Deepwatch, the Griffin Tower near Willows Deep had fallen to the Dark Souls, strange elfin creatures that had climbed out of the Deep. The combined forces of the Griffin Knights and Black Knights from Firebridge made preparations to retake the keep, but their chances were not looking good as a dark cloud descended on the area, shrouding the land in night.
A group of adventurers were called by name to the Norcastle to venture into the cordon raised by local militia and seek out whatever was causing the cloud, destroy it and thereby weaken the Dark Souls power.
The adventurers summoned were as follows:
- Captain-General Catherine Brack-on-Hill, Lady Mayoress of Norham and commander of the Berwickshire Medium Light Infantry;
- Woodsman Arden Digby of the Berwickshire Scouts;
- Junior Forester Rowan Tait of Amblevale;
- Senior Guildsman Johnny Test of the School of Enchantment; Senior Guildsman Arthur Lightfoot of the School of Demonology; Junior Guildsman Tobius DePiercy and Journeyman Gaelan Iskarschrynn of the Mages Guild;
- Surgeon-General Doctor Georgina Herald and Journeyman Leonardo Knighte of the Physicians Guild;
- High Father William Kilder of Sidhe, Chaplin of the Grey Order; Father Benedict DePiercy of Crowa; Brother Lucius Aquarius Rhade of Vleybor; Sister Sorcha Gravesong of Kharach; Novice Ember Rich of Rolbor;
Dark Souls appear to be like dark elves, but pale skinned and with heightened senses from surviving underground in Willows Deep. They hate the light, shunning it at all costs, which is why they had drawn down the clouds to shroud the land in darkness, and were known to wear armour, travel with mages, and sometimes seem to be able to speak and understand Ithronian.
After being informed by the mages that they “knew” how to handle what we were likely to encounter, and after Rowan inspected permits, the party “paired” up and set off out of Newcroft along the Western Road, heading for Deepwatch. As they approached, the light seemed to dim to twilight although it was only mid-morning and a haze began to cover the sky. They encountered a group of milita men of the cordon where a man with a foreign accent was trying to convince one of the men to accompany him back to Newcroft so he could speak with the Surgeon General. But, lo and behold, with Doctor Herald on the scene (and Rowan keeping an eye on him), his task was done and he disappeared back on the road after passing on his message. It seems he was a servant of the Princess Repnina Hadiria, the King’s betrothed and a Princess of Tholon – the current focus of the plot running up to Summerfest and the King’s wedding. There is lots of speculation of what might happen, but I won’t list them here. I will not be accused of offering more ideas to the Senior Refs.
Passing beyond the cordon, Arden and Rowan took point, scouting ahead of the party. They triggered an ambush of Dark Souls by looking too closely at a bush and a fight broke out, over which Sorcha and Lucius called for peace and understanding and generally got very exasperated with the party. One Dark Soul evaded Rowan’s mace and ran off around the side, looking to charge into the “squishy” centre of the party, but Arden charged after him and killed him before he had the chance. Dragging the bodies together to allow Sorcha to send their souls on, Rowan and Arden went on ahead, keeping watch for more of these Dark Souls. They encountered several waves of the creatures, one of them stopping to speak with the party. An agreement was made, much to the General’s exasperation, that they would speak with the creature and he was allowed to close with the party before launching himself at the Kharachian. But Rowan and Catherine had expected this and the creature was killed before he could do any more harm.
They came to a tunnel at a splitting of paths, where they were attacked from two sides, with some taunting by both parties, until a decision was made to get out of there quick. As they approached the tunnel, Rowan had a thought – the Dark Souls had not come from the tunnel. What if there was something amiss. Calling a halt, she pulled out some of the General’s rope, cracked open her alchemical light and prepared to enter the tunnel. However, her apprentice was a stubborn as she was and he ventured into the tunnel to investigate. As he reached the end of the rope he came across some items hanging from the ceiling and returned to report, to return for a closer look with Gaelan holding the light. They appeared to be bundles of poisoned something hanging on fine cord across the mouth of the tunnel, though there was a high point through which a person could pass if they knew what was there. But as they approached this opening, Dark Souls popped out of the undergrowth, rushing the tunnel entrance but going no further.
