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The Mouth of the Sleeper
March of Stone

…continues from Book #01, Chapter #09, Scene #12

Synopsis

The 30th Day of Ches in the Year of the Sudden Journey
The heroes head north from the Pineforest, across the treacherous Stonemarch, in search of a place called the Mouth of the Sleeper.

For a chapter summary please see Chapter #10 Summary.

Cast List

Khalin Grundokri

7th Level Male Dwarven Marshal (Warlord)

Kireth Majere

7th Level Male Half-Elven Arcanist (Wizard)

Tradden Aversward

7th Level Male Human Weaponmaster (Fighter)

Zero Uhlit

7th Level Male Human Scoundrel (Rogue)

Beltak Ancaron

Scribe of Pelor (NPC)

Scene Length

This scene starts on Sunday 12th May 2013 and is expected to be completed by the end of Friday 28th June 2013.

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

Storyline
The Stonemarch

The grasses and brambles at the edge of the forest soon gave way to a harder and dustier path, with small stones and ridges on the rocks making footing just as treacherous as the roots and low branches of the forest before.

Zero led the group quickly down the slope aiming for the first of the escarpments that he could see. The moon was rising and its gibbous shine would soon betray their shapes against the horizon if they were not careful. He was glad to be free of the trees and brambles clutching and pawing at his clothes, snaring and tearing where it could. Out here in the wider air he felt more invigorated, less claustrophobic, and, as long as he could reach into and disappear within the shadows, safe.

Within minutes he broke into the first of the depressions, pushing past one of the odd gnarled trees, and onto the slippery scree within. Khalin joined him not long after, his sturdier boots crushing some of the stones and sending a flurry of them down the slope with a rattle.

Zero stared back at the dwarf with a scowl and patiently waited for the others.

‘We’ll skip from depression to depression,’ whispered the rogue when they were all present. ‘Keep out of the bright moonlight and for Avandra’s sake, don’ make such a racket. As long as we’re quiet, we should be able to keep moving quite quickly.’

The others nodded back, their breath rising before them in bright clouds in the starlight.

30th Day of Ches | Late Evening | Moonlit, Cool, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

The cool and chill of the evening turned to a dedicated cold as they pressed along and every now and then Khalin couldn’t help thinking whether he’d made a mistake in deciding to plough on through the night.

They were making good progress, however, spurred on by Zero’s excellent sense of shdaow. The rogue bounded from scree to scree, quite athletically for one that appeared to be of a rotund nature. Perhaps the days of marching and fighting had made him a leaner figure and he was now free to move without his normal surplus baggage. His face was glowing a healthy red, however, covered with beads of sweat that glistened in the moonlight and threatened to freeze into tiny diamonds in the cold night air.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 29] - success!

The rogue kept a generally northern route as best he could, with the occasional small detour to favour the best of the shadow. Khalin was pleased — they were making much better time than they would have if they had travelled by day.

30th Day of Ches | Late Evening | Moonlit, Cold, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

At the top of the next bluff Zero stopped and scanned the horizon, looking for the best route to take them back into hiding. He was amazed how dark it was out here — no signs of civilisation, no streetlights or fires. Just the bright stars and the moon to guide them and light their way.

To the northeast he could see the mountains, their snow-capped peaks sparkling with the white light from the moon. To the west, back towards Blackengorge, was only endless hills rolling into darkness.

With a shrug he moved on, choosing his path and beckoning the others to follow quickly.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 25] - success!

He meandered across to the northeast, in the directions of the mountain to find the next safe depression, his footsteps muffled with care, the others following suit as best they could. He ducked down when he dropped into the hollow, waiting for the others.

‘Let’s take a quick rest?’ he asked, puffing his cheeks. ‘No sense in tiring ourselves out, eh?’

Khalin was about to disagree but thought better of it, letting the rogue have a break. Kireth didn’t appear to be tired, or wasn’t showing it which was more likely. Beltak was breathing hard. Tradden was a little red in the face, but not overly so, and would probably keep going until he dropped if he was asked to. No, a little break would be fine.

30th Day of Ches | Late Evening | Moonlit, Cold, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

They took fifteen minutes, just long enough for Zero to sip a little wine and get another wind. Then they were up and off again, marching carefully over the loose stones of any scree and then darting quickly when they needed to, avoiding time out in the open against the moonlit sky.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 25] - success!

