Oakson and Absolom awake in the morning. Maelokh has thrown himself into the watery depths. Oakson turns into a shark and searches for the Half-Elf, but is not able to find anything.
With no other options, the two adventurers abandon their treasure and continue on the road towards The Mountain, feeling in their hearts that Maelokh was safe (he usually comes out all right after jumping headlong into things, after all).
After some time, they see signs for Stonebridge, the second-to-last village directly under Fallreach’s domain in this region. The last village, Arbor, is another day’s travel down the road.
Stonebridge was the city that Yurik Grandir was taking the slaves to.
Oakson and Absolom decide to investigate, not wanting to continue on their journey without Maelokh.
While wandering through the city, the two adventurers find a scrawny man wearing over-sized robes running towards them. He has a large crooked nose and is wearing impeccable shoes. He looks oddly familiar.
“Escuse me! Sirs! You, with the rocks!”
They stop and talk with the man, who is brothers with Ronold, the kind, but odd, Mage from Fallreach!
“My brother, Ronold, is an arcane apprentice in the Fallreach Guild. He sent this package to me by means of courier dragon hatchling! Nearly burnt a whole clear through the roof of our dad’s shop! It came with a message to deliver to three travelers who’d be coming through the town, and that I’d recognize them by an old Warforged who looks like he had fallen off a few cliffs in his time—no offense, Sir.”
The odd fellow’s hands are holding a small brown package, wrapped in burlap. Inside is a rolled up scroll, and a small grey stone—almost a perfect sphere. The parchment is blank, with no writing. Oakson turns it over, and suddenly Ronold’s voice can be heard as if he is right next to them, saying,
““Hello, my friends! If you can hear this it means you have successfully reached Stonebridge and met my brother, Barny.
I don’t have much time. Things haven’t gotten better since you left Fallreach. In fact, in just a few short days everything has begun to fall apart.
When news of Darian’s death spread throughout Fallreach the Undercity fell into an uproar. Rexan and the warforged were able to calm the commotion, but people didn’t take too kindly to him. I think that, to them, it was just Darian’s right-hand-man using his constructs to rule them all over again. Riots broke out in the streets and burned nearly half of the Undercity to the ground the first evening.
We tried reaching out to Hammerfist, as you suggested, but reports say that he and his people are still recovering from a vicious battle with fiends over in Evansdale. We don’t suspect he will make it to Fallreach for at least another week, if not more.
Gareth the Red, the Captain of the Guard and member of Darian’s Council, HAS been using this opportunity to seize power. He has taken residence in Darian’s castle and claims authority to declare Martial Law. Many citizens in the upper districts support him.
Just last night, there was another fiend attack. It came up from the sewers and struck almost every level of the city. This morning there were two more. The Paladins are doing everything they can to subdue the fiends. I am trying to help them. The mages are in disarray, still recovering from the first attack.
I wish I could call you back here to aid us, but I have continued to study the mountain to which you travel. I am growing more and more convinced that the blight there is connected to all of this. You must reach that mountain and . . . well . . . I trust you will figure out what must be done.
Oh, and I ran into a friend of yours. A quite friendly, smiley little halfling. He said that he will be seeing you soon.
To ensure your safe return, I am giving you a precious gift. It is a magical tool of my own creation. After discovering the secrets of the Mountain, break open the stone! The runes within carry magic that will teleport you back here to the Mage’s Guild, safely. I look forward to your return. May Pelor’s blessing go before you."
Troubled by the young cobbler’s news, our adventurers head the the local tavern, the Angry Bugbear.
The tavern’s owner is Urgnak Smith. he is part half-orc, part bugbear, and all parts ugly. Thankfully, his kind demeanor is a welcome depart from his rough exterior.
Despite the demeanor of the owner, the tavern is surprisingly well-kept, and though it is filled with a . . . diverse clientele . . . it is clearly a respected establishment.
While there, they decide to see if they can gather news relating to the bandits they met previously and the kidnapped slaves. They ask Urnak if he has seen any unsightly visitors recently. He responds:
“You know, there’s a patron of mine who’s been staying here for a week or so. He doesn’t say much, but drinks a lot. Every night and every morning he goes out of town to the hill beyond the bridge, looking towards Fallreach. he tries to hide, but I’ve seen him get up before the sun rises.
