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Act One: The Devil of Dark Wood
In the northern regions of Olympia, near where the Titans part to create the great mountain walls that separate the southern lands from the frigid terrain of the Ice Claw, tucked away in a series of valleys and plains between the mountain foothills and the westernmost edges of the Sentara Woods, is the city of Meinwenn. Northernmost true city in Olympia, this metropolis is sequestered at the foot of the mountains, built like its capital predecessor onto the slopes of the Titans through the masterwork combination of human ingenuity and kobold skill. A city of trade and travel, it is the last northbound and first southbound gateway of Olympia before entering or after departing the icy tundra of the lands beyond the mountains.
Yet it is not in Meinwenn that our story unfolds, merely where it begins. For in Meinwenn is where our protagonists receive word of trouble, adventure, and mystery. A couple of days to the east, at the edge of the elven wood, lies the village of Rybalka. There a strange rash of unprecedented crime has been unleashed. Animals and people have gone missing, seemingly without reason or hint as to their departure, frequently over the past few weeks. Furthermore, the city's temple and library, a shrine to Corian the Ascendant, has been raided and ransacked, seemingly without provocation. The villagers, wary of the dangers of the wood - this region, closest to human lands, is said to be fiercely haunted - have elected to request the aid of investigators from afar, and called upon the adventuresome population of Meinwenn's ever-shifting citizenry to answer their pleas.
Our story begins five days after the temple incident, as our would-be heroes complete the two-day journey to arrive in Rybalka at dusk's first dark.
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A ragtag group of unlikely heroes - Quinn, a glastig ex-accountaint with a hammer as tall as she is; Orestes, an aranea world traveler by trade who has honed his shapechanging powers to an art; Circe, a young kytonblooded halfling with the sight for spirits; and Agreas "Motty" Mott, a halfling nature oracle of indeterminate age who may be more or less senile than he appears - has answered the call of Rybalka for aid, and made the journey to the village, arriving a mere hour before darkness falls before being unceremoniously abandoned in the town square by their short-lived escort. Without further clues or indication of where to go, they fall back on the old standby of immediately heading to the local inn or tavern - in Rybalka, for some bizarre reason, the two are not one and the same - for further information. The local bar, The Thirsty Serpent, is the first of the two they find, and the group is quick to usher themselves in, though Circe and Quinn give Mott some grief for not leaving his wolf mount, Mahsa, outside the bar.
The tavern's clientele is mostly local off-duty guards and watchmen, and at this hour nearly anyone who isn't on the night shift is already here and well-fed and drunk, including the local captain of the guard, a half-elf named Arelia Orneili. Quinn, Orestes, and Circe headed straight up to the bar, much to the disdain of the four watchfolk already sitting there, but the local tavernman Fin Starling was quick to attempt to sate their distaste for strangers with a round of on-the-house ales, then turned to his new guests for orders, presenting Orestes at request with a fine long list of exotic and local alcohols ranging from elven wines to glaistig mead, orcish beer to gnomish vodka, and placing before each a fine cut of venison steak.
One of the more surly locals, a scruffy watchman later identified as Jameson, attempted to pick a fight with the group, only to have his stool unceremoniously torn out from beneath him by Circe in mid-rant. His drunken attempts at retaliation did little to help his case, as both his swings with the stolen barstool whiffed harmlessly over the steel-studded and behorned halfling's head and she effortlessly pulled his feet out from beneath him in the same manner she'd upset his seat. Grumbling and fuming and embarrassed, he'd fled the bar, but Fin was swift to mollify the other barfly guards and pointed the group toward Captain Orneili if they wanted further information on the town's troubles. Circe, not feeling well after the brawl and thinking the venison wasn't sitting well, retired early, heading down the street to the local waystation, Bugg Inn.
