October 22 - November 18, 2015
Leaving the Valley Behind
Tserdain 20 Yarthmont
The Gnolls have been defeated or driven away. A huge boar lies unconscious along the banks of the swift moving mountain stream. An Ogre went for an impromptu swim. Stephan and Remar have managed to gather all the mounts up on the east side of the river. The other members of the Grey Company just stand for a second, catching their collective breath.
|The Warboar has been defeated|
“They’re coming!” Stephan shouts over the sound of rushing water. “Good sized horde of them, moving in from the south. We need to MOVE!” He urges the horses toward the ravine.
Off past the Company, just a mile or so further, the end of the valley can be seen. A tall waterfall, easily several hundred feet high, crashes down from the high, dark peaks. Just to the left of the waterfall can be seen what looks like the remains of some sort of structure, a tower of sorts, possibly carved right into the cliff face. The ground rises toward the tower and fall as the steep walls of the valley close in from either side, casting great shadows from the sun, well past its midway point.
|Waterfall at the end of the Death's Head Valley|
Remar points high up in the mountains, above the falls, “Look, a bridge of some sorts.” He indicates to what looks like a narrow span that stretches across the top of the falls and disappears into the dark shadow and rocks above. He turns and sees the approaching Gnoll horde and starts helping Stephan try to calm the horses enough to begin leading them across the stream.
Realizing that time is of the essence, Griffin flies as quickly as he can across the river. “Bring the horses down as quickly as you can! We’ll help them across!” He feels Ree’s magic fading and settles down to the ground, where he grabs the reins of the first horse and starts to pull it along. As Remar and Stephan herd the horses down the path, Griffin takes a few moments to re-ready his crossbow. “C’mon, easy, girl, it’s much nicer on the other side of the very narrow bridge. Here we go…”
Huffing and puffing as the effort put forth in the fight catches up to him, Draven helps Iris to her feet. “Get a horse and get across, now,” he says, brooking no argument. Then to everyone else, “Go, get the horses across. Griffin, you can get a good vantage point on the other side to pick off any stragglers. I’ve got a little bit of sway with the gods left, and I’ll be damned if those hyenas get across without a swat to their snouts.” Glancing down at his battered shield, a two-inch hole in it from the boar’s tusk, he takes deep breaths of cool mountain air and prepares as best he can for the coming onslaught.
Griffin and Draven mobilize the Company on the eastern side of the river, moving the horses toward the ravine and the narrow bridge. Glancing across to the other side, he sees Marcel leaning heavily on his spear, teetering slowly back and forth as if he were ready to collapse at any moment. The Traladaran warrior then drops his shield and drops to his knees, resting on his legs. Draven realizes his companion has been grievously hurt in the melee.
Iris, Ree, Stephan begin moving the horses in the right direction while Remar stands at the head of the trail watching carefully for any more Gnolls to send magic bolts into. Marcel waits on the far bank, on his knees, surrounded by several slain Gnolls. He knows that he must relax, though he understands the urgency of the situation. If he pushes himself too much, he may collapse from his wounds and then his companions will be further slowed by his unconscious body as well.
Seeing Marcel’s state, Draven realizes that his plans might be for naught if his flock dies from their wounds. “Remar, keep an eye peeled,” he calls out to the mage. More quietly, “and if you’ve anything in your spellbook that might drop this bridge once we’ve crossed, I’m all ears.” With that he pushes through the throng with the horses to make his way to where Marcel waits.
Iris faces small difficulties bringing the horses up the path, but looks to Ree and Stephan to help her recover. “We need to get going!” She looks to Griffin and the others in panic, trying to gauge their status.
Getting the stressed and exhausted horses over the bridge looks like it is going to take some time. They kick and balk at being taken down the trail again after being scared and run back up it just a moment ago when the fighting started. Iris tries her best, which is usually pretty good with the animals, but she just cannot get them moving at the pace she wants. Ree and Stephan have only marginally better luck, but in a few minutes the horses are moving and one is even all the way across. Griffin leads the animals back up to the far side, constantly checking to the east and south, watchful for approaching Gnolls. He can see the main force, they should arrive within 10 minutes for sure. He wonders if that will be enough time to get all the horses across. Advance scouts and outriders could be upon them even sooner than that. He sees Remar on the far bank, watching and ready to fling magical bolts at the first sign of trouble.
After making his way across the narrow bridge, Draven knees next to Marcel and checks his companions wounds. He can see that Marcel has sustained some heavy wounds and is fighting to even remain conscious.
