It is afternoon, and the freezing rain continues. It is very dark from the clouds. We want to avoid the teleportation field, so we go into another fireball field. Hayden complains non-stop, resulting in Zephyr casting Forced Quiet after about an hour. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long.
We camp for the night within the fireball area, although they are not dense. Hayden, Strelok, and Zephyr take turns on watch. The night is damp, miserable, but uneventful. By morning, the rain has faded to a drizzle. The teleportation field has moved away in the night. As we travel, Zephyr continues to throw pebbles. The rain eventually stops, although the clouds still block most of the sunlight. We happen upon another telportation field, but it seems stationary, and we are able to skirt it. ~3-4 pm, Strelok notices a strange depression in the ground that seems to be a frequently followed path (ala a deer trail). The trail goes over a petrified log that is clearly ancient, and partially buried in the ground. On one side of the log is a barely raised mound of dirt, while on the other is a depression in the dirt. It doesn’t seem an indicator of one-way travel, although it may show the direction most recently traveled.
After further study, Strelok recalls stories of creatures in the ground that would leap out and suck travelers in with them; it looks like something came out of the ground where the mound is, and reentered where the depression is. We decide not to take the path.
The rest of the day is uneventful, but our pace is slow due to the mucky ground. We set up camp and cook the reptilian creature’s legs for dinner. It is a surprisingly relaxing night.
Midmorning, we come upon a hilly region (small, low hills; more like mounds). Distance perception is skewed in this terrain, and things between hills might not be seeable even standing on one of the hills. We see berries, which Zephyr identifies as edible (and in tea or slurry form can give resistance to cold). Zephyr and Strelok harvest some for later use or selling, while Hayden uses them for immediate food. A few hours later, Strelok notices more divots in the dirt, like the depression beside the log we saw before. There are also dark stains in the dirt near them, which may be old blood. Zephyr uses Blood Biography.
Name: Dothan something or other
What: Male human explorer/hired body guard
How blood was shed: something grabbed him, then everything hurt
When: ~3.5 weeks ago (fits timeline of Hornswaggle’s journey)
Meanwhile, Strelok has been digging in the dirt. He finds surprising well-preserved remains. The crown of the skull and the brain had been removed. When he digs around the face, the body twitches. Strelok backs up. The head lolls around and it opens an eye. Sheila’s detect evil spell reveals that it is, in fact, evil. Luckily, the creature stuck fast in the earth. There are a few more mounds in the area. Strelok recalls that the creature he’d been thinking of is said to consume the brain and leave the corpse as an undead being.
Zephyr suggests we dig up the other bodies in case Hornswaggle is among them. We can rule out two, as there are body parts sticking out that do not belong to Hornswaggle. One mound has an entire torso sticking out; the man had apparently stabbed himself as he was being pulled into the earth. His brain is intact. We find another divot and two mounds; we recall that Hornswaggle’s team was seven people. We dig up the divot and find a human female; Strelok loots an amulet off her. From the torso half out of the ground, Zephyr takes a magical circlet. The torso also has an ornate dagger with the monogram ‘MH’. We wait until we stop for the night to determine the magical aspects of the gear. Meanwhile, Sheila destroys the undead creature.
Strelok and Hayden notice an area close to the first divot where there seems to be a trail; it looks as though a lot of the berry shrubs have been ripped up or pushed aside as something was dragged over the ground. We follow the trail, and see several places in the dirt that have been gouged into, as if there may have been a struggle. The maker of the gouges seemed to be small creature, but not necessarily bipedal. If it WAS bipedal, it was being dragged. We continue to follow the trail ~ 2 hrs. The trail comes to a stop, and there is a large blood stain. Not able to use Blood Biography a second time that day, Zephyr takes some of the blood-stained earth in a pouch. Strelok discovers a deer trail about 100 yards further on. Using his tracking skills, Strelok thinks something travelling on this path left it to investigate the blood-stained area. There is no sign of where the creature who left the blood went, but it may have travelled to the deer trail (tracks obscured by the investigating creature); or, it may have been carried off by the investigating creature. We decide to follow the deer trail. Look at the tracks found on it, Strelok suspects they may be a large species of beetle that is said to live in the Veil. He looks for signs of beetle nests; from the top of the tallest nearby hill, he sees something off in the horizon, but cannot make it out. We head toward it.
We make camp for the night slightly off the path. We investigate the loot from the past two days: the silver ring is a ring of featherfall, the gold is a ring of sustenance, the amulet grants +3 to heal checks, and the circlet was of nat armor +2. We also have a quality gambeson and breastplate.
On top of a hill, those who keep watch see winds and walls of flame to the east. To the north we see lightning strikes. The night is otherwise quiet. In the morning, Blood Biography reveals that the blood belonged to Hornswaggle. Something slashed at him, but a companion pulled him free from the ground. His arm was broken (compound). His leg was also injured. This was 3.5 weeks ago.
