Chapter 05: Animals WERE Harmed during the Making of this Chapter

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Session Number: 48
Date: Sunday 9 May 2010
Venue: Alain's
PCs & Players:

Arrian Rog1/Clr6 (Fergus) (kills: none)
Bear (DM) (kills: 1 dog)
Harley (Craig) (kills: 1 dog)
Rowaine Pal7 (Craig) (kills: none, but ran down the humanoid)
Shalélu (DM) (kills: 2 dogs)
Troll Wiz7 (Densial) (kills: 3 dogs, 1 dog maimed & running)

XP Awarded: TBC

The party's sleep is undisturbed and they wake the following morning. "We have business with the mayor," says Rowaine after a hurried breakfast. Arrian argues against going, believing it to be unnecessary delay. "It's your call, Rowaine," he mutters. "Then I call to go."

As they pack their belongings, Rowaine turns to Troll.

"What do you consider a generous donation from all of that extra money you got last night?"

"What do you think is a fair amount?"

Never ask a paladin how much to tithe.

"Let's see… You have 130 gold, and you received what for the knife… Seventy gold? I'd say the difference is about right. Sixty gold."

"I'll give them a hundred gold, then."

Bless him.

The party first visits the town hall. Two different guards are at the door and appear more alert than those present yesterday. The party are shown in. With Kendra is a relatively large man whose skin appears perpetually tanned. Kendra introduces him as Baelor Emlock, the city's sheriff or captain of the guard. Rowaine detects no evil about him. The councillors had mixed reactions to the news last night - some were worried, some merely wished to wait. Baelor confirms that the rangers have been absent for over a week - one of the Black Arrows normally meets with him weekly to discuss situation reports.

The city has no formal allies. There is a community of gnomes on the opposite side of Claybottom Lake with which they trade but that is about the extent of the relationship. Kendra wishes to warn them but is hesitant without more solid evidence. She will however send word to the outlying fishing villages around the lake.

Troll whispers something to Rowaine: "What if the portal wasn't destroyed? What if it was merely negated - maybe temporarily?"

Rowaine mentally notes those present. "Let's talk about this later." She then addresses the city officials.

"We intend to return within the week. Rest assured we will tell you what we find as soon as we can."

"Have you been to Fort Rannick before?" asks Kendra.

"No."

Kendra revisits her description of the trail, making the party uneasy about their ability to follow it. Arrian speaks to the others privately, suggesting that taking to the air after the first day might reveal the fort's location. Rowaine is unconvinced. She has tried following a forest trail by air before. Arrian asks Kendra whether the city might be able to supply a guide, an idea that Rowaine and Troll support. Baelor says he may have someone - an elfmaid outcast named Shalélu that found refuge around Turtleback Ferry two years ago. She is described as young but good, loyal to the city, not as rough as a Black Arrow but knowledgable of the forest. Once she has a few more years experience the Black Arrows might just find a new member. Baelor suggests that once the party learn what has happened at Fort Rannick that she carry the news back to the city. Rowaine privately asks Troll how he feels about travelling with an elf. Troll thinks an outcast elf might be OK. Baelor will summon Shalélu; the party arrange to meet her at the south gate in ninety minutes.

Shalélu means "Young Hunter" in elven.

The meeting ends and the party go to the cathedral. Troll wants Rowaine to hand over the old but Rowaine wants him to benefit from the transaction. Troll first drops one coin into the receptacle then looks at Rowaine behind him. He settles his internal conflict and releases the remaining ninety nine coins. He looks over to the elven chapel - "This is what dwarves do for each other!"

Their business concluded the party go to the south gate. Ten armed men stand on the section of stone wall and a further five guard the closed gate. Despite their alert demeanour, the party wince at the obvious vulnerability of the city. Not long after the appointed time, a striking young female elf arrives. She carries a longbow and a short sword hangs at her side. Troll pulls his hat down and his scarf up. Rowaine senses no evil about the elven woman. It is Shalélu. Arrian performs the introductions. "…and this is Troll."

