The Path of Kings

Justice like lightning

With two mighty strikes the woman’s axes tore through his defences. Thorismund felt the world turning black, yet refused to give in just yet. “Rot in the Abyss”, he spat as he dropped his warhammer… only to snatch his throwing hammer with one quick flick of the wrist. As he whispered the runes inscribed on the hammer’s head started to glow. In the span of a single heartbeat the world exploded into light. Then sweet nothingness.

As the dwarven priest collapsed, he felt life escaping from him. Snapshots of memories long suppressed reared their ugly head. The mountain citadel’s defenses crumbling. The desperate cries of women and children running for their lives, whilst the men on the walls fell one by one.

One rush of blood to the head later Thorismund woke up. As he dragged himself on his feet, he could see the battle was over. He uttered a quick prayer to Torag for the men-at-arms whom he never got the chance to greet and gave their lives defending the trade post. His eyes narrowed and from the distance he could see several brigands rounded up as prisoners. One of them was frantically trying to keep his face hidden, but his demeanour gave it away.

Something inside the Forgemaster snapped. Did he hear children crying for their mothers in the basement? Was this real or just a phantasm?

Treachery and treason there’s always an excuse for it.

No matter. He had been too lenient too long. Slowly but steadily he startened to quicken his pace.

“I swore an oath”, he grumbled. “You received a chance to redeem yourself. And still you betrayed us! You brought war to the homes of the innocent. To those who toil every day to make an earnest living. Thinking nothing of it to once again loot, murder and rape!”

The dwarf felt as if every vein in his neck felt was going to burst. “Never again… NEVER AGAIN!”

Before anyone else in the party could intervene, Thorismund lifted his war hammer with both hands in the air and charged into the prisoners. With one thundering blow he smashed the brigand’s skull into smithereens.

“Justice will be brought to these lands!”, he roared.

Then nothing.

Nothing but darkness, as he collapsed once again.

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Battle at Oleg's (Session 5) An Orc's POV.
Don't ever underestimate an outnumbered party.

After their inconspicuous attempt at investigating the Wolf’s den, the adventurers suddenly and magically regrouped at Oleg’s tradepost. There, they were visited by a nobleman and his followers from the other province, seeking a new liege. Kesten Garess and his wife were taken along on a hunting trip, to fasten the new bonds between his household and our men. The dwarven and half-orc woman remained to rest and keep an eye on the tradepost.

When the hunting party was half underway, they noticed a small army of Wolves approaching, surely on their way to Oleg’s tradepost. The druid performed some trickery as to distract the troops, after which the whole party made for Oleg’s tradepost, to commence the preparations.

After much deliberation, it was decided that they were not going to win this one on pure strength. Being outnumbered as they were, only trickery could do the job here. Making it look as if the tradepost had been suddenly abandoned or fled from, Kesten’s crew and our adventurers would climb the palisades and hide in sheds. As soon as enough of the army had gotten within the palisades, Neega would close the door and start the ground attack together with Kesten and Thorismund. The then locked-in enemy would surely be slain after which the warriors on the walls could focus on the foes outside of the walls. The main goal would be to capture the two-axed leading woman.

The plan worked flawlessly. After Neega closed the gates, arrows rained down on the Wolves and Kesten’s crew slay many an enemy. Together with the sheer strength and some trickery on the ground, the initial troops were quickly eradicated. Yet the enemy outside seemed suspicious and started climbing the walls. Some adventurers fought bravely and with fear for their lives. In the end, together with the backup, the party was able to slay most of the enemy, capture those left and bind the by-then-unconscious two-axed woman. The question remains. What will the wolf men do, now they know they can be beaten?

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Sphere of Influence (1)
Tip of the Greenbelt

The current sphere of influence of the Expedition, Greenbelt region of the Stolen Lands.

