DGA3.04: Doorway to darkness, part one – Ferry and fear

The characters for this session:

Vir, level 3 half-elf ranger;
Seck, level 3 rogue;
Phoenix, level 3 barbarian; and
Cat, level 3 warlock

Part one: An incident on the Alshon

The first ferry out of Baetulo after the Feast of the Moon is crowded and the crew, cranking it across the swollen Alshon, are sweating heavily. Not only are there nearly a score of tradesmen and peasants, no fewer than ten adventurers, all well-equipped, burden the vessel.

Perception checks for running a casual eye over fellow-adventurers and figuring out what they are about: Cat does worst at 7, Vir does best at 22, and Seck is close behind Vir.

It seems these three men, one woman, one dwarf, and one halfling have been hunting cultists of the white dragon. And since one of the heavily-armored ones is a cleric, the Inquisition may have sanctioned the hunt. They say they are out of Baetulo bound for Candello to pick up their next task. Briefly they are:

Athelstan the cleric, recording the cult;
Ilmiir the female fighter, friendly and busy binding the journal;
Bog the halfling, twitchily rooting for Asmodeus;
Halakbeel the turban-and-robe-wearing rogue, gossiping greedily;
Reb the male fighter, loudly looking forward to the reward; and
Uthrilir the dwarf, nauseously groaning about long ears

At the three-quarter crossing mark, things are going quite well, socially speaking: when with a heavy thump, the ferry jars to a halt!

Immediately, people lose their footing and while the Giantslayers are safe [Phoenix uses both his Danger Sense and his Inspiration] the other party is not: Ilmiir, who had been seated up against the flimsy rope rail; and Uthrilir the dwarf who dives to grab her, both disappear into the river!

Inits: NPC adventurers, Cat, Phoenix, the gigantic eel, Seck, Vir

As a gigantic eel rears up and crashes down on the fore-deck, more passengers – and Reb the fighter and Bog the halfling – are pitched into the dark, fast-running river. Others stagger, clutching at the rope, at one another, or trying to use the simple wooden crew-cabin for support. Built merely as a simple rain shelter it sways tipsily.

Phoenix sets down axe and pack and dives in, while Cat braces an arm with the still-tethered rope rail and reaches down. They are too late to save the heavily-armored adventurers but they do save two of the common folk. As Cat helps Phoenix with his burden Phoenix is bitten: the water is alive with eels, all of them two or three ells long!

Seck faces off against the gigantic eel but wisely stays on the defensive. Vir gets his longbow into action but the unsteady deck sees his first shot sink into the cabin wall and the second leap high into the air: Seck attempts not to feel that itching in his back! Then the eel’s hug mouth gapes, near-engulfing the rogue! He wriggles free, blood running down from his shoulder freely.

As Athelstan sways heavily into the cabin it crumples, and Cat winces – Halakbeel has just dived in there! The cleric tumbles across it and helplessly slides off a plank into the water on the upriver side.

Halakbeel emerges from the wreckage, shouting about his missing turban:

“You’ve got other things to worry about,” warns Seck, trying to direct his attention to the eel poised above him.

Chomp! Swallow! Halakbeel is gone as the GM rolls a nat 20.

Cat hammers the eel with Repelling Blast while Phoenix cuts it with Mocair the Gallant, as Igrot’s greataxe is named. Vir lands arrows solidly and it is done, swimming deep and away.

Looking about them the survivors find that less than half the passengers remain, and only just enough crew to finish the cranking.

Cat wipes river-water off the part-bound journal Ilmiir had been working on, and tucks it away. Then he searches under the cabin wreckage, and sure enough, finds that Halakbeel’s turban concealed a fat red ruby. He slips it away, unseen by the others.

Part two: The path of fear

Taking stock in Longsaddle

The town named Longsaddle straddles the crossroads where the Long Road meets the Crossings Road, or North Road as it is often called. Here, our four heroes recuperate from the crossing in the inn named the Gambling Golem.

As Vir reminds Phoenix to be a responsible drinker, Cat re-examines the near-useless map chamberlain Aidryan of Minquest provided them with. “Representational” is the best one can say about it.

“What I know is Aidryan said, head towards the Dwarf Thaneship named Starmetal and turn left to follow the long road to Mooregate,” Phoenix offers.

“How do you remember that much?” Seck asks suspiciously.

“It was just about when he said ‘North is up’ and I was looking up at the roof, and it helped me hear his next words.”

A puzzled silence ensues.

It was at Minquest the party cashed up its fabulous trove of loot from the fur traders camp and spoils from Igrot’s band. Aside from two scrolls, sent to Pais at Stiglehold, and the greataxe Phoenix bears.

