108. The fear haunted, snow entombed woods

Sunrise Bell, the party awaken and pack their stuff up again, preparing for the journey ahead. Laerdôl gives Jenson and Kalam woollen blankets to wear, as Jenson is still walking around in little more than his briefs and the burnt, tattered remains of his normal clothes and Kalam looks like a cool breeze will bring him down with pneumonia.
Today seems colder than yesterday, the slight melting that has occurred has frozen solid again. The snow has slumped a little but is still shoulder height for even Gildor and Cynan, with a hard crust on top. Persica says the days ahead will warm slightly but still be below freezing. The early morning sky is violet and clear with the sun rising golden in the east.
Everyone puts on their snow shoes and set off.

The priestesses lead the party out of the valley and north east through the wood until they come to a large oak.
Here Laerdôl asks the party to wait while she casts some sort of spell on the tree. When she has finished she asks they form a line and hold hands. Taking Cynan’s hand she steps into the oak ahead of her. Still holding her hand Cynan follows and vanishes too. Gildor is holding the dingy under one arm as he goes through.
In a line, with Persica following on behind, the party all step inside the oak and emerge from another oak somewhere else in the woods.
“A short walk in that direction should bring you to the edge of the wood, where you will see the great river below you.” says Laerdôl pointing north east.
“Cross the great river and climb up the other side and you’ll come across a smaller river heading south or south east, follow it upstream and it will take you through the Warpwood and back to Harnanca.”
She bows and smiles at the everyone, “Good luck on your journey and safe passage.” This last part seems aimed at Cynan in particular.
“If you should meet any goblins or ghouls on your journey master dwarf, feel free to chop a few down for us.” says Persica.
With that both priestesses slip back into the oak and are gone.

The party head north east and sure enough emerge from the woods a short time later on the southern bank of a wide river valley with wooded hills rising to the north and north east.
To the west they can see the great river coming through a narrower section of the valley and beyond that a river joining from the north. Where the two rivers meet, about ten kilometres away, is a small town.
To the north the great river heads north for about five kilometres before doubling back and flowing away to the south east.
It is eight kilometres north east, across the valley and the great river and then up into the hills before the party get to what they presume is an arm of the Warpwood. The sharp eyed amongst the party can just make out a small river flowing quickly around the western edge of this arm. The smaller river heads south and presumably meets up with the great river somewhere to the east. The great river valley sweeps and meanders away to the south east for as far as the party can see. Snow lays thick and shining across the whole view.

Gildor says, ”Okay, let’s follow the smaller river upstream. Kalam, here take my ring of warmth. You’ll need it more than the rest of us. We may need to swap it to each other though through the night. Let’s say 1/6th of a bell each that needs it. Everyone keep alert.”
Gildor motions to Jenson to use his eyes to watch for things.

It takes till about Midday Bell for the party to cross the great river and climb up to where the smaller river crosses their path, the odd looking Warpwood sits on the far side of the river. The river tumbles down between the hills from the north, grasslands on the party’s side, woods on the other.

“Saphiria, once away from the grove you can hunt up stream along the river as you scout ahead for us. Stay in contact though. Don’t go too far.”
The firedrake sets off north west and is soon lost to Gildor.

The smaller river is no more than five metres across but twists and rushes around rocky outcrops and small islands. The density of trees on the far bank, mostly conifers, increases the further north the party go. Those trees and shrubs that grow on the far bank look stunted and deformed and there are plenty of dessicated tree stumps among them.
The party are tramping north, along the western bank of the river, keeping an eye out on the low hills ahead and to their left and the wooded hills across the river on their right, Gildor and Gordon absorbed in a conversation about the local flora, when Kradorn spots something moving across the river and shoulders his blaster rifle. He can’t seem to find what he’s looking for and is about to admit that what he saw may have been a figment of his imagination when Jenson cries out and points up into the sky behind them. “East, east!”
High in the sky behind Kalam but not more that a few hundred metres away, are three dragon-like shapes, descending quickly and clearly heading directly for the party.
“Shadows, of course.” mumbles Kradorn.

Gasping, for breath after shouting, Jenson quickly looks for some type of cover, if the ground affords it or there are boulders or rock outcrops to allow cover.
But on this side of the river there is just flat glistening snow.
Pulling out his needler and looking for some cover, “Jenson, To. I fire blah the three one” and points at the the one furthest to the right. “Blah 3 Kilometres to this” holding his needler up, watching the dragon like creatures with some fascination but more determination with a hint of fear. “fire Magic they?”

Gildor pushes the dingy away from him to try and protect it from damage and begins casting magic missile once he’s sure they’re shadow dragons or evil dragons. “Everyone fan out. Separate a bit.”

Looking again, another of the dragon-like creatures appears behind the others but this new one looks smaller and paler, maybe half the size of the others.

Gildor tries to contact Saphiria, ”Be careful my dear. There are winged creatures in the sky here. Respond but be careful. Come back to me or hide.”
Gildor hears nothing in return, Saphiria seems to beyond the range of their mental link.

