…It was very dark with only a sliver of moonlight showing through the clouds, Ludo moved cautiously through the stables, something was wrong. He was not sure what. He looked in the stall where he had stabled his horse but the speckled grey gelding he had ridden yesterday was dead. With a gasp he saw a pack of grey snarling wolves, fangs dripping with saliva and blood feasting on the corpse of the horse.
He immediately whirled around reaching for his sword, but as he drew his weapon, a large hand grasped his wrist, Vlaak chuckled, “no little one, not today. Your father has sold you, you belong to me to do as I please and I think you deserve … death”. With that Ludo looked down and found Vlaak holding a dagger which he then plunged deep into Ludo’s abdomen.
With a gasp, Ludo flung himself up, sweating profusely. He sighed, just another bad dream. But it had all seemed so real! Too much ale last night he mused. He got up and gathered his equipment and moved downstairs, trying not to disturb the others. Upon meeting Maruc he smiled, “my leg is healing up nicely. A couple more days of peace and quiet and it will be as good as new. Have you seen Feldard? I was wondering if he was going to introduce us to any of his Dwarven friends. I haven’t met that many Dwarves, I would be interested to see if they are all as … serious as our companion.”
Ludo tucked into some breakfast of cheese and warm bread, trying hard to forget his bad dream.
Hasan rose refreshed. Over rashers of good Karameikan bacon and a sweet melon from the Isle of Dread, the elf raised what lay inevitably in front of the party. “I suppose it is time to find Vlaak,” the elf said, looking meaningfully at Ludo above all. The prince sensed the human’s fate was tied closely with the hobgoblin’s. “Come now, let us journey as far and as swiftly as we can up the river. We know roughly where this horror of a city rests. let us take that place and make it ours. Go now, Miklos, and arrange us our transit.”
The mage looked up, smoldering. No demihuman, prince or otherwise, would send him scurrying like a scullery maid. but he went, nonetheless, bowing to the elf’s logic.
As the group stood aboard the small craft, they looked westward, watching the sun rise on their right side above the dread Dymrak. the hills quickly tumbled down into low rises and then into a drear flat country, with nothing but boggish peats on either side. the pilot, a craggy 53-year-old human, complained, “Miklos, my boy, there’s none but trouble upriver. let me take ye back to Highforge, and from there on to Kelvin. There you will find the Baron Haldane and other good men. Seek not your fate in these accursed moors.”
Stephan was none too pleased to be on a river again. His arguments for staying on horseback could not overcome the logic and pragmatism of taking the boat. He buried his frustration in the hard labor of assisting the boat’s progress with a long pole. He pushed the pole far into the mushy bottom of the bog before finding enough purchase to help push the craft forward. Up again would come the pole, not with out considerable strength of arm, and down again it went to the murk.
“A visit to the hospitality of the Baron Haldane sounds good to me”, Stephan muttered while slapping a mosquito. “At this rate, the mossies will eat us alive before midday.”
The craggy pilot chuckled and emitted a cloud of blue smoke from his pipe. “Aye. It’s why I take up the pipe. The smoke keeps the buggers away.”
“Well, perhaps you can billow some of your weed aroma my way, good pilot. I can fight a proper foe but these tiny demons are my match.”
But soon, a breeze picked up which rendered the mosquitoes flightless and somehow afforded the boat a more swift passage. But not into any sort of situation that pleased the adventurers. A strange mist seemed to build despite the breeze and the sun was challenged to provide enough light. Soon the bands were hard to see and the feeling of being watched settled uneasily on the travelers.
Again the pilot seemed nervous. He puffed heavily on his pipe. “Not many go this far in to the moors. I think there’s a put in up ahead. I’ll be needin’ to take the boat back. You good fellows can be on about your business.”
Feldard’s attempts to seek after Hernane had confirmed that she and a small traveling group had left 2 days earlier headed for Rockhome. That was a relief. Now he could focus all his attention to dealing with these Iron Ring slavers and the Sons of Night and goblin raiders. Though he was glad to be on the move again, his wasn’t so keen on the method.
In fact, Feldard was sullen at being on the river again. His incident in the petrified forest didn’t improve his outlook on water travel at all, but the decision had been made and he could either go or be left behind in Highforge. And being left behind was not an option.
Neither mosquitoes nor strange mist intruded on the dwarfs brooding. He would only be his usual cheery self once back on solid ground.
As the boat grounded gently against the shore line, Ludo nimbly jumped ashore, sword in hand he darted into the mist, scrambled up the bank, barely making a noise. Seeing and hearing nothing untoward despite the mist, he still could not shake off the feeling of being observed.
He glanced back down towards the boat and saw the others disembarking from the boat, he smiled at Feldard’s attempts of getting off the boat whilst trying not to get wet. Sliding back down the bank Ludo approached Hasan, “there is a path leading up the bank over yonder, the way ahead looks clear but in all of this mist it’s hard to tell”.
Patting Feldard on the shoulder as he moved past to take up the scouting position, “Don’t worry Master Dwarf there are no little fishes in this water for you to worry about.”
* * * * *
Following the directions they had attained back at the Wolfskull lair, the group once again ventured into the Moors heading toward the ruins of Xitaqa. Once again, they encountered an Iron Ring patrol, but this time they were able to avoid any serious combat thanks to another one of Miklos’s sleep enchantments. They continued their approach.
Eventually, they caught sight of a broken tower rising above the escarpment. At its foot, hidden amongst tangled gullies, were the ruins of an ancient settlement.
Apart from the tower building which dominated the scene, were single-story bland windowless exteriors of dressed stone blocks cut into the bedrock of the gulley sides.