Chapter One – Surrounded by Mists

 

DISCLAIMER: The text and audio featured in this post contains SPOILERS to the ‘Curse of Strahd’ Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Campaign.  Details of the content are used without permission of Wizards of the Coast who is the publisher and copy write owner of the adventure.  This post is intended to chronicle the adventure of the players of the campaign that I am running.  No profit from this content is pursued or intended.

The Party Members

Filandrea, a Wood Elf Monk
Filandrea, a Wood Elf Monk

Markas, a Lightfoot Halfling Bard
Markas, a Lightfoot Halfling Bard

Nuerque, a Half-Elven Sorcerer
Nuerque, a Half-Elven Sorcerer

Ward, a Human Wizard and his scribe, Tyron
Ward, a Human Wizard and his scribe, Tyron

Vir, a High Elven Paladin of Corellon
Vir, a High Elven Paladin of Corellon

And introducing,

Karuth, A Half-Elven Cleric of Kord
Karuth, A Half-Elven Cleric of Kord

Willow, A Half-Elven Wizard
Willow, A Half-Elven Wizard

The party awoke, and the mystery of their whereabouts unfolded.  Skills and magics were immediately deployed to gain some sense of orientation.  Keen eyes, arcane queries and gut senses were all tested. It was clear that they had physically moved. And yet, no one had experienced any sensation of motion or magic since the night before.

Filandrea was perhaps the most disturbed.  For upon scouting the perimeter she discovered a road.  There were no roads to her knowledge anywhere in her challenging patrol route.  The land around her reclusive community was only suited for travel via switchback foot-trails or by mounted flight from ride-trained Giant Raptors.  No vehicle ever went in “her” lands.

And yet, there it was.  A single road heading ‘away’ in two directions a few yards from the makeshift encampment.  After a few moments, the others joined her to ponder this discovery and make plans as to how to treat it.  No other strangeness manifested. Once everyone accounted for their belongings, and they were convinced nothing or no one had gone missing, they proceeded.

Nuerque proposed, based on some of his survival instincts, which direction might be which. The party set onto the road, heading ‘west’. The idea being that it may be a way back to the way they came.  Perhaps the misty air from the night before had somehow managed to make them lose their bearing.  Either way, since it was a road, there was bound to be a destination.

The morning mist was now less persistent and yet still confusing.  While it let some form of sunlight through, there was no seeing of an actual sun.  The road and the trees lining either side of the way both emerged and faded out just a few yards in both directions.  They knew they were moving, but it was hard to tell how far and how fast.  After some time, they even began leaving marks along the way to try to prove they were not moving in a loop.  However, no signs of their trace were come upon again. So forward progress must be being made.

After what felt like hours, a large stone wall and gateway emerged from the mists in front of them.  The obstruction by the mist made this discovery rather sudden and unexpected.  The stone wall was some fifty feet high with a heavy iron gated passage set into it, and it now traversed the road.  On each side of the gateway opening, massive stone sculptures of armored guards stood as sentries.  Rather weak ones, it would seem, for the heads of these figures lay at their own feet, surrounded by weeds and overgrowth.

Ward, the human wizard, set foot towards the gates first.  As he approached, as expected by most of the party, the gates opened by themselves.  Filandrea voiced her concern that this should not be the way they continue.  She knew that the cursed town of Midian must be nearby.  And yet, Ward proceeded.  Vir, the High Elven Paladin, galloped forward to get ahead of Ward, intending to protect the Wizard from any unseen threat.  

And with that, the party committed to continuing onto the road beyond.  Given the kind of mystery that had persisted all day, no one was surprised when the gates loudly closed behind them, without any evidence that anyone manned them.  Vir confirmed just so that they knew for sure, that the gate did not reopen again when tested from this side.  It would seem their only choice was to move forward.

Some variety in the direction of the road and its surroundings finally proved they were making progress.  Whether this was an improvement remained questionable, as the tree line broke open to a high grass clearing.  Now, even more, mist obstructed the view, creating an eerie ‘nowhere’ around them.  Filandrea caught the scent of death in the air.  Not the smell of a new kill, but of something old and rotted and long dead.   

Ward noticed his companion Tyron was fidgeting with his belt pouch nervously.  The scribe’s facial expressions contorted between discomfort and indecision.  Apparently, an internal battle of some kind was occurring within the young human’s mind.  The wizard took it upon himself to express assurances of comfort and positivity on their shared situation to the fretful youth, though they appeared wasted.

Soon, the party came upon a village.  As the gated wall before it, buildings and streets revealed themselves remarkably close to them without notice.  They walked their horses into the streets looking for some sign of villagers.  The buildings were of exceptional construction and had multiple floors, and they showed signs of old age.  Some had dulled paint and others dirty or broken windows.  Many of the buildings were boarded up.  Others seemed abandoned.   

As the party turned down a side street, they came across a pair of human children crouched in the middle of the road. A very young boy was on the ground, crying and clutching a stuffed toy.  Over him, a slightly older girl was cooing comforting words to him. Vir proudly approached the children, kneeling down in his plated armor to speak at their level.

“What troubles you?”, he asked.

