Episode 21: Asa's Big Crack (Assault on Grenseldek's Fort Pt III)
The Hunt for Grenseldek

Everyone meditated for an hour. This was followed by a lively discussion about how to best approach Redlake Fort. The Giantslayers—a human Druid (Gydion), an elven ranger (Silaqui), a dwarven fighter-cleric (Draken) and a halfling paladin (Asa)—had serious questions about the map they’d purchased, so they sent Gydion on another reconnaissance mission in owl-form. A few minutes later, he reported back to the group, and the Giantslayers finalized their plans: after their dwarf soldier friends would take down the palisade on the north side of the fort, they would cross the moat in their makeshift pontoon boat, aiming for a “big crack” in the fort’s wall. Asa had noticed the crack in the wall on the map, and Gydion confirmed it. If everyone couldn’t fit through the crack, Gydion reassured them, he could enlarge it using Stone Shape. At the same time, the dwarf army, together with the elf-wizard Turin and elf-Druid Janekfan, would draw the attention of the denizens of the fort by staging a distraction on the opposite side of the fort.

Their entry into Redlake Fort appeared to go unnoticed, with Draken slipping through the crack first, using Silaqui’s potion of Gaseous Form, which she lent to him. Beyond the crack was a room containing three deformed-looking ogres: monstrosities born of the unnatural mating of ogres and orcs. One had three ears; another had an arm growing out of its back; all were freaks of nature. Interposing himself between the creatures and the only door out of the room, the dwarf assumed solid form and attacked, cleaving right through one and hitting another. Asa then entered the room and, activating his Smite Evil ability, attacked the third creature. Silaqui joined Asa, followed by Kingsley and Gydion, who fit through the crack by Wildshaping into, of all things, a lion. After a few rounds of combat, the party defeated their three ogrekin opponents. They consulted their map and discussed their next move.

From his flight over the fort, Gydion knew that a bossy, female giantess—who Silaqui and Asa insisted was Chief Grenseldek—was dwelling in a large, three-story structure in the southeast corner of the fort. It wasn’t far from where they were now (which is why they entered Redlake Fort where they did). What they didn’t know, however, was what lay between them, and the three-story structure? Also: how could they gain entrance to it, once they reached it? They decided to again send Gydion out for reconnaissance, this time hidden from sight using a potion of Invisibility. After a few minutes, Gydion returned and explained that the only way into the structure was via a stand-alone stairway in the courtyard, connected to the structure by way of a drawbridge—which happened to be down. The door into the structure was closed; however, since it was made of wood, Gydion said he could use Warp Wood on it to grant them access. The Druid further reported that a hill giant, and some ogres, occupied the courtyard—and they appeared to have noticed the boat that they’d left in the moat. The party didn’t have much time, apparently, before their enemies discovered them.

Gydion went out once more and climbed the stairs, invisibly waiting for his comrades at the large, wooden door on the other side of the drawbridge. Then—on the count of three¬—the dwarf, the halfling and the elf burst into the courtyard, bolting across to join the Druid. Draken came out first, Enlarged thanks to his magic hammer Agrimmosh, but was immediately intercepted by two ogres and a giant. Asa appeared second, on Kingsley’s back; the pair made it across the courtyard in record time, and joined Gydion on the drawbridge. Silaqui came out last, and was met by three ogres as she reached the bottom of the staircase. Battle ensued, Draken and Silaqui on the ground [which was sensible, since both possess high bonuses against giant-type creatures], with Asa and Gydion supporting them from above [with sling-staff bullets and Call Lightning, respectively]. Silaqui defeated her three ogre opponents fairly easily, but Draken was taken down to two-thirds of his hit points before finally slaying the hill giant soldier.

Once Silaqui and Draken joined Gydion and Asa on the bridge, Gydion attempted to open the door. It was locked, however, so he Warped it, twisting a series of panels into a contorted blob. Draken stepped up and finished the job, breaking the door open with his hammer. Then, downing his potion of Shielding, the dwarf entered the building—and was immediately set upon by two hill giants! The rest of the party piled into the room, Silaqui firing arrow after arrow and Gydion conjuring a Flaming Sphere. Even Kingsley got in some good blows, scoring a critical hit against one giant with his fangs. Asa retired to the back, healing his friends with Lay On Hands. It wasn’t long before the two hill giant guards were laid low before the Giantslayers’ might. A search of their huge bodies didn’t reveal much—10 measly gold pieces. Similarly, the room itself held nothing of interest—it appeared to be a room fashioned from the gutting of what were once multiple rooms. There were multiple exits from the room: three sets of closed double-doors.

Next: The Jilted Giantess

Episode 20: Saved by Dwarves (Assault on Grenseldek's Fort Pt II)
A post by Asa del Ray

Amos, now we’ve really done it: we’ve rushed in and gotten ourselves over our heads. I often wish you were here: of the two of us, you were always the gentle voice of reason.

I’m trying to sleep in a dank corner of the orc barracks inside Redlake Fort, but my mind is racing. Everything happened so quickly after we rescued Umlo Nargrymkin (Ingrahild Nargrymkin‘s brother) from that filthy bear pen—just outside the wall where we are stationed now. As we were setting him free and killing the dire bear that was on top of him, we didn’t realize that every orc in Grenseldek’s army was gathering along the fortress walls above us to watch the bloodsport below. Our efforts were met with a volley of arrows from the angry orcs, although most of them missed their mark.

Draken acted first, throwing his grappling hook towards the palisade, hooking a pole. Janekfan secured the rope and then the two dwarves and me exited the pit. Ingrahild was overjoyed to see her brother! But there was little time for a reunion; we heard the sounds of alarm bells, and watched as explosives bombarded the fort from the lakeside. Our group (myself, Draken, Jane, Ingrahild, Umlo, Toboe, Kingsley, Cat, and my wardog, Pinto) all rushed towards the front entrance to the fort. We were hoping to gain entrance there, and hopefully aid our two comrades, Silaqui and Gydion, who were trapped inside—facing the orc hordes alone. As we rounded the corner, we saw an army of dwarves slowly advancing from the east: Draken identified them as “Iron Dwarves” from Mt Talos in the Tusk Mountains [another mountain range to the northeast, also in the Hold of Belkzen]. Their livery identified them as being in service to King Knut, an ally to Draken’s tribe in the Mindspin Mountains. The dwarven fighter-cleric smiled a rare smile.

Our little group watched as cannon fire from the dwarf army blasted open the front doors of Redlake Fort. When the smoke cleared, we entered, and were immediately set upon by filthy orcs. We could see Silaqui and Gydion, cornered in the northeast tower of the structure as we fought our way inside. Two large, winged reptilian beasts were breathing deadly fumes at them as they struggled to fend off the seemingly endless orc troops. Silaqui was perched on a wall, above the fray (thanks to her Spiderclimb potion), shooting arrows, while Gydion was calling down Lightning.

We barged through about 10 orc soldiers just in time to watch Silaqui slay the orc’s commander with one of her Orc Bane arrows. Gydion, meanwhile, scorched one of the reptilian creatures, killing it (see Figure 1, below), and causing the other to take to the air, disappearing into the dark. Two more of these foul creatures alighted on a stone wall and attempted to use their breath-weapons on Draken and me, but then flew off as quickly as they’d appeared.

{Figure 1: The winged, reptilian creature after Gydion was done with it.}

Truly I tell you, Amos, I was not an effective combatant today. Perhaps I should have taken up the bow, instead of the sword, as Silaqui has done. My strength is not great, and my paladin abilities are not yet advanced enough. Although I have now perfected my “spring attack”, and I have learned how to channel a celestial spirit into my masterwork longsword, it still is not enough. What I really need is a magic blade of some sort. That, combined with my Smite Evil ability, will be enough to lay low any orc, and maybe even a giant! Orc-slaying helps quench my sadness of losing you, Amos, for short periods.. And giant-slaying, I think, will still my anger at Grenseldek’s attack on Trunau… I must make that hateful giantess pay for her crimes against our fair city…one way or another.