The tension in the air could be cut with a knife as Draven examines Marcel’s wounds and realizes how serious they are. He isn’t going to die, but he could easily succumb to unconsciousness at any moment without some healing. He thinks back and tallies up the previous healing he has done for his friend this day. The Patrons of the Church are merciful and kind, but even they have limits and channeling healing magic to the same person too many times a day becomes difficult, eventually failing altogether.
Counting on divine providence and his own extreme need, Draven lays his holy symbol on the wounds that Marcel has taken defending himself and his friends. The flow is slow, and nearly slips away more than once, but finally comes forth, and they begin to close. “That will have to do for now, my friend, for now haste is needed!”
The horses are moved across the river, very slowly, much more slowly than anyone would care for. As the last mount crosses, Remar and Stephan head down to the crossing. “They are here!” the young wizard shouts. “About 50 yards out and closing fast,” adds Stephan.
The shouts, growls and howls of the approaching Gnoll hoard can be clearly heard now over the sound of rushing water. Several arrows appear in the sky, streaking toward the Company. They are easily avoided, but the next volley might not be!
Griffin tries to keep people moving. “Remar! Make those archers sorry they showed up! Any of them show their faces, I want your brand of pain right in them!” He finishes bringing another horse across, watching Draven and Marcel. They need to get ready to ride, and Marcel looks like he’ll fall out of the saddle at any moment. He sees Brother Draven lay on hands, and a little bit of a rally in Marcel’s eyes. Not great, but hopefully good enough.
Griffin takes a position near one of the boulders and readies his crossbow. Somebody is going to be sorry they showed up today. He listens for the team to be ready and tries to cover their flank.
Try as he might, Draven can’t get Mr. Softie to settle down, spooked as he is by the unfamiliar stink of blood, the recent bridge crossing and the distant yelps and howls of the oncoming gnolls. “By all the gods, Softie, I will leave you here if you don’t let me climb aboard!”
Griffin has to help Draven eventually get on his mount. The approaching Gnolls are getting closer with every passing moment. Remar cannot throw any magical bolts as they are too far out of his range but the arrows keep coming and eventually the mage and Stephan both make their way back across the bridge and begin to mount up.
Blocking the Way
“Griffin, come, I want them dead as much as you do, but it’s time to mount up!” To Remar, he reiterates an earlier request. “I know you’re nearly unconscious with the strain, but do you have any spells in that book that might make the bridge treacherous or otherwise impassable for a time?”
As Griffin abandons his position and leaps to the back of Firewild, Remar looks at Draven and gives him a wry smile. “I’ve got a little more left up my sleeve, Brother,” he says as he hurries back down the slope toward the bridge. He calls back over his shoulder, “You all get moving, I’ll catch up after I leave them a little hot foot to contend with!”
As the rest of the Grey Company begins to move away, they can see Remar speaking and gesticulating down near the near end of the bridge. Suddenly, a bright burst of flame appears burning just about in the middle of the bridge. It burns brightly with no need for any type of wood or fuel. The young Alphatian mage stands there, looking on as the fire crackles and burns, his hands on his hips, clearly admiring his handiwork until a couple of arrows come whistling in and he has to jump up and out of the way. He quickly scrambles up the rocky slope and leaps astride his horse, urging it forward to follow after the rest of the Company.
|Remar leaves some magical fire to deter the Gnoll pursuers|
When Remar catches up with the others, he looks back over his shoulder. The horde has now arrived at the bridge. “Well, it definitely won’t stop them, but it might slow them down for a bit. That water looked pretty swift, they might be wary about crossing through it. I can hopefully maintain the spell for another minute or so, but it will drain on me. If I were a little better at that spell, it would be no trouble at all to maintain a flame of that size, but, well, I’m still learning!”
The path ahead is dark and rocky. This entire end of the valley is completely engulfed in deep, dark shadows. Very soon, all lines of sight of the river crossing behind are gone, and the waterfall and tower structure up ahead are often times obscured from view as well. The Company continues following the now raging mountain stream northward toward the end of the valley.
Stephan looks up and around at the towering cliffs and rock formations all around them, “I sure hope there is actually something to find up here, cause it doesn’t look like there are a lot of other ways out and those Gnolls will be back on our tail and filling this gorge soon enough, I’d reckon.”
“I hope so, too, Stephan. We’ve come a long way in this quest. There better be a way to go on.” He urges Firewild forward and takes point, trying to find the surest way through the treacherous terrain.
Griffin is able to lead the Company on a relatively easy to manage track. The ground begins rising considerably as it nears the end of the gorge and after a while, signs of worked stone begin to appear here and there. Iris tries to stop several times to examine the work more closely, but she is urged on by her companions. Bits and pieces of what look to be a wide, ancient road appear from time to time under the horse’s hooves.
|The Foamfire River flows through some areas of worked stone|
The stream next to the trail narrows and enters what almost appears to be a carved stone canal, with different ledges and areas that might have made it easier to approach the water for various reasons. Iris continues to look all around, wide eyed at the amount and size of some of the various carved stone objects around. It is clear to everyone that some ancient civilization once inhabited this area.
