It had been a long few days on the caravan ride in to Falcon’s Hollow. Zandu had linked up with a traveling caravan as a guard to make a few coins and eat for the next couple of days. He was a monk of Irori but that didn’t mean he didn’t need to eat. That was for those fanatic aesthetic monks. Zandu was a little more practical in the matter. He had met a half-elf woman also serving as a guard on the caravan. Her name was Kieyanna, a soul dedicated to the art of weapon’s master and searching for a place in the world. Zandu immediately identified with her plight and wondered if he had found a kindred spirit.
Arriving into Falcon’s Hollow just before dark the two guards were discharged from their duty being paid a measly 3 gold and 27 copper pieces for their three days of work protecting the heavily laden caravans from robbers and wild creatures. The town was quite un-impressive. Wooden shacks dotted the side of one main street and signs boasted a few shops for tools and drink. Nearly the entire population of Falcon’s Hollow were employed by the Lumber Consortium who worked this area of the Darkmoon Vale. These few merchants who had set up permanent shop hoped to take every penny of the lumbers’ hard earned coin. It was a rough town and the people looked like they lived a hard life. Coughs rang out from a few workers as they bustled about the streets carrying tools and heading in and out of town. There was a look of fear in some of their faces.
The two sell-swords found their way to Jak’a’Napes Inn and Tavern. They found the rotund red-faced human owner, Jack, happy to rent them each a room. At the dinner table that evening the two first started to hear the whispers of something called, The Affliction. It seemed the coughs of those in town were relatively new and something to be feared. One man explained that his mother had just succumbed to the deadly disease. The remedies of Laurel had not been enough to save her. “What we need is a miracle!” exclaimed the lumberjack. They later learned from the old Bard, Jack, that Laurel was the herbalist in town. She had a new idea about a cure and was looking for adventurers to collect the ingredients.
Spending a night in warmth recharged Zandu’s soul after the rough trip on the road. He spent two hours in quiet meditation focusing on his mission and reconciling what his next move meant for the Glorious Endeavor.
The next morning, sitting at a small table in the inn, Zandu, enjoyed some of Jack’s legendary flapjacks. He looked up at Kieyanna and stated, "I want to talk to Laurel about the new cure. It might pay better than the caravan guard gig and we might learn something of interest. His cover as a devout follower of Irori, the God of History, Knowlege, and Self-Perfection, (ideals Zandu embodied) gave him the perfect reasons to travel the world. She looked across the table at him and smirked, “I guess we will just save the whole world, then. But I wouldn’t mind not having the leering eyes and crude comments from the merchants any time soon. Perhaps this will prove better.”
They finshed their breakfast and made their way over to Roots and Remedies, the herbalist shop in town. The line stretched out of the door and there were about 30 men, women, and children waiting with desparate stares and raking caughs. Kieyanna quickly started walking for the front door not bothering to wait in the stopped line. Amidst angry looks and several people saying, “Aye, there’s a line here, lass.” She made sure to let them see her sword and shoved her way into the little shop. She looked over her shoulder to make sure Zandu was following and smiled at him. “What,” she asked, “we’re here to help find a cure.”
Laurel was working behind a counter that doubled as her customer counter and a work station for mixing herbs and distilling them with a boiling pot and an aparatus of some sort. She was busilly handing the mother and child at the counter things from their resting spot on shelves along her wall. The woman placed a few coins on the counter thanking Laurel for her help and promising to follow her directions exactly. The child let out a deep cough from his lungs that lasted nearly a full minute. The two left through the door with a hopeful smile.
“What can I do for you?” Laurel demanded of the two adventures. “Here for potions or salves? A treatment for the Affliction?”
Kieyanna took the lead in the conversation letting her know that they were here to help find a real cure. Laurel admitted that her treatment was not doing much but easing the caugh before the fungal infection ate the afflicted from the inside-out. Most of what Laurel knew came out of her mother’s old book of treatments. There was one scrawled recipie at the end of the book that she had not yet tried due to the lack of key ingredients. She convinced the adventurers to find the three ingredients and bring them back quickly so she could try and save the lives. There were already a dozen dying each day and getting worse. Despite Kieyanna and Zandu’s best efforts to haggle Laurel into paying them more for the ingredients, Laurel held firm to her offer of 30 gold pieces each for enough of the three ingredients.
Encouraged by the promise of a generous amount of coin for their troubles the two headed out of the shop. Laurel had given them rough descriptions of the three things she required: elderwood moss, Rat’s Tail, and Ironbloom Mushrooms. Legend told of an oldest tree in the forest where the moss should reside. There was an old wise-woman who may have the specially preserved rat’s tail. Their best bet to find the ironbloom mushrooms was an old ruined dwarven monastery on the far side of the wood. She suggested they look to the lumber camp for an experienced tracker who would know of the area. Laurel had never been into the wood.
