Worlds Apart

Session 29 - Summary
Previously on Worlds Apart...

Pushing forward, the group went through door at the end of hall; magical lights flickered and dimmed as they entered. The light from Christian’s badge shone across glass and metal baubles scattered around the room. The ceiling was dome-shaped with geometric stone work and shiny metal that both sparkled and glimmered under the beams of their lights. They investigated further. Redden spotted from footprints in single-file with two bigger clumsier creatures masking a number of smaller footprints.

Anatole, studied the shattering pattern of the ancient glass that looked as though it dropped a long time ago. He examined one of the more intact spheres and spoke of theories on divination, farseeing, and prognostication he’s read about. They could be used in auguries by priests and shamans, much like the bird man of Kattegat did with bones and various other less elegant tools.

As he rambled and lectured, nobody noticed that Anatole’s typically stellar luck failed him as a silvery ichor fell from the ceiling and enveloped him completely. Much to his terror as it choked him forced itself into his mouth and nostrils. He coughed out the words “Mercury ooze… poison!” His body struggled to escape, but couldn’t manage. His companions did their best to free him of the thick, silvery slime that was forcing its poison, nay itself into his body. Redden smashed with his war hammer, Christian swung true with his scimitar and shield, Bjorn came down with his battle axe, and Loquar fired his eldritch bolt. In the end, It was Lance’s longsword that finally splattered the creature in Christian’s direction, his raised shield protecting his face from intrusion.

Once free, Anatole was very much shaken and unwell. His skin was pale and veins darkened with mercury. The lyrakien cast cure light wounds and Loquar cast delay poison from the scroll they had found earlier to buy Anatole some time to deal with his affliction. Redden and Christian shared potions of lesser restoration and managed to only slightly remove the damage to the investigator’s constitution and agility. He staggered behind them as they pushed forward, keeping to the relative safety of the group.

They finally got to the western door only to see that it was “broken” in that it didn’t glow nor did it slide open with a proximity or touch. Examination showed scratches above and below the door as if it had previously been moved with brute strength. Bjorn pushed it open with some assistance from Redden and Loquar. The young Reachman noted that light resumed further down the hall, with a strong emanation coming from around a southbound intersection. The group pressed forward to find a door lit up more strongly than those previously encountered. Also of note, were patterns of 5 lines with intersecting bars and circles placed in repeating sequences. It looked like sheet music and Lance instantly recognized the notes of “Let my Love Open the Door” He played the song and the door flashed and dimmed. It opened like any other door after this.

Ancient machinery took up most of the room, its various cogs, gears, tanks, and canisters nearly covering the room entire and making it a labyrinth unto itself. Tubes and pipes stretch like tendrils into holes in the badly weathered walls. The center of the room’s ceiling has sunken inconsiderably, and reaches a height of barely fifteen feet in the center of the room and webbing adorned its surface. The group consulted with the glowing blades they carried with them. As expected, they were vague, and even a bit rude in the case of “Darkflame” as Christian had taken to naming the cool blue curved blade that he in his heart of hearts wished could only be a scimitar. The swords warned them to stand ready for they sensed danger. Skittering sounds could be heard from somewhere above. Lance tried to speak to whatever it was and in return heard a loud shrill shriek of gibberish they couldn’t make out. The angel on Lance’s shoulder paraphrased what she said was “Aklo” and something along the lines of feasting on their flesh and doing something unmentionable to their souls.

The group scattered trying to track the creature. Eventually one of the large containers came flying down at Redden, which he artfully dodged. The clang was loud and echoed through the room. He looked up and saw a large spider creature with the face of a woman with pointed ears. He took shots at it, angering her further. The rest of the group tried again to position themselves both in such a way to attack but also to protect the weakened Anatole. The spider creature lowered itself with webbing and attempted to bite Redden’s head off. It caught his shoulder instead, and sank poison fangs into him and weakening him, but was unable to grab hold of the ranger due to its own uncontrollable spasms. Anatole spoke of magical creatures known as phase spiders, but something felt off about this one as it moved spastically rather than effortlessly between material and “ethereal” planes as was written of them in tomes at the university. He warned of poison, but this didn’t help Redden much.

The group moved closer and sliced as best they could. Christian struck true with “Darkflame” and shield, and Loquar managed to enfeeble the creature greatly with a ray spell. Arrows and blades did their work and the weakened spider could not fend off their attacks. It repositioned itself with a short ethereal jaunt and showed signs of great discomfort in doing so. It attempted to bite down on Lance, narrowly missing him. Christian struck again in kind with a devastating blow with the magical blue sword that split the creature in twain. He asked the sword if it might at some point take on the shape of a scimitar, and telepathically it smiled at him with a grin in the shape of a scimitar’s curve. Perhaps there would be hope for them yet.

Following the fight, Anatole studied the creature and the room some more stating that he would appreciate more time to look over the place and perhaps better understand it. The group was just about ready to oblige for the sake of their own curiosity. Bjorn piped in that time was of the essence and every moment spent in investigation was a moment children could be harmed. Anatole insisted that the others go ahead without him, stating that the magical door should keep him safe for now and that perhaps he could be of better service to the group in figuring out these contraptions while they rescued any lost children. Knowing full well that he could be trapped once the doors shut again, he simply asked that they leave the machine lyre with him and that should they somehow not make it back for him he could try his luck out on the door. Doors, he thought, he could handle. Lance caught on that the man was attempting to save face for the fact that he was very scared and uncomfortable. He was best suited for investigating situations after they had occurred and perhaps wasn’t mentally prepared for the monsters they found themselves facing, those made of mercury and forced themselves into his head in particular. They respected his wishes and he bid them good luck as the door shut between them and began to glow a strong blue which signaled a lock.

It was a tough choice but they pressed on back to the floating hall surrounding the center. The fishy fey continued to evade them as they tried a new direction and found that the ‘floatiness’ continued on the other side and lead past rubble and soot into a room congested with black ash and soot. Examination revealed pieces of what looked like remnants of lab equipment, and luckily one intact magically gem that Loquar identified as an elemental gem of conjuration. Shattering it, he said, could summon forth a large creature from the planes of earth. Just the kind of thing he could work with, he added hopefully.

The next door that they tried lead to another strongly glowing blue door with the same musical notes featured on its face. Lance once again performed admirably and opened the door for the group leading to a branching hall, much like those before heading east then south and finally opening up into a circular room with a most bizarre black-barked tree growing downward from an unseen ceiling as if defying gravity. The room and the tree seemed unworldly, as not even Redden could identify the species of tree before them. Its kinked and writhing branches reached close to the floor and clung to a scrap of red fabric torn from some unknown, recent passer-by. Their footprints in the thin layer of soil on the ground skirted close to the wall and headed to the western door.

From above a creature stirred within the tree as Christian attempted to sneak past. A large, green dog-like creature dropped down and let out a loud bark at the group, shaking them all briefly and transported both Redden and Loquar back nearly ten feet back in a way that defied conventional rules of physics. With this flex of magical might and the group did their best to communicate with the creature and perhaps talk it down. Was it fey? Redden used his calming wild empathy, while their lyrakien friend did her best to sweet talk it in what sounded like Sylvan. It didn’t speak back, but rather watched them with quiet, intelligent eyes. It sniffed at them as they moved past. The group kept their arms and weapons low and slowly made their way towards the door. Redden and the angel kept it at bay and were the last to go through the door and enter the next hall. They turned a corner and faced another door… just what or who would they find behind it?

* END OF SESSION 29 *

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Session 28 - Summary
Previously on Worlds Apart...

In shock of speaking swords whose voices communicated directly with their brains, everyone froze. They heard their own version of what they felt was a strong, wise voice and could differentiate between the two through thoughts of both respective colors and temperatures. This was what books described as telepathy.

When they found the courage to speak back, they discovered that even in their weakened state the blades could listen to and read thoughts of their wielders. They boasted of growing stronger through feeding on what they called “arcane energy.” This place was radiating with magic and allowed them to feed on enough to speak at full volume. They said they had fed previously aboard Boram’s boat during an influx of magic.

The swords proved enigmatic, and spoke in riddles of magic and this place. They claimed that ages ago many could use magic and were punished for meddling with powers they couldn’t fully comprehend. As magical swords, they considered themselves tools of destiny, much like the wielders who had used them over the years. They went on to say they could perhaps reveal more to them should the group prove their worth along the journey… But for now, wasn’t there the pressing matter of children and a mad woman searching for something powerful in the depths of this dungeon?

They headed south and found the bodies of a few hobgoblins on the floor, seemingly dragged into the room. The room featured mechanical waterwheels that may have once powered some kind of engine. The ancients must’ve been advanced as only just recently had the dwarves really harnessed the power of steam engines. The room also featured an overgrowth of plants wchich Redden instantly recognized as yellow musk creeper, as seen in the fey woods near Kattegat. The plants animated the corpses of the hobgoblins, using them like macabre marionettes to attack the party. The creeper plant itself threw pollen at Redden’s face, entrancing him with hopes of making an even bigger meal. The group made quick work of the plants, slicing the vines and clearing the brush before much damage could be done. They found some magical supplies in an old chest and moved on.

