Having set the camp up, with the luckless Benbo in the role of horse watcher that his misbehaviour had earned him, the team settled down for some much-needed rest. They set up a watch rota and it was Alurax who first detected the noises further off in the forest.
He woke the others; it was something – or things – large and not particularly subtle, heading in the direction of the party. They prepared for action, not knowing what they were facing but they soon found out. Out of the undergrowth burst two owlbears with mayhem on their minds.
|Not quite so scary when you have a polar bear on your side|
Ferros, who had been designated as second in command by Elysia before her disappearance, had taken on the role of party leader and was trying to exercise his authority in organising the party’s strategy but he was ignored by Alagon and, to a lesser extent, Galadeus. The paladin was bent on his own approach and the party struggled with a disorganised and directionless response for some time.
The second owlbear was peppered with arrows and attacked by Alagon’s wolf, Wolf. The only party member to close to contact was Galadeus who left himself open to the owlbear’s vicious claws and beak. They did not do too much damage however, and before long, the party were able to finish off both monsters.
However, as the sounds of the first battle faded away, there came a new noise through the trees; the braying of mules, the neighing of horses and the screams of somebody under serious attack. The party turned and raced back towards where their horses were tethered. Only Alurax remained, methodically cutting open the stomachs of the owlbears in the hope of finding something valuable.
The new attack was from two more owlbears, who had sneaked up on the horses and mules whilst the party was occupied with their fellows. They had ripped the mules to pieces, the horses had bolted and there was no sign of Benbo.
Alagon hit on a brilliant idea; the party had stowed most of its oil bombs on the mules and so one of the owlbears, in killing the mules had got its fur covered in oil. Alurax proposed to use a fire arrow but Galadeus pointed out that using Florin with the ability to produce flame would be just as practical. The phoenix darted in and seconds later, the monster was engulfed in flame, staggering into the undergrowth where it soon expired. The second owlbear charged at Gullhor, who was able to deploy Larsh the polar bear. The white furred warrior made short work of its opponent, ripping and biting and achieving a crippling hug attack which, when combined with archery work from Ferros left the party with no enemies to fight.
They quickly picked up a trail of blood that led away from the campsite; following this, they soon located the mauled and gashed body of Benbo. The hobbit was still alive (just) and Ferros applied some healing magic to bring him back from the brink.
|Demoted to NPC, left to look after horses, mauled by owlbears. Benbo was having a bad session.|
Meanwhile, Ferros had sent Rufus off to round up the horses; whilst the pseudo-dragon was doing this, the cleric joined the rest of the party at the cave. The white objects were the crunched bones of the owlbears’ victims; the metallic objects were scattered coins and rusty armour. The party combed the cave, collecting anything that looked shiny and valuable. They accumulated a small amount of coinage, an onyx worth perhaps fifty gold pieces, a wand and a potion.
At that point, Rufus came back through the trees with the horses. He was chirruping very excitedly; the reason for this became clear soon after when two other pseudo-dragons arrived. One was Relic; the other Alurax thought might be Russet but this was not the case. When it alighted, its shape grew and shifted to become Elysia.
Some of the party were very excited to have their magic user and de facto leader back again, but not everybody. Alagon, who had previously challenged Ferros’ role as leader following the disappearance of Elysia, had felt that the absence of the magic user gave him the chance to show his leadership potential. He was less than happy to have this chance denied him and was vocal in his dissension. However, he was wise enough not to challenge the rest of the party who had accepted Elysia into her old role.
She explained what had happened; she only had two spells left, and decided to use a Polymorph Self spell to change into a marsh lizard who could scurry away through the boggy water to dry land and safety. However, her time in the water left her cold, tired and disoriented and she spent some time recovering her strength. Relic had stood guard over her whilst she recovered. When she had come to her senses sufficiently, she used another Polymorph spell to change herself into a pseudo-dragon and fly off with Relic, who – being in telepathic communication with Rufus - knew where the party had camped for the night.
The party spent the rest of the night recovering its strength, which was needed in the case of Elysia and Benbo. The next morning, they set off on their way, a good few mules lighter but nevertheless in good heart, since they had Elysia back again.
Using the services of Wolf, they managed to detect the nearby presence of a wolf pack and take steps to avoid it. Later that day, they encountered three giant owls flying eastwards. The noble birds swooped down and alighted on the branch of a tree not far from the party. Elysia used her Comprehend Languages spell to converse with them. After the pleasantries had been exchanged, the owls said that there were dangers on the route ahead – hippogriffs and griffons were in the area. Elysia thanked them for this information and asked if the owls knew anything about the mysterious absence of elves in the forest. The owls explained that a large band of elves was moving westwards in pursuit of a raiding force of humanoids. They could give no further information about this.
|We're called Wise Owls for a reason. Also known as Exposition Owls, Guidance Owls, Early Warning Owls...|
The next morning, the terrain opened out and our heroes soon found themselves riding across plains where the visibility was much greater. This stood the party in excellent stead because they got advance warning of the presence of a flock of griffons far ahead. With little cover to take advantage of, Alurax hit on the idea of stopping and remaining perfectly still, reasoning that at this distance, the only thing that the griffons would see would be movement. Sure enough, the flying predators took them to be part of the landscape and soon flew out of visual range. The team continued onwards, managing to avoid a pack of lions that afternoon – one loped after them for a while but soon gave up the chase – and they settled down for the night.
Astute readers may well have noticed that little mention has been made so far of Ferros’ Undead Army. How, I hear you cry, can skeletons and zombies keep up with horses? The simple answer is that they can’t, but of course they can keep moving for far longer than living creatures and so there’s no reason why they can’t rendezvous at the campsite each night. Not needing sleep, they are there in the morning ready for another day’s mindless marching.
The party made an early start, their less than fragrant followers yomping their way across the plains. As the morning wore on, Gullhor started to pick up traces of something familiar. Ahead, in the distance, the rest of the party spotted a group of figures and as they got closer, it became clear that they were elves. The party slowed their pace and carefully approached the elves, Gullhor acting as liaison and translator.
|It's all right guys, they're on our side. Thankfully.|
Whilst Elysia and Gullhor were discussing this, Galadeus and Alurax were busy trying to socialise with the taciturn hunters. The ranger had little success but Alurax drew interest due to his trident, a weapon with which the elves were wholly unfamiliar. He displayed his skill by twirling and spinning it around and over his head, which drew intrigued looks and giggling from some of the female elf warriors.
The discussions on tactics concluded, the party rode out, making good speed as they neared the orc horde. They easily managed to overtake them as evening was drawing on; with the setting sun behind them, they formed up and drew their weapons. Then, as one, Team Adventure charged the enemy.