But where is she? Where is Grenseldek? We discussed this question as King Knut and his troops defeated the last of the orcs, who were completely directionless without their commander. We peered out of the watchtower we were in, towards the inside of Redlake Fort, which was connected to our orc-watchtower by a series of bridges. The bridges were on fire! All except the innermost drawbridge, which had been pulled up by the ogres and giants who remained inside. It was dark now, and the flames reflected orange on the watery moat—which was quickly filling, thanks to the Iron Dwarves’ destruction of the dam with their cannons (King Knut informed us of this development).

After consulting our map, and discussing numerous options for crossing the burning bridge and/or the watery moat, we finally decided to enter the interior of Redlake Fort from the north. The fort’s wall was crumbled there, allowing easy access. King Knut’s troops offered to build us a pontoon-raft, which we would use after Gydion used Warp Wood to breach the palisade on that side of the fort. Meanwhile, while we infiltrated the fort and searched for Chief Grenseldek, King Knut and his troops would put out the fires (using a bucket-brigade), and construct another bridge across the moat, here, on this side. It seemed like a good plan.

Unfortunately, Gydion hadn’t prepped a Warp Wood spell, so he needed to rest in quiet meditation to gain it. We all needed a breather, in any case, so each of us tucked ourselves away in quiet corners, the drone of the Iron Dwarves lulling us to bouts of fitful sleep. Watch over us, Amos! The worst is yet to come, I fear…

Next: Assault on Grenseldek’s Fort, Pt III!

Episode 19: Finding Umlo (Assault on Grenseldek's Fort Pt I)
Chantel's last in-person episode (for awhile)

Before leaving Captain Raag Bloodtusk’ headquarters, the party purchased a map of Redlake Fort from the potion-selling half-orc (unfortunately, her potion shop had burned down during the giant mosquito incident, last episode). Asa used his Candle of Truth to verify that the half-orc wasn’t selling them a bogus map. Draken also scribed some scrolls of Cure Light Wounds, and Asa purchased a riding dog. The elven wizard Turin decided he would stay on board the boat to pursue some arcane research. Preparations complete, the Chanticleer then set sail upstream along the River Esk. After a week, the Mindspin Mountains starting coming into view in the west, and the riverboat reached the dock where the captain had planned to drop the Giantslayers. About a half-mile before reaching it, however, the dock suddenly burst into flames! This was followed by the ignition of what looked like a string of beacons along the shoreline, upriver. Apparently, Redlake Fort was ready for them.

The captain’s magic tooth glowed as he hurried the party to shore in his dinghy. On the way, Asa asked him to keep Uskroth’s Armor for him, until they returned (which he estimated would take about a week). Janekfan took to the sky in eagle-form to survey the surrounding land while the rest of the party hurried along the road towards Redlake Fort. Jane came back and told them that the map appeared to be correct—but she also reported two groups of giants, ogres and orcs had left the fort and were headed towards them! The adventurers got off the road and hid among the rocks, avoiding the first group. Then, traveling in the woods next to the road to avoid being seen, the party approached slowly, spotting the fort in the distance, up the hillside. Suddenly, they were barraged with arrows from above. Looking up, they spotted a large, pointy-eared giant, with a number of orc soldiers around him. Knowing they were at a disadvantage, the party hid in the woods, where they doubled back to take another, less-traveled road upwards which they hoped would lead to their attackers.

They crested the hillside and found that the road did, indeed, lead to their attackers! The giant and his orcs were busy celebrating the fact they’d run off the invaders, so the Giantslayers gained surprise. First, Gydion cast a Wind Wall spell to deflect the giant’s arrows, giving Draken and the others a chance to close the distance between them and the giant safely. Next, Gydion used his Fire Breath potion to incinerate the giant’s orc soldiers. Not a single orc was left standing! Jane called lightning down on the giant (whom she identified as a Forest Giant), while Silaqui filled him with arrows. Kingsley and Draken then closed the distance, hitting it with tooth and hammer, respectively. In a mighty show of strength, Draken brought down the colossal humanoid with a critical hit, reducing him to man-size with the hammer’s Reduce Person ability before felling him. A search of his body turned up four healing potions of various strength.

The party continued along the road another 20 minutes before reaching Redlake Fort. The sun began to set rapidly. Gydion then transformed into an owl to survey the surrounding land again—this time, focusing on the dam that separated the fort from the lake adjacent to it. As per their earlier strategizing that morning, the party was hoping to break open the dam and flood the fort. On his flight over the fort, however, he noticed a big crowd of orcs and giants gathered at one end of the ancient, crumbling structure. They were shouting and jeering as they watched a dwarf—shorn of his beard, dressed in rags, and deftly wielding what appeared to be a frying pan—fighting a dire bear. The gladiator-style match was taking place in a section of the moat while the crowd looked down from above. Could the dwarf be their new friend Ingrahild’s lost brother, Umlo Nargrymkin? Gydion thought. Worried that there might be even more innocent prisoners inside the fort, he abandoned the plan to destroy the dam, and decided to open the sluice doors as a distraction instead. He wanted to take immediate action to save the dwarf from the bear, and this was one means to that end.

Landing silently, Gydion spotted the sluice doors—there was a turning-wheel imbedded in them, which Gydion surmised was the way the Twisted Hearts regulated water levels. Returning to his human form, Gydion stepped into the water, and was immediately attacked by a giant gar! Gydion drew his Flaming magic scimitar and, after a few rounds, filleted the slimy fish. Then, turning the wheel full-throttle, he watched as water from the lake slowly poured into the dry moat surrounding the fort. He was glad that no water was entering the fort—even though he would love to see the orcs and giants drown in the red waters, he didn’t want any prisoners to drown along with their captors.

Gydion assumed owl-form again and raced back to the party, quickly drawing them towards the wooden palisade immediately adjacent to where the dwarf-bear flight was taking place. Taking direction from the owl-shaped Gydion, Jane cast Warp Wood , pulling apart the poles of the palisade to allow easy entry. Peering down into the pit, the party were horrified by the primitive bloodsport below. “Those sick bastards,” Asa muttered under his breath, and readied himself to climb down into the pit.

The orcs took notice of their appearance, of course, and fired upon the party. Silaqui sprang into action, climbing the palisade and running along top, where she took aim. Meanwhile, Draken climbed down into the pit and, stepping between the bear and Umlo, slammed the bear with Agrimmosh. Asa followed, slicing into the bear’s side with his longsword. Two other, smaller bears were on the other side of the pit, but kept a safe distance from the heavily armed dwarf and halfling. Meanwhile, Jane remained outside the fort, keeping watch on Kingsley, Toboe, Asa’s riding dog, Ingrahild, and Cat. She called down Lightning upon the bear, singeing it grievously. At the same time, Gydion flew across the moat and resumed his human form atop the palisade next to Silaqui, who had just killed three orcs (firing three arrows at once; one of them Orc Bane) who had climbed the palisade to confront her. She also attempted to kill the largest orc (probably their leader) with her arrow of Orc Slaying, but it didn’t work [the orc made a successful saving throw].

The next round, Draken finished off the bear with his hammer, laying it low in a bloody pile. He was surprised to notice that the beardless dwarf’s frying pan was made of mithral. Asa then asked the beardless dwarf, ‘Are you Ingrahild Nargrymkin’s brother?’ The ragged dwarf nodded in affirmation. Then, looking up at the crowd, Asa shouted, at the top of his voice, in Giant, ‘Bring us Grenseldek, and we will spare your miserable lives!’

Next: Assault on Grenseldek’s Fort, Pt II!