The group doubled back and found themselves in an old store room. All the shelves, furniture, and supplies were crumbling away with age except for a single large chest. It featured two inlayed garnets, and untarnished mithril bindings. From within, muffled cries could be heard. Redden took to searching it for traps and as he tried to open the lock, the box itself sprung to life as if to protect its contents. Caught by the box’s disturbing adhesive coating, Redden was promptly chewed on by the chest as his friends did his best to free him and smash the biting box. It took a casting of “grease” from Loquar’s wand and some well placed strikes to eventually free Redden from its maw and smash the creature. Upon its destruction, it exploded, sending wood, glass and other contents flying everywhere and raining upon all in the room. A flash of rainbow light screamed “Yeeeeooouch!” as it slammed into the far wall.

The rainbow light was a winged creature, much like a fairy but not a fey. She was identified as a Glistenwing by Loquar, though he couldn’t recall where he learned the word. Anatole, hearing the name knew of Glistenwing as the gnomish and halfling word for Lyriakiens. Lyrakiens are tiny azata angels that serve Desna. They are known for journeying with adventurers and taking them to strange, far away places. Loquar and Redden treated her wounds as the others searched through the rubble for anything of value. They found the garnets and some mithril, as well as a mechanical lyre in the piles of debris.

The azata, once stabilized, did not prove to be of much assistance as she was visibly drunk and quite the hot mess. When questioned about it, she claimed that after being trapped in that box for days or weeks without hope of escape, she took to trying out the bottles of strange wines found within. She had lost some of her memories in the process. She couldn’t recall how she got there, or even who she was. At the mention of Desna, she perked up and begged the group to take her to a church. She didn’t know of the children or any of the happenings of this place… she just recalls appearing here and very quickly being swallowed hole by the box. She only wanted out of this place, and hoped they would oblige. Lance offered to let her recover on his shoulder, atop his pack.

Together they set out again and checked out the western room, the last of the three they had past previously. Within they found two gremlins mucking about in a room full of wooden “men” attached to machinery along the walls One gremlin was jumping around from head to head, smashing and breaking pieces while the other clapped and danced in the middle of the room. They were ugly, evil little fey and the group took full advantage of their distracted state, taking position in the room. Christian sent the dancing one flying clear across the room and by the time the other had taken noticed of the situation, Lance made short work of it. It screamed out and gyrated as it was pinned to the wall and then fell in a slump. Lance checked that his “passenger” was okay behind him, and as her little hand reached around for a thumbs up, he wooden man in front of him sprung to life and slammed him with large limbs of lumber. The group likened the creature to the wooden protector they fought in the Phantom Forest only this one seemed manufactured; ancient, rickety, and most certainly built by someone. The group took points around it and were caught off guard as it fired off a barrage of razor sharp splinters, causing heavy damage as it continued to slam and push forward. With tenacity, the group took it down by combined effort and one final swing of Bjorn’s battle axe.

Satisfied with knowing that this side was clear of threats and that the children must be somewhere else, the group moved back to the “floaty room” and this time headed north into another curved hallway, with two dead-ends and only a single north-bound door. They headed through and checked along another corridor for secret doors before coming to another door. They braced themselves for it to open.

[End of Session]

Notable NPCS

Lyrakien Azata (name unknown) – NOT a fey, also transported here somehow. May be claustrophobic and an alcoholic.

Talking Swords – Quietly judging you. Great.

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Session 27 - Summary
Previously on Worlds Apart...

The party tied up loose ends in the keep:

Anatole gave Needles a strip search and proper lock up, finding cleverly concealed weapons on his person. He did his best to ensure the slipper, sneaky scoundrel had no chance of escape.

Redden, with some help, discovered that that animal heads on the statues in the main room could be equal parts political statement and desecration. The room was used for prayer, but the statues were of kings associated with the colonization of Gilead.

Lance questioned prisoners further, got more information from the hobgoblin sergeant:
He spilled the beans about Fethi (likely left with both Tom AND your money), the coming and goings of the keep (nobody left today, last time Evelyn “recruited” was 3 days ago when she brought in a few more bugbears) and probably most importantly the fact that earlier today, while rummaging for food in the storage closet, he could’ve sworn he had heard something behind him. He felt the presence of people but saw no one. He hid in the closet as he heard the door to the mess open and shut behind him.

Loquar got a hair cut by a wall scythe trap triggered upon touching the full plate in the armory. He had detected magic in them; turned out to be a ring of climbing. Anatole won it in a game of chance.

With the others busy, Christian sought out some personal information from Tom.

Bjorn had the freed slaves equipped and brought them together to assist with the burning the misshapen, ugly animal heads that adorned the central room.

Lance tried to play the song “Let my Love Open the Door” by the looked door of the mess. His performance was met with a closed door and sarcastic comments from Needles. However, this was followed shortly by applause from behind the door, a rattling of the handle and then quick, heavy footsteps heading away from the door.

Bjorn returned to the keep with conviction. Something stirred inside him… There was a look in his eyes, much like his father’s. He insisted that the group no longer hesitate as the children could be in grave danger below. The wicked do not rest, so nor should they. With our without the group’s assistance he would be going downstairs. They agreed to help him.

They left the freed slaves in charge of the keep and gave them signal horns in case of danger. Needles made a final attempt to bargain, saying if the group didn’t come back from downstairs by morning he would lead them back to Nikeah if they would release him.

Anatole took his time and opened the lock to the mess. The door creaked open to a quiet, nearly empty room. An excavated hole leading to stairs beckoned them. The group headed down with Christian at the lead, but at the first sign of traps and dead bandits and hobgoblins, Anatole took the front. As they got more than 40 feet down, they heared a rhythmic chant “juh-guh juh-guh juh-guh-guh”

As Anatole reached the bottom he saw what he identifies as a particularly dangerous fey, a red cap! The creature looked like a disheveled old man with a blood red cap, and large metal boots. It was swinging around a sharp looking scythe. He sang and danced, dipping his head in the blood of some hobgoblins.

“Going home, late last night. Suddenly I got a fright. I looked oh I looked, and was surprised what I saw… fairy boots are dancing with the hobssss… all right now!”

He cut up party pretty bad; the magic of his cap keeping him in the fight despite the numbers. However, cold iron prevailed and the little old man dropped. The group bound the red cap, took away his magical cap while forcing him to endure the Holy Symbol of Saranrae. They found out he, Mr. Dur, came to “this world” through a shining doorway and that he wasn’t alone. He didn’t know what exactly else was in this place. He stated that he didn’t like going further than the mirror room as the "floaty room beyond it made him feel nauseous

This was a magical place, Loquar was overwhelmed as he tried to detect and understand it. It was unlike anything he’d experienced. This is kind of place he should be investigating, though his detection of magic is a lot more difficult to focus. Anatole had come across very little on the subject of such places in his studies. It was a curiosity. Christian and Redden felt their magical blades grow warmer/colder, as they pulsated with light. Redden tested the nature of the metal against the resilient skin of the red cap (It’s not cold iron.) Anatole and Bjorn were finally informed of the existence of these magical weapons their friends claimed glowed, grew in size, and had on previous occasions had spoken to them.

They passed through a strange magical door that simply slid open at the sensing of their presence and closed behind them. In the next room, as promised they saw hundreds of mirrors of various sizes and shapes. As they stared into the mirrors they saw the image of a beautiful woman, an elf, with shimmering robes and glowing green pendulum swinging at her side. After watching her move gracefully around the reflected room, the image distorted and her now demonic face seemed to shriek at those still watching, startling them. They smashed the mirrors to feel a little better about it.

The next door slid open much the same and they headed into the “floaty room,” which in reality was a round hallway circling around the rooms they exited. They first experimented by throwing out objects, and later Christian with a rope attached to him. They bounce around a bit and figure out that the room had a subjective gravity. Anatole associated it with astral plane and gave the theoretical “science” behind it. They moved forward using the idea that “down” was the direction they want it to be and they floated accordingly.

They saw a rather large fish-like creature “swimming” in the hallway. Redden and Christian readied their weapons, and it spoke what sounded like a garbled sylvan and swam away in a hurry. Mr Dur said not to worry about it; it’s delicious!

They headed through a door to the west, out to the next “ring” of hallway and as they stepped through, felt no further floatiness. More doors faced outward and onward. The floors lit up under their feet in ripples of faint light and color, as if stepping in puddles of magic.

They looked for secret doors to the north and when they found none headed in a counter-clockwise direction, choosing to ignore outward facing doors and stay on the same ring. As they reached what they assumed was the southern point, they discussed where to go next, but were interrupted by the voices of speaking swords. They sounded louder and stronger than before.

