The Umbra Collective – Prologue (The Story So Far)

These members of the Umbra Collective have found themselves tangled together beyond the contracts they’ve sold their talents to. They have encountered threats on both sides of the walls of the Spirevale. They have unearthed horrors just beneath the surface of so-called civilization, and found redemption in the so-called wilds of Ethris. Together, they traverse the thin strands of a web that could unravel at any moment.

The first incarnation of the party consisted of Jacob Pike, a disgraced former colonel in the Spirevale’s Unified Guard, who eschewed quiet retirement to become a soldier of fortune; Brey, an enigmatic and haunted warrior with the rare ability to channel her lifeblood to dangerous effect; Kalana Liadon, a wood elf from a secluded druidic clan who came to the Spirevale in search of purpose, but found herself inducted into its criminal underworld as one of its most dangerous assets; Allie, an enchanting bard whose glamorous, androgynous façade belied a tragic and volatile relationship with a powerful entity; Samanthiel Smith, the sickly runt of one of the city’s founding houses whose thirst for knowledge has not only kept him alive, but driven him out of the Ivory Canopy to explore the world beyond; and Miko Ji’nara, a member of a family of powerful highborn wizards, who shirked the political aspirations of his siblings in favor of exploration. The party met under the guidance of their Blackreeve, Mercer Margold, and was hosted at the Black Dove Tavern, owned by the retired boxer-turned-proprietor, Gertie “the Gorgeous” Elisson.

Rotten Harvest

Their first contract seemed simple enough, if not a little odd for the kind of compensation they were being offered. The group was tasked to locate the missing skull of Lucille Dulaney, whose family’s massive wealth helped finance the construction of the Spirevale. They began their investigation by interviewing two of the three remaining Dulaneys: the domineering eldest daughter Lucy, and her towering yet submissive younger brother Gregor. Lucy informed them that their mother’s tomb in the White Crypts, a section of the city’s graveyards reserved for the elite, had been desecrated. The third and youngest brother, Allistair, reportedly spent his time in the Wilds partaking in extravagant hunting trips away from his bothersome family, and as a result, was unavailable for questioning. The party followed their only lead back to the Dulaney mausoleum under cover of night in search of any further disturbances. Once there, they found a faint pair of large wolf-like tracks. The party wasted no time and followed the tracks miles outside of the city to the Western Wilds. Under the light of a full moon, they spotted a bipedal lupine creature dragging a mutilated deer carcass through the woods. The party acted instinctively as Kalana initiated the first attack of the campaign by launching an arrow into the body of the unsuspecting beast! Just as the rest of the party began to attack, the creature let loose a great and terrifying howl. A chorus of howls echoed all around them in response. Several more of its kind leaped from the surrounding trees and joined the fray. The party cut two of the beasts down before the rest made their retreat further west. Quick investigations revealed that these were in fact werewolves, long thought extinct since the construction of the Spirevale. The party pursued the creatures deeper into the woods, to a cave just outside the village of Harvest Crown. Inside, they were confronted not by a pack of lycanthropic monsters, but a family of angry humans in mourning. The party managed to negotiate a discussion with the pack alpha, Gara. She revealed that her pack mate, Rasik, had been missing for weeks and was last seen in the nearby village. She suspected he might be held captive by a powerful druid who had apparently taken up residence in one of the village’s discarded temples. A druid whose magic seemed powerful enough to manipulate her and her kind’s ability to transform. The party agreed that they would find Rasik in exchange for safe passage back to the Spirevale, and to make amends for the earlier confrontation. In turn, Gara also warned them of spindly wooden beings that skulked in the shadows of the village during the day and wandered the overgrown streets at night.

The party headed into the overgrown ruins of Harvest Crown while the sun was still available and came across the remnants of a temple to the Grainmother. Its roof was missing, and its walls had been desecrated with incoherently composed druidic symbols. They descended into the temple’s remains, which were illuminated by bioluminescent fungi. They found an old elven druid named Faulin, who had turned the cellar into his own ossuary littered with scavenged bones and trinkets robbed from nearby graves. Two large wolves kept watch over the chamber, and a battle ensued after the party failed to sneak past them. Faulin seemed to utilize necrotic magics to his advantage in ways that the party (especially Kalana, the daughter of an archdruid) had not quite seen before. The most frustrating item in Faulin’s arsenal turned out to be a strange stone orb held aloft over a makeshift altar surrounded by bones and rotted wood. Not only was Faulin able to harness the orb’s magic to fire bolts of searing radiant energy, he was able to transmute the wolves and trigger their transformations into feral hybrid forms that angrily tore into Sam and Miko. Miko managed to incinerate the druid while the rest of the party kept the pair of werewolves at bay. Once they dismantled the orb, the wolves returned to their human forms. The first of the pair was Rasik, who had indeed been held prisoner after running afoul of the druid during a solitary hunt, while the other was the missing Allistair Dulaney. Among the rubble of the altar and shattered stone orb, they found a single human skull. Allistair revealed to the party that he had been magically coerced by Faulin to steal the skull after falling prey to the druid and Rasik during a hunting trip.

