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Armour of Thorns
Across the Foothills

…continues from Book #01, Chapter #10, Scene #15

Synopsis

4th Day of Tarsakh in the Year of the Sudden Journey
Leaving the perils of the Stonemarch behind them, the group head east and north to meet up with Altair’s Talons at the northern range of the Cairngorm mountains. A lone peak with a shattered outcrop awaits them for the meeting point; before they attempt to cross the mountains through the orc-guarded pass and finally reach the Nentir Vale.

For a chapter summary please see Chapter #11 Summary.

Cast List

Khalin Grundokri 

Level 8 Male Dwarven Marshal (Warlord)

Kireth Majere 

Level 8 Male Half-Elven Arcanist (Wizard)

Tradden Aversward 

Level 8 Male Human Weaponmaster (Fighter)

Zero Uhlit 

Level 8 Level Male Human Scoundrel (Rogue)

Beltak Ancaron

Scribe of Pelor (NPC)

Scene Length

This scene starts on Friday 9th August 2019 and is expected to be completed by the end of Friday 27th September 2019.

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

Storyline
Cairngorm Foothills

Crossing the path swiftly the group hurried into the scrub at the far side, keeping low and silent where they could. Khalin shifted direction slightly to the north keeping roughly in line with the worn path and began a fierce march forward.

The going wasn’t too bad. The foothills had plenty of rocks, boulders and bushes, but they were easy to navigate and gave enough cover for the group to feel more confident about striding about in the daylight.

At times they had to near the path to move around low bluffs or rises and they became more cautious. At other times they headed further upwards and into the mountains.

[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+4: 17] - success!

[Kireth Perception Check: 1d20+4: 20] - success!

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+6: 10] - failure!

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+12: 18] - success!

It was only half an hour or so of travel until Zero hissed for everyone to stop. There was something up ahead of them that he didn’t like the look of.

Kireth’s keen eyes could make more out of it than Zero. Over to the northwest, more or less in the direction they were travelling was a small hollow where the worn path snaked back to meet them. It seemed as though something, perhaps a body, was staked into the ground by the path, perhaps even a lesser worn path moving eastwards away from it.

‘I don’t like the look of this,’ grumbled Zero softly.

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Cairngorm Foothills

‘Me neither,’ echoed Khalin, looking up and down the sections of the worn path that he could see amongst the hills and scrub. ‘But I think we need to take a look.’

There was some slight element of doubt in his voice. If it was a figure staked out and it was one of the Talons then there had been some sort of disaster.

‘It could be someone needing help,’ offered Zero, eerily echoing Khalin’s fleeting thoughts.

From the rear of the group, Kireth spoke up, the first time the mage had said anything for some time. ‘Perhaps you should take a look, then, Zero, and help if you can?’ The half-elf’s voice was quiet, as though he were thinking about something else. ‘Be wary, though. Such a thing may yet just be bait to lure in the unprepared.’

‘I’ll go!’ chirped Tradden, already starting to move forwards, before an stout dwarven arm reached across and held him back.

‘No, Kireth is right,’ said Khalin. ‘We need to be cautious on this one. Zero, take it easy and carefully. Get back here as quick as you can if you suspect anything.‘

The rogue sighed, checked his crossbow briefly, and then looked for a good route down into the hollow.

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Storyline
Cairngorm Foothills

With the sun high in the clear sky above him, Zero took to using the bushes and scrub to keep himself hidden on the way down to the stake. Taking plenty of time, and always looking about, he moved from bush to shrub to thicket with practised ease.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+15: 34] - success!

The onlookers above sometime lost which particular bush it was that Zero used as cover when he swept round the sides of them. His uncanny ability to not be seen when he didn’t want to be was starting to get unnerving.

As he got closer and closer the rogue paused to check the path and the bushes surrounding whatever it was that was staked out — he still wasn’t sure — ensuring that nothing was coming down the path or was hiding in one of the bushes.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+12: 16] - success!

