As the sun began to rise, we ate breakfast and prepared ourselves to head into the stone archway. When we arrived at the archway, we secured the horse and the mule outside and I commanded Draug to guard them while we went inside. As we moved through the stone archway, we found a set of stairs heading down into a small hallway. Off the hallway was a set of double doors behind which we could hear a couple of creatures, speaking in goblin and playing “Doubles”. For those that don’t know, Doubles is a well-known dice game were two opponents each roll a pair of six-sided die and add the results together to determine who has the highest score and thus wins. The name, Doubles, comes into play when someone rolls both die with the same number. Doubles, as it is called, will beat any other non-double total, for example double ones, the lowest of the doubles, will still beat a five and six (the highest total of the non-doubles). Double sixes is the highest possible score and will beat anything else.
Hoping to get a little more information about what is going on around the area, Fiswyn disguised himself as a goblin and knocked on the door hoping to “join the game” as the rest of us moved around the corner or up the stairs to hide. Hearing the knock, the voices called back asking who it was and more specifically if the visitor was Unlagu. Not knowing who Unlagu was, but sounding like a good cover, Fiswyn replied that he was Unlagu and to let him in.
As the door opened it was obvious the disguise had failed as a very confused bugbear drew his weapon clearly acknowledging that this was not Unlagu. Knowing the disguise had failed; Fiswyn retreated to the far corner with the bugbear in pursuit. But before the bugbear knew what was happening, he was quickly brought down by Biggun and Guy, the rogue. Seeing Fiswyn retreat, Felthion and Quan Di’, the monk, quickly moved into the doorway to stop anyone else from leaving the room and became face to face with a second bugbear. By the way Quan Di’ attacked the bugbear, it was clear he didn’t want to kill him but I wasn’t exactly sure why. I drew my bow and placed an arrow in to the bugbear’s chest but I took careful aim not to pierce his heart. Fiswyn attempted to shoot the bugbear as well but with Quan Di’ and the bugbear fighting toe to toe it was hard to time the shot right. As the arrow headed straight for Quan Di’, he quickly stepped back and deflected it off to the side.
After dropping the first bugbear, Guy whirled around to catch Quan Di’ attempting to subdue the second bugbear. Seeing the doorway mostly blocked by Quan Di’ and Felthion, Guy dropped his daggers and dove between them, rolled over and in an instant was back on his feet behind the bugbear. With quick sap, the bugbear dropped unconscious.
Almost immediately after dispatching the second bugbear, two more came running in from the nearby hallway. The first headed straight for Fiswyn while the second headed for Biggun. Sykon cast a spell and an arrow of acid flew from his hand toward the bugbear headed for Fiswyn. The bugbear dodged to one side as the acid arrow sailed past. I quickly fired two arrows toward the same bugbear but he managed to dodge one of them too however the other arrow hit him square and brought him down quickly. As the second one neared Biggun, the dwarf swung his battle axe with all his might and sliced the bugbear right in half.
A quick look around showed no more bugbears in the immediate area so we checked the dead and found only a few copper coins. I didn’t have a shield to use with my long sword so I snagged one from the dead bugbear as I headed over to the unconscious one and proceeded to tie him up. We stripped off his armor and weapons and Fiswyn tossed them into a nearby well however there wasn’t the expected splash sound, more of splat as if the armor and weapons landed in mud, although from the smell, it wasn’t mud. Although the well held no water, Fiswyn commented that the armor had a shine to it as if water had washed over it and left it completely wet.
While peering down the well, we noticed an inscription written in the side of the well. It was written in Sylvan and read, “Speak kindly and thou shall be blessed with the giver of life.” Not sure what it meant, Fiswyn tried saying “Kindly” in every language he could come up with but nothing seemed to happen. Felthion cast a light spell on a bugbear’s shield and tossed it into the well. We could see clearly what the well was used for as well as the armor and weapons Fiswyn had tossed in earlier but nothing else. We tried various other “kind phrases” but nothing seemed to happen.
As we turned back to the unconscious and bound bugbear, we tried to wake him up but he did not come to until Felthion cast a minor heal on him. When he woke, we began asking him questions regarding what he may know about the farms being destroyed and what he might know about the well with the Sylvan inscription. He claimed to have no knowledge about either the farms or the well, except that they used the well for a latrine, and he begged and pleaded us to let him go and not kill him. He told us that Unlagu would pay a ransom for him if we brought him to Unlagu. Although this was hard to believe, we were getting nowhere otherwise and we thought it an opportunity to get a guide for the rest of the area and perhaps Unlagu would know more. We untied his feet and told him to lead the way.
Just a few paces down the southern hallway we came across another set of doors on the east side. The bugbear indicated that Unlagu was inside. We did some cursory checks but found nothing unusual about the door and proceeded to open it and push the bugbear inside.
