As the adventurers march along the road back to Fallcrest( Paladrin still in a foul mood after being treated as a human [okay, Eladrin] guinea pig for the cave’s traps, Derek visably crestfallen over the business with Alaina) something bursts into view ahead of them.
It’s an Elf, and judging by his garb a Ranger. And three packs of rats swarming over him!
Before the group can move the rats beset the Elf in such a fury that he is Bloodied and bedraggled. As quick as his (admittedly short) legs can carry him, Jefsdorf Charges into the fray, his frosty mace scattering a few rats as he goes in swinging. Korinn then slides behind one pack and gets a Sneak Attack in since they’re still distracted by their original prey, who suddenly shifts out from under their claws. He doesnt fail to loose a few arrows into their midst as he moves, felling several of the vermin in the packs. He continues to retreat further, but is unable to shake all the stragglers off their perches along his frame. Derek the Cleric steps forward, the usual fearful shakes abandoned as he raises his ornamental hammer and lets loose with a Lance of Faith into the closest bunching of the rats. Paladrin rushes forward at the same time, challenging a swarm but failing to connect with his blade, the magic steel serving as a ramp for the rats who scurry onto him, the other two swarms latching onto Jefsdorf after the Dragonborn nimbly evades a strike but not before the Paladin’s holy light burns some of them for declining his Divine Challenge. From the same direction the Ranger originally arrived, a Dire Rat suddenly appears, seeming to gesture to the swarms before rushing the newest Elf and sinking its teeth hard – into nothing but leather armor. The Dwarf then Cleaves through thin air just before Korinn uses a Piercing Strike to finish one swarm, followed by the newcomer shouldering his bow and drawing a blade, only to have his blow deflected by the Dire Rat’s spines. Because the Ranger is still unable to shake off the rats that cling to him, Derek whispers a Healing Word to aid the bloodied stranger, then summons a Sacred Fire to scorch the Dire Rat and bestow an additional, though still unsuccessful, attempt to rid the Elf of his stowaways. Paladrin swings and narrowly misses before the rats continue to turn their backs to him and attack Jefsdorf again. Growing weary of the writhing vermin surrounding him, the Fighter Cleaves the swarms soundly. The Rogue uncharacteristically whiffs, then the new warrior draws a second sword and slams both blades home in the Dire Rat, shaking off the last rats that still clung to him as he did so. Perhaps finally letting his fear get the best of him, Derek’s next Lance of Faith sears a tree beyond the more dire of rats. The Eladrin’s Holy Strike lands a solid blow to one of the swarms as they lash out against him and Korinn and the Dire Rat finally finds a gap in the Ranger’s armor. Jefsdorf Cleaves again and lands solid blows, then Korinn does serious damage to the nearest pack of vermin despite being covered in the beasts herself. The Ranger’s Twin Strikes land again, Bloodying the leading rat, followed quickly by a Lance of Faith that sees the Dire foe fall in a scorched heap. Thanking Moradin for guiding his radiance, Derek’s prayer serves as a Healing Word for the other, still battered, Elf. The Paladin’s Holy Strike lands again, but the rats knock Korinn unconscious. Enraged at seeing his comrad fall, the Dwarf finishes off one of the swarms, playing a game of a whack-a-rat until frozen motes of blood cover his mace. Korinn manages to stave off death, and sensing the urgency of the situation the Ranger drops his blades and lets loose with his bow, forming surprisingly neat kebobs of rats, thinning the remaining swarm. Derek rushes to the fallen Dragonborn and uses his Healing training to awaken her as the Paladin calls forth his Judgement on the swarm, further weakening them as his holy power arcs from the blow to heal Korinn. Scrabbling frantically, the rats knock Paladrin unconscious in retaliation before Jefsdorf manages to slay the remaining creatures.
