Of course, the open country meant that their aerial reconnaissance was easily able to spot a gang of ten ogres a couple of miles off and although certain of the party were keen to wet their blades, wiser counsel prevailed and they took steps to avoid the ogres.
At around midday or so, Galadeus, who – as ranger – was at the front of the party, heard suspicious noises from some thick undergrowth ahead and rode in to deal with what he at first thought were more ogres. He was badly mistaken for out popped a snarling, tusked face whose expression should have told the young ranger to back off. That he did not was his choice and the result of that choice was a hard-fought battle between Galadeus and not one but three wild boars. He urged the rest of the party to leave him to sort this out himself, feeling confident that he could fight off three boars.
|Squeak piggy squeak|
Evening saw them enter the forests towards which they had been riding. They rested up and the next morning continued their quest. Gullhor now began to recognise leaf, feather and fur totems that marked this area as belonging to the elves. Despite this, they saw nobody. Was this because the elves did not wish to be seen or was there some other reason?
Later that morning, as Galadeus was again scouting through the trees, he was rudely surprised by the sudden appearance of three ogres. Normally, rangers are the ones doing the surprising but it was not so in this case. Maybe his mind was on other things or perhaps the ogres got lucky; whichever it was, he and Alagon were hard pressed to win their fight. The rest of the party were some way behind them and hurried towards the noise of fighting. The ogres were overcome – and the paltry sum of one hundred and twenty gold pieces looted from their corpses – but Alurax, climbing into a tree (on his second attempt) could detect signs that these three were but a small part of a larger party. Again, discretion was the better part of valour for our gang and with the ranger at their head, they took evasive action through the forest, eventually managing to dodge the rest of the ogres although Alagon standing on a fallen branch and snapping it didn’t help matters.
The party eventually deemed it safe to camp down for the night, but things were not going to be so peaceful for them. Gullhor started to sense that something was not right in the forest nearby and set off to find out what it was. He soon discovered a scene of carnage not too far away from their campsite. Dead bodies, horses and mules lay in bloody disarray, wagons were tipped over, wheels broken and boxes and sacks split and emptied. Gullhor was unsurprisingly perturbed by this and advised the party of what he had discovered. They resolved to check it out further in daylight and when they did so, they realised that whatever had done this might still be around. Elysia and Ferros took charge of the investigation and managed to find two bodies on whom Speak With Dead might be cast. From their post-mortem investigations, they found that the dead were merchants who had been ambushed and killed for their gold and goods. Ferros was also delighted to find so many bodies as it meant that he could add to his skeletons who he had animated in the Giant Wasp nest. Now he had seven zombies to go with them.
Gullhor’s elf senses were soon tingling for another reason. He sensed that there was something nearby which, although not evil, was ripe with the potential for conflict. Elysia advised the party to use caution and diplomacy in their approach and this good advice was completely ignored by Galadeus who went riding through the trees to see what could be found. Caution and diplomacy were in short supply as the impetuous ranger confronted five burly men, shaven-haired with thick bears, armour, scars and impressive weapons. They were gnawing on the bones of some roast animal for breakfast but the situation nearly came to blows as Galadeus threatened their leader and they responded in kind. Elysia flew in and tried to cast Sleep on the five men but the spell had no effect whatsoever. The magic user realised that she was faced with powerful men and her approach became conciliatory and pleasant in the extreme.
|We love the smell of blood in the morning|
Nevertheless, Ithnir did tell Elysia some things about the lands ahead, through which he and his fellows frequently travelled. A few days’ travel west was a town called Sandholm which was on the edge of a vast desert in which, it was hinted, lost tombs, temples and fierce monsters could be found. Beyond that was a range of mountains and beyond them, only rumours of deadly swamps, marshes and fungus creatures that had no name. He also mentioned that although on other journeys, he had seen elves in the forest, this time, he had not noticed any of them around. In return, Elysia told Ithnir of the possibility of war with the giants, a battle in which she was sure he and his band would love to take part. She hoped that it would be on the right side, however, and she had the money to make sure that it was so.
Ithnir and his band bade them farewell and headed off into the forest. The party set off again, hoping that they might run into some elves but wondering why they had not done so already. Galadeus was scouting ahead again and had got some distance from the party when he noticed that the forest around him was getting misty; in fact, he was soon surrounded by thickening fog and the hooves of his horse were squelching through mud and water instead of grass.
|Galadeus had a bad feeling about this but as usual, he ignored it and pressed on|
Meanwhile, the rest of the party realised that they had lost touch with their ranger. Elysia sent Relic off to try and find him; the little pseudo-dragon flew off into the forest and returned soon after bearing images of Galadeus’ horse up to its belly in the swamp and Galadeus on a piece of dry ground nearby. The party made haste to catch up with him before his horse was sucked under completely.
With lassos of rope, they managed to drag the gallant steed to safety although Galadeus seemed intent on finding out what the lights in the fog were. Alagon sensed evil all around them but there was no specific focus for it. Elysia tried to interrogate the lights but all she receive in return was the sound of sinister laughter in the space between thought and sound. She tried to fly towards one of the lights to force it to reveal its purpose but a bolt of electrical energy knocked her out of the air and she fell into one of the boggy areas.
|Don't follow the lightssss, precioussss!|
By now, Elysia could see that the entire party was in danger of getting mired. She had cast Protection from Evil to keep herself from being drained of energy – an insight that Alurax had gained through consideration of what they had learned so far. She also cast Enlarge on Relic and Rufus and told them to find Galadeus and pull him to safety. Once they had done that, she got the two not-so-little pseudo-dragons to find a path out of the swamps and lead the rest of the party to safety. Elysia realised that she had very few spells left now that might even affect the sinister lights and no chance of casting Magic Missile (one that she had not as yet tried) until she had rested and recharged her spells. She was keen to ensure that the rest of the party survived, even if she didn’t.
Relic and Russet flew ahead to guide the party into a more wholesome area of the forest, then Relic flew back to be with his mistress. The party were stunned by what had happened and to a man, they were ready to go back and try to rescue their magic user. However, Rufus and Relic were in telepathic contact and through this, Ferros was able to realise the gravity of their situation; they would be risking their own lives if they tried to go back, since if a powerful magic-user was unable to defeat the sinister lights, what chance had those without magic? If they ended up getting killed, then Elysia’s sacrifice would be in vain.
The session ended on that cliff-hanger; would Elysia survive somehow or would she be drained or drowned when the Protection from Evil Spell wore off?