“Shadow drakes you say Kradorn? We best find cover and get some space between us so their breath won’t get us all. Are we sure these are bad dragons?“

Kradorn looks confused for a moment before laughing. “Sorry Gildor, no, shadows, what I saw moving among the trees were their shadows. But I’ve never heard of dragons flying in groups. Looks like a family?”

Gildor says, “Jenson… attack the same dragon as me… Kradorn you goof… I thought you said the dragons were shadow dragons….You meant they were shadows of dragons…well..maybe I’m the goof… I would prefer to be friendly hoping they were good dragons. They don’t seem to be friendly… If they pull up without attacking hold your attacks. Attack if they get closer and they press their attack. Cynan do you get a sense of their intent?”

“Too far away!” Shouts Cynan.

“Everyone focus on the same dragon, if you can. Target the closest dragon of the group no further than medium range.”
Gildor waits for his spell range and if he can determine the intent of the creatures or Cynan reveals it before casting at the lead dragon.

The creatures close to within 200m and still seem intent on making the party their next meal. They are perhaps ten metres long, half of that tail and fifteen metres across from leathery wing tip to wing tip. The head alone is more than a metre long and filled with long, sharp teeth. Unlike a dragon however, they have only hind legs. The tip of the tail is a thick knot from which a 50cm long stinger protrudes, very much like that of a scorpion. Their eyes are fiery orange.

Talo watches the coming shapes and casts spiritual axe and places it between the incoming enemy and the party. The first chance he gets he attacks them.

Jenson moves off to the side of the group where he pointed to to put some space between him and the group and has a confused look as Gildor yells out. Jenson will set low in a crouch with his needler at the ready but also ready to jump/run too if needed. He will fire at the first dragon creature in range of his needler.

Around Gildor, Kalam, Kradorn and Cynan all pull out their alien weapons and take aim. Cynan stands with his blaster pistol in his right hand and his smouldering sword in his left.
When the creatures get within 200m Kalam starts shooting and scores a hit to the head. The creature lets out a loud hiss which sounds like a hot sword plunged into water. From then on the beast comes in ducking and weaving, a far harder target to hit.

Gildor says,”Everyone fire at the target of my magic missiles unless that’s not a good target for you then fire at your best target.”

Jenson backed off to the back right of the group about 10 meters away with needler at the ready “Gildor, 100 meters I fire it east one, good?” sighs “Blah the good blah help blah me and blah me.”

The creatures close to within 100m, showing no sign of slowing and Gildor releases his Magic Missiles. His darts shoot towards the creatures and strike the first of them with three magical flashes. Kalam continues shooting but after another miss his laser carbine stops working. However the first creature is now within range of Kradorn and Cynan’s blasters and a hail of shimmering white fire splashes across the beast and brings it tumbling out of the air and into the snow with a dull thump.

The second creature, a muddy red colour, ducks low and comes at Kalam as he is the closest. Kalam abandons his laser carbine and draws his shortsword.
The creature’s jaws snap and catch the fighter but its teeth slide over his armour and leave no injury. Its tail sweeps in and strikes him too but once again fails to penetrate. Kalam spins and slashes with his shortsword but the monster is already past him.
As the beast closes, Talo strikes at it with his magical axe but misses.

The third creature in line, a mottled grey-brown colour, peels off from the main group and heads for Jenson who starts shooting as soon as it is within 100m. Four bursts buzz from the weapon but show no sign of striking the monster as it closes on him.

Gildor’s hoping these beasties don’t have a breath weapon… ”I may cast web on a couple of them or cast fireball if I can make sure none of us gets caught in it. If we hurt them enough, they may just leave.”

Jenson shoots at almost point blank range as the creature sweeps over him. His first burst misses but his second strikes home and rips two bloody wounds across the monsters underside. A claw catches him across the head, tearing his ear and causing a ripple of detonations in the snow around him as his next shot misses wildly.
Jenson is turning to shoot again when something slams into his back knocking him down into the snow. A final burst from his needle pistol sprays high into the air while the creature beats its leathery wings and lifts quickly away from the staggering human.

Gildor spots Jenson fall and then stagger back to his feet as the mottled creature powers away.

As the muddy-red creature powers past Kalam and towards Talo, Kradorn and Cynan shoot after it. Kradorn fires a short burst, one of which hits but then curses as the blaster rifle bleeps and refuses to fire again. Cynan’s first shot misses but his second hits, but seems to do no damage.
The creature sweeps over Talo, snapping at him and knocking him over. This is followed immediately by its stinger which strikes and pierces his armour. Talo feels the poison burn across his skin but he shrugs it off. He turns and send his magical axe after the beast but it is too far away. The muddy-red creature powers away, looking back over its shoulder to see the effect of its stinger.
The mottled one moves off too, now more than 100m away and curving around in a great arc which should bring it back over the party within about 20 seconds (4 rounds).

Kalam turns just in time to dodge the jaws of the smaller, paler creature but is hit by its stinger across the ribs. Luckily his armour saves him and his shortsword leaves a bloody gash across the beast’s tail. It hisses and twists away, heading for the river and the cover of the trees.

