As Red walked over to Corlee, he wondered what he would say. How would he explain that he just met a goddess, made a binding pact with her to take a magical heart north to a far away country, and was given a portion of her power as magic? Besides that, how could Red possibly convince Corlee to come along with him? He was very anxious about the journey to Missuk, and the thought of going alone bothered him.
Meanwhile, Corlee happily was catching fish from a makeshift pole and no bait. Seeing Red approach, she held up a fish. “Look!” she said. “They’re just jumping onto the line! I don’t even have any bait!”
Red figured that this was because of the magical aura around Murdoch’s cabin. Greigon suggested that he and the cabin would always supply whatever Red needed. Right now, Red needed food.
Fumbling through the words, Red explained the situation to Corlee. Valtare had given him a command to take her Heart to Missuk and gave him magical abilities to do so. Corlee demanded a demonstration and Red cast his first spell, sending a forceful blast of energy at a dummy target Greigon had set up for him. They were both shocked at the power and Red began trying new spells. He invigorated himself with Valtare’s power, making him feel stronger somehow. Next, he focused on his magic and began to detect it from all around him. Bright beacons of arcane energy was shining from himself and the spell component pouch the two of them recovered from the cultists. More bright magic emanated from the cabin.
Red asked the question he was dreading. “What about you, Corlee?” he said. “Where will you go?”
Corlee surprised Red by offering to go with him. She said that her pilgrimage was still confusing to her, but she knew that it was supposed to be something that would build herself up and make her stronger. Corlee thought that traveling with Red might do that for her. The two decided to travel to Noname first and discuss with her master, Sable, on the best path to get to Missuk. They had two choices. The first was to continue north into Idil. The second was to go west into Padoria before turning north. Sable might have a good idea on which would be better.
Greigon appeared to Red and gave him charge of the cabin. He also gave him a round, smooth stone that was his connection to the Heart of Valtare. Right now, Greigon had it in his possession. He would need to bring it to the mortal plane occasionally, and would entrust it to Red at that time. But the stone would allow Red to feel the power of the Heart and know whether it was safe. Red put the stone into his pocket, gathered his supplies, and he and Corlee set out.
The journey from Murdoch’s Cabin was uneventful for most of the day. Red told Corlee stories in the army and Corlee told Red stories about the montesary in Idil. Before long, the sun was getting ready to set and the two travelers thought they should find a place to camp for the night. The main road in the Peace Plains wasn’t far. As they began searching for a place to rest, Red noticed a campfire a few miles away to the south. A truly wretched stench seemed to come from its direction. Corlee laughed and said whoever was camping there needed to learn how to cook. Red thought they should make for the camp and see who is out on the road. Camping in a group would be safer than just the two of them. Especially since Death Dogs were in the Plains.
Red and Corlee tried to be sneaky as they traveled because they did not want to alarm the camper at the fire. Unfortunately, Red stepped on a large twig and created a resounding snapping noise. This attracted the attention of the camper and the pair of Death Dogs behind them. Corlee was viciously bitten and thrown to the ground while another Death Dog charged at Red.
Red dodged out of the way and readied his sword. As he did, a thought sprung into his head instead. It was like a soft voice, commanding yet serene. It instructed him, all in an instant, to pull out of his spell component pouch a small twig that had been struck by lightning years and years ago. Red drew it out and aimed it to the Death Dog mauling Corlee and shouted, “Kurini aute me’a!”
A blast of lightning ripped out of the twig and scorched the Death Dog. It loosened its jaws from Corlee’s leg. She rolled away and drew a small sword, stabbing it through the chest. The other Death Dog turned and charged at Red again. Red raised up his hand in defense. A sudden wall of energy shone around him, shielding him from the attack. The Death Dog recoiled and ran around Red, kicking Corlee and knocking her to the ground. Blood pooled from her leg as her eyes began to flitter.
“Stay with me!” shouted Red, swinging his twig again. But the magic was gone out of it now. Instead, Red drew his sword and swung hard, slamming it into the Death Dog. The creature growled and lunged again, but the sword of the nearby camper met it instead. “I got him!” shouted the man as he raised a second sword and began a battle with the injured monster.