Happy that he wasn’t walking into an obvious ambush he drew his crossbow and covered the last remaining yards quickly.

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Cairngorm Foothills

The first thing that Zero noticed as he closed in on his target was not the sight of the thing in front of him, but the sound. The droning of the flies was incessant and his lip curled in disgust at the thought, his eyes not really wanting him to have a look. They were disturbed by his presence, and gave a brief interlude of peace, but then came back with a vengeance as they settled once more on their prize.

The second was the smell. The wind from the east, fresh off the mountains, had been driving the smell away from them, but now he was close he got much of the effect and it was definitely not to his taste. He had been in the company of many a rotting body in the past few tendays, but most of them had been fairly fresh or oozed that sickly, sweet tobacco smell, or were ancient, crumbling zombies that had lost most of their putrid odour. This one had been out in the sun for a while and the stench, for him, was largely unbearable.

The final thing he noticed was the cadaver itself. To his relief it wasn’t a person — it was only just recognisable, though. It was, or had been, a goblin, he thought. Small enough, and there was just enough skin and face left to identify it as one of that kind. A hefty piece of timber had been driven into the ground and the thing had been trussed up with thin rope or some kind of gut, keeping it upright by the looks of things, facing the worn path. Lashed to the timber were bits of feathers, wilted flowers, and an odd wooden bell that Zero was most definitely not going to touch.

He waved at the group hiding out at the top of the rise to come down. Then held his nose and moved around the body to get some minor relief from the stench.

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Cairngorm Foothills

By the time the others had joined him, Zero had taken out one of his embroidered handkerchiefs and had it firmly clasped over his nose and mouth. Most of the others were somewhat revolted at the sight, regardless of the fact the victim was a goblin, with the usual exception of Kireth, who just eyed the scene impassively as information to be processed.

‘I’d stand this side, if I were you,’ muttered the rogue from behind his handkerchief. ‘Less smell, plus, you can’t see its face. Or what’s left of it,’ he added.

Most of them followed Zero’s lead, with the exception of Beltak, who took to examining the corpse, trying in vain to swat the flies away.

‘Looks like it has been dead for a while,’ he began. ‘Perhaps a few days, I’m a bit surprised nothing more than the flies are having a feast. It’s hard to tell with what’s already been chewed on by the flies, but I can’t really see any obvious sign of what killed it, but the way it is bound to the stake I would suggest it was already dead when it was put here.’

With what looked like obvious relief, Beltak joined the others at the far side of the corpse.

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Cairngorm Foothills

‘And so we ask the obvious question. Why?’ the mage mulled, prodding the disgusting carcass with no more emotion than he might prod a rock.

‘Not a sacrifice, not if it was already dead. A trap? Not for us, why would we care for such a creature? Being lulled in with easy bait? Or is it a warning? Stay out of our lands?‘

Kireth gave thought to its positioning then looked at the immediate surroundings.

[Kireth Perception Check: 1d20+4: 21] - success!

The more he looked at the unfortunate corpse the more he was sure of his summary. It was definitely not a sacrifice, nor did it seem much of a trap, or at least one that had not yet been sprung. A warning of some sort made much more sense, though a warning to whom?

The thing looked to have been positioned so that those on the worn path would see it looking back at them, so he guessed that it was a warning to people passing by on the path. Zero and Tradden had mentioned the orc looking back, perhaps with a worried glance, back this way, so was this what the orc was worried about?

If it was, then the obvious thing to be worried about would be whatever was east and behind the corpse.

‘There is something up this rise,’ surmised the mage. ‘It looked like there was a path leading in that direction from back at the top of the hill,’ he said, looking down, finding the trail harder to spot now he was right on it. ‘If we followed that, we would find out what all the fuss is about I would think.’

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‘Yes, perhaps, but if I am correct this goblin has more to tell us!’ Tradden deduced, striding forward and rolling up his sleeves. Detective Tradden was back.

