Lands of Katagma

Amafey's Notes [9] - The Bandit Gambit

“What…err…how?” I stammered, trying to choose between all the questions I felt I needed to ask the innkeeper. “How long have you known about her?”. A vague timeline was starting to form in my head, I suspect old mother basket only moved into the forest after the Fey Friend’s demise. The innkeeper looked over at his wife who was now shaking her head furiously. “I…I’ve said too much. You should leave. You’re not welcome here anymore”. Realising that it was likely their own safety was in danger if they told me any more, I nodded reluctantly and left the three gold I had previously offered him. Beiro followed, but not before uttering his newfound catchphrase of “I’ll be back”, more confusing the innkeeper than anything else.

Back in the centre of Westpine, we met back up with Baldwin and Melech, who had acquired a cart from the lumberjack for a daily fee. We agreed between ourselves that we were likely to be five days. The rest of the current day and the next travelling to Coombesgate, a full day in Coombegate to do all that we needed to do and two days travel back to Westpine. We put the painting into the cart and set off down the road.

A couple of hours into our trip back to Coombesgate, I happened to look up at the sky and saw two figures that appeared to be heading in our direction. I nudged Baldwin, “Do you think those are birds?” Baldwin squinted “Not sure, they’re a little way off, but they’re definitely headed this way” he responded, his hand reaching for his sword. I could see Melech getting uneasy too, his hand reaching into his robe. A low rumbling sound had started to our side and glancing over I could see a herd of cows shuffling quickly towards the treeline. “Quick!” I hissed, “Get into the trees”. The others set off at a dash towards the trees as I took a moment to cast the illusion of a large rabbit and I then pursued the others. After peeking out from the trees for a handful of seconds, we saw a figure swoop down and try to grab the illusory rabbit with a frustrated eagle cry when it found nothing. It’s big lion-like legs kicked off from the ground and took flight once again. Gryphons. Unusual to see this far south, they normally roost in mountains. We came out of the trees slightly to see them both heading off northwards, the other one with a cow in its talons. We carried along the road with one eye on the skies, but the rest of the day passed without incident.

The next day, we decided to try and make it the rest of the way to Coombesgate, although that would likely involve travelling into the night a little. We were also to pass through the copse where we were attacked by bandits before. We slowed and kept our eyes especially peeled and, sure enough, we saw signs of another impending ambush. Melech and I crept into the undergrowth on the sides, hoping to get the jump on our would-be attackers, although we weren’t as well hidden as we thought. One of the archers I was approaching spotted me, but I think he recognised me from before. “bugger this for a laugh,” he yelled, holding his bow above his head. A new leader had stepped out of the ferns by Beiro and Baldwin (who’d continued down the path) and we could see three other archers, in the same arrangement they had attacked us the few days before, all pop-up and look a bit confused. “Give it up boss, these ones aren’t worth the trouble” the one who had already surrendered yelled. The leader sneered at us “You can pass…THIS time” he said, trying to appear generous, but there was a hint of fear in his voice. Melech and I retrieved ourselves from the bushes and followed after Beiro and Baldwin, who had now passed the leader.

As I passed the leader, however, I turned to him. These guys would be attacking pretty much anyone travelling along this route, ourselves included, and we needed to do something to get rid of them “What are you doing with your life?” I said blankly. He looked taken aback, surprised by the question, but before he could respond I continued “would you be willing to work as mercenaries if we paid you?”. A voice crept into the back of my head “What are you doing?”, I looked over and saw Melech glaring at me, but I just winked at him. “Err…yeah, how much you offering?” the bandit said gruffly. “How much is fair pay?” I countered. “Err…five silver pieces a day,” he said. “That’s fair” I responded, “Each!” he said, somewhat triumphantly. I smiled “I assumed as much”. I paused, thinking how best we could use them, primarily to keep them from any more raiding. “If I were to give you 50 silver now, where would I be able to find you in two days?” I offered, off the road was better than nothing for the moment. “Well, I guess we’ll be in the tavern,” he said with a shrug. “Which tavern would that be?” “Well, the Notched Blade of course!” Not one I knew, but I’m sure I can find it, although the name alone gave me a rough idea of what I might find there. “And you’d stay off the road in the meantime?” I probed. “Well, we ain’t going back if you’re paying us.” he chuckled. I paused, of course, these guys were coming from somewhere “Back where?” I asked tentatively, knowing that the rest of a bandit camp might be harder to deal with. “Back to the boss. He gives us our jobs, posts us on the roads. Sometimes it’s the north or south ones leading out of Coombesgate, but it’s normally this one.” “How many of you are there at the camp?” I asked, he seemed to be very free with information and I was going to take advantage of this. “About twenty in total, including us.” I nodded “ok”. Reaching for my coin purse, I retrieved 50 silver and handed it over “I’ll see you in The Notched Blade in two days and there’ll be more where that came from”. As we all walked away, we could hear them all squabbling over the coin behind us.

We arrived at Coombesgate shortly after nightfall to find the gates closed, but after a short talk to the guards, Baldwin got us in. We made our way straight to The Fallow Sow to get rooms for the night, hoping my last performance there would give us the chance to stay with only the need to play tomorrow. Baldwin and Beiro stayed outside to watch the cart while Melech and I went inside to get the rooms. “Amafey!” I heard shouted cheerily from the bar as I went in “Well if it isn’t my favourite bard!” There was a twang from the current performer as he missed a note. I smiled widely and walked over “Hello again, err… I’m sorry, I never actually got your name last time” I said sheepishly “Ooo, don’t worry about it, busy times and all. It’s Drebky by the way” he responded with a grin. “Well, Drebky, I was hoping you had a few rooms available for me and my friends in exchange for a full performance tomorrow evening” “Oh, of course, play like you did before and that’s more than ok” he said, slightly stary eyed at the prospect of how full the bar would be again. “Is it possible to get four rooms?” I queried. “Err…yeah…actually, one moment.” and he walked back and yelled into one of the back rooms “Ma! Have we got four rooms spare?” The voice of an older woman rasped back “No!” “Err, how many have we got spare?” “Two!” He came back to the bar a little embarrassed, “Only got two rooms I’m afraid, is that ok?” “Oh that’ll be fine” It’s still a freebie, we could probably just about cram into one room if needs be. He handed me two keys I thanked him “I’ll make sure to put on a good performance tomorrow” and winked at the barkeeper.

As I turned to gather the others, I found Melech engaged in conversation with a familiar dwarf. “Smokey!” I exclaimed. He turned to me and beamed “Amafey! Good to see you returned ok, holding up well?” “Yes, yes” I responded “We had quite an adventure, but we’re all in one piece. How about you, no trouble from any bandits?” “Nope, no trouble” “You didn’t encounter any?” “Oh I encountered them, they didn’t cause me any trouble though” and he winked. “Join me for a drink, I want to hear all about your stories” Melech and I agreed, just as soon as we’d brought our stuff into the inn. Baldwin offered to stay to guard the painting, although I think he just wanted some time to himself. We exchanged stories with Smokey for most of the night, agreeing to leave the various bits of business we had to the following day.

I went to order more drinks and while the barman was pouring them, I realised I never asked about my mother around here. “Does the name Lafrey Brightwood sounds familiar to you? She’s a performer, like myself.” “Lafrey, Lafrey”, Drebky pondered, “Y’know, I think I do remember someone by that name when I was a child. In here occasionally. She was one of my father’s favourites. She was very good, not quite as good as you, mind.” “I…err…thank you. I was hoping to follow in her footsteps” I said shyly, blushing deeply. “Well, I think you’ve already surpassed her,” he said, passing me the mug of ale. I looked down into it, quietly said thank you again and hurried back to the others.

