Campaign Journal Book Three

Table of Contents

The Characters
Chapter One- Northern Legends
Chapter Two- Seeking the Stone
Chapter Three- Into the Heart of Darkness
Chapter Four- The Power of the Stone
Chapter Five-- Swords and Subterfuge
Chapter Six- Life and Death

The Characters

Primary Characters

Lord Bartarius of Dragonspur, a powerful Northman from Outelion and one of the new Lords of the Spur. The leadership of the group has fallen to Bartarius, and he does his best to lead well. He is often, however, near to cracking under the strain.

Malcall Grimson, another powerful barbarian. Malcall is a ravager and a berserker who dismays people by his manners and appearance. Originally his goal was only to fight and collect "souvenirs"; lately, he has come to care for the fate of the Liberated Kingdoms.

Lord Knight Payn Ack-Arthur, a weathered outdoorsman. The strong, silent type, Payn's conscience will not let him rest if his sword is inactive while danger threatens his homeland; Payn was recently named a Lord Knight of Dragonspur, and he commands his own regiment.

Valanduil of House Cirana, a noble elf who has a shaky friendship with Bartarius. His life's doom was to seek the Elven artifact called the Stone of Silence, which he recently recovered. He now fights--internally and externally--to keep and command the powerful Stone.

Secondary Characters

Tharivol of House Meliane, an aloof Elven cleric. Charged by the Elvenking with helping his friend Valanduil in his quest for the Stone of Silence, Tharivol awaits the day when he can return to Elven lands.

Fundin Northammer, a cautious Dwarven cleric who is no longer with the group. He aided them greatly, however, when the Lord of Envy attacked Dragonspur by bringing a force of dwarves to help, and he continues to aid Dragonspur.

Rolindor Ack-Turpin, a battle mage and experienced tactician. Fleeing from the Ranulph Barony, which Afej recently conquered, Rolindor hoped to use the group to free his homeland. He currently serves as head of the Dragonspur battlemage college under Lord Yedus.

Dralin Ironshield, a powerful and greedy Dwarven cleric who is currently seeking the legendary Dwarf-hold Liferock in order to restore the Dwarves to their former glory. His whereabouts are unknown.

The Fallen

Tili Deepdelver, a powerful Dwarven warrior, fell defending the heroes during their attack on the Winged One. He lies in a hallowed cairn deep beneath the Hilly Crags.

Belshrum Stoneaxe, a berserk and freakish Dwarven warrior, Belshrum's fondest wish was to die in battle. His wish was granted when he fell during the group's exploration of Karn Keller.

Ragnor Ack-Rohan, a helf-elven cleric/mage. Ragnor was a no-nonsense, pragmatic type who gets the job done. He seemed closer in heritage to his human rather than his elven ancestors in this respect. Ragnor heroically fell trying to keep secrets about the Stone of Silence from falling into enemy hands.

Gilbert Ack-Keler, a devastatingly powerful professional soldier, was the quintessential warrior. Gilbert aided the group out of loyalty to his city, East-of-Sky, and to Baron Oliver, whom he viewed as a grandfather. He returned to East-of-Sky when it was attacked by Afej and there fell in mortal combat defending his beloved city.

Chapter One- Northern Legends

1st of Hest, 8170 F.R.

After returning to Dragonspur City to get Bartarius some armor, Valanduil and Payn secure permission from Naglor for the knights of Dragonspur to head north to Anaria, the territory of the Northern Barbarians. To do this, Valanduil must promise to bring the Stone back to Dragonspur to use it in her defense before returning it to his Elvenking, Baranwe the Tall. Without delay, the group sets out. They journey many days northward. Soon the Kelerak Mountains come into view and everyday they loom closer. The temperature drops slightly and Malcall and Bartarius begin to feel more at home; the elves appreciate the beauty of the hilly, forested countryside. Payn is happy to be away from the stifling cities in which the party has lately spent so much time. The group turns north off the road and takes the Anar Trail. Soon they come upon several traders from the Rindar peoples, the Cavebear Northmen. These are Malcall's tribe's traditional enemy and Malcall is less than friendly, but Bartarius finds out from the traders that the hostility between the tribes has been postponed. Even the barbarians are worried by the tidings of trouble to the south. The heroes bypass two of the settlements of Malcall's people, the Hildolfar, including their capital of Hildolf. As the party approaches Malcall's village of Svenheim, after having traveled for over a week, they run into a hunting party lead by Bjarn, a warrior from Svenheim.

Bjarn tells the party that his group was sent into these woods to the south to look for an omen to help the village, which is apparently in trouble as of late. The adventurers return with the hunters to Svenheim. There in the villages of longhouses, the heroes are taken into the Jarl's longhouse, where they find that Olfjor the Old, the Jarl, has gone south to Hildolf for a war council, taking with him all of his Earls. He has left Bjarn in charge as interim Jarl. But about the time that Olfjor left, mysterious attacks began on the village; warriors and farmers were slain with axe and sword, but even the most skilled trackers in Svenheim cannot find any tracks. Bjarn asks the heroes if they will aid the village. Before they can respond, however, Knut, one of the sons of the Jarl, barges into the long house and demands holmgang, a duel with Malcall. Knut seeks revenge for the beating that Malcall gave him two years ago, which got the latter banished from Svenheim. Malcall accepts the duel; if he loses, the heroes must leave Svenheim without learning anything about the Stone of Silence. The duel is scheduled for midnight in the Holmgang Grove outside of town. In the meantime, Malcall goes to visit his parents Grim and Sigrid.

When Midnight comes, Malcall and Knut engage in single combat. Although Knut has become a better warrior than of old, Malcall handily beats him and makes him cry enough. Knut has never seen anything like the fury of Malcall. The two call a truce and Malcall returns to the lodge. There he informs those gathered of his victory and a feast begins. The beautiful bard Freyana regales the heroes and Bartarius also sings a well-received song. They learn; however, that Bjarn will not let the heroes speak to Grunnar the Elder, who is the only one in the village who knows about the Stone of Silence, until they have solved the mystery of who is attacking the village. The party agrees to help.

They are shown the corpses of three dead warriors. There the elves use spells to speak with the dead and find out that they were slain by creatures from legend-- Sending Ghosts. In the Anar culture, Sending Ghosts are warriors who guard the crypts of famous Jarls. Malcall immediately thinks of the crypt of the most famous Jarl, Wodene the Mighty, who sacked Dragonspur. The heroes think that this is as good a place to begin investigating as any. They travel ten miles into the depth of a dark evergreen forest, where they come upon the burial mound of Wodene, as well as the mound of his Earls. The mound of Wodene has been broken into! The heroes enter the crypt to investigate and see several traps have been sprung, including a pit trap. In the pit they discover the body of Bard, an Earl of Olfjor. Malcall knows that Bard would never have acted without the Jarl's permission, and thus Olfjor must have sanctioned the break in. They also find that the coffin of Wodene has been desecrated and the famous sword of Wodene, Angrim the Cold, has been taken, as well as several wyrd-broaches, the sacred relics that in life never left the cloaks of Wodene or his Earls.

Suddenly horrible creatures--walking corpses clad in armor, with noxious green fumes oozing out of their orifices-- beset the five companions. The heroes attack the creatures mightily but can only injure them slightly, while they themselves are severely hurt. Bartarius takes the ring and shield off the body of Wodene, to the great anger of Malcall, and the heroes, after knocking one ghost into the pit, barely escape the three dead things. They return to the village and inform Bjarn and Grunnar of the identity of the attackers. Grunnar tells them that only ones bearing the sacred Wyrd-broaches of Wodene could defeat his Sending Ghosts. The heroes also learn that Knut has fled south to join his father and warn him of the heroes' arrival. Then things began to come together: Olfjor and his Earls left soon after the crypt was disturbed, perhaps to avoid the attacks of the awakened Sending Ghosts. Moreover, Malcall and Bartarius, somewhat familiar with the legend of Wodene, fear that one who possesses Angrim the Cold would be able to unite the tribes in the name of Wodene. Needing to recover the Wyrd-broaches, and wishing to defeat the possible schemes of Olfjor, the heroes prepare to head south to Hildof, to the war council of the tribes, to confront Olfjor the Old and his Earls.