Kireth barely managed to choke down a snort of contempt, and stepped out of the fighter’s way, towards the back whilst the fool made a idiot of himself. What next, a pipe whilst he worked?

The young man stood in front of the corpse, analysing from close up, with arms folded. If the smell and general unpleasantness bothered him, it didn’t show. He took his time and Khalin was just about to suggest they move on when Tradden started to speak.

[Tradden Insight Check: 1d20+6: 12] - failure!

‘This,’ he started, emphatically, ‘was a goblin…’

‘Yes, lad,’ intervened Khalin, ‘but perhaps we should…’

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+6: 9] - failure!

‘…and, before I was rudely interrupted, one which has…’ There was a pause. ‘died!’

Khalin moved to pull the man away, but Tradden shooed him away. ‘Ah, ah, ah. I am working here!’ he warned. With that, he crouched down, his back to the group.

[Tradden Healing Check: 1d20+11: 30] - success!

‘Yes, yes,’ came Tradden’s now slightly muffled voice. ‘Mmm, hmm…’

The fighter stood up slowly and then turned around at an equally relaxed pace. He stood one hand across his chest, supporting the elbow of the other arm, which now held an empty pipe to his mouth. There was an audible snort from the back somewhere.

‘This goblin died, I think, from poison. And, what is more, a poison I have encountered before!’ gestured Tradden to various parts of what remained of the body. ‘See here, here, and here,’ he pointed with the end of the pipe. ‘Small cuts and slices. And, oh yes, here! One of the thorns still stuck in the body! Don’t touch it!’ he warned.

The smell is almost like the taste of rotting vegetation,’ Tradden gave an involuntary shudder. ‘The same as I encountered in a glade outside of Blackengorge. I was with Aukan and touched one. Fair knocked me out, it did, and left me with a terrible headache. From just a pin-prick!’

He focused on Khalin. ‘If the bad folk around here know how to weaponise this poison we need to be ready — an arrow with a modest amount on is all it would take to down any of us.’

Finished, Tradden tried to blow a smoke ring from the empty pipe and started to choke.

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Cairngorm Foothills

‘Those thorns were all over the stone circle near Blackengorge,’ said Beltak. ‘On black and twisted vines, covering the place. Valino and his men tried to clear them, but they were as hard as iron and they blunted many axes. They did manage to clear them, but they grew back within a tenday.’

‘Valino brought some of the thorns back with him and we took a good look at them. They oozed poison, but after a few hours they started to wither, eventually turning to dust. Perhaps the ones out here are different, or don’t crumble as they are still stuck in the goblin’s body?’

The scribe was now in full flow, and couldn’t help himself but continue.

‘I asked Morninglord Tremak if he would ask Valino to get a sample of them for Lucius Drax to take a good look at. He must have done so, but I wasn’t privy to the report.’

He looked at the others, trying to gauge if they were still interested. ‘They found a book in the circle. An old one, very old. We never did manage to translate it, though,’ he finished dejectedly, forgetting somewhat the original purpose of his conversation.

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‘Yes!’ chimed in Tradden. ‘Aukan said there was something important about that circle, although he was a bit weird about it.’

Tradden looked a bit pained-yet-confused for a moment, as if the memory was both hazy and unpleasant at the same time. ‘Anyway, I think it is. Important, I mean. Like the stones. The ones that are magic and make a good wall. Hmm, sounds strange now I say it out loud. Anyway, something else to add to the list to look at when we get back.’

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Cairngorm Foothills

‘Fascinating as this little tale is, unless it ends with “and this is how we make the antidote” I really do suggest we move on.’

Kireth didn’t wait for anyone to concur, he assumed they would, and gestured Khalin to “get on with it”.

