When we left the party, they'd just returned from a round of spire-hopping, a process they continue for a while longer. They also try a few new tests. Raúguey stays behind at the base camp while the others take a trip in the spire to prove that the spire itself doesn't move (it doesn't). They find destinations that are solid walls of ice, bitterly cold ocean water, snowy hills, tundra, and a walled-up chamber completely enclosing the spire.
That evening Ohwatoo, being one of the smartest people in the world, builds a crude Jacob's staff. Using this, the party revisits the destinations that seem 'close' to home so far as flora and fauna: the swampy ruin, the open plains, and the rocky mountains. By comparing elevations of several chosen stars they determine that these locations are relatively close, especially when compared to other destinations that don't even share the same night skies. With this additional information in hand, the party decides to head to the swampy ruins site and spend several days exploring. According to Ohwatoo's calculations this destination is west of the party's home base, so they might even try to explore their way out, but one thing at a time. Here's how it goes...
It's back to previously visited territory for further exploration, green, red N, brown NW. Rawon, Mordikarr, and Maro spread out to keep watch while the others organize the mules. "First things first. Let's find someplace to camp so we can explore without dragging along the mules," says Saurabh. "Wasn't there a stream to the east?"
The others agree to this basic plan and the group heads east in standard formation. They only have to walk a few hundred yards, leaving behind the ruins, before they find the stream, a small and swift flow running south to north. "Well this can be our first route of exploration," says Locky. "It gives us something clear to follow so we don't get lost."
"Well let's find some drier ground before we set camp. It's pretty wet here," answers Rawon. He gestures south. "Let's go that way first. Should be higher and maybe drier. Water flows downhill and all." He takes a pull from his flask.
"We should be careful," says Durego. "Streams often lead to settlements, and we don't know what to expect out here. Be sure we mark the way back to the spire too. It wouldn't pay to get lost out here, since we don't know where here is."
Maro marks a few nearby trees with blazes, while Raúguey and Ohwatoo pile some small stones into a cairn, and then the party heads south along the stream. They walk for most of the morning through scattered trees and across soggy ground, but Rawon is proven right. By mid-morning the ground is drier, the trees are denser, and low hills rise on either side of the waterway. Here and there smaller creeks feed the main flow. Mordikarr stops suddenly and points off to the left. "More man-rocks."
Sure enough a line of old, worked stone, running east to west, crosses the stream ahead. "That's not a wall though," says Raúguey.
"No, it's a road!" exclaims Ohwatoo. The group hastens forward to examine the new find. It's a familiar sight, scattered stone slabs marking an old roadway. "Do you think this is the road we were following before?" asks the mage.
"I have no idea," says Durego, "but it's easier going than cutting our way through undergrowth and wading swamps. Which way?"
After a bit of back and forth about what to do and where to go, the
party decides to travel west along the road they've discovered, moving
slowly and exploring the surrounding territory as they go. Mordikarr has
also agreed to send Ava east along the roadway, with the instruction to
return to the party before dark. The owl is not particularly happy
about being sent out during the day, so Mordikarr is not sure how much
information she'll provide.
Moving at a slow pace, the group
travels west for a few miles, traveling across rumpled ground overgrown
with trees and brush, and crossing the occasional minor stream or creek,
all running generally northward. "This road is turning," says Rawon at
one of the group's many stops. Indeed it is. A couple miles from the
starting point the road is clearing running northwest, and the ground is
flatting out. The paving stones of the so-called road are often buried
or overturned, and more than once the group has had to stop to regain
the line of the old construction.
After a break at lunch, and
another five or six hours of slow walking, the party estimates they've
traveled six or seven miles since hitting the road. The ground has grown
softer as they've traveled, the hardwood maples and ashes giving way to
sycamores, oaks and cypress. And bugs. Did I mention the bugs?
Mordikarr and Rawon confer and agree that the group should now be almost
straight west of the spire. Rather than press on into what appears to
be wetter terrain ahead, they decide to stop and make camp. Hopefully
Ava will catch up with the group, and those with energy left can expend
it exploring around this new camp, possibly finding a way back to the
Mordikarr, Maro, and Gorvil decide to try their
luck eastward, hoping to find the spire, while Rawon, Ingvild, and Locky
decide to go north for a bit to see what they can see. The group has
seen no sign of inhabitants as they've traveled, beyond a few game
trails. As the rest of the group sets up camp and deals with the beasts,
Ohwatoo wonders if intelligent beings avoid the area around the spires,
or if this land is simply uninhabited.
Rawon and company are the
first to return. They report that it gets even swampier to the north,
but the trees think out, and when Ingvild climbed a tall oak, he saw
what looked like water, maybe a lake, to the north. "Remember we saw
that open area northwest of the tower? I wonder if its the same," says
The eastern group returns an hour later, with little to
report. Lots of trees, but no sign of the spire, at least within the two
miles or so they traveled. The ground is a bit drier a mile or so east,
but still unpleasant. The only point of interest they spotted was
another pile of large stone blocks, much like those near the spire. Maro
suggests that there must have been quite a large structure or many
structures out here to leave so many ruins, but offers no theories as to
what these places were.
The party settles in for dinner and
rest. As it gets darker, the frogs start up. Little tree frogs and big
old bullfrogs. Peepers and creakers. It's quite the chorus. The first
watch is picking positions and the others are bedding down when...
something drops on Raúguey from the trees overhead! Something large and
brown and multi-legged. The big guy barely has time to shout before
the... bug? Spider? Crab? Ahh let's just go with monster for now, tries
to bite him! Fortunately Raúguey's spastic response to something landing
on his back is enough to hurl the creature aside. It misses miserably.
Things in the trees!" Ingvild's cry draws everyone's attention, and
just in time! Several more of the three-foot wide creatures drop from
the branches and into the camp, the original near Raúguey, one among the
mules, another near Maro, and two near Durego. Its easy to see how you
missed them in the branches overhead, their flattened brown bodies are
mottled and dark, easily lost against the bark of a tree or a hollow