Tomb of Abysthor

Session 22

Chaos in the Camp and an Abomination in the Desolation

<u>Session 22: Arodus 21, 4717 AR-Arodus 26, 4717 AR</u>

In the days following the defeat of the Usurer, it became apparent that there was a four-way struggle for leadership of the community brewing. Clantock and Skeribar were the two obvious contenders, while Simon and Father Death were subtler in their approaches. Atish turned the old boarding house into a homeless shelter and soup kitchen. He was aided by Drebb and Sammar, the diplomatic envoy from Vigil. Rex meanwhile, went out into the nearby wilderness (not too far!) to commune with nature and contemplate his relationship with Sarenrae. The rest of the crew (Mags, Belflin, Drinna, and Gambler) had been hanging out at the Sip of Blood tavern.

This tavern is an old structure that appears to have been rebuilt several times. The bottom third of the outside walls are of stacked fieldstones and apparently remain from the original building. Above that the walls and roof are a mud-splattered wattle and daub construction with numerous chinks through which tiny plumes of smoke escape. The placard above the door depicts a pointy-fanged fellow about to take a drink of some dark, red liquid in a mug. Inside, the tavern consists of a large, L-shaped common room with a small kitchen and living quarters in the northern wing. A menu on the wall sells assorted drinks and meals of roast pigeon, horsemeat, turtle soup, and coyote, along with stale breads and overripe vegetables. The proprietor of the place, “Lucky” Bjorc Balsam, runs the bar with the help of six local wenches who cook, wait tables, sometimes clean, and perform other services out back during their breaks. When the doors are open there are typically about a dozen Camp residents (affectionately known as “Campies”) here.

“Lucky” Bjorc is quite a specimen of a half-orc. His head is hairless on the left side with a missing eye and ear and massive scarring there also. His right arm ends in a stump above the elbow, and his left hand has only a thumb and two fingers. His left leg ends in a ragged stump just below the knee, long healed, but with exposed bone at the end. Fortunately, the former leg was largely useless anyway having ended in a twisted club foot. Bjorc claims to have had a rough life including run-ins with dragons, elven torturers, a troll’s cook pot, and for a short time the inside of a gelatinous cube. Regardless, Bjorc may be the most cheerful orc alive—though his missing tongue prevents him from verbally expressing his joy much. He does have a complicated series of hand signs that his waitresses can use to translate for him with customers. The rest of the Camp’s inhabitants hold him in awe for all of his obviously narrow escapes from death and believe he leads a charmed life. He is quite popular, and many Campies are even jealous of him and his luck.

While at the tavern, Mags, Belflin, Drinna, and Gamble took in many local rumors about the Desolation and Tsar:

 

“The Ashen Waste is a desert hellhole of choking dust and evil spirits. If you die there your soul wanders forever without finding rest.”

“The Dead Fields get their name from the bones of the dead that are stacked like cordwood across the whole plain. Sometimes they get up and walk.”

“If you’re looking for a guide to take you out in the wastes, nobody knows it better than Skeribar and his men. They charge steep, but they come home alive so that counts for something.”

“If you travel the roads of the Desolation at night, you’re sure to run into the Lost Caravan…all that’s left of the unluckiest merchants to ever try to cross the wastes. You’ll see and hear strange things that can’t be explained, but that’s okay. Just step aside and let ‘em pass, and more than likely they’ll go on by, though a few people do disappear. Those that bother them, though, are doomed to join their cursed journey forever.”

“If you’re hurt or sick and need help, go see Mama Grim. She’ll fix you right up. Just don’t feed the golden gorgers.”

“The Sip of Blood Tavern is run by a vampire. His name’s Lucky Bjorc and drinking other people’s blood is how he stays so lucky. I’d stay away from the sangria if I were you.”

“Gurg the hill giant used to run the best protection service in town. Looks like those idiots from Vigil are the last fee he’ll ever collect. I wonder if his ogres did in the whole lot of them out in the middle of the Desolation.”