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Cairngorm Foothills

‘It strikes me,’ mused the dwarf, ‘that we have a straightforward choice. We head up the hill to investigate, or we continue our current path to meet with the Talons.’ He stroked his beard thoughtfully. ‘Given this is a warning, the sensible approach would be to heed it and continue on. Alternatively… the enemy of my enemy?’ the others stared back blankly, so the warlord elaborated. ‘A killer of goblins might be a potential ally of ours?’ though the look on Khalin’s face betrayed his sceptism as he glanced up the rise to the east.

‘Given, as Kireth says, we don’t have an antidote, I am minded to take good precautions and take a look east.’ The warlord hefted his shield as he nodded to the faint path that headed up the hill.

There were no objections from the group, though Beltak retained an unhappy gait and Zero rolled his eyes in anticipation of being sent out ahead.

‘Aye, lad,’ nodded Khalin to the rogue. ‘We’ll be needing your skills again. I suggest we have weapons and defences at the ready. I do not want to find out how quickly that poison works first hand!’

‘Beltak, Tradden, you’re most familiar with these thorns. Stay on the look out and let us know the moment you see any sign of them.’

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Cairngorm Foothills

The group readied themselves and on Khalin’s word started to make the climb slowly up the rise to the east. Khalin motioned Zero on ahead a little with the spike of his hammer and the rogue graciously obliged, moving off to the side somewhat and slightly in front.

After a couple of minutes Zero started to disappear, heading over the rise and down again. As the group topped the rise they saw him simply standing there looking at the scene below, without much thought for hiding himself.

Down below them, the hill gently rolling down to another hollow, was a tangled mass of brambles and vines, too thick to see through, and gently blowing in the rising wind. The sight seemed quite out of keeping with the rest of the landscape, the brambles too thick and the jet black vines, thick and ugly. They rose perhaps thirty yards in the air from the ground and from here, on the top of the hill, appeared to form a rough circle about fifty yards across.

There were no vines or even any brambles close to this circle, it just appeared to have sprouted up of the landscape of its own accord.

However, scattered here and there around the perimeter of the growth, were white, baleful bones, clean of any meat or gristle.

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Cairngorm Foothills

Khalin frowned at the vista below them. ‘What in Moradin’s name is that?’ he exclaimed, almost under his breath. ‘It does not look… natural.’ The marshal turned towards Beltak and Tradden. ‘Does that look like what you saw at the stone circle?’

‘It looks like an effective barrier. But is it to keep something out, or to keep something in?’

He slowly paced forwards, moving to within fifty yards or so.

[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+4: 19] - success!

He couldn’t see much more, even from the closer distance. The vines and intertwining brambles were so closely packed they were nigh on impossible to see through without getting precariously close. The bleached bones, however, he did get a better look at. They were smaller than would make up a man, and short of picking them up and examining them more closely he surmised they might be from goblins.

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‘Well,’ said Zero, clapping his hands together, ‘that’s clearly that. No way through that scrub and no reason to try, in my humble opinion. So, shall we proceed on mission and meet up with those Talon folks?’

He looked around for any hint of concurrence from the others.

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Cairngorm Foothills

‘That’s it? No one else? Nothing?’ Kireth looked around at the blank faces, he sighed and mumbled to himself, ‘No, of course not.’ He spoke again louder so all could hear, all that wanted to listen anyway as he scornfully noted Tradden preoccupied with a belt buckle. ‘Well, obviously it’s a magical circle isn’t it?’

Beltak looked down at the circle. Khalin cocked his head to one side. Zero scratched. Tradden’s belt came undone.

‘It’s right there… it’s… how have you people lived this long?’ implored the mage. ‘There is a circle within of some power. I cannot tell you what, yet, but I can tell you it is powerful. Is it within because it needs protecting or is it because those outside need protecting from it? What is strange,‘ he continued, ‘is that someone has cast a faerie fire upon this circle. A simple evocation spell of generally little consequence but it does draw attention to it, even you people would see it once the light gets darker. Why would you cast such a spell if you didn’t want to draw attention?’

