The Nature of Things

And So it Sort-of-Almost-Nearly Begins...
The First Post

Alright, so the adventure hasn’t actually started yet, so there’s not really anything to say, but I might as well put in something to at least get rid of the default “Hello, newbie – this is how you do the basics” message and take over the page with my text >:).

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Trapped
After an unexpected sleep...

Mortaar Feudlord (Minotaur Barbarian) and Gregg Pitter (Human Wizard) are walking along a forest road at around midday when they are ambushed by mysterious assailants whom they don’t see due to the immediate casting of a Sleep spell (they assume) on both of them.
Theya wake to find themselves stripped of their equipment, and locked in small yet sturdy metal cages, sealed with equally sturdy metal padlocks. they are inside a stockade which holds several similar cages, though one side of the stockade has no wall as it is the sheer wall of a cliff. One other cage is occupied, but it’s too far away to see clearly and it’s staring to get dark – the occupant appears asleep, unconscious, or possibly even dead. There is an unpleasant smell in the air (that of rotting food, bodily waste, etc), but it isn’t coming from the cages.
After a while of the two sitting and thinking over the situation and trying to work stuff out, they hear voices nearby, coming from outside the stockade. After a couple of minutes a young (20-ish) male human enters carrying a lantern and a sack – he appears to check on the other prisoner (at which point Gregg tries to scare him by casting Ghost Sound, makinga growling noise come from the mysterious creature, but a voice from outside yells that it’s just a trick, and also reveals that Gregg and Mort’s captors believe that Gregg is a priest) before coming over to Gregg and Mort (whose cages are next to each other) and offering them a loaf of stale bread each and a wooden bowl of water. He speaks, and implies that whoever captured the two must think that Gregg’s magic isn’t as much of a threat, otherwise he’d be “kept out” like the other prisoner. He also seems somewhat unpahhy with his situation – he freely admits to being a bandit, one of a group who used to rob travellers on the road, but states that things have changed now and they’ve been taking people prisoner. He is interrupted by another yell from outside, telling him to hurry up, and so departs.
The two are left alone for several hours – Gregg goes to sleep while Mort stays up and keeps an eye out. At around midnight another figure enters with a lantern, checks on the third prisoner, then leaves – a few moments later, another figure enters, this one carrying no light and fully hooded and cloaked, and bends down beside the silent prisoner, apparently casts a spell, then departs.
Mort wakes Gregg and describes what he’s seen, but the two can’t draw too many conclusions from it except to presume that the figure was indeed some kind of spellcaster refreshing a Sleep spell on the captive creature so that it doesn’t wake up. They deduce from this treatment, and from the shouted comments earlier, that it is some kind of fur-covered, humanoid spellcaster which the bandits see as some kind of threat.
Not long after dawn, the man who brought the food in the previous evening returns to collect the wooden bowls, explaining that if they aren’t returned, the prisoners will receive no water – he picks up Mort’s bowl, which is on the floor where it landed after Mort threw it at Gregg’s cage to wake him up during the night. Gregg returns his bowl, throwing it through the bars to where the man can pick it up.
Again the man seems unhappy, and in a hushed voice explains that he doesn’t agree with what his people are doing, kidnapping their victims and keeping them until they can be taken away as slaves. He seems constantly nervous, as though expecting to be “caught” talking to the prisoners. Mort tells him to elave, so he does, but not before giving his name (Bannek) and telling the two that he’ll return that evening with more food.
At around midday, a cloaked figure enters the stockade, bends over the third prisoner, appears to cast a spell, and then leaves. The two can’t tell anything about the person, due to the cloak, and don’t even assume that it was necessarily the same one who came in before, during the night.
After a couple of hours, three men enter the camp – they are physically well-built and armed with maces and such-like. One unlocks the mysterious prisoner’s cage, then another reaches in and roughly drags out the prisoner, who doesn’t show any sign of reaction. This second man, and the third, carry the prisoner out of the compound, followed by the first man (the one who unlocked the cage). At no point do they acknowledge Gregg or Mort, despite the latter bellowing at them as they depart. Gregg manages to get a good, though brief, look at the creature as it is carried away – it seems female in appearance, though is covered in a thin layer of dark brown fur and with thick, darker brown hair around its head and neck. The creature’s facial features seem somewhat animalistic, almost canine in appearance.
The two wait, once again, since there’s little else to do and come evening, Bannek returns with his lantern and sack as he did the night before, though this time he seems rather more upset. He manages to stay for longer this time, and givs a more thorough explanation of his situation, and that of the prisoners. He explains that the magic-user (he only mentions one), whose name he doesn’t give, is “one of the main ones” who persuaded the bandits’ leader to change the way they worked, kidnapping people instead of simply robbing them. Bannek explains that this was all they did before – waylaying travellers on the road, roughing them up and stealing their valuables, and only rarely did they kill anyone, and this usually by accident. Bannek adds that he himself has never killed anyone, and indeed isn’t often sent out to attack travellers, stuck as he usually is with menial tasks in the bandits’ lair.
He also explains that the stockade containing Gregg and Mort is the one where the bandits keep “the strange ones…the really non-human ones…”, and that the prisoners who seem no threat at all are kept “in the other compound”. He then seemsunable to contain himself and bursts out that they’re going to kill “that creature”, and though he doesn’t know what species the creature is, or why it’s considered a threat, he doesn’t feel this is right. At the sound of raucous laughter outside, he explains, with some relief, that his fellow bandits (or at least, some of them) are starting to get themselves drunk, which means they’ll be too busy doing that to rush Bannek at feeding the prisoners. He continues to explain about the mysterious creature, saying that the magic-user decided it wasn’t worth keeping, that it was too much bother for him to keep recasting the sleep spell every few hours. Bannek also explains that the magic-user is now no longer present in the area, and says that the creature has been chained up in the “Death Hut”, presumably until the Sleep spell wears off, at which point it/she will be tortured and eventually killed by the bandits.
Gregg explains, to Bannek’s surprise, that he’s a wizard, not a priest – it was his possession of a holy symbol of Tiamat that caused the bandits to believe this. He and Mort attempt to persuade Bannek to help them escape, promising him they won’t harm him though he seems somewhat accepting of the fact that he’s not likely to live long if he helps, even if it isn’t Gregg or Mort who kills him. But his dislike of his current life, coupled with Gregg and Mort’s persuasion, is enough, and he tells them he will try to get hold of the key to their cages. He says that the Sleep spell should wear off the creature in the Death Hut by around midnight, and that if he hasn’t returned by then he’s most likely been caught and killed.
He is about to leave, but then remembers the food, and produces bread and water as he did the night before. This time, however, he displays a show of trust by actually stepping within reach of the cages and holding out the food and water for Gregg and Mort to take, which they both do. Bannek then reassures them once more that he will try his best to get hold of the key from among the drunken bandits, and then departs.

