So Celenor, the elvish cleric, had made the acquaintance of the elf bowman Earilas, and both were discussing their recent forays into the Northern woods after marauding goblins. Celenor mentioned that his searches had led him to believe something could be found in the ruins of Eichenbaum, the old seat of power for the area's deposed Hauser overloards, now long since burned down in the center of a vast swath of wasteland known to the locals as the Desolation.
Concurrently, a young warrior of earnest disposition with a Hauser accent had come into the bar, and was discussing local history with Ned Mundersen, the tavern keeper. He was very interested in the bounty on ghouls offered by the fort, and let it be known that he was on a pilgrimage, and had sworn to destroy undead abominations wherever they might be found. By some quirk of fate, the two conversations converged on the subject of Eichenbaum manor, drawing the stranger to take an interest in the two elves. He introduced himself as Sir Heinrich, and was accepted by the two elves as a strong sword arm for their planned expediton to the ruins. Now all the group needed was a guide to get them through the wilderness. This they found in the person of a young woman named Kaylee, who though initially reticent approached the trio when they began asking about the tavern for anyone skilled in landcraft. With Celenor's giant raven Brighteye, that made them a party of five.
The group bought supplies and set out on the Pilgrim's Highway on a bright morning, and made good time, coming to rest in Millford and staying the night in The Owl. The next day they set out and ranged a few leagues farther on the road, hoping to cut north into the woods by midday.
On the way, they encountered a group of pilgrims, led by a priest of the Wheel and his acolyte. The travellers were returning to the Fort after getting as far as the pair of hills known as The Sisters and doubling back. They had planned to continue on the distant city of Middenheim, but as they ranged farther along the highway they found it had become wild and overgrown, and the land around more forbidding. They had seen signs of the fearful goblins, skulls on stakes and other dire totems, and had seen a mysterious ruin on the Slumbering Hill, known to locals as the Blind Watchers, a trio of towering humanoid statues with their eyes gouged out by some unknown agency. The pilgrims had decided to return whence they came before meeting some misadventure on the road. Sir Hienrich bid them be of good cheer, for he would do something about the dangers on the road, and would someday lead them to their goal.
After the adventurers parted company with the pilgrims they headed North into the oak forest. They were a scant two leagues in as the sun set, so the group made camp, much to the discomfort of Earilas and Sir Hienrich, who were not as accustomed to roughing it in the wilderness. In the depths of the night, as Celenor took his turn at watch, he heard the distant howling of worgs, their bass voices quite distinct from the high notes of normal wolves. He did not choose to awaken his companions, for they were quite distant, and were unaccompanied by the jabbering of goblins, whose voices don't carry as far. The night passed uneventfully and the group set out once more with the dawn.
The following day saw the party picking their way through the forest, climbing the hill toward the Desolation. As the sun went down, they estimated they were only an hour or two's travel from the wasteland. They decided to camp, so that when they reached the grey waste they would be fresh. They built no fire, not wanting to advertise their presence, so they slept in the deep dark of a new moon.
First watch fell to Earilas, and he sat caring for his bow as the others slumbered in a small clearing. The elf looked up sharply as a pair of gnoll younglings blundered into the perimeter of the camp. In a single smooth motion the elven warrior had an arrow knocked and pointed at the larger of the two as he called out an alarm to his sleeping allies. Elves do not sleep, but rather go into a trance like reverie, so Celenor was instantly at the ready, while Sir Heinrich awoke as soon as Earilas' voice sounded.
The young creatures began to tremble, clinging to one another in terror and emitting a high pitched whine. Almost as if by magic eight gnoll females materialized out of the darkened woods, growling and bristling, with a passel of curious younglings in tow. The pair of gnoll cubs darted behind the lead female, a large, raw boned creature brandishing an axe that had apparently once been broken and repaired with sinew cords. With their keen vision, the elves could see that these creatures were in a poor state, with clearly visible ribs and a look of desperation in their dark eyes.
