Shaintar - A legend begins

Trouble in Greensway, part I
Fire & Brimstone

Shortly after the big fight with the Impostors from Camon, the Ghost Wolves Squad gather for the evening meal. After some small talk, Vanessa notices that Malen’s everwood staff, propped against the wall behind him, is smoking.

Malen reaches for his staff and even before he touches it, he feels the heat emanate from it, and when his fingers close around it, he falls to the floor as if struck physically. His eyes shut tight, smoke billowing from him as well as the odour of burning wood & leaves.

Malen is a silent witness to a barely familiar forest, burning. People he recognizes thru the smoke and soot are fighting both the flames and creatures that look like rat-men and bull headed giants. As Malen looks around, he spots Oakhorn, the ancient ent engaged in combat with a large minotaur and goat-headed creatures that seem to blink in and out of sight.

The vision ends with the Ent’s voice entreating aid as urgently as possible.

The Druid relates his vision to the others and they all agree to leave for Greensway, straight away. Our 6 heroes push their mounts all thru the night, while the 3 junior Rangers, Althea, Rafe & Omark, bring up additional horses & supplies at a slower pace.

Once in the village,  they see the remains of a recent attack. The buildings on the northern side of the river are all burned down. Many of the one on the southern shore show damage and burns. many people are wounded, tired and demoralized. Seeing the Rangers so soon, brightens their spirit considerably.

Vandien and company quickly organize an evacuation and get a little rest after their mad rush.

They then decide to head out and track the Childers who assaulted the village and the Ents. Fanning out while heading north thru the forest, the manage to find Ratzin & Minotaur tracks. After about an hour or so, they are ambushed by those same creatures. 

The fight is short and bloody, and the Rangers come out victorious. But the war is not over, these creatures came from somewhere and the villagers and Malen’s vision mentioned humans dressed in foreign garb and armor.

Erdan collected some key bits of anatomy from the both the minotaur and ratzin bodies.

While Erdan is about his grizzly business, Malen tries to communicate with Oakhorn, thru his staff. The Druid does form a link, tentative as it is. The Ent shows him the way to find their hidden location. They quickly set off with Malen and Toji in the lead. After a few hours of forced march set by the Druid, they arrive at a small, seemingly empty glade. Eventually Oakhorn and his fellow Ents reveal themselves. They all bear marks of violence (cuts, breaks and burns) that cannot heal while the forest itself is injured and still under attack.

They are very glad to see them and have begun telling them the tale of the last few days. Despite using the elven tongue, it takes a while for the tree-folk to get to the crux of the matter. 

Acolytes from the Kal-a-Nar empire, along with soldiers have begun corrupting an old forgotten circle of Standing Stones and are using it to open a portal to Norcan Darr, the Hard Lands to call forth Childer, and then possibly Demons. 

to be continued…

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Galean Guests

Vandien and company are given some R&R time, and while they are all keeping busy with personal projects (Malen manages to use Laylana’s River Stones to learn the Sentry gift), they hear about the arrival of the most recent batch of Galean Knights & Soldiers for the purpose of an exchange of training and culture.

A few days later, on the 9th of Festival Moon, the Galean contingent arrives in Kythros. They display cool confidence, sharp coordination as well as much condescension and disdain towards Sgt-Major Mindril and Sgt. Guz. Vanessa steps forward to take care of the horse of one of the Lieutenant, who goes by the name of Pieron, a bowman. They chat briefly, and the man finds Vanessa quite interesting and she finds he is also worth getting to know better.

Mindril asks Vandien and his squad to keep an eye on their guests, as he suspects something is not quite right. Vandien briefs his group. Erdan attempts some magic but nothing exceptional is revealed. Vanessa invite Lt. Pieron for an evening out on the town and the two of them get to know each other quite intimately. Not much is revealed by the soldier.

And while they are on maneuvers, Vandien does a B&E into Capt. Rasul and Lt. Pieron’s rooms. The only thing he finds is a few dry fleck of blood here and there, and a couple of recent cuts in the clothing or uniforms that show recent repairs. They also check out their horses and gear, and the find some dried blood there as well. Vanessa doesn’t remember Pieron having any recent scars or wounds.

They decide to try to back track the Galean’s path. With some skill and luck they find the area that the tracks of a large group of mounted troops regained the main road. They follow that to the edge of the Silverwood forest, where they come upon a grizzly sight, over a score of bloated, and rotting bodies. The only identifying marks are some Galean military tattoos. They continue to back track and find Prelacy uniforms & gear, buried in burlap bags.