“Good day, or is it good evening?” “It hardly matters.” “Oh, they’ve brought us here? Interesting.” “Yes, interesting.” “It’s been a while.” “Yes, a long while.”

They all heard the voices, in their heads, and exchanged surprised looks.

[END OF SESSION 27]

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Session 26 - Summary
Previously on Worlds Apart...

- Nearly KO’d but the Goblin snake gets upstairs and informs guards.
- Hobgoblins in barracks manage to blow a horn before being dispatched.
- Guards come down and blow horns, too. In different sequence of blasts.
- Large figure appears from behind demanding that the group explain why they are here.
- Group explains they are here for the slaves.
- Fethi says to lay down arms and negotiation can begin.
- Runs along the wall and flips into the center of the room
- Offers hand to hand duel (if you win, we leave and you keep the slaves. If I win I keep the slaves, unless you want to simply buy them for 500gp?)
- Christian accepts and actually puts up a surprisingly decent fight, hitting here and there and attempting to grapple but can’t gain ground.
- The duel goes on for longer than she expects, and thus for being honorable and not attempting to cheat, Fethi offers the chance to buy the slaves and have the hobs depart.
- Anatole talks Fethi down to 400gp, and with Christian’s performance she accepts.
- Fethi unsure of what’s below but lost enough men in this venture to know it wasn’t worth it and that going down there is bad news.
- Fethi is reluctant to give much information about her group and where they come from. Also equally reluctant to divulge where she was trained. Simple says “The North.” History buffs know that many of the monstrous races where pushed north as “civilization” spread across Gilead.
- Within minutes the remaining hobgoblins grab what they can and clear out, Fethi takes a token skull from Tralg to remember him by and they leave the keep and head out into the night.
- Party has a chance to look the place over, find some of Tom’s art pieces. Homemade Owlbear and Gnoll among other monstrous creations.
- As they explore upstairs, Bjorn shows the weapon caches that Loquar values at about 1500gp. They hear shouting from beyond the door to the commander’s quarters. Listening at the door reveals someone getting something chopped off.
- Christian attempts to kick open the door, but it doesn’t budge.
- Redden follows up with his thieves tools. They open and swing the doors open to find that Bob and a single hobgoblin have flanked the door with reach weapons.
- Bob trips Christian and Tom runs from behind an armchair with his sickles ready for blood and cuts him.
- Tom commands his compatriots to flank and trip so that they might somehow kill these trespassers in his home.
- He under-estimates their strength and resilience and as the group moves in the reach weapons become useless and the group spends only a few rounds widdling away at him until he is almost dead. Bob quits and Tom quits with hopes of keeping his life.
- They take him prisoner and search the room as Loquar tends to the wounded slave boy “Luke” His right hand is gone but he will live.
- The group strips them last three men of their equipment and lock them in a cage on the second floor.
- Loquar attempts and fails to identify Tom’s magical belt and necklace. But knows potions of endure elements and infernal healing.
- They question Tom and Bob about Evelyn. Tom is under some kind of spell and can’t admit that she might not be anything but amazing. Bob has to say that she is not good for Tom, and that she seems only really focused on whatever is below the keep… Tom says she wants some kind of artefact that powers machinery but doesn’t know more. Only that she promised a bright future for them once she had it.
- Futures promised, pasts not disclosed, she only came into their lives about 2 months ago. Bob says she comes and goes a lot, and sometimes can’t be found for a while. Always taking the kids with her.
- She is nowhere to be found, she took Tom’s keys and one of his lutes and is presumed to be downstairs with the children. Tom says she was recently insisting to learn a song called “Let My Love Open the Door” he doesn’t know why, and says the song is simple enough. He’s got a copy of it by his lute stand. Lance can easily play it.
The group has to decide what to do with the slaves under their protection, their prisoners (three upstairs, Needles on the first floor) and whether they will rest or head down below the keep immediately.

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Session 25 - Summary
Previously on Worlds Apart...

- Door begins to open, PCs back into rooms and listen.
- Food delivered to Bob by Tralg, Bob takes it upstairs.
- Hobgoblins seem to complain, say the word “Fethy Ken-Shakas” a lot.
- When the PCs feel it’s safe, kill 4 more sleeping Hobgoblins (Bjorn and Redden clear 2 more. Christian and Lance the others) group goes back into the walls and head upstairs to take out archers on the southern rampart.
- Near blowing of horn as Lance clumsily approaches and draws attention. The group strikes in a flash. Loquar snatches horn from one archer. They manage to take both archers out with minimal attention from below.
- Party stashes bodies in secret armories.
- Redden covers tracks.
- Party goes to storeroom to draw attention of the kitchen guard. They set up an ambush and attract the guard’s attention by having Lance noisily rummage around the storage room disguised as a kid.
- Tralg falls for it, going right up to the kid to investigate. He thinks it’s one of Evelyn’s children and goes to discipline as she isn’t around to stop him…. only to have the party blitz him! He is quite resilient and takes a serious beating before dropping and being left to bleed out in the storage room.
- Party speaks to the slaves in the kitchen, teenage boys Sverri and Odd who were taken from the camps outside of Nikeah. They’ve been there for weeks and know the place and people pretty well. Tell of the bosses and where they are. The strange, bossy snake like creature that guards the stairs. Odd can draw; draws the creature which allows the party to identify it as a Goblin Snake. They mention that including them and the kids, they believe there are 8 slaves remaining on site. (Odd, Sverri, a boy named Luke, a man named Mr. Taylor from Tamran, and the 4 children kept by Evelyn)
- Slaves don’t know much of the children as they are kept separately, upstairs. Evelyn parades them around in creepy “rag doll” like masks.
- They confirm Needles’ story and explain things a little better, mentioning that the entrance to whatever was below is in the mess hall in the next room. The mess hall is kept locked, to keep whatever is below out. Evelyn is in some way magical, and wants whatever is down there, and Tom seems to be under her spell and focuses only on helping her and his creative works. He is paranoid and untrusting of anyone except Evelyn and his friend Bob. Fethy Ken-Shakas was supposedly hired by Evelyn and did her job of purging the keep of bandits. Now that the keep is taken and the food supplies all but gone, they wonder if she will stick around.
- Though the hobgoblins are scary and have taken a number of slaves away, they have been preferable to the Murder Hobos as they at least have some sense of rule and order following the orders of Fethi Ken-Shakas.
- A mural in the kitchen indicates that a long time ago, a tower stood in the place of keep. The outer wall seems to be all that’s left. The mural shows strong influence of fey. Atop the tower was the same four ring symbol they found on the outer wall, marking the secret entrance.
- Group hides the two boys in the walls and warns them of Needles, whom they were surprised was still around.
- Redden drinks a potion of invisibility and scouts out the area. He finds the goblin snake hanging languidly from the railing of stairs to the north. She looks up at the ceiling and sings songs of her boredom.
- He confirms that 4 more bugbears are awake and fully equipped in the rooms
- The group prepares a plan to kill off the bugbears in the barracks, and take out the snake at the same time. Redden bars the large doors leading to the south before moving into position. He and Anatole would attempt to take out the Goblin Snake on the stairs, while the others attempt to quickly dispatch of the hobgoblins in the barracks before alarm could be sounded.
- Their surprise opening attack was successful in dropping one hobgoblin, and injuring others. The goblin snake took bolt and arrows from Redden and Anatole, hissing but persisting.
Would alarm be raised, attracting the attention of those upstairs? [End of surprise round and session]

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Session 24 - Summary
Previously on Worlds Apart...

In the morning, the group crossed the Marideth River by taking a little time to use a ford to the north. Afterwards they traveled south through the woods. Redden, again, proved to be quite the guide through the forest. They reached the tree line facing the northern side of Clover Keep. The keep itself was a two floor building surrounded by a partially collapsed outer wall, and stood at the top of a small hill. Trees and any other form of cover had been removed and thus it would be nearly impossible to approach during the day. Redden took the taller trees and scouted ahead with the spyglass. He reported men on the eastern and western ramparts. From regular watching he noticed patrols change, and a 2 hour patrol shift for what appeared to be soldiers or guards of some kind. They may have been hobgoblins or human, it was hard to tell with the winter clothing they wore. There was no sign of Tom or Evelyn.

The group considered attacking a patrol, but worry about announcing a threat to the keep and putting their enemies on the defensive. They also considered a more natural diversion to get soldiers out, but also felt summoning animals to the area as too risky for those involved. Leading the giant to the keep might have been entertaining to watch, but there would be no promising the safety of the slaves trapped within.

Together they decided it was best to approach from the north at night when darkness and angle made it less likely to be spotted. They trekked down across the snow 150 feet, using the light of the moon sparkling on the snow to see well enough to make their way and find a stone with four interlocking circles to find the entrance Bjorn had spoken of. A trap door lead to an old ladder below, and a cramped but well-made tunnel. Anatole managed to unlatch the locked exit, but was generous enough to allow Christian to head out first into the dark, claustrophobia-inducing secret passage.

