<u>Session 21: Arodus 11, 4717 AR-Arodus 20, 4717 AR</u>
On the afternoon of the 11th, you all finally reached the Camp. The land increasingly turned into desert the closer you all came to the settlement. Atish noted that it was a sterile and lifeless land, totally unlike most of the deserts of his home, to which Mag observed that this region was probably suffering from its proximity to the Worldwound. The Camp was a pathetic collection of hovels that appeared to be composed of whatever materials happened to be lying around. Here, a building that had an impressive beginning as a stone structure petered out a few feet above the ground where its walls become mud-daubed sticks with bunches of straw stuffed into the chinks. There, wooden poles supported walls of woven thatch and roof that were little more than an old hay tarp patched in places with tar. Beyond lay a ramshackle wooden structure that appeared to be the scavenged remains of several merchant wagons, as evidenced by the axles and wheels still mounted at places on the outer walls and the hitching tongue protruding above the lintel and supporting a tattered awning. The trail proceeded straight through the center of this collection of dwellings and continued on into the dusty wasteland beyond, disappearing into the shrouding haze of windblown debris. Gallows stood in the center of the settlement, where a dark form turns slowly in the breeze. Few people seemed to be out on the hard-packed streets of this village, though there was some activity to one side at an area of pole-supported awnings that appeared to comprise some sort of shaded market. A scraggly buzzard perched atop an old plank sign. Crudely painted upon this placard was simply “The Camp.”
The still afternoon was shattered by a great bellowing cry of rage, as a massive figure charged into the Camp from the direction of the north road. Those few people on the street quickly scattered at its approach. It was a hill giant covered in dust and blood, a spiked great club swinging in its hand. Its face was a mass of recent wounds and horrible burns, perhaps caused by acid. One thing was evident, though; the look in its eyes as they focused on the party was one of pure insanity. Drinna, Drebb, Rex, and Belflin managed to quickly slay the beast before he seriously wounded any of you all.
After the melee, several of the merchants cautiously approached. You all learned that the hill giant was a local guide named Gurg, who would hire himself and his band of ogre mercenaries out to caravans traveling through the Desolation to provide both guidance and protection. He had been gone about a week as a trade caravan from Vigil had hired him as an escort across the wastes. Judging from Gurg’s condition and the absence of his ogres, things did not bode well for the survival of the caravan. As you all chatted with the merchants, you learned that the camp was run by a human blacksmith known only as the Usurer. He actually minted his own iron coinage, and this was the only currency used in the community. The merchants urged you all to visit the Usurer and exchange your gold for the iron bits at a rate of 5 to 1. You all thought this was outrageous, especially Atish.
While Mag went to visit the Usurer, the rest of you were astounded when a Ghast in a tuxedo showed up to take care of the Gurg’s body. Suppressing your urge to immediately attack, you all had an interesting conversation with this fellow, whose name was Griswald. According to him he had come to the Camp because he could get plentiful food without the threat of imminent extinction from other predators. As he put it, “Hard times out on the Desolation, indeed. There’s simply not enough food to go around. What’s a self-respecting carrion eater to do? Why go into business, of course!” He went on to say,
“If you go out into the Desolation, you might see some of my brethren. Don’t trust them. As pretty as we ghasts may be, they are not all as urbane as I.” Before he dragged away his gruesome cargo for burial (or perhaps snacking), he glanced at Rex and asked, “Say, are you feeling alright? You don’t look so well to me. Perhaps just a touch of the flu, but then again it could be something fatal!” as he unconsciously licked his lips. Atish was outraged at the open tolerance of evil in this community, while Belflin wondered aloud what the purpose of this hovel on the edge of civilization was. Belflin decided he was not going to camp anywhere in town and set off to explore it on his own for more information, while Rex set off to find a local healer, fearing that perhaps he had contracted a strange disease.
