Just over a hundred years ago, two armies met in a cataclysmic conflict that threatened to destroy both sides. Sir Malagant, favored by the Raven Queen, led one force. At the head of the other army stood a creature of great wickedness whose master possessed dark aims for the world. Knowing that a battle between the assembled hosts would devastate both, the leaders met in single combat. The loser’s army would forfeit the field and disband. The result was a fluke of fate: The generals killed one another simultaneously.
A century later, much of the true history of these events had been forgotten or intentionally destroyed. The haunted forest known as the Warwood and Sister Naenia’s out-of-the-way monastery were the only reminders that something significant occurred in the area. Sister Naenia now led the penitents of the monastery of Sir Malagant’s Faithful on a pilgrimage to the scene of their hero’s death. There they intended to anoint and bury his effigy to honor him as their order was instructed by Achreisis, exarch of the Raven Queen, a century ago.
Sir Malagant’s Faithful travelled south on the road through the Warwood and were currently further than any of them had ever been from the monastery. Sun glistened off new snow, making a stunning contrast to the tangled darkness of the forest on both sides of the road. Ahead Sister Naenia spotted an elf on the road. He moved with grace and carried a bow. He raised a hand and called out a greeting. Naenia signalled for the others to continue the mournful chant and whispered a prayer that the elf was not part of a group of bandits. Soon a small figure and two larger ones joined the elf and she motioned for the her caravan to halt thirty feet away from the strangers.
They were Theren – an elven bowman, Uthrid – a fighting man, Rudy -another fighting man with exquisite glowing chain armor, and Nim – a gnome with striking arcane symbols tattooed on the shaven sides of his head. Naenia introduced her pilgrimage without fully revealing their intentions. The strangers showed little interest in her agenda but quickly began speaking of places called Fort Dolor and Bridgeblock of which she in her sheltered life had never heard of before. They were looking for Stargazer Hill in the Warwood and she told them they were in the Warwood but she had not heard of the hill.
A rustle among the pilgrims caused Naenia to turn back to see what the disturbence was about. The albino waif, Sybil, was standing in her cart peering into the forest. The three black cowled augers who attended to her every need turned to peer in the dirction which held her attention. Suddenly, axe weilding, berserk humans and stealthy tieflings sprung from the woods and attacked the pigrims and the strangers. A tiefling and two humans dove in amoungst the parade of twenty pilgrims swinging swords and axes and an attack of lightning from a mage in the forest crackled through Sir Malagant’s Faithful. Sister Naenia tried to fend off a man who attacked the augers cart. He had struck one of them and she had slumped in the cart. Sybil looked at the violence around her with a calm that Naenia found disturbing while the two other augers tended to the wounded crone.
The strangers leapt into action immediately. The two fighting men were an immovable wall that drew the attackers to them. The elf and gnome shifted around the battlefield delivering fatal attacks with arrows and spells. Naenia held off the man at the augers cart for a few moments but the pilgrims were being murdered quickly from their attackers. Suddenly, a hippogriff with a tiefling rider sprang down from the tree tops and snatched Sir Malagant’s wrapped bones from the rear cart. Sister Naenia was agast.
The strangers quickly killed the humans and tieflings who attacked them and even delivered death to the two mages in the woods. They came to the aid of the pilgrims and killed the last of the bandits. All traces of the calm confidence Sister Naenia possessed before had fled. She was distraught over the harm that had come to her followers. Ten out of the twenty had been killed but there was more than that. Her worst fear had come true.
“They took it! That beast flew off with his bones! Sweet Lady! Please you must help us. You must get the effigy back! It holds Sir Malagant’s bones and the Fiend’s Horn. If we don’t bury him…I don’t know. I just don’t know.” Sister Naenia spun in a panicked circle, starting toward the wrecked funeral wagon, then toward a wounded pilgrim, then toward the woods. She was incapable of deciding what to do.
The strangers were able to calm Sister Naenia and she explained that their exarch had left instructions for them to bury the effigy this week. The strangers agreed to pursue the assailants and bring Sir Malagant’s bones to her if possible. They were not willing to swear an oath to the Raven Queen but they gave their horses to the pilgrims for safe keeping. The way through the thick woods would not accomodate the large animals. They would meet Sir Malagant’s Faithful on the hill where the effigy was to be burried in a few days – a week at the most. All of Sister Naenia’s hopes rested with them.
As the strangers entered the woods, Sister Naenia heard a whisper from Sybil, the albino girl whom the augers had found as a babe lying in a worg’s den, and gooseflesh sprung up on her arms.
“Those who dream beneath the stars cannot yet be seen by the blind one who waits beyond them. The stars are safe…for now.”