Once they’ve warned Sgt-Major Mindril, he tells them to be ready tonight during the farewell feast. When confronted by the uniforms, chaos ensues and the battle is joined.

Battered and bruised, they eventually eliminate or subdue the imposters. Luckily, they capture Lt. Hadrian after stabilizing him, as well as a few other soldiers. Once they are awake, they reveal that they were to pose as the Galeans, shake the Ranger’s confidence and try to kill as many of the high command as possible. This would of course cause much trouble between the Rangers and Galea.

Sgt-Major Mindril rewards Vandien and his group with a bounty on the gear, arms & armor as well as the mounts and their gear. Some of it will go towards the families of the actual Galeans, some towards the families of the rangers who perished and the rest to Vandien and his squad.

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RETURN TO KYTHROS

You finally make it to Kythros in the wee hours of morning. You rode all night, hoping you wouldn’t be attacked again during the night. When the gate guards see you, exhausted & dirty, they simply let you in immediately and even offer to escort you thru the morning traffic to Ranger HQ.

You report at least your presence to Sgt Guz, the ogre and aid to Sgt-major Mindril, semi-coherently. He acknowledges your arrival and orders you to get some much deserved rest. Even if he hadn’t ordered it, you would’ve done so anyway. You thought he said he’d take care to find quarters for Roberre. Whatever.

Hunger wakes you, late in the afternoon. You all stagger to the mess hall at various times, and sit together, more or less. Then you clean yourselves up, get a new change of clothes and square away your gear.

Vandien files his official reports, along with the corroborating reports of fellow Rangers and various peoples of note you met during your mission.

The next morning finds you all in better spirits, as some much needed sleep and good food was supplied. Sgt Guz summons you to the offices of Sgt-Major Kork Mindril, the Rangers’ non-com officer (a dwarf warrior).

Roberre is there, seated just outside his office. He nods a greeting to you, as you enter to see your commander.

Mindril is looking at Vandien’s reports with interest as you enter. He signals for some of you so sit (there are only two other chairs) and with Horak and Guz there, it’s a tight squeeze.

’’I’m extremely please ‘bout your capture of Ballok and some of his gang. Apparently Lord Erevan and Capt. Devan will be keeping an eye out for more trouble there and the reputation o’ the Rangers is most likely on the mends.’’

‘’Guz was right. Ye really are the best o’ the lot. I’m placin’ you under a special command unit, effective right now’’

He hands over to you, Vandien a letter, sealed with the mark of the Rangers and the personal seal of lady Grayson herself, and then saiz while looking you very seriously, directly in the eyes;

‘’This be a Letter of Orders, signed by me and counter-signed by the Lord Commander, Lady Grayson. If’n anyone else of rank questions ye about your orders, your mission, or your business, ye are t’show ‘em this, let ’em see the seals, and respectfully be on yer way – without explainin’ more’n ye have to about what ye be doin’. Don’t be rude, an’ respect the chain o’ command, but ye be on Command business. That be no one else’s place to interfere, officer or no. I hope ye understand’’
Ye might hear the term ‘’Ghost Wolves’’ among other rangers. It’s an un-official name that’s been used in the past to refer to a squad o’ Rangers outside the regular chain o’ command. Don’t deny or confirm anythin’ if somebody asks.’’

‘’Now it’s time for y’a to introduce yer new friend there, Roberre, and tell me more about ‘im and this message he’s s’pposed to deliver to the Raven’’

Vandien opens the door and asks Roberre to enter. Both you and he relate how you met and Roberre stresses the urgency of delivering his message.

When Sgt Mindril tries to push Roberre for more information, Roberre simply re-states; ‘’It is a very important, but also a very confidential matter. I can assure you that it has much to do with the days to come, but I can say no more than that.’’

Mindril then dismisses you all for now. ’’You’re free for the day, but put on your dress uniforms for the dinner at the late 6 bells (i.e. 6PM).’’ he says.

When you enter the mess hall, later that day, many other Rangers are there, standing at attention on either side of the hall. And the Sargeants Mindril & Guz are there as well as few of the respected teaching staff, at the far end of the hall. You all make your way down the cleared floor to trumpet fanfare. Sgt-Major Mindril announces that the Rangers before him are to be rewarded with a promotion in ranks, due to their outstanding service and courage.

Vandien is promoted to Sgt-Minor, Malen is now a full Sgt., while Vanessa and Toji become Corporals and Erdan & Horak are raised to Rangers 1st-Class. Everyone applauds and a feast is enjoyed by all.

The next day, Malen spends time with Jenna, who’s still recovering from the shock of her grievous wounds, some of it mental.

