The long, hard winter was finally at an end, and spring had come to the Duchy of Ashlar. In the south, the town of Dulwich was stirring as the winter snows receded and the ground thawed.
On the 4th day of Hithring, in the Dancing Bear tavern on Steel Street, a disparate group of humans, half-elves, and one curiously dressed gnome gathered at a corner table to play a friendly game of Dragon and the Thief. The six had become friendly over the long winter months, where there was little to do but mooch about town while spending as little gold as possible. The six were:
- Dimble "Acornseeker" Scheppen, a gnome wizard from Goldentree.
- Polumya Ponomarenko, a red-haired human, came to Dulwich six months ago in the service of Melandia.
- Helmia Talstag, a tall, willowy half-elf druid from the forests, wintering in Dulwich.
- Elmo Rintala, a half-orc barbarian from Dulwich wintering in his home town before returning to a life of bandit hunting.
- Theoden Carscallen, a half-elf noble down on his luck, newly arrived in Dulwich from the north.
- Lion El'jonson, a doughty, animal-loving half-elf warrior hailing from a small hamlet.
The game was going well, and the group were discussing recent news and what they should do now that winter had passed when Polumya felt a tug on her sleeve. A small peasant boy--obviously upset--stood just behind her. The kind-hearted woman spoke to the boy. Haltingly, the boy, Jani, explained he had come to Dulwich in search of help. His father--Taisto Ahokas--had gone into the woods several days ago to hunt and hadn't returned. he needed help.
Fate had intervened; here was someone who needed their help! Touched by the boy's plight, the six friends immediately offered to look into the matter; they would depart on the morrow! The boy--grateful beyond words--offered to guide them to his family home. The game continued for a bit longer, though, and was punctuated by a dancing (and increasingly drunk) bear, Ulf, and his master, Rulf, entertaining the tavern's patrons and a conversation with a poorly dressed mercenary--Kaarlo Ano--recovering from an embarrassing wound suffered when the man fell off his horse.
Out of Dunwich
The next morning, the group set out--bundled in warm clothes and provisioned for several days in the wilderness. Jani's family home lay but a few miles away on the edge of the forest. Arriving at the family's smallholding, the adventurers met Jani's mother, Suzi, and searched the environs for clues.
While Elmo found nothing, Helmia quickly found discovered tracks--those of several wolves by the looks of things behind the family's woodshed. Taisto's tracks seemed to follow the wolves, and so the group set off into the gloomy, cold woods.
The further south the party ventured, the darker, more wild and more dense the woods became. The wolf tracks headed ever-inwards, however, and thus so did the party.
After about an hour, the group found a decomposing deer corpse under a bush. At first glance, it seemed that wolves had brought down the deer, but indistinct--and much larger tracks--and the remains of several bite marks on the corpse suggested something much larger was responsible for the deer's death. Annoyingly, the wolves' scavenging on the corpse made discerning more information impossible.
Casting around the general area, though, Helmia discovered that Taisto's tracks actually now diverged from the wolves and instead followed the large clawed tracks of the unknown predator. At first glance, the tracks seemed to head off in the direction of the Shunned Valley--a nearby site of fearsome reputation reputed to be both haunted and the home of some kind of large, powered beast.
The party would not reach the valley--if indeed that was where they were heading--without incident.
As they pushed on, Theoden singing a song and Polumya glowing with her patron's divine power, they blundered into the midst of a goblin warband. A swift and brutal fight ensued, and when it ended, seven goblins lay dead, and several of the party sported superficial wounds. Examining the corpses, and looting them of their pathetic treasures, Helmia studied their shields and determined, based on their crude sigils, that the goblins belonged to the Blood Moon tribe. She knew a bit about the tribe; it was quite numerous and reputed to be led by a fearsome chief. While this was interesting, the information did not seem particularly relevant, and so the group--having rested and gathered themselves, pushed on.