Cheap Whiskey

The Temple Of Naarash

The next day unraveled much like Cyr had described. Early in the morning, the announcement that ten would be chosen for the Rite of the Eye was given. The Beheaders proved to be among the strongest in the camp and Cyr and his companions made it to the final melee as well. The ten worked together and won.

The sun had slipped behind the mountains as they were led along the ruined avenue. Two sash-wearing wardens silently handed a sunrod to each of the chosen at the foot of the great staircase. The guards watched them climb; no escort accompanied them. High above, a pair of massive stone doors stood open with firelight flickering from within.

The silence of the temple grounds was broken by distant shouting as a figure on horseback raced in from the Black March. Even at a distance, the Beheaders recognized the form of a doppelganger as it reined up near the fires at the center of the compound.

A shout went up from around the fires. The guards at the foot of the stairs scrambled up at the Beheaders. Clear through the darkness, they heard the doppelganger screaming: “Heathens! Kill them all!”

The Beheaders quickly ran up the stairs as Cyr and his companions were temporarily caught wondering what was going on. The guards fired arrows and the cleric with Cyr quickly realized the situation and attacked with devine power. The Beheaders didn’t bother to retaliate but ran through the immense double doors into the great hall beyond. The vaulted ceiling rose to a height of 40 feet. Burning braziers illuminated oversized stairs to the west. Two more sets of double doors stood beyond the stairs. From below, the shouts of the guards grew louder.

Arrows splintered against the doors as Torinn and Rudy slammed them shut. As Barnoble and Morthos slid home the massive stone bolts to bar the doors, the doors flared with a brilliant white light that faded to a faint glow. From behind came a deafening boom as both sets of double doors on the high landing slammed shut of their own accord. The sounds from outside could no longer be heard within the hall. The walls here were carved with regular rows of oversized runes, an unknown alphabet etched in letters a foot high. The runes were tantalizingly familiar to both Common and Davek scripts, but the ancient tongue was beyond modern knowledge. From the script Baal gathered that the temple was built by an ancient giant race and dedicated to a spirit named Naarash.

The Beheaders checked the sets of double doors on the landing above the giant stairway. Both sets were arcane locked but the doors to the south were not fully closed due to rubble. Torinn managed to push the doors open. The chamber appeared to be a former armory. Six giant-sized suits of armor stood against the walls, each clutching a halberd. More armor and weapons were strewn across the floor. The wall and part of the ceiling had collapsed to the southeast. Theren and Morthos entered first while the others took positions by the door ready to burst in if needed. The two scouts had moved to the middle of the room when, a grinding of metal on metal rung out as the suit of giant-sized plate close to Theren began to move. Two more of the suits of armor detached from the walls at the same time, their rusted halberds raised as they attacked.

The three steel keepers did not prove much of a test for the Beheaders and after a few rounds the animated suits of armor were destroyed. The Beheaders found a secret passage in the south westcorner of the room. The door pivoted out into a large hallway running north and south. A set of double doors stood to the south of this once-grand hall. The passage running northeast was blocked after a little more than one hundred feet. The ceiling had collapsed. Runic writing covered the walls. However, part of the western wall had been plastered over and filled with Goblin and Common script. A mosaic made up the center of the western wall – the clenched fist of Bane rendered 15 feet long on each side in black stone.

The double doors were protected by a Glyph of Warding. Morthos was zapped a couple of times while trying to disable it. It was quite strong and he lost many surges for his effort. Baal stepped up and dispelled the magical ward. Behind the doors they found a dishevelled room with zombie giants hiding behind curtains. The undead tore through the curtains and bashed down walls in an attempt to maul the Beheaders but were slain after a hard fought battle.