Vandien had searched for Neala, but was told her and her squad are off on a mission to escort a Duke back to his home of Olara. But while you’re relaxing and simply going about some personal business, you get to see some Rangers you haven’t seen in a while. Sgt-Minor Reager, Sgt Ssukko (a dregordian warrior), Corporal Filbur Ironhand (a dwarf warrior) and a few others. You and Vanessa trained with him a few years ago. You exchange stories and he asks about the stranger you guys arrived with the previous morning. You only speak in vague terms and he says he understand that you might be under orders to keep quiet. These are troubled times after all.

Toji and Horak spend some time together, sharing stories about their goblinesh origins.

Vanessa and Erdan, as well as Malen (once he can be pried away from Jenna) are introduced to a man called Helroth (see picture attached), a powerful Arch-mage from Mindroth’s Tower. He says that he detected the recent use of the Portals in the Halls of the Well.

When he was younger and travelled about, with his companions, much like you Rangers, he discovered the Halls of the Well. He spent much time researching them, experimenting with them and exploring their various locations. He’s kept them a secret to avoid the enemies of the Southern Kingdoms from using them. But since you Rangers know about them now and have used them (and now some elves in Landra’feya as well), he figures you may as well be armed with the proper information.

There is the Hall near Berell town, one north of Ey’Dreigh (in the great elven forest) and the ruined one near Haven (where you fought the fish-like creatures, but Helroth has blocked access to/from that one Hall).

Helroth requires all three of these Rangers to commit to memory the proper combination for the Berell & Ey’Dreigh Halls, as well as a third Hall, to be used only in extreme emergencies. This third Hall is the one beneath his tower in the Peace Woods, near Mindroth’s Tower. He also instructs them on how to lock the gates behind them, should the need arise.

He warns about using and abusing the waters of the Wells in each hall. The Berell Hall had been corrupted by the mad alchemist, and its waters seemed to affect a living being’s heath and vigor. Helroth is looking into cleaning it up and purifying it. The Ey’Dreigh Well, affects ones physical strength (Erdan will most likely find this very interesting).

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IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT

They then head towards Kythros. At a way-inn they halt for the night. In the middle of the night a young woman wakes up almost everyone and insists on speaking to the Rangers. Her name is Katrina and beseeches them to aid her and investigate the attackers that tried to kill her and most likely killed her travelling companions.

Almost all the group, except Roberre, who is left behind, leaves with her, but after two hours of searching and not finding any trace of a camp or an attack. It’s obvious that this was a ruse. Katrina laughs and mocks the Rangers, saying that her allies will have either captured or killed Roberre by now. Horak knocks her out and throws her over his shoulder. They then all high-tail it back to the inn, which is on fire now.

Vandien & Malen quickly brave the flames of the Inn, upstairs Vandien finds the body of a shayakar agent and Malen discovers a bottle of explosive consequence, but both have to leave due to smoke and debris falling down on them.

Meanwhile, Omark has found a trail most likely left by Roberre, leading towards the woods. While following the trail, a sudden bang and a bright flash is seen nearby, so the Rangers rush towards the source and see Roberre beset by 4 nightguards, two more are dead nearby. Arrows and spells eliminate most of them quickly, but more nightguards drop down from the trees. Jenna is mortally wounded, but those dark assassins are eventually dealt with. The one fighting Horak, whispers something when he recognize Vandien & Vanessa and utters his death-whisper, before his final breath.

Erdan investigates the nightguard leader’s body and discovers a partially ripped message that says they are to capture Roberre, or kill him as needed. And it’s signed by a fancy letter L that Vandien and the others recognize as Thenmar Lavanchy’s signature. It seems that the twins identity and general location is now known.

They decide to waste no more time and travel to Kythros and protect Roberre.

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A serious discussion

After defeating Krig and his minions, and liberating the village of Valburn, Vandien decides to have a stern discussion with Baron Willard Malik. It’s time that he sobers up and return to his duties towards his lands and it’s people.

On the way to his small keep of Gravlar’s Hill, Toji expresses his concerns about his commanding officer, Vandien, about his obvious anger. When Toji was in the court of Duke Harrington and also at the court in Galea

A few things you need to know: Lord Willard Malik, baron of Graval’s Hill and of Gravlaros (the lands that include Valburn and Riverwick) is a widower but was once at least a good honourable man, if not remarkable. His eldest daughter is lady Hariette (21, plump, meek but nice. She should be married by now or at least bethroed). Lauren (15, plain looking and acts and dresses as a boy). And finally, Gregory (7, his only male heir but neglected and blamed for the Baroness’ death at childbirth. He clings to Hariette as a mother figure).

