There they stood at the edge of the Hornwood the Blackwings (Grom the shaman, Vorwulf the ranger/dragon-slayer, and Magiia the dragon-warrior Ferenoi), Olf the Arborean healer, Canohk the faunic bard, and the remaining 5 Achaánal clan warriors of the Hill-Lands. Vorwulf forged ahead as they moved into the treeline. He picked up what he believed to be a scout trail moving due east. After several hours he spotted more greyish streaks lazily intersecting the trail occasionally moving in the same direction. The grey streaks in the snow were stains left from a cheap black paint which bled or was scraped off by the ice. It was easier going, the snow being much thinner on the ground as they moved deeper into the woods, but the light grew scarce dimming to a level of a moonlit night due to the snow-choked canopy above.
Well into late afternoon Vorwulf led the party on their mission to find the Blue-Hand and his camp of rebels, more to the point the magic sword that he was bearing, that dubbed the Anvil. Suddenly he brought the group to a dead stop. He had sighted someone up ahead in the dimness. It was a human male a war-belt girding his hips and belly and black bear hide with an open chest. He had bronze bracers on his arms, a steel skullcap on his head and a dirty wolfskin mantle on his shoulders, the black paint on the bracers wearing off in streaks. He sighted the Blackwings’ party almost as soon as Vorwulf saw him and a gush of steam obscured his grizzled face as he roared and charged towards them brandishing a bearded axe in each hand.
As the berserker charged Vorwulf the tattoo on his bare chest came into view, it was a pair of crossed black battle axes wreathed in red flames. Magiia and Grom could feel a rumble traveling through the ground as if something rather large and heavy was hurtling towards them. A thug leapt out of nowhere at Magiia swinging at her with his battle axe, she countered with her own axe which bounced off of his black streaked shield. Grom cast Mass Bull’s Strength increasing his allies’ ability. A blast of electricity shot from behind a clump of frosted bushes zapping Olf. The Blackwings could see it came from a medium-sized ratling warlock draped in black with a bronze mask on his face. The bard, who sang as he swung his curved long sword, and the rest of the warriors were already engaged at the rear with a larger group of the thuggish Black-Soldiery.
Cris (Vor’s player): “It’s one of those Poisonwood ratlings.”
The berserk made it to Vorwulf and swung with a paired weapons attack with his bearded axes. Vor easily deflected the first blow with his bowie knife and clinched on the second with his cutlass. Another human charged in from the forest-shadow swinging a great sword with a flame design engraved on the blade at Vor’s head. He missed. Grom took a sword blade to the guts in a sneak attack made by a faun wounding him severely.
Gil (Grom’s player): “Damn! He took half of my H-Pee in one hit!”
Olf activated the shield ability on his bronze open helm and used his healing touch on the shaman. The ground shook perceptively as the sound of splintering tree branches filled their ears and snow fell in great drifts from the canopy above as a Hill-Giant wielding a massive bearded axe crashed into the battle and swung a mighty blow into the healer, fortunately all it did was to dispel the magical field that surrounded him. Another thug in a black chest-plate brandishing a battle axe and a black round shield came into view.
Gil: “Damn! I cast Mass Animal Form!”
Instantly all their enemies with a flash of light and a slight pop disappeared and in their places were black rats which immediately scuttled away, the Hill-Giant was transformed into a rat the size of a cat but still he scuttled away with the rest. They turned to the rear the remainder of the party had been successful as well though 2 more of the Achaánal had fallen. The Blackwings found that each of the enemy warriors had a potion of warmth among their equipment, which had fallen into piles where they had stood. They also managed to loot a magic great axe from the faun, a magic great sword from one of the humans, a set of magic black robes and a pair of ruby studded bracers from the ratling warlock.
Cris: “Blackbrow’s hunting for the Blue-Hand too. We gotta move faster.”
The Hill-landers insisted on burying their comrades and thus the party was delayed an hour as all took a hand in digging into the frozen earth beneath the snow. It was evening by the time they again to move shortly after they set camp. They all crawled into their bedrolls after the shaman cast Protection from Elements (cold) on them and watches had been assigned. On first watch the entire party was abruptly woke up by a horn blast form Vor’s hunting horn. He had spotted the Brown Spine trying to dig through the canopy snow above the camp but the horn blast apparently had scared it off. It was third watch by the time everything calmed back down and Magiia and the bard were left on the lookout. It wasn’t long before there were knives at their throats and a, “shhhhh” hissed into their ears.
