dwarf from a far away land faced Gerda Flatnose: A tough as nails warrior who held the title of champion in Khaludzun. None had defeated her, but now someone was once again foolish enough to try. As Musushi donned the METAL armor of Ethwulf, the druid gods were unamused. They worked their magic as Musushi worked his. After blessing his staff, he focused his druidic energy to return to alignment with his environment… and felt nothing. Again. Nothing. Then he was smacked in the face by Gerda’s axe. He felt that.
Picking himself up, Musushi realized that he must turn to his instincts forged in the night guard. Staff met axe and both met armor (and lots of air) as the two warriors attempted to batter each other into submission. The fight was filled with sailing axes, close parries, and (many more complete misses) that proved the reputation of Gerda Flatnose. But Musushi’s training served him well-ish. The addition of armor left him too clumsy to hit and too protected to harm. Soon all ceremony was lost and the two were nearly wrestling in the mud. When the victor stood, the crowd could hardly tell who it was. Well, they knew it was dwarf sized, but they continued to chant “Ethwulf” and nobody had the heart to correct them.
The group made a killing for their hard fights. Musushi went away with 400 gold pieces (which he learned was significant somehow). All the other fighters left with 50 more gold to their names. Layla kept her morality.
Hralf was there to congratulate the adventurers on their winnings and thank them for their help in keeping the town together (for another day anyway). He also revealed that he and their opponents were members of a band of monster hunters known in the region as Nightmare Seekers. And that this was a job interview of sorts. They were gearing up to investigate the Serpent Hills properly and invited the team to join. High on victory, they jubilantly accepted.
But first, they had unfinished business with one Mr. Twistfoot. Remember him? Nobody else does, but for his cautionary tale. Layla, Rooke, and Thomas went to the tree where he was buried and searched it for clues, runes, signs of magic.
They found none of these things and went home.
Soon, they were off to the Serpent Hills on a wide outrider ice skimmer, which is exactly as it sounds. As the team embarked, the Codex of Duri flapped open, revealing the dates of the falling star and explosion in the inside cover… Whatever lied in wait for the Nightmare Seekers (and friends) perhaps laid in wait in the pages of the Codex of Duri…
But the sled was super fun, so no one noticed.
1 The locals’ name for druids