After escaping Walcourt through the sewers and finding themselves a safe haven for a few hours, the group decided to skip town, and to the abyss with clearing their names. Durnokdisguised himself with his magical hat and took some time to retrieve the Terraken control amulet from the scholar they had left it with while the other commandeered a boat to take across the river and out of the city. They landed just south of Thieve’s Town, left the boat on the shore, and walked off into the woods.
They walked eastbound, planning on going through a pass in the Mindspin Mountains and eventually out of Varisia and into Namirath, where they would turn north and head into Lastwall. Neladrin had heard of opportunities for skilled mercenaries there, where the group may be able to do work for land, gold and title.
A week into their journey, they met with a small merchant caravan bound for Fort Thorn in the Bloodsworn Vale. The caravan hired them on as guards for the journey to Fort Thorn for a handful of silver. Along they way, the merchants whispered about how the Vale was haunted or cursed by the spirits of the Chelish soldiers and the barbarians they had fought during the Expansion Wars – the bloodiest battle of which was fought in the Vale.
Nearly fourteen days later, the caravan stopped on a ridge overlooking the Bloodsworn Vale. Nestled in the lush green forest below, surrounded by scattered dots of rose bushes, the peaked roofs of Fort Thorn could be seen, a few wisps of smoke rising from chimneys. It looked calm and serene. A short distance down the path, it changed from worn dirt to worked stone. A sign post near this new path had a notification on it, reading that parties interested in gold, land and title should speak with Captain Tolgrith in Fort Thorn. A few hours later, the caravan pulled through the fort’s gates.
The group said their goodbyes to the merchants. Being late in the day, they retired to the fort’s inn, The Boar’s Bones. Inside, the centerpiece of the common room was seen to be the wired-together skeleton of a great Dire Boar. The inn was run by a halfling and his two cousins, and was busy but not overcrowded. The folk were friendly, and the proprietor forthcoming with information. All in all, the Fort seemed to be filled with content, busy people.
Orrund, the owner of the inn and an older human man named Harold filled the group in on what was going on in the Vale. Captain Tolgrith had sixty more days to finish the new trade path through the Vale on the order of the Varisian king. If the path was finished on time, the king would waive taxes for the Vale for a year, allowing money to flow into the development of Fort Thorn instead of going to Korvosa. Work has been proceeding well, but recently a work party has gone missing and nobody knows their fate.
The next morning, the group presented themselves to Captain Tolgrith at the fort’s keep. A friendly enough man, Tolgrith was an experienced campaigner who was growing increasingly frustrated with the work through the vale. This latest event, the disappearance of one of his work parties, cost him eight good men. His scouts had returned earlier that morning to report what they had found – the eight men, pierced with small arrows and their ears removed. Tolgrith’s earlier thoughts of hiring professionals to help protect the vale during the path’s construction were now very important to him, and he promised all the support he could offer. Firstly, he needed someone to go an investigate the camp where his workers were killed and see what they could find out about the killers.
The party struck out right away, with one of Tolgrith’s scouts to show them the way to the camp where the workers were killed. It was several hours of walking, and the sun was near it’s apex when they arrived at the scene. The bodies had been cleared and buried by Tolgrith’s scouts, but dried patches of blood were visible on the ground where the men had fallen. Searching the camp, Dax discovered in some long grasses at the base of a tree one of the small arrows used to kill the workers. He was also able to find a small path leading southbound from the campsite into the forest. Gathering their things and what useful items they could find in the camp, they struck out to follow the path.
A few hours after humping through the woods, the group happened across a clearing, easily one-hundred feet across. In it’s center were two concentric rings of rose bushes with a path down their center leading to an open area in the middle, ringed with large stone monoliths. Dax, climbing a tree for a better look, could see a stone staircase descending underground in the middle of the rings. Showing remarkable foresight, Aureon cast detect magic on the pathway leading into the center of the rings and picked up two auras of magic surrounding a pair of rose bushes in the pathway. After some study, he discovered that they emanated faint auras of transmutation magic. He then sent forth an unseen servant to rustle these bushes, which instead triggered a snare trap set at the head of the pathway. The bushes did nothing when the servent passed by.
Finally, the group noticed the bushes transform into small humanoid creatures with angry red eyes, carrying bows. The fight was short and brutal, with the party dispatching three of these strange fey. Investigation of the circle turned up nothing save for the steps leading down into the earth.
