08

Harvest of Chaos


THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE AND COMPLETELY ACCURATE HISTORY OF OUR JOURNEY THROUGH THE WESTLANDS OF THE REALM

Written by Paddi Whisperleaf

…brought to light by Glen Sprigg

 

Day 30

 I really don’t like winter. In fact, I really, really, REALLY hate it. There’s something about trying to push through four-foot snowdrifts when you’re just under four feet tall. So in Stallanford the next morning, we got rid of a lot of excess gear, then headed back up to Lord Penhaligon’s home. Fortunately, Baron Sherlane had left for home, and we had a quick lunch before Edward led us into the mountains. Actually, Warren did most of the leading, since he’s familiar with the trails, and he’s the biggest one of us. So he pushed through the snow, making a path for the rest of us. With the snow still falling, I did get to ride on Edward’s shoulders for a while. So I got to see more snow than I could on the ground. But it was still snow. I hate winter.

Two days have gone by, and we’re still trekking through these mountains. Warren’s arms must be tired, but he never complained. Of course, that would have required speaking, so that’s not really a surprise. Baron Sherlane’s map was clear, but the trail was hard to follow, considering it was buried in four feet of snow. But Warren could probably follow a trail at the bottom of the sea if he had to.

This morning, though, the snow FINALLY stopped falling. The clouds were still hanging there, and Warren actually spoke long enough to tell us it was just a short break in the weather; we’d be snowed in again before the day was done. So Edward took charge and said we were close to the castle, and we’d be there before the snow returned. Ever the optimistic paladin.

We entered a valley near the castle (at least we hoped it was near), and followed a non-existent trail. The wind was fairly strong, and we heard the howling of wolves from somewhere in the distance. Then Warren stopped, raising a hand in warning. Edward drew Everbright, which began to glow softly. The howling returned, much closer this time, and Caelisar shouted in alarm and drew her bow back. A small pack of wolves came over a rise and charged toward us with a bone-chilling howl that had nothing to do with the cold.

Caelisar dropped one of them with two quick arrows, and Warren stuck another. Alyssa’s magic put half of them to sleep, and the rest of us defended ourselves as best we could against the snarling beasts. Finally, though, they were down, their blood staining the snow. Shivering, I decided to huddle closer to Branden.

We took shelter in a nearby cave and ate a cold meal, but we didn’t have time to stay; the snow would be coming soon. Warren didn’t even want to stay there for lunch; there were signs that orcs lived there, and he wanted nothing to do with them. So we continued on, and ran into a warband of orcs. Warren matched their howls with his own as he drew his new battleaxe and charged them. The rest of us were right behind him, and the battle was short and vicious. Warren killed two of them with nasty swipes of his axe, while Caelisar skewered one with an arrow in the throat. They deserved it anyway. Filthy creatures. Just ask Warren.

Shortly afterwards, while trudging through yet more snow, we hear another roar. Looking up, I saw a mountain lion leaping down in front of us, baring its nasty-looking fangs. Caelisar and Edward had their weapons drawn, but Warren stopped them and stepped forward. The lion growled at him, but Warren merely looked it in the eyes. I thought I saw them flash with green, but it was probably just snow-blindness setting in. The lion continued to growl, but the snarls were much softer. Then, to our surprise, Warren started growling as well! If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was talking to it. After a few minutes, Warren tossed some meat to the lion, which snatched it up and swallowed it with one gulp. I don’t think the meat was as big as I am.

The lion looked at Warren, then backed away and went around us, keeping a close eye on Warren the whole time. Warren told us to keep still, which was no problem; it was so cold out that I was frozen to the spot anyway. I’m sure it was because of the cold.

The lion left, and Warren told us he’d given it directions to the dead orcs. Even Edward paled at that one, but Warren merely continued walking on. At least we didn’t have to fight that thing. That cat was huge, and I don’t want to think of how many bites it would have taken to finish me off.

After a few more minutes of trudging (and riding on Edward’s shoulders), we caught sight of the castle, with guards on the walls and all the trimmings. Edward suggested that we find a safe place to hole up between raids first, which sounded like a good idea. So we headed back, hoping to find a quiet cave that didn’t have orc droppings in it.

What we found instead was a goblin warband. We tried to avoid them, but the scout spotted us. So much for stealth. Into the fray we leapt, and soon there were six dead goblins to match the four dead orcs. Maybe Warren was just giving the lion some food for the winter. Yuck!

We continued our search, and eventually came to an interesting sight: a patrol band of gnolls and orcs. What was interesting about them was that we hadn’t killed them; something else had already. Warren looked at the bodies, and said that it looked as though they had been taken from behind. But what had killed them, he couldn’t say. As near as he could tell, they’d gotten into a huge argument that got way out of hand. It seems silly, even for orcs. But you can never tell. Warren also said that they had been dead for at least a day, since there was frozen blood under the fresh snow. At least the meat will still be fresh for the lion.

