It took all of two weeks for George to get “ancy” and “need” to get out exploring after the party left for the Five Kings Mountains. George grabbed Hungabungalot and put together a make shift saddle for his wolf for him. The wolf was actually very tractable to the idea, as he envied the way that George was able to ride his horse in such a close proximity to each other. “Maybe, if I work hard enough and eat all of my dinner, I will be big enough for my master to ride ME into battle… sigh…”
The two set out towards the northwest to some nearby forest plots. They headed up the Skunk River, but they didn’t go far when they came across a small group of gnomish explorers who were struggling to keep their wagon from sinking into the water. George quickly threw a lasso at the wagon and hooked a wheel. With the power of his heavy warhorse, he easily pulled the wagon to the shore.
The leader of the gnome party thanked George and Hunglikeadog and introduced himself as Narthropple, leader of a mapping and exploration team. George and Northapple got into a discussion about mapping the Stolen Lands, which George INSISTED on calling Greenland. By the end of the discussion, Nambrapple was disheartened by just how much of the Stolen Lands had ALREADY been mapped. Nevertheless, the two worked out a deal to exchange information and headed back together to Fort Tuskwater to swap information. Narmbopple was contracted by a Varisian University to thoroughly map the region, so it really did not matter HOW he acquired the information he needed, and he was more than happy to share what he had learned – which was actually quite a bit concerning the Narlmarches.
Of particular interest to the group was a towering statue of Erastil not far from the Frog Pond, and the Ruined Keep near the end of the Murque River (which Nopplebottom was reluctant to approach). The gnomes also noted on the map the location of what appeared to be a slain Unicorn with its horn sawed off lying dead in the forest. George asked, “How do you know it is not just a horse?” Nabnappa replied, “Because it is a FREAKING Unicorn, buddy! And somebody sawed off its FREAKING horn! That’s how!”
Also of some concern was the information that the further the gnomes ventured to the south, the heavier the concentration of troll encounters became. It was necessary for the gnomes to hide their wagon and explore on foot for most of the time, as this allowed them to dive into the shadows at the approach of a troll.
This news spurred EVERYONE into a flurry of cabin-fever induced activity. Jurgenfriez snatched up Hubumbalung, tossed him in his saddle bags and headed west out to the plains, Clandestiny grabbed Kelthak by the orcish ears and headed out along the Tuskwater with four of the guards. George stomped his feet and shouted at the group as they rode off, “What about me? I only got to go out for two days!”
Kelthak replied, “You make sure Akiros and his pet giant keep out of trouble.” This of course seemed silly to George, as Akiros had been loyal to a fault since the defeat of the Stag Lord, and Auchs had lost his fire when he lost his eyesite – the simple giant was content playing with his “toys” in his perpetual darkness.
It did not take long for Gordon and the Hubbubbatub to find some “action” – a prowling pack of wolves led by a fierce alpha (worg) had the audacity to try to waylay Gordon in the daylight – big mistake. Gordon and his horse plowed through the pack, to and fro, whilst Hobbitlung played a merry tune on his Mandolin and recited an epic poem (I AM helping!). When all the wolves were dead, the group buried the carcasses in the snow and flagged the berm for the Ranger to come retrieved the bodies – there were a few good pelts in that mix.
Gordon continued on towards the east while the gnome bard mapped the way. As they decided to turn south and head back (as they were quickly getting tired of the cold) they spotted an uncharacteristic rise in the terrain. It turned out to be a huge mound of earth with a dark open entrance. The two dismounted and wandered inside, only to be chased out again by a mad flurry of bats. Hunghungadung, using his KEEN intellect, built a smoky fire at the entrance of the cave and they pushed it inside. The smoke agitated the bats until they could stand it no more and fled the cave. With the gnome lighting the path and the Cavalier leading, the pair continued on…
They came to a central chamber with four directions to go and four faces on the walls in-between. Gordon inadvertently triggered a pressure plate in the center of the room, which caused the four faces to inhale a gust of air and then exhale a blast of inky darkness. Fortune was with the two as they dove for the bat cave as the inkiness engulfed the room. When the cloud subsided, they went back into the room and carefully marked out the trap pressure plate. They also came across a prior victim of the trap in rotting leathers, with rusted weapons, but surprisingly sporting a magic ring. Hohumadumb was able to identify the ring as a Ring of Sustenance, and Gordon gladly bid the gnome to take it as his own.
