Antler Bear

Maze Rats season 2 – The Idol of Kesh – 2

The Idol of Kesh – Part 15 – Party of Three

The group tethers the horses and the mules – who are quite irritated by the hard run through the wood – around the central tree. Merrick and Webster investigate the corpse of the witch, but find no marks, no trinkets, not even odd birthmarks. “I wonder how the witchfinders do it. There is literally nothing to distinguish her from any odd maiden in the marketplace.”

“Well, except that she turns into a warbird and attacks harmless travellers,” Reinhold jokes.

In the end, Webster digs a shallow grave for her, while the wounded rest, eat, and take medicines. In the meantime, the womenfolk share a couple of good-natured jests about the fact that all the fighting men took hits while all the women got through unscathed. Phoebe leaves Alma and the mages to look after the wounded men’s safety and goes back along the trail with Harmony, looking for Uko.

Moving slower and more deliberate now they can easily see that their group left a trail like a cattle herd, hard to miss even for casual observers. They pass through a stretch riddled with molehills – it is a small miracle that none of their animals stepped into a burrow and broke a leg.

It takes them an eternity to find the goblin. Or rather, for him to find them. They are almost back at the witches’ place as Uko gives a soft whistle and waves them over to a hiding place off the trail.

“Hey. Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m perfectly fine.”

“Why are you still up here?”

“I tried to follow you up north, but there was some rough terrain so had to circle back. Then I noticed there is someone following you … us … our group.”

Phoebe gasps: “Who? The witch?”

Harmony shakes her head: “Hardly. She’s not going to follow us anytime soon.”

Uko describes a party of three: “A skinny old guy, a younger one, also skinny, maybe his son, and some kind of servant. All of them human.”

“We didn’t meet them on the way.”

“They probably heard you come and hid. You were not very stealthy.”

Phoebe weighs the axe in her hand.

“Should we try to catch them or return to the others?”

Harmony points up west: “Or give the witch a final sendoff?”

“You really don’t like witches, do you?” asks Uko.

“Never met one that weren’t bad.”

“Well, technically WE were the ones who….”

Phoebe interrupts them. “We need to act.”

  • Return to the others first
  • Look for the party of three first
  • Look for the witch

The Idol of Kesh – Part 16 – Camouflage

“We must find those stalkers before they can get a drop on our gang.”

The others nod, and the three turn to follow the path towards the camp. Phoebe is worried, because given the obvious trail the horses are leaving, anyone could follow them. In her mind’s eye, she sees murderers sneaking up on Basil and slay him from hiding – what a horrible end that would be.

As they get closer to the camp, they split up, sneaking through the wood like hunters. Phoebe and Uko south of the trail, Harmony on the northern side.

They move slowly to avoid noise. Dusk sets in, but it is not difficult to locate the camp. The horses make more than enough noise, and Reinhold and Merrick “Big Nose” don’t make it any better as they chat and brag about some heroics of their past over the small, but still visible fire.

Phoebe flexes her hand on her axe handle. Harmony has an arrow nocked, Uko has his crossbow ready. Step by step they check out the obvious and less obvious hiding spots, but no luck.

Suddenly Phoebe hears a tiny noise. She turns towards it and finds herself facing an a older, skinny man with a soft cap, He wears dirt-brown clothing and is sitting on a dark backpack, snuggled at the foot of a tree. She had expected him to be sitting somewhere aiming at the camp. Instead, he seems to be content watching it from a distance. He has chosen a good hiding spot, but one that does not really threaten the camp.

On the one hand, he doesn’t look happy she found him.

On the other hand, he has a crossbow aimed at her belly.

“Drop the blade, kid.”

Phoebe looks for cover, but anything strong enough to shield her from a bolt is more than two steps away. The old guy chose a good spot, she has to admit grudgingly. Phoebe has a shady past – before turning adventurer, she used to make a living robbing travellers, and to find herself on the pointy end of a crossbow in a clear field of fire feels especially inappropriate.

“I said, drop the blade. And then call your pointy-eared friend to come here.”

Apparently he has only seen one of her two pointy-eared friends – but which one? And where are his companions, the younger guy and the servant? If this was a holdup, they would be … over there. But they are not. The old guy seems to be quite alone.

  • Drop the blade and call Uko
  • Drop the blade and call Harmony
  • Keep the blade, talk to the man
  • Its just one bolt. Attack!
  • Dive for cover and raise alarm

The Idol of Kesh – Part 17 – Cadwaladr

The crossbow bolt has a steel tip with pretty ugly barbs. Phoebe is acutely aware of it, but she makes a decision. She turns fully towards the guy and looks him straight in the face, axe loosely in her hand.

“Drop it! I’ll shoot!”

“Hi,” she answers. “I am Phoebe Hicks.”

His crossbow wavers a bit.

“I know what you are trying to do! It won’t work. Drop the blade!”

“Hey, we are out in the wild. This is no place to point crossbows at each other. Come, join us.”

“Woman! Do you think I didn’t see you sneaking around? You were looking for me.”

She shrugs, slowly.

“Yes. But now we’ve found you. Come. Let’s talk.”

“You are just waiting for me to drop my guard.”

“I’m waiting for you to stop being a fool. What will happen if you shoot me? You’ll die next. And for what?”

He thinks about that for a while.

“You speak sense.”

“What’s your name?”

He hesitates, then answers: “Cadwaladr.”

Phoebe raises an eyebrow. “Your are not from around here, are you?”

“No. I am from Bardis.”