The girl looked up to face the paladin; the boy only glanced, still wrapped over his toy.

“There is a monster in our house!” the girl said, unflinchingly.  Her worried eyes contained no hope.

“What kind of monster is it?”, asked Vir.

“I don’t know.  I haven’t seen it.  We only hear it sometimes.”, the girl answered.

Markas, the halfling Bard, got the attention of the small boy while the girl was talking to Vir.  He began to tell a happy tale that he knew, which only seemed to distract the boy at times.

“Well, what does it sound like?”, Vir pressed.  The girl cringed at the very notion of trying to evoke the sound she feared.  

Meanwhile, Ward turned his arcane skill to the assessment of the area.  They had stopped in front of a four-story house, with a small gated porch protruding from the weary, looming exterior.  The houses on either side appeared to be in poor repair.  Whoever lived inside must be keeping the place up.  There were no magics detectable in its vicinity . . . however . . .

Vir noticed at nearly the same moment that something was not right with these children.  He quietly appealed to his god Correlon to reveal any unnatural threat there may be and was surprised to discover the “children” themselves to putting off a mystical aura.  Keeping his reactions to himself, he shot warning glances to his other party members, but not before Ward could shout out.

“ILLUSIONS!” Ward cried.  And as he spoke, the children vanished.  Which was a pity, since Markas felt he was on the verge of getting through to the little boy.  The beginnings of a smile had begun to form on the child’s face, but then he was gone.

Nuerque and Filandrea had also been taking stock, but they noticed something else. The ever persistent mists that had contained this party along their road the last few hours now seemed to be pressing in even closer.  Houses and features that were once visible just a few yards away were now beginning to fade into obscurity.   

“We need to go, guys. “ Nuerque insisted, though it was not clear to where.  The only route that remained visible led to the doorstep of the illusionary children’s house.

“Clearly this is a trap!” Ward announced, and he cast a bolt of flame in the direction of the house, hoping to catch it afire.  The magical fire did catch on a bit of tall weeds along the house foundation, but misty clouds from the rear of the property spilled forth and seemed to douse the flames.

“Well, if it is a trap, I’m not walking in through the front door!” remarked Markas. He recruited Vir to get a boost into one of the exterior windows of the second floor, to no avail.  Meanwhile, the mists closed in further.  When the encroaching fog was mere feet away, the party decided to secure their horses as quick as they could. Then they piled in through the unlocked front door.  As the last of them entered, they lost sight of their mounts.  The doorstep now fully engulfed in a whiteout of light.

There was not much room for all of them in the receiving room, it being a mere ten by thirty space.  Another set of oaken double doors gave way to a large foyer, where the group could stretch out a bit.  The hall was dark. Ward created some dancing light for his benefit.  He and Markas had no way to see in even partial darkness, while the rest of the party could make due with their enhanced sight.  

The foyer itself appeared stately. The wood paneling of the room showed master craftsmanship, depicting a forested glade with woodland animals.  At the north end of this hall, a mantle above an unlit fireplace held an ornate longsword, the visage of a Windmill cameoed into the hilt.  A similar device of a Windmill hung in the entryway, emblazoned onto a shield.  There did not seem to be anyone about within the hall; no one answered a call for attending.  It was not long before Ward offered up the sword as a keepsake, as no one seemed to be around to claim it.  Vir balked at the disturbing of another’s apparent possessions, but could not challenge that anyone might object.

Door by door, the party searched for any sign of inhabitants.  Each room, while in immaculate order, contained no trace of people.  The Den at the front of the house had accommodations for a comfortable sitting, including a fresh cask of wine.  On the walls were mounted three prize wolf heads, each frozen in a snarling glare.  Beneath them were cabinets, one locked (magically opened by the eager Wizard) and another unsecured.  The locked cabinet contained a variety of crossbows and bolts, the other contained means to serve and enjoy the contents of the cask, something Markas HAD to taste, his reasoning being they might be there awhile, and it was just going to age otherwise.

Ward discovered a closet off the Main hall full of black, medium-sized cloaks hanging inside. The shelf above contained a single top hat.

The Dining Room was fully set for an elegant dinner and yet vacant of any food.  The Kitchen was also in perfect order, and the larder had copious amounts of bland tasting foodstuffs.  

While the party took this opportunity to restock their mess kits, Markas discovered a dumbwaiter door and even tested whether he could fit inside.  It was not a comfortable fit, but he could not convince anyone to work the device for him.  He was confident he could bypass any traps that lay ahead if they hoisted him up a floor, but group reasoning weighed against his adventurous spirit.  Almost in defiance, Markas raised the now empty dumbwaiter up to the next floor himself as a backup escape plan.

The Main Hall also contained a sweeping staircase.  Happy that they had not passed up any rooms there, the group ascended.  On the second floor, they discovered another full hall, with doors leading away on either side.  Several suits of armor in a wolf motif also stood along the walls, unmoving and vacant.  The main feature of this area was an oversized painting of a family; a man holding a swaddled baby, a woman standing close to him with a look of scorn directed his way, and slightly in front of them two children, a young girl, and even younger boy.  It was the visage of the illusionary children the party had encountered outside. Only in this instance the children were unmoving and staring blankly ahead, not regarding either parental figure.

