Aeron and the Wrekin Border

Burial Mound of Maedredhor Session #3
Are we there yet?

As we return to the action…
The orcs still had no idea that the party were stalking them until the distance had closed to barely a hundred feet. Taking advantage of the surprise, a Sleep spell and a volley of arrows crossed the distance between the two foes. This was quickly followed by another Sleep spell, a Stinking Cloud, an angry pirate, an even angrier Anti-Paladin and a vexed dwarf. The Bladedancer cast Swift Sword and then entered combat with one of the orc champions. In the end the combat was brutally one sided. More than three quarters of the orc warriors were incapacitated by magic, almost every champion was dead or engaged in mortal combat and the chieftain had ran off with a few picked orcs. In a brief parlay, involving intense negotiation, the remaining orcs were brought round to the Ashen Blades way of life with promises of feasting, regular pay and much pillaging.
Having brought 50 orcs to heel, the party continued on their way, following the directions of the Nightblade, who was navigating using the ancient elven techniques of pothluc and vollomi. By nightfall, it became apparent that the party were lost, because the Nightblade’s directions and the remaining senior orc’s tale of their travels simply led them back to the river. While the orc’s did come through the hills into the forest, it wasn’t through the hills the party were searching for, and in the Nightblade’s case he couldn’t tell his arse from his elbow.
The next day dawned and once more the party strode out, following the directions of the Nightblade yet again. Before long, sounds of guttural language and a snarling argument could be heard up ahead. The Nightblade approached using intense stealth to discover a pair of cyclops towering twenty feet tall arguing over the remains of five or six men and horses. After a brief, and hushed, debate the party elected to ambush the cyclops and perhaps earn a reputation as giant killers. The plan almost immediately went awry. The Nightblade’s best shot appeared not to faze the first cyclops while the ensuing Stinking Cloud had absolutely no effect. The cyclops couldn’t pick the party out in the undergrowth but hurled the horses they had to hand towards their attackers. One landed mere inches from the Anti-Paladin, while the other sailed far over the Nightblade’s head deep into the forest cover. At this point the party started withdrawing back to their orc lines, but fortunately the two giant-kin were keener on feasting on man- and horse-flesh than in pursuing hidden ghosts through the forest.
As the day lengthened it became apparent that once again, the party were lost. The river was discovered yet again. After one more nights camping, an orc was sent up a tree to determine the direction of sunrise. Although he managed to communicate a general easterly direction to his compatriots on the ground, he also lost his footing on the way down and managed to kill himself in a twenty foot fall. Pausing briefly to butcher and cook breakfast of orc and fried mushrooms, the warband set out north and before long broke out of the forest into a more contoured terrain. After some brief cheering, congratulations and recriminations on taking three days to effectively travel four miles, the party set about looking for signs of the burial mound. With considerably more luck than judgement they came across the site late in the afternoon.
The orc warband were encouraged to set up a camp a half mile from the mound, while the Blades approached. The hill had a monumental processional with menhir and dressed granite slabs leading towards a dark entrance into the hillside. The ground immediately before the processional was dotted with small hillocks of dirt as if large moles had been at work. It became readily apparent that they had. Walking across the area, the Blades were set upon from below. Seven giant shrews burst from the ground seeking to capture something more filling than worms. The fight was short and one sided, with each of the party getting in a blow or two and despatching at least one of the shrews.
At the end of the processional, just at the entrance proper six golden spikes of significant size were embedded, three on each side of the entrance. While the spikes appeared to have writings on them, the script was difficult to discern without removing the spikes and the Blades seemed reluctant to do this. Having the Anti-Paladin commune with Asmodeus and determine the presence of good. The spikes radiate powerful good magic and the Blades definitely decide to leave well alone.
Moving into the darkness, a damp chill can be felt. A large pool lies at a crossroads. The Nightblade took to scouting the left hand passage and while so engaged he disturbed a carrion crawler. The foul creature made to drop onto the unaware elf before his compatriots could yell a warning but fortune, if it could be described as such, came to the rescue. The hyperdontic jaws of a great white sharkipede skittering maw snapped around the dangling crawler cutting it in half. With some degree of care, but an understanding that killing a sharkipede skittering maw would do wonders for the party’s reputation, they set about killing it with relish. The plan was to “cockatrice” the aberration hoping to kill it before it did too much damage to the party. The plan was concise, but first the Nightblade was bitten and buffeted by the creature’s bulk just before the Corsair was taken by the head and shoulder and thrown like a rag doll across the cavern floor. The Nightblade didn’t succumb to the burning poison but was grievously wounded, while the Corsair succumbed to both poison and the massive raking bite across his head and left shoulder. The Bladedancer took a moment from the fight to cast healing magic on the Corsair, while the Nightblade pulled him aside to use some neutralising herbs to dull the worst effects of the poison. In the ensuing seconds, which seemed to slow to an eternity, the Bladedancer distracted by her magical efforts barely avoided being bitten herself. The Spellsword, Craftpriest and Anti-Paladin hacked at the abominable creature and although a telling blow was landed by the Paladin’s magical great sword, the beast didn’t give up. It snapped at the Paladin and while not injuring him as dreadfully as the others who had been bitten already, the burning poison coursed in the bite and the Paladin could fell its grip on his metabolism as it began to take effect. Finally, the Craftpriest dealt a blow two handed which crushed the abnormal fiend’s skull and killed it outright.
The party recovered a partly devoured body that had become wedged by the entrance to the skittering maw’s underwater lair and recovered some armour and a long sword. The party then retired to the orc camp to set up tents to salve their wounds. Even with divine magic the scars left by the bite of the maw had left the Corsair with gruesome scars that would win him few admirers but would probably leave others thinking twice about crossing a man who could take such scars and survive to tell of it. Two whole days passed in resting and healing, before the Ashen Blades steeled themselves to enter the burial mound once more.

