While people knew better than to stop the mighty Baranti Wolves in the streets, second glances and starry eyes followed the heroes wherever they went. Survivors of the attack on Sothmere had beaten the heroes back to Denerim, and the stories had aleady begun to circulate that not only had the Wolves defended a Ferelden village from Chasind barbarians, but they had cured an ancient and forgotten disease only days later. People were beginning to make comparisons with the Hero of Ferelden.
The heroes returned to Baranti Manor to report their adventure, but heard the sounds of combat and saw that not only did the door hang open, but a battered and bloodied Eshara lay beside it. Injured from battle, Eshara pointed to the sounds of a magical conflict came from inside the manor, and the Wolves leaped to action.
At the top of the stairs, they found Pryft engaged in combat with a familiar woman with an unfamiliar form. The old and angry sister who ran the orphanage Tom lived at had come to the manor, but her figure was no longer wide and off-putting. Instead she was slimmer and curvy, her face was a picture of an otherworldly beauty, and she spoke with an unnerving but alluring voice. The voice was too similar to those who had faced the Chantry of the Stilled Tongue before, and the demon possessing the woman quickly took notice of the heroes who had faced her before.
Pryft, clearly at the end of his rope and mana supply, held a dagger in his hands, ready to use his own blood to vanquish the demon, but it was fortunate that Asha made it in time to stop him. A grave mistake was avoided.
The demon’s voice was just as alluring as before, and her host’s body just as beautiful and dangerous. Her voice commanded the heroes’ attentions and stayed their hands many times, but they fought the demon to the last.
Captain Braedon turned the corner around the gate of the manor’s grounds and rushed in to help the heroes. Their relief was short-lived, for Braedon had brought help-a group of Templars stormed into the manor, blades and bows drawn.
In a terrifying twist, Alora had fallen under the spell of Mother Briana, and an arrow of hers landed in the armor of one of the Templars. Quick words from Asha and the other Wolves assured the Templars that the woman above was controlled by a demon and forced her to do it. Most of their pleas fell on deaf ears.
The Templar commander filled the room with a strange white light and a buzzing in the heads of the mages. The effect controlling Alora was removed and the other Templars shot down the sister’s body, from which the demon retreated with a fading cackle.
The Templars, suffice to say, were quite perturbed by the events here. The commander of the unit demanded an explanation. The Wolves explained that a demon had possessed the old woman who had broken into the house and attacked them. The Templar commander, luckily, seemed somewhat agreeable, and did not take them all back to the Chantry for further questioning, leaving them and Baranti’s servants to clean up the mess.
An impressed Braedon commended the Wolves for talking down the Templars. He had not seen a feat quite like that yet, and a winded Baranti congratulated them as well, stepping out of hiding.
Baranti was naturally very pleased to hear the stories of their exploits from the locals, but was shocked and astonished by the details the heroes brought to her. She congratulated them on a job well done and encouraged them to take another day or so to rest before their next heroic assignment.
The Baranti Wolves took a deep breath and settled for just a moment.
Asha hurried to the orphanage to check on Tom, who thankfully was unharmed. One of the three sisters had been slain by large gashes in her sides, and claw marks ran up and down the floors of the orphanage’s walls. The possession had begun in the orphanage. Tom mimed Asha a story, telling her that he had had a dream that a demon would come to the orphanage. So he found the key to the play room and locked the door that day, just in time to hear screaming, tittering, and slashing on the other side.
Eshara reported that the alienage was in worse shape than she could have imagined. Poverty was the norm, and oppression from outside was a daily occurrence, be it physical, emotional, or financial. She told Alora that she planned to make some changes if she had the power. Asha and Alora approved, as did Kallian, secretly.
The break for the heroes didn’t last long, as an out-of-breath retainer of the Wulff family rushed from his horse to Baranti Manor to call the Wolves. Between breaths, he reported that Izot Wulff, Arl Gallagher Wulff’s daughter, had been kidnapped.
The next morning was a whirlwind of preparations, the charge being lead by Kallain, determined to deliver Izot’s gift and apologize for siding with her father against her for that one painful moment.
They rushed to arling of West Hills to meet with a battle-ready Gallagher. He was taking a small army in his arling to deal with a sudden influx of darkspawn on the surface, so he couldn’t search for his daughter himself. He grimly offered them payment for discovering his daughter’s fate, and a greater reward for bringing her back alive. He suspected that she had been taken by Avvars in the Frostback Mountains, and told them that his servants could point to the scene where they believed she had been taken.
The arl’s eyes met Kallian’s many times in quiet worry and fear.
The Wolves decided to investigate the townhouse where she had been staying first, and found that there was no sign of struggle in the house, and Kallian pointed out that her favorite cloak was missing.
Jack suddenly suffered a severe withdrawal of her usual lyrium doses, and blindly attacked Kallain, who quickly tossed her from the third story window. The incident was over as quick as it started, and left the heroes in uncomfortable silence.
