Monday, May 27, 2013

The Things You See in the Wilds

It's a nervous party that huddles beneath the sheltering trees. Stories of big lizard men from Mordikarr, signs of passing creatures in the ruined village, and now the kill-site of some large flying predator make for uneasy travel. They're also nervous about food supplies, not for the people, but for the mules. They've used a fair amount of the grain they packed, and they're pretty far west. After some debate the party agrees to travel west two to three more days, and then head back, possibly following the old road west to see if it brings them back to civilized lands by a shorter route. Let's see how it goes...

Start Date: July 14, Year of the Badger, mid-afternoon
Start Status: Five oh! Five oh!
Start Location: Deep in the Wilds

The Turn

After a brief break beneath the trees, the party presses on, moving further into the dense woods. Though the road continues, it is less obvious in the woods. Old leaves, fallen branches, and downed trees cover, obscure and block the path. Still it is a road, and with everyone watching, it's fairly easy to stick to the track, which continues generally SW, then bends W again.

It is Rawon that spots the narrow dirt path leading S away from the road. "Wait here, let's check this out," he calls to the others, then he leads the way with the front rank, Grit, Raúguey, Dagmarten, and Saurabh, trailing. The rest of the group fans out a bit, eyes on the shadowy woods beneath the massive trees. At least the undergrowth has thinned a bit, and that allows the others to follow the scouting group's progress. They pause about 50 yards south of the road, next to a huge ancient oak. Rawon circles it a few times, while the others peer at something in or on the tree itself.

A few minutes later, they regroup and return to the main road. "What is it?" asks Ohwatoo.

"Some sort of shrine," says Raúguey. "There's a hollow in the tree, a stone altar, some bowls with rotting meat, and a... thing cut into the side of the trunk."

"Fraykulga," spits Dagmarten.

Durego mutters a foul curse, and Ingvild touches chest and forehead, a call for Agnia's protection. Seeing blank stares among the elves, Durego explains. "Fraykulga is worshiped by goblins and their kind, a half-demon, half-god beast that relishes chaos and war." He shakes his head. "Between this and the signs back at the ruined village... I don't like it. This is bad territory. Maybe we should turn back."

"Nothing's been there for a few days at least, and it doesn't seem to get regular use. The village is well behind us now. I say we press on and get past this. When we come back we can be sure we're in good shape for trouble when we come through here." Rawon seems intent on pushing forward, and most of the others agree. Dagmarten is reluctant to leave the foul shrine intact, but removing its stain from the forest would alert the enemy to the party's presence. Reluctantly he agrees to move on.

Grit sets the pace, moving as quickly as his stubby Dwarf legs will carry him. The party makes another six miles, still moving straight west through dense forest, before deepening shadows warn of night's approach. The woods offer little in the way of cover, and eventually the party settles for a tiny rise as a campsite. There's a tiny stream trickling past the base of the hill (S to N). "At least there's firewood," observes Locky, as you settle in. With watches set... time for sleep!

"Aaaaroooooooo...." The howls awaken everyone not on watch. It's late night, well, early morning really. The howls are distant, but not *too* distant.

"Add some wood to the fire!" calls Maro. He's still trying to get out of his bed roll, a task made more difficult by the kits, who are attempting to crawl in with him. "Mordikarr, a little help here?"

The wild man yowls something and the kits settle. Everyone is up now. And Nissa and Grit build up the fire.

"Aaarooooooo...." Closer? Or further away? It's almost impossible to tell, the howls seem to come from all points, echoing beneath the trees.

"Big wolf. Or many big wolfs," says Mordikarr.

"I think we figured that out. Can you tell how far away?" asks Jonquil.

Mordikarr shrugs. "Far but not too far. Maybe chase something. Sound like they running." He gestures north, then east.

"I think you're right," says Rawon as another howl pierces the night. "It does sound like they're headed east. Good thing we're going west."

Locky laughs at this, a half-strangled sound that betrays a certain amount of nervousness. He moves near Maro and the kits, laying a hand on Jedit, either offering comfort or seeking it, it's hard to say which. At the edge of the camp, a mule snorts and stamps. Jonquil moves over to check the animals.

