Grand Duchy 63

Grand Duchy of Adventure

Session 63
July 31 - August 26, 2015

Over Brokeneck Gap

Gromdain 19 Yarthmont

Climbing to the Gap

After the ghoul attack on the trail, Old Gren hurries the Company up a bit. “We’ve gotta get to the top before sundown, come on, giddy up, ye flat foots! We can’t be navigating Brokeneck Gap in the dark. It gets dark a bit earlier in some parts o’ these peaks,” the old ranger urges the group.

About 10 minutes after leaving Wildfire back on the trail, a loud moaning wail can be heard from behind followed by frantic neighing. Winces and grinding teeth meet most of the party members. Old Gren pushes the group harder, trying to distance themselves from whatever it may be, ghouls or something worse, that has descended upon the lame horse. Griffin shakes his head and his shoulders slump as he hikes along following the trail directed by his newly found uncle.

The sun finally “goes down” and the trail gets dark before reaching the top of the trail. Remar exclaims in an exasperated tone, “Now, what? We didn’t make to the top. Now how are we to continue? I can create magical light to illuminate the way for us, if necessary.”

Brokeneck Gap.jpg
Crossing over Brokeneck Gap

“No need to, we’re close enough, and believe it or not, it’s still daytime on the other side o’ this here rock wall,” Gren pats the rough rock face to his left. “Come on, now, follow me.” He urges his mount, a broad shouldered moose he calls Bullwinkle, forward and quickly disappears around a dark rock outcropping. The rest of the weary band follows him around and through a short tunnel through the rock. It opens up on the other side of the mountainside. Sunlight still creeps through other nearby peaks. A narrow rocky trail leads down along the edge of the mountain to a flatter wooded area. “This is where we’ll camp. Them Gnolls never come up here. I use this camp whenever I hunt or scout in the valley or mountains nearby. There, right over there.” He holds up a weathered old finger and points to a clearing next to a large tree. The crumbling remains of what looks like a watch tower sit about 100 feet away. “And there’s the Death’s Head Valley. Kinda pretty looking from up here,” he laments. Everyone crowds up to his vantage point to catch a glimpse of the valley in the last rays of the setting sun.

deaths head valley.jpg
The last rays of the day's sun falls on Death's Head Valley

Old Gren leads the group to his camping site just as the sun is disappearing behind the farthest of the Black Peaks. The camping site is a bowl shaped area nestled between several high rock outcroppings, forming something of a little box canyon. The ruined tower is off to the southeast on top of a wooded rise.

Setting up Camp

Gren proposes to let the horses shelter under a large tree just outside of camp but still within the protective confines of the canyon. Remar wants to cast his mystic mist over the camp, but is still too exhausted from attempting to heal the horse and the mad rush up the mountain. He needs time to rest first. Ree says she wants to try a spell over the area leading into the campsite. She explains that it will warn her if anyone besides the group crosses the area before morning. She cannot cast it on as big of an area Remar can, but it’s worth a shot.

Sen and Rood get to setting up one of the small tents they have while Esir tends to the horses. Iris and Stephen offer to help him. Burik and Ree busy themselves gathering firewood while Marcel starts looking at what he has available to actually try to cook some food since Gren said it was perfectly ok to light a fire. Griffin does a quick perimeter scan and takes some time to set up sentry lines and noise makers. Draven works at clearing off the ground in the sleeping area, so everyone can get as good of rest as possible. Gren disappears into the dark woods, promising to be back shortly. The campsite is a bit cramped for space with all the horses taking up the southern half, but it should be cozy enough and well concealed. With sentries posted in the right positions, it should provide a fair bit of line of sight as well.

After about an hour, everyone is done with their camp chores, Remar is resting inside the one erected tent and Marcel is putting the finishing touches on a steaming bowl of radish and rabbit stew. Gren comes back and reports that the surrounding ridge is clear of any visible dangers though he did see some tracks and signs that lead him to believe a few other hunters may have passed through recently. “From the looks of it, ‘twas Old Rake, Billy Grug and Zert. A few guys I know. They come up here and do some hunting up in the ridges above the valley. There’s some good game up that way. They’re ok fellas, shouldn’t run into ‘em though, they won’t go down onto the valley I wouldn’t think."

