The Heroes dine and sleep well on Mayor Pearson’s generosity. The night is uneventful, and the group meets again at 8 o’clock in the morning.
Kartug Igmutin (tonight played by Q.D.’s brother, T.D.) is in marginally better shape today than yesterday. None are surprised when he declines to face Sir Killington again. In fact the group suggested the idea with little enthusiasm when the topic came up at breakfast, and were glad when Kartug passed on a re-match. There is a lot of road yet to travel, and it would be wise to avoid local distractions as possible.
Genive mentions the rumour of possible trouble on the road ahead; overhearing the conversation as she clears plates, their server says that there is a monster known to stalk the roads ahead.
An hour north of town, the road to Meadowshade forks into a western and eastern arm. This owes to a dispute between engineers during its construction decades ago, a disagreement that saw the building crew divide into two camps and press their own superior route forward into the wilderness, only to both independently realize their folly and converge back into a mutual highway path many miles later. The region is a patchwork of forest and swamp, and neither route said to be more or less passable than the other. But both ways have seen their share of terror from “some nature of lizard” that prowls the territory between Ridgeway and Meadowshade, striking travellers at random.
Deciding to investigate this story further, Genive takes three hours and wanders the town, chatting up merchants and affable locals hanging out at the town square, Gathering Information as she goes. Opinion is about as mixed as possible. Some are convinced that the west route is lucky; to others, the east route is the only option to offer safe passage. The military always travels safely, whether by strength of their numbers or wisdom of the monster in the woods. Time of day or time of year doesn’t seem to be a factor. Even the kind of monster is in dispute. Aberration, Magical Beast, Dire- or Huge- or Colossal-…all descriptions are bandied about.
By noon Genive is frustrated by lack of useful information, and the Heroes ride out of town without the benefit of advice. An hour later they reach the junction. Here they stop to consider two identical choices and an unhelpful sign that points to the East Way and the West Way. Finally, Lester breaks the impasse by flipping a coin. It lands Tails. They choose the western road.
On their guard, the Heroes ride on, through alternating dry forest and mucky swamp. The road is firm and in a good state of repair. Nothing seems out of place or threatening.
After two hours, the scene suddenly changes. The forest ends at a lake’s edge, and the road itself runs arrow-straight across the lake as a packed-earth causeway. Finding a lake in their path, the road builders pushed across it, shoveling in rocks and dirt until a dry path was raised across the water. Likely because of this artificial dike, the lake decayed into a swampy mess of reedy patches, bleached-white dead trees floating or standing on small islands, and open ribbons of dark water. The causeway, fifteen feet wide and sloping sharply into the depths on either side, ran a few hundred meters from this shore to the opposite one. The muddy shoreline jagged and curved out of sight to the left and the right, suggesting that the lake itself might be a mile or more in length, bisected by the unnatural roadway. All that remains of the open, deep water of the lake is a wide channel down the center.
The Dread Pirate Wobberts dismounts and leads his horse; others remain mounted but proceed cautiously. Halfway across, a Spot check is required. Everyone except Jaques notice the lizard-like head and neck lurking under the water on their right-hand side. Jaques gets the hint when the Huge-sized, reddish-colored, 10-headed Hydra bursts from the murky depths and assails the party !
First to act, Kartug leaps from his horse and steadies for combat, facing the Hydra that is ten feet off the right-hand edge of the causeway. Genive spurs her mount to race ahead about fifty feet down the causeway in the direction they had been headed, as Wobberts steels himself to act when the Hydra comes closer. The Druid Faldorn dives off the left-hand side of the causeway, assuming the form of a Large crocodile.
The Hydra attacks. Its ten heads thrashing and snapping wildly above its bulky body, it lays into the Heroes within reach; starting with Wobberts on its left and lunging in turn at Jaques, Kartug, Lester, Arxius Cole, and their horses. Its powerful bites deal considerable damage, in a maelstrom of screeching fury.
The Hydra advances cautiously out of the water, five feet at a time, snapping viciously at the horses and the Heroes as they attempt to injure it. Well-meaning attacks meant to hit a head, instead land against a body that is Fast Healing any damage. Kartug attempts to sunder a head with his piercing-damage-dealing Heavy Pick. Jaques casts a Wall of Fire directly across where the Pyro-Hydra is beached on the causeway. Wobberts attacks valiantly with his Flaming rapier, managing less damage against the Pyro-Hydra than he thinks.
Almost as if to drive a certain point home, the Hydra’s heads rear back and belch forth jets of scorching orange fire. The Hydra has charbroiled all of the horses (except Genive’s), plus Lester’s war-pony. Faldorn, abandoning crocodile form and assuming that of Huge Scorpion, is on the receiving end of painful fire attacks.
Indifferent to specific targets, the flailing Hydra throws bites in an oscillating pattern, from left to right and then back to the left. Everyone within range is being hurt in equal measure, and hurt badly. Even Lester, who has take Stone form with his hawk familiar, Percy, anxiously contemplates a functional offensive strategy as he suffers withering damage. Genive sends arrows into the Hydra from a safe distance – possibly considering her option to withdraw.
While his allies cast ineffective fire spells and bustle about trying to position to attack better (or in the case of his Large Scorpion ally, to somehow Grapple the Hydra), Arxius Cole decides he’s had enough.
Setting his eye to one of the heads, Cole attacks to Sunder it with his long-sword, receiving several Attacks of Opportunity for his trouble. He does sever one head after several attempts, only to see two more heads sprout forth from the uncauterized stump not even fifteen seconds later. Before the fight ends, Cole will have cut off a second head – the most notable effort in the fight – even doing so with the Shock damage property of his long-sword, which contributed the slight damage needed to complete the Sunder.
The horses dead, the Heroes within one or two hits of death, the Pyro-Hydra’s dominance comes to a crashing end as the combined efforts of Cole, Igmutin, Scorpion-form Faldorn, and Wobberts, finally surpass the creature’s considerable health and massive outlay of damage against the party. The great beast, on taking a final hit, screeches terribly and falls flat, its remaining (and replacement) heads tumbling down into a twitching reptilian tangle.
The thrashed party of Heroes collapse where they stood, defeat and death narrowly avoided. One might wonder what alternate terror (or peaceful journey) they would have faced had Lester’s coin come up Heads and they had taken the eastern road fork.