Sphere of influence 1 smaller

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Interludium I The Wolf's Den
Barking Dogs Don't Bite

At the top of the southern watchtower of his crumbling fortress, the man stared somberly over the vast lake, which was faintly illuminated by a blood-shot moon. Behind him he heard the rhythmic songs and ecstatic cries of his followers, who were praying in their animistic rituals to the spirits of the land to grant their comrades a swift and bloody victory over the Newcomers. He grunted and reached with his left hand for a bottle of strong liquor – the only thing these days that kept the dreams at a distance. Memories… He shivered and his right hand stroked the amulet that She had given him. A blessing, not a curse, a return to the authentic primeval… soft words soothing his eternal pain. The man closed his eyes. Time passed. He glanced at the bottle. Empty. He frowned. The singing had stopped.

“My Lord” a voice stammered behind him. Swiftly the man turned around, yet the alcohol slowed down his feral movement in a grotesque manner. “Yes, Akiros, what news from our brethren?” he barked at the man in chainmail. Akiros shook his head. “They were defeated, my Lord. Dovan saw them taking Kessle and some of the survivors as prisoners.” The man growled, throwing the empty bottle at Akiros, who took a step back, evading the projectile. “Incompetent dogs! Kessle told us that they could easily manage the Newcomers.” Akiros spat on the floor. “She was not worthy, my Lord, that much is clear. But what shall we do now with the Newcomers, my Lord? Perhaps I can ride out with Dovan and Auchs and murder them all in their sleep.”

The Wolf Lord remained silent for a while, before he spoke with a hoarse voice. “No. That is not the right course to take. They have carved out a place for themselves in these forsaken lands. We shall offer them a Spring truce. We shall cease all our operations in the northern area between the Thorn and Shrike rivers and offer them the sum of 1,000 gold pieces, and in exchange they will release our brethren and remain within said territory. And you will negotiate this truce for us.”

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Battle at Oleg's (Session V)
Who's Afraid of Clan Wolf?

After their failed attempt at a subtle investigation of the Wolf Clan’s outpost, the adventurers spent some time at Oleg’s to recover from their wounds and hurt egos. On the 11th of Pharast they were gladly surprised to find a lesser noble at their doors, Kesten Garess, with his wife Tania, his household and a dozen or so warriors, who offered his support for their expedition into The Greenbelt. The group decided to take their time to examine the man and his offer. The next day, a few of the party joined Kesten Garess in a hunting trip to the edges of the forest to the south.

Pharast, 12th

At the evening of Fireday, the adventurers arrived at the forest, killing some boar and rabbits. However, the party noticed dozens of lights coming their way. A quick investigation revealed a small army of Wolf Clan members heading their way, led by the woman with the two axes. After a brief skirmish, which was meant to delay and confuse the approaching troops, the heroes rode back northwards throughout the night and the morning of the following day, to warn the rest at Oleg’s.

Pharast, 13th

The deliberations and preparations for the upcoming battle lasted for a few hours. In the end, the heroes decided to trick their attackers, who outnumbered them at least in a proportion of one to three. The party would make it appear as if the trade post had been hastily abandoned, luring a part of the invaders within the palisade. The adventurers and Kesten Garess’s warriors would hide within the various quarters of the trade post. A soon as a sizable group had entered the fort, they would spring their trap by closing the heavy doors of the palisade and surprise attacking the bandits. When those within the fort had been dealt with, the defenders would concentrate on the forces that remained outside the walls. Because of her physical strength, Neega was chosen as the one who would close the gate.

The plan worked handsomely. After luring a group inside, the defenders quickly defeated them. However, as soon as the bandits outside the walls realized it was a trap, they began climbing the palisade. A vicious fight ensued, where one third of Clan Garess’s warriors were slain, and most of our heroes suffered serious wounds and were beaten unconscious. Nevertheless, the heroism and bravery of the defenders finally drove the attackers to surrender, not in the least because its leader, the woman with the two axes, was knocked unconscious.

Although the mysterious Wolf Lord had not shown up himself, it was clear to the Expedition that they had won an important battle, and that the threat of organized banditry in the Greenbelt had been reduced to a large extent.

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The Kingmaker

The fire in the guest quarters of the Trade Post burned brightly after the battle, its smoke lazily drifting up through the rafters.
With eyes like burning embers, the old man looked around at those gathered for this important meeting.

