The Singing Mercenaries

The Keep of the Shadowfell!
The First Adventure

Tierra 5, 331

The first adventure of the Singing Mercenaries. At the time, the Singers were composed ofthe bard Winward, the barbarian Tattered Onion, the warlock Valmir, and the avenger Thorn.

Invited to the city of Winterhaven by Lord Padraig, the party found themselves investigating a death cult of the demon prince Orcus.

Implored by Padraig and his advisor, Valthrun the Prescient, to relieve the village of a group of kobold bandits plaguing the trading roads, the party set out by exploring a nearby forest encampment of kobolds. Not long after their first battle in the woods, it became clear to the group that this was not the average group of bandits. Organized and militant, the kobolds were led by Irontooth, a nasty goblin fighter who revealed upon his death that he was organizing the kobolds under the orders of a death priest named Kalarel.

Armed with this knowledge, the party adventured next to the nearby Keep of the Shadowfell, and began battling their way through the forsaken halls. Groups of undead, goblins, and death priests fell before the party’s blades and magic, until at last the group confronted the empowered death priest Kalarel. Summoning the power of undead minions while simultaneously trying to hold open a portal to his demon master, Orcus, Kalarel gave the party an incredible fight. Struggling to defeat both Kalarel and an otherworldly entity pulling them through the portal, the party was ultimately successful. With a promise that he would return, Kalarel was pulled through the portal and vanished.

The party escaped from the keep as its walls shuddered and collapsed around them. Returning to Winterhaven, Lord Padraig rewarded the adventurers with a non unsmall cache of gold and a few magic items. Armed with their reward, the Singing Mercenaries purchased a few rooms in the basement of the Ebon Griffon in the town of Fallcrest to act as headquarters. Their legend had begun!

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The Forest of Corruption

There is a single piece of parchment in the lorebook of the Singing Mercenaries titled The Forest of Corruption. It simply reads, “It was pretty bad.”

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The Beginning
The Adventure Begins...

Agua 6, 331

The Singing Mercenaries (Winward, Valmir & Tattered Onion) were joined by a new member, Jett the Gensai swordmage, after Jett was introduced to the company by the Ebon Griffin’s proprietor. The company decided that it can’t be a bad thing to have another warrior along, especially one that can melt enemies with lightning, and Jett was quickly accepted into the band. Shortly after this exchange, the company was approached by Captain Farringway of the Fallcrest town guard, who informed them they could have a potential job escorting caravans to Hammerfast, a dwarven town to the east. Farringway related that caravans had been coming under attack recently, and that merchants were unwilling to hire out the town guard, as that was bad for publicity. The Singing Mercenaries, with no other real work to do, decided to investigate the job. On the way to the merchant’s, Valmir, the company’s warlock, was approached by an old priest. The priest seemed harmless enough, and after asking Valmir a riddle, bestowed upon him an orb of protection. The merchant that was hiring protection was a Tiefling by the name of Ninerus, a gruff, busy tiefling who, despite his impatience, did hire the Singing Mercenaries for the job. They were introduced to Saren, a dwarf woman in charge of the caravan, who gave them details on the caravan’s cargo, Ninerus, the recent attacks, and the caravan’s secret item: Firecloth, which enhances the abilities of those around it. On the way to Hammerfast, the caravan was attacked by goblins, bugbears, and a hobgoblin, some of which bore the mark of Kalarel’s cult. Although one of the caravans suffered some minor damage, the heroes were able to fight off the attack with little to no injuries.

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The Traitorous Bartender
Orcus's Shadow Lengthens

Agua 7, 331

Having fended off a wave of bandits, lead by a hobgoblin, the Singing Mercenaries managed to save the caravan from any real damage. Continuing down the road, they stopped for the night at the Half League House, whose proprietor was a great bear of a man named Barton. Barton was extremely friendly, revealing that in his younger days he had been the adventuring partner of Captain Nathan Farringway, who had originally put the Mercenaries on their current job. Barton seemed very friendly, despite the fact he was literally wearing a bear as clothing, and offered what little knowledge (or so it seemed) about the bandits he had: they did not rob the caravans, but simply destroyed them. Barton said that he suspected the bandits were actually dwarven guards from Hammerfast that had gone rogue. When questioned by Tattered and Valmir, Barton revealed he had had no trouble from the bandits himself, which the group surmised was due to the gigantic broadsword the hung in the League House.

The group continued on their journey the next day, only to be attacked by bandits again, this time while the wagons were in a slight valley. Although due to the sharp senses of Gaxking and Winward the party was not caught by surprise, the bandits did manage to damage the wagons by pushing rocks on top of them. The leaders of the attack were two mages, who bore the white skull symbol of Kalarel on their raiments. One of them was easily defeated by Tattered, but the second sacrificed himself in order to summon a savage Evistro. The party managed to defeat this beast as well, but not before it scared the horses of Sara’s wagon, causing them to gallop off uncontrollably up the road.