Captain Orneili, once she was able to get coherent explanations from someone besides Mott, explained some of the situation to the group. Rybalka, situated on the western edge of the Sentara Forest in a region referred to as the Dark Wood, had always had trouble with the 'weirdness' of this part of the elven borderlands. This part of the forest was long rumored to be haunted, either by strange spirits, monstrous creatures, or the local legend of the 'Devil of Dark Wood'. For the post part, Orneili claimed, most of these were hogwash. The town had had issues with lycanthropes in the past, and necromancers had occasionally used the nearby forest and the caverns that riddled the foothills for lairs so undead had been present at one time or another, but these things were considered dangers of the past. Local animals of course were always an issue, wolves and bears and the like, but those sorts of things the local watch could handle, or call in elven druids from nearby to look into; the recent troubles in the town, though seemingly animalistic in nature, had a malevolent, intelligent edge to them that didn't quite fit the mold of a hungry beast. Yes, occasionally wolves stole a sheep or two, or maybe a cow if it was already injured or lost. But they didn't slaughter the creature in a brutal, gory display, and stretch its entrails across three pastures. And they certainly didn't break into the local library and ransack the shelves. These incidents required investigative skills the local constabulatory didn't possess, and the Mayor - who Orneili spoke of and described with some disdain, but never named - had agreed to a bounty of 500 gold apiece to any hunters or adventurers who could find the thing that attacked and bring in its corpse.
Agreeable to the terms, the group departed the Thirsty Serpent and made their way across town to the local library, a small building that also served as a shrine to Corian the Ascendant, Avatar of Knowledge. Mott was the first there, and found the shrine's proprietor, a Naga priestess and sage named Shizuka Yuri, in discussion with an elderly gentleman and several acolytes. Some of the latter were attempting to clean up the wreckage, and tried to chase Mott away when he started poking around, but Yuri pulled them aside and sent them off to other duties so she and the old man, who later identified himself as the local herbalist Aroon Statel, could speak with the half-deaf old halfling and his wolf.
By the time Orestes and Quinn caught up, Yuri had given up on communicating with Mott and left him to Aroon, who was doing his best to speak up to where the halfling could hear, to go back to the shrine with her assistant, a Senkakuan Human girl she later identified as her assistant and (likely adopted) sister Miriya. They allowed the group to investigate the site, where a cursory examination found deeply-scored clawmarks with opposable thumbs, tufts of brown fur, and distinctly canine bipedal footprints in the mud; the evidence seemed conclusive, the three visitors quickly discerned, that the culprit was a werewolf or some other type of canid lycanthrope. Yuri revealed that the thief, in addition to the vandalism, had taken several books as well as some alchemical equipment. The trio quickly requested wolfsbane and belladonna from Aroon and alchemical silver from Yuri, and both agreed they would have the supplies ready by morning, and would send Miriya to Bugg Inn to fetch the visitors as soon as all was ready.
Assured they had done all they could for the night, the three investigators bid the library-shrine's proprietors good night and made to follow Circe to their residence of necessity for the evening, planning to fill their fiendtouched companion in on what they'd learned and take their rest before beginning investigations in earnest upon the morn.
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Upon arriving at Bugg Inn, Orestes, Quinn, and Mott find the place a junkyard of scrap, discarded metal and wooden parts, and other random junk, presided over by a towering, enormously fat, long-haired and full-bearded man who would make a decent facsimile of an oversized dwarf. Landore Bugg took several moments to take note of the party, and that delay was long enough for Quinn's neat-freak to take over, and she readily agreed to allow the man to charge her double - of a base prise of 5 GP for a week's stay in one of the array of tiny rooms that littered the back half of Bugg's home/inn - an offer the huge man readily accepted. Mott, convinced he'd lost something in the debris, began rapidly digging and muttering to himself; Bugg approached to attempt to aid the search, even pulling Mott from the mess and setting him on a table in an attempt to get him out of the way. This caused two near-immediate side-effects - Mott, irked, departed and spent the rest of the night outside with Mahsa; and Circe, roused by the noise of people digging through the clutter just outside her room, came out and shouted at Bugg, dropping the man into an unceremonious heap with a fierce application of her fearful gaze. Orestes meanwhile simply stood off to the side, out of Quinn's and Bugg's way, and observed the scene with his usual bemusement before heading to bed.