Burial Mound of Maedredhor Session #2
Tell you what, let’s go back to the original plan…

The Blades had taken the short journey to reach the ruins of the Takron Galtos prison. A cautious investigation of the south wall revealed an open courtyard on the other side of a wall in pretty poor repair. Entering and looking around the party disturbed four giant rhagodessa. The party were easily up to the task and dealt with the misshapen arachnids in less than a minute. The rhagodessa nest proved to be disappointingly empty of treasure and even more disappointingly full of rhagodessa leavings, but the Blades pressed through, kicked open a jammed oaken door and started up a corridor that appeared to be on the outside eastern wall of the prison complex.
Some fifteen or twenty minutes of carefully traversing the corridor led to a small room with multiple exits. While doing Ashen Blades stuff to the doors (randomly listening, trap checking and kicking in) a loud buzzing, as if of large flying insects was heard. The kicked-in door was quickly jammed back into place and the Nightblade peered through a crack to identify the source. A swam of enormous carnivorous flies had followed the party up the corridor and were now angrily buzzing outside the tiny room, keen for a tasty lunch of human with a smattering of demi-human to taste. The party chose not to entice the insects and pushed on intending to explore the outer areas of the prison before breaking for the inside.
The Blades entered a smaller slightly overgrown courtyard that may have once been the eastern gate but was now entirely open to the elements. The Nightblade and Corsair headed outside properly to get a feel for the outside walls intending to use this information to help decide on course of action while inside the prison. The actions of the Blades in investigating the area disturbed a pair of burrowing ankhegs, which travelled underground like a scene from Tremors, straight past the Nightblade and Corsair. They came up inside the courtyard surprising the Bladedancer and Spellsword. The Bladedancer narrowly avoided the cruel mandibles of one of the beasts but the other closed its mandibles firmly around the legs of the Spellsword, crushing his armour with tremendous strength. The creatures were quickly set upon by the remaining members of the party and dispatched before the Spellsword could be turned into a squishy, edible mess by the acidic digestive juices. Grievously wounded, the Spellsword needed the ministrations of the Craftpriest to heal some of the damage.
The party continued with the plan of moving up the eastern wall and the next room contained three recently deceased bodies. A combination of medical and theological knowledge identified the cause of death as most likely energy drain. The Blades took the precaution of decapitating the bodies before stealing anything they could from the remains.
As they continued out of the room, a noticeable drop in temperature could be perceived. According to the Bladedancer, this indicated a forsaken place, a sinkhole of Chaos. The Blades took up a defensive formation, while the nearest door was checked and kicked-in. The dungeon bashing failed but disturbed the Spectre on the other side, which came through the door and travelled insubstantially through the Corsair, chilling him to the bone and inflicting an energy drain. The Anti-paladin bravely stood his ground hoping his newly discovered magical sword would have a significant effect. The Bladedancer and Craftpriest tried to rebuke the foul creature but failed. The rest of the party broke and ran for the outside hoping that the Spectre was tied to the grounds of the prison or would be debilitated by the sunlight in the courtyard.
The Anti-paladin got in a solid hit, but as the rest of the Blades abandoned him to his fate, he recognised that discretion was the better part of valour and he undertook a fighting withdrawal to allow himself to escape. The Spectre clawed insubstantially at the Anti-paladin but failed to make contact not once, but twice. The party escaped the confines of the prison and decided as a group that discretion should win out. Consoling, and then murdering, the mad priest who had led them to Takron Galtos, they cut for the Castellan’s Keep and some required rest and recuperation.
Having healed and rested, the party then returned to their original expedition, setting out once more for the Burial place of the dead elf. Barely out of sight of the Castellan’s Keep, the party came across a warband of ogres travelling north-west at some pace. The ogre’s failed to notice the Blades and so the party opted not to parlay or engage them.
The Blades travelled on to Deerbye, where the Anti-paladin had to be restrained from taking revenge on the man who had once humiliated him in a bar brawl. As the Anti-paladin’s plan involved hunting down the bar patrons, barman and then burning down the Church of the Auld Faith, the party decided to dissuade him. Although efforts were made to secure a guide or some hirelings, no-one would volunteer, so the Blades set out once more following the River Derwent into the depths of the Sherwood Forest.
As they were searching out a likely spot to camp near the river bank, a pack of wolves attacked. Although a couple of horses were wounded (and their riders thrown), a Sleep spell and some deft sword work quickly reduced the pack to a lone wolf that ran off into the undergrowth. Setting up camp led to no further encounters or troubles through the night and the Blades got a deserved night’s rest.
Morning dawned and the party rose intending to strike for the hills. With the Nightblade navigating the Blades set off. But, barely two hours from the river but still deep in the forest the Blades came across a large warband of orcs. A swift headcount identified at least five dozen warriors. Weighing up their options, the party opted to prepare for an all out attack…