In itself, this was creepy enough. But that’s when things got really crazy. Suddenly a fog showe up out of nowhere, shooting tiny little lightning bolts around us and on the dead bodies. Then the fog became solid, and took on a human-like shape! Worse, the orcs started to get up and shamble toward us! I hate winter, but I hate zombies even more!

I felt a very cold shiver running down my spine, and I saw the others feeling the same thing. There was some unpleasant magic coming from whatever that thing was. Caelisar fired an arrow, but it passed right through the creature with no effect. Warren immediately went after the orcs, which were solid enough for his axe. But even though there were dead, he was as vicious as ever toward them.

Caelisar dropped her bow and drew her sword, but it was just as ineffective against the fog-beast as her arrows were. Alyssa screamed that it was magical, and only magic could destroy it. Edward responded with Everbright, and the creature howled as his magical blade cut deeply. The fog dissipated a bit, but it was still howling like the wind. Meanwhile, the rest of us tried to fend off the dead zombie-orcs, giving Edward and Branden a chance to fight the fog-beast with their magical weapons.

As Everbright and Branden’s mace thrust into the creature, it howled in a final fury and dissipated. With its destruction, the zombie orcs wavered and fell, collapsing back to the snowy ground as the magic that animated them vanished into the cold air. Warren didn’t seem to care, as he made sure to give each of the orcs a final hack with his axe. That man should seek clerical help.

After Warren was finished playing with the dead orcs, we continued on until we came to a quiet cave. Caelisar suggested that this would be a safe place to rest, since the humanoid of the keep would not know that the fog-monster had been destroyed. Since it was getting late anyway, I wasn’t inclined to argue with her. Warren somehow got a fire started, and we had a fine meal. Tomorrow, it’s off to the keep. It’s starting to snow, but Warren assures us that he can find the trail back to it with ease. I just hope they don’t have to carry me the whole way there.

 



 

Day 31

 Warren ruined a perfectly good dream about being in a warm, cozy inn this morning, waking us up to go orc-hunting. After a quick breakfast, we trekked back through the mountains to the keep. Caelisar found a hidden path to the front of the keep, and we snuck in.

The guards weren’t completely blind, naturally, and we didn’t even get past the gatehouse before the alarm was sounded. We disposed of the human guards in a hurry, but we weren’t able to get away from the horde of hobgoblins. They had us surrounded, and it was only thanks to Alyssa’s magic that I wasn’t skewered by a jagged sword. If we survive this, I’m going to buy her something nice. Maybe her birthday is coming up.

Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, we found ourselves under further assault by an army of orcs and goblins. At that point I knew that we weren’t done fighting; nothign short of an earthquake was going to keep Warren from charging at them. And I was right.

They came at us in waves, with wolves and orcs and goblins all charging us. I felt Alyssa’s magic roll over us, and I remember feeling very charged and fast on my feet. Then I felt myself falling, as two crossbow bolts hit me before I could avoid them.

The next thing I knew, we were back in the cave, with Branden standing over me and casting a healing spell. Apparently we did win the battle, and the one immediately afterwards when the rest of the army showed up, this time with human soldiers and gnolls. Branden and Alyssa had also fallen in that battle, but thank the gods none of us were killed. Especially me. After Edward had slain the human leader (not a woman, so Ilyana must still be there somewhere), the army had run away in chaos, and the three of us still walking dragged us out of the keep and back to the cave. We’re going to stay here tonight and head back to the keep tomorrow; we’ll see if they’re expecting us to return. I hope not; that was too close to dying for my taste.

 



 

Day 32

 We spent the day in the keep, looking for any sign of troops. Except for the goblins on the battlements, we found no one. We had to stay indoors as much as possible, though, since they kept poking their snouts over the battlements and shooting arrows at us. So we played a running game of ‘dodge-arrow’ for most of the day. I definitely don’t recommend it to anyone.

We found a few bits of treasure, and some nice weapons, but since we couldn’t get at the guards on the battlements, we couldn’t fight them. We did find a trap door leading into a dungeon below the keep. Why do these places have dungeons, anyway? We haven’t seen Ilyana yet, so she must be sitting down there waiting for us. With her army mostly dead or fled, she can’t be having happy thought right now. I’m not sure I want to go back there, anyway; those goblins had lots and lots of arrows.

But of course, Edward is determined to complete our mission. Considering we’ve already wiped out most of her army, I don’t see why we should be worried about Ilyana anyway. It’s not like she can take over the land by herself.