Jenson watches his assailant as it flies away, its gaze fixed on him. Jenson’s back and side burn and he realises for the first time he has been stung… poisoned.

Gildor looks around, trying to assess the situation. One of the creatures is down, another fled but the two largest, the muddy-red and the mottled one are still up, circling, assessing their prey and perhaps preparing for another attack.
Kalam seems busy with his laser carbine, changing a power-cell perhaps.

Gildor says loudly, “Fire B coming up!”
Mentally to he says to Saphiria ~ be careful. Winged creatures attacking us. Do not attack, I am casting Fire ~

“Jenson are you okay?” calls Cynan.

Turning as he watches the dragon like beasts circle, Jenson leans over in wretched pain and yells as he turns to the group. “No Good, undead me, fire” and points to his bloody side “Hot, help me” and points at the beasts then his side “Undead, no, help I blah!!” Staggers a bit moving toward Talo “Help” and points to his bloody side then looks up at the dragon beasts and raises his arm and shouts, “Go To Weeds!!” then puts his needler away and tries to hold his wounded side then gasps as he realizes his face/ear has been cut “Blah Blah blah, No Blah” and flips the bird to the dragon beast.

Gildor hearing Talo is going to assist Jenson stays focused on lining up the best shot.
He prays to the goddess of summer. “Let me strike true. My goddess. I’m your servant.”
If he has time to mentally call Saphiria before starting his casting he tries signalling her again, ”Don’t get too close girl. It’s about to get hot in the sky.”

Gildor casts Fireball at 50 yards out, timed to hit the Mottled creature. If he can time it to hit both of them he’ll do that as long as it’s safe for the party. Gildor will waste the spell if it would hurt anything other than the dragon beasties like Saphiria or the party.

The creatures come in low, swooping across the snow from different directions. Gildor’s Fireball catches the mottled one but doesn’t stop it and it comes straight at him. Its jaws snap at him, leaving bloody wounds and its poisoned tail whips out and strikes him in the leg, delivering its poison.

Cynan, Kalam and Kradorn shoot at the other creature as it closes. Cynan misses, Kradorn’s arrow bounces off the thing’s hide and Kradorn’s laser carbine flashes across its torso but leaves barely a mark. Kradorn turns his back to the monster as it passes, and it bites and stings him but the attacks fail to penetrate his space armour.
More shots follow it as it flies away and Kradorn scores a hit with his longbow.

Jenson moves as fast as he can across the snow towards Talo, the creature’s poison burning through his veins.

The moment Talo sees Jenson’s injury he blesses him with Slow Poison and places himself between Jenson and the Wyverns, holding his shield up.

Gildor watches as the mottled creature climbs and cries out, its cry echoed by the younger one which rises from the woods on the far side of the river and the two head up and away from the party.
The other creature climbs and begins circling high above them.

Talo’s spell seems to have taken effect and Jenson feels the intense burning of the poison ease. Gildor on the other hand feels the poison begin to burn through his leg, slowly spreading to his body.

Gildor calls to Talo, “I’m poison Talo uuuuggghhh. Looks like we’ve bloodied their nose a bit. Keep an eye on them folks and work together if you can. I’m preparing another fireball.”
Gildor casts fireball at any attacking creature and makes sure it’s not Saphiria too.

Jenson is still feeling a bit shaky but better, “Blah you Talo” and smiles, “Good? I OK Magic help?” He turns to Cynan “I no undead blah, I blah you blah blah.” and nods. Turning and seeing Gildor start to rummage after he was hit, Jenson moves over to help Gildor look through his pack and holds up the radiation antidote ampoule, shrugs “Good, no good, it helps blah um no blah” and points at the dragon beasts then looks to Gildor and shrug handing it to him then looks to Talo “Talo magic to Gildor? Help?”
Watching the dragon beasts fly away “We go to bear and owl they help Gildor and me?” and points at his wound ” no, go that blah to trees to city?”

Gildor keeps watching the dragons in case any come back.
~Saphiria be careful there are winged beast in the air they may see you be careful coming back.~
Gildor grabs the radiation ampoule and takes it. “I hope this helps, Jenson. I don’t know what the poison will do to you Jenson. We can’t walk through the tree back to the Grove so it’s a long walk back. It’s risky either way. I’m open to suggestions. Talo can you determine the effects from this poison? How bad of shape are we in? Can we still press on and just feel like crap or is it more serious and we should go back to the druids?”

The radiation ampoule doesn’t seem to have much effect when taken.

Gildor feels the poison spreading through his body, burning through his veins, down his leg and into his back.

If the dragons move off Gildor grabs the dingy and checks to see if the party wants to move on or go back.

Talo Turns to Gildor and administers a blessing of slow poison on him as well.
First chance he gets, Talo attempts to block any further assaults as the wyverns fly-by. He principally provides for those next to him.

Gildor’s intense pain eases as the Slow Poison prayer takes effect. The pain remains but for now it has stopped spreading.

