Sunday, 28 July 2019

4. (Mis)Adventures in D&D: Thunder...Thunder...Thundertree!

Long years later, after the Wars of Deliverance had swept the land, the people of Phandalin would remember the legends of the Dark Heroes. On the long winter nights, when wolves and worse howled in the high passes, the town-dwellers made a habit of gathering at the Stonehill Inn where warm food, strong ale and good companionship could still their fears, at least for a short while. Mostly, the stories were of the doings of kings, wizards and heroes hailing from distant lands, rendered safe by their remoteness from the lives of the townspeople. But, when the winter winds howled closest and the roof creaked ominously with the weight of snow, the same cry always went up: ‘Where’s Old Nars Dendrar? We want to hear about the time the Dark Heroes came to Phandalin!’. And Old Nars was duly brought forward to the fireside, a fresh mug of foaming ale pressed into his hand, silence falling over the assembled folk as they waited, breathlessly. They all knew the story, of course; no doubt any of them could have recounted it word for word. But the way Old Nars told it...he made it come alive.

Taking a long pull on his tankard, Old Nars stared into the fire for a moment and, clearing his throat, began to speak. ‘It was fifty summers ago, before the barbarian tribes came down from the mountains and fought the Lords of Neverwinter. It was a bad time and a gang of ruffians had set up shop in Phandalin. Foul beasts they were, bullying and stealing and….murdering folk.’ A sigh passed through the crowd as they remembered that Old Nars’ own father had been killed by the brigands, just for trying to defend his family. ‘Me, my sister and my mother were taken prisoner by the Redbrands, as they liked to call themselves. We were to be sold off as slaves or worse to the goblins that plagued us then. There we were, sat in a cell under the Manor, waiting for whatever evil fate lay in store for us. Two of the scum were sitting guard over us, playing dice and telling us horrible stories about how we’d probably get killed and eaten, in that order if we were lucky!’ Again, the crowd shifted restlessly; mothers hugged their children closer and would-be warriors bragged about how they’d have escaped and taught those beasts a lesson or two. Old Nars just held up a hand and cupped his ear as if listening, and the crowd again fell silent. ‘And then we heard it. At first, it was just a dull clattering as if someone had dropped a pan somewhere. The brigands didn’t hear anything at first, as my ears were younger than theirs. But eventually, the sounds became louder and they stopped playing dice, their faces becoming paler by the minute. A dull clattering became the clash of swords on armour, the sizzle of magic and the thud of crossbow bolts hitting flesh. Louder and louder it became, as if the very hounds of hell were charging through the corridors under the Manor. But the worst of it were the screams. The brigands began to look at each other as they began to recognise the voices. ‘That was Brin’ they said, referring to a long-drawn out screech ending in a wet gurgling cough. ‘Brin’s as tough as nails!’. Next came sounds that reminded me of a butcher’s shop on slaughtering day, with shouted pleas for mercy that were suddenly cut off. The thieves guarding us dropped their dice and drew their weapons, backing away from the door.’

Old Nars took another deep draught of his ale. ‘But what came next was the worst. The noises and begging and pleading had stopped right outside the door to our cells. The silence went on for what seemed like forever and the Redbrands crept forward to the door, fearful expressions on their faces. Suddenly, the door burst open and the Dark Heroes burst in. Course, we didn’t know them by that name then, but you could see what lay in their future even then. Covered head to foot in blood most of them were. Two huge half-orcs charged into the room, a Cleric of Blessed Helm coming after them. All of them had a killing gleam in their eye and the Redbrands charged them hopelessly, knowing their fate was sealed. Behind the warriors and the priest lurked a mysterious fellow in foreign robes, an inscrutable look in his eye and a soul-blasting spell on his lips. And you all know who else was there, don’t you?’ The crowd roared back as if they’d been waiting for this bit, which they had. ‘Abba the Cruel!’. Old Nars continued. ‘Yes, they were all there. Honest Abba, Stone-Hearted Grax, Kang the Mysterious, Dulron the Lost and Og Just-Og. With a spray of blood, the first outlaw was cut down!’ At that, a cheer went up from the crowd. ‘Seeing there was no hope, the second outlaw threw down his arms and begged for mercy, which he got.’ The crowd booed. ‘After freeing my family, the Dark Heroes locked the miscreant in the cells. But as we left, he began to cry and shout for us not to leave him there alone in the dark, where there were things that could eat him or worse’. Old Nars looked around the suddenly quiet common room once more, into the eyes of the listening townsfolk. ‘Honest Abba stepped back into the room for a moment, and then the brigand was silent. That was the mercy any could expect of the Dark Heroes, then and afterwards’.

