Chapter 06: Branching

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Session Number: 107
Date: Sunday 7 August 2011
Venue: Densial's
PCs & Players:

Arrian Rog1/Clr9 (Fergus) (kills: none)
Feren Rog10 (Yeran) (kills: none)
Rowaine Pal10 (Craig) (kills: none)
Tomen Rgr9/Drd1 (Ash) (kills: none)
Troll Wiz10 (Densial) (kills: none)

XP Awarded: TBA

"Shall we scout some more?" Rowaine asks Tomen.

"Sure," the half-elf replies.

"Which passageway?"

"The one that has seen more traffic."

"Very well," Rowaine says. "We will be back in no more than an hour." Rowaine instructs Harley to stop at any forks unless she thinks they are inhabited. Harley sinks into the stone floor.

Five minutes later Rowaine again feels stale air on her face. Tomen describes the area; a small cavern with three tunnels leading down. Harley and Rowaine hold, to allow the ranger to dismount and investigate unhindered.

Tomen sees many tracks from a variety of creatures, some of which he cannot identify, leading down into one of the three tunnels. The most recent traffic looks to have passed roughly three or four days ago. The other passages bear far fewer and considerably older tracks.

"I suggest we continue following the well-travelled route," Tomen says, returning and remounting.

Harley again glides through the stone. Ten minutes later she emerges into a cavern with two exits continuing on. Tomen investigates, noticing that one passage again bears the marks of many more travellers than the other, some in the last week. He recognises some of the tracks as the same as he has seen before. In fact, he believes that they are following the footsteps of two groups that both passed recently, but at different times.

"All the tracks lead in," Tomen adds. "None lead out."

"That's worrying…" Rowaine says. "Have any tracks been obscured?"

Tomen looks closer. "I can't be certain, but it looks like one of the earlier groups was trying to hide their passage."

Rowaine asks Harley if she has sensed any forks doubling back, or any creatures in the tunnels she has shadowed. Harley says that she has not. The group carry on, Rowaine telling Harley to follow the well-travelled path.

Another five or so minutes passes. It is difficult to track the passage of time in such a sensory-deprived medium. Harley finally emerges and Rowaine senses sound and smell. The reassuring sound of Harley's deep breathing. The sharp, acrid smell of a rotting corpse.

"There's a dead body here," Tomen whispers. "And… something else."

"Light," Rowaine says. "I must have light." She reaches behind her and retrieves her wrapped sunrod. She is surprised at how bright the diminished light appears. She hears a faint scuttling noise as the light falls upon a dead body on the floor.

The pair dismount and cautiously head over to the remains. Beyond it are two passageways - the next fork. The body appears to be a high elf. Rowaine circles around and watches the two passages while Tomen examines.

"There are many small animal tracks," Tomen says. "Some I cannot identify. Some booted humanoid tracks also. There was combat here. And the body appears to have been moved since death."

The casualty wears Kanafel livery with secondary heraldry that neither Rowaine nor Tomen recognise. His chain armour and long sword are fine, well-wrought pieces. A pale band around one of his fingers indicates that absence of a frequently-worn ring. A coin pouch still hangs from the elf's belt, with several silvers. Rowaine moves closer and inspects the remains. She guesses that the elf has been dead for several days.

Tomen suggests that they venture forth once more, even though time grows short. Rowaine agrees, telling Harley to travel for no more than five minutes and to return to the others if she finds no more uninhabited forks. The group sink back into the stone. This time, they are in rock for a prolonged period - much longer than five minutes, as far as they can tell. When they emerge, they are back with their allies.

"It seems we are on the right track," Rowaine begins, telling the story. She asks Feren about the heraldry the dead elf was wearing. Feren cannot place it by Rowaine's description alone. Tomen finishes by suggesting that he and Rowaine have a quick look down the other passageway. They head off.

Harley takes something longer than five minutes to reach the first point of interest down the other passageway. She emerges and her fur immediately stands on end.

"Something strange about this place, mistress," Harley says. "I do not like it."

"What did your beast say?" Tomen asks. "I cannot see any exits."

Indeed, there is no obvious way out of the teardrop-shaped cavern. Rowaine looks for traces of evil and Tomen Detects Magic. There is no magic present, but Rowaine senses a lingering taint of evil coming from the ceiling, as if some malevolent creature was there not long ago. It is the same sort of feeling as smelling the ashes of a dead fire.

Tomen dismounts and looks at the cavern floor. He makes out the tracks of four or five people entering a few days ago. They engaged in combat then left, trying to obscure their tracks. There is nothing else obvious in the cavern.

Rowaine thinks about what evil creature might pass through walls without leaving a trace. Another stone flyer? Thinking about Harley, it is easy to forget that her kind are typically evil. Rowaine asks Harley to scout into the rock beyond the dead end, looking particularly for evidence of creatures burrowing in, or anything that leaves a scent. Harley obeys and returns two minutes later. She has found nothing but rock. The group return to the others. Rowaine looks for evil emanations amongst or above the dead elves but senses none.

