The 24th of Vor, 1329 Avard: After spending the evening resting, Zap and Ethos were awoken a mark before dawn by their host, the Bat. The Bat had arranged for a warhorse for Zap, and a riding horse for Ethos, as well as some traveling supplies and equipment. While Zap's armor and weapons had been left behind in his grave, the new ones with which he had been gifted were more than adequate. All of Ethos' equipment was with them, and the Bat explained that his 'agent' might be able to join them, but perhaps not.
Their task was to go to Mount Tessel, and find the long-abandoned town of Grunden. Their journey would take roughly three days a-horseback, and then another three days in return. Their task was to discover if the salt mines in the abandoned town had been reopened, and if so, by who. The answer might very well mean the difference between life and death for all of Rakore -- but the Bat would not say why the answer was so important.
The two of them set off in the predawn light at a good pace, with Zap's training at the War College putting him in good standing with the control of the horses. His own warhorse, whom he named 'Nails' (for 'Tough as...'), was a spirited mount with whom he continually wrestled with for control of the 'herd'. Ethos called upon Whalin's aid, and spoke directly with his mount, rather than using a mailed gauntlet to do so. Ethos' mount was named 'Speedy', for all it knew how to do was flee, for it had been an abused mount some time in the past.
They had a copy of an old map that gave a general location for Grunden, and the two took the western road towards Takanal, which would take them near the Grand Maul Pass, and then Mount Tessel. Once abreast of the mountain, they would have to veer off the trail, and perhaps find the old mountain road up to Grunden, or find the town the hard way on the southeastern side of the mountain, half-way to the snow-covered summit.
The heat was oppressive, but Zap stayed in his armor regardless, drinking water continually. The of them made good time the first two days, taking turns staying awake at night. Ethos often took the midnight shift, because of his elven nightvision.
The afternoon of the second day out, as a storm was bearing down on them from the mountains above, they found a hillock beside the old road. It was perhaps thirty feet in height, and was made of large boulders and bits of rock, giving them a wondrous defensive point to weather a battle against more human enemies. Against the storm that was coming, it would be miserable, but both were still feeling cautious about their 'second lives'.
Zap managed to flush out a buck, and brought it down with some quick crossbow work. Unfortunately, the rains came too soon for him to really roast it or dry it for traveling, so they cut off enough to salt from their packs, and left the corpse down at the base of the hillock, on the opposite side from the horses.
During Ethos' midnight shift, in the cold rain, he heard something down at the base of the hillock. The horses whinnied in fear, and Ethos kicked Zap awake as he headed down the hillock to investigate, fearing that the horses were being threatened.
A large brown bear stood up in the heavy rain, ready to fight Ethos for the deer's corpse. Zap flashed by the elf, and leapt at the bear before it could harm Ethos. The bear was enormous -- perhaps twelve feet tall standing on its rear legs, and close to a ton in weight. The big brown bear began to beat the tar out of Zap, and would have killed him were it not for his half plate armor. Ethos managed to call for sanctuary on Zap, and dragged him away from the big bear. The bear drug off the corpse of the deer, disappearing into the rain.
Asking for Whalin's aid, Ethos managed to heal up the badly mauled Zap, and help him back up to the top of the hillock, after checking on the horses.
The next day, the rain was still cold and steady, and the wind had begun to pick up, and lightning occasionally flashed along, followed by the rumble of thunder. They waited a half day for the storm to pass, and then the two of them led their mounts off in the general direction of Mount Tessel -- which had been plainly visible from the top of the hillock, the day before -- despite the steady rain and growing storm.
They spent perhaps half the day climbing up through the forests, before deciding to weather the night on the side of the mountain. They found a defensible spot, and gathered there. Zap, thinking that Speedy needed more of the grain they had with them than Nails, fed most of the grain to the smaller horse.
It was after midnight before the storm finally cleared. The next morning, with the sun rising on a mist-covered mountain, they headed more northeasterly along the flank of the mountain. Stopping to take their bearings, they saw carrion birds and vultures circling some distant point on the southeastern side of the mountain. Fearing the worst, they hurried to investigate.
Ethos being more comfortable in the woods -- and significantly quieter -- the elf led on foot, with Zap on Nails, and keeping Speedy's reins in his hands.
A mark later, Ethos discovered the source of the vultures and carrion-birds. The stench of death was almost washed away by the rains -- rains that had put out the magical fires which had killed over fifty people. The people were scattered about a shanty town, and all of the buildings in the small town had been burned to the ground by magical fires of some sort. The bodies showed signs of having been killed by swords and arrows, before they were burned.
