Brynolf was three days away over the wild country of central Norhelm. When the party arrived at the druid settlement, they found a surprisingly unimpressive, humble settlement; two dozen cabins of various sizes in a valley in the shadow of Mount Owe, on the shore of clear lake. The area around the settlement was heavily damaged, showing signs of impact craters, uprooted trees, churned up ground and the remnants of entangling roots. In the distance, a half dozen funeral pyres burned.
The party was quickly shown in to Leontes’, the High Druid, lodge, a large but spartan log cabin. On their way in they passed a furious druid who Hendrik later identified as Roalde, apparently a leader of a group of druids who objected to Leontes’ close relations with King Siggard of Norhelm. Once inside, the party found Leontes’ home to be little more than fur-strewn meeting hall built around a central fire pit over which a pot of stew bubbled, with the High Druid himself with only a humble pallet on the floor. He greeted the group somewhat perfunctorily, a direct man more focused on results than diplomacy.
Gedda was brought into his presence by a pair of Ulvbroden and Leontes used a spell to temporarily revive him. The confused druid babbled at first until Leontes sharpened his attention and asked him what had happened. Gedda told the group that he had found the crystal after a rockslide had revealed its hiding place, and had decided to dispel its magic since he mistrusted its arcane nature. As he cast the spell however, the crystal ensnared him in a nightmare, and used him to corrupt the forest as well as Gedda’s loyal ursine companion, Bulweh. Beyond that, Gedda remembered little except for a druid being among those who had saved him, and he called for him urgently. When Bjorin knelt next to him, Gedda pressed a oaken medallion, carved with a radiant tree in his hand before passing out again and being carried from the room.
Ever practical, Leontes decided to break for supper before continuing but used the meal to think while his aide, Lavo, described the great power the High Druid had wielded in defending the camp; tornados, elementals, and walls of fire. When dinner was over, Leontes invited the group to make their formal introductions, but was interrupted by the arrival of King Siggard, whom the High Druid had requested aid from when the attacks on the settlement began. The King came with a hundred cavalrymen as well as an aide of his own, a dwarven priest of the All-Father named Brioch. He joined the companions inside Leontes’ lodge to hear the story.
They told the story from the beginning. When they reached the description of the attack at the inn, Siggard revealed that a boy had escaped the massacre and had hidden in the barn, escaping when the flames began to spread in the inn. Leontes asked to see the dagger and attempted to identify its magic, but much like Glithas before him experienced the curious sensation of two warring powers; one trying to reveal the magic, one to block him. Leontes did, however, determine that the magic was that of Bankat, goddess of disease.
The story continued, and when it ended, Leontes asked to try a spell on the crystal since it seemed that magic was safe as long as it was not cast on the item directly. He attempted to see its true form, but found that it had none. All he was able to discern was that it exists simultaneously on the Ethereal Plane. Brioch attempted to speak to the crystal as a stone, but had no result. Siggard’s own court mage, Amelie, was absent, chasing a doppelganger who had attempted to assassinate Siggard.
Regretfully, Leontes announced that there was little he could do to help, and Siggard agreed. He revealed to the party that Urdnar was stirring. After years of kidnapping Norhelmian tradesmen and craftsmen, he feared the next invasion would be the worst ever. If the demi-humans learned the arts of siege warfare, the humans’ greatest advantage, their fortifications, would be useless. Siggard and Leontes were unwilling to surrender manpower to aid the companions on their quest. The crystals certainly seemed dangerous, but their threat was ill-defined and vague as compared to Urdnar’s very real presence. Siggard did, however, offer the party horses as well as a stipend of gold, though he acknowledged their nomadic nature would make it difficult if not impossible to deliver.
The meeting adjourned. Yunaan, attempting to reconnect to his people’s horse-based culture, spent the rest of the day looking over Siggard’s heavy warhorses, talking to the cavalrymen and trying to grasp the new, foreign idea of lance-based mounted combat. Roondar meditated and attempted to sense psionics in the crystals, but found none. Glithas wandered the camp, using his magic to help the druids rebuild shattered cabins. Torash discussed his home with the King, learning that it was to become an important military hub as Siggard began construction of a new fortress there.
