Sunday, May 19, 2013
The Wilds - Guided Tour
It was a busy night. As the party slept, a stranger, a man dressed in a thick cloak and crude armor, surprised the possibly-drunk-Rawon on watch. After cautious conversation about the relative merits of whiskey versus mead, and an introduction to the stranger's beast-companion Suren, others heard the voices and approached in haphazard fashion. The newcomer, Mordikarr, claimed to be the last of 'his people', who had been killed by the Gola-ka, the beastmen the party had fought. He lived in the wilderness, accompanied by Suren (who proved to be a fisher, and Ava, a large spotted owl).
After Rawon headed off an attack by Raúguey, who seemed to think Mordikarr was a mind-controlling wizard, the stranger agreed to lead the party to water, and show them a strange tower that was nearby. In the better light of the camp, the party noticed the cloak he wore was actually stitched together beastman hides, and the sword he had slung over his shoulder was one of the big crooked bladed swords they carried.
A bit nervous but in need of water for the beasts, the party agrees to travel with Mordikarr. Here's how it goes...
By the time you've all met Mordikarr and he's looked over the camp in his slow and careful way, the sun is rising. You decide wasting further time is pointless, so you pack up and head out, NW across the scrubby plain. He sets a quick pace, but slows when he notices the shorter members of the party are having a hard time keeping up. The remnants of the road disappear behind you, and the trees get thicker, becoming light woods.
Two hours later, you arrive at the spring, a small flow trickling between two rocks and into a small stone basin. It's good water, but not particularly fast-flowing. Filling skins, and one of Rawon's small casks, and watering the animals takes close to two hours. As you get ready to go, Grit takes one last drink, then remarks, "You know, I think this stone has been worked. There are chisel-marks under this muck. You spend a few minutes clearing away some of the growth around the spring, and scoop out some of the accumulated mud. When you're done, even the untrained eye can see that the basin is not a natural formation.
"More settlers' work maybe?" asks Maro.
Ohwatoo shrugs. "It's old, but hard to say how old. No writing or marking. Could have been anyone. Or anything." He turns to your new companion and continues, "Mordikarr, do these... what did you call them? Gola-ka, did they build with stone?"
Mordikarr shakes his head. "Dig holes in ground. Make clay pots. Cut wood. No see stone cuttings."
Ohwatoo nods, starts to speak again, pauses, and mutters, "Gola-ka... Gola-ka... Oh you idiot!" His sudden exclamation draws everyone's attention, and Suren hisses at the mage. Hastily he continues "No, no Suren, your friend isn't the idiot, I am. Gola-ka. It's black speech, Goblin if you will. I knew it sounded familiar. It was an old history from the south, concerning the first settlements of Calan. They faced many of these creatures, calling them the dog-tribes or, as we have, beastmen. But in the works of Luixa Bin; she was a scholar of the historic roots of our common tongue, Kalintian, and various other languages. fascinating reading really; she theorized that Kalintian and Goblin were both descended from a common root language, perhaps the very language used by The One to create the world. One ramification of this theory, should it be proved true, is that..." Ohwatoo pauses, noticing the glazed expressions on the faces around him. "Anyhow, she traces the word back to an ancient Kalintian word, gnoll."
"Mordikarr no care if talking man call them Gola-ka or beastmen or dog-tribes or gnoll. Mordikarr call them enemy."
"Good point Mordikarr," interrupts Nissa, before Ohwatoo can start up a true language and history lecture. "We've watered the mules and ourselves. How about we see this needle spire you mentioned?"
Your guide nods, and Suren climbs onto his shoulder again. The fisher had disappeared into the brush while you were watering the other animals. When he'd returned there was a small clump of bloody feathers hanging from the edge of his mouth. Now he draped himself like a living collar around the man's neck and fell asleep.
Mordikarr leads the way SW, and the trees quickly vanish, giving way to open grasslands. If you camp in the open tonight, at least the mules will have good fodder, in places the grass is waist-high. To the north you can see the line of trees continues to the west, forming a hazy green border beyond the flats.
Open ground makes for easy travel, and an hour and a half later Mordikarr calls a halt. "See? Needle tower." He points and you can all see the slim yellow spire rising from the surrounding grass, a half-mile ahead. You all hasten forward, and soon you're clustered around the base of the tower.
It's about 30' tall, and made from a perfectly smooth, translucent yellow stone. It almost seems to glow in the daylight. It feels warm to the touch, but that could just be from the sun. There are no seams, crevices, or markings on the surface, aside from the door and the silver plate. The door is a round-cornered black rectangle, its bottom edge covered in dirt and plant growth. The plate is circular, and set about waist high, flush with the stone. It's four inches across, and there are letters or runes inscribed around the edge. The center is covered with a series of interlocked and overlapping metal plates made from the same silvery metal.