The scene of the kidnapping held many more clues. While they was evidence of a large scuffle with many people, the canny heroes found that only three people, including Izot, had made the prints in the mud. Not a drop of blood was found, and carvings of Avvar symbols were discovered in a nearby tree, as well as Avvar techniques of covering their tracks up the mountains pushed the heroes into the Frostbacks.
The trek up the mountains was cold, harsh, and dangerous. An attack by a red lion broke the monotony, as did the site of a bloody battle between what the heroes guessed must have been two groups of people; one a group of three (the one Izot had been traveling with), and a larger group of people who had come across the smaller group. Several sacks of bone meal were found around the battlefield, and a number of worn and bloody rocks and boulders were found. It was the site of an ancient Avvar burial ritual, often called “air-burials”. Birds occasional came to pick at the bone meal, and it was likely that any other remains of the bodies had already been devoured by the birds before the heroes got there.
The smaller group now consisted of two sets of footprints, one dragging the other, and the larger group made a point of stepping in each others’ tracks to conceal the number of people. The heroes devised that Izot had likely been taken by the second group, so they followed the tracks of the larger group further up the mountain.
The sameness of the travels would halt suddenly when a painful stench of rot found the Wolves’ noses.
They stumbled onto a field of dead bodies. The bodies belonged to Avvar farmers and traders. Men, women, and children alike, had been brutally slaughtered and, in some cases, their bodies defiled and mounted in grand displays of disrespect. This was the site of a darkspawn attack, and the sounds of the darkspawn patrol soon returned to appreciate their work. A horde of genlocks found themselves face to face with the Baranti Wolves, and with a sick glee they jumped at the chance to heighten the piles of gore.
The clash was brutal, but the heroes defeated the group and began a more thorough investigation. None of the bodies were Izot, thankfully, and the tracks of both the small and large groups came across the site as well, then branching to the east and west, respectively.
Alora also happened to notice a small owl watching them. It was a bit early for owls to be hunting yet, and stranger still, it winked at her before taking flight in the direction of the smaller group.
Wishing to gather more intelligence before going after Izot, they followed the smaller group. The tracks led them to an Avvar hold called Redhold, where they were greeted with kindness and suspicion. The thane of the hold, Thane Owyne Ar Rainne O Redhold, greeted them personally, asking them of their reasons for coming to Redhold.
He did not seem difficult to convince to allow the heroes entrance to the hold, and they were given a three-day stay as guests of the hold. The thane claimed he had a request of them if they stayed, and wished only that they would hear him out.
The hold was empty, save for children and elderly. Those that did exist in the hold stared long and hard at the elven and human heroes for long moments until the heroes passed them by. Few strong bodies seemed present, and only a few key figures were in the hold. The liaison for the heroes’ stay in Redhold was a falconer named Lowenna An Aenor. She seemed very interested in comparing the faiths of the elves and the Avvar.
A more eccentric personality, Elorn, was introduced soon after a few drinks in a local longhouse. Commending them on their prowess and respect for burying the red lion they had defeated further down the mountain, he unceremoniously fed a young goat to Redhold’s spirit animal, a red lion in a large pit. He introduced his sleepy owl companion, Sisila, and asked simple question about the heroes and their exploits. He seemed impressed, and foreshadowed that the thane would need heroes like the Wolves.
A second group of visitors came to the hold not long after the Wovles. A familiar face, Kilina of the Grey Wardens, came with a few new recruits of hers. One was an Dalish mage named Thelriel, and a young Free Marcher warrior named Desmond. They had also been invited by the thane, and had also been asked of a favor for a three-day stay in Redhold.
Night fell, and the heroes were also approached by a young Avvar male. He was clearly wounded, and claimed to know that the heroes were after Izot Wulff. He introduced himself as Azur Ar Brosna, and he offered to go collect Izot now for a share of the whatever the heroes were getting from her father. He was cagey and evasive about his real reasons for going to get her, but the Wolves could tell a thing or two. Unwilling to leave just yet, the heroes turned him down for now, and Azur left in a huff, grumbling about “ungrateful lowlanders”.
The thane finally sat down with the heroes and made an offer: his hold needed saving. Scouts and travelers reported that the darkspawn the heroes had faced were part of a much larger horde, hundreds strong, and they were on route to Redhold. The holds soldiers and warriors were out hunting to prepare for the coming winter, and they had few warriors left behind to defend themselves. He pleaded that the heroes would stand with them to fend off the darkspawn. Elorn spoke up that he believed that they had been sent by their gods, most likely his favorite Imhar the Clever, who granted boons in unexpected ways. In this case, an Avvar hold would be saved by their least likely allies; lowlanders.
In exchange for their help, he offered a sword. The sword was made of a strange green steel and glowed with sharp white flames. The sword filled the room with a song when unsheathed, and then grew quite. He called it Aamore Fin, and claimed that the sword was perhaps as old as the mountains themselves. For their help against the darkspawn, this was all he could offer.
Tired of waiting to save Izot, Kallian rejected the offer, and left the meeting, marching out of Redhold on her own. The Wolves and Kilina decided that they would stay and fight the darkspawn.