“She has bred.” Martume announces ominously.
Ro and I are stunned, both from his implications and from the fact we just trip attacked and dragged a regenerating Ice Colossus into a campfire. [In the world of Ratik, all things huge are called Colossus. So an Ice Colossus is an Ice Troll in the monster manual.]
“And by she…you mean…” I stammer out.
“The dragon of course.” Martume replies flatly.
“Yeah, I was hoping maybe I had misunderstood something there.” I say as I kick another log into the fire, checking it to make sure the creature is staying dead. “So what’s our plan now?”
“We need to find a dwarf,” Martume is looking into the darkness, “we should start out tonight.”
It’s dark, but a clear night for a change. Between the moonlight and snow we could travel for several miles before needing to rest. With my darkvision I can see fine. I notice Martume’s tone and expression are as neutral as ever. Ronin and I get our snow walkers [snow shoes] and start in the direction Martume motioned, east. After awhile the clouds begin to close in and we rope up in the darkness with me in the lead. It’s the right decision, shortly after we start running again I break through the trees to find an open clearing with bones sticking ominously out of the snow here and there. I stop immediately and signal my fellow travelers by snapping my fingers quietly. We light my lantern and see that there are brambles placed in a way as to make avoiding the clearing difficult. Clearly something wants us to come this way.
“Ro, will you hand me one of those roasts?” It seems a shame to waste food, but in this case I think it’s prudent. I hook the boar roast with my grappling hook. I swear I see a mixture of interest (from the idea) and disappointment (loss of the roast) cross Martume’s face. I can see, even in the low light of the lantern, that there is a strange snow covered shape in the center of this glade. A couple of swings around with the hook and I let it fly, keeping hold of the rope end……my aim is true and it hits dead center [ excellent agility roll! ] into the shape with a muffled whump, powdered snow puffs into the air from the impact.
Before the snowflakes start to drift back down, the ground erupts as a 3’ tall furry white spider emerges. It’s eyes are huge and an unnerving shade of pink, it’s fangs dripping with venom. Without a thought my bow is in hand with an arrow drawn. [ As badly as I roll to hit, my initiative rolls are always great ] I sink 2 in it quickly, hoping to drop it before the spider can cover the distance to where we are standing. I hear the metallic ting of Ro’s blades leaving their sheaths. Martume is just standing still. One of my arrows hits the joint between body and leg and my spirits are briefly lifted that his movements towards us will be limited. Before I can celebrate too much it cries out an unholy screeching noise that causes me to flinch and shudder.
At it’s call of distress the spider’s mate pops up from the ground a mere handful of feet away from us. It charges. I have been caught off guard and the single arrow I release flies wide. Ronin steps quickly between me and the second spider and lets loose with his swords. The light from the lantern only splashes briefly off the surface of his blades, they move so quickly. Before she has an opportunity to strike she is cut apart. I take the opportunity to drop two more arrows into the first spider killing him where he stands.
“How interesting.” I hear from behind me. I turn to see Martume covered with webbing…stuck in place. How…what….When did that happen? I feel like imitating my mother saying ‘I can’t turn my back on you for a minute’, but it seems rather inappropriate to say that to The Royal Observer. No matter how much he deserves hearing it.
“How do you suggest we get you unstuck?” I ask Martume in the most neutral tone I can muster. “We could try fire…..” I suggest with only a slight bit of humor in my voice. I hear Ro, behind me, disguise his laugh under a fit of coughing.
“Do you have any wine?” Is Martume’s answer. He knows I do, I am a Kodel after all. I raise the lantern up so I can get a good look at him stuck to the tree behind him. I can’t even figure out when the spider had an opportunity to do this, much less the aim. “Maybeeee……” is my answer.
“Well, stop dawdling and pour it over the webbing then” Martume orders me. I get my wine skin out. My newly filled wineskin I might add, and glumly pour splashes over the sticky mess. Sure enough the webbing starts to dissolve like snow in the rain.
“How did you know this would work?” I ask Martume as he starts to move around and wiggle free. Despite my rationing it is obvious it will take the entire amount to free him completely…damn.