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Freedom
At last, time for a leg-stretch...

Bannek returns after a while, carrying in his sack several bottles and a bunch of keys, the latter of which he then uses to release Gregg and Mortaar from their cages, explaining that the bunch of keys he’s managed to get hold of only unlocks the cages in this compound. On being freed, Gregg finally introduces both himself and Mort, the latter of whom is more interested in cracking a few skulls at the way they’ve been treated. He is quickly persuaded to do otherwise, however, at least for the time being, and the three discuss the current situation, Bannek revealing yet further information on the bandits’ camp and being pleasantly surprised by an assertion from both Gregg and Mort that they’ll make sure he gets to safety too.
Bannek explains that until a few weeks ago, the bandits were just that – common bandits who held up travellers and relieved them of their possessions. They were led by someone called Durneg, whose description implies great size and strength, though no further information regarding his race or class is asked for or given, save that he possesses “…an axe that could cleave me in half no trouble…”. Then, some weeks previously, a number of cloaked strangers, including the unknown mage, turned up in the camp and spoke to Durneg. After this, the bandits started taking prisoners.
Bannek also partially describes the fate of one man, Heris, who spoke out against the slave-taking a few days after it began – the mage had him chained in the middle of the camp and then used his magic in some way to presumably kill him, saying fearfully that “…all that was left afterwards was just a…a…mess.”. Bannek says that the man’s remains were simply thrown into the refuse pit, on order of the mage (who wouldn’t let the bandits simply bury him), as a reminder of what would happen to those who tried to take any kind of stand against the way things were going.
Bannek then gives a little more information on the two most high-ranking members of the group. He says that despite his strength and stature, it was these very things that meant Durneg rarely had to resort to violence – “So he never needed to do much besides ask people for their gear and heft his axe around a bit.”. Bannek then describes a man called Rezeel, the second-in-command, whom he claims cares about nothing beyond “…money and his own skin.”. With Durneg gone from the camp for the time being, Rezeel has done nothing to stop the rest of the bandits from raiding the ale stores and getting themselves heavily drunk. Bannek adds that Rezeel tends to prefer to keep to himself, inside his hut, but will most likely be the first one heading to the Death Hut later, when the creature imprisoned there is due to wake up, so that he can “…shed the first blood. And the last, I bet.”.
Though none of the mysterious cloaked figures are present in the camp at this time, Mort expresses a desires to get some revenge on them for what they’ve done to people. Bannek warns against this, claiming the cloaked ones are too powerful.
Gregg asks Bannek if he can draw a map in the dirt, and the bandit does so, using his rather rusty short sword. Then Gregg and Mort ask Bannek about the locations of the guards – Bannek says he doesn’t know whether anyone is guarding the main entrance to the camp as he hasn’t been there since everyone started drinking, but he says that the guard of the nearby watchtower is currently “not very busy” due to the fact that Bannek made sure to give him some very strong ale. The guard of the watchtower beside the other compound has “already gone”, and is presumably with the rest of the bandits, off getting drunk.
Mort suggests that the group raids the camp’s armoury, but Bannek respectfully points out that this would probably not be worth it, as the only gear kept in the armoury is that which no-one else wants because it’s no good – he gestures to his own poor-quality short sword and says that this weapon is all he’s been allowed to use, despite his own preference for a blunt weapon.
The group eventually decides that Bannek will make his way to the storehouse containing items taken from prisoners – Mort and Gregg describe their possessions to him so that he knows what to look for. Meanwhile the two of them will try to sneak around to the Death Hut, free the mysterious creature imprisoned within, and then attempt to release the remaining prisoners from the other compound.
They part ways, Bannek sneaking off toward the storehouses while Mort and Gregg head in the other direction. They find the unconscious guard at the foot of the watchtower, a half-empty bottle beside him which Gregg takes. They can see the camp’s main fire in the distance, with silhouettes moving around it, but move around to the left, in the direction of the Death Hut – the fact that neither of them has any kind of low-light vision coupled with the fact that Gregg is reluctant to cast a magical light in case it attracts attention means that it is somewhat difficult to see anything – the sky is rather cloudy and contains only a crescent moon, which itself is only intermittently visible.
The two reach the Death Hut, little more than a small yet sturdy windowless wooden building, the door of which is sealed with only a heavy wooden bar across the entrance – after a couple of tries, Mortaar manages to lift it off and places it on the ground. Gregg casts his Light spell on a pebble, dropping it inside the room, then Mortaar enters and closes the door while Gregg keeps watch outside.
Inside the room, Mort finds the creature from the cages chained to the floor, still unconscious – he frees her without difficulty and carries her outside, where Gregg is able to finally get a closer look at her and confirms that she is still magically asleep, and also, more importantly, that she is a Longtooth Shifter, a creature distantly descended from werewolves and who possesses both a predatory nature and a pack mentality. She is quite slender in build, though not exactly frail, and seems quite young – she also seems rather thin, however, as though she hasn’t eaten for some time, though this would make sense if she’s been imprisoned and kept asleep for longer than Gregg and Mort have been in the camp.
They take the shifter over to hide beside the walls of the nearby stockade (the one where the human prisoners are kept), and place her on the ground – Mort keeps an eye on her while Gregg moves nearer the Death Hut and attempts to keep an eye out for anyone approaching – he is so busy watching for someone like Rezeel that he doesn’t notice Bannek creep right up to him, startling him. The bandit has managed to retrieve most of the duo’s items, though has had to leave behind some of Gregg’s things as they were too heavy to manage – he explains that he decided to leave his own short sword behind so that he could bring Gregg’s instead, and the wizard kindly tells him he can keep it as it’s a better quality weapon than the one he had.
The two put on their armour whilst keeping watch (Bannek helping), but as they’re nearly done Mort is narrowly missed by an attack from the shifter, who has woken up and attempts to claw at him before retreating, seeming understandably angry as she growls at them, trying to both watch them and take in her surroundings at the same time. After a few tense moments of discussion, the three manage to talk her out of her aggressive stance, largely aided by Bannek. At the shifter’s constant references to things like “Nature” and “the Balance”, Bannek also mentions seeing some kind of wood carving in the storehouse, shaped like a wolf and decorated with feathers and other natural objects. This immediately gets the shifter’s attention and she tells him it is her totem and that she must have it back. Bannek says he’ll try to sneak back to the storehouse to get both it and anything else that belongs to the shifter, who has introduced herself as Shiraka. She describes the rest of her possessions to him (a pack of supplies, a spiked gauntlet, and some leather armour) and he departs to fetch them.
Gregg offers Shiraka some of his rations, which she eagerly accepts, and then tells him to show her where the “trapped ones” are, the group having brought her up to speed on their immediate situation regarding the other prisoners. She peers inside the stockade, once Gregg has led her to the entrance, but stays outside at Gregg’s request, acknowledging that her appearance may frighten the prisoners. Gregg enters and is almost overcome by stench – the cages in this compound are roughly the same size as those he and Mort were trapped in (though made of wood), and those that are occupied all seem to contain two prisoners. All seem weak and miserable, and faint groans can be heard. Gregg is forced to retreat to the entrance, however, lest he start to gag on the smell. He doesn’t describe to Mort what he’s seeing as he knows it will most likely anger the minotaur into doing something rash.
Bannek returns once more, with Shiraka’s things and also those possessions of Gregg’s he couldn’t manage to carry before – Shiraka is glad to have her totem back, and gives Bannek a nod of respect which he returns. The young bandit, however, seems increasingly worried – he thinks Rezeel is wandering about the camp and so may be heading toward the Death Hut soon. He says there is no way he’ll be able to get the keys to free the human prisoners, but inquires as to the possibility of Mort simply forcing them open with brute strength.
With these issues pressing upon them, the group tries to decide exactly what to do next.