Episode 18: The Attack of the Giant Mosquitoes

The Chanticleer was repaired, and the crew prepared to set sail on the last leg of the journey: towards Redlake Fort. Before the Giantslayers could board, however, they heard a cry for help: a halfling was on the dock behind them, yelling out in pain. 10 seconds later, and the party saw what he was yelling about: giant, bloodsucking mosquitoes were closing in on him! The party leaped to the halfling’s defense and defeated the enormous insects—Silaqui and Draken took the most damage. Putting the shore behind them, they boarded, and headed west, along the River Esk.

Episode 17: Silaqui's Log: Perhaps Belkzen is Meant for the Giants
The second bitter fight with green hags.

After the Vault of Thorns, we returned to the boat, along with one hag as prisoner (very unwise as it would turn out). (We should have learned our lesson at Truneau and killed or released evil prisoners.) The boat eventually docked at a town and fortress, which was the captain’s base of operations. We went ashore and among other activities purchased potions at a magic shop.

When we returned to the boat, we found it about to come under attack by an ominous foe. A sixty-foot alligator, an odd saddle on its back, was carrying 3 hags, witches and sister to the hag in the hold who was our prisoner. The alligator rammed the boat, doing serious damage and swam away, travelling in a great arc and setting up for a second strike. The second slam had the alligator coming up onto the boat, its head and upper body on deck as the gator attacked the crew and our party. Everyone attacked as best we could. Draken landed several blows with his Warhammer, while Gydion and Jane inflicted major damage with lightning strikes. At one point, near disaster, Kingsley was caught in the gator’s mouth. The lion had come in close to bring Asa up to the fight – too close as it would turn out. But, the gator was finally killed by the efforts of Draken, Jane, Gydion, and Asa. Before the gator’s lifeless body fell back into the river, in a remarkable show of strength Asa pried open the gator’s mouth and released Kingsley, saving him.

My first arrow in the fight with the gator had hit his mouth, but then my attack centered on the hags who launched deadly attacks directly on me, though they were invisible. The hags had left the gator after it came onto the boat. One hag in the air near the mast was the one who first hit me with serious damage by magical weapons. I climbed half way up the mast to try and strike the hag with my sword. But, the hag was very powerful and it would take a lot to defeat her. Finally, Gydion killed the hag with a direct hit by lightning strike. At this point, another hag, the one who was our prisoner and who had broken free, ran onto the deck and jumped into the river to escape. Gydion, in a rage, changed onto animal form, a shark, as he courageously jumped into the river in pursuit. The hag was very powerful and in the underwater fight got the better of the druid. Gydion took serious damage and eventually had to back off. Sensing Gydion’s peril, Jane also assumed shark form and jumped into the river to join the fight. But, in the end, the two druids had to break off their attack and let the hag go. The druids made it back to the boat without meeting further attack.

The boat is quite damaged and will take a week or so to repair and refit. To my mind, this latest fight is typical of our experience since entering the Ghostlight Marsh. We were told by a number of sources that we would find a weapon hoard in the marsh that we would need to attack Redlake Fort. But, what we found in the marsh is very disappointing. We don’t have nearly enough weapons and support items like potions to attack a strong fort. And, what we did find we had to deplete battling hags that we would not have encountered had we not gone to the marsh on the first place. And, we were naïve enough to bring a hag as prisoner out with us.

I have become very disillusioned. I have lost sight of the original reason for our quest or what good we hope to accomplish. Belkzen is a place where all advantage is with the forces of evil. Our skills and spells are too often made powerless, while the enemy attacks with astounding and unrealistic success. I can’t help but believe that the powers supporting the agents of evil here favor their minions and have gained a control over every encounter and have weakened us by arbitrary malice. Iomedae, it seems, has no power here. She has been unable to help us. Many of our enemies can swoop in, inflict serious damage, and then disappear, while we are left with no means of attacking them, no defense. Maybe Belkzen is meant by the gods to be for the hags, the giants, and the orcs. Truneau should relocate south of Belkzen’s border. Think of this angle: by wearing down our powers to defeat the hags, haven’t we helped the giants? Haven’t we just neutralized the natural, future enemy and rival of the giants?

Why are we here? Even the townspeople we meet don’t seem to care about their own safety or future. They are apathetic and selfish. They offer us no assistance in our quest to rid their homes of evil. The least they could offer is information, but even that is denied us. A glaring example is the boat’s captain, who has seen us battle monsters in his defense but has insisted that we do menial labor on the boat to pay for our passage.

I’m ready to go home. I’m not a mercenary. I know of many towns in this world that could use my help against evil creatures — towns which would be grateful. If things get much worse, I should abandon this quest, try to convince the others to leave with me, and go back to Truneau and give them back the gold coins they gave me. I’m not a mercenary. If I abandon this quest, it will be because Iomedae has abandoned me. I will leave the bow she gifted me at her shrine in Truneau and go home.

Episode 16: Silaqui’s post about the Vault of Thorns
second half of the episode in the vault

We already entered the Vault of Thorns and battled some of the many Unseeley Fey who have invaded the vault. In the vault, at its floor, exploring, we all felt invigorated by the environment. Everyone healed quickly of our battle wounds. The floor of the giant vault is earth, and the high walls of this circular area were virtually impassible with thick intertwined vegetation.

Along with myself and our party, Turin, Draken, Janekfan and Toboe, and Gydion and Kingsley, Wynnea and her wolf Balto came as guide, and Ingrahild Nargrymkin and her puma continued to travel with us. I scouted ahead and found on the far side a hollow tree large enough to have a staircase inside. Before we could go up these stairs, a Tendriculos next to the tree attacked us. It was a monstrous plant of tree like strength and height with numerous mushrooms on it, and its tendrils attacked and grappled Toboe and Draken. Our team all attacked until the monster fell.

We ascended the stairs in the hollow tree to doors that opened into a greenhouse with many flowers and exotic plants, many in pots on tables. While amazed at the variety and uniqueness of the collection, we unfortunately discovered that some of the flowers were Extabeys, which emit a magic sleep powder. One of the plants put Gydion asleep. The team attacked the Extabeys, killing 6. Afterwards, Gydion soon recovered.
We followed the room around, went through a hallway, and finally came to fetid, foul smelling room, large and long, with two 30-foot high foul piles of rotting vegetation covered with brambles and thorny vines. Behind these two were three more piles, like the first two in size and odor. Turin exploded a fire ball which lit the chamber, and we could see another pile of vegetation with brambles at the far end. This pile was much larger, 50-feet high, and it had a large wooden chest on top. The fireball made dozens of rodents scurry for cover and singed some of the fetid piles. We could see brambles that looked alive, crawling out like arms from 3 of the 30-foot piles.

Our party had difficulty navigating the room because there were so many of us: besides me, Jane and Gydion with their animal companions, Draken and Turin, Ingrahild and her puma, and guarding the rear Wynnea and Balto. With such massive piles of vegetation and brambles, we could hardly all fit. We soon found our movement hampered by the tight space, as well as the attacks by the brambles. We all attacked the brambles as best we could.

I broke free of our party, maybe not the best decision, and ran through the piles heading for the largest one at the end of the room. I was hit and took massive damage, but luckily made it to the large pile and climbed up it onto the chest. I shot arrows down from that vantage point, while our team fought through to the end of the room, killing whatever entities animated the evil brambles in four of the piles. They did this, despite being weakened by the foul, palpable aura of rat and decay coming from all the piles.

It had been a vicious fight, and we threw at these malicious vines everything we had – hammer blows, flaming spheres, fireballs, arrows. Our party fought forward, but Wynnea and Balto stayed back. We were all so busy getting through tight spaces and battling vines that some of us didn’t notice Wynnea’s lack of participation in the fight. Only Turin, who had been suspicious of Wynnea from the first encounter kept an eye on her.

