BK
01
CH
09
SC
04

The Annals of Pelor
The Great Planes

…continues from Book #01, Chapter #09, Scene #03

Synopsis

The 26th Day of Ches in the Year of the Sudden Journey
With the recovery of some of Altair’s Talons and requests from the Blackengorge Town Council, the party have set of for the east and to see the Nentir Vale for themselves. With an ox-led wagon laden with goods and a large travelling party, they set off with the well wishes of the townsfolk ringing in their ears.

At the end of the second day of their journey they have found an old ruin next to the road in a forest. All seems amiss within the ruins and an apparition turns nasty!

With the apparition and its minions defeated the group turn their attention to the spoils of war and getting back to the camp for a hearty meal and a warm bed.

Cast List

Scene Length

This scene starts on Monday 2nd July 2012 and is expected to be completed by the end of Thursday 30th August 2012.

Players are expected to be able to post at least once a day.

JUL
02

Storyline
Pineforest Ruin

01

Zero continued to shiver close to the southern wall even though the temperature in the room was steadily rising.

‘Aargh!’ he managed once more, a strangled cry of horror released in some form of relief.

Tradden’s blades finally stopped whirling around his head. Coming to a stop the young fighter thrust them into the ground tip first and leant on them, panting. He was visibly drained, white and sweating, but he still managed to keep a grin.

‘All in a day’s work,’ he breathed out, cheeks puffing.

‘Are ye alright, lad?’ enquired Khalin of the rogue, hefting his craghammer pointedly. ‘There’s no spectres left, you can be assured of that.’

Zero nodded feebly, then shuddered a final time before quickly starting to restore himself to his usual jovial self.

As Beltak came over to Tradden to check the young fighter’s head wounds and Khalin began to berate him on the finer techniques of a good bludgeoning weapon versus those of a meagre sharp stick, the one left thinking and concentrating was Kireth. The mage simply stared at the platolabe with a mixture of fascination and respect alike.

JUL
03

Storyline
Pineforest Ruin

02

As a ringing silence descended following the thunder of battle, the only other sound was a heavy panting coming from Zero. His eyes were still wide with panic.

‘Why… are they always… going after me?’ he queried.

JUL
03

Storyline
Pineforest Ruin

03

Tradden, still catching his breath and now under the ministrations of Beltak, suddenly stood up straight.

The fighter was an alliteration of ‘b’s’ — bruised and battered, blood-strewn in particular. The area around one eye was already swollen up having received a good ‘spading’ earlier in the fight.

‘Any time you want to swap, Z…’

JUL
09

Storyline
Pineforest Ruin

04

Whilst Khalin and Tradden exchanged exhausted views on how the battle had gone, Kireth turned his attention once more to the table. The orb, now inert and seated within its small frame, sat near the centre of the table pulling his attention at every glance. It unnerved the mage a little, particularly after it had opened and the apparition had appeared. Still, it held some power, of that he was certain.

With firm action he reached into his own pack and brought out some cloth to wrap the journal within.

‘This deserves further study,’ he suggested to Beltak. ‘Though now is neither the time nor the place.’

Wrapping the journal carefully he placed it within his pack and turned his attentions back to the table. After a moment’s thought he turned around to the others, jumping back a little as Zero had appeared right behind him, looking over his shoulder without a sound. The rogue’s uncanny ability to move unseen and unheard was growing, and even the keen senses of the mage were no match. Another state that Kireth resolved his magics would soon solve.

Trying his best to ignore the rogue’s interest he re-iterated his warning from before.

‘I will wrap and take the orb for now, but it is likely that we will need to share the burden. No more than one day should it stay in the same person’s possession until we can be sure of its effects. Items of power such as this have been known to force their own will upon persons near them.’

With that, the mage turned and wrapped the orb within the folds of cloth and stowed it as safely as he could within his pack.

Content that his work was done here, Kireth patiently waited for the others.

JUL
11

Storyline
Pineforest Ruin

05

The room fell into silence as Kireth spoke and secreted the orb within his robes — a tense silence, waiting for something to happen. However, after a few moments it became obvious that nothing further was going to manifest itself and there was an audible sigh of relief, particularly from Zero. Kireth’s face remained stoic throughout, as if he was never in any doubt that nothing untoward would happen this time.

‘Let’s get out of here, then,’ offered Khalin at last, properly stowing his craghammer and shield now that he’d shown Tradden a thing or too on how better to defend himself. ‘We’d better get back to camp before they come looking for us.’

With a nod to Zero for the rogue to lead the way, the dwarf raised his torch. ‘Let’s go.’

JUL
11

Storyline
Pineforest Ruin

06

Stepping over the corpses that were quickly decomposing before their eyes the group made their way back to the door. Most of the human remains were crumbling into dust, the orange-furred creatures — ‘gnolls’ Kireth had called them — seemed to fare better, as though they were fresher. The one with the spade still clutched hold tightly to its curved horn even in death. The air in the room slowly began to stink of rotting flesh and the group were glad to be moving out quickly.

Zero and Khalin led them back into the large chamber and back towards the stairs. Where the gnoll and human corpses had lain before only dark brown stains littered the dried mud, and the group gave these a wide berth before clambering up the rickety wooden steps in single file.

JUL
12

Storyline
Pineforest Ruin

07

The group rose up into the southeasterly room of the ruined building, Zero poking his head up through the trapdoor first. He then padded across to the west, clambering over the remains of the bunk beds as best he could. Of the three bodies that had once been strewn around this wrecked room there was no sign — presumably they were ones they had fought downstairs. Zero shuddered involuntarily.

Moving slowly back towards the first room they had entered he stopped at the doorway to check that the bodies from this room had gone as well. To his relief, they had, and he led the way across to the exit.

‘Three old ones, four tatty ones, and one from the roof,’ offered Tradden, as he could see Zero counting in his head. ‘Don’t worry, Z, I think we got them all.’

‘I’ll feel a lot better when we’re back at camp with a cup of wine, food, and a warm bed,’ the rogue sighed. ‘Come on, let’s get moving.’

The rogue squeezed through the doorframe and back out into the forest and the night.

JUL
12

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

08

To the rogue’s dismay the rain was seeping through the forest canopy adding to his gloom. Darkness had truly fallen and it wasn’t until Khalin appeared with the torch that he could see out into the trees. Fat drops of water fell on his head in a slow rhythm, gathered by the leaves and branches of the trees above from the driving rain. Cursing, he pulled up his hood and set off north along the barely discernable track back to the main path.

It didn’t take the group long, no more than five minutes, before they found themselves once again on the wagon path. Turning to their left they started the journey back, no more than a mile or so.

JUL
12

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

09

‘By the Nine Hells!’ Zero swore, and not for the first time, as his boot plunged into another of the puddles that were forming along the uneven road through the trees. ‘Go scouting!’ he murmured to himself. ‘Orders are orders,’ he mocked, echoing the words Tradden had used to get him to join him in finding the ruined building in the first place. If it wasn’t for scouting or orders he’d be fast asleep in the warm with a full belly by now.

The young fighter had pulled out a torch of his own and even Kireth had deigned to light his staff with a witchball of light. However, it didn’t seem to make avoiding puddles any easier.

‘It’ll be a long journey tomorrow if this rain doesn’t ease up,’ said Khalin wistfully from behind Zero’s ear. ‘We should maybe set off a little earlier.’

The prospect of an early start did nothing to lift the rogue’s spirits.

JUL
12

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

10

Tradden, at the back of the group, was unusually quiet. He followed the tracks of those before him with great plods of steps, too tired to start any banter, gritting his teeth to keep out the wind and splatter of giant raindrops.

‘Pfft!’ came the strangled sound from Zero, that woke the young fighter into some semblance of order. ‘Lights ahead!’ the rogue whispered and as one Khalin and Tradden doused their torches, Kireth mumbling and eradicating his witchlight.

With as much stealth as they could muster the group cautiously backed into the undergrowth to the side of the trail, awaiting the flames that bobbed towards them.

JUL
13

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

11

‘Hold this,’ Zero said to the crouching Tradden and handed him his spent torch. With that, the soggy rogue crept into the brush and swiftly vanished.

[Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 20] - success!

Whilst the rest of the group kept to the side of the track in silence and darkness Zero began to creep closer, getting a better view of the source of the light.

[Perception Check: 1d20+11: 31] - critical success!

The now-familiar shudders of fear ran up the rogue’s back as the dancing flickers of torchlight revealed the snarling faces of beasts — a lizard or draconic-like creature at the front, sharp teeth glittering in reflection. Behind, another strange creature, horned and bedeviled. The third, a short, fat and ugly brute with a sneer of malice.

JUL
17

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

12

Zero quickly back peddled through the brush at the side of the trail, keeping low and quiet. When he reached the others he signed silently the number three and pointed off down the trail to the west.

‘They look nasty,’ he whispered at Khalin. ‘What do we do?’

Khalin looked back with a raised eyebrow at the rogue in the darkness. Whether Zero could see his expression he wasn’t sure — the dwarf had superior eyesight in the gloom. He looked over at Tradden, who seemed desperate to do something; he wasn’t sure what, but the youth always wanted to do something. Kireth, as usual, was impassive, his face never betraying the thoughts underneath.

The warlord began to stroke his beard.

JUL
19

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

13

‘Hmm, they may look nasty, but then so do some of the Talons. We would do well to be cautious lest we confuse friend with foe,’ considered the dwarf.

Tradden and Zero looked doubtfully back at him.

Raising his head and spying their looks, the warlord shrugged. ‘Just saying.’

He carefully drew his craghammer and held it casually. ‘Maybe the direct approach is best, we have to get to the camp. There’s five of us and three of them. If they attack, well I wouldn’t want to get between Master Zero and his wine and bedroll, would you? If they don’t, well friends are hard to come by in the wilderness I’d wager.’

