He pauses as he remembers the next story, eyebrows knit with concentration as he puts the events in their proper order. A frown tips the corners of his mouth, betraying the sad events yet to unfold in his tale.
“Some time passed. Kriv became a part-time messenger for the White Fox Society, upsetting a local gang, the Salt Rats, mid-delivery, and making contacts with Erma, the healer, and Jacks, the minstrel. In a bid for information, Maelyes worked for a map-maker in hopes of learning the direction of her empire, but to no avail. In the end, she returned to Red Thom’s band with a map of Nord and another dead end.
“Who knows? Maybe their lack of custom for the traveler’s shrine disrespected the fates, maybe the site was just unlucky… Kriv, Maelys, and Wade left the shrine together for the last time that overcast, still spring day.
“It was another stakeout ordered by Red Thom. The season, still young, demanded vigilance on the many, though often unused, paths. The shrine stood impassive over one of the more popular routes from Saltstone to the Baron’s own Verholm. As usual, traffic would be few and far between, and in two days the three bandits would see but one man headed for the empty bluffs of Abernathy. But that one man would change everything.
“Dressed in simple clothes and marked, as Wade recognized, as a man of the king, he seemed the perfect target. Upon confrontation, Kriv and Maelys using all their magical abilities to appear most fearsome, the king’s man offered a trade in order to keep some of his possessions: information. As he rode earlier that day, he passed men of the Baron out for a hunt and armed to subdue. Kallista, fire in her eyes, led the way, Eberk at her side, bringing Kruger the bugbear for sheer power. Eberk maintained his calm demeanor, but even he could not keep the unsettlement within from his eyes.
“There would be blood this day, Eberk knew, and blood he would not wish shed.
“Wade spotted the smoke on the horizon first. All three knew in short order, sickness in their hearts, that the band’s camp had been found.
“Once there they found the smoldering ruins of all their supplies, the choking smoke hovering over the trampled ground in the airless afternoon. Samm, the innocent man who turned to banditry to feed his family, lay facedown amidst the camp, dead. Varis, the wild elf, lay nearby barely clutching on to life, an unnatural venom creeping through his veins. Fevered, he related the blitz of the Baron’s men. Jorian, Ghesh, and Bree, managed to escape the initial onslaught by the forest, but the Baron’s men left hot on their trails. Varis had saved Red Thom, making him run south to the woad for safety.
“Giving chase, the three and Varis plunged south after Red Thom and his pursuers, covering ground with angered speed. Overcoming their targets in an old ruined monastery between the hills, they saw Red Thom beaten by Kallista, slumping onto the stones of a well. A angry gleam flashed across the tiefling’s eyes, igniting the fallen bandit into screams of pain and spurring the rescuers into action.
“Out positioned, out trained, and out powered by Kallista’s warrior training, Kruger’s strength, and Eberk’s dead-eye (yet merciful shooting), the fight quickly went awry. Kriv brought forth gouts of flame, ripping into his foes with elemental fury; Wade rushed in and engaged Kallista, drawing her away from Red Thom; Maelys tried to awaken her cousin, but could not overcome the suppression spell that locked away her past. Kruger battered Kriv with his club, Kallista smote down the fearless Wade and made to finish off Maelys, as Eberk stalled for time, asking the would-be rescuers to run.
“It would have been the end. Kallista faced off with Maelys, spear ready to strike down the princess she would have loved in another life, when Red Thom rushed forward holding her back. The moments grew tense as each pondered the question of failure and perseverance. Quick thinking by Varis led to a close escape from the battle. As they retreated over the crest of the hill, Kallista burned Red Thom again, eliciting more cries of agony before they died out in the swiftly darkening evening.
“In the misty twilight they came upon the wondrous cottage of Fanen, the woad and healer, who whisked them inside, hiding them in the nighttime depths of the Blackmoor. There they met Eglath, the massive goliath warrior that helped serve the blind forest protector. Kriv buried his fallen friend in the garden outside, leaving Wade’s swords as a monument to his sacrifice.
“For the first time since landing in Ossetia so long ago, Maelys found someone who had at least heard of Bael Turath in Fanen, but the answers he gave were at best cryptic.
”’There are great forces at work here’ the old woad said ‘You cannot know the truth just yet, but I think I know who can open the way for you’
“Soon the adventurers would descend into the depths of the Blackmoor swamps, searching for the witch that could free them from their mental captivity and let them understand the truth.”