In the side of the mountain was a large mine shaft that went directly back into the bedrock.
Ethos investigated while Zap gathered the bodies together for a massed funeral pyre. The mine shaft had a thin layer of salt on it, indicating that it was, indeed, the salt mines that the Bat had asked them to investigate.
The funeral pyre, using summer wood and still being wet, gave off a great deal of white smoke. Ethos and Zap, fearing to draw attention to themselves any more than they had, quickly found the ancient road that had led to the mine, and began down that old road, cutting away brambles bushes as they moved away from the town.
Something scared them, as they hurried down the mountain. They looked up to see the shadows of great birds, with wingspreads of nearly a hundred feet, flying overhead. The great birds -- rocs, as Ethos knew them -- were moving to investigate the column of white smoke coming up from the remnants of the shanty town.
Zap's sharp eyes spotted something dismounting from the great birds. Zap and Ethos realized with growing horror just what was going on. The great rocs were mounts for the ograns, and as such, they had brought in those fifty-something people to mine the salt from the old mines. If the rocs were to catch them...
The two got off of the old trail as quickly as they could, and began making even greater haste away from the ruins atop ruins at Grunden. They pushed the horses hard, and dangerously, trying to flee what they felt was certain doom if the rocs and their riders caught them.
Speedy began to founder near a rain-swollen set of rapids. The grain with which he had been fed had been soaked through by the rains, and a fungus had gotten into them. Working against time, Ethos began to concoct something from this healing kit that would help the mount. Zap began making confusing cross-trails while the adrenaline-charged missionary did his best of the horse.
After half of a long mark, Speedy finally passed that spoiled grain. Mounting up quickly, they glanced back just in time to see their hunters gaining on them. They took off again, running as fast as they could.
They finally made it to the old Takanal-Kashin road, and headed east as quickly as they could, letting the horses have their lead on the old road.
In the wee hours of twilight, they found the hillock they had stayed at those nights before, from which they had seen Mount Tessel, and where the brown bear had nearly killed Zap. They tied the horses up after checking the area, and settled in to try and rest as best they could atop the hill.
During the night, Zap heard something while he was on watch. Just as he turned in that direction, he realized that it was flint striking steel. The horses whinnied, as a torch was lit in the forest. With growing horror, Zap realized that it wasn't a torch, but a flaming arrow.
The flaming arrow was shot high into the night sky -- serving as a beacon for the great rocs that were out circling, hunting for those who knew of the horrors at Grunden.
Ethos, barely roused in time, begged Whalin for aid. The rocks of the hillock gave up a heavy mist, as though the rain was just evaporating from them. Using that for cover, Ethos and Zap quickly gathered up their mounts, even as arrows began to sing around them.
Ethos asked Whalin for more of that wonderful mist to hide them, as they vaulted into their saddles and sped down the road towards Kashin.
Behind them, they heard the thunderous roar of a roc-hawk coming to light on their hillock, sweeping away the mists with its great wings.
Another roc flew quickly overhead, and tailed them overhead as they sped down the old road. The overhanging branches and large trees beside the road helped keep the roc-hawk from swooping down on them and killing them both, but it did little to stop the twang of bowstrings, as the orc archers on the roc rained down hell at the two from above.
In a particularly thick section of overhang, Zap and Ethos leapt off of their saddles, letting the roc chase their mounts down the trails.
Zap and Ethos lay there for a long time, listening. Soon, they heard the scream of a roc, and the crashing of branches from far down the path. And then they heard the relentless orcs coming back up the road to find them. With orcs and a roc on the trail before them to Kashin, and another roc and more orcs behind them on the road, they headed south, deeper into the Rakoran woods.
After a mark of running, with orcs behind them the whole time, the two were exhausted. They found a rain-swollen bit of rapids, and quickly leapt in, using the noise and the cool water to mask them and comfort them, even as it swept them further away from their pursuers.
In the morning, they crawled from the swollen stream beaten and breathless, but alive. Lost and confused, they consulted Ethos' wet map of the area, and decided that they were on Turan River, just south of Takanal.
Traveling slowly because of their injuries and exhaustion, they slowly followed the river north. When barges or ships would pass them on the river, they would duck out of sight so as to remain unseen. The Bat's warnings of conspiracies high up in the Rakoran government had them fearful of everyone.