“We have been on the road for some time now and we have gotten along admirably.”, he paused to drink from his cup,
“but the times are changing, and drastically so! Today we have won our first important victory, through great courage and strength of arms. Each man and woman who fought with us is worthy of the title hero, those that live and those that died. I do not doubt that many more such battles will befall us, not only is the Wolf Lord still at large, the Greenbelt hides Powers far greater than most us of can yet imagine. Trying times are ahead of us and if we want more people, be they Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, Halfling, Orc, Man, Kobold or whatever else to join us, to flock to our cause, we must give them something to rally to. A mission, a cause, an ideal! And that something must be personified in a someone, a leader that will inspire loyalty in his or her followers, that will act with wisdom and kindness, but who will be just and righteous at the same time. We will need to pick our leader tonight, we must appoint a Lord Warden of the Greenbelt if we expect Kesten Garess to swear allegiance to our cause on the morrow.”

Emrys looked around at his fellow party members, his eyes probing deep into their souls.
“Who would lead and who would follow?”

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Birds of a Feather

“Friends of yours?”, the woman asked with an almost feline voice as she appeared from around the tree.
The young man looked away from the carnage, for a moment not hearing the squawking racket the ravens were making as they were fighting over the juiciest cadavers. Despite the hollow feeling gnawing at his soul, he couldn’t look away from the woman, a lithe creature, her long hair a dark shade of jade in the dawn, she walked nonetheless with the grace allowed by great power. Her eyes gleamed like rubies as she grinned bare her sharp canines at the dishevelled youth.

“The birds are, I called them here.”, the boy spoke in spite of himself, compelled by the woman’s voice. “I can talk to animals, and they talk back. And obey…”
He shook his head in sorrow and looked back at the scene, the embers of the campfire still glowing dully as the flock of birds hopped from one corpse to the other, dragging out intestines and chewing at pieces of flesh.

She rested a slender hand on his shoulder, her long fingers squeezing with surprising strength as she whispered in his ear.
“I know, I know what you can do, boy.”, she purred with delight as she saw the goosebumps appears on the youth’s arms.
“E-emrys, Emrys is my name.” He stammered, the presence and the scent of the woman nearly overwhelming him. The smell of soil and fresh leaves mingled with something more primal.

“Shhh, that doesn’t matter now…”, she put a finger on his lips and looked into his eyes.
“You called upon Nature to avenge a death. Death has been dealt and now a life is owed.”

He involuntarily clutched the pendant around his neck, a simple thing, woven from the first hay of the year, a lover’s charm.

“She is gone now, and so are the men that defiled her.”, she pulled the young man to his feet and as she spoke the pendant turned to ashes in his hands.
Too stupified to act, the young man didn’t resist when the woman guided him into the forest and out of his old life.

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A Touch of Frost

The snow fell heavily on the mounted wizard’s ranseur. The statue of the old man pointed the pole-arm north in a defiant gesture to some unseen, ancient foe. The drama of the statue was emphasised by the sheer cliff rising up behind the great keep of the castle, which itself loomed over the sprawling town at its feet.
The old man hunched protectively over the bundle in his arms as he made his way from the gates to the Lord’s Tower, shielding his precious cargo with his body from the increasing snowfall.

Nodding a brief greeting at the doorguards, he entered the tower and basked a moment in the dim glow of the torches that lined the walls in the entry, contemplating the many flights of stairs with rheumy eyes, every single one of the one hundred and sixty seven steps made him realize and rue his advancing age.

As he opened the door to his Lord’s chambers, the old librarian was as much struck by the heat emanating from the room as by the powerful silhouette of the Lord Protector of Fort Rannick, Alasdayre Blackbrow. The powerful figure turned around and acknowledged the librarian’s presence with a scowl and strode from the blazing fire to his strictly organized office.
A perfect reflection of the man, thought the old man as he surveyed the Spartan room, strict, sharp and with a deadly blaze at its heart. The thought that at least the room had a heart, albeit a proverbial one, crossed Garlan Quink’s mind, but the librarian shrugged it off and tenderly put his parcel down on the desk, brushing off the melting snowflakes as he unwrapped the sheepskin bundle.