High above, the muddy-red coloured Wyvern continues to circle the party. There is no sign of the mottled one and its smaller companion.

Gildor says,”Thanks Talo. I think we can keep going forward to the Keep. If there are no objections let’s be moving out.”

The party gather their stuff and set off again, following the river upstream. Tramping across the snow under the midday sun, Gildor keeps an eye out for the shape of the wyvern but it stays high in the clear, blue sky of the new years day. The monster just seems to be circling and shows no indication of making an imminent attack.
After an hour Gildor sees the creature move off north and quickly descend to a point several kilometres away. A short time later the wyvern heads east and to the sharp eyed amongst the party it looks to be carrying something large in its claws, horse or cow sized.

By Afternoon Bell and still following the left bank of the river, the party can see three kilometres to their left the treeline of another arm of the Warpwood and five or six kilometres ahead of them, that this arm and the river meet.

Just before Evening Bell the party arrive at the point the river enters the Warpwood. Just inside the woods they find a waystone, two metres high and carved with words and letters like those they saw in the city of the ghouls. The trees and plants of the Warpwood look sick and malformed and Gordon warns them not to touch, never mind eat anything they find, no matter how familiar it looks. There is still no sign of Saphiria.
Talo recasts his Slow Poison spells on Gildor and Jenson and thinks he can keep this up indefinitely should it be needed.

The party march on till Sunset Bell, when they come to a large ruined house, swathed in brambles and sitting by the banks of the river. A narrow stone bridge crosses the river here too.
Cynan and the other humans in the party can’t see much in the tree infested gloom and it won’t be long before the twilight disappears completely. Looking closely at the house, Talo thinks he can see the snow has been disturbed near a side entrance. Gildor sees the disturbance and can clearly make out bear prints among the tumbled snow. Jenson and the others can barely make out the hollow windows and doors of the house in the darkness.

Gildor says, “Here Jenson you can use the ring first then Kalam and then so on for those that need to use it for warmth for a 1/3 bell each. Let’s use the med-kits to heal a bit. Talo and Jenson maybe we can share the house with the bear?”

“I have it already.” says Kalam, showing Gildor the ring on his finger.

“I thought we weren’t stopping?” asks Kradorn.

“I’d like to honour the druids by not harming the bear if possible.” Gildor continues.

“Let’s leave it alone then.” says Kradorn. “None of us are Kementari priests or rangers, sticking your head in a bear’s lair is never going to end well.”

“I’m also worried about Saphiria. I haven’t heard from her and I told her to stay in contact.”

“Maybe she’s home.” Says Cynan. “It can’t have taken her more than a bell to fly back to Harnanca.”

Gildor uses the med-kit on himself and lets Jenson use it too and anyone else that might need it or has someone help him use it.

The med-kits are tough, white plastic boxes 30x15x5cm, with a green cross on the front. They open like a book with one half containing four snap-on bracelets and what looks like a crab made of white plastic with multiple claws and appendages. The other half consists of a window which shows moving images of someone taking one of the bracelets and putting them on themselves and then putting another on someone else who is lying on the floor. The med-kit is also talking loudly in whatever language Jenson uses. Jenson hears “Please state the nature of your medical emergency.”

“Hey, Jenson, what’s this thing saying?” asks Gildor.

Jenson leans over the med-kits, “No emergency at this time, this was only a test.” And closes back up the med-kit, smiles and looks to Gildor “No good, it no help you. You no, um undead.” Smiles and helps put it back in the pack.

“Okay, let’s heal up a bit and then move on.” says Gildor.

Talo interrupts their use of the med-kits, “Sorry, gents. I get distracted – let me use my magic as it is renewable and we can hang onto the med-kits for other times.”
He proceeds to heal the party up with various applications of his healing spell.

Jenson points to the house, “No good, Bear building. We go trees. Jenson eyes no good err no moon um good eyes moon n stars you Gildor, Talo, Gordon. We go, hand n hand – Gordon n Cynan, Talo n Kradorn, Gildor n Jenson, Kalam? Cold, 30 – 60 kilometres to city. it blah blah 2 suns and 2 moons blah we track blah?” pointing in the direction they have to go to get to the city.

Gildor says,”Okay Jenson. Thank you Talo. We march through the night hand in hand switch the ring as timed or as needed if someone needs it more. We can fire up a lantern probably too.” Gildor lights his lantern to help them walk in the darkness.

While Keeping pace with Gildor, Jenson says “Gildor, good fire tree, sun help track” then watches Talo and Kradorn in front of them and every now and then he looks back to make sure Kalam is behind them. Jenson cautiously looks out at the woods, hoping no eyes look back at him.

“Jenson. This is a lantern. Good idea to keep looking around checking woods and friends. Slow and steady folks if you need help say so.”

Talo tries to walk near Jenson, “Yer parts of speech in common need some help.” The dwarven cleric school-marms Jenson with talk of new words as they crunch through the snow.

Jenson grins and tries his best to listen to Talo then he joyfully lists the words he knows when Talo finishes.

