Dramatis Personae: Calla, Gil, Keluak, Keth, and Tasklar
Source: “Wedding Bells” (Dungeon 89)
[DM Note: This was the first time all five of my players were at the table at the same time since the campaign started!]
Prologue: Kaylessa’s Gift
One fine autumn evening, the PCs all found themselves sitting around Kaylessa’s table, sharing a delicious meal she had prepared for them herself. Afterwards, Kaylessa explained that she had called them all together because she had a gift for them. She’d been keeping track of their exploits in the region and was quite impressed. They had more than proved themselves worthy of the name of “hero”, and she wanted to reward them for it.
Leading them into an adjoining room, Kaylessa had them gather around the large silver bowl they had found in Tamaich’s tomb. With a few words of magic, the half-elf conjured up a silvery fire inside the bowl. She then explained that by saying a vow and placing a hand in the flames, the PCs would receive a blessing from the Platinum Dragon. At this, the group glanced around the room, finally taking in the preponderance of draconic imagery within. “Kaylessa must have a thing for dragons,” they all concluded.
The vow was to swear to do good deeds, to cause no undue harm to the innocent, and to gladly oppose those who would commit evil acts or harm the innocent. If they were to ever break this vow, they would lose the blessing. Upon hearing this, Keth and Keluak were both a bit hesitant, given that they’d seemingly caused undue harm to that half-ogre priest who was now haunting them as a revenant, but Kaylessa assured them that wrongs committed in the past had no bearing on their commitment to the future. Both gladly placed their hands in the fire, as did Gil and Tasklar. As each of them spoke the words of the vow, the fire passed through their flesh and inscribed a silvery dragonmark on the backs of their hands.
Keluak received the Mark of the Storm, while Keth was given the Mark of Warding. Gil was given the Mark of Handling, while Tasklar received the Mark of Finding. The marks sparkled in the light for a few moments, then faded away. Kaylessa explained that they would only show themselves again when their gifts were activated.
Then came Calla’s turn. Nervously, she approached the flames. Boldly, she stuck her hand in … but before she could say the words of the vow, the fire turned an angry red and the roar of a dragon echoed around the room. Calla writhed in agony, unable to pull her hand away even as the fire burned through her flesh. When she was finally able to free her hand, she was horrified to find an evil-looking scar etched onto the back of her hand. Unlike the others’ marks, this one did not fade away. In fact, when she tried covering it up with her sleeve, it just burned the fabric away. It did not want to be hidden! At the same time, Calla felt a newfound source of power welling up within her – the power to twist and shape the flames, to burn all her problems away!
Kaylessa was distraught. This was not what was supposed to have happened! Something had gone terribly wrong! She asked everyone to leave so she could have time to think. As she ushered them out the door, she begged Calla for her forgiveness. Tears glistened in Kaylessa’s eyes. She had broken her own vows! How could she have been so stupid?
Some time later, the PCs received invitations to the wedding of Gil’s teenage sister, Ghenna. She was marrying a farmer’s boy, Avan, in the faraway town of Dockalong. Ghenna wanted Keth to officiate at the wedding, and she wanted Calla to be her maid of honor. She also wanted her cousin Tasklar to perform some music for the ceremony. There was no question of Gil attending, of course, and he was invited to bring his dwarf friend along too. The journey to Dockalong would take a fortnight, and there wasn’t much time – if they were lucky, they’d get there a day or two before the wedding – so the group gathered their things, found some gifts and some nice clothes, and set off.
Heading south, they skirted around the swamp in which they’d battled the corrupted lizardfolk and passed through a city or two. As they headed back out of the settled lands and into the wilderness again, they found themselves walking along a wooded trail in the hills. Suddenly they realized it had gone very quiet … but before they could react, they found themselves under attack as someone in the woods off to their right spoke a few words of magic.
Tasklar and Keluak, leading the way, both found their limbs beginning to stiffen. Though the human was able to shake it off, the dwarf soon found himself paralyzed. At that moment, a naked female gnoll came charging out of the woods, swinging a huge flail at the dwarf. Hot on her heels was a quartet of slavering hyenas. Off to the left, another gnoll barked out a command before firing arrows at the PCs.
Unable to move, Keluak was quickly battered and bitten into unconsciousness. Tasklar quickly followed, as the hyenas and the gnoll berserker turned their attention to him. At that moment, a thundercloud developed suddenly overhead, and sizzling bolts of lightning began flashing down onto the road.