The pair searched the two adjacent passages first. Both were enclosed rooms with skeletons perched on the walls. And of course, the skeletons came to life as soon as they stepped into the room… I mean, why WOULDN’T they? After a few swings, a dozen skeletons were down in the dust… the bard didn’t even bother to sing about it.
In the third room, however, was a large sarcophagus that creecked open as the group entered… again, why WOULDN’T it? Out from the sarcophagus stepped a well armored skeleton that moved like it knew how to.
“A decent battle at last!” Gordon cried, as he matched the skeletal warrior sword for sword and shield for shield. Hibbobido pulled out his mandolin and began to play, as well as recite a dirty limerick. It was a well fought battle, but he defeated the skeletal warrior and claimed its magical bastard sword as his own (although it was in desperate need of some repairs).
Before retreating from the lair, Hundyaiyumba did a quick once over for secret doors, but found none. They departed together, and were immediately waylaid by a will-o-wisp. The will-o-wisp was cocky, and tried to take the Cavalier out quickly, but with two lucky swipes of his sword the will-o-wisp disappeared in a puff of smoke. Gordon turned to the bard who was cowering between his legs and said, “You know, you really are almost useless, you know!” and then hopped on his horse. The bard murmured a reply under his breath, “I have skills!”
The pair made their way back to Fort Tuskwater following the banks of the Gudrin River, crossing at the Gurdin River crossing to map the opposite side. “Why is it called the Gudrin River but the crossing is called the Gurdin River Crossing?” the Cavalier asked the Bard, but Hummusbummer simply replied, “They need to hire a new editor.” Other than a peaceful pack of grizzlies in the distance and an inept werewolf, the pair encountered no further hostilities.
Meanwhile, Clandestiny, Kelthak, and four guards traveled south along the western boundary of the Tuskwater Lake. On the second day out, they encountered a lonely shack in a copse of mangoves. As they approached the fence of this shack, a scarecrow in the garden (covered in snow) lifted a rake and threatened those who approached.
A harsh shrill voice snarled from within the shack, threatening the visitors as if they were marauding bandits and warning them to leave or die. Since Clandestiny has some modicum of diplomacy, they were able to convince the shrill voice that they were NOT in fact bandits but the newly established rulers of the area. The mood of the voice changed, and an elderly half-elf woman came outside, commanded the scarecrow to give pass, and invited the group in.
It was a pleasant visit (and nobody got tossed into the oven). The woman’s name was Elga Verniex, and she was a wizardress half-elf of waning years. As the talk progressed towards the advent of civilization to the region, she expressed her concern for her privacy, but the party assured her that no one would want to settle the area in which she lived. Towards the end of the visit, she was quite friendly, and even asked the group to do her a favor.
Evidently, on the other side of the river was a fungal patch where amazing and exotic breeds of mushrooms and conks grew. She agreed to tell the party of its secret location on two conditions – they don’t despoil the region for their own purposes and they kill the beast that guards it. The party agreed, and in return Elga marked the parties map and gave them her boat on loan and a fully charged wand of flaming arrows to assist.
The group set out immediately in the boat, and made shore on the other side. Following Elga’s instructions, they located the grotto of mushrooms… most were dead for the winter, but there were some of the more statuesque varieties that gave the region away. It didn’t take long for the guardian to find the group, either. It was a hulking monster of a fungal mass called a tendriculous! Nevertheless, with Clandestiny singing and igniting arrows with the wand, the group was able to bring the beast down at range. Clandestiny, being Clandestiny, gathered as much ichor and goo from the creature as possible before the group returned back to the boat.
When they arrived at Elga’s with proof of their success, she was most pleased. She was also thrilled at the fact that Clandestiny provided her with a couple vials of tendriculous goo, which has acidic properties. She marked on the party’s map the pathway through the forest due west that meets up with the Murque River, but warned them of the Crazy Man with the cat, and the Scythe Tree further West. She showed the group where they can find the Ruined Keep at the end of the path. She also mapped out Candlemere lake for them, but not the part where it connects with the Murque. “I don’t know that area and I never go there,” she said as it is guarded by a clan of cannibalistic lizard folk. The party asked about the troll lair as well, but Elga shrugged and replied, “The best I can tell you is that they are in the forest somewhere west of the Lizard folk.”
