15th Day of the Sixth Month – 28th Day of the Sixth Month
Vladimir hires on Jumana and Eanraig and Qiang as retainers in Machida, and he, Dashna and Barrloff find a new companion in Bromski, another dwarf. Everybody makes their preparations and then returns to Moonhaunt.
Unfortunately, when they get there, they find that the walls have been reinforced, and magical light suffuses the area between the treeline and the bridge (which is now a raised drawbridge). Despite their gains in experience and the increased size of the party, it is decided that the risk is too high, and they all return home.
Barrloff and Qiang spend the week looking for rumors of treasure or cultists, and both are rewarded. There’s word that cultists have been harassing travelers coming to Machida from the west. Likewise, a delivery of mined silver has gone missing from a village to the south.
The party chooses the cultists to the west, and buys a wagon and a pair of horses and several bolts of silk, planning to act as bait for ambush. They set out, and on the second day are swarmed by large bees on the barely-usable path. Qiang goes into shock almost immediately, but Jumana and Eanraig succumb shortly after. The horses panic, dragging most of those disabled out of the swarm, but when the party checks on the fallen retainers, it’s too late. (Well, it might not have been too late for Jumana, but being stung in the eyes had blinded her, and she would have likely been bedridden for a month to boot. Letting her choke on her swollen tongue seems like a mercy. Right?) There’s some debate about what to do with the bodies of the fallen, but it’s eventually, if begrudgingly, agreed that leaving the retainers’ unblessed souls to the Hell Kings would be bad PR, so the bodies are piled into the cart and the journey continues.
The next day, they party spots figures on the road ahead, but when they approach, the figures are gone. This must be the ambush they are looking for. Masked men with clubs drop a log across the path and charge the wagon with shouts of “RAMAAAT!”, but are killed almost immediately. Hearing the sounds of digging to the south, the party does its best to hide the wagon and moves quietly through the trees to find four men excavating what might be an underground structure. They kill most, but capture one. Despite terrifying the man into talking (by introducing him to the severed heads of the first group), he doesn’t have much useful to say beyond being promised that “Ramat” would end the Red Tide, and that he and the others were trying to unearth a site supposedly holy to Ramat.
The cultist offers to serve Barrloff instead, but Vladimir says that you can buy the loyalty of the greedy, but the zealous just can’t be trusted. The cultist’s cooperation is rewarded with a swift death. Not ready for action after the bees and the cultists, the party decides to press on toward Tongren, the next town.
The next day, the party sacrifices some of their rations to distract a curious black bear. But the day after that, they are stopped by a wandering farmer. Paranoid like only successful adventurers can be, the party speeds past the farmer, offering only insincere apologies. And it’s just as well, as the farmer erupts into the form of an “isle ogre”. The single horn on its head is dwarfed only by the immense “horn” beneath its loincloth, and its intentions are obvious as it charges the wagon. Luck is briefly on the party’s side, as they are able to out-run the monster long enough to fill it with arrows. Unfortunately, two more ogres come stomping out of the tree line. Thankfully, one is distracted by its desire to defile its comrade’s corpse, but the other chases the cart for the rest of the day and the night until the horses are finally exhausted, and the party must make a stand.
It’s close, and the new guy nearly ends up as ogre food, but the party narrowly prevails. The contents of the ogre’s stomach suggest that the party would have ended up as its next meal had things gone differently.
Worn-down, tired and injured as the sun rises, the party is elated to see the town on the hill before them. Only… something is wrong. The place looks run-down, and possibly deserted, and more of a village than a town. Too far from home to turn back, and not sure where to go next, they decide to approach the village and investigate.
(Image re-purposed from HERE)