She notices that he speaks as if he was alone. He still doesn’t trust her. Which is fair enough. She doesn’t trust him either. But at least he will not be so quick to shoot now, she thinks.

“Bardis? The land in the east? Now you must come. Tell your story. No excuses.”

Meanwhile, Harmony has noticed that Phoebe stopped sneaking, and circled around. She has signalled to Uko, and they both close in, aiming at the old man.

His intense eyes gaze along Ukos crossbow, linger on his tusks and ears, and travel back to Phoebe and her axe, still dangling in her right.

“Now you have won. I am at your mercy.”

Phoebe extends her free hand towards him: “Come.”

He sighs and relents, aims the crossbow downwards and takes out the bolt, then relaxes the string. Uko wants to grab him, but Phoebe holds up a hand, stopping him.

No need. Also, there are two more, somewhere.

“Uko, this is Cadwaldr.”

“Cadwaladr,” he corrects her. He looks up in wonder as Harmony approaches.

“It is true then, you have an elf with you.”

  • Speak with him here
  • Bring him into the camp
  • Invite him to bring his companions
  • Take him captive

The Idol of Kesh – Part 18 – Invitation

Phoebe wants answers from Cadwaladr, and he sees no way to dodge revealing things. Bardis is part of the Empire of Berén, and it is heavily regulated. He speaks the language well, but there is a certain accent in his pronunciation that betrays his origin. Cadwaladr had lost his longtime business as a caravan trader and failed at starting a shop – partly because he didn’t have the licenses, partly because he couldn’t afford the property or materials. So he figured he’d leave his wife in safety, with her family, and find luck across the sea, in Alys, where life was still free. With the last of his money, he bought a passage and the permits to leave his home, and left. He followed this path to the fabled elven ruins when he heard the others at the camp and decided to stay away, because he couldn’t know who they were, and while Alys is free, it is also full of dangers. He was afraid.

With no word does he mention the two companions that Uko had seen, and he doesn’t let on that he must have seen the trail of the horses.

Uko decides to breach the subject bluntly.

“What about your friends? Why not fetch them and we all share a meal at the fire?”

Cadwaladr’s eyes widen and he squirms.

After a short pause he nods and adds: “I travel with a companion, Cameran, who is from Bardis as well, and with a lantern boy who helps us carry our equipment. They have set up camp not far from here.”

“You are all welcome to share our fire”, says Harmony with a formal air quite untypical of her. She clearly doesn’t trust the man at all. Uko nods and flashes his tusks in a grin: “Don’t miss it. I make a mean breakfast that will knock you out.”

Cadwaladr looks troubled by this promise. “Oh no, I would not want to intrude on you and your friends. I must apologize for … this.” He gestures at his crossbow. “I still thank you for your kindness. We will just keep our distance and go our separate ways.”

  • Insist. Let him fetch them
  • Insist. Go with him to fetch them
  • Insist. Let him fetch them but follow him
  • Let him off the hook
  • Let him off the hook but follow him

The Idol of Kesh – Part 19 – Road of the Dead

After some back and forth Phoebe relents – there is really no way to convince the man. They wish each other good luck for their respective ventures, he struggles into the straps of his backpack, and he leaves.

As his back is turned, the three quickly decide who is going to keep an eye on him. Harmony signals a clear “No”.

Phoebe decides to do it and sends the others off to the camp, where they tell Reinhold and Merrick about the encounter.

Cadwaladr wanders south, then looks back to make sure he’s not followed. Phoebe manages to duck in time, and he turns around to go east. He makes sure to cover his footprints, then checks again and sets off at a brisk pace. Phoebe manages to keep him in sight well enough to follow … but then he walks behind a wider tree – and Poof! He vanishes.

Phoebe sneaks closer and looks for footsteps, but no luck. Cadwaladr is gone.

Angry at herself, she circles the area in some distance, but in vain.

Finally she admits defeat and goes back to the camp.

The night passes with double guards and no incidents.

In the morning, everyone is informed of their secretive neighbours from faraway lands. While Uko prepares his killer breakfast, Harmony meditates, and a new spell comes to her: Thunder Touch. Which may come in quite handy in close quarters. Harmony is pleased.

The group sets out anew. There is no hint of Cadwaladr or his companions, which worries Phoebe, but Reinhold, who feels a lot better after this rest, shrugs it off: “Nobody killed us in our sleep. So they are probably fine lads.”

The trail they are following climbs up a hill, then crests it. A multitude of paths crisscross the area, but the general direction is clear. As they get down off the hill, the group spies a road that crosses their path, running north to south.

“This is the road of the dead”, Uko explains. “Nothing sinister, though! North of here is the goblin village, south is the cemetary. It is rather well travelled, because the dead hold special importance for us. The Crystal Lake is on the other side of it. Now that we are here, I would say we are going to reach it in the late afternoon.”

  • Watch for traffic, sneak past one by one
  • Just ride across the road

The Idol of Kesh – Part 20 – Eyes

Uko and Harmony take point and sneak forward without the horses to scout out the way. They scurry forward and listen intently. Everything seems quiet. The path is well-trodden, and only along it’s sides grow knolls of grass strewn with broken branches or the occasional waste left by wandering goblins. Uko steps forward out of the cover to peer left and right along the road.