Regrouping and healing eachother to a passably functioning level, the group turned and introduced themselves to the Ranger, who introduced himself as Eradan. The rats are apparently not the only problem on his heels – his village has been plagued recently, even the trees and wildlife around it, in addition to the rats, and they suspect a waterborne origin. He has been sent out to search for news of and aid from any towns who had experienced similar problems. The previously established group asks if he will aid them in their mission, explaining the events up to now through anecdotal conversation and Derek’s ale-stained scrolls on which he’s chronicled the adventures. Feeling particularly willing to aid them after their rescue of him, Eradan happily agrees to join the group, and they return to Fallcrest without incident.
Meeting with Kanath, they exchange stories and information. The militia leader is very pleased that the truce has been reforged with the goblins, though the tale of Alaina’s restless spirit clearly worries him; he confirms that her failed counterattack was what drove him to found and run the militia and agrees to talk to her family, and see if there may be some way to put her to rest peacefully.
He also agrees to keep an ear out for news of corrupted water sources for Eradan’s quest, though he not heard of any he can recall currently.
Kanath also imparts news about the Silver Skulls. The refugees that had been murmered about have still been trickling through, with more details now. They come from Vardra, one of the larger remaining Human kingdoms, who have recently seen the rise of a more regulatory governing body. The new government brings new rules, which in turn has brought about new enforcers. After plying some of the refugees in Fallcrest, the group learns that the feared enforcers are the Silver Skulls.
After recieving some fine rewards from the Mayor (+1 Frozen Plate Armor, 160 Gold) for their continued efforts on behalf of the town, the group disperses for the afternoon to their various haunts before Jefsdorf and Paladrin return to the tavern for luting. Following a rousing rendition of The One for Me at last call, the party retires.
A light sleeper, Korinn’s eyes snap open at a creak in the earliest hours, as the sun poises to burst over the horizon. She sees a figure poised over her, blad raised, and kicks him across the floor. The sound rouses the others as the assassin bolts out the door and down the hall.
Hopping out of bed in their nightclothes, the gang tears out of the room and after him. As the villain bounds down the stairs and makes for the door, Eradan tries to vault the stairs to catch him, but instead catches his foot on the railing and faceplants into the lower level. Korinn, however, bounds after the attacker, vaulting tables and ending up a few short paces behind him as they turn out the door and head up the street. A bairsbreadth behind her, Paladrin’s Fey Step puts him on their heels as he matches her stride. As the rest of the group head out the door, Derek deduces from the direction he took out the Inn that the fellow is probably headed for the North Gate; he hollers as much to the stout Fighter as Jefsdorf veers slightly – rather than following the attacker, he veers towards the next likely turn, and rightly so, nearly skidding into the attacker as he turns the corner. Eradan deftly leaps from storefront sign to window sill to rooftop, putting him almost even with enemy as the street straightens. Coming to a small canal the Dragonborn dives in and swims expertly across as the high arched bridge slows the fleeing foe enough for her to gain another step or two. Paladrin tries to cut a corner on the other side of the bridge but their quarry scatters crates that had laid beside the street, tripping the Eladrin up and causing him to lose ground. The Cleric, not making much headway himself, hollers directions to the Dwarf, suggesting a route into the sun, whose rays were now cutting sharply across the rooftops and into some of the streets, as the attacker would want to obscure their sight, but the steady warrior shows fatigue and stumbles, falling back from the pack a couple paces. Leaping across another alley, the Ranger gains a few paces on the would-be assassin as the Rogue gathers her breath and yells: “STOP!” Her roar causes the foe to halt in fear, and then start back up in earnest as he glances to see the source of the outcry. Noticing a turn in his head, Paladrin yells his best guess of the next path, and a moment later Derek realizes that the North Gate isn’t their destination anymore; they are heading too far West now, and as he alerts the others, Jefsdorf disappears from between him and the rest of the crowd. As the ragtag mob turns the corner, the Dwarf bursts out of a sidestreet, knocking the assassin off course as he vies for a sidestreet. Before he can make it more than a few steps in, an Elf drops from the roof above onto his back, ending the chase.