I only made it halfway before starting to shed tears. Everything was getting too much. However well I was doing, my mother wasn’t around to see it, I wasn’t able to make her proud. All I was doing asking around was reminding myself she hasn’t been seen in years and I’m unlikely to ever see her again. My only lead so far was from an old woman who, as time goes on, seems to be transpiring to be an evil hag.

By the time I made it to the table, I was clearly a mess. “You alright, lass?” Smokey asked tentatively “Yeah, I…I’m just poking too much into information about my mother” “Ooooooook, well I think it’s about time for bed”, clearly not wanting to be part of my breakdown. Beiro and Melech looked at a loss for what to do too and we sat there pretty much in silence until I finished my beer and went to bed.

In the morning we headed straight over to the baron’s residence. We knocked on the door and the peephole slid open revealing a pair“Yes?” A voice attached to the eyes said. Melech stepped forwards, “We’re here to see the baron, we have something he’d like to see,” he said authoritatively. “Do you have an appointment?” The voice said, tinged with disdain. “He is expecting us” There was a sigh “I can’t just let anyone in, the Baron is a very busy man” “And he’ll be even busier berating you if you don’t let him know we’ve got what he’s looking for.” There was a pause, then with a sigh, the voice responded: “I will check with the baron” and the peephole slid closed. It was at this point that I had a minor revelation “We need a team name!” Melech looked at me incredulously. I continued “If we need to tell people who we are, what would we say at the moment? We could all introduce ourselves if the situation suits but we need something snappy!”. Melech just shook his head and turned around. At this point, the door opened and a body that we presume belonged to the voice we heard appeared. “The Baron will see you now,” he said.

As we entered the main hall where we had had the feast the week before, the Baron came out and greeted us. “Greetings, good to see you’ve all returned! Is that it, can I see it?”. Melech and Baldwin started to unroll it but as they did I piped up “It wasn’t to be found in the hall you directed us to, we faced many other trials and tribulations in order to retrieve it. I was hoping you might be able to increase the compensation in kind?” The baron looked slightly taken aback “The reward was for the painting, not the effort to retrieve it. You knew the pointer was nothing more than a tip-off and you accepted the quest” “Fair enough” I said, backing off quickly. It had been an optimistic question and I didn’t want to leave with nothing. The others had now unfurled the painting and the Baron stood back and admired it. “This is even better than I imaged! Look! There’s Ulster and gasp that’s elf hero” he nudged Beiro in the ribs “I’m part elf you know”. I could see Beiro glancing up and down the Baron’s portly body, then nod cautiously.

At that moment a man came running in. “Sir, I have urgent news,” he said, breathlessly. The baron turned to us “Excuse me, this is terribly rude, but I have to take this and he and the man went into the next room. As he was away, a couple of servants arrived and started rolling up the painting. I asked about making sure we were going to be paid before letting the painting out of our sight and the servants assured us our payment would here shortly. Just after the servants left with the painting the baron returned. “Oh, have they taken it?” he said, disappointed. We nodded “Oh well, we’ll get it framed and on display before long and ..ah, here’s your reward” and sure enough, at that moment a servant appeared with a big coffer filled with gold. We hefted it into the cart for the time being. “Now, if you don’t mind…” the baron started but was cut off of by Baldwin. “Orcs. We saw some in the Fey woods, organised ones, all with the same markings” he said, knowing this was something the baron needed to hear “Oh” the baron said, only seeming a little surprised “Is everything Ok?” I probed. “Yes, I…well..” He stuttered but quickly regained his focus “I suppose I can confide in you strapping bunch of adventurers. Norcragden has fallen. They orcs are currently held back at the river crossing. “Are you looking for more soldiers?” I asked, thinking about the bandits “can you pay them?” “We can’t really afford that, although any militia that joins the front lines would be more than welcome. Don’t worry, the steward’s men will hold the orcs back”. He seemed pretty confident of this.

Following our meeting with the baron, we distributed the reward and split up, agreeing to meet back at the tavern later. Beiro and Baldwin wanted to go shopping, but I took the opportunity to grab Melech. I’d been wanting to see if the library had any information on hags or anything else to build on what we’ve learned. Melech agreed this was a good idea and we both made our way over. Between us, it didn’t take long to turn up a handful of stories referring to hags. In pretty much all cases they were brokers of deals, much like Old Mother Basket. Unfortunately, in most of the deals we read about, the other party didn’t come off so well…

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [8] - Back to Coombesgate

Melech and I met up with Amafey and Beiro outside the Moody Cow. We loaded the painting in the cart and set off along the road back to Coombesgate. A short way out of the village we noticed a pair of Griffins flying overhead. The cows nearby also noticed and began to run for cover. We decided to follow and headed towards the nearest coppice of trees. We managed to get to safety, however one of the cows was not so lucky. It screamed out as one of the Griffins grabbed it flying off into the sky. That might explain how the local farmers cows have been going missing!

We cautiously left the coppice before continuing along the road. The rest of the day was uneventful and when night fell we set up camp. The following morning we were off again hoping to reach Coombesgate before nightfall.

In the afternoon we approached the wooded area where we had been attached by bandits before. We didn’t want it to happen again so it was decided that Amafey and Melech would scout along the edges while me and Beiro continued along the road.

As I dragged the cart cautiously up the road I saw some branches in the nearby trees twitch. Our suspicions were confirmed as Amafey came across one of the bandits hiding amongst the trees. At least one of bandits seemed to recognise us from before and called out that we were not be attacked. Presumably remembering their defeat at our hands before. I took this as a cue and hastily continued up the road past the bandits.

Amafey however seemed to be discussing some kind of proposition with the bandits. I waited for sometime up the road fretting about wanting to get to Coombesgate before dark. It didn’t seem very likely now…

After Amafey eventually finished it was indeed dark before we arrived at Coombesgate. Normally entry after dark is restricted but by a stroke of luck I knew the gate guard from my time up at Norcragden. He let us in and we headed to the Fallow Sow tavern. I guarded the cart and painting while the others organised the rooms. We stowed the painting and equipment in one of the rooms. I guarded it while the others went down for a drink. Not worth risking the painting now, someone else might have overheard something about it.

The next day we headed to the Baron’s residence with the painting. Initially they were reluctant to let us in or even inform the baron of our arrival. However after some persuading we were let in to greet the baron. He took us into a room off the main hall where we presented him with the painting.

While we waiting for our payment we discussed with the baron what we had seen the Fey Woods. He seemed concerned, especially about the orcs but it was clear there was something else on his mind. He revealed to us that Norcragden had fallen to a coordinated Orc attack. The Stewards men were clearly not up to scratch… We informed the baron that we would be in Coombesgate at least for a couple of days and proceeded back to the tavern with our hard earned coin.

We divvied it up the 400 gold between us. I had wanted to divide the rest of the coin and loot we had gained but Melech wanted to keep it together for now. A discussion for another time. With my new earned coin I set off to the shops to restock on essentials and get a much needed shield.

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [8] - Ghost of the Fey Friend

We continued upstairs entering the landing again and started searching the rooms off of it. The first room contained a number of casks labelled in dwarven. After checking the casks over we determine they probably contained beer or ale. This suspicion was confirmed after finding a cask tap. Though the others and I rather relished the idea of tapping one we decided it was best to continue searching the rest of the house first.

We entered the next room which was full of bookshelves. Melech excitedly entered the room and began rummaging through the books. I followed him in and began to look around the room myself. As I got to the end of one of the shelves a force struck me flinging me across the room into a wall. I drew my sword and charged towards were I had been attacked. I slashed out at were I thought the enemy might be but my blade sailed harmlessly through the air.

