August 21st, noon
After a thankfully uneventful voyage, the party arrives in Port Alexandria, which is a convenient midpoint between Old R’Kassi and Ulvenwald. You check in with MacGuiller, who has, in your absence, bred/cloned some more healing bugs. Since by default the bugs appear harmless, and these ones in particular contain useful healing energies, MacGuiller didn’t see any harm in making more of them. He’s considering selling them as novelty pets at some point in the future, but is concerned enough about Therin’s mysterious purposes with them that he’s keeping them under wraps for now.
Notably, none of the bugs in his possession have molted and gotten bigger/more powerful, as Shira’s bug did immediately after leaving Old R’Kassi. Not even the one that has existed for nearly as long. MacGuiller infers that whatever happened to Jeremiah, it isn’t part of the bug’s natural life cycle. This is very strange.
Fenrir updates the sheriff on how the search for Therin is going. He asks for recommendations for a first mate, and the sheriff introduces him to John Grey, a young-ish sailor with experience patrolling the seas around Port Alexandria. He seems like trustworthy first mate material, so he joins the crew, and the next morning you set out for Ulvenwald.
September 14th, morning
Lucian’s ship was headed towards the town of Blackrock, on the eastern coast of Ulvenwald. When you arrive, you find the coast enveloped in mist, with dangerous rocks protruding from the dark waters. One would think there would be a lighthouse to guide approaching ships into harbor, but if one exists, it isn’t lit.
The first thing you see that isn’t mist or rocks is the twin masts of a large ship protruding from the mists. Fenrir recognizes Lucian’s ship, and the party elects to turn around and make landfall a few hours up the coast, rather than sail into town blind.
Trekking through the jungle is quite the endeavor. Ulvenwald is called the Dark Continent for a reason. The jungle is dark, hot, and filled with tripping vines and tangled roots, making progress slow. The party manages to navigate around a few jungle hazards, quicksand and the like, before being drawn in by the sounds of a distressed baby triceratops. Shira heals it and manages to calm the mother before she attacks, and sends them on their way. A bit later, the party runs into some sort of fire plant that creates a ring of fire around them, but a clever application of create/destroy water allows everyone to escape only lightly scorched.
After a bit more walking, you come upon a small clearing, and hear something approaching through the trees on the other side. The party quickly hides among the trees. Then, a halfling woman stumbles out into the clearing, followed by a horde of zombies! She looks exhausted and beat up, and when the party moves to engage the zombies, she immediately drops to the ground behind a tree.
As it turns out, zombies are hilariously ineffectual on difficult terrain when facing a party of spellcasters. Fenrir deploys an area of spike growth over the clearing, Khemed summons a flaming sphere, and then Fenrir keeps the few zombies that make it out of the spike growth occupied while everyone else torches them from a safe distance. Zombies, being zombies, are fairly tedious to bring down, but eventually every one of them falls.
You then turn your attention to the halfling woman who was fleeing from the zombies. As it turns out, Fenrir knows her. Her name is Leena, and she is, or was, a member of his old mercenary company, the White Ravens. When they start talking, it come to light that Fenrir was accused of murdering one of the members of the White Ravens, and that is the reason for his estrangement from the group. Fenrir vehemently claims innocence, and expresses anger that Leena ever believed it to be true. There are some hints of unresolved issues between Fenrir and Leena.
After accepting some healing from Keladry, Leena launches into the story of what’s been happening in the White Ravens since Fenrir left, and why her involvement with them ended with her running through the trees from a horde of zombies.
Many years ago, when Fenrir was still a part of the White Ravens and Lucian was not the leader, the White Ravens took a job that led them the Ulvenwald. This job turned out to be a trap, set by a man named Ralan who’d lost a lot of money due to one of the White Ravens’ missions. Many of them were killed, including their leader. Lucian then took control of the White Ravens after accusing Fenrir of the murder of another member, and driving him away.
Since then, the group has been taking on more unscrupulous members, and stopped taking on the missions for obviously just causes they’d been taking before. Leena was uncomfortable with the new makeup of the group, but they still weren’t doing anything obviously evil. Missions were things like, “fetch this magic item of unknown purpose from these ruins,” or, “guard this wizard’s tower for a few months while he completes his work.” So while she was uncomfortable, her loyalty to the group won out.
Something changed though, a few months back when they took on a contract for their latest client, the Man in Rags (this is what I’ve decided Leena refers to the CHWG as). There’s a madness in Lucian’s eyes these days, and he seems to care less for completing the job within the confines of the law. It didn’t become apparent just how far gone he was though, until they came to Blackrock.
They were sent by the Man in Rags to collect black onyx from Blackrock’s mine. Black onyx, being a major component of necromancy spells and rituals, is not usually available for purchase in large quantities, so the White Ravens were sent to collect it in bulk directly from the source. When they arrived in Blackrock, Lucian immediately instituted martial law in the town. Then he and a few White Ravens conscripted a dozen healthy miners and led them to the mine, leaving the rest of the White Ravens to basically do as they pleased, under Katherine Vera’s command. The White Ravens immediately began terrorizing the town, looting the tavern for alcohol and generally being enormous dicks.
The townsfolk were a hardy lot, and didn’t put up with this abuse for long. The night before, while most of the company were partying drunkenly on their ship, the townsfolk took back their town and barred the gates. The (drunk) White Ravens wanted to charge in and “teach them a lesson,” but Katherine ordered them to wait, and sent a message to Lucian via sending stone. A few hours later, Lucian swooped down from the night sky, and told the restless men to sit back and enjoy the show. He was going to take care of this town, personally. Then he took off again, flying magically with no obvious support, spontaneously grew horns, and then proceeded to bathe the town in fire.
Leena, horrified at the wanton slaughter Lucian was committing, lept from the ship and swam to shore. When she got there though, it appeared she was too late. Lucian threw open the gates to the town where he stood, horns covered in blood and backlit by fire. Leena confronted him, but he told her, basically, to either shut up or get out of his way. Leena replied that she would never follow him again. In response, Lucian drew an enormous black onyx crystal from a pocket, and smiled.
Then he crushed the crystal in one of his bare hands, sending tendrils of dark energy spiraling out towards the smoking corpses arrayed around him, which began to stand, and then lurch forward towards Leena.
After that, the party knows what happened. Leena ran, pursued by zombies, running through the night and into the morning before stumbling upon the party. By the end of this story, Leena is crying silently, and looks about ready to pass out from exhaustion. The party agrees to make camp and plan what to the following day.