With that he nodded to Kireth who uttered some syllable and the dwarf’s torch sprang into flame. With the confidence of a leader he stepped out into the track and strode towards the approaching figures.

JUL
19

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

14

As Khalin strode out on the trail the others began to follow. Kireth barely had to speak to light the end of his staff with a swirling witchlight, his powers growing stronger by the day. Tradden dragged a reluctant Zero out of the brush before offering a hand to Beltak to help the scribe out. The trio fell into line behind the warlord and the mage, their hands close to their weapons and their eyes as keen as the humans could get.

As the two parties approached one another they began to slow, whether involuntarily or not. Then, with a roar on both sides, the leaders moved towards each other.

This was no battle, though, but a comrade’s embrace as Rhasgar wrapped his scaly arm around Khalin’s back and crushed the dwarf with a squeeze.

‘We feared the worst!’ laughed the dragonborn, as Rangrim and Sorrow came into view. ‘Maybe we weren’t far off the mark,’ he added noticing Tradden’s bloodied head. Rhasgar turned back to Khalin with a raised brow.

‘Another of these wayhouses,’ Khalin offered. ‘Nearly intact. I fear it was riddled with undead. We have laid them to eternal rest.’

The warlord was about to continue, but he fell an icy grip from the mage on his shield arm and decided to leave the rest of the detail untold, for now.

‘We heard horns,’ Rangrim said, ‘low and long. You’d been gone a good time. The others are back at the camp protecting the wagon.’

‘Perhaps we should head back,’ offered Sorrow. ‘It looks as though you need the rest.’

‘Yes!’ breathed Zero, coming to the fore at the mention of the camp and rest. ‘We’ll be passing this way tomorrow anyway, so we can see what the place looks like in the daylight, rather than in the shadows.’

The rogue was already starting off to the west. The others grinned and followed.

JUL
19

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

15

It did not take long for the group to get back to the camp along the trail. The sounds of the forest, the hoots of owls, the rustle of leaves and snaps of twigs, and even the occasional far-off howl of a wolf gradually gave way to the sounds of civilisation, albeit small. When they arrived they were greeted by a warm sight, the wagon to one side of the trail in a small clearing with torches aloft in high stakes driven into the ground. Around the wagon in a semi-circle were a number of small canvas tents being erected and a fire burned brightly, roasting hares and fowl on an iron spit.

Zero scampered off to find a barrel of water to wash and a flask of wine to declare his own. The others simply headed for the fire to warm themselves.

Within the relative safety of the camp, Rhasgar began his questioning of Khalin again. ‘The ruin was filled with undead, you say?’ the dragonlord began.

‘Yes,’ replied the warlord. ‘Half a dozen or more. Men, mostly, but a pair of gnolls, as Kireth called them, as well. They seem to have been brought together by some apparition. It was hard going, but we overcame them, although Tradden took the brunt of their attack.’

Rhasgar nodded at the young fighter whose head was slowly being cleaned and bandaged by Beltak. ‘Perhaps if he sported a shield…’ the dragonborn began.

‘Gnolls, you say?’ interrupted Rangrim, crumbs of bread spitting out from his mouth as he talked. ‘That’s all we bloody need. Vicious bastards, they are. Let’s just hope these were remnants from a tribe long gone.’

‘Well the quicker we reach your Nentir Vale the better, then,’ said Khalin. ‘If we rest well, we can set off early in the morning and try to make as much progress as possible.’

‘We found this,’ the dwarf added, with an unintentional sidelong glance at Kireth for approval before pulling out the bone scroll case they had discovered within the ruins. Unfurling the map from within, he held it under one of the torches for Rhasgar and Sorrow to see.

‘Look, here,’ he pointed at the middle of the map. ‘I think this is the ruined waystation we explored. The trail runs west-east through this forest and to the east the arrow points to Kiris Dahn. We have two, maybe three days of travel through the forest if the trail is fairly clear.’

‘There are more of these waystations on the trail, too,’ pointed out Sorrow. ‘Here and here, perhaps six leagues or so apart.’

‘We will do well to treat them with caution, then,’ replied Rhasgar. ‘Who knows what they may hold.’

JUL
19

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

16

With the prospect of an early start thoughts turned swiftly to getting rest. Tradden’s aching head pushed him into requesting the last watch of the night — he didn’t mind the early starts, and had already stripped off has armour for the night. Zero called for the first watch — he would have time for a glass of wine and some food and didn’t mind staying up a bit later if he was warm by the fire. The others were fairly ambivalent about their allotted times, therefore Khalin made the calls with lots drawn.

Watches of a pair, for two hours each. Zero would watch with Miri (much to his pleasure), followed by Khalin and Bekio. The vigil would then be picked up by Lee-da-Gaar alongside Rhasgar, before Tradden would take the dawn watch with Aukan. With everyone satisfied, people started to get ready for the night, eating a good meal and sharing stories over the fire.

JUL
19

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

17

Before the majority of people turned in for the night, however, Sorrow was asked to play. With the fire and torchlight playing fancifully off the underneath of the forest canopy and sparks drifting upwards the scene was set for the bard to perform. The rains that had been so heavy when the group had dashed under the cover of trees had slowed to a drizzle and the sound was almost comforting in the moments of silence amongst the party. Sorrow had no option but to please her audience.

‘There are some old tales, set to verse,’ she began as she started unpacking something from her pack on the wagon, ‘that have been handed down generation after generation. The style is odd, not well suited to the inns of Winterhaven and Fallcrest, but I think they are suited to this forest and the company we keep.’

She moved back to the fire gracefully, holding a strange instrument the size and shape of a small shield. It was adorned was six thick horse-hair strings onto a white frame. It took a few moments before Tradden realised that the frame was bone, perhaps that of a large pike or other fish. Sorrow sat cross-legged with her back to the fire and placed the instrument in her lap.

‘A kantele,’ she said looking at the young fighter, causing Tradden’s gaping jaw to close swiftly with embarrassment.

She played for a few minutes, a slow and steady melody, the notes ringing true almost like bells. She seemed to be taking her time, trying to remember the words to the song she had promised. With a change of chord the pace changed and she broke out into a soft and melancholic song, the words quick and then slow as the verses tumbled from her lips.

Ceaseless surge and swell, halted by stone
When oft bouncèd back, more they did bind
Great goblin and kin, sent out a groan
With riot raised high, time was resigned

Device is devised, he to direct
Cover the circles, cut out the eye
Flames at the frontline, fear to infect
Send out the scion, over the sky

Dispatch the device, discord was met
Ayver wipes the wheel, the wards all wept
Sorcerer’s spellfire, black walls are set
Last Legion’s order, lone standard kept

Device brings despair, horde to scatter
Marshal the moment, morals are key
Flames for the fallen, forge to shatter
By fire of freedom, the last boats flee

But the swarm did swell, reprisal swift
The walls do weaken, Moradin’s wane
Encircle the ends, eagle adrift
Sire of the scion, in the end slain

With the last word Sorrow’s playing faltered, a tear to her eye. The tale seemed heavyhearted, even though some of the phrases were difficult to understand.

‘I’m afraid I cannot do the tale much justice,’ she offered at last. ‘But it is the only one I know in full that may have been passed down all this time through the years.’

JUL
19

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

18

Tradden’s jaw fell back into ‘open’ position, although he was the first to break the silence which followed the verse.

‘That… that, was beautiful, my lady…’ he stammered, suitably impressed.

Perhaps it was just sheer tiredness, but the young human had nothing else to say, and simply lay back on his bedroll, where he quickly fell into a deep sleep. His dreams were not unusual, for Tradden, although this night there was a new inclusion — a lithe female figure, one with long, pointed horns…

JUL
23

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

19

Slowly, one by one, the other travellers made their ways to their bedrolls. Some favoured the small tents that were perched around the perimeter of the fire, whilst others preferred the simplicity of a bedroll under the evening sky. Sorrow’s song had seemed to have chased away the rains and the sweet-scented pine and crackle of the fire made for a comforting rest.

Those that were on watch kept the fire stoked at intervals, ensuring that the embers never died but never let the flames grow particularly high. One of the pair kept vigil within the perimeter whilst the other patrolled just outside, eyes away from the fire so they were better suited to the dark.

The sounds of the forest were frequent but none gave any real cause for alarm. The hoots and howls were varied and often loud but were likely no ferocious than large owls and predator birds. The occasional howl from some far off beast was a little more disturbing, though, although they always appeared to be far away, much to the watchers’ relief. Around the camp, deeper into the forest, often came the sounds of rustling undergrowth, snapping twigs, and the snort and growls of smaller mammals, looking for food.

JUL
23

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

20

Zero’s watch went past without any major incident. Miri kept telling Zero to be quiet, however, they were supposed to be watching, not chatting, much to the rogue’s chagrin. Khalin’s watch was quieter to begin with. He didn’t really know what to say to Bekio, the little halfling still appeared to be full of grief for his twin who’s body still rested within the wagon.

Halfway through the warlord’s stint there came a sound of thunder — short and sharp. It was greeted by a tremor from the ground but only for a moment. A few heads raised from their sleep, but quickly returned once more to slumber when they were greeted by only the faint sounds of the forest. Khalin and Bekio exchanged cautious words, but there was no further repeat of the incident.

JUL
23

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

21

When it came time for Tradden’s watch he was woken by the old monk, Lee-da-Gaar, jostling his shoulder. The youth opened his eyes, sticky and tired and to his horror he found he could not see!

[Tradden Endurance Check: 1d20+9: 25] - success!

