At the edge of the (regular) woods, there are many fallen trees. Strelok seeks out the easiest path. His bird starts hesitating, and when Strelok has him hop onto a log, he squawks and hops back off, thrashing his head a bit. Strelok gets him under control, and looks around for something that may have set the bird off. Hayden and Sheila also look around. They notice a lot of heat seems to be coming from under some of the logs. Looking out at the desert, there is a patch of clear air— no heat waves. Zephyr is poked. As they look, this gap in the heat waves is visible only from certain angles, as if only two dimensional. Zephyr suggests it might be a underwater river; the heat below the logs could be from decomposing vegetation. Alternatively, it might be an ice creature, but they are not generally found in this clime. If an underground river, the cooler area may be the best path to take. Zephyr suggests that Strelok take his bird to that area to see how it will react; it may have been reacting to the unpleasant heat elsewhere. It is a bit difficult to find how to enter this area. Hayden sees a dip in the ground floor a few yards back into the woods. Investigation shows cool mud at this dip; probably the origin of the underground river.
A small tunnel also starts here, which travels beneath the fallen trees. We would need to crawl through. However, without the birds, climbing across the logs would be difficult. Polena does not appear pleased by the prospect of taking the tunnel. Strelok offers riding the bird across, and she reluctantly decides that would be preferable. Aeric offers to take one person over. Hayden climbs on his own, and Sheila offers the ride to Zephyr. Sheila starts crawling.
It takes Hayden 45 minutes to get just to the top of the tree fell. He discovers that it is oddly steep. The birds reach the top in only ten minutes, and await his arrival. Meanwhile, Sheila encounters a large rat-like creature, which stops four feet in front of her and stomps in a threatening manner. Sheila stomps back and advances. Sheila wins! Rat-thing retreats. She notes a necrotic smell it leaves behind. A few hours of crawling later, there is a larger area of tunnel, where Sheila can stand and stretch. More light is filtering through the logs here. Shortly thereafter, she reaches open desert. None of the other party members are there yet. Sheila scans the logs, but does not see them. She cleans her armor as she waits. It is just after lunchtime.
Back with the rest of the party: After about an hour from the top of the tree fell, there is a slant downward. Zephyr spots a large blue tail disappearing into the woodfall; another Behir. It should only attack if threatened or exceptionally hungry. Zephyr suggests that there should be no risk, as we are not being threatening, but are clearly not vulnerable. Hayden points out that Sheila is by herself; Strelok replies that she handled herself perfectly well the last time, even saving someone (hint hint cough). We continue cautiously, and see no further evidence of the creature. As the logs begin to slant, they also begin to thin; this causes problems for Hayden, who’s strides are smaller than the birds’. Progress is slow. Hayden falls into two small pits, but sustains no injury.
Sheila hears the party before she sees them: Hayden cursing, Aeric pleading for silence, Polena whining about the heat. Sheila sighs and puts her things away, appreciating the half hour of peace she’d had. We reunite. Strelok prestidigitates Sheila clean… the smell coming off her is extremely strong. We decide to rest for an hour, as it is around the hottest time of day. We go into the mouth of the tunnel where it is relatively cool, about 20 yards in. Towards the end of the hour, Aeric grows antsy. He suggests that we resume the journey. Hayden does not relish the prospect… but then remembers his veil suit, and puts it on. It is very comfortable.
We set out. The day is hot, tiring, but uneventful. We see more blundering shadows on the horizon, and some birds flying near the forest. Polena lasts for two entire hours before she complains about the heat; Sheila is a bit impressed. She casts Endure Elements on her and several other party members, but Aeric declines, removing his breastplate instead. Polena gives him many admiring glances, and Strelok quickly takes off his as well.
Night falls. The desert here is rocky and has many scrubby plants; not comfortable ground to camp on. Hayden requests that Strelok cast fire ball, which should burn the plants and send the rocks flying (the rest of us stand back). Strelok also uses acid arrows and magic missiles, and we set up camp. Only twenty minutes have passed before we feel a rumbling. Hayden decides to ignore it and go back to sleep. Strelok offers first watch, and Zephyr says she will join him. With Sheila taking morning watch and assuming responsibility for waking Hayden at that time, Aeric and Polena are left with the middle watch. Strelok is displeased. As various people prepare for bed or go on watch, the rumbling seems to get a bit deeper. After awhile, it seems possible that something is circling at a distance, perhaps investigating our presence. It makes the first watch uncomfortable, as both watchers are on constant alert. Eventually, Strelok walks a short distance from the camp site and stomps as hard as he can. He does this around a perimeter. On the opposite side of the camp, he gets a response: a whooshing rumble that seems to pass beneath Strelok’s feet. It is deep enough not to disturb the surface, but Strelok can feel it. Not knowing how fast the thing is moving, Strelok guesses its size could range from five to twenty-five feet long. He continues his stomping perimeter, but does not feel it again. He tells Zephyr something seems to be hunting them; she suggests that it may only be investigating. He is rather more pessimistic.
Rumblings continue throughout the night, but the watches are otherwise uneventful. Hayden noted a bit of a prickly feeling when the rumbling noises were particularly close.
As we prepare to leave the next moment, Hayden looks to see whether our footprints from the day before are visible. They are partially blown away, but are still trackable. He is glad to see they are in a straight line, rather than in a circle.
After traveling for less than an hour, we spot a group of flapping wings in the distance. There are two of them, quite large, and are flying over the desert. Hayden and Sheila saw them rise from the Forest earlier in the morning, but thought nothing of them. They are now headed in our general direction.
Sheila tries to discuss Hayden’s disk and the embedded sliver, but he clearly does not like the topic.
The flying creatures come steadily closer. At least 15 feet long and bulky, they are reptilian, with leathery wings and vibrant coloring. From the vibrant crests and narrow snouts, Zephyr thinks they are Ythrak. They are blind creatures who use sound to hunt. They speak draconic and are fairly intelligent. They are ravenous and “terrorizing”. As the sun reaches its zenith, they rise higher and head back towards the Forest. Sheila casts endure elements on the party (sans Hayden, who has his veil suit). Strelok requests his share of the spell split between himself and his mount. Looking at Polena, Strelok thinks she might look a little impressed by this…. or maybe not. After the sun has receded a bit, we see shadows return to the sky; by 6pm, they are close enough to see the details. The Ythrak are back. They seem to be on a more direct course towards us. At least the day has been rumble-free…
Strelok discusses long-range weaponry, Zephyr offers bombs, and Hayden hopes they will negotiate. Strelok does not want to deal with a nighttime attack.
NOTE – Sheila prepares “Know the Enemy”