‘Well, I…’ started Beltak, before Kireth spoke over him. ‘Yes, yes, an intriguing mystery that I for one would love to see solved, but we must first get past the vines. I do not wish to go down to their poison.’

‘Khalin,’ finished the mage, gesturing the dwarf to get stuck in.

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Cairngorm Foothills

‘Khalin!’ the half-elf repeated, growing more irritated by the moment. The warlord was deep in thought, staring at the unnatural copse below them, as if gazing at it for long enough might allow him to see through the vines to what might be within or beyond.

He stroked his beard. ‘Do you know what it reminds me of?’

‘Oh, do enlighten us!’ Kireth retorted, folding his arms in growing impatience.

‘A nest,’ finished the dwarf.

Tradden immediately stopped adjusting his belt and looked down at the tangle of vines ahead of them. ‘That would be a very big nest. A very big nest indeed,’ the mirth slowly drained from the fighter’s voice. ‘What would need a nest as big as that?’

‘Something big enough to chew gobbos ‘til only bones remain,’ sighed the dwarf, shrugging his shoulders. ‘Zero, didn’t you say you saw something flying far to the north a few days ago? And the orc you saw was afraid of something this way.’

‘Legend once told of winged wyrms who guarded great hordes of gold, but their breath could turn scores of men to flame,’ Khalin continued, his voice growing richer as if telling a story round a roaring fire.

‘Gold?’ enquired Zero, his interest suddenly piqued.

‘Aye, lad, gold,’ responded Khalin as he clapped the rogue on the shoulder. ‘But they were just tales to tell children at bedtime. Besides, if Kireth says it’s a magic circle, a magic circle it is.’ Khalin nodded to the mage before turning to scan the clouding skies about them. ‘Still, I’m not sure I want to be out in the open exposed.’

‘Okay, Kireth, we will take a closer look, but let us have our wits about us more than ever. I don’t like this,’ he finished with a frown before twirling Aecris with a flourish to point the path ahead.

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The group trudged towards the mass of dark vines. ‘Beltak, didn’t you say it took several days to clear the other circle back near Blackengorge? And the vines were inert I presume?’ the dwarf shuddered at the thought of unearthly tentacles tightening in like a trap. ‘We don’t have to clear the whole area, but we do need a safe path. This could be slow work — and it needs to be careful work!’ he warned, raising his voice for the whole group to be clear. ‘I suggest no exposed flesh, and put on your most hard-wearing gear.’

Zero groaned at the prospect of snagging vines and thorns tearing at his fine silks.

‘Kireth,’ the warlord continued, ‘do you know of any magics in your scrolls that might clear us safe passage through this mess?’

Tradden was already twirling his blades impressively, and the dwarf nodded appreciatively at his friend’s enthusiasm.

‘Kireth,’ repeated the dwarf, ‘I don’t want to be working on this for a moment more than is necessary.’ Khalin frowned again, clearly unhappy about their situation. ‘Once you determine what it is this circle is protecting or, Moradin forbid, imprisoning, don’t keep it to yourself!’

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‘Valino and his guards did manage to clear the circle near Blackengorge,’ Beltak offered, trying to raise their spirits. ‘It took a while, though, and those vines were like iron.’

‘I'm afraid my mace will not be that useful, I wouldn’t have thought. You’ll want to keep your eyes on your weapons if you are using those,’ the scribe said, nodding at Tradden’s swords. ‘Don’t blunt, or for Pelor’s sake, break them!’

‘I will have a look through my notes and books and perhaps your Zoonomicon, Khalin, and see if I can find any insight to help us.’

Beltak shifted his pack off his shoulder and started to rummage into its depths. At last he found a book, brought it out and opened it to read to a large sigh from Khalin. The scribe’s timing was impeccable, no longer was the book out and its pages exposed to the open air than the rain began to fall.