The party set out the next morning. They crossed Norhelm and back into Belmara, where they began to hear strange rumors. The Termecian state of Orlana was said to be awash in the undead and begging for help; the monsters were even spreading into Daymar’duan. The Estates had been called in Estril, and High King Tiriol was trying to reform the Imperial Army that had not marched since his predecessor’s death. The outcome, however, was anything but certain. Only High King Felmaer had been able to unite Termecia, and then only briefly. The party thought of Emberven, but decided to avoid the town as Baron Tasriem’s men would most likely still be present. Instead, they cut westward into Merna’duan.
Here they encountered a fierce sleet storm one night with no place to shelter, when the crystals suddenly pulsed as though another fragment was nearby. Searching, Glithas spotted a gentle incline in a nearby cliff face, and crept up it to find a cave at the top. Roondar, with his lowlight vision was called to examine the darkened area and found the remains of a simple household inside. A table, a cauldron, a stool and blankets, but also scattered pages and a book as well as a gaping hole in one floor and walls that showed signs of fire and acid. The party went in to investigate while Luthiana stayed to shephard the horses.
Roondar thumbed through the book and found it was a journal, a pathetic chronicle of a hedge mage who earned his money as little more than a jester in the area. He catalogued each slight he received, his experiments in search of greater power, his frustrations with his stunted magic, his bullying at the hands of a blacksmith’s apprentice and his lust for a local cobbler’s daughter. In the final entry however, he spoke of how an errant experiment had opened a hole in his floor, which led into a tunnel filled with blue-white light. He seized the crystal he found there and was almost burned alive by magical power, but when he awoke his blocks were gone and he was a full-fledged wizard, intent on both power and revenge.
The party entered the crevice and found a flooded, but now empty chamber that had once held the crystal. Their investigations were cut off by the faint sound of Luthiana barking, and the party rushed back outside. There, they found an advancing squadron of undead; zombies, ghouls, a graveyard sludge, a pair of the bloody behemoths from the Norhelm inn, and a new variety; a huge skeleton covered with parchment like skin with two-foot long claws of bone.
Roondar cast an energy bolt to forestall them while the rest of the party stacked up near the cave entrance, trying to maintain their height advantage. The undead ignored Luthiana and the horses, instead choosing to close as fast as they could. Torash called upon Reimar to turn several of the zombies as well as the sludge while Glithas used a new power to bestow fire upon Yunaan’s axe. Bjorin cast a spell to harness lightning from the stormy sky, but found his efforts somewhat thwarted by the boneclaw’s unexpectedly spright reflexes.
While Roondar continued to use concussion blasts, mind thrusts, and energy bolts to stall the enemy, Bjorin caused additional mayhem by summoning a pair of dire badgers as the undead struggled to close the gap. Unfortunately, the undead made fairly short work of the unsupported animals. Glithas summoned a flaming sphere, but found the spell frustrated by the boneclaw’s quick reflexes and was forced to turn it on the blood-gorged giants. Torash bestowed additional resilience on Yunaan with a magical shield of Reimar’s power and Bjorin further forestalled the undead’s advance with an entangle spell.
Yunaan, anxious for combat, lept down off of the incline and skirted the entanglement to close with a giant, but when the boneclaw broke free of the vines he quickly found himself with more than he could handle and was forced to retreat after he found that the boneclaw’s talons could spontaneously extend outwards in a vicious ranged attack. Luck and skill both played to his favor as he sprinted back to the party, dodging all but one of the boneclaw’s five attacks as he retreated.
Back on the slope, the battle was already petering out. The ranged attacks of Glithas, Roondar, Torash, and Bjorin were wearing down the undead that seemed largely unable to break free of the entanglement, and a pair of powerful turnings by Torash decimated the lower ranks of the undead. One giant managed to close, but Yunaan delivered a vicious hit that sent it tumbling back the incline to collapse in a wet pile. Roondar immobilized the threatening boneclaw with summoned ectoplasm from the Astral plane and the battle became largely cleaning up the weak undead remaining. Bjorin summoned a dire wolf to help finish off the boneclaw, but the undead put up a last powerful fight, inflicting heavy damage on both Torash and the wolf before Yunaan put the finishing touches on the party’s victory.
With the battle over, the group took their time re-examining the cave. Glithas found the pages were discarded were low power spells, which he stored to later add to his spellbook. Otherwise, however, the cave was empty. The party settled down to ride out the storm.
As morning dawns, the group finds itself still facing a long, cold road to the swamps of Ravenna, where the next fragment awaits…