○ After the harrowing encounter with the griffon the party heads indoors. The storage barn is well stocked with all sorts of useful equipment necessary to run a thriving farming village. The party takes time to search the barn and rest for a while. Cor seems to have made a friend of the malnourished and skittish pugnub. The paladin names him Theodore.
○ Meanwhile, Orryn delves further into the journal he found. It seems that it was written by a man named Gelmann. He has spent years studying the griffon that has made the Brightmeadow valley its home. The naturalist has come to the conclusion that the griffon is the only one of its kind in the valley and that it must be a mount that survived the battle between the orcs of the Sword Mountains and the dwarves of clan Stoneshaft that perished here not long before the village of Winstock was founded. Gelmann seems overly fascinated with the griffon, perhaps obsessed. He had once taken a long and expensive trip to Waterdeep where he spent considerable time in the Grand Library studying griffons and the Battle of Brightmeadow. He thinks that there might be more to learn about the griffon in the dwarven shieldfort to the southwest and has decided to mount an expedition. The journal, at times, delves into more personal territory and Gelmann speaks of his loving wife Sera and their newborn son. She doesn’t want him to go on the expedition because of the danger and his responsibility to their child. Gelmann writes of his conflicted feelings but still seems intent on travelling to the fort.
○ As Orryn is recounting to the party what he gleaned from the journal Hjorde and Lia hear a sound that seems out of place in the barn. The muffled voice of a child. The two track the sound to a group of barrels. Hjorde uses her considerable strength to move the obstructions out of the way. A trapdoor with a brass ring attached is revealed and the voices have abruptly stopped. The fighter hefts her hammer and smashes the door into splinters. Lia leaps into the darkness of the hidden room below where she finds a slight and bedraggled woman and very young boy huddling together. The woman wields a spear but her resolve breaks and she drops it. The elf druid tries to reason with the woman and calm her down but she has obviously been through a trying ordeal and Lia’s efforts are unable to pierce through the woman’s fear and paranoia. She tries to flee up the ladder with her son, only to run headlong into Darth who is hidden in the darkness. Eventually, the mother is convinced that she and her son have been saved and that their live are not actually in danger.
○ The woman and boy are revealed to be Sera Gale and her son Gorvy. She thanks the party for saving the both of them but is obviously distraught by the struggles and loss of the past ten-day. She tells a tale of orcs and goblins storming the village in the dead of night. They slaughtered villagers by the score and took prisoners away, dragging and screaming. Her and her son hid in the secret room beneath the barn and twice since the attack she has emerged to gather food and water, nearly being caught by goblin patrols each time. She asks the date and when she hears she speaks of her husband Gelmann. She tells the party that he led an expedition to the dwarven shieldfort to the southwest to find clues about the griffon and isn’t due back for three or four days, at least. Sera is ecstatic that he might be alive and implores the party to help her find him though she curses herself for her selfishness. She realizes that other villagers have been taken prisoner by the orcs and are just as deserving of rescue, if not more.
The party tells her that they will recover her husband, dead or alive, and convince her that she is safest not following them into danger. They tell her to leave Winstock and head for the longroad where she can eventually find safe haven in the city of Waterdeep. She is told to wait at the first inn on her right after passing through the main gate. Ellywick gives generously and provides Sera with plenty of gold and silver to help her make her way. As the party is leaving the barn, Orryn is waiting with a plan that will cement in Sera’s mind that staying in the valley is a dangerous mistake. He magically disguises himself as a goblin and startles the woman and her son. She and Gorvy flee for the mill. The rest of the party is confounded at the presence of another goblin, but some grow suspicious that Orryn is somehow responsible for this ruse. Sera emerges from the mill, armed, armored and laden with food and water. She reminds the party of their promise and leaves immediately, fearful of lingering dangers.
