The Passage of Time
The Victors in the Thunderspire
The Fairy Ring and friends enjoyed the hospitality of the re-established Mages of Saruun, rulers of the Thunderspire — and of the halfings of the Halfmoon Inn in the Seven Pillared Hall — for several days. But their welcome could not last forever, and they each began to long to feel the sun on their faces. The day came when all but Surina the Firebrand and Denoa the shadar-kai witch decided to leave the Thunderspire.
They travelled to Fallcrest, and enjoyed their newfound wealth for several days more. But eventually, lacking a common cause for the first time since their fateful meeting in Winterhaven, they drifted off on their separate ways.
The Thumper barbarians, Cram and Borran Lightfoot, accompanied by Elana, returned north to the Winterbole Forest to try to avert the pestilence encroaching on the borders of the clan’s lands. It was unrelated to the dread black pyramid hanging over the no-barbarian’s-land between the Thumpers and their Tigerclaw neighbours, which they were glad to shun.
Wjizzo turned from carousal and turned to courting the knowledge of Nimozaran the Green in Fallcrest’s Emerald Tower and exploiting his reluctantly granted status as an associate member of the Mages of Saruun. Varris the Scarred, gaining scant solace from frankly anything, set forth to try and track down Percival the Halfling.
After half a year Cram was back in Fallcrest, and found gainful employment fronting the management of a tavern. Another underling took care of the accounts, and Cram played both host and bouncer. Some patrons even took to calling the place [tbc] Cram’s Bar! Wjizzo frequented there on the occasions that he needed a break from his studies, and whenever Elana’s travels brought her back to Fallcrest she always looked up her friends.
Then Wjizzo came by _ [details tbc]_ a strange card of ivory bearing the inscription ‘Ruin’, and painted with the device of a broken sword. He knew nothing of this thing, but soon divined that it contained a potent arcane power.
In the months that followed, Wjizzo consulted all the mages and sages of his acquaintance, Nimozaran in Fallcrest, the Mages of Saruun Khel in Thunderspire, Valthrun in Winterhaven, and his own people in the shining Feywild city of Mithrendain, researching the thing in every library he could access. He learned that the card was from the storied but obscure Deck of Many Things, an unknowably ancient artefact that was full of contradictions, not least as an immense wild power more or less contained in a shifting set of fortune-teller’s cards.
Between his enquiries and what Elana could glean upon the road, they heard several accounts of cards of the Deck coming to light here in the Nentir Vale in the last few generations, often with a connection to the orcs and other monsters infesting the ruined site of Gardmore Abbey… But the cards had a conspicuous tendency to change hands in unusual circumstances, and were impossible to track down.
The Rovers’ Return
Varris the Scarred had spent a year or more ranging far afield, following the occasional report of a lone halfling matching his description of Percival. In his travels Percival was making every effort to escape detection, and on one occasion Varris found cultists of Tiamat making the same enquiries as himself. Several tiimes the trail went cold. But when Varris placed his faith in the Raven Queen, mistress of fate, and let fortune guide his feet, he more than once found himself close again.
Then almost beyond his own believing, he came upon his quarry. Percival lay unconscious, clad in tatters, and his much-scarred body laced with new wounds as of knife, of sword and of fire, and his only possession the dark dagger, “Stanley”, in his rigid fist. He did not regain consciousness for two days, but on the second day of tending him Varris found a familiar black and silver throwing star in a fold of the bedclothes that wrapped him.
When finally he awoke, the halfling did not know his rescuer, nor anything else. For what Varris knew to be at least the second time in his life, he had lost his entire memory. The road to recovery was slow, and the halfling was slow to trust this elf who said he knew him, and that his name was “Percival”. But over the course of a long journey back to the Nentir Vale he gradually revealed that he seemed to have been chosen for some very particular task, and that he had not simply lost his memory through a blow to the head, but believed it to have been stolen. Such theft could be possible only to the very greatest of thieves, the fabled Prince of Shadows, reputed to be able to steal blood from a stone, the memory of autumn, or the twinkle from a lover’s eye.
The Madness of Gardmore Abbey
The King’s Road and Winterhaven
Within a day or two of returning to Fallcrest, Varris and Percival had found their way to Cram’s Bar. And less than a week from then Elana returned, telling of dangerously organised depradations of large bands of orcs upon the King’s Road where it passes through the Gardmore Downs between Fallcrest and Winterhaven. A little birdie had told her that the lord of Winterhaven would love to find someone he could trust to investigate. And lo, when she fetched Wjizzo from the Emerald Tower, the Fairy Ring had come full circle!
No one could argue with logic like that. Varris called it the hand of fate, and touched a reverent finger to the pearl at his neck. Percival suppressed a suspicious frown. And Wjizzo smiled enigmatically.
A week later, taking the King’s Road to Winterhaven, Varris inspected various sites and pronounced that a force of at least several dozen orcs was preying upon the traffic on the road. At Wjizzo’s query he said there was no sign of any attacks using anything but force of arms.
And then they rode once again into the familiar farmlands of Winterhaven. The damage wrought by the undead horde of Orcus that Kalarel sent forth from the Shadowfell had been repaired, and the countryside throve once more. Folk on the roadside recognised the five riders and hailed them as their saviours. Salvana Wrafton’s Inn was thronged with well-wishers that night, and many old acquaintances were renewed.
