99 LA, Arc of Hisha, 27
Arrival at Harancara
After a long trek South through the forest, the Heroes arrive near Harancara. The sounds of battle and the sight of smoke rising from the nearby woods alarms the travellers at first. Upon entering the fortress city itself, a group of Elves and Dire bears surround two female figures. Sensing danger, the heroes prepare to engage in battle when the Elves suddenly withdraw. Ailhal, Commander in Harancara introduces himself and his female charges, Kendra and Helka. What the Heroes had walked in on was a training exercise. Admittedly, Ailhal also wanted to test the mettle of the visiting Heroes. He’d heard much of their courage and wanted to see their reaction to any potential danger. He was duly impressed.
After a half day in the fortress, Ailhal invited the Heroes up to his private banquet hall in order to introduce Helka and Kendra. They were assigned to the Heroes as much needed muscle by Puiomoro. After an interesting night of chatting and swapping stories, the Heroes turned in and prepared for their journey into the Darkening Wood. Ailhal, when reminded of the Bard Mahogin insisted that he was a good Elf, but a hard one to track down. No one knows more about the heart of the Darkening Wood than he.
99 LA, Arc of Sutara, 9
Entrance to the Darkening Wood
Leaving at dawn from Harancara, the Heroes and their new comrades, Kendra and Helka made for the Darkening Wood by war canoe with their Elven guides. Upon reaching the shores of the Darkening Wood, they were greeted by drawn and terrified looking Elves. These Elves, having been on a shallow patrol of the Wood had begun to lose their grip on reality, warning the Heroes of their inevitable failure and of the power of the Wood to twist reality. The Elves departed by war canoe leaving the Heroes on the shore, ankle deep in a thickening fog.
99 LA, Arc of Sutara, 14
Arrival at Mahogin’s camp
The Battle of Biorion’s Brood
After a five day march through the madness of the Darkening Wood, the Heroes at last reached the Maudrial tree of Mahogin. A thick fog had rolled in, covering the entire wood in an eerie gray cloak. The weeping and wailing of elves was heard throughout the platforms of the tree. Following the cries, the Heroes at last met the Legendary Mahogin. Here, the Bard tended to a Whisper Adept who had gone utterly mad – unable to bear the lies told him by the grief filled wood. Administering a light, blue fluid to the Adept, Mahogin calmed his patient and spoke to the Heroes. For some weeks, he’d been sending out small bands of elves and dire bears to seek a spot in the wood known as Aelgar’s Gulch. After weeks of prodding, some hope. A recent report indicated that a handful of Wildlanders and Dire Bears had found what Mahogin had been seeking. Soon after this, a horn blasted in the fog, an elf signaled to the Bard that Aelgar’s Gulch had been found. The Heroes, eager to see the end of the Darkening Wood, rushed on, following the Elf through the impenetrable fog.
It wasn’t long before they regretted this decision. The Heroes found themselves corralled into a crescent-shaped gully. Elf archers overhead, and below, Dire Bears led by the Maegral Dire Bear known as Biorion. He had killed the dire bears and their Wildlander partners and turned them into his Fell puppets. The fiendish creature was well practiced in the art of deception, and chose this site specifically for the slaughter. The battle was brutal and nearly claimed the Heroes lives, yet they prevailed. Among the treasures looted from the fallen Wildlanders were silver tipped arrows and strange, silver Bastard swords, not of Elven make. Injured and increasingly wary of those calling the Darkening Wood their home, the Heroes sought answers from Mahogin.
99 LA, Arc of Sutara, 22
Arrival at the Orchid Temple
Battle of the Orchid Temple
“So you want to hear about the Battle of Orchid Temple, do you?” the cloaked figure asked. He leaned forward and lit the tall tallow candle that stood in the centre of the table. “Telling tales is thirsty work.” The moustachioed man seated opposite motioned for the barmaid who deposited two brimming flagons on the table. The cloaked figure picked one up and leaned back against the wall. “I’ll have to back up a little bit,” he said, taking a swig from his ale. “The heroes were at Caraheen, preparing to head out for Harancara…”
The tale-teller upended his flagon and added it to the small army that covered the table surrounding the sputtering candle, burned almost to the table. He took a full flagon from the barmaid and continued. “Which brings us to the Orchid Temple,” he said, slurring slightly. “Our heroes decided to make camp on the plaza outside the temple. It was a clear night with a moon like a bright silver shield. It was so calm and peaceful one could almost imagine it was the old days, before the Shadow fell, but such illusions are short-lived in our troubled times.”
" Sparrow had volunteered to take watch so that his companions, tired and weary from the travails of the trip and the psychic assault of the forest itself, could rest and regain their senses."
“He stayed awake all night and stood watch alone?” the man asked, clearly impressed.
“Well there may have taken turns and there may have been someone else on watch with him but that’s not the point of the story. Now where was I…oh yes. Near dawn Sparrow spied a sight most mysterious – part of the forest itself came alive! Stone, soil, leaf and branch erupted from the earth and formed a great a terrible creature in a mockery of a humanoid form: a Forest Guardian, though corrupted by the dark magic of the Darkening Wood!”