Burial Mound of Maedredhor Session #1
... or let's do the Castellan's Keep and some prison ruins instead

The Ashen Blades had completed their preparations for a long journey east towards Nottenham. The fragmentary clues on the treasure map suggested a trip north of Sherwood Forest into the hills on the edge of Peacsaete. Travelling through the well-worn trails of the Wyre Forest the Blades were barely three days into their journey when they encountered a patrol of beastmen wolf riders from the Castellan’s Keep. A short parley avoids any unpleasantness and the party opts to spend the evening in the Castellan’s Keep.
Asking around for “rumours” at the tavern bar the band discover that the Castellan is away (they knew that), he was accompanied by his witch, but his sorcerer was off on some other quest. Details were sketchy and before more could be learned, three goblin mercenaries approached the Dwarven Craftpriest while he was drinking the rat’s piss that passed for ale in these parts. One of the goblins uttered the dire threat “Hey, you” and was instantly slain by a Choking Grip from the Spellsword. The whole thing degenerated rapidly from there. The Bladedancer used quiet magic to cast Darkness, the Anti-Paladin went berserk and the Craftpriest decided that he would “save the goblins from the Anti-Paladin”, by killing as many of them as he could. The Spellsword, Bladedancer, swashbuckling Fighter and Nightblade took advantage of the magical darkness to locate safety, although for the Fighter that was in the rafters with a bottle of the bar’s finest rot-gut. Meanwhile, the Anti-Paladin was having the time of his life. Cleaving with wild abandon he left a trail of two goblins, two orcs, seven mercenaries and the barman in his wake. Barely a minute into the fracas and the Castellan’s guard arrived. Recognising magic when they saw it they sent for help from the Inner Keep. Five of the Castellan’s ruinguard and seven of the Temple’s anti-paladins turned up to clean up the mess. A Dispel Magic and the threat of the Black Lore quickly quietened the already surrendering bar room.
The consequences of the Anti-Paladin’s actions caught up with him. Having grievously wounded the barman, who subsequently required the ministrations of the Nightblade and the priests of the Temple of Asmodeus, the Anti-Paladin was made to face the Temple inquisition. His impassioned speech saved him from a vicious fate but still did not go down well. Killing a significant proportion of the remaining soldiery of the Keep did not wear well. Casting a Geas, the High Priest inculcated a pressing need to return the most powerful magic item located in the Burial Mound of Maedredhor to the Temple at the Castellan’s Keep.
Meanwhile, the Bladedancer used her feminine wiles and a little divine magic (Fellowship) to befriend a crazed man the Blades remembered vaguely from a previous visit. The man was pleading for the Bladedancer’s help. According to his ranting, his boys had been killed and somebody needed to help him. The Craftpriest used his recently acquired Medallion of ESP to read some backstory straight from the mendicant’s mind. He was a cleric and had led a party to a ruined prison complex not far from the Keep. Undead creatures of various descriptions had assailed the group. They had fought bravely to a location deep within the prison where some shadowy creature of the Netherworld had slaughtered the rest of his party. The cleric’s mind had broken and he had fled in terror. He had ever since been begging at the Castellan’s Keep. In keeping with the Blades goldfish like attention span, the expedition was quickly abandoned and they set out for the Prison of Takron Galtos instead…

