Back in business, time to see what's out there!
With base camp settled the main members of the party pack up and head for the trail the kids pointed out yesterday. It's only a few miles back toward town, so in short order the group is walking along a rough and narrow trail that cuts across several pastures, then into the woods. As you walk, Rawon, Urúvion, Ingvild, and Dagmarten take turns scouting ahead (though there's little expectation of trouble on this stretch of ground). Rawon notices that the trail is actually blazed, and as you travel Ingvild explains the system. A single mark for straight trail, two stacked marks for rough or dangerous ground, a long and short pair for a turn, with the short mark indicating direction.
It's noon when the group hits the first double-blaze. It marks a deep bramble-filled ravine that cuts straight across the trail. Two old, half-rotten logs have been felled across the gap, creating a crude bridge. Grit kicks the logs and mutters, "Seems sturdy enough."
Durego, burdened by his heavy mail, looks a bit less sure. "Send the halfling first, he's the lightest," he says.
"Gee thanks," grumbles Locky, but he quickly scampers across, sling ready. "Seems fine!" he calls from the other side.
One by one the rest of the party crosses. Ohwatoo slips and almost falls, but manages to regain his balance. Once across everyone agrees that a quick rest and a bite to eat is a good idea, so you take your midday break. Once stopped you have a chance to look around. The woods at the edge of Brekkevale have been thinned by woodcutters and farmers, but here the trees, mostly oaks, beeches, elms, and maples, are taller and thicker. Dead leaves stand in deep drifts on the forest floor, and thick brush clusters around every break in the canopy. It is quiet, save for the occasional snatch of birdsong or rustling of some small animal through the leaves, at least that's what you hope that noise is...
It's a pleasant day, and it would be easy to waste time sitting about, but Grit rouses everyone after half an hour. Refreshed by the break you make good time (though the trail grows rougher and less well marked as the day wears on). The sun is sinking when Urúvion points to a darkening in the woods ahead and calls out, "Look! Is that Stonefinger, do you think?"
The group checks their weapons and then hastens forward. The dark shadow is the base of a great stone rising from the litter of the forest floor. As you circle it, Grit counts paces. "115 paces around, so about 30 yards across." He takes a few steps back, trying to judge height, but the trees make it difficult to see. "That's a big rock!"
Maro is staring off into the woods. "Notice anything else strange?" he asks. The others shake their heads, so he points to the nearest tree, a tall beech. "If you stand at the base of the stone and look out past that tree, there's another beech about 30 yards out, and another 30 yards beyond that. A line in each direction. I wonder how far the lines go?"
"One thing's for sure, someone comes here. There are marks scratched on the stone." Nissa points to scattered scrapes and scratches in the stone.
"Probably the older kids from town," says Dagmarten. "Most come out here at least once on a dare. The bravest stay overnight. We best find a secure place to camp if we're going to leave anything behind while we explore."
The next day everyone is up and ready to go just after sunrise. There is some debate on the direction, but after studying the map and determining that you haven't found anything that seems to match the swampy areas marked, you decide to break camp and head southwest at a slow pace, exploring as you go. Ohwatoo suggests one party member marks the trail with blazes every hundred paces or so, and Nissa agrees to take on that task (being careful to check the chosen tree for any marks before leaving her own).
Progress is slow but steady. There is no trail, though there are signs of game here and there. With so many people moving it's nearly impossible to hunt, but Ohwatoo, Durego, and Nissa each find small berry patches that provide a few handfuls of fresh fruit. By the afternoon, you've made about eight miles, it's gotten *hot*, and the light breeze does not penetrate the thick canopy. Locky and Maro note the appearance of sycamores and cottonwoods among the other trees, a sign, perhaps, of wetter ground ahead.
An hour later the trees prove to be right, and you find yourself on the mucky banks of a narrow stream that runs more or less northwest to southeast. The far bank is lined with thick brambles covered in inch-long thorns, a most unappealing prospect. Several party members head up and downstream hoping to find a better place to cross, but the thicket extends at least a mile in each direction. "First check," mutters Locky, as he wiggles his toes in the pleasantly cool mud of the stream bank.
Grit stares at the dense growth of the far bank, "What do you think, turn or cut our way through? It'll be slow going if we try and hack though that mess."
End Date: July 1, Year of the Badger, late afternoon
End Status: Shortcut to brambles!
End Location: In the wilds, approximately 8 miles SW of Stonefinger