Amafey cast a spell and the outline of short figure appeared in front of me. Maybe the ghost of the house’s owner? Possibly the Fey Friend? Amafey obviously had the same idea and began trying to persuaded the potential Fey Friend we meant no harm and wanted to talk. I moved to back up from the ghost, as I did it struck out but in a rather lackadaisical manner, missing entirely. As I got to a safer distance I pulled the crown from my bag and put it on. I used its ability to speak sylvan and attempted to reassure the ghost we were here to help.

It let out a wail and flew up disappearing through the ceiling. We ran back to the landing, up the stairs and began searching for it. In the main bedroom we found the skeleton of a dwarf. Evidently he had been dead for some time. Amafey called out to the Fey Friend and we heard a knocking coming from a dressing table in the corner.

We were able to communicate with the ghost of the fey friend using a single knock for yes and two knocks for no. This limited us to simple yes or no questions. Through quite a number of questions we were able to determine a number of things: The ghost was indeed the Fey Friend; he had died of natural causes; he wanted a proper burial; he wanted us to deal with corruption in the forest but was unsure of the cause himself; there were no more traps left in the house; we were free to take the painting and use the house as a base of operation.

Beiro and I wrapped the Fey Friend’s skeleton in some sheets before carrying it out to the edge of the woods behind the house. Beiro and I dug a hole while Amafey sourced rocks to cover the grave with. After a couple of hours we had completed the task and returned to keep.

A thorough search of the house had found a considerable sum of coin, some health potions and the key to the front door. I locked the front door before retiring to the second floor to sleep. It was rather late at this point.

In the morning over breakfast Melech informed us he had deciphered a recipe from Mother Basket’s book. It was for a tea that when willingly drunk takes one year of life off the drinker and gifts it to the brewer. I had drunk her tea! Anger welled up in me and I vowed to kill her if I came across her again. For now however we should stick to the task at hand and get the painting back to the Barron.

We removed the painting from the frame and wrapped it some sheets. Amafey and Melech carried the painting between the two of them and we set of back to Westpine. I made sure to lock the door on my way out and kept the key upon my person.

We arrived in Westpine at around lunchtime. Melech seemed particularly tired out by having to carry the painting and suggested we find a cart to make it easier. So we headed to the Moody Cow for some refreshments and to inquire after a cart.

The innkeeper seemed rather shocked to see us. Amafey noticed that the innkeeper’s wife, who was also present, was no longer pregnant and asked after the baby. The innkeeper stated the baby was fine, Amafey however was unconvinced and began aggressively questioning the fellow. Soon Melech joined in and started accusing him of hiding something. My pleas to leave the man alone fell on deaf ears. The innkeeper demanded that we leave. I acknowledged his request and made my way out of the inn in search of a cart. After all the man’s baby was his own concern I didn’t want interfere.

Melech followed me out and we made our way over to the lumberjacks house. The innkeeper had said Steve the lumberjack had a cart. I approached the front door and knocked. A rather gruff man answered the door, presumably Steve. He rejected my request to borrow his cart, insisting he needed it for his job before promptly terminating the conversation by shutting the door. A tad rude I thought but his point about needing it for work did seem valid.

Melech however did not want to take no for answer. Maybe still aching from having to carry the painting earlier. He knocked on the door again and noticeably more grumpy Steve answered. With an offer of coin and a somewhat intimidating tone Melech managed to convince him to rent us his cart.

Not sure how welcomed we will be in Westpine after today.

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Amafey's Notes [8] - The Fey Friend

As we proceeded through the first floor of the keep, we came across a room full of crates and barrels. My allies’ first reaction was to make sure none of it was animated, hitting it with their staffs and swords before examining more carefully. The barrels appeared to be labelled with a dwarven script and made a glug sound when tilted. Ale! And probably high-quality dwarven stuff at that! I pointed this out and immediately joined the others in searching for a tap. I found one quickly but then paused. “as much as I’d love the idea of drinking some of this now, we do want to explore the rest of this on a clear head“ I sighed. Baldwin, also caught up in the mild excitement this had brought on, slowly nodded and we all filed out of the storeroom.

The next room we tried appeared to be some kind of library, with bookshelves lined with scrolls and the like “More dwarven script!” Melech called out, rifling through what was to hand. I stuck by the door, still cautious of any other magical traps and felt thoroughly vilified in this when Baldwin was thrown 30 feet across the room by some invisible force. He started back, swinging wildly at thin air but not gaining any purchase. Having ‘seen’ our mysterious attacker earlier in the day, however, I was prepared and cast faerie fire covering the corner of the room he was flung from. The sparkles fell and as they did so, outlined a humanoid figure shorter than myself, otherwise invisible, in the corner.

“Fey Friend!” I called out, jumping to some justifiable conclusions, the dwarven ghost being the previous owner of this building. “We mean you no harm! We think something happened here and want to help!” The ghost’s demeanour seemed to flicker, potentially shifting slightly to calmness and remorse, at least as much as I could tell from the faerie fire’s outline. “We just want to talk, we’re not here to steal anything!” Melech yelled from the other side of the bookcase. Baldwin backed away and the ghost lashed out in response, but almost absentmindedly at this point. Baldwin retrieved the forest queen’s crown from his satchel and put it on. Speaking sylvan, he spoke clearly “We’re friends of the Fey” and picking up on his lead I followed “Something has happened to the forest dryad, we want to help” also in Sylvan. The ghost’s aggression faded entirely and he started letting out an almost banshee-like howl and the swept upwards through the ceiling.

We turned for the stairs, “quick!” I yelled, “I can’t maintain the spell for long, we’ll lose sight of him if it fades!”. Heading up the stairs and quickly rushing through the array of rooms upstairs, we found two bedrooms, one of which contained a skeleton, and a study, but no other traps or sign of the ghost. Happy we’d seen every room, I called out again “Fey friend?! Are you here? We were hoping you might be able to help us help the forest?”. There was a bump from the master bedroom as the dressing table hoped up briefly. I headed back into the room and cautiously approached the table. Running my hand along the edge of the table, I whispered “Fey Friend, is that you? Knock once for yes”. One knock in response. I breathed a sigh of relief. We had found him and he seemed calm enough to converse. This was truly a unique opportunity.

“I…we want to know what happened here. Did you die of natural causes?” One knock, yes. No foul play it seems. “Dare I say, broken heart?” The other bedroom had been unused for far longer than any part of the keep. Two knocks in response. Ok, that wasn’t it. Changing tack, I asked, “Do you want us to help the forest?” One very clear knock in response. Melech came across “Look, we just want to check. Are there any more magical traps in the house”. A pause, eventually followed by two knocks. Thinking about my options for getting answers in this limited form of communication I asked if the hag and the dryad are responsible for the state of the forest. Three knocks. Either maybe or they don’t know. Most likely the trouble with the hag only kicked off after his death. “Have you been dead for more than a couple of months?” Yes “A couple of years?” No. Ok, that gives us a rough idea of when he died

“Do you want a proper burial?” Baldwin asked as we all started to crowd the table. One knock “be properly put to rest?” one knock again. Melech cut to the chase “Do you have any particular attachment to that painting?” he asked. A long pause. Eventually, there were two knocks and I could hear Melech and Baldwin exhale in relief. It’s been a while since the painting was my primary interest and I was here for writing inspiration more than anything in the first place, but it sounded like the others would be glad to finish this quest. I just hope that I can persuade them to come back to help deal with the forest. Possibly looking for an excuse to come back, Baldwin asked if we could use the keep as a base of operation. Another pause as a sense of impatience or anxiety filled the air. Then, one knock. We had the ghost’s permission to have the run of the place. Realising we should probably wrap this up while we still could, I asked if the dwarf had any special burial requests, any dwarven customs to follow? After a moment of consideration came two knocks “Ok, we will make sure you’re buried properly” and the others started towards the bed to retrieve the body. “Umm, one last thing?” I stammered carefully “we found what I’m fairly sure was your ale supply downstairs” A knock interrupted me “and, well, I know dwarven ale is of very fine quality. I don’t suppose we’d be able to have some?” With almost a sigh, the table knocked one last time. “Thankyouverymuch” I gushed “I will make sure you’re buried with the utmost respect”