After defeating the bandits and their summoned abomination, the party, at the behest of Omen, the priest, rushed down the road to see if Sara had regained control of their caravan. What they found was the wagon stuck out on a sheet of ice. Utilizing his lack of weight, Windward was able to traverse the ice, and took ropes in order to secure both Sara and the wagon. Sara, although a bit battered, was conscious and able to secure herself with a rope. After Winward loosened the wagon’s axle from the ice, Tattered, in an impressive display of strength, was able to haul the entire wagon over the ice sheet back to solid ground.

After this harrowing ordeal, the Mercenaries, not being above scavenging their fallen foes for anything of value or use, discovered a letter written in a cumbersome, shaky hand, detailing the caravan’s cargo and the number of its guard. Valmir instantly concluded that they had been tipped off by none other than Barton, the proprietor of the Half League House, and demanded instant vengeance. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and the heroes completed their original task, safely seeing the caravan to the gates of Hammerfast.

The dwarves of Hammerfast were clearly surprised to see any traffic from Fallcrest, and related that the caravan was the first to reach their gates in months. The Mercenaries explained that they had killed the bandits, and that Barton was in league with them. The guards were shocked, but upon the revelation that the dwarven guards sent to patrol were dead (contrary to Barton’s story), and the confirmation of Barton’s handwriting by the head of the Hammerfast Merchant’s Guild, the Mercenaries resolved to immediately head to the Half League House to bring retribution down on Barton’s head, and were spurred even harder by the fact that the Merchant’s Guild paid them to slay Barton as well.

Upon arriving at the League House, the Mercenaries entered as normal, lulling Barton into a false sense of security, waiting for Barton to lower his guard. The Singers springing their trap, battering the giant man mercilessly with their attacks. Enraged, Barton seemed to meld into his bear fur, becoming more beserk as the fight wore on, chanting unholy sutras to Orcus and Kalarel. In spite of his ferocious strength, Barton was eventually brought down by the continuous onslaught of spell and steel. Triumphant, the mercenaries settled to rest in the League House for the evening, wondering how many more times the Death Cult would hound them.

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Political Maneuvers
Caught in the Middle

Agua 8, 331

Still reeling from their intense battle with Barton, the incensed patron of the Five League House, the Singers took the moment of respite to gain some much needed rest. Events wouldn’t go out as planned, however, for as soon as the Singers had recovered their reserves they were awoken by the cursing of an elven ranger sneaking about the inn. Having been discovered, this ranger (whom they would later learn was named Threlas) commenced an ambush against the party. Crying out that they were there to punish evil, he and his men lit the inn on fire and attempted to barricade the Singers inside.

The Singers soon found themselves fighting for their lives. Desperately outnumbered, they battled to safety outdoors. Surrounded, Winward directed the Singers expertly. Tattered Onion and Jett, their newly recruited Swordmage, cut archers down in groups, but their attackers soon proved to be seasoned veterans. Healing spells were sung in droves beneath the quarrels of Threlas, and soon Winward directed Valmir to find an alternate means of escape.

Cutting to the south of the house, Valmir was surprised to discover a second group of ambushers being ambushed themselves. A monk, who apparently had taken the visage of a tiger, was battling three of the veterans himself and holding his own. Valmir seized the moment and called out to the stranger, who agreed to a temporary alliance. The warlock and monk then secured the escape of the Singers to the south.

Feeling the flow of battle change in the Singers’ favor, Threlas escaped to the woods. T.O., furious at losing his quarry, chased after him but was stopped by Winward’s plea for peace. Winward had sensed the misunderstanding between the two groups, and spared the remaining veterans. And it was good that he had, for Talanar, Threlas’s deadly-looking commander, soon revealed himself to the battered group. After a brief parlay, both groups agreed that there had been a misunderstanding and seized their attacks. Talanar took his surviving men and left, leaving the Singers baffled as to the group’s identity and their purpose.

Introducing himself, the monk Shikou agreed to travel with the Singers. He was looking for challenges to improve himself, a part of his martial philosophy, and the Singers represented a constant source of chances to improve himself. The mercenaries took the time to search the fallen, and found within the cloak of a dead veteran an insignia of a blood drop upon a pair of wings. They took the cloak, agreeing to puzzle out what the emblem was for.

Valmir, meanwhile, had been noticing a strange pulse from the white crystal he had received from the priest Omin Drumm. Following the source of the pulse, he found an oak box, within which was a black crystal orb. The orb carried with it an aura of malice, and after a brief conversation the Singers agreed not to touch it until they learned what it was.

