The heroes got ready to set out from Fort Presund headed towards Burlewick. They had asked Lieutenant Zarzuk’et for directions and he pointed south while telling them to take the west road. The heroes decided to ask Captain Caul Thorpson for directions instead. The Captain told them to head west, past The Gauntlet and to follow the road for some twenty days. They would know Burlewick when they got there. He also warned about “large spiders” on the road.
As they were getting ready to leave, a new face approached and asked if he could join their party. The person was Illidair, one of the villagers from Dalesend who had come through the portal with the initial wave to help repair and guard the fort. Illidair was not much of a warrior (and had been mocked for his lack of strength), but his faith in Sarenae was rock-solid and they knew that his connection to the divine could prove helpful in case they ran into trouble later on.
The heroes indeed set out, skirting The Gauntlet as they did the prior time by going most of a day’s march north, crossing the spine of hills, and coming south again to find the western road. From there, it was several days of travelling along a bleak wasteland steppe of rolling hills.
The only interruption happened on the fourth day out from Presund. Travelling along the winding road, several party members spotted what looked like a body in armor off of the road. Several decided to go and investigate. In spite of approaching with caution, once Phyrin was within a stone’s throw, two spiders, each twice as big as a horse, jumped out of their hiding spots and attacked!
It was a tough battle. Izolda was severely wounded from a spider bite, but she returned the damage in full with a spear thrust that went straight through the spider. With help from the rest of the party members, the heroes prevailed, with Phyrin striking the final blow on the second spider. The party regrouped and scoured the area for more menaces but found none in this blasted land. They did find three more human(ish) skeletons as well as the skeleton of some kind of draft animal.
The travelling after that was simply one of endurance. Fortunately the land began to return to what might be considered normal after another day or so, with the regular progression of the seasons returning. The trees, no longer stunted and twisted, had some of their orange, red, yellow, and brown leaves still on them. A day of hunting by Slim and Androginos provided the company with a family of fall-fed deer and enough acorns to make something resembling flatbread for the expected remainder of their journey.
And last it did, all the way through the 21st day when, in the space of only about one hundred feet, the grass that they had grown so used to in all its fall-golden glory quickly changed to tall green wheat, like that seen in midsummer. Off in the distance stood what looked like a watchtower, apparently on the same road that they were on.
As they approached almost to within hailing distance of the tower, armed soldiers appeared over the nearest rise, all of them with weapons to hand. The leader challenged the party with “Who the hell are you? Where do you come from?” Andro replied with “Who are we? Who the hell are you?”
“I am Corporal Helhean,” he answered. “I ask you again. Who the hell are you?”
“We were sent here by Captain Thorpson! Fort Presund needs reinforcements and supplies!”
“Great, go tell Bitter River in Burlewick! Get your asses moving, you got about thirty miles to go!”
“Can we stay here for the night?” asked Selibna.
Helhean thought for a moment. “You lot can sleep in the mill. That asshole,” he said, pointing to Andro, “can sleep outside.”
“What if I promise some entertainment? It must be dull out here,” she replied.
“Well, alright. You can sleep inside. We don’t have any spare bunks, though.”
One by one the rest of the party made their cases for sleeping inside. Eventually even Andro was given the opportunity to sleep in the wachtower after Seli quietly bribed one of the guards who then spread it around a little. The night passed uneventfully with everyone doing a little something for the guards at the outpost, from Illidair healing a few injuries to Seli’s entertainment, to Andro keeping to himself.
In the morning, refreshed from a night spent under a roof for the first time in the better part of a month, the heroes set off for Burlewick. It wasn’t two hours later that Izzy noticed a column of smoke rising behind them from the direction of the watchtower. Columns of smoke began rising from the next watchtower along the road to Burlewick as well as what were presumably the next ones in line.
The heroes began to hurry back towards the watchtower they had spent the night at. By the time they arrived nearly an hour later, the fight was over and the damage had been done. Thirty or forty orc and goblin bodies lay scattered around, the mill was burning down to its foundation, there were arrows lodged in almost every opening, and three bodies were shrouded in the shade of one of the walls.
After making sure that all the attackers’ bodies were properly dead, Illidair did what he could for the survivors, healing those that were wounded. The heroes then set out for Burlewick. They stopped again halfway to the next tower, this time to talk to the reinforcements galloping towards the fray. The heroes introduced themselves and were met with an, “Oh, you folks.” The heroes apprised the reinforcements of the new situation and the two groups went their separate ways.
