You leave the crypt of the last queen of Erenland. The Wings of the Griffon are yours. Emerging from the crumbling natural chimney, you find yourselves in the Wood of Starry Hope. Your guide, a member of the Wardens of Erenland, is unsurprised to see Kalil Al-Asham, “The Black Lance” – leader of the Freeriders of Southern Erenland.
Kalil guides a strongly built, swift-looking black charger along the stony path to greet you. Unlike the other Erenlander’s you’ve seen, the Black Lance is far darker in complexion, and smaller in stature. Inquisitive, steely-eyes move quickly from face to face.
“I see that the Sahi have not been proved wrong,” he begins, bowing slightly at the neck.
Here, Kalil will inform the PCs that he must bring them to the Hagarin Observatory ASAP to learn what is to come. The Sahi Clerics will tell the rest.
When the PCs arrive at the observatory, the Sahi are surprised at the variety of races, but take it as an omen. The chief Sahi is Ahmed Sune Ariza. He greets the PCs and asks them about the three items they seek. He confirms that he suspects he has located the crown of the king.
“The last king wore the crown into battle, but after he fell, his trusted leitenants struggled to retain it. Riding south after saving the item, these men eventually became the Free Riders of the South. The Crown was taken to the Empty Wood, a stronghold of these Free Riders for generations. Yet its whereabouts were lost in a most peculiar and unsettling way.
Here, Kalil picks up the thread, “You see, the Empty wood has been kept a secret, not through magic, but through simple deception. We had though it a safe refuge because it had no animal life and most considered it haunted and unclean. A perfect cover for my forebears. But in the last few years, many of my brethren hiding in the wood have gone missing. And so with them went the crown. I sought the truth and so followed the tracks of one of those who have been lost. He went where I could not follow. Into the Shuddering Valley.
The Empty Wood is a small foreboding copse of trees, barely half a mile across, located in the Kaladrun foothills. While such a place should be teeming with animals that would attract the attention of the famed trappers that prowl this area, the wood is avoided at all costs. No animals of any kind live within, and hunters share night tales of the Empty Wood over many a flagon of watery wine. Some claim that ghosts haunt it, while others say that a demon or dragon dwells within. None of them are close to the truth.
Hook: Asmall group of freeriders has taken up residence in the Empty Wood, using the old folk tales to hide from those who might come looking for them. They leave false signs of monsters, make strange noises whenever patrols come nearby, and hunt what few animals they can find to extinction and
hang their bones from the boughs of the trees in order to increase fear of the wood.
Led by Kalil through the Empty Wood, you stand near the edge of a wide, gray valley of stone. In the centre, a slow moving river meanders through. Bulrushes and flocks of tall, elegant looking birds, and warped dead-looking trees are all the signs of life you can see.
Tall birds like cranes wade in the water. There is a strange intelligence to the creatures as they all cease in their hunt for food, turning their necks to watch you pass. As you move beyond them, their unnerving song can be heard, they do not sing, but cackle at you as you pass them. The entire flock begins to cackle madly, watching you go beyond their sight and deeper into the valley.
Strong green markings stand out in contrast to the valley’s gray dust. Nearly ten feet across these enormous symbols appear to be incomprehensible. Thumb-sized splashes of red mark each of the glyphs. In a wide circle around the glyphs are stone byres. 60 feet from you, the valley narrows abruptly. The river leads underground, leaving only gnarled trees near the entrance to a cave.
Human bodies with animal parts sewn to them in place of their own natural skeletons. Stag headed corpses, fish eyed monstrosities, and other vulgar mockeries of the human condition. In this narrow space, the PCs are attacked by the octopus trees before entering the cavern itself.
This large cavern reeks of death. Decomposing corpses of humans rot away in a pool of putrid green gel. The stalagmites and stalactites make much of the cavern well nigh impassible. Yet with effort, you could proceed forward. The path narrows near the end, and becomes level some 60 feet away from the entrance.
Combat: once the PCs are halfway through the difficult terrain, the Eyedra begins casting from behind the Silent Images of the Decapus.
Here the PCs find a pile of discarded clothing and other materials including piles of preserved human skin filled with excrement. Much of the There are also some weapons and other treasure including:
This room rises sharply upward. A primitively carved staircase rises upward for 80 feet. It is ten feet wide. At the top, a chamber opens up. Two enormous thrones sit on either end. Behind them on a raised dais are two other thrones.
Unless the PCs take special care to be stealthy, the monsters are already levitating in the 60 foot high room.
After a long descent into the cavern, you come to yet another dark chamber. A pile of weapons, armour, moldering tomes and other jewelry and other metallic masterpieces glisten at the far fringe of your light. The pile sits on a tiny island in the centre of an enormous pond that takes up most of the area.