Almost to Takanal, they were attacked by a swarm of stirges -- great mosquito-like creatures that could suck a bladder's worth of blood in an instant. They managed to beat the stirges away, but not before they nearly drained Zap. Almost at the end of their energy, the two were ready to give in when a voice asked from above, "You are... losssssst?"
A tomanth dropped down out of the tree above them, and agreed to lead them into Takanal. The stirges, apparently, were afraid of the tomanths -- for the small lizard-folk would eat them, and find them good eating.
In Takanal, the tomanth led them to the Rabid Plant tavern and inn, where they found a night's rest and comfort for a small amount of coin.
In the morning, Ethos went to the main temple in the city of nearly 1,500 people. The large temple could seat nearly five-hundred, and it was made of living pin oaks and other plants and trees, bound together in a rare harmony. The lands around the temple were cultivated with orchards and gardens the likes of which Ethos had rarely seen.
A plump man and his wife were the priests of the Temple of the Trees, dedicated both to Barith -- the God of the Harvest -- and to Whalin -- the God of Healing. After receiving immediate care from the priest, Ethos finally placed the man's distinct voice: Father Tomalis was the man that had resurrected him and Zap, and had been speaking with the Bat when the two of them awoke.
Father Tomalis and his wife Thia were a wonderful couple, and provided a great deal of healing medicines and medicinal foods for Zap and Ethos while they recovered. Little was said of the conspiracy, but it was obvious to the Wolf of Rahne and the missionary of Whalin that the husband-and-wife team were immune to corruption.
Zap dedicated the day to helping Mother Thia with her gardening, while Ethos meditated and worked with Father Tomalis. The plump priest of Barith arranged for Zap and Ethos to travel to Kashin on official church business, carrying an important item for them, and gave the two of them a letter of credentials that would allow them to board ships as needed, and stay where needed.
The next day, after saying their goodbyes and hiring the tomanth as a helper of sorts, Zap and Ethos set down river aboard a barge carrying marble rocks intended for sculptures.
They stayed that night in Rilan, where a gay drow made several passes at Zap and Ethos -- but gave them valuable information. The next day saw them aboard a sloop to Lena, where they stayed the night; and the next night saw them safely in Kashin.
The three of them headed quickly for the Bat's, taking a carriage from the Mithril Shield and arriving just a few marks after sunset. The Bat was happy to see them back and alive, and after herding their tomanth into the kitchen with some chicken broth, quickly got the whole story from the two of them.
That the mine had been opened, and then closed so violently, bothered the Bat considerably. He opened up to them, explaining that that much salt was probably being used to preserve food. He let the two of them realize that that amount of food and preparation could only go into preparing for an invasion. The Ogre Nations were coming, and their rocs and orcs were already operating in Rakore.
What was worse, was that someone within the highest levels of leadership of Rakore had to be helping the ograns -- leaking the locations of ballistae aimed for the rocs, and even releasing the location of the ancient salt-mining town of Grunden.
The Bat told them that on the Night of Assassins, four men referred to in official dispatches as Marksmen were seen at Kelerin's Manor just before the assassins were all discovered. The Bat said that the Marksmen were mentioned in several other dispatches, relating to a Count Morrow. Count Morrow, the Bat informed them, did not truly exist, and that someone up in the higher levels of government was using the fictitious name and title to heard the Marksmen around, perhaps using them.
Evelin Battachirus, as the Bat was formerly known, thought the two events were related.
Zap and Ethos, carefully hoarding their information, sent their tomanth, Sirik, into Kashin to discover what he could from the tomanths there. Tomanths were often overlooked as subhuman because of their limited intelligence and bestial appearance. Ethos had used his candle of truth with the tomanth, and thought him trust-worthy enough to work with them on the issue.
Ethos went into Kashin to work the Lyle House side of the issue, and discover if Norion was in on the conspiracy, or not. Zap remained in Boulderdash with the Bat, working on some smithing items for Sirik, and recovering from his ordeals.
Ethos quickly discovered that Taria McKolm, the head of the Lyle House and its Mage Recruiter, had returned to take over the Lyle House. Taria indicated that Norion had returned back to Lok Magius, but that Gabriel had returned from his adventure south. Ethos waited for Gabriel to return from his morning's work, and quickly interviewed the young elf.
