Having slain the forge spurned, the heroes prepared to return to the surface…
Stopping by the chamber holding Jeva, they discovered the girl’s wounds had largely healed. Reverted to her tiny human form, it was hard to imagine such a dark twist to her current appearance. The heroes could see blood stains on the alter where the child had apparently struggled at length to free herself before eventually residing to her fate. Rational discussion was impossible with the Jeva for some time, as the child flipped between rage at her capture, hysteria about being chained, tears and finally composure. When asked by Hassan if she wanted to be a werewolf, she replied dryly, “No. Would you want to be a werewolf?”
With those simple words, Hassan and Serrka (with the aid of Anson) set a plan into motion to cure the girl. While Hassan remained in the crypts to guard Jeva, Serrka and Anson made for the surface to see if they could locate wolfsbane. The cleric had deduced that a concoction of the mixture could be used suppress the child’s transformation until the full moon.
Khael, who had gathered the children from Loudwater on the surface and was planning to take the kids by cart to the city, was surprised to see his companions without Jeva and Hassan in tow. Serrka, in an attempt at subterfuge, shared the plan to get wolfsbane for Jeva with Khael using Elven, only to discover that the child Savram could speak the langague and comprehend the meaning. The druid’s subsequent attempt to deceive the child to the true meaning of the search for wolfsbane also seems to fail. With the damage done, Khael set off with the children for the main road, hoping to rejoin his companions in the most expeditious manner. To his surprise, a dwarven merchant train from Clan Stoneshoulder was traveling west to the city and engaged him about his curious load. Explaining what had transpired in the catacombs, the dwarves agreed to keep the children safe in route to Loudwater and return them to their families.
Meanwhile, back at the catacombs, Anson and Serrka had mixed the concoction of wolfsbane up for the child to consume. Faced with decidedly chilled relationship to Serrka and cautious distance from Hassan, Jeva seemed to drink the mixture without reservation. The party elected to keep the child chained however, as protection against the possibility she might shift yet again.
Rejoining with Khael outside the crypts, the party decided to head east to Oleggarn’s in hopes of finding a cure. While on the road, Hassan shared that he hoped to adopt eventually adopt Jeva, but he was concerned about word reaching his family of the child’s condition. An orphan, particularly one that had a history of changing into a werewolf and attacking people, would not be an ideal addition to the family. Camping for the night, Jeva seemed to take her medicine without reservation and seemed to be genuinely hopeful about a possibility of something other then darkness in her future. Anson, confident in the stabilizing effects of the wolfsbane and concerned about the discomfort to Jeva as she slept, removed the child’s shackles during his watch. When the party awoke in the morning they were surprised to see Jeva playing with her doll and talking with the halfling cleric. Recognizing the futility of bringing her inside the walls of Oleggarn shackled and hopeful about the change in her demeanor, the companions chose not to argue the decision. Hassan also took the time to explain to Jeva his plans and hopes, and asked her to select a new name while they searched for a cure for her condition. After some thought, Jeva selected Aimiri, one of servitor angels of Aerdie Faeyna who was known for slaying an ancient manticore king.
Arriving at Oleggarn, the company saw that the town had continued to grow in the party’s absence and now included dozens of new buildings and several new streets. A visit to Oleg’s Tavern earned them praise for their recent accomplishments and the party was able to sell “Glintaxe” (a battle axe recovered from the gelatinous cube) to Oleg who promptly put the weapon on display. Order a free round for all the bars occupants, Oleg praised the Company of the Four Winds for their accomplishments.
As Serrka worked with Svetlana to get Aimiri clothes suitable for a little girl, the remainder of the party visited the halfling witch named Tyslind. A comely female, with honey gold locks, she was able to offer the companions an assortment of potions and poultices, but her strength was not great enough to destroy the cursed gauntlet or break the lycanthrope afflicting Aimiri. However, she was confident that her sister El’tab, who lived in the southern stretches of Southwood, could provide a cure. After some gentle diplomacy and an offer of company, Tyslind closed her shop for the night and joined Anson at Oleg’s for some drinks, dancing and revelry.