“A fellow passed through here a few months ago heading out to the Desolation. He looked familiar to me from my days as a bandi…er, I mean merchant. Yeah, that’s it, a merchant. Anyway, this guy was dangerous. Bartileus, the Butcher of Lozeri, he’s called and he’s wanted in several counties in Ustalav; I’m sure there’s a nice reward for him.”

“Past the crossroads are the Boiling Fields and the Chaos Rift, lands so tortured by evil magic that they no longer even look like part of the earth.”

“A strange peddler comes through town from time to time. He’s the only one I’ve heard of that seems to be able to cross the Desolation without trouble. He only sells to people he chooses, and it’s said that those who buy his wares receive good luck.”

“That hermit in the bark tent don’t ever come out in the daytime. He’s a vampire I tell ya’. He’s come to kill Lucky Bjorc for stealing his bar.”

“My pappy warned me not tangle with Old Death in his hollow. His breath brings stony death.”

“Nobody ever goes to the old ruins of Tsar and lives to tell of it. They say its walls are still guarded by the ancient defenders who kill anyone who comes within a bowshot. How would I know if nobody who went ever survived to come back and tell? Well, I hadn’t really thought about that.”

“When the winds blow hard through the Chaos Rift it means a gate to the Abyss has opened and that something very bad is about to come out.”

“An army lies asleep beneath the Desolation ready to awake and complete the destruction of Tsar.”

“I’m not surprised Gurg is dead. I think Clantock was trying to do him in. Gurg and his bunch were running Clantock and his mercenaries out of business. I saw Clantock myself consorting with some winged devil outside of town one day. When they were done talking that devil took off and flew out into the Desolation. Clantock didn’t see me and it’s none of my business. I just think it’s strange, that’s all.”

“There’s something alive at the crossroads. It only appears at the stroke of midnight. It can grant you your every desire, but the price is steep. Don’t bargain with the thing that comes in the night at the crossroads if you value your soul.”

“Don’t camp at the crossroads out in the Desolation. There’s still a lot of restless spirits who haunt that road leading to the Black Gates, and they don’t take kindly to visitors.”

“There’s something out there in the Desolation that hunts in the night. It devours travelers and even comes to the Camp sometimes in its hunts. It looks like a giant wolf, and seeing it means your death!”

“The say what really caused the Desolation was the death of a god. I don’t know who it was, but if that’s true the place is a whole lot worse than just some zombies and monsters wandering around.”

“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.”

“The last living Justicar of Aroden died in the Battle of Tsar and is buried out in the Desolation. Anyone who locates his tomb and helps him finish an uncompleted task will gain a powerful boon from the gods.”

“There’s a lich out there somewhere in the Desolation, and the Usurer wanted it dead. If anyone destroys the lich, the Usurer would surely reward him greatly.”

“There are many secrets of Tsar and the Desolation, but the key to all of them lie with the bell of the old citadel, if you can find it.”

“A great dragon, as black as night, rules over the ruined city. All who call Tsar home pay the dragon fealty or die beneath its claws.”

“The Black Gates of the city are guarded by the Tower of Weeping Sores. None who enter there ever return alive.”

“The ruins are pure evil, said to be saturated with the breath of Orcus himself. No one who goes into the city emerges without being touched in some way by the darkness.”

“When the disciples of Orcus fled the city, the gods struck down at their former bastion and ripped the citadel from its very foundations, sending into the depths of the Abyss.”

“The Green Man who lurks near the crooked tower is the last lingering vestige of a primeval nature deity. Pay homage to his Creation or face his wrath.”

“An elven prince of the far city of Iadara seeks his daughter. She was kidnapped from her caravan by fiends. Rumor has it she was taken to Tsar. Her father offers a great reward for her safe return.”

“The Giantstone calls to the giants and promises them victory and fresh meat. Don’t touch the Giantstone or you will soon find that the giants seek you.”

“The ruler of Tsar was the most powerful priest of Orcus on earth. Called the Grand Cornu, it was this high priest who crafted the magic of the Chaos Rift, the Great Retreat, and the disappearing citadel. The Grand Cornu was so powerful, in fact, that he was able to cheat death and lives on in the city as its immortal overlord, bending all within to the will of Orcus.”

