Well, what would a good battle be, without some sort of epilogue as a wrap-up?
The synopses are a bad habit I got into early on in the campaign. I had originally intended them to be a means of ensuring everyone in the Party was on the same page, historically speaking - but they quickly branched out, and I began imputing thoughts, feelings and motives to the PCs, which is most decidedly not a kosher thing for a DM to be doing. From there, I started to incorporate dreams and visions, in effect telling everybody what was going on in one PCs head, and recounted thoughts internal to NPCs and even villains - all sorts of info that the PCs couldn't, in game terms, actually know.
Logorrhea. It's a curse.
Anyway, the dreaded "synopsis" has taken on truly horrific dimensions, as readers will come to see further along. But as is the case with Chinese Black Magic, it had humble beginngs.
That's how it always starts - very small.
* * * * *
Synopsis I – The Road to Bornhavn
And what a long, strange road it had been.
Fresh from battling a platoon of stone statues deep under the ancient druidic mound, the party slept soundly the second night of their journey. They rose late on the morning of the third day out from Fort Ryker, groaning and grunting at the pain of their scrapes and bruises. Those with knowledge of healing took their time, and everyone felt a little better for the rest. Travel was initially easy, the road clear and straight before them - a good thing since everyone was still feeling rather bashed about.
As the party continued along the Nordvej towards Bornhavn, somber silence reigned. Heavy coniferous forests crowded closer to the road, which grew progressively more difficult to travel as the land sloped upwards into the low hills. To the East, low beams of sunlight glinted off the snowcapped peaks of Ryker's Range, and the wind from the mountains whistled through the valley of the Stjerneflade, bringing with it notice that winter in these parts would likely prove unpleasant. The river itself grew more active, its fast-moving waters throwing spray even onto the road surface, and blanketing the valley in a thick mist that lasted most of the morning.
As they rode, the warriors contemplated their recent victory. Gwendilyn, delighted at having once again made off with twice her own weight in coin, looked forward to finding unattended valuables lying about the approaching town, and fantasized about the fabled delights of the bustling markets of Ellohyin and Bitterberg, about which she had heard from fellow Halflings, and the storied and ferocious rivalry of the various factions within latter city's secretive Fingerman's Guild. She passed the time counting the coins they had "liberated" from the crypt, polishing the tarnished ones, and separating out the gold "for safekeeping".
Qaramyn took a brief break from studying the arcane writings in his spellbook (many of which, with his new-won experience, had only recently become comprehensible) to sketch a map of the location of the mound, wondering about the collapsed sewer grate, muttering under his breath about having "missed something". Nursing his scabbed-over knuckles and ignoring the motion of his mount, Joraz immersed himself in contemplative reverie, reviewing the battle through the inner eye of his training, content with his performance, but determined to do better next time. He also took a moment to study and polish up the elaborate, heavy golden necklace with its twelve cairngorm-cut garnets that he had recovered from the crushed rubble of the enormous stone statue, wondering whether there might not be value in it beyond the immediate evidence of his eyes. Cautious by nature, however, he decided that, for the time being, he would refrain from putting it around is neck.
Alric, meanwhile, largely recovered from his exertions, rode happily at the head of the column, enjoying the golden dance of light reflecting from the scales of his archaic but well-made habergeon, trying to ignore the smell of brimstone that emanated from it. He pondered the origins of the enormous sword slung across his back and the heavy bronze helmet with its massive rack of deer antlers wedged down around his ears. As he rode, he used his dagger to pry the rock chips out of his club. After the battle with the statues, he was thinking of naming it.
On the buckseat of the wagon, Gambrik [the wagon commander] argued incessantly with Telvor [the wagon driver] in the manner characteristic of soldiers of long acquaintance, comparing the relative merits and disadvantages of various types of armour, weapons, liquor and women, while Telvor watched the road ahead, his bow close at hand. Finally, Pillar Howall, the pilot, spent the day as he had spent the night - fast asleep in his armour and travel-stained cloak, snoring in the bottom of the wagon between an anker of cider and a flitch of bacon, one arm wrapped around a well-used and fast-emptying wineskin.