On the way to the city, the heroes avoid a huge grizzly bear thanks to the skill of Payn. They also meet a large party of armed men who are on their way to the town of Lostein and because of Bartarius' rashness end up slaying three of them. Regretting this act, the companions apologize but are forced to continue on to Hildolf, promising to make amends. Arriving at the city, the travelers ask for admittance under the banner of Olfjor; they soon learn, however, that Olfjor has accused them of highway robbery and murder and asked the Lord of the city, the great Jarl Brand Frodeson to arrest them. He does indeed order that they be arrested and a large group of horsemen attempt it. The group manages to escape after slaying many of the guards.

At this point, they are at an impasse. Eventually they decide to scout the city and see if they can locate Olfjor and his traitorous Earls. Valanduil and Tharivol enter the city invisible, and eventually find the longhouse of Olfjor. Creating a distraction, the two manage to count the numbers of the enemy and determine that there are two guards, five Earls, Knut, and Olfjor the Jarl. The elves escape and inform the rest of the group of this.

Two nights later, the entire party enters the city, using the magic of Valanduil to walk unseen. Yet they run into guards who are on the look-out since the heroes escape and who raise the alarm even though they cannot see the heroes. With the city alert, the companions make a sudden assault on Olfjor's longhouse, hacking their way through the thatched roof and dropping in on the enemy, who is well-prepared for their arrival. Olfjor indeed wields Angrim, the sword of Wodene, which burns with an icy cold and increases the severity of wounds, freezing the very flesh off those it strikes. The Earls and Knut also prove to be very capable fighters. The battle hangs in the balance, when Valanduil, in a bold and heroic move, disarms Olfjor with the Longsword of Celuthiel, sending the frostbrand spinning onto the floor between Malcall and Olfjor. Both of the embattled Northmen dive for the sword, but Malcall retrieves it first and sweeps off Olfjor's head in one massive, fell stroke. Payn and Bartarius dispatch the rest of the Earls and the heroes quickly retrieve the Wyrd-broaches and make for the door. But horns have been blowing an alarm for some time and they must still make it out of the alert city and over the wall!

Bartarius, having gotten a jump on his companions, sprints quickly to the wall. Valanduil and Tharivol are not far behind him, and with some effort and great care, the three manage to scale the wall. Payn and Malcall, however, run into some trouble: some astute guardsmen waylay them. They are able to fight their way through to the wall, though, were Tharivol cloaks their escape with a mist. The party has escaped from the city with less trouble than they had anticipated- except that Jarl Brand Frodeson knows who they are and where they come from, and he surely will seek them out in Svenheim.

Reasoning that they will at least have something to show for all the trouble they have stirred up, the companions, after riding most of the way back, veer off before reaching Svenheim in order to slay the Sending Ghosts and free Malcall's hometown from its curse. Reaching the crypt of Wodene, the group enters, with perhaps less caution than they should, and the lead hero, the Elhan Valanduil, is brutally chopped down under the flashing blades of two Sending Ghosts who are lying in ambush on either side of the tomb door. Bartarius quickly steps over his fallen comrade to fend off the fell spirits, while Malcall drags off the nearly lifeless elf. Fortunately, Tharivol is able to heal Valanduil before his life slips away with the blood leaking from his veins. Encouraged by Bartarius' success at driving the ghosts back and finding that the skeletal figures are indeed able to be injured when the party is wearing the Wyrd-broaches, they manage to dispatch the spirits to their final rest. Taking all of the treasures from the crypt with the intentions of returning them to Svenheim (except for Bartarius, who disagrees with this intention), the heroes head back towards the village. When they arrive, lo and behold, they find 50 additional horses tethered at the longhouse of the new Jarl Bjarn! It seems that Brand or an emissary has indeed sought them out. Sending Malcall invisible to scout invisibly to find out who the visitors are, the heroes learn that Brand himself has come and he seeks justice on his own behalf and on behalf of the men from Lostein, whom Bartarius slew on the way to Hildolf. The group concocts a plan to attempt to clandestinely ask Bjarn to meet them in the wilderness and explain their side of things: that they were merely seeking Olfjor and met Brand no disrespect, although they were forced to slay some of his knights. With the aid of an animal messenger that Payn sends, the companions relay this message in the form of a letter.

It is quickly apparent that Brand has intercepted it, though, when 45 riders led by Brand come to the clearing. The heroes avoid this party by magic, however, and charm one of the guards that Brand leaves behind to watch for them. Strangely, Valanduil is initially mistaken by the guard for "the hermit elf of the Black Wood," who is apparently a legend among the Northmen. This is of some interest to Valanduil. The party also learns that Brand was not fond of Olfjor and will probably accept a wergild, albeit a large one. Still, the heroes attempt to arrange another meeting with Bjarn, yet again Brand intercepts the message and returns to the spot in the woods that the heroes have specified. In an attempt to scout, Brand's men surround Payn and the rest of the party is drawn out from hiding. Valanduil recommends that the companions surrender, but Bartarius is loath to do so and makes it quite clear by insulting the war-jarl Brand. Eventually, Valanduil convinces the angry Northman to lay down his arms and face the "justice" of the Jarl they have offended.

After laying out their case, Brand declares that the heroes must pay 400 pieces of silver by way of wergild--which they do-- and that Bartarius must receive 75 lashes for his insolence. This is dire news to the proud Northman and his companions, yet they have no choice at this point but to submit. Bartarius is severely beaten, a very humiliating experience for the strong-willed warrior. Finally, Brand declares that the heroes are forever after banished from the lands of the Hildolfar. This is a blow to Malcall, who can never again return home. Yet Brand returns the captured items of the heroes. Moreover, they are permitted to visit with the Seer Gunnar, who informs them that about 100 years ago Frost Giants stole the Stone of Silence from the village; he gives them a map to the lair of the creatures, about 3 days North up into the mountains. The group immediately sets off; they are able to find the general location of the lair with little trouble.

Chapter Two- Seeking the Stone

26th of Hest, 8170 F.R.

On the way, Payn acquires a new companion-- a noble eagle of the mountains. This new friend scouts ahead on the approach to the giants' home and finds that one giant is hidden in ambush in case anyone tries to attack the lair. The party elects to attempt to enter the lair under cover of silence and invisibility spells and steal the Stone without having to fight the beasts. Venturing inside, the heroes find that there are many giants, and the approach to where they believe the Stone lies is guarded by three winter wolves, who will certainly detect the invisible heroes by scent and alert the giants. They also find three ogre slaves, and ingeniously imitating an evil spirit sent by The Dark Will, Bartarius learns that there is a hydra that also lurks within the giants' home. Moreover, they discover that they creatures are led by the self-styled Jarl of frost giants, one Gungir. This evil giant is supposedly attempting to unite the giants of the mountains in order to supply an army to heed the command of the Dark Will, which is to join and reinforce the army approaching from the East. It is equally possible, however, that this giant might be attempting to gather an army simply for his own selfish purpose or glory. Overwhelmed and thoughtful, the adventurers retire from the lair to their camp to contemplate their next move.