As Christian gingerly opened the trapdoor, a tin cup sitting on it fell to the ground and made loud clangs as it bounced. He surmised that someone else must be in the passage. The group got in and shielded their lights some so as to not draw too much attention to their presence as they navigated the dark hallway. To the north they detected the unmistakable scent of a recently extinguished candle. They followed it around a corner and found the candle, along with a bed roll and a pack . Tiny bits of food and and a small decanter of water were beyond. They listened down the passage to the south west. They heard the now familiar clang of a tin cup, and someone said “Shit!” The group rushed forth and rounded the corner only to see the dust moved by a gust of wind from a trapdoor shutting. They found the trapdoor and opened it, within Christian could smell bodily waste and saw a face he hadn’t seen in years. Aged horribly by the stress of a bandit’s lifestyle, and now covered in his own dirt was Douglas “Needles” Balzary.

Blinded by the light shining in his face, Needles did not who pulled out of the hole. He immediately surrendered but figured something had to be up as alarm wasn’t called. He asked them who they were and quietly told them they should move north to chat as there were many hobs sleeping in the barracks below. He was surprised to see his old squadmate Christian, and immediately mocked him for “still being a hero” and how his heart bled for slaves. After questioning him about the state of the keep they heard more about how whatever the bandits had found below the keep was unnatural. Men who journeyed into the basement didn’t come back. This lead some bandits to revolt, some to run, and Needles to hide. The hobgoblins came in and put a stop to the attempted bandit mutiny, and Needles figured the soldiers were paid for with slaves. He’s been hiding in the passages for 4 days, though he’s not sure as the lack of daylight made the passing of time difficult to read.

The group also found out that Christian had tried to help a slave before and his failure to do so lead to the death of Redden’s brother Minas. Smugly and shamelessly, Needles went on to plead once again with the group to take him with them so he could help. He knew of the hidden passages, the spy holes, the hidden armories and weapons lockers. Hell, he’d give them all his coin if they would allow him to help them fight and promised his freedom. Instead of taking him up on the offer they kept him at sword-point and had him draw up a rough map of what he knew. Christian was temped with rage, was prepared to kill and likely would have if young Bjorn hadn’t stepped in and told him there was no joy or honor in killing a wounded, defenseless prisoner. With all the ensuing drama in the group Needles had caused by stirring the pot, they had decided it was best to leave him bound and gagged in his sleeping area.

Loquar insisted that Bjorn not waste his healing potion and tended to Needles wounds himself. He was hurt and bleeding from the back likely from the hobgoblin incursion. Loquar watched over him and rather wisely put it to Needles that if he wanted to leave this place alive, he shouldn’t incite Christian’s anger again. The others split up and explored the hidden passages of the keep.

They saw into the barracks on the western side, seeing 2 triple bunk beds, and messy floors. Loud snoring came from within.

They saw into the barren storeroom on the eastern side. It was picked over for food and workers could be heard from the kitchen to the north. A loud, booming voice ordered them to keep it down.

Both groups made their way up ladders to hidden armories on the south eastern and south western sides. To the west, heavy armor and shields could be found. Two particularly striking sets of masterwork full plate armor stood out. Each bore an embossed picture of forest and mountain. These were specially made by the government to celebrate as the influence of Gilead spread westward hundreds of years ago. The eastern armory was more focused on light and medium armors. Nothing in the room made quite the same impression.

Looking outside, both groups noted the southern rampart was guarded by two archers, and featured grating for pouring hot sand or hot oil into the gauntlet below. The fire below the pot wasn’t lit, but two sconces sat next to guards who struggled to keep warm. There were trapdoors that perhaps led to the murder holes below. A strong double door led into the second floor. The two groups witnessed the other’s peekhole opened and closed. They headed back to Loquar and Needles.

The group decided to first make a move on the barracks. They would try to kill off some bandits/hobgoblins quietly as they slept, hoping to rekindle their fortune from the night before. Killing four ogres without getting caught was one thing, but Needles had told them there were over two dozen people in the keep.

Anatole and Redden swiftly killed the first two sleepers without causing any disturbance. Anatole could make out the sounds of people doing a rather poor job of keeping quiet while playing cards and drinking in the next room. Redden and Bjorn moved quietly to a room on the far side from where people were fraternizing. They managed to get in quickly and took blade and axe to two more. It was almost too easy.

=-=-=-=-

Notable NPCs:

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Session 23 - Summary
Previously on Worlds Apart...

Around the fire, Loquar felt that it was time to reveal to the party his ‘curse’. He told them of the spirit that haunted him, but assured everyone that they need not be afraid. Sometimes things have gone missing, and sometimes things had a tendency to move around on their own, but overall he had little worry that the spirit attached to his person was malevolent. He claimed that the birdman of Kattegat told him likewise.

Christian took the time to admit that his previous actions with former squadmates may have left a poor impression on the party. Despite the Returner code of ethics, he argued that it took a military person to understand how things are between soldiers. The two men in Nikeah attacked him first and he felt he had no choice but to strike them and turn them in to the authorities for previous crimes, and impersonating Returners. He went on to tell the group that another squadmate, a man named Needles, was now likely a part of Old Tom’s group.

Bjorn questioned the group on their tactics and magical items, but feeling that their treasures were most valuable very little was revealed to the young reachman. The group continued to holding their cards close to their chests. Perhaps this was just a sign of the times.

As conversation died down some and the light of day had disappeared, it occurred to Bjorn that it was the winter solstice today. He believed he needed to protect the camp by hanging religious trinkets from the leantos and surrounding trees. He also built up the fire with a long yule log to bring the light of day to their camp during the dark night. These activities, he informed, were traditional for the reachmen trapped outside of the relative safety of the village walls to protect themselves from draugr and other evil creatures wandering the night.

Lance and Christian claimed that this time of year was important to their faiths as well. Christian asked that the group take a day of rest in the morrow so that he may practice his religion through quiet reflection. The group agreed.

They took their turns at watch and were undisturbed.

The next morning was a cold one. Too cold for snow, there was nary a cloud nor flurry in the sky. Around them the reaches reflected a shiny brilliance and solemn beauty that seemed at odds with its chaotic disposition of many of its inhabitants. The group thought it wise to start using their wand of endure elements so that they, like Anatole, would no longer feel the cold when they left the fireside. Christian took his leave and found a peaceful place for contemplation.

Redden, Bjorn, and Loquar went hunting for deer or whatever they could muster up for food. Barely more than 50 feet away from the perimeter of their camp, they found the trail of a medium humanoid creatures that seemed to be dragging their feet. Bjorn assumed that there must have been draugr (undead zombies) about but were thankfully warded away by the trinkets around camp. They wisely went the other direction, not only for their own safety but as Redden knew the animals would not tolerate being around unnatural things. In a wooded area he moved ahead silently with amazing stealth to where he found a small deer. He nocked an arrow and took aim with his bow when suddenly a loud “CAW!” from a nearby raven startled the deer and sent it running. Frustrated he returned to his friends, they were unsure why that would have happened and decided to try it again. It wasn’t long after that Redden had tracked the deer to a new spot and while he could have sworn he was well camouflaged his next shot was also disturbed, this time by a goat braying loudly and mockingly. It was so strange that a goat would even be out here, so they could only guess that it was the same fey creature they had met the other day in the Stone Sinister, the same goat creature that called them “baaaaad” before running off into the twisted fey woods behind the hand.

The hunting group returned to camp and looked over the monster manual purchased in Nikeah. Redden and Loquar pored over the pages looking for clues from everything they knew of the creature. It was able to render itself invisible, but could also take animal shapes. It spoke through cryptic telepathy and had a seeming gift for illusionary magics and mischief. They eventually came across what they figured must be the culprit: a pooka. These tiny fey creatures resembled a cross between a woman and a rabbit. They were often the bane of farmers and other people who lived in the areas outside of villages. Though non-violent in nature, pookas could be relentless in their ill-mannered pranking. People offered gifts to such creatures with hopes of deterring their attention. A well-received gift could make the pooka leave them alone for as long as a year, while a poorly conceived gift might draw more ire from the rascally rabbit-like fey.

The group contemplated their next move. Should they attempt to trap or kill the creature to ensure its meddling would not cause them strife at a more inopportune time? They decided to try to appease it with gifts. Lance offered some wine, and Bjorn paired it with a cheese. Anatole gave up some of his cigarettes while Redden and Christian went the shiny route with a sunrod and mirror respectively. Loquar felt it fitting to give the tiny trickster some of his smoke pellets. They left their offering with lit candles not far outside of their camp. Redden checked on it periodically. One one of his checkups he noticed a rabbit like creature appear next to the pile of gifts. It looked around and sniffed at the air, much like an animal would before grabbing the bottle and disappearing. Moments later, it appeared again and took the remainder of the offerings before disappearing for good. Redden thought he would test the pooka by going for an afternoon hunt. Bjorn and Loquar joined him once again and they were successful in bagging a good sized deer for their holiday dinner. It would seem that the Fey was pleased with the gift enough to grant them this victory and rest.