The party gathered up the skull, as well as Faulin’s weapons and journal, and escorted Rasik safely back to his pack. While there was justifiable bitterness towards the party, Gara kept her word, but vowed that should they ever cross paths again, she and her pack would not be so merciful in their dealings. The party and Allistair made haste back to the Spirevale, but not before Miko received a strange vision. He found himself transported during his long rest into a square room made of seamless white marble that was brightly illuminated without any perceptible source of light. He was also not alone. He found himself at the mercy of a creeping figure in a long, silken white robe, whose face was obscured by long, stringy black hair. Miko awoke safely, free from the confines of that strange white room and the creature lurking within, and though he was shaken he kept the vision private. The party returned to the city with Allistair and his mother’s skull, and collected on their first bounty together.

Ruby’s Birthday Party

In the following weeks, the party’s bond strengthened as they learned more about each other. They took the items pillaged from Faulin’s lair to Miko’s youngest brother, Mito Ji’nara, the acting spymaster of their family’s personal intelligence outfit, to identify any clues as to the druid’s history or motives. Faulin’s journal revealed that he belonged to a small, fanatical sect of druids known as the Circle of Rot, a group that over time became more and more obsessed with necromancy. That was all the party was able to learn before the journal itself rapidly decomposed into dirt. Meanwhile, it became more apparent that Allie had quite a history as a bit of a nightlife fixture in the Spirevale. The matron of one of the more eclectic hotspots in the city, a wood elf named Ruby, asked the Glamour bard to perform at her birthday party held at her eponymous cabaret. Allie agreed to take up the stage once again and invited the party to join him. All seemed well, and the group was primed for an evening of debauchery.

The night before the party, Allie was visited in his dreams by a figure from his past, a powerful hag named Nana Agnes Ashcan. She issued him a single warning:

“One does not escape. One is merely permitted to leave.”

As he awoke the next morning, he noticed his rented room was in complete shambles. That damned phrase was written in his own handwriting on every possible surface of the room in ink, wine, and even blood drawn from his own body. Candlesticks had the phrase carved into their waxy exteriors, and even the mirrors had been etched with those ten words, over and over. Allie composed himself despite the horrific display and left the room as it was, covered in the haunting warning.

At Ruby’s, the party mingled with the affluent, the influential, and the creative. They partook in games of chance, indulged in vices ranging from fine and rare elven wine to Brightspice (a cobalt blue flower that has calming and potentially psychoactive effects when smoked), and even had their fortunes read by a beautiful Tarokka reader named Severine, a courtesan and diviner who worked out of the nearby Opal Eye brothel. She and Miko seemed immediately taken with each other, and though her readings seemed cryptic in the moment, the party would eventually see their messages more and more clearly over the next few months. Allie also found that his old troupe, Fagin’s Fabulous Follies, had also been scheduled to perform. Curiously, he discovered that the troupe’s leader, his mentor, and the man who eventually betrayed him, Cervantes Fagin, had been replaced. Upon further discussion with the troupe’s new leader, Cerise, she revealed that Cervantes, her grandfather, had died a few years prior. Allie’s troubled mind stirred over just how long he had been held in captivity by Nana Agnes in the Feywild.

Allie asked Miko to escort him back to his room as the evening began to wind down. Allie carefully showed Miko the chaos he left his room in, and in response, Miko confided that he was having reocurring dreams in which he was also being haunted by a strange entity. The pair promised that they would do their best to be confidants and protect each other from the beings invading their dreams.  Meanwhile, Sam had captured the attention of Ruby, and the two shared an immediate, mutual curiosity towards one another. He boldly offered himself up as a gift to her, and she gladly accepted, leaving Jacob, Brey, and Kalana to close out the night by themselves.

As Jacob, Brey, and Kalana returned to the streets and prepared to head to their respective homes, they stumbled upon what appeared to be a kidnapping taking place in a nearby alleyway. They encountered several thugs attempting to flee out of an abandoned building with a large burlap sack, the contents of which struggled to fight its way out. The trio managed to fight off the bandits for as long as possible before the Unified Guard intervened. Several of the bandits managed to flee and left behind a most curious hostage. Inside the sack was a creature of completely unique physicality that irregularly blended together the features of a goat, reptile, and human!

The trio was detained and questioned about the incident by several investigators from the Unified Guard, including one of Jacob’s old rivals, the abrasive and manipulative Chief Inspector Rosengart. Eventually, after hours of unlawful custody and interrogation, they were released. The whereabouts and exact nature of the strange creature remained a mystery, and the party was now on high alert with regards to the Guard and their inspectors.

Wightwood

The next contract tasked them to help a fellow member of the Collective escort a large and important parcel into the Spirevale from a remote monastery in the Eastern Wilds. The Collective’s intel revealed that there were known troops of orcish raiders that had been spotted traveling northward through an area known as the Wightwood, a small forest located directly along the courier’s path. The party made their way east and along the way came across an orcish camp. Upon further investigation, they found that the entirety of the camp had been slaughtered mere days before the party arrived, with the chieftain decapitated and his head missing. They continued east through the white paper birch forest, but along the way found no other evidence of violence (such as severed orc heads).

Waiting on the other side of the Wightwood was a covered wagon and its driver, a hobgoblin courier named Vreck. In his possession was a black metallic rectangular box resembling a large sarcophagus, inscribed with abjuration runes to keep it from being opened. Night fell and as the full moon began to rise, the party found themselves confronted by the shambling, reanimated bodies of the murdered orcs they had encountered earlier in the day. The corpses attacked mindlessly, and it seemed as though they party might be overwhelmed, until aid came from a strange and unlikely source. The party found themselves in the company of a hulking fey creature with luminous pale skin and silvery eyes and hair. The creature was armed with hunting weaponry, and among the collection of skulls hanging from his belt was the partially animated head of an orc chieftain. The fey hunter goaded the party into battle, proclaiming them as his latest game, but the party pulled the last of their resources together to slay him.

