Sunrise comes and goes. The morning and noon, too. It is early afternoon by the time Magnus, Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn, Goa Finnbjorn, and Corun Dum’man drag themselves out of their bedrolls. They are stiff, sore, and wounded. This camp was less a destination than just where the party, exhausted, fell off their horses and slept.
Elroy Wick awakes with no clue where he is. He remembers nothing of last night. Øskur and the others bring the Bard up to speed: the road leading north from the crest of the mountain pass; Orcs in a hillside bunker; a heavily armed company of Orc shock-troops marching on their position; racing their horses to make good an escape. It is a harrowing tale.
Wick asks his friends’ opinion on their next move. Particularly, their mission to find the Orcs’ home base for Lieutenant Richard. Magnus believes the base is north of the mountain pass, along that guarded road. Others agree, and think this should be enough intelligence for Lieutenant Richard’s forces to take action. The mission objective is met, in their opinion.
Not feeling obligated to explore any further, a sense of relief fills Goa and her friends. Their path is clear: back down the valley, through the forest, and to the relative safety of the town of Tannis.
The horses absently graze weedy patches on the east bank of the valley’s river. The group breaks camp and rides south. Five hours later, they near the large Orc camp where survivors of the Davissian ambush were assembling. Øskur (Spot = 24) and Wizard Corun (Spot = 21) see it first, but sense at an instant there is something wrong. There are no sentries or other Orcs visible. Only birds, and considerable numbers of them, circling and diving at the center of the camp.
Magnus and friends dismount, crouching behind sparse foliage at the river bank. The distance is too great to spy fine details of the Orcs’ temporary base. The Wizard knows a way to view remotely. Corun Dum’man casts Clairvoyance, placing the sensor-orb of his spell in the middle of the camp, fifteen feet off the ground.
What Corun sees from his unique vantage point is disturbing. The Wizard describes the scene to his friends. He sees six Orcs – all dead, all dismembered, body parts arranged in a strange circular pattern on the ground. Corun (Knowledge : Religion = 23) thinks the arrangement could be ritualistic, but without close inspection he can’t tell. The Orcs’ tents and gear look undisturbed. Birds agitate around the dismembered parts.
None can guess what happened over there. It is too late today to go find out. The party hikes away from the river and finds a secluded spot. Magnus receives a Cure Moderate Wounds spell from Elroy, and two Cure Light Wounds spells from Druidbarian Øskur. The overnight is chilly and unremarkable.
In the morning the party returns to the river. Thirty feet wide, the water runs swift and cold. Neither the group nor their horses are keen to make the crossing. The party splits up and searches up- and down-stream, but no stretch of river seems any preferable to ford. Magnus eyes the river, gives himself room to sprint, and leaps across the river (Jump = 30). The Fighter lands in the shallows on the far side, wetting his boots only slightly. Envious, the rest of the party goes the wet way.
On the far wall of the valley, west of the encampment, were the abandoned fort and cave entrance above it. This will be the first place to check. The party suspects the missing company of Orcs may have gone there. Coming within sight, Goa and Magnus (Spot = 29, 29) confirm that they did. The barren valley slope is littered with bodies – dead Orcs, and dead Grimlocks.
Øskur cautiously leads his group to the spot. The Orcs and Grimlocks fought here a few days ago. No gear remains on the bodies. Tracks show some Orcs went up into the cave. Others were dragged in. Since then, something bigger than birds dined on the corpses left outside.
Magnus and Corun suggest exploring the cave, but Wick objects. A few days ago the party had seen about a hundred Orcs massing at the riverside encampment. All but six of them marched here; half went into that cave and never came back out. The other half were killed right here. Wick cautions that he and his friends would be no match for the horde of Grimlocks lurking in the tunnels. The black, creepy cave mouth silently agrees. The party shivers. Maybe Wick has a good point.
Not in any way hurrying to get away from the cave, the party rides to the Orc encampment. Birds scatter at their approach, but nothing else greets them. On foot and leading their mounts, the group enters the perimeter. Tents are still pitched; weapons of low quality are racked for use. No one is here. They proceed to the center of the camp.