Celenor stepped forward to try to diffuse the standoff, first addressing the gnolls in Common, then switching to Goblinish when they didn't respond. The elf cleric attempted to assure the females that they meant no harm, but found that the language of the goblins was uniquely unsuited to conveying peaceful intentions. The females stood their ground, forming a menacing phalanx against the interlopers in their woods who spoke the language of their persecutors, the goblins. Meanwhile, Sir Hienrich carefully reached over and nudged Kaylee awake, and the two humans crouched in the pitch blackness, ready to stand and fight if their elven companions needed their aid against this dimly seen threat. Finding words ineffective, Celenor switched to gestures, motioning for Earilas to lower his bow, as he drew a packet of rations from his kit and cautiously laid it down between the two groups. Earilas, ever perfunctory in his manner, barked in Goblinish for the gnolls to take it and leave. This got through, and the lead gnoll snatched up the packet and signaled her group to withdraw, warily backing into the woods from whence they came. As they faded into the deeper darkness, the sound of a chastising smack accompanied by a yelp from a youngling was heard, and the gnolls were gone.
The next day the group gathered themselves and set out again, breaking through the treeline into the grey expanse of the Desolation a couple of hours later. The ground crunched beneath their feet, covered in ashes and charcoal. The party tried various means of detection to puzzle out this new mystery. Celenor attempted a spell to detect magic, while Sir Hienrich used his innate ability to detect evil, and both Celenor and Kaylee used their landcraft. Whatever had burned this area was not natural fire. It had been a decade, and nothing but the barest hardscrabble weeds had grown back. The ashes ran deep, as if the very soil beneath the forest had been burnt as well. The haze of ash gave the land an eerie quality, and set the group on edge.
Sir Hienrich then noticed the blackened remains of a fence nearby, and the group decided to follow it. As they cast their gaze about, they noted some shadowy figures watching them from past the tree line about five furlongs' distance, making out a pair of gnolls who seemed to be observing them from a distance. Seeking to avoid another confrontation, especially since the gnolls weren't moving toward them, the group headed deeper into the Desolation.
Soon, as they crested the hill, the group spotted a wide stone platform a ways down the hill, that may have been the foundation of a large building. The pad was strewn with blackened wreckage and burnt timbers. The party made their way to it, and searched in the tangle of shattered beams until they discovered a doorway set in the hillside towards the back of the foundation, opening on a set of stairs that led down into the darkness. The group lit a lantern and headed down.
At the bottom, they found a stout door hanging loose on it's hinges. Stepping inside, they came to a long corridor flanked at intervals by alcoves, which they carefully searched in turn. In the second set of alcoves, one of the elves discovered a concealed door, which opened by means of a concealed button. This they left to investigate later as the continued down the hall. At the third set of alcoves, loud voices suddenly shouted out at them in Hausprecht.
"WHO DARES ENTER THIS PLACE AND INTRUDE ON THE SANCTUARY OF IT'S INHABITANTS?"
"MERELY A GROUP OF FOOLS, DOOMED TO CERTAIN DEATH!"
"WOE TO ANY LOW BORN FOOL WHO PASS THIS PLACE. THE WRATH OF GANZER AND VAN ZELIG WILL BE UPON THEM!"
As the raucous laughter of the phantom voices faded into eerie silence, the group steeled themselves, expecting something to respond to the noise, and continued on their way. They came to a crossroads, and there they found a scene of carnage, as five dead bodies laid where they fell. Three were apparently adventurers, much like themselves, two humans and a dwarf, struck down in battle by two creatures the war veterans among them instantly recognised as Totenkorps, the horrible animated corpses that the Hausers had used in great numbers during the last war. Sir Hienrich in particular was incensed to see these grisly creatures. As they searched the bodies, they found the Totentruppe crumbled like old cheese, and the young warrior stomped on the remains until they fell to dust. There was little else of value on the dead adventurers, save a warhammer clutched in the dwarf's hand that bore an inscription in dwarvish reading "To Clancy, Keep swingin', From: Yancy".
The party then decided to head back and check out the secret door, both not wanting any surprises to come from behind, and to distance themselves from the racket raised by the invisible voices. They headed down the tunnel they found there, and nearly got lost wandering the twisting maze of passages. They found one chamber at the end of a spiraling hallway where a stonemason had scrawled in chalk "Aubrecht Van Zelig is a mad ma..." next to a pool of long dried blood. They found a chamber full of tools hidden behind another secret door. Then they found the entry to a long gally style kitchen.