At the bottom of the steps, they investigated two doors – the first leading into what looked like a hive for giant bees. The second door opened into a feast-hall of sorts, occupied by four creatures like the ones the group killed above. They sat around a large table on toad-stool seats. At the far end of the room was a tall wall of thick rosebushes.
They were in the middle of a raucous meal of roast meats, turnips and breads. After a moment of standing there, Neladrin could see what the fey were eating – the meat was, in fact, human flesh. The sprites took notice of the intruders, but did nothing. Aureon asked if he could join them, and with a laugh they agreed, but the bard ate nothing.
Finally deciding to move on, the group moved into a side chamber and found themselves set upon by two more aggressive sprites who were tending to a collection of small rose bushes. Dax, snared in a trap that flipped him upside down in the air, hung like a bat as he killed one of the fey. The other fell quickly as well, and with some held Dax got out of the snare, but was badly injured by the thorny line that had snagged him.
A shining pool of water in this chamber turned out to be the resting place of several thousand pieces of silver and some baubles and jewelry. Deciding to come back for them later, the party pressed on to another chamber where they found a gigantic rose bush. After some talk which involved climbing it, burning it, eating it and throwing Dax into it, Dax collected the beautiful, massive blooms from the bush and the group moved on, only able to head back in the direction they had come.
Passing unhindered through the feast hall again, the party made their way to a chamber filled with roots descending from an earthen ceiling. At one end was a door that led into the bee hive. With nothing of more interest here, they turned their attention back to the feast hall and the wall of roses. Aureon cast a spell of invisibility on Dax, who, with his ranger skill of woodland stride, passed through the wall of roses uninjured. While the rest were inspecting the wall, one of the feasting sprites called out to them saying “The King sees no one without a gift – I hear roots are in season right now, perhaps that would do?”
Several returns back to the root cellar were needed before a “proper” root could be found, but then the sprite announced that nobody could see the king without the blessings of his mother. Presenting a rose bloom from the giant rosebush they had found, the wall of roses parted and the group’s eyes fell upon the King of Roses, lounging on a giant oaken throne, busily stripping the meat off of a roasted human hand.
The King was incensed that his revelry was interrupted and demanded to know why the intruders were there. Neladrin said they were there about the dead workers, and the King scoffed and said that the workers were insignificant mice, and that what they did was vital to they fey. There was more discussion, some attempts at diplomacy, but eventually the King grew bored and screamed out to his fey servants to “KILL THEM ALL!”
The battle was fierce. Durnok immediately used one of the abilities of his bound vestige to sicken and nauseate the four sprites. Right after that, Neladrin launched a fireball into their midst, roasting two fey alive and severely burning the others. Quickly, the King cast a spell that created a wall of thorns to spring up around Aureon, Durnok and Dax, leaving Neladrin on his own with the King and the two remaining sprites. Once again, Dax used his woodland stride ability to pass through the thorns uninjured, and then used his bow to fell one of the remaining sprites. Soon, two fire elementals sprung into existence and attacked the King, conjured by Neladrin’s magic. There was no way for Durnok and Aureon to get through the wall of thorns, so they turned their attention to a neighbouring room to search for a way around.
Dax and Neladrin held their own against the King, fighting like a well-oiled machine. The elementals’ fiery attacks seemed to do little to the fey king, and Dax’s arrows, too, seemed to be harming the sprite less than they should. Neladrin, concerned for how the battle was going, called upon his conjuring abilities once more and soon a massive dire boar sprung into view. Not a moment too soon, either, as the King had used a magic suggestion on Dax for the halfling to dig into the poison foods on the table. Before he could, though, the boar scored a terrible hit on the King and the fey collapsed, his spells shattering.
Inside the chamber where Durnok and Aureon had gone, they found a chest containing fey and human ears as well as a sylvan tome of dubious magical rituals, a small box of gold pieces and 6 diamonds. In that room as well was a bubbling cauldron where the King had been brewing more poison for the tips of his sprite’s bows. Neladrin took the time to finish the brew while the rest of the group gathered together the coins and jewelry from the pool into sacks. They spent the night camping in the entry chamber and then struck back to Fort Thorn in the morning.
Captain Tolgrith was ecstatic, giving the group private use of the fort’s visitor’s barracks during their stay in the Vale. He then requested their help with other problems cropping up, including a bothersome tribe of owlbears and the mysterious fouling of the waters of the Petal River which happens for one day, on the same day, every month.
Agreeing to stay on and help, the companions were healed by the fort’s resident cleric and then retired to their barracks.
Little did they know that a flame of danger was growing elsewhere in the Vale.