A rainy day in Thunderstone had always been the single most certain way of keeping the adventurers alive — simply because, with all the roads muddy, and the cold, damp air making its way into cloak, sheath and bone, nobody was ever in a hurry to leave the vicinity of a good hearth fire.
The three grunts at the Stag Bridge guard post where certainly no different, which is why the sight of a huge lizard like creature, with luminous red eyes and a shiny morning star on its back made a complete ruin of their mood. Two of them readied their bows on the upper battlement, while the third went out the door, cautiously, sword in hand. One thing was slightly off though. The creature wasn’t chasing anyone, as was the usual situation on the Stag bridge. “Hail, good citizens of Thunderbridge”, he said instead, in a growling, loud voice.
Now, on a normal day, wearing clothes and speaking Common would be sufficient sign that a certain person was reasonably civilized. But the rainy day and the really long, double row of teeth of the creature was simply preventing any sensible Thunderstoner from lowering their defenses. “What do you want?”, said the guard with the sword. “What every adventurer wants. Shelter, adventuring directions, drinks and wenches. I’ve heard this city can provide these”. “Right”. A long pause ensued, then the swordsman sheathed the weapon, but not entirely, then called one of the two bowmen, by the name of John. Regressing to his normal job, of a clerk, John drafted two copies of a permit allowing one person to reside and carry weapons in Thunderstone. He asked for a spelling for the unusual name, Jago Sevatarion, then for the creature’s signature, then for 50 gold, the latter drawing loud protests from the newcomer and another two inches of the guards’ swords. But that was the end of it, and Jago asked for directions regarding his 4 legitimate wishes. John described briefly the town’s attractions, namely the Stone, right in the center square, the Prancing Stag, the Naked Succubus and the Bright Archon inns.
Guided more by the name than the depth of the description, Jago headed straight for the Naked Succubus, stopping just briefly near the stone, to give it what crocodiles might call a kiss. After a brief discussion with the tavern owner, he concluded that the only naked succubus he would find there was the one painted on the sign hanging outside. He settled for a horse leg, raw, preferably with some hair on it still, then left, either for lack of conversation, or just to find a bartender with a less sour mood.
Meanwhile, the Prancing Stag inn was a host for three other remarkable characters, only one of which was plain for most people to see. Weary and chilled to the bone, having been thoroughly introduced to the icy spring, for the past week or so, Bellerophon, the quiet Aasimar was drying up in front of the fire, with a hearty drink, and at the same time studying the finely coloured company of misfits populating the common room. After carefully scrying the inn’s secrets, he waved a gentle gesture towards an inconspicuous ledge of the old attic. Something seemed to stir for a second. Then the next seat at the table had a sudden new occupant.
Bellerophon greeted his guest and introduced himself. “Darius”, the other one said, “from Saeed”. He wore a plain cloak over a set of strange leather. His face was dark and his eyes deep green, but perhaps the most remarkable thing about his face was the long beard. The Aasimar offered him a cup of his own beverage, but the Xeph refused politely. “I don’t drink. I’ve lost dear ones to this vice”. Bellerophon explained why he was in Thunderstone: he was tracking a band of thieves involved in kidnapping and slavery.
The Xeph revealed he had been traveling with some lowly rogues, for concealment, but the two descriptions didn’t match. Nonetheless, there would be countless such assemblies to be found in the forest to the north, or the marsh, to the south, and the Xeph too sought them out, in the hope they would reveal clues as to the location of his missing sister.
While they were debating which direction to approach first, another two gentleman of smaller stature approached, looking for a way into the conversation. After whining about the 50 gold they had to pay in order to enter Thunderstone, they presented themselves as the humble traders Normand Chase and Norris Shadowgleam — though they seemed quite comfortable with the thought that their interlocutors would have no trouble understanding that there was more to them than met the eye. They, together with their trusty mule, were eager to sell a few ridiculously cheap and equally worthless trinkets – and to reveal the secrets of an elusive dark cult, rumored to have appeared nearby.
As they were explaining their somewhat conflicting goals, a white pigeon descended from the attic and, settling in the middle of the table, spoke in quite the charming voice: “would those cultists happen to wear a red cloak?” Then, after a moment of dense silence, just when some of the audience were beginning to fathom the Messenger of God theory, the pigeon introduced herself as Valaria Wildborn , a druid who had until recently resided in the Hullack Forest. And so it was that, two logs on the fire and several pints of cheap ale later, a fellowship was born in search of a good adventure – or rather several.
Just when they were deciding to let the day end with no drama, the inn’s door slammed open, letting in a stout dwarf, in a full plate armor squeaking from its rusty joints. He was dragging a dirty cloth bag and mumbling curses, in what can only be described as an explosively foul mood. He took something from the bag and showed it to the first table, to the awe and disgust of the occupants, then took his time repeating the scene at every other table, before arriving at the table where we dwelt earlier. As it turned out, the contents of the bag were in fact the severed head of a human with a strange tattoo on the whole face.