Into the Barrow Downs Session #5...
... and Out of the Barrow Downs Session #6

The heroes having dispatched the stirges and werewolves, they set about patching themselves up and checking the rest of the barrow. The first burial chamber had an empty kist with some rotten and worthless grave goods, and the party was quick to move on. The chamber at the end of the long corridor had some indecipherable pictograms on the door and a strange four armed bone fetish in a niche to the side of the entrance. A short discussion and the door was quickly pulled aside.
In the chamber were two tall (six or seven feet) metal statues which were pitted and scarred from some sort of wear but showed no sign of tarnish or rust. There were also three more kists. Carefully, the Ashen Blades spread out across the chamber and examined the statues and the kist coverings. The Anti-Paladin attempted to remove one of the statues weapons, and barely perceptibly at first, both started to come to life. The Blades leapt into action, engaging the nearest statue in melee, while trying to discourage the other with missile fire. Less than a minute into the combat, the kist coverings started to move, and the fetid claws of three wights could be seen as they attempted to emerge from the kists. The Nightblade quickly imbibed a potion of undead control and induced the wights to fight the statues. While the foul undead had no effect on the statues (the animated statues had been placed explicitly to prevent the wights from arising), they provided a significant distraction for the remaining combat. After the statues had been destroyed, the wights were sent far away using the remaining duration to put as much distance as possible between the wights and the party.
The final chamber, which led off the wight burial chamber was more ornate and had a more significant burial kist. Inside the kist was a well preserved, but long dead body, and a range of expensive grave goods. Swiftly gathering up their ill-gotten gains the party retired to the empty barrow and prepared to wait out the night.
The night brought more trouble. A gang of ogres arrived down in the vale and examined the various carcasses. They then set up camp barely a hundred feet from the entrance to the Ashen Blades’ bolt hole. Making a plan the party sent out the Nightblade and Hench-thief to assassinate the ogre watch. While they both managed to get their shots off, the ogre survived the attack and awoke his brutish brethren. The rest of the party charged down the hill, casting Sleep at any target of opportunity and engaging the sleep-addled ogres in melee. The combat was short and sweet and the ogres were despatched.
The trip back to Deerbye was eventful. The caravan of horses, beastmen and adventurers attracted the attention of a solitary wyvern and a hungry cave bear. Both were despatched as quickly as possible with prayers to various gods that only one of each of the creatures actually tracked the party.
The Blades used some downtime in Deerbye to hire an expensive sage to translate some scrolls, do some research on a magic item command word and learn a new spell. They also sold off a pile of goods. Finishing up their tasks in Deerbye they then returned to Hommlet and the repaired Moathouse. The hobgoblin Legio XX Valeria Victrix is now encamped outside Hommlet and several hundred mercenaries, human and beastman, have arrived with the Castellan.
Recruitment of mercenaries for the Moathouse garrison is slow (only four crossbowmen and four infantry were available to hire). Alex Dai has outgrown his employer and the local Thieves guild and has left the Ashen Blades for Rixham. Dranet the hench-fighter has now been placed in command of the Moathouse garrison and preparations are underway for a new expedition to Pecsaete and the Elven Barrow discovered on one of the treasure maps.