"…the dwarf," Troll appends. Shalélu looks momentarily confused.

Once everyone is confirmed ready, the four exit the city, following the road and the river southwest.

Rowaine, Arrian and Troll all make conversational overtures with Shalélu but the elf proves not very talkative. Arrian checks that she is briefed. She seems to know what we have already said.

"Tomorrow we will walk in Groll territory," she states in an uncommon moment of conversation-starting. The others coax out of her that the Grolls are large humanoids, at least a full foot taller than Rowaine. While Shalélu has not met one personally, she has heard many stories of their strength, cruelty and cunning. Despite this, they apparently don't often venture onto the trail.

Arrian speaks quietly to Rowaine about warning Shalélu about Harley.

"If ever I have the privilege of governing a land, Arrian, I would be well served if you were my chief advisor." She turns to the reclusive elf.

"Shalélu, are you familiar with paladins?"

"I have heard about them, yes."

"Are you aware that paladins of a certain measure have a special mount?"

"You mean a horse?"

"Sometimes… I feel it fair to warn you that I have such a mount, but not a horse. It is a wolf."

"A wolf?"

"With wings."

"Wings?"

"Made of stone."

Rowaine does an admirable job of maintaining a dead-pan visage.

"If you see such a thing, she's with me."

The path remains relatively clear, allowing two to walk abreast comfortably. The party stop briefly for lunch in a small clearing before moving on. As the afternoon progresses the path narrows and appears more overgrown. Amidst Troll's abundant babble Shalélu asks whether she should hunt for food, but the others assure her there is no need. Arrian learns that Shalélu knows about Corellon Larethian but does not follow him. Rowaine asks Shalélu how far north she has been, and learns that she came from an elven community northeast of Turtleback Ferry.

"I only ask because that's where we were from," explains Rowaine. "Past Duke Falkern's keep, past the fork in the river where Trennim lies…?"

"You have known that there might be something wrong for such a short time… How is it that you have come from so far away?"

"We travel quickly… on a large, flying, stone wolf." Rowaine looks up at the setting sun and considers the timing right. "Would you like to meet her?"

"You can show me your thing if you wish, I am not scared. You have been tested, all of you."

"What?"

"Do you think you would have been sent to Fort Rannick without being tested? By the mayor, the priests…"

"Eerm… Yes, quite…"

Rowaine explains that while stone flyers are ordinarily evil, Harley is different. She summons her companion. Shalélu's hand flinches towards her quiver and she cannot help taking two steps backwards, but she quickly regains control.

"Harley, this is Shalélu. Shalélu, Harley.

Lick.

Arrian sidles on over. "Did we mention that Harley can fly through earth?"

"It's awesome!" adds Troll.

"The first time is quite disconcerting," says Rowaine, rubbing Harley's ear. "It certainly develops and tests trust. But as my friend says it is … quite something."

The group make use of the diminishing light and press on. Before it becomes totally dark they pitch camp in a small clearing. Rowaine dismisses Harley so she can get some rest in her home.

"You can stay here, I will look around," says Shalélu in her light voice. When she returns, Rowaine asks whether this place has been used before. Shalélu tells her that the Black Arrows stop here, but she is unsure how long ago their last visit was.

Troll casts Detect Magic and inspects the area. He notes that Shalélu's bow and leather armour glow; her arrows do not. He gives her a quiver of imithrium arrows. Shalélu inspects them. "They are very light," she comments. "Thank you."

No fire is lit. Shalélu joins Rowaine for the first watch. She sits down and pulls out a wooden flute. Her fingers dance over the small instrument but she takes care to make no sound.

"Do you sing?" asks Rowaine.

"No, I just play this."

"I'd love to hear one of your songs some time."

"Maybe at Fort Rannick." She looks at Rowaine shyly. "I'm a bit excited to go there."

'It is your wish, your goal?"

"Yes. They have a hard life, but a good life. They are people that are doing something."

The night passes. In the morning the group break camp. Shalélu moves over the ground, erasing signs of their presence. Rowaine summons Harley and the group move out.

