The party did indeed ride north, but not specifically to investigate the mysterious giant attacks. Elysia remembered reports of flying horses to the north-west and decided that she wanted to check those out. The rest of the party elected to accompany her, apart from Zanurax, who decided that he wanted to put his thieving skills to use in the town and would ride there instead.
Bidding their thief a fond farewell, the rest of the party set off, first crossing the river and then voyaging northwards on the west bank. It came as no surprise to anybody that they were not going to be allowed a simple ride through the woods; Gullhar’s keen ears picked up the sound of movement in the undergrowth and the party readied for action – by which I mean Alurax spurred Warnado into a gallop and charged the unseen menace. Arrows hurtled out of the bushes at him but none did any damage. As he raced forward, the archers beat a hasty retreat, being now revealed to be scruffy bandits prowling the forests. Alurax and Gullhar returned fire and two bandits fell with arrows in their backs. Elysia cast a sleep spell which felled nine more; Alurax then chased down the final two fugitives, killing one but the last bandit got away into the thick of the forest.
The party checked the bodies and gathered what small loot there was to be had. It was at this point that Ferros had an idea – since he could now Animate Dead, he decided to use his new ability on the bandit bodies and created six zombies who would now follow him and obey his commands.
Their numbers now increased, the party headed on northwards; they camped overnight on the riverbank and Ferros set his zombie sentries to watch out for anything unusual and alert him at once should they spot something. About three hours later, he was wakened from prayerful slumber by a cold and clammy hand; blinking and squinting into the darkness, he saw what had alerted the undead sentry – some sinister black shapes drifting out of the trees on the far bank. This was more or less where the party had encountered the shadows on their first trip north to the Hill Giant castle and the outcome of the current encounter was much like the first; Ferros ran out into the middle of the river and raised his holy symbol. Declaiming in a loud voice “You shall not pass!” (sounding vaguely reminiscent of another character in another campaign) the light of faith blazed in the darkness and the shadows recoiled and drifted back into the forest again.
The dawn revealed a normal riverbank again; there was no sign of the night’s evil encounter. The party saddled up and rode north again but before long, the baying of wolves sounded through the trees. Whilst the party debated what to do, the howling grew closer but perhaps deterred by the numbers of the party, the pack (revealed to be five strong by Relic’s aerial reconnaissance) did not press home their approach.
Around noon or thereabouts, the river swung from a northerly route to one more north-westerly. At this point, movement was seen on the far bank and a large number of kobolds broke cover to jeer and taunt the party. Galadeus, quick-tempered and angry, made to ride into the river and take the fight to the little scallywags but Elysia was quicker off the mark and fired off another sleep spell, which felled fifteen of them; Galadeus wanted to ride across and kill them while they slept but Alurax blocked his way, making to grab the ranger’s horse’s reins. A fight might have broken out at that point but suddenly, Galadeus found himself tangled in sticky strands of web and whilst he struggled to get free, Alurax and Gullhar tied him up with rope.
The hot-headed ranger took quite a while to cool down but by the evening, he had been released and the party was making camp. Ferros had been supplying the party with food and water on their trip by virtue of his spells. Relic was chirpy and unsettled and Elysia realised that he was sensing the presence of another pseudo-dragon which could only be Russet. Sure enough, Relic’s old friend made an appearance and Elysia let her familiar fly off to play for a while. In the meantime, trouble was brewing for the party; not long after they bedded down, one of Ferros’ zombies came up to announce that “Number Four gone”.
Given the unlikeliness of zombies going off for a walk, it was almost certain that something had happened to Number Four. Ferros ran to the spot in the perimeter where the zombie had been standing and Galadeus found a trail leading away into the trees. They followed it and saw a large dark shape edging away into the gloom. As they pressed on in pursuit, something equally large and leggy dropped from the branches and landed on Gullhar; the elf felt a stinging pain in his back and then darkness descended.
The party now found that they were under attack from four giant spiders; the one that had poisoned Gullhar was quickly killed by a blow from Alurax’s trident and a brace of magic missiles from Elysia. One of the remaining three managed to bite and poison Alurax and started to drag him off into the forest. Ferros was struggling to hit the spider that had dragged off Number Four when Alagon came hurtling back into the fray (nobody was quite sure where he had been). With the paladin, the ranger and the cleric fighting and Elysia backing them up with her artillery, the spiders were whittled down although Galadeus was also bitten and poisoned before the fight was won.