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Escape
The group meets some more bandits...

As the group quietly discusses what to do next, they are interrupted by a bandit emerging from behind the nearby stockade – he doesn’t notice them at first, but Shiraka hears him approach and turns to face him, getting the attention of the rest of the group. As the man notices the group, he stops, but before he has time to react, he is charged by Mortaar. A brief fight ensues, Mort hacking away, Shiraka summoning her Spirit Companion to join in. Bannek doesn’t draw his weapon but after the enemy bandit has taken some damage from Mort tries to convince him to give himself up – the man is revealed to be Rezeel. He refuses to give up, sneeringly referring to Bannek s “Durneg’s favourite”, and is soon knocked unconscious by Mort. Meanwhile, other bandits have arrived, nearly all of them drunk, and a few more moves from Mortaar see them quickly taken down too, though again the minotaur ensures he only knocks them unconscious.
This group of bandits defeated, and no further foes apparently forthcoming, the group sets about clearing up the mess – Rezeel is chained up in the Death Hut in the same manner Shiraka had been. His body is searched by both Gregg and Bannek, who find little of interest aside from a few gold coins and a small silver ring.
As Bannek is still carrying the keys he acquired previously, the other bandits are locked in the metal cages inside the stockade Gregg and Mort had been kept in – the group (apart from Mort) puts two bandits in each cage, to see how they like being treated in the same manner as their prisoners. They are also bound and gagged.
Mort, meanwhile, enters the other stockade and sets about hacking into the wooden cages there to release the prisoners. Once they’ve been freed, Gregg and Mort share their food and water supplies with them to give them some stength to move on. Then the group sneaks around the northern edge of the camp, after Bannek has gone on ahead and confirmed that the way is clear (all remaining bandits seem to be still enjoying themselves around the fire – the ones the group fought had probably just followed Rezeel). Finally they reach the break in the stockade which is the camp’s only exit – the prisoners are ushered out of here and across the wooden bridge over the river just beyond. This bridge is weaker at the end nearest the camp, the intention being that were anyone to ever attack the camp, the bridge could be safely destroyed by the bandits to stop any invaders reaching them. As soon as the entirety of the group has crossed, Shiraka summons her spirit companion on the other side of the bridge and has it destroy the supports, causing that end of the bridge to fall into the river.
The group then prepares to move off along the forest path – Bannek says that he has no idea where they are, having not left the camp in the ten years since he was first brought there, though he knows there are at least a couple of villages somewhere reasonably close. Shiraka declares that she will lead as the group moves off, suggesting that Mort should cover the rear while Gregg and Bannek travel one on each side of the group of prisoners.

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The Forest
The group seeks a safe place...