The entire gorge is now filled with a fine, wet mist, soaking everyone to the bone, though Remar remains happy and dry, thanks to the small blue stone that floats around his head, making a circle once every 5 seconds or so. Suddenly, he sits up tall in his saddle and looks behind him, “Ooh, they have gotten the fire out, and it’s a good thing, I was about to pass out from the strain!”
Eventually, the path that the Company has been following for the last several minutes splits off into two distinct directions. It continues running relative straight ahead, veering slightly to the left and further up, away from the stream or it turns to the right and heads down toward the stream bed. The structure and waterfall that were earlier visible at the end of the valley are not visible from here, though it is clear that they both lie somewhere ahead.
Taking a Break
Griffin knows in his gut that the way to go was up to the left. But we’re almost completely spent. What if we find more tough going on the way?
He pauses at the fork and points down towards the stream. “Let’s see if we can find a place to hole up down there. We can catch our breath and plan our next move.”
|A good place to rest|
With several unsure looks from his companions, the Grey Company heads down the trail toward the water. Though the sound of the rushing water is loud, the spot seems secluded and peaceful. The path down to the water is narrow and appears to be somewhat defensible, in case the Gnolls track them this far into the gorge. There is plenty of room for the Company and horses to rest here, out of sight from the trail above and the noise from the river should mask any sounds they make as well.
Ree, already on the brink of exhaustion, says, “I can use some magic to warn us if anyone passes through this place, but it will take all of my energy to do so. If we think we will be able to rest for a bit, then I think it will be worth it, though.” She looks at the others then at Griffin as to ask if she should cast the spell.
Griffin nods. “Smart. We won’t be able to hear them coming. Let’s get that done and get out of sight so we can commence with the resting.” She smiles weakly and closes her eyes to summon her magic. Griffin still marvels at how far she has come, from a sullen loner to an integral member of the team.
Ree casts a magical ward over the path leading down to the resting spot. When she is done, she sways back and forth, her eyes closed, looking as if she may pass out. Marcel and Stephan help her back to her saddle and she slumps forward, resting heavily on her mount’s neck. The trader from Susikyn takes the lead of her horse and leads it down the path with the others.
There is a wide, shadowed area just above the swiftly flowing water of the mountain stream, protected from all sides by looming rocks and occasional trees. The Company dismounts and takes a moment to just catch their breaths while the horses drink deeply of the cold mountain water.
“How long do we risk stopping here? Even with my fire on the bridge, the Gnolls can’t be more than 10 to 20 minutes behind us. They probably know this valley well and might know about this place,” Remar looks around, a bit nervously. “We have come all this way to find some, um, treasure. I’d like to at some point GET that treasure and live long enough to enjoy it’s spoils!” I’ve got a little more energy held in reserve. I can go up and do a bit of scouting, or send someone else up, if they prefer. Might at least get an idea of where those mangy Gnolls are.”
Wearily, Griffin shakes his head. “The point is to recover, not tap your reserves more deeply. I‘ll hide back along the track near where Ree did her mojo. Fifteen minutes, tops, and then we head out again. They’ll be right behind us, but hopefully we’ll be able to move a little quicker.”
Griffin takes his crossbow and moves back up the trail, watching for the hordes of Gnolls.
As Griffin sneaks back up the trail, the rest of the Company hurries to tend the horses, refill their water and make the area a bit more comfortable, hoping to maximize their resting time.
The young Thyatian rogue is careful and quiet as he makes his way back up to the trail. He remembered seeing a rock outcropping that should give him a bit of a view of the path behind them while still giving him cover and a quick escape back to his companions. He finds the rock and climbs it, nestling himself into a nook on the left side. The area around him is quiet. He can still hear the sound of the river nearby, but he cannot hear any sounds that might give away his companions position. Scanning the area, he sees no sign of Gnolls sneaking up on the Company, though he does spot more and more signs of ancient architecture. Most of it is crumbling and covered with foliage, severely worn down by the passage of time, wind and water. He also carefully examines the ground of the path. He only sees signs of the Company’s passage. There appear to be no other tracks besides a few scattered animal tracks, and none of them too recent. He settles in, trying to get comfortable, hoping to at least rest up for a few minutes before they resume their run to the end of the valley.