Agua 13, 331

Returning to Fallcrest to investigate the orb, the party was surprised when the guards at the northern gate refused to let them pass. Although frightened of the experienced group, the guard sergeant advised them that orders had been given to escort the group to Lord Warden Faren Markelhay, in chains if need be. Sensing an incident as T.O.’s rage rose, Winward agreed to be escorted to the Lord Warden if the guards would keep them unbound. The guards were clearly relieved, and the Singers were brought to an audience before the Lord Warden and his wife, Lady Allande Markelhay.

The Markelhay had been impressed by the Singers’ achievements and praised them for their defeat of Kalarel and Barton. However, his sources had led him to believe that a group of dwarves, guards from Hammerfast who were believed dead, had been terrorizing the trade roads still. Markelhay offered to pay the Singers ten times what they had earned for escorting the caravan if they sought out and destroyed the dwarven encampment.

Suspicious, but unwilling to cause a scene before the watching guards, Winward agreed to Markelhay’s wishes. The Singers left, questions swimming in their minds, unsure of who to trust. It was in his state that they were approached by the clever tiefling, Serim Saluzar. Serim played upon the party’s suspicions and informed the party that Markelhay was playing a political game, and that the group of dwarves he was accusing to be desperados were innocent of the charge. Frighteningly well informed, Serim insisted that he could prove this if he was given a day to gather evidence, and Winward reluctantly agreed. Serim would bring the evidence to the party the following morning at the market or the Singers would depart to look for the desperados.

Growing ever more suspicious, the Singers traveled to the temple of Sehanine to seek out Omin. Finding the old priest in prayer, they asked him about the black crystal orb. Omin seemed concerned, but unsurprised, by the find and asked the party several questions about their interaction with it. Concluding that they were uncorrupted, Omin agreed to research the orb’s history on one condition: Valmir would join him. The Singers agreed, and Valmir bid the party farewell for the time being.

The party did not return that night to the Ebon Griffon. Instead taking a pair of rooms at another inn, they prepared for the next morning.

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Dead Dwarves

Agua 14, 331

The Singing Mercenaries rose before first light the next morning, sending their newest member Shikou to scout out the appointed place for their meeting with Serim Saluzar. Although the monk waited for several hours, he could detect nothing that would suggest a trap. At dawn, Winward, Jett and Tattered met Serim and a young man calling himself Janus Valorfast in the middle of Fallcrest’s lower market’s square. Serim formally introduced Janus as eldest son of Sirius Valorfast, a powerful noble based in the southern reaches of Nerath. Janus went on to further introduce himself as apprentice to the Lady Markelhay in the ways of magic, although his haughty manner indicated he felt himself above such training, and that he resented being sent to the far north, which he referred to as the “wasteland of the Kingdom.” Janus appeared nonplussed with the ragtag group of adventurers, noting that a barbarian with no etiquette had no business even speaking to one of his station. Winward quickly intervened to avoid an incident, and the party pressed the two nobles for their evidence, whereupon Janus produced a letter he claimed to have taken from the Lord and Lady Markelhay. The letter, written in the same heavy hand that had tipped the party off that Barton was in league with the bandits, spoke of dwarves serving a purpose to the north, and how their purpose would be fulfilled during the Bloodmoon, which coincidentally had waxed to full. The letter did not appear to be a forgery (indeed, faking Barton’s crude hand would have been a feat), and the party could glean no lies in what they were being told. They sensed the pair had ulterior motives, although they did not appear to be necessarily. Winward further deduced that Serim, who had introduced himself as being from a southern family, had most likely been acquainted with the Valorfast family for many years. Puzzled, but with nothing else to gain, the party departed, meeting Shikou in his lookout point, and continued onward.

Still confused by their meetings, the four mercenaries decided to see how the fifth member of their party was faring. They traveled to the Temple of Sehanine to see what the warlock and Omin Drumm had managed to discover about the mysterious evil orb they had found. Omin revealed to them that the pair had not been able to pierce the powerful magic veil surrounding it, only that it appeared to have its own malicious presence and the veil around it was growing stronger. Omin revealed that the veil could be pierced, but a powerful holy artifact would be required. Omin told the Singers that such a relic existed, but was lost in the Markelhay family crypt, deep below the cliffs under Moonstone Keep, and cautioned them that even that holy artifact would be unable to pierce the evil veil protecting the orb at the rate it was growing in power. The party considered this, but decided to find out what Lord Markelhay’s orders for them were before actually making a decision.

Upon arriving at the Fallcrest Stables, they were approached by a young boy, who waved them down and gave them a sealed letter. In it were Markelhay’s instructions: The party was to travel south along the King’s Road and dispose of the group of the dwarves Markelhay had informed them of the previous day (see Political Maneuvers). The party thanked the boy and saddled up the horses Lord Markelhay had provided them. After much deliberation, the party decided that Omin’s task could wait, and that they could not fully trust Markelhay in light of Serim’s evidence. Although they did not trust Serim either, they hoped that they could find the dwarves mentioned in Barton’s letter, and get them to make some sense out of what was happening.