He continued on with his story, of how the Heroes had led him and his family to safety through corridors strewn with Redbrand dead with wall sprayed with their blood. But anyone taking the trouble to look into Old Nars’ eyes would have seen that, beneath his bluff and jovial exterior, Nars had been changed by what he’d seen under Tresendar Manor. Many was the time he’d woken in the night, shouting in terror for what Young Nars had seen all those years ago. The Heroes had freed his body, but his mind was still locked down there in the dark, where there were things that could eat you…or worse.


But back to the present. After spending a couple of days in Phandalin, recovering and taking advantage of their new-found fame as the ‘Heroes of Tresendar’, the party made their plans. The lure of the gold that Sildar Hallwinter was offering for the destruction of the Cragmaw Goblins was too much for them. They’d had enough of being poor and, whilst fame was all very well,  a large bag of gold was much the better. With that in mind, they’d decided to head for the ruins of the town of Thundertree which lay some three days journey to the north. According to the Halfling Quelline Alderleaf, a druid named Reidoth had last been seen there. He knew the surrounding lands better than anybody, and he might know the location of the Cragmaw’s lair. From there, surely it would be a simple matter to storm it, slaughter everyone they found and claim the reward. Also, the Dendrar woman had said there was a fine jewel hidden beneath the floor of the ruined herbalist’s shop somewhere to the south of the ruined town. Abba for one would not be so careless as to leave such a treasure unclaimed.

And so it was that the Heroes set out one fine morning, their feeling of optimism only dampened by Kang’s passive-aggressive asides. Whilst they were set on their course, Kang was still keen on dealing with the banshee of Conyberry, far to the west. Somehow, he’d got it into his head that the creature knew the location of a powerful spellbook. Promising for the thousandth time that they’d get around to it eventually, the party headed out.

They travelled for three days, sticking mainly to the same road they’d taken south on their journey from Neverwinter. Lone travellers or small groups such as theirs were rare; the lands were dangerous, and travellers usually gathered into larger caravans for protection. They passed a couple of these, but stayed at a safe distance; they knew that caravan guards were paid a bonus for the head of every outlaw they came across, and were not above treating any small group of tough-looking travellers as outlaws regardless of the facts of the matter.  So it was that, discounting a run-in with a marauding group of Goblins, their journey was uneventful and they arrived at the ruins of Thundertree on the afternoon of the third day.