Lord Blackbrow frowned contemptuously at the worn tome in the skins, its cover a cracked and all but faded green. He picked up the heavy book and traced the outline of its faded title.
“This is it then? This will teach me what I need to know to harness its power? It looks like a piece of manure wrapped in my grandfather’s undergarments.”
Garlan nervously rolled up the sheepskin and nodded vigorously, “There is no tome more exhaustive on the nature of the Fey and their magic than The Taking of the Stolen Lands, my Lord. In it are explained the ways and secrets of both the dark and light faeries, a fact which both races greatly despise. It is dangerous to know of and even more dangerous to have, my Lord, it is kept in our vaults at great expense and with even great discretion.”

The Lord Protector growled an answer as he flicked through the old, creaking pages, “I know of the expenses, Quink, they are a constant pain to my treasury! This is a history book, more than an occult tome. I hope I’m not paying all this for some ancient rant about a kingdom that no one’s ever heard of!”

“The part on the Fey needs to be read from the back of the book, Lord Blackbrow, the start of the book describes the founding of an empire to the far North of Avistan.”, the librarian shivered as he felt his Lord’s burning stare.
The Blackbrow nodded curtly as he flipped the book over, a few pages coming loose from the binding and sat down to reading. “Leave and tell the guards no one is to disturb me until morning.”

The following morning, Garlan Quink knocked at his Lord’s door, a shiver running through him as his knuckles touched the cold oak of the door. "My Lord, I have found a copy Cadarn’s “Commentary on the Fair Folk” and of Fargorn’s “Concise History of the Stolen lands”. They are both excellent companions for the Ta..for the book you are reading.".
The librarian waited a moment, and then noticed the snow coming from under the door. Trying the handle and his courage, he opened the door.
This time he was struck by the cold, the fire in the hearth had frozen solid and the room was covered in snow. Blackbrow’s desk was topped over and the only trace left of him was a bloody handprint in the open window.
The librarian gazed at the scene in anguish and a cry stuck in his throat as he saw a single green hair stuck to the bloody smear on the windowsill.

The Taking of the Stolen Lands

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Trouble at Oleg's (Session IV)
Party - Bandits: 1-1

Pharast, 1st

After the mysterious encounter at Fort Serenko, the party continued its journey towards Oleg’s Trade Post, finally entering the Greenbelt and the Stolen Lands.

As it began to snow in the evening, the adventurers arrived at the Trade Post, only to see six bandits threatening Oleg and his wife Svetlana. The highwaymen were dressed in a peculiar fashion, wearing gray cloaks adorned with a wolf’s head. Because the bandits held Svetlana at knife’s point, the heroes decided to retreat into the night, and return in a more stealthy fashion to rescue the duo.

Milon was able to sneak into the Trade Post, but his presence was soon discovered by an attentive guard, however. The party then launched an all-out assault on the bandits. Making good use of the element of surprise, our heroes quickly defeated the bandits and liberated Oleg and his wife. One of the wolfshead bandits, Happs, was caught alive for questioning.

While offering the fellowship a hearty stew, Oleg narrated the misfortunes he and his wife suffered at the hands of the bandits. Unlike ordinary bandits, whom Oleg had repelled from his trade post on a regular base, the “wolfsheads” were much more organized and daunting. They demanded a tax in trade goods and gold from the Trade Post.

The adventurers took notice of the “Wanted” posters at Oleg’s, and also accepted two minor quests from the trader and his wife: Oleg wanted the party to retrieve Svetlana’s wedding ring, which the bandits took on a previous occassion; and Svetlana asked the heroes to find her some giant radishes, which she used for a dark-fey repelling draught.

Questioning Happs, the adventurers found out that there was a bandit camp to the south of Oleg’s, which answered to a mysterious “Wolf Lord”. Happs was a former peasant from Rostland who had fallen to banditry, and a fresh recruit of the Wolf Clan. He promised to lead the party to the bandit camp, which was close to the Thorn River.