With panic creeping in the monk helped Tradden over to one of the barrels of water and the young fighter washed out his eyes. To his immense relief his sight began to return as he washed away a sticky blue-green goo from the corners of his eyes. He was left with a headache, but continual squinting and staring and blinking during his otherwise uninteresting watch confirmed that his sight was unimpaired.

JUL
23

Mechanics
Extended Rest

22

Healing Surges and Hit Points
Healing Surges are regained.
[Khalin has 9 healing surges and is now on 51/51 hp]
[Kireth has 8 healing surges and is now on 44/44 hp]
[Tradden has 10 healing surges and is now on 57/57 hp]
[Zero has 7 healing surges and is now on 50/50 hp]

Encounter and Daily Powers
All encounter and daily powers are recharged.

Milestones
No Milestones achieved. Action Points reset to 1.

JUL
23

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

23

Khalin was in no mood to halt progress in the morning. True to his word he had everybody up and about to get an early start, bustling about and ensuring the wagon was ready. Zero did his best to continue his sleep, even with people packing around him, but the sweet smell of breakfast tempted him out of his bedroll.

Aukan was quickly becoming the unofficial cook of the expedition, his fingers deft and quick with knife and vegetables and spices alike. It seemed odd that such a huge man could be so gentle and exact, but the meals he prepared were enjoyed by all. Not quite up to the standard of Skillet, and the The Bronze Lion, where food seemed to miraculously appear, but fresh and tasty nonetheless and a welcome sight, smell and taste for anyone.

Gaur and Zebu had also been well fed and Borik had already fitted them to Amud Rur, the wagon. With the last of the camp-stuff loaded upon the back Khalin gave the order for the wagon to roll.

JUL
23

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

24

The rains had held off through the night and a faint, cool breeze drew west to east along the trail. The oxen led strongly, Borik driving them on at a gentle pace, with Lee-da-Gaar perched next to him on the wagon. The Talons stretched out in front, with Rhasgar and Miri spotting the trail for any obvious movement or anything out of the ordinary and Rangrim watching the road itself for any lumps and bumps that might cause the wagon distress.

For once the going for the Krakens, as Khalin had taken to calling themselves over the past few days, was easier, following the wagon at a gentle pace and watching the rear for anything.

The sunlight of early morning filtered down through the trees above, thinner above the road where no trunk grew. The cascading light in this central shaft made the rest of the forest look darker and more foreboding, but at least it kept the journey warm and pleasant.

JUL
23

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

25

It was no more than half and hour before they passed the small trail leading off to the south to the ruined building. Tradden couldn’t resist a peek with a little daylight and set off, scampering along the trail before the others could hold him back. Beltak and Khalin waited for him on the road whilst the wagon continued and ten minutes later the young fighter returned.

The building had collapsed in on itself sometime during the night. Whatever energies the apparition had leant to the structure had finally dissipated, leaving the forest to start to claim back its land. The lad looked disappointed somehow, but quickly cheered up as they picked up the pace necessary to catch the wagon.

JUL
23

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

26

The road through the pineforest kept fairly straight, running west to east for great stretches, with only the occasional bend or slight change in direction. Although likely to be ancient, the trail seemed to be clear and quite usable without concern. Infrequent were the times the group had to stop and clear the tendrils of vines from the path of the wagon or to lift away a broken tree limb. Perhaps the solitary cobbles, still visible here and there, were somehow enchanted or blessed to keep the road free.

Going was good and Khalin was pleased with their progress. It was hard to tell under the canopy of the forest the distances they were travelling, with no references or points of interest to gauge their travel by. However, the warlord had been used to travelling underground in kel-Morndin and could estimate by his own footfalls distance to some accuracy. As the sun rode high in the sky he felt they had come some three leagues or so, good progress, and time should be taken to rest and eat.

Zero had his own internal mechanism for gauging distance and time. His belly rumbled incessantly for the last couple of hundred yards before Khalin gave the shout to stop and none were more pleased than him for the break.

However, the rogue did not get the time to sink his teeth into something sweet and tasty before a shout came up from out front. Miri had spotted something in the road.

JUL
23

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

27

Two hundred yards or so in the distance the group could see what appeared to be a deadfall, a huge tree that had crashed down from one side to the other, completely blocking the trail. Khalin advised caution, not restarting the wagon, whilst the group decided what they should do.

JUL
23

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

28

The whole travelling convoy had come to a halt — not a sound could be heard bar the ambiance of the forest, and not a single muscle moved or twitched until Tradden trotted forward lightly to stand next to Khalin.

The way the dwarf’s hands tensed on the haft of his hammer gave Tradden the re-assurance that they were both thinking the same way. This could be a trap.

Not stopping, Tradden kept moving, hugging the right hand side of the treeline until he was just behind the line of the furthest-forward Talon.

Tradden The Scout cast his eye over the tree, to see if he could fathom anything, firstly applying his, albeit limited, military learning to date, and secondly seeing if years of ploughing through the Deepingwald Foliage Society’s enthusiastic but weighty tome ‘Nature’s Wonders! Vol 3 — Trees!’ had been worth it. Trees did, after all, fall over and if it were an ambush there may be tell-tale signs on the tree itself.

[Perception Check: 1d20+5: 6] - critical failure!

[Nature Check: 1d20+5: 22] - success!

The young fighter certainly couldn’t spot anything unnatural about the tree, especially from this distance. The main trunk of the tree, about a man’s height in diameter had fallen squarely across the road, the crown and the roots tangled up in the rosebay rhododendron undergrowth at either side perhaps a further thirty feet or so into the forest. The bark looked a lighter shade of grey from the other pines, perhaps a suggestion of age, but Tradden wasn’t too sure. As it had fallen it hadn’t quite managed to hit the ground, the branches of the crown catching within the rosebays leaving the trunk suspended a couple of inches off the ground.

JUL
23

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

29

Zero huffed at the disheartening sight.

‘Brilliant,’ he said. ‘How are we going to get past that thing? Don’t suppose any of you wizardy types have a wood-to-sludge spell, do you?’

JUL
24

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

30

Khalin stroked his beard and turned to Tradden. ‘Well, a fallen tree is not an unexpected obstacle, perhaps the oxen can pull it out of the way?’ he considered thoughtfully, resolving to ask Borik for his opinion on the relative strength of the beasts. ‘But first we need to secure the area.’

The dwarf motioned to Rhasgar. ‘We should probably send scouts round to check the area for enemies, but we must not leave the wagon unguarded. What do you think?’

‘I agree,’ replied the paladin. ‘Though these bushes will make it difficult to get around easily, we’ll probably lose sight of them for a few moments in the trees.’

Khalin turned to beckon Zero. ‘This might be a job for you m’lad,’ he offered as the rogue’s brow furrowed.

‘Borik, what do you think? Could Gaur and Zebu pull the tree loose?’

‘They’re certainly strong,’ Borik replied, ‘but that tree looks pretty heavy. We’d have to cut away a section first, then we could unhitch the oxen and drag it away if we had some good rope. Maybe a five or six foot section if we’re lucky.’

Khalin stroked his beard in thought, thinking about the bow-saw and small axes they had fortunately brought with them.

[Perception Check: 1d20+3: 22] - success!

From this distance it looked as though it would take at least four to five hours with the saw and axes to cut through the trunk, especially if they needed to cut through three times to make a couple of decent sections.

The dwarf drew a long sigh.

JUL
25

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

31

Tradden stood, arms folded but with one hand stroking his goatee in an unintended parody of the warlord.

‘What about we tie some rope around the ‘top’ end of the tree, the one which is partly off the floor anyway. Then we tie the other end of the rope around the top of a standing tree on the other side of the road. Then we cut down the standing tree, so it falls away from the one lying down, and the force of the falling one pulls the fallen tree out of the way? It doesn’t have to pull it neatly, just either enough to get by or high enough to get under? It would mean we only have to make one cut.’

Pleased with his idea the fighter stood bolt upright with a smug grin on his face.

JUL
25

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

32

Khalin looked at the youth for a few moments, trying to judge the merits of his plans. Looking back at the deadfall his nose wrinkled.

‘A fair try, lad,’ he replied, ‘but I’m not sure how many of us are lumberjacks. It might only take half the time or so to cut through, but we’d be guessing a bit on which way it would fall and whether it would pull the dead one away. It might be worth a shot if we can’t think of anything else, though.’

The warlord went back to thinking, walking slowly towards the fallen tree and motioning Zero to run ahead and scout to the side.

‘We could hack through the bushes, but I think that would take just as long to create a gap wide enough for the wagon. Looks like we might just have to get those two axes out and get to work.’

He paused about fifty feet from the trunk and turned back to face the others.

‘Kireth, do you have any bright ideas? You’ve been quiet.’

JUL
25

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Pineforest Deadfall

33

Tradden looked crest-fallen.

‘Yes, come on Kireth — back me up here! My idea is the most efficient by far!’

JUL
26

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

34

‘Efficient’ considered Kireth. He thought about how the young fighter would bounce around just to get from A to B; swing from anything that cared to ‘dangle’ and waved his swords around like some demented animal on over-ripe pipeweed. No, ‘efficient’ was not a word he would be using in connection with Tradden.

He was as polite as he could be about his response and… ignored him. He strode over to the felled tree, swung his pack off his shoulder and pulled out a large leather bound book to study.

JUL
26

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

35

Zero watched Kireth stride away and then took a long, glum look at the thorny bushes. He returned a look to Khalin that clearly stated, ‘You owe me for this.’

And with that, he edged into the brush, grumbling to himself, but not careless enough not to look where he was going or to give his position away.

[Perception Check: 1d20+11: 23] - success!

[Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 23] - success!

The rosebays were thick and intertwined and made for hard going. Zero did his best to keep quiet and slow, just in case there were any enemies lurking around, but he couldn’t avoid the occasional curse as his cloak caught on some rough bark or outstretched limb.