Thundertree itself was a mess; a jumble of ruined buildings and some that were intact with shuttered windows. The Heroes soon discovered that the ruined buildings were infested with horrible, man-shaped beings formed of stinking plant matter. Also, they found that the intact buildings had been shuttered to keep things in rather than out; a nasty encounter with a group of foul undead creatures had proven this, their dead flesh sending out plumes of choking dust with each blow. But it was Kang who discovered the worst thing about Thundertree; the ruined tower in the center of the town harboured not undead or plant-creatures, but a slumbering dragon! Fear coursing through their hearts, the Heroes pushed on, but very quietly indeed; even Kang kept his complaints to himself as they moved towards a shuttered building…

Monday, 1 July 2019

27. Waterday/ Stasis Week to Clayday/ Movement Week/ Fire Season 1618

(With thanks to Doc)

That is not a good omen’ mutter Bofrost under his breath as the companions approached the stone ramp leading to the Royal Gate. High above them reared the impossible majesty of the Royal Palace itself, bathed in early morning sunlight as it clung to the side of a ridge of the Quivin Mountains. For the past several days the heroes had been planning the liberation of the Red Hands of Hofstaring Tree-leaper. Although they’d been made skittish by unusual Lunar comings and goings within the City of Shadows, they’d been reassured when the troops assembled within the Southern Gate had packed up and marched off southwards. At their head had been Fazzur Wideread, so it was obviously an important mission that would take some time. After such a period of uncertainty, the heroes’ confidence had been raised by the reduced number of Lunar warriors within the city walls. Furthermore, their plan was sound; sneak into the citadel, steal the Red Hands before Temertain’s feast, then disappear amongst the crowds with the Royal fool hopefully none the wiser. Yes; their plan was a good one and Randel and Terrastal had come up with a couple of ruses that should make success a certainty.
But now as they moved towards the ramp, the voice may have been Bofrost’s but he spoke for all of them. As they’d moved through the darkened city, the quiet of the early morning streets not yet warmed by Yelm’s rays, they’d become aware of shouts and wails ahead of them. As they came closer to its source, the wailing began to resolve itself into separate voices; harsh Lunar voices shouting commands and warnings, the sound of hammering and, above it all, the all-too-familiar sound of human misery. Rounding a sudden corner, the cause of the noise became clear; ahead stood a line of ten crosses, nine of them already bearing the writhing form of some poor unfortunate condemned to the form of execution favoured by the Lunars. Around the foot of the crosses was gathered a crowd of Orlanthi, voices raised in anger, misery and sorrow, held back by a line of hard-face Lunar warriors with spears. As the companions came closer, the final cross was hoisted into its prepared socket and with a shock Terrastal recognised its occupant. Just before his recent encounter with a soon-to-be-dead Lunar soldier in the People’s Square, he’d spoken to an old man and a young girl who’d been begging there. At the time, they’d been wary of Terrastal and his anti-Lunar words and had left the area before the killing. However, in their zeal to find whoever had been responsible, the Lunars had scooped up the old man. Although he was clearly not a warrior by any measure, the Lunar interest in retribution had outweighed their interest in truth and so now he too sagged forward in Terrastal’s place, paying the price of rebellion.
Their work done the Lunars stood guard yawning and sharing bread, the wailing of the crowd washing over them unremarked. Amongst the crowd stood the heroes, dressed as servants and bearing wine barrels concealing their weapons within. Glancing over to Terrastal, Randel noted he was standing rigid, his lip bloody from where he’d bitten into it. The cold realisation that Terrastal was going to do something unwise churned his stomach, and he reached out to grip his arm. Sandene and Bofrost noticed this and shuffled their feet; nervously in the case of Bofrost, and into a fighting stance for Sandene. Oblivious, Yrsa stared open-mouthed at the misery before her and marvelled once more at the horrors that people were capable of.
Terrastal was in torment. He knew that he was responsible for this man’s death. Some of the others were no doubt criminals and deserved their fate, but the old man had been blameless. None of his companions knew of this so he could walk away without a stain on his honour, but the sheer injustice was too much to bear. Tensing, Terrastal made ready to launch himself at the Lunars and wash away their grins with their own blood. As he did so, he suddenly felt a hand gripping his arm. Turning angrily, he found himself staring directly into Randel’s tense face. ‘Remember Baranthos, Terrastal!’ he hissed urgently. ‘Remember Ernalsulva!’ At this, Randel felt Terrastal go suddenly rigid and he feared his words had been in vain. But then Terrastal slumped forward and allowed himself to be led away, head down.
