Travelling north from Emberven, the party crossed the border into Norhelm after three days, passing through a lightly defended garrison of royal troops. With the Norhelmian winter approaching, they found themselves often sheltering in the royal inns sponsored by King Siggard to ease travel in the sparsely populated country, usually no more than an inn, a stable, and a collection of houses for the staff. Any chance to escape from the cold northwestern wind was welcome as they trekked deeper into the mountainous, heavily forested nation.
On the fourth night, the party approached another of the royal inns as the sun began to sink beneath the horizon. Roondar went off to the stable to take care of Falmouth while the rest of the group entered the common room, which was deserted except for a large blond man in furs and another man apparently sleeping on one of the tables. Not longer after entering however, Bjorin, Yunaan, Glithas and Torash began to hear a hypnotic whispering and babbling in their minds, numbing their senses. Meanwhile in the stables, Roondar found no stablehand to take care of Falmouth. When he investigated the cubby nearby where the stablehands often drink while waiting for patrons, he discovered only the dead, blood-drained body of the worker. Quickly, Roondar crept out of the stable.
Bjorin fell victim to the hypnotic whispering while the rest of the group shook it off. The blond man suddenly rose and picked up his table, flinging it at Yunaan, who managed to dodge it as it crashed into another table and splintered into pieces. From the second floor, a pair of black amorphous smoky shapes drifted down. As Yunaan discovered when one touched him, mere contact with them deadened the senses of their victims. While Yunaan moved forward to engage the blond man and the loyal Luthiana awakened Bjorin from his stupor, the kitchen door blew open to reveal a pair of blood-swollen, seven-foot tall monstrosities and a horde of zombies behind them. Clearly, the party had walked into something.
Yunaan and the blond warrior engaged in combat after the man pulled a greatsword from his side and said a word that caused lightning to trace the length of the blade, but Yunaan quickly found himself on the defensive after a blow from the warrior severed his axe haft. Glithas distracted his attacker with a flaming sphere, causing the furs on his back to ignite. Meanwhile, Torash suffered the wisdom drain of the wispy shapes before raising the symbol of Reimar to turn the undead, but to little effect; only a handful of zombies were destroyed. Luthiana, Bjorin, and Torash soon found themselves engaged with the undead.
Roondar, hearing the battle, rushed into the kitchen entrance, thinking to annihilate the undead there. But in a harsh turn of fate, he found himself surrounded by a trio of zombies which landed heavy blows on the psionicist and left him dying in a pool of blood. In the common room, things appeared to be going poorly for the party; the undead were hitting hard, as was the mysterious blond man. A second turning attempt by Torash proved more successful, eliminating more of the zombies and the smoky shapes while Bjorin stepped back to summon an animal companion and Luthiana held the attackers at bay. A desperate Yunaan tried to seize a weapon from one of the zombies, but the creature struck back at him and ended his attempt. The wounded blond man turned on Glithas, but the wizard sent a magic missile into his chest that knocked him off balance. Yunaan seized the opportunity, charging in and colliding with the warrior, crushing him through the bannister of the stairway and knocking him flat. When the man regained his feet, he apparently decided to leave the work to the undead; his furs had ignited the hay-strewn floor, and with the undead apparently crushing their opponents, he beat a retreat up the stairs. The party, too consumed by the battle, did not pursue.
With the help of the magically summoned dire wolf, a fearsome animal as large as a horse, the tide began to turn. Glithas tossed Yunaan a mace, but the barbarian scrounged a scimitar from a fallen zombie after noticing that the huge, blood-filled undead seemed to suffer more from slashing weapons. A wounded Luthiana, drained by holding back the undead until the wolf arrived, retired while Torash, Yunaan, the wolf, and Glithas focused on the central group. Bjorin skirted the common room wall to get into the kitchen to help Roondar, suffering a heavy blow from one of the monsters in the process and arriving mere seconds before Roondar’s death to deliver healing. Overhead, the party heard a whoosing sound and a bird’s cry, followed shortly by another whoosing sound.