Each of them has posted moneys back to Stiglehold sufficient to cover any ransom. And for their new commission, they have been gifted a deed to a trading house in Mooregate (which Cat puzzles to read, not being a true scribe and with the cursive in a Dwarven version of common) and a box and letter for the court at that city.

Can you help?

Their gambling and drinking is interrupted by Kat Frostlight, toil-worn silver-miner, who makes a plea for help and asks to speak privately, in her own cottage.

Insight checks suggest she is what she seems to be

Her cottage industry is to grade the silver ore her husband and son are mining at Starmetal hills – but they were due back long since and Kat is desperate.

They are part of a group, working a reopened mine, about a day’s travel away. And no word, days since any shipment would be due. She needs the party to find out what has happened. Her husband is Gedd and her son is Brand. She assures them the path to the camp will be easy to follow. The mine is close by.

As for reward she is surprised that so far, no-one has mentioned it. She can front them a pit-pony and 20 gold coins. Beyond that, she can draft a letter on a trading house in Mooregate, for 100 gold.

They assure her they won’t take her money – well the 20 will be handy – and it remains to be seen what else is due – well it wouldn’t hurt to draw papers up…

The pit-pony, Kell, is old and slow. They decide to travel without him.

Re-packing: Only five days’ iron rations are packed along, and Seck leaves one of his two quivers.

Phoenix decides to use the powers of the axe Mocair the Gallant and swap out his current path for Mocair’s Path of the Zealot. He explains to his comrades about having the axe laid on his breast if he dies, and Raise Dead not costing a gem if that happens. They are impressed. Mocair is the mightiest piece of arcana they have encountered. They also notice that Phoenix’ eyes have reverted to their original brown color, instead of the eagle-gold they have been since he chose the Path of the Sea Eagle.

Smart zombies?!?

As Kat promised her directions and rough sketch have been easy to follow and they have made good time. Now the trail leads east, to a scrubby, hard-scrabble land of gullies and cols below the higher Starmetal range. In the deepening shadow, all is quiet.

Too quiet! Shadows move and resolve into a half-dozen zombies dragging a man. They sense the adventurers and the westering sun picks out a silvern glyph upon the brow of each.

“Don’t rush off anywhere” – Seck, to Phoenix

Even as Vir readies his bow and works out how to target them across the intervening rough ground, they drop the man and shake out into a loose order. Vir looses with deadly accuracy! The arrow strikes the neck-joint of one and its head rolls off. The body drops. But Vir’s Hail of Thorns merely blankets the ground around the corpse.

Inits: Cat, Vir, Seck, Phoenix, zombies

“There’s some sort of guiding intelligence” – Seck, looking about warily and preparing to cloak up with his Elf cloak.

The range, if not the ground cover, is very much in favor of the adventurers. But arrows are not much use against undead, in normal circumstances. Seck and Vir do little more than inconvenience a few zombies – though Vir’s Colossus Slayer effect rips gaping holes. Cat’s Repelling Blast breaks up their remorseless order and knocks one about quite badly. But it gets up again and staggers on!

Phoenix, given the nod by Seck, charges – and misses! Two zombies pincer him and his sturdy frame jolts as they hammer his torso with bony fists. Then Cat drops Faerie Fire across one zombie: Seck supports with a shrewd cut: and in two swipes Phoenix demolishes both!

On the other flank Vir and Cat begin to feel stalked, and trade ground. Vir swaps bow for warhammer – kept about for just such foes – and gives good account of himself. He gracefully evades swinging arms, then smashes his hammer sideways into a pelvis: it shatters and the thing’s torso drops to the earth! Vir shifts his Hunter’s Mark to a new foe.

Two remain but Phoenix makes short work of them. The radiant damage Mocair delivers ensures they can’t pull themselves back into the fight. Seck slides his hood up and slinks about looking for the intelligent presence – finding nothing. He links back to the group as they approach and examine the zombies’ victim, still lying prone.

The camp

With Spare the Dying then a healing potion, and a swig of water to unparch his throat, Rohan Greysmith leads them back along a path sere and scarred and daubed here and there by sinister darkened blots of blood.

The camp has seen better days: the stone-and-sod huts and lean-tos are mostly damaged. An ancient stone wall has been turned into half a makeshift rampart, finished crudely with sacks of ore and loose boulders. The stench of unwashed bodies and unburied waste is thick in the dell.

Creeping from out their lairs, a straggle of haggard hollow-eyed men: clutching makeshift weapons: picks, shovels and the odd hammer. One alone among them seems to still have some backbone:

“I’m Gedd Frostlight. Are you here to help?”

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