The four adventurers huddled in the darkness of the cavern, feeling the chilly, ankle-deep water swirl around their feet. Their unseen attackers snarled and hissed — but wisely stayed outside the glow of the party’s torchlight. Realizing that Jalez was greviously wounded and that they were likely outnumbered, the other three adventurers decided to withdraw from the caverns and lure their foes — goblins, yes, and two vicious gnolls — into the ruins of Tora Norrith.
They retreated through the cramped hillside tunnel, helping Jalez as best they could and emerging a few minutes later in the gloomy lower level of the ruined drum tower. The party immediately set about preparing for combat, but their pursuers never showed. In fact, nothing emerged from the tunnel throughout the night, and when dawn broke in the morning, the party encountered a gang of villagers from Terish De’Carn, intent on continuing their work rebuildiing the crumbling curtain wall. After warning them of the goblins and gnolls that lurked in the hills, the rogues surveyed the landscape, looking for signs of their quarry.
Everitt spotted a small stream coming out of the hillside a quarter mile to the north; this stream led to a small, fortified opening cut into the side of the hill and braced with heavy oak beams. It appeared to be the mouth of a tunnel. Once inside, the party found out that it did indeed lead to the same cavern complex that linked up with Tora Norrith. Cautiously the four heroes delved into the caves, but this time they did so unmolested. Their adversaries had packed up and fled, evidently. All that remained was evidence of the goblins’ camp and a few artifacts. Further investigation revealed a series of rectangular storerooms carved out of the rock of the hillside; these were mostly empty, but the party made note of them in case they ever returned to Tora Norrith.
Outside, the villagers were laboring mightily to rebuild the wall, one stone at a time. Here the party decided to split up. Kez elected to remain at the work site and craft a cloak from the hide of a dead tunnel wolf. Prometheor, ever the pure-hearted stalwart, chose to pitch in and help the villagers with their tasks. Jalez, now conscious but nursing a crippled arm, and Everitt opted to return to Terish De’Carn, stock up on essential supplies, and return to the camp site before nightfall.
In Terish De’Carn, Jalez used a portion of the group’s hard-won money to purchase some much-needed provisions from a helpful merchant named Sturgis. He and Everitt then headed to Garron’s blacksmith shop — but the one-armed forgemaster’s eyes grew big when he saw Everitt. “You must leave,” he said firmly. “Mercenaries from the Vogales Peaks have been sent out with orders to find and capture you. I don’t know who you angered, friend, but they’ve come to collect on that debt.”
A visibly disturbed Everitt wisely headed into the hills around the village while Jalez finished up his business in Terish De’Carn. Together the two rogues returned to the ruins of Tora Norrith west of the village and relayed this troubling news. The party decided to proceed to Naspers and follow up on ghastly rumors that both Prometheor and Jalez had heard about holy pilgrims traveling in the area.
The party struck out across the wilderness, moving quickly through the Faris Hills and onto the Faris High Road, an ancient, overgrown thoroughfare that meandered along hilltops and ridges, heading generally in a southerly direction. They stopped for the evening after logging nearly a dozen miles. That night, as they camped atop a rocky promontory, the party heard the telltale sounds of a lone horseman approaching from the south along the road. The rider galloped into the flickering torchlight, revealing himself to be a mail-clad swordsman in a blood-soaked white tunic. The device on his tunic showed a pair of stylized trumpets. The rider sagged weakly in the saddle but still managed the vigor to raise his sword and challenge the four adventurers. “Identify yourselves or stand aside,” he announced through gritted teeth.
The party learned that he was Angmar, a paladin of the Sounding Sword order. A small contingent of the holy knights was based in Curnitha, an old castle just a few hours south. Their mission was to safeguard travelers along the Faris High Road and look after the dozens of isolated villages in the wilderlands. In fact, Angmar had set off just hours ago for Terish De’Carn, but he had been waylaid and fatally wounded after a brush with some vicious army deserters — the same group, no doubt, that had ambushed the four rogues several days ago near Tora Norrith. Working together, Prometheor and Kez healed Angmar of his wounds. In gratitude, he gave them directions to Curnitha and bade them speak to Knight Commander Lucius Pentus, the holy knights’ leader. Then he mounted his horse and continued his solitary journey to Terish De’Carn.
The next morning, the party set off for Curnitha. Following Angmar’s directions, they found the sprawling castle near the terminus of the Faris High Road. It was a huge place, built of stout red granite blocks and festooned with towers, bridges and battlements. But as they learned from meeting with Lucius Pentus, the Order of the Sounding Sword was severely depleted, its knights spread too thin in the wilderlands. In recent months, calls of assistance from far-flung settlements had only increased as winter crept across the lands. Lucius Pentus was particularly concerned about The Wilds, a vast, trackless forest many days’ ride to the east. Paladins returning from that region spoke of strange, baleful fires that burned in the ruins of a once-great castle on the edge of the haunted woodlands. Lucius Pentus also expressed concern about the Clarion Citadel, a smaller outpost west of Curnitha that was manned by a small group of paladins. Their regular reports had grown sporadic of late.
The party told Lucius Pentus of their desire to travel to Naspers and investigate the murder of holy pilgrims in the swamps around the village, and they requested aid for their comrade Jalez. Lucius pledged help for the wounded wizard — but only on the condition that the adventurers make contact with Naspers’ villagers and return them safely to Curnitha to weather the coming winter. The deal was struck, and the four heroes retired to Curnitha’s cold, spartan quarters to spend the night. Outside, the autumn wind howled fitfully…