There was one particular girl that stood out from the rest..
Hearkening back to Vol 2 Issue 4 we were introduced, briefly, during the ballet in the Margrave's throne room, to a young and particularly skilled warrior-ess - a shield-maiden or guard in the Margrave's service - who was particular handy with the blade and adept at dispatching daemons back to the black abyss that they were spawned from. She was a welcome ally in that battle and was asked about by several of our number after the fight in discussions with Lord Howe and the Margrave.
Thus we welcome Ruth as Lenore, formerly of the City Guard of Maethylburg (aka "Laketown") and presently on assignment from the Margrave to assist the Stewards of the March. Thats us.
My pocket sketch of Lenore is Eowyn: medium-length dirty-blond hair, broadsword-and-shield bashy warrior in full chain armor. She is murderously lethal with her sword, a skilled and tough weaponmaster, but she is slow to provoke and tends to hold back in a fight until or unless she has been strongly provoked. Then, watch out!
Off to see the Wizard
Over the next week or two I spent almost all of my time in the archives and libraries of the Margrave, Lord Howe, and the unnamed Court Magician trying to learn all that I could of these Dread Lords and their history. I didn't pick up much, but such as I did I considered valuable snippets. Several of us had recently leveled, and my improvements went almost entirely to academic and scholarly pursuits. I've tried to work on this, but apparently my Old Common is spoken with a bit of an accent. The analogy that comes to mind is one of a French-native Professor of Literature who is extremely fluent in English attempting to speak with a Boston accent. Its all the same language and he's really fluent at it, but he just doesn't sound Bostonian.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
Lucky us! How could we be so fortunate? We were tapped to go out on another mission! This time, back downriver to the east to the coast and to explore along the way. Somewhere out there waiting, somewhere, were very servants of the Dread Lords that we had tangled with in the past. And based on that entanglement, they presumably had more servants and soldiers in more forts that could be teleported in on short notice as reinforcements for anywhere we might show up. So we decided to make this the slow and scenic trip passage to the coast, having still never actually made it that far.
Trekking this time down the north side of the river, laying somewhat low and living off the land along the way, we charted it to be about a week's march through territory roughly comparable to Nebraska before we reached the vicinity of the trail leading south to the Keep-On-The-Lake. We bypassed this and pushed on, still on the north of the river, all the way to the coast. Another week to get that far. Along the way we had few couple encounters on about an every other day basis with some giant flying bird. We later identified this to be a giant falcon and its pet human rider, or perhaps the relationship went the other way.
It took some doing, some wandering, some almost-but-not-quite getting lost, and a lot of everyone but me getting well and soaking wet, and we found ourselves to the south side of the river near its mouth, and we hit upon some tremendous dip-net surf fishing that had me landing a awesome specimen of some rockfish right about the time that falcon-boy made his dawn patrol. That was a good pucker-factor event, but for some reason we didn't turn out to be very important (or obviously edible) because the rider turned his mount to exit the area without stopping to talk to us.
Reuben was particularly upset over the gall of this rider to snoop and check up on us, make low passes without talking to us, and for just flying off without so much as a how-do-you-do. So he pumped out a lvl-11 Summoning-XV and targetted "Giant Falcon" before the bird could get more than 100yd away. I've seen him do his "Summon Fish" and "Summon Bigger Fish" act before, but this new "Summon Giant Falcon" act trumps them all. We didn't know if it would work. Nobody knew. Are Giant Falcons intelligent, like Tolkien's Giant Eagles? Or are they just big falcons? Maybe they're magical, or maybe they're just bred magically, or maybe they're just fantastic but not particularly intelligent. Turns out they're more of the last category, as his Summoning-XV was enough to do the trick.
Within a few seconds, what should our wondering eyes should appear but an irate rider and his pt giant falcon. We tried to be friendly, but in the interest of future diplomatic relations we let him go. Although I'm sure Gene regrets not holding back some points to spend on Animal Husbandry: Giant Falcon and Riding: Giant Falcon should we have chosen the alternative and captured the bird.
We represent the Lollipop Guild
After waving goodbye to our new-met acquaintance we set off again on foot to the south following the coast. We were no longer really making any serious attempt to hide, as I think we would have enjoyed having birdman come back for a friendly visit on his terms. As long as it turned out to be friendly. Instead, what met us was a delegation of people from the birdman village. After some introductions and discussion, it was agreed that we would travel with the Village People back to their town and meet with their Village Council.
Reuben played me up as some high and mighty noble, presumably as bait for a trap or as a crude practical joke. Lenore picked up on the idea that the Village People were being less than totally honest when they claimed they didn't know anything about the Keep-On-The-Lake or the people therein. But in the spirit of pursuing diplomatic relations and perhaps some day Free Trade we travelled with them for about a day and a half before coming to their little burg.
This far south along the coast the land was getting a bit more rugged, and inland were rising hills and mountainous terrain. The Village People had their town terraced into the side of one hill like a series of hobbit holes, and on the next hill over was the aeyrie for the giant falcon riders. Our escorts took us to their meeting place and told us it would be fun to stay at the YMCA. We avoided the obvious song, because at this point it was really starting to smell a bit like a trap.
On one hand, I didn't like us getting shut inside a dusty old mead hall, empty of everyone but ourselves, to cool our heels waiting for the Village Council. Neither did Reuben, who kept guard at the door. But on the other hand, if they wanted us dead we'd be dead and be starting a new campaign. So I didn't think they wanted us dead, they could be friendly, but didn't seem exactly to be enemies. So I played it honest. Reuben had set me up as some high and mighty noble, so it was up to me and my eloquent diplomacy to do something.
I laid out honest: how we're from thousands of miles to the north, how we currently serve the Margave of Meth-something, where (on a map) we came from, what we've seen, and how we came to be there at that time. Apparantly the Elder wasn't prepared for such a bombshell to be laid at his feet, as he promptly kicked us out of town and told us never to come back. Ever. Turns out that this village is some loosely aligned thrall of the Dread Lords and owes them some fealty although they're not particularly good supporters of the despotic regime. We didn't have time to get into the economic details, but it seems that the Dread Lords have many such little enclaves and have been passing off a bundle of lies about how the Laketown people are Public Enemy Numero Uno. Seeing us in person, and knowing how friendly we were to his birdman patrol, he was willing to give us the benefit of the doubt but we really needed to get the heck out. And so we did. Promptly.
The Battle Of The Wilderness
These Dread Lords are really starting to become an irritating rash on the countryside. We're about 2 weeks on foot from home, but we decided to once again take the scenic route. This time, staying to the south side of the river. It really needs a name. Since the land near it reminds me of Nebraska, I think we should call it the Platte River. Still living off the land, trying to hunt along the way, low use of magic, trying to stay undetected in enemy territory. Funny thing is that this territory is not interlaced with roads and trails connecting different places. Its more like virgin wilderness. We eventually made it far enough south to reach the mountains, and it seems like the mountains might actually be passable back to the east so maybe the lack of roads/trails is a fluke. But still, nothing seems to connect the Keep-On-The-Lake with anything else. Trudging west, paralleling the ridges, we eventually found a pass approximately due south o the Keep. A true AHAH!
Fluke, bad timing, torment from the GM, payback for avoiding all of the other combat encounters for the last 8 hours of RPGing, we stumbled randomly into a mule train and had a bit of a meeting engagement. More of a chasing engagement. We could have caught them, but we had to let them escape. The mules were empty. But now we know where their Ho Chi Minh Trail is.