The wilds of northeastern Corinthia loom broad and open before the Heroes. It is 4pm on Day Six, they are four hours out from Meadowshade, they have two new party members, and the rolling, untamed grasslands and forests invite all possibilities. Hit it.
Naturally, when on the edge of a mysterious Exclusion Zone into which no military scouts may trespass and with five hours of daylight before the blinding snare of twilight descends, the Heroes decide to spend an hour dividing up the gear taken off the Nemesis Party they encountered yesterday.
Lester and Kartug returned to the group to find two new Drake’s Dragoons alumni joining their band. One is a formidable Half-Orc Barbarian, GURTH SPINE-BREAKER (played by A.B.) It is no more or less awkward a moment for Kartug, to meet a Half-Orc named “spine breaker” after yesterday and his own brief run-in with Death.
The other is a Human Cleric (played by A.T.) whose name and deity and other character details are not yet quite figured out. Both new party members showed up late to Drake’s Dragoons, after the Heroes had departed. The Cleric and Barbarian hurried north from Meridian, bypassing the Heroes in their straight-line route to Meadowshade. The addition of a front-line warrior and a divine spellcaster to the Party’s roster is most welcome.
A friendly and honest brokering of goods takes place; by need or by proficiency, the weapons and armor collected so far in their adventure are traded around. In a surprising move, the Swashbuckler Dread Pirate Wobberts is happy to take the +2 Anarchic Merciful Wounding Quickblade Rapier. This despite the fact it is an Exotic Weapon, and carries an attack penalty for its unfamiliarity; and Anarchic, bestowing a negative level when he holds it. A miscommunication of sorts seems to negate one of those two drawbacks. This is an issue yet to be resolved.
Near suppertime, the Heroes are ready to cross the approximate boundary of the Exclusion Zone. Cautiously they mount up and ride forward into the unknown. Nothing meets them for an hour, as they undulate across broad grassland hills and down into creek-bottomed glens.
Then, a Spot check is called, which seems entirely unnecessary when the opposing subjects believed themselves camouflaged on so exceptionally poor a Hide check.
The Heroes are on the down slope when, on the flats ahead, three figures stand up out of the grasses. Clad in improvised ghillie suits of the native foliage, these scouts break their non-cover and rise to greet the Heroes in as non-threatening and welcoming a fashion as they can manage.
They are Dwarfs, and scouts at that. They introduce themselves as “part of the 7th Deep Ore Regiment, out of Khör”, and state that they have been ordered to watch for and intercept a group of travelers who would be marked with the Drake’s Dragoons membership patch. They make absolutely no attempt to reach for their short swords, or to act in any sort of threatening or deceptive manner. Instead, the Dwarfs ask politely if the Heroes will follow them to their base camp to speak to their Captain.
Asking where this base camp is located, the Heroes learn that it lies only 10-15 degrees off their current heading to the secret outflow entrance to Moonwatch, and only an hour away at the scouts’ best run. It is just off their planned route and the diversion will present no significant delay. And also, it’s very strange that there is allegedly a Dwarf camp in a recently-established exclusion zone within Corinthian territory.
The Heroes let the Dwarfs lead the way. The stout scouts hold a quick pace and do not let up their hustle for the entire journey.
When they do slow, the Heroes immediately suspect a double-cross, as they have arrived at an open slope of grassland with no sign of a camp. But the scouts show them to a concealed trench entrance, and the Party notices with surprise that most of the field is actually squares of tent-canvas, covered with grass and leaves to blend with the ground. The Dwarf camp is a dugout camp, entirely below ground level.
The scouts lead the Heroes into this network of trenches, passing side rooms housing Dwarf soldiers passing time at games of chance or sleeping or maintaining their armor and weapons. Winding through this maze, the Heroes begin to wonder at the full size of this encampment. The dirt tilled up to clear these spaces has been expertly compressed into the walls and floors by Dwarven skill, so as to conceal the earth-moving efforts from outside.
Finally they are delivered to a large dugout chamber, a command post under the flat shelter of a camouflaged fabric roof. Here they meet CAPTAIN REDDEN IRONHAUL, in conference with his four armored lieutenants. Captain Ironhaul is a tough, calculating, wise, middle-aged Dwarf. He greets the Heroes as if they are familiar to him, immediately setting the tone as friendly and easy-going. He bids them take seats on mats on the floor, and calls forth stouts and wines and dry rations to make his guests at home.