Last time, our heroes ran into old adversaries and once again ruined their plans. These folks are prepared for everything except our heroes, it seems. Now they’re in jail.
The morning after the excitement at the docks, Friday the 15th, our heroes prepare to travel to the lost city of Saarland. Gleador the Druid shape-shifts into a Hippogriff, and Lucia the Paladin hops on his back. They fly northeast, across the river. They see the estate and mill of Lady Evelynn behind them and the beet fields giving way to forests in front of them. On the horizon, the forests rise into hills.
As they fly over the canopy of the forest, a flock of flying creatures swarm about them. The creatures are energetic and curious, and seem to have adopted our heroes as playmates. The creatures are HummingDragons. They have lizard-like faces, elongated bodies (about 4 feet, including the tails) and wings that flap too fast for the naked eye to follow, like hummingbird wings. Gleador lands to get a better look at these strange creatures. He has to circle a bit to find an opening in the canopy that admits a horse-sized creature. The HummingDragons follow, but land on branches, not the ground. Their claws are made for grasping and can’t open up flat to walk on the ground. Gleador studies them and finds cocoons nearby. The HummingDragons metamorphose. Their larval form is about the size and shape of a baseball, and rolls up and down tree trunks with the help of long, spindly legs. The larval form has a sharp proboscis to pierce tree bark and extract sap for food. Gleador can speak to the HummingDragons because, as an Elf, creatures of the Great Forest are known to him. He asks if there’s anything cool nearby. The HummingDragons all rush off in the same direction. Gleador has to run on the forest floor to follow, because there’s not enough room for his 18-foot wingspan below the canopy. The HummingDragons zoom over a large patch of brambles, heedless of the danger to those who can’t fly. Gleador leaps and clears the brambles, but a low-hanging branch smacks Lucia off of his back. She tries to hold on to the branch, but slips and falls into the bramble patch. The thorns do nothing to her plate armor, but the fall hurts a bit. The HummingDragons continue to rush off, leaving our heroes behind. To delay them Gleador suggests playing hide and seek. A few dart off in different directions, but most aren’t interested and zoom away. Gleador retrieves Lucia and they try to follow the way the HummingDragons went, but they lose the trail.
Fortunately, Lucia’s quest gives her an unfailing sense of direction towards Saarland. Without that, they’d be lost. Gleador rises through the canopy and they fly for the rest of the day without incident. At sundown, they set up camp in the forest. Lucia casts Sanctuary, so she will know if anyone enters the area with hostile intent. Gleador keeps his Hippogriff form and lies still, using his Camouflage skill to look like a big rock.
Sometime in the night, a figure approaches: a Halfling woman wearing a black cloak. She has a big traveler’s pack on her back, and several large empty sacks, secured to the main pack by their drawstrings. She also has an axe across her shoulders. She sneaks up to the campsite, using a large rock (actually Gleador) to keep out of the firelight. Gleador shifts his eyes over to Lucia, who is not reacting like Sanctuary has gone off. This reassures him, so he shifts his eyes back to watch the newcomer. She comes right up to him and peers over him at Lucia. Gleador reveals himself by tapping her on the shoulder with his tail. She squeals and stumbles back. One hand goes to her axe, the other to a large amulet around her neck. Lucia jumps up at the noise and quickly prays to see what her is evil. She detects the Halfling woman as evil, but, since her quest gives her the power to see through all illusions, she also knows that the evil she detects is fake. This woman can someone pretend to be evil. Lucia calms the situation and invites the Halfling to share the fire. The Halfling agrees and swings wide around Gleador to approach the fire. Her name is Rose, and she’s relieved that Lucia is a real person. Halfling food is best fresh. Meat pies and pastries don’t keep on the road. Rose has some carrots and biscuits which she offers to share. Lucia asks what brings her to this desolate place. Rose explains that she harvests rare lumber in the forest. The axe is for chopping wood, and the empty sacks are for carrying wood. Lucia knows this is all lies. Lucia says she’s going to Saarland. Rose tries ineffectively to stifle a reaction. Gleador can’t talk in Hippogriff form, so he tries Mister Ed shenanigans to prompt Lucia to ask questions on his behalf. He fetches a nearby stick and offers it to Rose. She puts it on the ground, neatly chops it with her axe, and puts the pieces in one of her sacks. Ok, so she knows how to use it as a tool and not just a weapon. Lucia continues to press her with questions about her work, and Saarland, and Rose gets really uncomfortable. She jams the last few bites of her supper into her mouth and starts to leave. Thanks, I must be going, see you around, and so on. Lucia cast Hold Person, paralyzing Rose as she tries to flee. Rose agrees to come clean if Lucia will please release her. Lucia agrees. Rose admits that she goes to Saarland to smuggle out whatever artifacts she can find. Le Grind (owner of one of the three mills back in Sugar’s Crossing) pays big money for such artifacts. She warns Lucia not to go to Saarland, because there are ghosts. She disappears into the forest. Lucia wonders how Rose protected herself from ghosts, but it’s too late to ask. The rest of the night is uneventful.