The ensuing battle was fierce, as the PCs fought for their very lives. Keth worked furiously to keep his comrades alive, while Gil and Calla took aim at their attackers from the rear, taking cover in the trees to avoid the deadly lightning bolts. Eventually they succeeded in slaying the berserker and all the hyenas, at which point Keth set off to find the gnoll spellcaster slinging magic at them from the cover of the woods. However, he didn’t get far before she caused a field of nasty, sharp thorns to spring up all around him, slicing him up no matter which way he turned. He gave up moving, but she inched closer and lashed him with a thorny whip, yanking him through the field of spikes until he succumbed to the pain and drifted into unconsciousness himself.
Seeing his friend go down, Gil pulled a Tarzan and used his grappling hook and rope to swing through the trees over the thorn patch to attack the gnoll spellcaster. He paused to pour a healing potion down Keth’s throat, and together they managed to kill the gnoll spellcaster before she could escape. The gnoll archer, however, did manage to leg it away through the trees.
Exhausted, the PCs searched the bodies, finding a few potions on the caster and a magical cat’s paw on a silver chain around the otherwise naked gnoll berserker’s neck. The paw, though badly preserved, turned out to be a good luck charm. The group decided Keluak needed it the most and gave it to him to wear. A few of the more observant PCs noticed that some of the gnolls’ items reeked of something worse than unwashed dog, though they couldn’t figure out what it was.
After spending the night in an old abandoned farmhouse by the side of the trail, the group pressed on towards Dockalong. They soon came to a lookout where they could see a broad river valley stretching away in front of them. On the near side of the river lay many fields and small hamlets, with the largest – clearly Dockalong itself – situated on the banks of the river. On the far side, however, lay unspoilt forest. Elf country, they were told. In fact, Dockalong was positioned in the elven borderlands – a region where non-elves were permitted to live so long as they paid taxes to their elven overlords.
As they trudged down the path towards town, they came across a pair of middle-aged halflings. The woman was fiercely berating the man, brandishing a switch at him. As the PCs approached, the halfling woman asked if any of them had seen her son – or his good-for-nothing girlfriend. When they replied that they hadn’t, she sighed and turned back towards town, tugging the man, who turned out to be her brother, along with her.
Shortly after this, they came across a human woman picking berries. When she spotted them, she dove into the bushes to hide, thinking the PCs might be bandits come to steal the fruits of her labors. But no, the PCs only wanted to inquire about the impending nuptials in Dockalong.
Moving on, they encountered an older halfling woman riding a donkey. She seemed quite pleased to see them and happily answered all their questions. She introduced herself as Jikk Hardwalk, a Blessed Daughter of the Sisterhood (that is, a priestess of the trinity of deities worshipped by many halflings) and the honorary town priest of Dockalong. She explained that she was just doing her rounds of the outlying farms and villages, but she would be happy to meet with them when she returned to town later.
A little further on, the group came to an old stone arch marking the entrance into Dockalong itself. A human woman sprang to attention, brandishing a halberd. She asked the PCs to identify themselves and then informed them that people were not allowed to bear arms into the town without Sheriff Savil’s permission. The PCs were happy to wait for permission, so the guard asked some of the curious children hanging about to go and fetch someone named Honesty.
A few minutes later, up road a hobgoblin bearing the seven-pointed star of the Andarian Septry on his breastplate! He introduced himself as Honesty, representative of Sheriff Savil. He asked the PCs’ names and business in town, challenging their answers and deliberately mispronouncing their names in response. He then asked each of them to hand over their most powerful weapon. Some of the PCs were rather cheeky, especially Keth, who claimed his most powerful weapon was his faith. At one point, it looked like the hobgoblin and half-orc might come to blows, but just then another person rode up – a middle-aged half-elven woman in a green cloak. She wore a wooden disk around her neck bearing a stylized tree-and-arrow emblem – the symbol of her office as representative of the eld lord Ulurishay, ruler of this part of the borderlands.
After having a quiet word with Honest, Sheriff Savil welcomed the PCs into Dockalong. As they passed through the archway, Honesty returned their weapons to them politely and respectfully. With that, the PCs made their way into town to find accommodations – and, in Gil and Tasklar’s cases, their relations!
A Series of Intriguing Events
With the wedding ceremony planned for the following afternoon, the PCs had a little over a day to relax and explore the town. Plenty of locals were interested in coming to see them too, although not always in the most appropriate ways. For instance, Calla received a nighttime visitor in the form of a small dwarf child who, upon being caught rifling through the sorceress’s personal things, tried to flee. Calla used her magic to shut the door in the child’s face and then jumped on her. The girl screeched and pleaded with Calla not to tell her parents. She’d only wanted to have a look at a real mage’s stuff! At that point, Keluak awoke and went to investigate. Upon being filled in, he was insistent that the girl be taken home to her parents, despite her fear of being sent “under the mountain”. Calla, however, took pity on the girl and promised not to tell if she promised not to sneak into anyone’s room ever again.
