Wednesday, June 26, 2019

#26: Unexpected Guests

Examining the cave, we find signs of the ogres’ habitation—piles of thatch that likely served as bedding, piles of refuse, the scattered belongings of a barbaric humanoid.  In one such pile of refuse, our examination is rewarded when we discover a rotting pouch that contains a few items of value and interest.  The contents spill out as we handle the pouch, revealing a pair of stoppered vials, four uncleaned gemstones of varying hues, and an assortment of coins that total approximately 35 gold pieces.

Bonie climbs one of the steep rock ledges that house the cave to see just how far the ridge runs, and whether we should expect any twists, turns, or other obstacles should we decide to pursue the ogres deeper into their lair.  The ridge runs perhaps a hundred yards, bending slightly to one direction, before it appears to spill into the forest, likely at the point of a cave opening very similar to the one we now stand in.

We decide to keep the group together, marching through the cave to make sure the ogres no longer lurk within to ambush us, carrying a few burning brands to supplement the light that creeps through the roof of the crevasse.  The cave takes the expected turn, and we tread carefully before eventually emerging from an opening on the other side.  A few sets of ogre footprints are found easily outside the cave.  Another set of ledges are discovered, these somewhat shorter than those present at the other entrance, and Bonie scales the ledge under the cover of archers to see if our foes are anywhere to be found.

Bonie calls down that she sees, at the edge of the distance, several large forms retreating from the area.  They are headed on an easterly course, mostly away from Dagger’s Deep, and we are faced with the decision to pursue them deeper into the Lurkwood or abandon our hunt, leaving the possibility for reprisals should they return.  After some discussion, we’re all in agreement that we’ve hopefully driven off the threat, and that we should quit while ahead.  No one has been injured and we have killed three of the ogres, potentially their leader, and we decide to return to Dagger’s Deep.  The fear that game will not return, however, weighs heavily on everyone’s mind.

Upon our return we report back to Pol Rallinoth, and the news is received very positively, leaving everyone in high spirits.  The coins are split among all those that accompanied the group, and the ale flows freely that night.  We find that our relationship with those around town is galvanized by the shared effort and success of the ogre hunt; I can’t help but be surprised by the warm reception, as it’s something we’ve encountered so little on our travels.

Audric spends some time in a deeper examination of the vials, cleaning the glass and inspecting the contents.  One appears to be a purplish liquid, when held to the light; the other a clear liquid, akin to river water.   Audric experiments with the liquids but is unable to ascertain their purpose, and I decide to attempt a divination the following morning to aid in the endeavor.

Thankfully, the watches pass uneventfully, and we awaken well-rested.  Selben and I have decided to split the night watch; should the ogres indeed seek revenge, each of us is equipped to at least stall the foes while Dagger’s Deep readies defenses, and we intend to continue this vigil until we can revisit the cave.

Casting a mystical eye at Audric’s vials, I determine that the purple-hued liquid is some manner of strength-granting phial, while the clear liquid is not magical in nature.  I give the former to Audric and keep the latter for myself.  Drained from the arcane effort, I retreat to my tents for the day.  Hours and days pass quickly; hunting parties are dispatched to see if the game has returned.  Neither, unfortunately, yield any success, but nor do the hunters encounter any sign of the ogres. 

After the second hunt, Perhegan and his company return from Mirabar.  His wagons carry goods and foodstuffs but are not laden as heavily as they were on our initial trip, and the leader of the settlement is brought up to speed on the events of the past week.  He seems pleased with our performance, though shares our worry over the unsuccessful hunts. 

Heavier snows fall, and conditions worsen.  We discuss a visit to the cave to see if the ogres have indeed vacated the area, but Audric talks me out of it.  Fortunately, I heed the warrior’s advice and a blistering storm greets us the following morning, pummeling the settlement for five long, cold days.  Bonfires become hard to sustain, and many are confined to their tents in a struggle to keep warm.

Audric and I administer what blessings we can to ward off the cold, helping those that are forced to face the weather to complete tasks around town or older folks less equipped and thus more vulnerable to the harsh weather.  During the storm, Audric gets to know Renwal a bit better, curious as to the man’s extent of magical knowledge, and is rewarded with a brief history of the mage’s experience with Perhegan and the other residents of Dagger’s Deep.  His arts are more utility than offensive in nature, and the old man reveals an enthusiasm to learn more about our own experiences and talents.  Audric develops a solid relationship with the hedge mage, “ministering without ministering” to Mystra’s flock.