Zero kept up the pace and the winding, yet effective, route as the moon climbed in the sky. They stopped only once, when a screech of an animal sounded somewhere in the distance. They’d all frozen in an instant, pricking their ears and trying to make out from where the sound had come. But, in the echoes made by the many depressions it was hard to tell, so they moved on, cautiously as always.

30th Day of Ches | Late Evening | Moonlit, Cold, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

The night air grew colder as they continued and the sweat on their brows began to freeze in patches. Khalin’s beard grew slivers of white from frost where his sweat ran but the best thing to do was to press on.

Here and there the thin, gnarled trees grew in small clumps. Zero tried to avoid them where he could, deciding that he didn’t particularly like the look of them, but every now and then had to use them to keep the group hidden from sight.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 28] - success!

As they marched on they came to a tricky section of one of the depressions and decided to take the lower route rather than cross the complex scree. The rocks here weren’t sprayed with the small scree stones and seemed to give a strange echo as the moved across.

Then, without any real warning, the stone floor seemed to give way under Tradden’s steps.

[Pothole]

[Trap Attack: 1d20+4: 18 vs Tradden’s Reflex (20)] - misses!

The young fighter managed to roll out of the way before he twisted his ankle in the hole that formed. There was the faint sound of stones falling and scraping the ground far below and a small crack, almost like that of one on ice, split the rock near them for several feet.

Tradden puffed out his cheeks, getting up slowly and dusting himself down.

‘Let’s be more careful,’ said Khalin softly. ‘It must be midnight now,’ he continued looking up at the moon. ‘We’ll get near the rise of this hollow and take another break. Double check that ankle of yours, Tradden, just in case.’

They moved up quickly, but not too quickly that they didn’t watch their step.

30th Day of Ches | Midnight | Moonlit, Cold, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

After another short break they moved on, Zero taking a little more care in their path that they kept to the higher ground where they could. However, the going began to get more difficult. The rocks and inclines were larger and sharper and it wasn’t just once that one of the group shouted out as they grazed their knee or hand and had to be hissed at to be quiet by the others.

The cold also took its toll, starting to numb hands and feet, making the routes harder to follow without making any noise.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 26] - success!

Zero did his best to keep the route bearable for them, though, picking his way carefully at each rise, trying to keep the beeline for the north and taking bearings from the stars and the bleak grey and white presence of the mountains to their right.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Past Midnight | Moonlit, Cold, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

The cold continued to opress the group as they marched on. Their speed slowed somewhat as they took more breaks, rubbing their arms and their legs trying to keep the blod circulating, and adjusting their cloaks and hoods to keep the worst of the chill away from their faces.

Zero did his best to keep a straighter line, though, hoping to get close to their destination as soon as he could in the hope that there may be some form of shelter before they had to explore whatever this Mouth of the Sleeper turned out to be.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 16] - failure!

His haste took him low down on one of the scree slopes, trying his best to stay away from the high ridges and been seen against the moonlight. It was Khalin that slipped, falling over and bashing his shield against the rocks with a clang. It drew a hiss of fury from Kireth that stopped in the mage’s throat almost as quickly as it started as a low rumbled echoed down from the top of the slope.

[Scree Rockslide]

[Blast Attack with 3d6+6: 21 damage]

[Blast Attack: 1d20+8: 18 vs Khalin’s Reflex (15)] - hits!

[Damage: 21]

[Blast Attack: 1d20+8: 19 vs Kireth’s Reflex (18)] - hits!

[Damage: 21]

[Blast Attack: 1d20+8: 16 vs Tradden’s Reflex (20)] - misses!

[Damage: 10]

[Blast Attack: 1d20+8: 15 vs Zero’s Reflex (20)] - misses!

[Damage: 10]

[Blast Attack: 1d20+8: 24 vs Beltak’s Reflex (16)] - hits!

[Damage: 21]

Both Tradden and Zero managed to leap out of the way as rocks came tumbling down the slope, only being struck by one or two of the flying missiles. The others were less lucky, the sharp edges of the stones battering into them, grazing and cutting them, drawing thin lines of blood in many places.

When the dust settled the Krakens tried to make as little noise as they could, despite their wounds, listening out intently for any further rumbles or even other noises from afar that would indicate they had been discovered. They lay still for a good few minutes, only rubbing their sore and cold limbs, until they felt confident that they could hear nothing out in the wilderness.