“I wouldn’t be much of a Royal Observer if I didn’t know my way around a snow spider and how to get out of its web” he answers matter of factly. As though getting webbed by a giant furry spider is nothing of importance. “We should investigate it’s lair.” He nods towards Ronin. I decide to take the rear and guard against any others. They go into the second trapdoor hole and yell up for me to join them. They have discovered the nest where the female had laid her eggs. There are more than 2 dozen…holy crap. Just seeing them awaiting hatching in the dim light of the lantern makes my skin crawl. Like being underground in a spider den doesn’t do that enough. I take out the remaining 2 flasks of oil I’m carrying and start sprinkling it around as evenly as possible. I light a dried out piece of moss that’s tucked in around the eggs with the lantern and ignite the works in flame. I’m thankful that there is only the sound of crackling eggsacks and no screeching. Soon the smoke starts to fill the small cavern we’re in and we must move on to the other area where the first spider popped out of the ground.
It’s here we find the desiccated body of something stuck to the wall. After cutting it loose we discover a dead goblin. No pity there. Ronin finds a ring on it though, he and Martume confer over whether or not it is Magic…or as most citizens of Ratik call it…’Beguiled’. I just keep watch, I don’t like being underground. More and more as the smoke starts filling in the space I’m wanting to move on. Finally the other two agree that there’s nothing else to see here. [ I didn’t get this ring. In fact, I don’t know who ended up with it. It just seemed out of character for Lilykai to scramble for loot. Now later…..]
We cross the rest of the clearing and continue through the forest another slow quarter of a mile, roped up so no one gets lost in the dark. Finally Martume declares that it is time to camp for the night. We set up the tents, make a small fire and have a quick dinner. I take the time to update my ranger map with these new sites. Well, actually…since we’re outside of Ratik’s borders I’m making these notes on the back side of my map. But if, for whatever reason, I find myself in this part of the land again, I’ll at least have a clue of what’s here. As I’m finishing up my changes I realize I’m getting increasingly sleepy….unusually so. There is beautiful music in the breeze. Suddenly I snap out of my haze. [ Charm save!!! ]
I look up and see that Martume is fast asleep and The Ronin is walking into the forest with a dazed expression. Immediately I nock an arrow and follow stealthily a few feet behind him. After 10 minutes I can tell by the thinning of the trees that we are nearing a small clearing. As he gets closer I notice that Ro has a goofy grin plastered on his face, it looks odd seeing him with that smile. If I didn’t already know he was beguiled I would surely suspect something is wrong. Two shadowy forms descend into the clearing as he gets closer. They are disgusting, vile abominations that are seemingly part vulture and part human, woman to be precise. Except these are more like hags with craggy faces, deeply lined with wrinkles and sharp angled chins and noses. Their faces look hungrily at Ro as he approaches and the one who isn’t actually singing chuckles darkly as he nears. Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for me) they are so consumed with Ro’s approach they don’t notice me at all.[ I get a surprise round ] I release my arrow which flies true and pierces the one singing in the chest. Her melody transforms into a screech of pain and Ro is immediately released from her spell and has his swords in hand in a flash. Seeing that one already carries one of my arrows in her breast he pounces on the sister and starts slashing, narrowly dodging her clawed fingers. I am able to fire two more arrows into mine, her face contorted in pain and fury as she falls. As I turn to the other I watch just as The Ronin delivers her death.
[ My GM has made creatures and monsters like this rare in Ratik, so Lily doesn’t know of Harpies. She might have been taught about them in the Ranger Academy, but she’s never faced any down. In a way, not using the common names for these monsters: “You see two Harpies” helps me not to metagame what they are and how to kill them…..I just accept things as they come and hope for the best ]
Today we have fought an Ice Collosus, giant white snowy spiders, and two bird ladies. We look at each other wearily, there is no need to exchange words as we return to camp. “First watch” I say as we get to the fire, still burning. He nods and falls into bed. It seems no time at all has passed before it is his turn. I notice he has pieces of cloth in his ears when he takes over. I smile and give him a thumbs up (since he can’t hear me anyway) before falling deep asleep.
The next morning I awaken to the smell of roasting chicken. At the fire I see 3 cornish hens cooking over the fire. Ro is by the fire and catches my puzzled expression, “Robe” he says with a head nod towards Martume, who is currently looking off into the forest. I raise one eyebrow and he just shrugs. I can’t help but wonder if they came out of the robe already plucked and ready or alive and kicking. I realize I really don’t want to know, I’m too hungry.
