The Realm of Joroin

Winning is an odd term

Our group of hero’s won the day (they survived), but they did not slay the dragon (or undead dragonborn in this case), they did not get the treasure (once they found out it was safer where it was hidden), and they did not complete their quest (one given to them by an evil goddess… so who really cares).

They were however able to determine that finding an underground church to Erathis somewhere near the market square in town might bring them answers as to why they were chosen by Lloth’s agents and as to who they might be able to trust in the future.

As the sun rises for Birth’s 2nd Day the group gathers at a sidewalk style café to discuss their strategy…

Sunrise

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The Tomb of the First Dragonborn

Winter graveyard

Three full days of darkness is wearing on you (well except for Aria who seems oddly at home in the continuous night that is Winter); and the waist deep snow, sub freeze temperatures, and inconsistent echoes of moans and cackles carried by a sinister wind doesn’t help much either.

In your recent wake you have left a barn containing the corpses of numerous corrupt city guards burning; you have spiked and their leader, a son of the legendary Baron Heidelman Grumstein, to the great tree that overlooks the River Graveyard; you have made a tenuous partnership with the Horned Alliance (admitted followers of Asmodeous); and maybe worst of all you have had one of your numbers disappear… Thayne… without a word, without a trace.

At least all you have left to do is break into an ancient tomb, steal a tome inside, and find the avatar of Melora so that you can return the tome to her… all in the next 20 hours.

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A Measure of Satisfaction...
An interlude...

Paws took the hammer and spikes from Aria without even looking at her. Clenching one of the pitons between his teeth, he hefted Baron Grummstein’s son up onto the tree by one of the dead noble’s arms.

Oddly, the cold metal of the spike sat oddly between his teeth, as if something were different with the set of them.

Paws wasted no time pondering this minor detail, instead setting to the grim task at hand, the icy ground crunching beneath his feet as he shifted to hold Grummstein’s weight. Holding the piton in place just below the palm, Black Paws struck his first blow and the nail bit deep into the bloated forearm of the dead man, dark brackish blood seeping out of the edges of the wound and congealing from the cold upon greying flesh. He would continue the process on the first arm, then continued it with the other arm and then the legs of the fallen scion of Grummstein. Paws counted out 12 nails, three in each forearm and three in each shin. Taking Grummstein’s helmet from where it hung on his belt, Paws threw it with a tremendous heave over the nearby wrought-iron fence.

Breathing heavy from the gruesome work, Paws sat down momentarily. Leaning back against the very tree he had labored under, the half-elf laid his head back against the cold bark behind him and looked into the sky. A full moon shone nearly overhead.

“Well, you feel better now?” Aria asked sardonically, her countenance betraying nothing of any understanding she may have had for Paws’ motivations.

Black Paws sat, the small puffs of his breath condensing in the air to count the monents. He pulled his knees up to his chest and rubbed the black wrappings of his forearms with his hands. Sparing only the briefest of glances toward a trio of graves under the branches of the great oak which seemed to clutch and curl menacingly.

“No.”

Rising from the ground, Black Paws took a few halting steps forward, grunting in exertion as he did so. DArk mist formed about him, coiling upon itself and finally pooling into the now-familiar form of a massive black wolf that seems to literally fall out of the Sentinel.

Looking back towards his cocmpanions, an image flickered breifly in his mind’s eye. A different tree, full with the promise of spring flowering madly in the bright sunshine. Once more he stood with his wife, holding her in his arms.

The image fluttered and was gone as the muzzle of Ghostdancer nudged his hand. The deep green eyes of the wolf-spirit pierced his own, and with a nod Black Paws led the way across the ice-covered graveyard.

Black paws

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Fight or Flight
An interlude...

Fight or flight…

The two most basic instincts of any animal when cornered.

Black Paws whirled his scimitar about his head in a flashing arc of silver as the battered steel caught the moonlight making it look like he weilded a crescent moon. A sharp exhale flew from his lungs, the wolf warrior wincing as the manifestation of Ghostdancer was dispersed by the attack of a guardsman. Three of his companions had fallen…

Quite often animals, such as wolves, will fight to the death to protect its packmates…

Black Paws looked about him. Crimson geometric patterns littered the snow at his feet, cast there by the flow of his wounds as he battled against foes eager for the gold that his head would bring them. However, there was something else…

When faced with its own mortality however, the urge to flee can take command of the wolf’s sensibilities.