As they made their way back to the city under the light of a full moon, waves of sharp pain began to overcome Sam along with an intense, disorienting fever. Sam tried to assure the party that they were most likely symptoms of his inherited malady, but they recalled the werewolf attacks he suffered in Harvest Crown. Before they reached the city limits, Sam faded out of consciousness. Miko rushed to connect with his brother’s agents, who arrived in time to help transport Vreck and his parcel inside as the others raced to figure out a way to restore Sam. Brey, who had been reserved about her relations outside of the Collective, revealed that one of her closest confidants, Brother Simon, was a cleric of the Path of Light, the Spirevale’s burgeoning alternative spirituality. While Miko and Kalana visited the Black Dove to collect on the bounty, the rest of the party rushed the alchemist’s unconscious body to the temple. Without hesitation, Simon purged the lycanthropic curse from him. Sam awoke not entirely grateful, and believed that the party had taken away a chance to try to harness the curse to help preserve him. Allie, who had moved in with Sam after leaving his old room in shambles, used the opportunity to air his own grievances towards organized religion, an encounter that thoroughly embarrassed Brey and widened the gulf between them.

Miko, however, wrote off his own fever as just the aftermath of a long journey back home. After they collected their reward, Miko returned to his apartment for an evening’s rest. He suffered terrifying, violent visions as he slept. Once more did he find himself a prisoner of the White Room, and the entity within. Before the ghostly figure could connect with him though, Miko’s consciousness was ripped from the room by a separate, primal force! He awoke to find his apartment demolished, not by arcane means, but by something more bestial. Any object or piece of furniture not nailed down was torn asunder, his pantry had been raided, and his bedroom and front doors were marred by long, deep gashes.

A commotion stirred as Unified Guards flooded Hightown. Later, as Sam and Allie went to meet with Kalana and the rest of the party to collect their gold, they noticed long black banners hanging from the penthouse windows of Spire Dulaney. Stories circulated through the city that Lucy had been savagely murdered, and that Gregor was clinging to dear life. Allistair, however, was nowhere to be found.

The Beasts Within

Though Miko worried that he may have done something horrible in his feral fugue state, the rest of the party recalled that Allistair Dulaney had entered the city having never been cured of his own curse. They concluded that an altercation between a still-lycanthropic Allistair and his siblings was more likely. When Miko asked to be cured, Brey was resistant to allow the party back to the Temple of the Path of Light. Instead, Jacob remembered a temple to Torm, the Righteous Hand. Though Unified Guards frequented the temple, its clerics agreed to be discreet about the nature of their visit in exchange for a handsome donation. Miko too was purged of the curse, and together the party made plans to locate the missing werewolf.

They investigated the scene of the crime as closely as possible, and Brey managed to zero in on a faint trail of blood that led to a sewer entrance only blocks away from the Dulaney spire. They descended into the multi-leveled sewer beneath the city and traversed its labyrinthine halls and tunnels, but traces of Allistair were shrinking. Instead, swarms of panicked vermin signaled the presence of a greater, more repulsive terror: a sentient ooze composed of the city’s sewage waste! The party used a great deal of their resources to dismantle it, but not before Sam was engulfed and nearly suffocated in the creature’s fetid, amorphous body. Battered and smelling like shit, the party decided to take a short rest in a secure chamber before continuing their search. Miko took the time to nap and recover the spells he had expended in the earlier fight. As their short rest concluded and the party gathered their things, they noticed Miko was unresponsive. They did their best to wake him but with no success. Upon closer examination, they noticed a disturbing transformation had taken place. His body had become cold and rigid, and his eyes had turned into solid orbs of polished white marble.

They rushed Miko out of the sewer and raced to the Opal Eye to see if Severine might be able to use her powers of divination to understand what was happening to the young mage. She began to probe inside his mind but found in its place nothing but a powerful psychic wall.

Hell in a Handbasket

Miko’s catatonic body was released into the care of his brother Mito, who made no bones about his feelings towards the rest of their party and the danger he believed they’d put his brother in. They had little time to mourn, however. Blackreeve Margold issued the party their latest bounty only two weeks after losing Miko. The contract called for the apprehension of Damen Legere, a con artist accused of preying on the Spirevale’s wealthy. Legere had evaded capture for years by utilizing a variety of unique aliases enhanced by illusory and enchantment magics to infiltrate and isolate the city’s vulnerable elite.

In addition to the new contract, Blackreeve Margold enlisted a new addition to the group, unbeknownst to them. Zanuka Aurai hailed from a celebrated family of prize fighters raised in her family’s temple, the Aurai Monastery. The monastery was known throughout the city as a bastion of hope in Lowtown that provided protection, rehabilitation, and even served as an orphanage to those in need. Zanuka had dreams of following in her father and aunt’s footsteps of becoming a renowned fighter and helping to support the monastery. Gertie, a friend to the Aurai family, helped Zanuka secure a position within Blackreeve Margold’s team.

Blackreeve Margold’s intelligence traced Damen’s whereabouts to Spire Grayson. Reports indicated the con artist had assumed in the guise of a swarthy human male schmoozing with socialites ahead of a lavish dinner to be held at the spire’s premiere supper club, The Faun & Fowl. The eatery itself was famous for curating dinners around exotic ingredients reportedly harvested from rare and dangerous creatures beyond the city walls.