Tentatively they stood and limped to one side of the rockfall.

Beltak began immediately to see to their wounds, binding and wrapping the simple ones, uttering soothing words of prayer to Pelor over the larger of the gashes and bruises.

As the scribe performed his ministrations, however, a thick blanket of fog slowly rolled into the hollow, stretching up from the stony floor as high as Khalin’s knee. It brought a freezing chill that gnawed at their bones.

‘We need to keep moving,’ Khalin chattered with distrust at the fog. ‘Keep the blood circulating in your feet and don’t stand still for too long. We’re over halfway, we might even be able to see some signs of this “Mouth” anytime soon.’

With the swirling fog clinging to their aching legs, they set off once more.

1st Day of Tarsakh | After Midnight | Moonlit, Cold, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Khalin ushered Zero forwards and let both Kireth and Beltak past. ‘What do you think, Tradden?’ the dwarf asked as the tall human climbed up the scree to meet him. ‘If we’re still exposed come daybreak we’re going to have to find some cover, get some rest.’

The young fighter nodded in agreement examining the swirling fog around his shins and stamping his feet to keep some warmth in his toes.

‘If we see somewhere to rest I suggest we take it,’ the warlord suggested. ‘No sense in assaulting this “mouth”, if we need to, without a good rest.’

‘In this cold we’re going to need to take a break soon anyway,’ replied Tradden. ‘Beltak’s already blowing and as much as Zero hums along, I’ll wager he’s pretty close to being spent.’

The dwarf stroked his beard sending sparkling icicles of frost tumbling down to be enveloped by the fog at his feet. ‘Another couple of hours, then, otherwise we’re pushing it too far. C’mon, then, let’s catch them up.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Early Morning | Moonlit, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

The pair hurried forwards, joining the others, and shepherding them along. Judging by the moon and stars Khalin guessed it would be another two or three hours before dawn, and wanted to get at close to their destination before then as he could.

Blustering past Beltak and Kireth he began to catch up with Zero, who was once again leading them on a winding path through the sharp hills.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 29] - success!

The rogue made fleet of foot, but was also sure of his path, this time, picking a solid route across the stony floor, skulking in the shadows away from the moonlight where he could.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Early Morning | Moonlit, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Despite the cold fog clinging to their legs the group managed to keep moving, ducking from hollow to hollow, slipping and sliding on the scree. Not once did they hear any movement out across the marches, not any signs of light or life. The stars spiralled in the sky and the moon started to sink within its arc.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 27] - success!

A pale pink glow began to surround the peaks of the grey and white mountains to the east, a bank of cloud illuminated in the sky behind them, inching inexorably towards them on the gentle easterly breeze. It would not be long before dawn spread its fingers across the pock-marked landscape.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Early Morning | Moonlit, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Khalin’s enthusiasm kept up, however, extolling the groups’ virtues at every opportunity, whispering words of encouragement to keep them going. He kept glancing out to the east, though, marvelling both at the mountains and the radiance that the growing spread of dawn played out before it.

At the bottom of a hollow, out of the soft light of the dawn, they took a short break, catching their breath and sipping from their waterskins, whilst Zero continued to the top of the ridge to plan their route ahead.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 34] - critical success!

Suddenly the rogue slid back down the slope, agitated and seemingly excited at the same time, his arm pointing back up the slope and to the north.

‘A small wood up ahead,’ he hissed through chattering teeth. ‘Not sure if its where we are looking for, or just a good place for shelter.’ He rubbed his hands together to try to get some warmth into them. ‘Looks cold, though, exposed on the top of one of the hills, plenty of frost up there.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

‘Nice one, Zero!’ chattered Tradden, slapping the rogue on the back in his trademark “just too hard” style. ‘I think we could all do with a rest,’ he continued in a comically conspiratorial fashion. ‘Nice bunch of trees, hidden from view, cosy warmth from the sun coming over the horizon… what could be better?’

Four pairs of eyes now looked to the heavens. Either unperturbed, or, more likely, un-noticing, Tradden carried on.

‘How close do you think we are to the Mouth, Khalin?’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

‘Let’s have a look,’ responded the dwarf, pulling himself up the slope with the others in tow. As the copse rose into view he stopped to consider.

