Paths of Vengeance

Grumblejack In Love

The Fire-Axe’s horde includes a few ogres and one of them is a gigantic bone-through-the-nose almost shockingly ugly female ogre named Karlotta Bonegrinder. It is love at first sight. Karlotta expresses her interest in Grumblejack by hissing like a cornered tigress and throwing a spear at him. Grumblejack continues the courtship by pulling the spear out of his minor flesh wound, licking the blood off the stone spear-head and breaking it over his knee. They then attack one another, wrestling fiercely until finally Grumblejack (who is fairly beaten up by this point) gets the upper hand and Karlotta flees. Grumblejack purrs as Karlotta departs the fray, “What a woman!”

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Book 1 Wrap Up

Our PCs have been busy scheming for nearly 30 days time, seeking information throughout the city, sabotaging the watch tower, and drinking dwarves under the table. Only after gathering all possible information, they slice into the peaceful town like a doctors scalpel.

When it was all said and done, it was an absolute slaughter.

Balentyne fell with barely a bugbear slain. The hairy beasts immediately attacked Aldencross and feasted on human flesh in an orgy of death and slaughter. There are few survivors and little warning as the Fire-Axe’s horde swept down into the Heartland of Talingarde. The war has begun with a crushing defeat for Talingarde.

Breaking the clay seal and notifying the Cardinal that the deed is done, Tiadora instantly teleports herself to their location atop the tower bearing a gift. A small but heavy wooden box containing platinum ingots worth 5000 gp (10 lbs. of platinum) and with a small hand-written note. “Our lord smiles upon your success. Here is a token of my esteem. Use it to rest, recover and strengthen yourselves. Other commands will come when the Knot is needed. Your work has just begun. – A.”

From the promontory, you can see the great bugbear horde camped south of the Watch Wall. Balentyne yet burns behind you. Tiadora remarks, “I have seen no evidence of any army gathering to meet the horde. It seems Zadaria has also succeeded at her mission and has assassinated the commanders. Truly, a great achievement."

“Making matters worse for poor Talingarde, small bands of creatures unaligned with Sakkarot approach the breach, eager to take advantage of the chaos. How could these beasts know already about this break in the Watch Wall? Someone must have told them. Probably best to leave. This region is about to become very dangerous."

“Still, this will not be enough. Balentyne may be broken but Talingarde is yet strong. Soon word will reach the south. The Heartland and the great cities of the Cambrian Bay will marshal their armies. They will meet Sakkarot on the field and it will be far too close to a fair fight. We must
do something about that."

“Come, my lords, your ship awaits. Try not to burn this one.”

Lords. She called you lords. And lords you are. Lords of death and destruction. Lords of evil. Do you remember Branderscar? Do you remember being held down and branded like animals? How far you have come and how long yet the journey before you. Tiadora is right. This is only your first steps along the way of the wicked.

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Grumblejack and the Fireaxe’s Drinking Contest

“You call this strong wine? I’ve had a gallon and I can barely feel it,” boasts the bugbear warlord.

The ogre cocks an eye. “Yeah? Grumblejack hear bugbears can’t hold their liquor.”

“Then you’ve been speaking to fools, ogre,” says the bugbear with a sneer. “Certainly, a strong bugbear is more than a match for the weaker races … like ogres.”

Grumblejack laughs. “Weaker … hah! If you were to match me drink for drink, you’d be dead drunk before the night is half over.”

“Boasting is easy. Prove your words, ogre!” And Sakkarot Fire-Axe slams his empty chalice on the table.

Grumblejack is quick to answer, slamming down a leather drinking jack. “Pour wine! Grumblejack look forward to seeing what your lunch looks like.”

And so the drinking contest began.

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The Lord’s Dalliance
The villains find themselves in the town of Aldencross

Aldencross is a town in the foothills of the tower castle Balentyne, Keystone of the Watch Wall. It is a market town and it is not rare for smaller traders to come from all over to peddle their goods here. This will not be seen as suspicious or anything unusual. Adventurers bound for the savage north are not unknown. Frankly, the idea that a band of Talireans would conspire with bugbears to break the Watch Wall is unthinkable to the common folk. The PCs will have no trouble moving freely within the town.