Earlier in the day, the group had been approached by a nervous townsman who asked if anyone in the group might be able to cure his wife of mindfire. Keth agreed to go and have a look. He openly prayed to Freya (since Dockalong appeared to be open to religions other than the Septry) and the half-elven woman was miraculously healed! The couple attempted to pay Keth, but he refused, instead asking them to pay it forward, perhaps by making a donation to someone of the Old Faith.
Meanwhile, a contingent of dwarves came to visit Keluak. They were keen for some news from “under the mountain”. Unfortunately for Keluak, he wasn’t as up to speed on news from the dwarf kingdoms as Tasklar the bard. Having been listening in, Tasklar came over and told some interesting tales – some true, some improvised. The dwarves appreciated the human’s efforts, but looked askance at Keluak. What kind of dwarf was he that he would allow a human to show him up in such a way? The Dockalong dwarves went away troubled, and Keluak tried to drown his embarrassment with more alcohol.
Gil met up with his family and was presented with the wooden leg of his old, now deceased, Uncle Hasken. Gil had once stolen the leg from his uncle, so he supposed that this had been the old man’s idea of a joke. His mother was insistent that he’d wanted Gil to have it.
On the morning of the wedding, the PCs were woken up by a disturbance in the street below. The missing halfling’s girlfriend had turned up, surprised to find he wasn’t in town. They’d arranged to meet in the usual trysting spot in the woods across the river, but he’d never shown up. The PCs went with the halflings to see Sheriff Savil, who arranged to have a patrol go into the woods to investigate. They took with them a standard that acted as a sort of “pass” so that any elven patrols who saw it would know not to attack. The PCs followed along. Halfway down the trail, Tasklar noticed signs of passage off to the west but chose to kept that info to himself until later. He wanted to see the trysting spot first.
The trysting spot, while idyllic, was devoid of any clues. The guards concluded that the elves must have got poor Noddy, the missing halfling, and headed back to town. The PCs hung around a little longer, and Tasklar revealed what he’d found. Calla was fearful of being ambushed by elves now that they were no longer under the protection of the guards’ banner, but they reached the side trail safely and followed it to a large tree, where Noddy’s footprints suddenly stopped. At the base of the tree were some foul bird droppings, which a few of the PCs recognized as bearing the same stench as the items they’d picked up from the gnolls. Tasklar climbed up into the tree and found more droppings on a large branch. Wracking his brains, he came to a sudden realization, thanks to his newfound investigative abilities: there was a harpy about!
The PCs immediately started to plug up their ears, but Tasklar assured them that this wasn’t its roost. No, it appeared to have perched her just long enough to lure Noddy off the path and then snatch him up and carry him away. At this point, Calla was sure that ferocious elves would pop out from behind the trees at any moment, so the group headed back to town and made their report. Sheriff Savil took their information seriously and sent out some patrols to investigate the various old ruins from a past civilization scattered around the valley. She presumed it was possible that a harpy could have set up a nest in one of them.
The news spread around the town, and the PCs soon heard grumblings about how it must have been someone named Laggo who’d taken Noddy. The townsfolk seemed reluctant to talk about him, but Tasklar applied his charm and soon found out that Laggo was a satyr who’d been raised in town after being orphaned at birth. He’d seemed all right at first, but he’d grown up much faster than human children and got himself into enough trouble that Sheriff Savil had exiled him from town. Unfortunately, he still hung around the valley, occasionally causing trouble in the outlying villages and the like.
At this point, the PCs could do nothing more to help with the search for Noddy lest they miss Ghenna’s wedding. Calla went to consult with her friend (and inform her of Keth’s plans for various barbaric rituals, almost all of which Ghenna vetoed). The ceremony went smoothly, and soon the happy couple were greeting their friends and relations on the feasting field, where a number of games and activities had also been set up. The PCs bestowed their gifts upon the newlyweds, among them some of the jewelry they’d plundered from the ancient tombs and the magical mirror that always presented a flattering image to the viewer that Gil had taken from the evil lizard queen’s belongings beneath the ruined fane.
