The party spent the remainder of 10 Sypheros in Woodhelm, tending to the 300 or so villagers being held in the monastery basement and searching the village for additional survivors. In the early afternoon, the party found an additional 100 villagers locked in the basement of the town hall. They encountered no additional resistance in the village. By all appearances, the majority of the Emerald Claw forces appeared to have withdrawn once the town was subdued and its inhabitants imprisoned. Apparently, only the forces that the party already defeated had been left behind to tend to the remaining villagers.
The following day, Reborn and Kryle worked on repairing Reborn’s wounds and fixing Kryle’s kukri. Illiyana worked on healing the villagers’ wounds and soothing their fears. Brandis, invigorated by his proximity to the wild, headed out to scout the trail towards the Barrow in the late morning. Brandis traveled for several hours without finding any trace of undead or Emerald Claw soldiers. The trail was improved but, until recently, appeared little used. Brandis detected that a large band of humanoids had been marched along this trail within the last month. He also discovered the footprints of what appeared to be a very large constructs headed both towards and away from Woodhelm. As night began to fall, Brandis found a place to perform his nightly druidic devotions and rest. During the night, Brandis was awakened by the sound of movement in the woods. It sounded as though a small group was moving through the underbrush, perpendicular to the trail. Brandis was undetected, but the spent the night in fitful sleep nonetheless.
In the morning, Brandis broke camp and examined the trail and surrounding woods in the area where he had heard the movement during the night. He discovered undisguised footprints from a pair of humanoids. After making this discovery, Brandis headed back towards Woodhelm. Brandis traveled for a couple of hours on the trail and then heard movement coming up the travel towards him. It sounded like the heavy footfalls of a construct. Concerned that the newcomers might not be friendly, given the construct tracks that he found and the patrol from the night before, Brandis scooted off the trail and waited to strike if necessary. Brandis soon saw Kryle and Reborn lumber into view. Kryle and Reborn sensed someone in the woods off the trail and drew weapons, not realizing that it was their comrade. When Brandis revealed himself, Reborn and Kryle sheathed their weapons, and the druid spent the next few moments filling his comrades in on what he had found on the trail ahead.
The party spent the remainder of day walking the trail towards the Barrow. Shortly after dark, the party came to the end of the improved trail. The trail continued in the direction of the Barrow, but it was little more than a rough track through the canopy whereon the underbrush had recently been hacked and trampled to make it passable. There was a small hunting camp just off the improved trail with a fire pit surrounded by several lean-tos. The camp was unoccupied, but appeared to have been used the night before. Searching the area, Brandis saw humanoid tracks running away from the camp, perpendicular to the trail. In the distance, the party saw smoke rising from the woods, as if from a campfire. The party was concerned that the previous nights’ residents or a roving patrol might come upon them if they spent the night in the camp. Therefore, they decided to set up a camp a short distance away in the woods and posted a guard.
During the first watch of the night, Brandis heard the approach of a patrol and roused his comrades. Two Karrnathi zombies emerged from the woods. A brief battle ensued in which Kryle used his stealth and the terrain to his advantage. The next morning (13 Sypheros), the party broke camp and headed along the bushwhacked trail. They had the unnerving sense that they were being watched from the woods as they traveled. After a couple of hours, Kryle decided to try to figure out who was watching them. He darted into the woods beside the trail, hoping that none of the watchers would see where he went. Shortly, Kryle sensed urgent movement on the other side of the trail, as the watchers tried to discern his location. Finally, one of the watchers stepped onto the road to confront the party and gage their intentions: Pator, leader of Woodhelm’s rangers. After a few tense moments, other rangers dropped their cover and joined Pator on the trail.
From the rangers, the party learned that about 75 of the villagers were killed in the initial assault of the Emerald Claw operatives and the undead platoon and during the subsequent flight. The village’s defenders were able to escape the slaughter with about a quarter of Woodhelm’s population (200 villagers), heading to fortified caves in the forest ridge used to ride out attacks during the Last War. The Gatekeeper druids who resided in the village used their spells to hamper the attacking forces and speed the escaping villagers through the dense underbrush. Half of the rangers and one of the druids were lost during the flight. Since the attack, the rangers have been attacking undead patrols in the forest and have destroyed or damaged over a dozen Karrnathi zombies in the last few weeks. The rangers have also been keeping an eye on the village during that time, looking for opportunities to liberate it. Shortly after the battle, they saw a large contruct being used to collect the bodies of the fallen. The bodies were carted back to the Barrow. As the occupation continued, over 100 of the imprisoned villagers were marched from Woodhelm to the Barrow as well. Within the last week, two of the Emerald Claw operatives in town loaded the construct and some crates from the Barrow into a wagon and left, heading north.
