We’d been traveling through the Grey Forest when we were besieged by gnolls. In an amazing confluence of events we ran into Braxtol, Telsin, Tonias, Brunt, and the Dark Huntress and shortly thereafter noticed a small curl of smoke rising into the sky. Remember? Well, we pick up our story there anyway.
Telsin and Tharn had gone ahead with the scouting. We were waiting for them until Kimya and the Dark Huntress warned us about encroaching gnolls. Not really surprising, but it would have been nice if we’d been able to wait for our foresty scouts. We followed Kimya, Daevon and I, and everyone else followed behind.
It was a brief and uneventful journey until I felt something just brush the top of my head while I was distracted by a colorful bug. Attention snapped back to the task at hand, I realized I’d avoided a tripwire entirely by luck — or at least mostly by luck and perhaps slightly by the hand of its creator. In any event, I was able to avoid triggering the trap and stop the others before they triggered it either. Once clearly illuminated, Daevon disarmed it.
We followed Kimya through the forest and the fog until we approached a small cottage. This clearly was the source of the smoke. Ignorantly, we set off an alarm we didn’t know was there, but it ultimately didn’t matter since the house’s owner already knew we were there. Turns out, the owner was hiding in the house the whole time; it just took us a long time to figure out her hiding place. But hold that thought. We’ll get to Miranda eventually. For now, play along and see if you can figure it out.
We had to duck to enter the cottage under some swinging log trap one of the scouts had triggered. From the outside the cottage looked quaint for you or me. Maybe about the size of this room. Big enough for a small inhabitant to have a bed, a bathroom, and maybe a small table but not much more. Inside, it was surprisingly large though. More like Malcom’s cottage up north. Kitchen, workroom, sitting room, a couple bedrooms. It was obviously magical and I obviously liked it. Inside, everything was also clearly proportioned for someone like us. A little chair kinda like that one, a workbench about the size of that desk, a ceiling maybe seven feet at the peak. The big people had to be ducking under beams and careful not to bump their heads.
It was pretty open inside, other than the bedrooms. The work area and sitting area were separated by just some shelves. The sitting area and the kitchen were separated by just the space available for walking. As I mentioned, the roof supports were exposed so it felt a bit bigger than it was. Which is kind of funny if you think about it since it clearly was bigger inside than outside and the inside seemed even bigger still with the open ceiling. Anyway, nice place. Skylights, cozy fire, some comfy rugs.
It was also a mess. Telsin was sure there was an inhabitant and had been rummaging through things trying to find evidence. He’d even gone so far as to dust most of the open space with a thin coat of flour in hopes of catching an invisible resident. It didn’t work. A few of us double- and triple-checked the rooms, especially the second bedroom, and found no evidence that anyone lived in the home; you know, other than the neatly kept flower beds and garden, the whole host of traps outside, the stocked kitchen, the partially-complete project on the workbench, and the cozy fire in the hearth. Besides that, we found nothing but a fairly friendly cat. Rather than track flour everywhere, Caleb and I cleaned up. It was the right thing to do.
Since we’d been looking for a place to camp, I suggested we spend the night in the cottage. There was some disagreement, but ultimately we decided to stay. While we were making plans and dividing up the watch, it became obvious that Telsin wasn’t entirely crazy — the voices he claimed to have heard eventually resolved itself into a single voice that was fairly obvious to everyone inside. Poor Miranda really needed to pee. Once that was sorted, we turned in for the night. In hindsight, once it was clear someone did reside in the house we probably should have left, but we didn’t.
The night passed uneventfully. We split watches between the front and back of the house and Daevon wandered around inside reading. By morning, he’d heard enough of the muttering to narrow our focus to the fireplace. When someone finally pulled back the rug, we found Miranda. She greeted everyone with a shriek and those close enough also got doused in holy water. You see, Miranda had been hiding from undead and the Necromancer King in her cottage for many years. Turns out she’s a Wizard. It took a lot of explaining and convincing to get her to calm down and accept that we weren’t there to capture here and take her back to the Ex-Malo Meloria. The whole time she was clearly flustered and spent half the time talking to herself as if we weren’t really there.
As we prepared to depart, we asked Miranda for some information about the forest. She confirmed there were ruins to the south. She told us of the Grimalkin, a legendary beast that is all too real. She also told us of the Sun King’s domain — an elusive, magical holy place to the south. That garden turns out to be very important later in the story.