Quinn finished a few hours later and approached Bugg; she determined that normally he'd have owed her 12 GP for the immense amount of organizing, recording, filing, and physical labor she'd put in, but she was willing to reduce it to 10, thus bringing her to even with her owe of double-cost rent as offered. Having successfully negotiated, or so she believed, she left a befuddled and speechless Bugg in the "common room" and headed to bed.
Morning came, with all but Circe uninterrupted during the night: twice Bugg had attempted to barge into the tiefling's room, searching for something that he could no longer find in the main chamber thanks to Quinn's "organization" and his own former understanding of the chaos that it had replaced, but Circe had shoved the bed in front of the door and prevented any access therefrom, and thus had only to contend with the noise of the attempt before Bugg gave up and went to search other rooms. The group found him collapsed in the front room asleep when they woke, and were quick to depart. Their exit roused Mott, who attempted to follow Quinn to seek food; she ended up instead wandering around town to lose him, and he joined Orestes and Circe instead in heading back to the Thirsty Serpent for breakfast, only for Quinn to double back a few minutes later to arrive after the rest as well.
The tavern was much emptier in the morning than the night before, with only barkeep Fin Starling present. He eagerly greeted the arriving adventurers and served breakfast, making frequent quips about no one else being allowed in the kitchen when Mott then later Circe attempted to go behind the bar; he later revealed several jests about "his wife" were actually in reference to the stove, as Fin himself was a dedicated bachelor, and that he did have an apprentice who worked nights which allowed him to stay at the bar during peak hours such as the evening prior when the tavern had been full of guards. He inquired of the party as to how their investigations were going, which after some prodding and threatening of the food (Quinn's, which was fairly misaimed, as Quinn herself was quick to point out) by Circe finally got Orestes to spill the beans and reveal what they'd learned from the investigation at Yuri's shrine/library, thus catching the death mage up on what she'd missed the night before by retiring early. After drinking two full pitchers of morning ale, a heavily drunken Mott mounted his wolf and wandered outside, leaving the other three to converse while he meandered the streets of Rybalka.
Fin asked how long the group had been together, and was answered by the conflicting "Not long at all" from Orestes and "too long" from Circe, and amusedly replied that he understood exactly how those two answers could both be correct. He then asked if the group had any plans after dealing with the troubles of his town; in particular he inquired as to whether they were another group of dragonslayers. Apparently several miles north, up into the Titans, there was a red dragon named Goramial - one of the many such draconic creatures that resided in the high mountains - who had been attracting adventuresome challengers for some time recently; Fin hadn't seen any of the prospective wyrm-hunters return, but didn't know if they'd been killed by the dragon, found the chase a hoax, or simply chickened out and departed by another route. Circe and Orestes were quick to assert that they had no interest in dragonslaying, and the subject was dropped.
After breakfast, the group reconned to the shrine, picking up Mott along the way. Aroon, Yuri, and Miriya were awaiting them, having likewise just gathered and finished their preparations for the group but not having yet had time to dispatch Miriya to fetch the adventurers. Aroon provided the group with a pouch of wolfsbane, while Yuri produced several silver blanches and some alchemist's fire as well as a single masterwork silver katana, which she lent to Orestes under the promise that the wanderer would both see that it was used with respect and care and that it would be returned to her once their task was complete and the stolen goods - a local trade and populations ledger, an alchemical tome, and several pieces of alchemy equipment - were found and likewise returned. The group, despite Mott's usual ramblings and some grumbling from Circe, then departed, heading eastward across the fields and pastures toward the edge of the Sentara Forest and its nearest sector, the supposedly-haunted Dark Wood.
