Episode 1: The Dead Shore

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The beach

A group of travellers find themselves on a beach, having survived a shipwreck in the middle of their journey to Newkirk in the Duchy of Westrourke. They have barely formed a rag-tag group and gathered what is left of their equipment before they find themselves surrounded by four sodden monsters. These stink of seaweed and rotting flesh, and appear to have been people once.

A halfling, salt already drying white on his dark clothes, reacts quickly and looses a slingshot at the nearest, stopping it for a moment. Two of the monsters shamble towards him. The others go for a lanky human youth and an elven woodsman struggling to prepare their weapons.

The elf manages to tug his longsword loose of its sodden scabbard and swings wildly at his incoming enemy, missing. Meanwhile the first of the halfling's attackers drops him instantly. The other refocuses on the elf, but he sidesteps its claw and catches the first attacker's blow on his shield.

The boy is less fortunate, being badly raked before managing to ready his bastard-sword. His two-handed return falls short, but another of the group steps up - an older human man with long dark hair - and fells the boy's attacker with his scimitar. The elf finds help too, as a mustachioed half-elf wielding a battleaxe cleanly removes the head of one monster.

The remaining monsters attack again, but miss. The elf misses again and takes a moment to balance himself. Meanwhile the older human man brings the halfling's attacker down. An armoured dwarf wearing the holy symbol of Clangadin runs over to the fallen halfling and yells a prayer to his god, but the halfling remains unconscious. The half-elf manages another hit on the last monster, and the elf drops it with a final blow.

With the chaos of combat fading, the group take stock. The injured youth kneels down by one of the fallen creatures and examines it; he starts back and shouts to cut them to pieces. That is quickly done, and the boy seems to pray for a moment before shouting that the beach itself is evil. He lays his hands on the halfling, utters another quick prayer, and drags him to his feet.

As the party gather their gear, a further two creatures haul themselves out of the wet sand not far away and attack. The first attacks and misses the elf, but the second cuts the half-elf badly with a rusty, barnacled machete. The party move up the beach slowly, fending off their attackers and returning blows as they may - the elf hitting but not killing one.

The machete-wielding creature strikes the half-elf again, who falls to the ground. The black-bearded dwarf runs over and shouts another prayer, but the half-elf remains unconscious. The elf hits his attacker again, but it still stands. The lanky boy stands over the half-elf and drops his attacker with a powerful two-handed swing, and the older man finishes off the elf's enemy.

The boy starts dragging the bleeding half-elf up the beach, helped by the halfling. The elf makes sure of his attacker before joining the retreat. The dark-haired man lingers and is nearly caught by yet another two creatures who pull themselves from the sand, but he rejoins the party above the waterline. The creatures do not follow.

The party find themselves among sand dunes, tufts of spiky marram grass all around. Climbing, they can see the dunes stretch inland, but eventually give way to dusty hills. The dark-haired man takes something from his belt and motions over the injured half-elf, murmuring. Veins bulge and seem to wriggle as the wound closes over. He is helped to his feet.

The raft

In safety for now, the group have a chance for some introductions. The dark-haired healer is Michael. He wears a set of ill-matched hide armour and speaks in gravelly, deliberate tones. The dwarf wearing splint-mail is Krøüstë, although the others have some difficulty pronouncing it properly. "The second umlaut is silent," he insists. The gangly youth is Tall Gregory from Highbank Town; he's dressed and kitted out like a poor soldier, but wears a silver dove pendant. The black-clad halfling is Murph, and the elf woodsman is a trapper named Gaiel - he wears various furs including a patchwork cloak, and appears to be missing a bow from his equipment. The half-elf introduces himself somewhat vigorously as Jack Masters. He has a huge handlebar moustache, awful teeth and a nose broken far too many times.