His subjects do not really hate their Lord, but do resent his prolonged mourning and lack of concern for them. The baroness, Lady Louisa, was much loved, a kind and giving person, devoted to the Ascended.

Eventually Vandien, Malen & Erdan are bid to see his Lordship. The great hall still does not live up to it’s namesake. There are few candles, the fireplace has a meagre fire, the floor still has old rushes upon it, and Lord Malik’s clothes are dirty and threadbare, he sits at an old table, eating stale bread and watered down wine.

Vandien speaks to him in polite tones, trying to convince him to sober up and be more consious of his duties, while Malen speaks his thought a bit more openly. Malik seems to get rather upset, but it seems that Vandien and Malen’s words have ignited a small spark in Hariette, his eldest. She thanks the Rangers and has her sister Lauren guide them to the kitchen to pick up whatever they wish. She will have a much more serious talk with her father.

When the Rangers are all together in Valburn, they get ready to leave towards Homestead. On the way there, they meet Baron Erevan of Homestead and his retinue. They are on their way to meet his brother-in-law Malik for a hunting expedition, but the real reason is to pound some reason into Malik’s thick skull.

Once in Homestead, they deliver their prisoners, file their report and also meet their new recruit, Horak the Tower, an ogre that they rescued near Silvergate a little while back.

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THE MESSENGER

While they are having their breakfast at Mr. Woodley, a man walks into the room, dishevelled and travel worn, yet clearly agitated. Dressed in blues and browns, with a cloak of an odd shade of tan that almost suggests pink, he looks around quickly, taking each member of the group in with his steady gaze.

He appears to be in his forties or early fifties, though robust for his years. Lean, with a black-grey, trimmed beard, and surprisingly blue eyes that hint vaguely at purple, it is when he drops his hood that you see the wild mane of unkempt hair that gives him a slightly mad appearance.

‘’Well, what in the Stellar Hells took you so long? The Merchant and the Seer know the Seeker has been found! It’s only a matter of time before Julian is put into play…..

His voice trails off as he seems to realize none of you have any idea who he is or what he is talking about.

‘’I… am most sorry. I must… have the wrong…room…’’

He then turns and leaves, but Vanessa manages to grab him firmly but without malice and make him sit down and explain what the nine hells he’s talking about.

Of course, I knew I’d come to the right place. The name is Roberre, and I am very much in your debt.

When questioned about the strange things he’d ranted about previously, he will look startled and confused, and replies –

‘’I am not at all sure what you are talking about, I am sorry to say. I’ve had a terrible fever, though, and was laid up for a time, unable to finish my journey. You see, I am bound for Eldara, the elven capital city. I must find Saiderin there, and deliver a vital message. I am so glad I found you Rangers here, for I know you can see me safely there. Please, this is a desperately important mission I have, and while I cannot reveal too much of it, nor pay you any grand sum, I have some small amount of skill in some areas that might be of service.’’

He really doesn’t seem to know what they are speaking of, and insists that if he spoke any such words, clearly they were remnants of his fever dreams.

The “Rangerly” thing to do is to escort him at least as far as Kythros, and see what the commanders want done from there. But first there is the business of the Baron’s lack of concern for his lands and the people under his charge. Vandien has taken it as his responsibility to take the drunken noble to task.

What will happen at the keep of Gravlar’s Hill? Stay tuned…

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Opportunists

The Rangers bring back the mayor’s wife and two children to Riverwick. After the happy reunion, the Rangers are thanked with a hearty breakfast, some fresh horses as well as a wagon to transport the prisoner. Erdan and Jenna will remain behind to make sure no other troubles arise, since there’s still an unseen opponent unaccounted for.

As they prepare to leave in the morning, a message has reached the Constable that there’s some kind of trouble in Valburn, which is fortunately on the way back to Homestead & Kythros. As usual, the Baron neglects his duty and just drinks himself into a stupor most days and it seems to be up to the Rangers to resolve this issue.

They arrive at the small village of Valburn, built on a smalll hill and surrounded by a palisade wall and they stop near Mr. Woodley’s ale house. Toji decides to stay with the prisoner wagon while the others go into the house. It’s surprisingly empty. Mr. Woodley bring them some weak ale and what little food he still has. He seems nervous and a little tense, but looks also relieved to see Rangers here, finally. He hints that since the new ’’Constables’’ arrived, he can’t keep his best ale in stock and food stores are always low. But that they really should get their weapons checked at the blacksmith’s, Urias Silverhammer.

