- Adrienne as Orethyia “Thyia” Burke, Human Monk of the Path of the Four Winds
- Jay as Petrov Merrin, Human Wizard and Scholar
- Joe as Ugarth, Half-Orc Fighter, Mercenary and Soldier
- Travis as Daxil “Dax” Loren, Human Rogue, Agent of the Librarians of Caleborn
- Wesley as Theran Lantadal (Treeskin), Wood Elf Druid, Healer, and Follower of the Spirits
The party followed the road through the foothills and up into a cold and forbidding Northwall Mountains. The pass was narrow and treacherous in places and, if this truly represented the only way into Winter’s Edge, the province was truly well protected and isolated. At one point, the road passed through a narrow cave behind a waterfall where an entire army could probably be held at bay by a few powerful heroes.
As the road wound up into the mountains, the party discovered that someone had walled off the road. A forboding, blocky fortress and tower blocked their path.
The Dwarf Fortress
At the gate to the strange fortress, the party discovered that a group of dwarves had claimed the pass as their own and they were denying passage to the strange group as a result of a recent incident. However, the party was able to get an audience with the captain of the fortress.
Captain Brottor Frostheart of Bardur-Gol, invited the party inside the fortress, a maze of tunnels carved into the heart of the mountain. Strangely, there seemed to be few living spaces or workrooms in the fortress and the tunnels were all but abandoned. Of course, given the strategic location and sturdy dwarven construction of the fortress, a few dozen could hold it effectively.
Frostheart identified himself as a servant of King Magnar Blackhammer of the Shatterpeak Clan, though when the party asked if they could meet with the king, he became evasive and denied the request.
Captain Frostheart explained that the dwarves had welcomed a group of five human soldiers about a week prior and allowed them to stay in the fortress. But when they departed, it was discovered they had murdered three dwarves: two soldiers and a cook, and animated their bodies as zombies. Possibly to terrorize the fortress.
Captain Frostheart was immediately distrustful of the party when they mentioned the Baroness and her plans to reclaim the Winter’s Edge province and help it prosper, but he was placated somewhat when the heroes pledged not just to find the human soldiers but to turn them over to the dwarves for justice. That respect earned them the right to pass through the fortress and opened up the possibility for future negotiations. Still, the party remained convinced that the dwarves were up to something more than they were letting on and were not entirely to be trusted.
The Shrine to Avandra
After fighting off a vicious ankheg, the party eventually descended from the mountain pass and into a broad, flat, forested highland. Below them, the mountains fell away with steep cliffs and treacherous drops into a swampy pine forest and, beyond, the province of Winter’s Edge, but their road would take them through a highland alpine forest before climbing down into the province proper.
The party found a small roadside shrine to Avandra, an untended building with a small statuette and a place for offerings and prayers. Travelers often stopped at such places and sought the blessing of Avandra on their travels. But this shrine had been thoroughly defaced. The statue had been shattered recently and the walls had been painted with blood from a rotting and mutilated stags carcass that had been left in the middle of the shrine. Such an act would represent not just an insult to the goddess, but a direct attack against her.
Cultists of Vecna would often engage in such depraved acts as it was one of Vecna’s goals to eventually be the only god of the world, so any efforts against other gods were seen as beneficial. Of course, the party had already concluded that the soldiers they were following were probably agents of Vecna.
The party cleansed the shrine as best they could, but it would take someone ordained as a priest to take the steps necessary to cleanse it spiritually and hallow it once more.
Meanwhile, the party discovered their journey had become a little harder. The ancient road they had been following thus far had been swallowed by the alpine forest. Try as they might, they could not locate any signs of it. Theran had spotted a large lake in the middle of the forest and the party decided that the lake would have to have some sort of outlet that flowed down into the province and likely following the river through the forest and down into the province would lead them to a settlement. So, they struck out, following Theran’s directions, toward the lake.
The Slaughtered Deer
Wandering through the forest, the party came upon two more slaughtered deer nearby: a doe and a small fawn. Signs indicated that the deer had been slaughtered just a few days prior, though scavengers had already started their work. A scroll case with a note had also been left with a nuisance booby trap that Dax was able to disarm.
