21st day of July, year 1,002 of the 5th Age
Griffin Bromwood had heard the barking of a raucous pack of coyotes for the better part of an hour before he realized his mistake. He should have known, because coyotes on the move are silent ghosts through the trees, but his mind had been on other things and the sound of the coyotes moving closer had not been a concern for him, after all, was he not a woodsman, a king of the wilds, and master of the vastland.
He got his first look at an actual, live kobold at the precise moment that the small band of kobolds got their first look at Griffin Bromwood. A kobold is a small, rust-red, humanoid that looks like nothing so much as a demon crossed with some sort of lizard-dog. These kobolds were caring spears. Two things were immediately obvious to Griffin; although they are obviously reptilian or draconian in nature, kobolds sound remarkably like excited dogs or coyotes; and secondly a bit from an old lesson, despite their small size, kobolds are consummate opportunists. And so thinking, Griffin, changed his route, hoping to avoid crossing paths with the band of kobolds.
The kobolds also changed their direction, and their barking and yapping quieted considerably. Griffin, began to quicken his pace, only to have the kobolds match him. Seeing this he began to jog, surely his longer legs and woodsmen’s stride would be more than enough to put distance between himself and those little red devils. It was not. He began to run.
Baern Fargrim, was a dwarf in the woods and he was not particularly happy about that. He’d been in the woods before, but it was not his preferred habitat, what with all the damn trees and what not. He’d been following these kobolds for two days and they still hadn’t circled back to their village, or cave, or whatever-the-hell a kobold lived in out here. Shadowing them. Watching them. Waiting for a chance to knock a few skulls in with his hammer. But now he’d lost them. Oh, he could hear them, noisy little buggers that they were. But it sounded distinctly like they were behind him, which was not where they were supposed to be if he were going to effectively follow them. He caught sight of a human man, probably a woodsman from the look of him, above him near the ridge and decided he should head towards him and warn him away from those little red devils.
The man stopped and looked about at precisely the same moment that the kobolds stopped their yammering. Coincidence? No, that was obviously not it. The man had changed his direction and was walking almost directly away from Baern now. That was not a good sign either. As the man’s pace picked up, Baern, increased his own. He did not want to lose this fellow traveler and any rations he might have on him. But it did seem to him that he was, with a certainty, out in front of the kobolds. Baern glanced around and noted that the little buggers were fanning out in an attempt to keep the man within their net. But that meant, yes, he was to be caught in the net as well. The man began to jog and the kobolds gave up any pretense and set to the chase. Baern pulled his hammer from his belt and, pumping arms and legs with everything he had, raced up the ridge until he was running side by side with the man, a pack of opportunistic kobolds at their heels.
Petros Milner was spent. Tired and dirty from all this climbing and hiking. He didn’t know where he was, or at least not precisely where he was. He hadn’t found the garden yet and wasn’t even sure which direction he should be heading. Direction sense, who would of suspected he didn’t have it? Hadn’t he spent his whole life in this wilderness? You’d think a man would just pick that up naturally. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, north and south are the other two directions. Easy stuff. But then you get out here and all that gets thrown out with the chamber pot. You couldn’t see anything with all these trees everywhere. From here the map was as helpful as a… well, he didn’t know what it was as helpful as, but it wasn’t. Petros dropped his pack next to a fallen tree in a small clearing somewhere above Annie Falls and wondered if maybe he could be more specific on his location. Night was falling and he needed something to eat and would need a fire very soon.
It was a nice pack, rugged and durable. It was a little heavy, sure, but it had a lot of stuff in it. Petros, stared into this bag of wonder. He had gathered some firewood and piled it up with some smaller sticks, he’d laid out his bedroll next to that pile, now he needed to spark a fire. He had a waterskin in here, a coil of rope, some torches, a mess kit, pitons, whatever those were for, some rations, and there it was a tinder box. Petros set about making his fire. The flint and steel made plenty of sparks, but a spark was not fire. He was becoming increasingly frustrated as the light became dimmer and the animals sung their song over the canyon, annoying really. He managed to tune the barking out, or had it stopped, and by adding some of the pine needles he had caused the spark to catch. He had a smolder going now, no fire, but it was smoking. That was a good thing. He blew on the embers trying to coax them into a flame. Then he heard the commotion, something was coming towards him, rushing through the forest, snapping twigs and branches. It was coming fast. He climbed to his feet and turned toward the sound.
Two men burst from the trees at a full run. A man and a dwarf, actually. They were screaming at him to run. Run where? Run why? The man grabbed him, tried to drag him along as they shot past, but all it did was spin him around. They never broke stride, shouting for him to run they ran off into the forest. Petros watched them in complete confusion, turned back to his campfire, and saw a horde of demons coming out of the forest. He turned and ran.
Petros caught the two men and passed them, he was fast and he didn’t want to die. He would have warned them both, had he remembered. He wouldn’t have headed this way if he weren’t in a panic. But he didn’t warn them and he didn’t realize where he was going. At a full run, and glancing over their shoulders at their pursuers all the while, the three men ran clean off the edge of Annie Falls.
Their legs churning and arms pumping the three men plunged over the canyon cliff and into the shallow stream 50-feet below. They were unconscious almost before they realized they were falling.
Bertrand Lutes watched them fall as he sat on the bank of Annie Creek fishing for the elusive Bull Trout. He watched them fall and he laughed. They might be dead but it was the funniest thing, Lutes, had seen in the five years since he’d decided to make Warlock’s Cauldron his home. And it was his laughter that our three adventurers heard as the icy cold river water, which had felt like stone only a moment ago, shocked them back to consciousness. Above them the kobolds cursed their escaped prey, all the while laughing that they had chased them off the cliff. Besides, all was not lost, hadn’t they run past a small camp pack, surely there was something there to soothe the sting of this missed opportunity.