“One day I cornered him and questioned him and asked him what his business was. he said his uncle died—who was from around these parts, ya see—and he was waiting for his body to be shipped back for a proper burial But ya know, I’ve been around these parts for a long time. I aint never seen him, or anyone who looks liek him. And I don’t know about you, but I can smell a liar from a mile away.
“The other day, some fool crossed this man as he was having his drinks. I don’t know what started it, but before I knew what had happened the fool was lying in a pool of his own blood on the floor. The man went back to his room. Now, this town isn’t Fallreach. If it doesn’t interrupt our trade, our guards don’t care about a deadman in a tavern. But it didn’t smell right to me.”
Oakson and Absolom investigate further and confront the stranger, a human named Goyle. They impersonated the slavers he was planning to meet, and seemingly having convinced them he says that they cannot meet there in the tavern. Instead, he offers to meet them beneath the eastern bridge in three hours.
However, a half hour later after exploring the town, the two heroes see him walking through the city streets, out the back door of a market, making his way down an alley. He is walking east, towards the eastern bridge that he said to meet at . . .though the meeting isn’t for another two hours. He is carefully eying his surroundings, and clearly trying to avoid contact with any other citizens.
The heroes tail the human, and try and catch him unaware. Their might is no match for his stealth, however, and he evades their grasp and runs through the town. The chase continues through alleyways and across rooftops. The adventurers land a few successful blows, but the mysterious stranger continually evades their grasp. He eventually brings one of them down with a well aimed blow, but he does not finish the job. He walks up to the body and calmly lets out two words:
He then leaves, and disappears into the busyness of the town.
Unsure of how to continue, the heroes decide to investigate a strange petrified forest on the outside of town.
A petrified forest is on the edge of town. Nothing can come in or out. Villagers report that a curse has fallen over the forest! They say it used to be a place for children to laugh and play, but now no one goes near it. Apparently strange creatures have been seen coming from the forest at night. Farmers on the outskirts of town first started reporting their livestock being found slain, as if by wild beasts. Then the first farmer disappeared. Then another. Then an entire farm went up in green flame.
The players are driven to explore the forest by a nearby farmer, who said that her husband disappeared from her farm not more than a few days prior.
They approach the forest, crossing the river the lies between it and the village . . . only to discover Maelokh in the waters! His tale is long and mysterious, but it appears that he was saved by a kind water spirit, who bore his body and brought him back here to civilization.
Together, the trio enter the petrified forest. All of the trees are dead, cold stone, but the ground beneath their feet is rough earth. Roots and vines twist and turn beneath their steps, leading who-knows-where. The air is thick with a heavy fog, though it is felt more than seen.
As they wander through the trees, they catch a glimpse of a cloak billowing in the distance. A farmer?
Covering the ground are animals, lying dead. A brief investigation reveals that they are actually in a magical suspension of life, though they are being forcefully kept in an unconscious state. These animals cover the ground, as far as the eye can see.
Near the center of the forest they encounter a great ravine in the ground. In the center of this ravine is an enormous tree, not petrified, and very much alive. It’s roots and vines extend far throughout the rest of the ravine, and even deep into the forest. At the base of the tree is a hole, perhaps large enough for a man to pass through.
The walls of the ravine are covered in thorns and spines. The party carefully navigates through the difficult terrain to the bottom of the ravine and approach the hole, only to see it close before their very eyes! Suddenly, it is as if the forest is alive! They hear the howling of wolves and the hotting of owls and the grunting and roaring of larger beasts.
Then, all around them, wave after wave of beast and bird come racing down the ravine, all with the intent of killing the adventurers.
Fearing for their lives, Absolom discerns that the only route of escape is the tree itself, and he begins to hack away at the truck, hoping to break through the thick bark while Oakson and Maelokh hold off the great beasts of the forest.
They are nearly overtaken by a rampaging awakened tree when they break through the tree (with a conjured Rhino’s help). They leap into the hollow trunk and fall, deep, into the depths of the earth . . .