They decide to stalk and kill the giant that they learned was out hunting. Payn tracks him a great distance, and the group manages to surprise and kill the giant and his two Winter Wolves with little trouble. Payn discovers that the arrows he fires from his magical bow immolate automatically; this is a great help against the icy creatures. Reasoning that the other Jotun will send out a party to seek the missing giant, the heroes hide along the path that the giants will surely take. Within three days, Payn's eagle companion alerts the group to the presence of three giants. They ambush the party of Jotun, but this time the fight is more difficult. Still they manage to slay the giants. At this rate, the group figures, they may be able to kill the population of the fortress by ones and twos. Once again they decide to set an ambush.

Soon more giants come-- three more, along with a winter wolf and three ogres. The group decides that this is too formidable a band and lets it pass, seizing on the idea of attacking the fortress while these giants are away. They plan to ambush two giants guarding the gate, using a silence spell, and then flee. Arriving at the gate, however, their plan goes awry, as nearly every one of the heroes is wounded, although they manage to dispatch the guards, but not before one winds a huge horn. Figuring that their element of surprise is lost, the party begins to flee at top speed but they are pursued by two more giants, one of whom is the mighty leader Gungir himself! Reasoning that they will be run down and killed, with grave misgivings the party turns to fight. It is in fact there toughest fight to date, but with swords swinging, arrows flying and spells exploding, the party manages to cut the two giants down by the skin of their teeth. They are all heavily wounded and bleeding profusely, and Tharivol has been cut down and is near death. Payn's eagle has also been killed.

The rest of the party wants to retire to recuperate, Valanduil insists on building a stretcher for Tharivol, but the thought of spoils and the Stone of Silence compels Bartarius to bravely-- or rashly-- venture back into the hold alone. There he uses his bardic abilities to sneak by the last giant, the female cook. He is nearly frozen by the icy breath of the tethered hydra, but he manages to find the treasure room of the giants. Guarded by several dangerous traps that he avoids, he finds much treasure-- and an empty pedestal. He also finds a clue: a slashed Elven backpack and an Elven short sword. The backpack is full of documents written in Elven, as well as a map of the continent. Taking the treasures, Bartarius arrives back at the foyer of the fortress, to find the group preparing to be slain by the giantess, who they are attempting to talk to but are merely managing to enrage. They have learned, however, that the Stone was stolen from the giants soon after the got it, by an elf that looks much like Valanduil. Valanduil cannot help but think of the "Hermit Elf of the Black Wood," for this is indeed the second time he has been mistaken for him. Because Bartarius has previously influenced the giantess, the party is able to back out without a fight, and Bartarius is able to go back in for a chest of silver. The heroes finally manage to retire to their chilly camp, contemplating their next step and fearing the party of giants and ogres that are unaccounted for and which they are in no shape to fight.

The next day, after a great deal of pondering, the party decides to head back towards Svenheim, but stop and set an ambush for the remaining giants once they reach a safe spot where they can heal. Yet they spot a giant on the way back and take off running at full speed, not stopping until they are far from the evil hold. They hole up in a cave to recuperate and see if any giants come; none do, so they begin the return trip to Svenheim.

The party is ambushed in the wilderness by a large group of Worgs, but they manage to make short work of them. Still, it is evidence that the Dark Will is still at work on the evil creatures of the land. Upon arriving in Svenheim, Malcall enters the village from whence he has been banned; Bjarn allows him to say goodbye to his parents and to retrieve the group's horses. The Jarl has nothing against Malcall, but fears Brand's wrath. Valanduil had also formerly pieced together the belief that the Hermit Elf of the Black Wood might be one Balthinal of House Levan, or Coress, as he was called by his companions; "Coress" means "honeytongued" in Elvish. This powerful Shadow Walker, formerly the second in command under Leanorfin of House Arduval, set out to find the Stone of Silence approximately 100 years ago. Could it be that he found it but chose not to bring it back to the elves? Malcall therefore questions Bjarn about his knowledge of this elf on behalf of Valanduil. Bjarn reveals that he knows little about the rumored Hermit elf of the Black Wood, but that they might consider going to a Hofvarar village called Samsen, that lies at the edge of the Black Wood. If anyone knows anything about it, Bjarn reasons, the residents of this village might know. Thus, reequipped with horses, the heroes set out to the West along the road that connects the lands of the Wolf Tribe with the Lands of the Elk tribe.

Chapter Three- Into the Heart of Darkness

18th of Jans, 8170 F.R.

After many days journey, as well as stops in the villages of Lotz and Vilstand, the travelers arrive at the shore of the Elk Lake and the village of Kattenholt. After some wise use of spare coin, the party is welcomed into the village. There they learn that the residents of this town look strangely upon the village of Samsen, which lies some 15 miles across the lake. It seems that the people of Samsen sometimes raid the people of Kattenholt, stealing their women. There has been peace between the two towns for ten years, but a mutual distrust reigns. Nonetheless, the heroes are able to procure a barge to take them to Samsen-- for the right price.

Arriving in the strange village, the group immediately learns, again through the generous use of coin, that the real person of note in the town is one Konrad Josevson, a powerful merchant. Yet the merchant seems to take no notice of either good or bad; he is concerned only with his business and with money. He is also strange for a barbarian: his clothes are immaculate, he wears a white cloak, and he can write in Kelevan! Indeed, he keeps careful books. He also immediately recognizes the two elves, although they are disguised as Malcall's servants. By this, the heroes infer that he knows something of this Coress, who the heroes think may live in the Black Wood and possess the Stone. In fact, they soon learn that Konrad does indeed know Coress, and that Coress does live in the Wood, along with a lackey and admirer called Rostand the Motley. The merchant is quite eager to talk of the elf, calling him "remarkable" and "extraordinary." He expresses admiration for his seemingly never-ending supply of money. He tells the heroes that it is his business to supply Coress with anything he needs, for which he is handsomely paid. They heroes attempt to bargain with Konrad to send them, along with a guide, to Coress. After some more coins exchange hands, Konrad agrees, but since he is also resupplying the heroes, they will not be leaving for 4 days.

Soon the four days have passed, and the heroes set out into the heart of the dark forest, led by a shifty-eyed employee of Konrad's named Lodene Olafson. The forest is a fell and awe-inspiring place, since the bark on the trees is dark, and the trees crowd close together, obscuring the view in all directions. Now, in the midst of summer, the canopy blocks out the sky and changes the quality of the light, lending a dream-like green pallor to the vision. Vines, like the tentacles of Octopi, drape down from the leaves as if the companions are traveling through the bottom of some dim ocean rather than a forest. Journeying into this wood is like a journey into another dimension, or a journey into each individual's private psyche; it certainly seems no normal forest, the heroes think. Still they press on-- yet Valanduil suspects that Konrad has taken the opportunity to send word ahead to Coress to warn him of the heroes' coming. Intimidating their guide, the group learns that this is indeed true. They also learn things more sinister, namely that Coress periodically has young girls shipped by Konrad into the center of the black wood-- girls who are never seen again. He also has nearly the entire population of Spider-people, called Ettercaps, that inhabit the forest under his thrall; they worship him as a god.

The heroes soon come to the first "station," where lives another agent of Konrad's. The group turns down his hospitality and presses on. Yet they are ambushed by poisonous Spider-people-- Ettercaps-- who shoot sticky webs. They are able to defeat them with little trouble, but they do anticipate trouble securing the Stone from this peculiar elf, who, as a Shadow Walker, can step into the shadoworld and disappear completely. Nevertheless, they have no choice but to continue into the heart of darkness.