Having managed to finally escape the bandit camp, the group, led by Shiraka, follows the path away from the river. After a while, the shifter leads them off the path, into the forest proper. After the group has been walking for some time, Shiraka speaks to Gregg, saying that she’ll be able to find them somewhere to spend the night much more quickly and easily if she scouts ahead on her own. Gregg agrees to this, lending her his lantern, and she quickly disappears.
She returns after a short while, though, and leads the group to a small, natural cave beside a stream. The prisoners gratefully settle themselves inside the shelter and quickly fall asleep. After setting a watch, the others fall asleep too (except for Shiraka, who takes the first watch), but nothing disturbs them during the night.
Come the following morning, everyone wakes, and Shiraka says that it would be best if she scouts ahead once more, to see if she can find signs of a village, or similar, to which the group can take the prisoners. Once more, she leaves.
While she is gone, Gregg notices Bannek sitting alone beside the stream, seeming somewhat preoccupied. The wizard asks the bandit about his past, saying that Bannek commented that he’d been within the camp for ten years yet seems barely older than Gregg. Bannek confirms that he is around twenty-two years old and, after some prodding and with some reluctance, finally decides to reveal his past – that his village, Downdale, was destroyed by unknown forces when he was around twelve years old, his mother killed in the attack, and that he escaped with his father and a family friend into the forest, where they were waylaid by Durneg and some of his bandits. Bannek’s father and friend put up a fight, however, and before anyone could stop them the bandits (except for Durneg) had killed them. Durneg seemed greatly angered by this, and though Bannek thought he was going to kill him, the bandit leader chose not to, telling him that it would be better for the boy to return with him to the bandit camp than to simply be left to die in the forest.
Bannek explains that though Durneg never spoke to him again after his arrival in the camp, he thinks the bandit leader somehow kept an eye on him, ensuring that though he was given low, menial tasks to perform, he never went out with the bandits and took part in their hold-ups of forest travellers. He also says that, during his time in the camp, he heard snippets of conversation among other bandits which implied that the camp and its inhabitants had existed before Durneg came along, and that in his rule of the camp had greatly restricted the bandits’ use of violence. Durneg also kept a tight rein on Rezeel, something which became obvious the moment the bandit leader left the camp.
Bannek wonders what has happened to Durneg, and says that he hopes nothing too bad has befallen him, feeling that he owes the leader something for his apparent protection over the last ten years. Gregg attempts to reassure Bannek, saying that he is welcome to accompany himself and Mortaar, and that they will look for Durneg and destroy the mage and the other hooded beings who so altered the camp (Bannek having also mentioned that the prison stockades and the death hut were built after the mysterious people came, and also that these people provided the cages in whicih the prisoners were kept).
Bannek seems to think Gregg is mad, saying that he has seen the power of just one of these people (the mage) and that there is no way even Gregg and Mortaar could stand against him, let alone the whole group of however many there really are. Gregg attempts to demonstrate his strength by hurling forth a fireball, causing the prisoners to become somewhat alarmed and Mort to come running over – Gregg brushes the minotaur off with a hurried excuse and he storms away again. Bannek, meanwhile, remains unconvinced – he thinks that because Gregg hasn’t seen what this mage can do, he therefore doesn’t understand what he’s up against. Bannek admits to being scared but Gregg, for now, seems bored – he walks away from Bannek, making a snide comment as he does so, but the former bandit doesn’t respond.

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To Farwatch
Out of the forest...