[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+3: 21] - success!

‘Well now, I do recall our undead hobgoblin friend relaying that this “mouth” was in the “Coilwood”. Well these are the first real trees we’ve come across, and we’ve hiked a fair few leagues across the march,’ Khalin turned to Tradden as he spoke. ‘I reckon there’s a fair chance this could be it.’

Despite the weariness of a night’s travel across the ankle-snapping terrain Tradden almost giggled with barely repressed enthusiasm, bringing a paternal smile to the warlord’s face.

‘Now, whether it is the spot or not, it would be wise for us to get some rest.’ The practiced eye of the experienced marshal started sizing up the spot. ‘The trees will provide some welcome cover this morning, and the rise will make it a more defensible spot than the hollows we’ve rested in so far, not to mention better sightlines.’ Zero was already unholstering his pack at this. ‘The question becomes how long do we rest for?’

The beard-scratching began again before the dwarf sprang into action once more. ‘Well let’s get over there and give it a quick scout out shall we?’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

‘Righty-o, chief,’ said Zero gamely. ‘Erm, since I’m going to be pretty visible ‘til I get to the trees, does anyone want to come with me? Just in case, y’know?’ His eyes hopped from person to person, while he wondered which one of his comrades liked him the most.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Tradden put one palm to his chest as if making a vow. ‘Sorry, Z — I would, but I have a busy public to attend to, you know?’ A small tumbleweed was on the same mental wavelength as Tradden, and blew across the hollow to complete the comedic effect. ‘Only joking…!’ continued Tradden after a short pause. ‘Let’s go. In fact, we all should go.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

‘Agreed,’ responded Khalin as he unhooked Aecris from his belt. ‘The light’s growing, if we’re spotted we’re spotted, so there’s no point wasting time, let’s go.’

Following Khalin’s lead the group climbed to the top of the hollow, scampering over the scree as silently as they could and headed along the ridges in the direction of the small wood.

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

[Khalin Stealth Check: 1d20+4: 16] - success!

[Kireth Stealth Check: 1d20+5: 15] - failure!

[Tradden Stealth Check: 1d20+8: 18] - success!

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 28] - success!

The first fingers of warmth from a rising sun draped across them as they ran casting long fingers of shadow across the rocks. Kireth’s staff scraped the rocks a number of times, each time accompanied by a scowl from Zero, but the group made good progress across to the wood without any perceived incident.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

As the group approached the wood they could see the trees were the same gnarly and windswept ones they had seen all along the Stonemarch. Others had been on their own, perhaps in clumps of two or three, but these were the first they had seen in such great numbers together.

Khalin judged the size of the wood as he approached, probably two or three hundred yards across and possibly as deep as far as he could see. A good dozen acres at least. The trees looked to be leaning to the left as they approached, pointing towards the west, and all were covered with a thin film of frost and ice.

The group shuddered with the cold as they plunged into the treeline and out of the sun, stopping and gathering their breath, trying to keep their panting under control and low in volume.

[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+3: 20] - success!

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

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

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 21] - success!

[Beltak Perception Check: 1d20+7: 9] - failure!

Kireth’s nose wrinkled and he looked over at Zero. With a whisper he raised a questioning eyebrow at the rogue. ‘Burning?’

The rogue smelled the air and a warm grin spread over his face. He shook his head softly and looked at Kireth. ‘Tobacco,’ he whispered back, and put his finger to his lips for the rest of the group to see.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Tradden smelled the air, taking short breaths as a trained hound might do.

[Tradden Nature Check: 1d20+5: 18] - success!

‘It’s tobacco, alright…’ he whispered, continuing to sniff. This was not a quantum leap forward in terms of what they already knew, but the human was doing well — the smell was indeed faint and not easy to indentify given the slight breeze that penetrated the tree line. Tradden did better from then onwards however. A lot better.

‘It’s… it’s… hmm — I think I know it. I can’t say for sure but I spent a lot of time in The Fisher’s Prize at the docks in Deepingwald. This is going to sound a bit crazy but the dwarves in there, well, they were a bit seamy and in I wouldn’t have been there but for the fact that they had a twice-weekly gadget competition which Mr Ironfoot used to enter, they had a bit of a think for “Avandra’s Forgelight” because the owner had a contact who could get the stuff cheap. I can’t say for sure but it smells a heck of a lot like that. It’s quite unique — all tar and no smoke or finery like the human and elf nobles would smoke — the dwarves…’ he glanced at Khalin at this point, ‘er… some dwarves, like it down and dirty.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Zero’s smile began to fade as Khalin stroked his beard and slowly started to turn to the rogue. He quickly got onto the front foot, jumping in with a quiet whisper before the dwarf could say anything.

