Time and again I had complained of the stink of Brinewall, but as we rose over the ridge, and could see it off in the distance, I felt for the first time, like I was coming home. perhaps it was the many horrors of Riddleport, that made me take a kinder look at our adopted home. Whatever the reason, we topped over the rise and even the mild stink of Brinewall brought an unconscious smile to my face. We were home, and it had been a difficult journey which sorely tested all of us in ways that we had not imagined upon setting out. We were quiet while riding the last few leauges, but as the people of Brinewall came out to greet us, I felt a warmth of welcome I have not felt since leaving my home village.
Fortunately, The Commandant and Ollie had not been idle while we were traveling north to the far off port. In an effort to assist Brinewall in preparing its defenses, Ollie scouted out the Watch Tower for signs of activity, and what he discovered was not welcome news. Several dozen hobgoblins and their goblin slaves had returned to the tower, and even now were hard at work to reinforce and build up their defenses to withstand another inevitable attack by the same adventurers which had previously destroyed their hasty garrison. If the hobgoblins continued to build up their forces, they would be drawn to attack brinewall like flies to rotted meat in the summer sun. We had to strike first, but the green-skin numbers just seemed to come back stronger every time we wiped them out. The others have suggested we need to find out where they are coming from, and I am inclined to agree, although that will mean eventually going Into Hobgoblin held lands.
For now, they have possession of the watchtower, and it seems clear they will retake it as many times as necessary and sacrifice whatever troops they need to in order to keep it. The only way we can insure it will remain unoccupied or unavailable as a base of operations for the hobgoblins.. is by either leveling the tower, or by placing a garrison there. There was a great deal of fruitless discussion, that boiled down to the point of, “we can do nothing to stop them right now, and if they attacked Brinewall, we could save the people by retreating into the castle but the town would be put to the torch.” abandoning our town or the grove to the mercy of the hobgoblin did not sit well with me, and I further advised against it. Unfortunately, for now the decision would be out of our hands.
As we were going back and forth to the keep, the workers who had tilled the tobacco garden came up to us as we were about to speak with the Commandant, and informed us that something was “wrong” at the grove. A strange presence along with yellow eyes had been seen lurking in the twilight hours around the perimeter of the grove, and there was a strange sense that someone was “trying to read” each person who entered. My first thought was perhaps the grove had attracted a visitor from the first world, but when we traveled to the grove to investigate, it became clear that there was something much more local and sinister afoot.
I told Yundi to return to town, and not return to the grove until we had investigated what was wrong. Zuristoi began to play a delicate song which drifted over the trees and entranced Jaroon while we continued to search the area. A’hoot would not enter the grove because of the stink from flayleaf, and even I found my head getting slightly dizzy the longer we stayed. Fortunately my search took me towards the perimeter, where I discovered the tracks from a Hob-nail boot that led all around the edge the grove. Hob-nail boots are unique to hobgoblins, and suddenly I began to fear that the hobgoblin garrison of the Forgotten watchtower were already making a subtle move towards Brinewall’s outer settlements. It was strange however, because the tracks never actually left the grove, only circled about before returning back from whence they had come inside.
By this time, my head was filled with suspicions, to many times we had grown lax in our vigilance, only to have it return and attack us when we least expected it. Jaroon was a source of many questions, and his love for Bladeleaf forced many, including our animal companions to keep their distance from the grove. Now there were potential enemies infiltrating our village, and the only occupant of the grove was a drug addled old man. It was time that Jaroon’s curse of addiction was lifted.
Zuristoi continued his song to lull Jaroon into a deep enthrallment that would make him easier to deal with. Unfortunately, when he tried to take his staff from him, Jaroon had been pretending to be entralled, and in fact stepped back to simply use his staff to catch all of us in a the field of writhing plants and grasping vines. We tried to subdue him, and knock him out so that he could be locked in his hut while drying out from the drug, but when his staff was taken, suddenly the true mask dropped away and Jaroon was revealed to be a doppleganger!