The party exited Fallcrest as inconspicuously as possible, and headed northwest on the road towards Winterhaven. They arrived at Gardmore Abbey in early evening, finding the cathedral of the abbey was well-preserved. After finding nothing outside, Shikou volunteered to enter the cathedral in order to see what he could find out without being detected. Upon entering Shikou discovered dwarves apparently guarding the second level of the steps, and two dwarves at the altar of the cathedral. Attempting to stretch his sneaking skills to the limits, Shikou approached the pair at the far end, only to be seen and menaced by the two dwarves [and their Irish accents]. Shikou quickly called for backup, and a battle immediately broke out. The party quickly discovered their scouting had paid off, however, when they made it to the cathedral’s second floor. Had they trekked into the middle of the cathedral unprepared, they would have been walking right into the sights of several dwarven archers. All attempts to reason with the dwarves failed, in fact they seemed hellbent on destroying the Singers for their “trespassing.” After defeating the dwarves leader, a Warcaster, all of the dwarven bodies immediately crumbled to dust, revealing those versed in magic that the dwarves were nothing but magically animated corpses. The party searched the Abbey’s cathedral, revealing small stores of supplies indicating the dwarves had been living not long ago. Among the possession’s they discovered military orders issues in dwarven script, indicating that the dwarves had indeed been sent from Hammerfast, and that their intelligence had led them to follow cultists to the abbey.

The Singers searched the abbey, and found the entrance to its catacombs. Eager to see if they could stop whatever madness was at foot, they quickly descended. Zombies shuffled amidst the light shining from their sunrods, but instead of attacking the ripe flesh of the intruders, they shambled away, as if running from something. The Singers discovered a sealed door to the south, but could find no immediate way of opening it, and decided to split up and explore the catacombs. After engaging the zombies, they quickly discovered that the magic required to open the door was trapped within the zombies, and they began to scour the entirety of the crypt for the undead keys to the door. As the last zombie was extinguished, the sealed door slid open to reveal a profane ritual being conducted by a crazed priest of Orcus. After an arduous battle, the Singers managed to slay the priest and his acolytes, but not before the priest apparently sacrificed a young woman to their dark gods. In spite of defeating the cultists, the Singers despaired, as they had failed to stop whatever sinister ritual and the young woman’s ashen form lay lifeless at their feet. They felt lost and alone, as they had gone against Markelhay’s orders, could no longer pierce the mystery of the evil orb they had found, and had no further leads from their investigation of Gardmore Abbey…

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Assault on Moonstone Keep
The Party's Path is Revealed

Agua 14, 331

The Singing Mercenaries had just finished their battle with the Orcus cultists underneath the cathedral of Gardmore Abbey, and were lamenting their inability to save the profane ritual’s sacrifice. As they turned to leave the accursed room, the smoldering altar behind them erupted into flame, and from it leapt a risen spirit, who screamed that the ritual was incomplete, that he could not remain in the real world for long, and questioned the adventurers if they were the ones that had disturbed the ritual. Sensing an opportunity to learn more of what was transpiring around them, Valmir, Jett, and Winward used their knowledge of magic to bind the spirit, for a time, to the mortal plane, and questioned him, using threats to sever his connection to the world for all time to get information they wanted.

The spirit revealed himself to be a high priest of the cultists, and that he was being summoned in order to bring back the cult’s master, Kalarel. The spirit went on to explain that the cult had infiltrated the very fabric of the local land, that Faren Markelhay served the cult, and the cult would, in three days time, complete a ritual which would doom the entire region. The spirit could not reveal if Fallcrest’s Lord Warden was a willing participant or had been enslaved somehow. Convinced they needed to return immediately to Fallcrest, the Singers pondered a way to unbind the spirit from the ritual altar. They decided that Valmir could act as a host, and although they realized the risks involved, Valmir’s will proved strong enough to bind the spirit to himself with no ill effects.

Agua 15, 331

The next day, after resting within the catacombs, the party made all speed towards Fallcrest in hopes of stopping the madness they knew would take place in a matter of days. They returned to Omin Drumm, hoping his religious expertise would shed any light on the spirit they had encountered (and also because he was the only one they knew of who could exorcise the spirit from Valmir). The spirit confirmed to Omin that evil was afoot in Fallcrest, and also revealed the nature of the mysterious orb the party had found earlier: it was a storage place for the soul of a powerful cultist, although the spirit could not identify any cultist specifically. With nothing further to gain from the spirit, Omin banished it, screaming, back into the Shadowfell from whence it came. Omin prepared immediately to assist the Singers with assualting the castle, but they asked him to wait until they had gathered more information.