“The Bloodmage rules the city with wizardry and terror.”

“In its heyday, before it disappeared, the Citadel of Orcus stood as a massive idol to the demon prince. It was even crafted in his image to remind all of Tsar who their master was.”

“The long stair by the lower tower gate bears a horrendous curse created when a powerful priest named Mordecai was murdered upon the steps. It’s said an artifact he carried has never been recovered because none dare brave the stair.”

“The Citadel of Orcus remains where it once stood, only now it is invisible to the unaided eye. To find the hidden doorway, one must stand before it and call out ‘The Horned King’s Triumph’ three times.”

“In the aftermath of the ancient battle, nine disciples of Orcus escaped notice and hid themselves in the city. They remain to this day and, if found, are the keys to everything.”

“A strange peddler wanders the Desolation and sometimes even the city. Only he can pass through the city unmolested by its denizens. They fear the bad luck that comes of trying to rob him, and he only sells to people he chooses. It’s said that good luck comes to those who buy his wares.”

“The evil fortress of Kirash Durgaut was ruled by the mighty General Myrac. It is said that he survived the battle and refused to join in the retreat, never accepting defeat. If so, his ghost may still haunt the halls of his impregnable tower.”

“Only the giant of shadows was ever able to pass down the dark stair and live. What wonders he created in his smithy, the world may never know.”

“By the might of Orcus and his own magical power, the last Grand Cornu of the city ripped the Citadel of Orcus from its very foundations and hid it where it could never be found. Only by repairing what was broken in the Plaza of the Disciples can the gateway to the citadel be found and the true heart of the city be breached.”

“The anvil of the shadow-giant has great power. If it is stolen and taken to the high priest of Iomedae at Vigil, a generous reward of magic and gold is promised.”

“The White Walker comes in the night. He takes the souls of those he finds into his eternal service, leaving only an empty shell behind.”

“Beware the Stalker. When he picks up a trail, nothing can ever shake him from it.”

“The giant-king Thraestos, hero of the Army of Light, was captured during the Battle of Tsar and taken into the city. It is said that his ghost still haunts the tomb where he was buried alive, seeking vengeance on those of goodly mien for failing to rescue him.”

“Before it was a demon-ridden city, Tsar was actually a monastery of the gods of Good known as St. Harul’s Hold.”

“Three sisters live in the Harrow Lanes. No one bothers them because they sell potions to anyone who comes to visit them. They love to have guests.”

“Don’t fly above the Maze. There is something, lurking there…something out of a nightmare, and it takes anything that flies above its territory. Even the demons refuse to fly above the Maze.”

“When Tsar fell, a single caravan tried to escape the final doom of the city. Hiding among them was one of the Nine Disciples. Because of his presence the caravan fell under the curse of Orcus and has been forced to wander the wastelands forever. Not until the rest of the disciples return home can the ninth once again enter the gates of the city.”

In addition, they came to the acquaintance of a traveling Varisian bard who introduced himself as Peter Zevetheran. Peter had learned of a hidden tomb in the Chaos Rift section of the Desolation that contained a great treasure as well as a weapon that could be used to defeat Orcus. Mag was able to relate the following history concerning this tomb.