Leaving the sorry scene behind them, the companions walked up the ramp to the gate. As before, Lunar warriors stood guard over the stream of servants and other functionaries moving in and out of the palace. At this early hour, no palanquins bearing Lunar or Sartarite nobility were in evidence and the guards appeared watchful but relaxed. Behind them, the companions pulled a cart bearing small barrels marked with the crest of the Konthassos clan, the makers of the finest clearwine anywhere in Dragon Pass. Yrsa carried one more barrel over her shoulder, this one containing their weapons. As they joined the line of those heading into the palace, Yrsa did her best to look unconcerned, but to the others her studied attempt at nonchalance seemed to radiate guilt like heat from a roaring fire.
Eventually, the heroes reached the guard checkpoint. Terrastal and Randel engaged in some friendly banter with the Lunar guards, albeit through gritted teeth in Terrastal’s case. After a few questions and a having secured a promise from Randel to keep some clearwine on one side for the senior guard on duty, the band made to enter the palace. As they did so, Yrsa shifted the barrel on her shoulder and caused the weapons inside to clink in a most suspicious manner. Yrsa simply froze on the spot and looked around mutely to her friends for help. Thinking quickly, Sandene slapped Yrsa hard and berated her furiously in her native Tarshite before turning to the guards apologetically. ‘Masters, please forgive her for her clumsiness. She is my sister-daughter and it’s my curse to care for the simple-minded lunk’ Randel joined in and offered the guards a bottle of clearwine he’d been saving for a ‘special occasion’. In this way, the tension was broken and the companions were allowed through the servants’ entrance. As they turned the corner, Terrastal looked back and saw one of the younger guards looking after them with a look of suspicion. Once out of sight of the guards, Sandene muttered an apology to the hurt-looking Yrsa whilst Randel wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. Taking a moment to collect their thoughts before proceeding with their plan, the heroes realised that Bofrost had gone missing. Risking a look back around the corner, they could see no sign that their Sage had been detained. In fact, the last that any of them could remember seeing Bofrost was in the crowd at the crucifixion. However, they quickly decided that Bofrost would have to look after himself until they had completed their mission to retrieve the Red Hands.
Moving further into the palace, they quickly came caught up in all the controlled chaos necessary to provide the luxury demanded by the noble classes. Servants rushed in all directions on errands of their own or of their masters; to the Sartarites’ dismay, many of them wore slave collars. Although the taking of thralls was common in the constant inter-clan conflicts of Dragon Pass, slavery was an almost exclusively Lunar custom. Pushing their way forward through the crowds, the smell of food became overpowering and soon they came to the great kitchens. Compared to this, the previous crowds had been but a small gathering. The kitchens were filled with shouted instructions and shrill rebukes; slaves ran here and there carrying platters piled high with all manner of food or great amphorae of wine and ale; small children played under tables, stealing chunks of bread when no-one was looking. In the center of it all sat a vast, sweaty woman on a raised chair. She seemed to be the still point of the storm, dominating all around her through the force of her will. Wherever her piggy eyes fell, slaves and freemen alike quailed before her and rushed to do her bidding. Anyone not moving quickly enough for her liking received a sharp whack with a thin cane to hurry them along. Sandene and Terrastal knew this could only be one person; Berra Stone, the Prince’s Dish-thane and corrupt terror of the lower orders.
Her face fixed in a disgusted grimace, Sandene immediately marched forward and stood before Berra’s greasy bulk. Berra regarded Sandene cautiously; this was no kitchen-worm to be beaten, that much was certain. As her companions watched, Sandene stepped forward and spoke directly into the dish-thane’s ear. Even from this distance, the shock on Berra’s face at Sandene’s words was clear. However, what was most surprising was the speed and agility with which Berra threw herself backwards, away from Sandene and into a stumpy-legged but rapid waddle towards the far door. For a moment, Sandene stood in shock as Berra sent plates and people flying in her desperation to escape. The other kitchen staff pretended not to notice what was going on; Berra’s underlings quickly learned to develop selective blindness and deafness where Berra was concerned, lest she find some reason to have the skin whipped from their backs as a punishment for misplace curiosity.
