Francis awoke Azmodeus and I for our watch. Although his own watch had been quiet, he told us that he’d noticed more activity than we saw in the wilderness, the forest seeming more alive than the wilderness before. He also showed us a crude map that Boris had slipped into his pocket, showing a route past a ‘big rock’ to a safe place to rest. Our own watch was uneventful, and I awoke to the smell of Jarvok’s mushroom stew cooking. I realised he had been up for some time, looking for ingredients. Deciding to try my own hand, I found some beautiful pink mushrooms with big red spots. I showed Jarvok my find, but he seemed less than impressed. He didn’t recognise the variety, but he knew enough to warn me that these would not be good to eat. After a filling breakfast, we followed Boris’s map as it guided us along the line of the forest’s edge. Looking out from the forest, the land was barren but for the occasional tree or hillock.
We travel along the path for sometime, it was a quiet hike yet Darrick warned us not to leave the path. The forest is unnerving us all, each of us sensing different things, things moving just on the edge of our vision, half sounds and strange lights. Francis’s dog Pan picks up the scent of beasts about us. Francis himself goes into some strange meditative state, apparently able to sense the presence of beasts himself. North East is a pack of giant hyenas heading west, in the forest are foxes, mice and something new he doesn’t recognise, though far less beasts than he expected. He warned us to keep an eye out for the hyenas, yet we did not sight them in the end. As the sun sets, we look for somewhere sheltered to rest. Valin and Francis head out to hunt, while Azmodeus finds shelter away from the forest, an old cave which had been long abandoned by its previous resident, though I swear I could still smell the bear. I see Jarvok head towards the forest and decide to see if he can give me any pointers to find better ingredients. He’s a different man when he talks about food, and showed me a few books, although I could only read a few of his own notes in Dwarvish I understood a little. He plucked some herbs and gave them to me to touch, feel and taste. I thought I recognised a few tastes from various dishes and garnishes. I found a few herbs and berries which seemed suitable, added to Jarvok’s own haul and combined with the goat the hunters had returned with we had the nicest dish yet. If Jarvok is looking for work, I’d offer him a job in my kitchens before my feathered cap could hit the floor. We rested well, and after another day of travel we came across a rock the size of a three storey building. Valin and I both spot signs upon it indicating the way north to The Wanderer’s Rest, presumably the safe place to rest.
After a few more hours travel we spied the smoke rising from the tavern’s chimney. Heading towards it we each feel a tingling sensation as though we were passing through some kind of field or barrier, but it soon passed. Feeling more at home in here than the wilds, I headed in first. As I walked in the halfling playing the piano stopped, as did all the conversation in the room. The goblin behind the bar, presumably the proprietor challenged us. ’What do you want?’ he asked aggressively, pointing a crossbow at me. I grinned at him, goblin or no, barkeep was a language I was fluent in. ‘We want what any man wants, a drink!’. At this the atmosphere tangibly relaxed, the music resumed and we headed towards an empty table near the bar. We order rooms, a meal and of course a round of ale. It was pretty nasty stuff, but I’d been dry for over a week now and was in no mood to argue. We realise that this is a good opportunity to gather a little intel on this area and start to mingle, or eavesdrop at least. Francis heads over to the door we came in through and picks up a discussion about a mutant problem the two human hunters were having. Ishamael listens in on a couple of females, a half-orc and a half-dwarf no less, though really only notices how drunk the half-dwarf is getting. He tries his luck with the goblins nearby, but their tongue is indecipherable to him. However the couple by them with a distinct natural look were a bit more fruitful and seemed interested in our party. I see Jarvok head up the stairs, and head over to the bar. I ask him if he has any other beers, some craft or microbrews perhaps, using this as an excuse to see what’s hidden behind the counter. As Clonk tells me how all the beer on tap is the same stuff they send out to all of The Wandering Inns chain, I get a closer look at the crossbow, a wonderful weapon and not one I think was rightfully his. I also noticed that the bar extended past the wall, serving another room to the right. I compliment his crossbow, and he starts to talk about Betty as he’s named her, highlighting the large hawk’s head at the dangerous end. As soon as he gets the thing out, it catches Valin’s attention, who heads over to ask about it. Clonk immediately recognises his sword as Mick’s however, and doesn’t believe a word about how he came to be in possession of it. As he talks, Valin notices some lights behind the bar flicker blue momentarily and instantly Clonk is asking us to sit down. A man enters, but the goblin waiter quickly ushers him into the concealed room to the right before heading back behind the bar to tend the hidden bar I spotted earlier. Meanwhile Francis is having some luck with the wildfolk or whatever those people were. Apparently their whole tribe has almost been wiped out, some powerful druid called Narder left 10 years ago, yet there are rumours of his return that coincide with when the forest began to change, stories of docile beasts attacking people and even the trees themselves becoming hostile with the vines themselves eating people. They came to the inn looking for help, though all they could offer was a displacer beast cloak and directions to a cave which they believe is where Narder resides. Francis proposes to talk to the rest of us to see what we can do. He also asked about the new visitor. They didn’t know much, but they knew this wasn’t his first visit, and previous visits have been the same, he heads into the side room, meets with another man from the city, then leaves.