Another howl, and now everyone can tell that they're further away. Everyone relaxes, but only a bit. Grit mutters something about going back to bed, but Nissa gestures east. There's a faint gray glow beyond the trees. "Sun will be up in an hour or so. We're up, we should eat, pack up, and get moving. The sooner we're away from here, the better." Raúguey and Durego nod their agreement, so the grumbling Grit starts rolling up his bedroll instead of going to sleep. Everyone follows suit, while Locky and Gorvil prepare breakfast. "Porridge today, porridge yesterday, and blimey if it don't look like porridge tomorrow. Never a bit of pancake or sausage for breakfast these days," mutters Gorvil as he stirs the pot.

West again, at the same quick pace as yesterday. The sun is well clear of the horizon, sending beams of slanting lights through the trees, when Dagmarten raises a warning hand. "Hear that?"

Rawon nods. "Water, a fair-sized stream from the sound of it. Watch your step everyone, wouldn't want to lose you in a bog."

The group advances at a slower pace, and the stream comes into view, small and deep. The sound that alerted Dagmarten originates from a short fall over a tumble of rocks, where the water has eaten away at the road. The water course flows from the NW to the NE, bending where it intersects the remains of the road. "Well that's a problem," says Grit, scanning the woods ahead.

"What's that?" asks Ohwatoo.

"No road."

Indeed, the road appears to have vanished. Stones washed out or buried beneath leaves and flood debris perhaps.

"It can't just end, there's nothing here," says Durego. "A few should stay here and water the mules. The rest of us can fan out and search."

Grit nods and starts walking. Several others fan out to the north and south, forming a loose line. Ingvild, Jonquil, and Ohwatoo stay behind to tend the mules. In short order the others return. "It picks up again, about 300 yards west," says Durego. "Let's go."

After a short traipse through the woods the party regains the road, which bends SW once again. It is just before noon when Grit calls another halt. "Looks like something here. The road splits around this hill."

And so it does. A solitary hill, steep-sided and curiously regular, rises from the path. Branches of the road curl around either side. "Grit, does this look like a wall to you?" Locky points to worked stone protruding from the base of the hill.

"Aye lad, it does. Old stone, well-cut." He turns to the others. "We should check this out."

Everyone more or less agrees, so leaving the hirelings to watch the mules, the rest of the party starts following the path around the hill, clockwise. It follows a regular curve, but when you reach the SW side of the hill it splits, one branch headed SW, the other continuing around the hill. Without a word Grit continues around the hill, and everyone follows. Here and there you can all pick out bits of worked stone protruding from the slope. Perhaps it was an old wall, or perhaps the whole thing was covered with stone at some point. Another branching of the road, this one to the NW, and then, on the N side of the hill, a path spirals up the hill's flank, a narrow and rough trail, barely visible beneath the leaf litter. Grit looks back at the others, eyebrow raised. "Keep going around the base," says Maro. "Let's see if there are any other trails away."

Grit nods and leads on. In short order you're back at the mules. The entire hill is about half a mile in diameter by your crude, paced measurements.

After a brief break to eat and rest, you head back to the trail and start up the slope. It's poor at best, and slow going. It loops twice around the hill before it finally reaches the top, leading over a narrow ridge and into the queer, bowl-like crest, a brushy, flattened area surrounded by an oddly regular ring of earth, 150 or so feet in diameter. "Now this, this is strange," mutters Ohwatoo, as he leans against a tree, panting from the steep climb.

Grit moves to the center of the flat, and slowly turns. "Too regular to be natural. There's almost no change in elevation, and its nearly a perfect circle. Start looking along the edges for anything unusual."

It doesn't take long. Almost simultaneously, Nissa and Mordikarr call out, "Found something!" One is at the eastern side of the hilltop, the other at the west.

"What is it?" asks Durego, as he moves toward Nissa's position.

"An opening in the ground. Headed straight in. You're going to love this." Durego pauses to light his lantern, and then steps through the thick undergrowth that covered the opening. He blinks in surprise. Smooth and seamless yellow walls stretch away into darkness. Familiar walls.

"Hole here, with yellow rock, like needle spire place we saw," calls Mordikarr.

End Date: July 15, Year of the Badger, midday
End Status: Oh Hill!
End Location: Deep in the Wilds

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