After a  moment of stunned inactivity, Sandene, Yrsa, Terrastal and Randel surged after the fleeing dish-thane. Desperation lent them speed and they caught up with Berra at the same time.  Thinking quickly, Terrastal summoned the spirit of silence gifted to him by Orlanth which settled over the shrieking woman like a cloak. Berra’s voice was immediately cut off, although from her face it was clear she was still shrieking at the top of her lungs. Whilst Terrastal and Sandene grabbed the woman, her face contorted with rage, Randel prayed to Issaries for the aid of his spirit of Befuddlement. As he spoke the last syllables of his invocation, he was relieved to see the dish-thane’s sweating face become slack and her eyes glaze over. As a curious servant passed by, Yrsa made a gesture as if holding a bottle to her lips. ‘Don’t worry about Berra, she’s just had a few too many today already’, to which the servant replied with a long-suffering roll of her eyes; this was clearly not an unusual situation in the Royal Kitchens.
Murmuring words of reassurance to Berra, the group quickly marched her into the Great Hall and across the echoing floor. At this time of day, it was mostly empty with functionaries either still abed or observing their daily devotions to their patron deities. The only observers to the staggering progress of Berra and her companions were two Lunar warriors standing guard outside the Royal Vaults. They’d clearly been on duty all night, as they both stifled yawns as the heroes approached. ‘Berra’s been sampling the Prince’s wines again’ whispered Terrastal to the guards as he leaned in close, hoping that this would be a familiar occurrence to them also. Seeing the nods, Randel pressed on. ‘We need to take this priceless wine into the Vaults, but Berra’s too far gone to do it by herself’. Seeing their doubtful looks, Randel continued ‘this is the finest clearwine, fit for the Prince himself. Of course, seeing as you’re charged with the Prince’s safety, it’s only fair that you should be able to try it for yourselves. Just to make sure it hasn’t gone off, or anything’. At this, the Lunars perked up and each of them gratefully took a draught from Randel’s proffered flask. Almost immediately, they began to sag forward as their knees began to give way. Sandene grinned wolfishly; the White Sisters at the House of Healing had been most understanding in providing certain herbs that could be used in small quantities to dull the phantom pain from her healed scars. The packet she’d been given was supposed to be taken daily for the next moon; Sandene had merely poured the whole lot into the small flask that the guards had half-drained in one swallow.
Before the guards had slumped to the floor, Yrsa had grabbed the Vault keys dangling from Berra’s belt and opened the door. Berra was ushered inside and given the flask to drink from and the guards were unceremoniously left in a heap just inside the door. As the others dodged inside, Yrsa took one peek into the main hall to see if they’d been observed; all seemed quiet, thanks be to Redalda.
Now that they’d reached their goal, the companions took stock of their surroundings. Ahead of them rose arch after arch, marvelously carved into bold geometric patterns so beloved of the Mostali. On either side were stacked crate after crate of valuable items. Wine, foodstuffs, textiles, finely-wrought weapons, figurines of unknown heroes and gods; countless treasures, above which hung the still, heavy air richly scented with the aroma of rare and exotic spices. Regardless, all eyes were drawn to a raised dais at the far end of the chamber upon which stood a stone cube almost as tall as Terrastal. As they approached, they noted that it was seamless with no obvious lock or means of opening. Standing before it, they realised they hadn’t ever properly thought through how they were to open it. According to Bofrost’s research, the Prince’s Strongbox could only be opened by one of the Royal House of Sartar. They realised now that they’d never really thought they’d get this far, so why bother solving an insoluble problem? Yet here they were, in the Vault standing before the Strongbox without a handy Sartarite Royal nearby. What to do?
