Our cast of players:
- Achmed (Dave): Human Thief, level 5.
- Albrecht (Rick): Human Priest, level 4.
- Pioden (Craig): Elf Warrior/Wizard/Thief, level 3/2/3.
- Tether (Dan): Human Warrior, level 4.
- Tomas (Alan): Human Paladin, level 4.
- William (Max): Human Warrior, level 4.
Total XPs awarded from the previous session: 2,966
As the rest of you move up to the bridge, Achmed cautiously starts to edge his way southwards along it, glancing nervously at the rows of impaled heads either side of him. As he progresses southwards, Achmed sees a build up of soot on the timbers of the bridge. Pausing to examine it, he listens carefully and can hear in the distance the sound of what he thinks is hammering. Taking a couple more steps forward, an unearthly shrieking and screaming erupts from behind him and a wave of terror passes over him. Without thinking, Achmed starts to run south over the bridge, trying desperately to get away from the eldritch sound.
On the north end of the bridge, where the rest of you are waiting anxiously for Achmed to return and report back, you too hear the sense destroying sound and overcome with a wave of terror so palpable it almost knocks you off your feet. William is the first to react, fleeing northwards into the mist in the direction of the old elf’s hovel. Albrecht, protected by the power of the ring you took from Bloodwhisker, and Tomas, not easily rattled by this sort of thing, exchange nervous glances and then decide to follow Achmed into the mist over the bridge.
Achmed runs in a blind panic southwards with scant regard for his own safety, his only concern being to try and get away from the terrible, bone-chilling noise behind him. This bridge is much longer than the others and it is a good hundred feet before Achmed reaches the other end, and what he sees causes him to draw up short, the shock overriding even his fear – in front of him is a wooden fortress. A dense cloud of soot issues forth from within and the swampland here is coated with cinders and ash. Hanging heavy on the foggy air is the endless clanging and crashing of tortured metal, punctuated with screams of fear.
Directly in front of Achmed, twenty feet tall and flanked by a pair of gangly towers, a gatehouse stands resolutely in the mist, seeming to defy the encroachment of the surrounding swamp. Walls at least fifteen feet high stretch away on either side of the gatehouse towards further towers dimly silhouetted in the fog. Flaming braziers belching clouds of thick, black smoke top the gatehouse and snarling figures stalk the parapets, with smaller figures crouching atop the towers, peering warily through the dim light. At a barked command, a volley of arrows hisses through the mist from the figures atop the parapets towards Achmed. The thief has no chance and falls backwards, as half a dozen arrows find their mark, blood pouring from multiple wounds and streaming away across the soaking timbers. Albrect and Tomas emerge from the mist behnd Achmed and see his motionless body lying on the bridge, riddled with arrows and seemingly dead. They cannot yet see the source of the attack so as Albrecht moves forward to see what, if any, aid can be given to Achmed, Tomas moves past him, leading with his shield as some measure of protection and trying his best to cover both Albrecht and Achmed.
As Tomas approaches Achmed, the fortress emerges from the mist but he is undeterred, stepping resolutely forward to protect his friends as best he can. Emerging from the gate he sees a party of half a dozen kobolds bearing torches while behind them are three gnolls, snarling and cursing, pushing the kobolds on. Tomas fights his urge to engage a visible enemy and, even as he hears another barked command from the parapet in front of him, and the next volley of arrows approaches, he does not flinch, gesturing Albrecht to drag Achmed’s body to safety as quickly as he can. His shield takes the brunt of the salvo, peppered like a pin cushion, but several arrows also find their mark, piercing his armour and causing significant damage. Another volley like this and he will be finished.