The Beheaders rested in the large rune covered hall and opened a secret door to the inner chamber of the temple. A long, wide fissure had ripped open the floor in front of an altar and deeper in the chamber a huge, rough-cut red gem sat upon a pedestle at the top of some large steps. The gem burned with an abyssal glow. A tall man with long blond hair stood near the gem leaning on a great sword. Before the Beheaders could see most of this, however, they were attacked by a pair of human cult beserkers, a hobgoblin commander, a hobgoblin warcaster and a blazing skeleton. The Beheaders were heading up the stairs behind the secret door they had found when the aforementioned group ambushed them. Soon they learned that the Beheaders were a fearsome party and they all lay dead and destroyed by the Beheaders awesome assault.

The tall man was the paladin Jaryn. He had killed the previous hobgoblin leader of the cult. The red stone, he said, held the power of Naarash. Jaryn said he was now the Voice of Naarash and that the Beheaders had been sent to test him. If he were defeated one of the Beheaders would become the new Voice of Naarash. Theren tried to reason with Jaryn and bring him back to Pelor but Jaryn said the gods were dead. There was only Bane now and only the strong would survive. He allowed them to rest and offered them some refreshment. He wanted to be tested while they were at their strongest. Then the fight began. Theren did mention the priestess Emesha who had sent them in search of Jaryn and this seemed to touch a soft spot in Jaryn but not enough for him to be redeemed. Jaryn fought with great skill and endurance. He nearly killed Barnoble with a blow from his vicious great sword but the six Beheaders overwhelmed him and he died.

After defeating Jaryn a huge ape-like demon appeared. He was Naarash. When the the Beheaders refused to accept the position as Voice of Naarash and undergo the Rite of the Eye, the demon attacked. After a savage battle the demon was defeated and the red gem, the Eye of Naarash exploded.

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Among The Wolves
The Beheaders learn of Jaryn's fate and plan a way into the temple.

Torinn and Morthos moved about the cultists and observed their chanting and weapons training. Torinn spoke with a human soldier who was taking a break from practice and was willing to tell the story of the NEW Voice of Naarash.

“I was here when Jaryn was dragged up the Black March in chains.” the human called Cyr began. “I was here, too, when he stood atop the Dark Stairs as the Voice of Naarash.

“Jaryn and Larkazh met between the river and the Black March. Two dozen of Bane’s best against the paladin and his tiefling, and in the end, Larkazh was the only one standing.

“Larkazh’s two brothers were cut down by Jaryn’s own hand. He brought Jaryn and Dajani back alive and to the inner temple, a sacrafice to Bane. Come morning, Jaryn walks out, Dajani one step behind him, and Larkazh’s head in Jaryn’s hand.

“Everything changed under Jaryn. Used to be, the death squads ran the temple, killed each other as fast as they could. Jaryn got them under control and made them an army.

“The enclave at Adakmi will be the start of it. The heathens will be nailed to their own walls and their citadel made the staging ground for Bane’s armies as they move south.”

Morthos overheard some of the chanting and preaching:

“Jaryn might look human, but he is not. Bane’s blood flows in those veins. The chosen one he is.”

“The fall of Nerath was the first sign. The gods of light have been broken and have left this world to Bane. The dark god’s hand squeezes shut, and when it opens, only the chosen will remain.”

“Bane’s voice speaks through Jaryn, and his word welcomes the darkness of a new age. He is the god arisen, Naarash’s heir. The strong shall inherit this world, while the weak shall fall before them and be lost.”

Later in the night, Cyr found Torinn near the Beheader’s camp.

“I hear they will choose ten to receive The Rite of the Eye, tomorrow.” the soldier informed a puzzled Torinn, “Ahh, by your look I see you have still much to learn as a new recruit. You’ve seen the death squads who wear the blood-red talismans?”

Torinn nodded.

“Those talismans give those who wear them a small bit of Bane’s power,” Cyr explained, “They are the chosen ones who have received the Rite of the Eye. Tomorrow, I plan to be one of the ten chosen. I have waited long enough for the honor. I have three with me that I trust can help me reach that goal. If you and your five want, we could all watch each others backs during the trials and be sure we are the ten left standing in the end.”

“Who are your three?” Torinn asked, “And what do the trials entail?”