Jacob, Kalana, Allie, and Sam agreed to scope out the eatery while Brey and Zanuka stayed on the ground (the kind of pretentiousness that came with events in the Canopy was something that neither of them suffered well.) Kalana, in a stolen vintage gown and slippers, managed to sneak her way into the crowd. Sam and Jacob did their best to lean into their nobility and military rank but were shut out all the same. Allie’s ability to hypnotize and disorient, coupled with Sam’s knowledge of secret passages, gained them entry, and together the four scoped the restaurant out.

During their stakeout, Jacob was reunited with Rutina Pyrus, the widow of an old military mentor of his. Their reunion was sweet but brief, as another guest soon joined the conversation – Rutina’s grandson. This was curious to Jacob, since he didn’t recall the Pyrus’ ever bearing any children, let alone grandchildren. Jacob politely excused himself and rushed to alert the others as quickly and discretely as possible. He was certain he had run afoul of both Damen and his latest victim! Before the party could properly plan their next move, the room erupted in shrieks and gasps. They watched as Rutina thrashed about with cutlery in hand, spinning and screaming as she struggled to fight off some unseen force. Allie, unsure of what was happening, extended his hand and cast a crown of madness upon her, which subdued her. The party was unable to tend to her, as Sam watched Damen hurry out of the eatery. Kalana raced down the spire to fetch Brey and Zanuka and the three women quickly descended upon the criminal. At first, the trio of seasoned warriors seemed to have the upper hand. However, as Zanuka attempted to restrain him, a strange pendant around his neck erupted in a flash of arcane light. Zanuka became entranced, suddenly overcome with confusion and the compulsion to drift away aimlessly from the battle. The other two remained frozen in place, and Kalana watched helplessly as Damen withdrew the dagger from her hand and plunged it into Brey’s back before fleeing into a nearby network of alleys.

Allie, Jacob, and Sam soon caught up with the others and found Kalana and Brey, and once they rejoined with Zanuka, the party managed to track Damen down to a boarded-up abattoir in the Lowtown’s Red Brick District. Initial recon of the lair revealed that Damen was in fact a tiefling. As the party confronted Damen, they soon realized there were more powerful forces set up to protect him. The warehouse seemed to morph into an illusory sandy beach before shifting to a magma-encrusted hellscape. Crude, clay masks adorning the lair projected horrible phantasmal visions that took the form of the party’s deepest fears and guilts. The party was split between retreat and retrieval of Damen. Zanuka freed herself from the psychic personification of the sickness that had taken her parents from her, and managed to knock Legere unconscious. As the party made their escape, Kalana was confronted by her own phantasms: the charred bodies of a father and daughter burned alive in a fire she helped ignite during her time as a member of the Subrosa, the all-female assassins’ guild she had previously worked for. The rest of the party watched as Kalana, racked with psychic pain, collapsed onto the molten earth. The party had lost their second member.

Jacob rushed back into the abattoir to retrieve Kalana’s body, and managed to escape without falling victim to the lingering arcane defenses. In his grief, Sam plunged a scalpel into the neck of the unconscious con man and tossed his body carelessly into his portable lab, effectively killing Damen and jeopardizing their contract.

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Deals

Kalana was taken to the Temple of the Path of Light, while Sam and Allie disposed of Damen’s body at the Black Dove. Simon warned the party of the chaotic nature of returning the soul to the Prime Material plane, but nevertheless, he begrudgingly conducted a raise dead ritual to bring her back to life. Upon the spell’s completion, a flash of blinding white light engulfed the room. As the light dissipated, Kalana’s body was nowhere in sight.

Elsewhere, Kalana awoke in the heart of a dark marsh. In the shadows lurked a mysterious figure flanked by a pair of emaciated hounds with glowing red eyes that urged her to follow them deeper into the swamp. Kalana abided, having nowhere else to go, and after sloughing through the slithering, muddy wilderness, eventually found herself before a massively large and very old tree. Its branches were nearly leafless and decorated with dangling ornaments made of bones, as well as large burlap and leather sacks stained in crimson that rattled with every sway in the breeze. Inside lived an ancient arch-hag named Strussa Skintaker, so named after her penchant for wearing the flayed skin of humanoid faces as masks. Kalana wasn’t the only prisoner either, and found herself in the company of Colonel Therin, the last surviving member of a 13-person expedition that had been deemed MIA just weeks prior. Strussa seemed amused by the elven assassin, and let her go under one condition: that when she returned to the Spirevale, she would slip “a soldier with hair like copper, [whose] body is adorned in brass armor” a mysterious potion. As a parting gift, Strussa bestowed onto Kalana the power of the blood sense – the ability to hear the heartbeat of every living thing around her, which effectively would keep her from being surprised in battle.

Upon returning to the Spirevale, she found out her longtime confidant, Winslowe, a former member of the Spirevale’s foremost criminal organization, the Unkindness, had run afoul of Kalana’s old colleagues in the Subrosa. Kalana did her best to protect him, but after surviving a few of the Subrosa’s attempts to assassinate him, Winslowe went into hiding. Despite reuniting with the rest of the party, Kalana found herself longing for home once more, and uncertain of what fate had in store for her now that she was under the thrall of a powerful evil.

While the party waited for news of their professional fate, they decided they needed a shared base to call their own. They returned to Damen Legere’s warehouse, where they were able to shatter a set of crude, clay masks scattered throughout the lair, thus dispelling their deadly projections. The party wasted no time making themselves at home!