We follow the path, which takes us between the largest hazards; we pass safely by a wall of corrosive fog and an area of lightning storms. In early afternoon, we come around a bend and see smoke stacks on the horizon… beetle nests. At 4pm, we are about a quarter mile away from them. Strelok offers to scout ahead, but we decide not to split up. However, we decide to wait until morning, so we make camp. Less than halfway through the first watch (Zephyr’s), ~8 huge beetles emerge from the earth behind one of the hills. They head west, away from us; the seem to be following the same path we had been. Throughout the night, steam billows from the stacks.
We go to where the beetles emerged and find a deep cavern. We enter, Stelok and Zephyr using light cantrips, and follow a tunnel downward. The temperature and humidity rise rapidly as we descend. A mile in, we see a faint blue light ahead. The tunnel opens into a vast cavern filled with bioluminescent fungus, in a stunning variety of types and colors. Not many are classified; Zephyr takes samples. Hayden pokes one, and it puffs into his face. It looks almost like some of the fungi are landscaped. There seem to be three chambers; the largest has tiny glowing spores floating in the air, which seem to come from dandelion-like fungi. Looking up, we see sky; we are directly below one of the steam vents. It is very far off. At the end of this third cavern, the tunnel narrows significantly. There is another steep descent, although a short one. We come across a place where tunnels offshoot in multiple directions. There is a shiny purple chitin covering everything in these lower caverns. We take a tunnel that looks to have the fewest offshoots. We see a few rooms connected, and a curving offshoot. In one room are many different enclaves, filled with barks and dried berries (food stores). There is no meat. Strelok suggests that the beetles are somewhat intelligent. Around this time, we notice that Hayden’s eyes have started to glow faintly; we assume this is from the fungi spores that were puffed at him.
Further exploration reveal other storage areas, at least one of which contains what seem to be tools for grinding and possibly gardening. We hear a faint noise down a hallway; we inspect, and find a faint glow coming from a room. Inside are fungi-lanterns, eggs, and some larvae. Although no adults are around, we leave quickly to avoid any misunderstandings. We find bedding-type materials in the next area we investigate. We have finished this tunnel, and go back to the crossroad-like intersection. We take a tunnel on the left this time. The walls that seem slightly different, as if the chitin was added on as an afterthought. In one room we find Hornswaggle, suspended from the wall, bound up on his left (injured side). Zephyr reaches to him, waking him up, He is still badly injured. Zephyr suspects that the bindings are bandages, but he is coughing, so she offers him water. We hear a scuttling above. Zephyr chats with Hornswaggle as Sheila heals him. He tells us not to attack the beetles, and says they speak common. Two beetles arrive; they have faces in a human-like structure.
They say they were expecting us, and ask us politely to leave, as “our kind” have generally served as bad omens. They direct us out, and we take down Hornswaggle. Talking to Hornswaggle, he was sent to get materials for a non-magical shrapnel grenade. The lightning fields create “razor-sharp sand”. As we cut him down, he says that there is a glow that has been unbearble; looking over, it seems as though there was a wall of chitin put up to close off a room, and a glow is coming from it. Strelok asks one of the beetles; “the other one stayed there”. A humanoid came seeking a great beast; he was also injured, and also healed by the beetles, but then refused to leave. He stayed “for quite some time, training”. He left and slew the beast (a great serpentine beast, frosted and fanged), then returned. dragging the creature’s head. After healing again, he vanished. He left some things in the room. Strelok removed his mask and asked if there was any resemblance. The beetles couldn’t tell, but said the man’s name was Alexander… the name of Strelok’s brother. Strelok asks to see the room. In it he finds a twisted horn and a book. The book is a journal. The last entry reads: “The linnorm is dead. I am free now.” The horn appears to have come from the slain linnorm. It is about 3 ft long and kinked in places. The head of a hawk, Strelok’s family crest, was carved into its base. Alexander had left 2-3 seasons before.
We cut down Hornswaggle, who is grumpy as always. Strelok takes the book and horn, and leaves the keys of his other family members in their place. He wants to stay and talk to the beetles; the rest of the party will wait for him a mile off until morning; if Strelok hasn’t rejoined us by then, we will depart and hope he catches up with us. Zephyr and Hornswaggle chat extensively about his recent research.
Strelok with the beetles: he is taken to talk with the elder beetle, who was fond of Alexander. The elder has no idea where Alexander may have gone after he left. He had been surprised that Alexander had survived after facing the Linnorm. Alexander needed nearly a season to heal. One day, the beetles returned from hunting and found Alexander gone. Alexander had never spoken of what would happen after defeating the Linnorm, except to say that he would figure it out when the time came.
Zephyr gets an alchemical bomb discovery.
TIMELINE: It is evening of our 7th day since leaving the base camp.