The dwarf smith, tells the heroes that the village headman was coerced into accepting the offer of protection from Krig the ogre, and his motley bunch of lackeys. So the Rangers quickly ride out and directly to Homestead to drop off their prisoner, Ballok, file their report and gather their reinforcements (ie Rafe, Omark and Althea).

Then they just as quickly return to Valburn, where they leave the horses about a mile out of town, and under cover of darkness, climb the palisade and slip inside the village, but not without making some noise. Malen seems distracted and kicks over a bucket which attracts the attention of a patrol. Luckily, a villager also heard and saw the Rangers come in and opens her window and urges them inside her home. Once inside, they wait quietly and hear the patrol approaching. Shuffling steps indicate they are where the heroes were a few moments ago, but seeing nothing, they return to their route.

Their savior introduces herself as Nancy, a young woman who works with Mr. Woodley. She is pretty, about 20 or so, brunette with dark brown eyes. She is very glad to see the Rangers and hopes they are there to help. She agrees to go to the ale house and warn her boss. While Vanessa goes to see Silverhammer and Malen changes into an owl and scouts the house that the bandits are using as a base of operations and barracks. Two guards are outside and maybe four more sleeping inside.

Once all reunited and with a plan laid out, the heroes move towards the barracks/home, but once again Malen doesn’t pay attention to his surroundings and tips a pile of wood someone left lying around. The two guards are now alerted, arrows fly but not before one of the guards rings an alarm bell. Both bandits fall swiftly to the archers’ skills, but the damage is done. The men inside open the shutters and fire at the Rangers. One of them falls before he can duck back behind cover.

Soon, more ruffians can be heard to be approaching from the other direction. Krig the ogre turn the corner flanked by two goons. The ogre’s very large axe gleams in the torch light. Vandien gulps and wonders if he’s being brave or foolish while moving in on the huge opponent. Luck is with him as he ducks under the huge weapon, and Longfang bites into the brute’s groin and up to his belly, spilling all the food and ale recently ingested.

Before the ogre’s body collapses to the ground, Malen transforms into a lion and leaps onto one of the bandits and mauls him quickly, and in a flash of adrenalin then jumps the other poor bandit.

With their leader defeated so quickly, the remaining ruffians surrender.

Some well earned rest is needed despite the brevity of the fight. The villagers are happy to have been released from the constant threat of the “constables” and are even more so when Vandien orders his three junior Rangers to remain in the area until these safety issues are addressed by Baron Willard Malik.

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PREDATORS AND PREY PART III

The Squad gets a +1 Charisma while in the area of Riverwick-Homestead, if someone has heard of their exploits (50% chance)

Our heroes fought a hard battle against Ballok, his cronies a few other men dressed in foreign garb, most likely Malakar. They used nasty tricks against them to gain advantages and an unseen foe also used some kind of wave of force to push them down or into each other. Eventually most of the bandits were dealt with and Chief Mailer knocked out the bandit leader once he had surrendered. One of the foreigners had fled and the invisible one seemed to have left as well.

As they began cleaning up and taking care of the bodies, Chief Mailer checked out the interior of the mill and noticed that the millstone is not damaged as the current owner said it was. So why did he lie and close it down? There’s more than enough grain to mill these days. The problem is made more difficult because the mill’s owner, Master Albert McCormack, is also the town’s headman/mayor.

Also, the heroes find a few discarded packs, and the small chest with the Malakar silver they were going to give Ballok (about 200 pieces).


Vandien decides to do the following, or attempt them in the hopes of gaining more intel.
1) Do a stakeout near viewing range of the Mayor’s manor, to see if he has any odd visitors or deliveries. No odd visitors show up. The mayor just seems to be going about his business, but refuses to speak to Constable Mailer about the arrest of the bandit chief.

2) Follow him whenever he leaves his work/ home to see if he meets someone or exchanges or pickups parcels from someone/where. This would be done either by Malen, via shape change, or Vanessa during the day or Vandien/Toji at night. He stays in town, and takes care of business, as mentioned previously.

3) Alternatively, maybe Malen could fly into an already opened (or unlocked by Vandien) window in the Mayor’s home/manor, enter his Study/den/office and snoop around for anything suspicious. At night, Vandien & Vanessa infiltrate Master Albert’s business office but find nothing incriminating. During the day, Malen manages to sneak into his home and unlock the side-entrance. All four Rangers search the home and find only a few traces that someone other than Albert cleaned & shaved himself here. At one point, Vanessa finds a small note under other papers, addressed to Rangers and it just says we need to speak.