The rogue only had to cover a distance of thirty feet or so through the bushes, just enough to get around the roots of the tree, but to do so he had to go in a semi-circle making the journey longer. By the time he was halfway he was scratched, cut, bruised and flustered. However, at least no enemies had popped out to surprise him, there was that, at least.

JUL
26

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

36

Kireth ignored the chatter and noise behind him and concentrated on his book. He preferred the magics that came to him quickly and naturally, ones that he barely had to think about before the power was at his fingertips. However, there were other powers that he was learning, ones from the tomes he had gathered so far, the powers of ritual.

Simple ones he had learned at the Mage’s College, those of reading and memorising passages from books and locking and unlocking simple door mechanisms. Others he had begun to decipher from the tomes of Helvec, the mad elf, from the dusty books brought back from the Tower of the Mists, and from scraps of parchment in the ruins of Caulkin Keep.

He started to concentrate on one of these rituals. The unfamiliar words and movements were awkward to begin with, but he soon broke into a rhythym. He walked up and down the length of the dead trunk showering it with a golden dust as he went. The coins that he had used to grind down into the dust he needed for such rituals he vowed to retrieve from Tradden, one way or another.

The incantations and procession took nearly ten minutes. Khalin was becoming impatient — the mage hadn’t expressed what he had in mind and there was no telling how long he would be. The dwarf went to the back of the wagon, calling out for Borik to start unhitching the oxen. Grabbing the hand axe from the back of the cart he strode towards the deadfall.

JUL
26

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

37

It took Zero a good five or ten minutes to squeeze his way through the knotted stems of the rosebays and back out onto the trail the other side of the deadfall. With a steely glance around to check there was nothing nasty lurking further up the track he moved out, his disposition somewhat rising on the angry scale as he noticed the tears and marks on his cloak.

He was somewhat bedraggled and hot and cursed at his luck before wandering across to the deadfall.

He could hear Kireth mumbling from the far side and see the mage’s feet stalking backwards and forwards in the small gap underneath. At least he had a few moments to get his breath back over this side and leant against the trunk for a moment.

[Nature Check: 1d20+4: 23] - success!

There was something a little odd about the trunk, however, at least at this side down towards the roots. Whereas on the side where the wagon currently was the trunk was splintered and cracked as though it had broken in the wind, at this side there were fairly obvious axe marks.

The rogue tried to jump up to the top of the trunk, to hold on and shout to the others.

JUL
26

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Pineforest Deadfall

38

The axe felt light in Khalin’s hand but he knew the head would have been forged by Caldring, or at least her apprentice, so was certain it would be effective. He strode up to the tree with intent and swung the axe with a great heave.

JUL
26

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

39

The mage had heard Khalin’s approach but chose to ignore it. His ritual was complete. One more syllable was all that was needed for the transformation.

[Ritual: Shrink]

[Arcana Check: 1d20+12: 20] - success!

[Deadfall shrinks to 25% of its true size for 12 hours]

There seemed to be a rush of wind that swirled the mage’s cloak as the air pushed past to fill the gap that was left by the receeding trunk. The deadfall shrank instantly, there was no slow progress. One second it was six foot high and spanned the entire trail, the next it appeared to be just like a stout limb, perhaps eighteen inches in diameter and covering only half of the path.

Zero fell over the trunk, his leap for the top met with thin air and his cloak spilled over him.

Khalin’s axe fell down, expecting wood where there was none, and cut straight through the rogue’s sprawled cloak, right next to his head.

Kireth seemed to ignore the pair’s plight and simply turned on his heel. ‘I am now tired,’ he stated. ‘I will ride on the wagon.’ With that he headed back to the main group.

As he passed Tradden on the way the mage couldn’t help himself. ‘That,’ he stressed, ‘was efficient.’

JUL
26

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

40

Tradden, not easily offended at the best of times, simply grinned and then chuckled. There was a funny side to this and the fighter saw it, accepting the mage’s point at the same time.

‘Right — let’s get this thing moved!’

There were nods of agreement from the assembled bunch and they all slowly moved forwards. Zero had managed to extricate himself from Khalin’s blade and the rogue stood to one side, flustered, red and seething. The dwarf looked a trifle embarrased, but joined in with the others as they banded together to lift the trunk.

‘One.. two… three… heave!’ bellowed Tradden, beginning to enjoy himself. The group lifted as one, groans ringing out, and the shrunken trunk was raised. ‘This way,’ puffed the young fighter and maneouvred the limb as close and parallel to the bushes as they could.

Dropping it down the trail was left free.

‘We should move on before Kireth’s magic expires,’ Khalin suggested. ‘It will expire, won’t it, Kireth?’ he asked.

‘In time, yes,’ Kireth replied, already relaxing at the front of the wagon with his feet up on the boards and his hood pulled up over his head. ‘In time.’

Khalin didn’t look assured, but gave the command to move on. ‘Let’s go, then. Another league and we’ll stop for a break.’

JUL
27

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

41

Zero cringed at the nice tear in his cloak that neatly complemented the rips of the brambles.

‘You ought to know,’ he announced, ‘that tree didn’t fall by accident. Somebody chopped it down.’

JUL
27

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

42

‘I knew it!’ stated Tradden, of Deepingwald Yard.

With that, as the assembled others started to move the tree and get the cart going or were standing watch, Tradden sleuthed his way around the tree and the surroundings of where it had once stood. There were regular ‘Hmm’s’ and ‘Ah!’s’ which seemed more than a little little forced and showy to Zero.

The first thing he wanted to check was how old the tree was and when it was cut down.

[Nature Check: 1d20+5: 16] - success!

The tree appeared to be one of the older ones in this part of the forest. Remembering its girth when it was at full size and its height gave that game away. The fact that it was a little lighter grey also indicated it was old. Under the bark the tree didn’t appear to be diseased or dead and hadn’t started to rot or to cure yet. He guessed that it was sometime within the last three or four tendays that it had been felled, although he was no lumberjack.

With further gesticulations and murmurings he turned his attention to the axe cuts that Zero had pointed out. They were more difficult to decipher now they were shrunken but he tried his best to identify their source and their number.

[Perception Check: 1d20+5: 8] - failure!

There were certainly a number of chops that had been made at the bottom of the tree, but as to what with and how many he couldn’t decipher.

His last thought was to jog across to the rosebays where the roots of the tree once lay, now exposed as the trunk had been removed. He looked for any activity, footprints, or tell-tale signs of someone or something in the vicinity.

[Perception Check: 1d20+5: 17] - success!

The forest floor around the base of the roots was churned up a little but singling out any individual marking was nigh on impossible. With rains and other forest creatures any tracks had evened out. One thing did catch the young fighter’s attention, however. Wrapped around one of the rosebay branches was a long leather strip, about five feet long, poorly made but strong. It seemed to have some sort of loop at the end, perhaps eight inches in diameter and studded with small bones, that had been snapped.

JUL
27

Storyline
Pineforest Deadfall

43

‘Odd,’ said Tradden, unwrapping the leather strap from the branch and putting it in his pack for later consideration.

With that he went to assist in the general hubbub surrounding the moving the tree and getting the cart moving again. In truth, the hard work had been done whilst the fighter had been playing detective, but that didn’t stop him from claiming credit when the cart started rolling again, much to the mock chagrin of various members of the group.

The only one who stood to one side was Khalin, still furiously stroking his beard. This may not have been an ambush in the ‘here and now’ but someone chopped that tree down to block the road.

Realising he was about to be alone with only a tree of reduced size, the dwarf jogged to catch the others up.

AUG
06

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

44

As the wagon moved along once more Khalin weighed up the lost time as the deadfall. Between deciding what to do, Kireth’s ritual, and moving the resultant log out of the way he guessed they’d lost about an hour. Not too bad, he though, all things considered. Another league along the road, a stop for half an hour for something to eat and they’d be able to get going again.

Kireth sat atop the wagon next to Borik with an imperious air, his hood covering his face with shadow, but his back straight and upright. Lee-da-Gaar had quickly found a stout branch from the side of the trail and walked just behind the wagon with a slight limp but made no complaints, his face a mask of quiet concentration. Zero looked at the mage sat comfortably and just sighed as he began the trudge eastwards once again.

AUG
06

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

45

The trail through the pineforest was manging to stay clear for now, at least. With Zero spotting the tell-tale signs of interference on the fall of the tree Khalin was glad that there were no other barriers in the road to contend with. Whether the deadfall had been a recent addition to the trail still worried him and he’d asked the Talons to be extra vigilant as they spotted the road ahead of the wagon.

However, there were no cries from the front and the wagon rumbled along on its iron-shod wheels for nearly two hours before the warlord called a halt to the march and a time to rest and eat.

AUG
06

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

46

Tradden, as enthusiastic as ever, bustled up to Khalin, nudging the warlord and nearly spilling the dwarf’s mug of ale.

‘So, mid-afternoon, eh?’ he opened with. ‘How much further today, then?’

Khalin switched the mug to his other hand, all the better to avoid another waft of Tradden’s ever-gesticulating arms. ‘Another three hours at least, if we can,’ he replied. ‘I’d like to get another couple of leagues under our boots.’

From somewhere behind Tradden was a Zero-like sigh.

The dwarf ignored the rogue’s protestations. ‘If that map we found in the ruin is to believed, perhaps there will be another building around where we will stop. It seems convenient somehow, that they’re just far enough apart for a day’s travelling with wagon. We’ll need to be careful, though.’

Tradden’s eyes seemed to light up. ‘Perhaps Zero and I could scout ahead when we get close?’ he asked eagerly. It was greeted with a spurt of wine from behind his back and a fluid curse. ‘Just give the order,’ the young fighter winked.