Rowan called for the attention of the party and gave them instructions – to keep to the left side of the tunnel where they would find a “high point” in the trap through which they could pass. She agreed with the General that the fighters should make their way through first to push the Dark Souls back and to allow the safe passage of the rest of the party. Armed with a light and their weapons, Arden, Rowan, Catherine and Gaelan charged out of the tunnel and downed the Dark Souls before calling for the party to pass through the trap as quickly as they could. But as they navigated the trap, Dark Souls rushed them from behind and fearing that they were unaware of the danger, High Father William befriended the nearest and turned them back, instructing them to leave the cave. Disaster averted, the adventurers pressed on.
They encountered more Dark Souls – which continued the message of “get off our lands” which began to grate on the adventurers, before encountering something strange – Sol’s hat which he lost several months before. Catherine grimly picked it up, checking that it was his hat and Rowan offered to carry it for her in her satchel.
They met a “dragon” or a group of Dark Souls that seem to have been infected with “Black Blood” from the dead dragon of Willows Deep, which spoke to certain members of the party about what was going on – not to mention gave the Scouts information about what they were looking for. There were two apprentices feeding power into the main generator – likened by one of the mages as the source of oil for an oil lantern – and vague directions were given to them. Rowan and Arden kept an eye out for the path to the first and were nearly ambushed by a Dark Soul “playing dead”. As they made their way down towards the river, a voice greeted them from beneath the bridge and a Scout popped out of the shadows. He seemed charming enough, though didn’t quite answer certain direct questions and Catherine seemed to be aware of him, so Rowan left her to talk to him after he advised the party that he’d seen spell casters up on the ridge doing magic stuff – aka circling, bowing, kneeling etc., as well as rumours of a local treasure trove. He also reckoned the bridge was trapped, but Rowan and Arthur could see nothing as they pressed on ahead of the party, Arden keeping an eye on the ridge in case they were spotted.
The plan was to hit the group hard – hit them fast with enchanted blades and get the ones in armour which were considered more dangerous. Benedict led the charge up the hill where the fighters spilled out, attacking the Dark Souls gathered at the top. Rowan managed to get one before the spell caster, spotting the glowing blade, put her to sleep and she dropped to the ground, snoring softly. Benedict, realising what had happened, picked up her glowing dagger and went off and the magical focus was dismantled with little trouble.
As the party went back down the hill, leaving the scout to hunt for his family “trinket” amongst the ruins, Rowan and Arden were called to a halt as the party realised that two of the mages were missing. When they rejoined the party, around the same time that Catherine declared that anyone who lingered would be left behind, the group moved on. They came across a group of Dark Souls holding a scout prisoner – a scout who told the adventurers to go on without him, to leave him, to save themselves. The adventurers did no such thing, Rowan and Arden leaping on the Dark Soul with the knife as Brother Lucius healed the wounded man from a distance. The hostage rescued and the rest of the Dark Souls sent on, Catherine questioned the Scout as to what he was doing. Rowan was handed his permit by Brother Lucius and came to listen to his report, asking who sent him and reminding him of the Berwickshire rule – Scouts NEVER travel alone. She also thought that something dodgy was going on, but did not push it – trusting in the General’s judgement.
Up ahead they encountered what appeared to be a man speaking with a captured Dark Soul, who eventually turned out to be a demon in a man speaking with the Dark Soul. The man was separated from the demon and saved, though it seemed he was quite mad – speaking of Orda or the Order. Rowan, when discovering he had no permit for the sword he was carrying, confiscated the item and chucked it into the bushes to be reclaimed later and added to the Berwickshire Mercenaries armoury. Arden and Johnny Test spotted something moving off in the darkness, leading to Rowan, Arden, Gaelen and Benedict going to investigate. It appeared to be a Dark Soul on patrol, who did not spot them at first until they got closer – hissing at them, then turning to run, shouting something. Not wanting to bring the rest of its friends into combat, Rowan ordered Arden after it and her scout shot off, followed by Benedict. However, they were too late as a group of Dark Souls came out of the gloom and Rowan sent Gaelen running for the rest of the party. They fought off the Dark Souls and their reinforcements, fending off their attacks and forming a shield wall, though at one point Rowan was wounded on the body to fall to the ground. The party pushed forward to allow one of the physicians to get to her and she was hurriedly bandaged before heading back into the fight – Lucius holding her upright as Mr Knighte bandaged her.