They feasted on venison and enjoyed what was left of their day off. Redden took part of the day to work on training his new companion Blackfeather, while the others read, and relaxed and did whatever else to prepare themselves for their approach of the keeps.

The second night was also uninterrupted; a testament to Bjorn’s faith or to sheer luck, it was anyone’s guess.

The next morning they broke camp and used another casting of endure elements as they found themselves on another cold, cold day. As discussed, Bjorn took them traveling through the hills and trees to the north of Horseshoe Keep and as they got closer Redden took it upon himself to scout. He climbed a tall tree, taking full advantage of the special features of the armor bestowed up on him by the people of Tamran. He peered through the spyglass and took note of a large hole on the backside of the keep that was now facing him. From his angle he could not see any sign of the tents out-front. He eventually saw two medium humanoid creatures wandering around outside the keep roughhousing. He couldn’t make out of they were bandits or hobgoblins. Taking a closer look he couldn’t get much else beyond the loud scream of a man on the other side of the keep, and another voice shrieking “SHIAH!” He returned to his friends with this information, using the trees where possible to hide his position as the late afternoon sky began to change color. The group tied off their horses somewhere as safe as they could find and approached the keep with caution.

Tip-toeing around the north and eastern sides revealed that the bandit camp was indeed gone and giant footprints, blood, and large boulders were left in its wake. A large fire burned out-front with a smell of sweet meat taking to the wind and filling their nostrils. It was dinner time for someone. Within the keep, Redden and Anatole spied a family of ogres chewing noisily at some kind of meat. Anatole informed the party that ogres were most definitely evil giants. They had python-thick apish arms and stumpy legs that conspired to drag their dirty knuckles through the wet grass and mud. The stooped giants blinks its dim eyes of a cow drool from bulbous lips. Its misshapen features resemble a man’s face rendered in watercolor, then distorted by a careless splash. Their flat black teeth were well suited for grinding bones to paste. The party’s next move should be considered carefully.

There were two adults and two young ogrekin boys, likely the two “people” Redden had spotted from afar. The two boys fought over a cut of meat before being silenced. The party could not see signs of people inside, though they couldn’t be sure. The group decided to wait until nightfall and to try and take out the ogres as they slept.

They left as quietly as they came and moved their horses to a new location, setting a new cold camp while Redden and Anatole scouted the keep once again. They watched with worry as the ogrekin threw stones and other things into the deep hole at the front of the keep and elicited a painful “Ouch!” from the bottom. Someone was indeed there with the ogres and the Returners couldn’t pass up on the chance it was a slave or reachman… And if it were to be a bandit, perhaps he or she would have intel on what had transpired here and what was going on at Clover Keep. Redden and Lance watched a little longer as the family settled down for the night. The ogrekin were sent to eastern side to sleep while the adult ogres threw themselves at each other and proceeded to display where ogrekin come from.

Satisfied that the ogres were settling down for the night and that there was someone to save, Redden and Anatole returned to the group to inform. They all snuck up to the keep a while later. The fires in the sconces and pit out front had burned down to embers. Light was dim and sounds of snoring could be heard from both sides. Anatole and Redden were again chosen for their light footwork, and while Anatole hoped to borrow Redden’s stealthy cloak had no luck. The others were to remain silent by the rear entrance, ready to rush in at the first sign of trouble.

The two moved in on the ogrekin and timed simultaneous coup de grace attacks on the helpless creatures, killing them with a quick and sudden strike that made barely make more than gurgling sounds on the eastern side as snoring continued from the west.

Redden and Anatole signaled their success to the group as they moved to the western side to finish the job. The mother ogre only stirred a little as Anatole took a slight misstep upon entering the room. He and Redden froze for a moment that felt like an eternity before being sure the ogres were both most definitely sound asleep. They moved close and steeled themselves as their prepared their blades for another quick kill. Their blades struck true at the vitals of the disgusting, lumbering masses of evil snoring before them. Their bodies jerked forward and their eyes opened wide in response to attacks they had little chance of surviving. They choked on their own fluids and slumped back down, never to wake again. The two men breathed a sigh of relief and traded high fives before calling in their friends.

The group stood at the top of the hole, calling down to whomever was down there. They woke someone up, and then shone their light at them. It appeared to be a badly injured bandit by the look of the tattoos on his face, and the mangled mess that might have once been called legs. The group threw down a rope and raised their weapons as Christian pulled the wincing bandit out of the cold, dark pit.

Assuming the group was there to finish the job, he asked them to be dearies and to bash his skull in. Loquar attempted to treat his wounds with some magical healing, but found the injuries to the man’s legs to be far too severe. The man thanked the halfling for his efforts saying he felt a little better, but could do with a drink. To his disappointment, he was given only water, which he drank with a half-hearted appreciation if only because of dehydration. He tried to push his luck for some food but was met with hostility from Christian who was quick to label the man as slaver before going into a routine of intimidation with his scimitar and angry face, hoping to squeeze whatever information this man had from him.

Christian barely had to say much, as the man went on to say many things.

The man spoke of mutiny from Old Tom’s men. He spoke of hobgoblins joining the group. He spoke of Old Tom’s girlfriend being a problem for the bandits; her name was Evelyn but apparently some had taken to calling her “Evil Lyn.” He claimed it was her that made Tom recruit and settle in Clover Keep. He also claimed that she was a real bitch. Bandits and slave dug around looking for some kind of magic weapons cache and when they finally found their way into “the basement” of the keep, they found something unspeakable and unnatural. Fearing for their well-being, many bandits, especially new ones, revolted. Some had fled to Horseshoe Keep, this man included. The hobgoblins pursued them, but were followed by a giant. The giant was bigger than the ogres, the bandit claimed. It laid to waste hob, bandit, and slaves alike before leaving. The ogres moved in shortly after, taking advantage of the plentiful meat and cold storage.

When pressed, the bandit also confirmed that Needles was indeed at the keep, though he wondered what Christian would want with such a useless twat. When Lance questioned about slaves, he said that there were many slaves at one point but was unsure of the number now.

The bandit was raving and barely coherent in stringing this information together, and the group was unsure if they should fully believe him. They also had to ponder over what to do with him. Leaving him here was a sentence for death, and to take him with them would no doubt create more headache than it was worth.

As they debated over ethics, the man decreed that they talked way too much. He pressed his head against Redden’s arrow and reached for Christian’s blade as if to incite them for violence. He was prepared to die after seeing what he saw and spending time in a hole with two shattered legs.

Christian obliged, lopping the bandit’s head with one strong and precise swing of his masterwork scimitar. The head flew back into the hole, into the darkness. It almost looked like he was smiling.

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Session 22 - Summary
Previously on Worlds Apart...

After their dealings with the dryad, they returned to the village, having wrapped the bodies of the fallen Reachmen in some old blankets to take back for a proper funeral.

Earl Ragnar was most pleased with their performance these past few days. He went over their situation with them one more time and said with regret that he has great respect for the Returners, he could not spare many men with the looming threat of winter. He promised to send a small envoy south to Nikeah help out with security at the camps and to deliver a message to Jarl Albrook regarding his failed responsibility to the northern communities.

He was proud of the steps his son had taken while in their company. He encouraged the group to take Bjorn as a guide through the Reaches to investigate the two keeps in search of the bandits and missing people. This would be his first winter not in a camp to the south and thus an important experience for him, should he ever hope to be the leader of the tribe.

Bjorn, though young, has traveled through the Reaches before and knows the two keeps well enough to get the Returners there. His impetuous nature and unfaltering bravery almost got him killed on the hunt, so the group felt it would be best keep their eyes on him. His uncle Fenrar stressed that if the boy didn’t return to Kattegat, neither should the party.

Paryl bid the Returners good luck on theirr journey west. He said it was with great fortune and the will of Desna that you all met and could help these people (and creatures!) in need. He couldn’t have consecrated the tree and dryad without the assistance. He claimed he would research the runes/altar at his first convenience.

The party left Kattegat as the funeral pyres burned for the dead Reachmen. There was little time to waste as it wass already afternoon and Bjorn hoped to get the group past the area where the hobgoblins were defeated, and to a waystation for the night.

The waystation was a hunter’s cabin used by many a Reachman and considered a respected sanctuary. It was on the way to this cabin when winter finally came; as promised by the people of Kattegat. The world went white as the snow fell harder and harder, and the temperature dropped as they rode. With the decreased visibility, Bjorn struggled a bit to navigate the path there. All footprints where covered and it was difficult to see obelisks or other trail marking devices. Redden spoke up and offered his assistance. Bjorn explained what he was looking for and with the extra help found the path, and not a moment too soon. Already, the cold was affecting the party and could soon affect their horses.

