Part 1 – The Festival of Leaves
Chapter 1 – The Feast
Two weeks prior to the first session, heroes were selected to fight in the Festival of Leaves, the highest honor in the Ring. Of the heroes chosen to fight, four were our players: Clifton, Jahn, Oestra, and Korinn Quinn. The heroes and their friends were invited to a celebratory feast hosted by the famous cook Kiwi on the night before the Festival. All of the heroes went and Clifton brought his brother Daniel and his friends Mark and Dolan. Upon entering the feast tent, the heroes noticed, in addition to the hundreds of raucous guests, several suspicious looking robed figures sitting along the wall in the large tent. These figures made Korinn so uncomfortable that he chose not to eat anything at the feast, for fear that it was poisoned.
During the feast, Graf Diamondbeard, the Ring’s most renowned blacksmith offered fine jewel encrusted weapons to both Clifton and Korinn, which they accepted. He shared a few stories of Dwarven valor and left the feast. After a little more feasting the party was approached by three ladies of the night who offered to show the heroes a good time for their last night on Barine; they declined, but Clifton’s brother and two friends, Daniel, Mark, and Dolan, graciously accepted in their place, following the ladies to the nearby inn.
After leaving the feast, they headed over to the other end of the fairgrounds to one of the more remote and secluded camps and settled in. Around midnight, Daniel, Mark, and Dolan drunkenly stumbled into the camp acting rather strange and then they attacked the four heroes! Upon attempting to defend against them, Clifton quickly found out his bow had been cursed when he went to use it and it broke and injured him; Korinn made the wise decision to use his original spear. The heroes vanquished them, and when they fell unconscious the corpses changed to grey featureless humanoids, thus revealing themselves as doppelgangers. Korinn had Jahn test his new spear by giving it a light whack with his hammer; as expected the spear head easily broke off and flew straight towards Korinn, injuring him slightly. With only a few hours until they would need to be ready to fight, they chose to get some sleep and hope that Clifton’s friends and family were fine.
Chapter 2 – The Festival of Leaves
In the morning they prepared and were ushered into the arena grounds where all the heroes were lined up in the center. The head animal trainer, Nadezhda Durov, Graf, and an unknown and ominous robed figure (who later turned out to be Baltus Rove), walked the line inspecting all of the heroes. When the four heroes in the party were reached, Graf, who looked rather worried, fearful, and now insulted, asked why the heroes were not wielding their new weapons. Clifton spoke up immediately “oh man buddy, those things were busted; broke and injured us when we tried to use them!”. Before any of them could react, the robed figure turned to Graf, assertively placing his hand on his shoulder while making some unknown gesture with his other hand. The heroes blacked out immediately and fell to their knees in unbearable pain. When they came to, they were all standing at the arena staging area, moments before the opening bell was rung.
Almost immediately, the party realized that several of the festival heroes had been replaced with doppelgangers. When these doppelgangers urged the other heroes to go left towards the fields, the party urged them to turn right towards the wooded area, and were successful in swaying several of them. After battling wolves, panthers, kestrekels, and boars, the party turned their attention to, and vanquished, the massive rhino in the fields. All this while ensuring that every one of the doppelgangers met their end without making it obvious that the party had any hand in it, lest it look like they were killing the other heroes. They also managed to prevent the bodies of many of their fallen allies from being consumed by kestrekels, garnering much favor from the families of the deceased. Some of the audience witnessed Korinn defiantly pissing on the corpse of one of the fallen doppelgangers, and act that was mistaken by many as directed towards a fallen ally.
When the terrible Rhino fell, the crowd burst at the seams and stormed the fairgrounds, yelling, clapping, and celebrating loudly; for the first time in over 1000 years, the heroes were victorious over the beasts. The crowd threw flowers and treasured belongings to the heroes; they hoisted them up an paraded them around the fairgrounds, eventually bringing them to the head trainer’s stage where lines quickly formed to meet, touch, and give thanks to the heroes. Patrons paid their respects to the heroes adorning them in crowns of woven palm and handmade wooden necklaces. The party received the Title: “Heroes of the Festival”, granting them a bonus to social situations. After about 30 minutes of this, the gifts, coins, and kind words start to be accompanied by requests.
Chapter 3 – Mounting Responsibilities
Most believed that, according to the prophecy, as soon as the heroes were victorious, the key to the forest would be presented to the head trainer so that all would be allowed to enter. But in the hour following the victory, Nadezhda become more and more dejected as no key appeared. Also during this time, the heroes had received the following requests:
- The reading of the rites for the fallen warriors will be held shortly, many family members have asked if they will be present.