But then Alyssa chimed in with her theory that there is something more to this than a humanoid recruitment drive. Those monsters seemed pretty fanatic, especially the goblins and hobgoblins. Not one of them surrendered or fled the entire time. So what’s behind it?

I’ll leave the theories to the others; right now I’m going to get some sleep.

 



 

Day 33

 Well, I’m still not sure I agree with Alyssa, but at least we can head back to Stallanford with a few trophies. We returned to the keep this morning after a hearty breakfast, and after a break-neck run through the courtyards, we ran into the chamber with the trap door to the basement. Edward led us down, Everbright lighting his way. At the bottom of the stairs we fonud a great deal of nothing. It was either a good sign, or the beginnings of a trap that would kill us all.

We came to an empty chamber, with the only notable feature being the streak of blood leading to the door on the left. So naturally we investigated, and opened the door to reveal a hideously ugly creature with the body of a bear and the head of an owl! And I thought the platypus was a confused creature! With it was a huge brute of a man, an ogre if I ever saw one. Warren and Edward charged the ogre, while Caelisar and Branden helped me fight off that ugly owl-bear. Of course, the ogre managed to shout for the guards before we killed it.

We stayed where we were for a moment, waiting for the guards to rush us. But after five minutes, I was tired of waiting around for someone to show up, and I started looking around. If there were any guards, they didn’t seem to be too concerned about the ogre’s well-being. How nice of them.

After some more exploring, we ran into a trio of mercenaries, who weren’t very happy to see us. Maybe they were the guards the ogre was referring to. The sounds of our (brief) battle seemed to arouse as much interest in the denizens of this place as our battle with the ogre and his pet. Perhaps there’s been some sort of miscommunication between these people. That should make things a bit easier for us.

We continued walking along, when Caelisar’s sharp eyes spotted a hidden door in the corridor wall. Entering it, we were confronted by a man in plate mail and a huge lizard! They charged us, but Alyssa’s magic put them down before they could hurt us. The mage is quicker than the sword, I suppose.

There were some nice furnishings in the place, as well as a locked cage. Branden took the keys from the dead warrior, and in he went. At first the cage appeared empty, but it turned out there was a young girl in there, dressed in rags. She thought we were mercenaries, but Branden explained why we were here. She insisted that she be given a chance to avenge herself on the woman who had given her as a pet to the keep’s commander, that being the dead man on the floor. She was so determined that Edward agreed to let her come with us, as long as she stayed out of harm’s way. Somehow I didn’t think she’ll be doing that. She had a mean look in her eye.

We followed the corridor to a set of double doors, and I listened carefully. I heard muffled voices behind it, and warned the others. But before we could do anything, the girl, Sarala, shoved open the doors and charged in, growling an animal-like snarl.

Inside was the bandit queen herself, along with more of those stinking zombies! Does every evil warlord in the world keep these things? Are they available at ‘Overlords’R’Us’ for wholesale prices? She also had some war dogs, and a pet priest to keep the zombies in line. Sarala had ignored her little knife, and I thought she was going to get herself killed by charging in like that. But to our total surprise, she changed as she ran, her body taking on a fierce feline form, with claws and fangs and black stripes on orange fur. She’s a weretigress! She leapt at Ilyana’s throat, and the two of them locked in a ferocious melee; Ilyana’s glowing crimson sword kept the worst of Sarala’s fangs off her, but that tigress was a strong one. While the rest of us charged in, Sarala was thrown aside momentarily.

The priest cast a spell on Warren, freezing him in place before any of us could stop him. Edward and Caelisar went after the zombies. But before they could do anything to them, Branden raised his holy symbol, and the zombies turned and fled from his holy wrath. Alyssa put the priest to sleep, and Edward cut him down.

Soon Ilyana was alone, but she hung on defiantly, her crimson sword keeping Edward and Caelisar at bay. But Sarala leapt back into the fray, and Ilyana was too distracted by the rest of us to stop her. Sarala’s claws cut deep, and the bandit queen screamed once before Sarala’s jaws closed on her throat. It didn’t take long after that.

After it was over, Sarala turned back into the sweet-looking young girl she had been. Edward and Caelisar kept their swords ready, but she simply turned away and said, "Now I have my revenge." I’ll say she did.

Now our attention turned to the still-glowing sword. Edward could sense its evil power, and Alyssa suggested that the sword was the true evil in the keep, having controlled Ilyana and turned her to chaos. Whatever. Alyssa would probably try to reform a red dragon. She’s got a naïve streak

in her a mile wide.

The priest’s chambers didn’t have much of interest, although there was more than enough to make up for that in Ilyana’s treasure chamber. Alyssa picked up another scroll, which made her happy. The rest of us were laid down with gold and gems, which was very nice. It’s always nice to pick up treasure. At least we know the trip was worth it.