At that time of the Battle of Tsar the Holy Order of the Justicars had fallen into decline and the Justicars, Alaric of Absalom and Gerrant of Lastwall, were the last known members of the holy order. Nevertheless, they fought valiantly and tirelessly for the Army of Light. The tide of many a skirmish and full-scale engagement was turned by a timely charge led by one or both of these heroes. Where others fell by the wayside or succumbed to mortal frailty, these two stood strong and led the fight. The Disciples of Orcus had no answer for these two on the field of battle and lost many minions in attempting to bring about their demise. Unfortunately, the reach of Orcus is long and he plots wheels within wheels. A long-prepared scheme finally came to fruition, and during the Battle of Tsar Orcus’s minions managed to provoke a massive barbarian attack on the faraway holy city of Absalom, the protectorate of Alaric. Alaric received a magical missive from the leadership of Absalom, warning him of the attack. Loathe to leave the field of battle but knowing that duty called him home, Alaric reluctantly quit the field for the long journey to Absalom, well-knowing that the battle for the holy city would likely be lost long before his arrival. He hoped that perhaps he could arrive in time to at least spare the High Altar of Aroden from violation and corruption by the invaders. In Alaric’s absence, the disciples managed to lay an intricate trap and slay Gerrant with a foully enchanted and poisoned spear. Unable to be revived from the corrupted wound, Gerrant was laid to rest in a tomb built on the plains before Tsar.

The five compatriots then debated what their next move was. Atish and Drebb were not ready to travel into the Desolation yet, and Rex was nowhere to be found. Drinna also mentioned Simon’s concern that some type of wolf-like creature was due on its monthly trip to town to try and snatch who were unprotected. The party decided to lay an ambush for this creature before you all delved into the Desolation. Simon agreed to help. Belflin lay in wait disguised as a scarecrow on the edge of town, while Mag created an illusion of herself having an argument with the party before going off on her own. She then hid the party in a sphere of invisibility, hoping that the creature would take the bait and attack the illusion.

This plan worked to some extent, but not without some surprises. The creature appeared as a large dire wolf and was accompanied by a half dozen ghasts, led by none other than Griswold! Gambler, Belflin, and Koeter finished off the creature with a series well-placed arrows, sneak attacks, and bites, while Drinna and Mags took out the ghasts with lightning bolts and unarmed strikes. Peter proved to be useful by buffing the party with his castanet playing, while Simon was overcome by the stench of the ghasts.

When the dust cleared, the creature reverted to its true form—a creature that looked like a cross between a goblin and a wolf, with hands instead of paws. Mags identified the creature as a greater barghest. Said to be fiendish relations of all goblinoid races, barghests come to the Material Plane to feed. As they consume the bodies of innocents, they grow increasingly powerful. A barghest eventually sheds its skin to transform into a greater barghest, at which point it often seeks out a tribe of goblins or other creatures to rule. It appeared as if this specimen was ruling a tribe of ghasts out in the Boiling Lands. Simon confirmed that it had its base in that region of the Desolation in an old abandoned military outpost.

The next morning, you all informed Atish of the fate of Griswold, and he arranged to burn down the fould creature's den and consecrate the ground there. Having thus solved the barghest problem, the five of you then set out to find the fate of the lost Vigil caravan. The party had also decided to support Skeribar (he was viewed as the lesser of the evils). As part of this pact, you all used money provided by Skeribar to buy the services of Clantock and his band with the intention of abandoning them and letting Skeribar safely slay his rivals away from town. As usual, things took an unexpected turn.

With Clantock and his dozen mercenaries in tow, you all struck out north towards the crossroads along the main north-south highway. To your right (the east) was the Ashen Waste, while to your left (the west) lay the Dead Fields. The southeastern quadrant of the Desolation is by far the most desolate. It is called the Ashen Waste with good reason. A seemingly continuous wind crosses this region, speaking in the voices of those souls lost long ago in the battles of ancient days and includes the keening of the horrible undead spirits known as screamers. The wind carries with it the signature white dust that coats everything it touches—armor, weapons, noses, throats, eyes—with a chalky layer. It is not uncommon for travelers here to have coughing fits as a choking coat forms inside an open mouth. It is also often difficult to see. Even when the wind is not blowing, a constant haze hangs in the air creating a feeling as if one is within a fog bank. Bone storms occur most frequently in this region. The horror of the bone storms can suffocate those caught in them or cause them to become separated from their companions and lose their way. It is to here that the main camp of the Army of Light was moved after the Chaos Rift was formed. The few wells and springs were jealously guarded, and many were overused until their water supply was exhausted and they went dry. The constant movement of tens of thousands of men and horses trampled the already-dry ground into the fine dust that exists today. When rains do come, they create clumpy mud and quicksand pits, but these quickly dry and return to their powdery state—other than the occasional quicksand pit that remains nearly undetectable on the field as a hazard to visitors. Many speculate that the horrible curses called upon the main camp of the Army of Light by their enemies cause these conditions to persist. Whatever the reason, no plants take root here, leaving only the dusty, sterile landscape. The monotony of this bleak land is broken only by the occasional barrow mound raised by the armies of old to inter their honored dead before finally retiring from the field in the fateful flight that ended in the Estrovian Forest.

