The Band of Seven Songs have been on the march in company with the Highfolk levy, the Home Guard, the friendly cleric Torik Redaxes-son and the mercenaries Tovak Bloodheart and Maerith of the Cold Moon. The march had been without incident, and Zonkel even managed to get a ride on a supply wagon as his short legs had great difficulty keeping pace with the human and half-elven soldiers. Arriving at the village of Laurellinn, they found a settlement preparing for war. In a clearing of about 600 yards, a manned wooden palisade surrounded about 50 buildings- including a sizeable inn and a number of lumber warehouses. An army of Furyondy was seen to be marshalling in the clearing outside the walls, with hundreds of tents arrayed in neat white rows. Many of the soldiers appeared to be wounded, with horrible burns from acid and fire in addition to the usual fare of cleaved limbs and missing fingers. An air of determination emanated from the camp however, for a costly victory had been won against the forces of the Old One in the lengthy Badlands campaign. Most of the soldiers wore tabards and surcoats with the device of the Barons Kalinstren and Littleberg.
Having taken an informal role of leadership with many of the Highfolk militia, some of the soldierly inclined among the Band of Seven Songs such as Avras, Ranton and Holmer assisted in setting the large Highfolk camp alongside the Furyondian one while others elected to head into the settlement for their own purposes. Cae in particular found the arrival at Laurellinn daunting, as she had lived there for an entire decade some 80 years previously. She expected to find Endryll Copperhands, her son, curious to see what kind of man he had become and why he had never chosen to answer any of the eight letters that she had written him since she left him and his father, Bjorn.
Zonkle had been attempting to unravel the protections upon the massive spelltome of Zebedaster Frost, the former Master the Fane of Scales, but to little avail. Deciding that a slightly more experienced worker of abjuration spells would be needed he decided to teleport back to Chendl and enlist the aid of Ringlerun. There he discovered that the old wizard was in the process of planning a trip with the King to Keoland, where it was hoped an alliance might be forged against the Old One before it was too late. Ringlerun informed Zonkle, as His Pious Majesty’s Chief Councillor on All Matters Illusory, of a state secret. The imprisoned Illusionist Nelkoth, who had been captured after failing to destroy his Heartstone doppelganger, was gladly telling the Kings agent’s all that he knew of his former masters- Ormuz, Patch and Radduj. He also gave Zonkel Nelkoth’s spellbooks as did not have the time or resources to decipher them and considered Zonkle the right gnome for the task given his command of the arts of Illusion. Ringlerun also attempted to dispel the protections on Zebedaster’s spelltome but was unable to do so, insisting that it was a puzzle he may be able to solve on the journey to Keoland. Thus, Zonkle gave the potent tome into the old wizard’s keeping.
After establishing his bona fides with the Furyondians, ensuring that he would not be slain upon his return, Gagor Hadush stalked off into the forest on his own business. Whatever he had in mind there, the brooding half-orc was in no mood to volunteer the information to anyone.
Cae sought out her son, nervous at the prospect of meeting him and unsure if she should even reveal her identity. Asking after him amongst the villagers of Laurellinn she was directed to the local bowyer/fletcher’s shop- a surprisingly grand and prosperous affair not far from the Oak’s knot, the local inn. There she found a solemn half-elf with silver hair, hard at work fletching some arrows and engaged him in “shop talk” about different styles of bow and what fletching works best. He spoke with pride of his children, grand children and great grand children too, most of whom had followed him into the business. She decided not to introduce herself yet as she was pleased enough that Endryll was talking with her, and about a subject that they both loved. He even showed her his masterpiece, a composite bow of yew and horn. Promising to return and discuss the possibility of enchanting the weapon, Cae left to rejoin her companions with a spring in her step and hope in her heart.
A tired Furyondian company was returning to town from the east, led by none other than the Archmage Karzalin and nearly thirty of the wizards associated with the Chamber, a dozen scouts and about fifty exhausted footmen. Many of the encamped troops clamoured to get a look at the famous wizard, as well as not a few of the Band of Seven Songs. Karzalin appeared to be very tired indeed, and his face was grim as he dismissed the men and set out for the village with a small entourage in tow.