- Nadezhda has a gift for the heroes and would like to speak with them.
- The pages have an urgent message for the heroes
- Kiwi is preparing a celebratory feast to honor the heroes and requests their presence
- Word has reached the heroes that a group of protesters are burning books near the forest walls to disrespect the God of Knowledge for failing to present Nadezhda with the key.
They headed to the reading of the rites first, where Nadezhda, who was reading the rites, became even more dejected and dropped the book of the dead to the ground. An irate observer picked up the book and began addressing the crowd angrily, orating his contempt with [[:beli’avari]], the rites of the dead, and everything they had been told for the last 1000 years. He ripped pages from the book and threw them to the ground; when they landed, lightning struck them and an apparition of a skeleton, formed from electricity, appeared in their spot. The protester dropped the book and from it sprang several snakes and a small but powerful cyclone (preventing the party from getting too close) while still more snakes began to appear. The party managed to dispel the cyclone, kill the snakes and the skeleton, and prevent any harm from coming to the attendees. Tempers cooled, and the rites were completed without further incident.
Next the heroes met privately with Nadezhda who gave them a leather harness and a magic spear that had been in his family for generations; he shared his lament about not being given entrance to the forest, and told the party where they should be able to find Graf when they inquired. They then hailed a page of the Order of Beli’avari who shared his urgent message with them; they said the Order was just as confused as they were about the prophesized entry to the forest, warned them that the fanatics (known as the Claw of Beli’avari) were up to something, and warned against doing anything in direct opposition (or even the appearance of opposition) to Beli’avari lest they hurt any possible chances of gaining entry to the forest. They then went to see Kiwi to explain that they would not be able to attend his feast due to other responsibilities, Kiwi understood and gave the Heroes some healing potions.
After this, they went to the nearby Inn to inquire if anyone had seen Daniel, Mark, or Dolan the night before. The innkeeper had seen them, and freely gave what information he knew, telling them that he had given them, and their consorts, keys to a suite upstairs and surprisingly, one of the consorts paid; he hasn’t seen them since, but led the party to the room. Once in the room, the party saw obvious signs of a struggle and discovered a note that contained a list of people which included the party, their friends, and several other heroes; most of the names, all but those of the party in fact, had been crossed off. The bottom of the note said “bring them to the FAJ gate after it’s over”. When Korinn placed the note in his pocket, he noticed that another note had already been placed there, this one said: “I’m so sorry. Speak to the door within my closet for more information. –Graf”
They naturally headed to Graf’s blacksmith next and found it vacated. Upon entering his residence they noted the obvious signs of a struggle. They found the door at the back of his closet and solved a puzzle to get it open, inside was another puzzle, this one much more pointless. Their reward was a bag of holding and another note from Graf Diamondbeard, this one explaining that he had been compelled to give them the cursed weapons because Baltus Rove had kidnapped his family. The party decided to put this on hold for now, and travel to the book burning near the forest. They got a page of the Order named Bruce Greyshadow to guide them to the spot.
They quickly put down the conflict and were confronting the man who appeared to be leading the riot when a purple bolt came from behind them, struck him, and killed him. Turning they say that it had come from Baltus who was standing with several other Claw fanatics including one especially fierce looking warrior named Co’aire. The party dispatched most of them easily, killing Co’aire and turning to take down Baltus when he produced a gem, squeezed it, and disappeared along with the body of Co’aire. They were able to knock one of the Claw archers unconscious before he could rip off his suicide amulet (a gemstone amulet with a red center that the other fanatics ripped off, dying instantly). They tied him up and stuck him, all but his head anyway, in their bag of holding so they could question him later.
Chapter 4 – Chasing Baltus
Bruce, who was still with the party at this time, decided to renounce his vow of non-violence so that he could help with this and then he joined the party formally. Clifton decided to go tell his father about his missing brother while the rest of the party went to a nearby inn. They rented the penthouse (for free, they were the Heroes of the Festival after all), and tied the fanatic archer to the bed so that he could be questioned. All of the party except Bruce hid in the room while Bruce, donning his robes of the Order, woke up the archer and explained to him that he was an undercover agent of Baltus and that he had tied him up to prevent him from hurting himself. The ruse worked, he revealed himself as Chorn Evanstar and he was convinced to give up the location of his next check-in, the Hog’s Head Tavern; but Bruce slipped up when he asked for the password, something an undercover agent would surely know, and Korinn, seeing that their cover had been blown jumped out and slit Chorn’s throat. Leaving the inn, they tossed the innkeeper a gold coin, winked, and said they would appreciate discretion when cleaning their room; he gave them a knowing smile.