Here the group gets its first look at what Corun saw through his spell. It is hideous; an intentional arrangement of Orc body parts meant to send some kind of message or define some unknown ritual. Wizard Corun hunts for arcane-magic significance (Spellcraft = 32) but doesn’t see a connection.
Bard Wick inspects the severed limbs. He believes (Heal = 24) that the Orcs were butchered with sharp metal. Given what the party found at the cave entrance, Grimlocks were the prime suspect for the corpse-art. Now finding that metal weapons and not the Grimlocks’ usual stone blades were used on the bodies, that assumption is in doubt.
The group keeps an eye out in case Orcs return to the camp, but the watch is a token gesture. No one believes that any Orcs who left here will return.
Something in the sky catches their notice. A Spot check – in the overcast skies above, a creature circles. It is a Chimera, its size indeterminate for lack of perspective. Lower and lower it wheels on the air currents. It has detected the party in the camp.
Goa wastes no time in diving for cover (Hide = 33). Lörydyr is with her. Wick and Magnus eye their horses, realize their food value to the Chimera, and hustle them into welcome shelter of smelly Orc tents, out of sight. Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn casts Bull’s Strength on himself. Corun Dum’man has time to buff himself with Mage Armour and Light of Venya.
Plummeting aggressively, the Chimera makes a hard landing, claws rending the soil. Magnus and Øskur (INT check) know that this is not the same Chimera they saw in the spur valley. That Chimera was bigger. Though at almost Huge, this Chimera is no trifling matter. Magnus loads his Heavy Crossbow. Large, Huge – he’ll kill this thing whatever its size.
Arrayed in a semicircle before the very Large creature, Magnus and his allies prepare to attack. Elroy Wick boosts their fighting prowess with a stirring, memorable song (Perform : Sing = 26) worth at least 1d6 gold and providing effects of Inspire Courage and Inspirational Boost. Given how daunting this beast is up close, courage is just what they need.
The party is an easy mark for the many heads of the Chimera, and its heavy black claws. This Chimera is a skilled predator. Over the course of the fight everyone takes a hit – head-butted by the Goat head, bitten by the Lion head, or painfully shocked as the Blue Dragon head spits lightning at them. Halfling Goa will find urgent need to withdraw; Øskur will sneak a healing potion when he can; even Elroy Wick has to abruptly end his song to cast Cure Moderate Wounds on himself.
The fight is difficult. Corun Dum’man blasts away with crossbow, Rays of Light of Venya, Scorching Ray, and a bolt for his wand of Lesser Orb of Sound. Goa’s initial strike with a short-sword is a prelude to a sling bullet that was almost a Critical hit. Øskur inflicts impressive damage with his greatsword. In the end it is Magnus, dealing consistent damage through his mix of skill and stamina, who lands the killing blow.
The dead Chimera carries no treasure but is, in its own way, a treasure-trove. Halfling Goa is not squeamish; she pries a tooth from the dragon head as a keepsake. Then she hacks off the goat head. The Rogue wants it for a nice soup. Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn claims the lion head; its pelt will add to the Druidbarian’s collection of Chimera-skin pants.
As this messy rending ceremony proceeds, Elroy Wick casts Cure Moderate Wounds on Magnus and Goa, and expends all his Cure Light Wounds spells on Corun, Magnus again, and Øskur. Goa drinks an Orckish Draught, hating the brewers of the potion for their complete lack of taste and quality-control.
The Orc camp holds nothing more for the party. They return to the river, cross back to the east bank, dry off, and then ride south. Two hours go by. Magnus (Spot = 20) doesn’t mark anything out of the ordinary; just the swelling green of grasses and short trees across the valley. Goa (Spot = 30) and Øskur (Spot = 25) catch movement.
At the base of the far valley wall, low on the slope, the Rogue and Druidbarian make out six humanoids hiking north. They carry halberds and heavy crossbows, and move as if injured or tired. Very likely these are Orcs. Far away and on the other side of the river, no-one cares to engage them. Undetected, the party continues south.
Two hours later, a familiar sight – the burned-out town where the group first encountered scouts of the House of Davis. Beyond it, true forest wilderness.
Their bearings restored by a familiar landmark, the group remember a road leading east from the ruins. This path forks south, following the river. That route will take them to Tannis. They could be there as early as tomorrow.
(end of the session)