Bjorin and Roondar arrived back in the common room as the remaining undead rapidly weakened. Roondar delivered a bolt of electricity and a bolt of fire to them, blowing a hole in the inn’s wall and setting a portion of it on fire respectively. Torash sought to contain the flames with a cantrip of water summoning while Bjorin rushed upstairs to see if the blond man remained and the heroes mopped up. In the aftermath, they found the man had escaped out a window, leaving only an area of flattened grass to mark his escape and a dropped, green-glowing dagger. Roondar and Glithas found the zombies were almost certainly the inn staff; they had the same spiral pattern on their heads as those in Emberven, but the glow had not yet ignited. Roondar also found an impression in the hay of the stable that Bjorin identified as child-sized, but neither Luthiana nor Falmouth were able to pick up a scent.
Deciding it would be best not to be present when anyone else arrived, enemy or civilian, the party moved out into the wilderness to camp. The next morning, Glithas attempted to identify the dagger but with puzzling results; he experienced the sensation of a power blocking his attempt and creating a magical feedback, then being sheltered from it. The party had no answers, and continued northwards into the wilderness, leaving the road to enter the mountains.
Winter had already come to the area and it took four days of travel with Bjorin as guide to navigate the snowy passes and uncertain, rocky terrain before the group ascended the foot of the mountain to look out over the valley that appeared exactly as it did in the vision; heavily forested, sheltered between twin granite mountains. A stream ran through the western half; the eastern half turned into gravel and rock. Observing the valley, Bjorin noticed a wolf navigating the slope upwards slowly and noted its curious behavior; apparently leaving any local food source or pack grounds. When he approached it to speak to it with his druidic powers, it noticed him and transformed into a man who collapsed on the rocky slope. Bjorin’s approach turned into an urgent run, and he collapsed next to his fellow druid to lay hands upon him. He recognized him; Josep, one of the Ulvbroden from Brynolf.
When revived and questioned, Josep explained that Brynolf had been attacked by a massive, crystal-encrusted earth elemental that had killed six trainees and a senior druid before being put down. Leontes consulted the earth and ascertained the direction of its origin, sending Josep to scout while he attempted to summon help from other druids and King Siggard. Josep, stopping to consult other earth-dwelling creatures such as groundhogs and badgers, had traced it to this valley in the domain of the druid Gedda. He entered the valley but found himself surrounded by a dark fog that thwarted any attempt to fly back out. He was forced to take wolf form to walk out but was beset by dancing lights and crazed animals and plants, finally being cornered and attacked by dire wolverines that mauled him before he escaped.
Upon learning the party meant to enter the valley, Josep wished them well but explained he had to return to report; he had seen the organized tracks of predatory animals headed eastwards and feared Brynolf would suffer additional attacks. As the party trekked northwards to enter the valley via the river, Josep took raven form and left.
The party spent the night on the northern slope before entering the valley. Fog and darkness enclosed them, both unnatural in their appearance. Bluish white lights danced in the air and crystals were embedded in tree trunks and the frightened animals that fled at their approach. In Bjorin’s pack, the crystal they already possessed began to vibrate and then emit a pulse that caused the fog itself to ripple. It was answered by a second pulse, and a quartet of pillars of light began to glow around the valley. Perplexed, the heroes set out towards the nearest one, but soon stopped as Roondar spotted a dire wolverine lurking in a tree above. His attempts to hail it were ignored and it pounced; the party soon found itself surrounded by crystal-encrusted, twelve foot long wolverines growling insanely.
A battle ensued. Torash used his magic to grow to twelve feet tall, but found himself beset upon and wounded, forced to withdraw the heal. Yunaan found his foe a match for him, and Bjorin realized his dire wolf companion would be needed. Roondar held off the southern approach by sending a bolt of lightning towards the aggressors, then summoning ectoplasm from the Astral plane to entrap one of the charging animals, knocking it out of the fight. Glithas summoned his flaming sphere but found it difficult to remain safely out of melee range as the insane animals feared no attack. Falmouth joined the fight but was outmatched and quickly reduced to unconsciousness. In the end, the appearance of the dire wolf and a well-aimed bolt of ice by Roondar turned the tide, decimating the central trio of wolverines and leaving the rest of the party to clean up, smarting from the ferocity of the animals’ claws and teeth and drained of spellpower.
Now, the party finds itself battered barely an hour into their trek, surrounded by darkness and fog with only a quartet of mysterious pillars of light to guide them to salvation or death…