The party began investigating the rooms on this floor.  The first door sat at the very top of the staircase and revealed what must have been a servants quarters.  The dumbwaiter from the kitchen let out into this room and appeared to give access to the next floor above as well.  Nuerque examined the servants closet only to reveal some neatly cleaned uniforms.  The party moved on to the double doors across the hall to find a Conservatory.  Tall, draped windows looked out of the house and should have offered a view of the street below, but only rewarded a mist-covered whiteness instead.  In one corner there was a harpsichord and ample space to dance in the rest of the room.  Which was clearly the purpose of this space, as indicated by the macabre figurines arranged on the mantle.  Once again, no evidence of any inhabitants was detected.

The last set of doors opened up to a Library.  A desk and chair were placed facing the entryway, and the shelves of books were so tall that a rolling ladder was affixed to provide access to them all.  Ward and Markas began scouring the book spines and titles, each with their need to sate their drive for knowledge for their skills and crafts.  Vir searched the desktop and drawers and came up with an Iron Key.  Nuerque triggered a hidden latch in the bookshelves and revealed a secret room behind the bookcase.

Older and finer books lined the interior of the secret room, their contents of a more sinister nature.  The titles on the tomes indicated arcane bits of knowledge and ritual preparations, potentially of some infernal craft. At the end of the small room, a chest lay half-opened with the upper half of an armored skeleton hanging out of it.  The leather armor of the skeleton was pierced by three large darts as if the victim had sprung an old trap.  In its outward hand lay some documents, which Vir scooped up to inspect.  

Some of the documents were regarding the deed to a house, presumably, the one they currently occupied.  Another, to a family owned windmill. There was also a Will, leaving all assets to the Durst family children, Rosavalda and Thornbolt.  The documents signed by one Gustav and an Elisabeth Durst.  There was also a letter, which Vir read aloud for all to hear:

My most pathetic servant,

   I am not a messiah sent to you by the Dark Powers of this land.  I have not come to lead you on a path to immortality.  However many souls you have bled on your hidden altar. However many visitors you have tortured in your dungeon, know that you are not the ones who brought me to this beautiful land. You are but worms writhing in my earth.

   You say that you are cursed, your fortunes spent.  You abandoned love for madness, took solace in the bosom of another woman and sired a stillborn son. Cursed by Darkness? Of that, I have no doubt.  Save you from your wretchedness? I think not.  I much prefer you as you are.

Your dread lord and master,

Strahd von Zarovich

The group decided that Tyron should keep track of the documents since he had the proper provisions to keep them.  Should any heirs be located then, delivery of these papers would go to them.  Tyron agreed to steward the documents and stowed them away in his other notes.

With all the rooms on that floor revealed, the party made its way once more the next floor.  As soon as Vir made it to the third-floor landing, he was set upon by an empty suit of armor.  The construct sprung to life and made an attempt to cleave at Vir, but only managed to scrape him.  Vir fought back slashing a gap into the empty suit.  Quickly the others topped the staircase to join the fray.  Within moments, the armor took such a beating that it lay broken, useless and more importantly motionless on the floor.

The noise of the battle must have stirred something in another room, for just moments after the victory a door opened from behind Ward, and the face of a stranger popped out.  Immediately and in some disbelief, Ward poked the stranger with a finger to test if he was real.

“Hey, stop it.” The stranger said.

“Who are you?” Ward asked.  

The door opened further, and two half-elves stepped forth. The male dressed in chainmail with a giant hammer at his side, the female in wizard’s robes.

“I am Karuth, and this is Willow.  What happened here now?”

Vir explained the happenings to Karuth. Meanwhile, Markas offered some upgrades to the story to make it sound more valiant than Vir described.  Vir returned the query as to what reason the newcomers seemed to be hiding in a storage closet.

Karuth replied with a description of how they found themselves in this land which was very similar to the recent travels of the party.  They, too, discovered the children in the street but did not know about their illusionary nature.  They, too, searched the house for inhabitants and the reported terror, but on this floor came into contact with a Spectre of sorts that was so terrible that it forced them to retreat into the store room.  They were not sure how long they had been there, but they were certain it couldn’t be more than overnight.

Karuth also explained that the spirit was just beyond the door to the room adjacent, but it was decided by the group to save that room for last.  The party entered into a master bedroom instead which contained a balcony and a sitting alcove, where once again the dumbwaiter door stood in service.  The group took this opportunity to rest, even though the new adventures had just done so.  And though enough time passed for the darkness of night to settle in, it never did.  The whiteout beyond the windows remained though the hours passed.

When everyone was feeling rested, they headed to face the dread spirit.  The group prepared themselves outside the Nursery doors.  Vir and Karuth took the point and threw to door open.  Within, an apparition of a woman was pacing the room.  The ghostly figure wore the clothes of a nursemaid, and her demeanor seemed to be one of impatient anxiety.  She paid no attention to the invasion of the room, seemingly consumed with worry.