On the other hand, no region of the Desolation saw a deployment of troops in greater numbers or more bloodshed by the conventional means of claw and sword than did the Dead Fields. What were once rolling fields of grain and crops and occasional copses of trees became a hotly contested no-man’s land of the dead. Countless charges and marches crushed the vegetation underfoot. The battle lines shifted and moved back and forth as the fortunes of war changed. The ground was so hotly contested and so perilous that eventually corpses created a virtual carpet for miles. In many places the bodies stacked high, unclaimed by either side in their fervor to continually press the battle. Today the Dead Fields exist as a hardened plain of bare rock, thin soil, and brittle bones. While not as arid as the Ashen Waste, it is still susceptible to the occasional bone storm when the winds are just right. The entire brown expanse is dotted with gleaming white patches where bones and bone fragments protrude from the hard earth, and every step in this region produces a crunch as these remains are reduced to powder and white flakes underfoot. Amidst the many dead are the skeletal remnants of many siege weapons. Rolling towers, covered rams, armored battle wagons, and crude breastworks dot the plains and hills, all in extremely poor repair. The mass of abandoned bodies produced several incidents of plague that swept through both sides of the conflict during the war, and to this day spontaneously generated undead still arise and stumble through the nights with alarming frequency.

The party was shadowed by feral, black-furred creatures that combined the features of a wolf and a horse, with a fanged muzzle and glowing red eyes. These creatures just watched and kept their distance. In the late afternoon, you all were struck by a dreaded bone storm blowing in from the Ashen Wastes. Belflin noted the developing storm in time to get everyone some shelter except for Clantock’s crew, himself, and Koeter. This phenomenon was similar to a very dense sandstorm but consisted of the ground up bones of the thousands who had died here. Those who had shelter were protected from the lethality of the bone shards, but Clantock’s crew, Belflin, and Koeter were severely lacerated by the flying debris. In addition, Koeter began to suffocate as the fine dust clogged his airways. To make matters worse, the pack of creatures that had been following you used the cover of the storm to attack. Most of the pack attacked Clantock and his mercenaries, but one found the shelter that Mags and Gambler were sharing. Up close, the pair were horrified to find that this creature was actually an undead creature. It latched onto Mags and began to drain here blood, but Gambler struck and killed it.

As the storm died down, Belflin was able to save Koeter. In the aftermath, you all found 5 of the mercenaries were dead from the lacerations of the storm fragments, while Clantock had suffocated. The other seven had apparently been dragged off to their doom by the undead beasts.  Mags identified the horse-wolf creatures as Vukodlaks. Such creatures spawn from the malignant spirits of powerful, intelligent, wolf like creatures such as worgs, winter wolves, or werewolves. Often, they arise from such creatures that—through desperation or depravity—fed on undead flesh or drank the blood of a vampiric creature. Their blackened souls arise after death, twisting their bodies into monstrous shapes. Like vampires, vukodlaks share an insatiable thirst for blood.

Vukodlaks measure 8 feet long and 6 feet tall at the shoulder, and they weigh 1,000 pounds. A vukodlak typically walks on all fours, and from a distance can easily be mistaken for a large, shaggy horse. However, it has a distinct wolf like muzzle filled with sharp canine teeth, as well as other wolfish features. Vukodlaks possess monstrous strength, making them ideal mounts for powerful undead masters or other evil creatures. While serving as mounts, they keep to all fours, and might easily be mistaken for worgs or great fanged horses. Masters seeking to control vukodlaks find the most success relying on fear and intimidation, as well as providing a constant source of blood for the creature to feed upon. Vukodlaks share a natural kinship with vampires and often serve them willingly.