The party set out on horseback through the woods, moving quickly as they had a good map of the region. They were set upon immediately by a crazy loonie-bird man who leaps out from a tree onto the back of one of the guards and stabs at him viciously. The guard went down, but did not die. In the front of the party, a large puma leaped out of the bushes and tackled Clandestiny, Sebastion style. Kelthak directed the remaining three guards to take out the Puma, which they did so rather quickly (as they all have a level of Rogue) whilst he took care of the loonie-bird. Mr. Crazy man flew into a rage screaming at the other guards who were, “Hurtin ma kittie!” as Kelthak called upon a spell to light a fire on his two-bladed sword. The fiery weapon, plus a quick Human Bane on the blade, and call for Judgment on the loonie-bird was more than one crazy man can take – he was killed before he could realize that he should have never attacked in the first place. Clandestiny remarked at how similar this lunatic looks to the old alchemist near Oleg’s, Bokken.
After a few well placed heal spells, Kelthak tracked the crazy man’s trail to a hollowed tree that stinks of shit. Inside, the group finds a small beaten chest with some gold and silver (3 gp, 174 sp), two potions (cure light wounds, invisibility), and a golden locket with a woman’s face inside.
The troupe rested for the night, and got an early start the next morning. They did not travel far when they ran straight into a group of a four trolls. They retreated on their horses and the trolls gave chase. They ran only far enough to safely cast preparatory spells, and then they jumped back into the fray. Clandestiny sang and fired burning arrows, as did the guards as they approached. When they were close enough, Kelthak lit the fire on his blades, Activated a Giant-Bane, kicked in the ol’ Judgment and Charged. He took a few hits, as did his horse, but the trolls regenerating powers do them no good and soon they were in retreat. Trolls don’t run as fast as horses, and can’t dodge backshots (again, the guards all had one level in Rogue) with burning arrows, so it really was a slaughter.
By the end of the day, the group was approaching the part of the map marked with the Scythe tree. The group approached a darkened grotto that stank of decay, but were not able to locate the Scythe tree amongst the others. Kelthak, knowing the ways of monsters, determined that this tree was trying to hide alongside the others. The best way to smoke it out was, of course, to BURN it out. Once again, Clandestiny used the wand to fill the quivers of the guards with flame arrows, and they proceeded to put a flaming arrow into every tree in range. Eventually, they hit a tree that screamed.
Now, the arrows didn’t do much damage, but the fire sure did the trick. It is also important to say that trees don’t run very fast. And although it was quite certain that should the tree get its limbs on anyone it would have been a quick death, the group was able to turn the tree into a burning pyre after but a few well timed retreats. The party made camp in the warmth of the burning scythe-tree.
The next morning they awoke to a dryad (how did they know it was a dryad? Because she told them she was a dryad – otherwise the group might have just mistaken her for any other random half-naked beautiful women covered in autumn leaves prancing about in the forest) standing beside a satyr (that one was easy to guess). The dryad was happy to the point of tears that the party has slain the scythe-tree – its negative influence on the trees had been devastating in ways that only a dryad could understand. She showers the group with gifts, including a Scroll of Nature’s Ally IV, a Wand of Cure Moderate Wounds (25 charges), 2 potions of Cure Serious Wounds, and 6 Feather Tokens (tree), as well as all the gold she possesses (24 gp).
Kelthak and Clandestiny tell the two who they are and what they are doing in the forest, and the dryad (whose name is Tiressia) and the satyr (Falchos) agree to protect the forest on Greenland’s behalf and provide guidance whenever necessary. They also agree to guide the party directly to the Ruined Keep, but will not go any closer as there are wicked fey abounding within.
The Ruined Keep turns out to be just that, and it is not long before one of the guards is slashed in the leg by a gust of wind, a streaking blur, and a glint of steel. A high pitched laugh bounces from all directions. A split second later there is another gust and a blur and another guard is sorely wounded.
Kelthak nodds knowingly, “Quickling!” He casts a spell of Magic Weapon on his two blades and Shield of Faith on himself and begins taunting the Quickling. “Try me on for size you greasy little bastard! Be sure to stab me in the back so I don’t see you coming!” The Quickling took the bait and charges straight for Kelthak. Kelthak squatted low and dropped his right hand to his side to grab the Quickling as it came by. At the last possible second, the Quickling veered to Kelthak’s left. Just before the last possible second, the back blade of Kelthak’s weapon “SNNNKT” out two and a half feet to his left. Kelthak took a light slash on the leg from the Quickling’s poniard, and the Quickling suffered a deep gash to the neck from Kelthak’s two bladed sword.