AUG
06

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

47

Khalin eventually managed to shoo Tradden away and sought out Kireth for his counsel.

‘Another couple of leagues, Kireth, before we shall stop. Perhaps three hours or so. We may be close then to another of those waystations. We will need to be on guard.’

The mage nodded. ‘I shall keep my keen eyes and ears open from the top of the wagon, then,’ he replied courteously.

‘But, Lee-da-Gaar,’ started Khalin, ‘he does not complain, but he is obviously wounded…’

‘And I am tired from saving us hours of cutting up trees,’ replied Kireth. ‘If we come across another, I am sure you would want me to be fully rested and ready.’

Khalin snorted at the mage’s words but could see no point in arguing, the mage would likely win, one way or another. He turned to the rest of the group and gave the order to move out.

AUG
06

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

48

Fortunately for the group the rains had managed to stay away for most of the day. The trees gave shelter from any significant breeze so the going was pleasant even if it was the same for mile after mile. The pines grew closer and closer as they headed into the heart of the forest and to the north and south of the trail it was getting harder to see any distance into the tree line.

As the sun started to lower in the sky somewhere behind them it became hidden by the trees and soon it was getting dark and murky along the trail. Before long torches were being lit to help guide the way.

After a couple of hours marching along the trail legs were beginning to ache and endurance beginning to falter. They had started early and Khalin had pushed the pace along. It would not be soon before they would have to rest.

‘One last hour,’ called Khalin. ‘One last push and then we’ll stop. Let’s take a quick break and get some water.’

The oxen were reined in and the wagon began to trundle to a halt. The group began to congregte around the wagon to get some water and some fruit and bread. There were minor jokes and quips amongst the group and Khalin was pleased to see that they still had their humour despite the efforts they had put in. Tradden even looked at Khalin imploringly to see if the dwarf wanted him to scout ahead, but Khalin shook his head.

Then, just as everyone was getting ready to get back on the road, there came a long mournful howl. This time, this one was close. They had heard the howls of wolves before along the road, particularly at dusk, but all had been from some distance away. This one was near, although from what direction was hard to tell within the trees. It was joined by another, perhaps only slightly further back into the trees. And then a third.

AUG
07

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

49

Before anyone could even say ‘lupine’ two swords, one hammer, a crossbow and a staff were held battle ready.

‘You have a real wolf problem on this continent, did you know that?’ said Tradden through gritted teeth to no-one in particular, although it was clearly aimed at the natives within earshot.

A loud growl began to eminate from nearby, causing Zero‘s heckles to be heckled even higher until he realised it was coming from Khalin.

‘Right, I’ve had enough of this. We do the damn hour and then rest as planned. Any wolf daft enough to even try anything…’ his voiced was raised at this point, as if issuing a challenge to the forest at large, ‘…will taste my hammer!’

When no balls of teeth and fur were immiediately upon them he growled again and bade the wagon ‘move on!’ before striding on confidently.

‘Tradden, would you be so kind as to tell Rhasgar that weapons should be openly carried until we stop and that I would be grateful for his view on whether we should add another person to each of the watches this night.’

With a grin and a mock bow, the fighter scurried forward to the nearby forward scouts.

AUG
08

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

50

The next couple of miles were a tense affair. The pace of the group and the wagon had picked up a little and Miri had dropped back from the front to walk alongside the oxen, giving them soft words of encouragement after every bay of the wolves in the distance. Gaur and Zebu were hardy animals, however, and it seemed as though it would take more than a few howls to spook them.

Whether consciously or not the combined party had begun to gather closer around the wagon, Rangrim and Rhasgar out front perhaps only twenty yards or so, Khalin and Zero perhaps only ten or so yards behind the wagon. All had their weapons as ready as they could and senses were on full alert.

Howls continued on regular intervals, sometimes nearer, sometimes further away in the tree line, but seemed to be keeping pace with the group. Khalin made sure that everyone held a lit torch, going around each person in turn with an armful from the back of the wagon. The dancing flames from the torches illuminated the trail around them, reaching up into the canopy above. It was a warm glow that spurred them on somewhat. To Zero, however, the flames caused shadows to dart and flicker just within the tree line that ran shivers up his spine.

AUG
08

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

51

It was not going to be long before Khalin called a halt to the march when the trail widened a little, perhaps double its width, for a small stretch of fifty yards or so. To the north of the trail was a small patch of clearing, with no large pines, only brambles and small bushes growing around crumbled stonework.

‘Perfect,’ growled the warlord to himself. ‘At least we're not having to sleep next to the trees.’

The dwarf jogged up towards Sorrow and Rhasgar.

‘Another waystation?’ the dwarf enquired. ‘The one on the map, perhaps?’

Sorrow looked back at him, her eyes lively and piercing in the torchlight. ‘It would make sense, yes,’ she replied turning to look at the clearing as if trying to picture a building stood there. ‘Not set back into the forest as the previous one, though.’

‘Zero, Rangrim!’ shouted the warlord. ‘Can you two check out the clearing? Make sure there’s no surprises?’

Khalin could see Tradden perched at the edge of the clearing, all limbs and movement and excitement. ‘Yes, Tradden,’ sighed the dwarf. ‘You could help them.’ The young fighter set off at once.

‘Just protect the wagon for now,’ Khalin continued to the rest of the group. ‘We’ll break out camp once we know the lay of the area.’

As if as one the group retreated back towards the wagon, circling it in a ring of torch fire. The scouts headed out towards the clearing.

AUG
08

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

52

Zero crept forwards towards the bushes and brambles of the clearing. He gathered his cloak tight about him, not wanting to tear it any further, and held his torch high. He would have preferred to have moved forwards quietly and in the shadow, but with all of the light about that would have been difficult. Any wolf would likely see him anyway. Or smell him. He hadn’t had the pleasure of a bath for a couple of days and was starting to feel uncomfortable. Still, he had a job to do, and that needed focus.

He moved around the bushes carefully, checking the stonework in places and making sure the earth was solid.

[Perception Check: 1d20+11: 22] - success!

The stonework was old and a lot of it had crumbled to dust. The parts that were left indicated a building similar in shape and size to the one with the apparition and Zero was not amused. He looked very carefully for any trapdoors or openings leading down but to his relief found none.

AUG
08

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

53

Tradden saw Zero and Rangrim carefully skulking off into the bushes to check out the clearing. Somehow, though, it seemed better to him, in his won way, to take the more direct route. With a quick scan of the area he skipped through the bushes and clambered up and onto the highest remaining wall of masonry. It was only a couple of feet off the ground, but with the torches from the rogue and the dwarf and that of his own it gave him a fairly good view of the surroundings.

[Perception Check: 1d20+5: 21] - success!

The lines of masonry were quite unmistakable, even under the brush, and to Tradden it looked as though the building had once been almost exactly the same as the previous one with the basement. Jumping down quickly he paced out a route away from the trail, counting in his head, trying to work out the spot where the trapdoor had been in the other ruin.

He had no luck, though. No trapdoor, no opening, and no basement.

Disappointed somehow, he trudged back towards Khalin to let him know the coast was clear.

AUG
08

Storyline
Pineforest Trail

54

Khalin seemed content with the scouts’ reports and pleased that he had not heard the howl of wolves for some time.

‘Break out camp,’ he ordered, starting to grab items from the wagon to help. ‘We’ll keep to the side here, just near the clearing. Should give us space all around.’

He placed his bundle down and turned to reach for another.

‘We’ll add to the watch tonight,’ he said. ‘Zero, you take first lookout with Miri and Rhasgar. I’ll take the second with Lee-da-Gaar and Bekio. Kireth…’ the dwarf faltered, praying to Moradin that the mage would just get on with it and not retort, ‘…you watch with Aukan and Sorrow.’ Tradden’s face fell, unnoticed by the dwarf. ‘Tradden, you take last watch with Rangrim and Borik.’

There seemed to be a general consensus around the camp and Khalin beamed. Even Kireth had nodded in agreement.

‘Sleep in your armour, if you can, with your weapons by your side. If there are wolves on the prowl, we’ll give them something to think about. We’re not easy prey.’

AUG
10

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

55

Camp settled down quickly. Most were quiet, listening out for any further noises from the tree line as they quickly set up the tents and associated goods. Aukan began to break out the prevous days’ cold catch, Khalin had judged that the roasting of meats on an open fire would perhaps only draw the wolves closer. Cold hare and fruits from the wagon weren’t exactly what Zero had anticipated. Still, he preferred that to wolves snarling and biting at him.

A central fire was still lit, however, and torches were started to be staked out around a rough perimeter.

‘Hold!’ barked Kireth, talking for the first time since the deadfall. The half-elf mage looked around the campsite and ordered those staking out the lights to draw them closer. ‘In a circle, centered around the fire, there,’ he ordered pointing at a spot only twenty five feet or so from the fire.

Khalin raised an eyebrow as Kireth pulled a couple of warm pebbles from the edge of the fire and headed off to the back of the wagon. ‘What’s your plan, Kireth?’ the warlord enquired.

‘A moment if you will,’ the mage mumbled back, ferreting around in one of the packs.

‘Oi, they’re mine!’ bellowed Zero as Kireth pulled out a small leather pouch from one of the packs and retrieved a pair of sparkling gems.

‘I only need them for one moment,’ Kireth replied softly. ‘Look.’

[Prestidigitation]

[Kireth changes pebbles to gemstones]

‘A simple parlour trick perhaps,’ said Kireth as he opened the leather pouch once more. ‘Much like any street conjurer could perform,’ he continued with a wave of his arm, sparks and lights floating and dazzling in the air. He placed the gemstones back in Zero’s pouch. ‘However, this trick could certainly save our lives tonight.’