~

Talo’s prayers heal the party’s wounds as they stand watching the shell of the house. Once completed the party set off again through the snow, quietly bypassing the house and still following the left bank of the river.
In the west, Dinlosaew is almost lost amongst the trees, while Celebdraug rises in the east. Both moons are thin, yellow crescents in a glittering night sky.

They pass a clump of startrees glowing faintly off to their left but Cynan tells the party to avoid them despite their pale glow giving the spot the air of a fairy glen rather than the fear haunted, snow entombed woods they have been tramping through for almost four bells.
Talo recasts Slow Poison on Gildor and Jenson.

Just before Midnight Bell Gildor brings the party to a stop and they all stand silently as some large, dark shape moves through the trees thirty or forty metres away. They wait for the creature to reappear but with no sign after ten minutes they move on.

Jenson just keeps moving, keeping an eye best he can around him trying to stay warm as they move.

They pass a waterfall and have to climb away from the river for a short time but Gildor brings them back to the path a few hundred metres further on.

Silent Bell comes and goes with no more encounters in the dark woods, Gildor leads the way and Talo is at the rear. Talo thinks he hears something behind them every so often but nothing shows itself. Gildor refills the lantern with oil from Gordon and they move on.

Then they come to another waterfall. This one poses more of a challenge. The path ends at the base of the roaring waterfall, which drops thirty metres over a sheer cliff. The cliff extends west as far as Gildor can see and east perhaps fifty metres. However every surface near the falls is coated in a layer of ice, making crossing the boulder strewn river difficult at best. By now Celebdraug hangs high in the southern sky, its crescent pale and silvery in the cold night air.

Gildor holds up a fist to signal stop. He turns to the group,”This May be a challenge my friends. I can cast levitate and carry some folks like we did with the bridge. We need a rope in the first group I take up and they can make sure we stay close to the edge. Once the first group is up I’ll go down and get the next group and so on getting the dingy up last.”

Kalam volunteers to climb up carrying a rope, aided by a Levitate from Gildor as the rock face is very slippy round here.
Kradorn thinks Laerdôl said something about waterfalls.

“Gildor, good that spell levitate um go um north helps” and points up.
“Kalem, yes, water err is ice cold um hill (points to the water fall then the side of the rocks) ice blah be blah.” Jenson steps back and keeps an eye on the area as they start the progress of going up the fall.

Gildor casts Levitate on Kalam when ready with the rope. “Get over the ledge and tie it off, you can toss the rope to us so we can then use it to help get on solid footing. I’ll repeat as needed.”
“Give me hand signals to go up, down or stop, Ok.”
“It’s dark, never mind with the hand signals, just say stop, up or down.”

Gildor casts Levitate on Kalam and the fighter begins clambering up the cliff face with the rope tied around him. However the ice slick surface of the cliff face defeats him several times and he never manages to climb more than half way before loosing his grip and coming off. The levitate spell saves him and eventually he has to rely on Gildor levitating him to the top of the cliff and using his scabbard tied to the rope as a makeshift grapple to pull him onto the clifftop.
Here another problem becomes apparent, the rope, once attached to a sturdy enough tree at the top of the cliff isn’t long enough to reach the ground. In fact it reaches less than halfway down the wet, icy cliff face.
Kalam scratches his head then says that if Gildor levitates someone up the cliff, he’ll throw the rope to them and they can pull themselves onto the clifftop. Kalam is hauling up the rope ready to throw it to the next group levitated by Gildor when it suddenly goes loose again. There is a deep wounded roar from the clifftop and then Kalam’s body slams into group of saplings growing by the cliff top. Only the saplings stopped Kalam from being thrown off the cliff by the impact. His body rests there a moment before being hauled out of view by something unseen.

Gildor says , “Cynan and Kradorn let’s go. Everyone else stay here. I’ll be back soon.”
Gildor casts Levitate on himself by the cliff wall. “You two hold on to me. When we get to the rope one of you grab it and start using it to help us get up an over the fall. You guys take the lantern up top and I’ll go get the others.”
When ready Gildor starts levitating up to the top, he leans into the wall to be able to stay close to it.

Cynan lights the lantern and grabs hold of Gildor as does Kradorn. Gildor casts Levitate on himself and all three begin to rise up to the dangling rope. Kradorn hooks the rope with his sword and proceeds to pull all three up onto the clifftop.

Jenson’s head whips up watching in horror as Kalam is attacked. “Oh, butt. butt butt butt!!Undead!! Kalam oh Butt butt butt!!”
He pulls out is needler and moves to the wall (not right under the levitated group) using the wall as protection he surveys the area he can see. “Talo, you eye help me me eyes no good you eye Gildor and guys levitate good me eye you,” As Jenson says in a calm voice now the shock is over “Grenade help?”