Inside the small room, Unlagu was standing behind a small table, weapon drawn and ready to fight. Unlagu was a half-orc, not a goblin or bugbear and which explained why the previous bugbears were so confused to see a goblin claiming to be Unlagu standing at the doorway wanting to join in on the game of Doubles. Although Unlagu was standing weapons drawn, he spoke in a calm voice and in the common language asking us to let him leave and offering us the tied up bugbear to keep and do with whatever we wanted. We didn’t need the bugbear, what we needed was information. We started asking our questions about the farms but Unlagu was more interested in getting away then answering. Sykon mumbled something that I wasn’t paying attention to but as I turned to look at him, a small smile began to appear on his face and then disappeared almost immediately as if he knew something but didn’t want anyone else to notice. Shortly after I turned back to the conversation with the half-orc, Sykon inquired about a couple of parchments on the table, but Unlagu claimed they were nothing, just some notes, random pieces of paper with no real value. Again, more interested in leaving, Unlagu paid little attention to Sykon while he approached the table, picked up the parchments and glanced over them. After a brief moment, he quickly pocketed them and turned back to the conversation.
Unlagu realized we were not going to let him go so easily so he decided to challenge us to a game of Doubles. If Unlagu would win, we would let him go, if we would win, he would give us his “treasure” and be free to go. Although the treasure did peak our curiosity, we wanted to find out as much as we could about what the orcs and goblins were doing in the area and to the farms and who better to ask, than a half-orc but Unlagu was determined not to provide any answers without some sort of promise that he would be set free.
Through a little persuasion, Fiswyn talked Unlagu into a new bet, if Fiswyn wins, Unlagu tells us all he knows and we set him free, if we lose, we pay him fifty gold coins and set him free. Seeing that either way he would be free and that he would keep his “treasure”, Unlagu agreed and the dice were rolled with Unlagu coming out on top with a set of doubles. As Fiswyn started counting the fifty gold coins, he offered Unlagu a new bet, another 100 gold coins, on top of the original fifty, for a second chance, winner take all.
After a bit of thinking, Unlagu agreed to another game. This time Fiswyn came out on top. Not giving up yet, Unlagu shouted for the best three out of five games and that his “treasure” was back on the table. Two more rolls followed both with Fiswyn besting the half-orc. Unlagu admitted defeat and, from his belt pouch, produced a large red gem, his treasure, and handed it to Fiswyn.
All said the half-orc knew nothing about the farms except that he and his companions were not involved with what was going on. Try as we could, we couldn’t get any more information. So, keeping to our word, (Biggun and Quan Di’ saw to that) we agreed to let him go. Biggun and Quan Di’ escorted him outside to insure he didn’t try anything foolish, like trying to take our mule and horse, but once he was in the light of the morning he took out running and didn’t look back.
While Biggun and Quan Di’ were gone, Sykon and Felthion said they wanted to check out the well again and took our tied up bugbear with them while Fiswyn, Guy and myself all headed further down the southern hall to another set of doors. After Guy made some quick checks verifying nothing was odd with the door, we started to open it when Biggun, Quan Di’, Sykon and Felthion all returned. Biggun headed into the small room first and I followed him in. At first, all we found was a pitcher of awful wine (Fiswyn tasted it and said so) next to some old crates filled with flour, molded cheese and some very foul smelling meat. But, after moving some crates out of the way, we found a small panel concealing a small hole in the floor. Inside the hole was a very dusty small vial of liquid but nothing else. Sykon picked up the vial and placed it into safe keeping until a later time when he might be able to test and analyze the results to determine what the liquid was. I wanted to take some of this food back to the insect holes at the farms to see if we could lure the insects out but the cheese was all I could stand so I emptied the flour sack and filled it with the cheese and carried it with me (at a distance) as we headed for the stone archway. I saw no further signs of the tied up bugbear. Sykon and Felthion seemed to indicate that he had fallen into the well but offered no more details and so we discussed it no more. Sykon did mention, however, that the two parchments that he had taken from the table were scrolls containing a magic wizard spell on each. Why a half-orc had two magic wizard scrolls we didn’t know.
We exited the stone archway, gathered our mule and horse and headed back north to the last farm. As we reached the farm, I emptied the moldy cheese on the ground just outside one of the insect holes and watched while we discussed our next steps. To my disappointment, nothing happened. I guess the insects do not like moldy cheese.
We decided to head off to the west and check some more farms and set out that direction. Like the other farms we had already explored the day before, the further west the older the charred wood that at one time were farm buildings and each farm continued to have a number of insect holes around them.