Iris is relieved that the danger has passed for the time being. While she has come to enjoy the exhilaration associated with deathly dare-doings, a small break from it is appreciated from time to time. She contemplates a way to be of use to the Company, her dear friends, and goes to ask Sen and Rood if they need help finishing up with anything else.

By the time camp is set and the evening meal is ready, Remar comes out of the tent looking quite a bit more refreshed.. “Ahh, good as new,” the young Alphatian says, “Now, what’s for dinner? Smells, um, wonderful, Marcel. Thank you, as always.” He hurriedly scarfs down some of the runny radish stew. “The rabbit’s a bit chewy, but hey, it’s rabbit, right?”
Some magical protection on the campsite... but the horses seem vulnerable 

After eating, he gets up and starts pacing around the camp under the light of the moon, not quite ¾ but waning, looking at the placement of the cook fire and the tent then glancing over to the other side where the horses are. “I’m not going to be able to protect the whole area with my spell, just too big of an area. No way to get the horses over here, I guess?” Remar asks no one in general.

“What spell? Magic shield? You gonna put some sort of magical protection over the camp? Yea, that sounds like a fine idea. But the space is a bit too narrow and uneven to bring the horses over here or have us sleep over there. I’m not used to have this big of a group up here, it works fine for me an’ Bullwinkle,” Old Gren laughs. “We’ll just have to keep an extra eye out for the horses tonight.

Ree sits up and adds, “I have been working on some new magic myself, not as fancy as Remar’s mist, but it should give us a heads up if anyone tries to sneak into camp or sneak out with any of the horses at least. I’ll lay the spell over there by the entrance to the camp,” the Half-Elf girl points over to the narrow gap that leads into the small bowl space. Ree is definitely not the same girl that started this expedition two and a half months ago, she is taller, more confident and able, that is clear to all that know her.

Iris secretly admires how far Ree has come, and is jealous of her having done what she has been wanting to do these last few months with the company. As much as she enjoys the people in this company, she has always had trouble communicating her appreciation and thoughts to them, remaining as timid and aloof as she has been since being rescued by them. She goes and offers Ree help, or at least asks if she could watch. Maybe she could learn this spell one day too -- would that help her open up? Alas, how she wishes it was that easy.

Ree seems is excited by the attention given to her by the older Iris and happily tells her some of the new magics she has learned. After having cast her spell over the approach to the camp, Ree leads Iris back toward the campfire. The young Half-Elf looks up to Iris, “I’m really glad you are with us, with the Grey Company. It’s nice to have another girl around. I know I might not have been the nicest to you when you first joined up, and I’m sorry for that. But I’m glad you’re here.” Iris can see Ree’s pale cheeks blushing in the light of the moon.

Back at the campfire, Old Gren encourages everyone to get to sleep as fast as they can so they can get on the trail as early as possible in the morning. Watches are set and everyone drifts peacefully off to sleep, except for Griffin, who, like many night on the trail, experiences sleeplessness. Finally, after an hour, the young Thyatian is able to drift off to sleep.

Wings in the Night

Sometime in the middle of the night, everyone is woken up by the sound of Remar and Burik yelling and the horses going crazy! The light of the campfire barely illuminates the horses and the tree they are surrounding.

Iris wakes up to the noise of a commotion among the horses and tries to make sense of the confusion.

Iris strains her eyes in the dark and has trouble making out any useful details. She can see Burik standing just outside of the Mystic Mist, sword in hand and calling out, trying to calm the horses, to little effect. She can see Remar a little further past him, waving his arms in the air, casting a spell. As he finishes his spell, he yells back to the camp, “There is something attacking the horses. It’s there, next to the last horse! It looks like a lion or something, I can’t tell, it’s too dark to see well!”

At Remar’s exclamation, Burik turns and runs toward the campfire to grab a torch in order to better illuminate the danger.