The Quickling staggered to a visible halt forty feet away trying to staunch the flow of his bloody neck. Five arrows in the back later, he was dead. Clandestiny, being Clandestiny, ran to try to get as much Quickling blood as she could in her vials (and maybe stuff the rest of him into a bag for magical parts… tee hee hee!)
With Clandestiny in the lead, shining the way with a light spell she cast on her rapier (as Surya is currently unavailable for casting light) the group headed in through the entranceway of the outer walls of the ruined keep. As she stepped through the doorway the portcullis came slamming down, but luckily she dodged to the side unscathed. The group quickly tried to lift the portcullis, but were unsuccessful. A second try to lift the portcullis also failed. Somehow (even with a -10 to the roll) they forced open the portcullis on the third try and wedged it open.
There were four smaller towers in the outer circular wall and a larger tower in the center of the courtyard. They searched the outer towers one at a time. In the first tower, the party disturbed a swarm of rats that came tumbling out upon them. Swords slashed and stabbed at the little bastards, and, and dozens of rats were killed as well as dozens of little bites were inflicted, but the party managed to scatter the beasts.
But as that was occurring, Kelthak saw out of the corner of his eye a figure that was creeping around the group on the verge of an ambush. As well, Clandestiny recognized a plant rustling by that was known to be carnivorous. She quickly cast flame arrow for the guards, and they quickly split the arrows amongst themselves. Meanwhile, Kelthak whispered a spell of flaming weapon.
From opposite sides of the party the assault came. The attackers were surprised (well, I guess technically the plant WASN’T but that’s beside the matter) that their prey was ready at the defense. Clandestiny went on the defensive, singing while the guards pelted it with arrows – the fire this time had little effect, but the arrows struck true.
Meanwhile, Kelthak immediately recognized the skulking attacker as a Grimstalker, a fey WORTHY of Judgment. The poisonous claws of the Grimstalker did not penetrate the iron-hard constitution of the half-orc inquisitor, and soon the Grimstalker was running for his life. Nevertheless, he was no Quickling, and the guards with their flaming arrows made quick work of him.
Beyond the remnants of rats, the lifeless shell of the carnivorous plant and the corpse of the Grimstalker (both of which were being dissected by Clandestiny), there was little else in any of the outer towers… except for treasure, but we’ll get to that later.
The group made their way into the doorway of the inner tower. Kelthak took the lead this time, carefully examining the doorway for traps similar to the portcullis. He had only stepped a few feet into the room when a slight hiss caught his attention. “Everyone out!” he yelled and pushed the rest of the party back. A purple mist filled the room as the group ran into the safety of the courtyard. When the mist had cleared, they cautiously went back inside. Finding nothing of interest in the base of the tower but a staircase going up, they ascended the stairs of the tower.
There was soft music coming from the top of the tower. Once more, Clandestiny used the wand to prepare flaming arrows. The group opened a trap door to the top chamber of the tower and stepped through, ready for battle.
A beautiful woman with elven features in a green dress with a red sash danced and sang in the middle of the room. Kelthak and three guards were immediately entranced, one of the guards was able to fight off the enchantment but stepped away from the others for fear they would mindlessly turn on him.
Clandestiny, however, was pissed off. “BITCH! You think your going to upstage me with your drunken, tight-ass, half-elven BULLSHIT? Check this, you skank ass ho!” Clandestiny’s own dancing and singing provided a Counterspell performance that shook the others out of their spell. The other men woke from their erotic stupor feeling quite foolish… and angry. Arrows flew, blades flashed, and the head of the seductive fey came tumbling off.
As the head rolled to a standstill, the eyes looked up to Kelthak (who had made the final cut to sever her head) and her voice said, “Know that though you may have slain me, I shall place upon you a curse so wicked…” Kelthak stomped on her brain until the head stopped moving, and replied, “Sure you will!” Clandestiny, being Clandestiny, tried to salvage as many pieces of the seductress as she could and stuff them into jars.
