There's no place like home. And by the sounds of the rumours flooding into the inns and taverns of Hammerfast, Harkenwold is not the place you left...
Just over a moon and a half ago, you and your friends set out, adventurers brave and bold, to seek your fortune in the ancient temples of Hammerfast. The tales of tombs filled with ancient treasures lured you away from the comforts of hearth and home and though there were dangers lurking in the crypts, you had your successes and dreams of a life of rich adventures were within your grasp.
Then the tales began. You dismissed them as the drunken ramblings of old men and dwarves at first. Brigands had taken over the Harken valley, pillaging and burning. But over the next couple of days the tales grew more solid and the first refugees began to appear at the gates of the ancient dwarven stronghold. Blood on their clothes. Woe on their faces.
After scant preparations, you travel at godspeed, the track taking you over rough hills and through remote valleys. A few days on the road finds you desperate for the first sight of the welcoming boughs of the Harken Forest. The sight that signifies the approaching moment that your footsteps will begin, once again, to tread on Harkenwold soil.
Riven sighs softly as he finally see their destination come into view. It had been much as he had left it, although he had not expected to be returning so soon. After Munir offtered tales of adventure, he jumped at the chance to think of anything other than the murder of his mentor and adopted father, Fineous Drake. Wearing the very heavy plate mail armor he wore during his adventuring days, it fit him well with a few minor alterations. The thick gray cloak across his back is more for comfort than for style, not that he knows much of fashion or style having lived most of his life in Harkenwold.
His long brown hair blows in the summer breeze as he cast a piercing gaze toward the horizon, thinking to himself, Home. I had not thought to set foot on it so soon. It looks the same from this distance, perhaps the damage is not yet so bad. He checks that his bastard sword is still loose in its scabbard and his shield still slung across his back securely. Nodding satified, looks back to the group.
"There. Finally the welcome sight of the Harken Forest. It won't be long now. Let's press onward and find the bastards responsible for terrorizing our homeland," says the paladin. There is the sound of grim determination in Riven's voice. He looks to the rest of the group to see if they are in need of a break or can press onward.
Valdred stood with his back to the others, peering off into the distance. He was a strange youth, solidly built and not particularly tall, but surprisingly quiet and light on his feet. His shaggy hair and beard lent him a feral aspect, and his eyes had a keen, thousand-yard stare. They were green and quite piercing, in a way that made you slightly uncomfortable. He was definitely a man of the wilds, imperfectly civilized. Even among such a small fellowship as their own he remained aloof, never part of the circle.
Of course, Valdred had been on edge since they met the refugees, heard their tales of blood and fire. He was a son of the 'Wold. It was his kin, his home, under attack. but wasn't it so for them all? They were on the same road together. They all had reason to return to the Harkenwold, to fight for it, and they knew what they were walking into. Or at least they suspected. Soon they would be back on familiar soil, but what would they find there? Valdred wasn't so sure what they would find, but he had his fears. His family--how did they fare? Were they even now fighting for their lives in Marl? Or were they on the other side, like the Black Valdreds of old?
"Munin, best we be movin' on," Valdred growled. Even his voice was savage. Rough, unschooled, but not unkind. "If we've all eaten our fill and had enough to drink. I'm going to make water behind yon tree, if you want to get settled for the road." He walked off--stalked off--without further fanfare, disappearing into the brush beside the road. The tree wasn't far off, but if he hadn't been standing there a moment before, none of them would have even known he was there. Except for Wik, maybe. Her eyes were nearly as keen and Valdred's, and her ears sharp.
Anyone passing by this group on the road from Hammerfast would be in for a strange sight: Adventurers, some armored and powerful, others dark and mysterious... and what appeared to be a small child. Wik, with her bare feet, grubby face, knotted hair, and ratty patchwork clothing, looked like a just another street urchin from any of a hundred cities that dot the countryside. It would only be on
Bluff check to pass as a human child.
close examination that one would be able to tell she was no human child, but a Halfling, carefully disguised as a simple beggar, not worth notice (until someone's purse goes "missing").
Skipping along the side of the road, Wik whistles a happy nursery tune. Partly to keep her mind off of concern for her family on the river, but mostly because it seems to annoy the far-too-serious (in her opinion) Paladin. Teasing Riven has become her favourite past-time, ever since he caught her trying to take a look ("Really! Just looking!") at his fancy belt one night while he was sleeping. If the Dwarf Munir hadn't intervened, convincing Riven that Wik would be useful on their adventure, and Wik that joining them would be more fun than going to prison, she'd never have met the rest of the group, never have found her amazing magic dagger in the tombs below Hammerfast... and maybe never heard about the troubles now plaguing her homeland.