The party then went in search of Serim Saluzar, whom they cornered at a table at the Nentir Inn. They explained the situation to him, and asked if he had any way of helping them get into the castle. Serim told them he was not welcome there, but he could contact Janus Valorfast to see if he could aid the party. The Singers bid Serim meet them at the Temple of Sehanine with all haste, and then returned there themselves.

When they returned to the temple, they were once again met by Omin, who told them he could offer them aid, but with the understanding he would be sacrificing something for them. The party sensed this was what the old priest wanted, and accepted his aid. Omin thanked them, and told them he would return in an hour’s time. When the time had passed, Omin emerged from a side wing in the temple, not as an old man, but with his youth restored, clad in a full suit of armor and wielding a greatsword. The Singers marveled at this, but Omin told them not to question it, but to simply accept the gifts of Avandra.

Shortly after, Serim arrived with Janus in tow. Upon hearing that the Singers meant to assault Moonstone Keep, Janus became eager to help them, laying out a plan of attack to confuse the guards and to place them in position to easily assassinate Lord Markelhay, if necessary. Janus decided that, since he knew the back ways of the castle, he and Shikou could sneak along the Keep’s ramparts into a seldom used passage that would lead them into the throne room. Tattered and Omin agreed to disguise themselves as crazed maniacs attacking the gate, while Winward, Jett and Valmir would proceed into the keep, acting as if they were on business to see the Lord. The plan went better than any of them had hoped. Winward managed to convince Captain Nathan Farringway to allow them to capture the so-called “cultists” and bring them before the Lord, promising the Captain that he would be helping his lands.

When the party came before the Lord Warden, they accused him of working with the death cultists. In a rage, Markelhay demanded where the mercenaries found the gall to accuse him of such a thing. The Lord’s behavior was strange, and Jett, Winward and Valmir all realized this was due the Lady Allande, whom they realized was not human at all, but a Succubus who was controlling the Lord Warden. The illusion dispelled, a fight broke out in the throne room, as Captain Farringway attacked the demon controlling his master, and cultists began pouring out from the wings of the throneroom.

The confines of the relatively small room proved a difficult fight for the mercenaries, as their opponents made use of the small space to set up excellent defensive positions, and the succubus used her thrall as a living shield, forcing the Lord Warden to throw himself in harms way whenever an attack was directed at her. Eventually, the party was able to divorce the two from each other, mainly by means of Tattered forcibly holding the Lord Warden in place while Shikou pummeled the demon. After a pitched battle, the cultists and the succubus were finally defeated. As the succubus fell, her body, instead of dissolving, burst into a swirling black vortex. Several of the adventurers were immediately pulled into it, and some, most notably Shikou, bravely followed there fellows into it, not knowing where they would end up, only knowing that they had to stop the evil that was festering in Fallcrest.

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Cultfall
Orcus's priests are foiled again!

Dark temple by stevethebunny

Agua 16 331

The Singers were sent hurtling through an inky, cold blackness through the Shadowfell portal, only to be slammed onto hard stone moments later. Looking around in the misty dark of the Shadowfell, they found they had been deposited at the base of an altar, at which they found yet another ritual they needed to halt. They surmised this was the true danger, the ritual the risen spirit had mentioned, that which could bring ruin upon the entire region of the Nentir Valley.

The leader of the ritual, an animated skeleton known as Raz’lar the Vile, called for the intruders immediate destruction. The battle was long and hard: the cultists were empowered by the fel energies in the dark plane, and their undead minions were powerful indeed, especially the two huge skeletons that stood guard over the ritual. Raz’lar wielded evil powers that enhanced his undead minions, and his magics could toss his enemies left and right. Several times the heroes found themselves just grasping a ledge, under which the void opened beneath their feet to envelope them should they fall.

Despite the heroes prowess and the aid of Janus Valorfast, Omin Drumm and Captain Farringway, the battle did not go well for the heroes. Sensing they were in a desperate fight, Valmir invoked the holy orb given to him by Omin, and in a flash of lightning that shot from the Glorious Plane to the depths of the Shadowfell, an Angel of Valor appeared to aid them. The angel was a powerful ally, his wrath manifesting with the power of lightning and holy fire, and his arrival marked the turning of the tide.

Even with the angel’s help, the battle still proved difficult for the heroes. Raz’lar’s power held Jett immobile and away from his allies for much of the fight, and his fiery skeleton servants wreaked havoc sent pulses of searing heat towards all in their path. Janus was caught off guard by one such blast, and the young noble was sent flying off the floating platform into the dark below. Nathan Farringway narrowly escaped death, only his veteran’s experience allowed him to dodge blows that otherwise would have proved fatal. Finally, Raz’lar’s power was broken, and he began to erupt in a cold, blue flame. As his lifeforced ebbed out, he cackled at his enemies, telling them that the cult was not restricted to Fallcrest, and that the Kingdom of Nerath had been infected to its rotten core, just before fading away into the blackness.