‘Well, chief, want me to take a look?’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

The warlord thought for a moment, weighing the cost of continuing to move and expend energy in the cold against checking out the immediate area. Suspicion of the wood outgrew the threat of tired and cold limbs and he nodded towards Zero.

‘Not far,’ Khalin hissed. ‘Not long.’

Zero’s grin returned and like a cat he was off to the north, slipping through the gnarled branches like a cat.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

As Zero moved slowly through the densely packed trees the temperature dropped once more. Where there had been a light dusting of frost as its outer reaches, sparkling in the first light of day, within the trees, shrouded from the sun, lay a blanket of pearl-white snow. The rogue shivered.

Within only a few strides he lost sight and sound of his companions, the gnarled trees and tangled thickets forming a close barrier and making the going slow. The wood, perhaps the Coilwood of the dead hobgoblin’s answers, was silent as only a snowshrouded forest could be. At the thought of the hobgoblin, its blank eyes and silver-foaming mouth, the rogue shivered again. The closeness of the trees and the insufferable quiet of the wood began to creep him out, branches becoming hands of the hobgoblin, reaching out to grab him.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 17] - success!

Zero kept a slow but steady amble, barely able to suppress the crunch of his own footsteps in the snow, the crack of dry branches he pushed out of the way, and the occasional rustle of snow falling from the barren trees.

He kept stopping to sniff the air, to sense if the smell of the pipe-weed was getting stronger or fainter.

[Zero Nature Check: 1d20+4: 12] - failure!

It was hard to tell, there was still a faint odour in the air, but he wasn’t sure if it was any stronger or not. He’d only come a few dozen yards at the most, but he felt as though he were in another world, silent, cold and sterile. There were no sounds of animals, no signs of tracks, and even the trees that blocked his way barely looked as though they were alive. Getting anywhere in this wood without finding a trail or passage would take forever.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Then, almost taking him by surprise he came to a gap in the treeline, almost spilling out into the open air. Perhaps only half a dozen yards across, the passage ran east to west, winding around to the north slowly somewhere to the west in a sharp but constant curve, the same to the east. The treeline stood remorseless again to the north, slowly rising on a shallow hill.

Feeling exposed he quickly turned back where he came and darted back into the trees, banging against one of the trunks in his haste. He missed cutting his head by a whisker — a rusted axe-head, its shaft long ago rotted, sat embedded in the tree, the milky white crust of a shattered skull still pinned against the gnarled bark.

Zero gasped a freezing lung of air, stifling a yelp, and made his way as quickly as he could back to the rest of the group.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

It took him a few minutes to wind his way back through the trees but eventually Zero reported back to the group, rather pale in the face.

‘Not quite the picnic spot I was hoping for,’ he said. ‘A skull pinned to a tree by an axe head tends to spoil the ambience.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

‘Hmm,’ said Tradden, still in bloodhound mode, ignoring the rogue’s pale complexion.

Almost without looking he moved forwards, smelling the air as if following an invisible trail. Khalin reached out to grab him to haul him back but the fighter was round a tree and almost out of sight before the dwarf could react. Kireth expelled a frosty hiss. Zero simply sighed.

Tradden’s long legs were perfect for slipping around the gnarled trunks and negotiating the snow underfoot, but his height was a problem with the low branches. More than once he cursed under his breath as he smacked his forehead into one of their twisted frames.

The others slowly followed, keeping sight of one another as best they could amongst the undergrowth, feet crunching in unison in the snow.

The young fighter followed Zero’s tracks in the snow, heading slowly north around the trees.

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

It wasn’t long before Tradden reached the break in the trees and moved cautiously to the edge. A root caught him out, however, encircling around his foot, and he plunged forwards into the open air rolling into the thin blanket of snow.

Turning back he could see the others coming to the edge and they were all looking down at the ‘root’. It was a pale white. A broken ribcage hidden beneath the snow.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Tradden stared back at the obstacle that had tripped him and left him sprawled on the floor, its shape and form not obvious from his current position.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+5: 15] - failure!

