The adventure resumes.
The Heroes, not wishing to tarry long over the leaf pile, dead vine, and two looted Harpy corpses (the third having been obliterated by a Maximized Disintegration spell), mount up and continue riding.
As evening sets in, the Heroes have not reached the main highway from this side road – let alone made the safety of the town of Ridgeway. The dirt path through the marshes narrows and winds such that the horses can seldom hustle up to three-quarters of a normal cruising pace. So, as the canopy-forest steals an hour of daylight that open plains might have permitted, the Heroes find open, grassy high-ground off the road and establish camp. Surrounded by trees and blessed with solid earth, the spot will do for the night.
Arxius Cole volunteers for the first watch of the night. Lester, having climbed a sturdy tree and strung himself a comfortable hammock for the night, volunteers his hawk companion Percy for the third watch and takes none for himself. The Halfling Conjurer settles into his bed for the night, pulls a shade over his eyes, and dreams of buffet-style dining.
The second watch will be covered by the Dread Pirate Wobberts, who will be alone in the task. Third watch, covering the Hour of the Wolf through to breaking dawn, will be Genive and the Nameless Fighter. Incidentally, the Nameless Fighter mentions that his name is actually KARTUG IGMUTIN (played by Q.D.)
Dinner is consumed. The fire sinks low, fed on damp twigs and fresh moss. The darkness envelops; the marsh-borne life chatters and splashes in the near quarters and the forbidding distance. On his first watch, Cole is unnerved by the random fits of sound from outside the fire’s circle of light. A twig cracks; branches rustle then fall still; something unseen flops in the water. Once, Cole is startled to arms by a quick flash of white at the corner of his sight. It is only a deer; chestnut brown with a white chest, darting through the shadows, it’s eyes an eerie reflection of the dismal fire-light.
Cole’s tour ends and Wobberts is woken to keep eyes on the darkness. The swashbuckler takes to a short, looping foot patrol around the camp, shivering against the damp air.
Two hours later, near the end of his shift on watch, there comes from the darkness a sudden, terrible, crashing explosion of noise that shakes the very ground upon which the Heroes camp.
Bursting out of the darkness, ripping apart the darkness and the quiet and the vegetation in a wall of horrifying rage and nightmarish vision, is a massive creature. It is between fifteen and twenty feet in height, several thousands of pounds, a wall of grey-white muscle and claw and jaws and teeth that seems chiseled out of living granite. It is a Gray Render, a Huge one, brawny arms trailing to the ground and skull glittering with eyes that noticed a flicker of firelight and senses that smelled intruders to its vast domain.
Wobberts is quick to react and, scorning the normal impulses of the average man, the swashbuckler actually runs toward the hulking wall of white flesh and attacks. Successfully, too – while towering over the puny humans now scrambling from their beds, this Huge magical beast is not so nimble as to make a difficult mark to hit.
The Gray Render lunges at Wobberts but cannot land its massive bite on the swashbuckler. Cole is out of bed and moving to attack. The Render’s earth-shaking footfalls gave the Heroes ample notice to avoid a flat-footed Surprise on waking. Genive, also having chosen to bed down up in a tree, sets to descending her chosen perch. Lester stirs, peering out from behind his sleep-mask; disappointed that he must save the party yet again, prepares to Summon agents to deal with this latest threat to his nocturnal repose. Last to react, Kartug lunges into the battle as well.
The Render’s rage grows as it finds itself missing the mark on scary bite attacks and haymaker claw attacks that almost demand a Reflex Save to avoid being bowled over by the wind they displace. Lester’s Summoned assistants blink into existence; a pair of massive Stag Beetles, very large ones, appear and scuttle over to flank the Gray Render as possible.
On the fight goes. Genive slips into Invisibility and attempts to get a clear line on the Gray Render which, for its part, crashes and lurches around to better ward against the crescent of miniature defenders landing stinging attacks on its hide. Lester tries his best to resume sleep, confident that his stag beetles will perform adequately in his stead. Eventually, Jaques rolls out of his tent, sees what is going on, and charges up a ranged magical attack to use when the moment is right.
For its considerable size and ferocity, the tide of battle steadily works against the Gray Render. Capable fighters, Cole and Igmutin and Wobberts, chip away at the great beast. With rugged determination the stag beetles land punishing hits.
The climax of the battle comes as the Gray Render lands a hideous bite on the Dread Pirate Wobberts, successfully Grapples the outmatched swashbuckler, and Rends him with shield-sized claws. Jaques seriously considers releasing his charged, area-effect acid-ball attack on the Render…but perhaps sensing the wisdom of his fellows, he engages an arcane safety and does not cast the spell that certainly would have hurt, or perhaps killed, his Grappled ally.
Wobberts struggles against the veritable tree-with-claws that holds him securely and continues a second time, to Rend him for more damage. Things look grim for the swashbuckler as Cole, contributing damage the entire fight, sees an opening and lands just the right stroke at the precise moment of opportunity.
The Render bellows forth a tremendous cry, drops the tattered swashbuckler and crashes to the dirt. Surprisingly, not requiring a Reflex Save from all participants of the fight in close proximity as a few Metric tons of bone and a muscle has its limbs loosened after untold ages of stalking the marshlands and living as legend.
The Heroes regroup, check their wounds, and investigate the Render. Across its vast expanse of muscle and hide they find innumerable scars and wounds, mundane arrows still lodged in place and even a +1 Light Pick in decent condition, which had evidently wedged in place on a lucky strike and ever since held in place by a mound of scar tissue. Kartug draws a blade and hacks it free.
There is no treasure to be found on the creature apart from the curious light pick. The Heroes will try to sleep again, and are lucky to greet the dawn unmolested by any further interruption.
By noon their riding takes them into the town of Ridgeway.