The party emerges from the shores of the lake holding the city of Calipha and searches for their horses. Lock thanks the party profusely for helping him escape the Feywild prison. Erik asks Lock if he knows anything about the pregnant women being escorted into the ‘Nursery’ building in Calipha. Lock somberly relates that, in his time in the city, he saw many pregnant women taken away before giving birth. They returned a month or two later, childless, and had no memory of being pregnant. Lock has pieced together that the spirit powering the city requires life energy to survive. He believes any children born in the city are taken to the spirit to be consumed. The mothers are then held for a time until their memories are fully erased. The party shutters at this practice and are thankful they were able to escape the city of Calipha.
Searching through the forest, the party finds the bodies of their horses where they had left them, but they appear to have been dead for a very long time. Rather than fresh corpses, the party only finds skeletons half-buried in the underbrush of the forest. Fargrim confirms again his suspicions of the Feywild, grumbling that hundreds of years have likely passed while the party was in the city. Lock doesn’t know how much time has passed for the party, but he is certain the world that he knew is no more. He pledges his services as a researcher and a scholar to the party, saying he is in their debt and that he will help them in anyway he can in the future.
The Keystone Mortalis
The party enters a small clearing in the forest and, suddenly, a female humanoid appears in a swirl of shadows before the party. They recognize her as a Shadar-kai. The party recalls the group of Shadar-kai they found slain by goblins in the Torin Plains when they were searching for the Raven Queen statue for Lord Dread. Fargrim is happy to recall the time he took to give the Shadar-kai a proper burial, certain that action will pay dividends now. With her keen senses, the Zaza spots a number of Shadar-kai chain fighters lurking in the woods around the party.
The female Shadar-kai addresses the party, “Hail, my name is Alszeem. You are?” The party brushes aside her question, saying they are simply travelers. Alszeem chuckles at the response, saying “Very well, let us not play games. You know where the Keystone Mortalis is, and I will have it.” The party members look at each other, puzzled. Erik speaks up that they do not know what the ‘Keystone Mortalis’ is.
Alszeem laughs at this comment, “I am not entertained with whatever lies you are inclined to come up with. You could not come into contact with such an artifact without realizing it’s power. You will tell me everything you know once you are put to the rack!” She motions to the chainfighters in the woods and they rush to attack.
The chainfighters prove capable combatants, but are no match for the party. As Alszeem joins the fray, the party realizes she is a witch, and is a very formidable opponent. She surrounds herself with an aura of writhing shadows and makes herself a very difficult target. However, the party makes short work of the chainfighters, leaving Alszeem as the only remaining enemy. Realizing the battle is lost, Alszeem calls out that she will be seeing the party again, and that they will deliver the Keystone Mortalis to her. She then smashes a glass orb of swirling dark shadows at her feet and disappears in a puff of black smoke.
The party discuss the incident briefly, concluding that their best guess is that the Keystone Mortalis is the black Raven Queen statue they delivered to Lord Dread. Having handily fended off Alszeem’s attack, the party isn’t too concerned with addressing the matter at the time being. They are much more interested in returning to Verind’s Edge and discovering how much time has passed while they were caught in the mists of the Feywild.
Without horses, the going will be a little slower, but the party expects about a three or four week journey back to Verind’s Edge. Along the way, the party notices that the seasons have changed. They entered the city of Calipha at the start of winter, but now it feels more like the end of summer. With the free time, the party also has a chance to inspect some items they picked up a little further. They realize that Donenly’s magic talisman functions as an Amulet of Distortion. Also, one night Invicto is studying the demon fangs he picked up from the creatures that attacked the seer of Io, Missyus, when he is approached by Lock. The halfling mentions that he has some training in ritual magic and alchemy, and he believes he knows how to use the demon fangs to enchant a suit of armor. Invicto lets him go to work, and Lock transforms Invicto’s leather armor into a magical suit of Fire Resistant armor.
The party finally in arrives in Verind’s Edge. The city seems to be in a similar state to what they left it in, if maybe a little busier. They don’t recognize the gate guards, but after entering the city they spy some soldiers they do recognize who greet them with stunned looks. One of them approaches – Old Breddy, a soldier the party knows somewhat well, who has spent a few late nights in a tavern with the party. Old Breddy lives up to his name – he’s an older soldier who likely should have retired years ago, but he still has a very impressive stamina when it comes to ale.