Jack, Gaiel and Gregory go to fetch driftwood, and find the side of an old cart or boat, along with some other bits and pieces. While on their search, they can see lots of things washing onto the shore below. To the left the beach ends in a headland, and continues off to the right. Gaiel interrupts Jack's boisterous charioteering stories - he lost a "damn fine" chariot in the wreck - to point out bodies lying at the water's edge.

They go back to the party and discuss what to do. Gregory insists that they check whether the bodies are living shipwrecked like themselves, and the others agree. They move down the beach in force, back to back. Getting closer, they can see the bodies are perhaps sailors from their ship. They lie among rockpools and what appears to be a makeshift raft.

They surround the first body and find it is some fellow passenger from the ship. Michael checks but says "There's nothing I can do for this man." Just then, another of the bodies suddenly rears up from its rockpool and leaps across the raft, trying to bite Gaiel. It looks like a drowned corpse, puffy and pale. Gaiel, armed now with both a long and a short sword, immediately drops it with a cut through its chest. Michael, having just stood up from checking the other body, raises an eyebrow and says "There's nothing I can do for that man either."

Another corpse lunges up to attack Murph, but he ducks nimbly under its claw. Jack sets about cutting up the body they had just checked, but misses with an overswing of his axe. Krøüstë makes sure of Gaiel's fallen attacker with his warhammer. Gregory runs to help Murph, hitting the creature hard. It responds with flailing claws and an attempted bite, but the youth is just about able to fend it off. Michael and Jack try to help, but miss. Gaiel steps in and hits it once, twice, three times in quick succession. It slides to the ground.

Jack steps back and announces "I think they're some kind of undead monstrosities." The rest of the party look at him blankly. Meanwhile, Krøüstë checks over the raft, joined by Murph and Michael. It turns out that this raft was some poor sailor's attempt to save the ship's coffers. The party find a chest full of copper pieces, another half-full of silver, a few gems, and a damaged ornate wooden box with 3 intact crystal glasses inside. There's also some sodden paper that may once have been logbooks and the like.

Returning to their campsite, the party set about lighting a fire, drying out a little, and splitting the coins they found. A cold Spring rain settles in. They discuss where the cursed beach might have come from. Michael inquires as to Gregory's nature, and Gregory explains a little about the Poor Brothers of Aethe, who chose and equipped him from among them to go out and right wrongs for "the Lady". Meanwhile Murph wanders off and apparently buries his load of copper coins. Jack asks after liquor or tobacco; no-one has any, to which he says "God damn it." "Which god, mister Masters?" asks Gregory. Jack grimaces. "As long as he damns it, I ain't picky."

Travelling inland

They set off to travel for the day, but need to rearrange their packs somewhat after finding that the armoured dwarf, already a slow mover, is weighed down too much by his newfound wealth. They hear barking some way off during the day, but there are no problems. To the north they can now see flat land beyond the hills; to the south, forest. They determine to travel north towards the flatland: Jack suggests that they might find a river by moving parallel to the sea, and thereby some settlement.

Night falls and they set watches. Michael heals Gregory's injury by his strange method before they sleep. Jack and Murph see a light glowing over (or towards) the sea during their watch, but the night passes without any other incident. In the morning before they set off, Gregory and Krøüstë discuss religion. The dwarf makes a cursory inspection of Gregory's beliefs, decides they're just fine by Clangadin, and moves on. Having moved slowly the previous day, they do some more pack-rearrangement before moving on and manage to maintain a quicker pace through the day.

Just before the end of the third watch, Gregory and Michael see a pack of dogs approaching, the leader throwing aside the torn carcass of a rabbit as it spots the party. Gregory and Michael quickly kick the rest of the group awake. They grab their weapons as the dogs charge. The leader attacks Michael, missing, while the others fan out around the party. Michael misses his return blow. Gaiel, having grabbed his sword and shield but still unarmoured after sleeping, swings for the lead dog, hitting it hard. Two of the other dogs immediately attack him, but he dodges and blocks. Another attacks Michael and bites him, while yet another goes for Gregory but misses.