Meanwhile, Mag approached the Usurer, who dwelled in simple plank building that was nonetheless of the finest construction in town (other than the well). A well-crafted stone chimney rose at the southern end, while a well-fitting door faced the town commons, with a pair of sliding double doors that likewise faced the town commons. The sliding doors were open revealing a well-equipped blacksmith’s workshop within. The other half of the building consisted of the smith’s dwelling. A sign above the double door depicted a gray coin and an anvil. Laboring over the forge was a tall and lean human male with a great hooked nose and a wide mouth full of seemingly too many teeth fitted tightly together. A shock of pale hair covered his head and watery blue eyes looked like two mirrors, revealing nothing of what goes on inside the head behind. Despite the heat of the forge, however, there was a distinct chill in the air inside the building. Mag acquired some iron bits coinage from the Usurer. She learned that the only place to stay in the Camp was a boarding house run by the Bender Brothers, a pair of gnome twins. Meals could also be had the local tavern called the “Sip of Blood.” She also learned that that there was a lich out somewhere in the Desolation, and the Usurer wanted it dead. He offered the party a steep discount on the iron coinage exchange rates as well as some magical items he had stashed away if they could bring the Usurer the lich’s phylactery and proof that they had slain the body. Thanking the Usurer for his information, Mag returned to Atish, Drinna, and Drebb at the main marketplace.
On the way to the market, they came across a half-elf dressed simply and carrying a fine quarterstaff. He introduced himself as Simon and stated that he was a hermit who had come to the camp to seek solitude in his search for enlightenment. He and Drinna struck up a conversation, where she learned a couple of useful tidbits of information. Simon warned her not to trust the mercenaries and guides for hire in the Camp. He opined that all of them harbored secrets and agendas that came before those they were been hired to protect. He thought that, ironically enough, the giants were the most trustworthy of the lot. He also reported that he had recently seen giant wolf tracks at the outskirts of the Camp. One night there were screams, and he next morning, he found a shack at the edge of town smashed and splattered with blood. The wolf tracks were there. Finally, he informed Drinna that nobody goes out much at night in the Camp. People that do tended to disappear. He thought this was the doings of a temple to Norgorber run by a hobgoblin. Strangely enough, he had noticed that anyone who stays inside was usually alright, even if it was just in a tent or a lean-to. At the open-air market, you all brought supplies and learned many of the same rumors before rendezvousing with Belflin and Rex.
Belflin wandered around camp and came to a collection of crumbling adobe buildings, lean-tos, and tents that surrounded a patch of surprisingly healthy and bountiful garden. The mud-brick adobes were of obviously ancient construction and had many gaps in their walls and roofs covered by stretched animal hides and blankets. There were 2 trained war dogs napping in the shade, which raised their hackles and began barking at the approach of Belflin. They were called off by a tall, rangy Kellid human with a menacing looking wolf the same size as. As the wolf and Koeter circled each other and growled the man introduced himself as Skeribar. This camp of belonged to Skeribar and his group of seven guides who hire themselves out to anyone wishing to cross the Desolation or even explore its inner reaches. Skeribar explained that his crew would take anyone as far as the far edges of the Desolation or even up to the tar pits that ring the walls of Tsar itself. Because they provide only guide services, not protection, they were not in direct competition with Gurg’s or Clantock’s companies. They also sell vegetables to the emporium from their garden plot to support themselves during slow times. He explained that the worst of the Desolation’s horrors were in the Boiling Lands where Nature had been warped and twisted beyond recognition. The guides go there the least because of the great dangers involved, but have made some progress in the Ashen Waste and have cleared out many of the most dangerous denizens and hazards. He went on to report that most of the fighting occurred in the Dead Fields, so there were a large number of undead and a minimum of treasures. The great encampments of soldiers were in what is now the Ashen Waste. That is where the guides have discovered many valuable treasures in the past, as the soldiers went off to die and left their valuables behind in their camps where they still lie unclaimed. Thus, Skeribar was of the opinion that the Ashen Wastes had the most potential for successful adventuring and could probably be cleared of dangers with a concerted effort. Finally, Belflin learned that Skeribar and his men have established safe havens in the Ashen Waste. He asserted that if you see a grove of healthy trees growing in the wastelands, it is a sign that guides’ sanctuary is near and can provide respite.