Pressing on, the heroes arrive at a marshy, boggy clearing wherein lies a large stagnant lake. On the shore of the lake are several small huts, as well as some ettercap heads on stakes. The heroes are greeted by a strange figure, one Rostand the Motley. He is clearly a Kelerite, and he reveals himself as a former resident of West-of-Sky, but his current life is one of hero-worship. Rostand says that he willingly serves Coress, because Coress has opened his mind to ideas and concepts that he has never considered, concepts that he feels he could have learned nowhere else. Although Coress has no particular fondness towards him, Rostand reveals that he occasionally speaks with him about philosophy, reads one of his poems to him, or allows him to see one of his paintings. Rostand just "hangs around the fringe, hoping to catch some of Coress' table-scraps," and he recommends that the heroes do the same. More ominously, he also points towards the woods, which are beginning to teem with Ettercaps, and intones that Coress could kill them all any time he wants.

Suddenly the massing Ettercaps attack. Rostand declaims that Coress must want the heroes dead, and thus he also attacks the party, and proves to be a powerful wizard. He launches a large fireball into the group, severally injuring Payn and Valanduil, and felling Tharivol, although the elven cleric does not die. The hapless Lodene is slain. Fierce battle is joined--all the more fierce, when a huge evil spider, with swords for legs, bursts from the lake and surprises the group. Yet the onslaught of the heroes is even more terrible, and the battle is nearly won when suddenly from out of the shadows steps an elf who strangely resembles Valanduil, although he is clad in a strange armor seemingly made out of shadow: the long-sought Balthinal "Coress" of House Levan. This is indeed the individual for whom the companions have been looking, for he is holding in his hand a one-foot high stone, skillfully wrought out of black obsidian into the shape of a tear; Valanduil's eyes widen as he beholds the object which plays a large role in his life's Doom: the Stone of Silence.

Battle ceases upon the arrival of this figure. Valanduil and Bartarius immediately attempt to flatter and reason with Coress, but the fallen elf is more interested in expounding his philosophy. He states that great power, like that granted by an artifact like the Stone of Silence, or might simply garnered through great prowess in battle, represents freedom from consequences. When one is free from consequences, this freedom creates a "window into the heart of elves and men," Coress explains. And upon looking through this window, one discovers that elves and men are no different--they have a heart of darkness. This is a shock and an outrage to Valanduil, who has great faith in the intrinsic goodness of the Elven race. The perceptive Coress, however, asks Bartarius if he doesn't agree, if he and Bartarius are not strangely akin, similar in many ways. Surprisingly, Bartarius does agree; he admits that he too has felt the corrupting influence that comes with great power. Indeed, what does this say about human elven nature? All the while, however, the wily Northman is inching closer to Coress. Suddenly, Bartarius attempts to sing in order to weave his bardic spell and entrance Coress, but he is immediately and inextricably silenced, apparently by the power of the Stone. Yet Bartarius bravely takes this opportunity to attack the elf, risking that the fallen Shadow Walker may step into the shadows and disappear with the artifact. Yet the attempt is successful as the strong Northman overbears the elf and takes him to the ground; yet Coress does not loose his grip on the Stone. Payn immediately joins the grapple, helping to pin the elf to the earth. Malcall attacks Rostand who stands near. Immediately Valanduil draws his sword and strikes the Stone, knocking it from Coress' hand! Meanwhile Malcall is facing the might of the strange, motley wizard, who summons a nightmare to slay Malcall with pure fear. Yet the barbarian resists the spell--barely--and again attacks the wizard.

Nearby, the grapple is broken as Coress escapes and flees around the corner of the nearest hut, while Payn dives for the Stone, and Bartarius goes to help Malcall. Having to make a decision, Valanduil pursues the fallen elf rather than attempting to contend with Payn for the artifact; this will prove to be a decision that will cause the son of Curufin much woe over the next few weeks. Payn retrieves the Stone, but Coress has jumped through the shadows and retrieved his sword. The Shadow Walker attacks Payn with great ferocity, attempting to slay him to recover his precious Stone. The ranger is in great danger, for it seems the might of the artifact and Coress' long possession of it has strengthened the shadow armor of the elf, obscuring his form and making it very difficult to deal him a telling blow. Soon Bartarius and Malcall, who has dispatched the wizard, and then Valanduil surround Coress, yet the heroes are barely more successful at hitting the elf because of his shadow armor. He almost slays Payn, who is forced to retreat, when the companions finally grow used to the obscuring shadow surrounding the elf, and begin smiting him with fierce attacks. Severely wounded, Coress again flees, this time for good, but he does not get far. The magic of Valanduil strikes him down as he runs. Coress slumps against a tree and dies. His final words are "the horror, the horror." Valanduil briefly ponders what this utterance means, but soon his attention turns to the Stone.

Payn has recovered the artifact and deposited it in his bag of holding. Valanduil demands that he hand it over immediately, as the artifact rightly belongs to the Elves. Yet Payn mistrusts the elf's demeanor and refuses to hand over the Stone; he reasons that he is probably the least prone to any possibility of corruption by the artifact. The ranger is supported in this decision by Bartarius. Thus a rift is created in the party because of the artifact. During the long journey back to Dragonspur the rift only grows wider, as Valanduil and Tharivol withdraw from the party more and more, traveling with them but refusing to heal or create food for the humans. Tempers flare, and the party nearly comes to blows; Bartarius and Valanduil even exchange spells. No love is lost between the former friends and companions, and racial tensions run high. Yet they continue onward at a forced march, fearing that Dragonspur City may already have fallen.

Once again back in the more southerly lands, the heroes pass Wyvernia and meet a group of refugees on the road. It seems that the minions of Afej the Black have taken Hometon, a mere 40 miles from Dragonspur, and hold all of the roads west. Yet they have not yet attacked the Spur it seems. Pressing on, Payn leads the party through secret ways in the forest to Dragonspur. Although the heroes meet with and dispatch two small Orcish patrols, which bear the mark of Afej on their helmets, they really meet no real external threat. The true threat comes from the dissension within the group. Arriving in the city, the heroes take council before Lord Naglor, Court High Mage Yedus, and Overgeneral Weston Ack-Elmor. They learn that the hour is indeed dark, for the forces of the Lord of Sloth, led by Brathelathor, the newly re-summoned Lord of Lust, have crossed the Border River at Stone Ford and rest only some 75 to 100 miles to the East of the city. With the roads to the west held, there is no hope of reinforcements. The party reveals that they have returned in the nick of time baring the artifact that represents great hope of victory for the city. Yet they can't agree who should hold the Stone. Naglor orders that Yedus get the Stone in order to study it and perhaps wield it. It shall be returned to Valanduil and the Elven race once the city is safe. This is unacceptable to the elves. There is much argument, but finally the party agrees that the Stone should be turned over to Valanduil, who will be held under guard in the Spur Fortress, with Tharivol, while he studies it. Valanduil, if he learns its secrets, will wield it in defense of the city, and ostensibly be allowed to depart when the danger is past. Until then, though, whether or not he can come and go freely is in question. Bartarius is granted a Lordship by Naglor, but called into service as a commander in the imminent battle. Payn and Malcall are released to their manor in the city, with promise that Payn will soon be called upon to fulfill his duties as a Knight of Dragonspur. The heroes, temporarily separated, prepare to fulfill their respective duties as the hour of battle draws near.

Chapter Four- The Power of the Stone

6th of Reos, 8170 F.R.

