Vergarious (Changeling 2)
Gnarl (Wood Gnome 4)
Ranza (Changeling 3)
Hobbs (Hedgefey 3)
Jonesomon (Specialist 4)
With Stonethorn gained and foes defeated, the party returned to the ruined tower to settle in for a night of rest and recovery. The next day they followed the ruined road to the east, hoping it led them to the hamlet of Wickerwood, their next destination. Working along the scattered cobblestones, late in the morning the party passed a gully on the left. Hobbs, walking point, noted that it was filled wilth fallen autumn leaves. This was quite odd, as it was in the early days of Heat and high summer. However, before he could he could raise this oddity with the rest of the party, the close leaf litter stirred and three strange creatures fell upon the party; humanoids made of leaves, with no features except a dull red glow deep in their “faces”. The things attacks, driving blood sucking proboscis into Gnarl and Jonesomon. A short and furious fight ensued, and at several points the creatures propelled a storm of leaves but with no apparent effect. In the end all three were slain, bursting into a cloud of leaves upon death, leaving behind just a web of tendon and veins which quickly dissolved into the forest litter. Before heading on, Ranza scuttled down over the embankment to root through the leaf pile, finding three humanoid skeletons and a leather bag containing 107cp.
Having no further difficulties, they continued along the trail until it petered out atop a low barren rise. But no matter, for below them they could see the little town of Wickerwood clustered around a small cove on the River of Sorrows. At the north end of town was a new watchtower, while to the south was a partiality ruined keep. Watching for a few minutes, they noted something odd. There was little or no activity in the town. At a time when farmers should be in the field, fisherman at their boats and everyone else going about their business, they saw only a furtive few duck out of doors then scurry back in again. Thinking something was not right, the party descended the hill and headed first to one of the farms at the edge of the town. There they hoped to ask some questions and find out what was going on before stepping into the middle of it. After some serious door pounding and sweet talk, the farmhouse door flew open and they were confronted by a man threatening them with a pitchfork. He was not particularly friendly or forthcoming, insisting there was nothing going on and everyone was too busy to be out and about. Every now and then, he would furtively glance behind and around himself, as if he though someone as sneaking up behind. This would prove a common peculiarity in all their forthcoming interactions with the townfolk.
Taking leave, they next went to the watchtower and received much of the same response from the man standing guard at the top. He directed them to the "Nine Cups and a Cask" Inn if it was a meal and a bed they wanted. So the party moved on once more. Arriving at the inn they were greeted reluctantly by the innkeeper Grimel. Again they asked questions and again were brushed aside. Grimel did serve them pints of ale and some greenish cabbage soup with no meat, but otherwise repeated much of what the others had said. Oddly, there was no one else in the inn on this fine afternoon. Changing tack, Hobbs asked about the ruined keep. At this, Grimel opened up a little, explaining he was a former huscarl of the local Thayn, and knew the keep quite well. It was unfortunate that Thayn Lorgan decided, 5 years before, to rise in revolt against his liege-lord, the Earl of Brackenrae. The Thayn insisted he had better claim to the earldom than Olfric, for reasons Grimel did not elaborate upon. However, Earl Olfric crushed the insurrection, smashing the keep in the battle. Thayn Lorgan was drawn and quartered, and Wickerwood punished for supporting him by the ban of 3 and 3; the protection of the Earl was withdrawn for 3 x 3 years and no Thayn appointed until after that time has passed. Wickerwood had been on it's own since then.
Jonesomon, sensing an opportunity to make his mark, asked after any ne'er-do-wells about town. Grimel mentioned two old 'witches', the trapper Vora Three-Finger just north of town and Wild Gerta across the river. Ranza inquired after the plant man, and was likewise directed north beyond the edge of town where Thorguld Red-Nose made his abode. Having no luck about Wickerwood, they party opted to head to the edges of civilization for help. First stop was Vora, with Jonesomon taking the lead. Vorna Three-Finger was a rail thin and wrinkled old woman, living in a log shack with curing and drying furs scattered about the yard. She met them on the porch with a loaded crossbow and a bad attitude. From her they learned nothing of the issues in town; she never goes there, preferring to do her business with traders that come to her. They did learn she was well versed in the country between here and the Mountains of Twilight. When asked of old Imperium ruins, she coyly noted she could find anything they were looking for, but they'd have to hire her on a guide.
Noting that intelligence for later use, they next headed for the elaborate bough covered lean-to of Thorguld Red-Nose. The large hirsute mountain-man greeted them more fondly than did Vora. First business was to ask about the curious glowing plant Ranza had carried since the Barrow of the Woad Chief, this being their original purpose in visiting Wickerwood. After silver changed hands Thorguld explained the changeling was carrying a lanterna-bush. Not uncommon in the fey realm, the lords of twilight often used these bushes to light their elf-mounds and feast halls. He noted the plant must remain planted in fey soil; in mortal soil it would wither and die. Asked about town, he too could offer little direct information regarding what was going on. But he did note that two weeks ago, there was a great disturbance and movement of fey to the west of town. He did not elaborate how he knew this, but noted he could smell the taint of fey coming from Wickerwood. He suggested they head for the Shrine of St Myrrha, Leafborn, and speak to Sister Taritha while under the protection of the saint.