Pharast, 2nd

During the next night, Thorismund and Emrys dreamed of a wolf with green hair, and pondered the meaning of the recurrent theme in their dreams.

Pharast, 4th

After a few days of rest, our heroes set out for the Thorn River. For two days, they explored the woods south of Oleg’s. Finally, they arrived at the Thorn River. Through a cunning maneuver, they outwitted the watchman of Clan Wolf and advanced to the camp’s clearing. Their plan was to gather as much information on the camp in order to prepare a plan for assault. However, three of the party’s horses failed to cross the stream on the icy and thus slippery river stones, falling into the water. In the ensuing chaos, the heroes’ cover was quickly blown, and they faced fifteen bandit archers and a fierce woman with dual handaxes. Retreat seemed the wisest of options, and after a heroic delaying maneuver of Milon, which almost cost his life, the party managed to escape.

They retreated to Oleg’s Trade Post, realizing that the bandits now knew they were coming, and would prepare themselves accordingly…

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Crazy Ivan and the Pugwampis (Session III)
Dog Eat Dog

Calistril, 27th

After Ivan Ivanovitch camp had been thoroughly searched and its leader bound and gagged, the party began to discuss the "captain"’s fate. The discovery of a luxury leather pouch, embroidered with an “S” and containing 20 platinum pieces, in Ivanovitch’s tent, seemed to point at a bigger conspiracy. Questioning the captain, the group found out that, a few months ago, Ivan had been approached by a hooded female in Nivakta’s Crossing. She spoke with a northern, Issian accent, according to the bandit, and she made him an offer he could not refuse. Apparently the mysterious woman knew that the Restov Swordlords were planning on organizing expeditions into the Stolen Lands. She procured forged documents for Ivanovitch, which claimed that he had been a guard captain in New Stetven. The “captain” was to lead one of the expeditions in the Stolen Lands, and then turn against his lieges by creating as much havoc, chaos, and instability as he could muster.

Ivan Ivanovitch acknowledged his guilt, but pleaded with the fellowship to grant him a chance to redeem himself and show his worth. The group disagreed about his fate, and decided to take him into the northern Greenbelt, where they could judge his crimes according to the legal framework set out by the Charter. Eldoran took the survivors of Ivanovitch’s crew back to Nivakta’s Crossing, where they would answer for their crimes.

After a brief rest, the party set out to Oleg’s Trade Post. Around the evening they arrived at an abandoned fort, which seemed to mark the frontier between Rostland and the Stolen Lands. Searching the ruins, the group discovered the gruesome fate of its inhabitants. Apparently, some hundred years ago, the soldiers of the border fort had been attacked by a strange force, a kind of “wind” or “storm”, which led to the death of them all. Despite the ancient tragedy, the party decided to spend the night in one of the watchtowers of the fortress. From the top of the watchtower the vista of the Greenbelt seemed to be strangely colorful and vibrant, in comparison with the Rostland plains.

During Milon’s wake, the halfling encountered a strange creature or spirit of nature, a woman with goat legs and fierce eyes. She revealed herself as “Azkathe” and made fun of the adventuring troupe, who, according to her, did not know what they were getting into. She claimed that the party was heading into a battle they didn’t understand, and couldn’t see, and that, eventually, they would have to make a choice. Before she left Milon, she threw six red berries on the ground, as a “gift”.

These berries soon started to swell and grow, and they burst into pieces, summoning six revolting dog-like creatures who were standing on their hind lights. The little critters each wielded a dagger and viciously they sprung upon Milon and the sleeping party members, yelling “pugwampi pugwampi” – probably the only word they could utter. Ivan Ivanovitch was almost burned alive by one of the monsters, while Neega got one on her head. Although initially surprised, the fellowship was able to fend off the pugwampis, who began to plop back into the shape of berry goo after one of them was killed.

Calistril, 28th

After the bizarre encounter, the party tried to catch some sleep, before continuing its journey to Oleg’s Trade Post. There was now only one day of travel ahead of them.

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