‘Perhaps…’ started Randel and stopped. The others looked at him expectantly. ‘Perhaps..’ he began again, before stopping once more and shaking his head. ‘Perhaps what, Randel?’ said Terrastal with exaggerated patience. Hesitantly, Randel outlined his wild plan. ‘As the Royal House of Sartar is descended from Orlanth, each descendant will have some of Orlanth’s ‘blood’ in his or her veins, yes?’ Screwing up their faces in thought, the others nodded slowly. ‘So perhaps…if we hold a ceremony to worship Orlanth, whoever leads the ceremony will embody Orlanth. And if they touch the Strongbox at the height of the worship ceremony, that might be enough to fulfill the whole ‘Royal House of Sartar’ thing?’. Yrsa, Randel and Terrastal looked at each other uncertainly. After a  moment, Sandene voiced what they were all thinking: ‘Why not? What’s the worst that can happen?’.
Quickly, a space was cleared and Sandene began to pace around Terrastal as he closed his eyes. As she began to stamp rhythmically, Terrastal began to sway and clap intermittently as he summoned his guardian spirits to forge a link to the Godtime. A sense of pressure began to build in the underground chamber, and Yrsa and Randel felt their hackles rise, as if in the presence of an unpredicatable and dangerous creature. Sandene began to twirl and stamp more fiercely, and suddenly Terrastal’s off-beat clapping locked into her stamped pattern. Randel and Yrsa began to sway and summon their own tutelary  spirits, caught up as they were in the ceremony being enacted before them. Yrsa began to scrape at the ground with her foot and it seemed to Randel that he caught the scent of trampled grass and herd animals. With a sudden surge of alarm, Randel tried to whisper to Yrsa but found his tongue forming words in a language he did not know. From Yrsa’s puzzled expression it was clear she didn’t understand him, but to his own delight he realised that he could understand every word. Suddenly, the spirit of his God overtook him and he laughed aloud with delight; into his mind sprang unbidden the knowledge of every language ever spoken, human or otherwise. Exulting in the sheer ecstasy of the moment,  he began to speak aloud in languages that were either long-dead or yet to be spoken by future generations. Yrsa didn’t notice; she was lost in the sensation of running headlong over over infinite grasslands, four strong legs powering her onwards. Around her, the infinite herd thundered onwards, strengthening her with unity of purpose and direction. As her spirit-self ran, she felt her brow began to tingle as Redalda’s Fire rune began to pulse in time with her hoof-beats.
As Randel and Yrsa became lost in their own divine connections, Sandene looked down and found herself…changed. Her skin was the black of the grave and a necklace of the skulls of oath-breakers hung about her neck, each one chattering endlessly bemoaning their broken vows. As she whirled and stamped, she looked up at Terrastal through bloody tears and beheld him as Orlanth incarnate. His skin the blue of the sky and what remained of his hair and beard crackled with lightning as he laughed with the sheer joy of the storm. As he laughed, thunder seemed to rumble and the Vault was flooded with the smell of dry earth after a thunderstorm. Looking around, he spoke with a voice that seemed the palace’s foundations. ‘My brother and sisters take my hands and join with me!’ His voice cut through their separate ecstasies and they walked forward. As one, they walked forward and placed their hands on the Prince’s Stronbox. The power of Orlanth, Issaries and Redalda flowed through them into the box and it split open in two parts silently. As quickly as it came, the sense of divine otherness fled and all three slumped forward, exhausted.
Sandene reluctantly felt the Goddess’ power drain from her. As she danced she had BEEN Babeestor Gor, wading ankle deep in the blood of her mother’s enemies in the dark hell where oath-breakers were sent. But oddly, the abiding memory was not the slashing ax or the rending teeth, but the larger part that her Goddess played in the cosmic cycle – why retribution  and punishment  of those who strayed was not just the right thing to do, but absolutely necessary to maintain the Great Compromise. Almost gratefully, she slid into the peace of the Goddess and knew no more.