Finishing our seance, we respectfully wrapped up the skeleton in the bedsheets and Baldwin and Beiro carried it downstairs, out of the house and to the glade at the rear of the house. I found some stones of various sizes from the riverbank and built a cairn by the grave. Leaving Beiro and Baldwin to their hole digging, I started searching the house for anything else of interest, turning up a sizeable amount of gold and a couple of health potions. Beiro and Baldwin finished burying the Fey Friend and as they came back into the keep it was as though a shadow had been lifted from the place. The search had also turned up the front door key, so we spent a night asleep on the top floor without any worries.

The next morning, Melech had an announcement “I’ve been reading that book Old Mother Basket gave me and I’ve found a recipe that’s might interest you. It’s for a tea, that, when ingested willingly, takes a year off the life of the drinker and gives it to the provider of the tea” “Ah,” I said, seeing what he was implying, exchanging a glance with Baldwin who suddenly looked a bit ill. “Next time we see her, maybe don’t drink the tea?” Melech suggested, smugly, as he hadn’t partaken the time before. “Well…”, I said slowly “if that’s what it takes to get more information, I can give up a couple more years”. I glanced over at Baldwin “At least I’m half elf, I had a few more to start with” I chuckled nervously. “We need to kill her,” Baldwin said. “I was just joking, sorry!” I said, only half seriously as I knew he was referring to Old Mother Basket. “Look,” Melech said “she’s tricking you and there’s some other part of the deal you don’t even know about. She’s getting the years for free” “I get what you’re saying” I responded “no more freebies, at the very least”

We turned our attention at last to the painting, ready to take it back to Baron Ramsgate. We were now all eager to get back to Coombesgate before dealing with the forest, wanting to resupply with equipment and information. The painting was huge, from floor to ceiling. Maybe ten foot by six foot and framed too, the canvas alone would probably take two of us to carry it. After carefully trying to manipulate it amongst ourselves, we got the painting clear of the frame, although the heavy staples that had kept it in place left their mark, and wrapped it up in the sheets from the other bed. With everything ready, we set off back downstream towards Westpine.

Surprisingly, we made it all the way back to Westpine without any surprises. Not being interrupted every half an hour or so meant the trip only really lasted us the morning and we arrived in Westpine at about lunchtime. “We can’t keep carrying the painting like this” huffed Melech, who had been helping me carry it, “We should see if we can borrow a cart from someone”. I nodded “The innkeeper at the Moody Cow might know who has one. I wanted to ask him a few questions anyway”

As we headed into the Moody Cow, I greeted the bartender warmly, but he did a double take, as though he’d seen a ghost. “You…you’re back?!” He stammered. “Well, of course, it wasn’t all happiness and roses, but nothing a dashing young group of adventurers like us couldn’t handle” I responded, with a grin. “Ah, err, well, can I get you anything?” “Ah yes, of course” I checked quickly with the others “A jug of wine between us I believe” and slipped him ten coppers and a silver.

As he retrieved the wine from behind the bar, I looked over and saw his wife sitting in her corner, no longer pregnant “Oh, has the baby arrived, birth all ok I hope?” “Oh yes, yes,” said the innkeeper. “Baby all well?” I followed, just trying to be a concerned patron. He paused mid wine-pouring “err, yes, baby’s fine”. I wasn’t convinced. “If … something’s up, we’re more than capable of going and finding some herbs or any other form of help if you need?” “No, No, it’s quite alright” busying himself with putting the now empty jug away. I leaned in “Are you sure?” I said, genuinely concerned that the baby was in trouble and he was missing an opportunity for us to help. “Yes, it’s fine, if you’d kindly stop asking, I frankly find it quite rude”

Melech stepped alongside me, I looked over and saw his eyes glowing red. “There’s something you’re not telling us,” he said angrily, his voice rising in volume with each word. I put my hand on his arm as the ground started to shake and the innkeeper started to cower away behind the bar, “Melech, there’s no need for this.” “You are hiding INFORMATION” continued Melech “you will tell us what has happened to the baby”. The innkeeper was gibbering in fear, clearly now unable to tell us anything even if he wanted to “Melech!” I snapped, squeezing his arm. The rumbling subsided. “Look,” I said softly to the innkeeper “Do you know anyone around here who might have a cart we could borrow” “err, Steve, the lumberjack, across the way,” he said quickly, still clearly very shaken. I turned to Melech. “Melech,” I said firmly “go with Baldwin, see if we can borrow the cart”. Melech grumbled and headed out.

Once he was out the door, I turned back to the innkeeper, who was still very shaken but seemed to have relaxed a little with Melech gone. “I’m terribly sorry about that, you’re right, it’s rude, we don’t need to pry about the baby”. The innkeeper shook himself off and came back to the bar. “That’s quite alright.” “Over the past couple of days, I’ve remembered I speak Tavern,” I said wryly, as I slid three gold across the bar “There were a couple of stories I felt were unfinished before.” “Oh no, no, no, don’t worry about that,” he said, guiltily shoving the gold back across “there’s nothing to tell!” “Really?” I said “No more news about the roaming cottage or those crimson riders?” “Oh … yeah! hoo boy, those crimson riders are a bad piece of work” he started babbling, clearly jumping too hard at the opportunity to change the subject. Beiro tapped me on the shoulder “He’s hiding something” he said to me in Elvish. “Well, yeah”, I responded in the same “but what? He’s clearly unwilling to tell us”. “He was shocked we came back ok, he knows something’s wrong with the forest. Maybe he has some involvement?” He was laying the cards down on the table, making things clear. Then an idea. The innkeeper is here, his wife is here, if the baby is indeed ill, then why are neither of them looking after it. Even if the baby is fine, it seems odd to leave a newborn child on its own. “What if we asked to see it?” I said to Beiro “If the baby’s fine, he should have no trouble showing us. If he can’t, then he has some explaining to do” “That might work” said Beiro

I turned back to the innkeeper and asked, now back in common “Sorry to come back to this, but err, I mean, if everything’s fine with the baby, would you mind if we could take a look at them?” The innkeeper glared. “This again? Look, you’re becoming far more trouble than you’re worth. I think you should leave” he said, pointing towards the door. The innkeeper’s voice was raising, but shaking, more confident that Melech had left, but probably unsure he could do anything if I didn’t leave on my own accord. There was a long pause as I stood there and narrowed my eyes at him. Finally, breaking the silence, I spoke up, strongly and evenly “Look. You and your wife are both out here, rather than looking after the baby. We’ve been in the Fey Forest and something is going wrong and you’re giving us every reason to suspect that your child is related ” He sighed “The child’s not mine, it’s Old Mother Basket’s”. It took all of the elven half of me to maintain composure and avoid a spit-take. The innkeeper continued, “My wife gave birth a couple of days and Old Mother Basket came to claim it yesterday.” I was already pretty clear how Old Mother Basket operated after our own encounter with her “What did she offer you?” I asked. “We…had never been able to have a baby before,” the innkeeper responded slowly “Old Mother Basket offered us the chance to conceive…as long as she had the firstborn”. I did not like where this was headed

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [7] - Pain in my soldier

Having found the painting I suggested we should return it to the Barron as soon as possible. Amafey however seemed to think dealing with the hang and the corruption in the forest was more important. Melech agreed with me however. We were being paid to retrieve the painting and nothing else. We did however agree to search the rest of the house first.