“We thought you were dead for sure!” Old Breddy greets the party. The party assures him they are very much alive. “What kept you away for so long, then? You came back just in time for the war!”
“War?” the party asks in unison.
“Where’ve you been? A goblinoid army and that stone beast, the Arinfax Colossus, are marching through the Torin Plains and will arrive in three or four days…”
From Jarrob’s description, the party would guess the watchtower housing the Energy Array is roughly three or four days travel from the city, giving them no time to waste in reaching the Energy Array to defend against the Arinfax Colossus. The party thanks Old Breddy and rushes to the palace to bring Davos their news.
On their way to the palace, the party runs into numerous other soldiers and townsfolk that recognize them, all giving them shocked looks along with a few awkward hails. The party heads into the palace expecting to find preparations for war, but they come across what appears to be decorations for a party in the main courtyard. Streamers and flowers are arranged throughout, and servants are bustling about preparing tables of food and drink. The party spots Mujeh, the Goliath bard, helping out in the courtyard and they stop to speak with him. He is amazed to see the party, and he echoes the common sentiment of being sure they were dead. The party asks just how long it’s been since they left.
Mujeh ponders for a bit, “I remember last seeing you at the dinner party with the Emperor and the Queen, then you headed out shortly after that. That was about nine months ago now.” Erik feels a tremor run along his spine.
The party asks him what the preparations are for.
“Obviously battle is on its way, but the Emperor wanted to take time to have a small celebration for the new addition to the royal family! Queen Larindra just gave birth to a son.” Mujeh chuckles and lowers his voice, “Most thought that Emperor Essran wasn’t able to sire an heir, since he had been married for seven or eight years with no children, and no rumors of any bastards. But I guess something magical happened nine months ago, ‘cause the Queen has delivered a healthy baby boy.” Erik feels the blood rush from his head, knowing very well where he was nine months ago, but he manages to keep his composure at the revelation that he is apparently a father. The rest of the party simply nods at the news and moves on to asking Mujeh about the goblinoid army approaching the city, and the Arinfax Colossus.
Mujeh confirms that the goblinoid army is due to arrive in a few days. Various goblin and orc tribes have banded together and are marching behind the Arinfax Colossus, which is making its way through the Torin Plains, headed directly towards Verind’s Edge. Scouts’ reports confirm that the Colossus is a terrible monstrosity – a massive stone creature, taller than the city’s walls, that looks quite capable of smashing Verind’s Edge to bits. Nonetheless, preparations are being made to defend the city, and all able-bodied men within the Emperor’s domain have been brought to the city.
“Unfortunately,” Mujeh adds, “there is no aid coming from the rest of the Boundary Lands, thanks to Sir Uthrin. Uthrin has disputed scouting reports of the Arinfax Colossus, and he insists that the goblinoid army is only a small contingent of a few tribes that Verind’s Edge should be able to fend off without aid. He has claimed that Emperor Essran’s request for additional troops is a ploy to gather forces for an assault on Uthrin himself. He’s used all of his political clout to gather support for his view of the situation, and, on top of that, he has pledged to attack any troops moving through his fiefdom to ‘aid’ Verind’s Edge.”
The party realizes there is little hope for the city without reaching the Energy Array, so they bid farewell to Mujeh and seek out Court Wizard Davos. He is busy constructing arcane defenses for the city, but turns from his work when the party arrives. They quickly explain where they have been for the past nine months, and Davos readily grasps the potential time-warping effects of the Feywild. They move past the pleasantries, and share with him their news of the Energy Array, and its potential to defeat the Arinfax Colossus. Davos is ecstatic at the news, and he rushes to speak with the Emperor about the situation.
He returns shortly, and tells the party to quickly make preparations to journey to the watchtower housing the Energy Array. Davos is in the middle of defense preparations, and he regrettably admits that it would be a huge loss to the city for him to leave now. In the event that the party is unsuccessful, or if they cannot reach the Array before the army arrives, Davos feels he must stay by the Emperor’s side to help defend the city as best he can. The party has proved very capable thus far, and it seems the fortunes of the Empire must ride on their shoulders.
Fargrim grumbles about the hazard pay they were to receive, but Davos apologizes that the treasury is frozen due to the coming war and he cannot pay them anything now. However, he assures the party that they will be rewarded beyond their wildest dreams if they can destroy the Arinfax Colossus and save the city.