It looked like an old animal carcass and he chastised himself for being so clumsy before starting to stand.

It was harder than he thought, the ground flat and slippy under the snow, his feet deciding not to quite obey their master’s orders. With a few ungainly movements he found himself on firmer ground, but at the other side of the natural break, at the edge of the next set of gnarled trees.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Kireth prodded the edge of the ribcage with his staff with a disdainful sniff.

[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+3: 4] - critical failure!

[Kireth Perception Check: 1d20+3: 18] - success!

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 12] - critical failure!

[Beltak Perception Check: 1d20+7: 11] - success!

Kireth’s eyebrows raised as the bones turned over in the snow and he swiftly knelt down and grabbed something with his own bony hand.

Before the others could question the mage they heard Tradden reaching the other side of the break with a thud and a scrape. Across at the other side the young fighter stared back at them with a sheepish look.

‘Slippy!’ he hissed over the gap, before sniffing and looking over his shoulder.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Eyes were drawn to the gap, curving around from the east and the west, and the drifts of snow that Tradden had pushed out of the way with his fall.

[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+3: 8] - failure!

[Kireth Perception Check: 1d20+3: 15] - success!

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

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 15] - success!

[Beltak Perception Check: 1d20+7: 18] - success!

A soft blue sheen glimmered faintly in the sunlight afforded by the break in the trees.

‘Ice?’ questioned Beltak in hushed tones. ‘A frozen river, perhaps,’ replied Zero looking out to the east and back up to the west.

From across the break the others could see Tradden gesticulating wildly, pointing in towards the trees at his side.

His eyes were wide and his mouth stifling talk by blowing up both cheeks as if unable to talk.

His hands were a blur, one finger suddenly pointing down to the other clenched fist before floating up in a lazy fashion whilst opening his palm.

When it became clear his meaning wasn’t getting through he cupped one hand in front of his mouth whilst making the silent noise of a fish out of water. It seemed. He then blew air our of his mouth, loudly before putting his arms out in a ‘come on — this is easy!’ sort of way.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Dawn | Clear, Freezing, Light Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Stonemarch

Khalin rolled his eyes. He was no stranger to non-verbal communication — it could be a useful tactic ahead of combat — but the young human looked more like he was having some sort of fit to the dwarf’s eye.

Carefully holding his hammer as a makeshift walking pole should he slip, the warlord traversed the break to see what Tradden’s fuss was all about.

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Storyline
The Stonemarch

The ground went slightly down into the break and Khalin took it slowly before levelling out. Underfoot was slippy and more than once Khalin nearly lost his footing. Inch by inch he started to make his way across with the shaft of the hammer propping him up.

[Khalin Dexterity Check: 1d20+4+2: 12] - failure!

In an instant the warlord’s legs were in the air and he was airborne for a moment, his feet slipping out from under him and he clawed for something to grab. He came down on his chest as he twisted over, cracking the ice below him with a slam of his hammer and driving the snow away with his body.

Below him the blue-white sheen of ice was stark and clear, small bubbles rising to the underside of the crust in response to the dwarf’s inadvertent lunge. He stared down, thankful that the ice hadn’t broken.

[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+3: 11] - failure!

Khalin’s face went white and he scrambled up as quickly as he could, arms and legs flailing from side to side. He half-ran, half-slid to the far bank near Tradden, breathing heavily and sporting a frosting film of sweat upon his pallid face.

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Storyline
The Stonemarch

The dwarf took a moment to catch his breath and compose himself — his flustered demeanour was not becoming of a warlord. He pointed down between gulps of breath. ‘Is that… is that what you were trying to tell us about?’ he hissed at Tradden.

Without waiting for a reply he turned back to the others, resisting the urge to shout lest enemies be abroad. Like some comical mummer’s game of charades, it was the dwarf’s turn to gesticulate: Khalin jabbed a finger towards the ice, then made a cut-throat gesture and tugged at an imaginary noose round his neck before making a grotesque face and raising his arms like some comedy ghost. Finally he jabbed a finger at the ice in a frantic fashion once more. Khalin hoped the meaning was clear and that the others didn’t think he was describing merely a slip on the ice, but Tradden alongside him could barely contain his mirth at the usually stoic dwarf’s antics.