The guards weren’t killing anyone. They were dragging them off. Aria and Zebith were still fighting, but badly wounded. Where was the stranger? The one called Hood? Black Paws let his senses drift out into the land around him. The life energy the land would afford him had been depleted till it could replenish itself. There would be no succor in this battle. If they stayed, they would die. Looking across the graveyard, Paws’ eyes fell upon The Tree. “Not here…not like this…not yet…” he thought to himself.

It is at this time that the wolf leaves the field by any means it can, escape being the totality of its being.

With a howl drawn deep from his core, Black Paws’ voice stopped friend and foe where they stood for a moment, frozen as the snow that had begun to fall in heavy sheets. “Aria! Zebith! Leave them! We’ll have to come back for the others!” Arching his back, ghostly grey mist pooled around Paws, drawing to the center of his torso. Hunching forward with a deep growl, the mist rolled off of Paws to coalecse on the ground before him in the shape of an enormous black wolf. No sooner than its legs had formed, it charged the nearest guardsman who had begun to advance on Black Paws. The spirit animal leaped and tore at the guard’s thoat giving him pause as he defended against the savage attack. Without another word, Black Paws turned and vanished into the darkness and the snow.

Elf wolf spirit

Lacking the complex moral cognizance of humanoid beings, the wolf lives to hunt another day whereas men, dwarves, and even elves would peprhaps perish, making fatal choices based on such notions as friendship, love, compassion, or even hatred and jealousy.

This completes this chapter. In the next chapter, we study the mating habits of the wolf, along with its social structure or “pack” as it is known.

~Excerpts from “Of wolf and Man…a study in the comparison of the social and philosophical differences in wolves and humans” by Zacharias Schuder.

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Winter Begins
Meet at the Inn...

Silently the double door to The Fork opens and a graceful figure flows into the room. Without a care for the happening around her, she makes a slow but direct path to Aria’s table and sits without waiting for an invitation. Her deep azure cloak ever so slightly shifting as if blown by a non-existent breeze, while her hood covers most of her face glimpses of the well known white porcelain mask of Lady Arancor can be seen under it.

Anastasia Arancor waves her hand ever so slightly and the area around her and Aria falls into silence, the crack of the fireplace, the clang of a mug, the creak of the shutters… it all disappears in an instance.

She begins, “Black Hand, first of all I would like to thank you for coming to meet with me, not everyone has the courage to do what is right in a world full of wrong.”

Nodding in acceptance of the thanks Aria scans the room quickly to find a scruffy faced man in the corner watching the conversation intently while the rest of the patrons seem uninterested. “So why do you call for me Lady Arancor? I am not known as one who prays to your god, let alone any of the others?”

The slight jab rolls off her shoulders as she answers, “The tasks you do help the side of light, even if you do them from the shadows the light causes my dear, you wish the same thing that my patron does – the fall of the eternal one; and to answer your question – I call you to ask a favor of you”

“What could you possibly need of me” Aria whispers as the stoic dwarf makes his way past her to the bar for a refill.

In un-hushed tones, although no one outside of the two of them can hear a word being spoken, “I ask that you recover a tome for me, a very old tome, one that was taken from The Great Library of Argent just before the city fell. It is a tome that details the magics used to defend the city… and possibly the key to what is keeping Simon from being able to raise his final city on its ruins. I am unfortunately on my way out of the area, to a meeting that cannot be postponed, and cannot hunt the tome myself.” Pulling out a very old keyand sliding it to Aria she continues, “This key will unlock the inner door of the tomb that holds the remains of the dragonborn cavalier that the tome is buried with. I wish I had more information about which graveyard he lies in, all I know is that it is one of the three in the farm district – the North, the Ocean, or the River.” Slowly she stands up from the table, not really waiting for acceptance – but assuming acceptance of the request. “I must go now, good luck to you and those you may find to help you on your quest. I will find you when you once I have returned from Plagea. Look for others who fight in the light to aid you, as you are most likely not the only one hunting this tome.” With a slight nod of her head she vanishes leaving the faintest of smoke webs across the stone floor of the room.

<crack>

The splinters of the door that stood closed only a second earlier fly across the room with such force and sound that every patron of The Fork us forced to turn and stare at the abomination as it moans out “TOME…I WANT TOME…” A conglomeration of body parts that has been summoned together via dark magic now stands in what was once a doorway… and dozens of smaller (not by much) zombies and skeletons claw at the walls and windows trying to find a hole to scurry through.