All said and told, after searching the Ruined Keep from head to toe, the party gathered a considerable sum of loot. But for now, let’s get back to George.
George was back at Fort Tuskwater moping and baby-sitting Akiros and Auchs. He didn’t really have to do anything since Akiros could take care of himself AND Auchs. A young girl, orphaned during the Barbarian Attacks at Olegs, was taking care of the cooking and cleaning. So George just sat around and moped. Nupplerupple and his gnome buddies converted their wagon into a boat (with such speed George pretty much figured it was designed to do so) and headed down to explore the Guldrin River, so it was just George, his wolf, the girl, Akiros, and Auchs. The wolf didn’t talk much… but it LOVED George! The girl didn’t talk much either, not since the barbarian attack. Akiros just liked to brood and be melancholy. And Auchs was stupid. So other than the Owlbear, George was alone.
A few days had passed when there came a knocking on the door. Thinking it was just some farmer, George walked to the front and opened the door. There was a group of six men with horses, wearing leather armor and sporting swords and longbows. “May we enter?” they asked. George had them stable their horses and come in for some warm food… the young girl was a fair cook after all.
The leader of the group was a man named Loy Rezbin. He and his wife (not present) were in the process of leading a group of religious refugees from the country of Galt – known as the land of the perpetual revolution. The tides of favor in their region had shifted and followers of Erastil were being rounded up an executed as traitors by the revolutionary council. Loy and his wife convinced a sizable group of 100 families to abandon Galt and flee to some other country. The only safe place they knew of was the hamlet of Liberthane, managed by the good Lord Achille Parsal. Unfortunately, when they arrived at Liberthane, Achille deemed it unsafe for such a large group of refugees to settle near the border of Galt. “It was inviting reprisal!” he insisted. Liberthane, as it is, served better as a waypoint for Galtean refugees rather than a settlement.
Loy’s heart sank, but Liberthane continued, “I recently had a group of visitors from up north in a newly settled region of the Stolen Lands they now call Greenland. The leader of this new realm is a noble lady by the name of Surya, and she’s a right fine priestess of Sarenrae.
“Now, she told me up in the forests in her land there’s a huge and ancient Temple of Erastil that they have just recently purified. Now, I know they are looking for people to work the land up there, so you have a good chance of founding a colony with little argument.”
Achille agreed to care for the refugees for the time being while Loy and a group of scouts headed up the Sellen to meet with the leaders of Greenland.
Being as George was the only leader of Greenland available, he deemed it his solemn right to welcome the group aboard. They dug out one of the copies of the map and scouted for a good site for a starting colony. They wanted to be near the temple, so they looked up north near the fairy lands. They wanted to be close to the plains for farming and close to a river for travel so they looked near the Thorn River Camp. They had just about made up their minds about settling the Thorn River Camp when they asked about a little monument notated on the western boundary of the Narlmarches. George replied, “That’s a giant statue of Erastil this group of gnome explorers found. They said it’s in solid condition but just in need of maintenance and cleaning.”
That changed everything for the group. They looked instead at a place along the Skunk River near the western boundary that was in between the Temple of the Elk and the statue of Erastil. They asked about the hot springs and the frogs, and decided that there could be advantages to both in the coming years.
So it was settled, and nobody felt like sitting around. George gave Akiros a slap on the back and said, “You’re in charge bro!” and then headed out the door with Loy and his recon group from Galt.
It was quick moving as they followed natural deer trails along the river. The followed the river up through the woods 20 miles until they came to a pristine patch of timber. “Damn!” Loy spoke to the group, “Would the ship builders of Taldan get their fingers on this lot of timber!”
“YOU DON’T TOUCH MY TREES!” a squeaky voice shouted from behind.
The party, as a group, rushed to the shore of the river. “Who said that?” George called out.
A voice answered, “Those are MY trees! You touch them and you will regret it.”
Loy laughed, “Doesn’t look like you’ve got a fence around them… and you certainly didn’t plant them!”
“But I DID plant them!” the voice replied in a high pitched, angry voice. George could see the movement of what looked like a fin or a hand or a hand/fin behind a large rock in the stream.
“Huh?” Loy exclaimed, “Those trees are at least two centuries old!”
George put his hand on Loy’s shoulder, “Ok… this is the part where you shut up or you wind up getting killed.” Loy nodded in assent.
George turned back to the river, “Did you plant those trees?” he called out.
