Gritty Realism

Session 53

Vines, squirrels and a dark hole.

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We made to approach the cave, but we were short two from our party. Since witnessing so much death and dealing with the undead, Stephen had been quiet, depressed and feeling like he couldn’t use his music to help the party. Likewise Ishamael has been strangely quiet since the wanderers rest the night before, as though he had something on his mind. Something he couldn’t share with us. We left them behind to allow the hunters some kind of protection against whatever was in this forest.

The path back to the cave looked little better in the dim light of the morning. If anything it was worse, the veil of night had hidden much of the decay about us. Ahead of us we could see a thick barrier of undergrowth, twisted branches and vines blocking the path. Suspecting some trick as the path beneath it seemed used, we cautiously approached to examine it. As we drew near, the vines woven between the branches leapt towards us from all sides, trying to envelop us in their grasp. Francis seemed to understand the strange voice they speak in, yet it only puts him on his guard. Although they don’t move quickly, the vines could lash out to grasp us far further than a sword could reach. I was barely able to strike them and before I knew it I was bound by the grasp of the one closest to me. Attacked again and again, before I knew it I was down, struggling to stay conscious. Knowing that I could not fail my angel here, I found the strength within me to rejoin the fight. Fortunately the rest of the party had fared better, and as the last of them died the barrier blocking our way fell apart. It was only then that I realised that in the struggle, Francis’s dog had been killed.

We took a short rest to recover and tend our wounds, after taking the damage I did it was particularly welcome. As we did this, I saw Francis taking the skin from his dog. I know it is his trade, but i can’t say the sight of it didn’t unnerve me a little, particularly in this place. We set off towards the cave again, and the closer we got, the worse the forest became. Eventually we came upon an unusual mound of undergrowth by the path. Wary of our earlier experience, Francis approaches the mound while we prepare for another fight. He tells us he can smell death, and we can’t detect any life from it. We move the undergrowth and I examine the body beneath. It is a man covered with hundreds of tiny lacerations, like cuts or small bites. On closer inspection he was probably killed by loss of blood, he has cuts across several of his major arteries. I rummage through his backpack to see if there are any clues to who he was, but I find little. A waterskin, some rations and what looks like a spellbook. He was obviously a mage of some kind. I keep it the waterskin and rations, mend the backpack and offer it to Valin who lost his when we fled Judgement. I also gave him the spellbook to hold for now, he had a modicum of magical ability and may find more use for it until our own magic users could catch up to us. By the path we find a large three toed footprint. It’s obviously reptilian but the spacing is consistent with a humanoid. As we follow the tracks along the path, Azmodeus tells us that there are four of the creatures, and that they passed through here about a day ago.

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We were almost at the grove containing the cave, when we became aware of dozens of eyes watching us from the forest. The things swarmed out of the forest, it seemed like a hundred squirrels infected by something nasty, perhaps whatever was afflicting the forest was affecting these too. I don’t know what was infecting them, but I didn’t want it so I called upon my angel to shield me, and he bathed me in his protecting light. Not one of the squirrels touched me, indeed our party was relatively untouched by them, although at one point I was caught in Valin’s spell, burning me. Again. I swear I will begin to get a tolerance for fire if this keeps happening. We killed the last squirrel without too much effort, however I saw one that was still moving, and decided to use it to test this mushroom I had found. It was still unconscious, so I tied it as best I could with a few threads from my rope and stowed it in the backpack.

We finally found the entrance to the cave, but to our surprise it was shallower than expected, with a small hole at the rear dropping vertically into darkness. Wooden spikes have been driven into the side of the hole, forming a crude ladder. There is some kind of chatter below, though the language is not one any of us are familiar with. Jarvok offers to lead, he’s familiar with the underground and I suspect will be more capable down there. We were still waiting to hear from Jarvok when the sound of battle began, and each of us followed swiftly. My training allowed me to drop down without harm, and my naturally good eyesight allowed me to jump to Jarvok’s aid straight away. The stink of the things made me feel physically sick, and I could tell it was affecting my companions too. It was a tough fight, as the rest of the party were delayed Jarvok and I took the brunt of the damage and we were left barely standing when the last of the eight troglodytes died. We had another short rest, though I still needed some healing from my companions and even then I was still feeling thoroughly bruised. Before we left, I fed the now conscious squirrel a little of the mushroom. It devoured the thing ravenously, but it sent it into some kind of trance so I tied it back up to see what happened. As Azmodeus was the least injured, he volunteered to lead, however his poor night vision meant that we needed to cast light on a stone to act as a torch for him. We followed the path out of this room, which curved to the left until it met another corridor. To the right there appeared to be a door, but Azmodeus saw that it was nailed to the walls, and not a functioning door at all. There were no marks to indicate it was used, and the corridor was try here, smelling strongly of clay. Sensing a trap, we ignored it, and travelled back the other way.

It opened up into a wider room, with a bridge crossing a green, glowing river. There is a crude sign next to it, saying “NO FSHIIN!!!”, and the bridge itself looks a little ramshackle, but sturdy enough to carry a person’s weight. Azmodeus decides to test it, being the biggest of us it makes sense that if he can cross it, any of us can. As he passes the midpoint, a mechanism activates, dropping asmodeus straight into the river. He immediately hauls himself back up the bank, although being something of an obstacle it doesn’t seem to have harmed him at all. Asmodeus points out some concealed stepping stones he saw as he hit the water, and we each cross over without any trouble.

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We hear sounds coming from the next corridor, and recognise the language from the troglodytes we encountered earlier. Cautiously Jarvok crawled forward to get a better idea of how many there are. Before he could return, a troglodyte in better armour than the ones previously encountered attacked, striking him before he had a chance to get up. Francis shot an arrow into it’s arm, and Azmodeus charged in, throwing the injured Jarvok out of harm’s way before attacking the thing himself. Realising our situation, I thought of my days hunting. You don’t chase a bear into it’s cave, you smoke it out into the open where it doesn’t have the advantage of attacking you one by one. I called the party back, hoping to force the troglodytes into a bottleneck. Their leader seemed to realise the same thing, because as I prepared to receive the attack I could hear the sound of digging through the wall beside me. Yelling to the party to fall back, we retreated to the other side of the river. Francis wanted me to set up some kind of hunting trap, but I always had men to do that stuff for me and I left it well alone. Francis set it up himself and crossed over the stones with the rest of us. We readied ourselves on the far bank of the river, when the troglodytes burst through. The first wave fell to our assault, and Azmodeus leapt across, beheading the armoured troglodyte before taunting the two remaining ones with its head. More charged across the river, yet only one broke our line and I put him down in short time. At the other end of the bank, my companions fared worse. Jarvok, then Valin fell to the troglodytes and needed the attention of Francis and I to stabilise them. The two troglodytes tainted by Azmodeus fled, one the way we had come and the other deeper into the cave. We finished off the last of them, and searched the few bodies not in the river. The only item of note was a jade framed mirror I found on the leader’s corpse. With two members down, and none of us in good shape, we decided to risk a longer rest in the cave. We barricaded part of the original tunnel with a table, and rigged up what else we could find to create a small camp. We lit candles away from us, giving us warning of approaching danger while also making our camp darker by comparison. Azmodeus offered to keep watch as he was relatively uninjured, and the rest of us settled down for a rest.

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