The Bat had given to both Zap and Ethos a cloak that let them change their appearance. Gabriel, not knowing who Ethos was, almost balked until Ethos threw back his hood. Intrigued by the cloak, and the candle of truth, Gabriel was quickly drawn into the cloak-and-dagger world that Ethos painted for him.
The two of them together learned that the Marksmen were still in Kashin, staying at the Mithril Shield.
They then bought horses quickly -- and Ethos found out that Speedy was in the stables, recovering from wounds. Of Nails there was no sign.
Ethos and Gabriel, with the wolf-up Ash at their heels, quickly headed to Boulderdash and the Manor of the Bat. Filling the Bat in on things, and making introductions, they prepared for their next day's work.
Zap tarried long in deciding on a disguise with his cloak, and so Gabriel and Ethos left early. At the Mithril Shield, they asked the wrong questions, and the Marksmen became suspicious. Opting to withdraw, they just passed Zap, not even recognizing him with his cloak and disguise.
Zap, not knowing the Marksmen's cautious natures, waited until one left, and then he, too, left the Mithril Shield. As soon as he was outside, however, he changed his appearance using the enchanted cloak into that of the Marksman that had just left, and went back inside the Mithril Shield.
Daring and brave, Zap motioned one of the remaining Marksmen to follow him, and quickly, because 'the boss had a mission for them'.
Zap, unaware that the Marksman he led knew the Wolf of Rahne was not a Marksman, hired a carriage from the Mithril Shield. Flying by the seat of his pants, so to speak, Zap ordered the carriage to Boulderdash. In Boulderdash, after a quiet ride, Zap led the Marksman right to the Manor of the Bat.
The Marksman, realizing that a trap awaited him inside, struck Zap from behind and then bolted.
Gabriel, having been startled by Zap nearly tearing down the door with his knocking, quickly realized what had happened. A quick pull from his celestial heritage allowed him to encharm the Marksman before he could flee too far. Gabriel gently coached and handled the Marksman, who believed Gabriel a friend, and was led back into the Manor of the Bat.
Inside, the Bat gave him a soup that made the Marksman helpless, and then he was tied up for interrogation.
Ethos tried using his maces to soften the man up, believing the information the Markman carried was necessary to the survival of Rakore. When the half-hearted use of the maces proved ineffective, Ethos put the fear of Whalin into the man with a prayer for Whalin's might -- and it worked.
Unfortunately, the Marksman went insane. By cracking, he told them, "Your Doom is coming!" and he cackled insanely.
The Bat panicked. In the ogran tongue, a 'doom' was a title of rank, something akin to a duke. For an ogran Doom to be coming, the rocs, ograns, or even the Assassins' Guild could be coming for them -- and Zap had led the Marksman right to the Manor of the Bat.
They quickly purchased a wagon and two horses to pull it, and loaded as much of the Bat's notes and books into the wagon as fast as they could. They also helped the Bat load a huge chest of ducats onto the wagon.
Ducats were re-cast quartz crystals, used as high-level coin in Rakore. Each ducat was stamped with its value, and extremely difficult to duplicate. Ethos and Zap had already been paid by the Bat for the success of their mission with the cloaks, and with 40 ducats each. The chest they loaded onto the wagon had to have had thousands of ducats, and they all wondered at the true wealth of the Bat.
Riding off into the night, they couldn't help but fear whatever 'doom' was coming, and feared the worst.
-so ends the 6th of Davor, 1329 Avard.
We played in my room, as usual. It's a bit cramped, but it works, although the AC hasn't been turned on yet. We ordered a pizza later into the game, after raiding pistachios and peanut M&Ms and other goodies. It was a good experience, and Brent said he felt like he was in a Murder She Wrote adventure, only he liked it!
I had a lot more planned out for the guys up in Grunden, but by choosing not to go into the cave too deeply, they may have saved their lives. Right now, they're operating two levels too low for the adventure, and with only two people. Sirik the tomanth, as an NPC, just won't be enough by himself to help keep them alive for what's coming. I'm worried that these guys are going to get into a tight spot, and I've warned them to play as cautiously as they can.
When the brown bear nearly killed Zap, I had to shake my head and wonder if I was pitting them against too much, too soon. And then I remembered that this is their quest, and if they want to pursue it to the end, then they'll find a way. And, surprisingly, they did. I thought for sure they were going to die when the rocs and their orc rangers trailed them to the hillock, but, somehow, they escaped time and time again.
These are two tenacious characters, and they're learning how to be more tenacious, too.