The brightly colored Varisian monk and the dark brown haired woman clad in scale mail journeyed down the road to the Lumber Consortium Office where they hoped to find someone to lead them into the woods. They were stopped at the gates and informed the foreman was at the Logging Camp at the edge of the forest. It was a few hour’s walk from Falcon’s Hollow. “No time like the present.” Zandu said, and the two began the walk to the camp.
They found the logging camp without incident. It was at the end of the road and was a dirt clearing at the edge of the woods. The only people here were loggers and the support staff to make the camp run smoothly. Several crude bunk houses made up the majority of the permanent buildings and people were coming and going. Two gruff loggers passed near Zandu and Kieyanna asking sarcastically if they were here to sign on and work. After asking several people for the foreman and told not to bother they were finally pointed in the right direction. Walking into the Lumber Consortium office in the Logging Camp the two saw a man yelling at two men. He finished telling them to pick up production speed or he would have to find someone else to run his teams. He dismissed the two men and quickly turned to the Zandu and Kieyanna with a scowl.
“What do you want?” he demanded. “I don’t have time to deal with treasure hunters. My men are working themselves ragged out there and half of them are sick with some disease. You have one minute.” Kieyanna took half a step forward and rested her hand on the pummel of her sword. “We are here looking for a guide who can take us into the forest in search of a cure for that plague affecting your people and those in Falcon’s Hollow.” The foreman shook his head. “That’s a fool’s errand. Traders come here selling their cure and it makes no difference. The old ones are the first to go.” Kieyanna told him about Laurel’s list of items and the hope that it would cure the fungus. She must have been persuasive enough or he just didn’t care to keep up the conversation. Either way he sent a runner to find Rhoddam, the grizzled forester who knew his way around the forest better than any in the camp.
After a bit of talking the tracker was convinced to guide the two adventurers into the dangerous woods. He had received word that morning that his nephew, living in Falcon’s Hollow, had fallen ill with the affliction. Kieyanna convinced him this was worth his time and with his aid they may be able to save the boy.
Rhoddam did, in fact, know the location of the oldest tree in the wood, the witch’s hut, and the dwarven monastery. With all decided they immediately set out for the monastery on the far side of the wood. Rhoddam explained that the monastery was built near the mountains of the ancent Dwarven Five Kingdoms. It had not been used in hundreds of years and had become home to all manner of beasts.
The way to the monastery wound through the forest. Rhoddam followed existing game trails and natural breaks in the path. As the group was skirting around the lake at the heart of the Darkwood they came across a wounded fox in a trap. It was sitting in the open shore side about 20 feet from the forest edge and 10 feet from the water. As the group approached the trap with Rhoddam declaring his hatred for such a lazy and dishonorable way to kill animals. Working with Kieyanna they successfully freed the animal from the trap and were able to stop the bleeding. Just as they were about to check for broken bones an arrow flew by Rhoddam and stuck in the dirt at the water’s edge.
“Archer! in the trees!” exclaimed Rhoddam before anyone else could react. Zandu was next to move. Without seeing the target he ran diagionally into the treeline seeking cover and looking for the archer. Rhoddam shot into the treeline going the other direction hoping to trap the archer in between them. Kieyanna went straight toward the base of the tree and was in a perfect spot to throw her starknife at the escaping hobgoblin as he ran for security deeper in the woods. The thrown dagger stuck him squarely in the gut taring a nice hole. Rhoddam quickly loosed his arrows narrowly missing the fleeing creature. Zandu run parallel to the hobgoblin disrupting his escape while preparing for a death blow. Kieyanna’s arrow shot true and took the last effort out of the monster as it sliced through his throat in a gurgle of blood and air. The assaulter fell where he stood midstride and expired.
It was not the first time anyone there had seen blood. Zandu quickly arrived next to the dead hobgoblin and rummaged through its pockets and pouches looking for any information on why this thing had bated a trap for them. He looked like a hunter with a single well crafted shortbow, 12 arrows, and a dagger. Why did he attack us? he wondered. Surely he knew he wouldn’t be able to kill us all. A fools errand. Kieyanna joined him and collected her starknife and arrow. She also saw, with delight, the 3 sparkling gems he had kept in a pouch. Rhoddam gave the shortbow a draw and commented about the strength. He said he would be carrying that out.
About an hour later, as darkness neared, the party made camp along a stream.