Into the Barrow Downs Session #4
Shouldn't we be on our way home by now?

Having defeated the bugbear marauders, taken their treasure and recruited the survivors, the Ashen Blades recognised that some rest and recuperation would be necessary. A night was spent bedding down in the bugbear burrows, but during the night a pack of wolves arrived and started scavenging from the carcasses that had been carelessly thrown down the hill towards the pond.
With over a dozen wolves and some badly injured fighters it became apparent that a plan would be needed. The plan involved Sleep spells and targeted bow shots at the alpha male pack leader. The plan started well. The first Sleep spell affected 6 of the beasts, the shots across the dale generally found their mark and the alpha male took some arrow wounds. The morale of the pack was uncertain, until the last shot of the volley killed the alpha male and sent his bitch and the rest of the pack into a frenzy. The wolves came loping across the dale heading straight for the cave mouth when the second Sleep spell went off. The rest of the pack dropped in a slumberous heap and were quickly despatched when it became apparent that the Anti-Paladin could treat the wolves for the effect of Sleep and arrow wounds, but couldn’t train one. Some curative magic was cast, but again it seemed likely that another day’s rest would be necessary.
The day passed with little event, but again during the night, some creatures arrived in the night. The bestial, bipedal creatures were quickly identified as werewolves who, upon discovering the slaughter of the pack set up a howl to call more wolves to the dale. While the wolves were arriving the party set a fighting line and sowed the corridor with caltrops. Interestingly these caltrops magically appeared because nowhere in Wrekin sells them and no-one had arranged for their production. As the first of the wolves entered, the Nightblade prematurely released and wasted a silver arrow on an ordinary wolf. The wolves struggled crossing the caltrops and were slowly worn down by bow shot and the occasional stab when they came within range. As it became apparent that the werewolves were about to join the fray, the Spellsword cast his Stinking Cloud and all three lycanthropes failed their saves. They backed out of the caverns, but the remaining wolves were more confused. Three were finished off in combat while two were confused and badly affected by the noxious smoke. The outcome was foregone.
Applauding their own efforts the Blades set off across the dale to the barrow entrance. Time wasted detecting the presence of good identified the menhir entrance stones as “good” in some way and barely inside the barrow entrance a body, desiccated, bloodless and with several significant holes pierced in his leather armour was discovered by the hench-thief. In his backpack three scroll cases and some equipment in poor repair were discovered. The first case contained a wand of some sort, while the other two contained maps and notes written in an ancient tongue. The Blades moved a short way up the passage to a stone-marked entrance in the left wall. Listening carefully against the stone the Nightblade discovered that the stone was badly propped and it nearly fell on him. Meanwhile, the Anti-Paladin having determined that there was no more good within 20’ of the last place he detected good, threw a lit torch towards a stirge’s nest. They swarmed the Anti-Paladin and his hunting dog scoring two hits and latching on to drain blood. As the rest of the Blades turned back, three familiar bestial shapes appeared outlined in the entrance to the barrow. The werewolves had returned!
The combat was yet another where Sleep spells proved their worth. The stirges were despatched by the party, although not before the Anti-Paladin was practically drained. Two of the werewolves were dropped by Sleep spells, while the last fell to a well-placed bowshot and a backstab attack from the Nightblade, having made yet another acrobatic leap. The Blades picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, and prepared for whatever may await them further up the barrow.

