The Good, The Bad, and The Odd

Part Three: Strange storms

And hosts of unclear intent

Fresh off their battle with the kobold raiding party, our heroes return to the Manor to find candles lit at the windows. Some are hesitant to enter the supposedly abandoned manse, but as they file carefully in they find other small changes since their departure. Brie and Arihana, who slept the prior night on opposite ends of the garden, now find that the vegetation has altered in their absence. On the halfling’s side, soft green boughs, lush and verdant, have proliferated, and a variety of flowers have bloomed around her bedroll. Up the opposite balcony, gnarled vines seek their way up with renewed vigor, twisting and tangling around Arihana’s resting spot like a bed of thorns. Asa returns to find her hunting trap missing, replaced instead by a small pile of sticks, feathers and a single fragrant yellow candle. In the tavern, Ghrome and Kamile find the cask of barleywine – sent by the locals and drained the night before – mysteriously refilled with some different, sweeter but no less potent concoction. In the upper gable claimed by Mharsh, someone or something has inelegantly sawed a large chunk of the foot of his bed away, seemingly in an effort to relieve the prior night’s discomforts. The frog awaits as well, watching with interest as he examines the room. Back downstairs, Rhohanna checks her room to find the corners, those areas under such close scrutiny by her visitors the night before, packed with more plaster and dust. With plenty of options still available, she moves her things to another room at once.

The storm

As they search through, finding the Manor to be quite empty in spite of the many odd changes, the weary travelers begin to relax a little. They find food in the larder and eat as what sounds like distant thunder begins to roll across the hillsides. Still upstairs, and with a commanding view of the front of the Manor, Mharsh sees the signs of the storm first. A disciple of the true storm, he recognizes at once the the cracks and booms echoing from the horizon are not genuine thunder. The faint green lights arcing across the air in front of his window only reaffirm the unusual nature of the storm. He watches as the light and noise intensify, strands of the green ether swirling and coalescing, crackling with electrical life as they build and discharge into the air. Downstairs, the growing thunder is joined by other noises from below. Pounding and clanging that causes trembles under their feet is joined by bestial growls and roars – incoherent sounds of rage and frustration at first, which gradually give way to gruff but clear curses. As Mharsh comes down to warn the others of the storm’s nature, a flash of the green light illuminates the foyer, highlighting just for an instant a figure behind the desk. The shadow is tall, vaguely humanoid, but wrong in proportions. The head is too small, the arms and torso too long; in the flash of light, the thing looks to Mharsh like a giant praying mantis.
As the crackle of energy grows outside, so too does the frequency of shudders and bellowed curses from beneath. The others join Mharsh in the foyer, and a spell of magic detection is prepared. As the area within the spell shimmers and scintillates, the form reappears behind the desk. Startled, Kamile spins to see something very like a man, though possessed of the same unusual proportions as the figure from before. His clothes are elegant if old, tailored well to his over-long forearms and lower legs, buttoning down the length of his slender torso. His head is small for his body, his eyes wide and unblinking, mouth pursed in an ‘O’ of surprise that never quite goes away. His surprise is only momentary, however, and he regains his dignity quickly to introduce himself. He is, he tells the assembled party, known as Hume, and he is the caretaker of the Manor.
While our heroes try to glean information from Hume, the caretaker seems distracted, cocking his head to the side when sounds from outside or underneath grow momentarily louder. The ‘thunder’ is shaking even the Manor’s venerable foundation now, and Hume worries over how upset ‘Felicity’ sounds below. Other indistinct noises have joined in the time they talk, nearly drowned out at first, but growing by the moment. Screams of pain weave their way through the sizzle and crash outside the door, noises of a person in great torment. For a moment, this overwhelms their desire for greater understanding of Hume and Felicity, and the party ventures outside.
The first faint strands and wisps that Mharsh observed earlier have grown denser and more intense – a great green stream now through the air, passing just in front of the Manor’s entrance. As they peer to the northeast, where the vibrant, twisting trail of light disappears over the horizon, Asa notes that its orientation is precisely the same as the pull from her vision the night before. The tortured screams come through ever more clearly, causing the lights to surge and pulse with the agonies of the unseen victim. Noting that the streams of energy seem to have a definite direction to their flow now, they try tossing a loose stone from the Manor’s side into the path, where it is swept away at speed and toward the distant horizon. Perhaps a bit unnerved by Hume and eager to be well clear of ‘Felicity’ the way things are proceeding, the party decides to investigate the stream further.
As they follow along, they see from a distance that the conduits of energy flow to the spot before the Manor, and there split off in small trails in other directions. These weaker tributaries end shortly, but they give the space before the manor – a place with no roads – even more the feel of a crossroads of sorts. They continue out of sight of the Manor, across the hills, taking care as they do not to cross under the green lights nor to venture too close to their writhing arcs. Sounds of screams and thunder are lessened away from the seeming nexus outside the Manor, but soon they stumble upon an even greater version of that storm.