Griffin is on his feet, Serenity in his hand, before he fully comes awake. He pulls out his Elf charm for some light as he charges toward the horses. “C’mon people! Let’s move!”

As Griffin rushes around the right side of the horses, he sees past the tree to the horses on the far side. One horse is laying on the ground, struggling and a dark shape, long and sleek, like that of a large, dark mountain lion crouches over it. The beast turns it’s head to look in Griffin’s direction. Blood drips from a disturbingly human looking face as large black wings unfurl from the creatures back. Griffin has heard of things like this before, he believes it to be a Manticore, a savage yet intelligent monster capable of flinging long spear-like spikes from its tail.

A Manticore is attacking the horses!
Remar’s cry jolts Iris fully awake. Getting up, she rushes over toward Griffin and exclaims at the horror that has entered their camp. “What should we do? We need to find a way to not get hit by those spikes on his tail!” she says to him.

Griffin grits his teeth and charges the beast. “Hey! Back off! Those are our horses!” Coming around its flank, Griffin slashes at the beast’s tail. If this works, Iris, consider it the answer to your question.

The manticore whips its tail away and turns to face its attacker. Griffin’s blow misses and the beast takes flight, flapping it’s black, leathery wings, rising a few feet up off the ground. It whips its tail again, this time in Griffin’s direction and sends six dark spikes directly at Griffin.

Oh, shit! Griffin uses the momentum of his charge to fling himself into the air, twisting as he does so. He sees two spike pass beneath him, two go over his shoulder, and two almost graze his cheek as he turns away from the manticore. He lands on his feet facing the beast again. No one is more surprised than he. I hope Iris saw that. He even grins a little.

“Is that the best you can do, ugly?”

The manticore roars a shrill, ear splitting roar then spits a mouthful of spit in Griffin’s direction. “Bah, you give me this horse, or one of your kind, and I leave you be tonight, Human. You give me dinner if you sleep in my domain,” it demands in thick, heavily accented Traladaran.

Just then, a magical bolt flies from the other side of the tree and strikes the manticore in the flank. It cries out again and turns to look at his new attacker. Back by the fire, everyone else is finally on their feet, ready for action.

Negotiating with a Beast

Despite the situation, Iris was certainly impressed by Griffin’s theatrics. She tries to quickly think of ways to level the battlefield or put the fight in their side’s favor. Flight is definitely an advantage she would rather outclass with tactics of their own. She wonders if parleying with the beast could be an option here -- she had magicks to calm the beast and make it more receptive to what they had to say. But he wants to eat, and talking is not going to help that! Oh… bugger. “Wait! What if… what if we told you where to find some people to eat?” she yells up to the beast.
A Manticore!

The manticore slows the flapping of its wings some and the long beast lowers to rest on the bloody and wounded horse. It lets out a weak neigh and tries to shake the manticore off, but the manticore, which is easily as big as the horse, and no doubt heavier, merely flexes its claws into the horse flesh beneath it. “You talk, Human. You stay back, Human,” it says, nodding its head in Griffin’s direction. “Tell your pack to stay back!” It raises its tail above its head and swings it around, growling loudly at the same time.

This is enough for some of the other horses as they work themselves into a frenzy. Several of them back behind the manticore, over near where Remar is still moving into position, rear back and yank hard against their leads, breaking the rope that was used to tie them to the tree. They turn and bolt back toward the camp entrance, knocking Remar down and nearly trampling him in the process. Several other horses follow suit and rear and pull until they break their leads as well. In all, five of the nine remaining horses break their restraints and run.

Marcel feels somehow that this is his turn to shine on the grim scene. He peers at Iris and try to run down the list of people good enough to eat and start to wonder whether she had him in mind. Nah... ?

"I am Marcel. I speak to kings and to demons. You made a big mess of our mounts, but we are not a company to trifle with. We are heading to a place where there is meat a plenty."

He hit the ground with his spear in a commanding manner. Drawing the beast's attention over Iris and him while the others may feel free to improvise a way out.