As the group made their way across the pastures, Mahsa suddenly picked up the scent of blood and led the party a short ways north, where they found the remnants of an attack on one of the local sheep; they found the poor beast's stripped-bare skeleton a short distance into the woods. Following the lupine tracks that led into the forest from the corpse, thanks to Quinn's keen eyes and Mahsa's strong nose, they were able to keep on the trail through the winding underbrush beneath the semi-skeletal early-autumn canopy, which provided enough light to see without aid, as well as sight of the oncoming overcast that signaled the impending arrival of a storm.
An hour or so later, the tracks dead-ended at an overgrown pile of rubble and white-grey stone that might once have been a building of some sort, long lost to the ravages of nature at the forest's heart.
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Several minutes of debating about what to do next ensued, with the tracks dead-ending at the rubble of the ruins and no further clues visible at the time. The noise attracted the attention, however, of a figure hiding behind the collapsed stone, a stuttering, manic-sounding man who proclaimed repeatedly that the group needed to leave before "he makes me kill you". Circe would have been perfectly fine with this solution, and repeatedly attempted to convince the rest of the group to simply turn around and head back to town, but Quinn and Mott stood their ground and attempted to converse - in their own bizarre ways - with the voice, and Orestes simply became impatient, assumed his natural spider form, and went over to have a look. He, and Quinn who followed shortly after, found a raggedly dressed, haggard-looking man with long blonde hair and a hunter's build crouched behind the stones, clutching his eyes with one hand and feebly feeling his way ahead with the other, and demanded he show himself to the rest of the group; Mott, on the other hand, conjured up an obscuring mist to keep the party from being seen, and was unaware of the man's emergence or the rest of the group moving out of the sphere of the spell.
The group proceeded to question the stranger, who gave his name as Gunnar; he claimed to be a local hunter and logger, until the Devil of Dark Wood had taken him prisoner and "changed" him. He now was a man possessed, he claimed, and the Devil could seize him at any time, control his movements or actions, and view through his eyes, hence why he was so furiously trying to clench them shut. Circe solved this problem by blindfolding him with a strip of his own clothing, which mollified the panicky man somewhat. She also wanted to haul him back to town to put him in an asylum, claiming he was less possessed than simply insane; however, Quinn noted a large canine bite-mark on the man's neck, and quickly elucidated that his story was probably true and likely lycanthropy was more at fault than madness.
The group convinced Gunnar, still blindfolded but who claimed he could navigate the familiar Dark Wood without sight, to lead them back to the Devil's lair. He claimed it was deep within the woods, within a cave in a rocky gulch past Cuala's (another hunter, who the party has yet to meet) cabin. The group followed his lead without much conversation beyond Mott's usual ramblings, and traveled for about an hour until reaching the landmark cabin. Rather than approach and inquire of the occupant or otherwise stop, the group voted instead to forge ahead at Gunnar's lead, and marched another hour into the woods before he began to change. Before the werewolf could assume his bestial form, Quinn slammed her hammer over his head, knocking him deeply unconscious; Orestes, still in spider form, then bound the canid - who had finished his metamorphosis despite being knocked out - in a webbed prison and hauled the beast on his back, unwilling to leave even a werewolf so helpless in the woods.
Despite losing their guide, Quinn and Mahsa were able to pick up on the well-worn werewolf tracks leading deeper into the woods and eventually located the gulch Gunnar had spoken of shortly before sunset. It led into a narrow cavernous tunnel, into which Quinn led the group, the others following behind; Orestes dropped Gunnar at the entrance then continued into the cavern on the ceiling. Quinn went a short distance in and tripped a small trap, unleashing a net full of rocks hanging from the ceiling onto her head. Orestes quickly harvested both the net and the stones, hoping to make some use of them later; the aranea then bolted ahead, taking advantage of his superior vision (the cavern was lit by candles ensconced within bored holes in the walls, but the light was nevertheless quite dim) and mobility to get a look ahead. He found the tunnel dove into the gulch wall for quite some distance before turning left into a much larger cavern. Quinn, Circe, and Mott followed behind about twenty feet; when Quinn rounded the last bend, she took note of a well-concealed pit trap on the ground, and managed to dislodge its cover with her hammer, then edge around the border to reach the open chamber on the other side. Circe and Mott followed suit, while Mahsa simply leaped over the gap, as the wolf was unable to navigate the narrow ledges. Orestes, of course, simply walked over along the ceiling, which rose to a height of forty feet within the larger room.