Belflin realized that perhaps you all had taken on more than you could handle. The bone storm, blood-sucking undead wolves, and the near death of Koeter had totally unnerved him. You were preparing to return to the Camp and gather Rex and Atish when Skeribar and two of his ranger guides arrived. They were pleased with the demise of Clantock and his men and offered to guide you to their main oasis in the Ashen Waste. Reluctantly, Belflin agreed to this plan after he was overruled by the rest of the party. It was a two-day journey to the oasis, with the only encounter with roving bands of Vukodlaks that kept their distance from such a large party; just to make sure, Belflin peppered some of them with arrows so that they got the message.

Late on the afternoon of the 25th, a strangely out-of-place sight emerged from the continuous chalky haze—verdant plant life, trees, and lush foliage, a seeming mirage in the wasteland. Whitish dust stole the luster from the fringes of this green zone, but beyond the edges you saw the vivid greens of leaves and vibrant colors of flowers and plants undiminished by the dust. Squawks of birds and the occasional animal call rose from this virtual paradise. Skeribar led you into center of the oasis, where the lush foliage and undergrowth eventually became an impossible tangle as the trees and plants intertwined to form a thick hedgerow of vines and thorny plants. It stretches in either direction as far as you can see gradually curving away from you and stretches over 30 feet high. From within this tangle trees still rise above, though their trunks are obscured in the thicket. Dangling on the face of this hedge wall was a horribly twisted and distorted skull of possibly demonic origin. Vines grow through the eye sockets and gaping maw and firmly affix it to the hedge. To the left and right you can see other white spots on the hedge wall in the gloom beneath the tree canopy. These skulls are placed at intervals along the hedge.

There was a 20-foot opening path in the hedgerow that opened into a clearing with a soft carpet of moss and grass. A crystal-clear pool occupies its center with several weeping willows overshadowing it gently dipping their fronds into its surface. A small spring gurgles at one edge of the pond. A gentle breeze ripples the pool and provides the only sound here. Another opening in the hedge wall leads into green shadows. The pool was safe to drink with a sweet, pure taste. The mosses form soft beds under the trees suitable for sleeping. Shortly after your arrival, a female human druid entered the clearing. She introduced herself as Nivah and explained that she was the leader of a group calling themselves the Reclaimers. Their mission was to revitalize the Desolation and reclaim it for Nature. Skeribar and his rangers were greeted with familiarity, and Skeribar explained that they were a part of a sect of the Green Faith seeking to reclaim the Desolation from the corruption and foul creatures that taint it. Nivah invited you all to rest for the evening, and then she would show you the secrets of the oasis on the morrow.

After a very pleasant evening, you all were led further back into the grove. The trees within hedge provided cool shade on the next clearing with two exits. Built against the boles of the large trees are crude huts of sticks and mud plastering. Roofs of grass and living moss cover these simple dwellings. At the east end of the clearing was a thick old oak with a few splinter-like branches atop its stunted trunk. Carved into this trunk is a crude face with a grim line of a mouth, well-defined nose, and two hollows for eyes. The entire carving gives the appearance of a giant wooden head resting on the ground. Green trails of ichor trickle from the hollows, like some slimy moss, collecting in a stone basin set before the old trunk. Peter used a magical ring to peer inside the hut and saw nothing of interest, while Drinna registered her disgust and unease with the strange tree here, but she was ignored.

Proceeding on to the final glade within the hedgerow, you came to a dim place that seemed more like a green-tinted cave than a clearing in the thickets. Thick old trees grow in a ring around the clearing’s edge. Their branches arching 50 feet overhead intertwine and form a nearly solid roof of green leaves that lets in little light. At the clearing’s west end was a low, flat stone block, its surface stained dark. Behind it was a large, hoary old tree standing at the clearing’s very edge. A great hollow opened in the tree’s trunk near the ground, and fuzzy, green growths of moss cover many areas of the rough bark. Next to the tree was a gaping pit in the ground, with roots piercing its sides and descending into its depths. At the bottom of the pit was a bound and gagged elf woman, who looked at you all with frightened, pleading eyes. Present were Nivah with her leopard animal companion, Skeribar, two of his rangers, a male half-orc druid with a wolverine animal companion, and a male human druid with a falcon animal companion.