“I do not care who you talk to, Human, who do you offer to me as payment for your trespass?” the Manticore demands. It looks around at the gathered Company members. Stephen and the three boys have gone off, chasing the runaway horses while Burik and Ree attempt to calm the remaining mounts. The Manticore looks back over its shoulder at Remar who is still trying to maneuver around behind the beast for a better shot. “Robed one, you should know that I see you and can pierce you from here if you move any further. Return back toward your fire or feel my pain!”

What did you get yourself into, Iris? Looking around timidly, Iris gets the impression that people are waiting on her direction. Like she’s surprised -- these were not typical negotiation tactics when faced with a monster at night in the camp.

She lets the words, coming from wherever the first spontaneous burst came from, spring from her lips, “I apologize for my comrade’s behavior. He has a rather quick finger. I don’t think he quite recognized your majestic nature at first.” Iris waits a moment for the words to linger in the air, “We are going to a place. And on our way to places, we tend to find a trail of bodies behind us. We don’t mean to be so graceless, but nonetheless it happens. I’m sure that if you keep up with us, you’ll have your share of food.”

She looks at the manticore sternly. Am I looking at him sternly? I don’t even know if I can do sternly. “But. We are not going to be leaving bodies if we’re dead or in your stomach. You understand, yes? I am aware we are asking a lot, of course, Great One, but we also offer a great deal.” Did I just screw this up?

The Manticore looks at Iris, cocking his head to one side. A low snarl comes from somewhere deep in his throat. “I do not look for left overs. Shifirax is a hunter. I KILL my food!”

As the Manticore is saying this, Remar takes the opportunity to cast a bit of magical protection on himself just in case the Manticore makes true on his promise of flying spikes. The moment he starts speaking the magical words, the Manticore leaps into the air and flips his tail toward Remar, as if it had been waiting for that moment.

The young mage flings himself to the rocky ground, hoping to dodge the spikes. A couple of them fly harmlessly over his head, but three of them strike him, one of which digs deeply into his body through his robes and magical protections. Remar lets out a pained cry as he hits the ground.

Griffin growls. That’s MY wizard, beast! He closes the distance to the monster and chops at a wing. He swears as the beast flaps its wings and pulls away into the sky. “That’s it, ugly. Run away!”

As the Manticore flaps its wings and rises toward the branches of the tree overhead, Marcel charges forward while Ree and Burik step forward, readying their weapons. Remar lays silent and still on the ground near the canyon wall, a Manticore spike sticking from his side. The beast is now flapping its wings furiously and hovering about 6 feet off the ground, just below the lowest branches of the tree the horses are tied to. A guttural warcry pierces the air as Old Gren charges down from the slope behind the party, waving a handaxe in each hand as he charges the Manticore’s location!

The Grey Company engages their winged foe before he takes down another horse.. or companion!

With her saber in hand, Iris rushes up to the manticore, standing on the body of the fallen horse, and tries to get a hit in on the beast, “You asked for it. If we have a say in any of this, you’ll be another one of those bodies behind us on our way to our destination.” She aims carefully for one of the beast’s wings, taking care to emulate Griffin’s practiced technique. Did I hit it?

From its elevated vantage point, the Manticore easily dodges Iris’s strike, turns and flies away toward Remar. It passes over him, turns and starts to climb up toward the top of the rocky embankment that surrounds the camp. The horses bleat and stamp their feet as it swoops past them again. The manticore shrieks loudly then calls out, “I shall just have to feast upon one of your other four legged slaves when I find it prancing about the mountains!”

The Foe Has Fled

Everyone moves to follow and get closer to protect the fallen Remar but the Manticore continues its climbing flight and disappears over the ridge surrounding the camp. A moment later another shriek fills the night followed by a horse whinny. Sounds of shouting and fighting can be heard for a moment then silence.

“Son of a BITCH!” Griffin screams as he hears the death of another horse. “Draven! Remar’s down! We need the help of the gods with this one.” He looks around. “Ree, Burik, settle the horses. Gren, take the lads and see if you can recover any of the runaways before that evil monster decides on an after-dinner snack.” He grumbles at yet another setback. If the plan is to sneak, then run, and we’re down three horses, it’s almost like just deciding now that three of us will die.

