The mid-morning sun shone down on Goxhill and the four mercenaries as they made their final preparations before leaving to find Rhea. Several of the residents were up and about, but most were still asleep, the majority of the Groggy Mare’s patrons from the night before had staggered home in drunken stupors after drowning their sorrows until the wee hours.
The group had just about left the village when they were assailed by a strained voice wailing at them, “Wait! Waaaaaait!” They turned to see Joran running at them wildly, leaving the door to the house he had just exited wide open in his haste. He slowed to a stop as he reached them and leant forward on his knees, gasping out fragments of a sentence as he tried to catch his breath, “Did…did I…are you…heading into the…the uh…woods?”
Greil listened patiently before replying, “That’s where you directed us, yes. To go see Rhea.”
“Oh lords…I’m glad I caught you. These woods, they’re dangerous.”
“We’ve dealt with danger before my friend.”
“Spiders?” Grimlock growled, a glimmer of fear briefly flickering across his eyes.
“Take this” Joran handed a small pack to Greil, the sound of glass clinking inside as he did so. The commander peered inside and saw a collection of vials filled with an odd blue liquid.
“Anti-venom,” Joran answered Greil’s quizzical look. “Here’s to hoping you don’t need it.”
The forest stood half an hour’s walk away from the village centre – a deep, dark and oppressive blight on the otherwise beautiful surroundings, the thick, gnarled trees of its border twisted around each other, their roots intertwined, clawing at the earth as they fought for space, creating a nigh on impenetrable wall of wood. The path from the village lead to a small opening where the skeleton limbs of the crowded flora had been cut back. Little light penetrated the entranceway; it took on the appearance of a great gaping maw, the very mouth of the monstrous forest, frozen perpetually in a screaming howl. The intrepid adventurers entered with barely a pause.
Inside, day became dusk as the thick canopy overhead blocked out the sun almost entirely. The path continued on into the forest, though visible it was clearly not maintained, brush and bracken encroached on it from either side, slowly consuming the trail and the safety it offered.
Before long the group spotted thick strands of webbing, coated in a sticky substance, hanging in the trees, pulled taut between their branches. Gigantic webs. They endeavoured to keep an eye out for them, the coating likely being more than powerful enough to ensnare any creature of human size and stature. Despite this however, the mercenaries managed to trek for almost two hours before running into trouble.
A scream rang out from somewhere off to the right of the path. All eyes turned to face the direction of the shriek, peering into the gloom as weapons were readied, but they were unable to make out anything beyond a small hill. Greil held his light imbued staff out ahead of him as he began to move, motioning for the others to follow. Grimlock broke into a run and sprinted ahead of him, followed closely by Tarkus. The pair managed to successfully dodge several huge webs as they bounded to the top of the small hill and glared into the gloom. Despite his poor eyesight, The General managed to spot movement, aided by yet another wail from that direction. Two hulking shapes, one larger then the other, were moving between the trees at the bottom of the hill, seemingly converging on the same spot. The dragonborn and his goliath companion leapt into action.
Encounter: Troll Throwdown
The combatants paused to catch their breath and watched with horrified curiosity as Grimlock meticulously stripped the troll skull of its flesh and muscle. Greil, having witnessed the ritual before, sidled off to one side and approached the trolls’ initial quarry, the half-elf woman, who was now getting to her feet and brushing mud and leaves off of her tunic. She let out a faint gasp as she noticed him approaching.
“Good day” the woman replied after a short pause.
“You seem to have run into a spot of bother.”
“Mm, damned trolls. Thank you most kindly for your assistance” she gave a small courtesy.
Tarkus and Gregg, having both seen enough of the dragonborn’s trophy preparation, joined the conversation, “What were you doing out here?” the goliath asked gruffly.
“I live on the other side of the forest, though it may seem odd to you for a young woman such as myself to be travelling through such a dangerous place, I can assure you, I do it often” she replied curtly.
“For someone so experienced with this place, you sure seemed to be in a heap of trouble when we arrived” Gregg grunted with a hint of suspicion.
“Trolls are not native to this land; they’ve been wandering down more and more recently from the Gol Mountains. I was told that goliath colonies have been spreading themselves further over the area, pushing some of the wildlife out.”
The group considered this for a moment before Greil eventually spoke up, “So you were on your way home?”
“No actually, I was going to meet a friend. Well I still am, I was just waylaid.”
“A friend? In the forest?” Gregg inquired, still unable, or unwilling, to hide his suspicious tone.
“Indeed, now if you don’t mind I must continue, else I shall be late."
“Hang on,” Greil countered politely, “I imagine you’re headed up the same road we are – stay with us until our paths separate.”
As it turned out, the party were indeed heading the same direction as the young woman and she took him up on his offer. The following three hours passed without significant event. The group continued to question the woman but her replies were short, snippy and unhelpful. Indeed, the only information they were able to gain from her was her name: Tell.
The path, though increasingly overgrown, remained constant, eventually splitting into a fork, one heading north east, the other north west. This would have presented a problem for the mercenaries, who were only working off of extremely rough directions, if it were not for Tarkus’ keen eyes spotting a well camouflaged, ramshackle wooden hut, barely visible between the gnarled trees, a few hundred metres down the north eastern fork.
“Well,” Greil turned to Tell, “We spy our destination. It is time for us to part ways.”
She gave a perplexed look as her eyes darted from him to the hut and back again, “You are here to see Rhea?”
All eyes fell on the half-elf as a surprised silence descended.
“The witch,” she continued, “you are here for her?”
“That is correct,” Gregg replied, that suspicious tone tainting his inflections once again, “You also seek the witch?”
Tell locked eyes with him, “I do.”
The invoker took a step forward aggressively, finally tired of her games, “And what is your business with her?” he boomed.
Unflinching, she calmly replied, “My business is my own.”
“Enough of this,” Greil interjected, “Let us all go together. Perhaps then this air of tension can be dissolved” he glared momentarily at Tell.