We thoroughly searched the ground floor finding nothing of particular interest, just the usual items and rooms expected in such a house. The state of the larder though confirmed it had been abandoned for some time.

We proceeded up the stairs to the next level and entered a room filled with various ornaments. I noticed what seemed to the another copy of the painting ahead on the wall! As I stepped forward into the room, without warning, the carpet I was upon came to life and attacked me. It wrapped around me tightly and I struggled to breath, I could hear some of my ribs cracking. I heard Melech cast a spell an felt a searing pain across my body and cried out. The carpet didn’t seem that affected by the spell.

I managed to shake the carpet off but was unable to hit with my sword. It lunged back towards me wrapping itself around, crushing me again. I felt another wave of pain wash over me, Melech had cast another spell, he seemed not to know or care it was harming me also…

The next thing I remember is waking up outside the house again. Amafey explained that Melech had also been knocked out by the carpet, but Beiro and her had managed to defeat it, before dragging us to safety. As there seemed to be at least a second copy of the painting Amafey wanted to reenter the house and examine the one on the ground floor. Melech and I were reluctant to enter again but I said I would cover the stairs through one of the arrow slits.

As Amafey reached out and touched the painting I heard a strange noise and she yelled out. The painting wasn’t a painting at all, but a mimic! I sprinted around to the front and entered the house again to confront it. Amafey had been knocked unconscious and was being dragged to safety by Beiro. I let loose with my bow hitting the mimic before drawing my sword and moving into to attack. Beiro put Amafey down in the doorway before drawing his sword to join in the fight. Between us we managed to kill the mimic.

We decided to rest again while Amafey recovered and then proceeded back into the house once again.

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Amafey's Notes [7] - House of Horrors

We stood there for a moment admiring the painting.
“We should get this back to the baron”, Baldwin said, breaking the silence.
“What about the forest?” I said, “We never found out how long this corruption has been going on for and how fast it’s spreading”.
“We’re not being paid for doing anything with the forest,” Melech replied bitterly.
“But you heard the pixie, we’re supposed to be heroes, saving the forest is far more heroic, will have far more prestige than retrieving some painting” I stammered desperately, trying to appeal to what I thought might count for something.
“I disagree. this painting chronicles a long-lost historic tale and we’ll be remembered for finding it” countered Melech steadfastly.
I sighed, both Baldwin and Melech didn’t seem concerned with helping the forest and although Beiro would probably be with me, we’d need their help as well to defeat whatever curse was infesting it.
“Well, I think we all agree we need to search the rest of this mansion first, maybe something else here will change the situation.” The rest of the group nodded in unison, something we could agree on at least.

We had a thorough exploration of the rest of ground floor, finding more signs of abandonment, although seemingly suddenly, dirty mouldy pots and rotting food abound. The larder had a couple of non-perishables left that could tide my rations situation over for a couple of days if we found this place was indeed empty.

We proceeded up the stairs to the next level and found a landing room with various trinkets in it, ceramic vases and the like. After taking another step into the room, however, the carpet reared up and wrapped itself around Baldwin. We needed to do something fast before it suffocated him!. Melech cast the same wave of energy spell from before, with a slight effect on the carpet, but muffled yelps told us it was hurting Baldwin too. Baldwin managed to get free briefly, giving me and Beiro a chance to get a clean attack on the carpet, but it quickly attached itself again. I tried to grab the carpet in an attempt to tear it free, but my fingers were like butter, failing to get a grasp on the flailing fabric. At that point, it went limp. Baldwin was out of air and it dropped him on the floor, unconscious. It shifted straight over and wrapped Melech, who could do little to defend himself and it wasn’t long before he succumbed to the same fate as Baldwin, as Beiro and myself failed to tear the carpet off. After dispatching Melech, it went for Beiro next, but Beiro was having none of it and beat it back with his axe, eventually grabbing it and tearing it in two.

As Beiro set about tearing the carpet into pieces, I put my ear to one of the doors to see if anything else might be coming. Listening for a moment I heard a faint bumping sound, but it was definitely coming closer. “Quick!” I hissed to Beiro “We need to get these two downstairs, now!”. I tied a piece of the carpet to the bottom Baldwin’s head so I could drag him down the stairs safely, while Beiro quickly dragged Melech down with less concern. At the bottom of the stairs, I stopped, curiosity getting the better of me, and looked back up the stairs. I waited for a few moments then suddenly one of the ceramic vases came flying past my head, shattering on the wall behind me. “Move!” I yelled at Beiro, who had also stopped and we both rushed out of the house dragging our unconscious allies. It seemed as though a rushing of air was following us and the moment we reached the threshold of the front door, it slammed shut behind us.

With everyone safely outside, I caught my breath and went back to the front door and hit the knocker again “Helloooo?!? We were hoping to talk to the owner of the house. We were worried they might be in trouble”. No response. Perturbed I pushed the door open again, still unlocked and just left it that way before going back to the others.

Baldwin and Melech woke up a couple of hours later, groggy and somewhat incredulous that they were downed by a carpet. “I have some bad news,” I said, as they stirred. There was something I’d spotted in the carpet’s room before we were chased out. “I don’t know whether you noticed, but there’s another copy of the painting upstairs, in the room with the carpet. At least one of them has to be a decoy of some kind. I want to have a closer look at the one on this floor, see whether it’s an illusion or something. It’ll give us a better idea of what we’re dealing with” “Well, I’m not going in there again right now, I still need more time to recover,” Melech said grumpily

I walked back into the house, cautiously checking around every corner for floating crockery, with Beiro close behind. Baldwin went around to the outside to keep an eye on the stairs through one of the arrow slits. I walked over to the painting with one eye still on the stairs and reached out to touch it. With a slight slurping sound my hand stuck to it like glue. Crap. “Err, we have a problem here!” I shouted as I watched in fear as a set of teeth formed and sunk into my arm. “Melech! I think it’s a mimic!” I yelled, aware he was outside and unwilling to enter the house again unless urgent. I felt Beiro’s hands around my waist as he started pulling me away from the painting and the extra force gave me a chance to wrest my hand free, but the mimic lashed out again, sinking its teeth deep into my shoulder and the shock knocked me unconscious.

I woke up in a cold sweat in a tent what must’ve been a couple of hours later. I tentatively got up and made my way outside, finding the others relaxing on the grass. Baldwin was playing cards, Melech was leafing through his new book and Beiro was staring very intently at a little colony of rabbits hopping around on the other bank. “Thank you for getting me out of there. I guess…it was a little reckless in retrospect”. Melech grunted “This is a pretty serious mage’s house alright. There’s every trick in the book guarding this place, but no sign of the actual owner. We’ll need to recover fully before we take this on” he said.

Once more we headed into the house, determined to get to bottom of its secrets, undeterred by its numerous deadly challenges.

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [6] - The Painting at Last!

I waited for the others outside and then we made our way back to the stream. The area definitely seemed more brambly than I recalled. Maybe the corruption the fey mentioned. Nevertheless we continued to head upstream as before.