Remar looks bad, several of the Manticore’s black spikes are sticking out of his body, blood is soaking his robes and pooling on the ground under him. Ree and Burik do their best to calm the remaining horses and Old Gren runs out of the camp to go looking for the others that went chasing the panicked horses.

A few minutes later, Gren returns with Stephan and the three boys. Stephen gives a quick report. “Got four of them back, lost another to the Manticore, though. They were too spread out. I think the Manticore is holed up in that ruined watchtower over there,” he points out of the camp to a nearby rise. “It tore off and carried off one of the horse's hind legs, pretty big chunk.” Esir puts his hand to his mouth and makes a retching sound as Stephan recalls the mutilation of the horse. “What do you think we should do? Pack up camp and move out? It’s still the middle of the night? Double up the watches and stick it out, or maybe go find that son of a bitch and teach him a lesson?”

Griffin smiles a wolfish grin. “Oh, we’ll be teaching him a lesson all right.” He crosses to his kit and starts buckling on his armor. “Marcel, Ree, Burik, Iris, get your gear and get ready. We’re gonna take this bastard out.”

Iris sighs. “I really was hoping to get a little more sleep tonight, but that manticore does need some ego squashing. Lead the way, Griffin!” She smiles timidly at him.

“Oh, we’ll sleep when we’ve had our revenge, don’t you worry.” He continues strapping on his breastplate.

Old Gren wanders over and eyes the young warrior. “A moment, nephew?” Griffin nods even as he loads a bolt into his crossbow. “Yes?”

Goren waves at the group. “Yer team has just been through a bit of a battle. Give them and yerself a few minutes to catch your breaths.” Griffin starts to speak and Goren holds up a hand. “Wait, just wait.” Griffin takes a deep breath, but nods and stays silent. “Now, that critter just flew off with a good hunk of horseflesh. Give him a bit o’ time to eat it and he’ll get sluggish, maybe even take a nap. All the better to bag the beastie, y’know.” He nods at the fallen mage nearby, “Plus, it’ll give yer holy young friend a little time to take care of the wizard.”

Griffin thinks for a moment, then shrugs. “Okay, folks, I’m gonna let cooler heads prevail here. Let’s take a few, get ourselves good and ready, before we go kill that monster.” He puts down his crossbow, still loaded.

“Hey, Iris, while Draven is helping Remar, maybe you could check out this horse. I’ll assist, if you think it’ll help.”

“I can do that,” Iris replies in regards to tending to the horse. She thinks for a moment and then smirks, “Yes, I’ll need help -- cleaning up his waste!” She giggles and then shakes her head, “I think I’ll be fine, Griffin. Go do what you need to do to prepare.”

Iris goes back to the wounded horse, the one she had recently stood on to attack the Manticore. There is a very large puddle of dark blood pooling beneath the animal. It is not moving at all. Iris kneels to make a closer inspection. Several Manticore spikes are protruding out of the horse’s neck and chest. She touches one of them gingerly and the horse spasms, cries out and spits blood all over her. Blood surges from its wounds and then it sinks back to the ground, dead. Iris shakes her head at the thought of another mount lost.

Old Gren looks over Iris’s shoulder. “No use beating a dead horse, dear,” he says with a sick chuckle. He looks back to the others, “the transportation department seems to be considerably lacking at this time. I’m not sure taking this whole group through the Death’s Head Valley is such a good idea.” He takes Griffin, Marcel and Draven aside, “you know, this looks to be a fairly dangerous endeavour you are wanting to undertake. Are you sure you want to drag these kids into it?” He motions toward the three camp boys who are nervously making themselves busy around the camp. “I can show you down to the valley and point you in the right direction then take these boys back to my place and wait for you. That way you’ll be better off with mounts to take you across the valley. Maybe I take that one too,” he thumbs toward Burik, “you know, to help keep the boys safe. I’m not trying to break up your company or anything, but maybe fewer numbers across the valley would be a little better anyway, move faster and more stealthily that way.” He folds his arms across his chest, “Your call, though, just 'think of the outcome you want before making a decision.”