The party suggested that the rangers retrieve the villagers hiding in the fortified caves and organize a defense of the village while they proceeded to the Barrow. However, Pator informed the party that the villagers could not be relocated in time to organize a proper defense. He told the party that he and his rangers would return to the town to aid its defenders. He told them that he would drop any supplies that they needed at the hunting camp. Finally, Pator gave the party additional information about the Barrow: its location, points of entry, and a small cave a half-day’s journey from it that the rangers had been using as a base of operations. After providing this information, Pator and his rangers headed back to town, and the party headed to the cave Pator mentioned.
As the bushwhacked trail turned towards the Barrow, the party found the small deer trail that led to the cave. Brandis was able to detect that the deer trail was traversed by both animals and humanoids, so the party was on its guard. Kryle scouted a head of the party as they traveled. Late in the afternoon, he sensed movement in the underbrush of the trail and went for a look. He saw a patrol of three skeletons being led by a Karrnathi zombie. Kryle began a stealthy assault, making short work of some of the undead before the patrol reached the road. After Brandis and Reborn became aware of the patrol and joined the fray, the undead were quickly subdued. Just around nightfall, the party arrived at the cave and set up their watch. During the night, they heard and saw a patrol of Emerald Claw Soldiers moving along the deer trail. The soldiers didn’t detect their presence, so Kryle decided to bait them into an ambush. Pursuing his foes and attacking them at range, Kryle got them to chase him back towards the cave and straight into Reborn. The party subdued the soldiers but did not kill them, hoping instead to interrogate them and gain information on the Barrow. At first, the soldiers’ religious zealotry helped them resist the party’s threats; however, Kryle eventually wore them down. It was decided that they soldiers would be restrained and left in the cave for the time being.
Armed with the information from the Emerald Claw soldiers, the party headed towards the Barrow on the morning of 14 Sypheros. By early afternoon, they had reached the upper entrance to the Barrow. Kryle’s reconnaissance indicated the presence of two Karrnathi zombies on guard. As the party planned their assault, they saw a dread marshal join the guards at the entrance. Believing that the best approach was a direct one in this case, the party rushed in to fight the undead head on. The dread marshal used its impressive supernatural abilities to enhance its troops and hammer the party. Despite its powers, the party dispatched the undead in short order, with Kryle and Reborn demonstrating a solid use of combat tactics. The party proceeded down a spiral staircase towards Barrow’s main entrance. At the entrance, the party found that the door was locked and that the locking mechanism was keyed to three colored levers (red, blue and green) located on a nearby panel. Kryle quickly detected the presence of a trap on the door, but the party could not determine the type of trap or the sequence of lever pulls to render it safe. At this point, Reborn had the idea to use the corpse of the dread marshal to pull the levers remotely. He used his growing psionic powers to accomplish the task. The first attempt was a failure, triggering an electrical surge that fried the dread marshal and sent an arc of electricity to the nearby Reborn as well. The party studied the trap again after the first discharge and was able to determine the most likely sequence of lever pulls. Reborn used the dread marshal to test the new theory, and the door popped open.
The party entered the Barrow on the parade field described by Col. Karlach. In the center of the parade field were two large piles of putrefying corpses, villagers of Woodhelm killed in the initial assault. To the left and the right were a series of identical rooms; the doors to these rooms seemed to be barred magically and a series of incomplete runes marked most doors. On one of the doors, the runes had be completed and glowed red. The party carefully cracked the door to this room and found two damaged Karrnathi zombies being attended by a strange undead creature which appeared to be nothing more than a mass of humanoid limbs held together by a great cold iron band. Seeing that the strange undead was apparently healing the Karrnathi zombies, the party focused their attacks on it. When the strange undead was finally destroyed, it exploded, filling the room with unholy energy that harmed the party and healed the undead. Without their healer, the Karrnathi zombies were quickly destroyed.
The party then descended into the research area of the Barrow, feeling that this would be the most likely place to find Ermena Thul. Through their investigations, the party came across two alchemy laboratories, one of which was still outfitted with laboratory equipment. The party found two vials of unknown liquid in laboratory. The party also came across two dome-shaped summoning chambers on the research level. One of them had been barred and was cloaked in darkness. When Kryle explored that chamber, he found a roiling ball of shadow at the center of a damaged summoning circle surrounded by the desiccated corpses of villagers. The party wisely decided to leave that horror to be dealt with at a later date. Lastly, the party came across the remaining villagers of Woodhelm in the holding cells and undead preparation rooms of the research level. All of the villagers looked starved and abused, but most looked like they would recover with time. The villagers told the party that they hadn’t seen Ermena or her followers in the research level in close to two days. Rather than having the villagers roaming the halls un attended, the party left them imprisoned with a promise to return when Ermena was dealt with.