The Wolfheart Gnolls
While continuing their journey through the forest, the party was set upon by wolfheart gnolls. These savage canine humanoids were one of numerous species of gnolls created by the demon queen Yeenoghu from the canines of the world. They were twisted, savage, brutal, and destructive creatures, a bane to civilization, beyond reason or discussion. But the party dispatched them.
The Ancient Tomb
Eventually, deep within the forest, the party found a monolith made of dark stone that was not native to the mountains. The memorial bore a carved epigraph of raised letters that read as follows (with a short additional message carved hastily into the stone that wasn’t part of the additional monument.
The mention of Nerull drew the attention of Joryn and Petrov at once. This ancient god had been dead for thousands of years, killed by the Raven Queen, and forgotten except by only the most well educated of scholars. They surmised that the memorial itself was probably ten thousand years old or more.
Daxil discovered that some of the letters could be pushed like buttons, but the mechanism was so old and worn out that it no longer worked properly. At one time, pressing the letters in the right order would probably spell out a password. However, Dax was able to activate the mechanism simply by pressing all the buttons that could be moved.
The mechanism opened a deep shaft down into an ancient catacomb. Shelves in the walls of the cave were filled with shrouded dead soldiers armed with ancient bronze weaponry and armor, preserved in the sealed tomb, though still too ancient and worn to be of much use. However, the skeletons came to unlife to defend their tomb.
The party discovered metal soldiers’ badges bolted to the skulls of each skeleton and recognized an ancient (and rather macabre) practice. In nations where the darker gods were revered, often, the dead soldiers of enemies would be collected, animated, and put to use guarded particular sites. Often, a war-hero’s tomb would be guarded by the animated corpses of the hero’s enemies. At the back of the catacomb, the party discovered a sarcophagus.
The sarcophagus was decorated of a carving of a fierce human woman in repose and four bas reliefs decorated the chamber where she was interred. In the floor, a small slab of stone was decorated with an image of a wolf in repose.
The first relief depicted a girl in her early teens, naked, and wrestling with a wolf. Daggers had been tied to her wrists like claws. Wolfheart gnolls were standing around the fight, cheering and howling.
The second relief depicted a powerful woman dressed in furs battling several bandits alongside a grizzled wolf who was fighting at her side. The two appeared to be defending a noble’s carriage. The relief, though, had been damaged. While it was clear someone was climbing out of the carriage or standing in front of it, someone had broken away that part of the relief so that the person could not be identified. There were no fragments of the relief anywhere in the room.
The third relief depicting the same swordswoman, a little older now. She was standing against a pack of gnolls. The grizzled wolf lay on the ground, peppered with arrows, and she stood over it, defending the corpse from the gnolls. Numerous gnolls lay slaughtered on the ground.
The fourth relief depicted the same swordswoman standing in a tunnel with a waterfall behind it. Marching up the tunnel, single file, was a long line of soldiers, marching toward her. To the other side, away from the soldiers, people were fleeing from a small village, evacuating. The party recognized the tunnel as probably the same mountain pass they had walked through and conjectured that the woman was defending the pass from an invasion, buying time for villagers to evacuate before the army arrived. The soldiers bore similar markings to the badges on the skulls: a crested helmet in profile and three stars.
Eventually, the party opened the sarcophagus. They discovered that there was no body inside, although the sarcophagus had obviously been undisturbed for many long ages. However, some battle regalia had been left behind, including a longsword in pristine condition, almost knew, and a flint dagger wrapped with a silver chain so that it could be worn like a pendant around the neck.
Petrov attempted to divine the nature of the weapons. He learned that the longsword was unbreakable and would never lose its edge (apart from being enchanted to strike accurately and cut deeply) and that the flint dagger caused the wielder to be a little more aware of their surroundings, allowing them to react more quickly to danger (apart from also being a keen and deadly weapon). However, when he attempted to push the spell further to learn the history of the weapons, he blacked out painfully and was left with a dreadful feeling that he was forbidden from knowing the answers. He wisely chose not to push the issue after the nosebleeds and popped capillaries in his eyes.
But taken with the vanished body and the strangely damaged relief, it appeared that something very powerful was trying to keep a very ancient secret.