As she entered, Quinn found herself pounced upon by yet another werewolf, this one not so haggard nor reluctant as Gunnar; thankfully the metamorphic curse of the werewolf had no effect on fey, and the glaistig's supernally tough hide warded off the majority of the vicious bite. Across the room, they took note of a burly human chained to the wall, from whose eyes, ears, nose, and mouth dripped a viscous blue fluid, and standing next to him a gangly man of moderate height, with warty green skin, twisted horns growing from his head, beady yellow eyes, and a long whiplike tail ending in a barbed stinger growing from beneath his patchwork coat. No true devil this, not even devil-kin at all: Bakinqa, the so-called Devil of Dark Wood, turned out to be nothing more than a Quasit-blooded Tiefling. Yet by the sight of the spear in his hand and the bottles of fluids hanging from his belt, the fiendtouched figure might be no less deadly....
The werewolf attacking Quinn didn't last more than a few seconds; the glaistig's hammer whirled around and crashed into its body, flattening it against the nearby wall, ignoring the thickness of its hide through sheer overwhelming force. Even the lycanthrope's supernaturally-swift healing couldn't keep up with the damage, and the beast collapsed in a crumpled heap at her hooves, then rippled and shifted back into the crushed form of a quite-dead human Clawlander tribesman.
Orestes was no less swift in taking the fight to the enemy, skittering across the ceiling and dropping his load of stones onto the tiefling's head, hoping to catch some of his bottles in the barrage and set off a chain reaction of explosions. The nimble fiendtouched was not so easily beset, however, and dodged the worst of the earthen rain as he fled out from beneath the attacking spider. As he did, he drew a small doll from his belt and did something with it; in response, the fastened man began to rip and strain against his bonds as he began changing, transforming into yet another werewolf, this one towering eleven or twelve feet tall, looming over the invaders. It ripped its chains free of the wall and charged the group, slashing and biting at Quinn, the nearest target, though even its fierce fangs couldn't reliably pierce the fey woman's tough hide.
While Motty and Circe moved to their warrior's aid, the former handing out healing and casting a few inefficient spells and the latter frightening the beast back with necromantic terror, Orestes continued his pursuit of the master, dropping his plate-clad spider body from the ceiling onto the tiefling Bakinqa in a crashing fall that knocked the fiendblood down and out cold. Circe continued to drive the towering werewolf back while Quinn chipped away at its resilient body as best she could; Orestes then took the opportunity to resume his human form, draw the sage Yuri's silver blade, and carve through the baned hide of the werewolf from behind. Surrounded and overwhelmed with terror, the beast panicked and lashed out at anything it could reach, but its attacks could barely harm Quinn - who as fey was immune to the lycanthropic strain - and could not pierce Orestes's armor. In time it too fell, returning to the form of a human as its power waned with each injury.
Motty however kept both Bakinqa and Woln, the werewolf, from bleeding out, and once assured they were stable brought the latter around for questioning. Woln claimed to be naught more than a local hunter and trapper, taken captive and experimented on by the mad Devil of Dark Wood - now a crumpled unconscious heap of tiefling on the cavern floor, far from the fiendish horror the city had painted him as. He was coherent enough to recognize that as a werewolf the city no longer had a place for him, and in the forest he would be just another beast to hunt, just another monster to be feared; he promised his rescuers that he would head north, beyond the Titans to the Ice Claw, where the barbaric tribes of men and orcs would either welcome or see worthy challenge in a lycanthrope ally or opponent, and where civilization would have nothing to fear from him or his "brother" Gunnar, who remained crippled, bound, and unconscious at the cavern's entrance. The third werewolf, Wo'Tok, a northerner by origin himself, was beyond help of skill or spell save those that could breach death, but his body and belongings were collected, as was the unconscious tiefling criminal.