After about an hour walking along the rocky shore a worm like creature jumps out attacking me. It missed its first strike but taken off guard I also miss my retaliation. It lashed out again this time hitting me before grabbing hold and biting me hard in the shoulder. I staggered a bit but managed to shake it off. Tis but a scratch, nothing I couldn’t handle. Melech’s magic missiles struck it moments before Beiro moved in slashing at it with one of his hand axes. Why the hell is he not using his long sword I wondered. I was beginning to question his decision making…

Amafey began playing some energizing music and my focus was restored, the pain in my shoulder but a minor inconvenience! Amafey lunged forward attempting to stab it with her rapier, but was wide of the mark. Maybe she should stick to music? My next swing with my long sword struck home, cutting it deeply. It switched targets and struck out towards Beiro. It however fell short and missed before being finished by another wave of Melech’s missiles.

Amafey informed us the creature was called a Grick. Having taken quite a nasty bite it was agreed that I would rest while Amafey and Beiro searched for the Grick’s lair. Melech stayed behind and helped patch me up. Amafey and Beiro returned later having been unable to find the lair. We rested and had lunch while I regained some of my strength.

We set off again after about an hour and soon came across a large fortified house set in a clearing. Maybe the house of the fey friend? The house itself looks fairly recently built and quite well kept. Amafey walked up to the front door and tried to get the attention of anyone inside. Beiro had tried to follow but Melech stopped him. Probably best we don’t crowd the door as I could see it had murder holes above it.

As Amafey was having no luck I decided to walk over the try the door. It was unlocked! I shouted in but got no response. We decided as the door was open we would wait to see if anyone was around. After a while however I was convinced no one was going to come and decided to enter the house and look around. The others objected but I saw no point in waiting more. The door was unlocked so the owner was likely inside in one state or another.

I pushed the front further open and went In. As I did so a suit of armour slammed into me pinning me to the wall. A sword, that looked like it was flying, slashed me cutting quite deep. Beiro rather than helping grabbed hold of me pulling me back out the building! I objected but he was determined. The armour and sword did not pursue.

I wanted to go back in a finish the job but reluctantly agreed to withdraw. The others decided that we would rest till morning and then attempt to enter the house again. Melech said he needed time to prepare new spells and form a plan of attack.

We first scouted the outside of the building looking for a arrow slit that would give an angle on the armour. None was to be found however and we would have to use the direct approach. Not that I have much objection to this mind you!

I lead through the front door and was immediately set on again by the armour. This time however we were ready. Melech cast a spell I had never seen before, electrical energy pulsated through the air striking the armour and sword. The sword was blocking the way in so I struck out at it. After a couple of blows it shattered to the ground and I managed to push further in. This allowed the others to enter. After quite a few more blows and a stab through the visor by Amafey, the armour crumpled to the ground.

I looked up and noticed a huge painting on the opposite wall, it looked like the one we had been looking for!

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Amafey's Notes [6] - Gricks and Bricks

As we got up to leave, the old lady said she could offer more. “If I were to have something of your mother’s, I could get a better idea of where she might be” she croaked. I had a think. My flute was the first thing that came to mind, but that was only a replica to remind me of my mother, it was my father that gave it to me. Then I remembered the trinket I had hanging from my belt. Two toy soldiers tied together, one with its head missing, had been hanging there since I set off from Kennrylatin. It’s a silly thing, but it’s probably the only thing I know my mother gave to me, back before we lost her. I offered them to Old Mother Basket and she said she could see what she could find before Melech came back to return his book. We bid her good day and she said we were welcome back anytime for more tea.

The walk back to the stream was fairly brief, but along the way, we realised that there were perhaps more brambles this way than there should be. Were we on the edge of the corrupted area already? Maybe we’d not been oblivious before and it was, in fact, spreading fairly rapidly. The brambles soon cleared to leave light forest and a rocky shore as we approached the stream.

We continued where we left off before meeting Old Mother Basket, continuing upriver. It was still late morning at this point and we still had plenty of the day left for exploring. Suddenly, after about half an hour of walking, I heard a yelp from behind me, Baldwin had been attacked by one of the rocks! As we turned we could see a grey worm-like creature that had clearly been hiding nearby. I thought I recognised it from one of the books I’d read but had more pressing concerns such as it trying to latch itself onto Baldwin. Baldwin struck back against the creature’s torso, landing a hit, but it took this opportunity to wrap the tentacles around its mouth onto Baldwin’s shoulder and sunk its beak deep into the flesh. Baldwin shook it off, but looked worse for wear, with a gash trickling blood down his arm. Melech started muttering arcane incantations, firing the now familiar missiles of magic from his fingers, hitting the creature true and Beiro rushed past me to join the fray as well. I got my flute out and started playing in an attempt to inspire Baldwin toward triumph, given his more precarious state. While playing, I walked forwards and in one swift motion, returned the flute to its pocket, drew my rapier and tried to stab it in the beast. My combat skills are still new and fairly untested and my inexperience meant I made my stab in between movements, missing it’s twisted form. My song of inspiration for Baldwin was enough though, and his next blow struck the creature in it’s assumed face, cleaving its beak in two. As it slumped to the ground, we nervously glanced around, checking that there wasn’t any other danger hiding with the rocks on the shore, but it seemed as though we were safe.

The creature was a grick, something I’d read about in a tome in the Kennrylatin library. They are typically underground beings, occasionally seen on the surface. Solitary hunters, hiding and waiting for prey to come to them. Remembering these details, I informed the others and started searching the local area with Beiro to see if there was a lair nearby. We didn’t find one, which indicated the grick was fairly new to the area, but we did find a freshly chewed deer carcass, which meant the beast had had an ample last meal. We came back as Melech was helping Baldwin tend to his wounded shoulder. “It’ll just need a short rest,” he said, so we sat down and chatted for the next hour.

During our rest, we ended up on the topic of trinkets. I mentioned the toy soldiers had been a somewhat silly keepsake, but I’d probably miss them. If they were to be useful in finding my mother it would be for the best though. Baldwin said he had something kind of similar and he took out a small notebook, followed by a pen. Writing in the notebook, he showed us that it would not accept any ink, any page would just stay blank. He wasn’t sure why he keeps it or how he got it, he just found it in the bottom of his bag one day and has just left it there. Melech said he had a withered goblin hand and just kind of shrugged.

Once we started up again, we were walking for only about half an hour before encountering a clearing by the stream. A large fortified building stood in the middle of it, three-stories tall complete with arrow slits. It looked like a relatively recent build, with the outer walls showing no sign of decay or coverings of ivy. I said we should find out if anyone’s home and cautiously walked over to the front door, making sure to not look like a threat that anyone inside might attack. I thought I heard Beiro behind me, but when I turned Melech was holding him by the shoulder. I reached the door to find a large brass knocker. I knocked three times, the knocker booming with each hit. “Hello?” I said, rather boldly. Nothing. I waited a minute. Still nothing. I made an illusory pink teapot appear near one of the top floor windows, to draw the attention of any inhabitants too far up to hear the knocker. Still nothing. Baldwin came over and pushed the door to find it unlocked. We tried the knocker again, then decided to sit down nearby for a short while to see if the owner was out and might return soon.

After a while, Baldwin grew restless. There was no sign of life from inside the house and he wanted a poke around. I was against the idea. This seemed like someone’s house and you don’t just go rifling through someone’s belongings like that. We gathered at the front door again while discussing this and despite my protests, Baldwin wanted a look and pushed through the door. Beiro went to follow as well, going where the action was to be. Melech stayed behind, but it seemed he was intrigued as well. “We might as well go in now. We don’t want to leave those two idiots to their own devices in there” Melech reasoned. “Yeah, I think at this point I’d rather go in to try and diffuse the situation if we do find the owner,” I responded, talking myself around in the face of the evolving situation. We turned to go into the house but were greeted with the of Baldwin wrestling with a suit of armour, fending off a floating sword.