The three adventures dragged themselves from the icy creek and gathered around the fire of Bertrand Lutes, a huntsman and fisherman of dubious ability, where introductions were made, egos were soothed, and the three bonded over their shared experiences of running from kobolds, seeking a life that cannot be found in the civilized lands, and their general disregard for Lutes, who they all found to be dull of mind, unhelpful of spirit, and annoying of nature. And so, with little light left in the day and their clothes still damp, the three headed south to find somewhere suitable to climb the canyon wall.
From here, I shall abbreviate the tale somewhat, as I do not wish to show favoritism to any particular character in this drama, nor do I wish to imply any knowledge as to the thoughts, feelings, or experiences of those whose adventures I chronicle. I leave that to them. For my part, I wish only to capture the spirit of the day.
—Leartus, Watcher of the Cauldron
Our three adventures decided that they would return to the campsite of Petros Milner in hopes of finding his pack of supplies unmolested. As they traveled south along the northern bank of Annie Creek they caught brief glimpses of their kobold tormentors and longer sightings of a large, boar owlbear above them on the canyon ridge. After, a short hike they found the place where Petros had originally ascended the canyon, and with some little difficulty they made their way to the top of the canyon. From there it was small difficulty in finding the campsite, though full dark had fallen before they reached it. Griffin Bromwood stoked the still smoking firewood to life and the three set down to rest for the night.
The next morning the three broke camp and decided that the first course of action would be to track the kobolds and retrieve Petros’s pack and any goods that might be remaining from the merchant caravan. The trail was not overly difficult to follow and the three made good time, easily catching up to the kobolds as they sheltered beneath a ledge of rock for the day. Twice more, they found evidence of ‘Beaky’s’ presence, a destroyed waterskin and tracks on the first and tracks and scat on the second. Beaky being the name given to the owlbear, by Griffin Bromwood.
The kobolds had set a sentry outside of their camp, but with a flick of the wrist, Baern Farngrim, set a sling stone to the side of that poor devil’s head and his duty was done. It was obvious to the three that there was little to nothing useful or valuable from the merchant caravan left amongst the kobolds. Petros Milner, slipped stealthily amongst the sleeping kobolds and gathered his pack and supplies. He was not unnoticed, but he communicated effectively, that his observer would not survive to participate in any alarm that might be raised. And as there was no hostile intent, beyond collecting the stolen goods, the kobolds let him and his friends slip away unmolested.
With his pack returned and the discovery that his map to the Sunken Garden was still in its pocket, Petros mood lightened. Intrigued by the map, the two others agreed that investigating this ruin would be something they would indeed be interested in. And so they set out together.
They found a ruined shrine at the top of Annie Fall, tucked away from the water against the stone face of the canyon. The ruin itself was a small amphitheater surrounding a blood stained alter. The slab of the alter was a hidden lever, and despite destroying the alter, our adventurers were able to throw the lever and reveal a secret passageway above the shrine leading into the cliff face.
After descending two flights of stairs, they found themselves in a room dominated by a large trough and an idol carved to resemble a stylized za’ata or angel. Above them, at the entrance to the dungeon, they could hear the unmistakable scrapping and snorting of Beaky, who had apparently found their scent, but who seemed unwilling to enter. The continued on, assuming he would not come in. Two rooms and a collapsed passageway were found beyond the first. After following a short passage in the eastern wall, the group found themselves at a large room full of strange, enormous fungi. Two types of giant fungus dominated the room, the first emitting a loud shrieking sound at any sense of disturbance to the air about it, and the other responding to that shriek or the heat of a torch by extending four long tentacles from its bulbous cap. Baern warned that these were known to him and that they should be avoided, naming them shriekers and violet fungus. The group backed away and choose not to disturb such foul plants.
A second passage, this in the southern wall, led first to a collapsed passage, then to a web filled corridor, and finally to a square room filled with webbing and hung with many small bundles and one enormous cocoon or nest spun from the same stuff. It was here that the adventures faced their first true combat. A giant spider lay in wait for them, seeking to make a meal for itself and its offspring. The group was unsurprised by this and had weapons prepared. Griffin Bromwood was bound in a mass of tough webbing as the spider attacked, but Baern Farngrim launched himself at it, beating it back with mighty blows from his war hammer. Petros Milner, leapt to free Griffin and after cutting him free the two of them came to the aid of Baern, who had taken a nasty bite from the spider but fought on. With a swing of his blade, Petros, split the beast down its center and it all but exploded, showering the room with a foul ichor. With the beast slain, Griffin, tossed torch into the nest and it and the room blazed briefly with flame. The three of them dispatched those foul offspring that scampered away from the flames with ease, stepping on or stabbing the fist-sized spiders.
There was a clattering of falling metal on stone and once the flames had died and the smoke cleared the group found a small treasure had been freed by the burning of the webs. The group gathered some coin, a pair of green gems, and a matched set of sword and dagger before deciding they had seen all they could without risking the fungus room. And so deciding they left.
The owlbear, unwilling or unable to enter the dungeon, had moved to the amphitheater but lost interest even in that in no short time and the three adventurers were able to slip away and make their way back to the road without further incident. A few hours on the road and at last they had arrived at the gates of Eldwyn’s Ledge. Here, Petros, informed them that the town itself was unfriendly to those with an adventuresome spirit and a proclivity toward an uncommon lifestyle, if they would like to avoid undo harassment from the town’s watch, perhaps he should recommend they find rooms with him at the Stumbling Celestial. And so they have.