Shiraka rejoins the group, saying she has been to the top of the hill and seen a village in the distance, off to the east. The group starts to head that way, moving through the forest till they find themselves at a ledge which drops down to a lower part of the forest. After some discussion they use rope from their packs to lower people down, and eventually all the prisoners are safely at the bottom, as is the group-proper.
They continue onward, and after a while spot a wide, well-used path coming in from behind and to the right, intersecting their current route. Shiraka leads them onto this road and they continue along it, still heading roughly eastward, eventually rounding a bend and coming within sight of the village. Mort queries Shiraka and the prisoners as to whether the group is likely to be welcomed within the village, and also whether anyone knows anything about it. Though none of the prisoners originate there, some believe it to be the village of Farwatch, so named because it lies within sight of the Farflow River. None of the prisoners believe the group will have much trouble, the local people being generally quite tolerant with those who don’t actively try to cause trouble.
The party approaches, Mort and Shiraka in front, and is greeted by a guard manning a small guard hut at the edge of the village. The guard, a human male, inquires as to the group’s business, and when Mort explains they have escaped from bandit captivity and are looking for somewhere safe, he gives directions to the village hall and allows them to pass.
The group moves into the village, finding the village hall with little difficulty, and are met outside it by Ulrik Himsfarth, the village elder. He welcomes the group, listens as Mort explains their business, and shows them inside the village hall where various villagers start setting up a kind of “emergency shelter” for the prisoners, fetching food and bedding for them.
Gregg and Mort spend a few moments speaking to Ulrik, who says that the prisoners are welcome to stay in the village for now, as is the rest of the group. He also mentions someone called “Komtor Sarumi”, about whom Mort intends to inquire further. At this point it is clear that Shiraka is very uncomfortable being inside a building and excuses herself, preferring to be outside in the open air – Ulrik understands this, and says she only has to ask if she requires anything.
As soon as she has stepped outside, however, Shiraka returns to inform Gregg and Mort that there appears to be some kind of problem – the two of them follow her outside to find that Bannek is standing with three soldiers. It seems he has attracted some kind of attention and has explained his former position as a member of the bandit camp. Mort, on seeing that Bannek isn’t being actively bothered by the men, goes back inside the hall, and so misses the guards saying that Bannek is being arrested for his part in whatever the bandits may have done. Gregg opposes this, but Bannek pleads with him not to stir up any trouble, and that he will accept whatever punishment is given to him. Shiraka says that if it is truly his choice, she will accept that and let him walk his own path in life. She also points out to Gregg that if he tries to stop what is happening, he is making Bannek’s choice for him and therefore technically not being any different from the bandits. Gregg turns his back on Bannek and storms back into the hall, where he goes to sit in a corner.
Mort, meanwhile, starts talking to Ulrik and inquires about various aspects of the region. He warns Ulrik of the bandits, saying that something strange is going on regarding their activities. Ulrik says that people have, over the years, occasionally gone missing, and indicates a villager who is moving between the prisoners, apparently looking for or asking about someone.
While Mort continues to speak to Ulrik, Gregg approaches this man, who sees him and goes over to him to ask him whether there were any other prisoners besides the ones the group brought into Farwatch. Gregg shows him the ring taken from Rezeel, and asks whether he recognises it. The man looks at it closely, clearly recognising it, then asks where Gregg found it. Gregg lies at first, saying that it belonged to a woman who escaped from the camp. The man sees through this, however, and pleads with Gregg to just tell him the truth. Gregg finally does so, and the man, overcome with emotion, manages to tell Gregg to visit him later at his house beside the tailor’s shop before hastily departing the village hall.
Meanwhile, Mort asks Ulrik about Komtor Sarumi – Ulrik explains that “Komtor” is a title, said to originate as a combination of the words “commander” and “protector”. He says that Sarumi amounts to being what is basically one of the overall rulers of the land, and has apparently been spreading his forces out over the country, Farwatch being one of the more recent places he has reached. Ulrik explains that the Komtor was responsible for the construction of an outpost within the village, where the local guards live and train, though as the area is reasonably peaceful there has been little of major importance for them to do so far.
Ulrik says that, regarding the bandits, Sarumi will most likely be interested in hearing what Mort and Gregg have to say. He explains that the Komtor is currently in the area, though not presently within Farwatch, and may be back within a few days – he is not certain precisely when, however. He then tells Mort that if he needs anything, he has but to ask the villagers, and also mentions that there are a few traders and some places which may be of interest to a traveller. He then excuses himself, as he has other matters to attend to.
Mort and Gregg then swap (some) information, Gregg explaining about the man and the ring, though not the fact that the man asked Gregg to visit him later. He also explains about Bannek’s arrest, though still doesn’t reveal the major details about Bannek’s past life. He expresses a desire to speak to the guards, or whoever’s responsible for Bannek being held, in order to provide evidence in the former bandit’s favour. Mort agrees to go over to the outpost and inquire, leaving his armour and weapons behind at the village hall, where Gregg has decided to remain for now.
At this point the minotaur is approached by a small girl named Meeka, who initiates the conversation by asking him whether he’s a “magic cow”. Mort is, perhaps surprisingly, polite with her and tolerates her innocent questioning, even “playing along” with her by confirming her initial query. During the short conversation, she mentions the Komtor a couple of times, mentioning that he has “big teefs”, and will “…find the bad people and make the big magic storm to scare them away…” – up till this point Mort had assumed the Komtor was human, so such descriptions change his mind somewhat. Meeka, however, says she has to go (having previously mentioned that she was helping her mother, one of the healers, take care of the prisoners), and disappears into the village hall.
Mort sees Shiraka by the well, and explains to her about Bannek (not thinking that she’ll already know this) – she tells him she is aware, reminding him that he was the one who first departed the scene of Bannek’s arrest. She explains her viewpoint on the matter – that she is willing to let Bannek go his own way, wherever that may lead. She also says that she spoke to the guards as they took him away, and was told that no-one would be allowed to visit him but also that he still might walk free. She says that she doesn’t think the local people are the kind who would simply execute someone, and that she believes they will speak to hiim first, hear his side of the story. She doesn’t seem worried about his fate. Mort agrees with her general viewpoint, that Bannek should be free to walk his own way, and says he has respect for her opinion on such matters.
As Mort heads on toward the outpost (which Shiraka has indicated is where Bannek is being held), Shiraka disappears off for a wander around the village. As Mort approaches the solid stone wall surrounding the outpost building, he can hear the clash of weapons which indicates the presence of a training ground beyond. The walls bear a banner of simple design – a green background with a red ring in the centre. Mort speaks to the two guards (a male human and a female elf), first inquiring about Bannek and then about the possibility of using their training area to practise. He is told that, indeed, Bannek is not permitted visitors at this time, and that it may be several days before anything is done concerning the young man since the village is currently quite busy with other things at the request of the Komtor. He is also told that it is quite likely he will be permitted to “borrow” the training ground, but that inquiries will have to be made first. The elf guard also mentions an area of the village known locally as the “Divine Path”, a road lined with shrines to various deities.
Mort is again told that the Komtor will probably return in a few days, though as with Ulrik, this guard is equally uncertain as to how accurate such a timeframe is. It is explained that the Komtor is visiting other villages in the area, “…those that still stand…”, and at Mort’s further questioning it is explained that one village, Downdale, was destroyed some years ago by unknown forces and that no-one goes there any more because it is said that “dark creatures” walk there. The guard says that the Komtor will probably have something done about it eventually, but is currently rather busy and so it may have to wait a while longer.
Mort thanks the two guards for the information and tells them he will return the following morning.

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Around the Village
The group explores Farwatch...