“YES!” the voice answered back.
“Ok, then they ARE yours,” George replied, “But this part of the forest is under our control. We made a deal with Perlivash, the fairy dragon – the fey will stay in the north and not harass or persecute the humans, and we will respect the forest and stay out of fey country. If these are your trees, we will respect that… but you have to respect the deal we made.”
“You know Perlivash?” the voice answered, and a little green haired head with big eyes peeked out from behind the rock, “You know I’m a fey?”
George thought to himself for a moment, “I could put an arrow right through her eyeball and she would never see it coming… heh, heh, heh…” but then wiped the thought out of his mind. Instead, he replied, “Of course you’re a fey… unless this river is populated by 200 year old rock bass that like to talk to people and plant trees.”
The fey, which George recognized from descriptions as a river Nixie, came out from behind the cover of the rock. “Are you Surya?”
George shook his head, “No, Surya is a woman. I am one of her… um… Nobles!” Yeah, I like the sound of that! “My name is George.”
“Very well, George,” the Nixie replied, “I believe you. I am Melianse. I will honor the deal with Perlivash. I will not interfere with humans as long as they respect the forest and the river and not touch any of my trees.”
George turned to Loy and his patrol, “Think you guys can handle that?”
The group nodded in assent. This was good enough for Melianse, “Very well, I will be watching the rivers and the forests to make sure you do.”
George quickly interjected, “Oh, and Melianse, if you ever see anything out of the ordinary along the rivers and streams, come let us know down at our Fort on the north shore of the Tuskwater…”
“The bandit fort?”
“EX-bandit fort!” George corrected her, “It’s ours now. Just let us know if you see something out of the ordinary or disrespectful to the forest and we will come take care of it.”
Melianse nodded and smiled brightly, “I will be sure to do just that. I look forward to seeing you again George.”
George couldn’t help but smile in return. Were it not for the fact that she was only four feet tall…
The party moved on up the river. They came to a slow bend in the river and made camp. The next morning they were up and moving again.
As they traveled on, George had a gnawing feeling in his stomach about this area of the map… like there was something important that he was forgetting… something he was supposed to take care of…
There was a rustle in the bushes and a large dragon-headed snakelike creature leaped out from cover and snatched one of the scouts in its jaws. It had taken the rider who was in the very back of the column. Another one of the monsters leaped out and latched onto the man’s horse.
The other five riders spurred their horses forward to escape, but George turned them around, “No!” he shouted, “It’s an ambush! Go back and around them!” The riders quickly obeyed, and they raced around the bank by the two beasts. George plunked an arrow into each as they rode by.
From up the river, three more that had been in hiding leapt from the bushes to give chase. The two who had been shot with an arrow were angry now and also pursuing the party down the river.
“What the hell are those things!” Loy shouted.
“Tatzlwyrms!” George shouted as he fired off another arrow. He was bouncing about in his seat as the horse ran at a full gallop, but since he was such an amazing shot, it didn’t make too much difference. Firing one arrow every six seconds, he managed to wound all of the beasts before they gave up the chase and turned away.
“LOY!” he shouted, as the Galteans had simply fled for the hills, “GET BACK HERE!”
Loy and the others returned reluctantly. “What are we doing?” he asked.
“You want a place for your families, don’t you?” George asked him. Loy and the others all nodded. George nocked an arrow, “Then pull out your longbows! We’re attacking! Shoot them ‘til they get close. Then we retreat ‘til they get tired… wash, rinse, repeat!”
It was a sound plan and executed with timid precision… that is to say the Galts typically retreated early, but they got their shots in. Soon enough a Tatzlwyrm had fallen, then two, and then three… the last two retreated but by then the Galts had ironed up their stomachs and chased them down. And the wolf helped… don’t forget the wolf.
The Galts picked up their fallen comrade and carried him upriver on their horse. They traveled uneventfully through until evening, and then made camp for the night. Through the camplight hours they talked back and forth about the previous battle and about their fallen man and his family. The Galts were amazed that any of them had survived at all. George got tired of all the whining and boasting and just fell asleep with his wolf.
The next morning they came within site of the plains. George explained which direction they could find the temple and which direction the statue was supposed to be. George also explained that further up the stream and it would start to stink from the hot springs, and the giant frogs were up there as well. The Galts insisted on being taken to the Temple of the Elk.