With the undead and their masters finally felled, the party took stock of its situation. They felt stranded, as they had no idea whether the portal would return them to Fallcrest, Janus was dead, and Farringway was close to dying as well. Avandra’s angel encouraged them, saying they had aided the side of good, and that Avandra thanked them for their service. It then bid Omin approach, and telling the renewed paladin that his service had been rewarded, and that he would ascend to the status of Avandra’s angel. Once again, light shot down from the Glorious Planes to envelope the Angel and the newly ascended Omin. Omin thanked the group, and told them he would aid them again someday, and until that time Avandra would smile upon them. The angel seemed please with his new charge, and as they turned to ascend, left the Singers with a cryptic message: “A war is brewing in the heavens. You have done a great thing here for the forces of Good, but you have yet a part to play. Seek out the warrior temple of Bahamut, it is there that your path will be laid before you.” With that, the two holy warriors ascended to their rightful places.

The heroes discovered the Lady Allande Markelhay at the base of the altar and managed to rouse her. Despite her trepidation at their situation, she acknowledged her own magical prowess and stabilized the rift in space, allowing the party to return to Fallcrest’s throneroom. The Lady thanked her rescuers and asked that they return the following day so that they might be justly rewarded.

Agua 17, 331

The Singing Mercenaries returned to Moonstone Keep for their audience with the Lord and Lady of Fallcrest. The Markelhays thanked them and acknowledged the region would be in ruins were it not for their actions. Markelhay apologized for his behavior under the sway of the succubus, and gave them singers a bounty each of 720GP. Lady Allande also bestowed rewards upon the mercenaries, giving each of them a magical item from the Markelhay’s family vault.

Agua 18 – Sombra 3, 331

Over the next couple weeks, news slowly drifted into Fallcrest about the events in the wider world. There was talk around the town that a Lord Marshall had attempted to have Faren Markelhay removed from his position as Lord Warden, a highly untraditional thing among the Kingdom, but Markelhay was exonerated of whatever charges had been brought before him, and he managed to keep his position. This has, for the time being, stabilized the political tension that had arisen from the dead dwarven patrols and bandit activity region of the Nentir Valley. In the wake of the news that Markelhay would retain his seat, Serim Saluzar chartered a boat to the southern parts of the Kingdom.

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Dark Portents
The World Expands

Somba 10, 331

The Singing Mercenaries had been enjoying the patronage of Lord Warden Faren Markelhay, but work had been slim. On this day, however, the Mercenaries received a summons to the Lord Warden’s chamber. The Lord Warden greeted them warmly, and thanked them again for their help in rescuing Fallcrest, and himself. Markelhay went on to say that there were great things afoot in the the Kingdom of Nerath, that due to Janus Valorfast’s death, his father, Sirius Valorfast was holding the Singers responsible for the death of his son, in fact claiming they had murdered him, and that the Lord Warden may have even had a hand in it. The Lord Warden went on to speculate that he believed this information had been brought to the Lord Marshall by none other than Serim Saluzar, who made a quick exit from Fallcrest once the Singers emerged victorious over Orcus’s cult. Markelhay explained that, although the party was now an enemy of a powerful Lord Marshall, they had also caught the attention of his rival, Lord Kyras. Markelhay explained that the provinces, and lords, of Kyras and Lannister had been rivals since the decline of Alror the Great’s line. Lord Kyras had made it known he would be very interested in employing the Singing Mercenaries. While Jett and Shikou thought it would be a challenge to take on a naval power such as Valorfast, Winward cautioned them against it, saying that to work for Kyras would only cement their guilt as murderers. Lord Markelhay then went on to tell the mercenaries that this was not the only option before them: an envoy of dwarves and an envoy of elves would both be arriving in Fallcrest the following day. The two races had been in contact with Markelhay, and apparently had been having their own problems, which the dwarves and elves felt the Singers could help with. Markelhay requested that the Singers return the next day in order to meet with them. The party agreed, and took their leave of Moonstone Keep.

On their return, the party encountered a large group of armed men, led by a large and raucous knight, menacing a young maiden in a side alley. Jett sensed something was amiss, and pointed this out to the armed group. The group’s leader, who quickly took a dislike to Jett, identified himself as a Knight of Lannister, the province which the Valorfast’s rule. Jett’s lack of social skills only escalated the situation, which resulted in an all-out brawl in the streets. The knight insulted the Singers throughout the affair, eventually realizing who they were and identifying himself as Castor Valorfast, Janus’s cousin. Despite his boasts and insults, Castor was eventually killed in the street, while the maiden the Lannister men had been menacing fled the scene.