With a month’s time to spare the group enjoys their stay in the town. After all, Aldencross is a fine place to stay, take a hot bath and buy supplies.

There is an alchemist in town who sells all manner of potions. There is a scribe with a fine selection of scrolls. In the market place are found the random magic items for sale. Equipment is available in abundance. Aldencross is a soldier’s town so there are numerous smiths who make arms and armor. They’re eager for some side business to supplement their contracts to the crown.

Our villains spend their time in town gathering information of the area, the tower and trading wares. The villains stay at the Lord’s Dalliance, an inn that was once a brothel. When the Mitran regime of Markadian I came to power, many such venerable institutions shut their doors by decree of the king. That was almost eighty years ago. Since then the Inn has reinvented itself and returned to profitability keeping it’s vaguely risqué name.

Significant rumors gathered thus fare include the following:

The Bard of Barrington

A troupe of actors is visiting the watchtower. Led by famed thespian William Marcus Marlowe, the so-called Bard of Barrington, Ye Merrie Men will be playing the Great Hall of Balentyne. This is all part of the ongoing effort of Father Donnagin to cheer up the grim Lord Havelyn. It is of course doomed to failure. But repeated failure has never stopped the irrepressible cleric before and it won’t stop him this time.

Ye Merrie Men consist of twelve actors and stagehands and Bill Marlowe. They are actually not all men – controversially, Ye Merrie Men actually has two female performers. They will be performing “The Fall of Amberlyn” a rousing tale of how love and greed brought down a great city state.

The plot hinges around the young lovers Brandon and Bronwyn and their doomed romance. William Marlowe of course will be playing the handsome Brandon. The role of Bronwyn will be played by lovely ingénue Marie Janoset.

The Secret Passage

A secret passage constructed by dwarven miners links the basement of the brothel to the castle. The passage remains to this day and has been almost entirely forgotten. Certainly Lord Havelyn doesn’t know about it or he would have the damned thing filled in. In the middle of the night, the Inn is almost empty and the basement is not kept locked.

Rook was awoken to the sounds of someone shuffling about in the cellar. Following unseen, he was able to find the alcoholic innkeeper Bellam Barhold (brother to Captain
Samuel Barhold of the tower guard) taking the passage straight to the watchtower’s storeroom, pilfering an old shipment of fine wines (and replacing it with his own spoiled stock). The existence of the passage is surely a secret of Barhold’s… and now a secret of the villain’s.

The Dangers of a Drunken Dwarf

Barnabus Eisenbauch and ten dwarven workmen have been sent to Balentyne to inspect the watchtower and to refurbish its aging gatehouse. This is not a short-term project. Barnabus and his crew are expecting to work here for years.

There is no space for them in the watchtower, so the dwarves are being quartered in the Lord’s Dalliance Inn. Six days a week at first light, they wake, eat breakfast and trudge up the hill to the watchtower for a hard day’s work.

At night, they return to the Inn to eat, drink an unprecedented amount of ale, chat in dwarven about the tower, and to play dwarven card games no one else in town understands. Such is the life of Eisenbauch’s men. On the seventh day – they just skip straight to the drinking. This is what passes for a dwarven religious ceremony.

Captain Varning’s Rangers

Every week Captain Ryan Varning rides out Balentyne and for four or five days patrols the surrounding hills, shores, roads and byways. He leads a unit of six handpicked guards selected for their skill with horse and bow.

Information was found out from an off-duty ranger who frequents the Lord’s Dalliance. He would not volunteer the information, but bought drinks gets it out of him.

It is not hard to find out that Varning and his patrol are out and about. It is common knowledge in Aldencross that Varning patrols the wilderness. Tracking him is slightly more difficult. Varning always varies his patrol’s route. But he does have a weakness.

Captain Varning likes the camp site known as Freeman’s Rock. It has good ground, fine hunting and a great view of Lake Tarik. Three days after leaving, he reliably camps at Freeman’s Rock.

Bad Beef

Garrison food is repetitive and forgettable at best. But once a week Mama Louisa Giuseppe comes to the kitchens of Balentyne and makes her special beef stew. A savory, hearty mixture of beef, wine, onions and herbs harvested from her garden – the stew is always a hit. The guards line up and eagerly wolf down a bowl. Mama Guisseppe’s sons both served in this garrison years ago when she started this tradition.