Jack hits one of the dogs with his battleaxe, but other blows and Murph's slingshot only cut air. Gaiel slashes the lead dog again and cuts it down. Krøüstë is bitten, as is Gaiel. Krøüstë, Gregory and Jack miss their targets but Michael hits one. Gaiel kills another of the dogs attacking him, and Murph's slingshot again goes wide of its target.

Jack again hits his opponent, this time killing it. Gaiel hits another hard, and Krøüstë kills one with his warhammer. The remaining dogs turn tail and run. Gaiel kills the one he has just injured as it turns, and Gregory hits another but fails to kill it.

A quick check of Gaiel's snares confirms his suspicion - he caught rabbits, which attracted the dogs. Still, Gregory decides the dogs are reasonably good to eat, and sets about preparing a meal of skewered meat as Michael stokes the fire. Krøüstë and Michael work on some healing, but the party is left with some un- or partially-healed injuries.

After finishing and travelling a while, the party meets a dry but muddy stream-bed. The mud occasionally 'plops' as though gas is coming up through it. The party go upstream, and see the mud get wetter, until eventually they reach a dam built of smooth mud allowing a trickle of water through. Michael asks that they remove it as it is choking the stream. He and Gregory try digging a channel along the near shore using their cooking pots. Suddenly, a small column of mud forms out of the muddy bed below and throws a ball of mud at Michael, missing. Two more columns form and Gregory is hit while Jack sidesteps another ball. The mud on Gregory is sticky and unpleasant and starts to dry quickly, making it difficult to move. The party back off.

One of the the columns turns into a wave and engulfs Michael. He ends up covered in mud and rapidly finds himself almost unable to move. Jack is hit by another mudball as he and Gregory help Michael away from the stream. The creatures do not follow, but more gather at the shore as the party scrape off mud and discuss what they might be - some kind of elementals perhaps.

They get well away by travelling upstream again and cross further up; they agree to leave the hills by angling northwest to bring them back closer to the sea again. Before settling for sleep that night, an unfortunate bear happens across the party and becomes dinner. Gregory is slightly injured in the fight. Michael uses some kind of nature magic to entangle the beast, and unfortunately affects much of the party as well. There is some argument (from Michael) about whether eating the bear is right, but he loses it solidly and even eats his share.

The next day, the party reach the flat grassland before midday; they see some figures in the distance, but can't catch up. Gaiel tries blowing his horn, but the figures move off faster and the party lose them. The rest of the day and night pass uneventfully.

Gregory discusses his radical views the following day - his order seem to fit rather poorly into a feudal world, believing in equality among all people and that society is pathological and must be reformed. Gaiel inquires whether they've brought this up with the king, and Gregory sheepishly admits that the Poor Brothers tend to have to avoid the authorities or be very unwelcome.

The party settle for the evening in a grassy depression. Having lit a fire, they realize there are incoming attackers just in time to ready themselves before two huge Gnolls rear up from the long grass. One wields a morningstar, the other a longsword. Michael immediately charges and slashes one with his scimitar; Jack charges up and misses but is hit hard in return by the morningstar. Krøüstë scores a good hit, and Gregory misses his target as Murph and Gaiel move up to join the combat.

Michael misses his second attack but Murph hits the same Gnoll with his dagger, while it misses Michael. Krøüstë again hammers the morningstar-Gnoll as a smaller Gnoll surges from the grass with some kind of two part staff-flail weapon. It misses Krøüstë and parries a blow from Jack. Meanwhile Gregory, Gaiel and Murph fail to hit the longsword-Gnoll. Gaiel quickly rebalances and attacks again, hitting this time with both his swords and killing it. Jack attacks the flail-Gnoll and hits it, but the return blow knocks him witless to the ground as the Gnoll simultaneously disarms him. The Gnoll spins and hits Krøüstë but fails to disarm him. Gregory steps up and kills the flail-Gnoll with a solid blow.