The group escorted Woln and Bakinqa back to the Corianite shrine, where Yuri and Miriya awaited them. The naga promised to provide any aid she could to the werewolves before sending them on their way, so long as they held to their promise to leave the region; no secret was made of Orestes returning the silver katana to its owner, either, so both Woln and Gunnar were quite aware that the priestess retained something that could combat their bestial shapes if the need arose. Yuri then instructed the group to take Bakinqa to the mayor's - despite the fact that it was nearly midnight - to have the tiefling properly incarcerated until a trial could be called, and so they could receive payment for their efforts. She likewise took the alchemical equipment they had recovered from the lair, and informed them she would see it delivered to Aroon the following morning and the old man would meet them somewhere in town for his portion of their reward.
Despite grumblings and complaints, the group did as bid, sending guards in to wake Mayor Igor and drag the behatted and bebooted man from his bed to see the tiefling taken away and, much more pleasantly, gold exchange hands. The group then quickly retreated back to Bugg Inn to stay out another night, hoping both to not be interrupted by their eccentric host nor to be disturbed by yet more pleas for help until morning, regardless the reward offered.
After resting and reconvening in the Thirsty Serpent for breakfast, where Fin Starling pressed the group to recount the adventure, the party found themselves approached first by Aroon, who offered them their promised reward for the return of his equipment as well as a standing offer to share his store/home instead of tolerating Bugg's inn on their next visit to the town, then by Captain Arelia Orneili, thanking them for their aid and solving the mystery of both the missing people and the haunting Devil of Dark Wood. She agreed to Orestes's request for a bit of a spar amongst her troops, giving the taskshaper the opportunity to pick up a few new combat styles from the various and mostly self-trained warriors of Rybalka. Meanwhile, the other three travelers learned from Fin that Fairhaven, a mining town some few days to the north into the Titans, was having trouble with something in their mines - sadly he could provide no specifics, operating mostly on rumor himself - and that rewards were offered; after dealing so soundly with Bakinqa, he surmised, surely the four of them could deal with whatever problems Fairhaven was having and swiftly so, and collect a proper reward along the way. Somewhat grudgingly, especially with regards to their earlier conversations about dragonslayers, the group did eventually agree to pursue this lead, and departed from Rybalka the following morning.
Act Two: The Fall of Fairhaven
Five days north from Fairhaven led our vagabonds onto the winding road through the Peak's Path Wood, the northwestern edge of the Sentara Forest that winds its way up into the Titans toward the town of Fairhaven. The journey thus far had been uneventful, but the morning soon turned for the more active at the sight of a massive flock of mixed birds flying desperately swiftly to the south. Being only early autumn, the group agreed it was far too soon for migration, and the mixture of fowl was far from normal; before anything further could be decided about what to do regarding the situation, their thoughts were disturbed by the crashing of a griffon from the sky into the midst of their campsite, showering Circe and Orestes in splinters and sticks from the trees smashed by its descent.
Panicked and injured, the griffon was at first hostile, snapping at Circe and jerkily attempting to fend off comers on all sides, until Motty managed to somehow calm it into submission. Orestes, fearful of avian creatures, fled in spider form into a nearby bush, not to emerge for several minutes. Meanwhile Quinn found herself under fire from a small gang of goblins, whose arrows matched those in the wing of the fallen beast, clearly here to finish off their downed prey. Despite their superior numbers, the goblins nor their dire-rat pets could not pierce Quinn's tough hide, and the raging accountant carved her way through their numbers with hammer blow after hammer blow, with Circe joining the fray after the first few strikes and Mott occasionally taking potshots with his crossbow from afar.