Callabran encampment

As the party crests a final hill, they see a spacious camp laid out in front of them, lit as if it might be day by the pulsing green light. The nearest feature is a stone altar at the heart of the magical storm surrounded by four hooded figures involved in some sort of ritual. A fifth man, naked and bloodied, is bound to the altar, where his chief tormenter uses a dagger to elicit even more and greater screams. As the surrounding energies pulse with each agonized cry, rivulets of the wild green tumult seep out, smoother and tamer, to seven stones arrayed out around the altar. As the investigating heroes creep closer to the many surrounding guards and scouts, they see tents beyond the altar area, torches and shadows of watch towers. In the inconstant light, they see what look to be cages. Further exploration is cut short, however, when one sharp-eyed lookout notices their presence. He whistles and calls in a commanding voice, managing to be heard even above the storm’s din, and a detachment of the guards, along with a small pack of wolves begin to close in. A quick count of the pursuers shows the odds clearly not in the party’s favor, and so they flee. As they run back over the hilltop, they note that the green lights make a final surge, then begin to dissipate. Some glance back to catch a mere glimpse of confusion. The robed figures at the altar gesture frantically, their victim now missing.
Not wishing to lead any trackers back directly to the Manor, the party takes a circuitous route to the south as they try and erase evidence of their passing. The wolves outpace the rest of the pursuit and catch up, but Habbakuk’s favor allows Brie to charm and confuse them long enough to get away. Eventually, seeming to have gotten away for now, the group make their way back to the nearby Northbarley.
After the last kobold attack, the local farmers have nearly all congregated back around Callum’s farmstead now, with woefully inadequate lookouts posted around the torch-lit area. As Callum receives their news of the night’s events, along with the destruction of the kobold raiders, Philip and Heather watch on, taciturn and distracted. As Callum broods over the new information, some of the local farmers enter. News has traveled quickly, for these are the family of those killed by the kobolds. They tearfully thank the party for exacting vengeance, and urge Callum to ‘Do right by them.’ Philip joins them, insisting that he thinks these new arrivals are ‘different from the rest.’ In the disagreement, Heather slips out.
Finally relenting to the pressure of those he is sworn to protect, Callum agrees to come clean with the heroes. The situation, he tells them, is worse than he’d initially thought, and they will have to work together if Northbarley has any chance of survival. He offers them a few potions they have on hand, and what equipment is available. He promises more aid once they can locate Heather’s father Angelo, who has gone missing. And he gives them valuable warnings about the nature of fighting kobolds within their lair. Despite the greater long-term danger of the Callabrans, he reiterates that the kobolds are the most immediate threat, as well as the one the heroes are better equipped to deal with. He then reaffirms his vow of greater aid and transparency before sending them on their way.
The heroes return to the Manor as night wears on. Outside, just beneath where the greatest energies of the magical storm coalesced, they find a round patch of blood and translucent slime. The trail from this epicenter leads inside, through the foyer, and out toward the first-floor rooms. Hume, still behind his desk in spite of the end of both storm and detection spell, greets them and announces that he had their ‘guest’ shown to a room. When the party carefully checks, they find the man from the altar, bloodied and unconscious laying in one of the beds.

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Keenan

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