Two more Gnolls charge in, armed with a shortsword and some strange polearm respectively. Murph hits the incoming sword-Gnoll neatly with a sling bullet. It in turn manages to hit Gaiel while avoiding his swing. Krøüstë, Michael and the polearm-Gnoll face off, all missing their attacks. Gregory lays hands on Jack, says a prayer to Aethe, and hauls him to his feet.

More blows are exchanged, mostly misses, though Murph manages to land his dagger and the polearm-Gnoll grazes Michael. Gaiel misses the sword-Gnoll with his longsword, but kills it with his shortsword. Gregory, Michael and Jack miss the polearm-Gnoll, but Krøüstë hits it. Finally Murph stabs it and Michael drops it with his scimitar.

Much healing is needed after the bloody fight, and the party are unable to completely heal their wounds. They find some gold and unfamiliar electrum coins on the Gnolls. Thankfully, the coins are those of a recent monarch so they determine that they're not too far from familiar lands. Suspecting more Gnolls in the area, they move away and sleep without a fire. As they settle, Krøüstë 'informally' converts Jack, insisting that he says several "Hail Clangadins", a simple prayer involving shouting "HAIL CLANGADIN!".

Fenton

The following morning, the party find they are running low on rations. Gaiel, Murph and Krøüstë manage to provision the party for now, and they have an uneventful two days of travel. The second day ends with them moving into different terrain - Gaiel announces that the ground is springier. After sleeping, the group find themselves without enough rations for everyone: the hunters, Gaiel and Gregory, take half rations each and go off to hunt while the others wait.

The morning hunt is unsuccessful, but in their ranging they find the land is getting swampy. They see a figure standing still off to the west. When it spots them, it runs, and they give chase. Gregory manages to catch up, calling out that they mean no harm. It turns out to be a scared eel-fisherman named Olum. Warming to Gregory, he retraces his steps and picks up fishing gear and a basket of eels. Gregory and Gaiel eat some eels with him and pay him to guide them to his village, a quarter-day's march away. It's a seaside settlement of perhaps 150 people, with a simple jetty, various currachs and houses on 2- to 3-foot piles.

It turns out that they're in the Duchy of Westrourke, which is great news as that's where Newkirk is (though Olum has never heard of it). The village is Fenton, and this is the Fyresvatn Bogs on Birgsund Bay. Viksdalen is the next bigger town, reachable across the bog or by skirting it and meeting the road. Gregory gives Olum a gold piece - he's surprised and happy, gives them the basket of eels, and agrees to arrange accommodation for them: there's no inn, but someone called Joe has a still.

Gaiel and Gregory head back to the party, reaching them just before nightfall. Everyone is ecstatic to have finally reached some kind of settlement, and even the eels seem like a good breakfast the next morning. They have an uneventful journey to Fenton and find Olum - he puts them up in his hut. It's a small place and somewhat smelly, but it's warm and has about enough room for them to stretch out. The party settle in and dry their things. Olum says he mentioned them to Joe (the still owner) and someone called Malkas last night - apparently Malkas suggested he didn't mention them to anyone else "seeing where they came from". Rather than explain, he takes them to Joe's, a big bearded man living in a much larger and well-appointed house. They drink at the kitchen table, and he charges a lot; various villagers "drop by" to avail of the rounds being bought by Krøüstë and everyone says a few Hail Clangadins.

Gregory goes home early, having had just a few, and gets on with washing and drying his stuff. Meanwhile there's plenty of drinking and talking, but Michael spots one guy - dressed like a hunter and presumably the aforementioned Malkas - walk in, shake his head disapprovingly at Olum, and leave. When the party do mention where they came from, the villagers go silent and start leaving. Apparently the 'dead shore' they came from is a cursed place. That's all they're able to get out of the villagers for now, and they go back to the hut for a good night's sleep.

End

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Dec 31st 2009