With battle looming, Payn is named Lord Knight of Dragonspur and given command of a battalion, the First Longsworders. Lt. General Hubert Ack-Humphrey tells Payn that his first duty will be to guard the Overgate west of the city against any possible attack from the forces of Afej. Payn agrees and, taking Malcall, goes to meet his troops. They take an immediate liking to Payn's down-to-earth attitude and willingly accept him as a leader. They take up their guard station. Their first day of duty is an eventful one, however, for soon they receive word from their outer scouts that 20 horsemen are approaching at break-neck speed. The First Longsworders take up a battle stance, but Payn soon realizes that the horsemen are the Woodsmen, the guardian rangers of Bestraville, a group of which Payn is a member. The grizzled woodsmen greats his fellows, especially one of his oldest friends, the leader of the Woodsmen, Taren. But there is little time for a reunion, as 75 Afejian cavalrymen are hot in pursuit of the Woodsmen, and when the see the infantry guardsmen, the heavily armored cavalrymen charge! They battle is fierce and bloody, but short, as Payn and Malcall inspire the Spurites to new heights of fighting prowess and soon those of the enemy who aren't slain or taken prisoner flee. Payn finally has a chance to speak to Taren, who reveals that the forcers of Afej hold the road and lands to the West and the woodsmen were barely able to escape. Taren wishes to offer the services of the rangers and wishes Payn to take his place as the new leader of the ranger group. Payn is honored and Taren becomes his second-in-command. The rangers join the rest of The First Longsworders.

Several days pass, with Bartarius making preparations for the imminent invasion, Payn and Malcall guarding the gate, and Valanduil studying the Stone of Silence. Soon the heroes are summoned to an emergency war-council. Present at the council are Lord High Mayor Naglor, Lord Yedus, Overgeneral Weston Ack-Elmor, one Lord Tobiath Agath, a hearty soldier named Lord Knight John Culwyn, and an old friend--Fundin Northammer . They receive word that the forces of the Lord of Sloth, in concert with what appears to be the Lord of Lust according to his banner, have encamped five miles outside the Spur and are preparing to attack. They wish to take council on what to do. They inform the heroes that the force is led by one of the best generals of the Lord of Sloth, Lord Dargon Skullcrusher, an ogre-mage. He also has 500 goblin worg-riders. Worse, he has four Wyvern Riders that the troops are afraid to face. Valanduil says that he believes he will be able to use the Stone of Silence to aid the Spurite forces in defeating the Lord of Lust's troops, but he reminds those present that the Stone can never be used for attack or it will disappear. Naglor asks Payn and Malcall to slay the Wyverns and their riders. The two agree but despair of their chances to kill all three. Admiring their fighting courage, Sir Culwyn agrees to go with them. Tharivol, who is present, agrees to forsake protecting Valanduil and go to provide healing. Yedus sends his two best battlemages and star pupils along, the wizards Cedric and Sheila. He stresses, however, that the heroes must do all in their power to make sure that these mages return alive, as they are teachers in the mage college and will be able to lend a great deal of troop support in the upcoming battle. Next the Lords and the heroes decide how to deal with the rest of the troops; they finally decide to take up an entirely defensive position on the other side of a copse of trees, where the enemy will be bottle-necked as he passes the forest. Fundin will provide 200 heavily armored dwarves. In a few days, the armies are in position.

Soon an enemy diplomat, Lord O'Harris, is spotted approaching the Spurite troops. He demands unconditional surrender and promises that the Lord of Lust will treat the populace with mercy. His demands are summarily refused, and battle is to be joined. But the plan has not worked out as hoped, for the wily Lord Skullcrusher has secretly sent the flanks of his army through the trees, giving his entire army room to maneuver and eliminating any potential bottle-neck. Like the voice of hell, low-pitched orc horns are sounded and the enemy forces charge, the howls of the worgs and the spine-shivering screams of the orc seeming to bode doom for the heavily outnumbered troops of the Spur. In the first charge, Payn, Malcall, and the troop designated to meet the Wyverns make short work of a section of the enemy line with magic. This indeed attracts the attention of three Wyvern-Riders, who swoop down to eliminate this obvious threat. Yet the threat is fiercer than they had imagined. Forced by the deadly bows of Payn and Malcall to engage in hand-to-hand melee, the group deals blow after deadly blow to the dangerous mounts and their riders. Yet the Wyvern-fighters give as good as they get, and the deadly poison of the Wyverns slays both of the battlemages as well as Lord Knight Culwyn before Payn, Malcall, and Tharivol can slay the beasts and their masters. Deeply troubled by the deaths of their companions and wondering where the fourth Wyvern Rider is, the companions retreat before the renewed charge of the enemy army. Meanwhile, with Overgeneral Ack-Elmor on a vantage point atop a two-story house, Valanduil attempts to unlock the power of the Stone to aid the beleaguered Spurite troops. He concentrates and wrestles to bring the untamed and vast power of the Stone under his control, but the magic is too much for him, and his time of study has been too short. He fails to operate the Stone of Silence. This is grim news. Yet, seemingly miraculously, the efforts of the Spurite troops, inspired to new heights of ferocity and bravery by their commanders, especially Payn and Bartarius, surprise the enemy forces, who disengage after a brief foray with little loss to both sides. Once again Lord O'Harris rides out to request surrender, but this time his demands are met with fierce shouts and jeers from the entrenched Dragonspur forces. With a snarl he rides back to his line, and soon the huge and fell army of darkness charges anew.

Again Valanduil bends all of his magical prowess and concentration on controlling the Stone-- and again the amazing dweomers locked within the artifact elude him. He fails miserably at controlling the Stone and gives up, his self-confidence shaken. Sweat pours down his face and his hands tremble as he looks out over the seen of combat, for surely the Spurite troops can not again fend off the attack. They are outnumbered more than 3 to 1. Yet the gods must be smiling on the just cause of Dragonspur, for the defenders beat back the enemy forces and drive them from the field without the power of the Stone as the sun sets. Yet the respite is only temporary, for the Spurites have taken losses and are fatigued, and the numbers of the enemy are still very great. Soon all heads are bent in despair; without the power of the Stone, the attack on the morrow will certainly spell the end for the Dragonspur troops.

As the sun rises bloodily over the field of battle, the third assault begins. Immediately Valanduil focuses on the Stone as Bartarius blows his horn of office and leads a charge to meet the Orcish onslaught. Yet this time Valanduil is amazingly successful; concentrating on the Stone, he feels as if a lock has been opened, and the power of the Stone, like nothing he has ever felt before, flows through him. He commands the artifact to protect the Dragonspur forces, and it does so. On the field, Payn and Malcall notice that the blows of the enemy are suddenly unable to find their targets, while the strikes of the defending troops are unerringly guided home. With the bravery of the Spurites buttressed by the powerful magic of the Stone of Silence, the forces of the Spur trounce the enemy army and drive them from the field. Several enemy commanders have been slain, including Lord O'Harris, but the enemy is not routed and their numbers are now equal to those of the defenders; their morale, though, is badly shaken.

While the enemy is fleeing, however, the fourth Wyvern rider stoops on Valanduil and the General, having spotted Valanduil concentrating on the Stone from aloft. When he attacks, Valanduil attempts to use the artifact to turn the Wyvern to stone and almost succeeds. The beast is able to resist the magic, however, and the battle is taking a turn for the worst when Tharivol manages to temporarily blind the uruk orc riding the winged creature. The pair flee, winging their way back to the camp of the Lord of Lust. The heroes have won, but the evil army is not yet fully defeated, although it seems that their ultimate defeat is imminent. The worst part, however, is that Valanduil fears the presence of the Stone may now be known to the enemy.