The party debate checking the supposed dead end more thoroughly, but eventually decide against it. Arrian casts Magic Vestment on Rowaine's shield, then the group set out on foot, down the more travelled passageway. Troll and Rowaine hold lit sunrods. After ten minutes of following tracks at point, Tomen is convinced that that the small group that went down the less travelled path were responsible for obscuring the tracks and that there were two parties following them.

The party arrive at the first cavern where the lone dead elf lies - the furthest Tomen and Rowaine came. Feren inspects the elf's uniform. The secondary heraldry identifies the wearer as belonging to one of the minor noble families more commonly allied with the Roielles. Tomen carefully looks at the two paths leading down. One is well-travelled, the most recent tracks being around three days old and of humanoids moving at pace. The other has no humanoid tracks. Neither bear any sign that any tracks have been obscured - or perhaps they have been very well obscured.

The party continue descending, following the more well-travelled, winding passage for a long time. It occasionally narrows to a point where even the elves have to squeeze through; Harley is forced to enter the stone to get past.

After a couple of hours, the passage opens into a cavern that is larger than the sunrods illuminate. The tracks separate: one set shadows the left-hand wall while the other leads straight up the centre. Something catches Tomen's eye - a telltale trace on the dusty floor. Another party has travelled through the centre of this cavern, but has spent effort trying to hide the fact. The party follow in their footsteps.

Forty feet into the cavern, the elves see an exit in the far wall, straight ahead. Two dead humanoids lie near the entrance. The tracks head straight for the entrance. The side walls are too far away to see. The party carefully edge closer.

Ten feet away from the bodies, the party see small, dead animals lying nearby. They look like large spiders. Troll spots movement on the ceiling, a good hundred feet above. He shoots a Fiery Burst upwards and to the side, hoping its brief light will show him a little more. At least ten spiders are startled by the burst and scurry away. Troll repeats the process down the tunnel in front; it appears empty.

The party enter the tunnel, Arrian and Feren dragging the two humanoid bodies behind them. Rowaine guards the way into the cavern while Feren and Tomen watch deeper down the tunnel. Arrian and Feren examine the remains. Both are male elves, whose flesh has been extensively nibbled upon. Both bear many spider bites all over what remains of their bodies. They wear Kanafel soldiery uniforms, with further heraldry from houses aligned with that family. Their equipment lies with them, undisturbed. Troll Detects Magic, identifying a ring on each that radiates transmutation magic. The rings are plain silver bands, identical in appearance. Rowaine senses no evil about them. Feren removes one of the rings, cleans it and places it upon a finger. He immediately finds he is able to see in the dark, out to 120 feet. The other ring has a similar effect. Feren claims one of the rings for himself; the other is given to Rowaine.

Rowaine and Harley sink into the rock, looking for other exits from this cavern. Harley finds four more, two on each curved wall. They are fairly evenly spaced. She returns to where the others wait, passes her now-redundant sunrod to Arrian, collects Tomen and ventures out into the cavern, riding Harley. They follow the right wall and soon spot one of the other exits. Tomen looks around for spiders but sees none when he is suddenly hit from above by something sticky.

"Tell Harley to go down!" Tomen yells. Rowaine repeats the command and Harley submerges into the floor. Rowaine steers Harley towards the others and enters the tunnel, whirling around to look at the ranger. He is covered in sticky webs, unable to move.

"Cover the entrance!" Rowaine says, jumping down and pulling Tomen off Harley. She starts ripping away webs from Tomen's face and arms.

"I can burn them off if you want," Troll offers.

"Like hell!" Tomen barks back, struggling against his bonds. After thirty seconds Rowaine manages to free Tomen. She looks up. Nothing has followed them. The party makes a quick risk assessment and decides against investigating the other entrances, choosing instead to continue following the tracks they have already found.

The passage meanders on for a time, then opens into a very large cavern. The wall behind them continues straight both left and right, and rises almost vertically. A breeze zephyrs across people's faces, smelling alive and fresh. The tracks continue straight up the middle of the cavern. Troll casts Acid Arrow, angling it half way between straight up and straight out. The bolt is swallowed up by the darkness. Troll then pulls out one of his arrows and ties a rag around its imithrium tip. He soaks the rag in oil, sets it alight with a Fiery Burst, then hands the burning missile to Tomen. "Make this go as far as you can," he instructs. Tomen bends his bow and sets the arrow on its way. It flies its full range - over a thousand feet. Its flame illuminates irregularities on the ground before it falls out of view.

Rowaine and Tomen decide on an unlit reconnaissance mission. Harley flies up and finds an irregular ceiling averaging about four hundred feet high. They see the dim glow of the burning arrow in the distance and head towards it at ceiling height. As they approach, they descend towards the light, seeing now that the irregularities on the floor are some kind of large plants, the size of trees. They are fairly densely packed. Harley might be able to drop through to the floor below, but she might struggle to fly out again. Tomen hears the rustle of plant matter moving in a gentle breeze.

"I'm not saying I'd like to build a summer home here, but the trees are actually quite lovely." :-)

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