Before we got everything settled though, Tharn’s alarms went off and Miranda tried to bolt from the house screaming about approaching undead. Her being the little gnome she is, it was easy to restrain her from rashly charging into what we assumed were approaching gnolls. Though Miranda had claimed the house was protected from detection by magic-infused soil from the Sun King’s garden, I guess the gnolls could track us to it anyway. When Daevon decided to go fight the gnolls, there was no turning back.
We split to cover the front and back of the house as gnolls had circled around to both sides. Things were going pretty well on our side — with Brunt and Tuiz holding them off, Caleb supporting, and Braxtol and I dropping spells — until a magic gnoll stabbed me in the back and another gnoll set the house on fire. The front side was similarly organized — Telsin, Daevon, and Kimya up front, archers in the back, Miranda supporting — until Miranda remembered that half-finished project on the workbench was a half-finished explosive project, and well, she had a really bad feeling about the fact that the house was now on fire!
At that point I was trying to fight the fire and trying to not bleed too much, Braxtol definitely confirmed the project was dangerous and….
… then with a roar we heard such a clatter. I was tempted to go outside to see what force had shaken the whole house but I decided it was safer to stay inside and more important to fight the fire and try to save Miranda’s house. Ultimately, we did succeed at saving the house with the help of some animate shadows from Daevon.
However, the real heroes of the day were outside. They told me all about it afterwards as we rested and worked to repair the damaged house.
You see, the commotion was the arrival of more gnolls. In particular, a huge monk-y brute of a gnoll had charged across the clearing, right up and over the house, and waded into combat on the Daevon-and-Telsin side of the house. They tell me he literally left a trail of fire as he charged into battle. Though I’ve seen a lot of fantastic things, I’m not entirely sure I believe them. The subsequent fire on the roof of the house could have instead been from the flaming barrels.
Well anyway… it’s probably a better story with the flaming trail. Next time I’ll just have to tell it that way. So, in addition to this big brute, a bunch of gnoll ninjas showed up. Poisoned throwing stars, bladed chains, dark costumes, the whole bit. Telsin showed the impostors who’s boss, literally eviscerating one of them with its own weapon. He also chased down and single-handed ended the stealthy magic gnoll that stabbed me in the back.
Ultimately, it turns out most of the gnolls were just standard-issue strong survivor types with ninja gear. The real battle was with the brute monk gnoll. Even blinded by Daevon’s magnificent radiance, the brute was delivering impressive hammer blows. This undoubtedly was due to his raw upper body strength but also to a neat magic belt that dulled our blows and allowed him to utilize our own force against us.
By all accounts, it was a wonderful duel and contrast in styles between Telsin’s training and cunning versus the brute’s brute force. Though obviously others contributed, the blindness and Telsin’s cunning use of shadows to lure the brute into Miranda’s traps were the highlights of the battle.
With the brute temporarily trapped, we worked on mopping up the other threats. Miranda and I were still in working on the fire when the workbench animated into a vaguely humanoid elemental. Wanting nothing to do with that in addition to everything else, I banished it while Miranda bolstered my strength. Outside, Tuiz cut down a gnoll right through the defending weapon and several people tracked down the gnolls with launcher backpacks that had been lobbing flaming barrels into the clearing.
After a bit more battling, some sort of stinking cloud bombed the melee outside. When the smoke finally cleared, we’d managed to put out the fire and defeat the gnolls. However, the big brute — and his magic belt — managed to escape. It was a shame to lose out on such a powerful item.
As I mentioned before, we then spent the rest of the day helping Miranda fix her house and recovering from the battle. While this was kind of us and the right thing to do, it wasn’t entirely to just be helpful. You see, the day held another surprise. In the aftermath of the battle, Tuiz suddenly realized that the Balthazar we met back in the Hanged Tower was none other than Lord Balthazar Pendergath, former lieutenant of the Necromancer King!
This spawned a whole discussion of mental whammies and some consideration of what we knew about the remaining lieutenants. It was during this discussion that we realized with surprise that Brunt might very well be the Brunt from the stories. You know the stories. So while Braxtil’s team was resting to head out at dusk, we investigated and discovered that Brunt was undead and thus very unnatural. Not ready to throw down with the cursed betrayer-prince of the ashlands — and his possible allies — or let them turn on Miranda once we headed south, we helped Miranda with her construction, let the B-team finish their rest, and saw them off at dusk. As I said, it was the right thing to do.
Next time? Southward to the Sun King’s domain!