After exploring the Harken forest for several days, Jasmine had seen neither hide nor hair of a Woodsinger elf, but she had often felt like she was being watched, yet nothing was ever there when she looked.
Sitting on a stump to eat her lunch one sunny day, the beautiful sunlit leaves casting dancing shadows on the forest floor, she heard a scrabbling of feet behind her and then felt a terrible wallop on the back of her head. She started to her feet but a second wallop sent her sprawling and everything faded to black.
* * * * *
When Mahindarel had called the saplings to come to his grove, several had rushed to be first to get there. As always, Alphazar moseyed along, without a care in the world. He eventually arrived at the grove. Mahindarel looked down at the youngster and frowned, “Late again Alphazar, when will you learn?” Addressing the saplings, he said, “I have called you here at the request of the Council.” The saplings murmured and whispered at the mention of the Council of the Four Winds. Mahindarel waited patiently, and then resumed, “Two of you will need to go to visit the Leafless.” The murmuring was louder this time at the mention of the Leafless. Most of the saplings had never left the woods, and even among those who had ventured further, only a handful had ever seen a Leafless – Scrawny, short, stumpy things with animal’s fur on the top of their heads instead of leaves.
Alphazar was one of those few; he had been particularly peeved one day and had gone off to be alone. He had walked for two days before he came upon the stone and thatch dwelling where the Leafless lived. He had stayed to watch for several more days but eventually became bored with their routine and headed home.
Branches shot up as Mahindarel asked for volunteers. Alphazar’s were not among them. Mahindarel selected Jocureel as the first of two. Alphazar noticed the branches going down long before he noticed the elder’s stare, and then he realized what he was seeing. “What? Me? You don’t want to send me.”
“Oh but I do,” said Mahindarel, “It is past time that you should grow up and begin to take some responsibility in your life. You are the oldest of the saplings and have still not earned your bark. This is just the thing to get your head out of the clouds and into the woods.”
“But, but,” protested Alphazar, “look there, Dorianis is a better Druid than I’ll ever be, and no one can touch Giramgend when he has his totem in his hand. Clearly, they would be better choices.”
“I think not, you will go,” declared the Elder.
The following day, Jocureel and Alphazar headed north toward the town the Leafless called Harkenwold. Just past the edge of the Woods.
After travelling for 3 days, they were discovered. At first, whatever it was that had found them remained hidden, but when the sun had set, they found themselves surrounded by a gaggle of hostile bullywugs. The tree folk started to put up a fight, but after Jocureel had one of his upper branches chopped off, they yielded and were captured. Several days passed before they were sold to the hobgoblin. He brought them back to a cave where he kept them locked in a cell with a dire wolf for company. They were very glad that the wolf was a carnivore, though they lived in fear of his terrible fangs nonetheless.
They were right to. The wolf took to chewing on Jocureel, which amused the hobgoblins to no end. Within a week, Jocureel was dead. Now, the wolf was eying Alphazar. Yesterday, the hobgoblins had dragged in one of the Leafless and chained her up in one of the alcoves.
* * * * *
Having been sent from Fallcrest to the Harkenwold to investigate reports of the Iron Circle’s nefarious activities, the Paladin rode steadily along the King’s Road. Kriv was rapidly becoming bored and frustrated that the journey was so long and the mission so pointless. (The Iron Circle has always been a raggedy band of thieves and cutpurses. They’re usually nothing the town watch can’t deal with.)
Sometime around midday, he saw movement in the trees to the south of the road. Not wanting to be waylaid by highwaymen, he drew his sword and prepared to gallop, but then he saw a gnarled green foot beneath some branches and realized this was probably some orcs or goblins. He hoped for the latter as it would then be an unfair fight. With a great cry, he charged the woods, scattering the goblins this way and that. Two fell to his sword before he dismounted, three more fell after. Three others ran away, he pursued, on foot, knowing it would take too long to mount again. His righteous anger was upon him and he was determined to slay these evil creatures. He caught up to the third runner when it tripped over a tree root. He lopped off its head as it was scrambling to its feet. The other two ran into a nearby cave, so he ran after them, barreling through a short passage and a chamber where five or six goblins lay dead. He did not slow to count. His quarry was just ahead when suddenly the first runner was cleaved in half and the second nearly had its head chopped off, the axe swung again as the biggest dwarf he’d ever seen came into view. This strike was true and the last goblin fell to the ground, dead.