Serrka, alerted by Oleg to strangeness on his roof, wandered outside to find a large number of dragon quail occupying the roof of the tavern and several other houses nearby. Knowing that the quail were common on the southern plains, she shifted into animal form in an attempt to glean the reason behind their sudden displacement. What she learned (that the plains had apparently been flooded somehow) startled her and she made a mental note to investigate the situation.
Heading out in the morning, the heroes made good time and eventually reached the hut of El’tab. To their surprise, El’tab (Tyslind’s “sister”) was a witch as well, but a giant, far less attractive troll fond of singing giantish ballads. While the heroes expressed trepidation at her appearance, the honesty of Tyslind and their dire need pushed them to listen to her offer and treat her with respect. El’tab turned out to be a most curious diviner, slicing herself open and spilling her entrails into a bowl to ascertain a wake to break the magic’s affecting the heroes. Through her visions, the troll determined she could make potions that would both melt the gauntlet and free the child’s spirit from its feral side, but it would require the horn of a minotaur. Fortunately for the party, the troll witch knew of an evil minotaur named Boke that occupied a maze of thorns in further south. Seeing no other avenue for success, the heroes accepted the troll’s offer of aid and waited the night as she brewed up suitable elixirs. In the morning she explained yet again that the elixirs powers would only work when the horn of the beast was added to it.
As the heroes left El’tab hut, they soon began to encounter flooding in the lower reaches of the forest and all manner of creatures fleeing west in the wake of the gradually growing water. Knowing that they would need to ultimately deal with the Stag Lord and approximating his location in the east, the companions thought the presence of the building water an odd turn of events.
The maze of thorns serving as a home for the minotaur Boke was not difficult to find and with keen eyes and ears, the heroes managed to fight off a swarm of morlocks used as guards by the creature. The minotaur was not so easily defeated though and after the heroes discovered his lair a pitch battle ensued. While Hassan was struck a vicious blow by the creature, he returned the favor in two fold. Just as the creature struck a second time however, Anson loosed the head of the magical mace he recovered from the ruins of the dwarven catacombs, and watched with pleasure as a massive boulder bounded along the thorny ground to smash solidly into the magical beast. Beneath the rubble of the giant boulder, the minotaur lay dead. Clipping a horn from the beast, it was added to both elixirs. As Anson poured the concoction over his stony gauntlet, it grew in gradual heat until it suddenly turned pale gray and crumbled into dust. Jeva, terrified but willing to try anything, drank her elixir as well. Convulsions and thrashing followed as the child’s eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed. A frantic examination of the girl however revealed she was merely unconscious and hopefully free of lycanthrope.
So close to the hideout of the Stag Lord, the party decided to venture east to examine the source of the flooding. Pushing through the low grade flooding on horseback did not prove a challenge and as night fell, the party located a small cleared hill on the forest’s edge to camp.
With a cloudless sky and lots of stars, Serrka’s elven vision stretched out into the night unhindered. But as she scanned the skys to her horror she spotted a black dragon flying through the night sky, its glowing eyes scanning the forest below. Kicking out their small campfire and attempting to quietly awaken her companions, she watched as the beast hovered in midair apparently looking for something below. Minutes later, as the creature turned and flew back east, held breaths were finally let out. In the darkness, a debate ensued. Was the dragon a minion of the Stag Lord? Was the Stag Lord a victim of the dragon? Was the flooding the result of something the dragon had done?
Creating a make shift cover from branches, leaves and shrubs, the heroes spent the remainder of the night cloaked in darkness. With sunrise, the party continued to push east through the flooded lands, hoping the dragon was sleeping during the day and hunting at night. At the prompting of her companions, Serrka took the form of a hawk to scout east towards the projected location of the Stag Lord’s keep. After a short flight, her keen eyes settled on the keep, or rather the ruins of the keep.
A murder of crows now danced nervously on the outer wall of the abandoned structure. The lower level of the keep, its great gates torn asunder, was flooded with swampy water. In one of the corners, a small pond had been dug and within its olive hued waters floated the bloated remains of several humanoids and livestock. Attempting to get a closer look, the druid panned over the keep and was startled to see a large black serpentine tail slip under the water. Frightened at the prospect of being caught in the open sky by the black dragon, Serrka quickly banked west towards her comrades and flew back with haste.