Suddenly a huge eye opens right in front of him. With a cry of alarm he stumbles back, as many more eyes pop open. What he took for a rotting log is, in fact, an animal. A fat, gigantic eye slug glides out of a bushel of grass, silently squirting a slimy bed of mucus to make her path slippery. The front half of its body is covered with a multitude of watery eyes that open and close in an unsettling rhythm. Larger and smaller eyes roll around to stare at the humanoid from all angles.

Fighting down a gag reflex, Uko jumps back in panic. “An eye slug! Waah! Where are the others? They are never alone! By the dead, I hate those uglies.” With a curious mix of tiptoeing and jumping he retreats behind his Harmony.

The elf contemplates the situation. Indeed, there are more of them, now that she looks for them. A family of a dozen eye slugs travels south along this road, larger and smaller beasts leaving silvery trails of ooze behind. The biggest one is as long as Phoebe is tall. The smallest are barely as long as a shortsword. They are all harmless enough for grown humans, but horrible to look at or, may the gods avert, touch. Shooting them with arrows is almost useless, and hacking them with blades will only soil the weapons and make them all sick from the grisly sight of fluids. Harmony knows that the horses will react quite like Uko and may even throw their riders when eye slugs stare at them.

She drags her squeamish friend back to the group to discuss options.

  • Choose a small detour
  • Scare them with fire
  • Blindfold the horses
  • Use magic
  • Use equipment (which?)

The Idol of Kesh – Part 21 – Free Range

Horses hate the baleful gaze of eye slugs, so they must be protected. The logical choice seems to be to take a small detour and cross a bit farther up or down – but leaving the path can bring other risks, or more encounters. And this is clearly the best spot, with the trail going on right there.

Finally Alma has an idea. She suggests blindfolding the horses to prevent them from seeing the staring eyes. Before long the majority agrees. Uko, having no horse of his own, walks out ahead and checks out the road one last time. He tries to ignore the slimy abominations staring at him, and ascertains that nobody is watching. Then he gives the sign.

Phoebe goes first, leading her horse tightly past the slugs, which are blinking stupidly at the big animal that trots by, eyes covered with a blanket. Phoebe keeps it calm by talking soothingly to the creature. Merrick and Webster follow closely behind her, same as the day before. They concentrate on their horses to avoid looking into the watery, soulless eyeballs gawking from below.

The biggest slug inches closer towards Uko, and he pulls his dagger to tickle it’s front.

“Listen, big boy, don’t make me angry. You may barely feel this dagger, but I have a hacksaw in my pack and I swear you don’t want to meet it.”

The slimy creature pushes against the dagger’s tip and since he holds fast the steel slides in a good three inches. That gives the snail pause, and it’s various eyes open and close in intervals. Finally it decides to pull back and leave Uko alone, a clear liquid sticking to his weapon.

“Wise choice, brother,” he tells the slug as he wipes the blade on a grassy knoll.

Behind him, the whole team passes across the road, one by one. The horses are nervous, but without a good look at the eye-slugs they trustingly follow their riders. Soon all the horses have crossed the road and disappeared between the trees. Only the pack mules remain. These beasts are less easily frightened by staring eyes, but Uko doesn’t want to lose them, so he pulls sacks over their heads. They protest loudly, but Uko and Harmony calm them down again. Uko strings the mules together and leads them across between the slugs, taking care to avoid their slimy trails. One of the smaller eye slugs turns around to investigate the sure-footed mammals, but Uko grabs a large branch and gives the nosy straggler a rude push.

“Shoo! Shoo! Go away, ugly!”

It does not understand the words, but the branch speaks volumes.

Harmony and Ursula return back to mask their hoofprints by walking back and forth across them, at least at those parts of the road that the eye slugs don’t lather in their goo.

Uko, Phoebe, and Reinhold give their handiwork a critical once-over. Knowing what to look for they can easily see where the animals came out of the wood and where they went in, but presumably an unsuspecting goblin on the way to the cemetary will pass by none the wiser.

For good measure, Phoebe smears some broken twigs with mud to make them look older. Reinhold watches her with a smile.

“What?”

“Nothing. You’re doing great. As our heroes have successfully overcome the multi-eyed abominations, Phoebe Goldenskin takes a moment to bathe the wounds of innocent trees caught in the path of destruction.”

“Reinhold – shut up.”

Uko sees another slug creeping closer. He fingers his dagger and proposes they get moving.

“Yeah. Let’s get on with our quest, and find the hidden lairs of the elven cults.”

+++

The rest of the day passes without incident – and that is a good thing, because the path is difficult and they have to go slowly. Only Uko on his mule has an easier time navigating the wild trail. As the sun sinks, painting the treetops a bright orange, they finally reach the Lake. Crystal Lake, a long, still body of water a good deal away from human roads, marks the western border of the field of ruins left behind by elven history.

The lake lies undisturbed and quiet, although some deer drink from it, and the thirsty horses follow their example, eagerly lapping up the water. It is a placid scene, and Phoebe allows herself a moment to relax. She gazes past the woods at the wyld peaks, the lands without roads or aid, where the goblins and monsters still rule.

“Views like this are the reason I took up adventuring,” she declares. “Free range.”

“Free range,” Reinhold agrees.

Uko purses his lips. “Romantic nonsense.”

Merrick looks around, uncomprehending. “Free? There’s the wild wood all around us. And no bed. And we have to drag our bones through this forest while the old fool enjoys fresh grapes and reads a good book.”

Webster pushes him. “Don’t call him so. He may hear.”

Moving from the western end – where they now stand – to the eastern point will take them another day, and they are tired, so this is the best moment to make camp.