We left the dungeons and returned to the snowy outdoors. As we were walking, another group of goblins shot some arrows at us. But before they could do us much harm, Caelisar held up Ilyana’s crimson sword. The goblins screamed in terror and fled, leaping off the battlements and running for the nearest rat-hole to hide in. I thought I caught a dangerous gleam in Caelisar’s eyes, but it vanished as she replaced the sword in her pack.

We returned to the cave to rest. Tomorrow we’re heading back to the Penhaligon estate, where we’ll turn that sword over to someone with more ability to deal with it. I certainly don’t want to see it ever again.

 



 

Day 34

 Snow, snow, and more snow. No monsters attacked us today, but I’m starting to get a funny feeling about Caelisar. I woke up while she was on watch, and I saw her holding that crimson sword. It seemed like she was talking to it under her breath. I hope she was pronouncing an elven curse on it, but somehow I doubt it. I mentioned it to Edward tonight, and he agreed that Caelisar shouldn’t be on watch tonight. Unfortunately, that means I have to take a turn. I hate evil magic swords.

 



 

Day 35

 Last night during my watch, Caelisar woke up. Or at least I thought she did. Her hand kept fumbling around, as if she was trying to grab that sword. Edward had moved it to the other side of the cavern and covered it with three blankets while she was asleep, but she became more restless as the night wore on.

In the morning, Edward suggested that he should carry the sword instead. Caelisar suggested that since he already had Everbright, he shouldn’t be concerning himself with ‘her’ weapon. That doesn’t sound good. I hope that she’s not going to be cursed by this thing. We’ll be in Penhaligon tomorrow, so hopefully this will be over soon. But I’m worried about her. With those magical gauntlets of hers, she’s even stronger than Warren, and with a magical weapon trying to control her, she could be dangerous. Branden suggested we let her carry the sword for now, while mentioning to Edward (and myself, since I knew I should listen in) that Baron Sherlane would be able to deal with it. He is, after all, a powerful priest.

 



 

Day 36

 After a long trek back through the snow and fog, we returned to Penhaligon just in time for lunch today. Just in time for Baron Sherlane to get that sword away from Caelisar, too. She actually snarled at him and tried to draw it, but he cast a quick prayer at her and she froze, her hand almost wrapped around the crimson hilt. She stood there, helpless, as he pulled the sword from her scabbard and kept it away from her. The sword flared in his hands, but he cast a powerful spell on it. It seemed to be twisting and writhing in Sherlane’s hands, but his grip was like iron. Alyssa gasped, and we saw a line of dull red light emanating from the sword and attached to Caelisar’s heart. But Sherlane spoke some powerful words, and the light vanished. Caelisar screamed, and fainted.

As we tended to our fallen friend, Sherlane explained that the sword could corrupt the soul of the wielder and make them do its bidding. Perhaps that was why Ilyana had turned to evil. I think she was just mad because she couldn’t have a noble title for herself. Some people are like that, I’ve noticed. That’s why I like being a gnome; we don’t worry about things like that.

After Caelisar recovered, he and Kaerin invited us to the city of Penhaligon, where we will be feasted as heroes. That’s always a good thing. I like being called a hero, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my work.

 



 

Day 39

 We arrived in Penhaligon today, and the celebration began. Lady Arteris, Kaerin’s cousin and the ruler of the land, rewarded us for our efforts, which is always nice. The festival preparations got underway, and if we missed the King’s Festival, at least we’ll have some fun here instead.

 



 

Day 42

 Three days of solid parties and entertainment, and I’m exhausted. But now we’re stuck here in Penhaligon for the winter, since the snows have hit the trails and completely buried them. Even Warren couldn’t get us through that mess. So, at the invitation of Lady Arteris, we’re going to spend the winter here. I can live with that. It will give us time to recuperate from all the festivities.

Alyssa’s hopes for a significant encounter with Lord Kaerin have gone down drastically, since he introduced us to his betrothed, Lady Arelene. She was wearing the tiara we recovered Kavorquian’s basement, and Alyssa’s face fell like a brick. But she’ll get over him, I’m sure. After all, he’s a man, and there are a lot of them around. She’ll find one she likes eventually. Humans worry about that too much, I think. In the meantime, I met a local gnome craftsman with some interesting talents, as well as a handsome nose. His name is Thurbil, and he certainly knows how to treat a lady who happens to be a hero. We’re going to a theatre play tonight, and he’s invited me to his home to show me some of his other talents.

I think this is going to be a pleasant winter.

 

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All of the preceding modules and game worlds are trademarked property of TSR Inc, which is now the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. I take no credit for the stories or ideas presented here, save for the six characters created as a vehicle through the adventures, I merely converted them to a playable format for SSI's Unlimited Adventures game.