The razorclaw shifter Hazel Redclaw ran into the satyr named Brynt, her sometime hunting partner. “Hazel, you are friends with the monks in the tower, yes?” Brynt was so seldom serious that his tone caught Hazel’s attention. Hazel Redclaw was not personally friends with the monks, who practiced and studied in their vine-covered tower just outside the Gloaming Wood, but some of her ancestors had been sheltered there during the terrible Silver Flame crusade that had killed so many of her people a century ago.
Brynt went on: “There is a troop of Hobgoblins on the march from Droaam headed this way. You may want to warn them.” Out of gratitude to the monastic order, the shifter travelled quickly to the monastery, hoping to warn them before the monsters arrived.
When Hazel Redclaw reached the monastery, she was surprised to find a company of Brelish troops arrayed before the modest tower. Behind the usual swords, shields, and wands stood an eldritch war machine; a construction of wood, stone and metal steaming slightly with the frustration of its captive elemental power source. A flexing catapult arm and payload of carved missiles made clear its simple purpose. The elderly gnomish wizard Vangeon Smilebeard and Brelfire Pinfinger, his similarly-sized warforged companion picked over their arcane siege engine, testing the tautness of cables and clearing road debris from the joints.
Between the tower and the Brelanders stood the lone monk Dax carrying only a scroll, proud and erect, swept-back ears, gray-green skin and flattened nose marking him as a Githzerai. Two Brelish officers approached; Major Bren ir’Gadden and Captain Aric Blacktree, his rapier drawn. They demanded the monks turn over their tower. “We cannot allow a tower to stand so close to our border unless we control it.” they said. Dax read aloud the monks’ message of polite refusal. Major Bren ir’Gadden tried to negotiate, but Captain Aric Blacktree interrupted, ordering Vangeon to start the machine’s attack on the tower. When Vangeon refused to attack the peaceful monks, Aric ran him through with his rapier.
Belfire Pinfinger leapt up to object to the killing of his beloved mentor. Aric said something along the lines of “You side with them, too? Fine, go to the monks and bring them this message…” Aric Blacktree picked up the dying Vangeon’s waterskin and plunged a dagger into it. He continued: “when the water drains from this waterskin we will crush their tower.” Vangeon’s dying words to his warforged friend were “Go… to the monks.” Aric called to his half-elf companion Phinneas to start the machine. Belfire then realized that Phinneas’s friendliness had been a betrayal- preparation to take over the machine from Zangeon.
Belfire Pinfinger bitterly snatched the leaking waterskin from Aric’s hand and carried it to Dax, along with the Brelander’s message. In a gesture of defiance, Dax squeezed the waterskin in his psionically mighty fist, instantly emptying it of water. “What’s going on?” asked the monks in the tower behind Dax. “Come back and tell us what they said.” Dax and Belfire entered the monastery tower and told the monks that attack was immanent. “You must safeguard our Lorekeeper, Pizo,” said the head monk to Dax, “If he dies, all of our years of study here will be lost. Take him through the secret tunnel and bring him to safety.”
At that moment there was a tremendous crash as the elemental-powered siege engine slammed a stone projectile through the tower’s upper stories. Captain Aric Blacktree cried “Leave none alive! For Breland and the Sons of Liberty!” as the soldiers cheered. Masonry crashed all about as the ancient dwarf Pizo the Lorekeeper, the monk Dax, and the small warforged Belfire climbed down through the secret door into the tunnel. Rushing through, Dax had the presence of mind to grab two of the emergency packs stashed there by the monks, each of which contained three days’ rations and a magical healing draught.
Outside, Hazel watched in horror as the peaceful monks were crushed by falling stone or massacred by the Sons of Liberty. She knew there was little she could do to stop the scores of troops. Hazel remembered from her parents’ stories that there was a secret tunnel under the monastery that opened just inside her forest. She ran to the tunnel exit, hoping that some of her monk allies would escape that way. Sure enough a grassy section of hillside swung inward, revealing Dax, Pizo, and Belfire.
After introductions, Hazel offered to lead the refugees to safety deeper in the haunted forest she knew so well. While making their plans however, a hobgoblin patrol stumbled on their position and rushed to attack, growling insults at the shifter! There were three lightly armored hobgoblin soldiers with swords, one larger soldier wearing scale mail and wielding a wicked flail, and an archer with heavy-shafted black-fletched arrows. Dax leapt aggressively into the fray, silently spinning through the hobgoblins’ loose formation, landing skull-cracking kicks and punches as he passed. The hobgoblins that survived hammered back, bloodying the githzerai. Belfire Pinfinger also careened about the battlefield, striking three of the brutes with his longsword in one blur of motion. Hazel Redclaw maneuvered about behind the hobgoblins’ leader and slashed viscously at his vitals, nearly knocking him out of the fight. Before falling, the archer managed to plant the wickedly barbed head of a black arrow into Dax’s flank. Pizo muttered a few arcane words directed at Dax, passing him the strength to rally. Shortly, the battle was over, with Dax the only hero to have been seriously hurt.