Beyond the spirit stood a bed still made. At the far end of the left side of the room a fireplace gapped, unlit.  A fine layer of cobwebs coated the flat surfaces including the bed. To the immediate right was a closed door and beyond that door a set of stained glass balcony doors.  The bedroom was eerily undisturbed for the amount the nursemaid was moving around.

The group decided to go on the assault and began sending a flurry of distance attacks at the spirit.  Ward led with an enveloping arc of lightning that seemed to hold the nursemaid at bay.  Markas waited for an opportunity to see how the creature would react to the assault.  Nuerque positioned Willow and Tyron away from direct harm.  Vir extended his senses, focusing on the undead threat to seek out a defensive weakness. Karuth called on divine power to scorch the phantom, but in the chaos of the volley missed his target. When Filandrea threw her darts at the unnatural form, they passed through the air it occupied with barely noticeable effect.

The nursemaid entity, held tightly by Ward’s lightning, rose up into the air. Her demeanor swiftly changed from anxious to enraged.  The facial features of the creature shifted from an ordinary woman to something of a spectral beast, her eyes afire and mouth growing larger than should be possible.  She attempted to reach out to Ward but was incapable of discerning his location through the constant energy wrapping around her.  Just then, Markas taunted the entity with a magical slew of enchanted insults which appeared to throw additional disorientation around her.  

Ward continued to try to hold the spirit at bay with his lightning energy, which seemed to be working even if not to the intensity he was used to.  Markas unleashed another volley of magical mockery, its effect undeterminable in the chaos.  Nuerque decided to change tactics with a direct assault of magic force bolts.  The nursemaid reeled in pain.  It was the first actual reaction from the assault since the attack began. Vir finally took a swing at the wraith, his longsword making some quasi-physical contact with a reduced effect.  Karuth’s blessed war hammer made full contact with the ghost.  The slam pushed her farther back into the room.  Because of this Filandrea had to switch to a melee attack with her bare hands.  She struck at the air the spirit occupied, feeling both a cold sensation pressing against her flesh as well as some sense of a presence her martial-trained strike would expect.

The specter gained the feeling of being overwhelmed and changed its focus from the wizard to the half-elf sorcerer, who had done more damage in one magical strike than anyone else.  She was now much closer to him and quickly overcame him with a lunge.  In a blink of an eye, she drained the very life essence from his body, and he collapsed to the ground.  He was lifeless in a matter of seconds.

Willow found the force within her to send a volley magical energy bolts at the floating horror.  And with a final push of concentrated will, Ward extended the continued lightning around the nursemaid until her ethereal form seemed to vibrate and then dissipate altogether.


There was darkness.  Nothing to see.  Nothing to hear.  No sense of air but also no suffering.

Nuerque quickly became aware that he was no longer within the physical realm.  He tried to inspect his arms and body, but none were to be found.  Just as a tinge of panic might arise in one’s mind, there was a dull light in the middle distance.  Something moved.  Something muscular and serpentine.  He felt a sense that this something was growing near, and yet he still could not see.

Reptilian eyes of silver appeared in front of his.  Large feline pupils stared into Nuerque’s soul.  Electric static filled the half-elf’s senses and a guttural voice filled with power said,

“Fight.”


The party descended upon Nuerque’s body with medical kits and healing words.  It was not long before life was quickly restored to the deceased sorcerer.  He sputtered a new breath and blinked at the new brightness of the room.

The spirit was gone, and the party stood down.  Tyron, on the other hand, was petrified in fear.  A wet spot soiled his trousers, and he had to be taken to the water closet to be settled down and cleaned up.  For now, the evil threat had been banished, and the party turned its collective mind on what to do next.

Ward looked out the window and wondered.  “What exactly are we running from?” he said aloud.  “What does this unnatural fog do, besides blind us?”  He stepped into the adjoining room, a small nursery. Inside was another window, latched closed.  Ward announced, “I will test these conditions in the name of my craft!”  He prepared to open the window.  Markas ran to him and said, ”At the first sign of trouble, we’ll pull you away!” Ward agreed, then opened the window and slipped his robed arm outside.

For a moment, there was no reaction.  Ward watched, taking note of any lasting effect.  When none came, he had an idea.

“AAAAHHH, MY ARM!” he cried.  He backed up quickly, his arm showing signs of color change.  His muscles tensed, and his fingers curled inward.  The party backed away quickly, unsure how to react to the horrible consequences.  Ward held his acting for a moment longer, but it gave way to his laughter, as he dispelled the illusion he had cast upon himself.  His arm returned to its natural hue, and he gibbed the others for their gullibility.

Ward shut the window and turned around. That was when he noticed the baby bassinet.  A black cloth draped the top making it impossible to see within.  Ward stepped closer, using his staff to separate the veils.  He gently poked the contents within.  The end of the pole met with a soft form that seemed bundled tight.

Filandrea stepped into the room.  “What is going on here?  Is that necessary?” Ward withdrew his staff from the veils.  “I was just making sure all the possible threats had been vanquished.” he excused. And they left the room.