Holding the lantern high, Cynan illuminates the small clearing on the clifftop. The thick snow has been churned up and there are splashes of black blood over a wide area and also heading away to the west, through the woods.
Kradorn scans the snow and finds spots of what he suspects are human blood amid the spray of black filth. Whatever took Kalam was bigger than a man and there were more than one of them, maybe half a dozen. The tracks come in from the west and seem to go off in that direction. There is a foul smell in the air, like soured milk or sweat.
With Kradorn and Cynan safely deposited onto the cliff edge Gildor quickly descends back to the rest of the party.

Moments later there is a warning shout from the clifftop and then the sounds of muffled combat for perhaps ten seconds before a shape comes over the clifftop and lands with a sickening thud in the snow not three metres from Talo. The big humanoid shape is hard to identify but it is clearly too big to be Cynan or Kradorn. Whatever it is, it is dead, a crumpled pile of flesh giving off a putrid, sour milk smell.
Kradorn appears at the top of the cliff and signals to the party below that he and Cynan are okay. “Two ogres. Hurry up they’re getting away!”

Gildor says, “Jenson and Talo you’re next. I’ll come get Gordon and the Dingy last or if I missed anyone I get them after Gordon and the Dingy. Gordon check that beast out while I’m gone for loot or clues please.”
Gildor goes as fast as he can to get everyone and everything up the falls.

Gordon searches the fallen ogre’s body and finds a purse containing 22 silvers and 5 gold, amongst other, less savoury things.

It takes about five minutes to get everyone and the dingy up onto the clifftop. When they get there Jenson and Talo find another ogre laid face down in the snow and copious amounts of black blood sprayed around the scene of the fight.
There are no more surprises and the party set off quickly, following the trail the other ogres have left in the snow. The trail isn’t hard to follow and every so often there is a dribble of black ogre blood and the occasional spot of human blood. A good sign thinks Talo, as Kalam can’t be bleeding too badly, if he’s still alive.
The trail follows the top of the cliff for about a kilometre before heading off north west, through the dense woodland. Even in the dark, the trail is easy to follow in the deep snow, helped by the spots of ogre blood. At one point the ogre tracks head up a gentler slope than the one they came down and Kradorn seems confident the party are only following two ogres at this point, one of them badly injured. After almost another kilometre the party come across a tiny stream tinkling down a short slope, at the top of which stands the circular entrance to a cave or tunnel. The ogre tracks clearly head up into the cave. Gildor brings the party to a stop at the bottom of the slope and looks from there. The shape of the entrance is too circular to be natural and there are hints of some form of script carved into the stonework, hidden beneath centuries of weathering, moss and lichen.
Apart from the sound of the stream, the night is silent.

Gildor quietly states, “A glyph or warding of some sort probably. Talo… can you cast dispel magic on that my friend? We should plan to fight in close quarters if we go in instead of luring them out. If there is a glyph I’ve heard of ogre magi which will mean we should be very careful. We should focus hurting any ogre casters over others. I can lead the way and check for traps as we go. I’ll take the lantern and hold it in my left hand with my buckler on my left forearm. I’m switching to my needler as well. Get yourselves ready too. Once the glyph is taken care of we move forward into the cave. Anyone have any other concerns or recommendations?”
Gildor waits for Talo to deal with the Glyph if he can.

Talo’s face is a mask of intensity. “Too old to be a glyph, me thinks. Besides, Clanggedin’s Cutter hasn’t tasted Ogre yet – his preferred delicacy. They’re too stupid for traps otherwise they’d be trippin’ em day and night.” The dwarven cleric jerks a thumb at the humans, “They got all the fun the first time around and this one is on me!”
Talo’s hunger for the giant-kin appears un-sated as he commences into the cave, shield held high.

“Okay Talo. Let’s get in there and save Kalam hopefully. Just make sure to keep a look out for Kalam.”

Talo and Gildor move up the slope followed by Cynan and Kradorn. Talo has his axe and shield ready, Gildor his buckler and needler, Cynan Bronzefire and Kradorn his Blaster Rifle.
Jenson and Gordon stay at the rear, looking out for any ambush from the side or behind them.
At the top of the slope, which Gildor suspects might once have been steps but are now half-buried beneath centuries of dirt and trampled snow, is a flat terrace in front of the archway about 8m wide by 4m deep, largely cleared of snow but still showing traces of ogre blood which lead into the cave.
Gildor holds up the lantern and is approaching the entrance when there is a bellow from within. Gildor points his needler into the darkness and sees a hulking shape coming at him.
Talo meanwhile reacts to a shout from Jenson and looks up to see another ogre standing just above the entrance, a boulder held in both hands over its head. Talo barrels into Gildor to knock him out of the way just as the half-elf takes aim at the ogre running at him from inside the cave.
Jenson shoots at the ogre standing over the entrance and hits but the individual needler rounds just detonate across the ogre’s leather armour and do little damage.
Kradorn opens up with his blaster rifle and scores three hits and two misses before the weapon beeps and stops working.
The ogre wobbles under the impacts but doesn’t go down and hurls the boulder at Kradorn instead of just dropping it on Gildor’s head.
Kradorn almost gets out of the way but the boulder hits him hard and spins him into the snow.
Gildor climbs back onto his knees and fires at the ogre closing from inside the cave. Again the needler darts explode across the ogre but do little damage against its leather armour and thick skin.