Chief constable Mailer helps you out as much as he can (and as much as you let him). He’s remembered that no one has seen Master Albert’s wife and three children for about a month. Constable Mailer’s wife told him the mayor’s wife and kids were with family in the city of Haven, to the west, by the coast.

Once you’ve secured your prisoner in the town’s jail, you find some good spots to watch the mayor’s home. During the day he’s out and about, taking care of business as usual. During the night, he stays home alone. Constable Mailer tried to convince him to come into his office and discuss the recent arrest of Bloody Ballok, but he was rebuffed, stating that the mayor wasn’t feeling well and would retire early.

At night, the house is quiet and dark, except in the room where the Master Albert finds himself. According to Mailer, he starts in his kitchen/dining room, then moves on to his study/office, then goes up to his bed chambers. The light stays on for a little while then it’s extinguished about an hour after night fall (9 PM more or less, this is summer after all).


After finding the note, the Rangers simply decide to lay low in the home and wait for the mayor to return. Eventually Master Albert enters and begins preparing his supper, he then wanders into his study, to find the Rangers there. He manages to cover his surprise and acts normally in case he’s being observed from the outside. He confides that his family has been kidnapped and kept hostage in exchange for his cooperation. His wife and children were able to bring him clues whenever the bandits were bringing the family member in question as proof they are still alive.

The next morning, the Rangers head out towards the windmill. While Malen scouts ahead in owl form and spots other people heading to the mill on a roughly parallel course. When he gets closer to them, he sees that they are dressed like Grey Rangers and one of them is Jenna, a ranger that Malen knows very well, travelling with a young man.

After a brief introduction, Malen guides the two towards the rest of the group. Jenna introduces the group to Erdan Veynable, a young recruit who was assigned to Father Garrick’s squad. But a vision Garrick had seemed to reveal a different path for the young sorcerer/alchemist, one where his quest to find family will allow him to aid other families, Erdan had to join Vandien’s squad to warn them of a possible trap.

By using the various bits and ends that Albert’s family left behind, both Malen & Erdan are able to pin point the location of the family, while Toji & Vanessa confirm where certain flowers and mushrooms might be found.

They eventually make their way to a old bear’s cave and they see a bandit/woodsman enter the cave with waterskins. Malen sends his mystical ’’scout’’ to reveal the interior of the cave, so they know where the hostages are and how many opponents there are.

Malen makes himself invisible and quickly enters the cave with a smokescreen potion that he throws around the family and he calls upon some of the inky darkness of the potion to power his attack spell, dismembering two bandits right off. The other Rangers hear that as a signal and enter the cave and engage the enemy.

At one point, Erdan & Jenna get pushed aside by an unseen foe, possibly the adept, and they hear foot steps running out the cave.

They have rescued the mayor’s wife and two children, who are relatively unharmed. A little undernourished and dehydrated, but otherwise fine.

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PREDATORS AND PREY PART II

While Malen sees to the wounds of the lead bandit, Terrence, the other Rangers pass the time by investigating the cave’s contents. They find all the things the bandits have recently «acquired» which include; spices, cloths, honey, wine, a few kegs of ale (mostly empty now), candles, various iron items, a locked chest, which Vandien manages to open with ease, with mostly coppers, a few handfulls of silver and wrapped in supple leather are 5 grey-green stones etched with symbols and lines.

Malen takes a closer look at the stones, with his augmented senses and does detect an aura associated with the Ascended and channelling in particular. «This will require more investigation».

Soon after that Terrence stirs and that when Vandien begins his interrogation to discover where his boss, Bloody Ballok is or where can they find him. Between Vandien’s demeanor & the deadly evidence of his colleagues, death at the hands of the Rangers, Terrence decides to squeal.

«Ballok took his two other best men, Ford and an orc named Kurj and a few other guys, with him into Riverwick about a day from here “for some kind of meeting.” I think he’s meeting with agents of the Malakar Dominion»

«Why does the Dominion want to hire bandits like Ballok for?» asks Vandien.

«I don’t know, maybe to hinder the Rangers even more? I told you where to find him, I don’t know anything else».

With that, the Rangers deal with the bodies, tied up Terrence securely and take all the stolen goods and the horses out of the cave. Vandien gives Rafe, Althea & Omark orders to return the prisoner and all the goods to the Rangers’ HQ in Homestead and to wait for them there.

Our four intrepid heroes then prepare their things and head out to the village of Riverwick. Trying to make good time, they find wild game trails but need to make camp as night is coming. The night is uneventful and they break camp again and hit the trails early.