Mortaar goes to speak to Shiraka, telling her of his intention to stay a few days in Farwatch in order to await the arrival of Komtor Sarumi. Shiraka reminds him that they had decided, back at the bandit camp, to return there as soon as possible in order to put an end to their activities. Mort suggests that if they remain in Farwatch, they can inform Sarumi about the bandit situation in order that he might do something about it, but Shiraka disagrees with this course of action, saying that time spent waiting around may allow the bandits to gather their strength once more, especially if Durneg and/or the mage return. She suggests that destroying the camp, which was evidently not a recent construction, will deprive the bandits of their base of operations, causing them to scatter.
Mort agrees with her reasoning, and asks her to find Gregg and explain their plans, arranging to meet the two of them back by the village well – meanwhile, he decides to seek out the Divine Path to see whether there is a shrine there dedicated to Tempus.
Shiraka returns to the village hall and beckons Gregg outside in order to speak with him. She explains her discussion with Mort regarding their return to the bandit camp, and that they will return to Farwatch to report their findings once they have ascertained the camp’s current situation. She then goes over to the well in order to wait for the others to finish what they’re doing.
Gregg goes shopping, stopping off first in the general trading post to buy some more rope and to resupply with food. He then visits the smith, buying some metal spikes to assist with climbing back up to the ledge in the forest when the group returns that way later. He also buys a small hammer, and finally asks the smith if he can sharpen his dagger for him. The smith agrees, and Gregg hands it over before exiting the building.
On emerging outside, however, he spots a strange sight – a roughly human-sized, humanoid figure made of what appears to be some kind of shiny black stone, with four arms, walking past him along the road. He turns and re-enters the smithy in order to ask about it, and is told that the strange entity is a construct known as “Sid” and belongs to someone named Kargak who lives nearby. He mentions that Kargak is “good at that sort of thing” (meaning the animation of magical constructs, presumably), and that it is possible that Sid has been sent out to look for Gregg, as he is new to the village and apparently Kargak likes to keep an eye on goings-on in the village. The smith also explains that Kargak assisted in the construction of the nearby military outpost and that it is the safest place to be in the event of the village coming under attack.
Meanwhile, Mort is walking along the Divine Path, a road containing 13 shrines, each to a different deity – Bahamut, Balinor, Corellon, Erathis, Ioun, Kord, Melora, Moradin, Pelor, Sehanine, Sune, Tempus, and the Raven Queen. Mort finds the shrine to Tempus and pays his respects, then looks around to see the strange stone construct walking along the road toward him. Its eyes are a deep sky-blue and it simply walks up to him and holds out one of its hands, which is holding a piece of paper – Mort takes this and reads the note written on it, which turns out to be an invitation from Kargak to the group, requesting that they visit him at their convenience. It also contains an apology for the fact that the homunculus (Sid) would have ignored any of Mort’s companions, had they been with him at the time, and still gone straight to Mort. This was because a minotaur was easier to describe to the construct than a human or a shifter.
Sid seems to wait long enough to be sure that Mort is reading the note, then turns and walks away. Mort follows the construct back north (missing Gregg, who has already walked past heading back in the direction of the well) and along a smaller path away from the villagers’ houses toward a lone house with a small tower attached at one side of the roof. Sid enters this house, and Mort, noting this, turns back, to go and meet the others by the well.
Gregg, meanwhile, has gone to visit the house of the man whose ring he returned (the silver ring taken from Rezeel back in the bandit’s camp). The man is there, and apologises for his previous sudden departure. He says that he is glad he now knows for sure what has happened to his love, and that he will keep the ring as a memory but will get on with his life. He offers Gregg a small pouch of money, saying it was what he had saved up over the years with the intention of using it once he and his love were together, which the wizard is initially reluctant to take but eventually does. The man once more expresses his sincere gratitude to Gregg for ending his waiting, despite the fact it was bad news. Gregg then leaves him and heads over to the well, where Shiraka and Mort are already waiting, the latter having just arrived himself.
Gregg and Mort then give a slightly disjointed account of their separate sightings of Sid, thereby pooling their information so far gathered on the construct. Mort shows them the note he was given, and the two read it. The three of them are then all in agreement that Kargak sounds interesting and that he may be able to offer some assistance.
They head over to Kargak’s house, noting a few things as they arrive. Around the house are a few strange trees, unlike those they have seen so far in this region – they are of a species that looks twisted and gnarled, though with healthy growth. Another thing they notice is that etched into the low wall around the house are a number of arcane-looking runes. There are more etched into the wood of the house’s sturdy wooden door, and in the stones around it.
The party knocks on the door and it is opened by Sid, who then closes the door once the three of them have entered. The construct then leads them up a spiral staircase to the tower room, which contains a large miscellany of various items, all tidily organised, and a dwarf.

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The Man in the Moon
The group visit the local tavern...

While they wait for Mort to finish speaking with Ulrik, Gregg and Shiraka talk amongst themselves, the former asking the latter about what Kargak did with her totem and also inquiring about her origins. She tells him that Kargak gave her totem, along with a note, to some kind of large bird which apparently lives in one of the trees beside his house and took both items, flying away with them to presumably return later once the totem has been suitably enchanted.
On the subject of her origins, Shiraka explains that she used to live with a pack, a group of her fellow shifters, some way west of Farwatch near some mountains. She explains that as the duty of a shaman is to guide others, she left her people to see whether she might find anyone out in the world who needed such guidance. Gregg tells her that she is welcome to consider himself and Mort as part of her “pack”, a suggestion she considers but says she will not accept just yet as although both of them have earned some of her trust, they haven’t yet earned her full respect. She also mentions that those who lack this are never referred to by name when she speaks to or about them.
Meanwhile, Mort comes over and explains Ulrik’s suggestion that they seek out the “Man in the Moon” if they require information on Embrachal and its ways. The trio head over to the tavern, the Shining Moon, and enter – they are greeted by the Man in the Moon himself, Herford Dunsen, who welcomes them from his position behind the bar. He offers them a round of free drinks, having heard from the locals about the group’s actions regarding the bandits and the prisoners. Gregg and Mort then ask him various questions about the locality and the land in general (particularly the Circle and the Komtor), while Shiraka, having apparently never been inside a tavern before, takes up her usual position of listening to the conversation as it unfolds.
Herford reveals a wealth of information about the Circle, explaining the groups, known as Arcs, which make it up and also describing the general layout of Embrachal – where the main cities are, and several geographical locations of note, as well as the names for the four regions of the country (the Southlands, Northlands, Coastlands, and finally the desolate Grey Reaches).
On the nature of the local region, Herford mentions that there’s nothing much to really get excited about. He says that the only real troubles he’s known of have been the bandits and what happened to the village of Downdale. The group inquires further about this and he explains little more beyond what is already known – that it was attacked and the people apparently massacred by an unknown force a decade previously, and that no-one has dared venture there since, rumours passing around of unknown (and apparently unpleasant) creatures roaming around whatever’s left of the village.
Gregg, feeling somewhat guilty about his previous attitude toward Bannek, suggests that the group investigates the village, the ex-bandit’s former home, in order to perhaps return the favour of his kindness by finding out what happened there, so many years previous. Shiraka supports this suggestion, saying that any “unnatural creatures” bear investigation, as far as she’s concerned. Mort says nothing, but doesn’t disagree with the notion. Instead he suggests that the group retire to one of the tables in order to discuss and digest all this information.