Though both of her boys have long departed for better careers in the southern city of Ghastenhall, she still makes the trek up to Balentyne once a week to make her stew. She does this for no pay. Everyone from the commander on down simply calls her ‘Mama’ – a title that warms her aged heart.

This touching tradition is a unique opportunity to inflict real harm on the garrison.

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Loose Ends

After weeks at sea, and many perils dealt with, the PCs land in the bugbear camp. Sakkarot approaches: “These humans are my guests. I will deal with anyone who harms them. They are our allies!” He walks over to the boat and rips open one of the crates revealing finely made axes with in. He tosses one to a nearby bugbear warrior who until this time only had a crude club to wield. “Behold, they bring us steel!”

Sakkarot holds a feast in honor of the weapons shipment and their allies. The feast is a brutal, savage affair with bugbears fighting each other and all manner of monsters in attendance. The highlight of the party is when a great shaggy dire boar recently captured from the northern woods is brought in shackles.

One ton of angry pig is led in by a dozen bugbears who drag the beast before Sakkarot. Sakkarot beheads the already wounded animal in one mighty stroke with his fire axe. The beast is then spitted and roasted in a great open pit. The PCs sit at the Fire-Axe’s table – a front row seat at this spectacle of savagery.

Eventually as the raucous bestial festivities of the bugbear tribes die down, Sakkarot speaks with the PCs alone. He summons them into his private chambers and dismiss his many followers with a deep growl.

Sakkarot is genuinely curious. He has pieced together parts of Cardinal Thorn’s plan, but wants to know more. Clearly, these agents are an important part of that plan, so he would know their part in what is about to transpire.

“You are traitors to your own kind. You must know that. When Balentyne falls and my horde pours through its shattered gates, we will slaughter the Talireans by the thousands. Yet I see no regret in your eyes. Tell me, how can this be?”

The PCs give their explanations.

Once finished, Sakkarot has one last thing to say: “Tomorrow you must depart this camp. It will never be truly safe for you here. Over the next week, more tribes will rally to my banner. I will promise them blood and give them steel. Then at last I will be ready to march. A week after that – I will be poised to strike. I will move my horde to the valley just north of Balentyne. There we will wait for your signal. Fire this rocket into the air. Within the hour, we will attack. Make sure that the way is ready.

“After we gather, my horde will be idle and start to grow anxious. I can hold them together for another two weeks. After that, I expect desertions and squabbling. Get your work done before then. You have one month to infiltrate and destroy Balentyne.”

Sakkarot hands them a single carefully wrapped signal rocket. Suddenly the bugbear warlord gets very serious and stern. He stares straight into the PC’s eyes. “Can you do this? In one month can you break the Watch Wall?”

The PCs answer yes.

He grunts and nods. “Thorn has faith in you. If you weren’t his best, he wouldn’t have sent you. Do this and your names will be legend. Now go. Hail Asmodeus!”

Once unloaded, Captain Odenkirk is more than anxious to leave the bugbear camp. Already bugbear warriors have been eyeing his ship and though they have not yet built up courage enough to attack, the Captain knows it is only a matter of time. He does not trust Sakkarot and is not shying about saying so. “Look in that one’s eyes. He’s smart — always plotting. Bugbears should not be smart.”

He constantly grumbles about not getting paid enough and threatens to abandon the PCs when they linger longer than he thinks is necessary. It is only Odenkirk’s superstitious
nature and fear of Thorn’s magic that keeps him from doing just that.

The PCs lay waste to him and his men, burning the boat and leaving no survivors. With the bugbears armed and united under the Fire Axe and loose ends taken care of, act three is at an end.

You are close now. Just a few miles from here sits the small market town of Aldencross and less than a mile from there is the watchtower of Balentyne – your goal. Already Sakkarot’s horde gathers and prepares to move. Within two weeks, they will be in a small valley north of the lake awaiting your signal. Fire the rocket into the air at just the right moment and you will take the first step towards claiming vengeance against Talingarde.

Destiny has taken you here. Destiny has given you a mission. There is no doubt that the future of this green and pleasant land lies in your hands. You could go to that town right now and warn them of the plots of the sinister Cardinal Thorn. You could give yourself up and face the justice you deserve. You could turn back from the horror and the slaughter that you are going to inflict upon these Mitran sheep. This is that moment. This is the turning point. After this, there is no going back. Any one eager for redemption?