While poking about in this chamber they roused a colony of monstrous centipedes, each fully four feet long, which poured out of the chimney and attacked, biting with their vicious mandibles. Earilas slew two with arrows as the others drew their swords, but Celenor's raven, in the manner of all birds, made her own short work of the insects. Sir Hienrich had the worst of the encounter, a bite from one of the creatures leaving his limbs a bit numbed, but otherwise the group dispatched the creatures with alacrity. The other end of the kitchen had a door which brought them out next to the crossroads with the dead bodies again.
After finding the gally, the group began to wonder what the purpose of this underground complex was, and searched on, checking out corridors that they had passed.
Eventually, they came to a hall that was covered on all sides with a carpet of mottled mold. Treading carefully, they wrapped their faces in damp cloths and forged ahead, seeing a dim illumination ahead. They came into a large vaulted chamber full of all kinds of bizarre giant fungus, in all sorts of fantastical shapes and colors, none of them particularly pleasing to the eye. The glow was coming from certain specimens that were phosphorescent, and the air was filled with a musty cloud of spores. As the group explored the northern end of the chamber, they passed a pit full of purplish, knobby polyps that set up a hellish racket of keening as soon as the light from their lanterns hit them. Withdrawing hastily, they let the keening die down, and sent the elves, with their ability to see in darkness, to check out the end of the chamber. There, Earilas and Celenor found a huddled figure sitting with it's knees to it's chest under a large, mushroom like hat. On closer examination, they found that it was some sort of strange humanoid fungus, it's shoulders growing seamlessly into the broad, fleshy reddish blue cap. The thing was quite dead, with secondary growths bursting out from it's flabby, pockmarked skin. One of the elves brushed lightly against the edge of it's cap, and the whole thing crumbled into powder before their eyes, filling the air with a strange perfumed cloud of spores. The elves were both startled by a momentary vision, of a stone table engraved with interlocking spirals, at the center of a ring of gigantic mushrooms in the twilight beneath a canopy of towering oak trees. Earilas and Celenor blinked and shook their heads to clear it, bemused by the vision and wondering what it might mean. Meanwhile, their human companions had found a figurine on a dias at the other end of the room, a bronze casting of a winged fairie perched on a mushroom, inlaid with copper and silver. Thinking it might be of value, they cleaned the thick growth of fungus off and placed it in a sack. Puzzling at the purpose of this odd underground greenhouse, the group forged on.
Having explored all directions in this quadrant of the underground complex save one, the group followed a final corridor that ended in a doorway. Finding it locked, they set to trying to break it down. When it proved too sturdy against shouldering it down, they took a hammer and a piton and chiseled the lock open. Sadly, they had neglected to listen at the door before they undertook breaking it open. When Sir Hienrich threw the portal open, he was met by a hulking brute of a hobgoblin in blackened scale mail. It's leathery skin drew back in a fearsome, sharp toothed grin as it's hateful, red eyes leered through the eye slit of it's sallet. It grunted a welcome in broken Hausprecht and stabbed the young knight in the chest with his greatsword. Behind him, a dozen more of the creatures stirred, grinning expectantly and brandishing their gleaming swords. The startled adventurers began wildly firing arrows into the room as the brutes pressed in around their leader as it drew it's sword back to strike at Sir Hienrich again. Celenor cast a spell of Baneful effect, sending a ripple of unease through the hobgoblins as the rest of the party had the presence of mind to slam the stout door shut before the monsters could press their attack. Sir Hienrich hastily pulled some pitons from his belt pouch and nailed the door shut, and the party fled as the hobgoblins bellowed and hacked at the thick oaken timbers behind them. The adventurers fled from the underground warren of Eichenbaum, glad to be alive. They found an overgrown path at the downhill edge of the manor's foundation, which they made haste to follow.
The path eventually led them out of the woods and across the moors to the northeast expanse of the Pilgrim's Highway. As they made their way to the road, they spotted the strange ruins the pilgrims had spoken of, three massive statues of humanoid figures, seated on thrones on a wide platform set into the distant hillside, with their eyes rendered into crudely hewn caves in the stern, unpleasant faces by some unknown hand. Pondering this new mystery, as well as the mysteries they encountered in the catacombs of Eichenbaum, the group made camp, and then headed down the highway to Millford without further incident.
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