Before leaving, Erik pays a quick visit to the Queen’s quarters. He is greeted by a servant who asks what business he has with Queen Larindra. Erik insists that the servant simply tell the Queen that ‘Erik’ wishes to speak with her and the she will know who he is. The servant complies, but retuns to tell Erik that the Queen is very busy with preparations for the celebration and that she cannot speak with him right now, perhaps in a few days she can make time. Erik insists that he must leave the city immediately and needs to speak with the Queen before leaving, but his pleas get him nowhere. Erik gets the message and decides to leave the matter be for now.
The party requisitions a fresh batch of horses and heads out of the city. Given the poor fate of every other batch of horses the party has requisitioned, some of the party members feel a more personal connection with their horse might help it survive the trials ahead. They feel that if they simply give them names to make them more memorable their chances for survival will improve. Some party members like this idea, and some don’t, so only three horses get names. The Zaza bestows the name ‘New Breddy’ on her steed. Erik goes with ‘Tim’, and Fargrim names his mount ‘Seabiscuit’. The party quickly crosses the flat plains north of the city and a day and a half later they reach the foothills of the mountains and journey into them to seek out the Energy Array.
The Dead Hand Bandits
After another day’s travel up into the mountains, the party is winding their way through a narrow canyon with steep sides, when a figure appears in their path up ahead. He appears to be human and has two long, wicked-looking knives dangling from his belt.
He calls out to the party, “Are you lost?”
The party replies with a curt, “No.”
“You should be careful. You know, you’re in the territory of the Dead Hand Bandits. They are known to be a cruel bunch, and I should know since I’m one of them.”
The party is not impressed and Charm calls out, “We’re just passing through.”
The man replies, “Very well. You just need to pay the toll and you can be on your way. All of the equipment and money you have should do.”
The party scoffs. The bandit motions and several other bandits emerge from hiding places around the canyon. In all, the party sees five bandits armed with swords on the canyon floor with them, in addition to the bandit leader wielding his two long knives. The party also sees five bandit archers along the rim of the canyon above. This appears to be a tough fight, but the party is confident they can handle the bandits and be on their way.
Most interestingly, however, the party recognizes one of the sword-wielding bandits. He is Raver, the brutish villager the party imprisoned in the town of Ramshead for murdering Igris. He escaped imprisonment while the party was away, hunting the Tentacle Flayers that had been attacking the village. Raver recognizes the party as well and calls out to them, “You’re the bastards who ran me out of that village. I’m gonna enjoy taking my vengeance on you!” The party is just as excited at the chance to put Raver to the sword, something they wished they’d done back in Ramshead.
Battle is joined and the party finds the bandits are very adept fighters who work well together. The archers are especially lethal, and the party bristles at their inability to reach them up on the canyon’s rim. Nonetheless, they focus on taking down the sword-wielding bandits on the canyon floor with them. They are able to quickly drop a few of the bandits, but the party is hard-pressed to remain in the fight. Most devastating is the bandit leader. Weaving through the fray with his two long knives, he repeatedly dishes out numerous vicious cuts in a blur of steel. It’s not long before the tide has turned against the party. Charm and Erik are quickly unconscious on the ground, and The Zaza and Fargrim are soon to follow.
Before she falls, however, The Zaza steps up to engage Raver. He bellows for the dragonborn to come to her death, and The Zaza doesn’t bat an eye. His blow glances off her shield, and she responds by bringing her battleaxe down in a vicious overhand chop that crushes through Raver’s skull and splits his head in two like a ripe pumpkin. She feels a grim sense of satisfaction just before a volley of arrows drops her to the earth.
The party is able to take out all but one of the sword-wielding bandits, but Invicto is left with five bandit archers training arrows on him, as well as the bandit leader moving to engage, so he makes the best of the situation and offers surrender. The bandits disarm him and the rest of the party. They do bandage the wounds of the fallen party members, apparently planning to take them prisoner, though to what end Invicto does not know. The bandits bind the hands and feet of each party member, then load them all into a nearby wagon and trek a few hours through the mountains.
As night falls, they reach what appears to be the bandits’ base of operations, though Invicto is the only one conscious to see it. Firelight fills a bustling cave entrance that is packed with many more bandits reveling with food and drink. He waits to see what the Dead Hand Bandits have in store for them, hoping the rest of the party wakes up soon.