  • Camp close to the water to see far
  • Camp some strides away for more cover
  • Camp hidden, out of sight from the water

The Idol of Kesh – Part 22 – Antlers

The group feeds the horses and mules, and lets them drink from the lake. They set up camp a bit away from the water, dig a hole at a dry place and shield it from view. In the hole they light a small fire, then Phoebe assigns watches by lot.

She keeps watch with Oswald first, and they see the darkness descend on the lake. On the far side three small fires light up – somebody is already at work in the ruins. Most likely some newbie adventurers looking for some treasure everyone else has missed. Just like she does herself.

“Why did we have to take Reinhold with us?” Oswald asks.

“One more blade to the party. And he’s a good fighter.”

“He’s more trouble than he’s worth.”

“Try to keep it professional.”

Oswald stares at her darkly. “You like him, don’t you?”

She chuckles.

“I am not fourteen any more, Oswald. I ain’t no fool.”

After their watch they wake Basil and Reinhold.

The next watch is a bit one-sided: Basil keeps quiet and listens as Reinhold tells him about things he already knows, like about the rescue of Wendy, and about the fight with the shapeshifting witch, and about the salve he took from the witches’ shack. Basil is conflicted – he’d love to stop Reinhold’s tales, but he knows he can’t – with his stutter, he’d only make it worse.

Suddenly he stands up.

“What’s up, genius? We are sitting here all nice and suddenly you jump up? Did you see some…”

Basil points towards the lakeshore, not far from them.

Reinhold turns around and freezes. There is a huge antler bear wetting his front paws, a grown male, staring right at them.

“Shit! An antler bear! They are strong as ten men, and they have antlers!”

“Sh-sh-sh-… shhut. .. Up!”

Reinhold grabs the pommel of his scimitar.

“D… d…. Don’t.”

“Why not?”

Basil sighs, and tries it: “St… st… t… rongas t…t…t…”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. Strong as ten men. I said it myself, right? True story, genius. They are.”

The antler bear is watching them.

He’s standing still like a tree.

“I heard antler bears have a special … talent.” Reinhold keeps his hand on the weapon. “I heard they can give you a magical experience. But only alive. Dead they are just like any odd bear. What was it they do?”

“S… s… s…sc…”

“Ah yes! Scrying. Antler Bears can help you scry and get visions. How does it work, I wonder? Do we need to get closer to him?”

Basil fights his own tongue for a moment, then breathes deeply and just says: “Yes. Touch.”

“Touch? Are you kidding me?”

Reinhold looks at Basil incredulously, but no – Basil is not the kidding type.

  • Wake Phoebe
  • Wake Harmony
  • Threaten the bear
  • Slowly go closer
  • Just let him be

The Idol of Kesh – Part 23 – Vision

Reinhold slowly puts up his hands and makes a step towards the beast.

“Wh… wh… wh…”

“Shut up.”

He has heard that bears don’t take kindly to being threatened, so he keeps his eyes low, looking at the monster’s paws. They are enormous! Reinhold can easily imagine what those pranks could do to a human neck. But he’s a goddamn hero! He will not be cowed by an animal! And if it promises magic, he’s a Middleway, and no true Middleway man will let an opportunity like that go to waste!

Basil watches with mounting dread as Reinhold closes in on the antler bear, one step at a time. The beast snorts, then sniffs and turns towards Reinhold. To his credit, the man has guts! The bear is huge even on all fours. But somehow, Reinhold manages to get closer and closer, walking into the ankle-deep water.

The bear seems unconcerned with the puny human, until Reinhold is standing right in front of him. The adventurer offers up his hands for a sniff, and the antler bear sucks in air from them, then makes noncommittal noises.

Slowly, Reinhold moves to touch the bear’s face. For a moment, the bear shies away, but then he allows it.

The experience shocks Reinhold like a punch to the jaw.

Arms stretched wide, he drops backwards and falls on the shore, one leg in the water, one out of it.

The bear snorts again, looks up at Basil, who holds his breath – then he turns around and walks away, crushing into the underbrush.

“Ho… ho…” Basil says, then rushes forward to check on Reinhold.

The adventurer’s mind is drifting loose. Pictures swirl past. He can hear voices, smell things. Suddenly an image becomes clear. A laughing human on a tree. Barefoot! An odd costume, like a monk. Daylight. They are surrounded by goblin warriors. They all look tough and armored, they wield bows, and flash their tusks. Two of the horses lie dead, hit by arrows. The wizard’s big man is lying on the ground. Phoebe fumes in anger. The laughing human points at Uko. They are on a path, and behind Uko is the Crystal Lake. It is the north shore, less than halfway along, but with leaf trees.

With a blinding flash, Reinhold is back.

“Unbelievable.”

“And you let him?”

“Wh… wh…”

Phoebe handwaves Basil’s explanation. “I know. Nobody can stop him when he… hey! He’s awake.”

With a groan, Reinhold tries to sit up, but a bright stab of pain behind his eyes forces him down again.

Alma is looking on with one eyebrow arched dangerously high.

The wizard’s small man is kneeling beside Reinhold and looks into his eyes, alternating between right and left. “Easy, man,” he says, “move your fingers. Now your feet.” He watches as Reinhold complies. “Okay. Some untrained people get serious damage from these visions. You are lucky, man. You are good. What did you see? A person? The past? The future? Was it a memory? You can never tell with these antler bears. You should have left that to the pros.”

“Leave him be,” says Harmony, loud enough to give Reinhold another stab of pain. “What is done is done.”