On The Hunt

“Yea, and it pisses me off even more that I know you’re right.” He eyes Burik, then the rest of the group and nods. “If Remar’s still in bad shape, I may have to send him back with you instead. Hope not - he’s got all that magic stuff.”

“But let’s hold off on that until after we deal with Shifirax. I’m going to rest up a bit, like you suggested, then scout out that tower. I want to make sure he can’t fly away again if we can help it.”

True to his word, Griffin then sits quietly, talking with Old Gren for around fifteen minutes. His fidgets finally get the best of him, though, and he grabs his crossbow and slips into the darkness.

Draven takes some time and carefully tends to the wounds of Remar, using his magic while removing the spikes to prevent further injury. Draven says a prayer to Chardastes as he realizes how hard dealing with these types of wounds would be without the aid of divine healing magic! His additional prayer was heard and within moments, Remar is all healed up and good as new. “Thank you, Brother,” Remar says to Draven as he gets up.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the camp, Griffin stalks off into the darkness toward the nearby tower. As he leaves the camp, he realizes that Ree is following quietly behind him. He sees that she is holding her sling at the ready. She nods at him when she sees him looking back.

Once out of the camp, the tower is easy to see in the bright moonlight. It sits on a 15 foot rise about 25 yards away. A narrow path leads up to the top along the northern edge of the rise. Griffin thinks that the sides of the rise would be easy enough to climb as well.

When Iris realizes the horse’s condition, she takes a moment to focus and fully awaken. If she’s going to follow Griffin, she needs to be ready and she cannot let any of her comrades down. She grabs her saber from beside her. Reaching to put her her grimoire in a bag to take with her, she realizes that it’d be too encumbering and decides to leave it. She rushes to stalks up behind the others heading towards the narrow path.

Iris quickly catches up with Ree and both girls then catch up with Griffin. “So, what’s the plan, Griff?” Ree asks.

Griffin whispers, “Just taking a look around the tower, trying to get the lay of the land. I’m pretty sure we can take this monster, but I want to be smart about it, too. Either of you have any ideas how to keep the bastard from flying away?” He looks up at the top of the tower. I wonder if I could get up there. Would make a good perch to shoot from.

The Company approaches the ruined tower...
Griffin, Iris and Ree stop at the top of the trail, crouching behind some nearby bushes. They see the ruined tower about 30 feet away, it’s highest point is only about 25 feet high and it looks to be about 20 feet per side. Two gaping openings can be seen, one where the original door may have been and the other on the western corner, where it appears the stones and mortar have crumbled away. The remainder of the first floor still appears to be intact, though the second story and above have not fared as well. The ground between where the companions crouch and the front of the tower look to be relatively clear, though sloped a bit up to toward the tower itself. Small piles of stone and rocks line the base of the tower. The moonlight night is quiet and still, only the buzzing of insects in this late night hour.

Pausing briefly to catch his breath, Draven surveys the rest of the party. “No use going into this anything less than 100%. Who’s hurt? Who needs a reliable source of light in case we go into dark places?”

Once everyone is attended to, he walks in the direction that everyone else went.

Draven shuffles up the hill to where Griffin, Iris and Ree are surveying the scene, making sure to keep his glowing holy symbol tucked beneath his tunic. Fortunately the light of the moon is plenty enough to see by, at least to make it safely up the trail. As Draven approaches, Griffin gives him the shush sign, holding his finger up to his lips. A faint rustling and scratching sound can be heard coming from the direction of the tower.

Unwilling to be caught off guard again, Draven stops and, closing his eyes, quietly gestures with his good hand, tucked behind his shield, calling forth the energy of the light of the sun, ready to strike when a target presents itself.

Iris suddenly feels nervous again. Despite the words she may have said earlier, the creature still put fear into her heart, particularly when memories of her time captured come back to haunt her. She will not let this unnerve her. She cannot. She takes her saber and readies it, giving a nod to her two companions.