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The Stonemarch

Kireth watched on. He wasn’t laughing.

‘Mungo and Odo seem to be implying it’s slippy.’ He looked at Zero. ‘Odd that, who’d have thought ice and snow could be slippy? Such insight.’

He still wasn’t laughing. Despite the sarcasm, he too had to make this crossing and feared he would not fair well. Mock as he might, he knew his own dexterity was not good. He sighed, pulled his robes close around him and, using his staff as an aid, made tentative steps towards the duo.

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Storyline
The Stonemarch

Khalin rolled his eyes as he regarded the look of disdain on Kireth’s face. He attempted to mouth something at the three comrades waiting to cross, punctuated with more jabbing towards the ice, but he couldn’t be sure they either noticed or understood. Having regained some measure of composure he exchanged glances with Tradden once more, and this time it was the dwarf who smiled, curious as to how the mage would fare as he stepped out onto the ice.

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The Stonemarch

Zero stood on the edge of the ice, perplexed. ‘Alright,’ he shouted. ‘Why can’t you talk all of a sudden? Is this some kind of ice of… silence or something? Just nod or shake your head if I’m right or wrong, please.’

‘Never was very good at charades,’ he murmured.

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Storyline
The Stonemarch

Kireth ignored Zero’s shouts as he stepped down into the break. Underfoot was indeed slippy, but the half-elf tried to keep his balance, using his staff as a guide.

[Kireth Dexterity Check: 1d20+5: 18] - success!

The staff kept Kireth on his feet more than once, but quickly the mage was across the span, joining Khalin and Tradden with a scowl.

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The Stonemarch

Zero shook his head, irritably. ‘Oh, the hell with it,’ he grumbled, tentatively stepping onto the glassy surface.

[Zero Dexterity Check: 1d20+6: 16] - success!

The rogue was light-footed and sure of his steps, turning back to face Beltak when he was halfway across, motioning the scribe to follow him. He then continued his slow journey across, bounding up onto the far bank to meet the others with a smile.

‘What’s all the fuss and arm waving about, then?’ he scowled, as he watched Beltak step onto the snow and ice.

The scribe was not quite as sure as Zero and was much slowly in stepping down onto the ice. With his heavy chain mail, shield and pack he was a little unsteady and had to sway and stagger at points to keep upright.

[Beltak Dexterity Check: 1d20+5: 19] - success!

Beltak managed to keep his feet, though, and was nearly across when there was a creak and a groan from the surface below and a long crack. Beltak hurried quickly to the bank and scrambled up to the others with a sheepish grin.

‘Just in time, it seems,’ he whispered, looking at Khalin’s still-pale face.

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The Stonemarch

‘Just in time,’ Khalin echoed. ‘Let’s hope that the dead beneath the surface stay that way,’ he finished, nodding towards the slick surface once more. He paused a moment, craghammer still in hand, ready lest some undead horror burst from the cracking ice.

‘One way or another this might be another sign we’re in the right place. Oh, and Zero, my dear fellow?’ the dwarf smiled sweetly. ‘Aren’t you normally the first to lecture us…’ the warlord’s voice rose to a roar, ‘…on being QUIET!’

With that he clapped the rogue on the shoulder affably and motioned one hand to the brush ahead. ‘Right, let’s see what’s through these trees shall we? Tradden, keep an eye on that ice for a moment or two.’

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The Stonemarch

‘Erm, yes…’ replied Tradden to the dwarf whilst never really taking his eyes from the ice. ‘But, er, this smell is still bothering me. I want to find out what that is all about!’

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The Stonemarch

Zero sniffed the air. ‘That’s awfully strong tobacco,’ he remarked. ‘Not your average kind.’

Then he dutifully crept ahead of the group.

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

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+14: 34] - critical success!

The trees were just as twisted and gnarled at this side of the break, low hanging branches causing the rogue a number of problems. The snow was treacherous underfoot and more than once Zero felt a crunch that was more than just that of the snow but declined to look down.

Navigating the close trees was difficult, the way the lurched to one side was unnerving and made it a twisting trail to move through, slow going at best. Swinging around one of the boughs his shin went into something hard and he cursed aloud, betraying his silence up until then. He bent down to rub his leg and his hand came away wet and warm with blood. At his feet was an old shield, rusted down to a sharp edge.