Mito Ji’nara eventually followed up with the party regarding the condition of his brother. He revealed that Miko’s body had begun to harden like stone, and that no attempt to remove the curse had proven successful. He had also continued to do research on the Circle of Rot, and uncovered passages that linked the group to a mythological site known as the Black Cradle, located in the Myrkurral Wastes to the west. The exact nature of the Cradle had yet to be determined, but accounts suggested that it had ties to powerful necrotic energy. Furthermore, Severine had attempted to contact Miko after she claimed she had felt his presence in a dream, as if he were trying to call out to her. She also claimed that she knew of a ritual that might be able to contact him. The party agreed to go with Mito to the Opal Eye, and once inside, those who had been closest to Miko (Mito, Jacob, and Allie) joined Severine to attempt the divination ritual while the others kept watch. The party was alarmed when another voice seemed to speak through the seer, one that called out to Allie by name. Before the ritual could be completed, the party was ambushed by a large, mosquito-like chasme demon (which in turn managed to conjure another of itself)! Sam almost died upon Severine’s bed after much of his life force had been sucked from him, but Allie called upon the medical techniques that Sam had taught him to save him. It was now clear to the party that Nana Agnes knew more about the convoluted web they were caught in than even they did, and that whatever force had taken Miko had some kind of connection to Agnes too.

The Hunt for the Fey King’s Hart

Despite the failure to secure Damen Legere, Blackreeve Margold hadn’t completely given up on his pet project. He secured another contract for them, one that would take them further from the city than they had ever ventured together. In the bitterly cold Glasswind Forest to the south, there were reports of a majestic white stag with crystalline antlers that once belonged to a long-forgotten fey king. The contract gave the party ten days to find the stag and retrieve its antlers.

Along the way the party managed to save a fisherman from a pack of hungry Snowback trolls. The gracious fisherman, named Timothie, begged the party to escort him back home and to stay for dinner with him and his wife in Brohnmeyer, a thorp located just along the Brohn River. They agreed, and for a night, enjoyed the company of the kindly Greenfell family over a warm meal in the near-desolate little village. Over the course of the snowy evening, the Greenfells also shared the heartache of the disappearance of their two daughters to the surrounding woods. As the Greenfells slept, Agnes once again paid Allie a visit and did her best to compel him to violence. Thankfully, Jacob remembered to restrain him before resting, and Allie’s bonds proved too strong to break. The party woke and managed to keep him from harming their gracious hosts. The Greenfells were none the wiser.

The party pressed ahead toward the Glasswind Forest, and along the way they found themselves being trailed by a solitary figure. The figure was mounted on an old elk. He was a tall and imposing human male decked out in very old, moss-covered armor with a helm adorned with stag antlers. The man identified himself as Sasha Belyayev, a paladin in service to the Verdant Will and honorary Ven’hevanian Emerald Ranger, who had been sent by the Hand of Silvanus and Kalana’s mother, Mara, to watch after the recently resurrected wood elf.

Sasha seemed amiable and well-intentioned. He also made it abundantly clear that he would not abandon Kalana’s side per his oath to her mother. The party agreed to let him join for the time being, and together they continued onward to the Glasswind. His history as an expert tracker proved invaluable as they continued deeper and deeper into the almost arctic forest. Just as the party tracked down the fey king’s hart, they were confronted by a pack of dire wolves that were hell-bent on protecting him. Amidst the ensuing conflict, Sasha managed to wrestle the stag to the ground, after which the creature psychically pleaded with him for release.

The stag revealed that he wasn’t just a stag, but that he was in fact Eolhan, the would-be-sovereign of the fey kingdom of Rimekeep! The party stood down as he recounted the eve of his coronation, the night that Rimekeep was besieged by infernal hordes. Devils had managed to invade the castle and rained merciless terror down upon his subjects. His mother, Queen Regent Elena, was a powerful spellcaster who managed to transport his spirit into the body of his beloved pet stag to spare him from death, or worse, imprisonment in the Nine Hells. Eolhan proposed a bargain to the party: in exchange for freeing his kingdom from the curse his mother had placed upon it, he would grant them his antlers and any of the treasures left behind after the ambush. The party reluctantly agreed to the terms and followed Eolhan further into the woods until finally, after cutting through a particularly dense thicket of bushes, they found themselves on the grounds of Rimekeep.

The Liberation of Rimekeep

Rimekeep and the surrounding grounds were all frozen in time, locked in a curse of perpetual winter where even the snowfall itself had been held captive. There was the faintest chromatic iridescence that shimmered across nearly every surface, while the sky was a sunless dusk purple hue. Allie seemed at unusual ease, while Kalana took the setting in with exaggerated, almost troublesome, wonder. It soon became apparent that they had entered into a deal that was more than they bargained for. They had entered the mythical Feywild.

Just outside the castle gates, which appeared to have walls made of braided stone – a sight unlike anything the party had ever seen before – were the snow-covered homes of Rimekeep’s subjects. Some residents appeared to rest peacefully in their beds while others were locked in eternal fright at the sight of invading devils whose frozen bodies were evidence that no one was spared by the curse. The party closed in on the castle and spotted small motes of flickering blue energy floating around the inner perimeter. The party bypassed the patrol of Will-o-wisps by deftly scaling the walls of the castle, which took them closer to the royal chambers of the palace. As they ascended, they were confronted by a strange, spectral entity. The spirit’s ethereal body appeared humanoid, but was in constant flux between flesh, muscle, and bone, corporeal and incorporeal all at once. With one touch, it managed to throw Jacob off the top of the wall. The party managed to dispatch it, but when Jacob rejoined them, they were shocked to see he had aged more than a decade in the span of a minute!