As the rest of the party arrives, the cowardly fellow begs for mercy. He is quick to give up his employers, having been sent by the Silver Skulls to kill Jefsdorf, Paladrin, Derek and Korinn. He looks around him and is shocked by Eradan’s presence, explaining that he had also been given a separate contract to kill the Ranger, but that he was not supposed to be in a group, much less this one. After being properly motivated by Korinn’s ferocity and the leers of Eradan and Paladrin, notwithstanding the promise of freedom, the scoundrel also spilled the details of a plot to ambush the emissary to the nearby Gnomes of Nexa on the road in the night. Refusing to let such a villain loose, the group then hauls the now-miffed assassin to Kanath’s home.
Despite how startled he is to see them so early and in such condition, Kanatah invites the group in to explain the events of the morning and the information given by the Silver Skull bounty hunter, as they make arrangements for handing him off into militia custody.
Kanath is understandably puzzled by the trap set for the emissary. The plans to send the ambassador had only been laid the previous day by himself, the Mayor, and the City Council and he had been planning to ask for the group’s help acting as escort later the same day, but few enough people have been told about the plan that this seems to indicate a traitor close to the leaders of the town (or, given the specificity by the assassin, there may be magically-amplified foresight behind the planning). The party agrees to the escort duty and goes back to the Inn to equip themselves before heading West to the Gnomes as Kanath readies himself for a long day of infortmation gathering and trying to piece together all the recent events.
The troupe sets off to Nexa with the ambassador, Arek, in tow. Before night falls, however, they hear what Eradan identifies as gray wolves approaching. as they continue, they see a pack of 4 Gray Wolves led by one oddly larger wolf, with glowing fangs.
Eager to test the mettle of his new armor, Paladrin rushes into the woods north of the path and issues a Divine Challenge to a wolf before his Holy Strike cuts into it. Quickly, the obvious alpha bounds across the path in defense of his pack, and bites the Paladin through his Plate. Rushing to assist his apprentice, Jefsdorf closes in and performs a Reaping Strike that Bloodies the first wolf. The Rogue follows closely and hurls her Dragon’s Breath into the cluster of wolves before the Defenders, covering the bloodied wolf and the alpha in acid as she readies her sling. Showing organization and experience beyond that of their quarry, the wolves flank Korinn and Jefsdorf, knocking them prone as they attack. With two people no longer in his line of sight, Eradan looses two arrows so quickly that he kills the first wolf so suddenly it can’t even whimper and buries one deep in another’s ribcage before the first wolf’s body hits the forest floor. Taking advantage of the tightly clustered fight, Derek calls forth his divine glow, the light searing the 3 remaining gray wolves while guiding his encompassed allies’ next attacks. Paladrin then cuts into the alpha wolf whose jaws snap shut just shy of Jefsdorf’s flank. The Fighter rights himself and his maul just grazes over the wolves when Korinn leaps up, dropping her sling and freeing her shortsword to kill the wolf bearing an arrow in it’s side before being knocked prone again by a new pairing of wolves. Eradan lets fly again, this time only finding one target, but another solid shot to the flank. A Lance of Faith flies through the crowd to burn Moradin’s seal into the side of a wolf. Paladrin’s Holy Strike hits a wolf but is only a glancing blow just before the enhanced wolf’s glowing fangs sink into the Dwarf. Jefsdorf, displeased with being bitten, Lunges unsuccessfully but recovers with a Cleave to the pack leader. Korinn jumps up again and gets a weak strike in on one of the remaining smaller wolves, killing it (though barely). The remaining Gray Wolf’s fangs clank off Jefsdorf Scale armor before the wolf falls unexpectedly to the ground, dead, with two of the Ranger’s feathered shafts protruding from it’s eyes. Derek levels his Holy Hammer and calls on Moradin for a Lance of Faith, but awe over Eradan’s accuracy disrupts his focus, sending his holy light out through the wrong side of the hammer, serving only to illuminate the dusk. The Paladin does a much better job of summoning Bahamut’s might, his Holy Strike felling the big bad wolf.
Gathering the glowing fangs from the wolf leader for use in future Nature Rituals, the party licks their wounds and sets up camp. As the ambassador sleeps, the warriors lie on their bedrolls awake, keeping their weapons in hand as they lie in wait to surprise their ambushers.