Whilst Ferros administered healing to the fallen party members, Elysia and Alagon searched out the spiders’ nest and recovered some coins, a gem, a spear with a glowing point and a scroll case.
The next day, August 10th, dawned bright and the party began to rethink their options. Alurax recalled that he had left the bones of the fallen knights of the Seven Pointed Star at the Moat House and belatedly remembered the promise that the party had made to them to return their remains. Given the state of their progress north and the lack of definite information about their destination, the party decided that it might be best if they returned to town; in order to avoid having to traipse down the river banks, Alagon suggested that perhaps a raft might be constructed. It would have to be a large one in order to hold the horses, the party and their zombies but armed with Alagon’s hand axes and their various swords, the party got to it.
It was not until mid-afternoon that they had their raft ready. It looked decidedly unsteady but they managed to get the horses on board, plus the undead and set off. Rather than pull in to the bank as night fell, Elysia used her wand of Illumination to light the way and a few hours before dawn, they saw the Moat House on their left. They steered the raft into the bank and Alurax climbed off to go and get the bones.
The voyage restarted and the river bore them slowly and surely out of the north and into more fertile territory. The trip took them all of the 11th and they arrived near the town at dawn on the 12th. They beached the raft and disembarked; Ferros advised his zombies to stay hidden, fearing a bad reaction if he tried to take them into town. The party negotiated the gate guard challenges easily enough and whilst the rest of them headed for the tavern for food and drink, Elysia sought out Elador at the Council chambers. He was actually there and spoke to her hurriedly and with concern. They had been away for three weeks and in that time, there had been developments. Soon after they had left, the gate guards had heard disturbances from the dark one night and when they had gone to investigate in the morning, they found the place where the Third’s coffin had been buried a mess of trampled ground and signs of a struggle. The coffin itself had gone, there was a large hole in the ground and no sign of Galzor or Ceritha.
This news perturbed Elysia greatly; she feared the worst for her former party member. She hastened back to the tavern where she informed the others of what she had found. While they were busy debating what to do if Galzor had been turned, a messenger from the Clerics arrived to inform them that Zanurax was out of danger and would live. Startled by the news about the party’s thief, they rushed to the Houses of Healing where they found the bandaged form of Zanurax in bed. He was covered in bite and claw marks; conversation revealed that he had run into a number of lions on his way south and had barely escaped with his life. His horse was now a lion’s lunch somewhere between the town and the Moat House.
They left their fellow to recuperate; Ferros was feeling quite pleased with himself as he was being hailed by fellow clerics who had heard about his exploits and his new epithet of Devil Slayer. Considering all that they had learned, the party headed for the north gate and decided to examine the scene of the Third’s unearthing. When they arrived, the area had been heavily trampled by investigating city officials but there were still hints about what had happened. Galadeus managed to find some footprints that led away from the scene; they were deeper than other prints, as if they had been made by somebody carrying a very heavy object. The trail led down to the river bank, where further investigation revealed some scrape marks on the mud of the river bank itself.
Still trying to work out what the clues were telling them, the party scoured the river bank for further information. On a rock nearby, they came across some hastily-scratched sigils, one which appeared to be an arrow and another which, viewed from a certain angle, looked like Galzor’s holy symbol. Convinced that it had been left as a message, opinion was divided as to the motivation for it; several of the party were worried that Galzor had been turned and was leading them into a trap. Nevertheless, they boarded their raft and crossed the river. On the far side, they found similar scrape marks on the bank and another trail of footprints which they followed, albeit cautiously.
Soon, the trail became a track that headed south-west, away from the river and towards some distant steep hills. As they rode on, the party (well, all but Galadeus and Alagon) began to get a familiar feeling about the track and the hills. The feeling got stronger as they rode on through the night (not being keen to camp in the darkness since they were following vampires) and they finally arrived at the end of the trail about midday on the 13th.
There, in front of them was the entrance to the dungeon that they had entered as callow novice adventurers on their very first foray into the unknown. It had been several months since their last visit – what might be waiting for them down there now?
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