With that the mage moved away from the wagon and across to the torchlit perimeter. With an arcane word the pebble gemstones crumbled to dust in his hands and sliowly but carefully he began to dust the circle of torches, arcane mutterings issuing from his lips as he progressed.

Khalin grumbled and stroked his beard. ‘Hmm, even so, we’ll keep the watches as planned. Zero? Rhasgar? Miri? Are you ready?’

Zero was fastening up his pack again, looking at Kireth with distrust, but nodded he was.

AUG
10

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

56

It took nearly all of Zero’s watch for Kireth to slowly complete the circle. The mage would not be rushed, nor would he be quietened down from the strange words and syllables he muttered constantly. At last, though, he was finished, having traced the entire perimiter he was back where he started and let fall the last of the gem dust.

As the last speck settled on the floor a radiance rose from the ground, a perfect circle emblazoned with runes shone for a second, and was then gone.

[Kireth: Magic Circle]

[Arcana Check: 1d20+12-5: 22] - success!

[Kireth creates a warding circle, preventing creatures of level 12 entering]

‘I will now take my rest,’ Kireth said simply. ‘I do not need to watch in person tonight.’

The mage headed towards his bedroll, but paused briefly and looked across at Zero in the firelight. ‘Many thanks for your assistance,’ he smiled, before turning and hiding within his robes and quietness once more.

AUG
10

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

57

The rest of Zero’s watch passed fairly uneventfully. He managed to strike up conversation with Miri, but he seemed distracted, something itching at the back of his mind. It wasn’t only once that he went and checked his pack to ensure his gemstones were all safely stowed away.

Miri had been born in Winterhaven and spent much of her life there. At a young age she had been singled out by her peer group for having unusual talents — talents that they were mildly afraid of — and she spent much of her youth alone. Zero guessed that her general quietness was something to do with this — the rogue had to make much of the conversation. This didn’t bother Zero too much, he found small talk easy to come by.

Their conversations were cut short, however, by howls and wolf calls from closer than before. All three of the watchers drew their weapons and made ready to wake the others at a signal.

There were growls at a distance and further calls, but none of the three spotted any actual animals and after and tense few minutes the noise abated as though the animals had fled.

When the time came to switch to Khalin, Lee-da-Gaar and Bekio the forest was quiet and dormant.

AUG
10

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

58

With a last check on his pack Zero tumbled off to a heavy sleep, leaving Khalin to watch out for the late hours of the night.

Bekio, as usual, was quiet. The grief for his twin was still plain to see. The warlord thought that only when his brother Ulmo was returned safely to the Vale would he be able to come to terms with his loss. The halfling did not really enter into any conversation with Khalin even though the dwarf tried. His skills were not as good as Zero’s, though, in speech craft, so after a while he gave up.

The monk, Lee-da-Gaar, continued to stretch and make slow deliberate movements towards the edge of the circle. Khalin asked him about what he was doing and Lee-da-Gaar mentioned he was training, trying to make his limbs remember the movements themselves, so he could concentrate on other things during any combat. The monk’s leg was starting to heal, regardless of the marching that Kireth had forced him into, and Khalin was impressed by the endurance and stamina of the human. In the torchlight the monk’s face looked old, the pain of his temple’s capture and of his own incarceration plainly etched upon it. However, he could see the youth in the man’s eyes and the fire burning within to reclaim his home.

A yelp and a howl broke Khalin out of his conversation with Lee-da-Gaar and he drew Aecris without thought. A small pack of wolves, perhaps four, darted from the tree line to the north, running west to east over the rubble of the ruined building. They were fast and sleek and covered the distance in no time at all, darting back into the trees.

In an instant they were out again, running north to south to the east of the camp, and then through the trees to the south and off to the west.

‘Scouts?’ growled Khalin, amazed at the creatures’ intelligence, if that’s what they were.

AUG
16

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

59

Khalin scampered across the small camp, waking Tradden and Zero with a rough shake.

Tradden was up and alert in an instant and Khalin ordered him to wake some of the Talons. The young fighter sprang off towards Rhasgar with a passing look at the tree line beyond the torchlight.

Zero was harder to wake, pulling Khalin towards him with faraway promises of a warm bed and comfort. When the rogue’s eye fluttered open with Khalin’s beard right in front of him he jolted upright with a start and looked for the nearest window to escape. It was only a moment before he realised he was out in the wilderness and not in one of the mansions of Northspires and a sheepish grin covered his face.

‘Wolves!’ stated Khalin. ‘Get yerself ready.’

The rogue’s grin disappeared.

AUG
16

Storyline
Pineforest Camp

60

The warlord went to wake Kireth next, hesitating and then pushing the mage gentler than he had the boy or Zero. It seemed Kireth was hardly asleep, one eye opened and looked inquisitive and annoyed in equal measure at the dwarf.

‘Wolves,’ started Khalin, ‘we need to…’

‘I have no time for wolves,’ Kireth replied in a low cold voice. ‘I must rest.’

With that, the mage simply turned over and dismissed the dwarf with a loud sigh.

AUG
16

Storyline
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61

By now three or four of the Talons, plus Beltak and Lee-da-Gaar had risen and were cautiously peering out into the darkness beyond the torches. The flames made it hard to see much out in the dark, but enough to gather there were shadows moving about in the tree line and through the overgrown remains of the building.

Snarls and the occasional yelps rang out in the still night air and the group had the feeling they were being circled.

Khalin kept Aecris in front of him and his shield on his arm. If anything came through, they would get a taste of his hammer.

‘Spread out, form a circle,’ he shouted to the others. ‘But not too far apart, keep within the torches. They’ve tried to flank us before, so let’s not give them that option.’

‘Bloody mage,’ grumbled the dwarf. ‘We could do with some light out there.’

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The group managed to form a rough circle around the inside of the camp, the Talons mainly to the east and the Krakens to the west, with Kireth still asleep in the middle, seemingly unconcerned. Borik stood next to the oxen who had woken and were beginning to shuffle and low with alarm.

The shadows in the night grew closer and the sleek forms of a pack of wolves became obvious to all. Zero loaded a bolt into his hand crossbow and started to take aim.

‘Wait for it,’ ordered Khalin, unsure of what the wolves were preparing. They were obviously clever beasts and he didn’t want to launch into a full melee until he had the tactical advantage he wanted.

There were perhaps a dozen, half of which were sleek and fast creatures, but the other half looked bigger and more vicious, thir long fangs dripping saliva that glistened in the torchlight as they sped fast.

The sleek ones continued to circle, perhaps looking for the weak points in the guard. The others seemed to fade into the night.

Then the sleek ones turned and headed as a pack towards the eastern side as one. Tradden started to step across the camp, but was halted by a shout from Khalin.

‘No, Tradden. Here they come!’ the dwarf shouted as the larger beast sped from the west straight towards the circle and the guard that had almost turned away.

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With shield high and Aecris ready to fall Khalin prepared for the onslaught. Tradden drew his two sword with a flourish, admiring the way he managed to reflect the torchlight along the length of Narcissus as he called upon its power to rime the length with a sheen of frost. Zero took a step back, trying to slip into the darkness before he pulled the trigger.

The wolves, with open jaws, growling and snarling, raced towards them, eager to taste flesh.

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‘Hold firm!’ Tradden yelled, copying Khalin’s stance. He was itching to leap out and enter the fray, yet the warlord’s commands made sense.

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There was no noise, no slam or crash, no thud or crack. Only the intake of breath from the assembled Krakens as the wolves hit an impenetratable barrier. Merely inches outside of the ringed torchlight they were stopped by Kireth’s magic in a heap, bouncing back into the brush. For a moment they were stunned before they began yelping and howling in pain and frustration.

They tried again and again, with the same effect, before taking to pacing around the perimeter growling and snarling. They appeared content to wait this one out.

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From over the tree line, some distance away, came a long, low call — a horn perhaps, rather than a beast’s howl. It raised in note and timbre towards the end and was joined by another perhaps even further off.

The wolves’ ears pricked up and they scampered around in disarray.

With one last, long baleful look at the group they scurried off to the north into the trees and out of sight.

As they disappeared there was a twang and a crossbow bolt fired aimlessly off into the distance. A sweating Zero looked sheepish in the torchlight.

A soft chuckle echoed through the silence. ‘Oh, ye of little faith,‘ the mage croaked before resuming his sleep.

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Tradden returned swords to the cross-shaped sheaths on his back and stood with his hands on his hips for a moment, staring into the darkness as if pondering something.

‘S’up?’ asked Zero, who came to stand next to him whilst also staring into the darkness, perhaps weighing up the pros and cons of nipping outside the barrier to retreive his lost bolt.

‘Hmm?’ responded his fellow human, clearly lost in contemplation. ‘Oh, I just thought that… well, that sound and then the wolves running off…’

[Tradden Nature Check: 1d20+5: 7] - failure!

If there was a mental connection to be had Tradden’s brain was not making it.

‘Nevermind. Anyway, is it your watch again Z?’ Tradden laughed.

The resulting ‘I kill you now’ look on the rogue’s face only caused the fighter to guffaw harder.

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For a moment Zero thought the watch was his, but quickly realised that he had already done his stint. With the danger seemingly over for now and Kireth’s mystical barrier protecting him he decided to try and get some sleep, however hard that may be.

Tradden’s mirth soon died down as Khalin hushed him back to his bedroll, the dwarf getting everyone quiet and imploring them to get some rest for the morrow’s march. The warlord then took to pacing around the perimeter, just inside the torchlight, straining out with eye and ear for anything else untoward.

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The dwarf’s watch passed without further event, the pine forest unusually, and perhaps unnaturally, quiet. It unnerved him a little, but by the time he woke Aukan and Sorrow for their watch the familiar sounds of the night were starting to pick up.