Belflin took his leave and next came to a collection of hide tents clustered together around a rudimentary parade ground. Here there were thirteen half-orcs decked out in the gear of mercenaries. Their leader introduced himself as Clantock, leader of the “Furious Fourteen” mercenary company. Clantock offered his services to the party, stating “Lots of good treasure out there. I can take you to it. You just pick it up off the ground while we keep you safe. Easy as that, huh? No one knows the place as good as me. You got money, huh?” When Belflin scoffed at this notion, Clantock bristled and retorted, “It’s not easy out there. That giant thinks he was tough, but you know better. The things out there, they kill giants easy, just swoop down and BAM! But not like that wit’ Furious Fourteen. We know place and what’s out there. We know how to win. We win against competition, huh?” Belflin politely declined his offer again, but before he left Clantock imparted some final words of wisdom, saying , “Want to know why the rangers’ garden grows so good? The answer is blood. I’m not kiddin’, and I don’t touch those tomaters they sell at the Emporium.”
In the meantime, Rex sought out Mama Grim, the local apothecary. This old hag lived in an old, artificial mound that rose 20 feet into the air. Its sides were badly eroded from weathering, and a gaping hole opened in one flank beneath a heavy stone lintel. It had the look of an old tomb about it other than the garland of wildflowers and herbs hung around the door frame. Mama Grim appeared when Rex called out a greeting. She had baggy greenish-brown skin and sickly, jaundiced-looking eyes. Her hair was a massive tangle of greasy black locks into which she has tangled bits of feather, bone, and assorted detritus. She was accompanied by two creatures that resembled massive wolverines with eight legs, toothy snouts, long, sharp claws, and golden pelts. She agreed to fix Rex a potion at a reasonable to cure whatever malady was ailing him. He asked her about the region and she responded, “Oh yes, Dearie, the Desolation is dangerous, but it’s just the doorstep. Beyond the threshold lies the truly dangerous. The ruined city is far from abandoned, and those that abandoned it are far from forgetting it. You be careful out there, Dearie. Such a pretty young morsel like yourself would make a fine meal for those that guard secrets not meant to ever see the light of day.” She then told Rex, “My cousins still call the ruined city home. They threw me out, they did. They’s jealous of my beauty they were. By a blue well in the shadow of a green wall they still dwell. We misses them, Dearie. Bring me their heads and rewards will be yours.” Rex thanked her and went on his way.
Near Mama Grim’s, Rex noticed a chapel whose interior was one large dark room with ceilings rising 40 feet into the darkness above where heavy thatching below the tarps ensured that no light can creep in. Crude wooden benches faced an altar to Norgorber, and the only illumination was provided by gray tapers that burned in black iron sconces mounted to the walls. Running along the walls are prayers and obeisance scribed in Infernal with gray paint. The chapel was staffed by a Hobgoblin priest and one male and one female human acolytes. Rex then proceeded to have a very creepy conversation with the Hobgoblin, who named himself as Father Death. Father Death asserted among other things that “The Desolation is beautiful. It provides murder in more ways than you can imagine: sudden death, slow, lingering death, death by sword and tooth, death by poison, the wracking death of disease, or the extended painful death from thirst. Think about it…what ways must exist to meet death out there that haven’t even been discovered yet?” He then went on with this bit of wisdom: “Certain death lies before the walls of the ruined city. You must first face the smaller deaths available throughout the Desolation to prepare yourself for the confrontation with death incarnate. Otherwise you will surely be slain most horribly. Isn’t it wonderful?” Finally, he warned that “Death is as much a part of Nature as is life. Sometimes death is necessary to create life. Some are more vehement in this pursuit than others.” Rex thanked the Hobgoblin and set off to rejoin the party on the town commons.
