As its name implies, the Town of Three Forks sits at the junction of three rivers, colloquially named the Placid, the Crooked and the Shadowed. Together, the make the Hammerswell, a long tumultuous river that flows all the way to the Perembor Strait. It’s a thriving farming community, filled with ale-loving and hard-working folks.
It’s Harvest Festival in Three Forks. Despite the conflicts that rage across the land, the townspeople have made an effort to keep to their rituals, attempting to maintain some semblance of a normal life. Plus it’s a good draw – it brings in lots of visitors, fills up the inns, keeps the shopkeepers happy and gives the Ladies of the Night a chance to do some “networking”. This year it’s a bit smaller than usual – many have been killed or are away at war, and the good people of Three Forks have given what they could to the war effort. One wouldn’t really know it though, looking around. The sun-burned faces, brilliant dresses and flashes of teeth all speak to a much-needed celebration.
It’s late afternoon in the main square. In the center has been set up a sparring competition in the reflecting pool. Wooden sticks and shields take the place of real weapons, but the combatants seem to be going at it with real furor. A young lad, Zorian, is the current champion. Having bested a dozen others his body is covered in bruises, cuts and blood, but he’s still grinning all the same. A good-sized crowd has gathered, and spectators are actively betting.
All around the square are carts brimming with fruits, vegetables, grains and wares from the community. Kegs of ale are scattered throughout; jesters and stilted-actors juggle and stamp their way through the crowd. Sorcerers and wizards perform cantrips for the kids, there’s a band playing. Crafty vendors have set up games of luck and chance as well as a raffle. A beautiful farm girl collects gold pieces at the kissing booth; at the other kissing booth sits a walrus, though he’s not currently getting any traffic. At the traveling salesman, a Sorcerer has purchased a strange half of a map
On the edges of the square, children pile onto carts of hay to ride out into the fields – braving the “zombies” and other Horrors of the Fields before returning to buy more sweets. A new challenger has appeared at the sparring pool – a Half-Elf paladin, and while he’s making the fight much more interesting than previous opponents, he does seem to be getting worked over a bit.
Some time later, just as the sun kisses the horizon, a silence washes over the merry-makers. The crowd parts as one of the horse and carts used for the rides comes clattering to a halt in the middle of the square. It carries no passengers, nor does it have a driver. The horse is panting and looks sickly… one of its eyes lays against its cheek, out of its socket and oozing. The horse’s jaw is clearly broken. Its good eye scans back and forth, and the horse skitters at the slightest movement. A few weak constitutions in the crowd vomit. Eventually, someone from the crowd moves forward, reaching out to calm the steed, who rears up to strike. Gasps are heard as people see the gashes and blood all along the horse’s underside….
The whinny of the horse changes into what could only be called a scream, collapsing to the side. The injured eye detaches itself, rolling to a stop a few feet away. A woman screams, the crowd panics. The cart has tumbled over as well, spilling a mixture of hay, leftover food… along with blood, ooze, and other unidentifiable bits.
Suddenly, a series of piercing howls silence and freeze the crowd once more. Eyes dart nervously around trying to find the source of this newest threat… the earth begins to shake, fissures opening in the town square. A thunderous crack is heard as the obelisk in the town square shatters at its base, falling toward the food carts… from the dust emerge the source of the howls – huge dog-like creatures. But instead of hair, they are covered in three-foot spines…
Though most of the crowd panics, it quickly becomes clear that there at least a few hardened veterans present. In an instant, the Paladin summons his armor back from the Void and grabs his long sword to investigate the cart. A Shaman and the Sorcerer barely escape the falling obelisk and come up immediately looking for a fight. Zorian however has no time to put on his armor – he simply grabs his flail and heads toward the nearest Dread Hound.
A blast of lightning cracks through the air – the apparent leader of the Hounds appears, a Dragonborn Elementalist. After cutting through the first of the hounds, Zorian sets upon the Dragonborn. From the kissing booth, the walrus begins to shuffle toward the fight as well, before tranforming into a young man. This shape-shifting Druid becomes quite the wily opponent for the enemies.
At the overturned cart, the Paladin discovers yet another threat; a viscous blob rises up out of the carnage, crackling with terrible elemental energies. The Sorcerer, Ashoril the Lucky, comes to help out the Paladin after clearing out a few of the Hounds with his Chaos Bolt.
Some in the crowd stop fleeing to watch in awe as this varied group of adventurers cut down their foes. They watch a dragonling dart about, controlled by the Sorcerer and becoming the center of magic for fiery spells. Gasps can be heard as the Druid flits around his foes, gliding across water that appears from no where before shattering into a thousand crabs that bite at his enemies. Every smash of the horrible Ooze against the stalwart Paladin, and the crunch of jaws on Zorian’s unarmored body cause a cry from the crowd. And in the center of it all, the calm Shaman, channeling his ancestors who move through the battlefield to aid their allies.
More Dread Hounds appear, their stench and fury, jaws and claws ripping through the crowds that remain, hemming them in before turning their attention against the adventurer threat. Though, they all eventually prove to be outmatched by the motley crew, and all end up dead soon enough. The square is quiet again save the keening of loved ones cradling the dead.
An investigation of the broken obelisk reveals the presence of residual arcanic energies, and the Mayor is asked about as he talks with the adventurers. “It’s been relatively quiet for the past months around here. The Orcs seem much more interested in Jestril these days and the Dragons are keeping to themselves as well. There’s been time to shore up defenses up against the Eastern Wastes and whatnot, and we’ve had a pretty good season in fact. But as for the Obelisk, well… we’d always written it off as some quirk of its making, that there was arcanic energy there. It has stood for hundreds of years there, and some say it contains a piece of the Great Machine, but… I never figured it was actually true. Is that what this was about?”
Without being able to answer that, the band of merry adventurers take their leave to investigate. Aluven changes into a wolf and begins tracking down where the enemies came from. As he does, the rest of the party continues looking for clues, though they only come up with a few coins and an exotic knife, one that can supposedly open temporary doors into another dimension.
Aluven picks up the trail, and the party agrees to set off. The trails leads them across farmland and through a little woods. As they step out of the a copse of trees, they see the mansion in the distance. More or less your standard horror fair – crooked, pointy, tiny windows, shutters flapping in the wind, bats – the works. Even from here they can hear creaks and groans as the timbers and foundation settle. Moss-covered statues stand next to the door. A road cuts across in front, leading through a small orchard and to the front of the manor. Blocking the road is a burning pile of logs; there appears to be a body lying in front of the pyre. The yard around the mansion is surrounded by a stone wall, and outside of that are corn fields that look to be in severe disrepair. The corn is high, rotting and blackened on the stalk. Most of the scarecrows lay or hang in tatters on their posts… the few that are in one piece are well on their way though.
Aluven pads around the property, and it is decided that the burning pile of logs looks a bit like a trap, so they will cut through the fields. However, guarding the fields are a set of Scarecrows, apparently constructed by the mansion’s owner to scare off intruders. The adventurers have to carve their way through the straw-filled horrors, enduring their sharp claws and clouds of poisonous dust before being able to continue to the mansion… however, the element of surprise may be gone now…