Leaping into action Aria, along with ‘Paws’ (a quiet, stalking type of man with wraps covering his hands and feet and the spirit of a grey wolf waiting to jump to his aid), Lorgrimm (a stoic dwarf of not overly large proportions sporting a black smith’s apron and a very large axe), Lia (a sexy, auburn haired elf who prefers to let her spear do the talking for her), and Thayne (a scruffy faced man who most often appears to be staring at the world from a different set of glasses then most), make short work of the undead onslaught, and quickly decide that Aria can fill the rest of them in on the details of why the attack happened as they follow the zombies fresh tracks in the falling snow.

As a group they decide that it is as good idea as any (since they no longer have a place safe place to stay for Winter, with the pub missing its main doors) to stick together and help Aria with her newly found task. Making their way though the cold and empty farm roads, they follow the tracks to the North Graveyard – where they happen upon a pack of four changelings, who happen to be looking for the same tome as Aria.

A few stabs here and a few stabs there (some of which did a number on poor Thayne), the Vecna worshiping thieves were dispatched and the group was able to search the graveyard… finding out that they were in the wrong one and needed to make haste to the river graveyard before anyone else made the same discoveries they did.

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30th of Slumbers Night
Lets get started

It is the 30th of Slumbers Night, the day before Winter, and as has been for as long as any of you can remember, the folks in the farming district (and in the city proper for that matter) are finishing up on their annual chores; bringing anything of value (no matter how nominal) inside the house or barn, locking away the livestock with eighty hours of food and water, boarding up windows and doors (only leaving the main door usable – it will be barred from the inside), and tying down anything that cant be boarded.

No guards will walk on their routes. No wagons will travel to or from the city. No merchants will be making deals. No living souls will volunteer to wander the streets, well no smart ones at least. There will be the stupid ones, the young and naive. Those that don’t trust the elders and tempt fate by trying to cause trouble on the four nights of Winter.

At the moment the only pub open within miles, The Pitch Fork, is within your sight; and you could use a decent meal right about now. The Fork, as the locals refer to it, is a small building that boasts about 20 seats and a good sized fireplace. Decent food is cooked over the same fire and below average ale is served over a small bar in the back corner.

Aria

She sits quietly at a table, sipping occasionally from a glass of red wine resting on the table in front of her. Her gaze wanders to and fro between the other occupants of the pub, as if she were looking for someone meeting a specific criteria. Focused as she is, however, her gaze snaps up at the approach of a figure to her table.

The man standing over her wavers a little as he leers down at her, a stupid grin on his face, bolstered by the drinks he’s consumed tonight.

“A pretty lady like you shouldn’t be sitting all alone on a night like this. Lemme warm you up,” he says, his eyes drooping heavily.

She calmly sets down her glass, looking straight into the man’s eyes. “Please go away,” she says, deadpan.

The drunken man, not getting the hint, places his hand on her shoulder, leaning in close, trying to sounds coy as he speaks, saying “Now don’t be that way, darling. No one refuses Big Erl.”

Glancing down at the man’s hand, she rests her hand on the table as she looks back into his face, grimacing at the smell of his breath. “Big Erl,” she says, “is it? Remove your hand before I remove it for you.” She pulls the hand off her shoulder, pushing him him away.

He stumbles back a bit, his expression flashing to rage as he steps back up to her table. “Girl, I’ll show you what’s what around here!” he says, reaching his hand back and trying to slap her.

She stands in one smooth motion, catching his wrist in one hand while her other wraps around his neck in a grip like a steel vise, lifting him off his feet. She pivots, slamming him down on his back on the table as he face turns red first, then purple, and seems to be edging toward blue.

“Listen, Erl,” she says as he scratches feebly at the hand around his neck with his free hand, “I’m going to let you up in a minute and you’re going to run along home. In fact, feel free to scream like a girl. I insist.”

As Erl’s eyes start to flutter with unconciousness, she tosses him the side, smiling as he lands in a crumpled heap, gasping for breath.

Gazing about the room, she smiles at some of the startled patrons. “My apologies. Please, go back to your drinks,” she says, brushing herself off and resuming her seat at the table. She watches Erl stumble out of the bar, sipping her wine once more as she resumes waiting on this mysterious woman who requested her presence.

Black Paws

Black Paws followed the nearby commotion with his eyes, though he did not raise his head. Ignoring the young man seated across from him, Paws stared sullenly into his drink and kneaded the black leather wrappings around his forearms. He winced a little and narrowed his eyes. The old wounds always hurt. They just hurt more during Winter…

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