Breygon rode well out in front of the column, scanning the road and woods ahead. He was concerned about the proximity of the forest and the potential for ambush, and begrudged the time they had lost mucking about underground. He was also worried about what might lie ahead. Despite their recent victory, he had few illusions about the ability of his tiny band either to stand up to a concerted attack or to follow orders in a crisis. His colleagues had already proven themselves ready to dash off and follow their own interests at a moment's notice, which had led to a near-disastrous two-front battle under the mound. Unconsciously gnawing at a knuckle, he played and replayed those few terrifying moments in his mind, trying to determine where, precisely, things had gone off the rails.
Despite his relatively long years, leadership was a novel situation for the warrior. Until only recently, he had been responsible for no one other than himself, and had tended, when confronted with unruly or unreliable colleagues, to simply haul stakes and move on. "Perhaps I'm being too hard on himself," he said in a low voice, then added wryly, "but I've always been a deep thinker." Then he remembered that he had completely forgotten about the body of the courier they had found early the day before, and the cryptic message written on the back of the Bornhavn economic development brochure found in the messenger’s scrip. And that worried him some more.
There was no shelter to be found when night fell on the third day. Over the course of the afternoon, the air had warmed somewhat as the sun broke through the clouds. Breygon noticed that the leaves had begun to turn, and that the conifers were slowly giving way to older, heavier deciduous forest. It felt a little more familiar to him, although he recognized that woods of this sort were home not only to his distant kin, but also to a vast array of unpleasant denizens, particularly so close to the mountains. Also during the afternoon, the river had dropped progressively into a deep trench as the land rose on both sides, until by dusk the party found itself camping on something of a mound near a small cliff some fifty feet over the water, where the river closed to its narrowest point, only about two hundred paces across, and boiled through the gap it had carved through the stone. The wind, too, had picked up, to the point where Gambrik and Telvor were forced to anchor the tents to nearby trees to prevent them being blown away. Supper was, as a result, a brief affair, and the still-tired warriors made their way to bed, with Gwendilyn, Joraz, Gambrik and Telvor holding the watches until dawn.
The wind dropped during the night, and when he emerged from his tent with the dawn to begin his stretching and meditation, Joraz found that the mist rising from the river had surrounded their hilltop camp like a collar, so that they seemed to be perched on a treed island. The fire had gone out, but the morning chill did not penetrate his calm, and soon he was contorting himself happily, leaping here and there, and poking and kicking at imaginary foes. He was still going through his gyrations when Breygon emerged, having passed another restless night. He, too, noticed that the fire had gone out, and decided to give Telvor a good dressing-down for forgetting such an elementary part of his duties.
Then Breygon noticed that Telvor was missing.
A short sprint took him to the flat stone that had been chosen as a guard point for its proximity to the road and the fact that the wagon blocked some of the wind. Telvor's quiver and bow lay abandoned on the ground, as did his tinderbox with its flint and steel, as though they had fallen from his pack rather than been cast aside. Kneeling, Breygon examined the packed earth, noting the varied tracks of his own people, and remarking as well a number of strange impressions - four? five? - that seemed at first glance to be the marks of unshod human feet, but that somehow were not. More feral, his mind whispered, and he felt a chill crawl up his spine. Casting quickly about, he followed the odd tracks - for it seemed that Telvor's boots were moving among them - towards the road, where he lost them on the packed, stone-salted surface. Up the road and back he searched, and found nothing. Telvor was gone. Returning to the stone, Breygon noticed something that had escaped his attention before: a light spray of blood-stains along the side of the wagon, already turning brown against the weathered wood. "Those are new," he muttered to himself.
Dammit! A dead courier, a misfought battle that should never have happened, and now one of his guardsmen was missing. And they were still two days' travel from Bornhavn.