Into the Barrow Downs Session #3
Bugbears sir, thousands of them…

Settling down for the night, the Blades arranged a watch, hobbled the horses in one of the barrow chambers and cleared out the beetle carcasses while blocking up various sources of entrance and egress. Their careful preparations paid off. During the third watch, the Nightblade’s keen elven ears detected the muffled sound of beetle carcasses and incomprehensible language on the other side of the barrow’s entrance stone. He woke the Corsair, seeking to allow the spell casters as much rest time as possible. Listening more carefully, the aware members of the Blades prepared a counter-ambush.
When all was ready the Nightblade pushed out the stone covering the barrow entrance on top of two bugbears. In the night-time gloom another eight or nine of the beastmen were visible. With a strange, raspy battle cry and mention of eight pieces the Corsair leapt at the nearest bugbear that wasn’t resting under a couple of hundredweight of stone. The Nightblade swiftly despatched the trapped bugbears and before most of the rest of the Ashen Blades were ready, the bugbears morale broke and they fled back up the vale. Keen eyed, the Nightblade noted that they appeared to be heading to a higher roughly shaped cave or barrow entrance further up the side of the valley.
After some preparation, some astute scouting by the Nightblade and hench-thief and a carefully laid plan the Ashen Blades undertook a counter-attack on the bugbear’s lair. A half dozen of the creatures were guarding the lair entrance but failed to spot the Nightblade until it was too late and all the Blade’s with missile weapons had taken at least a shot. The party then formed a shield wall with the Spellsword and Corsair in the front rank, the Bladedancer, hench-thief and Nightblade in the second. The warriors and Bladedancer stabbed at combatant bugbears, while the Thief and Nightblade took shots at targets of opportunity. The combat was hard fought but the Ashen Blades definitely had the advantage. In the end, the bugbear champion stepped into the fray and sent a minion back into the lair to summon reinforcements. It was at this point that the most memorable of all combat actions occurred. After seventeen campaign sessions and an estimated forty or fifty combat encounters the Nightblade passed an Acrobatics roll, slipped between the legs of the bugbear champion and delivered a crippling surprise backstab. There was cheering, there was applauding, there was a realisation that the shiny sword was in fact a magical sword. Congratulations were short-lived because it was painfully obvious that more bugbears were coming and the Blades best warriors were sorely wounded and nearly exhausted. Plans were set and the Blades prepared.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the bugbear warband arrived with their remaining champions and chieftain. The fighting now became even more brutal, but two Sleep spells and some deft blade work resulted in two bugbears, a champion and the chieftain surrendering after eight of their compatriots had been permanently put to sleep with extreme prejudice (and a serrated two handed sword). Offering all their wealth and some information about the remaining barrow, the Blades extracted promises of future service, although the bugbears refused to enter the last barrow with its living metal men and numerous ghosts…

Into the Barrow Downs Session #2
Is that a blood filled giant leech on your leg, or are you just pleased to see me?

The Downs above Deerbye are closer to bad-lands and moorland than the rolling hills of North Aeron. Consequently, although the horses were brought on the expedition, much of the time the beasts had to be led rather than ridden to avoid the risk of laming. A likely local had pointed out that he knew a small valley where at least one decent sized Barrow was. Hired as both guide and horse-handler he led the Ashen Blades north.
Just as camp was being set up, two men came upon the group unawares. Threatening and seeking a couple of horses, the brigands had made a shocking miscalculation. One was quickly smashed into the ground by the Anti-Paladin’s wicked morning star, while the other succumbed to the Spellsword’s Choking Grip. Released from the Grip the brigand surrendered and was offered a spot in the Blades as a damage prevention operative (read “meat shield”), which he took. The Blades discovered that he and his erstwhile colleague were from a larger group but a “disagreement” had led them to leave the other brigands.
The next morning, the Blades discovered the oasis that the guide had promised. A stream ran down of the hills and created a pool in the floor of the valley which was perhaps sixty or seventy yards across and some one hundred and fifty yards deep. In the contoured sides of the vale were at least three visible cave or barrow entrances. While the rest of the Blades provisioned the horse-holder and gave instructions to head back along the track a couple of miles for safety, the Anti-Paladin chose to investigate the pool.
Starting with an effort to discern through divine revelation whether or not there was any benevolence in the pool, before graduating to splashing and throwing rocks in the water, the Anti-Paladin achieved little except to disturb four giant leeches. One of the leeches was quickly pin cushioned by the rest of the Blades while the Anti-Paladin and his trusty dog fought off the rest. It rapidly became apparent that the Anti-Paladin had bitten off more than he could chew and the rest of the group joined the fray. The Corsair, Anti-Paladin and Dranet the hench-warrior were all attacked or had blood drained, and the Anti-Paladin was so grievously afflicted that he needed divine healing from the Bladedancer not once but twice. The leeches were eventually destroyed, but the Blades resources were seriously depleted. Nearly an hour spent dredging the pool with rope and grapple produced nothing except pondweed and detritus, much to the disappointment of both he Corsair and Nightblade.
The Blades then opted to investigate the nearest cave opening, both to seek possible treasure and also ensure a secure campsite for overnight. The opening did turn out to be a Barrow entrance, but the first three chambers proved to be suspiciously empty and seemingly unused. A brief encounter with some stirges that had come through the barrow entrance put the Blades more on their guard.
The last chamber however proved to be full of dungeon vermin in the form of nine giant bombardier beetle, each three feet long with vicious, piercing mandibles. A Sleep spell quickly cast three of the creatures into an arcane slumber. Forming a fighting line in the doorway, the Spellsword, Corsair, Nightblade and Bladedancer fought off the pests. The Corsair was especially unlucky. Not only was he sprayed with the caustic toxins of these bugs, but he was bitten several times. Finishing off the beetles revealed that this chamber had several dozen of the bone figurines sold as wraith charms in Deerbye and a beautifully crafted and unblemished sword.
At this point, the Ashen Blades recalled their horse-holder/guide and, securing the barrow entrance, settled down for the night.

