IIb. As I Was Going to St. Ives…

Session Date: April 8, 2019 (continued)
Effective Character Level: 2

It is not hope that is the greatest driving force of sentient races.

Nor faith. Nor love.

It is not concern for his fellow man that drives the farmer to field every morning, nor the knight to battle.

It is fear. Fear of failure.

It is love for his family that prompts a man to tend his fields at the break of dawn. But it is fear that keeps him there long into the evening, through pain and toil, through inclement weather of all kinds.

It is pride or duty that sets a man’s foot to war, but it is fear that keeps him anchored in the din of combat.

It is the fear of what events may befall if they don’t succeed that nails them to their posts.

And if it is fear that inspires people toward greater things, why should I not use that?

-NOTES from Theren’s Journal

Dragon and Kin

As the ettercaps’ treasure could have been miles off-road into the forest, the group decided to keep on the worn path and continue towards Elderham. They planned to set camp at twilight and make town sometime the next morning.

Three hours later, the group was treated to a majestic (if someone unnerving) sight. The shadow crossing the road caught their attention first, then the sound of slow flapping. A large dragon appeared from above the trees north of them, making its way over the fields to south of the road.

Its course took it perhaps only a hundred feet above their heads. If it had noticed them, it gave no indication.

Whereas the rest of the group sat in rigid silence as they watched the apex predator, Yesod began another one of his one-sided arguments.

“What? What’s that, Sis? No, it’s a gold dragon. They’re good dragons, if a little unpredictable. They like to help the lesser races, like humans. But no, it’s not going to ‘eat us.’ Seriously, you know nothing.”

The dragon’s path eventually took it out of sight towards the Goblin Mountains, just visible towards the distant south.

Surprisingly, the gold dragon was not the only draconic creature they would encounter that day. It was as the hill dwarf was settling into his role as the party’s “sergeant” that they met the first other real traveler on this road.

“…I’m not saying you can’t hold your own in a fight, just that you haven’t really proved your worth to a group effort yet. Theren casts a spell that benefits only himself, Lyman threw the first combat he was ever in, and Gariff–“

“I didn’t feel comfortable extending a fight with someone I knew I was going to be in a party with the next day,” the half-orc began to explain, when Damien (currently driving the mules) interrupted.

“Up ahead. On the other side, coming towards us.”

Piled high with “goods” that resembled less wares and more refuse from behind a barn, a wagon drew towards them. As it neared, the party’s attention was quickly drawn to the “dragonborn” merchant sitting in the driver’s seat.

Upon noticing them, the driver waived heartily and slapped his long overcoat, hard. There was a sudden and disturbing shuffle beneath it, and the merchant leaped onto the ground. He tottered for a few moments on uneasy legs, taking halting penguin steps. He also seemed to have one too many joints underneath his clothes.

“Halloo!” the creature said, in a strangely-squeaky voice. “Can I interest you folks in some high-quality goods?”

The merchant’s feet continued to meander in a circular motion, until they were stilled by a furious whisper from somewhere inside the coat.

The six members of the party blinked at each other as their cart drew to a standstill. Goods were goods, regardless of who was selling them. And did it really matter, in the end, if this merchant was probably three kobolds
stacked in an overcoat, instead of the tall, gaunt, tiny-armed dragonborn he said he was?

In the end, everyone had to make their own way in the hostile world of Sword Coast, and “savage races” often had a harder time of doing that than others.

“Yeah, sure, I’ll take a look,” said Theren.

“Splendid!” cried three tiny voices at once, and the merchant tottered over to the back of his cart.

Sadly, Theren found nothing of use beyond a few staves and decently-crafted slingshots, one of which he already possessed. However, seizing everyone’s attention immediately was a caged animal near the rear of the wagon, as far away from the driver’s seat as it could be placed.

“It’s a badger!” the kobold tittered proudly, in case someone had asked him. He withdrew few soiled tissues from his coat pocket and studied them carefully, as if they were important breeding papers. “Ah yes, very rare, very special, this badger. You are lucky to have caught me before I’d sold him!”

“He looks like a regular badger to me,” Lymn groused.

“And he does tricks!” the merchant continued. “Watch what happens when I yell the words ‘pee-pee!’ “

Immediately, a golden arc of foul liquid coursed through the air and hit the kobold, inerrantly. The bottom part of the merchant’s overcoat began edging away from the stream.

“Only fifty silver! I could easily charge twice that for a pissing badger, in a proper city!”

In the end, the paladin talked the kobold down to only twenty-five silver for the badger, with the cage and a leather leash-and-harness thrown in. It was obvious the kobold(s) had grown quite tired of the badger, and it was probably luck that it hadn’t been cast on the side of the road by now.

As Rudolfo and Gariff talked with the merchant about the fascinating golden dragon they’d just witnessed, Lyman and Theren withdrew with their newest party member. The half-orc tried unsuccessfully to make it “heel,” “sit,” “roll over,” or even “stop biting my shoe.”

When he was finished, There decided to try his luck with his own abilities, newly-granted by his Patroness. The badger seemed surprised to hear a biped speaking in its own language, but it answered with a loud, surly snarl.

“Did you just…talk to that badger?” Lyman asked disbelievingly. “What did it say?”

“Luckily for your ears, there’s no direct translation in Common,” Theren answered. “Suffice to say, I think he’ll get along with our group just fine.”

After a misinterpretation of a suggestion by Yesod to “Just name the badger later,” Lyman the half-orc set off with his new pet, Later the badger.

Visitors Along the Road

Rudolfo made sure they spent some time that night going over what they knew about the undead, and how best to combat them. He reviewed how they were immune to many things that would harm an ordinary person (such as poison or bleeding); that they were especially vulnerable to blunt, heavy objects (such as a mace or hammer); and that while they were all unfriendly, their level of aggression was linked to how they had been created.