After watching and resting for about 10 minutes, Griffin climbs down from his perch and heads back toward the others. He had seen no sign of the chasing Gnolls and though he was relieved that they had not appeared, he was a little concerned about this fact.
When he arrives, Griffin sees the rest of the Grey Company just finishing getting ready to move out. Good timing all around. Griffin mounts Firewild and the Company heads out, this time at a slower, more cautious pace.
After moving back up to the trail, the sounds of the river are somewhat blocked and the gorge seems quite still and quiet. The trail hugs one left side wall of the gorge for the most part and at one point, after about 5 minutes of riding, a view of the river crossing area can be seen. It appears that the entire Gnoll force have gathered at the crossing. Most have moved to this side of the river, though some still remain on the far side. There are probably close to 200 or so Gnolls there. Several larger forms can be seen as well, probably Ogres, though they could be more of those giant Gnolls that had been encountered earlier as well. For some reason, they have not entered the gorge, possibly remaining at the entrance in hopes that the Grey Company will return shortly.
The Grey Company is pretty sure that they are spotted as they move through this stretch of the trail as there is considerable activity in the Gnoll camp and a large group breaks off and heads into the gorge. Thirty or so Gnolls with 3 or 4 Ogres break away and move quickly into the gorge. At the pace they were moving, the group of Gnolls could catch up with the Company in 10 minutes or so, depending on how well they were familiar with this area.
After turning past a rock outcropping, the Company can no longer see toward the entrance to the gorge but up ahead, the end of the gorge comes into sight. A 300 foot waterfall plummets down from the rocks overhead. To the left of the waterfall, a tower like structure has been built into the side of the rock. A crumbling stone building rests at the base, its wide, open doorway pitch black in the shadows of the peaks above. It looks like the structure goes all the way to the top of the rise. The ancient road underfoot is much more intact leading up to this place. Clearly this is where they should be going.
Despite feeling the wear on her body, the structure ahead rose up to meet her like an inviting oasis. A smile crept onto her face and she looks to the others in badly hidden glee. “This place is wonderful!”
Iris shudders and smiles as the Company approaches the base of the tower. Looking back, the approaching Gnoll force can be seen, but they are advancing slowly, keeping behind rocks and trees, not trying to hard to conceal themselves but remaining back out of range of attack. It seems like they are apprehensive about approaching the tower too closely but keeping a watch on the Company instead.
This end of the gorge is very dark, the sun having not been visible for some time, lost behind the towering Black Peaks, though it is still several hours till nightfall. Everything in the area is coated with moisture from the nearby waterfall. A gaping black opening stands ahead of the Company, a framed doorway, nearly 10 feet wide and close to 15 feet tall, leads into the dark rock of the canyon wall.
Griffin takes a deep breath. “Okay, folks, I think this is what we’ve been working for. Ever since we arrived at Susykin.” He gives a nod to Stephan. “Your tapestry is the map that brought us here. Do you still have the needle?” Stephan nods, gesturing to his lapel, where the needle has travelled for many miles.
“Let’s go on, then. The Gnolls behind us make that choice pretty obvious. So gird your loins, say a prayer, fix your makeup, make a list and check it twice. Do whatever you need to do to get ready. Because there’s our destiny, through that door.” He grins, “And I for one am very curious what we’ll find.” He gives a mock bow and gestures at the arch. “Shall we?”
The horses appear nervous and fight at approaching the dark opening in the ancient stone structure but eventually are coaxed up to its entrance. This far end of the valley was dark in the shadow of the end of the day and inside the stone structure built into the side of the mountain, it was even darker. Everyone readies their divinely enchanted objects to shed some light into the room.
The combined glow of several illuminated objects lights up the chamber. Past a ten foot entryway, the room opens up to a wide space, close to forty foot square. There is no ceiling in the chamber, at least none that can be seen, instead the room is open above, leading up into a cavernous, dark shaft. A wide stone staircase rings the space, heading up into the darkness.
Remar looks up into the darkness and then at the stairs. “Up there? Were going up there? To the top of the cliff? Wonderful.” The stairs, about 5 feet wide, climb at a shallow incline around the wide room. They are stone and built directly into the wall, and though old, appear to be solid. Angled stone supports protrude out from the wall as the stairs climb higher into the shaft and the wall along the stairs is hollowed out a bit, further supporting the thought that the stairs are safe. While they look like an easy climb, it is unsure as to how long that lasts due to the fact that the top cannot be seen. One of the horses snorts and stamps its feet on the debris covered floor as if to say “I’m not going up there!”
Iris looks backs to the horses as they start a commotion and moves to tend to and calm them. She looks to the others and suggests that they leave the horses here. “What do you think Griffin, Draven, Marcel, Remar?”