Gathering their wits, Randel, Yrsa and Terrastal lifted the amphora containing the Red Hands from within the Strongbox. Reverently, they replaced the Hands with the copies they’d prepared before entering the Palace, taken from the body of a common criminal awaiting cremation. With the use of good red dye bargained for by Randel, they made passable copies. Stowing the Red Hands safely in his pack, Terrastal and the others made for the Vault entrance, supporting a stumbling Sandene between them. Pausing only to empty the remainder of the flask of clearwine over the snoring Berra Stone and the two guards and close the door behind them, the heroes left the Vault exhausted but jubilant. They’d done it!
In the Great Hall of the palace, they were now faced with the challenge of escaping from the palace with their hides intact. The palace was now much busier as the day got underway and passers-by were casting curious glances in their direction. As they cast around for the least risky route to freedom, Yrsa heard a scrabbling sound coming from behind a nearby tapestry depicting an erotic Lunar ceremony involving inventive and enthusiastic participants. As her cheeks reddened, she was surprise to see Bofrost’s grimy but grinning face peek out from behind it. Quickly, Bofrost beckoned them forward where they found a passageway leading downwards into the palace’s foundations. As they climbed downwards, Bofrost explained that he’d found reference to this passage in the ancient records of his cult. ‘Tis quite safe’ he said, omitting the dire warnings of fearsome traps in the manuscript he’d found as well as his several lucky escapes from packs of large, fearsome rodents that roamed the labyrinthine catacombs.
Coming round, Sandene had found the others crowding round a curtain with Bofrost’s bearded face peering out cheerfully. Terrastal’s pack looked heavy, she presumed they had achieved their aim of exchanging the Red Hands and if Bofrost had found a back entrance it would certainly help their escape. Mentally, Sandene was still in hell, and she made the clambering, stinking journey through the sewers almost automatically. It wasn’t until Terrastal announced his intention to disarm a Mostali mechanism that she snapped back and offered to guard the rear.
With some ingenuity and a lot of luck, the companions finally emerged into the sunlight of the new day, finding themselves behind some cunningly-place statuary towards the rear of the temple district. Quickly, they gathered their belongings from Farnan Ernaldor at the Colymar Mansion and made their way out of the city’s northern gate, heading towards the Greenstone’s Earth Temple and Ernalsulva.
Mindful of a potential hue and cry should the theft of the Red Hands be discovered, the companions travelled in separate groups through Jonstown before turning east on the road to Greenstone. Aside from almost having to tie Bofrost up to stop him from paying a visit to the Grey Sages of Jonstown, the journey thus far was uneventful. When the heroes turned eastwards, however, the lands became much wilder with travelers only encountered infrequently on the road. At one point, they were attacked by a number of huge, chaos-tainted insects; although they were able to drive them off or kill them with ease, it was still a timely reminder that Chaos was the true enemy. 
Eventually, after some five days on the road the party arrived in Greenstone, weary and travel-sore. The Greenstone Temple was in Malani tribal lands and Yrsa looked about her hopefully as she rode. Noticing this, Sandene rode closer. ‘Your father’s here somewhere, Yrsa. We may not find him this time around, but we’ll come back once Baranthos is safe and together we’ll make the hills run with blood until they hand him back!’ As Yrsa regarded her, a sick look on her face, Sandene grinned and slapped her heartily on the shoulder. ‘You’d do the same for me. What else are friends for?’.