Merrick shoots her a dismissive glance. “Maybe he got something interesting. Let him tell it before he forgets, or before he embellishes it with fantasies. Most mediums do.”

As feeling returns to Reinhold’s body he realizes that he has soiled himself.

“What in all the…!” he shouts and jumps up, only to be laid low again by piercing headaches.

“Come on, Reinhold,” says Phoebe. Her stern face replaces Merrick’s eager visage. “Spill it.”

Reinhold recounts the images he has seen.

A human with goblin archers, by daylight. An ambush somewhere on the north shore. Phoebe was there, and Uko.

“North shore is where the path goes,” says Uko. “The south is just wood.”

Phoebe quizzes Harmony and Merrick.

They agree that it could be a vision from their future – but it could also be a fantasy. There is no sure way to say until it happens as foretold.

“Fantasy?” Reinhold protests, sitting up while trying to hide his soiled pants: “Fantasy you say? I don’t fantasize about crazy barefoot freak-monks who sit on trees! That would never cross my mind!”

Phoebe thinks it through and collects opinions about the next move:

  • Go along north shore trail as planned
  • Sneak along north shore to check
  • Go through south shore wilderness

The Idol of Kesh – Part 24 – Hideout

The group quickly agrees to send scouts along the north shore to verify Reinhold’s vision. Phoebe asks Ursula and Uko to sneak out, but Alma demands a place on the forward team. She seems eager to prove herself – or maybe to save the honor of her boss? – either way, Phoebe amends her plan: Ursula and Alma sneak out, Uko follows in some distance to give them cover in case push comes to shove. Reinhold needs to rest.

Armed with Reinhold’s detailed description of the spot, the three scouts set out on foot. Uko falls back a bit. Ursula is favorably surprised of Alma’s sneaking skills.

“What did you say your day job was?”

“I used to be an actress.”

“An actress? Like on a stage?”

“Yes? Anything wrong with that? Theater is a noble Art, you know? What’s your profession?”

“I am a cat burglar and a contortionist.”

Alma looks amused. “That’s not a profession! That’s just a sideshow.”

Ursula stops and creases her brow.

“Woman. Do you think this is the right time to pick a fight with me?”

Alma is taken aback. “Fight? I’m just stating the bare facts.”

Ursula bites down some “bare facts” about a couple of actresses she knows of. Instead she hisses: “Well … actress or no, you are here now, and you are not the star. But maybe it is time to quit chattering anyway. We don’t want to be caught because of our loose jaws, do we?” And with a last threatening stare she gets going again.

Alma shrugs and follows.

They make good headway, and sometimes rest to make sure they don’t lose Uko.

Finally spruce gets replaced by ash and willow. They must be near the place Reinhold saw, so they leave the trail and follow the shoreline instead. In this area, the wood becomes downright beautiful. The foliage lets more light through, and instead of dark, soft ground littered with deadwood, there is actual grass, and flowers, in the wider spaces between the trees. More wildlife, too: The scouts notice several squirrels and two rabbits, and they see a hawk lifting off a branch as they get closer. The world looks clean and hale here.

A hundred yards on Ursula hears something and stops Alma. They listen – and they pick up voices. Creeping forward, they find a hideout – a nice artificial hiding place that looks like a basic duck blind made from branches and brushwood. It provides a good view of the trail, too. The construction seems to house at least two goblins, going by the sounds. The women can only see a quiver, a butcher knife, and a pair of boots. But from farther up the bank it might be possible to see better.

It looks as if Reinhold had it right: There is either a hunting party or an ambush on this shore, and they are too careless for hunters. Sneaking past them will not work. Sneaking up on them may – and it may provide the opportunity for a decisive surprise attack.

Alternatively, they could just lay low and watch the goblins.

  • Stop, look, and listen
  • Sneak up the bank for a better look
  • Sneak attack
  • Retreat to meet Uko
  • Something else (comment)

The Idol of Kesh – Part 25 – The woods have eyes

Ursula and Alma stay in cover to watch the outpost. Not long after Uko joins them, rustling through the leafs.

“Shhh.”

“What’s up?”

“Two or more in that shelter over there.”

They watch for a while, but the hidden guards stay hidden – they just talk from time to time, and the boots move.

Soon, Uko gets bored and rolls on his back to watch the treetops.

“I think they have an alarm signal”, says Ursula. “There is a grey string that’s running from their shelter to that tree over there.”

Uko squints.

“You are right. And it goes on to the next tree. This is the forward post, they warn the main force by pulling on that string. Well spotted, Urs!”

After a while the cool air from the lake takes its toll and the trio gets cold. However, their quarry has the same problem. One of the goblins takes a long, hard look along the trail, then they both crawl out and walk around to warm up. They complain to each other about “Rumrak”. They both focus on the trail to make sure they find cover quickly, should someone show up. But the morning remains peaceful.

It is clear that they do not wait for any specific group of travellers – they just watch the trail and are clearly unaware of the group. They are just two fighters who have to watch for traffic. There is no clue about the barefoot human from Reinhold’s vision.

Both goblins carry bows, but only one of them has a quiver with him, and neither has an arrow nocked. They won’t stay out of their hideout for long.

Alma has left the longbow in the camp – it was too bulky for this foray. But Uko has his crossbow and Ursula her slingshot.

  • Wait until they crawl back, sneak past them
  • Wait until they crawl back, retreat to camp
  • Kill them
  • Take them prisoner

The Idol of Kesh – Part 26 – Resistance

“Let’s capture them and interrogate them”, says Uko.