Martume is in a happy mood, full of smiles. “Do you know how far we have to go today?” I ask. “No, not yet,” he answers in a nonchalant tone. As I tear into my portion of breakfast I ponder the fact that we’re a good ways beyond Ratik’s border, far into enemy/horde territories… where there is no chance of help arriving if we get in over our heads. Add to this the fact that The Royal Observer doesn’t have any idea how long it will take us to get where we’re going; which means we are just a little this side of lost; we’re pretty much sitting on a recipe for disaster. But, for whatever reason, instead of worried or despondent I find that I’m more energized…..I’m actually a little excited. This exploration is something no one that I know has ever done before, or seen before, or that any of us trained for either. I begin to wonder about what my Ranger Cadet friends Tulas, Wheir, and Cass are up to. They too are on their first runs. I only know Wheir is south, I don’t know where the other two were sent. I can’t wait to exchange stories with them when we meet back in Marner. Thinking of my friends has put an unexpected smile on my face and I look up in time to see Martume catch it and glance away as he removes something unusual from his robe.
In his hand rests a long brass cylinder. It extends from his palm to the end of his index finger. He holds his hand flat and taps the cylinder a couple of times. I watch in awe as thin, almost transparent wings unfold from the sides, the cylinder begins to taper and tiny little brass legs pop out from underneath. Then the ‘front’ of it evolves into a small round head and the brass dragonfly he’s now holding hops and flutters around him. “Pack your things, it’s time to go” Martume tells us as he stares at the dragonfly. Quickly, Ro and I pack up camp and stamp out the fire. I take an extra few minutes to cover our trail and camp. Martume nods at my work and then strokes the little brass bug while whispering something I can’t quite make out.
The dragonfly is airborne and we are following it. It doesn’t travel exceptionally fast and I find that when I try to determine our path we go from East for awhile to North, then back West and South. We are literally running around in circles……or so it seems. After hours of this random pattern we are standing before a large boulder where the dragonfly sits down. Beyond it is a wall of impassable old growth forest. It’s like a solid wall of tree trunk, limbs, and undergrowth. “This is where you wait.” Martume says over his shoulder and takes a few steps towards the undergrowth. I watch intently as he veritably disappears in front of me. I blink a few times to make sure my vision is clear, shrug and look at Ro. “This is where we wait.” I repeat. Ever the stoic one, he just takes a seat in the snow.
It has to be only a few minutes before I hear a rustling in the undergrowth again. As if appearing from thin air; Martume, a man dressed in bark and animal skins, and a giant grizzly bear emerge from the trees. I leap to my feet and draw my sword, never taking my eyes from the bear. The bear, in turn, howls at the unknown man and both he and Martume yell at me to strand down. “Sir, that is a grizzly bear and I happen to know first hand what they can do.” It takes all of my control to keep a tremor from my voice.
“Sergeant,” Martume speaks low to me, “put away your sword.” My eyes dart between him and the bear. The unknown man says something to the bear who then sits back on his haunches, crosses his arms over his chest and…..I swear…looks at me as if to say, “your turn.” I blink a couple of times slowly just to make sure I’m really seeing what I’m seeing and then cautiously sheath my sword. Martume nods approvingly at me, “Very well, I would like to introduce you both to Keiko and Garnet.” He gestures to the two behind him. I cannot tell which one is Keiko and which is Garnet, the names could go either way. My brow furrows as I wait for a bit of clarification that never comes.
[ OK, full disclosure here. I wrote the names in my notes and didn’t determine which was which. I think it’s actually funnier this way instead of asking for the answer. ]
“This way,” the man starts to speak and walk ahead past both Ro and me, “you are looking for Tedar the dwarf.” As he walks on, the bear begins to move behind us. I keep pace with the man, away from the bear. Martume is on his other side with Ronin to his left. I keep my hand on my hilt and continually monitor the bear. Unconciously, my free hand brushes across the chest of my coat, a movement that the man notices but says nothing about.
After an hour or so of traveling at a brisk pace through the forest the man stops and points off into the trees. “You want to continue east,” he indicates. “Go straight until you hit the hills. He’s trying to make a go with a small mine and cottage. But a hobgoblin tribe…Tribe of the Severed Head have decided to make their home there too.” He glances back at us, “but at least there aren’t any humans in the forest.” I open my mouth to protest, something about his rudeness…or the fact that HE is in fact HUMAN.…and living in the forest, but I feel the slight pressure of Martume’s hand on my shoulder and stow it for now. Man and bear leave us to our own devices; blending back into the forest from the direction we came, and we continue east in silence.