Mordikarr enlists the aid of Jonquil in tethering the mules in a patch of rich grass, while Ohwatoo plants himself in front of the plate, muttering in a strange tongue. Grit borrows Jonquil's spade and tries digging around the edge of the thing. The stone extends below ground, at least a couple of feet. Grit does manage to clear away the dirt around the base of the door, revealing the bottom edge. "There's no seam here," he says, running his hand along the line formed by door and wall. "Perfectly smooth."
"Any idea what that says Ohwatoo?" asks Rawon.
"It's Kalintian, a very archaic form. I think it says something like 'room' or 'chamber' or 'passage', then 'the way' or 'the path'. What that means... I have no idea. But look here. These plates move." He demonstrates by shifting aside one of the metal plates, revealing another layer beneath.
"Let me see," says Ingvild, pulling out a small 'tool kit'. He fiddles a bit, sliding aside metal plates until he uncovers a hole in the middle of the plate, a two-inch circular opening. The thief lights a candle and peers inside. "Definitely a lock. Very complicated. I can see... twenty or more tumblers in there."
"Can you open it?" Durego asks.
Ingvild just laughs and shakes his head. "I'm not even sure the King of Thieves could pick that!"
You spend about an hour and a half poking around the spire, and eating lunch, with little result. Finally Raúguey gets bored and says, "Let's get moving again. I want to see these ruins before dark, and I'd rather camp with some cover."
Reluctantly, the party packs up and heads out, Mordikarr leading the way again. He heads NW, and ahead you can see trees, thicker woods, with some low hills further west. When you hit the trees, the pace slows. They're dense and thick brush covers the forest floor, surprising given the canopy overhead. More surprising, there are old stumps everywhere, someone cut down a lot of trees here long ago.
Despite the slow pace, an hour later you're at the ruin, a square of stone wall 15 feet or so on a side. The structure stands on a low hill surrounded by thick brush. The walls are pretty solid, rising five or six feet. "I think this must have been a stone foundation with wooden upper floors," says Grit. "You can see notches in the wall for beams. Watch out!" He grabs Locky before the halfling can wander inside. "That floor is wood, no telling if it's stable."
As Grit continues to check out the ruin with the help of Ingvild, Durego and Locky, the others fan out. Mordikarr points out several other ruins, now little more than bits of log and stone hearths, scattered in the nearby woods. There's also a spring north of the main stone ruin. Maro stumbles across what must have once been a dirt road, now little more than ruts leading between the trees, heading away south. "Wonder where that goes?"
"Old path go that way." Mordikarr gestures S, then SW. "Down to grass, then find other path. Stone road. Near water place of lizard people. No like that place. I no go beyond before, but now, maybe see what past lizard people lands, maybe see where sun fall to ground."
It's early afternoon, and you consider pressing on, but the idea of camping near the 'lizard people' doesn't sound appealing, and there's good water here, so you decide to settle in, and spend the afternoon doing some hunting. Mordikarr volunteers to lead a small group NE, into lighter woods, where deer are plentiful. Maro and Rawon go with him. Grit, Ohwatoo, and the hirelings set up camp near the ruin, while Durego, Raúguey, Locky, Nissa, Ingvild, and Dagmarten split into two groups and explore the immediate area.
It starts to get dark, and the explorers drift back to camp, reporting that there are a lot of trees nearby. The road heads south and out into the grasslands. The land rises to the SW, maybe a hill or hills there. Those that stayed in camp have explored the ruin more thoroughly. There is an old cellar beneath the rotten floor, half-filled with fallen timbers and stones. Grit suggests the tower, cleared out and repaired, might make a good forward base of operations.
Finally the hunters return, carrying not one, but two small deer. Rawon also has a small sack of blackberries, slightly crushed, but still sweet. It's the best meal you've had in a while, welcome relief from the dried fare, and as you eat the hunters tell you of the area NE, lighter woods, and a big old sycamore, another Carved Tree. After dinner various people roll themselves in bedrolls, while others prepare for the watch. There's a brief fluttering sound in the trees overhead, and the owl, Ava, lands on a branch above camp. She hoots a few times, then settles in to pick apart the mouse she has clutched in her claw.
OOC: If anyone has anything further they want to try out at the needle spire, we can retro-fit that.
Ohwatoo's questions about the Gola-ka, or 'gnolls', yields the following general information:
They live in a village away north, Mordikarr describes the location and says there are 'many many' creatures there. They hunt in packs of six or eight, using spears for the most part, swords when needed. They are sharp-eyed and tricky hunters. They hunt both in the day and at night, and can see well in the dark. He doesn't really understand what Ohwatoo is asking when referring to magic, but he does say the 'old one' can call fire. He thinks there may be a second settlement, east of the village he knows, but he's not sure where it is. He avoids their main territory, which seems to be north of the big elm where you fought them. He says there were other people (humans) in the village when he was captured, two or three, but he doesn't know who they were or how long they'd been there.