○ Our heroes depart from the village of Winstock and make their way to the southwestern foothills where lies the old, abandoned shieldfort. After an exhausting day the party makes camp just on the edge of the foothills. Ellywick questions a passing family of field mice, inquiring about dangers in the area. She learns that the flying creatures the party spied circling the fort might by giant wasps, dangerous creatures best avoided. The dwarven outpost looms ominously above, appearing ghostly in Selûne’s light. While Orryn is on watch he thinks he catches the sound of an echoing warhorn, just on the edge of hearing. Curiosity, and what might be sort of otherworldly power, seems to draw him toward the hills. He moves some distance outside of the camp and is soon surrounded by the sounds of clashing steel amid bloodcurdling war cries and the screams of the dying. He realizes that the memories of the past are thick in this place and the veil between this world and the next is dangerously thin. The terrible battle that occurred here has left an indelible spectral imprint. The gnomish warlock returns to camp and lays down as his watch comes to an end. For a moment he sees The Great Turtle, etched into the swollen moon above. It seems to speak to him, with assurances that his path is true.
○ At dawn our heroes break camp and begin their march up the rocky hills toward the fort. They come upon an ancient path lined with dwarven pikes. Nearly every one features the impaled skull of an orc and the sense of dread as the party continues on is palpable. Finally, the party arrives at the shieldfort. Its twin towers rise into the sweltering summer sky and its gates have been smashed in, leaving a gaping, black maw. A dry moat circles the fort, lined with deadly spikes, and the fields the party has to pick its way through are littered with the bleached bones of what must be well over a hundred slain orcs. The party enters the ruin.
○ The entrance hall is dry and covered by a thick layer of dust that obscures the bones of nearly a dozen dwarves and orcs. Darth notices that much of the armor and many of weapons that remain here are heavily rusted and crumbling into ruin. Orryn spies an old battered shield clutched by a dwarf skeleton. It’s mostly intact and depicts the coat-of-arms of the Clan Stoneshaft. He recognizes the design from a sketch in Gelmann’s journal. Apparently it’s the same symbol affixed to the griffon’s harness. And then, the room grows unnaturally cold. Our heroes can see their breath in the air and an ethereal voice calls out. “Are ye sure ye belong here? Mayhaps ye should turn around before it’s too late?” A dwarf spirit appears. He is clad in the vestments of a cleric of Moradin and he introduces himself as Celgan Stoneshaft. He makes an attempt to warn the party away but soon comes to the realization that maybe they can help clear away the evil that plagues the shieldfort.
He tells them of an depraved mountain orc named Illthag whose spirit still haunts the fort. He was once the chieftain of the Bloodfoot horde that emerged from the Sword Mountains, intent on pillaging the countryside. The Stoneshaft clan mobilized what forces they could and met them on the field. The battle became known as the Battle of the Brightmeadow. Losses were crippling on both sides and there was no clear victor. Celgan worries that there might not be a living Stoneshaft left in Faerûn. When told of a griffon who still stalks the valley the cleric says that it is almost certainly Goldclaw, whose rider was a dwarf named Dereth Stoneshaft. He also has vague memories of a group of human companions entering the fort. He says that they are trapped below and that it is Illthag’s corrupting influence that keeps them there. The orc spirit has desecrated the shrine of Moradin and his blasphemy has caused the bones of dwarven warriors to walk once again. They are filled with hate and seek only to punish the living. Celgan says that every shieldfort is provided with one of Moradin’s Warhorns. A devices designed to instill fear in the hearts of even the most savage and brutal orcs. He says that the horn can be found below and that it could be used to great effect on Illthag. However, dwarven undead protect it and, presumably, have Gelmann and his expedition trapped with no hope of escape. Celgan says that if they should be able to defeat Illthag before retrieving the horn and then cleanse the shrine of Moradin, the risen dwarves could rest once again and the way to Gelmann’s expedition would be clear. The cleric knows that it is a difficult decision without a clear solution. And so, he offers to provide a blessing upon them should they call upon him, though it is all the help he can provide.