He was about to curse once more when he heard the faint call of voices, probably from the north, although it was hard to tell in the maze of the trees. A call or two, guttural and low. The smell of burning grew.

He limped forwards as quietly as he could and spotted another break in the trees. This time he kept back, away from the edge and peered desperately out through the knotted branches across the break.

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The Stonemarch

Ahead in the break the dawning sun glimmered off ice. Beyond there was a small trail in the trees, heading up a slope towards some unseen crest. Along the trail were a number of humanoid creatures, orcs Zero thought, looking as if they had been woken from some reverie and darting about to make themselves ready. The rogue cursed his shout from before.

To one side of the trail, slightly up the hill was a large wooden device made from stout timber, perhaps as tall as one of the orcs itself. Next to it was a brazier, burning a glorious orange and casting a pale cloud of swirling smoke. Two of the orcs stood near the device, one picking up what appeared to be a large rock the same size as its head, the other holding a lit torch.

The other orcs were preparing themselves with axes, as if expecting an attack, directed by a large hobgoblin. To this brute’s side stood another hobgoblin with a gnarled staff matching the trees of the wood and a small red drake, similar to the ones they had met before in the ruined keep and the dragin burial ground.

Zero slunk back a little, waiting for the others to catch up and hope they were quieter than he.

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The Stonemarch

The rogue retraced his steps silently, giving the rusted shield a wide berth, and reported back to the others.

‘Another squad of orcs on the trail ahead, like the last one we encountered,’ Zero reported. ‘Wizard, drake too. And there’s some kind of wooden contraption as tall as a man they’re fiddling with.’

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The Stonemarch

Khalin listened carefully as Zero described the scene beyond the trees. ‘It sounds like we won’t have the drop on them. The longer we delay now the more prepared they’ll be. I think a frontal assault may be our only real option here. You’re sure there’s no way round?’

The rogue shook his head doubtfully and rubbed his bloody shin.

‘Very well. Ready weapons. This is the place, and we owe it to the people of the Vale and The Islands to put it stop to whatever mischief is underway here.’

The dwarf looked to each of his comrades for confirmation.

‘Kireth, do you have anything up your sleeve that might cause a diversion — maybe catch them on the wrong foot?’

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Kireth really did not like the sound of this at all, not one bit. The force Zero had described seemed balanced, organised and ready. No matter what, this one would be brutal.

‘If we can get within range,’ he offered, ‘perhaps I could catch them with a keenly placed fireball before they realise we are upon them. If it does not outright kill the less prepared, perhaps it will confuse and demoralise the lower ranks.’ He paused before speaking his words of caution. ‘I am concerned about the drake and the mage. They will be a problem. What if we waited and observed?’ he suggested. ‘I wonder what that trebuchet is for? Surely not us?’

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The Stonemarch

Kireth’s reticence gave the dwarf pause — while the half-elf was hardly the embodiment of enthusiasm at the best of times, he was not normally one to baulk at a battle, despite his lack of hand-to-hand skills. If the mage was concerned then caution might be advised, though it went against the warlord’s natural urge to take the initiative.

‘Very well, we delay, observe, but we risk them bring more prepared.’ Khalin tried to peer through the tangle of brush ahead to get a glimpse of the enemy’s machinations ahead without success.

‘You’re right though — why a siege weapon for a small group of attackers?’

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The Stonemarch

Khalin led the way through the tangled undergrowth slowly, hoping to get a moment at the far side to study the enemy’s movements.

[Beltak Stealth Check: 1d20+4: 9] - failure!

[Khalin Stealth Check: 1d20+4: 6] - failure!

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

[Tradden Stealth Check: 1d20+8: 16] - success!

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 32] - success!

Although the group tried to stay quiet the wood and undergrowth did not let them. Khalin stamped on a branch under the snow and in a moment’s concentration lost by Kireth hissing at the dwarf, the mage managed to stumble himself, dropping to his knee in the freezing snow and howling as he drew a long cut against a rusting metal helm.

As Khalin turned back to hiss back at the mage himself he realised he had broken through into the gap between the trees. The moment for observation was too late as a cry came up from the far bank with the sound of ropes being drawn taut and the creak of wood.

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Scene
Completed

End

[…continued in Book #01, Chapter #10, Scene #02…]