Once inside, the party investigated the Queen’s library wherein they found a very old, uniquely crafted tome called the Seelie Registry. It contained the documented history of the fey, their subjects, and their relationship to the Prime Material. Most notable was a passage on the Sentry Materia, a collective of fey emissaries who were tasked to help maintain a balance of the Feywild’s power across the Prime Material. Most startling about this order was their roster, which included both fey and hag alike, enlisted as a means of balance.

In the throne room, Allie found documents concerning Eolhan’s emergency coronation. It was discovered that Eolhan’s mother had been asked to return to The Seelie Court to help investigate claims against traitorous agents, one of whom was Nana Agnes. Twisted fey creatures, once subjects of the kingdom who had turned into ragged, gaunt, flesh-hungry undead, quickly ambushed the group. The party fled behind Eolhan to the castle’s upper level and specifically, his old bedchamber. Inside, the cold marble tiled floors were littered with the bodies of frozen fey knights and hellish intruders. At the foot of his canopy bed was the frostbitten body of a large Pit Fiend, while huddled up underneath the canopy were the former bodies of both Eolhan and Elena. A strange, chilling mist poured out of the canopy and around the party as they looked over the remains, and from it arose a wailing spirit that resembled the queen, though its ethereal body seemed to be covered in frost. Her shriek caused nearly all of the team to drop to the ground unconscious, leaving Kalana, Samanthiel, and Eolhan to fend the spirit off. The party narrowly escaped death and after they returned to their feet, Jacob and his eldritch-touched longsword managed to fell the spirit, exorcising both it and the curse out of the castle in a flash of cold, white light. The light faded away and Eolhan’s body, as well as the bodies of the castle’s subjects and invaders, had disappeared.

The Long Way Home

The party had managed to liberate Rimekeep, and as promised, they were granted Eolhan’s crystal antlers. They left the castle with their bounty and a bevy of other fey-crafted treasures. The snow fell onto Rimekeep once more, and even the punishing conditions that had made the Glasswind Forest such a feared place had been tamed a bit.

Along the way, they got to know Sasha and his keen tracking and hunting skills better, and the party agreed that he had already proven to be a useful asset to their team. Sam even had time to partake in some impromptu experimental surgery to give himself darkvision. Thanks to Kalana, the procedure was at least half successful. With the exception of an encounter with an adult remorhaz (a fight in which Allie landed his first kill), the ride back to the Spirevale was a rather pleasant one. However, something seemed off when they arrived back to the city. Not only was security more dense and scrutinizing at the gates, guards were seen carrying around strange new weapons called matchlocks, which were nothing like any weapon the party had ever come across before.

The party hurried back to the Black Dove to secure the contract. Once there, however, things continued to feel off. The tavern wasn’t filled with some of the usual clientele, and the overall mood was reserved. Even the tavern itself, which Gertie often kept as tidy as possible, had fallen into slight disrepair. Upon seeing Zanuka, Gertie immediately rushed out from behind the bar and – in a rare show of vulnerability – tearfully embraced the young woman. The collective stomach of the party sank at the sight. When they asked Gertie how long they’d been gone for, none of them were prepared for her answer.

“Damn near two years!”

The party split up to figure out what had happened to their lives and loved ones while they’d been away.

Brey rushed home to find it no longer occupied by Simon, her daughter Ava, or Ava’s companion, Ebb-ebb (a strange fey creature called a boggle that was unconsciously conjured by the child). She raced to the temple to find that its congregation had expanded in the time she had been away. Ava appeared to be safe, though now in the full-time care of both Simon and a Sister of the Light named Ezekalia. They had relocated together to be closer to the temple and to raise Ava. Despite the perceived safety Ava had been left in, Brey discovered the little girl had made a drawing of herself inside a white box in the company of two dark-haired figures. When asked, Ava revealed that she had been to a white room in a dream, reminiscent of the same white room Miko dreamed about.

The first and most glaring change Sam noticed in Hightown were the two spires flying the violet-colored banners of his family – the spire he grew up in, and the spire that once belonged to the Dulaneys. Sam cared little for the bulk of his family, and only had concerns for the safety of his younger sister, Aliana. Aliana Smith was already something of a celebrity in the Spirevale. She served the city as both a paladin of the city’s matron goddess, Erathis, and as current leader of the city’s premiere adventuring group, The Iron Pride. Aliana was grateful for Sam’s return, but amidst their conversation, Sam realized the timeline in which Aliana had seen him last didn’t match with Gertie’s. According to his sister, he had only been gone 15 months. He recalled his old apartment and the equipment he had left behind, but when he ventured there, he found the space empty. When he confronted his old landlady, she was confused, as she believed he had been the one to clear the equipment out 15 months ago, leaving her to sell off anything left behind.

Jacob reunited with an old contact within the Unified Guard, Captain Michaela Briener, the aide-de-camp to the Commander of the Guard. Michaela revealed that Jacob had officially been declared dead in his absence. More upsetting to him was the shift in power that happened after. The old Commander of the Guard, General Stefania Krieg, resigned in disgrace after the Dulaney family attacks, and had been replaced by none other than Inspector Rosengart. Jacob’s alleged death had proven beneficial to the people it was intended to. A visit to the Oro Central, the city’s bank, revealed that the gold he had been saving up since becoming a member of the Umbra Collective was released to his estranged daughter Rossalyn Milner, who in turn moved from the village of Holden into the city to start a new life for her and her son, Robert.