The path only permits single-file travel. Passage is sometimes difficult for Harley, who avoids the worst parts by diving underground. By midday the path becomes increasingly difficult to follow. Shalélu authoritatively guides through areas that the others can barely identify as a track. Arrian can faintly hear the sound of a river to the right. Shalélu confirms that it is the same river that leads to Turtleback Ferry. It does not run all the way to Fort Rannick.

Not long after, Arrian hears a distant noise to the left - the baying of canines and a more pronounced, louder growl. Harley hears it as well, Rowaine senses her agitation.

"Shalélu," asks Rowaine, "do the Grolls use dogs?

"I suppose they might…"

"Let's assume the worst. OK Shalélu, now's your chance to earn your stripes. Lead us there."

"Why are we investigating?" asks Arrian.

"Because we might be able to capture something and interrogate it…" answers Rowaine. "And besides, I don't want to leave something like that out here unchecked."

Shalélu takes the lead with Rowaine, Troll and Arrian following. Harley goes subterranean and stays close. A few minutes later Shalélu increases her pace, then slows as a clearing becomes visible ahead. On the near side of the clearing is the source of the deep growling: a large bear, its foot held fast in the steel jaws of a gin trap. Facing it are five large hunting dogs, working together to bring it down. The bear turns one way then the other, trying to defend itself. Yet more baying can be heard, signalling the imminent approach of more dogs. Rowaine spots collars on the dogs as she readies her bow. The bear cannot guard every direction at once - the dogs are taking advantage of this and slowly wearing the beast down. A simultaneous thump, crack and yelp: the bear lands a massive swat upon one of the dogs and it arcs a dozen feet, falls to the ground and does not rise. The remaining dogs bark and growl, encircling their foe.

Rowaine is torn. "Do we sit & wait?"

"Yeah, that's not making a choice…" says Troll.

"I can't make a choice!"

Five more dogs burst out of the woods on the opposite side of clearing. Following them strides a very large mean-looking humanoid, carrying a spear. Rowaine Detects Evil for as long as she dares. The humanoid is the only source of evil she can sense.

A handful of dogs simultaneously leap atop the bear, attempting to overwhelm it. The humanoid laughs, yelling "Hur hur, go, go!" Another dog latches onto the bear's hind leg, thrashing its head left and right.

Troll looks on anxiously, wanting to help the bear but wary of the number of potential enemies.

"I can free the bear from here," Troll whispers to Rowaine. "It will take care of the dogs."

"Go!" barks Rowaine. Troll casts Invisibility upon himself and creeps forward, judging the distance between himself and the bear. He points his finger and a jet of acid spurts out, landing on the chain that tethers the trap. The acid makes short work of the chain, which snaps under the tension from the bear's writhing. The ground around the ruined chain hisses and steams from the excess acid. The injured bear lurches forwards; the dogs stand their ground. The humanoid's eyes widen and it strides forwards and raises its lance in its heavily muscled arms.

Arrian casts Summon Monster and two celestial badgers appear behind the ring of dogs. They each attack their nearest enemy; one is vastly more successful than the other. The dogs whirl at the unexpected assault.

Rowaine looses two imithrium arrows at the humanoid but they fly wide of their mark.

Troll spies the dogs, noting they are still brave against the bear and worried he judges the distance and casts Fiery Burst, catching two dogs within its radius. Boom! One dog leaps clear of the worst of the detonation but the other is fully enveloped in fire. It yelps and flees, trailing smoke.

The humanoid screams something unintelligible, then advances towards the bear. Two of the dogs break off from the bear and bound towards Rowaine and Arrian. A third dog runs after Troll who hides behind a tree. The dog barks and trips, falling near Troll's feet.

Three dogs remain near the bear. One snaps at it but its jaws close on nothing but fur. Two other dogs turn on the smaller badgers but the nimble animals avoid the dogs' heavy jaws.