After what seems like an eternity, the harshness of the storm relents, and Perhegan intends to send out a hunting party to replenish the settlement’s stores.  We intend to accompany this group—after such a large storm there could be any number of hungry creatures in the woods, ogres not least among them.  Perhegan assents, and we gather the three hunters that accompanied us last time, and we eventually relocate the cave, though this time it takes us a few hours longer than it did before—the heavy snows and lack of clear tracks to follow present a small obstacle.

We find the cave entrance much as we left it, with no obvious signs of occupation.  Audric ushers Lume forth to investigate, as the cat is well suited to such a scouting mission.  Aside from empathetic complaints of cold and discomfort from having to leap through snow drifts, the feline returns with no news.  We decide not to press our luck, leaving the cave as it is, and turn towards assisting the hunters in their mission—replenishing foodstuffs.  Unfortunately, yet another hunt is unsuccessful, and we return disappointed in terms of hunting, but relieved that the ogres seem to have been driven off.

After another stretch of ill weather, the worst of winter seems like it may have passed.  The storms fade into a persistent cold and wet period of weeks, during which several more hunts are sent out, each returning unsuccessful until finally, one returns with a burden worth celebrating—a huge stag.  Everyone seems put to ease at the success of the hunt, boding well for the future of Dagger’s Deep.

Another fortnight goes by, marking two months since our arrival at Dagger’s Deep.  Bare patches of earth begin to show through as the snows thaw, and the workers and laborers emerge from their tents to start work once again on the river keep.  One of the laborers, fishing the river, calls forth—a boat approaches upstream from the direction of Mirabar.

Unable to discern the purpose of the craft or those that man it, we decide to treat them as passers-by, presenting no obstacle to their passage until they prove to be something more sinister.  As it draws near, we can see that the boat is laden with goods, and two men are visible, both rowing against the current.  The men, clearly exhausted, pull the boat to Perhegan’s shore and dock their craft, dragging it up onto the land.  The men stumble onto the shore, taking long pulls from a shared waterskin.

The men reveal that they’ve been rowing nonstop upstream to escape Mirabar, and that they weren’t aware there was a settlement here; they seem glad for the respite.  Their explanation is a little suspicious, and when pressed for more information, they reveal that they had a falling out with a rival merchant, forcing them to flee with what they could of their wares.  Audric notices a broken quarrel protruding from the rear of the craft, seeming to corroborate their tale.  The boat is piled high with pelts and furs.

Upon further conversation with the men, they explain that they were sold equity in a mine north of Mirabar; the mine turned out to be flooded, devoid of any potential, and the traders lost a huge portion of their wealth.  The merchant that sold them the shares was prominent enough that it became a contest of their claim against his, and the merchant’s contacts within the city proved stronger than the traders’ word.  They were subsequently chased from Mirabar by the merchant, thus arriving at Dagger’s Deep in the condition we found them today.

We take the opportunity to ask for news of Mirabar and learn that the city is largely the same in this time period as it was in our own.  Nothing about their description of the city seems exceptional.  When asked where they are headed, they reveal that their plan was to continue upriver, seek sanctuary until the weather breaks, and then decide on a proper course of action.  Perhegan offers them shelter for the night, and while the men settle in, I make a show of pulling the boat higher onto the shore, offering myself the opportunity to root through the boat’s contents.  I find a sizable store of good quality weapons, but nothing otherwise suspicious or untoward.

Not trusting the men at face value, I recruit Selben to watch their tent.  The men present no trouble throughout the night, but we witness bobbing lights on the river coming from downstream.  Immediately, I send Selben to wake Audric and Bonie while I hasten to Perhegan’s tent to alert the settlement’s leader.  Perhegan seems unprepared to deal with Mirabar yet, should this be a craft of Mirabarran guards, and immediately my instincts are to see to the settlement’s defense against a potential threat.

Perhegan remains calm, to his credit.  Upon suggestion from Audric to wake the traders and apprise them of the situation, Perhegan assents.  The traders scramble from their tents and race towards their craft, jumping into their boat and immediately start to paddle upriver, clearly panicked.

The second craft approaches, perhaps 20 feet in length, and four men dismount and pull the boat ashore.  The men are wearing the crest of Mirabar, and the apparent leader steps forward.  It’s Rale Cotchen, captain of the Mirabarran guards at Xantharl’s Keep!  “Welcome to Dagger’s Deep,” I say with a wry smile.