Kalana’s family believed her lost in the Feywild, and while she was gone, her mother tried to bargain with Strussa to free her from the curse. Strussa was unmoved and told Mara that only death would free her unless she agreed to complete the task she was given. Kalana was given an ultimatum: bet her life on Strussa’s word, or return to Ven’hevana to live under her family’s watchful presence for the rest of her days.

Zanuka was whisked back to the Aurai Monastery to spend her time back in the city serving her family’s citizen patrol organization, the Aurai City Watch. Kalana later found out that Winslowe had retreated into the secrecy of the monastery as Olof.

Allie, having been accustomed to the trickery that the Feywild could play on time, didn’t seem as bothered, nor did he have any real attachments left beyond the party itself – though the whereabouts of his elven mother still nagged at him on occasion. Sasha had no connections within the city beyond Kalana, who was now under his watchful eye. He did, however, manage to befriend a stray tabby cat which he named Shadow.

The party would later uncover just how deep the corruption in the city was rooted, and how much it had managed to spread in their absence. Sam’s father, Marius Smith, had aligned with Inspector Rosengart to oust General Krieg. He helped to propagate the campaign against her, and publicly blamed her for the death of the “beloved” Lucy Dulaney by allowing a werewolf to live amongst them. He also helped implicate Gregor as his sister’s murderer, and fabricated a death certificate for Allistair as well. Gregor’s execution signaled the end of the Dulaneys financial influence over the city, and allowed the Smiths to take their place. With increased power and wealth, Marius and Rosengart tightened their hold over the city and began to cut off aid to outside settlements while they increased military presence within.

Upon returning to their warehouse, the party learned from its occasional caretaker, Nyl, that it had been raided in their absence. They were unsure of who, or what, was responsible until they interrupted a burglary in progress. Inside they encountered two small, strange beings with both humanoid and animal features. While one fled down into the sewers, the other, a rabbit-humanoid hybrid named Nip, was caught. Nip revealed that there was more of their kind in the sewers, and that they were constantly being preyed upon below. After the party fought off a cluster of cave fishers, Nip agreed to reach out to them if and when they might need their help again. However, after some light investigating down in the sewer from Kalana, the party realized a greater threat might still be beneath them.

Rebirth

Allie and Miko weren’t the only members plagued by strange and persistent dreams. Sasha’s nightmare of being pursued, and eventually gored, by an aspect of his divine benefactor – a giant, cycloptic stag – through an overgrown, majestic forest, had begun to change since his time in the city. The skies of this dreamscape had darkened, and the trees withered with blight, which kept the “Stag Who Never Sleeps” from fulfilling the climax of the dream.

After weeks of this, Sasha managed to confront the being that he had pledged his life to. In exchange for power and guidance, the Stag demanded that Sasha vigorously uphold the tenet of his domain, to ensure that the spread of wilderness never be inhibited by the presence of civilization. Sasha awoke from this confrontation in a fugue, narrowly focused on fulfilling his promise. He began to feverishly dig through the floor of the warehouse, searching for actual earth. Once the concrete had been broken through, he dug himself a bed amongst the dirt and, exhausted, fell asleep. After an awkward dinner with Sam at his sister’s spire, Kalana, Jacob, and Allie returned to the warehouse only to find Sasha asleep in the hole. The trio excused themselves to rest, believing nothing to be out of the ordinary. He was an odd man, with odd habits.

While dreaming Sasha was once again visited by the Stag, who seemed appeased by the paladin’s show of devotion. In exchange for his servitude, the Stag broke loose and pursued Sasha once more, just as he had done hundreds of times before. This time though, as he gave chase to Sasha, roots sprung up from the earth and held Sasha aloft in the air. They twisted around Sasha’s limbs, constricting him and breaking his bones in the process. Sasha felt a strange sense of relief as the roots climbed down into his throat, stifled his screams, and stopped his heart.

The next morning, Kalana awoke to find that Sasha’s dirt pit was filled with writhing roots, surrounding a rapidly growing oak with blood-red bark. Sasha, however, was nowhere in sight. Kalana, Jacob, and Allie went in search of him and followed the roots of the trees directly beneath the warehouse. Underneath, nestled in a thicket of red roots was a large wooden “egg”. Kalana approached and the roots moved in recognition of her. The shell of the egg cracked as she put her hand upon it, and out of it spilled the naked body of Sasha, his brow now crowned with a pair of stag-like antlers.

As Sasha began to acclimate to his new form, he also began to demonstrate new abilities. He possessed a deeper, more intimate connection with the natural world around him, and could shift his form into that of any wild animal he came across. This naturally fascinated Sam. With Sasha’s blessing, he took samples from him and the cracked egg to test against his own mutagens. Meanwhile, the tree seemed to retain the same sentience as its roots. Grass sprang forth from the earth around it at will. It would softly curl its branches and reshape its roots to accommodate Sasha and his allies. Curious to know what, if any, effects the strange amniotic fluid from the egg might have on his failing body, Sam mixed it with his own mutagenic creation and injected himself with the resulting compound. The effects so far have seemed to strengthen him and granted him new arcane clarity, though at the expense of some of his previous power.