Once back at the commons, you all decided to wait for nightfall and set up an ambush to take out the mysterious nocturnal predator that had been stalking the camp. Drebb, Drinna, and Rex waited near the gallows as bait while the rest of you took up ambush positions. Much to everyone’s surprise, about an hour after sunset, the corpse swinging on the gallows animated. It tried to haul Rex up to hang, but Drinna and Drebb chopped the corpse down quickly. You all then had a heated argument, as Atish did not want to stay at the boarding house, while Belflin did not even want to sleep in the town. In the end, Atish, Gambler, and Rex slept on the commons, Belflin camped with Koeter just outside of town to the north, and Mag, Drinna, and Drebb decided to stay at the boarding house.
The Bender Bros. Boarding House was a rambling plank structure that appeared to be comprised of the dismantled remains of dozens of freight wagons and other assorted scrap lumber. Within were a series of rooms with low, 6-foot, ceilings and wooden floors. Despite its ramshackle appearance it was fairly sound and one of the nicer buildings in town, complete with shuttered windows. The 3 party members were greeted by two rough-looking gnomes wearing the same black leather armor and bearing the same scraggly black beards beneath their bulbous noses and perpetual sneers. They introduced themselves as Josiah and Jashanah Bender and were delighted to have guests. After renting room, Mag, Drinna, and Dreb were invited to eat with the gnomes in the main dining room. Other than rather crass manners and less than appetizing appearances, the brothers served as excellent hosts. The meal smelled delicious and consisted of wild hare heavily spiced with garlic, a goat chop, fresh greens, assorted nuts, and a custard dessert. Served with the meal were mugs of a fine, stout ale. Josiah was talkative, while Jashanah was more reserved. They relayed various bits of information about the Camp and the Desolation that you all had already garnered during your stay to this point.
A few hours after dinner, Mag, Dreb, and Drinna all awoke with horrible stomach cramps. There was only one privy and Mag entered first. Drinna heard a gasp and a thud from inside the privy as she waited her turn and was suddenly assaulted by a Drow warrior who was Mirror-Imaged. At the same time, one of the Bender brothers appeared and attacked Dreb. A fierce fight followed, with Drinna and Dreb barely surviving. The Drow warrior was actually the other Bender brother cloaked in an illusion, and to make matters worse there was a third brother who came around to try and kill Dreb and Drinna after he had assassinated Mag in the bathroom.
Wounded, sick, and desperate Drinna and Dreb dragged Mag from the house after they had dispatched the treacherous gnomes. They got the attention of Atish, Gambler, and Rex. Mag should have died, but was somehow clinging to life through a heroic effort of will. Atish healed her as the others summoned Belflin. Amongst the equipment carried by the gnomes was gem that magically made things appear as they really are when used as an eye lens. Atish and Belflin were enraged and wanted to raze the whole town. As you all debated, the Usurer appeared on the scene. He did not appear the least bit surprised by the fact that the gnomes were running a murder and theft ring in town. In fact, he was irritated that the party had removed a source of the Camp income and demanded that the party either pay 10,000 Gp or take over the boarding house. Mag, sensing something off about the Usurer ever since she had talked with him earlier, looked through the gem and saw that he was actually a lich wearing an illusionary disguise. When she alerted the rest of the party to this fact, you all attacked
The Usurer dumped a cloud of poisonous vapor that most of you used flying magic to rise above. Then he tried unsuccessfully to magically charm Rex into attacking you all. Rex somehow resisted and Drinna’s unarmed strikes along with some magical support from Atish and Mag finally dropped the dread undead being. Many in the town has come out at the sounds of combat, and several began to quietly leave town. Exhausted, you all retired to the Usurer’s house and used magic to locate his treasure vault in a cyst deep beneath the earth under his hut. You then dug a tunnel with magic and found the hoard, which included the Usurer’s phylactery. Atish destroyed the foul artifact, thus permanently slaying the lich. You all then spent the next few days recovering and speaking with those townsfolk who remained about the future of the Camp.