It’s a couple of hours before sunset when we break out of the trees and are faced with bleak, barren plains. There are 2 skulls on posts, like a gateway. I move out into the open…close to them to study. I turn back towards Ronin and Martume, “Human.” I announce grimly. Martume frowns and looks towards the west and the setting sun. “We should go back to the forest for the night.” He starts walking back the way we came. This makes me a bit anxious. For one thing, he didn’t seem this on edge when we were near a dragon.
We find a nice clearing, I scout around and make a plan for a defendable position if we find ourselves fighting off a pack tonight. Returning to the clearing I watch as Martume searches through his robes for something. “Aha!” He pronounces as he brings out a small white cube that fits in the palm of his hand. He looks at me with a pleased look on his face, bends down, and rolls the cube onto the ground. Once it comes to rest a few feet away it springs to life on it’s own accord and becomes a very large (8’ tall in the center) tent. “Would you like to join me for dinner?” Martume says as he enters. Ro and I exchange a look and tentatively follow him.
The tent is completely furnished, and warm. There is a burning brazier in the corner. There is a table with cooked food in the middle, and a chair, and a bed, and a screened off area. There are a lot more things in this tent than should fit. Thanks to my father, I have been taught the ways of magic and enchanted items. So I am not quite as superstitious about magical things as my fellow citizens. This tent, however, does push my boundaries of comfortable normal. I join Martume and Ronin at the table. Tentatively, I poke at my meal; what appears to be lamb stew, with plenty of vegetables..and there’s fresh bread and butter too… I feign blowing on a spoonful as I watch Ro eat several bites. He doesn’t fall over dead or pass out (or cluck like chicken) so I take a small bite. It tastes great, and warms my stomach as I finish not one but two bowls. Martume has been studying his map, and I believe studying us as well, during dinner. “Well, I’m ready to rest now. If you two wouldn’t mind leaving me to it.” He unceremoniously shows us the…door,..flap,…exit, whatever.
“At least he fed us.” I say to Ronin as we find ourselves standing in the snow outside. He nods and starts to set up his own tent. I decide, in light of the snowfall, to use my half shelter tonight. It’s a cold night, I take first watch and have no issues. Ro finishes the watch and also sees nothing.
I am awakened to the smell of bacon and something sweet. I don’t see anyone in the camp and the fire has burned low. Inside the tall tent I hear voices. There’s nowhere to knock and I find I don’t quite know what to do so I fall back on my military/ranger training. “Permission to enter, Sir.” I bark out. Much more loudly than I anticipated. The flap opens suddenly with a sharp “Shhhhh” and a frowning Royal Observer who is waving me inside. I apologize sheepishly as I enter the tent. This time the table is covered with all manner of breakfast goodies. My embarrassment is discarded as I attack my meal with gusto. There are pancakes with real maple syrup, something I’ve only had a handful of times, sausages and bacon, eggs and biscuits. I pile it all on my plate and refill my food pocket with sausage/pancake rolls. We’re ready to move on.
Once outside Martume snaps his fingers and the tent disappears, leaving only the plain white cube laying on the ground. Ronin and I scurry to take down ours and put away our bedrolls as Martume looks on patiently. “Back the way we went yesterday?” I ask and am given the affirmative. We depart the forest again, me in the point position, Martume and then Ronin bringing up the rear. Knowing we are in hobgoblin territory, I’m on full alert.
We pass through the “gates” of the plains we found yesterday. Almost immediately I find hobgoblin tracks in the snow all around. They are traveling back and forth; here and there, all over the hills. I have an arrow nocked as we creep along the base of a rise. I’m on high alert, moving cautiously and listening intently for a blind attack. As we round the next hill a little further in I can smell, before we see, smoke in the distance. As we creep closer we realize the smoke is coming from an area about a quarter mile away from of us. We stick to the trail, and I notice the tracks are getting fresher and fresher; then we are only two rises away from the smoke. From here I can barely make out snarls and shouts from the distance. Stopping, I turn to Martume and Ro and indicate that we need to leave the path and go up the nearest hillock to get a better view. They nod and follow my lead.
As we crest the top of the butte we have a good view of the battle….or siege more like it…happening below us. The trail we’ve been following dead ends at the gate of a small cottage that is built into the side of a hill. Being familiar with Hausen Hold, I recognize the construction of a 12’ stone Dwarven door. It is a good thing the door so well made, as it is currently keeping about a dozen hobgoblins at bay.