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Return to Durneg's Camp
The group revisit the bandit camp...

The group spends some time in the tavern, talking amongst themselves about the Circle and about each other (though Gregg remains evasive about his own past). Mort visits the village hall once again and asks the former prisoners for their names and for information on where they live, intending to perhaps help escort them home at some point.
After a couple more hours, a villager finds the group in the tavern (Mort having returned by this time) and informs them that Sid is waiting over by the well. The group departs and goes to find the homunculus, who is indeed waiting for them and who leads them back to Kargak’s house as soon as they approach. They are led upstairs to the workroom once again, and are greeted by Kargak, who returns their weapons to them, explaining the magic properties the items have now been imbued with. The group are pleased with their newly-enchanted equipment, and thank Kargak. Mort asks whether there’s anything the dwarf wants in return, and Kargak mentions that he’s always interested in acquiring new magical items which he can investigate. He also says that he might be able to help them again in future, though for now is somewhat tired from the enchanting he’s been doing.
Finally, the dwarf cautions them to be careful in their explorations of Downdale, and once again urges them not to go near any of the strange hooded figures (the ones from the bandit camp), should they see any.
The group then sets out, heading back toward the bandit camp by the route they came the previous night. Travel is much quicker this time, and the group covers the distance in half the time it took them before. Even climbing up the ledge in the forest isn’t too much of a problem. Finally, the group reaches the edge of the Farflow and can see the entrance to the bandit camp once again.
However, this time, things are different. The bridge has been repaired. There are a few columns of smoke, but none from the campfire that burned there before – on entering the camp, the group discover it has been almost utterly destroyed – though the stockade walls are still standing, every building has been destroyed (by fire or physical force, it seems), and there is no sign of any of the cages (not even pieces of melted or splintered metal in the case of the metal cages). Also, perhaps oddly, there are no bodies – whatever has struck the camp was either allied with the bandits, or chose to take them alive. Or perhaps the bandits simply fled before it struck. Whatever has happened, Shiraka can find no trail to follow, and advises against doing so anyway, on the basis that if the camp could be destroyed this completely, the three of them will stand little chance. She suggests that perhaps this was a deliberate show of power for those who might come to the bandit camp, as they have – after all, if this force could do all this and leave no trail, why would it need to repair the bridge to reach the camp?
With several possible conclusions to think about (though Gregg and Mort seem convinced the camp was destroyed by the bandits when they knew their secrets were going to be revealed by those who escaped), the group decide they may as well return to Farwatch and report their findings. They damage the bridge again, so that no-one else (they hope) will enter the camp, and then return to Farwatch, arriving in the early hours of the morning as they did the previous night.
Sid awaits them, and once again leads them to Kargak’s house, where the dwarf waits in his main room (on the ground floor) with Ulrik, the village elder. The two greet the group (while Sid disappears upstairs, presumably to take up his usual post), and proceed to explain between them that during the group’s absence, Komtor Sarumi returned to Farwatch, albeit rather briefly. He arranged for the former prisoners to be taken to wherever they need to go, and apparently spent some time speaking with Bannek before taking the human with him in his hasty departure to deal with some kind of urgent news he has received.
Kargak, during this explanation, mentions the Komtor claimed he would “make a decent example” of Bannek – Gregg is immediately upset, assuming the worst, and starts complaining loudly, revealing the remainder of his knowledge of the former bandit (that he was a survivor of what happened at Downdale, and that Durneg took him in and subtly helped him). While Mort grumbles to himself, annoyed at having supposedly wasted time returning to the camp and therefore missing the Komtor’s return, Ulrik is confused at Gregg’s view on things, clearly not understanding the meaning behind his words. Kargak, however, is clearly somewhat better-traveller (or at least, in possession of a greater knowledge of realms outside of Embrachal), and hastily explains that “making a decent example” of Bannek means literally that – making an example in a good way, a former bandit being put on a new path, and that people aren’t simply put to death in this land because of things they might have done. Ulrik seems shocked by this very concept.
Meanwhile, talk turns to the subject of Downdale. Gregg and Mort wonder whether whatever struck that village is related to what is happening now. They also relate the news of what they found when they returned to the bandit camp, and Ulrik says that he and Kargak will see to it that the Circle is informed. Shiraka points out that whatever struck Downdale, as it was so long ago, may have nothing to do with the events at the bandit camp, a suggestion agreed with by Mort.
Ulrik, meanwhile, suggests that as the group have shared about as much information as they can for the time being, they should get some sleep. He says that though the former prisoners now no longer occupy the village hall, the bedding there has not yet been cleared away and the group are welcome to use it.
Kargak bids them farewell, saying he’ll be interested to know what they discover when they visit whatever’s left of Downdale. The group departs the dwarf’s house and heads, with Ulrik, back to the village hall – Ulrik sees them inside and then retires to his own home. The group settles down for the night and gets some sleep.
The next morning, some villagers come in and offer the group food – Shiraka takes hers outside to eat. Mort then heads over to the outpost to see about using their training grounds, while Gregg remains in the village hall, studying his spellbook.
Shiraka approaches Gregg, bringing up the subject of the three of them supposedly being a “pack”. She says that pack members need to be able to trust each other, but that she doesn’t trust Gregg because she has noticed the way he constantly evades any talk of himself. Gregg proves her right as he then tries to avoid the subject, saying his life isn’t important and that he wants people to judge him only by things he’s doing now and not by things he’s done in the past. Shiraka admits she can sort of see his reasoning, but says that he is a result of everything that has happened to him before, and so his past is by no means unimportant. Shiraka becomes rather annoyed, growling at Gregg and pointing out that she can see he is continuing to evade the subject. She accuses him of “hiding himself” from the rest of the group (or at least, from Shiraka – she is aware that she doesn’t know how much Mort knows about Gregg, since she doesn’t know how well they already know each other), and says that he’ll earn neither her trust nor her respect until he decides to be more open about himself. Gregg continues to evade, telling her he needs to study his spells so that he can cast them properly (or words to that effect). Shiraka angrily gives up, and implies that she may not remain with the group once they have completed their business in Downdale. She then leaves.
Mortaar, meanwhile, has been practising in the training ground, wielding his sword against the magically-strengthened training dummies there. Shiraka arrives, having headed there from the village hall after her argument with Gregg, but doesn’t mention this exchange to Mort. She instead says that due to her usual role in combat (as using her spirit companion to help and support others), it would be useful for her to see how Mort fights in order to better help him. The two exchange information about their various skills and powers, and Mort explains about his rage, saying he uses it as his source of strength but that sometimes it can fully overpower him and cause him to lash out even after all his foes have fallen. Shiraka asks whether there would be any way to calm him should this happen, and also offers to use one of her own spirit-powers, the ability to stop a person in their tracks, should Mort ever lose control of himself and attempt to attack someone he shouldn’t. She also suggests that perhaps her Path in life has led her so that she can guide him along his.
She then watches him train a while longer, until eventually he decides he’s had enough. They then go to meet up with Gregg in order to set out for Downdale, which they are told lies roughly south/southwest of Farwatch and which they will find if they follow the signposts along the road.