Theren noted that while the hill dwarf had certainly been assuming command of the group entirely on his own, he was also investing his own time and effort into making sure his comrades were combat-ready. He decided to offer up a little extra information about himself, describing the spell he’d been perfecting that would help shield their minds from the effects of the undead. The cleric seemed appreciative.

Later, when Rudolfo woke Theren for his night shift, he had interesting news.

“That gold dragon’s back. Saw it fly directly over our campfire once, from south back to north. There’s no way it could have missed our light; what do you think it wants with us?”

Theren also could offer no satisfactory account, but said he was relieved the dragon had not gobbled them or their mules.

Sure enough, not long after Rudolfo had bedded down for the night, Theren’s sharp night eyes picked up movement of something large and scaled overhead, circling the fire. After circling twice, it moved off north.

There was a distant but heavy sound, as if something large had alighted on the road.

Theren waited tensely. He wondered if he should wake the others. Would the dragon see them readying their weapons and interpret it as a threat?

He didn’t need to wait long. After perhaps only a minute or two, a bearded man in golden robes stood at the edge of their fire’s light. The half-elf didn’t need to use his special abilities to guess who (or what) stood before him now. While Theren was unaware of all the dragon’s magical abilities, he himself was able to cast illusions easily. Disguise would be an easy thing for such a mythical beast.

Against his better judgment, Theren reached out to touch the dragon’s mind, to converse without waking the others. The blast of white light and pain behind his eyes assured him this had been a foolish move.

“Finally!” the dragon said, taking quick stock of everyone resting around the fire. “You’re here.”

Then, the dragon-in-human-form retreated back into the dark. Within moments, the sound of heavy wings withdrew into the air.

Rudolfo, whose sharp ears were already gaining him some notoriety among the group, woke at the sound of the voice. He conferred with Theren about the incident. The two spent the rest of the night wondering what had attracted the attention of such an intimidating creature.

(It could be noted that Theren did not mention to Rudolfo his attempt to contact the dragon telepathically. Their party was still relatively new, their friendships untested, and many might not welcome the fact that Theren could press into their minds.)

The party was privy to one more chance meeting before they’d reached their destination. As they were finishing their breakfast and dousing their fire, a cart approached them from the direction of Elderham.

“Strange,” Yesod noted, doing a quick calculation in his mind. “They would have had to leave Elderham in the middle of the night, when it is most dangerous.” He approached the cart to inquire further.

What had initially seemed to be an moderately-affluent couple fleeing the perils of Elderham turned out instead to be a group of adventurers, making their sad departure from a mission gone awry. They had misjudged their opponents, been driven from the battle, and been forced to leave behind one of their own in the aftermath–a young mercenary named Elijah.

Theren’s special vision noted a number of magical items beneath the covers in the back of the cart. These items turned out to be worn by the rest of the ill-fated adventurers’ party–to whit, three sleeping (or intoxicated) bards.

It also came out that the other party boasted no dedicated cleric. With the reasons for their failure now apparent, Yesod and his fellow adventurers wished them well on their way, along with better fortune in their next endeavors. It had been heartening, at least, to learn first-hand that Elderham was still a town inhabited by the living.

“Just don’t go out at night,” the lead adventurer sighed, before resuming his cart’s path along the road.

Undead Urdisae

There was a giant, rotted corpse of a dead bear in the middle of the street, not far from the gates to Elderham proper.

As could be expected, “undead bear” was the first phrase on everyone’s mind, and it took only a minute for Theren to verify these suspicions (first, by asking the badger what it smelled; and second, using his special eyesight to confirm bones enchanted with necrotic power).

Holding a safe eighty feet from the threat, the party discussed what to do about the threat. Some were for bypassing the beast entirely; Theren had seen no valuable loot in or around the corpse, and so they could gain nothing from the encounter.

It was Rudolfo, however, who made the best argument for engaging the fiend.

“There are more travelers than us who take these roads. Let us clear the threat for the next people who come this way.”

Additionally, he noted, the party had no real clue of when the corpse would animate next; and it was best to enter town without an undead bear at one’s back.

The task, then, fell to their best line of attack. As Rudolfo had noted several times before, the presence or absence of a strategy would be the deciding factor in their survival. While most of the party readied their crossbows to fire from range, Yesod asked to borrow the cleric’s warhammer. He had remembered Rudolfo’s earlier lessons on combating the undead.

“It’s not two-handed,” the human admitted, “but its blunt form will still do more damage than my greataxe. Plus, I don’t use ranged weapons.”

With Yesod taking the fore, the rest of the party either followed directly behind for support (Theren) or took position on one of the flanks with their crossbows (Sterling, Gariff, and Rudolfo).

As soon as Yesod had drew close to the bear, it rose to its haunches and bellowed fearsomely, its eyes glowing an evil blue. Then, it came crashing down with both claws extended, aiming for the human fighter’s head.

The field test of Theren’s protection spell went swimmingly; Yesod simply sidestepped the slow beast.

“I knew you were bad news when I saw you,” Yesod muttered, laying into the monster with his mace.

A hail of arrows helped control the battle, and even the badger nipped valiantly at the monster’s heels. However, the beast was ultimately felled by a potent combination from the cleric and the paladin. Rudolfo moved his hands in a familiar fashion, and a guided bolt of divine light divided half of the bear’s rotten fur from its disintegrating body. As the divine retribution still glowed around the creature, Lyman struck from behind, passing his greatsword up between the bear’s hind legs and into its spine from below.

With the necrotic energy powering the beast severed, the corpse fell once more into the lifeless body they’d first encountered–but for good. Not one member of their party had been touched in the encounter.

“See?” emphasized the hill dwarf, at the end. “That’s what happens when you have a plan.”

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