Her clan may have banished her ("Over a simple misunderstanding! I'm sure they'll welcome me back with open arms!") but Wik still thinks of herself as a proud Reedfoot. The thoughts of her family, peaceful river-folk, being slaughtered by invaders chills her to the bone. If nothing else, Wik hopes that her companions will help her reach the White River, and her people, safely.
Dougan stared thoughtfully off into the distance. He was one of the few among the group who hadn't actually been to Harkenwold, yet, though having family there made him feel oddly connected to it. Tusks jutted out from his lower jaw, pitted as they were from many a barfight, and scars covered the exposed swath of skin on his face and bare arms. He wore simple clothes, lightly enchanted but mainly providing freedom of movement over protection. When it came right down to it, a hard shell like Riven's just...didn't feel right to him. And of course, ever-present, the flask of alcohol he kept tied to his belt or clutched in one enormous, calloused first, adorned with a mystical engraving of a pair of hammers. Perhaps it was magical, or perhaps because it was the only thing his father left behind, Dougan clung to it, used it to focus his anger and his pain.
He'd always meant to come to Harkenwold, to search out his father, but he'd been taking his time. Getting drunk. Getting in fights. Making money so he could pay his way to Harkenwold and pay his way through all the barriers people liked to toss up in front of an ugly half-orc with an uppity human name. Somewhere along the way, he'd been punched in the jaw by an ornery dwarf, picked up off the floor by the same dwarf, and making more money that he'd ever had in his life. And, stranger still, he'd found himself with a new friend.
Riven, well...he was the first person Dougan had met who was every bit the hero noble humans were supposed to be in the stories. And Valdred, well, the two of them had an understanding rooting in savagery, unspoken but plain in nods and growls. Wik...was Wik. Dougan had to admit, the woman was entertaining enough, and she'd learned quickly not to tease him about his name, or try to steal his liquor flask for more than a few sips.
"I half expected to find the forest on fire, you know? All that carryin' on about invaders and such. Now I'm worried there might not be anyone worth punchin'."
"I'm sure we can find you someone who deserves to be punched,," Aliss replies. "Wat in Harken's an inveterate bully... and Darin Featherton in Albridge might be even worse. They'd both no doubt be better for the experience," she adds, nodding to herself as she thinks of the pair.
Aliss was dressed in her heavy clothing - even in the heat - to protect her from the even greater heat that would follow her around. And to conceal the bandages that covered up the sensitive tissue of her scars. Of course, it couldn't be nearly as bad for her as it was for the knight, with his metal shell that made him look like one of the creatures from the bottom of the White River, but she was still sweating in the sunlight and was happy to travel beneath the eaves of the forest for a while.
She goes quiet then, the levity gone as she remembers her brother and wandering these same woods with him. Her eyes fall down to the track in front of her and she concentrates on just putting one foot in front of the other, her shoulders slumping slightly as she walks along...
Riven shoots a grin over at the half-orc and says, "You read my mind Dougan. I expected plumes of smoke as the cities burned, if you can even half believe the takes we were told. It was not phantoms that bloodied the clothes of those refugees we saw three days ago. While I hope you are right Aliss, I fear the worst. Are you done back there Valdred...damn, where did he run off to?"
The paladin looks around to see if he can spot the hunter and sighs realizing he's running off again. His hand touches his purse out of habit since Wik joined the group. Although her skills are undeniable, he could do without her pranks.
"Oh, there's problems right enough," Aliss agrees. "It takes a lot to shift most of these folk to the other side of town. To get them to leave the Wold entirely something has them running scared. But why burn when there's things of value to be had?" she asks, before remembering an incident in the Hammerfast tombs and quickly adding: "And it wasn't my fault that that inlaid chest caught fire! It shouldn't have been there anyway!" she insists.
Dougan chuckles to himself as Aliss furiously denies her guilt.
"Heh. That was funny, Aliss. Them kobolds was running everywhere screaming, and Wik just starts bawling about how yer gonna melt all her gold. I'm still kinda surprised Riven don't have a mark on his forehead from smacking himself with those shiny gauntlets he wears." The half-orc grins, and somehow amidst the barfighting scars it manages to look warm and welcoming, rather than threatening. "No, can't say I've been short of entertainment since I joined this crew."
"I TRIED to tell you it was trapped!" Wik says with a grin and an exaggerated eye-roll. The Halfling has climbed a nearby tree and swings upside-down by her legs from a thick branch, restless and bored as usual.