Griffin grins. “Draven, is Remar back on his feet? We could use his spellslinging.” The young priest nods an affirmative. “Okay, I think we want to hit this guy hard and fast. I’ll go back and corral a few more, leave Stephan and the boys to watch the horses. Ree and I will come in from the back there, maybe Draven, you too if your magic can let you approach sneaky-like - the rest of you charge in the front. Hit him in the wings if you can - last thing we want is an evil monster escaping to follow us with revenge on his mind.”

Griffin makes sure everyone is settled and slips back to camp to round up the usual suspects.

Griffin makes his way quietly back to the camp to get some more support. Burik and Remar are ready and up for the challenge but the others stay in the camp to help deal with the spooked horses and dispose of the slain mount. Old Gren has left the camp to make a wider scouting run. Remar and Burik grab their gear and follow Griffin back toward the ruined tower.

Meanwhile, Draven, Iris and Ree wait quietly as Griffin heads back to get the others. As they watch and wait, the sound of a stick snapping in two rips through the quiet darkness. Draven, holding his sunbolt, sees a dark shape move down from the upper reaches of the tower to a thick bank of shadows directly in front of the tower. “There,” he hisses at the girls.

Ree whispers back, “I see it, can’t tell what it is though, looks small, but the shadows can be tricky, even to my eyes.” She points with her left hand after she slides a sling stone into the leather pocket of her sling. “Right there,” she points the spot out to Iris. She then nudges Draven, “You gonna light it up with that bolt of yours or should I throw the first stone?”

Iris looks at Ree nervously, “I’m not sure I can hit it when it’s this dark.” Her whispers seems to resonate in the still night air, “Maybe it is best we light it up. Could scare it off, too.” Iris lets out a squeak of surprise and rushes over to her pack. She seems to pour over her grimoire quickly and puts a hand over her chest, muttering out an incantation.

Concentrating, Draven shakes his head. “No,” he whispers, “we don’t know what it is that’s out there, and we’re only at half strength until the others return. Keep your eyes on it.” With that, Draven does begin to take aim at the shadow just in case.

As quietly as she can, Iris casts her spell, though the words of magic seem to float out and dissipate across the top of the rise. As the sounds echo off the quiet, broken tower, the shadow bolts to the east, toward a drop off. Draven holds his Sunbolt as he realizes that it is much too small to be the Manticore, but Ree’s impulsivity takes control of her and she whizzes a rock toward the moving darkness.

“Arrgh,” she cries as she hears the stone skip off the rocky ground, missing its mark. The shadow scurries over the rocky precipice just beyond and can be heard scurrying down the unseen slope. She pulls another stone from her pouch and nestles it into the sling and turns her attention back toward the tower. Silence once again settles over the hilltop, the only sound that can be heard is Iris’s slightly quickened breathing.

Meanwhile, Griffin and the others begin to make their way back toward the ruined tower. Griffin hears what sounds like Iris casting a spell and Ree cursing about something.

Despite an urge to rush ahead to find out what the heck is going on, Griffin takes his time and makes his way quietly up the path. When he finally approaches, he crouches and quirks an eyebrow at Ree, giving her the “What’s up?” look.

She nods at the tower. “Some sort of critter came out and went thataway”, she whispers, pointing. “Too small to be the target.”

He nods, then looks around confused. “Where the heck is Marcel? I thought he was up here with you guys. He wasn’t back at camp.”

Worry for his missing comrade taking its toll, Draven speaks more loudly than before. “I’m not sure we can afford to wait. We may well have been heard inside, given… our level of activity.” He demurs from baldly telling Griffin about the pinging of sling stones, but can’t bring himself to lie. “If we advance slowly, I can maintain this level of readiness as we approach.”

Griffin winces at Draven’s volume, but nods. “Okay, then let’s get rolling. Ree, you and I will come up the back way. The rest of you wait until we get in position, then we’ll all charge in together. Hopefully if we all hit it hard and fast, it’ll never have a chance to retaliate or escape.” He looks at his comrades. “Let’s go!”