Just as the group was about to lose all faith in Bjorn’s guidance, by late afternoon the faint outline of the cabin could be seen between the opening of trees. The snow was falling in a full blizzard now, making sight a bit difficult. The wind blowing through the valley and trees is loud and harsh, a night with shelter seemed most promising.

As they approached the door they noticed a body on the porch. The roof above kept most of the snow off of it, but it would seem that a trap had been sprung as this man attempted to get into the cabin. The group investigated further and set off a poorly concealed net trap from above. Bjorn was furious and was sure that it could only be hobgoblins that would violate the sanctity of the waystation. They marched around the cabin looking for signs of people and found little to show that anyone was around. Eventually, after a lengthy check around the cabin, Christian spotted a man attempting to hide in a tree. Christian and Bjorn pointed their blades and shields at him, demanding he come out. “I’m not a hobgoblin!” he explained, and upon exiting from the tree he and Bjorn recognized each other.

They found a place to hide and huddle up their horses for the night and then settled in to the cabin for shelter from the storm. The place was a mess, with Anatole stating that the hobgoblins must have spent the night before their botched attack on Kattegat. Bjorn was once again furious and began cleaning and rearranging the place so that it could be used again by his people. He couldn’t believe the disrespect shown. They found a book of “unremarkable” poems (as it was defaced to say) about the reaches. Anatole’s keen intellect made some sense out of a cryptic poem referring to a Stone Sinister, assuming it to be the Hand they would visit tomorrow. The group ate and drank by the fire talking and getting to know each other before heading to bed. The storm kept away all predators that night, allowing them a peaceful rest.

During the night, Redden dreamed of a collosal white stag with birds flying around its antlers. Not a fully devoted follower of Erastil in the same way his friend Gwyn was, Redden couldn’t completely understand the significance of the imagery of his dream. The birdman of Kattegat had told him to look for the signs as he got closer to his promised companion.

The next morning they set off for “The Hand” after a bowl of Northern Reaches oatmeal prepared by Bjorn, who had also taken the liberty to cut more wood for the next occupants. Redden attempted to call to the birds in the sky along the way, but didn’t make any progress. The birds were free and felt no compulsion to meet this strange man calling to them.

Once again, it was by afternoon that they had reached their next destination. “The Stone Sinister” as it was referred to in the book of poems, was made of pale stone and stood 100 feet tall at its highest point. Birds circled above its reaching fingers. Redden had a flash of the white stag from his dream. Could this be the place? A pair of doors were visible: one at the base, and the other by the thumb 40 feet up. A sign at the base stated that this was a historical preservation site and closed for the season by order of King Steven Deschain. The door was locked and just as Redden decided he should pick the lock, a loud shriek was heard from above.

Where the thumb met the hand stood a monstrous amalgam of an owl and a bear that had clawed its way to the spot in hopes of eating some birds and eggs. It stood tall with white feathers, broad shoulders, and long sharp claws. Later perusal of the monster manual would reveal that these “owlbears” were apex predators that eat just about anything they find. A falcon attempted to fight back the owl as the party fired arrows and bolts at the beast trying to get its attention. The beast took one strong swat at the bird and grabbed and crushed it with its claws before digging the other set of claws into the stone and sliding down about halfway before dropping next to the party. The party attacked it with all they had, Christian even took an arm off. Loquar’s pair of summoned celestial eagles finished the job, almost poetically. Unfortunately for the falcon, the party was too late to stabilize the bird. It was dead. Shock befell them all, as Redden was sure he had lost a companion before they had even met.

“Maybe there’s an egg?” Loquar asked rhetorically and before Redden could properly react to these words, another shriek could be heard from above. The ranger set back to picking the lock and entering the giant hand in front of them, determined to climb up and investigate the thumb.

On the first floor they found nothing in the dark but an artist’s rendition of King Grieg chiseled from obsidian, and a maintenance closet; though they could swear they were being watched. Their Returner badges proved quite useful in illuminating the near pitch black of the rooms. There were no windows in the hand, just the occasional crack.

They climbed to the second floor and found a sleeping area, common area, and kitchen for the maintenance workers. Nothing had been touched or used for some time, and yet in the kitchen they found the table covered in desserts and a big, delicious looking cake. This was suspicious to say the least and with some prodding and some eye rubbing they determined it to be an illusion set to cover up the threat of an ochre jelly coming out from under the table. These slimy monsters come from the underground and find their way into the strangest of places due to their ability to slip through cracks much smaller than their size.

Christian and Redden steadied themselves to fight. Christian said to avoid blades as they would cause the slime to split, and thus dropped his scimitar. Redden smashed with his hammer, and while Christian’s advice to not use blades on such creatures was sound, the dual nature of his own weapons caused the slime to split into two with each hit.

The others mostly looked on, the confined space and limitation of bludgeoning weapons made it difficult for them to combat. Loquar saw to it to fire eldritch blasts of green light from his hands in assistance while the others assisted in whatever way they could to bolster their allies. Christian was caught once by the slamming tendrils of the slime, it’s acid burned his flesh but not his equipment. He cursed at the misfortune and braced himself to fight on. His luck went from bad to worse as something had caused his sword to float in the air and swing around in circles in the common room. “Not today,” Loquar lamented. “Sorry guys, this might be me. I wouldn’t worry about the sword though.” The party was confused by these words but had no choice but to fight on.

The slime was gradually weakened and split with subsequent attacks. Lance and Anatole saw the sword float by them and out of the room. Having reached the second floor, Bjorn failed to grab the sword as it flew into the sleeping room. He was then surprised as the bearskin rug got up and looked poised to attack and even roared. Anatole could hear laughter from behind the bear skin. Bjorn shouted out and struck at “the bear” with his axe, eventually knocking it to the ground as the others finished off the jelly. Anatole made his way into the sleeping room with Bjorn and managed to take back Christian’s scimitar from whatever was holding it. He heard a “Hey!” and then felt a faint touch as something flew past him. He saw, in his mind’s eye, an image of a pig man holding a sword above a rabbit. Christian and Anatole felt and saw similar images, though without the sword. Whatever they were facing had escaped down to the first floor and likely outside.

The dangers gone, this allowed the party to explore the rest of the hand, finding a pantry on the second floor with some dried good and cheap wine. The third floor had barrels marked “sealant” and had locked doors at both ends of a long hall. One was the exit towards the thumb and the other lead to the foreman’s office.

Redden picked another lock, heading out to the thumb where he saw that it was hollowed out and contained a nest. A female peregrine falcon looked sullen as all her eggs had been crushed and her mate was gone. Her entire family was taken by the owlbear. Redden drank a disgusting potion given to him by The Birdman of Kattegat, and wasn’t sure what to expect when all of a sudden he could understand what the bird was saying. To his friends, he was chirping and squawking back and forth with this bird, but to him he was bonding. He felt deep inside himself a connection to this bird, much like he had heard from Gwyn, clerics of Erastil, and the Birdman. It all made sense to him now. He and this beautiful, dark feathered falcon would be inseparable. He named her “Blackfeather.”

Having been a little confused by Redden’s situation, Anatole and Christian went to the office. Anatole picked the lock and Christian investigated a desk inside. A work journal went over the importance of sealing the cracks so slime wouldn’t get in. The foreman also noted that the feywood nearby looked like it was getting bigger this year. In a drawer, Christian found a spyglass and a stone tile. From examination he could see that it was like a puzzle piece. From observing how Bjorn’s hair moved from a strange wind, Christian found a place to put the tile and opened a secret door. It lead to another ladder, this time up the middle finger.

At the finger tip was a roost of birds that flew off as he entered. He looked out the various openings, and used the spy glass to try to find the keeps. He called up Bjorn for further assistance. Bjorn found both keeps easily enough as both had smoke rising from fires. Someone was at both locations. He said that the closer keep was “Horseshoe Keep” and upon focused inspection was damaged and had about 6 tents outside but could not get an exact reading of how many people where there. The other keep, a taller one, had its roof barely standing above some trees in the distance. Nothing beyond the fire could show people where there. Bjorn went on to say there was a history of men fighting between the two keeps before and Horseshoe Keep wasn’t in as good of condition as Clover Keep. He also said the he preferred Clover Keep as a child as it had interesting secret passages much like the one in the hand. Bjorn found a silver pendant amongst the various shiny objects in the roost while Christian did a more thorough search of the Reaches along with Redden. They saw the tell-tale bended trees of a fey wood just behind the hand. In the fading light they saw small bodies fighting a giant in the planes at the center of the Reaches. The Sabre Mountains were to the north, the assumed destination of the other Returner group. To the south was Nikeah, which was barely visible in the distance.

