Adventure Log: Desnus 14, Year 4712 AR, Night
Inside, the cottage was dank, reeking, and filled with shadows. Haphazardly hung shelves lined the walls, covered in all manner of clay jugs, clouded bottles, strangely cut rocks, rotted bunches of herbs, and a museum of other crude curios and remnants of a bone grinder’s artifice. A rusted iron cauldron, with a mouth nearly 5 feet wide and a depth of at least 3 feet, dominated the hut’s single room, its ash-covered surface shaped with a relief of capering fiends and leering devils. Sounds of bubbling and boiling came from the cauldron, despite no apparent heat source. Across from the door, against the far walls, stood a high-backed chair made of wicker, the gigantic curved tusks of some monstrous beast, and thousands of human teeth. In the chair sat what looked like a corpse wrapped in filthy burial linens, its form padded with pungent herbs and sprouting patches of thick white mold.
As Egon contemplated flight from the creepy scene, Hugh strode cautiously forward. Carefully avoiding touching anything, he began to search the shelves. After about 20 minutes, he called Guy over, “Hey, is this it?” Guy compared the thing in the brine-filled jar that Hugh had found to the picture he had made of the ratstail root and nodded. Hugh called out, asking the unseen patron of the house if they could part with the root, then, receiving no response, placed a gold-piece on the shelf and handed the jar to Guy, who carefully placed the pickled herb in his alchemy kit.
Almost immediately Egon shouted as the large cauldron came to life. He fired quickly, missing the thing wildly, as the cauldron upended and spilled its boiling contents out onto Hugh and Guy, burning Hugh badly, then rolled over Guy, trapping him inside and closing the top like a hugh maw. Hugh and Maurit smashed at the thing with sword and claw, putting a couple of large dents in the side. Egon followed up with a pair of well-placed crossbow bolts, masterfully disassembling the thing.
Egon helped Guy to his feet while Hugh and Maurit approached the corpse in the chair. Hugh poked the body with his sword, making sure that it was not also animate. When it did not move, Maurit moved forward and began unwrapping the burial shroud. The only thing of apparent value they found on the disinterred body was a shrunken head, hung by a leather thong around the corpse’s neck. As Maurit examined the thing, she heard it speak to her in Necril, the language of the dead, explaining that it was a soulspeaker, a soul bound to carry messages for the bearer of the head. She named it “George” and took it for safekeeping.
After one last check of the hovel for possible dangers, Hugh suggested that the party sleep there that night to take advantage of the shelter. He was, unsurprisingly, out-voted…
They hiked through the dark woods for about a half of an hour before Hugh de Payen tripped over something lying in the trail. Bringing his light to bear, he saw the fairly fresh corpse of a man of elven descent, armed and armored, with its head caved in. Immediately above the body was a single arrow, lodged into a large tree at roughly eye-level for Hugh. lying nearby Egon found a bag, filled with heavy clinking things, and splattered with blood and brains.
After some suggestions that this was a clear sign that they should be somewhere else, Maurit stripped the body of its weapons and armor (and possibly other bits for a midnight snack). Hugh attempted to break off the arrow, and failed, attempted to strip its fletchings, and failed, and finally just yanked the thing out of the tree to find that it was constructed entirely of adamantine.
They pressed on and found what looked like the perfect campsite: higher ground, defensible, with a readily available stream. Of course, just as they found it, they heard loud crashing noises from the woods. Everyone dove for cover.
Guy snuck a peak and noticed a tall, hairy, hill giant wandering in the dark, stumbling drunkenly, and staring fixedly at the ground. The giant roared, almost a wail, and Egon was able to understand just enough to know that it was searching for…something…round…
Hugh decides to open the bag to see if what the giant lost was inside, revealing 3 large, heavy, gem-encrusted, pewter tankards, clearly of dwarven make…one of which immediately sprang to life and brained him on the head. He grabbed the cup and wrestled it back into the bag, cinching the bag shut tight.
Seeing that the giant was not paying them any attention, even with the clang of the mug against Hugh’s helmet, Egon suggested that they just go ahead and pitch camp.
The party made their way up the hill to the spot they had chosen. On the way Maurit noticed something glinting in the light of their torches and knelt to find a golden ring, large enough to fit around a man’s neck, lying in the mud. Guy broke out his supplies and whipped up a hangover cure as Egon shouted to the giant.