We stood there, kind of transfixed for a moment. “We should just get out of here,” Melech said “try again with a plan”. “No, I think we’ve got to deal with this now, I don’t think Baldwin’s one to back down from a fight”. We needed to send in the big guns. I picked up my ukulele.
“Beiro, Beiro, it’s time to rage,
release that beast, from its cage,
get in there, kick that armour’s ass,
do it now or face my sass”
and as I strummed the final chord I smacked him on the butt. Reflexively, Beiro ran into the house, but instead of going for the armour, he grabbed Baldwin around the chest from behind. Baldwin tried to fend off the elf barbarian, wanting a clean fight against the armour, but couldn’t wriggle free and was dragged onto the grass outside. The armour and sword didn’t chase us out the door and “Ok”, said Melech “Now let’s think about this. Enchanted armour and the like are typically defence mechanism for the houses of wizards, so now I’m VERY interested”

We decided to assault the keep in the morning and set up camp outside, in an easy position to see whether anyone did eventually return. In the morning we had our breakfast and readied ourselves by the doorway to the building. I started playing a little war-song for Baldwin as he was the first to enter and I was glad to see that it seemed to be pumping him up nicely, imbuing him with bravery for the battle ahead. He opened the door and quickly hurried in, but was met by the sword halfway down the entranceway, not leaving much space to fight.

As we all crowded in the entry corridor, Melech told me to step back, he needed to cast a spell and could only shape it so much. I did as he asked and as I did so he let out a ripple of electrical energy, which didn’t seem to affect Baldwin and Beiro. Baldwin gave the sword one final clash and it shattered, shards of metal falling to the floor. This gave Beiro the opportunity to push past and start attacking the now cornered suit of armour. I saw my opportunity to dart in as well and went for a jab with my rapier, but the blow glance’s off the armour’s…armour.

Now cornered, however, the armour wasn’t due to last much longer. Both Beiro and Baldwin were landing direct hits and it was taking damage from Melech’s magic too. It was started to slow, shifting in jerkier movements. Finally, I leaned in and grabbed it by the helmet visor and using it to steady myself, drove my rapier into the gap at the bottom of the chest plate. As the sword drove through the magical energy holding the armour up, it dispelled, causing the suit of armour collapse under its own weight. Still holding the helmet aloft, I tossed it over my shoulder. With no other immediate threats, we were now free to explore the reception room that we had ended up in and it didn’t take us long for us to notice the giant painting. The one with a human and an elf, heroes, that match the description Baron Ramsgate III had given us.

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [5] - Orcs, scarecrows and Old Mother Basket

The thing that hit Melech turned out to be a pixie. It shouted at us to hide. Suddenly I heard Orcs shouting ahead of us. It turns out that Beiro understands Orcish and told us the Orcs were hunting for the pixie. Amafey and Melech climbed up the nearest large tree. Beiro attempted to follow, but just couldn’t manage to climb and quickly gave up. Not sure what use he thought he would be up a tree in combat.

The orcs came into range and I let loose with an arrow hitting one. Magical darts came flying out of the tree striking the leading orc, downing him. Beiro let loose with a javelin. A weird glow appeared around two of the orcs. Presumably some kind of spell cast by Amafey.

I let loose with another arrow hitting another orc. The orcs then responded by throwing some Javelins at Beiro. He was hit but responded by throwing his own Javelin back. More magical darts from Melech struck the remaining Orcs with one more going down. The remaining Orcs threw more Javelins before moving forward to engage us. One of the orcs struck Beiro knocking him down. I saw the other orc to my left approaching so draw my sword and with a powerful strike cut him down. By now the orc that had struck Beiro had also been killed.

Amafey, Melech and I rushed over to help Beiro. I managed to stop his bleeding and stabilise him. I searched the bodies of the orcs finding nothing useful other than a bit of coin. I noticed the warpaint was identical on all the orcs. Not something that I had seen before. They had acted far more as a single unit than I had experienced before.

Amafey was talking to the pixie, who was explaining that a “hag” was corrupting the forest and orcs had been coming into forest frequently. We asked
the pixie about the painting from the hall. Alas though it didn’t know anything about it. However it told us of a “fey friend” who lived in a cottage further upstream.

We discussed what to do next and came to the conclusion we make camp for the night and then proceeding upstream to find the fey friend in the morning. We set off early continuing up the river at a steady pace. After some time we came across a scarecrow on the bank of the river. It turned towards us, a rather odd behavior for a scarecrow! At this point we noticed another one further into the woods from the stream. Amafey cast an illusion of her self into front of one of them. It struck out at it, clearly not something friendly.

We decided to avoid them by crossing over to the other side of the stream for a short while. Further up stream we came across an old woman picking mushrooms. She noticed us and yelled out a greeting. We went over and began talking to her and asked her questions about the fey and orcs we had encounter. We also inquired about the fey friend and painting we were searching for. She replied that she had never seen any fey or heard of the fey friend or painting.

She invited us back to tea at her cottage stating she rarely had any visitors. We accepted, though I was a little uneasy about it, maybe she was the hag? We began following her and soon came to a clearing where the cottage was located.

We went inside and the old woman set about making tea. I excused myself to use the privy. I came back in as the woman was taking the pot of the fire to make the tea. Seemingly mid conversation with the others she was stating our “true purposes”. I was beginning to grow suspicious of the woman, not all was quite as it seemed.

She offered Melech time to study some of her books, he seemed somewhat reluctant at first but was unable to resist the offer and accepted. The old woman stated she would think on a favour to ask for in return. She pointed out a particular book on a self and Melech went over to retrieve it.

I sipped the tea while Melech quickly scanned through the book. he requested he be able to keep the book for a while and the woman agreed. I had had enough at the point and stated that we should leave, making my way towards the front door. The old woman was beginning to make me really uneasy. Beiro spoke up and asked what the woman’s name was. People call me Old Mother Basket she stated.

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Amafey's Notes[5] - Time for Tea

Having just bounced off of Melech’s chest, the pixie squeaked “Hide!” shortly followed by “Demon!” having glanced up at the face of the being it had run into and it darted behind Beiro. I carefully peered around Beiro. “Are you ok, little friend?" I asked, but at that moment we heard shouting in the woods behind us. Orcs! Their crazed yells told us that we had but a few moments. Melech and I quickly clambered up the nearest tree. Beiro needed reminding that he was better suited to combat on the ground rather than up a tree, but he and Baldwin readied themselves down below.

The ensuing battle was brief. With the element of surprise, we made swift first blows, Melech’s magic took the leader of the four orcs as I used some of my performance tricks to make them easier to hit. Some javelins went back and forth and I threw my dagger into the fray, lopping off part of an orc’s ear. The last orc alive, however, landed a blow on Beiro, knocking him down. Baldwin finished off the orc and we all rushed over in an attempt to stabilise poor Beiro. He was unconscious and in a sorry state, but we pooled our limited medical knowledge together to stop him bleeding out. Even so, it would be a couple of hours before he would regain consciousness.

