Whilst the rest of the party were conversing with the druid, Scabbard decided to take the opportunity to break into the druid’s territory and nose around. He first decided to investigate the small grove of trees behind the druid’s house, which was apparently declared as a holy place by the druid and which all the townsfolk were sternly warned to keep away from. As Scabbard entered the grove, he saw a fountain crafted in the shape of the cosmic balance, with water gushing from the pans… and then a noose tightened around his ankle and whipped him into the air.
His quick reflexes made Scabbard react without thought, and he sprang up as the noose tightened, avoiding being dragged noisily (and painfully) along the ground. He ended up hanging silently in the air from a tree branch, having not even let out a yelp. Sighing, since he realised that the druid would now know someone had been there, he cut through the noose and dropped lightly to the ground. Dipping a finger into the fountain, he found it pure but didn’t notice anything unusual. He proceeded towards the house…
And just as he left the grove, a second snare whipped him into the air.
As the second rope snapped, he repeated his feat of cutting through the noose and dropping into a perfect landing on the ground, but this time as he looked up from his leap he saw the druid’s wife watching him from the back door of the cabin. She moved her hands and muttered something. Scabbard had been about to turn to flee, but as the elf’s spell took effect he realised there was no need – after all, the elf not only seemed harmless but appeared genuinely friendly, and he trusted her implicitly. She beckoned him inside the cabin, from which there were smells of cooking, and he realised that he hadn’t eaten since before the party entered the guardhouse. Smiling, he raised his eyebrows and entered the house.
Inside, the elven wizard’s son was cooking fish over the fire. “Guests for dinner, mother?” he enquired. The woman introduced herself as Felwyn and her son as Amos. They fell into light conversation, with many questions asked of Scabbard. These focused heavily on whether Scabbard and the rest of the party had been sent by the King of the Elves, perhaps to kill her or bring her back for punishment for her crime of absconding with a human. Once Scabbard denied any such thing, she relaxed and they had an enjoyable tea party.
Once Almax returned from conversing with the others, he was slightly perturbed to find Scabbard there. Felwyn explained that she had caught him examining the “Fountain of Good Health”, and it seemed best to invite him in. Scabbard scowled faintly at him. Felwyn intervened with an explanation of why the druid was so suspicious of Scabbard: the family had to be very careful of attempts on her life from the King of the Elves, and when Scabbard arrived with a Western Woodsman and a Western dwarf it was a little alarming. Almax had performed a divination and decided that none of them are evil, and so was willing to believe that the party were not assassins commissioned by the elves.
After some whispered discussion, Thelwyn announced that they feel it would be appropriate for the scales the party had brought to town to be left with the druids, rather than being sent off to the capital. Perhaps Scabbard could have a word with the baron? With that, Scabbard left the home of Almax and Felwyn.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group had enjoyed a relaxing bath and retired for the day.
After some study, Vana was able to announce that some of the items they’d recovered were magical. Carefully opening the box he’d found in the chest under the guardhouse, Scabbard discovered a silver medallion inscribed with an eye. The wizards at the tavern were willing to try and identify some of the items, so Vana handed them over.
Scabbard took the opportunity to slip away and assess the castle. Since his social skills weren’t great and he’d had a little spat with the baron, he felt subtlety was the way to go. The first task would be to get past the outer wall, which was patrolled. He attempted to climb at precisely the wrong moment, as patrolling guards emerged round the corner and waved a greeting; he turned on his heel, mimed the classic “Oh no, I meant to go over that way!” and strode away forcefully.
The rest of the party were trying to find out more about Bone Hill. The wizards confirmed the druid’s description, and the fact that almost every traveller on the road now reported strange things from that direction. They sketched out a map for Vana.
Vana had heard that the dwarf Falco ran a tavern on the docks. As she entered the room there was a crash from behind the bar as Falco dropped a tankard. Vana looked over and realised something was wrong with his appearance. There’s something about his dress, his pose… a deserter? Vana purposefully tried to mask her extreme displeasure and continued into the bar. Falco picked up a rag and began wiping down the bar. Falco’s was a fishermen’s tavern, and there were no other dwarves in sight, until a young kitchen lad hurried by for some task or other. Vana went up to the bar asked them a few pointed questions, attempting to work out if they were first or second-generation deserters. They claimed to be second-generation – but of course, any dwarf of the diaspora would.