They arrive near Riverwick about an hour before noon and they decide to enter the village as regular travellers instead of Grey Rangers. They ask the guard at the gate who they can speak to about their quarry. The man points them to the village’s Chief Constable Avrik Mailer offices just over the eastern most bridge.

Once they are allowed inside to see the Chief and tell him they are after Bloody Ballok and his crew, they notice that he’s very happy to see them. He and his men are no match for this bandit but he offers any help he can and promises to have his men alert for any sign of Ballok or his cronies.

They investigate a few establishments in the village, after renting a room at an Inn. Then they sit at what seems to be the most likely alehouse that Ballok could be found. As the sun is close to setting, one of the village guards come in the Red Robin to tell them that they spotted an orc matching the description of Kurj, a known ally of Ballok.

Near one of the northern gates, they wait for Chief Mailer to join them and they head out in the direction that Kurj was seen. The chief tells the Rangers that the trails seems to lead to a windmill that hasn’t been open for a week now because they broke their mill-stone.

As they approach the windmill, they notice a faint light from the windows and only 1 door from where they are. Vanessa circles the building and notices a set of double doors on the opposite side, where the storage of floor would be.

With this info, the Rangers make their way up the path as stealthily as possible but the Chief stumbles on an old branch. Everyone stops but nothing seems to happen except the lights inside go out. Malen shifts into an owl and flies into an opening up top and spot at least four men crouched behind cover looking at the main door. And while he does that, Vanessa does a closer inspection of the outer walls, looking for any secret openings. When she gets close to the double doors, she gets a bizarre feeling in her mind, a voice telling her to stop and drop her weapons, but she manages to resist and quickly move on and hurries around the mill. Someone even tries to take a shot at her but they miss her by a few inches.

By the time she returns to her allies, someone opens the front door and throws a «bottle of explosive consequence», once the smoke clears, Kurj leaps out and attacks Vandien who blocks instinctively. And then someone, still unseen inside, projects a cone of force that pushes both Vanessa and Chief Mailer back about 12 yards away. Vandien replies by a well placed hamstring cut which bring the orc down to one knee, followed by a precise slash to his throat, ending that threat.

A few seconds later, the sounds of people running from both sides of the mill are heard. From one direction Ballok, Ford and another bandit appear and from the other are the three Dominion agents run up to the Rangers.

The bandits and the agents use various tricks to trip up the Rangers during the fight. At one point both Malen and Vandien manage to evade what could be devastating wounds by sheer luck and determination.

At one point in the fight, the Malakar agent ducks into the windmill and doesn’t return, an unseen foe projects another cone of force against the Rangers and then vanishes.

With Bloody Ballok left alone to fight, all his allies dead or gone, he simply drops his weapons, falls to his knees and surrenders. Chief Mailer walks up to him and hits him behind the head and knocking him out.

… to be continued.

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PREDATORS AND PREY PART I

Having proven themselves as competent and dedicated, the new Rangers are assigned a mission of increased importance. They are to hunt down Bloody Ballok, a notoriously violent bandit leader who has been terrorizing the lands surrounding Homestead, located on the Howling River south of Kythros.

The mission is particularly delicate because Ballok has already escaped the grasp of the Rangers once, killing a number of people in the process; his capture is a matter of both pride and restoring the reputation of the Rangers.

On a given day while in Kythros, following the morning’s exercises and chores, the Heroes are summoned to the cabin housing the working quarters of a number of important non-officers, including Sergeant Major Guz. Sergeant Guz is an elderly ogre who has served the Rangers for most of his adult life; currently, he serves as one of the main trainers of new recruits, though he also oversees local mission assignments and other duties as needed (Guz has a permanent wound from a past battle, on his left leg).

Upon entering the administrative quarters, the Heroes will likely be surprised to see not only Sergeant Major Guz, but also Grand Sergeant Major Kork Mindril, the highest ranked non-officer in the Rangers. They are asked to close the door, and Guz moves in behind them to see that no one disturbs the meeting. Once they settle in, the dwarven veteran begins the conversation.

“I’m glad to hear that your last mission went well. King Harrington is very pleased overall. You’ve all proven yourselves capable and resourceful Rangers. I’m goin’ to have ta ask each of ye to keep what I tell ya in the strictest o’ confidence, aye?”

He looks around the room, seeking assent from each Ranger.

“Good. Ye may have picked up on the fact that we be hard pressed these days. Our numbers have dwindled o’er the last few decades, what with how peaceful things have been. Howe’er, there’s those in place o’ power and influence what know what’s comin.’ The very Gates o’ Hell are goin’ t’ open soon, if you believe the druids an’ the priests…an’ believe me, I do.”