Unfortunately, the noise of the struggle with the hobgoblins drew the attention of a team of Brelanders hunting for escaping monks. The squad consisted of a human chainmail-wearing halberdeer, two half-elf soldiers with swords in one hand and wands in the other, and a grim-looking human archer. Hearing them coming, Hazel hastily scrambled up a tree to hide and Belfire ducked behind a tree trunk. Pizo and Dax were caught in the open. Seeing only the two monks. The soldiers advanced confidently, thinking they outnumbered their quarry two-to-one. Springing from hiding, Belfire engaged the halberd-wielding human and Hazel hurled a dagger from her perch, striking the archer. Angered, the human pointed at Hazel and commanded the two spellswords “Bring her down!” Both fired destructive pulses of magic energy at Hazel from their wands, one of which struck her, searing her fur and flesh painfully. Dax again danced between his enemies. He struck left and right but felled no one, and ended up in range of their angry bladed reprisals, nearly falling from the pain of their wicked cuts. The archer’s keen arrow struck home in Dax, nearly killing him outright. Belfire and Hazel also struck the Brelanders and were struck in turn, paying for the blood of their foes with wounds of their own. Pizo again came to the rescue of his beloved pupil, pouring a healing potion down the wounded monk’s throat. Working together to flank their foes, the bloodied but fierce razorclaw and the diminutive but brave warforged brought down the halberdeer and one of his spellsword companions, turning the wind of battle in favor of our heroes. Reinvigorated by the potion and eager to avenge his fallen brothers, the still-bloody Dax rushed back into the melee, felling the remaining spellsword and threatening the archer, last standing of his squad. Wounded, dazed by a cruel slash by Hazel’s dagger, and surrounded, the archer let let his longbow fall to the leaf covered forest floor that was spattered with the blood of five races. “For Breland and the Sons of Liberty!” he shouted as he drew his sword, only to be cut down by his intended victims.
As the new comrades relieved the fresh corpses of their coins and equipment, Pizo begged them to take just a short rest and then move on. The shifter’s thievery experience helped the heroes select the items likely to fetch the most coin, and also to find a secret place to rest while they plotted their escape from the dangerous area. Dax recommended heading Northeast deeper into the Eldeen Reaches, away from Breland and Drooam. Hazel, who grew up in this part of the Gloaming Wood, agreed, confident that she could steer the group clear of the dangers of that haunted forest. Freshly grieving the death of his friend Vangeon Smilebeard, Belfire Pinfinger could not bear to leave behind the horseless carriage in which they had covered so many miles. So despite the danger, he insisted on returning to the now ruined tower to retrieve it.
Pizo, Hazel, and Dax made their way deeper into the forest, away from the pursuing Brelish forces. They used their athleticism to travel difficult paths so as to be hard to follow or track, their stealth move quietly and with cover, their perceptive abilities to hear or spot enemy patrols from far away, and their knowledge of the natural world to find quick and clever routes. Carelessly however, one of those quick routes lead into the trap of a vine horror; an animate hunting plant that captures and crushes creatures to feed its hungry roots.
From hiding, the carnivorous plant sent gripping strangling tendrils shooting up from the ground surrounding the three heroes, entangling Pizo and Hazel. Dax managed to twist free of the clutching vines. The vine horror manifested a man-like body of twisted branches with thorny claws to attack Dax, even as its vines worked to crush the life out of Pizo and Hazel. Pizo managed to cut himself free of the vines, though they bruised him painfully, but after hurling one shiruken deep into the vine horror’s frame, the unlucky shifter passed out from the pain and lack of breath from being constricted. Dax hammered away at the creature’s woody pliant body, his ki focus toughening his bare hands and feet so that the vine horror splintered under his fury. Dax’s skin and clothing became bloody and torn from the plant’s silent clawing. Pizo used his healing arts to revive Hazel, and she stood and hurled another shiruken into the now-tattered frame of the forest monster. The vine horror faded back into the woods to wait for easier prey, and the exhausted companions did not pursue it.
As Belfire Pinfinger approached the scene of his friend’s death to retrieve their wagon, he heard a great battle taking place, with shouts in Goblin and the common tongue of man. The hobgoblin and Brelish forces had found each other at last and were embroiled in a maelstrom of blades, curses, and deadly arcing beams of magic all about the ruined monastery. Seeing his opportunity in the confusion, the warforged made a dash for the wagon that had meant so much to Zangeon. Just as Belfire clambered atop the vehicle, Phinneas spotted him. “Hey, get down from there!” he yelled, and a line of arcane energy lashed from his wand, denting Belfire’s metal plates, singeing his wooden joints, and seeking to pull him off of the wagon onto the ground. Belfire desperately threw himself to the platform of the vehicle and managed not to be dragged off into the reach of all those soldiers. Dodging one last blast from Phinneas, Belfire piloted the magic wagon rapidly away from the battle and on to the North road away from Breland, further into the Eldeen reaches.
All safe for the moment, though separated, the characters glance back over their shoulders toward the site of the tragic battle and see that the clouds overhead have aligned and formed into a huge prophecy symbol in the sky! Pizo holds his dragonshard up to the light to capture the image. Studying it he offers this interpretation: “The blind strike against the light; four bright motes escape the flames.”