Rejoining her comrades, Serrka shared the details of what she had seen flying over the remnants of the Stag Lord’s keep. Based on the description of the small pond, Anson deduced they were indeed dealing with a black dragon and that the pond was in fact a pickling pool designed to marinate the food of the drake before consumption. Without a firm plan, the heroes focused their attention on located a defensible position for the night. Serrka and Anson were able to find a small ravine between two hillocks and within the earthen shelter the comrades settled down for the night. Again, the night sky revealed to Serrka the presence of the black dragon, but this time it flew past them to the west, apparently forced to forage for food in the distant forest.
By morning, the heroes had agreed that Serrka, disguising herself as a vulture, would return to the keep and watch to see if the dragon left. If and when it did, she would return to her compatriots and summon them to the keep to stage an ambush. When Serrka arrived at the keep, the same crows danced nervously along the battlements, apparently watching a catlike serpent tail flickering from beneath the remains of an old stable house. The druid did not need to wait long, for about an hour into her watch; the dragon crept from its hiding spot, snatched a bloated corpse from the pickling pool and leapt through the shattered wall into the nearby lake, soon disappearing beneath its black waters.
Flying with haste back to her friends, the companions hurried to the keep and set about trying to pick the best method fight the beast. Seconds stretched into minutes as the heroes offered conflicting options. Suddenly, the black dragon erupted from the lake, sending a wall of muddy water into the tiny keep. Anson, hiding in the shadows was not noticed, but the disappearance of Khael into the dragon’s nesting chamber sent the creature into a rage. Charging into the remnants of the keep, the dragon came nose to nose with a startled Hassan. Before he could attack however, the dragon unleashed a stream of acid that struck both the Hassan and Serrka. While an acid warding spell from Anson partially mitigated the damage done to the fighter, Serrka was not so fortunate. The druid took the full brunt of the dragons breath, shattering her summoning spell mid cast and leaving her grievously wounded. While Hassan attempted to keep the dragon focused on him, Khael activated his slippers of spider climbing and left the hindrance of the swampy floor behind him. Charging across the ceiling, the rogue landed several solid blows with his elven curved blade. A rumble followed short thereafter and the two heroes saw a gift from Anson as a giant boulder rushed into view, slamming solidly into the back quarter of the dragon. Serrka, seeing her comrades taking increased damage from the enraged beast, stepped through the keep’s wall and sent a swarm of spiders rushing across the water to distract and poison the dragon. Furious at the interlopers attacks, and stung by spell, sword and arrow, the dragon flew into a rage, knocking Hassan’s sword from his hand and ripping through his armor. Blood colored the waters of the flooded chamber as Hassan fought to keep the beast at bay and away from his comrades. And just as the dragon looked ready to put an end to Hassan, he managed to dance his spear past the dragon’s considerable defenses and drive home the weapon into the creature’s breast – putting an end to the titanic black menace.
Anson quickly materialized from around the corner where he had been fighting and along with Serrka began channeling energies to close the parties wounds. Out of immediate threat, and happy about their accomplishment, the companions began a search of the keep and drained the pickling pool. Amongst the bloated corpses, they were able to indentify the apparent Stag Lord and his lieutenant Aux. Whether they were random victims of the dragon’s predation or simply an alliance gone bad, no one could tell. The pool also contained a fair amount of coin and few minor magic items. At the direction of Khael, the party attempted to skin the carcass of the black dragon, in hopes it could be used for a future piece of armor. Finally, before heading north to Oleggarn, the companions smashed the damn constructed by the dragon and watched the waters drain from the land, restoring the area in part to its original appearance. While the natural balance would take time to right, the initial step had been taken and the heroes could already see some of the regions natural inhabitants returning to the land.
With Aimiri cured, the Stag Lord no more and an impressive dragon head to display, the companions road north across the plains to Oleggarn’s and honor.