After eliminating the threat from the bramble piles, we found ourselves suddenly in another vicious fight, this one from behind. Wynnea and Balto suddenly both turned onto Green Hags, claimed whatever we might find here, and attacked. Everyone turned around to meet this new threat. Jane, the closest, was grappled by Not-Wynnea. All others attacked as best they could in this deadly fight in close quarters. I stayed on the chest, atop the largest mound and shot arrows at Not-Wynnea from across the room. Jane struggled hard to break the grapple. Gydion hit the hags with a flaming sphere. In the middle of the fight, the Not-Balto hag disappeared but was heard going through the door and running away. Ingrahild and her puma quickly ran after her, enraged at the hag and bent on revenge. Meanwhile, Not-Wynnea still grappled Jane, but Gydion hit the hag square with a flaming sphere. Although the fight continued, it was only a matter of time for the hag. Draken finally killed her with his Warhammer.

Turin had come over to the large mound where I was and opened the locked chest. We saw a ladder descending into a small chamber. There was too little space for everyone, so Turin and I went down and found a collection of weapons left there by the Council of Thorns many years ago.


In the treasure trove below the treasure chest:
+1 magic ironwood breastplate
+1 magic keen greatsword
+2 Orc Bane scimitar
10 +1 Orc Bane arrows
1 Orc Slaying arrow
1 scroll of Barkskin
1 scroll of Call Lightning
1 scroll of Summon Nature’s Ally IV
Wand of Flaming Sphere (w/9 charges)
Wand of Greater Magic Fang (w/12 charges)
Ironwood crown with a stylized thorn motif (worth 250 gp)
Ceremonial gem-encrusted cudgel (worth 150 gp)
3 pp
1,178 gp
605 sp

On Not-Wynnea:

5 Goodberries
Lesser Empower Metamagic Rod
1 scroll of Call Lightning
+1 magic Leather Armor
+1 magic Ring of Protection
holly and mistletoe
1 pair of faded leather baby shoes
1 wooden toy rattle
1 gp

Experience: 34,250 xp

Episodes 14 & 15: In Search Of... The Late, Great Council of Thorns

The Crocodile Queen failed to put in an appearance, so the party left her putrid lair to continue their eastward journey on the River Esk. A night passed, followed by a day and another night. The next day, at around noon, the landscape changed from forest to marsh; endless mire extending both north and south as far as the eye could see. After another two days, a swamp forest rose up, its willows, tupelos and stilted mangrove-like trees coming into view here-and-there, punctuating the marsh with their crowns.

At about noon on the second day, the swamp forest retreated into the distance, giving way to a marshy opening filled with hummocks of rushes and sedges. The hummocks were separated by pools of pitch-black water. It was in one of these pools that the party came across the stone that Silvermane had told them about: a flat rock etched with what appeared to be a Crown of Thorns. The adventurers headed north, led by Gydion, who was familiar with navigating wetlands. Although the druids’ movements weren’t hindered (thanks to their Woodland Stride ability), the other characters’ were, as Gydion patiently showed them all where they could safely step [of course, the two elf ladies, a druid and a ranger—respectively—didn’t need as much help as the others].

Turin smiled at the beautiful mid-summer day that was unfolding, despite the buzzing insects which were becoming increasingly loud and annoying with their stings. As they traversed the hummocks and approached the edge of the swamp forest, the druids and ranger stopped often to admire the beautiful marsh plants: blue irises, emerald cattails and pink swamp candles were the dominant species. It was a paradise for birds—Bracken and Blaez periodically needed “reeling in” by their masters because they wandered too far afield, exploring and feeding. A few times, the druids and ranger argued about plant identification, further slowing their progress (but in a good way). Taking in the sheer, untouched, natural beauty of the place, it was obvious why the Council of Thorns had given their lives to protect this land.

About 1000 feet further north, the land got drier, with the hummocks replaced with a 7-foot-high field between the borders of the swamp forest on their left and right. The druids identified the plants in the field as giant stinging nettles, so Gydion re-routed the group into the surrounding forest. The swamp forest was dark and wet, and progress was slow-going—when, all of a sudden, Silaqui was grabbed by a leafy tendril! She was able to struggle out of the snare as Draken hammered at the beast it was attached to: a huge Shambling Mound. Draken was the next to be grappled by the monstrous vegetable. Silaqui fired an arrow of elemental ice into its crown, Turin cast a Force Missile at its roots, and Kingsley and Toboe bit chunks out of its flesh. Finally, Gydion landed the killing blow with his oak staff, and the dwarf was freed.

Moving north, the intrepid explorers exited the swamp and found themselves in a savanna filled with four-foot-high reeds with intermittent willows and swamp-oaks here-and-there. Avoiding the pools of black water again made progress slow, as did avoiding the poison sumac trees (which Gydion successfully identified). It was about 2:30PM when the group noticed a duck flying towards them. It appeared to have a small scroll tied to one of its feet. It landed in front of Gydion and looked up at him. Silaqui cast Speak With Animals, and the bird informed her that he was there to deliver a message to Gydion. Taking the scroll from the duck, Gydion found a personal note from his two Druid guardians, Duskthorn and Kyrian, informing him that the will-o-wisps in the Marsh were actually reincarnated Druids from the Council of Thorns; in addition, the note said, Gydion and his friends couldn’t hope to defeat all of them—they needed to use Persuasion and Diplomacy if they were going to survive their encounters with these beings. The scroll also included a special orison [referred to here as Insect Repellent ], which deters all biting insects in a 10-foot radius. Much to the relief of his comrades, he read it immediately. Silaqui spoke a bit more with the duck while Gydion scribbled a quick ‘thank-you’ reply to his Guardians. They attached the note to its leg before releasing it into the air.

A little further north, they encountered a meandering, slow-moving stream wending its way through the savanna. They found a log rolled over one branch of the stream, and upon further inspection, found a crude animal trail. It headed north, so they decided to follow it. As they walked, some large (one-foot-long), bright pink dragonflies got their attention. Delighted, they approached another log-crossing when most of them noticed a swamp oak with a face leering at them, about 20 feet away, at the stream’s edge! Silaqui fired at it and scored a critical hit, putting out one of its eyes and causing the plant-creature to shudder and splash around at the stream’s edge. Toboe ran up to attack it and found himself the target of an oak-root which tore up out of the wet ground—luckily, it missed the wolf. Turin stepped off the trail (narrowly avoiding falling into a black pool) and fired a scorching ray at the creature, but it just shrugged it off. After a few rounds of combat, Kingsley finally landed the killing blow, biting its trunk. (Kingsley’s bite was, apparently, worse than its bark!). Draken approached the lifeless husk and attempted to hack the face off of it. In so doing, he discovered a gem-encrusted belt worth 50 gp; a wand of Hold Person with 6 charges, and 2 potions of Cure Moderate Wounds.

Following the route once more, the party found itself near a lakeshore, which the stream seemed to empty into. The lakeshore was surrounded by a quaking mat of Sphagnum moss, with low sedges, irises, ferns, and some more half-dead swamp oak trees. After almost an hour, Jane saw that, up ahead, the path ended at a rustic campsite, with a tent and firepit. At the edge of the pit, staring into the fire and muttering to herself, sat a bedraggled-looking female dwarf. After some discussion, the group decided to approach her cautiously Draken went first, since he was a dwarf, and hailed her in dwarvish. The she-dwarf turned towards him, wide-eyed. “Umlo! My brother! You have returned to me!” Then, looking past him, she cried, “Look out, Umlo! Orcs! Green-skinned devils are right behind you!” With that, she jumped to her feet and rushed them, drawing two axes as she ran. Turin pulled out his newly acquired wand and pointed, freezing her in place as the Hold Person spell took effect. While the rest of the party tied the insane dwarf up, Silaqui went into the tent and found a backpack and bedroll. She then walked around the tent and saw, to her surprise, a puma hiding in the undergrowth. She cast Speak With Animals and learned that the puma was the dwarf’s animal companion, named “Cat” [the dwarf was a ranger, like Silaqui], and that they had been exploring Ghostlight Marsh along with the dwarf’s brother and two hired mercenaries when they’d been attacked by a coven of green hags, and their bodyguard! When Silaqui asked what happened next, the puma’s memory was unclear, but he recalled that the coven had “done something” to his mistress and her brother—and the two siblings parted ways at that point. He said he was worried about his mistress and had been watching over her since that time (about two weeks ago).