Keth and Tasklar soon found themselves competing to catch a greased pig (which Keth won), while Gil and Calla had a go at each other on a log with cushioned staves (which Calla won, although Gil insisted that he’d “let” her). Tasklar also got into a friendly musical competition with the local bard, an elf named Willon Evesimere. Afterwards, he struck up a conversation with the elf, learning a bit more about the town, its inhabitants, and its history.
Keth and Tasklar also went up against Honesty in a game of fisticuffs, though neither of them was able to beat the burly hobgoblin. He was impressed enough by the gesture to buy them each a round of drinks afterwards, though. Unbeknownst to their comrades, Gil and Calla had both bet against them and thus raked in a bit of extra money.
The Wedding Crasher
As the festivities began to wind down, Laggo the satyr showed up. Charming nearly everyone with his pan pipes, he proceeded to hand the bride and groom a well-made dagger he claimed to have found in the ruins outside of town. Keth, shaking off the satyr’s magic, recognized the harpy’s stink on the dagger and demanded that the satyr talk about the harpy. When Laggo balked and denied knowing anything about a harpy, Keth punched him. Some of the other townsfolk who’d resisted the magical tune cheered Keth on in an attempt to whip up a mob to drive the satyr away. Those who were still under the influence, however, tried to placate everyone, insisting that Laggo was a friend and should be treated as such!
Eventually the PCs were able to persuade Laggo to take them to the site where he’d found the dagger, but when they got there, he quickly and quietly slipped away into the woods, leaving them stranded … luckily, Keth’s survival skills were good enough to get them back to town, where they found everyone heading back home to bed.
In the morning, Keth was praying at the town’s non-denominational temple when he heard the faint strands of Laggo’s pipes coming from the woods to the north. Gathering up his companions (all except Keluak, who couldn’t be roused from slumber [his player had gone home early]), the group went to investigate.
Laggo revealed himself and apologized for his behavior the night before. He admitted to knowing a harpy named Arekla, whom he had thought was a friend. But he’d gone and confronted her and she had berated him as a fool, and he’d realized that she was completely right. He said he didn’t know for certain but thought that it was quite likely Arekla had Noddy hidden away in her tree, where she could torture him for days before he died. He offered to take the PCs to her lair but refused to fight with them, saying that even though he knew she was irredeemably evil now, he still couldn’t bring himself to hurt her.
The Harpy’s Lair
Laggo explained that Arekla laired in a hollowed-out old tree in a clearing in the woods to the north. As the group neared the harpy’s tree, he told them to plug up their ears so they wouldn’t be taken in by her song. The tree was about 40 feet high and had a hole in the side about 15 feet up. The ground around the tree was bare for about 30 feet all around. A large number of crows perched in the tree’s dead branches.
The PCs soon found out that the crows were allied with Arekla, as they swarmed to the attack pretty much as soon as the PCs approached. They also discovered that Arekla’s lair had a number of magical defences, included strong winds, clouds of stinking fumes, and patches of mud that would suck them down and then trap them as it hardened.
Eventually Arekla herself appeared, and while the PCs were mostly immune to her magic thanks to the wax in their ears, they still found themselves hard pressed to make any headway against the evil harpy and her magic. The swarms of crows proved to be particularly vicious. Tasklar was nearly pecked to death by them.
At one point, Arekla emerged from her lair – in the process revealing herself to be of fiendish blood, with a tough hide and leathery wings instead of feathered ones – and magically polymorphed Calla into a tiny field mouse. Though Calla attempted to hide in the forest underbrush, Arekla soon found her and snatched her up in her claws. She then flew high up into the air and waited … but there was to be no negotiating with Calla’s comrades, none of whom could hear the harpy’s demands, so eventually Arekla grew bored and let go of Calla the mouse.
Calla’s life flashed before her eyes, and she saw it ending abruptly as she slammed into the ground, but suddenly something else arrested her movement – Gil’s bat familiar had caught her up in its own claws!
Wounded and frustrated, Arekla made for her tree with the intention of grabbing her satchel of treasure and fleeing the scene. That was her last mistake, for as she flew into range of Gil’s magic, he placed her in a magical slumber. She plummeted out of the sky and landed with a sickening crunch. As Arekla breathed her last, Calla was released from the harpy’s magic and found herself back in her own body again.
Eventually freeing themselves of the mud, the other PCs brushed themselves off and then proceeded to climb into the tree to see if they could find Noddy. Braving the foul, diseased air inside the tree, they not only emerged with the sickly halfling but also the harpy’s treasure! Keth administered to Noddy, healing his wounds and curing him of his ailments, and the group then escorted him back to Dockalong, where they were hailed as heroes!