Ursula and Alma are not sure about the wisdom of that idea – three against two sounds only like a small advantage – but seeing as the two guards are so careless with their weapons, they relent. At least they will have something to show for this mission – and there won’t be a better moment for a move on the dynamic duo.

As soon as both goblins are more than two steps away from the alarm string, Ursula and Uko rise, distance weapons at the ready.

Alma moves to the right side, ready to come at them with her wicked hunting knife.

“No move, no sound”, says Ursula, staring at them with wild eyes.

The two goblins stare for a moment, then goblin number 1 slowly raises his hands. Goblin number 2 has a different idea: Resistance! He rips an arrow from the quiver and lays it to string with alarming speed.

Uko and Ursula both shoot at him. Uko’s arrow pierces the goblin’s chest, Ursula’s shot gets him in the face – the lookout drops, bow and arrow fall at his twitching feet.

Goblin 2 turns around on the spot and runs away. He’s trying to get some tree trunks between them and him before Uko and Ursula can reload. Alma may be able to intercept him if she is quick enough. She has a choice to make.

Character sheet: http://bit.ly/Idol-chars

  • Run to get him
  • Throw the hunting knife
  • Go for the fallen bow
  • Leave him to the others

The Idol of Kesh – Part 27 – Messy business

Alma explodes forward and hounds the fleeing goblin down. He is nimble, so he manages to dive between the tree trunks just before Ursula’s next shot is ready to fly. But Alma is right on his heels. Her fingers close around his collar and she braces herself to pull him off his legs and put the blade to his throat until he surrenders.

He, however, stops of his own volition, turns and throws a desperate punch. His fist connects and for a moment Alma feels as if she was upside down. But no – she’s just lying on her back. Her knife is still in her hand. The goblin pulls a knife of his own and stabs at her.

Alma is too slow to find purchase on the soft ground and roll aside – she just manages to raise her arm to catch the blade in her flesh.

She gasps in pain but doesn’t miss a beat – she slices at his legs. Her knife cuts deep into his thigh, warm blood splashes across her hand.

The goblin yowls, leaves his knife in her arm and limps away, but now Ursula and Uko close in.

The fugitive is still surprisingly quick.

“He can’t escape”, says Ursula, and shoots.

Her projectile whines past him and embeds itself in a fat ash root.

With a curse, Uko lets loose. He hits – the crossbow bolt thuds into the goblin’s back. The guard cries out – loud – and falls on his face, still alive. He’s clawing at the missile.

“Enemy!” he shouts. Too loud. There is no telling who or how many may have heard that fight and this cry.

Uko reloads, Ursula jumps across Alma and looms over the goblin, hatchet in hand.

  • Finish him, carry Alma away
  • Knock him out, carry both
  • Spare him, carry Alma away
  • Stay right here, go nowhere

The Idol of Kesh – Part 28 – Laughing Menace

Without further ado, Ursula knocks her hatchet’s handle against the downed goblin’s head, knocking him out. Then she looks over Alma’s arm.

“Ouch.”

She carefully pulls the knife out and drops it, as Uko wraps a piece of cloth around the wounded limb and ties a knot.

“Lucky it didn’t cut your main artery. Stop bleeding all over the place. We have to go”, he says quietly.

Uko helps Alma up while Ursula lifts the slumped goblin across her back. “Heavy as a bag of stones!” she complains, but she goes on. They reach the trail and start following it as quickly as possible, with Ursula leading and Uko aiding Alma while guarding their backs with his crossbow.

“I hear something.”

There is rustling and breaking twigs – someone is running through the underbrush.

“We are too slow!”

They scan the wood for cover and find a fallen tree several yards north of the trail.

Quickly they dump the goblin behind it and groan as they see their own, way too obvious tracks. Alma ducks behind the mossy trunk while Ursula and Uko do their best to cover any sign of their passing.

Something is moving between the trees – goblins! Ursula and Uko throw themselves into cover and hope their work was good enough.

Several goblins with bows show up and swarm the guards’ camp. They find the bloody knife and their dead comrade. They discuss their conclusions, and Uko translates as they speak. They blame someone called “Ma Ten Copper” and her goons for the killing of their comrade and vow vengeance, until someone else shows up – someone with a mad, shrill cackle. He strolls among them and giggles about their assumptions.

“This is not the work of Ma Ten Copper”, he claims. “This was done by humans! Hehe. Look at the crossbow bolt. Hahaha! Such fine fletchings are only found in Woodbridge!”

The goblins ask him what to do, and he bursts out laughing. “Hahaha. Find them! And kill them! They must be near! Look at the waterfront! Follow the trail! They will run! They will hide! But they will all die! Ahahahaha!”

The goblins follow the human’s orders without question. They split their party. Three of them go south to search along the lakeshore, five trample along the trail in haste. Focusing forward instead of on the ground they fail to see the traces of disturbed soil and leafs leading to the fallen tree. The cackling crazy remains with one goblin. “Take the dead and bring him,” he orders with a voice that wavers between mirth and venom. “He will be quite cross if we leave him here all alone, ahahaha.”

Ursula risks a glance and sees the human stroll away while the goblin – carrying a short bow in a sheath on his belt – drags his dead comrade up the elevation. The human looks exactly as Reinhold has said – sand-coloured hair, an odd monk-like outfit, and bare feet. The only thing Reinhold didn’t mention was the man’s menacing glare. He does not bear any weapons, though.