I thought not. Come, my friends. We have work to do. We must burn Balentyne.

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Thorn’s Commandments

“You have done well. Escaping from Branderscar, slaughtering Sir Balin… yes, you are worthy. Now, let us complete your training…” The Cardinal says with a grin.

Adrastus pronounces them ready and holds a great banquet in their honor. He awards them the title of the Nessian Knot in an infernal ritual involving blood and fire. During the ritual he summons forth a barbed devil and offers to it one of the slaves of the PC’s choosing.

The devil gleefully rips the slave apart and feasts on the blood. Adrastus then draws forth some of the devil’s blood with a silver athame. Adrastus traces the unholy symbol of Asmodeus on the forehead of each PC in the mingled blood of devil and sacrifice.

Behold he proclaims, “The Nessian Knot is forged.” “Just in time,” Cardinal Thorn remarks. “My ship has arrived.” On the river dock behind the manor under cover of darkness, a square-sailed longship sails into the slip. It sits heavily in the water, laden with a substantial cargo.

After a month’s training of brutality and honing their skills, the training is finished, Adrastus pronounces them ready and holds a great banquet in their honor.

Then Cardinal Thorn summons his ninth knot. Since they lack so clear a leader, he summons them all. “Welcome, my children,” he says in a deep resonant voice that has an almost inhuman quality to it. “Training is at an end. You have proven yourself worthy. Now, it is time for you to use that training and take on your first mission. “Your mission is war, my children. You will bring war to Talingarde.

“You have two objectives. First, you will see a shipment of munitions delivered to a bugbear chieftain named Sakkarot Fire-Axe. He makes his camp on the northern coast of Lake Tarik beyond the Watch Wall. With this shipment, the Fire-Axe will have resources enough to unite the barbarous humanoid tribes of the north and light the fire of war.

“Sitting on the dock as we speak is the longship Frosthamar captained by Kargeld Odenkirk. Tomorrow when the ship is resupplied it will be your transport. The captain is a ruthless mercenary and not to be trusted. He knows nothing of the specifics of our mission and you should keep it that way. He knows he is smuggling cargo to the north beyond the Watch Wall. That is all he need know.“ Once the cargo is safely delivered, he will take you just south across the lake under cover of darkness and land you near the town of Aldencross. There our contract with Captain Odenkirk will be concluded.

“It is shame how greedy he has proven. I had hoped to let the captain serve me again but it seems he is too much of a liability. Kill him. Kill his crew. Burn his ship and leave no survivors. It is crucial that no one suspects our involvement and that loose ends are taken care of. Be sure to reclaim the coin I gave him. Best not to be wasteful. “That done, you will begin your second task. We will do more still to aid our ally the Fire-axe. The bugbears are mighty warriors but poor siege engineers. You will infiltrate the tower Balentyne, keystone of the Watch Wall, kill its commander and open the gate for Sakkarot’s horde.

“Once the shaggy monstrosities pierce the Watch Wall, the bugbears will pillage and lay waste to the townships of the north and the local garrisons will have no choice but to meet the Fire-Axe in the open field. Sakkarot is the most brilliant, gifted and murderous bugbear of his generation.

I expect these battles will go poorly for the knights and yeoman of fair Talingarde. “Do all of this and then when your task is done, break this clay seal.” He hands them a delicately carved clay
seal adorned with a tangled knot of thorns surrounding the holy symbol of Asmodeus. “I will have more instructions then. Succeed and I will see you rewarded handsomely.

Fail or betray me and you will pray for the comfort of Hell before I am done with you. “The mission you start upon today is a holy mission. The people of Talingarde think they have seen the last of the mighty Asmodeus. Soon enough we will remind them that there is no escaping the grasp of Hell. Let us toast our success.”

He pours one glass of deep red wine for each of the PCs and then finally pours one for himself. He raises the glass and offers a toast.

“To war.”

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The Nine Lessons

When Adrastus took over this manor house some years ago, he had the basement transformed into a training area for his new agents. Since then, several groups have been tested by the Nine Lessons. The PCs were only the most recent to face its perils.

The purpose of this gauntlet was two-fold.

