"How would you defeat them?"
"With a stick, while they slept; but when they are awake, aware, and working together? They are unstoppable."
While the party was preparing to continue the hunt for the bandits, we took the opportunity to ask Ahkmar and his clerics about various subjects that held importance to each of us.
Tobias asked about any information that they might provide us regarding the enemy that we hunt. Unfortunately, the only thing that they were able to tell us about that was that they always had difficulty scrying them. This is still useful information for us though, as it lets us know that they are somehow protected from such attempts.
Ishmael took the opportunity to ask them about the city of glass - where he found the Flames of Prometheus. He was told that the name of the city was Medina Muscaloon, which in old desert means "city of merchants."
I also took the opportunity to ask a question, though knowing that the chances of an answer were slim. I asked about knowledge regarding Sacred Druidry, and the fate of those druids of long ago. They confirmed what I had read in my book, that the druids were destroyed 2000 years ago, by a mage. They told me also that old forests with established guardians would be my best chance of learning more; and they were able to give me the location of the two forests that they knew about. One located to the East of a mage's tower, and the other located in the valley between two ridges to the north. That one, they warned, was enchanted to always exist but had also been warded to bar any and all elves. I wonder if that is an all encompassing ban, or if I might be permitted to enter? It is worth checking into, for certain.
After we had conversed with the paladin and his clerics, we gathered our supplies and made preparations to leave the next morning. We awake to a steady rainfall, and depart the farm house to continue on the road. We notice the giant ants off in the forest - most likely confused by the sudden disruption of their normal hunting grounds. We wisely leave them alone to explore their new surroundings, and continue travelling onward. The forest thins out after about a day or so, though we continue to be wary of potential attacks.
The next morning we break camp to an extremely dense fog. It reminds me of the mornings at home in the deep desert.. where the fog rises with the sun and blankets the area. Heavy mists like this are always oddly secluding. Sounds are muffled, sight is limited, and it's very easy to lose yourself in introspection. Because our sight is so limited, we are extra alert as we travel.
Ishmael hums his songs that he learned for quenching as we travel, and discovers that the songs affect ALL water. Including the moisture in the fog. As he hums, the fog behind us turns to snow, much to everyone's surprise, and Lan's enthusiastic delight. She frolics in the snowfall, and we continue on in the oddly muffled silence.
During last watch that evening, Fife wakes everyone as a small group of bedraggled looking soldiers approach the camp. It's obvious that the didn't want any encounter with the group, but we stopped them and manage to talk them into giving us some information in exchange for some supplies. They tell us that we are about a week's travel from where they were attacked - although probably much less since we travel by horse. They are wearing the armor and markings of the count's men, and Fife suspects that they may be deserters. The weary soldiers tell us of the attack, and then interestingly that they felt an overwhelming fear in facing such sheer numbers which caused them to run. The fact that they ran is the only thing that kept them alive.
This reaction is an odd one from seasoned soldiers, and we contemplate the fact that there may be a fear spell and some form of illusion to deal with on top of everything else.
The soldiers tell us also that the brigands that attacked them did so with the express purpose to destroy - not to rob, as the caravans and merchants stated. They say that the Robin's Breast Inn is about a half day ahead, and we heal them, give them the promised supplies, and send them on their way. Since we were already all awake at that point, we decide to break camp and make our way to the Inn.
It's a lonely little structure, the Robin's Breast. A two story house off to the left side of the road. Not too many people there, understandably enough, given the current state of the merchant traffic and the constant fear of brigands. We tie the horses, and Fife stays with them as we go inside to see what information we might be able to gather. We find the bard over by the fire, and the inn keeper over at the bar.
Tobias inquires about a bottle of elven brandy, and he and the innkeeper bargain for an agreeable price for the treasure. It's hard to say who came out ahead in that discussion. The innkeeper certainly got his money's worth and then some, but Tobias managed to acquire the brandy, which he gleefully shared with me.
We ask the bard about any stories he can tell us regarding the current problems, but the farmers all begin to grumble suspiciously, fearing that the telling of the thing will make it worse.
The bard begins his song anyway, and the farmers all leave the inn with a good bit of grousing about not wanting to borrow trouble.
The song the bard sings with rather mediocre talent is the Legend of Sacatha's Tomb. According to the legend, Sacatha was the king of the lizard men who ruled his people with fear. His reign was supposedly aided by a ring that perpetuated the fear. Sacatha was slain by The Count [unnamed by the bard] in the great battle of Waycam, and his people secreted his body away to a sepulcher in the middle of the marshes. It is said that he will return to exact his vengeance on the count.
As difficult as it was to listen to the ill-told story, it does ring suspiciously accurate given current events. The Evil in the Swamp, the lizard men that we ourselves encountered on the road, the theft of children, the scrying attempts on the parties sent out to combat it, the spy in the count's inner court, and the raiding of supply caravans. The facts point to something gathering power, and that something - whatever it is - IS located in the swamp.
The bard laughs our statements of with naive nervousness, playing them off as simply part of the legends for stories that are told to scare children. Even so, we take note of the legend, because even legends are born in truth.