The fight was short, but brutal, as the False Jaroon used his staff and vicious claws to slash and tear at us when his disguise was finally lifted. He fought with great strength and terrible purpose, as undoubtedly he would have killed us all and taken our form to move among the town undetected. He was unsuccessfull however, and eventually our fellowship was able to overcome the doppleganger and strike him down so that his true form melted into a heaving puddle of blue slime. As he was dying however, Olli cast his magic to rob the creature of recent memories. Through those memories, we learned that the real Jaroon had been dead for some time. His body was buried in a shallow grave nearby when the doppleganger had killed him and taken over his life.
That night as I dug up his body, and transplanted it into the roots of the sacred tree, I wept for the druid that I never got a chance to know. Jaroon was a harmless old man who had taken on Yundi to train in the ways of the forest. It was now my charge to train the boy as a druid in honor of his slain teacher. Even then, I felt the chill of fear as I realized how close I had come on many occasions to being alone and murdered at that beasts claws. This terrible land never ceases to horrify me, and fill me with dread at each new terrible revelation. Whom can we trust?.. whom dare we trust? In riddleport, the evil of that place was on display for all to see and feel. But to date, some of the most vile creatures we have encountered so far, have cloaked themselves and hidden among us under a veil of benevolence.
Shortly after the druid’s burial, another visitor came to town via a large Longboat. It was not flying the flag of the Linnorm kings, and instead carried the banner of Irisen, land of the Ice Queen. Our fellowship met them at the docks, and the guards who attended a Noblewoman from the North were well trained, but edgy and ready for combat at the drop of a hat. When we escorted her to the Keep, we learned her name was Elisa, and she was looking for a fugitive who had stolen something very valuable.
This fugitive’s name was Nick Hawkes.. and he had stolen a woman from her family.. Nadia Begeris.
Unfortunately this complicated things a great deal. I was now curious as to why a noblewoman from Irrisen wanted to apprehend Nick and bring Nadia back. They had mentioned fleeing the country, but had said nothing in the way of specifics. Now that a ship from Irrisen was in the harbor, those unmentioned specifics became much more important.
Later that evening, she met with Thrindil and I at his Forge to discuss some terms for possible side work. Thrindil conducted the negotiations while I simply whittled at some wood, not wanting to be alone in my camp so soon after the horror of Jaroon’s death. We discussed the possibility of going after Nick, and I told her that I would find him. At this point, I knew little about what was happening, but it was clear that forces in Irrisen wanted Nick and Nadia back, so it was imperative that Nick be contacted about what was happening. Sa’hetna also wanted some information as to what they had done to cause such an overwhelming response as to have a ship full of deathguard sent to track them down. After we had conducted the negotiations, Eliza left, and we called the others together to discuss the situation.
Zuristoi was outraged at the possibility of going after them, and found any negotiations with Eliza to be extremely distasteful. I knew little of Irrisen, but I had no intention of handing Nick over until we got some answers as to what he was really wanted for, and I told the bard as much. He would have none of it however, and before long we were in a heated argument when I noticed a glint of white under the door.
A Winter coat Ermine had been listening to our conversation, and I immediately suspected that it was in fact a familiar sent to spy on us. The creature scurried away in an attempt to escape. I transformed into the firepelt and tore after it before catching it in the underbrush and bringing it back to the others.
At this point another creature made itself known and attacked us with the sole desire to retrieve the ermine. At first we were not sure what it was, but as we closed, a small white dragon made its presence known and suddenly our fellowship was in a pitch battle with the beast. We fought bitterly, and took several injuries before we were able to subdue the creature. Zuristoi “The Dragonslayer” wanted to live up to his title and slay the evil beast which had dared to attack us in our own town, but Olly thought it best to spare it for now and use it as a bargaining chip for when Eliza eventually came to retrieve her familiar. Thrindil wanted its pelt for use in his forge, and Sa’hetna did not want to kill the beast, but was not about to let it tear his companions to shreds. Fortunately the Earth elemental that Thrindil had summoned was successful in subduing the beast with A’hoots help and we were able to capture it.
Disgusted that we would allow such a foul beast to live, and knowing that any negotiations he had with one of the witch servants of Irrisen would quickly devolve into violence, Zuristoi was about to remove himself from the situation and slip quietly out a side door as Eliza’s longboat rowed up the river towards Thrindil’s Forge. All we could do was patch ourselves up as best we could, and prepare for a potential battle if Eliza was determined to see bloodshed.