Arriving back at the encampment, the heroes face Yedus and his disappointment in the deaths of the battlemages he entrusted to them. Feeling guilty, the heroes agree to contribute a substantial amount of their personal money to have Cedric raised. The group also learns that the family of Sir John Culwyn is paying to have him raised from the dead. The party takes a break for several days, undertaking some personal business, while Bartarius learns that the forces of Afej have taken a menacing stance to the West of the city, and he moves 500 of his best troops to meet and defend against any possible attack from that quarter. Soon a messenger arrives with a message from the forces of the Lord of Sloth--the enemy generals want to meet to discuss terms of surrender. Payn goes and questions a captured Zelandish prisoner, hoping to learn about the plans of General Skullcrusher. He does indeed learn much: that Skullcrusher is known for his brutality and his cunning, and that his fortress is the Troll Pits of Hestor in Zeland, where he breeds all sorts of fell trolls and other dark folk. The ranger inquires about why the humans, who so obviously outnumber the orcs in Zeland, do not rebel, and the prisoner states that Skullcrusher's reputation is one deterrent, and that the Lord of Sloth has a slothful effect that extends for miles around his person, eliminating the will to rebel in any would-be conspirators. Unfortunately, the prisoners are not any more knowledgeable about General Skullcrusher personally. Fortified with this new knowledge, the heroes agree to meet, and being authorized by Naglor to undertake negotiations on behalf of the city, they set off with Lt. General Hughbert Ack-Humphrey and a diplomat, Lord Ash Lovelace (it seems that the city's foremost diplomat, Lord White, is still imprisoned in Wyvernia). Hoping to work out a treaty that would perpetually bar the Lord of Lust from the soil of Kelerak and forever prevent aggression on behalf of Zeland, the party (minus Valanduil, who cannot risk bringing the Stone into enemy hands, but who also will not be parted from it) meets the enemy diplomats on neutral ground.

But the meeting is a ruse, as the enemy seems more interested in learning about the Elves and the whereabouts of Valanduil. Apparently they have some idea that Valanduil possesses great magic. When Tharivol steps forward to speak on behalf of the Elves, the enemy attacks from ambush: three invisible trolls, one exceptionally large, leap forward and attack with great ferocity. Worse, the Ogre Mage General Lord Dargon Skullcrusher drops his magical disguise and attacks the group with a ferocious wave of bone-chilling cold. The attack is sudden and dangerous, and Payn and Malcall are taken aback, but the real surprise comes when the Lord of Lust himself, disguised as one of the enemy generals, enters the battle. Malcall, ignoring attacks from the large troll, focuses all of his might on the Lord of Sin, and to that demon's surprise, nearly succeeds in slaying him on the spot! The Lord of Lust flees in cowardice. But the undefended attacks from the troll are telling, and Malcall is nearly slain; in fact, this is perhaps the closest to death he has ever come; the Northman flees. Payn is also severely injured, but his bow and flashing sword manage to beat back the enemy temporarily, before the ranger too is forced to flee on the heels of Malcall. Seizing the opportunity, the Ogre Mage strikes Tharivol down and manages to capture the still-living elf and bare him back to the enemy fortifications. The remaining heroes, along with the Spurite general and diplomat, escape with their lives, but only barely. It is a dark day.

Valanduil is devastated by the news of the loss of his bosom friend Tharivol. The thought that so many potentially blissful days in Faerie could be lost because of this treachery is almost too much for the son of Curufin to bear. But he has deeper fears as well, for the longer the Elven cleric is in the hands of the enemy, the more potential secrets about the Stone of Silence will be revealed. With nothing to do, the heroes await word from the enemy. Their message is not long in coming, surprisingly. Perhaps the enemy is eager to get their hands on the Stone. The message is only this: that Valanduil must come and exchange himself for Tharivol. Valanduil, after much soul-searching and turmoil, makes a decision; he goes and eloquently entreats Naglor for permission to be at the designated spot. He plans to bring his companions, minus Bartarius who is too important to the defense of the city to be spared, to fight for Tharivol's life. Naglor, persuaded by Valanduil's sincerity--he is ready to lay down his life for his friend--nevertheless reminds the Elhan that he bears the Stone of Silence on his person and if it falls into enemy hands it could mean the end of any possibility of further resistance to the Dark Occupation forever after. Darkness will fall again, and this time permanently. Valanduil now has his second difficult decision to make, and this one too is agonizing; he knows he cannot rightfully bring the Stone into danger, but in his heart he doesn't wish to be parted from it, and besides he knows not where to leave it. After wracking his brain, the elf decides to leave it with his old friend Bartarius. Valanduil makes the journey to Bartarius' encampment, and offers the Stone to him temporarily, asking for a treasured item from the Northman as collateral. But Bartarius refuses and tells the Son of Curufin to give him the Stone with no more assurance than his word that he will return it. Valanduil is shocked, angered, and saddened, and refuses Outelion's request. He finally decides to secretly bury the Stone, which is quite a risky proposition, for if anyone finds it, it could be forever lost.

The heroes are now ready to go to their bloody fight, but they still fear that they do not have enough firepower to win, for only Valanduil, Payn, and Malcall can go. Yet unexpectedly Ragnor Ack-Rohan, Malcall's old friend, offers his service in this coming battle. The heroes gladly accept and make their way to the field with all but Valanduil invisible. There they find Tharivol under the guard of several Uruk-Hai orcs, and the Elven cleric seems injured. The heroes attack and find--as they expected--that there are enemy reinforcement lying in wait, including two trolls, Dargon Skullcrusher, and the remaining Wyvern Rider. Yet the attack of the heroes is ferocious, and this time it is the enemy who is taken off guard. Yet as they are beaten, the evil troops spitefully slay the imprisoned Tharivol. Equally unfortunate, the long and storied tale of Ragnor Ack-Rohan also comes to an end, as Lord Skullcrusher strikes him down and slays him before escaping himself, alone. All of the other enemy warriors, and the wyvern, are slain. The heroes, only partly successful, grieve for the fallen and bear their bodies back to the city.

Chapter Five-- Swords and Subterfuge

25th of Reos, 8170 F.R.

Valanduil immediately brings the body of Tharivol to Payn's temple, the sanctuary of Bestra, even though the elf desires strongly to first go retrieve the Stone. At the temple, the heroes learn that the priestess will raise Tharivol for 900 silvers, which is a bargain. Valanduil leaves his magical blade, the Sword of Celuthiel, as collateral and goes to retrieve the money and the Stone. Malcall goes with him. On the way, however, a strange event occurs: the two heroes meet a creature that looks much like a man, but half the size! Valanduil remembers some legends pertaining to these creatures, that they are rare and live far to the east. The site of one in the Spur triggers his curiosity and thus he invites the creature, one Fulito Fulito Ferrywarden, back to the mansion of the heroes upon the morrow. The halfling accepts and seems glad of the offer.

The two continue on and retrieve the Stone. Valanduil goes on to retrieve his spell books and other items, which he left with Naglor, while Payn goes out to a parlay with the forces of the Lord of Lust to discuss terms of their surrender. The enemy diplomat asks for more time, however, and says he will be willing to discuss terms in five days. Payn is forced to agree. Upon learning the news, Naglor declares that they must have a war-council to discuss their next step, and Valanduil agrees to meet the next day. Meanwhile he returns to the mansion and there finds an extremely peculiar site: Malcall eating a strange pastry called "waffles" and attempting to make clumsy small-talk with the halfling, he has made himself at home in the kitchen and is involved in cooking up a batch of waffles that seems large enough to feed an army. Payn is silently eating at Malcall's side and eyeing the small man with obvious amusement. After introductions, the halfling explains that he has lived in Dragonspur about six months. He and his halfling wife Lily left their home, the Shire called West Delving, in the foothills of the Grand Peaks, and after much wandering, found themselves in Dragonspur. There he tried to earn a living and support his wife, but with the bad economy he found it difficult so he innocently took up "borrowing" some things he needed to feed his family. But he has run afoul lately of the infamous Corfin, head of the Thieves' guild. It seems this boss thief has been trying to strong arm him into "working for the guild" and paying the guild 30 silvers a week. Of course, this is outright extortion, and to make matters worth, Corfin's thugs Paulie One-Tooth and Christopher, have threatened the life of Fulito's wife if he doesn't join. Fulito explains that he feels lucky the heroes have asked him over, for he wants their help in dealing with Corfin, and he offers his services as a cook (and a borrower) as payment. Malcall and Payn, hating Corfin and seeming to take a mascot-like liking to the halfling and wish to help, but Valanduil is not sure. He reasons that the party can't help every individual in the city on their own terms, and moreover he is not sure that the party can trust the little man. Nonetheless, pressured by the other two, Valanduil agrees to take Fulito with the group on their visit to the Spur Fortress to show the Lord Mayor the odd creature who has taken up residence in his city and to offer the little creature's services to Naglor as a cook in Payn's regiment.