Shalélu shoots the dog near Troll, killing it. Troll heaves a sigh of relief, he's not a stand up fighter, the dog could and probably would have easily have killed him. He makes a short mental note to thank the young hunter.

Arrian casts Prayer, affecting Rowaine, Troll and Shalélu positively and the two nearby dogs negatively. Rowaine stamps her boot, calling Harley. The stone flyer bursts through the ground. Her massive jaws rip the hind quarters off one of the dogs in front of her master. She throws the carcass aside. Rowaine steps back and looses two arrows at the remaining dog. Both missiles thud into the earth near the dog's feet.

Rowaine is still trying to work out this bow thing… Maybe she should have thrown her axe.

Troll once again calculates the distances between potential friend and foe, it'll be close. He sneaks forward as far as he must, keeping low and trying not to attract attention and casts Fiery Burst. Three dogs die.

The remaining dog has an armed paladin in front and an angry stone wolf behind. Amazingly, it stands its ground and launches at Rowaine but misses.

The humanoid watches the decimation of its hunting pack, turns and runs.

"Take him down!" yells Rowaine.

Shalélu shoots an arrow at the dog in front of the bear. The dog yelps at the wound but survives.

Arrian casts Bull's Strength on Rowaine. The two badgers skirt around the bear to attack a dog. One badgers' claws tear at the dog's jowl. Will the bear consider it an enemy?

Rowaine jumps for Harley's back. The dog snaps at her swinging leg but misses. Harley launches after the humanoid while Rowaine stows her bow and switches to her lance. They soon catch up with the running figure who turns his head at their approach.

Whoops, Harley should not have been able to run in the same round as Rowaine mounted. The net result is the same however - Harley would have caught up the next round, the same as we played it. Troll's Fireball would have been easier, though. Lesson learned.

Despite the difficult shot and the presence of Rowaine, Troll judges the odds and casts Fireball at the running humanoid, calculating where it must burst to engulf the creature but leave Ro and Harley unharmed. He just makes his ranged touch attack and the sizzling pea streaks past the humanoid, bursting into flames in front of it. Rowaine and Harley run headlong towards the conflagration which thankfully extinguishes before it can harm them. The humanoid however is not so lucky; it screams in pain.

The last remaining dog's jaws crunch a badger's spine. The dog looks surprised as the badger's body winks out of existence. It looks even more surprised, however briefly, as Shalélu's arrow kills it.

The humanoid whirls around, stamps its foot into the earth and plants the butt of its lance against its boot. It crouches and lines the business end of the lance in line with Rowaine and Harley.

Never set a weapon against a charging paladin. You are courting disaster. What do you think they'll do - back down?

Multiple bite wounds and blood mar the bear's form. It tumbles to its side. Arrian considers healing the bear, then thinks better of it. He asks if Troll is hurt; Troll says he is not.

Rowaine launches into a smiting power attack charge. The humanoid lines up its lance on Rowaine's heart. She ducks low and the lance tip bounces off her breastplate. Her own lance strikes true, the imithrium tip skewering the humanoid's shoulder and thudding into the earth behind it. The sudden stop wrenches the weapon from Rowaine's grasp as Harley's momentum carries them past the crippled creature. The humanoid collapses to one hand, its other on the shaft of Rowaine's weapon where it pierces his shoulder. It grimaces in intense pain and rage, its breathing ragged.

Arrian and Troll run after Rowaine and see the creature on the ground. Arrian yells in common: "If you want to live, put down your weapon!" The humanoid extends its good arm and throws down its lance. Troll, seeing everything is in order, turns back and heads for the bear.

Shalélu slowly approaches the bear. It notices her and looks away, then looks back again. It tries clamber to its feet but collapses. Shalélu slowly walks to its side.

Ro pulls out her heavy axe, slowly and deliberately.

"You are going to remain very still and do exactly as I say, or I will end you. Do you understand?"

It nods, not making eye contact. Its laboured breath comes through a horrible grimace.

[Craigo] Good job portraying the creature, Alain! That thing was genuinely scary, even after being skewered!

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