This the party choose to do, after first purchasing a few healing poultices from Thorguld, who muttered some sour words about Wild Gerta's healing skills. They also made a short side-trek to the "Scarlett Squire" tavern, only to find the establishment of ill-repute had nothing of interest to them. They entered the shrine, walking past the statue of St Myrrha with the leaves growing from her upturned palms and from her ears and eyes. Inside they were greeted by Sister Taritha, a worried looking woman in green robes and headscarf. After making an offering to the saint, the party grilled the sister on the happenings in town. She struggled a moment with herself, unsure if she should trust the strangers. But in the end told her tale. The town people would not talk to them for they feared that spying fey lurked invisibly around them; such was not a worry here under the protection of the saint. And why the worry? Two weeks previously, the giant Fugin and his unseelie band of hobs learned of the defenselessness of the town, and moved into the ruins of Wickerwood Keep. They demanded food, and took the all the children as hostages. The townsfolk have driven all their animals (goats, sheep, chickens, cows) to the keep, but now have run out of meat on the hoof. And now fear the giant will start eating the children instead. Several of the towns men have tried to get into the keep and rescue the children, but all either died horrible deaths or have not been seen again. Right now, everyone feels helpless and fearful. Noting the party seemed capable folk, she asked if perhaps they could help? But they must take care to ensure the children come to no harm!
To much rolling of Jonesomon's eyes, they party agree they would try their best to help. Laying low at the shrine to rest over the next rainy day (although sleep was disturbed that night by someone or something throwing pebbles at the walls of the shrine), the party also resolved to get a boat and visit Wild Gerta. This time Gnarl took the lead, and led most of the party to the old crones hovel amidst thorn bushes and brambles high above the left bank of the river. The old hag greeted them creepily, and agreed to sell them potions of healing. She plucked random bits of herbs and questionable substances hanging from the rafters and hobbling over to the pot bubbling in the hearth, dumped them in. Mumbling a few words and waving her hands above the brew, she reached for a trio of dirty leather flasks, dipped them in the pot and handed them to Gnarl. Finding out the potions cost double what Thorguld had charged, the wood gnome demurred. But the old crone insisted they had a deal, and Gnarl could pay in silver or would by other means if he reneged. That frightened him enough that he dug deep into his coin purse and paid the witch. She then spit in each container, corked them, and handed them over before sending all on their way. But as a parting gesture, took the wood gnomes hand and licked wetly across the palm. Eeew.
Next day, the skies cleared and investigation of the keep began. Vergarious and Ranza both cast invisibility, while Gnarl cast pass without trace on the pair as well. The two changelings then headed for the keep, walking around to size up the structure. It was in poor shape having had no maintenance in five years. But the walls were solid, except on the south west corner of the keep itself, where the Earls siege engines had battered down the wall. They also noted a pair of mangled bodies lying outside the main gate, obviously townsfolk who'd tried their luck against the fey inside. Vergarious and Ranza decided to try their luck through the ruined wall, but before entering noted movement in the shadows. Five huge beetles milled about, so the changelings waited until they moved aside before heading in. They found a door, which led into a long corridor with stairs at the end. Several other doors led off the corridor as well, and at one they could hear faint movement.
But they ignored that for now, instead creeping up the stairs. This led into the main hall of the keep. Here they also found the giant, 20' of malformed ugliness perched on a 'throne' of broken stone and timber. As they watched he plucked a sheep from a pair of hobs and tore it limb from limb, gnawing down on the bloody flesh. They also noted a trio of hobs slow roasting another unfortunate villager over the long fire pit that ran down the centre of the room. On the opposite side of the room were more stairs leading up. Taking their chances, Vergarious and Ranza creep past the hobs and giant and climbed up quietly. At this point they realized the pass without trace had ended and they would need to be extra careful. Confronted with a hallway with more doors, they listened at them all. One, they guessed, was another ruined room open to the elements. But behind the second they could hear plain as day the children; crying, babbling, scared voices. Though tempted to try breaking them free right now, they decided to wait and come back with reinforcements and a plan. Slipping back to the last visible door, then opened it to find the castle garderobe. Thankfully unused for years, they tied a rope under the seat and used it to slip down the chute and out of the keep. Leaving the rope in place for future access, they changelings headed back the the Shrine of St Myrrha, Leafborn to inform their comrades of all they had learned.
3 Leaf Rustlers
3 Leaf Rustlers