“But I am still not satisfied the mists outside are any real threat!” Ward continued.  “Who will join me outside to check on the mounts?”  Ward, Filandrea, Karuth, and Willow descended the stairs again, heading outside.  Vir accompanied, his plan to stay on the doorstep in case any doors wanted to dictate admission.  Markas instead made his way to the balcony doors, stepping outside to find out if he could see the party emerge outside.  That left Nuerque to examine the room as he recovered his energy.

The mists were as thick as soup outside.  With only a few steps, it was easy to lose sight of the door and even the house.  Markas called down from above, but he could barely be heard.  Ward called back with similar results.  Markas tossed a bit of something down to see if they could tell he had, but he never heard it land.  Meanwhile, Ward heard something hit the ground a few feet away, not knowing what it was.

After a few moments, there seemed to be a sense of weariness settle on all those who remained outside.  As if the weight of all the consequences of their day just started to settle in.  It was unnatural and sudden, and they all agreed to make their way back inside.  No trace of the horses was detected.

Meanwhile, in the nursemaid’s bedroom, Nuerque was examining a full sized mirror set into the wall across the bed.  He touched the glass surfaces and was surprised by a click sound.  The mirror receded and rolled to the right, sliding behind the wall.  “Guys!” he called, and quickly the party assembled again.

Vir once again stepped to the fore.  Off to the right of the cobwebbed passageway another staircase began.  It rose half a flight, then turned left around a corner.  Another half a flight ended with a single door.  Beyond that door lay the attic. Directly across the doorway, another small fixed window overlooked a tiled roof overhang.  To the left, the attic opened to a hall with doors in various locations.  One door was locked with a padlock hanging from a latch hook.  It was decided to save that room for later.  The door beyond that one led to a spare and empty bedroom which contained a rocking chair and night stand along the spare single bed.  More dust and cobwebs choked this space.

Across the narrow hall from the bedroom door was the door to a storeroom.  Inside this large room, some furniture pieces were covered with dusty white sheets.  Remnants of odd house dressings, mirrors, and even a mannequin stood as though time had stopped around them.  The party spread out into the room to investigate the contents.

Filandrea was the first to discover the body.  Or, what appeared to be a discarded murder victim.  Brown and mottled stains latticed the bedsheet covering.  Ward uncovered one end to reveal the mortal visage of the nursemaid herself.  Her face contorted in what must have been an agonizing death.  It was agreed that later all these bodily remains must be gathered up and give proper service to aid in the rest of their spirits.

In another part of the room, Willow opened a compartment door to reveal a spiral staircase leading down again.

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

Surprise! I’m back!

Earlier today (Thursday 26 May 2016) , all of you that are subscribed to my blog’s email delivery got a surprise in your inbox from my MailChimp account.  What it contained was a post I had THOUGHT was going to be on a private feed.  Turns out, I didn’t check my MailChimp account settings and it picked up the content.

To catch you up, after a few years ‘in retirement’ and a couple campaigns back as a player, I’ve picked up DMing again.  If you follow me on Facebook, this is not a surprise. I’ve been going on about it now for weeks.  When the Curse of Strahd 5th Edition Campaign book was announced, I knew I had to make a comeback.

Well, I’ve done it.  I met with my most recent gaming group (after an exceptional experience in a Homebrew campaign and a ‘new to me’ DM) last week and got the adventure underway.  What you received in your inbox (if you are subscribed) was a retelling of everyone’s story on that first game session.  But unless you have played in my Homebrew Greyhawk, there are probably some story references and points of context that are confusing or don’t jive with published works.  They are too numerous to list, just know that I borrow heavily from Greyhawk of years past and that none of it is Official.  That’s just the place I spent the most time DMing in the past and therefore was the easiest launching point for my current campaign.

Anyway, I had not planned on reposting the game for my blog readers benefit, but now that it has happened I don’t think it’s a bad idea.  I’ve currently got a note out to my players to get their feedback.  I want to keep the game special to them, so they get ‘first to look’ priority.  But if nobody objects otherwise, I’ll likely just keep making these posts public and letting the email bot do its thing.  Additionally, I’ll post a link to the Facebook Page for the blog, for those that do not do email subs.

“Wait. What about the Fallout 4 Content you were making on YouTube and here on your blog?”

For a number of reasons, that is on permanent hold.  As in, I’m not completely abandoning it, I’m just not actively adding to it at this time.  It’s time intensive, technically demanding and a BUNCH of the same if not better content is out there for it right now.  While I enjoy it, I don’t think I’m adding any value to that subject right now.  I’ll get back to it someday, if only to complete the main storyline.

Additionally, so much more is going into this D&D game.  I can’t possibly know how it’s going to turn out.  None of us do.

So, we gather roughly once a month, which means this is not going to be updated very often.  But, it will have at least as much detail as that last post did.  And of course, I want to get my groups support, at least to establish how special this is before I make this official.  So, put a pin in this. If nothing else, I’ll come back to let you all know how the experience of DMing again is going.

So I hope that explains the random story you got. And for those of you that don’t know anything about this yet, there is still a chance the FB Cross post will happen soon.  The wibbly-wobbly nature of social media interconnectivity may have just momentarily lost your link to the conversation.  As always, thanks for staying subscribed!