Silaqui relayed all of this to her comrades. They decided to take the dwarf and Cat with them to find the Vault of Thorns—Cat told Silaqui that he could take them back to the spot where they’d been attacked. Before they left the campsite, Turin used Detect Magic and discovered that one of the she-dwarf’s axes radiated magic, and in addition, she had two potions on her person. Upon further inspection, they learned that the axe was +1, and that the two potions were Cure Moderate Wounds and Remove Curse. Intrigued by the puma’s story, the party decided to force-feed the potion to the dwarf (who was cursing and sputtering at them as they did so). Upon ingestion—suddenly, in mid-sputter—the dwarf grew still and calm. “Where am I?” she asked. As they walked, she told them her name was Ingrahild Nargrymkin, and that she and her brother had been trying to locate the ancient tomb of a long-lost ancestor of theirs—a famous giant-slayer named Nargrym Steelhand. She said that they had reached a stone circle deep within the marsh, but before they could explore further, they were ambushed by a coven of green hags and their bodyguard. She didn’t know what happened after that, or what had become of her brother. “We have to find him! Poor Umlo!” She cried. “You remind me so much of him”, she said to Draken, through her tears.

After about an hour of walking through another large patch of swamp forest, two glowing lights appeared and attacked Gydion and Silaqui with an electric shock. The lights then disappeared, and all went quiet again. Gydion, realizing that these must be the will-o-wisp remnants of the late, great Council of Thorns, spoke. He told them that they were on a mission from Silvermane, and that they needed to find the Vault of Thorns, so that they could acquire some weapons for defeating the Twisted Hearts orc tribe. Jane chimed in, repeating what Gydion had said, and adding that she was Silvermane’s granddaughter. She produced the Ghostlight Lantern that he had given her from within her backpack. At that point, the two bright lights—one green, the other white—appeared again. Within the green one, a bearded visage was evident; within the white one, the face of an elderly woman. Introducing themselves as Mossmoon and Starshine, the will-o-wisps spoke with Jane and Gydion about the party’s mission. After Gydion expressed dismay about needing a will-o-wisp husk, the lights reassured them that nobody needed to die in order for them to procure a husk. Mossmoon told them they could lead them to a place where they could energize the Lantern with an already-dead will-o-wisp husk.

The group followed the will-o-wisps to an eerily quiet clearing: an ancient black spruce bog. The moss around their feet was slightly quaking, but mostly stable, as they strolled past beautiful terrestrial orchids, together with all manner of insectivorous plants: sundews, Venus flytraps and pitcher-plants. Black spruce dotted the clearing. The lights told Gydion and Jane to produce the Lantern and follow them into another, smaller clearing off to the side, whlie the others waited. Following their instructions, Mossmoon showed them a pile of small, sponge-like spheres on the ground. “This the burial ground of the will-o-wisps that were the Council of Thorns… those that have died, find rest, here.” Gydion looked at Mossmoon and waited. “Take one of these and place it into the Lantern while Jane holds it,” he said to him. Ceremoniously, the two Druids did as instructed, and upon doing so, the Lantern came to life with a bluish-white light. The beam it emitted shone north, further into the swamp forest. “Follow the beam; the Lantern will show you the way,” Starshine told them. Jane and Gydion thanked them, and then, the will-o-wisps disappeared.

After another hour or so, following the Lantern ’s light, the party found itself in another Sphagnum bog, with no spruce trees; only a few orchids, carnivorous plants, and ferns. In the middle stood a circle of monolithic standing stones surrounding a central menhir covered in a layer of thick, thorny vegetation. In all, eight formations surrounded the central stone: five were intact, while three were crumbled (and partially sunk into the soggy soil). Like the will-o-wisp graveyard, this clearing was eerily quiet; but in addition, a mystic energy filled the air. A certain electricity tingled in the atmosphere as the Lantern ’s glow became immediately more diffuse and soft.

Then, out of nowhere—crashing through the trees to the northwest—a huge marsh giant entered the bog, brandishing a hooked spear! With a mighty ROAR it attacked, rearing up to its full height, as the party struggled to mount a defense. Upon seeing the giant, Ingrahild screamed: “It’s the hags’ bodyguard!!”

Seeing clouds up above, the two Druids invoked Call Lightning, doing serious damage to the beast. The dwarves, meanwhile attacked it from both sides with axe and hammer. Turin cast Shocking Grasp on Blaez and sent him to deliver it; unfortunately, the giant launched an Attack of Opportunity with his , sending the tiny bird plummeting to the bog mat!

After a few rounds of combat, the giant was laid low by one of Jane’s lightning boltsThe party, for their part, suffered some damage, especially the dwarves and Toboe. Jane Stabilized Blaez, after which Turin healed him with a magic potion. Gingerly lifting the little creature into his hands, he cast a Fly spell and rose 60 feet into the air. There, in mid-air, he broke the sacred familar-bond between him and his hummingbird; and then, he released the creature into the air. It flew off into the swamp forest, looking back one last time before disappearing into the canopy. It was a difficult decision for the wizard, but in the end, he felt he had done the right thing in letting this poor, innocent creature go. Stifling his sobs, he flew north and got a good look around. A few hundred feet away, he saw the swamp forest finally end at the shore of an immense, bubbling hot spring, thousands of miles across. On its other side was another swamp forest. There was no civilization as far as he could see. Aloft in the air alone, the elf took solace in the untarnished natural beauty before him.

Meanwhile, in the clearing below, jane and Gydion read and re-read Silvermane’s instructions. As he spelled out in the note that he’d given Jane together with the Lantern, the Druids shone its light upon the central menhir. At that moment, the vegetation dropped away from the stone, and it started to hum and glow with a dull amber light. Detect Magic revealed that the stone was alive with a strong conjuration magic. The party gathered around and attempted to look for runes, or other writing, upon the central stone—but they found none.

After a minute or so, Jane—seeing no other option—touched the stone.
Then, to the amazement of everyone… the white-haired elf disappeared!

The others looked at each other, not believing their eyes. They started to discuss what they should do, when all of a sudden, Toboe—who had lost his psychic connection with Jane—touched a paw to the stone. The wolf, too, disappeared.

The group called Turin back, then, they all held hands as Gydion touched the central menhir. All of them felt a mild tingling sensation as a yellow glow, like golden sunlight, shrouded their vision. A few seconds later, they found themselves in a medium-sized wooden chamber, standing around a similar-looking menhir that shone with a pale amber glow. The stone was in a corner of the chamber, and in the opposite corner was a wooden doorway set in the middle of an elaborately-carved wooden flower. In between themselves and the floral door, Jane and Toboe were engaged in combat with three bizarre-looking, animated, roughly humanoid bundles of twigs!

“Fiddle-dee-dee, can’t catch me!” yelled one as Toboe snapped at it with his powerful jaws. Jane fired arrows at another as it fired a volley of thorn-like projectiles at her. The other party members quickly drew their weapons and closed in to assist her. Turin fired a Scorching Ray at one, setting it on fire, while Draken smashed another with Agrimmosh. “We come in peace! Please stop your attacks,” shouted Gydion—but to no avail—the wooden creatures continued their assault.