Nivah explained that to accomplish their goal of the restoration of the Desolation, the druids performed the sacrifice of sentient beings (preferably humanoid) on the bloodstained altar stone. After cutting the victim’s throat, but before he or she can bleed to death, the druids then tossed the unfortunate into the great oak tree’s hollow, which was then revealed to be a carnivorous tree. As the tree consumes the sacrifice it triggers a hidden effect deep within the ground which results in the production of the life-giving ichor from the strange tree in the previous clearing. Drinna and Peter realized that most adherents to the ways of the Green Faith would find the druids’ practices here repellent at best and an abomination requiring immediate destruction at worst and communicated this to the rest of the party.

After some futile attempts to reason with the mad druids, a fight broke out when Belflin and the rest of the party declined the offer to join the Reclaimers. Drinna was severely wounded by Skeribar and his men, who seemed to have particular training in fighting humans, but the rest of the party kept the druids from effectively casting their spells. The male human druid shape-shifted into a dire bear, but was quickly taken down by Gambler, while the half-orc fell to Koeter’s jaws. Mags slew Skeribar by making stopping his heart with an illusion of his worst fear. The druid animal companions went wild with anger and grief and could not mount an effective attack. Meanwhile, Nivah was driven back to the carnivorous tree by a barrage of arrows from Belflin. Much to her surprise, the tree grabbed and consumed her. Gambler and Mags then helped Drinna down the last two rangers, while an outraged Belflin set fire to the carnivorous tree. At this same time, Drinna hurled alchemist’s fire at the other tree.

When this happened, the tree that produced the vile ichor, pulled itself from the ground and attacked! Much to your surprise the tree could talk, but negotiations went nowhere as the tree demanded that you all take the place of the druids you had just killed as keeper of the sacred grove. The tree, which turned out to be a creature called a stick giant, was a fierce opponent. It slammed Drinna and Gambler with is branches, imbedding painful splinters in them that continued to work their way through the bodies of the victims and inflict damage each round thereafter. Then it unleashed a spray of splinters from itself that left Drinna and Mags dyeing and severely wounded Belflin. Peter and Gambler avoided the worst of this attack by using cover and magic to blink into the Ethereal plane at the last moment. As Peter shifted in and out between the planes and stabilized Mags and Drinna, Belflin and Gambler assaulted the stick giant with missile fire and flasks of alchemist’s fire. The tree got in a few more blows on Belflin, but he managed to stay upright, using his specialized training against corrupted plants that he had received long ago in his homeland. Peter managed to revive Mags who brought the fight to an end by pelting the tree with a semi-real fireball and summoning a pair of shadowy fire elementals, which finally burned the tree to death.

In the aftermath of the fight, you all noticed that the grove immediately started to decay. Belflin estimated that there would be no trace of it within a year. You rescued the elven woman from the pit, and she introduced herself as Vilgara. She claimed to be part of an adventuring company from Crimmor who had come to the Desolation in search of a magical crown said to be buried with a deceased angel. They had just entered the Ashen Waste when they were attacked by screaming spirits that caused her companions, a dwarven fighter and a human rogue, to viciously attack and kill themselves. Vilgara then fled to the oasis, where she was captured by the druids and held prisoner for a few weeks while she was prepared as a sacrifice to the carnivorous tree. You all were skeptical of this story but were too exhausted and sorely wounded to really make a huge deal out of it at this point. Belflin, Koeter, Drinna, Peter, Gambler, Mags, and Vilgara made camp and rested for the evening after searching the huts and finding a few treasures, including adventuring gear which Vilgara claimed to be hers.  

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