Jenson takes aim again at the ogre standing over the entrance and shoots but the needles mostly fly wide, throwing up a cloud of snow and doing no damage to the creature.
Gildor fires at point blank range at the ogre standing over him, its huge club raised high. The thing staggers back, black blood spraying from several wounds before it finally keels over with a thud.
Something else lands with an earth shuddering impact behind Talo and he turns to find another ogre grinning at him. The dwarf spins and hits it anyway and while the blow is true it isn’t the best hit he has ever landed.
Cynan closes on the ogre which has just leaped down next to Talo and buries Bronze-fire through its ribs, lung and heart. The thing goes down and Cynan pulls his sword free, hissing and smoking with black blood.

Gildor scans the cave but sees no sign of Kalam and Talo does the same outside, looking for any more lurking ogres. The woods seem clear and nothing else jumps out at them.
The ogre Gildor shot isn’t quite dead yet, despite the numerous needler wounds and a nasty gash in its belly. It lies unconscious on the cave floor awaiting its fate.
Apart from numerous bones and assorted goblin gear there is little of interest in the cave. There is another passage at the back of the cave however and a faint red glow can be seen coming from it.

Jenson sees Kradorn hurt and goes to him “Jenson help Kradorn? Talo Kradorn help.” and stands guarding him till he is OK.

Kradorn staggers up, dusts himself off and rubs his shoulder. “That hurt.” He looks about and eventually pulls the blaster rifle from a pile of snow.
“I’m fine, I’m fine. Let’s go find Kalam.”

Breathing heavy from the excitement of battle or maybe the fear in it, Jenson turns to Gildor and Talo, points to the almost dead Ogre “Undead, it no ghoul, I help yes um err help no before it go cold or it go cold??”

Both Gildor and Jenson are beginning to feel the effects of the Wyvern poison returning at this point, it seems Talo’s slow poison prayer has worn off.

~ NEW ~

With a sudden jolt of pain in Jenson’s face as he kneels down a moment onto one knee “Gaa, me undead, no good Blah?” Straightening up “Gildor, you undead?” Sighs “Kalam we go help Err Talo, help us?”

Gildor speaks to Talo, “Let’s find Kalam then. Slow and steady.”
Gildor leads the group cautiously further in. He’ll look for human blood to see if there is still a trail leading further in. He waves the others to follow him in. Lantern and buckler covering his midsection a bit.

Gildor pushes onward despite the increasing pain from the poison. He goes through the passageway at the far end of the cave, stepping over the boulders fallen from the cave walls and roof. They emerge into another cave, similar to the first, apart from the fire in the south east, next to which Kalam’s body has been tossed, a pit in the north and a battered silver door at the far northern end.
Talo rushes over to Kalam while Gildor and the rest watch for more trouble but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere for trouble to come from.
Kalam is alive but only just, he has a serious head wound and numerous bumps and bruises. Jenson falls to his knees at this point, the poison in his system finally bringing him down. Gildor feels the Wyvern poison burning through his system too.
Cynan checks out the twenty foot deep pit in front of the silver door and finds a skeleton impaled on several of the jagged spikes filling the bottom. There is plenty of room in the cave to bypass the pit and examine the battered silver door.
The door is quite fancy and looks like solid oak plated with worked silver. The filigree is an unknown pattern but seems to be a complex series of runes. The door has taken several heavy impacts recently and a couple of boulders laid nearby seem to be the culprits.
There are lots of the ogres’ bits and pieces scattered around the fire, including several mangy sheep skins crudely stitched together, a pile of firewood and two large leather sacks; one filled with pots and pans, the other various mismatched silver plates, bowls and cups.

Gildor struggles to stay standing with the poison coursing through his veins. “Talo… Help Kalam please… Jenson and I not doing well with the poison either… Cynan… Does it seem like the door is meant to keep something in? If the ogres were trying to bash the door in with rocks, they probably weren’t able to open it. I might be able to read it with comprehend language spell but I don’t want to risk hurting anyone in here for now. Let’s get healed up and go from there.”

Cynan says there’s what might be a keyhole in the centre of the door.

“On it,” Talo replies. The dwarven cleric administers a healing spell in hopes of resuscitating Kalam. Afterwards Talo makes good use of his short legs and runs to Gildor and Jenson to cast another poison slowing orison.

Gasping and holding his side, Jenson looks the room over “Talo, Help Kalam, I help Blah” Moves to be near Talo but no in his way more ready to help or protect Talo as he helps Kalam.
Rubbing where the Wyvern stabbed him, “Undead blah, ouch”

Talo’s first healing prayer seems to have no effect on Kalam so the dwarf casts two more and Kalam comes to, still lightly wounded but conscious. When Talo gets to Gildor and Jenson, Gildor seems to think that the effects of the Wyvern poison have passed and that Talo should help Jenson but by this time Jenson has fallen to the ground and nearly passed out. Talo quickly casts Slow Poison on Jenson but he still seems Badly Poisoned.