“My three allies are a bugbear strangler, a dragonborn rogue and a human cleric,” responded the soldier, “The trials start with sparring and those who prove the most ready move on to live combat. They’ll probably put the final twenty in the melee and the last ten standing will be chosen. Then we will be allowed into the temple to receive the Rite of the Eye.”

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The Pillars Of Night

For the better part of the day, the Beheaders hiked toward their goal and finally slipped through a screen of scrub trees and up a low rise.Winding its way through forest a mile or two off, they saw the Black March end where it met the base of the mountain and the settlement which spread beneath it. Straight-edged roads of cracked flagstone ran between huge buildings of timber and stone.

Many of the stone structures had collapsed, but the inhabited core of the temple grounds had the appearance of any northern village. No slaves or prisoners could be seen. Though groups of cultists trained with sword and shield, no guards or apparent overseers could be seen. Only folk in the familiar garb of the cult – children among them – were visible as they went about frontier life.

At the base of the mountain, an oversized avenue led to a wide flight of immense stone steps. These rose to a portal open in the mountain’s face. Firelight flared from within a wide hall running into the mountain’s heart. The Beheaders moved closer.

Great sections of the rocky landscape were given over to gardens and orchards. Mule teams hauled logs and deadfall from the nearby woods. Sheep and cattle were herded into rough stone corrals as dusk fell. At different sites, construction was evident. New living spaces were being reclaimed from the ruins. Fires began to spring up. The smell of roast meat and woodsmoke drifted on the breeze. The Beheaders, disguised with cult tunics, found an empty spot among the ruins and set up camp. They hoped to pose as new recruits.

They estimated that some five hundred cultists dwelled in the central temple grounds, but more camps could be seen scattered through the surrounding forest. No fence or other boundary surrounded the complex, and the cultists moved freely within it. A majority of the cultists were human and hobgoblin, but dragoborn, dwarves and tieflings were common in the temple complex. Rudy, Barnoble, Theren and Baal would try to pass as humans and allow Torinn and Morthos to do most of the talking for the group.

Beneath the initial appearance of a communal village, the place had a hard and dangerous edge. A rigid sense of order and heirarchy permeated the labors of the people. Select cultists wearing a black sash appeared to be wardens of some type, but no other signs of rank could be seen. The people were uniformly whipcord lean. Where nine- and ten-year old children roughhoused with sticks, they showed off a ruthless precision in their relentless attacks. The cultists had a sense of driven energy and focus that spoke to a high degree of regimentation. It resembled a village, but Naarash was very much a military enclave.

Small groups were spelled off from labors at intervals. They trained hard with sword and shield or chanted Bane’s dark rites. At the fires, people took their meals with the same stoic intensity they applied to the labors of the day – the same intensity the Beheaders saw in the killers they met on the long road that led them there.

Access to the stairs was open, but the dozen guards lining both sides of the approach inspired the party to keep a safe distance. The staircase was easily twice a normal size, each step and riser was a full pace wide. The size of the stone buildings in the complex made sense now. These were giants’ ruins, and old by the look of them.

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White Water

An hour of steep climbing brought the Beheaders from the gates of Adakmi up the little-used Falls Road which ran north, zigzagging up the flank of the mountain and past the cascading waterfall and out above the mist. The river was a rough torrent where it tumbled toward the falls. Along the banks of dark shale, a deserted dockyard spread, ruined wharfs clung blackened pilings. Where a dozen boats might once have moored, a ramshackle 35-foot cutter floated, “Blacksnake” was etched on its prow. The boat was sheltered by a central awning with a raised tiller deck behind it. Glasur went to the prow and started tying ropes.

The boat had no mast. Two pike’like fish half the length of the boat thrashed in the water, both creatures were harnessed to the ropes Glasur was setting.

“River’s slow this time of year,” the dwarf called. “Been a while since my girl got a chance to run. We leave when your ready.”