* * * * *
After slaughtering the goblins and their pets in the first two chambers, the adventurers decided to rest a little before tackling the final door. Keeping a watchful eye on the tunnel and the door, they meditated and recovered to prepare themselves for whatever was behind the door.
Suddenly, there was the sound of scrabbling footsteps and belabored breathing from the tunnel. Orin quickly brought his battle axe to bear and as the unsuspecting goblin nearly ran into him he sliced it in two. Lorian prepared to cast a spell into the mix, while the second goblin slowed to avoid the next strike. Then, as the goblin tried to run past Orin, he found himself being introduced to the sharp side of Orin’s axe and fell dead to the floor. Orin quickly drew back; ready to strike at whatever it was that had been chasing the goblins down the tunnel. Just as he was about to strike, a Dragonborn in chainmail armor stopped and raised a hand to dismiss the attack. Distrustful, Orin challenged the Dragonborn to determine if he be friend or foe. After some squabbling and bravado on both sides, Orin decided that the Dragonborn passed muster and walked with him past the goblin corpses, back into the chamber where proper introductions were made and the adventurers added a 5th to their party.
* * * * *
Orin and the newcomer, Kriv, crashed open the double doors, weapons drawn and attacks ready, the spell casters and the rogue readied in the rear.
As soon as the door was opened, the chaos of battle took over as goblin blackblades, hobgoblin grunts, wolves, a goblin warrior and a hobgoblin warcaster all joined the melee. Pinned in the doorway by the crush of enemies, Orin and Kriv fought valiantly to advance the party into the room where the mages could use their blast spells. Lorian reacted with cat like reflexes, practiced hands moving deftly as he placed a swirling sphere of fire deep into the room, burning several of its inhabitants. This he followed with a sweet and sinister lullaby that slowed several of the enemy. Reef, cursed with the Crossbow-that-never-hits, shot several times in vain, no matter how steadily he handled the bow. Xaelin saw an opening where Orin had slain the goblins and advanced to cast his spells more effectively. Lightening split the air as his spells found target after target. As the endless tide of greenskins began to falter, the druid chained in the alcove transformed into beast form and back again; releasing herself from bondage. Then she too began casting spell after spell to destroy the terrible creatures. One of the hobgoblins managed to get to the lever that opened the cage where the dire wolf lived. As the cage opened, the great beast bayed and slavered and leapt forward, finding itself fighting an ancient spirit of the forest in ape form. Out of the cage came a white wolf that charged the nearest hobgoblin, ripping out his throat. The white wolf was followed by a bear rampaging toward the dire wolf and attacking its flank. At some point, Orin was given the chance to show off his gladiatorial athletics skills as the Warcaster tossed him into a pit, almost. At another, a well-aimed shot that defied the nature of the Crossbow-that-never-hits, took the dire wolf in the eye and it was no more. One by one the greenskins and their pets fell. Until, at last, the party stood amidst the death and destruction, facing a human druid, and one of the fabled tree folk, his skin of bark and limbs like branches, covered in pale green leaves. As the battle ended, the white wolf padded toward him and faded away, and the ape dematerialized as it returned to the spirit world from whence it came. Lorian released his fire sphere and that was that.
Reef and Kriv attempted, in vain, to topple the statue, while Orin eyed the two sets of double doors at the back of the chamber. The ones on the right appeared to be made of iron. The ones on the left: wood. Orin decided to try his luck on the wooden doors. With a few mighty chops of his axe he smashed through the doors and found a small chest containing a Potion of Healing and approx. 120gp.
Party: 10 leather armor, 4 light shields, 4 longswords, 1 spear, 5 javelins, 6 short swords, 1 staff, 1 grimy robes
Party: vellum sheet – a letter from Chief Krand of the Bloodreavers ordering the warcaster here to capture villagers to transport to Thunderspire for use as slaves.
Party: Potion of Healing. Minor action – drink and spend a healing surge to regain 10 hit points.
All: 208 each