The entire party soon found themselves stripped of their weapons and tied up prisoners of a large group of Westlander tribals with tattoos over their faces. The bard tried to talk but choked as he was just too panicked. Grom on the other hand managed to charm them and convince the savages that they were seeking the Blue-Hand because they had a sure fire way to defeat the Lich of Blackbrow and that they didn’t mind being taken as prisoners to their encampment. So they were dragged through the snow along hidden paths many devoid of snow at a very quick pace. Each of the tribal warriors was wearing a steel skullcap, a suit of scalemail armor, a dark green though frost encrusted woolen cloak, buckskins and fur-wrapped feet. Each was bearing a wood round shield painted with a single blue hand and wielding a battle axe with a pair of tomahawks slipped under their thick leather belts. Exhausted, they reached their goal by next evening.
They had been taken to a large clearing in the trees. The forest had been chopped down around a large pond and they could see several tents and log cabins about the shore of the ice-over water. The outside perimeter by the tree-line was populated by the jutting stumps of the felled trees with a log fence on the inside perimeter of the stumps around the camp and a defensive ditch beyond that crossed by a narrow split-log bridge. The party was stopped at the split-log crossing and Grom was led by two of the Westlanders as the representative of the Blackwings straight to their leader, the Blue-Hand. The rebel leader was very young in appearance, basically a teenager, wearing a grey wool tunic and wrapped in a fine blue cloak. The Anvil was at his side. It wasn’t long before the shaman, ever the agile diplomat, had the Blackwings inside of the Blue-Hand’s pavilion pouring over his maps.
They found that the Blue-Hand had been “blessed” by the druid of Cleft-Rills, Siamnecca, and thus had gained the loyalty of the Westlander tribals of Veringer’s Field and Eagle’s Grove which comprised the main body of his forces. They although loyal to the Druidic Council of the Cleft-Rills are mostly on-board with the Blue-Hand for the loot when the fighting finally breaks out. The Blue-Hand had planned to send out small scouting and foraging parties through the winter and come spring move on Hornstone which was not too far north of the Hornwood, pushing out the “foreign” forces of Blackbrow. His plan relied on securing the Old High Road and the thicket above Loc Lake at first melt. He was sure the farmers which remained in the North Spur were on his side. It didn’t take much for the adventurers to convince him otherwise especially when the bard finally was able to deliver his message sent directly from the Druidic Council (about the Black Moon eclipsing the sun). The next day, day 9, the shaman gets an idea.
Gil: “I want to summon the most powerful spirit I can that knows the land the best.”
The Blackwings, the bard, the healer and the Blue-Hand were all in the Blue-Hand’s pavilion while the shaman used a bronze brazier to carry out the summoning. It took about an hour then after a sudden unnatural stillness overtook the whole scene and all the rills of smudge-smoke seemed to freeze in mid-air, the brazier erupted with a gout of emerald flame and the smoke about the tent became dense and green almost opaque. The image of the head of a green dragon with glowing red eyes floated in the smoke above the receding flames of the brazier. The shaman sweating and straining against an invisible enemy suffered an elongated battle of wills with the spirit finally seizing control of the powerful dragon spirit, barely. He was able to get its name though it spake it in draconic, the closest he was able to get was Adcahali. The pronunciation was deeper, more guttural and penetrated with a serpent-hiss which the human vocal anatomy is simply not capable of.
Grom: “I command you to tell us the best and fastest way to get to the fortress, Blackbrow.”
The dragon volunteered to fly up to 20 of them to the citadel on its back. With that the smoke slithered out of the tent and out into the snow where it congealed into the semi-solid ectoplasmic form of an adult green dragon. The Blackwings, Canohk the bard, Olf the healer, the Blue-Hand, the 3 remaining Hill-Landers and 11 of the Westlander warriors geared up and mounted the back of the strangely spongy and clammy dragon. Soon icy, winter air was blasting at their faces as the dragon flew up above the clouds out of the winter gloom into the bright winter sun where it shone with a vibrant green glimmer and semi-transparent like sea-green glass. Shortly they would be standing before the walls of fortress Blackbrow.
To Be Continued…