The giant stumbled forward, its eyes lighting up when it saw the ring, and accepted the panacea from Guy. Kardoblag, for that was the giant’s name, explained that he had met some ogres (“some little guys, but not as little as you”) earlier and accepted their offer to drink with them. When a jocular argument over how to properly roast halfling turned ugly, Kardoblag stove in the ogres’ skulls and started home. In his inebriation he misplaced his wedding ring (or rather, that he had quickly slipped it off earlier when he spotted a female among the ogres with “huge tracts of land”). Kardoblag was extremely grateful that the party had returned his ring, and had sobered him up. He feared it was bad enough getting home late. If he had returned to his wife drunken and without his ring he would not have woken up the next morning. Kardoblag thanked the party and told them that if they should ever need help, they should call on him at his house which was just over “that small hill there” (the mountain, Droskar’s Crag).
FINALLY, they made camp…
Desnus 15, Year 4712 AR, Starsday
During the second watch, Egon heard something moving on the trail in the night. He hunkered down in a defensive position and readied his crossbow, but nothing made an appearance. The party woke undisturbed, save for a large crow in a tree overhead.
After packing up, Hugh checked the trail and found five sets of shod, humanoid, footprints…too small to be human, not deep enough for a dwarf, and too large for a gnome or halfling…
They pressed on towards the dwarven monastery, following the same trail as the tracks. At the edge of the woods they spotted a fox with large ears and bright orange fur lying bleeding, its hindquarters caught fully in the jaws of a crude iron trap. Hugh and Guy moved to help the thing. As Hugh was prying the trap open, Maurit spotted a hobgoblin waiting in a nearby tree with a readied bow. She fired a warning shot up his nose, knocking him from the tree, where she and Egon promptly filled him with arrows. Two large razorcrows, over-large rooks with distinctive, jagged beaks and unkempt, oily black feathers, dove out of the tree towards the fox, clawing at Hugh and Guy’s faces. Guy promptly firebombed the birds, carefully avoiding Hugh and the fox.
The danger apparently passed, Guy carefully administered a healing potion to the fox, which he identified as a firefoot fennec. The fox seemed to really like the taste of crow, and staid close to Guy’s heels thereafter.
With fox in tow, the party continued to follow the trail up out of the forest and onto the slope of Droskar’s Crag. Sitting squat at the foot of the imposing mountain, the ruined monastery came into view between ancient gnarled trees. Made of simple stone blocks, worn smooth with the passage of time, the stout building was falling apart. Sections of the slanted shale roof had collapsed and portions of the outer wall had crumbled. Weeds and wild thorny plants ran rampant across the field leading up to the place, leaving only the slightest indication of a path that ended at the ruined front doors. Beyond, an overgrown yard sat in shadow. A few lone razorcrows roosted atop the tower and cawed ominously at those who would enter their domain.
The old path that lead up to the ruins ended about 50 feet from the monastery. Before entering the yard, the path passed between a pair of old stone statues. While one of them was little more than rubble, the other was relatively intact. The 5-foot-tall statue was incredibly worn but could still be made out as a dwarf holding aloft a great stone hammer, which Guy identified as a representation Torag, the dwarven god of the forge. Moss and creeper vines covered most of its surface.
Proceeding cautiously, the party circled the old monastery looking for other entrances. They noted collapsed towers with holes to the interior in the north-east and south-western corners of the place, and a large hole in the eastern wall of the courtyard.
They chose to enter the courtyard through the crumbling wall. Tall grasses and chunks of stone debris had all but overtaken the small yard. Off to one side, a wooden stable had collapsed into a mound of rotting timbers and moldy straw, the bones of several long-dead ponies peaking out from beneath the debris. Three doors exited from the yard into the monastery proper—a pair of double doors to the west, a single door to the north, and a lone door leading into the squat tower in the southeast corner. The bones of an ancient explorer lay next to a well by the north wall, his still-laden backpack still securely fastened to his back.
Hugh made his way around to the main entrance and picked up the tracks of the five creatures they had been following from the night before. The tracks ended at the center of the courtyard, surrounded by a large number of tracks, both reptilian and dog-like, coming from within the monastery. No further sign of the party’s quarry could be found. One can only presume that they were carried off, devoured on the spot, or somehow transfigured.
Faced with such signs, Hugh suggested that the party trek around the mountain to request aid of Kardoblag. Maurit and Guy proposed as an alternative that they should look for other caves on the mountain that might be providing ventilation or could otherwise serve as a back entrance to the dwarven mines which they suspected must be below the monastery…