For four days, they made steady progress north. Glasur’s dire pike pulled the moonboat with unceasing strength by day; the dwarf unharnessed them each night to hunt in the river’s frigid depths. In that time, the Beheaders passed the remains of three villages burned to the ground by the cult, a the river grew narrow, twisting in places through canyons of black stone. No sign of life or movement could be seen on either shore. Glasur explained that the river courses he followed ran parallel to the Black March on the other side of the mountains.

Over the next two days, the white-water canyons of the river’s middle reaches began to give way to wide gravel banks spilling down the mountainsides. Then ahead, they saw the sky darkening beyond the bend of the river, a heavy plume of gray-black smoke twisted on the wind.

“There’s a village a mile up,” the dwarf rumbled, “Or there was a village, by the look of it.”

They continued up river another half-mile before Glasur put the boat to shore out of sight of the village. The party made the short walk to the villages without being seen. Three dragonborn soldiers were burning the village with the help of a human mage and a bugbear. They wore the Naarash talismans and the tunic or armor of the cult. The Beheaders drew their attention away from the townspeople they were harrassing. The cultists were outmatched and they all soon lie dead among the burning buildings.

The villagers’ leader was Yrma, an elderly woman with a dour disposition. She thanked the Beheaders but told them their efforts would amount to nothing in the end:

“Two strangers came this way not four months past. The human said the cult would soon be a memory. Instead, it is our life here that will be forgotten.”

The strangers matched the descriptions of the paladin Jaryn and the tiefling Dajani.

“They were bound for the Pillars of Night,” the old woman continued. “seeking the cult chief Larkazh. Half mad, the human looked to me, threatening on his blood to besiege the temple singlehandedly.”

The villagers gathered what they could and headed south to Adakmi, they would join the flood of refugees seeking new lives beyond the frontier. In the aftermath of battle, Glasur was anxious to get under way. The dwarf was clearly on edge glancing over his shoulder to the thickly forested shore.

“When I pulled in before the village, could’ve swore I saw something moving. No matter, I guess. Can’t follow us through these trees, whatever it was.”

After another days travel, Glasur pulled into a small cove so they could camp for the night. The inlet was shallow and the shore was covered with trees and rocks. Shortly after most of the party was asleep, a blur of motion erupted in camp. A cloaked figure appeared out of nowhere, two black-bladed short swords in his hands. The intruder was a tiefling and he would attack with his poisoned swords and then disappear and attack again after teleporting a short distance. He was a frustrating opponent but he was not masterful with his blades. He was tough to bring down but eventually the Beheaders reduced him to unconsciousness. They striped him of his possessions. He had a cloak, leather armor, a cult tunic, two poisoned short swords, boots of striding,a potion of healing, 40 gp, a piece of carved ivory embossed with platinum in the shape of Pelor’s sun and a Naarash talisman. When the talisman was removed form his neck, a red gem in the silver necklace disipated into a red mist and the tiefling gave a short cry and died. Evidenced by the ivory scrimshaw they found on him, the Beheaders guessed the tiefling had been Dajani who had been devoted to Pelor when he ventured out with Jaryn.

The next morining the party took to the river and travelled anothe two days without incident. The riverbanks had flattened. Stunted gray trees clung tenaciously to rocky hills beyond. The sun was setting, and the dire pike were thrashing against the white-water current. And then in distance, they saw it – a twisted rise of dark stone, its lower third carved into perfectly aligned upright slabs. As the peak disappeared into the descending dusk, the pillars appeared to hold up the dark sky itself. The temple lied before the Beheaders, a day’s march away.

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Adakmi

Two more days…dusk…the ninth day out from Erstlin…

The jagged slopes of the Moonsfall rose to the north. They were blood-red in the gathering dusk. A surging waterfall descended from a cleft, feeding the dark line of river which twisted off to the south. However, what caught the Beheader’s eyes wasn’t the natural landscape but an unexpected sign of civilization in the midst of it – a walled citadel below the falls. The Black March continued past into the mountains, quickly disappearing from sight.