First, it weeds out the weak. Adrastus’ plan for Talingarde is a carefully crafted clockwork of conspiracy. He can ill afford failure. He wants to be sure that anyone he sends on a mission is capable of the task. Here is where he makes sure.

Second, it gives him an opportunity to see his pawns in action. He can appraise their fighting style, their strengths and weaknesses. He wants to know what his knots are capable of.

He sends them into the Lessons with what ever they need, as well as a simple request. Return in 24 hours and find the hidden pendant of silver and sapphire. "Recover the pendant and bring it to me. Let nothing and no one stand in your way.”

20 hours later and barely escaping with their lives at the cost of deception, torture and battle, the PCs emerge from the Lessons with the pendant. Adrastus sits in his study seeming almost as he has moved not an inch from where he gave them their orders at dusk yesterday. “You’ve returned.”

“Remember this symbol. This is the mark of those who destroyed our faith and sought to banish all trace of the worship of our Father from these shores. These, my friends, are your enemies.”

He tosses the holy symbol to whoever gave it to him. “Keep it. It may aid you in disguising yourself.”

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Meeting the Master

At the door of the manor house, they are met by Tiadora the beautiful green-eyed woman. She no longer looks like she is destined for a funeral. Instead she wears a diaphanous white gown that makes her look almost angelic. When she speaks, any illusions about her angelic character are quickly dispelled.

“Dearest, you took long enough,” she says pitilessly. “We were beginning to wonder if you’d ever make it. Oh, and you brought friends. The master commands all of you to appear before him but before that, you must be made presentable. Slaves!” She claps her hands. A dozen young attractive men and women all wearing very traditional servant’s livery appear quickly, their heads bowed. “These people are our guests,” she commands imperiously. “See them to their rooms. I want them cleaned, dressed and refreshed. Quickly.” There is something in that last word that sounds like a threat. Certainly the slaves take it that way, hustling to perform their duties.

The group are led up to their rooms. The accommodations are comfortable and the slaves are silent and efficient. There are fresh clothes perfectly sized to each character in their rooms and there is opportunity to wash up. Every questions they ask is met with silence. Each also receives a platter full of hot, delicious food and fresh water.

Eventually the group will be ready to meet the master. Having escaped, our would-be villains have passed Cardinal Thorn’s first test. The question now is will they join his organization and become his agents?

At last Tiadora lead them to a beautifully appointed office richly decorated with dark wood and sumptuous brocade tapestry. Sitting in a leather high-backed chair is a devilishly handsome fellow who smiles as you enter. “I believe you to be the first to ever escape from Branderscar Prison. Well done! Of course, you had help from the outside,” he says with a wicked smile.

“But enough with the pleasantries. You must be curious why I’ve helped you. Rest assured this is no random act of altruism. I have brought you here for a reason. My name is Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. I am the last high priest of Asmodeus left on the island of Talingarde. Once the Prince of Nessus was rightly revered alongside the other great powers. Now, the king of Talingarde has become a puppet to Mitran fanatics who wish to destroy any religion that does not bow to their insipid sun god.

“For their blasphemy, I will see the same people who imprisoned and condemned you suffer. I understand what you went through for I have faced it myself.” With that, he pulls down the sleeve of his robe and reveals his own runic ‘F’ brand. “I am going to burn Talingarde to the ground and from the ashes I will build a new nation that knows its rightful master. I cannot do this alone. I seek servants worthy of our Infernal Father’s majesty. Have I found them in you?”

He rises and his eyes flash with hellfire and divine purpose. “Join me! Serve me well in this holy endeavor and I will raise you up in the eyes of gods and men. I will make you princes of the new Talingarde. Today, swear fealty to me and to Asmodeus.

“Put aside forgiveness and I shall give you vengeance. Put aside mercy and be made powerful. Put aside peace and become my harbingers of war. What say you? Will you swear your allegiance or will you burn with the rest of the blind fools?”

Cardinal Thorn is a wily negotiator who has already researched a great deal about these prospective agents. He tailors his offer to each member of the party so that refusal is unlikely. Greed, revenge, ambition, devotion to Asmodeus — he is prepared to cater to all these desires to ensure that these escapees become his servitors.