“D’ya know who that is?” the dwarf asked. The wise Aasimar took only a moment to see that the tattoo was written in Netherese. It took him another moment though to read nothing at all into it, as it didn’t make any sense. He freely shared the information with the dwarf, perhaps out of sheer professional courtesy, seeing as he was a Paladin, like himself. “Who are you, and where did you come about this head?” asked Normand with a naive expression. “I’m Hurdle Brasscrusher, and this head found me and me party, this mornin’, somewhere in the swamps. Killed ‘em all too, just before it woke me from my sleep. Him, couple of others and a score of undead. He seemed to be calling the shots, though, so I thought it’s his head I probably need. For identification, you understand…”
And then, the dwarf graciously jumped a few feet back, startled at the presence of a huge crocodile looking creature with bright red eyes, standing right behind him. Several minutes of curses later, the dwarf settled and asked the same question “D’ya know who that is?” poking the head towards the creature. Jago took a final bite of the hunk of meat he was carrying, glanced forward with scrutiny and growled back “Nope. But you lot seem to be heading for the marsh. I’d like to join in”.
A short interrogation later, the group decided to accompany Hurdle into the swamp, to uncover more clues as to the identity of the mysterious head. The only other notable event of the afternoon was a visit from the garrison Oversword, Faril Laheralson. The Purple Dragon Knight entered the inn, accompanied by two squires, all wearing full plate armor and bearing the order’s heralrdry. As he was a notably tall and muscular type, Jago couldn’t resist approaching him with an armwrestle challenge, which he politely, but coldly declined.
As the night descended on Thunderstone, the newly formed fellowship decided to call the day over, in wait for the morrow and the journey to the swamp. But just as each of them was finding the best place to lay down to sleep or meditation, the clouds of Thunderstone were ripped apart by rumble and blaze and the ground was engulfed in flame, screams and horror.
Some of the shouting contained the word “dragon”, so Bellerophon calmly decided their best chance was to climb atop the inn’s rooftop. There was easy access from there to any of the adjacent rooftops and the whole neighborhood was rather tall and odd shaped, giving plenty of cover and closing down the range to a probable flying menace.
And sure enough, a large shadow could be seen gliding above the clouds and above the grim landscape of the burning town. With nothing more than a shadow though, there was no good target to shoot at, so the adventurers decided to wait and prepare until the shadow would pass the closest above them. And just as soon as it was there, Norris Shadowgleam cast Glitterdust towards it, covering the creature in bright gold and nearly blinding it. At he same time, Bellerophon muttered a few words at Jago and he felt a slight hum in the air below him as he rose up from the ground. With the sense of flight in his Dragonborn wings, he charged towards the glittering dragon, hitting him with the morningstar and his scaly tail. Darius pointed a Psionic Energy Ray at it, but the majestic creature ignored it without a second thought. In the mean time, Valaria called into the wild, summoning the aid of two flying Hippogriphs, and Normand cast an illusion of two golden dragons charging at the winged foe.
Just in time for Darius and Bellerophon to step behind a brick chimney, the dragon turned towards them, ignoring the werecrock charging for its throat and released a fierce acid burning stream towards Norris. The stout halfling shouldered the hit then fell and rolled quickly into cover, trying to shake the remaining acid off his padded armor. At the sight of the horrific attack, the hippogriphs cowered and fled, even though the dragon himself was returning into the protective clouds. “A black dragon!” Bellerophon shouted. There was no doubt about it: the shape of its head, the acid breath, the size and span of its wings would quite clearly point at a black dragon.
Not a minute later, though, it was reaquiring the new and interesting targets. Ignoring another Energy Ray from Darius and the bites and hits of the flying Jago, he threw another devastating acid breath, hitting Darius this time. The more frail Xeph was struck unconcious and would surely have died, had it not been for Bellerophon who was on hand to magically close the gaping wounds. Darius woke instantly and crawled into cover, striving to clean his body of acid and burning pieces of cloth. The inn was almost in ruins, small fires were burning underneath and far towards the Dragon Keep, two more silhouettes could be distinguished, looming above a slightly more intense fight.
As the dragon turned away, to disappear once again into the cloudy night, Normand cast the Vertigo Field, causing the dragon to skew nauseated, and Bellerophon attempted to leap towards it, in an attempt to trick it into falling, but fell of the crumbling roof, into the nearby alley. With no real options of winning the fight, the others decided to run towards the Keep and join forces with the remaining garrison.
As they arrived, the situation revealed itself to be even more dire than anticipated. There where bodies everywhere, some of which were tended by other soldiers, with no real knowledge of medicine. The was no cleric or other healer around. Bellerophon took it upon himself to organize an hasty triage, use his remaining power to heal the critically wounded and rally those willing to lend a hand. Darius went into the keep, trying to find the Oversword. They ran into each other eventually – the Oversword had a huge sword in hand, but that was about the extent of his knightly appearence, lest one should consider his night gown in any way knightly. The garrison was severely weakened by the attack. What remained was quickly dispatched to the battlements, with bows, to try to fend of an impending attack.