In the morning (Saturday the 16th), Lucia directs Gleador where to fly, and in the afternoon they reach the ruins of Saarland. Saarland’s walls were living trees, 150 feet tall. The ring of closely-packed trees around the hole in the canopy is easy to spot. Gleador circles the ruins to see what’s happening. One side of the city, including the wall, is burned. The other side is overgrown with plants, bushes, young trees. Most buildings are either burned or overgrown. Few are intact. As our heroes watch from above, a few trees move to the burned side of the cities. These living trees are Ents! Three of them surround a small building with a collapsed roof and start to tear it down. Spirits fly out of the building and swirl around the Ents, driving them away. Ents are trying to demolish the ruins to let nature take over, but there are spirits resisting them. Gleador also notices a squat, powerful-looking building whose gate has been smashed in. Soren said that raiders struck important targets while the populace rushed to deal with the fire. This must be one of those important buildings. As Gleador flies near the Ents, they shout, “Begone, grave-robbers!” Gleador lands within shouting distance, but out of reach and turns back into an Elf. Perhaps showing that he is a Druid will convince them of his good intentions. He also whispers to Lucia that they should keep the Saarland coin out of sight. Our heroes call out to the Ents, “We promise we’re not grave-robbers!” “Why did those spirits attack you?” The Ents are not convinced and rip large stones out of the ground and nearby buildings to hurl at our heroes. Lucia dodges, and Gleador turns into an Air Elemental and lets the boulder pass harmlessly through him. They run from the Ents. Knowing no other landmarks, they head for the secure building Gleador spotted from the air. The streets are full of tall grass and bushes from years of growth, but even so, our heroes easily outpace the slow Ents.
The building is two storeys tall, mostly stone, and surrounded by a high metal fence. The fence was probably decorated in the past, but now all but the main posts have been stripped by looters. The gates were smashed inwards off their hinges. A sign over the door (carved, not a plaque, so it can’t be removed) indicates that this building was a forge and a storehouse. The front doors are gone, and the sunlight illuminates a small patch of floor inside. There’s a corpse just inside the threshold. Lucia advances to cast Speak with Dead on the corpse. The edges of the shadows around the doorframe stretch and pull towards her, turning into ghastly Spectres, undead spirits who refuse to move on! Gleador unleashes a wide blast of freezing breath, which passes harmlessly through the incorporeal creatures. He shape-shifts into a Fire Elemental to light up the interior. As he bursts into flames, the Spectres shrink back, seeking the shadow. “The Destroyer!” they hiss. The raiders who sacked Saarland and probably killed these Spectres’ mortal bodies used mainly fire. The Spectres remember! Gleador has secured some space, so Lucia can examine the body. It’s fresher than ten years old, so it probably did not fall in the attack on Saarland. Maybe it was a looter and was killed by these Spectres. It carries a number of empty sacks, similar to Rose, and wears a charm around its neck made of leaves and metal. Lucia grabs the charm. This chamber appears to be a foyer. There’s a reception desk in the center, and benches along the sides. Everything that isn’t nailed down is long gone.
Our heroes advance into the main chamber. The center of the room is a huge forge with many openings, surrounded by workbenches. The large chimney goes up to the roof. The second floor is a balcony that overlooks the forge on all sides. There are stair cases at each corner, and smaller doors to side chambers on each side. Most things that could be carried off or pried out have been ,but there are a few dead bodies and some scorch marks scattered around the floor. Gleador advances to secure space, pushing Spectres back into the darkness in the corners of the room. Lucia casts Speak With Dead on an old-looking corpse. She gets three questions. When she asks, the responses come not from the skeletal face of the corpse, but from above. A Spectre peers over the edge of the balcony and speaks for his dead body.
- How did you die? Defending the forge for invaders
- Why did they invade? To steal our treasures
- Why are you still a Spectre? Devotion to my craft exceeds devotion to any god
Gleador and Lucia walk the perimeter of the room. As they approach a staircase, a metal canister, maybe a gallon or two, drops from the top of the stairs. Gleador flies straight up to avoid it and is suddenly face to face with a Spectre with several more canisters nearby. The canister hits Lucia on the head. Her helmet absorbs the impact, but the canister bursts. She’s covered in soft expanding foam. Definitely not a horrible glue trap like in the Dwarven science building. It doesn’t burn, melt, or freeze her. It has a vaguely chemical smell, but there no immediate harmful effects. Gleador roars with flame to drive the Spectre back, and it hurls another canister. Lucia dashes up the stairs to catch it. The canister springs a leak and a stream of foam slashes across Gleador, extinguishes the flames that it touches. Lucia realizes that the Spectres have repurposed flame retardant foam that was used in the forge as a weapon against Gleador. The standoff is re-established. Gleador’s light and heat keeps the Spectres back, so he and Lucia can creep around the balcony and investigate. There’s a lot more stuff up here. It’s much harder for looters to reach. Lucia grabs a fine wooden box containing delicate metalworking tools. Quite valuable for the right smith. In the shadows on the other side of the circular balcony, Spectres manipulate the environment to set traps. At the far side of the balcony, above the foyer where they entered, our heroes notice a wall-mounted cabinet with curved marks on the floor in front of it. Apparently this cabinet swings out from the wall, like a secret door. There’s a big sheet of metal leaning against the cabinet. Our heroes approach, and Gleador reaches glowing arm around the metal sheet to light up the shadow behind. His arm meets the ghostly arm of Spectre, using the shadow as cover to get close enough to strike! The two non-solid arms pass through each other, causing damage to each creature. Gleador blasts a super-heated jet of flame into the metal sheet, heating its center to glowing before bursting through and burning the Spectre behind it. The Spectre howls and flees back into the shadows. With that trap dealt with, Lucia pulls the cabinet out from the wall, triggering a mechanical trap placed by the original owners. Pneumatic pistons fire tiny darts! Lucia uses her shield to smash the mechanism, but a dart finds a gap in her armor and her limbs get heavy. The poisoned darts have paralyzed her! Gleador has a dilemma. As fire, he can’t grab or move Lucia without injuring her, but without fire, the Spectres with overwhelm them. Fortunately, his Chimera ability gives him amazing flexibility. He combines a Salamander for fire breath, and a boyd made of flame, with a monkey tail that is not on fire. He uses the prehensile tail to shove Lucia into the secret compartment and stands guard at the door.
GM note: This is where we had to stop for the evening. Quite a cliff-hanger!