The group left the hand and were immediately confronted by a goat that said “BAAAAD!” before hopping off toward the fey wood. This solidified a plan to camp away from this area. They found a secluded area, protected from wind and sight. They set up their camp and sat down at the fire, ready for a much needed talk. Loquar might finally have to open up about his powers, and pressure was once again put on Christian to speak of his own past. Perhaps their new ally, Anatole, would have something interesting to say as well.

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Session 21 - Summary
Previously on Worlds Apart...

The Reachmen of Kattegat weren’t exactly welcoming. The bearded men gathered at the gate and expected some kind of tribute. “The last group brought in 2 elks and a barrel of beer,” some shouted. As the party discussed what they could possibly offer up to the Reachmen two people pushed through the crowd: a young Reachman barely able to grow any facial hair and a man with white hair and beard, dressed in the vestments of the Desnan clergy.

They were Bjorn Lothbrok, son of Earl Ragnar, and Paryl Luckbringer, a traveling cleric of Desna and they took it upon themselves to help the visitors at the gate. Bjorn pleaded with his uncle Fenrar who lead the mob while Paryl suggested that the party, if they were able to hunt, should head off to find something of real value to these men. Bjorn and two other younger Reachmen named Lucan Axeborn, and Nelkir Vetter joined the party for the trip. They were eager to prove themselves along with the newcomers. They brought along their own horses and a cart to transport the spoils.

On the way to the hunting grounds, they discussed wildlife and monsters, giants and the coming of winter, a time when an influx of monsters and cold weather made life more difficult. Bjorn mused at the possibility of killing a wooly oliphant to impress his father as the hide, fur, tusks, and meat were all of great value to the Reachmen; not to mention the glory in taking down such a huge and impressive animal.

Redden lead the party to a rather unfortunately icy area with a hill to ambush a wandering Oliphant. Loquar used his powers to do his best approximation of an oliphant mating call, much to the amusement of the Reachmen. However, much to everyone’s surprise along came an oliphant and the group set their positions, most opting for the hills. Lance took the rear flank, hoping to skate behind the beast as it approached. Christrian and Bjorn bravely stood on the frontline; Bjorn with shield ready and Christian bracing his spear. With a howl of intimidation, Christian beckoned the Oliphant to charge and got more than he bargained for. The spear found its mark but the huge charging animal was not stopped by the combined attack of the group. It flattened both Christian and Bjorn, the latter knocked unconscious by the blow. Lance slipped and fell as he attempted to move full speed on the ice. Lucan who had done an impressive jumping strike down from the hill was the next to drop as the Oliphant swung his tusk back at him to great effect. Loquar blessed the group with support magic and stabilized the wounded, while Redden’s arrows found their mark. Christian swung scimitar and shield while Lance eventually made it to the flank to keep the beast from trampling the earl’s son. It was a grueling 20-30 seconds of carnage and blood on the ice before the beast finally gave in to the damage done to its body from blades and arrows. It fell on its side, narrowly missing the unconscious young Bjorn with its bulk.

The group recuperated thanks to Loquar’s mysterious but much appreciated healing magic. The Reachmen laughed and bellowed over the glory of fighting an oliphant with such a small hunting party and living to tell the story. Our heroes worried a little over at what might have happened should the earl’s son have died on the hunt. They felt relief when Bjorn spat blood but seemed otherwise unfazed by what had transpired. The group went to work cutting up the oliphant with axes in order to transport as much as they could back to the village when a large shadow passed overhead.

The wingspread was much wider than any bird they knew and they barely had a chance to react before spikes rained from the sky accompanied by a raspy voice wailing, “Mine!” The group braced themselves for combat and the Reachmen recognized it as a manticore. The manticore flew down and flung more spikes repeating its demand of “MINE!” to the party. This white-furred creature had a vaguely humanoid head, the body of a lion, and the wings of a dragon. Its tail ended in long, sharp spikes encrusted with ice. The brave warriors stood strong and threw everything they had at the monster, taking it down without casualty. The Reachmen said that it was a smaller and likely younger manticore, and that a dealing with an older one might not have gone so well. However, there would certainly be further glory with their kinsmen back at the village for taking back some trophies from its cold body. The barbed tail in particular would be deemed a great gift to the earl.

They headed back and were hailed enthusiastically by the men of the village on their return. True to what they were told of the Reachmen, there were not any women, children or elderly to be seen. Paryl looked on with a proud smile as Earl Ragnar himself approached the group. He congratulated the group and his son for a successful hunt and heard their story. With careful thought he told them that he would discuss the matters at “The Thing” which is what the Reachmen referred to a meeting of the minds to discuss matters of importance. The spoils of the hunt were taken away to be prepared, and the group was left with some mead to drink outside as outsiders were not permitted to take part in the Thing.

The group discussed some things with Paryl, hearing about his travels and the Northern Reaches. He knew of two keeps in the area the party mentioned: Horseshoe Keep and Clover Keep. He also mentioned a fascinating oddity he called “The Hand” which was a colossal stone hand reaching out from the ground. He didn’t know of bandits in the area as he had been with the people of Kattegat for weeks as people prepared for winter. He mentioned that the previous group of Returners, lead by a man named Banon, only stayed the night just 10 days or so prior. They had left a man named Anatole to stay with the Reachmen, but he grew impatient and left the village just the day before to investigate a hobgoblin scouting party that came too close to the village and was defeated by the tenacious Reachmen.

Redden and Loquar each had private discussions with the village shaman known affectionately as “The Birdman” who stayed in a dimly-lit cabin behind the earl’s. Birds covered the roof outside and perched on rafters inside. Their droppings soiling most places. Skulls and bones hung from strings and were stacked in piles. The Birdman sat on a high backed chair with a raven perched over each of his shoulders. He claimed to speak to his ancestors and was a man of the old faith. Many Reachmen still believed in The All-Father, Odin and the gods of the north, but more and more people were finding belief in the gods of the south. The earl was particularly fond of Desna thanks to his new lucky charm, Paryl.

Redden found that the more he heard about the Reachmen’s values of living the old ways of hunting, and protecting one’s home, the more he found they sounded a lot like the teachings of Erastil. Perhaps there wasn’t much difference in name if values were still upheld and respected. He appreciated that and took all the advice regarding birds, the bond between animal and man, and the reaches to heart. However, Loquar’s discussions were kept in private, as he chose not to open to anyone else about what transpired in his meeting.

The party was then invited into the earl’s mead hall to feast in celebration of their hunt. The meat was divided according to who struck the first, second, and killing blow on the beast. The meat from around the eye was supposed to go to the leader of the travelers, but since no one stepped forward it was given to Bjorn who seemed, once again, overjoyed by it all. He claimed to feel stronger for it. The meat was prepared in a variety of ways, soup, grilled, and more and exhaled such a savory odour, that the group soon tasted and found it to be delicious. They could not conceive that so gross and heavy an animal as the oliphant, would afford such delicate food.

Earl Ragnar, over drinks, explained to the group that their story if found true could be of great concern, but without proof he could not send men out west to investigate. He said he would provide the group with a guide should they help with a problem. The group agreed to head south to a forest where the best wood for boats was cut as four men had gone missing in the area. Paryl insisted that he and Bjorn accompany the group, for Bjorn’s continued education and because Paryl believed that they would need luck on their side. The earl agreed and after more drinking, the party slept on comfortable, warm furs on the mead hall floor.

They awoke in the early morning and head off south to the forest. Again, Redden took point and this time quickly found the trail of the woodsmen. The forest trees seemed to change and bend with every step, it was what the heroes imagined to be a Fey wood, where the boundaries of the first world and theirs was thin. They found their way to a fork in the path when a small peeping sound was heard with nothing in sight. A colorful spray burst from the forest floor, knocking some of the group unconscious. “Ey! Shanshin-ah!” a small voice beckoned from below in what sounded like Sylvan. Without Gwyn to translate the group could only try to guess what it was saying. The voice came from an anxious looking mushroom-like creature with a pointed cap. It was a sprite, a fey, who eventually managed to find the words in common. “Be careful. She’s sick. Please… help her. The nice tree lady is not okay.” and pointed down one path towards a clearing where trees where visibly dying or dead.