Khalin shook Kireth to wake him, but the mage caught him with an icy glare, re-iterating that he was tired from the magics that had already saved their lives this night, and that he needed complete rest. The warlord grumbled, but both Aukan and Sorrow were happy to watch on their own.

With that, the dwarf settled down to some well deserved sleep of his own.

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Tradden was woken just as dawn was breaking and spent the early hours of the morning trying to discuss dwarvish things with Rangrim and Borik. The pair seemed amused by the youth more than anything, his attempts at dwarvish etiquette and eloquence often misguided and misdirected but they understood he meant no harm.

He managed to get a fairly good appraisal of the pair, though. Rangrim was rough and ready, a brawler with both fists and mouth and seemingly loyal to his friends. Although a little uncouth for Tradden’s tastes he could see how you would eventually get to like him. Borik was much more reserved, a little older and wiser perhaps, and spoke little of his own past and life.

Despite his continued attempts conversation ran out after a while without Tradden finding too much about the Old Continent. He didn’t really know where to start asking the multitude of questions he had and guessed that Khalin might be better at getting the information they all desired. The rest of the watch passed peacefully and the new day brought a glorious sunrise to the east with a hazy mist over the canopy of the forest.

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With a filling breakfast prepared by Aukan the group were ready to travel before the sun had risen too far. The oxen were hitched and Khalin gave the orders to head out east.

Kireth bent down to inspect the magic circle with pride in his work, kicking the still faint runes of gemdust away with his feet. The seat next to Borik had been left vacant by Lee-da-Gaar, who’s leg strength was returning quickly day by day with the exercises he was performing, and the mage took it without a thought.

The wagon rolled on.

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‘We should be out of the forest before the end of tomorrow,’ Khalin said cheerfully to Zero as they marched along the road. ‘Looks as if the ground is rising, too,’ he added, ‘perhaps as we head into the southwestern foothills of those mountains.’

The warlord did indeed seem of high spirits, the thoughts of being near mountains and potential ancient dwarven civilisations seemed to have given him a bounce to his step.

‘The map we found seems to be fairly accurate,’ the dwarf continued. ‘Assuming, of course, the forest hasn’t grown much since it was drawn.’

‘I’ll just be glad to be out of brambles and thorns,’ muttered Zero holding out the frayed ends of his cloak and inspecting his breeches so equisitely tailored only days before and now almost ruined. ‘I’m not changing these into my others until we’re out of here!’

‘At least the wolves seem to have learned their lesson,’ Tradden added, joining them. ‘Whatever magic Kireth used was pretty strong,’ the young fighter added with a curious glance at the mage riding atop the wagon in comparitive luxury. ‘It kept them out until that horn sounded anyway.’

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As Khalin had mentioned the ground was indeed rising, slowly at first but gradually the incline increased until the trail had to start to twist and turn to the left and the right to allow reasonable passage for the wagon. Gaur and Zebu snorted heavily as Borik drove them up the slope pulling the laden Amud Rur behind them. Kireth refused to dismount, much to Borik’s disgust.

Despite the twists and turns, however, the trail kept a reasonably eastward direction between the packed trees at either side. The forest was denser here, as if the slope allowed the trees to grow closer and taller and wider at their base as they reached towards the sun. The undergrowth and brambles also burgeoned on the slopes, much to Zero’s passing distaste, and made the trail the only safe passage.

The trail, still adorned here and there by rounded cobbles, was starting to thin as well and was getting to the point where it was only just wide enough for the wagon. Here and there, usually on one of the hairpin corners, the trail had been widened, presumably to let wagons travelling in opposite directions past one another.

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Though the incline was not that steep it was energy sapping and before long Zero was ruddy-faced and blowing air. Tradden had skipped on a little ahead to scout out the next straight after each turn, almost oblivious to the slope, and could just be seen through the trees that grew between the trails from time to time.

After about an hour’s slow progress up the slope the young fighter’s voice could be heard calling out from above.

‘I think we’re at the the top! Just round this next bend it starts to level off.’

A blessed relief came over Zero’s face and Khalin bounded forwards to meet the young fighter to take a look.

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As Khalin moved up to meet Tradden he noticed the disappointment on the youth’s face. Following his gaze he looked across from the summit but could see nothing other than the trail wandering off to the east and then down over a rise in the distance, any panorama hidden from view by the heavy trees.

‘Looks like it just goes down again,’ muttered Tradden. ‘I thought we’d get a view.’

‘Never mind, lad,’ offered Khalin, clapping the youth on his back. ‘We’ll take a rest here and then plough on.’

The warlord tried to keep his spirits up, but in truth was faltering himself. He needed that vista, that view of the mountains. His cheer of the early morning was starting to wane.

‘A rest?’ inquired Tradden. ‘I could climb a tree, you know…’

‘No,’ interrupted Khalin quickly. ‘No sense in getting any silly injuries from tomfoolery. We’ll rest, eat, and then keep going.’

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The rest was short lived. With the extra time and effort required to climb the slope Khalin was wary they were not getting much further towards the end of the forest. With the threat of wolves lurking within the trees the warlord was keen to get to more open ground.

Tradden had already jogged to where the trail dropped down to the east and reported back that it appeared to wind its way downwards to the east in a similar fashion to the western slope. The going would also be slow; trying to keep the oxen at a slow and sure pace to avoid the wagon wheeling away or tipping over on the corners.

The dwarf grumbled and stroked his beard as he stood to command the party onwards.

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‘Right, let’s move on,’ Khalin suggested. ‘We’ll take the front if you’d take the rear, Rhasgar. I’d like to see these mountains close up for myself if the trees open up on the descent.’

There was a nod from the dragonborn and Khalin turned back to face the rest of his own group. ‘Tradden, you and Zero head out a little in front, not too far mind, and just make sure the trail is safe and steady around any corners. Kireth, from your restful, comfortable vantage point on the wagon, please keep your senses alert.’

The dwarf’s words to the mage were aimed with sarcasm, but the half-elf simply smiled back and nodded.

‘Beltak, you keep close to Lee-da-Gaar near the wagon and I’ll be between you and the two boys out front.’

Khalin looked at everyone to make sure they knew their duty and then nodded. It appeared Rhasgar was doing something similar with the Talons.

‘Are we ready?’

Zero’s groan was enough to let the warlord know they were and he started the long march to the east.

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Amud Rur rolled on behind the Krakens with Tradden eagerly pushing out up front, bringing Zero along with him. The Talons kept vigil at the rear, all wary of the threat of wolves or anything else lurking in the trees.

As Tradden had suggested the trail began its descent and twisted and turned in short stretches. Zero was glad that it was all downhill to begin with, but soon found that the slopes downwards, although gentle on the straights, played havoc with his knees and shins. Going down was slightly quickly than coming up, but Borik had to be careful on the corners to avoid tipping the wagon at several times. After half an hour or so of spiralling descent the ground was starting to level off and the twists and turns became less regular.

It was around one of these corners when Zero ducked down and hissed to Tradden to stop.

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The rogue pointed along the trail at a minor twist through the trees.

‘Webs!’ he whispered. ‘Bloody giant webs!’

He began looking around nervously at the trees around him, fearful that at any point something eight-legged might jump out at him.

Tradden looked in the direction Zero was pointing and could see them for himself. Giant strands crossing the path from one tree line to the other; white and grey, thick and taut.

Webs in the Pine Forest

‘We’d better tell the others,’ he whispered back, and the two scampered back silently to the group.

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Tradden and Zero scampered back towards Khalin, doing their best to balance running-whilst-waving-arm-signalling-to-stop with trying to be quiet and subtle. The dwarf had already signalled for Borik to bring the cart to a halt.

‘Webs…’ panted Zero, when they were within comfortable earshot. He leant forward, hands on his knees. ‘…webs,’ he repeated, unnecessarily, pointing back the way they had came without looking up from the floor.

Tradden, not out of breath, used all his experience and wherewithall to acutely summarise the tactical situation for their leader.

‘Erm… webs,’ he added.

Khalin, who was now convinced he was getting wrinkles in his forehead due to the repeated muscle action, looked to the sky. ‘And?’

‘Across… the… road. Tree… to… tree… White… Grey-ey…’ whispered Zero, leaping back into the verbal fray. ‘The webs… not the trees.’

‘Strand-like!’ agreed Tradden.

Khalin remembered all too well his last encounter with spiders and gave an involuntary shudder. If the two highly-trained human scouts before him were to be believed (this was still open to debate in the warlord’s view), webbing across the road likely meant big spiders. If it were spiders at all.

‘Well, at the risk of jeopardising your places in the Deepingwald Advanced Recon Platoon when we get back to The Islands, would you care to advance any further information? If not I shall ask Kireth to simply magic up a giant feather duster and we can be on our way in no time. Details gentlemen, details…’

‘Erm…’ said Tradden, looking at Zero.

‘Erm…’ said Zero, looking at Tradden.

[Tradden Nature Check: 1d20+5: 11] - failure!

Tradden thought long and hard about what he had seen. They had only spent a few moments there before heading back, but he tried to deduce from memory whether the webs were new or old, clean or dirty, like spiders’ webs or… something else.

After a while he delvered his carefully considered verdict: ‘Webs…?’

[Zero Nature Check: 1d20+4: 24] - critical success!

Zero was more cautious in his reply, thinking back to what he’d seen carefully, and considering a number of options. He waited for Tradden to blurt out the obvious before rising up and looking back at Khalin.

The rogue became serious and thoughtful.

‘We didn’t stay long,’ he started. ‘Thought we’d better get back and stop the wagon first. The strands were thick, so if it’s webbing then they are bloody huge spiders.’ The rogue shuddered before continuing, ‘It seems odd that spiders would cross the trail with their webs, though. Unless they purposefully wanted to catch whatever travelled up and down the road. I would have thought they’d stay within the trees.’

