If You Go Down To The Woods Today . . .
20-22 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)
Returning to Helm’s Hold clutching their grisly trophies, the heroes find their way barred by an eladrin patrol on the lookout for looters of sacred relics from the ruins of Sharandar, the ancient eladrin city at the heart of Neverwinter Wood. Any hostility is soon assuaged as the eladrin leader Aramil recognises Paelias as a fellow mover and shaker in the Restore Sharandar movement. A sensitive and non-intrusive body search later and the party is soon back on track.
Determined to make the most dramatic entrance possible, the heroes head straight for the Dragon’s Gauntlet to plonk down the severed heads of the lycanthropes in front of Alisara Callum, interrupting a somewhat one-sided conversation she is having with Deloran Bard as the pureblood spokesman continues to badger her about putting the Helm’s Hold leadership behind the campaign to expel the spellscarred from the town.
Impressed is indeed the word as Callum is grateful both for the victory against the werewolf raiders and the relief from the ear-bending she is receiving from Bard. She summons the pair of villagers who survived the attack a few nights earlier – Teolgar and Rannith – in the hope they confirm the heads match those of their assailants.
The pair cannot be sure, claiming that one werewolf looks much like another, and in any case it was dark. But to the more perceptive of the heroes there is something about the men’s reaction that is out of place, as if they are more shocked than joyous and more disappointed than grateful, while Kierke recognises a distinctly Uthgardti lilt to their accents.
Suspicions aroused, several of the heroes follow the pair as they leave the Gauntlet, with Danforth successful in tracking them back to a shack in the seedier part of town, although their muffled conversation within cannot be heard clearly.
The bounty for the werewolves weighing heavy in their pockets, the heroes decide to make a night of it as they go on to the Hungry Flame where Malus continues to impress Meryeth with his sensitive handling of the firebrand Halas, who sees the death of the werewolves as an opportunity to ram the bigoted opinions of the so called purebloods back down their throats.
Meanwhile, Mani returns to the Monastery to seek out Brother Satarin, to glean more information about Karadhan and Thundertrees and a renewed blessing for her dream easing dolly. The ancient dwarf is pleased to hear the name of his old friend again, the two having shared many a mead before the cataclysm that claimed Karadhan’s life, although he does not believe Karadhan and his crew came closer to finding Gauntylgrym than any of the many hundreds of dwarves who continue to spend their lives searching for the fabled Delzoun citadel.
Satarin reveals the location of Karadhan’s house in the logging village, although he counsels against the journey, pointing out the place must be nothing but ruins now, where nothing is to be found but the echoes of death that still reverberate from the appalling events of the eruption of Mount Hotenow. Seeing that the half-elf is not to be turned from her quest, he asks Mani to return with any dwarven remains she might find so that he can give them a proper send-off.
After a couple of days of rest, travel and retail therapy the heroes approach the remains of Thundertees through the swamp on the edge of Neverwinter Wood; difficult terrain created during the cataclysm when the violent shockwaves that ripped through mountain top and forest floor broke the banks of the mighty Neverwinter River.
Despite the bleak outlook of their surroundings, it appears the party are not the only recent explorers of the area, as the more nature savvy spot footprints in the soggy ground and, more disturbing still, the mark of Asmodeus, first seen tattooed into the chest of the desiccated body back in the chasm caves, now carved into several of the trees on the approach to the ruins.
Such mysteries soon cease to be of primary interest when the leaden-footed schlep through the swamp triggers an attack by some tentacled muddy monstrosities that emerge from the bubbling and stinking pools of mulchy swamp water.
The battle is joined and is turning in the party’s favour as Malus gets behind the fight and presses on to Karadhan’s hut. All seems well as he closes in on the objective, noticing only strong growths of fungus all over the rotting building and strange scorch marks on some of the planking – possibly recent, possibly arcane.
But such detective work is short-lived as the warlock is grabbed and encircled by strands of ivy lashed out by a large lump of malevolence that surfaces from a deep pool near the base of the steps into Karahdan’s cabin. With an outrageous flourish, Malus shakes off the attack as if it of no concern as he teleports out of the clinging vines and away from danger, straight on the steps and in sight of the doorway – only to then tread on a patch of pungent fungal growth, triggering the release of a cloud of noxious spores.
Looking up through the stinking mist Malus wishes his companions had managed to keep up with his thrilling advance, or at least that he shouldn’t have listened to Talak singing Lucien in the Sky with Diamonds over the camp fire the night before, as stares at several giant mushroom men advancing towards him, backed up by a massive fungus spreading up the back wall of the shack; a massive fungus with eyes.