Meanwhile, Terevas had set up a beer tent for the Furyondy veterans and the Highfolk militia, acceding “in spirit” to the wishes of Captain Gareenway of the Highfolk and Captain Sir Roderick Farantor of Furyondy that any booze be strictly rationed for the troops. Rendar and the giant Tovak more or less aided Terevas in this endeavour, while Maerith sought privacy to study her craft at the Oak’s Knot Inn and Holmer and Ranton made the rounds of the camp hoping to bolster morale. While setting up their tent and later over beers, Avras and Torik got into a friendly theological discussion concerning the merits of Trithereon and Ehlonna. Avras did his best to convince the priest that he was “barking up the wrong tree” with his goddess and Torik, not the sharpest wit in the Highfolk, used his prepared notes to refute the warrior’s claims.
Feeling quite good about her afternoon, Cae decided to find the campfire of Lord Jon Eldon, a councillor of Highfolk whom had accompanied the Home Guard. Jon had been a lover of Cae’s some twenty years earlier and up until now had been unaware that they were traveling amongst the same army. He was overjoyed to see her and introduced her to his friends around the campfire, including Captain Gareenway and a wizard named Tavin Ersteader. The two old friends caught up over a simple dinner, and Jon told her about his brilliant and willful son Victor, whom had been educated in Furyondy and was an aide to Karzalin himself.
After a few drinks to drum up some dwarven courage, Cae left the camp and returned to the shop where she found a matronly, suspicious looking woman and a couple of youngsters helping Endryll with his work. Happy to see her, the master bowyer closed the shop a few minutes early and introduced them as his daughter Alsa Halflane, his grandaughter Naria and his great-grandson Endryll. After some smalltalk about Endryll’s father Bjorn, who had died of old age some forty years earlier, the half-elf bade Alsa and the others go and wash up for dinner while he had a word with his new friend.
Cae screwed up her courage and told Endryll that her name was Cae Crystalbow and that she was his long lost mother, come to visit after 70 years. Naturally her son was quite disbelieving, claiming that his mother was long dead, slain by gnolls. His father had told him so, he said, and Cae responded that this was a lie. Endryll’s initial shock turned to outrage when the truth of her words began to sink in. Where in the Hells had she been? Cae explained that she had sent a letter every 10 years to “keep in touch”, though that just appeared to make Endryll even more angry. The idea that a letter every ten years was enough for Cae was certainly not enough for her offspring. Endryll told her that she had cursed him and kicked her out of the shop.
Marching directly to the beer tent, Cae declared her intention to get “shit-faced” and proceeded to drink herself into a stupour.
Returning to the camp, Zonkle was sought out by a young mage in red robes who introduced himself as Victor, and asked the gnome if he would be willing to return with him to the Oak’s Knot for an audience with Archmage Karzalin, adding that it was a matter of some urgency. Zonkle responded that he would be pleased to do so, and sent among his companions that something was afoot. He then followed the young fire mage into Laurellinn.
Karzalin looked exhausted, his once neatly trimmed beard gone wild and his eyes red and gritty. His fine robes were singed, dirty and torn in places and the array of wands formerly about his person were gone. Only his glowing staff indicated the power that was the Archmage’s to command. He informed Zonkle that the Badlands campaign was won, though many leagues of forest had been devastated and more than a thousand good men had been lost. Over six thousand of the Old One’s troops were no more, and he had nearly incinerated Vayne and Radduj though they were certain to be back. Furthermore, the Greater Boneheart Wizard Mole had irretrievably been slain by Sir Harry’s agents in the County of Crystalreach.
It was unclear who might replace the fallen Mole in the Greater Six, but Karzalin said that his money was on a little-known Baklunish fellow by the name of Kermin Mind-bender. More importantly, Mole had been in possession of a number of documents indicating that a half-fiend by the name of T’kes Deathhand, the most powerful and feared Gnoll chieftain of the Vesve, was in negotiations with the Lesser Boneheart Priest Olive, known to be the late Mole’s second. These negotiations revolved around an ancient tomb of someone called Aknar Ratalla, thought to be somewhere to the west of the Badlands, near a waterfall on a tributary of the Att River. If Olive could deliver the location of the tomb, said to contain some mighty weapon that this Aknar Ratalla used, T’kes and his deadly followers would join the Old One’s camp.