Another batch of thorns hit Turin as he flew around the room. One of the creatures seemed to teleport away from Jane and over to Silaqui, attacking her with a wooden spear as it taunted her with faerie rhymes: “Can’t catch me! Dumble-dee-dee!”. Turin cast Mage Armor on both Gydion and Draken as Silaqui fired an arrow into the creature that had teleported to her, killing it. Gydion delivered the killing blow to the one that had caught fire, and Jane finished off the third and last one.

The group cautiously approached the door. Above, a sign (in Druidic) read: “For those who love peace in nature, welcome. For those that don’t, beware of the wrath of the Vault of Thorns.” Jane read it aloud for her non-Druid colleagues, and they pondered the meaning for a second. Then, they decided to go through the doorway.

The petaloid doors gave way easily, and the group entered what seemed to be a giant greenhouse. They found themselves on a 15-foot-wide bridge that spanned the plant-filled room, 80 feet above the floor below and 80 feet below what seemed to be a glassy “ceiling” above. All around them, lush trees grew, their branches teeming with birds and other wildlife. The light above made the air steamy and warm. Across the bridge, about 80 feet away, was another set of doors.

As the group walked across the bridge, they quickly realized they weren’t alone: Turin and his sister Silaqui were both cut by unseen attackers. From the buzzing they heard, they guessed that these were invisible fey borne on gossamer insect-like wings. What could they be? Gydion attempted to talk to their unseen assailants, telling them that they were Druids sent by Silvermane, and they meant no harm. However, no sooner id he get these words out that they were assaulted again! Whatever was divebombing them was clearly skillful with “flyby” attacks, and were able to maintain their invisibility even after attacking… Formidable fey indeed!

Breaking free from the crowd, Silaqui ran towards the other side of the bridge, and was once again hit by an unseen attacker. While the others behind her where attempting to pinpoint the whereabouts of the invisible creature that had attacked Turin, Silaqui narrowly avoided getting hit by her unseen attacker. She felt the buzz of its wings as it flew by. The next round, she made another mad dash, and pushed open the second set of doors, revealing an ornately-carved, wooden chamber.

A statuesque, middle-aged elven woman stood up out of her throne-like chair at the other end of the chamber, staring at Silaqui. “Who are you?” she demanded. Silaqui gave her name, and then explained their mission. “Silvermane’s granddaughter, Jane, is with us,” she added. Suddenly, she was attacked by her unseen attacker once more, and the middle-aged elf ran to her aid. “I am the Guardian of the Vault of Thorns,” she said, “And these evil fey that have invaded this sanctuary are not to be trifled with!” With that, she enveloped them with Obscuring Mist.

Outside, on the bridge, Toboe managed to use his scent ability to snag the other invisible fey creature in his jaws. Gydion came to his aid and securely grappled the gossamer-winged being. Jane approached them and asked it why it was attacking—aren’t we all friends here? It responded by saying “This is our realm now!” Jane, wishing to see the creature, cut herself with her knife and smeared her blood on its head, revealing a baby-faced fey creature with bulging, angry eyes. It stared at her venomously as she said “Aren’t you supposed to be allied with the druids here?”

The thing replied, “The druids have all gone! So this is our place now! Get out!” Jane exchanged a nod with Gydion and the others before plunging her knife into its neck: “Guess what?! The Druids are back in town!!” She then dipped her fingers into its neck and spread its blue blood on her cheeks—like warpaint—as the creature bled out. They left the creature to Turin, who began chiseling its wings off, to use as the material component to a wizard spell he was planning.

The group reached the other side of the bridge and entered the wooden Council Chamber, only to see a cloud of mist. Silaqui heard her colleagues and explained what was going on. After a few seconds, the self-proclaimed Guardian of the Vault remarked that she didn’t hear any more buzzing, so the coast was probably clear. She dropped the Mist and addressed the rest of the party. “Welcome! I am Wynnea, Guardian of the Vault of Thorns! Which of you is Silvermane’s granddaughter?” Jane approached and introduced herself.

“My dear child,” the Guardian said, taking her hand, “I am Silvermane’s wife. I’m your grandmother… My prayers have been answered!!” Jane recalled stories of her grandmother, Wynnea, but knew that she had died, long ago. “That’s true, my dear,” confirmed Wynnea, “But the spirits of the Vault have resurrected me.” She went on to explain how the Vault’s spirits must have known that Jane was on her way, and that the Fates had indeed given them a lucky turn. Jane explained about the loss of her parents while Wynnea listened wistfully.

“And who is this delightful canine companion of yours?” Jane introduced Toboe, and Wynnea replied, “Well, wolf companions must run in our family… I have one as well!… Balto!” And in ran another wolf, from an adjoining room, and licked Toboe’s face. “Oh what a happy occasion!” Wynnea beamed, “And your appearance couldn’t have come at a better time.” Gydion asked what she meant, and Wynnea explained that she needed Jane’s, and the others’, help in clearing the Vault of Unseeley Fey invaders. “Since the Council left this place, many years ago, the Vault has become slowly occupied by evil faerie,” she told them. “You must help me rid the Vault of these interlopers, and the treasure of weapons will be yours,” she told them. “Oh the possibilities,” she added, eyes wide open. “Maybe we can even reconstitute the Council of Thorns itself!”

“First, however, about this weapon stash,” asked Jane, “Where is it?” Wynnea looked at her sadly and told her that because she had been resurrected just a week ago, she hadn’t had time to fully explore the place. She also told them that the resurrection had left her memories cloudy at best, and further, the Druidic architecture of the Vault was constantly changing, ever-so-slightly. “Even if I had a map, it wouldn’t do us much good in the long run,” she said, “it’s all so malleable.”

“What’s behind these doors?” asked Jane, pushing through another set of doors to the north. They opened into a hallway, which led to a short flight of stairs, heading down. The party entered, together with Wynnea and Balto. The stairs ended upon a platform that looked across a room filled with floating lily pads! On the other side of the room was another platform, leading down a staircase to a dimly-lit closed door. The floor below the platform could not be seen, but pungent wafts of soil (smells similar to mulch) came up from below.

Turin pulled out a scroll and cast Fly on Draken, and the two of them began testing the weight capacity of the floating pads. It appeared they could hold about 200 lbs before beginning to sink downwards. As they tested the pads, Jane spotted a memorial plaque (in Druidic) on the wall for her grandmother Wynnea, and asked her grandmother about it. “Yes this is where Balto and I were buried—or, should I say, composted,” the old elf smiled, “Very sustainable. Very green. Very Druidic, wouldn’t you agree, dear?”

All of a sudden, Turin noticed a bright blue, man-sized dragonfly speeding towards him and Turin from the dark depths below them. The dragonfly somehow cast Entangle, and the wizard and fighter narrowly escaped being curled up inside the lily pads floating around them. Turin cast a Fireball at it, seriously damaging it, and Draken flew down and whacked it with his magic hammer. Silaqui then fired an elemental arrow of fire from her magic bow, doing 19 points of damage to it. After a few rounds of combat, Wynnea finally zapped the giant insect with an arc of lightning-like energy, killing it and causing it to drop to the bottom of the room, far below, with a crash. “Talk about a bug-zapper!” the old elf cackled.

With the threat from below dealt with, the group focused on breaching the chasm. The Druids all turned into hawks and flew across. Silaqui, and Ingrahild bounded across the floating pads acrobatically; Kingsley did the same, but with Draken holding a rope tied around the lion’s waist (for security). Finally, Draken ferried Toboe and Cat across the room.