Vana wondered aloud if they’d ever considered travelling back to the homeland, but they pointed out that it would be a useless journey, since they would not be welcome there. How unfortunate, she commented. Lacking any evidence that they were lying, she asked about Bone Hill. Apparently the road to Bone Hill led west out of town, and went by a patch of woodland called the Dead Forest, which they knew little about. Before leaving, she asked if they’d had the opportunity to receive the blessing of the Smith recently. They firmly stated that they were disinterested in religion. Nevertheless, Vana hung around for a little while musing on the Smith’s virtues, loud enough for bystanders to hear. Misjudging how much preaching she could engage in before the customers became irritated, Vana eventually provoked Falco into pointing out that his establishment was a tavern, not a temple, and suggesting she take her preaching elsewhere. She acknowledged her fault – “Quite right, sir, everything should be in its proper place.” At that, Falco’s knuckles went white as he wrung the dishrag he was clutching. Noting this, and pegging him firmly as a deserter, Vana didn’t wish him a good day, but simply left.
Meanwhile, at the Dying Minotaur, the others were making themselves highly conspicuous and gathering rumours. A powerful wizard lived there, said some. Bone Hill was the headquarters of a gang of bugbear bandits, claimed others. No, said still others, it’s a portal to the Lower Planes themselves! The spot where the Flux first arose! (This last story, at least, could be discounted, because people’s descriptions of the ruins atop Bone Hill sounded entirely too recent to hail from the era of the Flux or before.)
A little while after Scabbard had rejoined them, the captain of the guard and a couple of soldiers entered and sat down at their table. “Ah, Jack, Scabbard… Oswyn, isn’t it?”
“Your round, is it?”
“Why not?” He sent a soldier to collect the ales. “Saw you wandering around the palace earlier. Anything the Baron needs to know about?”
“Not really. Saw some rats.” Scabbard was very reluctant to talk to the guards, but after some questioning Oswyn leaned forward and quietly muttered about the undead. The captain suggested that the Baroness should hear about this, since she was an acolyte of the Messenger. Mid-conversation, Vana returned and joined the party. The captain agreed to set up a meeting with the Baroness.
Heading over a little while later, they paused to leave weapons at the gatehouse. They entered the throne room where the Baron and Baroness sat, this time with only their guards in attendance. The Baroness asked the party about the undead. The Baron revealed that he was aware of the tunnels from his family history – for back in the day, his family had run smuggling operations out of this town to undermine the cruel rule of King Lorok, and was enobled once Lorok’s dynasty fell; being lawfully inclined the Baron had not wanted to have anything to do with the guardhouse because he felt that the more attention given to the tunnels underneath, the more illegality was glorified. They had been blocked off, but apparently the ghouls – or whoever sent them – had known where the entrances were and saw to them being unblocked.
Vana explained the likely connection to Bone Hill. The Baroness says she believed the bandit group mentioned at the previous meeting tended to operate further to the north – but certainly something had been attacking travellers in the vicinity of the woods surrounding Bone Hill – campsites had been found butchered, and some people missing, though whether eaten or captured or turned undead was not known. The party affirmed they were willing to investigate. The Baron was willing to send some troops in support, but he noted that his troops were trained as mounted horsemen, not stealthy hunters, so the party would probably have better luck going alone – he could, though, bring out his family’s charts of the area, to give a better overview of the local landscape. A soldier brought in the charts for them to examine.
Whilst everyone else was engrossed, Scabbard looked for a chance to slip away. The guards, oddly enough, were staring fixedly at him – perhaps something to do with him making his objections to the Baron very evident earlier. He stared back. The Baron looked up, and mentioned that the Council messenger had come by – did Scabbard want to send that letter asking about the Scales? He agreed.
It wss mentioned that in the hills between Restenford and Bone Hill a band of gnolls had been seen, which had been known to menace travellers foolhardy enough to try a shortcut through the hills. The gnolls claimed to be led by a demigod, though no sign of actual divine power had been seen yet. Those who’d survived attacks speak of the gnolls wearing necklaces showing a humanoid figure – a rotund humanoid figure, with the suggestion of hairy feet.
“I knew it!” announced Oswyn, assuming that this figure denoted some mischief-making hobbit.
Before the party left, Scabbard was led out to watch the Baron handing over the letter – first being given a chance to read that letter to establish that it did make the suggestions he was expecting.
Returning to their inn, the party discovered that the wizards had sadly been unable to identify the magic items, being a bit out of practice.