Griffin looks to Ree and Remar. “I think we need to know what the stairs look like all the way up, before we commit our horses to that narrow track. I’d hate to get way high up and have to turn them around. Can one of our more magically-inclined do a quick scouting mission and report back the lay of the land? Could make our choices a lot more obvious.”
Remar steps up and holds his hand up to interject. “Let me head up and take a look, I can get up as far as I need to go and back down in a minute.” He waves his hands and speaks some arcane words then up he goes, flying straight up through the center of the darkness above. He quickly disappears, even the magical glow of the item he carries disappears after a few seconds.
Nearly one minute later, he comes flying back to the ground, his ragged robes flowing out behind him. “It goes all the way to the top of the cliff, near the top of the waterfall. The stairs look solid all the way up. At about 100 feet and again at the 200 foot mark, there is a wide landing that is carved back into the mountain. Plenty of room to spread the horses out and rest if we want to get off the ground floor. There were a few windows as well, along the way up. I took a peek out. Couldn’t see the Gnolls from here cause it’s getting dark, but I could see their campfires. Looks they are right where we last saw them. The biggest grouping of them are still at the crossing while a smaller camp seems set up just a ways back in the gorge. They could be waiting for nightfall to make a stealthy approach but it should be easy enough to block or trap the stairs somewhere behind us if we head up. My magic won’t work because it lasts too long but I’m sure something can be worked out.
Griffin nods. “Excellent. Then I think we should make our way up to the first of those landings. Get out of the easy reach of the gnolls and see how things go with the horses.” He takes Firewild to the base of the stairs and takes out a beautiful Elven scarf from his saddlebags. He ties the scarf over Firewild’s eyes. He soothes her as she tries to resist, and soon she is standing quietly again. Only then does he take the reins and start to lead her up the stairs.
“Let me see how this goes. Maybe take five while we give this a try. Does someone want to come with? Ree?” He looks at the young girl. “Four eyes are better than two.” He lowers his voice as she comes over. “I think that the two of us might be the best to scan for traps as we move up, before risking anyone else. Then when we get to the landing, you can go back down and maybe Iris, with her knack with animals, could come up next, perhaps with Draven or Stephan. Sound okay?”
She nods wearily. “I think I can. But I am going to need a real rest soon. And so will some of the rest. We’re not all as driven as you.”
That brings Griffin up short. “Driven? Am I pushing too hard? I’d be happy to take a major break as soon as we can. It’s just the gnolls are so close…”
Ree shakes her head. “No, no, it’s just that you seem able to keep going when all the rest of us are exhausted.”
Griffin smiles, “Oh, I’m tired, too. I just spend more time outside rather than inside reading books.” She starts to say something, but he holds up his hand. “No, I’m just teasing. I’ve seen how much your magicks take out of you. You’re too valuable to waste on simple running around.” He puts his hand on her shoulder. “That’s why us dumb grunts do all the leg work.”
She swallows, then looks up the stairs. “Well, we’re burnin’ daylight. Shall we?”
|Where do these stairs go? They go up!|
Griffin nods, glad again to have Ree at his back. “You bet.” He turns to the group. “We’re going to try the stairs. Keep an eye out for the gnolls, but my hope is we can get off the floor here and to someplace safe soon.”
After several hours of careful stepping, the Grey Company and all their mounts have climbed the 100 feet of wide stone stairs to the wide gallery like landing carved out of the mountains of the Black Peaks. Blindfolding the horses seemed to prove to be a good tactic. They moved a bit slower, but were much easier to control and did not seem nearly so nervous. On the way up the stairs, several windows presented themselves facing out onto the ever darkening Death’s Head Valley. The campfires of the Gnolls could be seen just as Remar had described them. It seems as if the Gnolls were not interested in pursuing the Company into the tower, at least not at this moment.
The camp was almost set up by the time that the last of the Company members finished the long climb up. Remar, one of the final group speaks to the group. “I used some of my remaining energy to cast a small Magic Mist in the entryway of the tower. It won’t stop any of the Gnolls from entering, but it might make them change their minds. It will last until morning. I can do the same thing here on our camp but I need to rest for a while first. Are we planning on stopping here for a while? I think that might be a good idea. We have been going for over 12 hours at this point I would imagine. We are exhausted and the horses are probably worse off than we are. This climb is most definitely difficult for them.”
Cast of Characters:Garrett "Griffin" Constantine, a Thyatian rogue of a gambler from Penhaligon rolled by +Arne Jamtgaard
Marcel Maas, a 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 Varda, a Thyatian explorer and historian searching for answers and adventure guided by +Alex Safatli
and +Jason Woollard as The DM