The party headed up into the residential level of the Barrow, conducting a door to door search. Eventually, they came upon three Emerald Claw soldiers enjoying some leisure time between patrols. Kryle and Reborn caught the soldiers unaware and dispatched them quickly. Brandis hung back waiting for a ranged shot to join combat, but the battle was over before one opened up. Proceeding towards the ranking officer’s quarters, the party was startled by the singing of a small child off to their right. Rather than investigate immediately, Kryle quietly jammed the lock to the room from which the singing originated, and the party set about conducting a thorough search of the remaining rooms in the residential area. They found a secret room adjacent to well-appointed quarters that appeared to have belonged to the facility’s senior researcher during its occupation by the Karrnathi military. In the secret room, they found a plethora of ancient scrolls and tomes. They also found a large crystal ball in which was suspended the dried skin of a humanoid. The skin appeared to have been taken from an elf, and the face seemed to be contorted in a scream. The crystal ball was so large that it would barely fit through the door to the room.
After making these discoveries and encountering no further resistance, the party headed back towards the room in which the girl was singing. Kryle unjammed the lock, and the party entered the room. They found a large dining area with two tables, one small and round and the other long and rectangular. Four common zombies sat at the large rectangular table. Each zombie was adorned with a wooden placard onto which a name had been scrawled, and each had a fine table setting laid out before it. As the party approached the small round table, they caught sight of the source of the singing for the first time. A young girl—or what was once a young girl—sat of the floor with a doll and a small porcelain tea set. As the creature pretended to serve tea to her doll, she was singing to herself. Her skin was gray and dead, and her eyes were clouded and sunken. Noticing the party, she exclaimed, “I played with Sarah and Billy and Mary and Jack,” indicating each of the zombies in turn, “and now I want to play with you!” She lunged at the party, attempting to bite Kryle. The zombies sprang to life and joined the fray. Brandis was reluctant to attack the diminutive undead because of its childlike appearance, so he focused on the zombies. After receiving punishing blows from Kryle and Reborn, the undead girl cried out for her “mother.” Shortly, a tall, raven-haired, pale-skinned woman carrying a flail appeared from a passage to the rear of the room. Two more zombies accompanied the woman, who the party surmised was Ermena Thul. Seeing her minions and “child” under attack, Ermena entered the fray casting spells. A spectral hand appeared hovering above her, and she sent it out to touch Brandis. He left a hollow feeling in his chest but could sense no immediate harm. Next, Ermena attempted to instill fear in Kryle’s heart, but the stalwart kobold shrugged off her spell. Brandis summoned a swarm of spiders and was using it to harry Ermena, while Kryle advanced on her position and Reborn finished the last of the zombies. Moving to avoid the swarm, Ermena directed another spell towards Brandis and the hollow feeling in his chest changed to one of excruciating pressure. The druid crumpled to the ground unconscious. Kryle and Reborn pressed their attack, battering Ermena until she fell to the ground near death. On her person, Kryle found two finely crafted rings, a finely crafted flail, and a wand. Kryle and Reborn bound Ermena and got Brandis on his feet again. Curiously, they found that some of Brandis’ injuries were resistant to magical healing, and Brandis noticed a lump of grayish flesh on his chest.
Searching Ermena’s quarters, the party found Illiyana’s adopted father, Claudius, bound and gagged in one of the side rooms. Once Claudius was free, the party proceeded to the research level and set about freeing the remaining citizens of Woodhelm. Brandis noticed that many of the villagers also had grayish masses on parts of their bodies, which they described as having appeared at the touch of Ermena or one of her apprentices. Fearful that Brandis and the villagers might be carriers of the necromantic plague or something worse, the party required that all of the afflicted people remain at the Barrow until they could be examined by clerics from the village. Kryle and Reborn headed back to the village to fetch Illiyana. They also decided that it would be best to use the airship to begin ferrying the healthy villagers back to Woodhelm. Leaving the Barrow for Woodhelm, Kryle and Reborn carried off some items that they had recovered in the Barrow that they didn’t want the Brelish or Karrnathi governments to get their hands on.