Finally, when each of the group accepts, Cardinal Thorn smiles. “Excellent. Let us make it official. Signing in blood is traditional.” He brings out a quill, a silver ritual knife and two copies of a contract written on some unidentifiable leather and written in dark red ink – The Pact of Thorns. He lets the PCs keep one copy of the contract. The other, he takes.

“Well done. Your first command: prepare yourselves. Stay within the manor. You are still hunted by the Talirean soldiery. In three days we begin your training.”

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Across the brackish moors

The 3 day hike from the prison took longer than expected, but the group still managed to out pace guards and bounty hunters alike. The party Ranger, Rook, noticed a beast was stalking the group. Spending time to create a poison from the belladonna harvested from the prison gardens (most likely used to subdue unruly prisoners), he took some of his potted meat and created a trap.

The next day Rook and Toben left the group to hunt the beast. Following the tracks to a blackish salty pond where they stalked the area using stealth and group tactics. Thinking back to tales of the region, Toben recalled tales of giant toads with poison skin and tongues that lash and swallow men whole.

Tossing some more meat to the shore they lay in wait. Unaware that the toad itself is more intelligent than expected, it also waits for them. Rook approaches the shore to kick the lure closer, the toad knows he’s within reach and lashes forth. Rook is quick to react and manages to jump back just in time. Him and Toben unleash their arrows upon the toad and send it reeling back into its home inside the pond.

The two mock fight in their victory, pushing each other around and ultimately into the pond itself. There they happen to notice a mud cave that leads up under the shore on another side of the pond. After they dry off they walk around to the side where it must have been. Determined to finish the job and get some fresh meat in the process, they begin peeling layers of organic material from the earth. Suddenly it caves in and they land upon the toad, slashing it and slaying the monster. Inside the cave they find trinkets and gold from those less capable.

Catching up to the rest of the team with giant toad legs in hand (skinned of the poisonous layers) they make way to the manor on the old moor road. Another half day’s travel reveals the road and as promised, a lonely lantern burns in the upper story. The place otherwise shows little sign of habitation. Old but well-appointed, the house is large, imposing and alone on its hill. Painted a dark green and surrounded by barbed wrought iron fencing, nothing about this place seems inviting or a sanctuary.

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Prison Break!

The forsaken managed to take down the guards and their dogs, but not without great expense. The majority of the team lay in great pain, only the Doctor and Olar remained standing.

The Ogre they had saved from the prisons, Grumblejack, is badly wounded and ready to run. Olar placed a magical window in the wall and peered out to see they are two stories up, a garden, and an island surrounded by high walls. They begin to regroup and devise a new plan.

Heading downstairs they see no guards left in the building. Heading into the kitchen our prisoners find the servant staff working on a large meal for the night rotation. The forsaken are dressed in the garb of the slain guards, the staff pay no attention. The doctor attempts to persuade the staff to turn over provisions for a “hunt” for the escaped prisoners, but the staff seems on edge. They demand to speak to the guard lieutenant and as such meet their own demise.

Our prisoners pile every scrap of wood they can find upon the large double doors, and strike it to flame. This they know will serve as a distraction! Back up stairs and clumsily down the rope, for their wounds are painful.

Grumblejack sees his own opportunity (smarter than he seems) and takes the rope back with him. As they call back to him, he disappears. They don’t see him again.

Noticing the guard towers are empty save for a light in each, they head to the front gate. The gate house echos with sounds of laughter. This must be the appropriate time! The guards are enjoying a game of cards and some drink!

The forsaken sound the horn. Slowly, in a drunken stupor the guards come forth, one by one, slowly noticing the fire. Eventually with the lieutenant’s command they run to the fountain in the courtyard and take buckets back to the doors. With this, our prisoners make their escape. Into the gate house, past the cards and ales, eventually out the main gate and out to the bridge.

From here they take their chances with the ocean rather than with the guard house at the end of the bridge. They dive, dive deep into their freedom. Some drink it in too soon, and must be carried to shore. There they regroup, ring out their clothes, toss the guard uniforms into the ocean and begin their journey into the moorlands.

Perhaps they’ll find their way to the Old Moor Road or perhaps they’ll be struck down by the evils that make the tales of these lands. For the moors harbor many sort of primeval creature. Or perhaps, they are the evil which these tales are about.

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