When all but two of the goblins were slain, the group - now finally with Orestes emerging from his hiding place - chose to give chase, much to the encouragement of the griffon, which made no secret of its desire for the group to head in the direction the goblins had fled. In their pursuit, the group came to find a sizable group of more of the little mongrels, this time led by a trio of lizardfolk warriors. The four were quick to engage, with Quinn and Circe carving their way through the goblin troops and eventually cutting down two of the lizardfolk, while Mott and Orestes provided support from behind, though Mott did manage to make a successful charge and take out the leader of the first group of goblins, who had retreated back to the safety of his allies in hopes they'd finish off his pursuers. The third lizardfolk however retreated further back into the rocky clearing, to where the rest of the goblins had - before the group arrived - been entertaining themselves with the torture of an injured human woman. Though the lizardman threatened to kill her if the group approached, a swift blow from Orestes put him out of commission before he could act on his threat.
The woman introduced herself as Daren and explained that she was a courier sent from Fairhaven to seek aid from Meinwenn's militia to deal with the threat of someone she called Y'mial. The group in turn explained about the rumors they'd heard and their own reason in coming; determining they were here for the same reasons, Daren instructed them to open the scroll case the lizardfolk had taken from her. Contained within was a message from the guildmaster of Fairhaven, a man named Unias Pratt, seeking aid from outside after a violent earthquake had wracked the town, sealing off access to their mines and preventing them from making their quota of tribute to the red dragon Goramial that dwelt in the nearby mountains. According to Pratt's message, Goramial had sent his fiendish son Y'mial with an army to secure the demanded payment from Fairhaven, either in gold or in blood. Until the mines could be reopened, there was no way to meet the dragon's demands; Y'mial seemed to be aware of this, and was eagerly bearing down on the city with his forces, leaving them only with the option to fight back however they could.
The group was a bit hesitant after learning of the involvement of the red dragon, but after Daren convinced them she and Fairhaven had no interest in seeing Goramial slain - the dragon had always dealt fairly, if harshly, with the city, protected it from other outside assaults, and encouraged the development of the arts and guilds there - but only to stop Y'mial from harming or destroying the town, they agreed to at least finish their journey to the city and assess the situation in more detail when they arrived.
Continuing up the Peak's Path, the group soon encountered a mud-covered man crouching at a riverbank while struggling with a large chest. The party, inquisitive, approached the figure and began questioning him about the chest and its contents, befuddling and - in Circe's case - terrifying the man into eventually surrendering the box for their examination. Daren identified him as Persey Pendersnips, a two-bit thief and low-worker known for his quick fingers and lazy everything else, and shamed the man into accompanying them back to the village, prodded by Circe being immensely creepy and vaguely threatening toward him, leaving the shaken man utterly unnerved by the presence of the kyton-blooded halfling. After some work, Quinn did manage to smash the lock off the box and access its contents; within were several ledgers, a deed, and accounting documents, all in good care and status, for an inn in Fairhaven called The Hammer's Rest, as well as a stash of gold. Though the group was at first enthused by the fact that they could technically make a claim for owning an inn, they did eventually relent and admit the documents would need to be returned to their proper owner. They also learned from Persey that he hadn't acted alone in the thievery, but his two companions had been killed and eaten by the Harpy Hriegnilda who lurked by the bridge over the falls not far from Fairhaven's gates.
It was most of the rest of the day's journey until they did encounter Hriegnilda, but the harpy - sated from her earlier meal - seemed inclined to barter with the group rather than simply attack. She promised to let the group pass unharassed if they handed over Daren and her griffon, who she wanted because they opposed Y'mial's operations in the valley. The group, of course, refused; so Hriegnilda unleashed her haunting song, catching all but Quinn in the grip of her tune. This turned out to be a fatal oversight - the glastig woman simply waited until the griffon had approached close enough to the tree, climbed on its back, leaped into the branches, and smashed Hriegnilda against the trunk, crushing her ribs and spine and killing her instantly, bringing a permanent end to her song. The group looted the remains of her prior meals - both recent and less so - from the filthy nest, making a tidy profit, then assured everyone was back in their right mind crossed the bridge and made their final approach toward Fairhaven.