Red spun around to Corlee and took out some bandages from his soldier supplies and bound up the wound on her leg. “I’m fine…. I’m…” muttered Corlee before she went limp. Red began to panic, but the man with the swords settled down next to him.
“Good work with the wrapping,” he said. “She’s okay, just hurt. My camp is just over here. I’ll carry her.” He lifted Corlee up and began walking. Red stopped and turned towards the two dead Death Dogs. Neither moved.
The camper’s name was Alberich. He was a “wandering adventurer” as he called himself. Alberich came from a noble family in Orthallen, Padoria but had some kind of disagreement with his father and had come to Solsu instead. He was charming and charismatic, and Red found himself able to get along with Alberich easily. Alberich said that the Death Dogs were very numerous in the Peace Plains over the past few days. Red asked where he was going next and was happy to learn that Alberich planned to go to Noname. Since they had the same destination in mind, they formed an adventuring team.
The next morning, the group headed towards the crossroads of the Peace Plains. There, they would restock on supplies from the halfling merchants before moving south to Noname. But when they came to the crossroads, the merchant tents were gone. Red noticed the Death Dog tracks and the group assumed there had been a scuffle and the people here would probably go to Noname for protection. In the rubble, Red and Alberich found the merchants’ money box with a small, strange ring inside. Alberich decided to hold onto it. If the team could find the merchants in Noname, they’d return the money box to them.
Towards sundown, the team camped on some rocks just off the road. Red offered to watch camp, staying up late into the night and practicing his magic. His magical detection told him that Alberich had some arcane abilities of his own and that the ring in the money box had some power to it. While focusing on his magic, a small snake slithered too close and tried to bite at Red’s ankle. He looked out and saw that their campfire had drawn an assortment of serpents. Waking his allies, Red and the team left in a hurry, abandoning the rocks to the snakes and the night.
Alberich and Corlee were still weary and Corlee was still limping from her injury. Red led them as best as he could, trying to find a new place to camp. A small rain began to fall. They hurried off the side of the road to find shelter. As they did so, they heard the sound of horseshoes approaching. From around the bend came a horse drawing a wagon. Red and Corlee recognized the wagon immediately!
“The Old Wagoner!” said Red, running towards the wagon. But there was no driver. The Old Wagoner was nowhere to be found. The horse was tired and the Old Wagoner’s elderly dog was wimpering in the wagon, hungry and cold. Alberich set up a canopy on the wagon while Corlee calmed down the dog. Red found some grass for the horse to eat. He let his companions continue their rest while he watched over the wagon.
Red awoke with a start when Alberich roused him from his sleep. Apparently Red had fallen asleep somewhat! He still blinked and had trouble keeping his eyes open, so Alberich offered to drive the wagon while Corlee (now armed with Red’s crossbow) watched the road. Red tried to sleep in the back of the wagon but sleep would not find him. He was suddenly very worried about the halfling merchants and the disappearance of the Old Wagoner.
A few hours before sundown on the next day, Alberich called out to Red. A very old elven man was fishing in a nearby stream. He was frail and leaning heavily against a tree while barely supporting an old fishing rod. Red jumped out of the wagon and approached him. “Good evening, grandfather! What are you doing out here all alone?”
The old elf, Turtin, said that his son drove him out here from Noname early in the morning to do some fishing. Turtin Junior, as his son was called, was nowhere to be seen. Junior was the blacksmith of Noname and said that he needed to get some work done, and that Turtin Senior should just do some fishing for the day. Red offered to take Turtin back into town with them and said he would find his son and see what had been keeping him. Alberich and Corlee exchanged concerned looks with Red. Did Turtin Junior just abandon his father? What was the reason for that?
The sun began to set fully as Turtin told the wagon where to go to reach Noname. For some strange reason, the entire town was completely darkened. No torches were lit. The tavern was dark and cold. Windows were shut all across the small town. Red said to his companions, “We need to get Turtin to his house. Something is very wrong here. Let’s see that he is safe before we look around.”