They then headed to the Tavern and again sent Bruce in to pretend to be undercover, and Jahn went in a few seconds later, pretending not to be with him just in case he needed back-up. The place was mostly empty, the bartender told Jahn that a bunch of them had cleared out recently. Bruce immediately recognized his old estranged friend Jin sitting alone and, after gaining his trust, discovered that Jin wanted to get out of the Claw badly. He also shared that Clifton and his father had been here recently looking for Daniel, Mark, and Dolan. The Claw fanatics that were here ushered them out saying they would show them where they were; Jin expressed that he is pretty sure they are in danger now. The three of them went outside, and Jin formally joined the party; he then led him to an entrance to Baltus’s underground lair.
The party headed down into the sewer system and found their way to a staging area where Baltus and his cronies, including the buffed up and strangely “different” Co’aire. They lured the party in close with a shape changer disguised as Clifton being tortured and then ambushed them. Baltus, who greeted them sinisterly escaped through a portal shortly after the fight started. The party put down general Co’aire and the fearsome half-orc archer Ca’lif, in addition to the other Claw fanatics who were present. They quickly discovered the young beast that Baltus was trying to protect, a young black acid dragon that he had somehow created using the strange liquid in these sewers. Clifton, who was being held in a room nearby, found his way to the party just in time for the fight ahead. The dragon attacked and it was a tough fight but the party was successful in felling it.
The party left the sewers through the door opposite the one they entered, leaving the way Clifton had come in. On the way out they discovered the hostages: Graf, his wife Ella, and his two daughters Oolastina and Yllaemita; Clifton’s father, and his brother Daniel, and his friends Dolan and Mark. Tragically, Daniel had succumbed to his wounds, but the rest of them appeared to be hanging on to life, although only barely. In the same room, they discovered and took a strange red glowing potion with a noticeably evil aura, presumably a product of the experiments carried out on the hostages. They continued to make their way out and discovered the location of the FAJ gate; after some unproductive prodding they left the underground complex altogether.
They came out in the storeroom of a tavern which they then discovered had agreed to let the Claw use in exchange for “protection”. After a very conspicuous confrontation they knocked out the proprietor and dragged him down to the FAJ gate and left him there. They then left the tavern, found some members of the Order of Beli’avari and asked them to help them transport the hostages to the temple for aid, which is indeed what happened. They also heard that Baltus had received an official sanction for his new church, the Church of the Emerald Drake (they heard this here and then about 40 more times on the way to see the Scleral Council).
At the temple, they met Udotumal (Udo) who urged them to destroy the abominable FAJ gate, and to try to stop Baltus. He informed them that he thought he knew how to destroy the FAJ gate but it would involve a dangerous delve into the dark mists. After some consideration and discussion, the party decided to follow through with Udo’s plan as their interests were aligned. Udo told them that it would take him some time to make the preparations for their journey, and asked them to meet him at the temple in one day’s time. He also shared with them that he had finally received word from the forest pages; they were to let the four heroes, as well as one companion each, into the forest on the next equinox, 12 days from now. When asked about the strange red potion, he told them it was evil and demanded that it be removed from the temple immediately.
Chapter 5 – The Scleral Council
The party made their way to the council grounds and was given a nearly immediate audience with the Scleral Council. They informed them of everything Baltus had done and asked them to rescind their official sanction (in this context, official approval) of the Church of the Emerald Drake. The council demanded that Baltus come forward to defend himself and a page brought in a strange device that holographed an image of Baltus who then addressed the council (stating that he was not there in person for he feared for his safety around the “Heroes”).He told them that the party was lying and brought in witnesses to testify of the violence he had suffered at the hands of the heroes: the grieving wife of Chorn Evanstar, the innkeeper who had been asked to clean up Chorn’s body and keep quiet for a piece of gold, and the barkeep who they dragged down to the FAJ gate. The council asked if the party had any proof, aside from their own testimonies, to back up their claims; they said that they do not and the council gave them three days to produce proof before they would consider the case officially closed.
Seeing that they were unprepared for this fight right now they left, even more resolved to help Udotumal. The council warned them that further unwarranted action again Baltus, or anyone for that matter, would not be dealt with so leniently – Heroes or not; they were also warned not to disrupt the FAJ gate and instructed to report to them if they discovered how to open it.
The party departed, heading for the nearest inn to call it a night…
To be continued… Next Session: Into the goblin cave