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Tradden’s enthusiasm took him right to the edge of the brambles with his swords at the ready. At the edge he paused before thrusting his swords energetically into the ground, their pommels shaking with the force, and slipped his pack from his shoulders. With a flourish he pulled out a pair of slight and supple leather gloves and pulled them theatrically over his hands.

Zero spluttered. ‘Aren’t they ladies’…’

‘No,’ retorted Tradden swiftly before taking up his swords and giving them an expectant twirl. Taking a brief look up at the rain falling from the sky, he took a large breath and settled into a familiar stance. His blades began to whirl.

The brambles were no match for his skill or strength, falling sharply to the edges of his blades. The vines, however, were another matter. Half a dozen strokes were needed for each tendril, long, hard strokes that were usually accompanied by a grunt, or even a curse.

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The going seemed slow but Tradden gradually made some headway. After half an hour he thought he could see something tangible through the vines, but had probably only cut through maybe a dozen feet.

‘I’ll take over for a bit,’ offered Beltak, who had obviously found nothing of value in his books.

‘Not… ugh… with my… grr… swords you won’t,’ muttered the young fighter under his breath, interspersed with the efforts of chopping down on the vines.

‘Oh, this is ridiculous,’ huffed Khalin. ‘This will take us forever.’ The dwarf, still close to Tradden turned over his shoulder to search out the mage.

‘Kireth!’ he shouted. ‘What sort of damage might one of your “magic missiles” do to that, do you think?’

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Whether it was the disturbance cause by the dwarf’s sudden bellow or the slippery ground, wet with rain, that threw out Tradden’s stance he could not be sure, but all of a sudden the young fighter felt the curl of a vine around his ankle and stumbled forward.

[Tradden Dexterity Check: 1d20+7: 12] - failure!

With his swords lodged in a tendril he could not regain his balance and fell, straight into the awaiting embrace of the black thorns.

With no helm to protect his head the thorns had easy access and a cut as long as his finger was drawn down his cheek.

‘Tradden!’ yelled Khalin, darting forward ready to grab his friend.

[Tradden Saving Throw vs Poison: 1d20+1: 21] - critical success!

The dwarf had hold of Tradden’s feet, fortuitously free of the brambles and vines, and started to pull.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+6: 16] - success!

‘Wait,’ baulked Tradden, trying not to panic. ‘There’s something here I can see.’

The fall had pushed back some of the vines and the path that Tradden had already cleared allowed them all to spy some of what lay behind the tangled mass. From just in front of where the stricken young fighter lay rose a large black monolith, perhaps a dozen feet or so in height, carved, although as to what extent was hidden, and upright.

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‘The stone, yes, yes, I see it,’ marveled Khalin, squinting through the opening that Tradden had made in the undergrowth.

‘No, not that,’ mumbled Tradden, trying not to move his jaw too much lest another thorn pierce his flesh. ‘This, this right in front of me.’

In front of Tradden’s eyes, barely inches away, was a gently roiling green flame extending from the ground and up for six or seven inches. It was beautiful to look at, serene and majestic in its form, although Tradden wasn’t sure if that was real or whether it was an effect of the poison that could be coursing through his veins and giving him hallucinations.

Running around the bottom of the flame, which, incidentally, appeared to have no effect on the vegetation above it, were chalk marks in what he guessed might be a large arc.

‘Magic circle?’ whispered Tradden. The temptation for him to take his arm and just reach out was almost undeniable.

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‘Do not touch it!’ scolded Kireth sharply. ‘Get the fool out of there, Khalin. This cannot be solved by brawn.’

The mage casually walked towards Zero as Khalin grudgingly assented and motioned Beltak over to help him pull out Tradden safely. Next to the rogue, Kireth smiled and snuck his hand into one of Zero’s front pockets, plucking out another of the gems that Zero had secreted throughout his embroidered clothes. There was a moment when the rogue looked as though he was about to complain, but seemed to think better of it and just shrugged.