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To Downdale
The group sets out for the ruined village...

The group departs Farwatch and follows the road through fertile countryside in the direction of Downdale, at one point stopping to ask directions from a passing farmer. The village is simple enough to find, however, as signposts pointing to it still stand (though have had the name crossed out). The journey takes several hours, and it is getting toward late afternoon as they climb the hill that shapes the “bowl” containing whatever’s left of the village.
As the (now rather overgrown) road climbs, it snakes back and forth, following a gradual climb up the hill which presumably was to allow wagons to safely negotiate the trip in previous years. Shiraka suggests that they leave the road, suggesting that it will be quicker to simply walk straight up the hill. Gregg and Mort both agree and so they leave the path and travel directly uphill through the forested area, eventually coming to the “rim of the bowl”.
The land directly in front of them drops away briefly at this point, which fortunately allows them a largely unrestricted view of the bowl and its contents – the ruins of Downdale (apparently little more than crumbling walls and caved-in buildings) are visible in the distance, still a few miles away.
Shiraka climbs a tree to see if she can spot the road, and reports back that it is visible off to the group’s right. The group, therefore, decides it might be better to approach the village from the other direction (so that whatever lurks there will hopefully not see them coming), and the three of them start making their way around the rim of the bowl.
After a while of walking this way, Shiraka suddenly alerts the group to the fact that she can hear something – she says it is the sound of fighting, and when Gregg and Mort agree that it might be worth investigating, bounds off in the direction of the sound (a little way down into the bowl from where they are), the other two following close behind.
They arrive in a small clearing to find a stranger fighting a group of undead – several rather decrepit-looking skeletons and a couple of rather rotten zombies. The group assists the stranger in destroying the undead, Shiraka healing him afterwards, and he introduces himself as Mirrip, a talkative, amicable half-elf who wields two swords (a scimitar and a short sword), though also carries a small hand crossbow at his belt. Mirrip thanks the group for the assistance and exchanges information with them regarding their presence near Downdale – Mort explains they have come to investigate what happened there, while Mirrip says that he was hoping to find whatever’s causing the undead and stop it as it is causing some disturbance among his people. He then suggests that the group accompany him back to his people, since they may not have enough time now to fully investigate the village before it gets dark.
Although he is asked, he declines to mention, for now, exactly who or what “his people” are. He makes an odd request, though, on looking at the group and deciding they’re probably used to making their own way with regards to survival – he asks that the group never try to hunt or harm his people, adding that he is rather protective of them. Further mystified and intrigued, the group agrees, saying they won’t harm anything that doesn’t try to harm them. Mirrip seems happy with this, and leads the group further around the bowl (although not much deeper in) to a larger clearing, this one containing numerous boulders, large tree roots, and all manner of small cracks and crevices.
As the group has approached this area from a higher point, Mirrip asks them to wait while he goes down, then does so, kneeling on the ground in the middle of the space and laying his weapons on the ground. Almost immediately he is mobbed by a horde of creatures which appear to be giant rats, though the group quickly sees that they aren’t attacking him but seem to be greeting him, jumping at him excitedly and swarming over his arms and lap. Mirrip himself seems delighted, laughing aloud as the creatures clamber over him. He then apparently speaks to them, indicating the presence of the group – as all eyes fall on them, the three climb down to join Mirrip.
Shiraka having reached the bottom first, she seems to immediately accept that these creatures are both sentient and curious, and tells them they may greet her provided they don’t try to take any of her belongings. As with Mirrip, the creatures immediately rush her, but take longer to investigate, sniffing eagerly and excitedly as she kneels among them. Gregg and Mort follow suit, the latter leaving his sword on the ground as Mirrip has done. Neither of them have seen creatures like this before, and they can just about make out words amid the excited chattering – Gregg manages to pick out that the creatures are deluging the group with a barrage of questions, asking who they are and so on, as well as making excited comments about how interesting they seem, and so on. Their voices have a rather high pitch, almost like that of a child, though not so high-pitched as to grate on the ears.
Shiraka, meanwhile, looks closely at one of them (gently holding the creature still so she can get a better look). She comments that the creatures aren’t true rats – their paws are different, and there is the look of sentience in their eyes. Both Mirrip and the rat-creature confirm this, the latter slowing down its speech a little so that it can be understood. Mirrip himself seems happy, and has been watching the interactions with a smile on his face – several of the rat-creatures are snuggled up against him as he sits on the ground near the group.

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