[You may remember the chatty old farmer Eilian the Old, gruff Rond Kelfem who leads the Winterhaven watch, Sister Linora the healer priestess, Thair Coalstriker the obligatory dwarf smith, Delphina Moongem the wood elf wildflower seller, and Bairwin the trader who sent you with a frustratingly well-locked casket for Gendar the drow in Thunderspire; the treacherous Ninaran was unsurprisingly never seen again.]
Most notable was the mid-evening arrival of the ruler of the place, Lord Padraig. Wearing his authority lightly, he greeted everyone with informal but gracious words which were naturally overheard by everyone in the Inn. And asking Cram whether the reason for his return to reprise their previous drinking competition, he ended up joining them at their table for the rest of the evening. (He left only when the alternative was to end up under their table.) As he drank he told them of his concern over the orcish banditry on the King’s Road.
“Travellers have been attacked of late by raiders in the area where the road crosses the Gardbury Downs, just a day to the south-east of here. The attacks mostly occur in the vicinity of the old ruins of Gardmore Abbey, so I suspect the orcs are using the ruins as a lair. If I could, I’d raise a militia to go root the orcs out of their holes and put them to the sword, but these folk can’t see past their village walls. If it’s not a threat to Winterhaven, they don’t think it’s our problem, never mind that it affects caravans coming here. So if I can’t raise a militia, I’m thinking I could hire you to deal with these orcs. To start, I want you to go to the abbey and find out whether the rocs are lairing there. Come back and tell me what you find — as complete a picture of their lair and defences as you can.”
As he departed he invited them to the manorhouse for breakfast, at which he would invite the resident sage in the tower, Valthrun, to give them a history of the site.
Valthrun greeted them familiarly, and said how pleased he was that they were still alive. He was glad to be able to thank them in person for the details of the minotaur ruins in the Thunderspire that they had relayed back to him.
“The abbey was one of the first settlements in the Nentir Vale, established duing the rise of the empire of Nerath around 350 years ago. Along with Fastormel, the combined village and abbey defined the northern forntier of Nerath until the founding of Winterhaven three decades later.
“The abbey was built as a defensive fortification, combining the natural slope of the land and a strong stone wall to protect the village and the home of the monastic knights in the abbey proper. A prosperous settlement grew up between the outer wall and the cloister of the abbey, supporting the knights and enjoying their protection.
During the eight of Nerath’s rule, the holy knights of Gardmore Abbey fought valiantly in Bahamut’s name against any monstrous and evil forces that encroached into the Nentir Vale, and on occasion launched campaigns to bring down bastions of evil in the world beyond. They destroyed thousands of orcs in the Stonemarch, brought low a temple of Zehir in the depths of the Witchlight Fens, and journeyed to the Dragondown Coast, far to the south, to sack the Infernal Bastion of the terrible hobgoblin warlord Hur-Tharak.
“About 150 years ago, a resurgent force of orcs from the Stonemarch descended upon Gardmore Abbey. Aided by ogres, hill giants, and demonic embodiments of chaos, the orcs laid siege to the abbey, but even against such terrible foes the knights held firm.
“But then in a roar of infernal wind, a new wave of attackers was unleashed upon the abbey from the inside. Scores of undead monsters, from skeletal legions and sword wraiths to nightwalkers and fire demons, spread throughout the abbey bringing terror and destruction in their wake. The walls were breached, the Stonemarch forces spilled inside, and a titanic battle among knights, undead and orcs left the abbey in ruins.
“Some decades later, 90 years ago, the ruins were a major battlefield in the Bloodspear War, when another wave of Stonemarch orcs eventually overwhelmed the defenders led by Lord Markelhay of Fallcrest before going on to sack the city itself.”
The adventurers were keen to journey into the Gardbury Downs that day. Wjizzo was particularly keen, winking one silvery eye and telling the others that he had something up his wizard’s sleeve that could make the reconnaissance go very well indeed.
Perhaps guessing that she would not be needed, Elana excused herself from the mission. The last time she’d been singing in Winterhaven there’d been a mercenary captain here by the name of Tam (it transpired Cram knew her slightly from Fallcrest). But perhaps more significantly, the black dwarf in company with her wore a steel plate paunce over his chainmail that openly flaunted a star device with five curved arms.
“Oh!” said Varris, giving Percival a pointed look.
Tam and the dwarf were no longer in town, but Elana thought she might want to track them down.
Nightfall on Gardbury Downs
Travelling back down the King’s Road and taking the route of the old track to Gardmore Abbey would be a full day’s riding, but the group opted to halve the journey by taking the road part way and then cutting straight over the Downs as the crow flies.
When they pulled off the road, Wjizzo unwrapped the golden figurine that he had received on behalf of the group from the Mages of Saruun. With a word, it transformed into a mighty metallic eagle, and the high elf swung himself up onto its neck.
“Lead my horse while I’m gone. I’ll make sure you don’t stumble into any orc ambushes you can’t see from down here.”
The Downs were deserted, but not unnaturally so, and Wjizzo saw nothing amiss in the movements of the local birds and other wildlife. But then, with the sun sinking towards the horizon and forcing Wjizzo practically into the knap of the earth to avoid his eagle attracting attention rather than averting it, he saw a flicker of movement above the left flank of the abbey on the distant hilltop.
“There’s more than orcs in there hills. There’s a red dragon. I think it is unlikely to be working for the orcs…”