A community of worshippers, pilgrims, and refugees inhabited a village of inns, guest hall, and crafters near the temple. Yrsa, Terrastal, Bofrost and Randel obtained lodgings to rest before presenting themselves at the Temple the following morning. Sandene headed for the barracks of the Temple guardians, everything around her strangely familiar, the smells and echoes of the Earth Temple comforting her. Not that she needed this – her worship ceremony had brought back almost immediately to the Hells, where the Avenging Daughter had been waiting for her, and Sandene knew that when the time was right she would join her Goddess there  But until then, she had work to do. As she unpacked her travelling gear, she smiled as she looked at the dress she had bought in Boldhome. After the scourge of the Lunar demon, Sandene had felt her pain and scarring cut her off from others and had envied the beautiful Earth priestesses as examples of what had been forever denied her.  When the Healers restored her face, Sandene had toyed with exploring a new role, perhaps becoming one of those beautiful priestesses herself. But, as Babeestor Gor had shown her in the Vault, Sandene already had her destiny mapped out. She may wear a dress sometimes, perhaps even experiment with the face paints the Temple Maidens used –it might be nice to have a man without payment – but her heart was happy as an Avenging Daughter.  Lying on the straw barracks pallet Sandene played the game she always did – counting the faces of those she had sent to Hell. The wistful smile playing across her dark face briefly revealed her pointed teeth as she dropped off to sleep.
Greenstone Temple itself was carved into the rock of the hillside. From the outside, it appeared to be a green, square building set flush against the hill and facing east with shrines and altars to numerous goddesses standing at the porch of the building. It was obviously a a place of powerful Earth and Life magic. Entering the antechamber, the companions were made to understand in no uncertain terms that they could pass no further; the grim stares and sharp axes of the Axe Maidens saw to that. The antechamber was an ornate room carved out of green stone covered with carvings of naked goddesses and a few gods, with a single empty chair in the middle of the room and a corridor leading further into the hill. After some time, the Queen of the Temple, Entarios the Supporter, entered the antechamber, accompanied by her daughter Ernalsulva.
Entarios and her daughter wore fine dresses of deep green, trimmed with silver thread and fine furs; jeweled brooches, rings, ear-rings, bracelets and most notably a great golden necklace dripping with green gems completed their regalia. When Terrastal saw Ernalsulva’s beauty, his breath caught despite himself, his usually disdainful attitude defeated by her transcendent glow. But none of this made as much impression on the companions as the grim, pinched expression on Entarios’ face. Entarios greeted the heroes formally and with obvious suspicion, clearly protective of her daughter. ‘So. I take it you have come to call off the Marriage Contest. I understand; it was clearly too much of a challenge for such as you’.
All of a sudden, Terrastal felt his lips move of their own volition as the spirit of Orlanth flowed through him once more. ‘Sweet Green Woman, look at me! I have returned, the Conqueror! None could stand before me and I have done the impossible. Here is the gift you sought. Your Earth must be mine. I am yours, what deeds must I do?’ As he spoke, Bofrost brought out the Red Hands wrapped in cloth of finest weave and presented them to Ernalsulva, head bowed.
Ernalsulva looked from the Hands to her mother and back, clearly astounded by the sight before her. Randel and Yrsa saw competing emotions do battle on Entarios’ face; astonishment that the Hands had been recovered, stubborn pride that her assumptions had been proven wrong and a fear that this upstart and his band would prove themselves equal to the task; any dynastic ambitions she harboured for her daughter would then be lost. In a flash, Entarios’ face hardened and she nodded curtly to her daughter to take the Hands. As she did so, her eyes became unfocussed and she spoke in a halting voice: ‘Though that gift be easy for you, there is yet that which will not be so. In the Upland Marsh is a great heirloom that once belonged to my ancestors. It was taken by a turbulent hero who lost it to the Taker and Waster, the Emperor of the Marsh. So here is my second challenge: the man who wishes to be my husband must bring me my ancestors’ sword. Bring me Wrath - the sword of Indrodar Greydog. It was lost to the Taker and Waster at the Howling Tower. You must bring it back to me.” At this, Entarios took her daughter’s arm and led her away, favouring Terrastal with one final measuring look as she did so. It was clear that the audience was over.
As the heroes stood outside, crestfallen at the poor reception they’d received, Sandene drew herself upright. ‘Well, that’s that, then. If we go into the Upland Marsh we’re all going to die, so we may as well have some fun. Who’s up for a cattle raid?’