“Who is Ma Ten Copper?” she asks.

Uko, lying on his back clutching the crossbow, shrugs slightly. “I have no clue.”

Alma fumes silently as she adjusts her bandage. She’s cursing herself for bumbling this up and losing face in front of the group.

The runners along the trail disappear around a bend. The guys at the shore move slower and break through boughs and twigs, they are not very far yet.

  • Let them all go and sneak away
  • Attack the man and the goblin
  • Capture the man and the goblin

The Idol of Kesh – Part 29 – Questions answered

As soon as the crazy man and his minion have disappeared behind the trees, Ursula shudders: “That man, Uko, creeps me out.” The scouts sneak off, away from the water, to return to the others in a wide arc. They keep their eyes open for trouble, but the woods seem peaceful and quiet. At long last they make it back to the others and tell their tale.

“We have seen them searching along the shore,” Phoebe explains, “but they broke it off after half an hour.”

The “Peaceful”’s men and Harmony have analyzed the loot from the witch shack. Reinhold’s salve can animate dead animals. The hare’s paw offers resistance to magic spells. The clear liquid is a shapeshifting potion.

Alma takes a dose of medicine and rests. The others interrogate the prisoner, a warrior of the Flaming Arrow clan called Rasck.

They take their time, and he soon tells them a lot:

The laughing man is called Morgot. He is a wizard, and seems to know no mercy. He forged his own goblin warband, 30 strong, and is now one more faction in a struggle for dominance among the goblins. Morgot controls the trail along the Crystal Lake now and calls his gang “Crystal Lake Tribe”. His camp is not far, but well defended.

Ma Ten Copper is the leader of the strongest rebel faction, the “New Tribe” made up of several clans. Ten Copper wishes to unite the clans now that the Big Chief has abandoned the Elven halls and fled east.

What about the adventurers in the ruins?

They are no concern of the goblins – the elven ruins are plundered, the hooman’s digging is futile. Digging? Yes: There is a group of humans in the ruins right now that is digging in the ground. Others are looting the old buildings aboveground. Most humans in the woods are just dumb treasure-hunters, some are outlaws on the run.

Reinhold wants to know about the witches.

Rasck knows there are witches in the west, but he has never met them. They are no problem because they leave the goblin cemetary alone.

Merrick and Webster listen intently and want to know where exactly the humans are digging. The goblin describes an approximate place and the two are nervous.

“That is too close to our spot. We need to get there and claim our land.”

“It is past noon.” Despite their protests, Phoebe decides to let Alma rest and start the next day.

She sees four options:

Barter with the rebels for right of way

Sneak past Morgot north of his camp

Beat a new trail through the wild forest

Or, quick but costly, leave the horses here with two guards and cross the lake

with boats

  • Negotiate with Morgot
  • Sneak past Morgot’s camp
  • Navigate southern wilderness
  • Build crude boats, cross lake

The Idol of Kesh – Part 30 – South Road

The group discusses these options for a long while, and despite Merrick and Webster arguing for speed, and therefore for the north, at long last a slight majority favours the south.

“There was a reason for this vision, and we should not ignore it,” says Harmony.

The magicians pull rank, citing the interests of “The Peaceful”, who funds this expedition, after all, but Phoebe reminds them of his promise: Big Nose and Big Guy are to be equals, not masters, in this expedition.

At last they relent. “Fine,” says Merrick, throwing up his hands, “but then let us go! We have lost enough time arguing! And all the while the adventurers over there are digging and digging.”

Now minds turn to Rasck, the captured goblin, who speaks the language of Alys well enough and has overheard all they spoke of. They cannot possibly let him go, but murdering him seems a bit unheroic.

“We have no choice: We have to take him with us.”

“Have you ever been to the southern shore?” asks Uko.

“Nay. There is nothing but wild woods there.”

The group lets Alma rest until the next morning and start out after a quiet night with the first light, with the goblin bound on one of the mules.

They beat a slow path through trees and bushes, travelling single file and watching out for predators or foes. Many a wild beast has found refuge here, where few, if any, hunters venture. The going is tough, but only shortly after the noon break they stumble upon a structure – an overgrown tower.

“That must be what’s left of the western battlements of the Old Trade City!” Harmony excitedly runs her hands over the stonework and inspects faded engravings. A few steps on there lies a fallen statue beneath strong tree roots.

“An elf,” says Merrick, indicating the long ears and elongated face.

“An Iron guardsman,” clarifies Harmony, pointing out his fishmail armor. “Any one of them was said to be the equal of 100 goblin warriors.”

Ukos face turns into a landscape of doubt, but he elects to say nothing – he doesn’t want to spoil Harmony’s excitement.

Merrick has no such inhibitions. “That may well be what they said, but they still died, and we have an appointment. Let’s move on.”

Phoebe is about to interject, but Harmony agrees with him. “You are right. I will have time enough for these ruins later – they have not been disturbed yet. They can wait for a while longer.”

They pass more crumbling and fallen walls, and they find holes in the ground that were basements of elven buildings once, some of them flooded or fallen in, others more or less intact. And they disturb a young centipede panther that quickly scuttles away, as half the party watches it with hostile intent.

As the sun goes down they have to decide on a place to camp.

  • Camp by the water
  • Camp in a small clearing
  • Camp in an overgrown ruin
  • Camp in one of the old basements

The Idol of Kesh – Part 31 – Bump in the Night

The group cleans out a basement and lights a fire. Lots of small animals have found shelter in this artificial cave, and some have burrowed into the walls. But after chasing out the bugs and spiders and blocking the holes in the walls the room starts to feel cozy enough. There is even room for the mules down below, and the horses can be tethered close by. The adventurers feel safe here.