“I hope Master Sable is okay!” said Corlee.
Turtin’s house was on the edge of Noname. He lifted a heavy iron key into the lock and let himself him. He turned around and thanked the team for their help before giving them another key. This key, he said, was for his guest room and the three of them would all be very welcome to stay with him while they were in Noname. After all, Noname did not have an inn for travelers. With the elderly elf safe in his house, Red, Corlee, and Alberich walked down the main road of Noname.
They found the tavern easily enough. Like the other buildings in Noname, it was ghostly quiet. But unlike the others, a single candle was lit on the bar counter. The three travelers entered the tavern and found no one inside. The note read: “I told you the town would pay. You know what I want. Next time I will not be so benevolent.”
Contemplating the threatening nature of the note, Red noticed another faint glow coming from the cellar door behind the counter. He and Alberich quietly lifted the door and saw a long tunnel leading away and under the town. Red could see well enough in the dark, so he decided to go down and investigate. Corlee wanted to stay by Red, so she went down the tunnel with him. Alberich offered to look around the rest of town and try to find someone else.
Red and Corlee came to the end of the tunnel, following the light of some other person who was in front of them. At the end, they found a metal door leading to a mysterious beyond. Red and Corlee were disturbed and decided to investigate it in the morning when Red was not as tired. They returned back to the tavern and found Alberich waiting for them. He found the blacksmith’s shop, but it was dark and empty too. In fact, the entire town seemed to be completely silent. There were no lights anywhere except for the small candle in the tavern.
Alberich used a lockpicking set to get himself, Red, and Corlee into the blacksmith’s shop. In the upstairs bedroom, they found more threatening notes. It seemed that the blacksmith had made a deal with the wrong person! Just as the team was ready to leave, the blacksmith, Junior, appeared. Red apprehended Junior and asked him what was going on.
At first, Junior kept asking Red if he had sent him, Corlee, and Alberich. Upon learning that their group was just a few travelers, Junior told them what happened. A man in dark robes approached him six montsh ago to work on a magical weapon for him. Junior detected some evil and dark magic in the weapon and refused to do the job. The robed man was angry and threatened to do something horrible to the town if Junior did not do the work. Junior managed to evacuate his father out to the Peace Plains just as the threats became real. He managed to save a few adults and a few children, keeping them hidden in the basement of his shop. The rest of the town’s polulation had all heard a screeching sound and drew weapons against each other.
Junior led Red and his companions down to his basement where they met the people he had rescued. Corlee was happy to see that Master Sable, an enormously muscular tabaxi, was there, protecting the children Junior had saved. Red thought it best to move the people away from the center of town over to Turtin’s house. He quickly armed the adults with a few weapons borrowed from Junior’s shop and they quickly moved down the road towards Turtin’s.
A loud screech came from what Alberich described as the town’s jail. They all covered their ears until the noise ended. Junior said that this screech was what drove the townsfolk to madness earlier that day. After a few minutes, Red and his companions led the people to Turtin’s house and found them a few beds and blankets for the night.
Red sat with Alberich while Sable and Corlee helped get the children to sleep. “The jail house?”
“Yes,” said Alberich. “I found it further up the road from Junior’s place. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that awful noise came from there.”
“Let’s check it out in the morning,” said Red. “I’m far too tired to make it over there today.”
Alberich rolled out a sleeping bad and quickly feel into a deep slumber. Red watched the rest of the people. Turtin was happy to see Junior again, but Junior suggested Turtin’s age made it hard for him to understand the dire situation. Sable put the last of the children to sleep for the night before discussing with Corlee something Red could not hear.
Red checked his crossbow, paying close attention to the tightness of the string. He counted his bolts, then counted them again. He checked his sword, then checked a longsword he had borrowed from Junior. Everything was in order. He was prepared to get into a fight tomorrow. The connection to magic that he felt due to Valtare’s influence on him seemed stronger today. And yet, he was uneasy. The door at the end of the tunnels was constantly on his mind, as was the sound of the horrible screech, making it difficult for him to finally fall asleep on the floor of Turtin’s house.