Griffin leads the way as he and Ree move to the bottom of the slope leading to the back of the tower. They both strive for silence as they move up the slope. Griffin also keeps an eye out for the “other critter,” his crossbow at the ready.

Approaching the Tower

Slowly and carefully, the Company approaches the ruined structure. Griffin and Ree swing around the bottom of the rise, through the underbrush, looking for a good place to climb. Ree whispers, “How are they going to know we’re in position?” Griffin looks back at her and shrugs.

Back on top of the hill, Draven, Iris and the others wait for their companions to get into position. Remar whispers, a little louder than he anticipated, “How are we going to know when they are in position? I can barely see the building, much less over the far edge of the rise.”

Burik shrugs in the dark, “Don’t worry, friend, we’ll know. Griffin always makes sure we’ll know!” He smirks and watches out for some sign from his friend.

The longer the group waits, the the louder the quiet night seems to become. Far off in the distance, a howl of some beast echoes quietly. Bugs and other small creatures fill the nearby air with a chirping buzz. The sound of horses from the camp can be heard, and occasional sounds of conversation from the others back near the campfire as well. The crash of a falling tree branch nearby nearly causes Draven to let loose his held Sunbolt.

Ree and Griffin finally find a good place to climb up and make their way to the top of the rise. They find that they are directly behind the tower, coming up beneath some trees. From this position, they cannot see their friends at all around the front of the tower. The sound of wind and the rushing water of a small creek down below them fills their ears.

Hoping to get eyes on the target before signalling the attack, Griffin creeps closer to the tower. He makes his way to the opening at the western corner, slides up next to it and listens.

From the far side of the little hill, Draven and Iris can see a dark shadow move along the side of the structure. It is tall and thin, looks nothing like a Manticore. “Psst, there, see that, that would be Griffin. Should we charge?” Burik points toward the moving shadow.

At the base of the tower, Griffin sees that the back and side are still quite solid, though plenty of rock and rubble litter the ground from fallen upper heights. Some sort of rustling sound can be heard nearby, possibly coming from inside the ruined tower. Griffin sees some dark spaces up above his head, narrow windows probably, just up above his head. They look big enough for him to scramble through if he wanted to.

As Griffin ponders his best ingress into the tower, he hears a sudden whoosh and something large smashes into the ground just in front of him and to the left. It hits with a thud, as if having been dropped from a great height, and then rolls, bumping up against his leg. Looking down, Griffin sees the bloody and mauled leg of a horse lying broken on the ground. A faint flapping sound can be heard from somewhere considerably higher than the tower.

Oh, man, we just can’t catch a break! He whispers to Ree, “I think our prey
may have fled.” He gestures upward. “I’m going to take a peek inside.”

Griffin moves his crossbow around to his back. He slowly makes his way up the wall to a narrow window. The rough, worn stone provides easy handholds and soon he finds himself next to a dark hole in the wall. The breeze wafts a charnel smell from the interior, blood and rotten flesh. This was most definitely the monster’s lair. But recent events, such as the bloody horse leg, might tell of a fleeing manticore. He slides up and through the window. He turns and waves Ree up to follow him.

The chill up her spin did not seem to dissipate. Iris seems to feel her body following silently behind Ree in anticipation of an ambush or just about anything to come from behind cover. This tower was becoming a bad omen. She’ll have to remember suggesting avoiding them on their next trek. Her saber is in her hands as she feels her body urging her on to move quickly to action -- the side effect of the spell she cast on herself. Every nerve in her body seemed to be screaming at her to move.

As the gathered members of the Grey Company wait outside the ruined tower, the tension in the air is thick enough to be cut with a knife…

Cast of Characters: 

Garrett "Griffin" Constantine, a Thyatian rogue of a gambler from Penhaligon rolled by +Arne Jamtgaard 

Marcel Maasa homely but sincere wielder of spears aspiring to cooking greatness commanded by +Christian Blouin 

Draven Rickart, a Thyatian Acolyte of the Church of Karameikos ministered by +Jason Packer 

Iris Vardaa Thyatian explorer and historian searching for answers and adventure guided by +Alex Safatli 

and +Jason Woollard as The DM

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