Into the Barrow Downs Session #1
Those damned ogre’s again!

After accumulating whatever equipment they could from Furnok of Ferd at very reasonable, almost Guild, prices the party set off. Once more camping on the edge of the Wyre Forest, a careful watch was kept for ogres and pegasi. True to form, as they travelled into the forest the next morning, they came across a gang of ogres finishing off a small group of bandits.
The encounter could have quickly turned into a slaughter. The ogres had already killed four of the bandits and despatched a fifth as the party arrived. The sixth bandit got lucky and ran off into the deep undergrowth. The rest of the ogres rumbled towards the Ashen Blades, but were brought to heel by a judicious casting of Stinking Cloud. One ogre was then put to Sleep, while the others were dealt with over several minutes while coughing, spluttering and spewing their guts up. Apart from a brief incident where the foolhardy Bladedancer entered the Stinking Cloud to fight in hand-to-hand before she too succumbed to the vile and noxious vapours, there was little damage to the party. The sleeping ogre when revived proved to be recalcitrant in the manner of previous encounters proclaiming that no true mortal harm could befall anyone while Granite protects. Again, the Anti-Paladin harangued the party over tracking down what must obviously be an ogre lair somewhere near, but the party were keen not to spend the night in the forest and made for the Castellan’s Keep.
At the Keep, some more provisioning was undertaken and some rumours were picked up. The previous party heading for the Barrow Downs had not returned through the Keep and a lone raving lunatic had arrived screaming about death and loss. His wretched carcass was sleeping rough by the Thrassian’s pit. The garrison were taking bets on when he would fall in and be massacred. Taking what they could buy, the Ashen Blades then headed out to Deerbye, a short trip north east cross the plain.
Deerbye is, frankly, a dump. Most people are followers of the Auld Faith and eke out pitiable livelihoods in whatever farming or crafts they can pursue. Asking around, it was discovered that there is a fairly brisk trade of adventuring groups passing through to the Barrow Downs, but most guides, through either fear or ineptitude, couldn’t locate a pristine Barrow for love nor money.
While yet more provisioning and some rumour mongering were going on, the Anti-Paladin and Corsair managed to get into a bar brawl with a barman and some of his patrons. The fight was not going so well for the Anti-Paladin until the Corsair intervened. The Corsair’s blow felled an assailant, breaking his jaw and knocking out several teeth. Before any sort of hue and cry could be raised, the miscreant Anti-Paladin and Corsair beat a hasty retreat back to the rest of the Blades.
Bedding down overnight in another inn, our intrepid band set out next morning seeking adventure.