Upon returning to the Ebon Griffin (where the Singers had moved into decent rooms, at the patronage of Lord Markelhay), the Singers were approached by a young swordsman, who left them a note, claiming knowledge of the dwarf and elf envoys. The note carried the same symbol as the warriors that the Singers encountered in Political Maneuvers led by Talanar. The note requested the singers journey east into the Drow lands, claiming that the enemy of all lay in the desert wastes. The party, having had enough of cryptic messages and shadowy sources, decided they would not make contact with the young warrior.

That night, the Singers awoke to a strange vision. Unsure if they were in a dream or in merely an illusion, the Singers found themselves in some sort of ice temple on a cliff. Trapped within the floor was a large dragon, and the pillars supporting the roof had strange sconces surrounded by arcane runes. They were confronted by a hulking, shadowy knight who called himself Azrael. Azrael challenged them to battle, claiming that if heroes of destiny could not defeat him, they had no chance of defeating his master. The party was confused, but, sensing they were not having an ordinary dream, fought with the monstrous knight. Azrael was a terrible opponent. Despite his size, he could move through shadow to teleport amidst the Singer, then teleport away before they could react. He could also summon alternate realms of frost and shadow to freeze the Singers in place while he struck from beyond the reality he created. The Singers fought gamely, but were unable to overcome the dread knight until Shikou noticed a strange blue flame at the altar of the temple. Racing towards it, the flame united with him, empowering his strikes against Azrael. The power of the flame allowed the Singers to subdue Azrael. Their vision ended with Azrael’s parting words: “Good! I am glad to see the chosen heroes of destiny are not so weak. Perhaps, in time, you will be a suitable challenge. We will meet again, heroes!”

Sombra 11, 331

The party awoke the next day, unsure what their group dream was, or if it had been much more than a dream. Puzzled, but unable to make anything of it, they kept their appointment with the Lord Warden and the envoys from the North. Sapheera, an elven mage, and Galorvin Granitehands, a dwarven captain, both explained they had heard of the Singers’ exploits, and that their aid was needed in the north. Markelhay went on to explain that he had close ties to both the elves and dwarves, despite the official problems between Nerath and their respective nations. The elves explained that the forests were dying, the Eladrin were leaving the forests to return to the Feywild, and the elves were losing their connection to the Fey. They did not know the cause, only that scout patrols on the slopes of the mountains were being ambushed, and the entire forest of Narlasil was beginning to decay. Galorvin explained that the dwarves were under attack from an ancient evil from under the mountain, and that the once connected dwarven cities were now islands of defense in the chaos under the peaks. Galorvin questioned Shikou of his knowledge about the ancient evils, claiming the mountain monk should have been taught such things, but Shikou professed no knowledge of the evils. Galorvin scoffed, claiming the monk’s temple would most likely be destroyed, although Shikou seemed unconcerned. Sapheera went on to explain that the elves and dwarves had been at war with the orcs in the north for centuries, and that with these new threats they would be overrun without aid. Winward leapt at the chance to aid the elves, having his own suspicions of what might be responsible for the destruction, as his former village was located in northern forests just beyond the borderlands of the elves. Winward appealed to Valmir, stating his Fey patron would surely want Valmir to aid the elves and Eladrin. Valmir was unimpressed, his hatred for being controlled weighed against his connection to the Feywild, and professed no opinion. Although Galorvin warned against it, the party decided to travel with the Elves in order to aid them against the evil gnawing at the heart of Narlasil’s forests.

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Encroaching Shadows
Moving Closer Towards Darkness

Sombra 11, 331

The Singers met Sapheera and her escort the following morning, and began the trek north into Narlasil. They passed several uneventful days on the journey, but were greatful for their guide. The elven forest had no visible trails, and the Singer knew that without a guide, they would surely be lost. Eventually, however, they came upon a clearly used trail, marking that they were close to the heart of the forest

Sombra 15, 331

With the party only a half day’s journey from the center of the forest, Sapheera called for a halt, claiming the magical energies in the place were disturbed, and that she wanted to check on a magical pool nearby. Leaving the road, the party approached the pool, only to be assaulted from above. Two winged demons swooped down on Sapheera’s guardian knights, lifting them into the air and releasing them to fall to their deaths. Sapheera herself was knocked unconscious by a tainted water spirit that rose from the pool. The Singers battled the demons, slaying one winged demon easily, and destroying the second as well after Shikou gave it chase, despite its best attempts to fly away. The water witch, sensing she would lose if she continued to battle the determined warriors, escaped back into the pool. Despite Sapheera’s best efforts to draw the witch out of the pool, she was unnsuccessful, even with Winward adding his own considerable arcane knowledge to her efforts. Sapheera was visibly shaken by these events, not only because of her head injury, claiming that this was the most visible evidence of corruption in the forests, that even the water was tainted, and that the Council would have to accept her evidence.