They reached a clearing where another spell caster was fuelling power into a focus, with his colleague telling him to stop as the adventurers cut through their guardians. He tried to reason with his friend, explaining what was happening to Catherine and Sorcha whilst the mage erected a circle of protection and warned the party that if they tried to stop him, he would explode the focus and take them with him. Most of the party managed to step back, putting some distance between themselves and the explosion, but High Father William tried to talk the mage out of doing what he was doing. At some point, someone triggered the explosion and the ground rocked beneath their feet. As Rowan turned to see what had happened she was met with a scene of dismay – nine members of the party lay on the ground bleeding from every location (strike down!), including the physicians. Dropping her weapons she called on those still standing (Galen, Johnny Test and Benedict) to help her get the party back on their feet, pulling out her All Heal and hunting for the Surgeon General amongst the fallen. Getting her up, leaving the others tending to Lucius and Mr Knighte, she ran back across the field to pour a Heal Body down Catherine’s throat before binding her head and arms before Georgina roused her. As the party pulled together and tended to the wounded, Rowan searched the bodies for that of her apprentice, breathing a sigh of relief as he appeared behind her holding out bandages to help. Unfortunately they could not save the Longstorian Dark Soul who had bled out, but the party were back on their feet and that was all that mattered in her opinion. Later on she discovered that Catherine and Georgina both wore All Heals around their necks, but she did not think to check at the time.
They continued on to find a young woman muttering to herself – repeating the word Orda over and over again. Rowan had seen this behaviour before, called for Arthur and let him deal with this before looking to scout ahead. It was then that Arden noticed some strange marks off the side of the path and the pair of them crept into the bushes. Arden found the body, calling out to Rowan as she took a closer look at the blood splatters on the undergrowth and she crawled under the low hanging branches to take a look. As she shone her light over the body, Georgina and Mr Knighte asked if they could help and after telling them to back off due to the cramped conditions, Arden and Mr Knighte managed to manhandle the body out into the open. There appeared to be nothing of note where he had laid save the blood, and Rowan crawled out of the underbrush to find Arden and Georgina examining the body and going through his pockets. They found a letter which made no sense, that Gaelen and Rowan tried to read before passing onto Arthur for safe keeping. The woman had been death slept by Georgina and Rowan helped hide the body in the undergrowth to be recovered on the party’s return, as well as hauling the man off the road, covering him with leaves to safeguard the corpse. He seemed to have been wounded by many foes and dragged himself into the bushes to die.
The party came under attack from more Dark Souls and Johnny Test’s magical protection kicked off, leading him to demand that the party pick up the pace else the magic be wasted. They moved off, the party becoming strung out as they were unsure as to what was going on, until they encountered a familiar group of people – Sir Stewart DePiercy, Madeline and other knights. They directed Johnny Test down a small path by the river as he demanded to know where the next focus was, more than a little confused and Rowan laid into Stewart about his use of scouts – having been told that a Sir DePiercy had ordered the scout out alone earlier. She shouted at him, berating his lack of judgement and he yelled back, the pair of them almost having to be separated by Madeline lest they came to blows. But Rowan stormed off, following the impatient mage, angry at herself for losing her temper. Across the water they could hear the cries of battle – it seemed that retaking Deepwatch was not going well at all.
They found the darkness generator, fought off the Dark Souls protecting it, and the mages dismantled the item whilst Arden and Rowan led the party to a safe distance away, up to an old ruined building. There seemed to be something glowing inside and Rowan tried to see what it was but could make no sense of it. Lucius and Ember took a peek and declared they could see religious auras coming from something shiny in the corner and after Johnny Test and a few others attempted to cross the room, Rowan tied herself to the rope and volunteered to attempt to determine the way through the trap. Needless to say she failed, was wounded until she could no longer heal herself and took a blow to the head, falling just within reach of the door. She was carried outside where a physician tended to her hurt and roused her, before she went and sulked for a bit – tired of wounds and traps and curses. They had been told by the first scout that the treasure was cursed – that everyone must take something equally or else the entire party would be cursed and Rowan decided she wanted nothing to do with it. But as they managed to unlock the code to read the bit of paper and solved the puzzle, people came out speaking of feeling Rolbor’s presence. It seemed that this treasure was a gift, a form of lucky dip, and Rowan came grudgingly to the conclusion that if she didn’t take something she would curse the party and she had no fondness for curses after the events of the Frost Forge. She entered the room again, followed the path laid out with the rope and claimed a small ring from the hoard. All members of the party claimed an item and returned to Newcroft triumphantly.
It seemed that they had won, lifting the darkness from the area though night had fallen and it was hard to see if they had been successful or not. Deepwatch was reclaimed, though not without significant Griffin losses.
Rowan also returned to the area with Arden to search the surrounding mountains for the Valley Beyond the Veil, looking for the fabled resting place of the Kings of Barwyckshire …