Arriving at the meeting, Naglor is surprised that Valanduil would bring the halfling along, although he is indeed curious about him. He tells a guard to escort the halfling to Payn's regiment while the Lords meet to discuss the fate of Dragonspur. Fulito, however, gives the guard the slip and, eager to prove himself, sneaks back into the meeting and hides behind a tapestry in a shadowy corner to overhear the discussion. Valanduil explains that he has heard from Tharivol that the Lord of Lust knows of the Stone of Silence and has sent for The Eye so that they might attempt to recover the item. Naglor reveals that the troops of the Lord of Lust, much diminished and nearly beaten, have dug-in and fortified five miles from the city and seem to be waiting for something. Suddenly, the small creature leaps out to reveal himself and ask a question about the plans of the city, to the shock of all the Lords! Naglor and Valanduil want to clap the halfling in chains as a spy. Fulito, having to backpedal and still desperate to prove himself, ironically offers his service to Naglor. He says that he is small enough to disguise himself as a goblin and to sneak into the enemy camp to find out what the army is waiting for. Valanduil is strongly against this and warns that not only is it a very dangerous mission, but that the Lords can't be sure that they can trust the halfling at all! Bartarius, however, gleefully points out that the halfling eluded the sharp eyes of the elf, and perhaps they should let him go. If he is captured, reasons the Northman, he doesn't really know any damaging secrets about the city. Payn supports Bartarius' reasoning and agrees to take the little creature to the Valley River, where he can sneak across to the enemy camp. Fulito succeeds in crossing several of the enemy lines and avoiding many enemy guards, but when he tries to peak under the very tent of the Lord of Lust himself, his luck runs out and he is spotted and captured. Charmed by the demonic Lord, he reveals everything he knows about the plans of the heroes, as well as the exact address of their mansion. Brathelathor then releases him to return in disgrace to his new friends, but keeps his belongings, which he promises to return to the mansion in three days. However, General Dargoth and a party of orcs follow him back to the River; they attack Payn when he swims his horse across to retrieve the halfling, although the ranger and Malcall manage to fend off the attack. Fulito reveals that he was ensorcelled and has failed the party. There is nothing that the heroes can do but wait for the off chance that the Lord of Lust really is planning something for three days hence.

In the meantime, Malcall and Payn succumb to the little fellow's pleas for help and go with him into the rough part of town to an appointed meeting with Corfin's thugs. There the bullies try to intimidate the trio, but Payn and Malcall's flashing swords dissuade them, almost killing their leader Paulie One-Tooth. In fact, Malcall makes a point to knock out the thug's last tooth. The heroes send the rogue's running in fear of their might with a warning to leave Fulito and Lily alone.

Finally the appointed day arrives. The heroes clear the mansion and wait in the servant's house. Soon their wait is over, as the magical spell that Payn has cast alerts him to the presence of intruders in the house. The heroes confront the demonic vulture-demons, who make a beeline for Valanduil--they are apparently seeking the Stone. The demons prove very difficult to injure, as they have deceptive magic and are immune to most attacks. Indeed, in trying to injure them in a fiery blast--which is not successful--Valanduil accidentally sets the house on fire. The heroes ultimately manage to slay the creatures after much hardship, and Malcall uses his magical Frost Brand sword Angrim to put out the fire before it can spread to neighboring houses. The mansion of the heroes, however, is severally damaged. Cursing the Lord of Lust and fearing the arrival of the eye, the Lords of the West prepare to leave tomorrow to meet the enemy diplomats and discuss their surrender.

Meanwhile, Bartarius returns to the mansion and finds it in ruins. Cursing, he heads towards the farmhouse, where he finds Payn, Valanduil, Malcall, and Tharivol. He is surprised to see Tharivol alive and demands to know where the money for his resurrection was found. He and Valanduil argue over that and the bill for the burned house, for which Bartarius holds Valanduil responsible. Both parties end the conversation at odds. The next day the group (minus Fulito, who is watching over his wife lest Corfin's thugs return) goes to meet the diplomats of the Lord of Sloth and discuss surrender terms. Yet nothing can be discussed, for Bartarius aggressively threatens the diplomat, Lord Sean O' Kennedy, after the party senses evil in the area. The meeting degenerates into all-out combat, and the diplomat flees. Heading back to a meeting, Bartarius and Payn tell Lord High Mayor Naglor that they feared they would be attacked because of the evil presence and because of the past ambushes on the part of the Lord of Lust, and thus decided to strike first. Valanduil, however, states calmly that he feels that Bartarius violated the diplomatic laws of war, but he does agree that there was an evil presence in the vicinity. Naglor absolves Bartarius of blame, and decides to reconvene the meeting in several days after he sends a missive to the enemy troops that demands their surrender in no uncertain terms.

When the next meeting comes, the heroes can tell by the faces of Naglor and Yedus that something is amiss. Immediately, the leaders of the city throw down a letter for the group to read. The note is from The Eye of the Wintervale, the evil adventuring group led by the assassin Bolg-Gatha; this group nearly defeated the heroes before, and recovered the Mirror of the Abyss from under their noses. The note ignores the demands of Naglor and makes its own demands. The letter, authored by the wizard Khadufel the Southerner states that Naglor and Yedus must surrender the city within one month's time, that Bartarius, Malcall, and Valanduil must be handed over as war prisoners, and that the Stone of Silence must be surrendered. The Stone and the "prisoners" are to be exchanged at the recently ruined town of Cambury at twilight two days hence. Curiously, the letter stipulates that only The Eye will be present at the sight. It states that if the demands are not met, the evil group will go on a campaign of assassination and terror, killing innocents and soldiers stealthily and indiscriminately. Sensing that the Eye seems to want a showdown, the heroes swear to rise to the challenge and meet them--alone. Yet this is likely to be a deadly battle for one or more of their number, and the party knows it. Thus Valanduil leaves the Stone with Naglor. Grimly and solemnly they then retire to heal, rest, and prepare for the battle.

Chapter Six-- Life and Death

13th of Flame, 8170 F.R.