Arriving in Fairhaven, the four visitors found the city in utter disrepair and chaos. Much of the city's stone wall had crumbled or been smashed; wooden palisades were being erected over the damaged portions, but less than half the repairs had been completed, leaving the town's defenses woefully incomplete. Workers and guards milled about, attending to various tasks and, other than one, mostly ignoring the approach of the strange visitors and their mounted escort.
The one was the captain of the guard, a tall armored woman named Regina, who as soon as she saw the approaching griffon mounted her horse and rode to greet the visitors. She asked the group's names and purpose, and on finding they had chosen to answer Daren's missive's request and the rumors of reward in the city directed them to the Guildhouse - "big round building, can't miss it" - and told them to speak with Guildmaster Pratt there. She then badgered Persey into getting back to his work detail and escorted Daren and her mount away to see to the tending of their wounds, and left the four visitors to fend for themselves.
The group made their way through the city, taking note of the artistic flair of the cobblestones (decorated with vast and intricate images of dragons, crowned with an enormous cobblestone mosaic of a great red) and the downtrodden state of the city square, where lean-to shanties and makeshift canopies filled with homeless and injured replaced the stalls and carts and tents of a once-busy market. Mott, in a show of extremely poor judgement, tossed a single gold coin into the midst of the homeless rabble, and near-instant chaos resulted. The guards arrived a few minutes later in response to the madness, but by then Quinn and Circe had evacuated the scene, making a beeline for the guildhall, leaving Orestes holding Mott by the scruff of the halfling's neck and carting him around to the various injured commoners to see to the mending of their wounds. The guards questioned the two strangers and, unable to determine the exact cause of the situation or who to blame but not wanting to interrupt a healer at his work (even if that work was being forced by a musclebound man almost three times his size) they left the two to their business. Mott did eventually wiggle free of Orestes's grip, after trying and failing three times to use a spell to do the job, and fled back to Mahsa before following the girls into the guildhouse, the Divan man not far behind.
Inside were a pair of guards who had converted the assembly hall of the guildhouse into a makeshift barricade, using pillars and pews as stockade walls against the attacks of the commoners outside, who had repeatedly invaded the guildhall looking for food, money, or simple petty vengeance against anyone they could scapegoat. After assuring the guards they'd been sent by Regina to find the guildmaster, they were allowed to wander freely so long as they didn't damage anything. The group split quickly, with Quinn examining an art studio before moving on, and Motty convincing Orestes to break open a locked door only to find it a simple broom closet; Motty, struck by inspiration, donned a mop head as a hat and declared himself the mop king.
Quinn then moved on to the records hall and library, where after some searching she found a tattered old book that contained maps of the mines below the city and mentions of a sealed-off tomb the miners had discovered some years ago; she kept the document, thinking the information within would eventually be useful if they continued into the mines in their time here. Motty, in turn, found his way to the guildmaster's room, only to find the man himself dead and a woman with him in a shift holding a dagger in one hand, a deep cut in her ribcage, and her other hand and most of her torso covered in her own blood. After some confusion and miscommunication, Quinn eventually arrived and took the dagger - burning her own hand on the unexpected cold iron - away from the suicidal woman, who identified herself as Lady Miranda. She explained that she and Pratt had engineered the first plans of resistance against Y'mial, but the plans had failed and the counterattack had left the town in the sorry state it was in; feeling despondent and assured the city would soon fall, the pair had chosen to take their own lives before Y'mial could capture them, but after Pratt had taken his fill of hemlock Miranda had - as a coward, she claimed - been unable to follow suit, neither with poison nor blade.
Quinn bound the woman's wound and turned her over to the guildhall's guard, who escorted her away to the healers to be tended to both in body and in mind; the other guard advised the group to return to Regina, saying that with the guildmaster dead command of the city now fell to the captain of the guard. The group, with no further leads, left the guildhall to seek out the commanding woman, hoping for more secure information and directions this time.