Khalin nodded at Zero’s wise words before stroking his beard in thought.

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‘Hmm,’ considered Khalin. He turned to Rhasgar, who had rumbled up to see what the commotion was about. ‘We may have a spider problem,’ he offered. ‘I’ve seen some blighters about so big before,’ the dwarf indicated with his hands chest width apart.

The dragonborn nodded in agreement. ‘We have met similar before and I’ve heard tales of ones as large as a man.’

‘Well I think we should take a closer look, before we do anything hasty — from a discreet distance mind. If they’re old webs, perhaps we can simply burn them and be on our way. If they’re new though — well that would suggest a trap,’ the dwarf raised an eyebrow for dramatic effect.

Khalin looked around the group — several others of the Talons had mosied up during the conversation. ‘Anyone afraid of a few wee spiders?’ he offered cheerfully, noting the colour still draining from Zero’s face. He raised his gaze up to Kireth, who was still sat impassively on the wagon. ‘Care to join us Kireth? Your counsel would be welcome. Do these magic circles and whatnot work on spiders too?’

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Unperterbed by Zero’s ever-so-slightly better report on the webs across the road, Tradden started studying the trees.

He was half-listening to Khalin’s orders, focused on his own plans.

‘Well, we can’t let this hold us up. If it is one big spider web and if one, or more, is hiding in the trees, there is no point us all being down on the ground waiting to be jumped on. One of us should climb into the trees on one side as we pass through — we would be able to get a better view of potential dangers both from on-high looking down, but also in and around the higer branches. Fortunately, I am an excellent climber!‘

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‘Spiders would indeed stay to the trees unless forced to do otherwise,’ interjected the mage from his lofty position, ignoring the fighter. ‘Not that they wouldn’t take human flesh if they can get it but we tend to be too much trouble for our rather grisly payoff. No, this is either not spiders or they are being directed by another force.’

The mage pulled his cloak closer around him, his input over for the moment at least.

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‘Well, we need to know whether these webs have been made by spiders or not, and how old they are,’ stated Khalin. ‘We’ll need to get closer, I think.’

The dwarf looked around trying to work out where Zero had gone. ‘Zero?’ he called looking around Rhasgar’s bulky frame back towards the wagon. ‘Zero?’

He could see a pair of legs on the other side of the cart shuffling slowly to hide behind one of the wheels.

‘Oh, for the love of…’ the warlord sighed. ‘It’s only some bloody spiders.’

‘Perhaps Rangrim could investigate if your own scout is otherwise indisposed,’ suggested Rhasgar, motioning for the burly dwarf to join him at Khalin’s side.

‘Sounds good to me,’ interrupted Tradden, eager to be off. ‘If we both go, I can climb that tree there,’ he pointed towards a tall tree on the edge of the trail but overlooking the webbing with a suitable vantage point.

Khalin nodded. ‘Yes, very well,’ he sighed once more. ‘Right, see if those webs have been made by spiders and not some elaborate net you’ve mistaken. Are they old, are they new, is there dust on them or dew, are they tattered — you get the picture. Both of you take care to look into the trees as well, see if there is any movement. If this is a trap, I’d rather spring it with full knowledge. The rest of us? Well, let’s just get ready for anything and wait for their word.’

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At this point Rangrim was ready — stood by Khalin and poised to show the rather odd islanders how forward scouts really go about doing a proper job.

Tradden was just arriving back from the cart, now carrying additional equipment which the dwarven rogue appraised with a critical eye. The fighter had a long section of rope looped around one of his shoulders as well as a shorter section (which looked to have been hewn from the larger rope length as far as Rangrim could tell) looped over the swords strapped to his back which looked to have, of all things, the wood-chopping axe tied to one end.

In addition there was a dagger tucked in his belt which appeared to be wrapped in yet another section of rope. As he walked towards Rangrim the dwarf could see that the tall human was just finishing wrapping a small section of rope around the remaining dagger. It looked to be tied onto the handle at one end. The look of concentration on Tradden’s face changed into beaming delight as he finished his task, and the second rope-bound dagger was also then tucked into his belt.

‘Shall we?’ he asked of Rangrim.

The dwarf, face as stone-like as could be, simply stared at the fighter.

‘I worry about you,’ he replied, before turning and sneaking off towards the tree line. Tradden just chuckled and followed suit.

[Rangrim Stealth Check: 1d20+11: 13] - failure!

[Tradden Stealth Check: 1d20+8: 27] - success!

Unable to stop himself snorting in derision at what he saw as daft tomfoolery, Rangrim wasn’t really paying attention where he was going, and any attempt to move silently was ended as he caught his toe in the ground, causing dust and small pebbles to be scattered over the road. The dwarf’s foul mood was compounded by the fact that the gangly, awkward human disappeared into the shrubbery as if he were a master thief!

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By the time Rangrim arrived at his chosen vantage point, Tradden had already reached the bottom of the tree. So masterful (lucky, Zero would have called it) was his approach that the hedgehog which was eating some grubs at the base of the tree didn’t even notice until the human had knelt down to attach the rope-bound daggers to the soles of his boots.

‘Don’t mind me!’ whispered Tradden to the woodland creature. It didn’t, turning back to its meal. Tying the rope tight around and over the arch of his feet, the fighter then reached around to find the smaller section of rope. Testing its strength for a second he then whipped it around the circumference of the tree with one hand before catching the free end with his other as it came around. Smiling at his ingenuity, he used a mixture of the brace affected by the looped rope along with his make-shift crampons to start ascending the branchless lower section of the trunk.

[Tradden Athletics Check - Climb: “Take10”+12+2: 24] - success!

[Tradden climbs 25ft up the tree]

As he became more accustomed to the unusual motion required to move upwards he found time to glance up. It was a long way, but he was making good progress. The tricky part would come further up…

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Rangrim poised in the undergrowth and brambles just below the tree that Tradden was climbing. For a moment he watched the youth clamber up before turning his eyes back to the trail. He was only ten or fifteen feet away from where some of the webs connected to the trees, although some of this view was blocked by the bushes and fronds. From here he had a good view of all of the treeline to the north of the trail before the webs, though, and this was equally important.

He narrowed his eyes and looked for any movement in the darkness beneath the trees to the north.

[Rangrim Perception Check: 1d20+3: 15] - failure!

There didn’t seem to be any movement, at least none that Rangrim could detect. The bushes were still and nothing glinted in the gloom.

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As he knew it must, Tradden reached the next section of the tree — where small branches started jutting out. They were not safe to use and simply got in the way. He carried on, nevertheless, reaching up for the sturdy limbs that would hold his weight.

[Tradden Athletics Check - Climb: 1d20+12+2: 29] - success!

[Tradden climbs a further 30ft up the tree]

The improvised harness and crampons gave him the confidence he needed to clamber up the trunk and before he knew it he was perched on a branch, getting his breath back, and trying not to get dizzy at the fifty feet or so drop to the ground.

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With the sound of Tradden’s climbing above him and the sway and rustle of the tree’s trunk Rangrim looked up and saw the youth almost to the lower branches. Satisfied that he wouldn’t be falling on his head in the near future, Rangrim turned his attention to study the webs.

[Rangrim Perception Check: 1d20+3: 19] - success!

It was hard to get a good look without moving out into the trail in front of them, which he was quite tempted to do. However, even through the underbrush he could tell they were not webs, or at least he doubted it very much. They appeared to be ropes, coarse and ill-made, but ropes nonetheless. Unless spiders had taken to tying knots in their webs to get them to stick to trees, of course.

He made an attempt to signal to Rhasgar and Khalin that the webbing was likely a trap!

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Tradden got a good purchase on the tree and looked around, taking stock. On the basis that if there were spiders, they would be in the trees it seemed sensible to check his immediate surroundings first. He peered this way and that, trying to pick a line of sight through the branches all around him.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+5: 11] - failure!

To his immense relief he didn’t find himself face to face with a giant spider, poison dripping from its fangs, nor did he see anything untoward in any of the other trees.

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No matter where he looked he couldn’t see anything in any of the nearby trees — no fanged eight-legged monstrosities, no queen spiders, no nothing.

With that he shifted his position to get a better look at the webs.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+5+2: 20] - success!

Starting from the strand nearest him he ran his eyes down its length (‘Zero would have inserted an innuendo here’ Tradden thought). It was immediately apparent that it wasnt a web at all — it was rope! Tired, old, knotted looking rope which didn’t really serve a purpose at all bar looking like a web from a distance on the ground.

Tradden was beginning to realise that he wasn’t the military strategist that Khalin was, but even he knew that the ropes were not going to to give any kind of cover to that orc that was crouched behind it.

The orc pointing its bow at him and taking aim right now.

For a brief second the reflection of sunglight on the arrow tip played over Tradden’s face.

‘Ah…’

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The protestations of Rangrim and the brief moment where Tradden seemed to snap round and spot something alerted the group to something being amiss.

‘Bachack!’ came the shout of glee from the orc archer as it pulled back its bowstring and it was greeted by a show of force from the trees, large goblinoid bodies springing up from the undergrowth with a shout in reply.

‘Orcs!’ shouted Rhasgar, drawing his scimitar and hefting his shield. ‘To your arms!’

There were perhaps half a dozen as Khalin could see them at the edge of the trees — a ragged bunch, somewhat thin for what he imagined orcs to be, but looked vicious nonetheless. One of them held nearly half a dozen hounds of some sort by leashes.

With another cry from the assembled ambush, the orcs started to step out of the tree line.

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End of Scene

[…continued in Book #01, Chapter #09, Scene #05…]