Castellan’s Keep Session #3
A very expensive fixer-upper…

The party delivered the Castellan’s demands to the Deva Legion command in Hommlet. After nearly a day they were tasked with returning once more through the Wyre Forest to the Keep. This time they would deliver the Legatus’ acquiescence to the Castellan’s commands and return to Hommlet with an itinerary.
In the event the trip was largely uneventful. Travelling by newly acquired legion horses, they made it to the Wyre Forest, where again some ogres were encountered. This time only two of the creatures were carefully observing the party. A parley was short and reasonably diplomatic with the ogres declining to join the party, entreating the party instead with the simple platitude that “Granite protects”. Having delivered the message and got the information the Legatus needed, the Ashen Blades force marched their way back to Hommlet and avoided any encounters.
The next few days were spent in talks with Legion functionaries, establishing the latest rumours, arranging for the Ruined Moathouse to be restored to its former glory (an expensive proposition) and deciding what to do next. The newly joined Anti-Paladin thought that Chainspire Fortress should be scouted, but the rest of the party felt that the coming war could make things dangerous along the banks of the Dee. Instead they opted to follow a rumour picked up in the Tavern at the Castellan’s Keep. An expedition to the Barrow Downs near Deerbye was underway!

Castellan's Keep Session #2
By god, that's a lot of teeth

One final night time encounter with Giant Bats was quickly dispatched. While the rest of the party were murdering innocents flying mammals, the Bladedancer made a new friend, by charming one of the creatures. Christened “Charmy” the beast wasn’t much use as the bladedancer couldn’t actually communicate with it. However, it did follow the party from the edge of the Wyre Forest to the Castellan’s Keep and was spotted roosting in one of the trees in the Outer Bailey.
On the approach to the keep itself, two old acquaintances were encountered leading a mule with a strange package across its back. Only a couple of the party recognised the former owners of the Hommlet Mercantile, but the remaining gnolls recognised the SoB’s that had gone through the warband like a dose of salts. The encounter quickly degenerated and the ensuing combat aroused the interest of the beastmen guards (a mix of orc heavy infantry and goblin beast riders) as well as the captain of the guard. After the melee, where judicious use of Choking Grip disabled the enemy fighter, several of the party were badly injured and the bard had been mortally wounded and lost a hand. The bodies of the miscreants, as well as that of Lareth the Beautiful (for it was he strapped to the back of the mule), were dumped unceremoniously into the moat.
Once inside the party fulfilled their legal obligations, having been fined for committing an affray on the grounds of the Keep, and then sought an audience with the Castellan himself. The discussion was somewhat one-sided as only the Castellan knew the details of the message sent from Hommlet, but eventually a two-part deal was struck. In exchange for Chainspire Fortress, the Castellan would render all the aid he could. However, the spellsword had suggested that together, the party and the Castellan could rule South Cheshire as father and son. In order to seal this bargain the bard would fight the Keep’s tame pit-slave. In exchange for converting to the worship of Asmodeus, all his mortal injuries would be healed and by proving himself a worthy fighter the Castellan would judge the deal to take everything for themselves as a worthwhile one.
Through the night, an awful lot of plotting and planning took place in an effort to forestall the fight, ensure a massive advantage for the bard, or just kill the pit-slave. The pit-slave proved to be a Thrassian gladiator from the old days of the Tropilium Empire. In the end, the spellsword cast and maintained Choking Grip for as long as he could before the party was discovered. Pretending to be drunk and simply baiting and taunting the lizardmen, the party got away with their subterfuge.
In the morning, a company of orcs made a makeshift arena with their shields and under the watchful eye of the Castellan, his closest advisers and a couple of dozen arbalest-armed guards, the contest began. It turned out to be massively one sided. Even with the reduction from the Choking Grip, the pit-slave’s talents for maiming and killing were immense. The bard’s net and thrown spear both missed and, even in close, the fight was a foregone conclusion. Raking the bard’s chest four times with vicious claws, the gladiator bit through the bard’s spine and left him paralysed and bleeding to death in the dirt of the Keep’s courtyard.
As the party left to complete their diplomatic mission and return the Castellan’s decision to the hobgoblins at Hommlet, they are joined by a fresh-faced and idealistic paladin of Asmodeus, the Chaotic patron of Tyranny and Power.


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