Common Year 579

19. Through the Welkwood

From 18 Flocktime to 1 Wealsun, 579 CY

The party introduced Hessa to life in Hommlet. She met the support staff at the Wretched Hen; Jaroo the druid; Gnomey the merchant; the newly installed Canon Calmert; the mayor; Elmo, Furnok, and Spugnoir at the moathouse; and the ever intractable Burne and Rufus. Devil Pancake had already given Burne his golem, and now he gave him his misbehaving staff of power, an act of generosity that Burne had not expected and did not know how to put down.

Then the party traveled to the Temple of Elemental Evil and discussed recent events with Otis, Y’Dey, and Murfles. Despite that the temple is asking repeatedly for the bearers of the weapons of Keraptis to enter, it was resolved for the party to go south instead, first to Countess Tillahi in Courwood, and from there to the secret lair of the Slave Lords on the outskirts of Highport in contested territory. The journey through Celene would be a delicate affair, even under the best of circumstances, given Queen Yolande’s decision to keep the borders closed while hordes of raiding humanoids amass in the Pomarj. But with Devil Pancake’s status as a wanted fugitive, the going would be fraught with peril. The party decided that Hessa would lead them along the edge of the Welkwood, far from the road through the capital city of Enstad, but that Zarra would do the talking, if necessary, to get them out of difficult situations. They took horses and a wagon and used the countess’s seal on their invitation to cross into the country of Celene, while Devil was hidden in somebody’s pocket after consuming a potion of shrinking.

Despite precautions, a company of hippogriff riders — grey-elven knights fiercely loyal to Yolande — overtook the party early into the journey and interrogated them as to their business in Celene. They discovered Devil Pancake, who finally learned the nature of the horrible crimes with which he was accused: the killing and eating of eighteen babies, for which he had earned the names “the Butcher of Babies,” “the Baby-Butcher,” and “the Baby-Muncher.” The encounter was about to break into violence, when a volley of glowing white arrows shot from the forest and put the entire company of hippogriff riders to sleep. A friendly-looking elf with a bow came forward and offered the party aid and sanctuary, which the party gratefully accepted.

The elf turned out to be the cousin of Yolande, a certain Prince Brightflame, who some call Peralay, but who most know best as the legendary hero Melf. Melf had been the captain of the Knights of Luna, but he had fallen out of favor with Yolande and some of his lieutenants for wanting to join the fight against the Temple of Elemental Evil, and he had been forced into hiding in the Welkwood as an outlaw. He freely opened his spellbook to Devil Pancake to give Devil a full complement of magic-user spells, and the party spent a quiet night in Melf’s interdimensional refuge.

The party exited the refuge to find themselves deep in the Welkwood, along the banks of the Jewel River, perhaps a three-day journey from where they had entered. They had been forced to leave their horses and wagon with the sleeping hippogriff riders, so Hessa decided to take the party downriver instead. She constructed a raft out of timber and charted a course to where the river forks, some three days south, not far from the bridge to Courwood.

The party did not encounter any hippogriff riders so deep in the forest, but they did fight a banshee along the way, and then, while leaving the Welkwood on foot, they met a raiding party of goblins from the Pomarj under the control of a night hag called Maggie. Hessa’s sword Blackrazor fed her the strength of the goblin souls that it had devoured, and Hessa began to take on the aspect of an angel of war to the astonishment of her friends.

Hippogriff riders held the bridge into Courwood, and they tried to detain the Baby-Muncher. Zarra, coming to Devil’s defense, commanded Lancet to touch Devil to prove that Devil was not evil, but the hippogriff riders were dazzled by her eloquence and thought that she was saying that the Baby-Muncher was Lancet’s prisoner. She quickly seized on their mistake and secured passage for the party across the bridge. Once in Courwood, the party asked for, and received, the countess’s sanctuary. The countess declared Devil Pancake innocent of the crime of baby-munching for as long as he remains under her protection.

The party now looks forward to a high feast in their honor.

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