Along the rough stone walls of the citadel, bodies were lashed. Most were hobgoblins by their misshapen look, but a few humans hung among them. Thin strips of leathery flesh clung to eyeless skulls. Crows swarmed the more recent dead. All wore the tunics of the Hand of Naarash, the symbol of Bane at their chests. It was not unlike some of the wake the Beheaders had left behind at Kobold Hall or The Keep on the Shadowfell or The Chamber of Eyes or The Horned Hold in Thunderspire Labyrinth.

Guards were on alert along the walls as the Beheaders walked to the gate. A guard questioned them and when the people learned about their goal they were welcomed inside. Before the fall of Nerath, Adakmi was the center of a wide-ranging culture of forest villages, nomadic hunting tribes, and isolated mining towns dotting the land of the Moonfall Mountains. In the dark days since, most of those on the road were refugees. The population of the citadel was near two thousand mostly human, elves and half-elves.

The Beheaders made their way to the Sundial Tavern and tried to gather more information. They learned many people had seen Jaryn over the last year. He had saved many people and slaughtered many hobgoblins. All the while he had reassured the people that he would bring the cult to justice. Then rumors said the paladin had been in a great battle against the cult chief, a hobgoblin called Larkazh. That battle was eight months ago. Since, Jaryn had not been seen and cult had returned with more of a focus. They fought more like soldiers and instead of interest in gold and silver they were interested in arms and magic.

Later, the guard who had gossiped with the party introduced them to a dwarf named Glasur.

“The temple’s two weeks north along the Black March.” the dwarf told them, “Problem is, you’ll be dead within two days along that road. In the villages the cult razes, those they don’t kill are taken north. The strongest and the toughest join the cult by slaughtering their own kin. That’s who hunts along the north March, fast and silent – not like the hobgoblin rabble south of the mountains. Only other way north is the river, but you’d need a moonboat for that and those boats are long gone. All except mine that is. I’ve seen the Pillars of Night. I can get you there.”

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The Black March

The lands beyond Erstlin turned to hilled forest. According to Shandra’s directions, the Beheaders would reach the Black March in six days. For three days, they travelled and as dusk approached on the third day, they stumbled upon an achient ruin shrouded by stunted spruce – a shrine or temple reduced to a foundation pit and a half dozen pillars among the trees. They made camp by the trees – a short distance from the pit.

Shortly, a cry rang out. A crashing of branches preceeded a male human with the sun of Pelor on his cloak, blond hair hung ragged as he lurched into the light of thier campfire. He stumbled toward Morthos and Theren and they noticed a prominant scar on his left cheek as they came to his aid. Theren asked him if he were Jaryn. The paladin’s mouth widened in a leer, and a short sword whipped out from under his cloak. Theren quickly shifted away and Morthos was attacked.

As the rest of the Beheaders got to their feet, the paladin retreated into the trees. Theren and Morthos fired at him. The party pursued him into the trees and soon found the paladin attacking from multiple positions at once. Before long, the Beheaders realized they were facing five “Sir Jaryns”. One of the Jaryns fell dead from a blow and a red mist drifted off the corpse. The corpse, once fallen, changed from the paladin with the cloak to a thin, pale humanoid creature with large, black eyes and stark, white hair wearing a cult tunic and Naarash talisman. Morthos blinded one of the doppleganger assassins and it fled. The Beheaders took some damage but killed the remaining dopplegangers. They found some gold and a black pearl on one of the creatures.

The landmarks on Shandra’s map held true, and another three days across open plains brought the Beheaders to the foot of the hills locals called the Harsmad. There, a narrow pass marked the beginning of the Black March. True to its name, the road was a dark scar through densely forested hills.

For seven days, the Beheaders path slowly climbed, the track offered glimpses of the Moonfall Mountains ahead. A half-dozen times, they saw hobgoblin patrols on foot, but the cultists made so much noise that they were easily avoided in the shadows off of the trail. The Hand of Naarash must have believed that few would be brave – or foolish – enough to pursue them into the heart of their domain.