Prologue – Into the East

As the preparations for Richfest (the traditional Midsummer festival) were ramping up, Nuerque had made his way all the way to the High Walls of the Free City of Greyhawk from the remote village of Greysmere on his personal quest. He needed to find where the contraband merchant he’d help take down had been getting his supply of Twig Blight seeds. Even though he had defeated the threat of the terrible plague like creatures, this young Sorcerer was sure he’d not seen the last of the problematic trend. All indications of the problem at hand had pointed him here.

This young Half-Elf had never been this far into ‘civilization’. At best, he recognized the standard mounted patrol of Greyhawk Militia that kept the piece from banditry in the surrounding countryside. But this place vibrated with Wild Magic and endless opportunity. Resisting the call was hard.

A contact on the road gave him a name and place to start looking for more clues. It was called the Astarin Inn, located in the Low Quarter of the City itself. He was to try to make contact with Ian, the Proprietor.

The City was buzzing with activity. Festivals meant so much celebrating, but it also meant so much business. The Oligarchy that controls the Free Trade that Greyhawk’s markets hosted made sure that there was enough happening to keep the gates and ports to the Gem of the Flanaess wide open.

Nuerque made his way through the city streets. He was surprised when he did not meet and immediate security or guard. He was expecting to be taxed or at least documented like so many other towns tended to. While he did notice both posted and patrolling city guard, it was not difficult to recognize less official Watchmen and interest. Perhaps it was his mixed blood; a scrutiny he was used to.

Upon arriving in the Low Quarter, it was not hard to pick out the Inn. While much of the architecture was clearly from the previous century and cobbled with repair, this building stood out like a palace. The sign above the double-doorway even hung with a sense of Pride.

But before he could enter, there was a cry in the streets:

“Mage Mystery Manifests! Mordenkainen the Mighty Missing! 2 Coppers for the rest of the story!”*

A halfling child with a satchel full of scrolled papers was pitching the news and collecting a fair bit of coin for it. And as was doing his business, the news began filtering from the streets to inside the buildings. Nuerque noticed that after a couple of minutes, some happy patrons on the outdoor patio to the Inn were quickly wrapping up their board and beverage as if the news meant work to be done.

While most of the new traffic was leaving the Inn and heading North to the inner gate he just passed, the young sorcerer noticed an older Halfling dressed in casual and clean street attire leave another Inn, the Green Dragon, and enter the finer establishment. How had he not even noticed the competition directly across the street? The shining Inn was drawing his attention, compelling him to go there first.

He followed the Bard-looking little fellow inside.

The Main Hall was no less than intimidating. Marble floors and bright high ceilings, a majestic staircase along the left-hand side of the room formed an ascending highlight to the doorways at its base as well as beneath the steps. To the Centre, a greeting podium with book and quill, apparently, a place to make arrangement for a palatial stay. And on the right side of the room, a swooping arch the allowed entrance into a darker yet shinier Bar and Bench.

Inside the bar, he spotted immediately the person he was seeking. It was unmistakable; this high elf was Nobility personified, even though he was dressed down for the part. He stood behind the bar in a concerned stance, resting both hands on the wooden counter-top as if to hold it up. He was speaking quietly to a couple of humans, perhaps scouts of some kind. He made his way inside.

Crossing the threshold, the gentlest of breezes passed over Nuerque, probably a crosswind from the open patio doors. There were only a few people left inside; the bar now mostly empty. The Halfling male was just making his way to the barstool.

At another table, a robed human sat with a young scribe, the former intensely speaking to the other. The writer switched from pinpoint-like attention to writing down what must be every detail.

And near on side, in not so subtle field plate was a High Elven soldier of some type. He wore the tabard of the Order of Corellon, which was not hard to recognize. This gods worship was still pretty new in the land. The soldier seemed intent on Ian but held his place as a station.

As Nuerque found a seat, a young human woman greeted him and provided him with a menu. He only slightly listened to the specials and yet without being impolite, managed to accept the washbowl and towel offered. He requested the plowman meal and clean water.

It was at this point the Halfling managed to get Ian’s attention.

“Alright, Ian, what’s the scoop, eh? It’s not every day one of the Circle of Eight just up and goes missing!” he said.

Ian, only slightly surprised, considered the Halfling and answered. “Markas, isn’t it? Well, good sir, I appreciate your candor and initiative. It just so happens I may have a thought or two on that very issue.” Ian waved to the soldier to come closer while regarding the rest of the room. The soldier, only slightly surprised, did as instructed.

“As it turns out, this is some important news for everyone here. The Circle of Eight has been the magical protection for much of the Flanaess, even Oerik itself, for years. They’ve had their fallouts and conspiracies, but never have they faltered in their overseeing duties.” He explained.

“I need to know what has happened, and I need to know before anyone else. However, my resources are tapped at the moment. “ He looked at Markas. “Do you think you would be up to collecting the real story for me? I can provide coin and resources now and even a stage to tell your tale on upon your return.”

Markas indicated his interest as the Soldier shifted in his armor.