A day of hard hiking later and the heroes arrived at Burlewick just after sunset to find the gates to the town shut. A brief pounding later and one of the heavily barred windows above the portcullis opened. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“We’re from Dalesend!”
“Oh, you guys. What do they want?”
“Parts and technical crew for the forest moon!”
“Supplies, reinforcements, and repair materials!”
“Fine, what do you want?”
“We need to speak to Bitter River and-”
“He’s not available! Try again in the morning!”
“Fine, where can we get some lodging?”
“Well, there are a bunch of taverns, but the Crown of Stars is probably the best.”
“Fine, would you let us in?”
The heroes were let in and made their way through the city. It had high, strong walls and was packed to the gills with storehouses, manufacturers, and housing. The housing, especially, filled the three concentric rings around the town hall wherever it could be packed in around the six massive warehouses. The Crown of Stars was in the inner circle. Inside, the heroes found a fairly nice tavern. The ale was reasonably fresh, the food while plain was also fresh, and there were even rooms available. The heroes promptly paid for rooms with some even paying for warm water for a bath (although given the lateness of the hour, it was not very warm).
Refreshed by an easy night inside a town with good food and (for some) a bath, the heroes went in the morning to speak with Bitter River. His secretary/assistant sent them in and Bitter River received them in his office, which was located in an enclosed room on the roof of the town hall with only the central watch tower above them some one hundred feet off the ground.
Bitter River, it turned out, was a middle-aged man who seemed to be prematurely grey, either from the prolonged spell-casting it was rumored that was the source of Burlewick’s fecundity or from the mountains of paperwork that surrounded his desk. Bitter River did not stand up to greet the heroes but instead asked what they wanted.
The heroes related the recent history of Fort Presund as they knew it. Bitter River sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “Fine. Fine, I’ll find the… Right, it’ll be taken care of.” He made some notes on a paper. “Anything else?” The heroes handed over the receipt from Captain Thorpson. Bitter River sighed, counter-signed it, and told them to show it to his secretary who would get them their payment in actual coin.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“We were wondering if there was anything we could do around here to help.”
“Right, well, I know Redthorn, one of our librarians, mages, whatever he wants to call himself today, he’s looking for some escorts to a lost fort somewhere up north of here. He’ll be in the mage tower most times. If you really want to waste some time, you can look into whether or not we have a Thieves Guild. I swear we do, enough stuff goes conveniently missing, but no one’s ever been able to find me any proof. All their notes are in the library. Mage tower. Whatever.”
The heroes took their leave of Bitter River and were led down three flights of stairs to the
basement of the town hall, where the strong room was located. Two keys and three magical wards later, the assistant counted out 1000 gold pieces, triple-signed the receipt and gave it to the heroes along with their reward. He also gave basic directions around town, including to the smiths.
Andro in particular wanted to find the best smith. The best smith was reputed to be Skunnar Broadfist. Andro found him, a dwarf of shorter stature than usual but with the mass apparently repositioned into his torso, making him broad indeed. His singed blonde hair was plaited in threes and hung to his waist. Andro showed Broadfist his ancestral Elven blade, Anglickel.
Broadfist looked it over and nodded. “An old blade indeed. Looks like it needs a good seeing to. New hilt, definitely a good polishing, and I think the polishing over the years have thrown the balance off a bit, but I can take care of that. Anything else?” Andro produced his bow and asked if it could be made with a stronger draw. Broadfist grimaced and shook his head. “Gonna have to be a complete rebuild if you want that. I’ve got a bow with stronger limbs if you’d like to buy it, I could even give you a good deal if you want to trade in the one you’ve got.”
Andro agreed, they settled on a price for the blade and the bow, and Andro departed with his new bow and with a promissory note for the work on his blade.
Illidair used his time to go check out the town’s temple. There he met Yawga Farmer, the halforc head priestess, who gladly talked to him about the town and about Erastil, her patron deity, in particular. Erastil, it seemed, was the town’s patron deity, which made sense for the deity of farming. The temple was dedicated to him, but had a pantheistic side-chapel dedicated to the Gods of Good. According to Priestess Farmer, the town was responsible for feeding “hundreds of thousands” of soldiers and civilians in the surrounding country, with wagon trains sending supplies of wood, food, and magical hundreds of miles to various outposts, forts, and cities.
Tess, Seli, Slim, and Izzy, meanwhile, went to the mage tower/library to see what they could fine out. Elmund Redthorn, a tall and gangling elf with brown hair, met them. “How may I help you folks today?” he asked, before adding, “Especially you, my lady,” upon catching sight of Tess.