At the farm furthest west, we found tracks heading off further westward and followed them until we came across a very dense forest. We traveled for a few paces into the forest but soon realized that it was much too dense and decided to circle around the southern edge. Part way around the forest we came across another forest. This forest was completely lifeless. All the trees were dead. It felt like the forest had been dead for a long time yet the trees were not rotten; they were just dead as if they died last fall. The grass just before the forest was green and full of life but the grass stopped abruptly at the edge of this dead forest. There was no underbrush and no signs of wildlife anywhere. Felthion entered the forest and inspected some of trees. There were no signs of any magic or other that could have caused this wide strip of death. Based on our map, we knew the main road was not far to the north and seeing no real harm, we headed north through the dead forest toward the main road.
When we reached the main road, we turned eastward and followed the road heading toward an area that was identified on our map as the Wandering Mule hostel. Just before arriving at the Wandering Mule, we caught some movement just south of the road. It happened fast enough that we weren’t sure exactly what it was we saw but it looked like a large group had marched across the north face of the dense woods and turned south to go along the western edge. Thinking this might be the orc and goblin band we were looking for; we headed off south and met up with the trail.
About half way down the western edge of the forest we came to a fork in the trail. One path continued on south and the other turned a sharp left heading east into the dense forest. We decided to take the east path and moved into the forest to see where it might lead us. A short way down the path, something caught my eye. I turned and noticed a very intricately carved stone squirrel dangling from one of the tree branches just off the road. We moved over to look more closely at the squirrel and soon speculated that something had caught this squirrel by surprise and “petrified” him right where he hung. This was not a very pleasant thought.
We looked around the forest a bit more and I caught the sight of a goblin, armed with a bow and arrow drawn, aiming in the opposite direction from us. I quietly warned the group and Fiswyn set off to investigate. He crept up behind the goblin and discovered that it too had been petrified. We quickly decided that this was not the place to be and we headed back west out of the forest.
Back at the fork, we turned south and started following that path again along the western edge of the dense forest. As we were nearing the point where we had turned toward the dead forest earlier that day, we decided that since the night was approaching and since we had not found any signs of the orc and goblin band that we should make camp for the night. He headed a little further south to get off the main path (if you could call it that) and made camp.
I took first watch and my four hours passed without a stir. I woke Fiswyn for the second watch and settled down for the night.
Just a short while into my meditation I was abruptly disturbed by Fiswyn screaming both with pain and alarm. He had three goblin arrows sticking out of his chest but I only caught a quick glimpse of him before he vanished; why he didn’t wake us sooner, I don’t know.
The arrows came from five goblins hiding at the edge of the woods behind two orcs and five bugbears that came charging out at the sound of Fiswyn’s scream. Biggun, Felthion and Quan Di’ jumped up to intercept the orcs and bugbears. As I took out two of the goblins, the two orcs fell to Biggun’s axe, Draug bit and tripped one of the five bugbears as Sykon unleashed his acid arrow at another. Cries from what sounded like human’s charging came from behind but I was focused on the targets in front of us to pay any more attention to them. Two more goblins dropped, one to my bow and one to Fiswyn’s bow who appeared a short distance away, but the fifth goblin panicked and disappeared into the forest. When the bugbear that Draug tripped tried to get up, Draug and Felthion put him down for good. After dispatching the two orcs, Biggun turned his axe on a bugbear with a mighty blow while Draug and Felthion dropped another. With the final screams of pain from the bugbear hit with Sykon’s acid, the fifth bugbear turned and headed for the woods. As we surveyed the scene after the battle, Quan Di’ stared toward where the bugbear and goblin had ran and then told us that something else was out there and that he just heard that goblin and bugbear die. We quickly gathered what we could from our camp and the fallen enemies and head west away from where Quan Di’ heard the noises as Felthion threw a couple of heal spells at Fiswyn and anyone else that needed it.
After a few minutes, Fiswyn said that whatever it is, it was following us. We decided to break into two groups and ambush whatever it was. Quan Di, Fiswyn and Guy were to find a place to hide while the rest of us kept walking, hopefully leading them past the others. Once past, Fiswyn would cast a light spell as Guy and Quan Di’ attacked, seeing the light, we would join the battle from the other side.
As Sykon, Felthion, Biggun and I walked on; we kept looking for the light that was to be our signal. After a short while, we stopped hearing the sounds of being followed and stopped to listen. Hearing nothing, we began to head back to see if we could find the rest of the party and came upon a scene of twelve elves having a conversation. As we watched quietly we noticed that, Fiswyn was one of the twelve and soon he motioned that the rest of us could join him.
We spoke with eleven elves for short time but they did not offer much information. We had learned that the elves had come to the Stone Tooth Valley to study the dead forest and to see if there was any possibility of healing it. They told us that the farmers had settled here a short time ago and were farming Glitter Grass, a grass used in making magical items and that the goblins and orcs had arrived only in the last couple of years. The elves paid them little attention as they were not doing anything to harm the surrounding forest. We also asked them about the intricately carved squirrel and goblin along the trail heading into the forest. They would not tell us anything about it other than warn us to stay far away from the creature that turned them to stone.
As the elves departed, we made camp again and rested without incident the rest of the night.