“Talo… Perhaps a healing spell for Jenson might help him? I think I am okay but will yield to your wise judgement if I need a healing spell too.”
Gildor casts Detect magic around the door to see if the runes are magical in nature before checking for traps near the door and runes.

Gildor staggers up to the door sweating and shivering from the effects of the Wyvern poison and casts Detect Magic. The whole door glows intensely and gives off an abjuration and evocation schools feeling.

Jenson, just kneeling shivers and looks up at Talo “Help, no good, I go cold. I no go cold no be undead ghoul, help, magic help?”

“Och! Me eye for a whicker of sentence structure! … It’s okay, Son of Jen! I got yeh!” The dwarven cleric proceeds to bless the stricken human with his healing magic. He then continues and blesses Gildor until both comrades are closer to healthy than not.

The war priest unholsters his axe and scrutinizes the door as Gildor inspects it – at the mention of abjuration of evocation, Talo’s brows raise. He turns to the swiss-army-knife of skills found in Gildor, “I have spell to scour magic from things. Ya want me to give her a whack?”

“Go ahead Talo. Once we are all back in the entry area you can cast on it. Let us know when I can come check on the traps and locks.” says Gildor.

Talo casts several healing spells on Gildor and Jenson, Jenson needing the lion’s share to bring him back to his feet but they both remain lightly wounded. The party retreat to the outer cave and Talo moves in front of the silver door and prepares to Dispel Magic.
Talo casts the prayer and feels the magic in the door resist for a second then dissolve away, leaving it inert. He calls Gildor back into the cave and the half-elf checks to see if the door is locked or for some opening mechanism and for traps there too.

There appears to be a keyhole in the centre of the door as Cynan said but no obvious handle or way to pull open the door. The door won’t open with a jemmy so Gildor suspects it is locked. He gets his lock picks ready and is investigating the lock when an arc of electricity shoots through the tools and into Gildor. He convulses and is thrown backwards. Only his reactions prevent him from tumbling into the spike filled pit. When Gildor picks himself up Talo can’t help but smile at the steaming half-elf, whose red hair is standing on end. The shock was a severe one but he is only lightly wounded.
Talo reckons he only has enough magic in him for one more Dispel Magic.

“Oh man! Gildor! You okay?” The schoolmarm in the dwarf comes out as he moves quickly to right the tenderized elf. Talo brushes off some dirt and waves away some of the smoke. Worriedly, he asks, “I can pull another Dispel on this door. Are you up for another go if I do?”

“Talo… If Jenson needs more healing then use your prayers to heal him first. The door can wait. Jenson we will help you stay good. Everyone, we can camp the night here and resume things in the morning with the door. Once it’s taken care of, we can move on to Harnanca. We can warm ourselves here and get some food in our bellies. Unless the rest of you want to push on?”

“This place is not far from the southern border of my lands, I don’t like the thought of it serving as a hideout for ogres and goblins and ghouls. I would like us to clear the place. Let’s rest till the morning and then go in.” Says Cynan looking at the battered silver door.

Gildor reaches out to Saphiria mentally to see if she is in range, “You out there girl? We are in a cave if so just past the big waterfall towards home.”

There is no response from the firedrake.

Cynan tells Talo “Save your strength, I will use my ‘Laying On of Hands’ to bring the wounded back to full health. Who knows when you might be called upon to do use your prayers. My powers are small but should suffice.”
Cynan proceeds to use his healing powers sparingly on all the wounded until he can do no more. When he is finished everyone is either completely healed or only lightly wounded.
“We’ll give it till Morning Bell, then have another go?” he says.

Gildor adds wood to get the small fire going again, then he loots the ogres for coin, gems and such and puts it in a pile and casts Detect Magic on it.

Gildor goes back to the ogres and discovers the one the party left unconscious on the floor is missing. The other ogre, laid by the entrance has no loot on him.
However at the bottom of the sack containing the silverware are three leather bags, all filled with copper coins, between 1000 and 1500 coins in each bag.
Gildor arranges the silverware and pours out the coins to discover the bottom third of the bags are gold coins and in each is a gemstone, two small red stones worth about 10 gold and a large fire opal worth about 1000 gold. The silverware consists of 4 plates (50sp each), 2 platters (100sp each), 4 bowls (25sp each) and 4 cups (25sp each). The whole sack with silver service and coins weighs in at about 46lb.
A Detect Magic spell reveals nothing strange amongst the loot.
Gildor checks his gear and weapons to make sure they are ready for a fight, checking ammo and power levels.
Gildor swaps out his existing needler magazine for a fresher one.

Kalam volunteers to stand watch in the inner cave while Cynan guards the outer cave and keeps an eye out for the injured ogre who wandered off.
Silent Bell passes into Sunrise Bell and then Morning Bell and Cynan wakes the party, all of whom feel much refreshed from their sleep. After a quick meal of ship’s rations everyone’s ready to go.
“Gildor, would you like to lead the way?” asks Cynan nodding towards the silver door.