Jhod Kavken had been tending to the Temple since the slaying of the bear guardian. He greeted the Galts warmly and explained that Erastil had told him of their pending arrival. The Galts discussed their plans on founding a village and the location that they preferred, and Jhod gave them Erastil’s warmest blessing for it. They then asked him to give last rights to their fallen friend, which itself was a somber moment. George got tired of all of the ballyhoo and just went behind a tree to take a nap. “Wake me when you’re ready to go!”
Meanwhile, Gordon and Hogopretzel came back to the Fort after defeating the Skeletal Champion only to find the huge front door torn off its hinges. “What the hell happened?” the gnome exclaimed, but Gordon just drew his sword and charged in. He discovered the grand table had been shattered, chairs crushed, and the very bars to the Owlbear cage were torn open as if they were made of tinsel.
Again, Hoppalongalong exclaimed, “What the hell happened?” From inside the kitchen, a voice called out, “In here!”
The Cavalier and the Bard ran into the kitchen. Akiros was helping Auchs out from the trap door to the cellar – a once easy task made difficult with blindness. From below Auchs, the young girl’s voice asked those above if the monster was gone.
“Monster?” Gordon inquired.
Akiros nodded, “Another owlbear. Either daddy or grandpa, or dearly devoted husband owlbear. Biggest darn specimen I ever seen. Could have eaten a troll in two bites!”
“What the hell happened?” the gnome cried a third time.
“The owlbear in the cage,” Akiros explained, “It just started crying, and hooting. Making all kinds of weird calls. The next thing I know I start to hear owlbear calls from outside. So I put Auchs and Brindie…”
“Who’s Brindie?” Gordon interrupted.
“I’M Brindie,” the little girl, orphaned by the Barbarians, pouted.
“Hi Brindie,” the gnome cheerfully replied, “My name is…”
“Fine, she’s Brindie,” Gordon interrupted again, “Tell me now what happened to the door!”
“Like I said,” Akiros continued, “I put Auchs and Brindie down in the cellar, and then I went and got my bow. When I got up to the tower, I leaned out to see if I could see it… and there it was, charging straight up to the front door. It was HUGE! I dropped one arrow in it as it charged, but when it hit the door it rattled the whole fort, and darn near knocked me off my perch. It had busted a hinge on the door with the charge, and then it just grabbed it and tore the thing clean off. I shot it once more, and it looked up and me, snarled, and then ran into the main hall.
“I ran down to take a look at it but right as I got to the stairs I heard it rushing through the kitchen… it was coming after ME. I could see it round the corner right as I turned into the attic. I wasn’t going to wait, so I ran and jump busted through the attic window… and the bastard jumped right on after me.
“Well, I hit the ground right in front of the front gate hard and solid, and he hit the ground and slid down the hill about forty feet. Far enough for me to get a good head start. I ran inside and into the kitchen, and popped open the cellar hatch and climbed on in. I could hear him coming back in the house when I locked the hatch. I think if he’d have seen me he would have dug us out.
“Anyway, that was about twenty-minutes ago… you just must have missed him. I heard the cage give way when he let the other one go. But it’s been quiet ever since.”
Gordon snorted, “So you just hid that whole time?”
Akiros nodded without shame, “I know when I am out of my league.”
“Then you stay here. BARD! Get your Lute! We’re going after him!”
The gnome sighed, “It’s a mandolin.”
Gordon and Hackeysacklung were on the trail with full provisions fifteen minutes later. “Can you follow the trail?” Gordon asked the gnome.
He replied, “I can follow this trail!” referring to the gigantic pair of tracks plowing through the snow. They followed the tracks south for two hours when a heavy snow hit and covered the trail.
“Which way did they go?” Gordon asked.
Hibbibbitybong replied, “Beats me, I’m no tracker!”
“You said you could follow the trail!”
“Yeah, the trail left by two big owlbears stomping through the snow, not the trail of a covered path of fresh snowfall!”
Gordon shook his head, “You really are useless, you know!”
The gnome muttered under his breath, “I have skills!”
Regardless, the pair pressed on! They took their search down south along the Tuskwater until they were forced to cross the Gudrin. Hyboreaborea had a good idea then, “If we can’t track it, then maybe we should go back to scouting and mapping the area. We might be able to find its lair that way.”