“Sparrow roused his slumbering allies with a shout and, showing no concern for his own safety, fearlessly launched an assault on the thing. Slash! Stab! Sparrow was a blur, darting beneath the thing’s powerful limbs and deadly attacks. ‘Rise, my companions!’ he shouted. As always, Sparrow’s only concern was for the well being of his compatriots and he had reason to be concerned, for what happened next would cause most men to quiver in their boots!”
The mustached man was enraptured, leaning forward eagerly to soak in every word. The speaker tapped the rim of his empty mug and it was quickly refilled. He drained half of it in one thirsty gulp before continuing.
“From the forest came a most unholy sound, a heart-rending shriek that no man would ever want to hear twice in his life, but hear it twice they did as six horrible beasts erupted from the forest. Huge, hairy and horrible, demonic apes whose very cry could set a strong man to weeping like a child. The heroes were rendered helpless by the assault – some fled, others froze, still others wandered directly into the waiting teeth and talons of these demonic creatures.”
“Our heroes were doomed! All of them rendered helpless by the demonic creatures. All…but for Sparrow!” He took another drink. “Ah yes, Sparrow. Heart of a lion, will of tiger, only he was able to withstand the creatures’ dreadful wailing. He redoubled his efforts, hoping to down the corrupted Forest Guardian before the demonic apes slew his companions and friends. He was a blur, a deadly dance of steel. Never before has anyone seen such a display of sheer skill and artistry in combat, and likely they’ll never see it again. ‘My companions! My friends! Defend yourselves!’ he shouted, again and again.”
“Somehow his words must have got through for one by one our heroes shook off the spell of the demonic creatures and joined the fight, slaying the horrible ape things and defeating the Forest Guardian. Were it not for Sparrow, brave little Sparrow, the day would surely have been lost. Yet Sparrow was not one for personal glory. So valiant and so gracious he even let Valana strike the last blow against the Guardian!” The speaker set his flagon down and wiped the foam from his mouth.
“Incredible,” the mustached man whispered, spellbound. “And all of that is true? This Sparrow character sounds incredible.”
“Every word of it is true, my friend, and believe you me I’ve not even touched on a fraction of how incredible Sparrow is.”
There was a sudden draft that caused the guttering flame on the candle stub to flicker and die. A huge figure – a Dworg by the look of him – stood in the doorway. He looked around and spied the tale teller. “Oi, Sparrow,” the Dworg said, jerking his thumb to the street behind, “Let’s get going.” With that he was gone, leaving the door ajar behind him.
The teller stood, took a last swig from his flagon, and gave the mustached man a hearty slap on the shoulder. “Thanks for the drinks, friend,” he said and darted into the crowd.
“Wha…” The man managed, confused as if roused from a dream. It took him a moment to take in what had just happened. “What the…hey, my purse!” he shouted. Jumping to his feet he cast his gaze about the room, spying the tale teller just as, with a smile and a wave, he dashed through the door and vanished into the night. ❧
99 LA, Arc of Sutara, 22 – Afternoon
Arrival at Camp Black Shard
Battle of Camp Black Shard
Gloom and thick fog covered the ancient stones of the Orchid Temple. Following the battle with the darkened Sentinel of Erethor, the Heroes took stock of their situation. Shrouded in the grey gauze around them, notes of a Lyre, not far off, sounded on the breeze. Mahogin uttered the word, “Gloomlander” and hurried off toward the fleeting sounds. The Heroes followed, trusting the Bard’s instincts. Not far from the Temple, the Heroes looked upon a wavering shadow, hid in the mist. Though the Lyre sounded some distance off, a dirge was sung in High Elven, a funerary song of a father’s woe. Aelgar himself was the singer, and the loss of his son and his perceived betrayl by Aradil herself (who forbade Aelgar to seek his own son, kidnapped by Orcs an Age ago) was the substance of his lyrics.
Knowing that some magic played within the fabric of the tune, the bard sang Mahogin’s battle poem a composite, ritual poem, woven of strong magic and the very soul of the Heroes themselves. While the poet engaged Aelgar, the Heroes sought the source of the Lyre.
Cresting a hill and seeing, as though by magic, the fog was lifting, a military base was visible in the shadow of a high, stony crag. Oruks and Orcs performed military drill, apparently unaware of the Heroes’ approach. With luck and skill, the heores bested their foes in an ambush. When the dust settled, a Black, crystaline shard was found at the centre of the camp. Within the prison stood the singing form of a long dead elf, cut down in the prime of his youth. Despite their woe, the Heroes knew that his unlife as a slave to Izrador was too ignoble a fate for a son of Caradul, and so, the crystal was smashed, and Aelgar’s son was no longer tethered to this blasphemous spell. The Heroes sought what clues they could from the now empty barracks, finding in the slain Legate’s room a scroll containing a letter To Maelzon from the Master in Grey.
Aelgar was comforted by Mahogin and the two old warriors left together, carrying the remains of Aelgar’s son for burial. As they left, the rescued Druid Sula and her Wildlander companions went in tow. Sula was afflicted with disease and was beyond the help of the Heroes’ arts and so, wounded, diseased and dead – the Elves of the Darkening Wood disappeared into the slowly waning fog, leaving the Heroes to pursue their quest South to the Hamlet of Druid’s Swamp.