On the other side, a hallway led down two flights of stairs to a hollow tree. The hollow tree was a spiral staircase (created, the Druids guessed, with Wood Shape and/or Warp Wood spells) that led down into the greenhouse they’d seen from above. They found themselves looking up at the bridge they were once on, but the air was cooler now; a 3-foot deep mist covered the forest floor. The Druids, and the ranger Silaqui, were delighted with the diversity on display before them: bamboo from Tian Xia; teak trees from distant Vudra; vines from the Mwangi Expanse; and even stranger, unrecognizable vegetation. A constant symphony of birdsong and other animal noises filled the air, and a howler monkey approached them playfully. A rabbit, too, came up to them and sniffed Jane’s boots, unafraid, as birds landed on their shoulders. Water dripped down from the bridge high above, falling like tiny rainshowers upon them. The air was full of a thousand smells, both pleasant and pungent, as they made their way across the large, round, green expanse.

A Message from Home
Gydion Reflects

It’s a rare quiet moment, although I fear it won’t be for long. We are making preparations to break the she-dwarf ranger’s camp and to proceed to find the Vault of Thorns. No one is looking, so I take out the scroll brought to me by the brave little duck, and unroll the page. My eyes trace the words written by my guardians over again, and then again, treasuring each word written in that oh so familiar script. It feels to me like the grandest of gifts, as if it was water and I was a parched desert wanderer. Although this scroll means freedom from the biting pests of the Ghostlight Marsh to my companions, it means so much more to me. It is a welcome reminder of the love and care that the men I call my fathers have showered me with all of my life, and continue to even now. It is a welcome reminder of home.

Duskthorn, the more serious of my two guardians, is tall and dark haired with startling indigo eyes that always suggest they take in far more than you, and know secrets to spare. He always had a quiet manner, but at night around the fire’s light he would spin some of the most fantastic tales to delight a young mind and inflame a growing imagination. He loves books and the written word – no surprise, then, that the scroll’s script is his – and he shared that love with me. Sometimes I’d catch a small, bemused smile peeking out from behind his great bushy beard, but it was often gone in a quicksilver flash. He could be stern if I wasn’t taking my studies too seriously, but that sternness was always tempered with compassion and kindness.

Kyrian is the shorter, stockier of the two, and the exact opposite of Duskthorn’s more reserved nature. He had an unruly mane of red curls and such spirited green eyes, as well as a great, burly mustache that made a frame for a mouth that was seldom closed. If he wasn’t laughing or telling jokes or expounding on the plants and animals we would see in the forest, he would be whistling or humming or singing a jaunty tune. Loud and boisterous, he was quicker with affection, too, imparting hugs as easily as he imparted knowledge. But please don’t mistake what I mean – I was loved and cared for by both of my guardians in no small measure, Kyrian and Duskthorn alike.

For the first several years of my life, a makeshift cabin in the middle of what I only knew as the Great Forest was our home. It was warm in the winter months, and cool in the summer months, and cozy as cozy could be. I’d share my simple sleeping loft with all manner of forest creatures that would come to stay with us, from rabbits and raccoons to squirrels to possums, and even for a short while a young bear whose mother had been slain by hunters.

In the shadow of our cabin, deer and elk would come for a visit, and there were fox and wolves and bear too, coming together in some unspoken accord of peace and harmony. I had animal friends in all corners of the woods, and I ran as wild and free as a critter myself, all under the watchful eyes of my fathers. I remember that we would play, I as a brave knight brandishing a flashing steel sword (in reality, a stick liberated from the forest floor), and they as my faithful companions or sometimes as dread adversaries that fell beneath my furious onslaught. We would bring peace to our make believe kingdom, and they would always be sure to compliment me on my dread skill in battle.

Certainly the woods had their real dangers, too – mischievous fey, magical creatures that were less than friendly, and even the occasional wicked-minded adventurer or magic wielder. Duskthorn and Kyrian were time and again more than capable of keeping us all safe from any harm that dared threaten us.

Even when we moved into the towns and cities, and I became aware that the world was much, much larger than I realized in the sanctuary of our sylvan home, they were there to guide me through, and protect me from, the pitfalls of civilization. Civilization … bah! Humankind time and time again proved itself to be far more dangerous, far more treacherous than any mere animal could be (a lesson never lost on me). Nature, my fathers taught me, was so fierce and unpredictable precisely to keep mankind humble and in awe as much as possible.

Is it odd that for some time I didn’t know that I wasn’t theirs by blood? Perhaps not, for what child has awareness of such things? We were a family, and that was the only fact I needed to keep hold of. What cause would I have to think anything other than that I was theirs? They never treated me as if I wasn’t their own, and fed me, clothed me, taught me, sheltered me, and treated me as any good father would his child. The truth of my parentage and the nature of my entrance into the world was a secret that was kept from me until I was old enough to realize the biological improbability of having two men as my parents, even in as magical a world as ours.

Even when I did learn of my origins, it didn’t matter one whit to me; our family was as strong as any created by bonds of blood. I had no need or want for biological parents, not when I had them. I certainly did not want to meet any man, king or not, who would doom a baby to its presumed death to save his own life. What stories would a man like that tell, or what kinds of songs could he sing? What lessons could he impart on me than Duskthorn could, and a thousand times better at that?

Nor did I want a mother who would so willingly give up a child for the same cause. (I didn’t understand, at least not back then, that some choices were never a choice at all.) But at the time I thought, would a mother cook for me, or attend my illnesses or kiss away my petty injuries? Would she sing me lullabies and soothe away my nightmares any better than Kyrian did?

I do remember telling them one day, after learning of my history, that I was sorry for being a burden the Spirits of the Wild placed on them. They told me I was mistaken, that I was no burden, but rather a gift from the gods to make their family complete.

When I was inducted into the Druidic order – I can say no more, for this rite of passage is sacred and not to be discussed with the uninitiated – I knew only that I was to become a servant of Nature – a friend of animals, a protector of the wild. Duskthorn and Kyrian were charged with readying me for this destiny, and at the appropriate age we traded my play swords for magical knowledge and my quarterstaff. Our pretend battles against imagined enemies were replaced with sparring and discussion of strategy and tactics. Romps through the forest became training in running, swimming, climbing and basic survival. They taught me to use a sling and bullets, and I practiced my aim. In effect, I became a warrior. Nay, I became a man. I believe in my heart of hearts that my fathers did their jobs well. I only hope the Spirits of the Wild that gave them their charge will agree.

I do not speak much of my life or my past with my fellow adventurers, not even with Janekfan who I feel the most kinship with as a fellow Druid. I prefer to focus on the present and the tasks at hand as they are as numerous as they are difficult. But there are times when sweet remembrances of the past invade my thoughts, and there will always be a part of me that longs to go back to those simpler days when I was a small boy playing with my fathers in the woods. At least then, the threats were fanciful and imagined, and vanquished all too easily with the wave of a stick sword. Back then, the weight of a world did not rest so heavily on my shoulders.

Episode 14: Into the Lair of the Crocodile Queen

Brief synopsis:

The party went down into the tunnel that was filled with fresh(er) air. Silaqui and Draken went in first. Draken, held by a rope secured by Janekfan and Asa, went into the water a bit. A great toothy beast rose out of the water and squirted acid on Silaqui and Draken.

The party retreated and then Silaqui blocked the passage with a smokestick. After the smoke cleared, Silaqui then drank her potion of Spider Climb and went into the cavern again. She shot an arrow and critted on the pond guardian, who in turn hit her with acid. Then Jane and Draken went in. After a few rounds, the guardian was defeated.

The party then followed a series of tunnels, with Silaqui spider-climbing in the lead (as a scout). They found a vertical shaft where they needed to leave their animal companions behind.

Another passage, and they found themselves in a big chamber filled with river jade, some potion bottles—all surrounded by a ring of bones. The group approached cautiously (Silaqui on the ceiling) and when they reached the bones, the bones formed into skeletal (undead) alligators! Two other creatures materialized—flood trolls—had they drunk potions of gaseous form?

Battle commenced.

Gydion held his own against two undead gators, while Draken cleaved through two—critting one and killing both.