Meanwhile Jarvok has returned from whatever he was doing upstairs, he looks to approach the half-orc and half-dwarf but only pauses briefly, apparently not interested in whatever they were talking about. Valin had stuck up a conversation with the hunters by the door, he noticed they had silvered weapons, a precaution against undead and other monsters. Telling them he’s new to the area, he asks for any advice they can give. After some vague advice about staying out of trouble, Valin asks what they know about the Lord of Ash, but they’re dismissive, considering these petty affairs to be beneath them. He asks their names, and they tell him that he can call them Anlow and Brann, though it seems unlikely that these are their real names. He asks what they know of the Knights of Old, but they only warn him to be careful of the darkness. He asks about the visitor, but apart from believing he is up to no good they reveal nothing. He asks why they are here, and they say they are waiting for a man called Manfred from Frampt who has not arrived yet. Valin mentions that Darrick is from Frampt, and they seem keen to talk to him, so Valin sends darrick over to them.
I head back to the bar and ask Clonk if he has anything stronger. He heaves a great barrel onto the bar, marked only with an ominous XXX. Gingerly he pours a little into a glass and I take it to the far end of the bar to eavesdrop on the conversation next door while pretending to drink whatever it was Clonk gave me. Although I could hear the voices, something was wrong and I only picked up a few words, Reinmann, military, movement. It seemed as though one voice was doing most of the talking while the other gave short responses or acknowledgements. Focussing on the conversation, I absentmindedly took a sip from the glass I was nursing. By my angel, that one sip felt like being hit by the proverbial dunny cart! No longer needing to act drunk, I attempted to lift the mood of the place with a rousing verse of The Wizard’s Staff Has a Knob on the End, but the damn halfling kept playing the tune wrong and before I’d even gotten to the best bit about how long the staff grew, the waiter began to escort me to my room.
I headed downstairs early, fortunately the night had been tame compared to some of the epic sessions I’d had back in Silverbell and far from any hangover I was feeling pleasantly refreshed, perhaps letting my hair down had been good for my soul. Looking about, the goblins, hunters and half-orc and half-dwarf women were also down for breakfast. The rest of our party seemed to think eight gold was extortionate for breakfast, and proceed to negotiate a better price with Clonk. It seemed important to them so I left them to it. After a while Jarvok appeared, bringing down breakfast for the two women, introducing himself as he did so. After a little small talk, he presented the older half-dwarf with the dwarven axe he had obtained in the prison. She recognised it as one from her clan in Kazak-Karak, specifically belonging to a scout that had gone missing in Reinmann. He asks about Kazak-Karak, and she tells him how it had been taken from them by the greenskins. She herself was from Ringfield, and she marked it on our map for us, though she warns us that it is a secretive and well protected place. Valin asks Darrick about the conversation last night, it seems that Manfred is a witch hunter in Frampt, employed by Heinz Schiller. He arrived years ago, and helps Mr Schiller run the town and seek out adventurers to recruit. They were keen to know more of Frampt and were engaged in witch hunter business, the details of which they kept to themselves, though they did tell of mutants bathing in the blood of the fallen to change their own bodies. Meanwhile Ishamael has been pretty quiet about last night, instead bartering with Clonk for a couple of flasks of the XXX moonshine that I sampled last night. He eventually swapped a couple of short swords that we’d taken, though to my mind that seemed a pretty bad exchange, however potent that stuff was. As we left, the half-orc woman stopped Jarvok to tell him that many more of her kind had been killed by the dwarves.
We had agreed to help the wildfolk, I don’t know if this was the path that my angel wants me to follow, nor do I believe it will benefit my quest immediately, however if we are to stop some evil then I am happy to pursue this path for now. The cave is on our way anyway, so it should not slow us by any serious time, and as the wildfolk take us along hidden shortcuts I realise that this task may even shorten our journey. They ask Ishamael if he’s from Ravenholm, and he asks them if they knew of the Boom Busters, which they hadn’t.They offer to add Ravenholm to our map, and tell him that that is where a lot of tieflings migrated North. Francis tells Valin to show them the Forsaken Slayer we took from Mick of the Brown Bulldog Gang. Ishamael asks the wildfolk what the Forsaken are. They told him they are Dark Elves, which have been around for as long as they can remember. The Fallen strengthened them, some ride spiders and some even merged with spiders. The arrival of the Fallen signaled their appearance on the surface.
The journey went well, travelling directly through the forest only took a couple of days and throughout we were looked after and protected. Eventually the forest began to change, less greens and more brown leaves and dead foliage, and even deeper the forest seemed to be coated in some kind of slime. As night began to fall we arrived at an area where a cave was visible deeper into the forest. Here the decay is at it’s worst, and although most animals seem to have left the area, Francis can still sense rats, spiders, fish and a lot of squirrels. We decide to leave and make camp until tomorrow, and approach Narder’s Grove once light returns.