During this period of downtime, Brey confessed to the others the existence of her daughter and her visit to the White Room. Surprised and worried, the party returned to the Opal Eye once more in hopes that Severine might be able to guide them. She was apprehensive given their last meeting, but suggested that there may be another group who might be able to help them traverse the dreamscape: the Opalescent Ones, the nomadic elders of the oracles at the Opal Eye who were last seen wandering about the Burning Ghats.

While looking for ways to overcome the various hag powers that held influence over them and their allies, the party also uncovered information about another possible avenue to pursue: a cult to the goddess of fate, Istus, in a former mining town to the north. According to legend, the town of Argentemsia had been abandoned after being set upon by the mysterious drow elves, though their intentions for inhabiting the town were unknown.

As the party prepared to venture north, Aliana Smith paid them a surprise visit with a gift of new equipment for Sam, to replace the equipment stolen from his home during his absence. However, as they entertained her, Kalana realized with horror that Aliana might very well be the soldier described by Nana Strussa. Suddenly, a mysterious floral bulb that Strussa had given her as part of her task erupted into a cluster of maggots. Startled, she tossed the remnants into the pit surrounding the great tree. In only mere moments, flies sprung forth from the earth and began to pester Sasha, to whom Kalana had entrusted the potion that Strussa had given her. Sasha’s demeanor flipped, and he became determined to not let Aliana leave. The party managed to coax him down and realized that the flies had cast an enchantment upon him. Aliana was unsettled, but more worried about the party and their quest to venture so far from the city. They all had a stake in freeing themselves from the influence of the dark and powerful figures that had wormed their way into their lives.

Return to Stonegable

The party finally departed the city in search of the cult of Istus and the Opalescent Ones. The first day’s ride ended with an encounter, a strange toad-like monstrosity known as a banderhobb. Once killed, the corpse of the banderhobb dissolved into a pool of muddy swamp water containing a chunk of long, black hair… Kalana’s hair! It was surely a sign from Nana Strussa, one that briefly shook the group and added urgency to their quest to find the Fateweavers.

More disturbing to Jacob was the realization that the most direct route to Argentemsia was through the site of his greatest failure as a leader: Stonegable. With his blessing, the party continued northward. Once at the village’s gates, Kalana scouted ahead and picked up on a disturbing effect. At night, the hum of heartbeats she had become accustomed to from every living thing in her vicinity was silent. Startled, Kalana advised the party to wait until dawn to ride through. Morning came, things seemed to return to normal. She could hear the low hum of insects and birds in the area, but the town seemed completely abandoned of anything larger. A temple to the dwarven god Dumathoin had been burned and desecrated, while the quarry beside it remained untouched. As the group passed through, however, Sam was contacted telepathically by a curious entity.

Sam’s curiosity got the better of him as the entity began to contact the others one by one telepathically. He made his way down into the quarry to confront the entity. Sasha, believing it to be evil, rushed after him, followed by Allie and Jacob, while Kalana and Brey remained topside. At the base of the quarry was the entrance to an underground lake and an ancient, half-submerged temple. Inside, the party squared off against Oopomenitikos, a three-eyed, eel-like creature the likes of which they had never seen before. The powerful being was able to bend the currents of the lake to its command, and even conjured a water elemental that inhabited the armor of one of Jacob’s fallen comrades. Sam and Sasha succeeded in slaying the creature, but before Sam could harvest its brain for further study, Jacob intervened and destroyed the organ.

Finding the Fateweavers

The party continued onward to Argentemsia, where they encountered a solitary sheepherder named Fayd. The sheepherder was cryptic in his motives and gathered them together to participate in a vision quest, wherein each of them experienced abstract simulations of past experiences. Once they managed to escape the visions, they found themselves locked in the dilapidated bell tower of the temple and at the mercy of a powerful, arachnoid construct called a skein spider, made from threads of arcane energy and encased in a carapace made from rubble and debris. The spider was a formidable opponent and managed to fell both Sam and Kalana in battle, and would have almost slain Allie had it not been for a boon Agnes provided him that gave him superhuman endurance. Jacob downed a Potion of Hill Giant Strength and used that arcane adrenaline to cut down the creature. The spider’s ethereal form faded out of sight and the stone carapace crumbled to the ground. As the spider’s body deteriorated, Jacob lost consciousness and collapsed onto the floor of the temple unexpectedly. The doors to the chamber burst open to reveal Fayd in the company of a drow priestess named Fadakka, along with dozens of drow warriors. Fadakka ordered her attendants to stand guard while she looked after the unconscious soldier.

Jacob, meanwhile, found himself in the chamber of what appeared to be Istus herself, in the form of three veiled women working at a massive loom on an endlessly long tapestry assisted by brilliant silver spiders. In exchange for besting the skein spider, Istus granted him one wish: to know the means to end the hags. The surviving party members managed to convince Fadakka to bring back those that had fallen. She was hesitant, but in the end, Jacob leveraged the secrets of communion with her goddess against the lives of his friends. Both Sam and Kalana were restored to life, both afflicted by their souls’ return to their material forms in different and mysterious ways. Once they were returned, he revealed that she had given him the coordinates to the village of Gildencrest, where a corrupted cleric held possession of the tongue of one of the most ancient arch-hags, Nana Myra Muckmouth. Etched upon which her tongue were true names of every hag in existence. Names that if used could provide the party with the means to defeat the dark forces plaguing them once and for all.

 

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