APoF 07: Into the Ironspike Woods
With both the political and religious leadership of Kassar breathing down their necks and now caught in the crossfire of a political struggle between the secular government and the church, the party decides that it is perhaps to their best interest to seek help from elsewhere in order to squash the growing threat of the Shardscape running amok in the _veshanya_, known in the common tongue as the dwarvenholds, ancient subterranean cities sealed off from the surface millennia ago in the wake of a plague that threatened to wipe the entirety of the dwarven population. Quickly making their egress from Kassar before receiving their official summons to appear before a court of law, the party makes its way down the mountainside to the river port city of Tymbren where they retrieve as much of their funds from the Dominion-run bank as they reasonably can. While their arrival makes them late for the morning barge out of Tymbren down to IldLuwan close to the junction where the Rös Luthök meets the Ruosh Ambiel, no news comes down from Kassar, and they are not accosted by local authorities. After spending the day in town and whiling away their time doing miscellaneous activities, the party leaves that very same evening on the next barge out of Tymbren. The ride is largely uneventful, though Mordollwen picks up on rumors that something very strange has been going on in the depths of the Ironspike woods from an adventurer who is seeking to go to the erinindal city of Strökk, but is unwilling to make the trek along the Ironwrought road. The only useful point of information that Steve manages to glean during the trip is that Regret is spicy. At the tail end of their trip, as they approach IldLuwan, Mordollwen, on the deck of the barge, notices a plume of smoke rising in the distance. With the sun setting, she makes the best of the remaining daylight, flying up to survey the landscape ahead, at which point she notices that a good portion of IldLuwan is up in flames. She flies back down on deck and warns the crew and passengers that there may be trouble ahead, at which point everyone prepares for the worst. Upon arriving at IldLuwan a few hours later, the party finds that the worst of the raid is over, and that though the town has sustained some damage, it has largely managed to weather the assault. It is at this point that the party first sees what manner of creature attacked the town as the only indication that they had heard earlier was a loud ululating war-cry as they came to shore. As it turns out, during the raid, the captain of the town guard managed to take out one of the creatures. The beasts responsible for the raid on the town appear to be a humanoid torso grafted onto a four-legged animal body, though there is very little that remains human on the creatures. Their arms, while somewhat reminiscent of human flesh at the tops, gradate to a thick scaled hide toward their clawed hands. Their shoulders are also decorated with tough scales, some of which are plates fastened only at one end but follow the curve of the shoulder. The lower bodies of these creatures appear to be a cross between equine and reptilian, though of note are the breathing holes around the junction between the humanoid torso and the beastly lower body. The legs are noticeably thicker and covered with tough scales, and there are no hooves, only clawed feet. Quickly jumping in to offer aid to the town, the party spent the night attending to what they knew they could best assist with: Zephyros and Broknard helping to rebuild the town's wooden palisade, Dr. Roth and Steve helping with the wounded, the latter also summoning fey spirits from the nearby woods to help track down the raiding party, and Mordollwen and Viper examining the traces left behind by the raiders to discern just how intelligent these creatures are. At the close of the evening, the party decides to seek out the raiders to put an end to the threat before it grows any bigger. They follow the tracks deep into the Ironspike woods where they begin to encounter traps set up in the middle of the woods. The party charges through, attempting to get past the lines of defense, but are ultimately thwarted by a concealed net that gives their opponents enough time to surround them. At this point, recognizing that fighting may well be futile, the party decides to acquiesce to their captors and are pleasantly surprised when instead of being imprisoned, they are welcomed to the small village of the creatures, who reveal that they are called the Veshka. Seeking to come to a diplomatic solution to the raiding, the party insisted on meeting with the "leader" of the veshka, only to find that said leader is an enormous green dragon that appears to have made the forest its nest and is now sending out the veshka to build itself a hoard. The veshka, who would rather live their lives in peace, are understandably not too happy with the situation, but have no other choice as this is the first time they have found safe haven since they started fleeing from what would later be revealed to be their raven-faced creator. The leader of the tribe, the high priest Avarash, after listening in to a portion of the party's conversation reveals that he is keen to break off the arrangement between the tribe and the dragon, because it is antithetical to everything his people stand for. The idea of fighting the green dragon causes a measure of dissent in the party, with Mordollwen arguing on behalf of the Veshka, and Steve counselling that it might not be the best idea, floating the notion that perhaps it is nature's way of taking back the region from civilization. This dissonance leads to Steve walking off to meditate by the dragon's grove, where he is eventually found by Avarash and at least, momentarily, convinced to fight on behalf of the veshka by being reminded of the words of his mentor.