The two days pass quickly. Arriving at the site of the possible battle, the heroes see a dark-skinned middle-aged man leaning on a staff in the middle of the army-trampled street of Cambury. Valanduil engages in negotiations with the figure, who the barbarian and ranger recognize as Khadufel, all the while expecting an ambush. And it comes all too soon--Malcall and Payn hear a stealthy footstep behind Bartarius, who has stepped behind a ruined building, and they shout to warn Bartarius, but it is too late. The huge hobgoblin assassin Bolg-Gatha appears behind Bartarius, and with a move like a striking adder, he plunges his envenomed dagger through a weak spot in Bartarius' armor and deep into his kidney. With a strangled cry, the mighty warrior, hero and liberator of Dragonspur, is slain. The group is thunderstruck, and Malcall goes on a rampage straight for Bolg-Gatha. Yet the hobgoblin whispers a word of magic and inky darkness descends, allowing him to escape momentarily. Then the red orc ranger of the eye, Bauglar the Snout, appears atop another ruined building and begins raining arrows upon the heroes, while a huge slavering gnoll with a great axe goes straight for Payn. The battle is horrendous; indeed, it is the hardest the group has ever fought. Payn slays the gnoll, while Bolg-Gatha again appears from the shadows and attempts to fell Malcall in one sudden blow. But the senses of the enraged Barbarian--never dulled by the luxuries of civilization--allow him to avoid the killing blow, and he turns with fury on the assassin. Valanduil makes straight for Khadufel, ignoring a goblin cleric who appears from around the edge of a building. The battle rages, with Payn's swords and burning arrows describing a deadly crescent through the twilight, Angrim the cold in the hand of Malcall cutting a swath of freezing death, and the dweomers of the Elf Valanduil arcing like justice from his hands to assail the mighty magics of Khadufel. Malcall manages to slay the famous assassin after a difficult melee, and Payn's arrows immolate the building in which Bauglar is hiding, driving the orc from the field; Payn and Malcall also fell the goblin cleric. Yet the magics of Khadufel prevail over those of the Elhan, and the dark wizard manages to dominate the strong Elven will of Valanduil. Meanwhile, the wizard sends searing lighting and a killing cloud towards Malcall, Payn, and Tharivol. Malcall and Payn both manage to survive the magical attacks, but with the sharp blades of Bolg-Gatha and the gnoll, they find themselves as close to death as they have ever been. When the smoke clears, Tharivol and Bartarius have been slain, and Valanduil, dominated by the wizard has willing left the field and given himself over to the enemy army. He feels himself bound by rough Orcish claws. Yet The Eye has also suffered: all but Khadufel the Southerner and Bauglar the Snout have been slain. Mournfully, the living heroes gather the bodies of Bartarius and Tharivol, and Payn also takes the corpse of Bolg-Gatha, considering that it might have some use in negotiating for Valanduil's release. They return to the city to consider the costly possibilities of raising their fallen comrades from the dead.

Malcall and Payn manage to get the temple of Kantor to bring Tharivol and Bartarius back from the dead, although both are weakened by the harrowing ordeal. While the two convalesce, Payn and Malcall go to speak with Naglor about the prospects of getting Valanduil back as well as the battles that are looming. Naglor informs them of a missive from the forces of Sloth offering to trade Valanduil for the body of Bolg-Gatha in two days time. The heroes agree to the trade. Lord High Mayor Naglor also tells the party that his spies have reported that Afej will attack very soon, and he wishes either Payn or Bartarius to maneuver his forces to the Western front to provide support to Overgeneral Elmore in meeting the assault. Payn volunteers and goes to meet his regiment. The two days pass quickly and the heroes, rejoined by Bartarius and Malcall but without the duteous Payn, meet a party of orcs who bear the captive Valanduil, who looks none the worse for wear, although he has none of his prized magic items or spellbooks. They make the trade, all the while fearing an ambush, but none occurs and the orcs depart with the body of the assassin, which is to be raised.

Bartarius, however, is highly suspicious at the ease of the trade, and suspects that Valanduil may be enchanted, dominated, or simply another being in disguise. He has had the forethought to bring along the mage Rolindor to cast detection magics on the recovered Valanduil, and he now commands the mage to do so. Valanduil is loathe to allow this, however, and resists the order hotly. He and Bartarius nearly come to sword-blows, further straining their friendship. Malcall urges Bartarius to give up the idea temporarily and Bartarius nearly does, but ultimately is insistent. Valanduil therefore allows Malcall to bind his arms, and after much to-do, the party comes before Naglor, but not before they learn that Afej is attacking the city, and Lord Elmore and Payn are fighting hard on the Western front. Yet the current matter is pressing, and thus the heroes insist on an audience with Naglor. There they express their respective sides, with Valanduil insisting strongly that it is an insult to have spells cast on him against his will, and Bartarius insisting that there is a need to do so. Finally Naglor orders it done, and Rolindor discovers that Valanduil is indeed under a strong enchantment! The elf tries to claim that this is merely a product of his race, but Tharivol gainsays him and, after much mental toil and concentration, manages to dispel the magic controlling Valanduil. The elf thanks his comrades and is much relieved for being freed of the dominating influence of Khadufel the Southerner, who had traded him back in order that he might retrieve the Stone and hand it over to the evil wizard. After saying his thanks, Valanduil asks Naglor for the Stone back, and is informed that Yedus has taken it into his possession and is attempting to use it to defend the city on the Western Front. Knowing that the Stone is best wielded by an elf, the party travels to the front to attempt to find Yedus. All the while, a nagging suspicion is troubling Valanduil.

When they arrive at the battle, they leave the army to fight the hoards of ghouls, skeletons, and orcs that Afej has thrown at them and learn that Yedus is in one of the gate towers with Overgeneral Elmore. Arriving at the tower, they are blocked admittance by 25 of Elmore's hand-picked men. Valanduil manages to convince them to let only him in to see Yedus, but when he enters the tower and sees Yedus with the Stone, the mage orders him to go back out, as he claims the elf is "interrupting his concentration." In any case, he does not give Valanduil the Stone. The elf, enraged, attempts to become invisible, but is grappled by the guards and bound. Waiting in the base of the tower, Valanduil eventually learns that Yedus has indeed managed to control the Stone and the first assault of Afej is defeated. The wily evil generals of Afej have kept back most of their forces in reserve, though. Leaving the tower, Valanduil tells his companions of Yedus' refusal to give up the Stone, and Malcall and the elves ride to get a written order from Naglor for Yedus to yield up the Stone or come before the Lord High Mayor. Bartarius stays behind to keep the Lord and General in his sight, and he even-perhaps rashly-orders them to follow him to the Spur Fortress. Instead, the Overgeneral accuses Bartarius of treason because Bartarius blatantly disobeys his orders to stand down. He orders his men to arrest the Northman, but Bartarius evades them and heads to the Fortress in order to tell his side of the story to Naglor. Naglor tells Bartarius that he will make no decision until he has spoken to all parties.

Soon Yedus and Weston arrive in the fortress. The Overgeneral demands that Bartarius be arrested, but Outelion explains that he took Yedus' refusal to give up the Stone as evidence that Yedus was enchanted by Khadufel. Naglor forgives Bartarius but makes him pay a token fine for his disobedience. Yedus then speaks to Naglor in private, and Naglor declares, with regret, that he has decided that the Stone will remain with Yedus until the threats to the city have ended, upon which time it will be returned to Valanduil. He states that he has the good of his people to consider. The elf is outraged and accuses Naglor of breaking his word. Naglor claims he has not-he still means to return it eventually-and as a token of appreciation, Naglor gives each of the heroes a powerful enchanted item of great beauty, but Valanduil proudly refuses this gift: if he cannot have the Stone he will take nothing. There is much bad blood between the heroes and the leaders of the city.

Naglor calls on the party the next day and they grudgingly heed his summons, to learn that Afej is attacking again with more than double the troops used in the prior attack. The heroes go to join Payn on the Western Front, to vent their frustrations through combat. During the combat they lay into a pack of ghouls and destroy them utterly, although not without injury. But Yedus finds it difficult to operate the Stone this time, and the defenders are beaten back and trapped against the makeshift Western Wall of the city, fighting for their lives. Eventually, however, the wizard manages to unlock the dweomers of the artifact, and the tide is turned: the defenders completely annihilate the attacking army.