‘Give me some moments,’ Kireth said, already staring intently at the gem.

The mage studied the inside of the gem, stood before the vines, softly mumbling to himself, ignoring the rain and all of the others around him.

Beltak and Khalin managed to extricate Tradden from the brambles and vines without catching the young fighter on any further thorns, and the scribe set to cleaning the cheek wound and checking for any remaining poison. By the time Beltak was confident Tradden would not suffer any adverse effects, Kireth appeared to be reaching a crescendo. The mage slowly walked over to the nearest black vine and, being careful to avoid any of the sharp thorns, stuck out his arm and grasped the tendril tightly.

[Ritual: Shrink]

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

[Black Vines shrink to 10% of true size for 24 hours]

Nothing seemed to happen for a moment, but then there was a curious creaking and popping noise. The whole nest appeared to quiver and then ever so slowly began to contract. The brambles appeared to be unaffected, but the black vines began to shrink, collapsing in on the brambles and grasping them in an even firmer embrace.

As the vines shrivelled they contracted into the circle, trying to cling onto the stones that they began to reveal, but with little success, being pulled by themselves toward the centre of the circle, dragging and crushing the brambles with them.

The circle of stones was revealed in its glory as the vines retreated — twelve gleaming black monoliths slick with rain, the green flame of the faerie fire reflecting and dancing between them. The stones did indeed seem to be carved, but from without the circle it was hard to see what of, they looked to all be facing inwards.

The vines kept pulling in on themselves, twisting and popping, coalescing at the northern side of the circle and revealed another wonder of a statue in the centre of the circle in an animated pose.

‘I suggest you put the remains to the fire, Khalin, otherwise we only have the passage of a day before it will spring back upon us,’ said Kireth, breathing heavily, his eyes now intent upon the circle.

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Storyline
Cairngorm Foothills

‘Very impressive, Kireth, thank you,’ marveled Khalin. ‘One wonders why you didn’t suggest we try that before Tradden wasted all that time and effort hacking away, but no matter.’

Taking care not to enter the circle, the dwarf regarded the stones with the eye of an artisan.

He had to be cautious, standing just outside the chalk lines and faerie fire, but now that the vines had been drawn back and most of the brambles with them he had a much better view of the situation.

The stone circle itself was large, somewhere in the region of fifty yards in diameter, and the stones were huge black monoliths, twice the height of Tradden. There were twelve stones in all as he counted, gigantic forms all, upstanding, grim and dark through the veil of falling rain before him, evenly dispersed around the circle with a smaller stone near — but not quite in — the centre, perhaps of a different, lighter, stone. There were still strands of the brambles upon them, where the vines had not managed to pull them back and the stones were worn and patched with lichen.

There were intricate carvings on the monoliths, not so much facing outward but on their inner sides. It was difficult to see close up without breaking the line of the magic circle. Even from distance, though, he began to recognise that they were figures, quite still and silent, seen vaguely through the rain, but in humanoid shape indisputably. The one furthest from him, across the circle to the east, was in the form of Moradin, seated like all of the other stones and facing the middle of the circle. Rather than the fully familiar dwarven features, beard and helm of Khalin’s patron, however, it appeared that much of the face and head had been hollowed out, the bleak sky visible through the stone.

The stone near the centre appeared to be a more lifelike statue, a smaller figure, perhaps even a dwarf from this range, carved with finer detail it appeared and quite aesthetic in its form, capturing movement as it reached out in front of it to grab or push something.

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Storyline
Cairngorm Foothills

‘Indeed one might wonder, Khalin,’ Kireth retorted. ‘There is still much work for me to do here, unless you are proficient and knowledgeable of the arcane rites of protective circles. My power is not unlimited,’ Kireth continued, though Zero swore the mage mumbled “yet” under his breath, ‘and no doubt I will still have much thinking, concentration and skilled action to perform.’

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