Pioden and Tether now appear, Pioden snapping off an arrow as he moves and taking one of the kobolds right in the throat, gurgling to the ground. Tomas, for once the prudent one, backs up rapidly however, staying just in front of Achmed’s body being dragged by Albrecht, giving the others no choice but to retreat too. The kobolds and gnolls seem to be in no hurry to pursue you and, eventually, their torches recede into the distance as you retreat over the bridge. The shrill screaming is still emanating from somewhere nearby though and Tomas looks for the source while Albrecht treats Achmed, eventually narrowing it down to one of the severed heads on the bridge. The sight of the half rotted head, mouth wide open and screaming is unnerving even to the steady Tomas, but he swipes it sideways with his sword, sending it spinning into the swamp with a plop, whereupon it is silenced.
Albrecht does the best he can for Achmed, but the divine energies desert him and Achmed, although conscious once more, is still weak and shaky. Even Tomas, after he has cured himself, is looking battered, armour pierced with several holes and streaked with blood. You have done all you can here, so you make your way back along the bridge in search of William. You find him next to the old elf’s hut, still anxious but much more in control not that the screaming has ceased.
While you regroup to discuss your next approach, Tether scouts around the perimeter of the reed island on which the hut is located. On the far side behind the hut he comes across a fallen log leading from the island out over the muddy bog. It has collapsed in the middle, where it is submerged for several feet, but rises up again on the other side before vanishing into the mist. Tether examines it thoughtfully and concludes that it is no chance fallen tree, but that it has been deliberately felled and then subsequently trimmed. He calls the rest of you over to see and William concurs that the log has been placed. William is keen to continue your explorations of the swamp by crossing over using the log, but none of the rest of you is keen. Pioden favours returning to the hut and attempting to fortify it against any attack from the direction of the fortress, whereas most of the rest of you want to return to where you encountered the dragon and explore the lesser used bridge you previously ignored.
William perserveres though, and after a protracted bout of arguing, his view prevails and he eventually persuades you all that the best course of action is to proceed deeper into the swamp. Pointing at the map you took from the orc leader, you shows you what appear to be some caves in that direction. Achmed, despite still being weak, agrees to lead the way across the log. He ties off a rope around his waist and passes the other end to William, who braces himself against a nearby stump. The log is covered in algae and slime, and is extremely slippery. No sooner has Achmed has placed a foot on it than he becomes doubtful of this suggested approach and changes his mind, the argument resuming.
Some time passes again and William’s desire to explore deeper is overridden, and you return to the hut, thence to the site of the battle with the orcs and finally past the wrecked waggons and scattered bodies to the other bridge where your horses wait for you under the steady eye of Sorrow. Tomas decides that there is nothing to be gained by leaving the horses in the swamp and directs Sorrow to lead them out of this dreadful place to somewhere safer, which he does, with a rueful glance back at Tomas.
As you previously observed, this bridge seems not to have been used as heavily or recently as the ones you have already been over but it is otherwise of identical construction. Achmed and Pioden once more scout out ahead over the bridge leaving the rest of you waiting for news. The intrepid pair disappear into the mist and again find that the bridge terminates on another of the reed islands. The banks of this one are also shrouded in the ever-present mist, but here the gloom seems more prevalent here. The island seems barren of life apart from a single gnarled oak. Moving cautiously further onto the island, the pair spot a toppled granite statue of some sort, buried in moss and spongy turf, half covered by reeds.
Achmed approaches warily and when he gets within about fifteen feet of the statue, almost as if rousing itself from sleep, the statue begins to stretch and unfurl. Watching in terrified fascination, Achmed looks on as it stiffly hoists itself to its feet, earth and moss falling away as it does so. As it rises up, Achmed sees that it is at least ten feet tall and is a crude represention in granite of a brooding, barbarian king, head topped with a simple crown wreathed in ivy. Trying to show respect, Achmed bends one knee and bows his head. With the grinding of rock on rock, the statue lifts out one hand in which it holds an immense granite battleaxe and Achmed thinks better of it, turning and fleeing back the way he came, bundling Pioden in front of him. The statue immediately sets off in pursuit, taking huge strides through the swamp, seemingly unencumbered by the mud and bog.
To be continued…