He looks very, very surprised, but maintains his demeanor.  He explains that his men are in search of two escaped river bandits, that would have passed not more than a day ago.  There’s an awkward moment of silence as Audric stifles my immediate instinct to reply.

“We’ve seen no such men,” Perhegan replies.

“Then you won’t mind if my men and I have a look around,” Rale says, and Perhegan nods in accord.  Rale and his men check tents, looking inside them and waking the residents, though the soldiers are being reasonably cordial in their tone, maintaining a level of politeness and appropriateness in their search.

After completing their search, Rale introduces himself to Perhegan and asks if he and his men can rest the night, as they are too exhausted to continue their chase.  They are given shelter, and the rest of the night passes uneventfully.  The soldiers are already up and about, perusing the grounds of Dagger’s Deep, when we awaken.  The level of scrutiny the guard captain gives the settlement is evident, and finally Rale approaches Audric and myself.

Very casually, he says “I’ve come to know that you have an appointed meeting with my cousin and his... wife.  He asked me if you could be trusted on a journey upriver.”

“Can we?” I ask Rale, sardonically.  He replies that our actions at the mine speak for themselves, and that he has no stake in who his cousin and the “witch he calls a wife” travel with.

“Why do you hate the woman so?” Audric asks.

Rale explains that hate is perhaps a strong word, but that he’s ever wary of those whose interests are “divergent from his own.”  The man’s reply is arrogant, and spoken with a slant that implicates me and Audric as much as it does Odesia.  “If I come to learn that you’ve been harboring thieves here, you’ll answer to me,” he warns.

“Is it often you go around making idle threats to innocent citizens?” Audric asks.

Rale laughs sarcastically, and after more thinly veiled threats between Rale and Audric, the conversation ends.  Rale spends a significant amount of time in conversation with Perhegan, and we can’t help but notice several glances in our direction.  I fear little for what Rale might tell him.

Upon conclusion, Rale announces his intention to backtrack towards Mirabar in pursuit of the bandits, and we leave the Mirabarran captain and his soldiers to their task, watching as they drift away downstream.

“If there’s anything to be sure of,” Perhegan says grimly, “Mirabar will be aware of our presence now.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

#25: Rock and a Hard Place

Aside from construction of the shrine and helping with general tasks around camp, an exorbitant amount of time is spent with Zargon, as Zeb and Selben attempt to coach the bard through the rudiments of magic.  Despite Zargon’s willingness to learn, much of the magic eludes his grasp.  The time is not wasted, however, as he does manage to scribe a few spells and increase his magical repertoire.  It’s a style of learning that Zeb is not accustomed to, but he’s glad to help.

We spend a fortnight in various tasks and training, assisting Perhegan and the other men and women of Dagger’s Deep.  Eventually, the light snows turn into heavy winter storms, and the settlement is battered by several especially harsh squalls with accumulating snow.  That makes it difficult for the hunters to conduct regular hunts, and Perhegan declares a “precautionary ration” of food.  We learn that he’s readying a group of men and wagons that will travel to Mirabar to resupply under the guise of merchants heading to Xantharl’s Keep, as he does not yet want to reveal the existence of Dagger’s Deep.

As Perhegan departs, Dagger’s Deep is left in the command of Pol Rallinoth, a man-at-arms who works with what serves as the settlement’s soldiers and militia.  Pol Rallinoth sends out a hunting party during a break in the snowstorms, and they return with dire news—all signs of fauna have seemingly dried up, and worse, they discover a family or small clan of ogres that have found shelter in a nearby cave.  As a result, much of the wild game native to the region have fled their area of hunting and influence, leaving Dagger’s Deep with a dilemma.

The hunters found a pair of ledges in the woods which, when observed from a distance, come together to form a cave at their bases.  Movement in the area alerted them to the presence of ogres, but not before they could count six of the creatures, all assumed to be residing together in the cave.  When Zargon questions the gender of the ogres, he finds that they were an apparent mix of adult male and female ogres.

Questioning the resources of Dagger’s Deep that we have at our disposal, there are a half-dozen legitimate warriors among the citizenry of the settlement; Pol Rallinoth and Weald are included in this number.  There are perhaps a dozen more men in a solid enough physical condition that they could fight in the case of an emergency, but these are the settlement’s craftsmen, and we would need to be sorely pressed indeed to risk them without great need.