The pixie had been flitting around during the battle and we now had a chance to stop and talk to her, after first assuring her that Melech was a perfectly harmless demon, at least not to friends. She correctly identified us as heroic adventurers and thanked us for saving her. There was a deeper problem though, what she was truly running from and pleaded with us to lend our heroics to quash evil once again. “There’s a hag,” she said “she’s corrupted the forest dryad and is defiling the forest. If I didn’t leave, I would be affected as well.” Orcs had been showing up more too, maybe related, maybe not. We assured her we would do what we could, but also asked about the painting from the hall. She didn’t know anything but said if anyone did, it would be the fey friend, who had once lived further up the stream. Unfortunately, the fey friend hadn’t been seen in years and no-one is exactly sure what happened to them. The pixie said if we were to go north, we’d know we were reaching the corrupted area by the thicker, thornier undergrowth. We bid goodbye to her, as she was still worried for her safety and sanity and needed to flee further away from the corruption

We decided to make camp where we were, to give Beiro time to recover and reflect on where to head next. After searching and clearing the orc bodies, Baldwin came back with an announcement. “There’s something more organised about these Orcs. Whenever I saw them before they were disorganised. Ragtag. Reliant on numbers and barely even allied to each other. The orcs we just killed all share the same warpaint. Someone, or something, is bringing them together and organising them”. As much of a concern as this was, there wasn’t much we could do about it, aside from dispatching any other orcs we run into along the way. We were in the fey woods and had fairy and foresty matters to attend to. The hag and the spreading corruption were obviously a pressing concern, but we agreed that if we were to do this right, we should try and enlist the help of the fey friend. They might be able to provide us with some useful information on both how to stop the corruption, defeat the hag and rescue the dryad. Maybe they’d have the painting too, but I think we heroes had now found a truer quest.

The night passed without incident, we had breakfast and set out once again, continuing up the river. After walking for a while, we came across what appeared to be a couple of scarecrows. As we approached, they slowly turned until they were facing us. Given that the slight breeze wisping through the woods wouldn’t have been strong enough to move them, there must be some magic at play. They didn’t seem to be guarding anything, in particular, so we decided to give them a wide berth, crossing the river. As we passed, I cast an illusion of myself near the scarecrow. Suddenly it came alive, swiping through the illusion, but failing to find purchase. Clearly hostile, perhaps made to ward away from an area, but with no obvious placement. We carried on up the river, crossing back a short way away.

A short time later, we saw an old lady by the riverside picking mushrooms. We started talking in hushed whispers. This wouldn’t be the hag, would it? The one that’s corrupting the dryad in the northern forest? Probably not, we’ve not been going north and we haven’t had to start wading through thorns. As we were discussing though, she spotted us and waved a mushroom at us “Hello there! Unusual to see travellers in these parts”. We greeted her and said it was weird to see an old lady like her deep in the woods as well. We got chatting, but she seemed to know little about anything we’d encountered or had been searching for. She didn’t think she was the fey friend, having never seen a pixie or any such creature in her life, had not seen any orcs and didn’t know anything about the painting. She took little time in asking us back to her cottage for a cup of tea though.

Now, pretty much every story I’ve read that features an old lady in the woods would tell me that this is a terrible idea and we definitely should not go back to her cottage for tea. She did seem genuinely nice though and I suddenly really fancied a nice cuppa. We all agreed to tea, although Beiro and Baldwin seemed a lot more cautious, and she started leading us into the woods, away from the little river. After 15 minutes of walking, we reached a small clearing with a cottage in it. It looked pretty well established in the clearing, probably not the roaming cottage. “Has this always been here?” queried Baldwin, although mostly under his breath. He was probably having the same chain of thought as me. “Well houses don’t just get up and walk away” the old lady quipped, which was oddly…well…specific, given our concerns.

Once inside, the old lady put a pot of water on to boil within the hearth. “No tea for me” Melech muttered. Maybe there was something here he didn’t trust? I kept my eye on the pot, I would be able to see if the old lady did anything funny with the water, I might even stop it boiling if I watch it hard enough. The old lady pattered around the kitchen, getting some mismatched crockery and putting a cup and saucer down in front of each of us, including Melech, oblivious to what he had said. “Take a seat!” she said, as she reached Beiro. “No, I prefer to stand” Beiro responded, rather shortly. “I insist, I insist!” the old lady repeated, but Beiro refused again. The old lady narrowed her eyes at him, then removed his cup and saucer “Well no tea for you then!”. This actually put me at ease a bit, she didn’t seem so hellbent on getting tea down everyone’s throats after all.

As the water was heating up, she started to ask us about why we had all come so far from home. I told her about my journey to play my music far and wide, in an attempt to bring joy to people. Melech told her about his trek from far-off lands in his search for new knowledge. She no longer tried to address Beiro and he was stone quiet in return, which isn’t exactly unusual, but Baldwin excused himself to the outhouse before the conversation truly turned to him.

I started playing my rendition of “Bluechaps” on my ukelele, which had proven popular since reaching Ustia. She seemed to enjoy it, saying it was nice to hear music again. Then I had a brainwave, she was quite old and could well have been somewhere more populated when my mother was around. I started to play “Amazing Mace”, an old song about a mighty Paladin, which was apparently one of my mother’s favourites. “Oh, I haven’t heard this in a while!” she exclaimed, clearly happy to hear it again. “Oh, you recognise it?” I responded, “Oh, I get about a little bit from time to time.” The old lady chuckled “Where did you learn it?” “It was one of my mother’s favourite songs,” I said, quietly. The old lady leaned in, “I’m hearing the past tense there, my dear, what happened to your mother?” I explained about my parents and the orc raid. I opened up more than I’m normally inclined to do so, but it was like something was tugging the information out of me. I took a deep gulp of the tea. It was a proper tea, dried leaves from the south, rather than some local herbal concoction. It was fantastic, I had only tried such tea once or twice before. Unusual for a mysterious aged lady in the woods to be in possession of such things, but I felt like I was already getting the hang of things not being normal here.

As I was finishing my stories, the old lady hefted a large pot onto the fire with a great “ooof!”. “Do you want a hand with that?” I offered. “No, I’m quite fine. But would you like a hand?”. Suddenly the atmosphere in the cottage changed. It darkened, closed in, grew heavy, but with a certain sense of intrigue. “I’m…sorry?” I responded cautiously. “You’re all searching for something,” she said, grinning while stirring the contents of the small cauldron. “Yes, we told you, the painting” Melech interrupted “do you know something?” “No, not that, you’re not all out here just to find some old piece of cloth, you’re all searching for something more”. Turning to me “You’re searching for your mother”, to Melech “you seek knowledge”, turning to Baldwin “You seek validation for your work defending the land“, although slightly less sure of herself. Finally, she turned to Beiro “And you seek a bath!” “I can help you all find these things” she continued, to all of us “except you”, snapping at Beiro.

Melech was clearly having an internal struggle, he didn’t trust her, but here was someone offering him an opportunity to broaden his knowledge in a rapid fashion. “What do you want in return?” Melech queried, aware that there’s no way there wasn’t a catch. “Oh, just some favour down the line, I’ll think of something suitable.” This lacked the clarity Melech was looking for and he stopped, deep in thought. “Ok,” he said, mind made up. They shook hands, but Melech came away from the exchange looking like he had been deeply wronged in some way. “Take the fifth book from the right on the 4th shelf. You’ll find what you’re looking for there”. Melech got up and retrieved it. As far as I could tell it was some sort of spellbook. Melech sat down and started flicking through it, nodding slowly as he went. “Am I able to borrow this book for a while?” Melech asked. The old lady nodded sagely “Of course, I’m sure you will return it when the time is right”

“And you can help me find my mother?” I asked, cautiously. “Not exactly, I saw her in passing, but not since she was taken to the mines” She hadn’t explicitly for a favour in return and we hadn’t shaken on a deal, but I knew her telling me that would probably still tie me to one of these ‘favours’. “Th…thank you” I stuttered, surprised I finally had some sort of lead. “Just remember who gave you the information,” she said. “Of course,” I said warmly, genuinely thankful. It’s something to look out for at the very least, although these mines could be anywhere.

As we were getting up to leave, Beiro finally broke his silence “What is your name?” he asked. The old lady smiled a toothy grin and hoisted up her mushroom basket. “Oh, people call me Old Mother Basket. I’m sure I’ll see you all again soon”

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