“We heard you were looking for some folks to accompany you on an expedition up north,” said Slim. “Ah, yes!” said Redthorn, not taking his eyes off of the floating lady. "I have found quite a few references to a fort several hundred miles north of here. Quite what its name is no one seems to agree on, but references to it begin to fade almost four hundred years ago and are nowhere to be found within a couple human generations. I think it’s possible that there may be some useful magic items buried there that we could dig up and being back! "
He continued to talk like this as Slim wandered off to find the section with the old reports about investigations into the Thieves Guild. After a bit of searching, he managed to dig up a dusty file of reports, the latest dated a little over a year ago and stretching back at least a couple decades if not longer. Multiple times, the investigators had tracked stolen goods from various warehouses (no pattern) to either the Broken Cart or the Lyre. There the trail had turned cold. Investigations into the Crown of Stars, the Empty Gate, the Dog & Cart, the Fields A Plenty, the Bloody Sword, the Orc’s Head, the Two Rubies, and the Black Pond (the other inns in Burlewick) turned up nothing. The only things that could be ascertained were “The Free” and “The Brothers”. What the relationship between these two was, whether the Brothers ran the Free, whether they were successor or rival organizations, or anything else was unknown.
Slim, notes made and pocketed, went back to where Redthorn was showing off his knowledge of the city. “-unless there’s a siege, of course, in which case it gets fed to the soldiers.” Slim managed to separate the women (especially Tess) from Redthorn and told them what he had found while they walked back to the Crown.
Once everyone had returned from their errands, debate started up about what to do in town, or even if staying in town was warranted. It was eventually decided that an expedition to the north, even to retrieve weapons, was not necessarily on a time crunch while an active thieves guild (or two?) could do serious harm, allow in enemy agents, and even grow if not stopped. Plans were drawn up for scouting the Lyre, mainly because it sounded like “liar”, in an attempt to track down the Free.
When they got there, Seli decided to approach one of the men at the door. “I’m thinking of having your establishment with my presence tonight. Put in a good word for me?” The man looked her up and down, shrugged, opened the door and shouted “Tits!” That got the attention of everyone inside. Then Izzy stepped through and whatever you want to say about her looks, it was her muscles that stood out then. Everyone was going back to their drinks when Seli entered. Then Izzy cracked her knuckles and several customers got whiplash while trying to decide what to focus on.
Seli played a few sets to the great delight of the clientele. When she had finished, she went looking for the sleaziest patron in the bar. She found him at a corner table, one hand on his drink and the other out of sight. Over the course of a quarter of an hour, she and Izzy found out that while he had a great many ideas about them, he had no idea what the Free even were.
Andro, meanwhile, decided to find the most dangerous looking person in the bar. He found the man sitting alone as well. Andro pulled a chair up and sat down at the table. The man stared at Andro and said, “The last person to do that got a knife to the eye.” Anything pause. “I like a brave man. How can I help you?”
Andro laid their problem out in suitably vague terms. The man mused for a moment before giving him an address in an even worse part of the town, saying to meet a contact there tomorrow night at moonrise.
The group reconvened the next morning and decided on a plan. Andro and a few others would go to the meeting while the more obviously good members of the party would stay a couple blocks away and act as backup of need be.
Andro went ahead and acted as point man, lounging against a wall. After some little time had passed, he decided on a whim to use a gland from one of the spiders they had killed on the way in to poison an arrow or three. Within thirty seconds, a voice at his shoulder whispered, “Norgerber sends his regards.” A quick exchange of identities and a vouching for his companions later and the lead group was brought inside a building, down some stairs, through a hidden door that no one saw how it was opened, and in front of a half dozen individuals.
“Good evening,” the leader said. “We are the Free Enterprise. I have heard that you wish to join our ranks.” The group indicated that this could well be the case. “You’ll understand if we don’t trust you right away. We have some… issues with how we cannot earn what we deserve to earn and this has caused some… friction with some of the locals. What we need you to do is to go to Warehouse 4 and procure for us the sack of alchemists fire. After that, we will talk again. You know where to contact us once you have our product.”
The members of the group left the room and the secret door closed behind them. They made their way back to the Crown where the backup group meet them shortly after, having decided that someone would probably watch them immediately after the meeting to see if they ran to the authorities.
Andro and the others from the lead group laid the problem out before the others. “Well,” said Seli, “what’s the plan now?”