Yet nothing good can last, apparently. During the night, the first watch of Oswald and Harmony passes without incident. But while Uko and Basil are on watch, there are odd sounds from upstairs in the dark, as if someone was moving close by. The horses seem surprisingly untroubled, but there is rustling, followed by groaning and slow, heavy crushing only maybe fifty yards to the west. At this, the horses finally begin to shuffle back and forth, but they still remain calmer than the humanoids. Then someone – a voice – cries out in panic somewhere in the woods, and something breaks.

Basil and Uko jump up in alarm and expect the worst. It sounds as if a person was being chased and attacked out there.

  • Rush out to investigate
  • Wake the others
  • Wait and listen

The Idol of Kesh – Part 32 – The Unseen

It is not hard to wake the others, because while Uko and Basil are at it, sounds outside pick up. Someone is shouting, a human male. It sounds as if a tree was breaking, and that, finally, unsettles the horses, so they start to whinny in fear. They are left in peace, though, at least for the moment.

Uko watches the entrance, crossbow ready, and suddenly sees a movement – something big and weirdly human or ape-like passes by, without a sound. A moment later it is gone, before he can decide if he has enough visual for a shot.

In the woodwork, a shrill yell breaks off in a splintering sound. Someone is running.

In a flash, everyone is ready to fight, although not armored.

Phoebe orders most of the distance weapons to her and steps closer to the stairs with Harmony, Uko, and Ursula.

  • Go out in force to protect the horses
  • Let all stay to defend the basement
  • Let Phoebe lead a scouting party

The Idol of Kesh – Part 33 – Plant Life

The group rushes up the stairs and steps out into the night. Things have changed: Formerly, the horses were right there, close to the stairwell. Now there are, impossibly, two many-branched trees between the group and their mounts, the roots clawed into the soil. Behind the animals, there are also fresh trees, fencing them in.

Then Merrick points in the other direction. There is a light source dancing between the trees – it is a lantern, swinging wildly in the hand of a young boy who does his best to hide behind a tree. But his best is not good enough – not as long as he’s carrying that lantern in the night. From the left, thick wooden limbs sprawl, and a mighty tree stomps on the boy with gnarled roots.

The human shrieks in pain, then falls quiet. He has suffered 6 damage – but he is not even the monstrosity’s main target. With its next step, it smothers the lantern and dips the wood into near darkness again.

The only light source left is the fire down in the basement.

And it stands out like a sore thumb.

A rustle, a creak – and the living tree rises up right in front of the group, staring at the intruders with lifeless, oaken eyes.

“A treant!” Webster Rothery says.

The wooden creature draws back its branches as if to smite the two-leggers.

What now?

Character sheet: http://bit.ly/Idol-chars

  • Attack!
  • Attack with magic
  • Run away
  • Speak with it
  • Fetch fire

The Idol of Kesh – Part 34 – Go away

A living tree! Like a cat, Ursula drops into the basement to get some torches ready. She has serious doubts about the harm her hatchet can do to the monster, but she is ready to set the whole wood alight, if needed.

The others are slower. They press together and raise their shields to ward off the inevitable blows, while another treant closes in from their flank – shorter, but its long limbs give it an almost spiderlike appearance.

Only Harmony lowers her shield. She steps forward and addresses the treant in Sylvain. “Stay your hand, lord of the woods!” she calls – and he holds. As does the other one. The treant’s trunk turns toward her, and at long last he speaks.

“Little sister,” he greets her.

The others hear the hollow, rumbling sound, but do not comprehend. They lower their weapons, though, and give Harmony the stage.

“Why did you rage?” she asks.

His branches shake, and the adventurers duck behind their shields again, forming a defensive circle around the basement entrance. But since Harmony keeps standing tall, they decide to trust her approach.

The trees that cage the horses do not stir at all – they stand still like normal trees, apart from their new position. The spidery tree holds out, silent. The wide tree speaks in a grumbling voice.

Harmony thinks about it. She answers in a longer description.

Again, the tree deliberates.

A statement.

Harmony looks past the tree into the darkness.

She answers in the negative.

Another statement.

Harmony is unsure what he means, but she decides to roll with it.

She speaks and indicates the group – then she also includes the horses in her gesture.

The treant grunts agreement.

The two creatures bless each other and the treant steps back over the ruined foundations of what was, once, an elven stone building. The other one retreats as well.

With shining eyes, Harmony turns back to the humans.

“We are fine! Everyone back inside. Tomorrow we leave these parts.”

Phoebe asks Uko: “Is this lantern boy the one you saw with the old man near the witches’ shack?”

Uko shrugs: “I guess. I did not look too closely.”

Phoebe looks around. Did Cadwaladr and his comrades follow them all these past days? Only to die here?

“What made them so angry?”

Harmony smiles: “Fire.” She raises her hands like branches and says: “Hoomans bring ruin. No hoomans allowed here. I promised him I’d lead you all away first thing in the morning.”

The group rests the night.

The next day, few hints betray the night’s drama. Only a shattered and broken lantern remains of the boy. Of the four new trees, three remain. The group eyes them carefully, but they just stand there.

Phoebe looks around. “Do you think they are watching us?”

Harmony shrugs. “We wanted to go on anyway.”

  • Take the horses and go
  • Look for traces and hints first

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