Ian looked at the other High Elf. “You are Vir, yes? You’ve been on this overwatch detail for some time. I think that is a pity. I mean, you are trained in field combat, aren’t you? What say you lend your sword to this cause?”

Vir considered the offer as well as his place in his company. “My station . . .”

“ . . . will be excused. Higher orders from the top!” Ian said, grandly, with a pinch of mischief. “I will make sure your High Cleric absolves the shift in duty. And, thank you for the service you have already performed. But, it’s time for you to get some action.” Ian grinned.

“I’m certain your party is going to need a hand and mind proficient in the Arcane,” the robed man called out. “Mordenkainen is, after all, known for his many titled spells.”

“Indeed, sir,” Ian acknowledged. “And you are?”

“I am called Ward. I am a student here at The University of Magic. And this young sir is my scribe, Tyron. He scribes for me. Together, with these other fellows and my grasp of the forces of Time and Magic, I am confident we can reveal the mystery at hand. I do love a good mystery.”

Ian was pleased. “Agreed. Your services would be valuable to these two, I am certain. Come closer and let me impart to you a bit of information you may need.”

And so the five of them spoke quietly at the bar, but not so quietly that Nuerque could not make out some details. They were to meet in the morning, and as long as none of his other “employees” came back sooner, they would comprise the party representing his interest. He would give them Guild Letters along with their supplies, that would pass as legal documentation of their claims under his, and the Inns, business operation. Papers keep adventurers out of trouble should issues of trespass and, more importantly, claims from other adventurers come up.

“Let us arrange the rest in more detail in the morning. I have well-stocked stables and ample supplies.” Ian announced louder as they concluded. The men departed, leaving just Nuerque to the remained of his meal. The bar fell quiet.

Nuerque took the opportunity to seek out Ian. He found the door to Ian’s office nearby ajar, so he knocked.

“Come in.” Ian greeted. “How may I help you? I hope you have found our provisions to your liking?”

“Oh, yes. It’s grand. Thank you! Well, I only just arrived in the city, and I was looking for your help.”

Nuerque began the retelling of his personal adventure immediately. Of the appearance of the Twig Blights and the raids on the farms. Of the corrupt range managers and their conspiracies to force the other ranchers and farmers to agree to terms and conditions else their crops and livestock fall victim to an unnatural siege. He told how he took up arms and how in the process his simple farm life opened up a road to adventure. His efforts garnered him some notoriety, but more importantly the will of the people to have him see this corrupt practice brought to an end once and for all. For while he revealed the twisted plot, there was still bad blood among the country folk and these means to harm had not been entirely vanquished.

Ian listened with intent and considered Nuerque’s words carefully. The half-elf was surprised how much he was willing to say about the situation, about others involved and even about himself. At one point he thought to himself, “I better shut up before I tell my life story.” And so he did. Eventually, Ian spoke.

“I believe I can be of some help to you, but not just yet. I’ll make you a deal. I will set my resources into motion with what you have told me. I have a group gathering in the morning on a matter of some importance. If you contribute your skill to theirs, I will aid you with this problem on your return. It is a paying assignment, and I can offer you the equal share of the salvage rights. Just return alive with the information I am seeking. Do we have a deal?”

Nuerque agreed. Ian arranged for his accommodations overnight and in the morning the party assembled, Ian requested they take to the road as Dawn broke, to get a jump on the other adventuring parties that were likely also to be jumping on the opportunity. Markas the Halfling was stifling a grin, saying “I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Let’s just say I have a strong feeling the word on the street has people going every which way!”

And so they departed. Five Light Riding horses left the South Gate and headed on the road back to Greysmere. Their lead on Mordenkainen’s whereabouts was that he had left for the mythical town of Median on an unknown quest. Ian did not disclose how he had learned of this; he only indicated that his source was ‘as dependable as the sunrise.’ Markas knew from many stories told that this place was essentially a Flanish children’s tale meant to keep the wee ones from wandering too deep into the woods. Anyone who had ever gone off looking to verify the stories had never returned.

Markas decided to keep this little tidbit to himself. There was no point raising undue alarm. They would likely find the elderly archmage wandering about the woods, as archmages oft do. I mean, it’s not like he would not have accommodation. He has a spell that creates a dimension mansion wherever he wants. He knew this because the spell to invoke it bared the old wizard’s name,

The first couple days of travel were uneventful. The roads near the city were regularly patrolled and therefore bandit free. However, during midday of Day Three, out amidst the tall grasses and bare roadway, misfortune struck. A small pack of Jebli had dug themselves in on either side of the road. The heavy vibration of the horses walking hooves was enough to awaken these slumbering beasts and prepare their ambush.

The new fellowship made short order of the six rodent-like dog creatures. Amazingly, Ian’s well-trained horses did not spook or cause any additional damage. Each did their part to defeat the creatures, with little damage to themselves. Only Nuerque experienced a misfire of his newly acquired magics, evoking illusionary butterflies instead of raining fiery death as planned.

Of the five, only Tyran the Scribe did not act, helping with the horses. Upon recovering from the action, while the others assessed their damage, the scribe worked furiously to update his journals and notes.