Asa opened all the stops, downing a potion of Eagles Splendor, activating his armor of Righteous Might, and using his Smite Evil on one of the trolls. Despite his efforts, however, in the end, Silaqui killed dealt it the killing blow

Asa then turned around, killed one gator, then cou’de’graced the troll (which had regenerated!), slicing it over and over again.

Jane (buffed by a Barkskin spell) was flanked by two gators and brought down low. But, she recovered enough to kill the second troll. We hacked the remains of the troll up to prevent it regenerating.

The party filled their pockets and packs with 2000 gp worth of jade… and contemplated what to do next.

Episode 13: All Aboard the Chanticleer!

Gydion handed their official Letter of Introduction to Captain Raag Bloodtusk, commander of the Chanticleer, the keelboat which would bring them to Redlake Fort by way of Ghostlight Marsh. The sturdy half-orc looked it over and smiled. “Any friend of Halgra of the Blackened Blades is a friend of mine” he said, and shook Gydion’s hand. Introductions were made, and the Giantslayers were led aboard.

Most of the party had never been on a boat before. Even to their untrained eyes, however, the keelboat appeared top-heavy and ungainly, with its wide forecastle, cobbled-together-tower-structure at the bow, and high aftcastle at the stern. During their brief tour of the 120-foot-long, 30-foot-wide vessel, they made the acquaintance of eight crew members. All eight were male, and all were half-orcs, save one: Coxswain Halrex. The scowling orc looked the party up-and-down and said, “I hope you’re good at rowing!” Captain Bloodtusk looked sad as he explained that they’d recently lost four crew to the Crocodile Queen, a reptilian behemoth who haunts the Kestrel River with her crocodilian minions. Because of the recent losses they’d suffered, everyone needed to spend part of each day below-deck, rowing the boat; in addition, each of them needed to pitch in with the ship’s chores. “Furthermore”, he added, “you must help defend the ship as necessary. These aren’t the most civilized waters!” As he turned away towards the foremast, Janekfan secretly cast Detect Magic, which revealed that the Captain’s left tusk radiated strong magic.

The party were shown their quarters: a room full of hammocks in two tiers, a lower and an upper one. “Draken, you take a bottom bunk. I’ll take a top, since I’m the alpha male!” said Asa, poking the dwarf in the ribs. “No, you can take bottom, halfling!” growled Draken. “Just because you got that big hammer doesn’t mean you get to be on top…Let’s wrestle for it!” smiled Asa, and the two began grappling. Draken’s CMB overcame Asa’s CMD, however, and the dwarf prevailed. “There’s always tomorrow night,” Asa smiled, out of breath.

After the party chose their hammocks and stowed their belongings, the ship’s cook, Gashnakh, assigned chores. Jane and Silaqui were given sounding and lookout, respectively—tasks which would make good use of their keen elf-eyes. Gydion chose fishing, a job which relied on his strong Survival skill to haul in the catch of the day in four nets. Turin, who was adept at cooking and brewing, offered to assist Gashnakh prepare the crew’s meals in the kitchen. Draken was given the task of helping take care of the ship’s eight horses, which were kept in order to be put ashore, to pull the boat upstream, when necessary. Since there were no chores left, Asa elected to do a double shift of rowing below deck, where Halrex paced back and forth, pounding her drum (to set the pace for the rowers) and hurling insults at slackers.

Everybody performed well in their assigned chores except Draken, who couldn’t manage to shoe the horses properly. Word quickly spread, and Bloodtusk’s crew targeted the dwarf with contempt. “I’m a dwarf, what do I know about horses!?” muttered Draken under his breath, scowling.

At the end of the day, just before sunset, Silaqui released Bracken to scout ahead. Ten minutes later, the bird came back with bad news: “Danger! Giant!” it squawked. The ranger raised the alarm: something was coming this way! The captain docked the boat at the river’s edge while the crew and passengers braced themselves, scanning the water ahead. They soon spotted a massive fin cutting through the water upstream. “Ahoy! Minidik, the mighty megadon, approaches!!” shouted Captain Bloodtusk. Three crew members manning the ship’s weapons fired upon the giant shark as it came into full view, its toothy maw gaping.

Silaqui fired the first shot, chilling an arrow using her magical Bow of the Elements. The Druids acted in tandem, Gydion casting Chill Metal on six arrows and giving them to Jane to fire at the monster. The shorter warrior-types in the party, Draken and Asa, had to make do with firing missile weapons at the behemoth, doing scant damage. Kingsley and Toboe were unable to attack; they watched nervously from the deck.

BAM! The river monster hit the boat with a mighty thud. It seemed intent on breeching the hull. As it doubled back for another strike, round upon round of missiles were fired into its thick hide. Seconds passed and as they did, Jane’s arrows—imbedded in the megadon’s flesh—caused extra damage because of their painful, chilly enchantment—or so the Druids thought…

In truth, the giant shark seemed to be growing larger. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Was Gydion’s Chill Metal actually making the beast stronger? They didn’t have much time to ponder that idea, however, because the combination of Silaqui’s elemental arrows (which she had now switched to electrical energy, rather than cold energy) and the ship’s catapult soon sent the megadon reeling. Grievously wounded, it fled the scene as quickly as it had arrived, disappearing into the murkey depths of the Kestrel. The crew and passengers had supper and turned in early.

The next day, the Captain announced that they would be anchored for at least one more day while the crew fixed the keelboat’s hull. The party stayed busy with their assigned chores, but were spared rowing duty (Asa got the entire day off). Draken’s animal husbandry skills were successful; he shoed the boat’s horses skillfully. He also bested Asa one more time, wrestling for top bunk that night.

The Chanticleer set sail the next morning with a strong westerly wind. After a few hours on the river, they were hailed by some men on the northern bank. Captain Bloodtusk anchored and addressed them, asking them what was the matter. “The Crocodile Queen!” they replied. “She’s on a rampage!” Bloodtusk questioned them further but they didn’t have many details, except that she’d built a dam up downriver which served as her makeshift headquarters in this recent campaign of terror. The party discussed the matter at some length, and then decided to hunt down and eliminate the Crocodile Queen once and for all. Gydion asked the captain to head downstream, past the dam, and then dock for the night; they would alight onto shore the next morning.

The night passed uneventfully along the shore (and once again, Draken rolled successfully for top bunk!). The next morning, the Chanticleer maneuvered safely around the Crocodile Queen’s dam, and then set anchor about a quarter-mile downriver. At sunrise the next morning, the party set out in search of the Queen and her followers. Climbing on top of the dam, they noted it was made of intricately-woven logs and brush. There was a hole in the middle, revealing a near-vertical tunnel dug into the wet earth on the north shore of the river. They quietly drew close to the tunnel’s lip, and listened intently, but heard not a sound. Finally, Asa stuck his head into the tunnel and was immediately bitten by two huge serpents. As he backed away, crawling on his belly, he turned and saw that there were not two serpents—but five—attached to one reptilian body. They were, in fact, facing a five-headed hydra! He’s heard of such horrors, in storybooks, but had never dreamed he would encounter one.

The rest of the party closed in and made quick work of the hydra, being careful not to sever its heads from its body (for fear of having them regenerate two-for-one!). After the Crocodile Queen’s five-headed guardian had been dealt with, Silaqui shot a flaming arrow into the hole. They watched it burn for a minute and saw, in the shadows, no apparent danger. So, with Draken in the lead, they climbed in.

The inside of the Crocodile Queen’s lair smelled of rotting flesh; the adventurers were stifled by the stench. Exploring further, they noted three tunnels branching off the main one that they were in; all were dark and malodorous, except one. They all moved towards the entrance to that particular tunnel—there was fresh air coming from somewhere in its depths, and it beckoned them in.

Next: See you later, alligator!


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