The group carefully made their way to the clearing and found themselves facing a tree with what appeared to be a wood-like body of a woman attached to it. Her body had strange glowing green runes carved into it. And below her, an altar with similar patterns adorning it. A disembodied voice in the grove spoke to them first in Sylvan, and after a tisk, in common. “Who are you? Why are you here?” The group tried to plead with the woman, a tainted Dryad, but found her untrusting. She charmed Lance into moving toward her, but luckily with the help of Paryl’s divine magic was able to later resist her urging. Loquar begged his friends to keep their weapons hidden as he too aproached the middle of the grove when the Dryad shouted “THAT’S FAR ENOUGH,” as she commanded the plants of the grove to reach up and grab at their ankles, separating those within the circle from those outside. As this happened, the bodies for four Reachmen shambled from the forest. Dead and expressionless, their bodies were being used and contorted by a kind of vine Redden and Loquar noted to be Yellow Musk. Paryl pleaded to the party to keep them away from him as he attempted to consecrate the altar below the tree and it was done exactly so. Axes, chakrams, bolts, and arrows found their way to their targets. Loquar called forth 3 celestial eagles to interpose themselves and protect the cleric as he did Desna’s work. Paryl poured silver powder and holy water into the grooves of the runes, chanting holy incantations and raising his head and hands commanding the evil forces to leave the tree. The Dryad itself stepped out of another tree ready to attack the cleric with wooden appendages that seemed to mimic weapons when suddenly she dropped, the plants receded, and the bodies of the lost Reachmen were no longer shambling but lying still as they should.

The party smashed the altar and used what was available to help the Dryad. Cure spells, magical bandages, and a second consecration spell. It was indeed lucky that the cleric had prepared more than one that day, and he smiled a sly knowing smile. The gods work in mysterious ways and he knew it was his place to be here at this moment to help these travelers and the people of Kattegat. The Dryad was ashamed of what she had done, and upon consecration the woods around her were very quickly starting to recover. Some sprites found their way to her and danced in a circle. She could only explain that it was bad men that had done this to her. They must have found her sleeping and set up that altar on her tree. She was powerless to stop the corruption. Her memories of the incident and men were foggy.

Paryl would put more thought and research into the altar and runes. He thanked the party for protecting him and with Bjorn’s urging the party returned to Kattegat with the bodies to give them get a proper funeral.

*NOTABLE NPCS: *

Earl Ragnar Lothbrok, Charismastic leader of the Reachmen in Kattegat village, North of Nikeah. He has commanding eyes and is not a fan of Jarl Albrook’s failure to keep the camps secured outside of his walls.

Fenrar Lothbrok: Large and imposing brother of the earl. Lead the mob that hassled the party at the gate.

Bjorn Lothbrok: Son of Ragnar, spending his first winter in the reaches protecting his home. Looking to prove his worth so that he may find his strength and someday be a great leader like his father.

Paryl Luckbringer: Cleric of Desna with an almost ageless appearance. Follows the stars and his dreams to bring good fortune to people in need.

The Birdman: Shaman, healer, and keeper of the faith for what the Reachmen call the “Old Gods”, namely Odin the All-Father and a pantheon. Quirky and childlike, but gets the job done.

Returners headed north: Banon (bearded leader) a pretty blind girl, an excitable gnome, and a handful of warrior types.

Returner headed west: Anatole, another “lucky” type.

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Session 20 - Summary
Previously on Worlds Apart...

It was as they feared; an ambush. However, it was not bandits or even people this time. It would seem that the Northern Reaches had a few guard dogs working the road: a pair of dire wolves lead by a magical beast called a worg. Worgs are intelligent, wolf-like, magical creatures and this one was more magical than most seemingly made of shadows. They jumped from the bushes at the party as they made their way to investigate the worg’s false cries.

Loquar showed some of the famous halfling luck when he was flanked and subsequently tripped by the dire wolves and somehow did not lose his face. Rather, he smashed a smoke sling bullet on a dire wolf’s nose, nauseating the beast while his friends kept the other busy. The wolves could not get past Christian’s armor and shield. Lance got a few good swings in before getting his sword stuck in a tree root. Redden tangled with the worg who kept saying strange things like “Help!” and “Hehehe, come on BOYS!” and “Old Tom’s gonna like you!” Redden opted to wield Brightflame when the beast managed to darken the area around him with some supernatural power. The magic of the newly grown curved short sword made the creature cringe as it cut through the darkness and sliced away at its flesh dutifully. His Returner badge with its magical light also prevented it from hiding in the shadows.

Its companions downed, and its tricks ruined, the worg made haste into the forest, quickly losing the heroes trailing him. They instead opted to track down the wolves’ den wherein they found many bones of human and animal sources but not a worg to be seen. At the top of the pile of remains were the fresh bodies of a few bandits, Murder Hobos, judging by the branding on their arms. They also found what was left of two boys. They surmised that these were the unfortunate boys stolen in the night from the eastern camp outside of Nikeah. The bandits took them up that road when they were overtaken by the worg and dire wolves…. The worg must have been imitating the sounds of the bandits and boys as they made their way north. The group resolved to cover their tracks and return in the morning; hoping to catch the worg when it was resting and unable to hide.

During the night, they set up a cold camp further up the road and were relatively undisturbed except for a raccoon trying to get into Lance’s pack. They rose in the early morning and made their way back to the den. Redden snuck forward first and found traces of the worg at the entrance. The group moved in together as quietly as they could, and even though Christian’s armor had the tendency to catch every branch they made it undetected. At the cave entrance they drew their weapons, turned on their lights and charged into the cave where they quickly dispatched of the wounded worg who scarcely had the chance to wake up and see the attack coming. They took some personal affects (shoes and a doll) from the boys and opted to burn the bodies as per what they knew of the culture, hoping to grant their souls rest and not waste time saving more people.

They found that just ahead of their camp site, the road ended. From that point forward they would have to follow worn trails and their own instincts as they made their way north to the settlement Michael had told them about. They found themselves at a river in the early afternoon. The heroes and their horses were not keen to try their way through the rushing cold waters and as they inspected a broken bridge they caught sight of a very large man. From the stories he had heard and the green tinge to his skin, Lance could only guess that this was a river giant and river giants are known to be either good or evil, and always chaotic in nature. It was impossible to tell, so the party hid.

The giant was walking along with two large beside behind him following the river when he noticed the party trying to hide by the bridge. The party had no choice but to come out and try to speak with the large man. Lance also mentioned that giants could throw rocks like walking siege weapons; this made them all more nervous. The giant spoke broken common and introduced himself as Asahi. When asked if he was friendly, he simply said he was “friend to some, enemy to others.” He then took to ripping out a tree from the ground and bashing it with an axe. The party stood their ground, eyes transfixed on the giant on the opposite side. As the minutes passed, they called out to him asking if everything was okay. He told them, bluntly, “Short bodies short on patience.” They wondered if he was making a caber to throw at them or a raft for his bison. In the end, he simply threw the worked wood down, covering the gap in the bridge and walked his bison across. Asahi took a moment to look down with a smirk at the little men shaking at trailside as he passed.

The party took no hesitation in crossing the repaired bridge and hurrying further north. Along the trail were the occasional obelisk and features from colossal statues fallen and half buried. These statues were just as big as those found at the gates of Nikeah, but broken and seemingly forgotten. That night they found a good campsite in the crook of a colossal elbow. Redden caught as small deer and they ate it by the fire and reminisced about home. Christian spoke of the The Rusty Blade Inn, Redden of his family and Valki, Lance his uncle and the friends he had around home. They spoke of Gwyn who was somewhere near there with her sister Gloria on their way to Sodsville. Loquar spoke fondly of his surrogate family in Sodsville. They slept soundly and without interruption.

In the morning, while Loquar did his daily meditations and reading, Lance and Christian sparred at the top of a hill. Redden sought out more food in the nearby small grove, not too far from where he had found the deer previously. It wasn’t the best hunting spot, but he made due. Glancing in the direction of his last kill, he noticed a grouping of butterflies in the area. They flew towards him, and thinking of his time at the temple of Desna thought nothing of it as they surrounded him. It may have been the only blessing was that his fortitude held strong, as he felt more and more uncomfortable with each passing second. He quickly removed himself from the swarm and then had to burst into a sprint back towards the camp as the butterflies followed. He could not identify the breed or why they would be behaving in such a manner.

It was Loquar who identified them as death swarm butterflies, highly poisonous and highly dangerous. With some quick thinking the party used the elements to their favour as weapons would be useless. Loquar doused the swarm with water, damaging the delicate wings of many of the fluttering fiends. Christian and Lance armed themselves with lit torches as the swarm approached. Loquar later conjured up an elemental ally from the winds themselves which slammed the butterflies with strong gusts and whirlwind attacks. Between water, wind, and fire, the vile vermin fell to the earth and Redden was safe.

The group ate breakfast of small game and foraged food, then moved further along the path north. The obelisks seemed to be taking them in a north by north west direction. By early afternoon, they could see the shape of walls and chimney smoke in the sky. They rode on with haste, weary from their travels so far. As they approached, they saw large timbers made a strong and secure wall around the perimeter of the village. Birds of prey circled and dove from above, as though the people inside were practicing falconry. Well-crafted wooden canoes, and river boats lined the shores of nearby streams.

Upon reaching the gates, they were stopped by two bearded men wearing horned helmets and fur-lined hide armor. They were carrying battle axes and wooden shields. The sentries gave the party a look up and down and upon seeing their proudly displayed Returner badges, spoke “More of you, eh?” and called for a superior.

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