On the seventh day, the Beheaders came across a group of shadow hounds making a hunting run through the woods. They handled the hounds with little trouble but Theren, Morthos and Baal were reminded of the draems which stilled plagued them since finding the carved green gem on the Woodsinger elves. Their dreams had progressed a little in the last two weeks. Their draems always started with them in a columned hall with hounds lurking in the shadows. Then they moved toward the skull, set on a pedastle with one green gem for an eye and one empty socket, at the end of a narrow hall. Now, in their dreams, they moved away from the skull, out of the hall, up through a bulkhead where the moon lit the night sky. They ran through woods and then into marshland.

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Erstlin's Secret

The Beheaders were put off by Perren Auldwyl’s ungratefulness. A small crowd from the rest of the town had gathered to see the outcome of the battle. There was a ruckus and a young lady pulled free from the throng of villagers. Some of them pleaded with her to return to the crowd but she walked straight up to the party.

“Name’s Shandra.” she said, “Hobgoblins killed my pa when they first came. Why don’t you ask Mr. Auldwyl what he has in the trap door below his house?”

This comment drew a collective gasp from the crowd and a sneer from Auldwyl. The Beheaders looked at him.

“Very well,” he grumbled, “The Hand is running weapons east.”

Perren led the Beheaders to the trap door in the center of his main hall. A storage compartment beneath held stacked crates. One crate held a brace of black-fletched arrows, another contained longswords and a third was packed with steel helmets.

“Erstlin’s a stop-off point,” the old man whispered, “last town short of the wilds. We give their smugglers free run of the town, the Hand leaves us alone.”

The townspeople of Erstlin took possession of the weapons. They would need to fight when the smugglers came to check on the others.

The hobgoblins killed my pa,” Shandra repeated, “Said it was a warning. I followed them, meant to take revenge but I couldn’t keep up. But I saw where they went. I can make you a map for finding their Black March.”

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Village Showdown

As the Beheaders approached the settlement, a figure on horseback rode out from the nearest farmhouse. An older man hailed them, one had rested on a longsword at his hip. He introduced himself as Perren Auldwyl, a widower and the town of Erstlin’s elder. He guessed that the party would be seeking a place to stay the night and offered his well-kept farmhouse. The Beheaders asked about Jaryn, the cult and the Black March but the old man appeared not to hear them as he led them to his house. He engaged them in mundane conversation about the weather.

At the house he began preparing a meal and the Beheaders again questioned him about the cult and the Black March.

“Not the first time I’ve heard such questions from outsiders,” Auldwyl said, “And I’ll tell you straight what I told them – Erstlin don’t need no would-be heroes making trouble. Best you take your questions and head back to your precious cities at first light.”

From outside came the sound of hoofbeats through the dark night. Auldwyl sprinted to a window and carefully peered through the shutters.

“Fools!” he hissed as he turned back. “You don’t know what you’ve done.”

Suddenly, a bugbear crashed through the window knocking Auldwyl to the floor unconscious. Another bugbear crashed through the door and a pair of hobgoblin soldiers followed. A hobgoblin warcaster appeared behind the bugbear at the window. The Beheaders fought well and killed the intruders without taking a casualty. When each combatant was killed a blood-red mist floated from their bodies. Beneath their cloaks, the goblinoids wore gray tunics marked with the symbol of a black hand. The rough appearance of their clothing was a stark contrast to their well-made arms and armor, and to a magic rod carried by the warcaster. Each cultist also wore a rough silver talisman with an empty space where a stone should set.

Auldwyl recovered from consciousness angry, “Unless you’re planning to stick around to take on the group that comes looking for this one, you ain’t done us no favors.”