The rest of the day’s activities had to be cut short to recover. The weren’t far from the road to Greysmere, but they weren’t heading that way. The path to Midian lied somewhere in the foothills to the east. After another sound and uneventful rest, they returned to the road.

A road which quit upon entering the foothills. There were a few landmarks on the hand-crafted map Ian had provided them. Once the known roads ended, they were to follow the well-tread paths further into the Urnstridge Mountains. The elevation began to climb steeply, too steep for a trade pass road. All the caravans took to roads north or south of mountains to bypass this hazard.

* * * * * *

Filandrea would have preferred to be back at barracks, performing her martial art drills rather than wandering through the foothills on patrol. At least then she could focus on improving her combat techniques. Following Shandra around the deer paths and stopping at every little hazard seemed futile at times, as there was never any real danger. But the patrol captain had given them orders to be on the watch for travelers. The word was that a group of adventurers would be wandering too far into Shantyran borders.

The most exciting part was that the patrol route took them near the Midian Wards. Before joining the Sisterhood, Filandrea knew nothing about that horrific place. It still fascinated her how someplace could be decreed both Sacred and Forbidden at once. Midian was a cursed place; a prison for her Goddess’ last and greatest mortal foil. And it was Shantyra’s Will that it remain cut off from all humanity.

Midian was the site of an old Oeridian settlement. What was once a thriving waypoint for mountain travelers was now literally a ghost town. The Patrols knew all the landmarks and signs to keep themselves and others clear. For it contained the undead remains of Shantyra’s old foe. Otherwise, it was supposed to be abandoned. And now it looked as if some idiotic, but probably innocent, travelers were about to find themselves too near it for anyone’s good.

It had not taken long for the two warriors to establish a shadow trail on the horse riders. The forest provided plenty of covers. But since there were only two of them it was some work to keep the travelers corralled and on the safest path. They did their best, but the riders seemed determined to head directly into the magic traps surrounding Midian as if they meant to.

Their orders were clear; keep themselves and any innocents out and safe, no matter the cost. When the party of men bypassed the last best path to achieve this, Filandrea had no choice but to block the way.

Stepping from out of the brush, the Wood Elf defied, “Halt! Ride no farther, lest you do not value your lives!”

The party stopped their horses, not exactly surprised but readily yielding the path.

The party questioned this new arrival about their whereabouts and the distance to the otherwise mythical Midian.

“You are close. Too close. I cannot allow you to proceed.” the wood elf answered.“So it IS real!” Markas piped up.

As the questioning continued, Shandra made her presence known as well. She appeared by dropping out of the tree branches onto the path directly behind the party.

“Why would you seek out such a dangerous place? You are either fools or misguided.” Filandrea assessed the group. Only one apparently combat trained among them, and he was over-armored at that.

“We are on a trek to locate a missing person. We think that he sought out Midian for his reasons. We came to find the truth of it.” said Ward.

“There has been no report of any travelers in this region. And had they managed to slip into our perimeter here; I doubt there would be a trace left beyond this point.” Filandrea informed.

“Perimeter of what?” Nuerque asked.

“These are the protected lands of the Domain of Shantyra, our Ruler, and Goddess. No man treads upon these hills. We see to it.” Filandrea stood defiantly.

Shandra shot a glare at Filandrea, indicating that she should choose more thoughtful words. “What man believes he is capable enough to travel to Midian alone? Is he compensating for some shortcoming?” she taunted.

Ward offered more, “None other than the Archmage Mordenkainen. Perhaps you have heard of him? I doubt he is trying to prove anything to anyone. A Wizard of his talent goes where he pleases. We are only trying to confirm that his will lead him here.”

Shandra drew a concerned look on her face. She made her way around the party to approach Filandrea, speaking in a whisper.

“Stay with them. I can find out if their story rings true, but I will need to check in first. I will return soon with further orders.” Shandra explained. Then she made her way back into the brush, with only the slightest of sound. And then she was gone.

“So does this mean we can go?” Vir asked.

“I apparently cannot keep you standing here. If you must proceed, at least I can accompany you and keep you out of harm’s way. There are more dangers than just ancient magics in these woods.”

And so the party grew by one for the evening, which settled in quickly. It became apparent that the best decision was to camp again and await word from the wood elf’s companion. But as the campfire burned on, a mist was rising around them in the forest. The distance was lost to darkness and then obscured by the slow moving fog.

As food was served out, Filandrea reported, “It is going to be safer if we stay put until a larger contingent returns. We are on the very edge of the Midian border. Too close, in fact. Whatever tales or stories you have heard about this place are true. Death stalks the roads through that old town, and more than a few evil creatures walk free beyond its walls. I suggest that those who need all night to rest do so now. We will want as many eyes on the darkness as we can manage.”

The party made watch shift arrangements quietly. And as the night wore on, the temperature dropped and the need to keep the fire persisted. Cloaks and blankets warmed, but did not eliminate the persistent chill. And the ever growing fog all but blotted out the stars and moon throughout the night.

As the sun arose, the oppressive gray of the overhanging mists refused to yield anything but diffused light. But it was still very plain to all the observed that the surroundings of the camp were much different than the day before.