Gordon nodded in agreement and the pair traveled to the Gurdin Crossing and crossed the Gudrin River. They encountered a few lone grizzly bears, too tired for a fight, and handful of kobolds (who slit their own throats in lieu of being captured), but no giant owlbears.
However, as they were approaching what appeared to be a northern branch of the Little Sellen River, Gordon heard a cry for help. “Help me! Help me, somebody please!” The cry was faint, but distinct.
“Do you hear that?” Gordon asked, “It’s a woman in trouble!”
Hughgrantalong agreed, “It’s coming from near the banks of the river!”
“Help, please, somebody!” This voice became more urgent the closer they came. Gordon shouted out to the voice, “Hang on! We’re on our way!”
Hubertubertub felt compelled to call out as well, but then realized that he REALLY WAS BEING COMPELLED to cry out! Wait… why would you cry back out to someone who was in trouble… you’d want to see what was going on first – it could be an ambush after all. Gordon knows this. He cried out though, because he’s being compelled to do so as well.
This was compelling magic… voice magic… BARDIC magic! When Hoyogoygo took a step back he could see it clearly for what it was. He could taste the enchantment in the air.
“Please! Help me! I need help, someone!” the voice was softer, sweeter, and in greater despair now.
The bard nodded and thought to himself, “Yeah, this is strong stuff!” he climbed up Gordon’s back, who was fiercely intent on getting to this voice. He took the horse down off the edge of an embankment and followed the river. They could see a cave entrance up ahead.
“You need to stop for a second, Gordon, and get your thinking straight!”
“Help me! Please, oh I need help soooo badly!”
“Can’t you hear her gnome! We have to get to her now!”
Hoddodido nodded, “Yeah, Ok… we’ll do that… but you know, this kind of reminds me of a poem I once read… There ONCE was a MAN from NANTUCKET…” The poem was short and continued only for a few rhymes. When it was finished, the Cavalier pulled the horse to a stop and then turned and shouted at the Bard.
“That is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard! Curse you for a fool, gnome, have you no shame! Have you no decency! Have you no…” Gordon stopped in mid-sentence as he realized that he had been under the skeins of a deep charm, and the gnome’s raunchy poem had just pulled him free.
Halungalom, pulled a miniature arrow from his quiver, cast a light spell upon it, leaned up over the Cavalier’s shoulder and shot it into the cave. It landed in the middle of the cave and illuminated everything inside… including a jackal headed lion/beast.
Gordon snorted, “I guess you’ve got a few uses after all!”
Halungalom nodded, “I’ve got skills!”
The beast charged out of the hole, which was just fine by Gordon, as he lowered his lance and charged to meet it back. Halungalom sat back on the saddle, facing the opposite direction, and began playing his mandolin. It took two passes with the lance, and the creature was dead. And then they checked the cave for goodies! But more on that later.
When all was said and done, all three groups returned to Fort Tuskwater the same time. Gordon and Halungalom had explored some more plains hexes, but were unable to recover the tracks or find the lair of the Owlbears.
George and the Galts found an ideal site for a new village which they intended to call Tatzlford in commemoration to the battle/sacrifice made for its discovery – they also stopped briefly to collect the heads of the five slain Tatzlwyrms.
Clandestiny, Kelthak, and the guards literally cleaned out the Ruined keep, and came to the conclusion that it might make a good local for another town (or at the very least they could pirate it for stone). They loaded the horses with loot and traveled back to the fort.
When all of them arrived at the fort, they discovered that the door had been sealed with hammer, nails, and crossboards. The attic window also had been hammered shut. Gordon explained the Owlbear attack to everyone and some were concerned while some just laughed. They pried the door open and stepped inside.
It was dark, and the place reeked of blood. Weapons were out and guards and characters were on the alert. A quick search was conducted, but it didn’t take long. There were blood smears of little hands and huge hands (no intermediate hands) all throughout the kitchen. One of Auchs little toys was found broken in the corner.
Both Kelthak and George went into tracking mode. They were able to deduce a few things. Auchs had run off. Akiros had stayed. Akiros moved a body and buried it down the hill (there was a little gravemarker with Bindie’s name on it). Akiros went to the stable and got a horse and then went off as well, following the large man’s tracks.
George and Kelthak both grabbed their horses. Halungalom hopped back onto Gordon’s horse and the four of them went after the two…