This outcome would, obviously, be unacceptable for Furyondy, the Archmage noted in his usual dry fashion. He further added that although he had never come across the name of Aknar Ratalla, there was only one waterfall on a tributary of the Att that he was aware of. It was near the township of Barillon and he needed the Band of Seven Songs to get there before T’kes or Olive and keep this weapon out of the hands of Furyondy’s enemies.
Zonkle said that the Band of Seven Songs was ready and willing and would leave at first light. He had just the spell ready to get them near the place too- Shadow Walk. Paying his respects to the Archmage, he then left to round up his friends and make preparations only to find Gagor missing and Cae blisteringly drunk. The rest of the Band, plus Torik who reaily volunteered to assist, settled in for a much needed rest.
The following dawn saw the band ready to go, though Cae was quite worse for wear until Terevas applied his secret hangover cure- a well executed slap to the back of the head along with a unique spell of his own devising. As they set out a young man approached the party and introduced himself as Owen Halflane, a militia scout currently attached to the army of Captain Sir Roderick Farantor. In particular, he wanted to meet Cae Crystalbow of Clan Krysalyn, whom he added was his great-grandmother, much to the amusement of her friends.
Upon making Cae’s acquaintance, Owen quietly explained that Endryll suffered from melancholy and Bjorn and at least a couple of the family of each generation had conspired over the years to spare him knowledge of his mother’s letters. His mother Alsa and his cousin Mae weren’t happy that Owen had come to speak to Cae as they were now the keeper of the letters and furious that she had come back to Laurellinn after staying away so long. He on the other hand, had no hard feelings and hoped that Cae and her human family might become friends at least in time. Endryll was in a fragile state, but should be alright with his family to look after him. He then shook hands and returned to the village with a wave, and a kernel of hope for Cae that she might be forgiven for the foolishness of her youth.
Without further ado, Zonkel cast his Shadow Walk spell. The Band of Seven Songs made swift progress towards Barilon through the Plane of Shadow for a number of hours, though a few of the party that had not traveled in this way were deeply uneasy about the foreboding, shadowy trees that loomed over the party as they trod the forest path. For several hours they travelled without problems except for the odd alien warble or the unnatural swaying of the trees.
As the Band of Seven Songs rounded a bend in the forbidding shadow forest, a few of the party members began to act confused and a cloying, greasy, unclean cloud erupted amongst them. Striding out of the nothingness was a giant of shadow, laughing as several people keeled over with sickness and others attacked their friends. Terevas managed to hit the giant with a scorching rays spell as someone yelled “Nightwalker!” The fiend, seemingly unperturbed by the fiery rays, answered the half-elf quickly with another unholy blight and then pointed his finger at Terevas and a coruscating purple ray shot forth to hit him in the chest. He immediately collapsed to the ground, dead. Torik Redaxes-son called on Ehlonna to protect her servants and quickly cast a rejuvenate spell to restore Terevas’ fleeing spirit, as Zonkle dismissed his spell and the Band of Seven Songs fled back to the Prime Material Plane. Shaken by the encounter, they continued the last few miles to Barillon without the benefit of the gnome’s magic.
For his part, Zonkle assured the rest of the Band that an encounter with a Nightwalker was rare in the extreme and that the shadow walk spell was quite, quite safe…. most of the time. And they weren’t far from Barilon after all, so their chances of getting to the tomb first were now very good. And no one died, well…. for long anyway. So his job was well done and the cranky looks from the rest of the party were entirely unwarranted.
The Band trudged on, towards danger yet again.
Will the Band of Seven Songs reach the Tomb of Aknar Ratalla before T’kes Deathhand and the envoy of the Lord of Pain, Olive of the Lesser Boneheart? What secrets lie with the bones of the dead and how can they be secured from the forces of Iuz? Will Cae’s family forgive her for the foolishness of youth, and will any of the Band ever let Zonkel take them on a Shadow Walk again? Find out next time…