We discuss several options, and Pol Rallinoth is amenable to us having the same three hunters escort us to the cave, but not until they’ve rested for the evening.  We did not intend to leave in the afternoon anyway, so we retire to our various tents and prepare for the next day’s travail.

In the middle of the night, we hear the cry of one of the town’s watchmen.  At the southeastern part of the settlement, the watchman saw the shadow of a very large form in the trees milling about the woods around camp.  When he looked back again, it was gone.  We discuss plans, alerting the other guards, and Audric sends Lume to investigate.  When the familiar returns, Audric learns that she detected the scent of a repulsive creature, but nothing else.

Deciding that discretion is the better form of valor, we decide to stay awake the rest of the night to bolster the guards’ confidence, and to put more sets of eyes on the Lurkwood, with the intention of investigating further in the morning.  The night passes otherwise uneventfully.

We find the tracks of a large humanoid, what appears to be a single set of prints only, and the tracks prove reasonably easy to follow.  After a little exploration, it appears that they lead back to the general direction of the ogre’s cave.  We also discover that the ogre’s path crosses the trail of the Dagger’s Deep hunting party from the previous day—just as we intended to scout the ogre’s cave, they apparently have sent a scout of their own to gauge our defenses.  Nothing about our plan is changed after the night’s events, and Pol Rallinoth fortunately agrees, so we prepare with haste.

Eight of us set out from Dagger’s Deep—three of Pol Rallinoth’s hunters, Zargon, Audric, Bonie, Selben, and me.  With a fresh set of tracks to follow, Jakke’s nose and the various talents of the hunters, we quickly arrive at a place where we can see the top of the ogre’s ledge.  Audric devises a plan whereby we split the group—archers will head to flank the cave from two sides, with Bonie, Selben, Zargon and Audric divided between the groups.  Being uniquely qualified to drive ogres from their cave and also repel attacks to some degree, I will be the diversion meant to draw them from their sanctuary.

Zargon is accompanied by two of the hunters, and it is not long before they cross paths with one of the ogres.  The bard’s recitation of bravery is interrupted as all three men bring bows to bear.  One of the hunters proves a capable marksman, and Zargon strikes the enemy with his second arrow, though not before it nearly reaches the group in melee.  Fortunately, Audric’s group and I are alerted by the sounds of battle, and spells and arrows are raised in Zargon’s defense.  To Zargon’s credit, his group of hunters pepper the creature with another round of barbs.  As it raises its club to attack, an arrow from Bonie catches the creature in the chest and topples it.

Before we can celebrate, however, a pair of ogres—one of them mighty in stature, nearly 11 feet tall, the other a smaller female—turns a corner, likely having heard the encounter and come looking for trouble.  Both rush forward as I turn and run, hoping to draw them after me while our allies fire arrows.  The volley is effective, arrows raining into the enemies as I nimbly evade their reach.  The giant ogre falls to another of Bonie’s arrows, buried up to the feathers as it slumps forward, dead.

The female ogress seems enraged by the death of the giant one, presumably a mate, stooping to retrieve his oversized club and charging towards me as I move to close the distance.  Meanwhile, the arrows of our allies continue to take a terrible toll on the ogress, and before it reaches me, it is felled.  Bonie’s final arrow ends the life of the ogress, and I witness Bonie’s triumphant smile as her arrow draws a thin line across its neck, spilling its lifeblood. 

The Lurkwood is still, quiet, with only our heavy breathing breaking the silence as we recover from the fight.  We regroup as Audric sends Lume forward again to scout, and we learn that there are at least two more, near or within the cave.  We follow our original plan, and as I encounter the first ogre lying in wait outside, I conjure forth a mystical arrow of acid that misses, sizzling as it strikes the ledge wall behind it.  It approaches me cautiously as our allies take positions at the flanks.  Before any arrows can be fired, however, it retreats into the cave, and we can hear guttural noises—presumably speech—from within.

I layer abjurations as I approach, lighting a torch as Audric joins me to examine the opening, as it seems our enemies seek to avoid a direct encounter.  Through my magic, I detect the presence of an ogre hidden within, and as I step towards the cave, it reacts aggressively, raising a club high.  Fortunately, Malar’s blessing prevents it from smiting me, and I puff out my chest in challenge as our allies take aim and fire.

The angle proves awkward, however, for no arrow finds purchase, and the creature is driven further into the cave and the protection the darkness provides.  Knowing that there are likely several more enemies, we decide to backtrack, reconvene, and discuss possible options.