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The Frontier

The Beheaders followed, according to Emesha’s map, Jaryn’s trail across the borderlands searching for any information about the paladin, the cult and the location of the Black March. The frontier was an inhospitable expanse that offered little in the way of food or shelter. The Beheaders were lucky to have the basket of everlasting provisions and although they did not suffer much from hunger they were unable to find adequate shelter most nights and suffered some from exposure to the unkind winter. The absence of trade roads made the trek a slow endeavor. Theren did well finding the intermittent foot and cart paths crisscrossing the wilderness. After a few days, the trails they followed eventually joined a faint track. Ahead, scrubland gave way to fields dotted with farmhouses. However, even before they reached the village, the Beheaders felt eyes on them. Through shuttered windows, the villagers watched them approach with dark suspicion.

Over the coarse of a week, the Beheaders came across a few such villages described above. The folk of the frontier were reluctant to speak of the Hand of Naarash. The settlements had no inns or taverns and the Beheaders had to seek shelter in private homes and farms. The folk of the frontier were uniformly suspicious of strangers and downright fearful of the Hand of Naarash. They hung out at one village for an extra day and Theren hunted down a deer and offered it to a family who had let them sleep in their barn. This was all in an attempt to build goodwill. The gesture provided mild success at aquiring information.

“I heard a story from a refugee family out of the Harsmad,” said the man of the house, “that met a holy knight of Pelor. Said he looked like a wild man – mud and brambles in his hair, a string of hobgoblin teeth around his neck.”

The man had no more information but gave the party a point in the general direction of the Harsmad Hills. At the end of that first week, the last three settlements the Beheaders passed had been burned out. Human and hobgoblin bodies were scattered in the ash. Just before dusk on the seventh day, they found a settlement still standing. The track met up with a wide stream ahead with green fields to both sides.

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Mission To The Borderlands

“Friends,” the cleric beckoned, “I would speak to you of a matter of some importance and a favor that we might humbly, beg in Pelor’s name. Our order fights the Hand of Naarash at every turn, but still the cult’s strength grows. Our hope a year ago was that striking at the heart of the cult would grant us an advantage. That hope has been dashed until now – should you decide to aid us. We need a group willing to seek a paladin named Jaryn, lost across the frontier. Your actions tonight, putting yourself in danger to defend others, makes me hopeful that you might undertake this quest.

“Jaryn is a stalwart of our faith and a veteran of countless campaigns against the cult. At the request of Makkas Day, the Sheriff of Bridgeblock, he and a group loyal to him undertook a mission a year ago that would have struck a mortal blow at the heart of Naarash.

“While our order defends villages of the frontier, Jaryn and four companions sought to take the battle to the heart of the cult. Naarash’s faithful are based in a great temple in the Moonsfall Mountains. The Pillars of Night, they call it. Jaryn swore to break the cult by destroying its leaders.

“Our last contact with Jaryn was a sending ritual six months ago that placed him deep in the borderlands at the head of a trail called the Black March. We have had no further word.

“Four faithful of Pelor accompanied Jaryn. They are Andressa and Annika, sister-clerics of our order; the fighter Kelma; and Dajani, a tiefling sworn to Pelor’s cauase. Jaryn has long straight blond hair and a prominant scar on his left cheek earned in a battle with a hobgoblin war chief.

“Naarash is said to be a hobgoblin prophet of Bane before the fall of Nerath, but no history speaks of that name. The Hand of Naarash arose as a hobgoblin cult five years past, though it now counts all of the borderlands’ races among its members. “They prey on the most isolated frontier villages for converts and spoils. Townsfolk are given the choice of joining the Hand or accepting the salvation of death.

“Our own operatives are too well-known among the cultists. Two groups have tried already to follow Jaryn’s path. Neither returned. A capable party unknown to the cult might succeed where others have failed.”

The Beheaders accepted the quest and Emesha sketched out a map that would seethem through the first stage of their journey. She carried little wealth but offered the party 100-gp as they prepared for their expedition. They refused the gift graciously and donated a generous amount to Farrah Goldleaf to help the new refugees.

In the morning, with a last word of thanks, Emesha and her compatriots took their leave as they escorted a group of refugees to larger settlements south and west. The Beheaders destination was east, and the frontier road was all but empty as they headed out.

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