However, what was first a rumor was now a certainty: the two dragons who hit the Keep had a very precise goal: they burned open the vault door, took something, then flew away. With all the clerics gone South for a Convent, there was no way of knowing what was stolen precisely. According to the descriptions though, the two dragons were smaller than the one who fought at the inn.
With his ability to control the flames, Darius proposed he should go and try to contain some of the major fires spreading through the town. Jago joined him immediately and they got 6 archers as escorts, plus Normand and Norris, to provide illusory cover. Normand cast an illusion of the empty street right above them and, as the large dragon passed again above them, they all shot arrows and spells against it, barely scratching its scales. At the second pass though, Darius used all his psionic prowess and unleashed a savage Ray of Electricity against the dragon. The strike burst through every defense of the dragon and nearly killed it on the spot. Severely injured, bleeding and twitching, the monster barely made for the nearest town wall, disappearing into the eastern wilderness.
Returning to the Keep, the adventurers decided to rest and heal until the morning, when they would pursue the best guess of where the dragon might be — which was the Vast Swamp to the south, the predilect lair of a black dragon.
When a murky sun dawned on the smoking town, the party gathered for the incursion into the marshes. Bellerophon, Normand, Norris, Jago, Darius and Valaria were joined by Hurdle Brasscrusher, but none of the guards could be spared and the Oversword made it quite clear that, as far as he was concerned, the mission was better used if it gathered information as to the reasons of the unexpected attack, than if it succeeded to kill the wounded dragon. The Oversword had sent a distress message to Suzail, calling for immediate reinforcement, but it was euqally urgent to determine whether or not a second attack was imminent.
With odds of encountering all three dragons in one place, a cult and a horde of undead, Bellerophon concluded that the fellowship was severely short of arms. With most of the locals still mending and healing after the attack, there would hardly be any volunteers, so he cooked up a plan to gather some more free muscle. He sent Jago to stir up some ale with the local crowd at the Naked Succubus – which, suprisingly, didn’t take a single dent from the night’s turmoil. Then, as the spirits ran high, he entered the pub and shouted in a bellowing voice: “FUCK YOU MONSTROUS ADVENTURERS WITH MICRO-PENISES!! HUMAN SUPREMACY!!!!!” Then calmly turned and walked out. After a moment of stupefied silence, Jago growled: “WHAT THE BLAZES ARE YOU WAITING FOR??? GET HIM!!!” And so it happened that, minutes later, Bellerophon was running at the top of his somewhat magical athletics, with an odd crowd on his tail — and Jago at the rear, rattling and angering them even further with a wide assortment of profanity and foul curses.
Some of them stopped chasing at the gate of the town, but the rest, namely a lizardfolk, a half giant and a goliath, didn’t give in until the designated meeting point, on the edge of the marsh. Facing daunting odds against the whole party, they would probably have turned away running, but for the exhaustion. Instead, Bellerophon addressed them in a much politer tone, starting with “Dear friends” and ending with a percentage of the loot, should they choose to join the party. They nodded submissively, still having trouble breathing — and the augumented party strode into the marsh.
The original plan was to magically track the dragon down, but when the spells failed and no further signs of its passage would become apparent, the search turned into guessing. Hurdle recalled that the encounter where he lost his party and obtained the tattooed head happened at a nearby abandoned keep — and the prospect of a defensible position from where to launch additional search parties appealed to everyone, so it was decided to make for the keep.
But just as they were readying for the journey, a tremor shook the earth and a dozen black tentacles emerged from the muddy waters, engulfed in some dark magic fumes and holding all sorts of weapons. The fumes caught Jago in some sort of trance, or charm, rendering him unable to help his comrades. But Bellerophon expected such effect, and unleashed a magical circle of protection against evil, dipelling instantly all ill effects on the fellowship.
Jago dove into the water just before a huge magic wall rose between the adventurers and the monster below. He grappled the monster with the morning star and the two became entangled.
Meanwhile, Darius hid in the bushes and concentrated in order to pinpoint the location of the monster underwater, and Normand cast Legion of Sentinels, raising scores of illusory fighters, confusing the tentacles and giving them fake targets for a couple of seconds.
Valaria turned into a Fleshraker Dinosaur and dove into the water charging for the monster as well.
The monster retreated the tentacles, in order to concentrate on the struggle below, and got a solid hold of Jago, attempting to keep him down for as long as possible and drown him.
But the others were quick to react to this: Normand cast his Vertigo Field, which afflicted the creature to such extent that it let go of Jago. Then Darius dove into the water and silently approached the creature, who couldn’t sense the Xeph Dark Stalker, then unleashed his Energy Ray once again to devastating effect. The others quickly dispatched the dying monster and those who were naturally endowed to survive underwater searched the monster’s layer, finding several trinkets of quite some value.
With that, the path of our fellowship went beyond the first chapter of our tale, as they went on to find their goal and another piece of their destiny, deep into the Vast Swamp of Thunderstone.