Traveling into the evening, the party finally came upon the wondrous heart forest: a giant tree stretching up into the very canopy. Sapheera led them into the trunk, where they entered the Eladrin Court of Narlasil. Despite their wondrous surroundings, the Singers could not help but be put on guard. The room was full of hulking, murderous-looking elves which somehow felt unnatural to the mercenaries. The assorted elven nobles were clustered in groups in the great hall, including a party of warlike elves off to one side. On the far side of the hall, a column of soldiers stood. As the Sapheera guided the Singers to the far end of the great hall, they caught snippets of the conversation taking place: one Elf in particular did not seem to be happy with the actions of the Council as of late, claiming that the forest was dying, and with other Eladrin leaving them, action had to be taken immediately to scour the forest and locate the evil gnawing at the heart of the forest. The Council was unconvinced, however, stating that although the Elf, whom they identified as Elrias, Narlasil’s Eternal Defender, had authority to protect elvish lands, they saw no point in calling for the dark guards, which the Council named “Shadowborn”, nor did they see any evidence of Narlasil’s decline. Elrias was clearly enraged with the Council, but their argument was cut short by the Coucil noticing the arrival of Sapheera and the Singers.

The Singers quickly realized they had been again involved in a political game. The Council had no knowledge of them, it was Elrias who had tasked Sapheera with bringing them to Narlasil or else aiding the Dwarves. The Council was outraged that Elrias would bring “outsiders” into the forest, claiming they must be put to death immediately. Elrias protested, but in the end, knew their order would be final. Fortunately for the group, Sapheera stepped in, telling how they had saved her from the demons at the tainted pool, and that if such a thing had happened then surely the Council could see that the situation was possibly dire. The Council seemed disturbed by the news, and withdrew to a side chamber to deliberate. Winward took the opportunity to find out what he could from the Elves in the court. He met with Arlisien, Elrias’s second-in-command, Aorthrin, Narlasil’s head Battlemage, and Kaleera, who was revealed to be Sapheera’s half-sister. Kaleera also revealed she was half Eladrin and half Elf, a rarity among the two races. Winward questioned them on the goings on in the Court of Four Leaves, but the soldiers could not tell him much, only that they believed in the Nayar’s cause and were loyal to him, seeing as how the Council and other Eladrin had seemingly abadoned the Elves and their forest as of late.

Shortly afer, the Council returned to render judgement: they relented, but only halfway. They pronounced that if the “outsiders” were to remain in the forest, they would have to undergo the “Rite.” Elrias seemed upset, but did not protest. The Singers were led by Sapheera to a small grove, who warned them the Rite would be potentially deadly, but could not say more. The Singers felt as if they were doomed, despite not having an outright execution order placed on their heads.

Within the grove, the Singers were revealed a message in the bark of a magical tree. The tree presented them this message:

Four are mortals, doomed to die. Yet these four are of destiny. Four are the gates before, Here, set before thee.

Trickster of the forest, Bearer of the key. Yet ‘twil not give it up, knowingly.

Creature of the forest, Hunter of blood, In order to proceed, You must pay his fee.

Keeper of the forest, Silent watcher, To her test be true, And rest, quietly.

Defender of the forest, Knight, made of bark, From on high lies the truth, Hidden in the leaves.

Four pieces all, Presented to thee, Defender, Creature, Trickster, Keeper, In this way, Proceed.

Shortly after this discovery, a bear, a Satyr, a treant and a dryad emerged from the woods, but made no move to attack, they simply stood round the mercenaries, as if waiting for something. The Singers puzzled over the clues, knowing that one wrong move would likely end in their deaths. Eventually, they solved the problem: scaling the sleeping treant, Shikou discovered a glowing, purple leaf among the branches of the treant’s head. Jett solved the riddle of the creature by offering his own blood to the bear, which was accepted. The bear trundled off into the woods, revealing a bright green leaf in the place where it had sat. The Satyr proved more challenging for the group, as it continually made advances towards the Genasi swordmage. Eventually, through the Satyr’s own hints, the party realized they would have to distract the Satyr and take the leaf. Shikou utilized his stealth skills while the Satyr was admiring the Genasi to steal the Satyr’s pouch, in which they found a golden leaf. The final challenge lay in the dryad, who summoned thorns to entrap Jett as he approached. Remembering the riddle, Jett remained calm and did not fight his captivity, only to be released after a few agonizing seconds. The dryad relinquished her leaf as well, a glowing red one. When all four leaves were pressed to the tree, the party found themselves embraced in a warm light from the tree, and a voiced whispered to them: “Heroes, the forest has found you worthy. Go forth, and remember the gifts bestowed upon you here. Beware the darkness growing in the heart of the forest!”

Finding themselves to be more powerful for the embrace of the tree’s spirit, and the vines no longer blocking their exit, the party left the grove, thankful for its gifts.

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