After paying for our meal, and compensating the innkeeper for the fact that all of his other customers for the day had been run off, we pay a few silvers to the bard for his story and gather our supplies to continue on. We make it several hours ride past the inn, when we are attacked by a trio of ogres.
They are very large creatures, ogres. They attack us with boulders, and one of them strikes the horse that I am riding, killing the poor beast immediately. I managed to roll safely out of the way, and the other horses bolt in fear. The party retaliates, and we enter the fight. These creatures are difficult to wound, and it is a game of trying to figure out how not to be crushed by them.
Ishmael and Lan try to gather the horses and keep them calm, and Tobias manages to do some minimal damage to the lead ogre. I attempt to cast a spell to entangle their feet, but it fails - thankfully with no ill effect. KelLyn also casts a spell that goes awry, but she manages to disarm one of the brutes.
Fife uses his expertise with spears and boar hunting to bring down the lead ogre, and Tobias uses his incredible speed and dexterity to run up the second ogre's back to brain him with his mace.
The other two ogres turn to attack Fife, as it was he that felled the leader, and Fife spends several moments dodging their attacks.
KelLyn casts another spell in Fyrewerian - Fire this time - on the ogre that Tobias climbed, and this time she succeeds, catching the hair of the ogre on fire.
Shalev attacks the remaining ogres with the layan claymore that Ma'tron gifted to him, and discovers that the great sword is enchanted to do additional damage to giants. His attacks succeed, and he also discovers, somewhat pleasedly that in killing the ogres, his brooch and symbol of Ma'at gains a charge.
We dispatch the ogres, retrieve the horses, and redistribute the items from my horse onto the remaining animals. The ogres don't carry any items on their bodies, save a finely wrought money bag with the common lettering "GR" embroidered on the face. The money bag contains 100 gold pieces.
The markings on the bag look remarkably familiar for some reason, but none of us can remember where we might have encountered it. Shalev mentions that it is very odd that the ogres would be carrying that much gold, and I hold on to the thought that perhaps the brutes were paid to attack.
It is not a foolish thought, though it is somewhat concerning to consider - given all that we are currently facing. It looks like everything that has been happening here is connected somehow, although how exactly, we have yet to determine.
After the fight with the ogres, we rest for a time to regain strength. Thankfully no one was badly hurt, and we are able to continue travelling quickly.
After another 4 days or so of uneventful travel the road runs up along the river Arda, and we see a bridge about 300 yards or so ahead of us. We stop briefly to discuss crossing the bridge, and to check our progress, and it is here that we are attacked by brigands.
It is a large group of 20 bandits, and they attack en masse. Shalev instinctively casts Dispel Evil, and three of the bandits flee in absolute terror. The rest of them split into three separate groups, and they shout "It's the mage we want, kill the rest!"
We all pull up in front of KelLyn, and prepare to fight. The group with swords as weapons rush to attack Tobias, the group with clubs attacks Fife, and the group with javelins attacks me. Tobias and Shalev both take great offense at the fact that I am being attacked, and Tobias rushes the group with the javelins to brawl with them.
Fife deftly dodges the attacks aimed at him, and KelLyn casts a Slow spell using one of her star gems to concentrate the effect. The star gem turns black, and the spell goes off - affecting the enemies, and unfortunately affecting Amit as well. Ishmael and Shalev engage the group armed with swords, and I spend several moments simply dodging out of the way and making it more difficult for them to hit me.
Lan summons another chaotic fairy, but then when it states that it could not do anything here in the fight, she sets it free instead of returning it home. Setting it free was probably a mistake, as the chaotic fae are capricious at best, and I hope that we will not have to handle much in the way of mischief that it may cause.
The rest of the fight continues quickly, and with the bandits being affected by the slow spell, we are able to take them down. KelLyn intimidates the rest, causing them to flee, and Fife spears one of the fleeing bandits. We search the bodies, but find nothing other than their weapons. Fife takes several of the spears to replace the ones that he lost in the fight, and Lan questions one of the bodies with a spell that she knows. She asks why they were after the mage, and the bandit replied "Because the king told us to" before falling back into death.
We check the area further, but there is nothing to be found, giving us more questions than answers. Amit is still being affected by the slow spell, and KelLyn crassly jokes that we can just leave him behind, which draws a promise of violence from Shalev. I assure him that we will not leave Amit behind, and we agree to make camp just on the other side of the bridge. There are no other injuries to any of the other party members, and I can't help but feel like this was only a test.
They were ready for us, that is certain, and they were somewhat organized. But they were poorly equipped, and fell easily, which contradicts the stories that we heard from the soldiers and the merchants. This feels more like a first push against a wall to test it's strength, and I wonder if we succeeded in giving the enemy yet more information about us. Among us, KelLyn is the only one who has protection against scrying, which may be why she was a target here. She is the only one they know nothing about. It makes me anxious, and supremely wary moving forward.
These bandits certainly ran into more than they bargained for, but I would be foolish indeed to think that was the worst of what we face.