Journal Entry: Heart of Hope Campaign Travelogue, Vol. I
Entry Date: 9/25/2004
Following the Battle of Barter, the heroes make their way to a small mining fort where the deliver the Neidar refugees to those that could protect them. Only one among the refugees opts to stay with the group, a young Neidar named Elarn Silversmoke. Elarn was the ward and apprentice of Nixis Torchbane and an acolyte of Reorx like Mortan Forgehammer. With her last words, Nixis coerced a promise from the Daewar crusader to keep Elarn safe and teach him.
Together with Elarn, the heroes set out on a long and dangerous journey over the Kharolis Mountains to Newhold, which lay near the southeast portion of the range, four winter days' journey from the Thunder Peaks. The journey has its pitfalls, of course, but none of the adventurers expect to run into a fully established hobgoblin camp blocking the direct road between Barter and Newhold. To make matters worse these goblins are part of the Death Mountain tribe, which serves the Knights of Neraka and are actively searching for Barter refugees.
Driven off the trail by the hobgoblins, the heroes lose most of their horses and supplies. After a cold night huddled against a snow cliff face, the travelers lose their last horse to a griffon attack. Lacking supplies, shelter, and any sense of direction, they wander aimlessly across a stretch of Kharolis Mountains that appears untouched by the hands of man, dwarf, or any other race. It is in this wilderness that the heroes fall prey to a dragon - not a child like others they've seen but a fully grown beast that obviously survived the Dragon Purge. Certain of their demise, the companions prepare for a final battle they know most of them will not survive. Then, looking down at the terrified but courageous little creatures, the dragon snorts and begins to laugh. Shocked, the heroes can only stand dumbfounded as the beast introduces himself as "Jester", a copper dragon born during the first century of the Age of Despair. Jester is delighted to have so many visitors to his realm in the High Kharolis after decades of loneliness. He invites the heroes, if they can keep up with him, back to his lair for a few nights of games, riddles, and stories.
Jester's lair is a valley cut into a low, flat peak of the High Kharolis. Oddly enough it is devoid of snow and upon its green grass can be found several buildings, all belonging to an ancient order of Ergothian knights. The Knights of the White Star followed Draco Paladine and sought to spread his religion across Kharolis after their Empire conquered the "backward" realm. Jester informs the travelers that a library exists in the deepest levels of their sacred temple, which is built into the high northern wall of the valley. When the heroes mention the Heart of Hope, Jester is very pleased to tell them that his mortal companion of old, a mountain dwarf scholar, came to the temple seeking writings about that very subject - most of which remain in the library as he died before completing his task.
There is some difficulty entering the temple, as the ghosts that inhabit it are loath to accept visitors, but some negotiation allows the group limited access to the library under the watchful eyes of the spirits. The heroes quickly recover the notes of the ancient dwarf scholar and some other tomes of use to them - including a spellbook with an eerie black cover the texture of which is not unlike dried flesh. At camp the following night Jester instructs the heroes on how they might leave the valley and find Newhold. Elarn elects to stay with Jester and Mortan is quite comfortable with this arrangement.
The path to Newhold from Jester's lair is surprisingly easy to find and follow. The heroes have no trouble navigating the mountains until they reach Crystal Pass where they encounter a strange elven woman. Before they can say anything she attacks. In searching her corpse it is revealed she bares a strange mark: an ebony scale bonded to her flesh. This mark unnerves the travelers as it is not the first time an assassin bearing it has attacked them. Fearing further assault, the travelers quickly and quietly make their way to Newhold.
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