He pulls out a map of the continent of Shaintar and begins to point out certain areas, north of the Wildlands.

“The Kal-a-Nar Empire is amassin’ troops all along the northern borders with the Elves and Olara. O’er here,” he points to the Malakar Dominion, “there’s reports of the Maelstrom building fortified camps near Landra’Feya.”

Guz interrupts, saying “The Maelstrom is a large mercenary army, founded in the Empire, made up mostly of those who worship Ceynara.”

“Aye, that they do. For all intents and purposes, they be another force servin’ the Empire’s interests. The reason I be tellin’ all this to ye is so that you’ll be ready for what’s likely to be asked o’ ye. The Rangers are stretched t’ the limits, and it’s gonna get worse long before it gets better. It’s hard to motivate people who’ve only known peace for a century, but that’s gonna end soon, and we’ve got a lot o’ work t’ do.”

He points out the area just south of Kythros, around Homestead. “Your work begins here. We’ve got a deadly bastard of a man, Bloody Ballok, raidin’ and murderin’ all around this area. We’d already caught him in Tarry, but his men jumped our people in a small village between Tarry and Homestead. They killed ev’ry one a’ the poor folks the Rangers were stayin’ with, and word’s spreadin’ fast about how we lost him and got those folks killed.”

The old dwarf straightens up, and gives the Heroes a hard look. “The reputation o’ the Rangers is at stake here, folks. We need t’ be recruitin’, and we can’t have a stain like this hurtin’ our efforts. That, an’ the fact is this be a right bastard who needs t’ be dealt with. If ye can capture him and his men, so be it. If not, justice at the end o’ your blades, arrows, and magic will suffice well enough.”

The Heroes are instructed to make their way to the area around Homestead and begin their hunt for Bloody Ballok and his men. There are any number of ways they might pursue the investigation and hunt, but the two most likely approaches will be the following:

- Track him and his men from the scene of their last known attack, a small farm on the outskirts of the village of Valburn.

- Head into the town of Homestead and seek any information from there.

So our group of heroes gets their gear and horses ready and leave as soon as they can, heading south and east. They stop at Homestead and speak to their contacts there. Lt Ullkish gives them what little information he has. «Ballok has been hitting small farms & villages southeast of here. Mostly around the barony of Malik, which includes the villages of Riverwick & Valburn and I don’t have enough men to send down there to stop him»

After only a brief rest they are off again. At the village of Valburn they learn that an outlying farm has been attacked about a week ago. They head towards the farm in question and discover a gruesome sight, the house has been burned down and the butchered bodies of the family in the barn.

Toji manages to find some tracks leading towards the south but they get harder and harder to see and eventually the trails turns cold. So they decide to visit the local Baron, Lord Willard Malik and see if he can lend a hand.

The lord’s castle has seen better days. It is small and old but looks well built despite the lack of maintenance. The banners are in tatters, crenelations and peaks are damaged and the few guards’ uniforms are old and dirty, seeming to match their attitude and lack of manners.

They are eventually led in the Lord’s presence, who greets them rather rudely (no surprise there), he’s still drunk and incoherent. Once he realizes what they want he simply summons Hariette so speak to them and leave him in peace.

She brings them to a quiet sitting room and they start start speaking of the recent bandit activity. Hariette remembes that one of the woodcutters remembers seeing suspicious activity nearby. They find the woodcutter, Charlie, who reveals that he saw men leading horses near a particular forest he sometimes goes to collect woods and a rare mushroom. It’s far when on foot, so he rarely goes there, but recently he saw these men and followed them to a cave, They had a pig with them too. Once they were out of sight, Charlie withdrew and returned to the castle.

Charlie agrees to guide them part of the way there and then takes his leave, wishing them luck. Leaving their three ranger subordinates with the horses, our heroes creep into the cave. After a few twists and turns they are surrounded by the bandits horses and they also hear an underground stream ahead and spot simple rope & wood bridges that cross the water.

Vandien inspects one bridge to find a simple bell alarm system tied to the underside of the wood planks. After a few tense moments he manages to neutralize them and they cross the bridge. As soon as they set foot on the far side, one of the bandits stumbles into them mumbling to himself about draining the snake. On pure reflex, Vandien slays him and sets the body down quietly.

Then, the four Rangers quickly walk into the back of the cave and shoot the remaining 6 bandits dead but manage to only wound one, the apparent leader of this bunch of miscreants. Realizing that none of them match Ballok’s description, they stabilize the wounded one, who might be called Ford or Terrence, in order to question him.

And that is where we ended the episode…stay tuned for the next episode of «The Wild, Wild Rangers!»

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