12 – 16 Etissa 2787
Galen claimed the ring and the party headed off to the northwest to locate some of the fungus they had to collect. After an hour of walking in the quiet, cool, woods, Pearigren (who regularly walks ahead of the group as a kind of scout) spotted a strange sight. A young boy of about nine years was standing atop his father’s shoulders and was using a stick to try and knock some of the fleshy fungus off a tree. Nearby, a woman and what appeared to be her daughter sat looking up at the pair. The family was dressed as tradespeople, though their clothing looked filthy and disheveled. The family had their backs to Pearigren, so she decided to hide and watch what happened.
As Pearigren crouched in hiding, the father and son managed to free a sizable chunk of the fleshy fungus. As soon as the fungus was down, the father and son gathered it and tore into it, eating it with wild abandon. The mother and daughter grabbed a few pieces of the fallen fungus as well and began devouring it greedily. Their sudden movements finally gave Pearigren the chance to see the faces of the family members. A thick pool of fleshy fungus-slime fell from the father’s mouth. This was gathered by the son, which crammed this drool into his own mouth. This disgusting occurrence matched the overall appearance of the family, which was gaunt if not skeletal. Their eyes seemed unfocused and burned with a feverish intensity. As they consumed the last of the fungus they began to search anew for another chunk, communicating in what might pass for a crude representation of the Common speech, as if they no longer recalled each others names and could only mumble, slur or shout bits of broken words. Pearigren had seen enough and the women were getting too close to her hiding place for comfort. She tried to back away quietly, but her movement attracted the mother, who lumbered at her on shaky legs, hands outstretched, screaming incoherently.
A great battle broke out as the rest of the party rushed to Pearigren’s aid. The family had no weapons but their filthy, bony fingers, but this and their savage brutality was enough to down both Galen and Fritzmaul before they were all finally slain. Searching the bodies did not reveal the unfortunate family’s identity; only a worn leather bag around the father’s neck that contained a few silver coins and a silver ingot on a cheap silver chain. The wounded party members were healed and the group carried out a search of the tree trunks and limbs in the area. It wasn’t long before they had a sample of the fungus, which they handled with care given the scene they had just witnessed. Despite the fact that it was getting late, the party immediately began their return trip to the school. They did not want to stay anywhere near the area where they found the family.
The days of the 13th and 14th passed pleasantly enough. The weather remained clear though cool and the party encountered no trouble as they worked their way back toward Thridein. The morning of the 15th, however, began with a steady rain that mimicked the rain that slowed them their first day away from the school. The party had planned to reach Thridein by midday, but once again the weather delayed them, and they did not reach the vicinity of the school until late afternoon. Perhaps, in hindsight, that was for the best.
As they neared the more familiar woods about an hour outside of Thridein, Galen noticed that the forest nearby looked strangely disturbed. No one could quite understand what was wrong until Fritzmaul, who seemed to be more in tune with the forest and the natural world than the others, discovered a large footprint gathering water. He suddenly realized that this whole section of forest was beaten down; a large number of creatures moved through the area some time ago. Looking more closely at the footprint, he discovered it was that of an ogre. Galen noted grimly that the path of destruction was headed directly toward the school. The party began to rush along the now obvious trail, afraid of what they would find when they arrived.
Near the school, the party heard screams and smelled smoke. Fritzmaul used magic to detect the presence of a powerful aberration. The party’s worst fears were realized: the group of ogres and the mindflayer that left Bent Saw must have been heading to the school and were now attacking the place. Fritzmaul felt that the school and all those there were lost and that the party should flee as best they could and save themselves. The others agreed that they were no match for the ogres and mindflayer, but they wanted to get a closer look to see if they could help Rahim. Eventually the group decided to keep their distance but circle around the school to the northwest in hopes of learning something useful. All they could determine, however, was that the school was under attack and that the woods nearby were on fire. Occasional screams and yells were mixed with the bellows of ogres and the high-pitched shrieking of apes, a favorite animal of Rahim’s and one he could reliably summon.
Suddenly, Thardon, a student at the school, burst through the trees. He was gasping for breath and clearly surprised to see the school’s most advanced students at the edge of the battle. He quickly related all he knew: Thridein was under attack by a large group of ogres and a mindflayer, he did not know where in the battle Rahim could be found, and that they had just a few minutes warning before the attack began. Many students, particularly the younger ones, were unable to get out of the school in time. The older students fared better and were able to escape into forest to set ambushes for the oncoming ogres. A pitched, chaotic battle now raged in the woods all about the school, with pockets of students, apes and ogres battling it out or hiding from one another. He also indicated that Rahim had grown increasingly uneasy after the party was sent away and arranged for the students to meet at a place called the Finhold should there be trouble at the school. The Finhold was a cave at the edge of a pond several hours upstream of The Knee, a small stream that trickled passed the school. Apparently Rahim had prepared the place as a fall-back should there be trouble at the school, but told no one of its existence until it was clear that the school was in grave danger.
The debate about how to proceed broke out anew. Once again, Fritzmaul wanted to leave the area, even avoiding the Finhold, as he felt it would certainly be compromised by captured students. The rest of the group, however, wanted to press closer to the action to see if they could help. The group eventually sent Thardon on toward the Finhold while they moved into toward the battle. As they neared the school, they could see that the ogres, as powerful as they were, were not having an easy time of it. A great wall of thorns, clearly Rahim’s work, blocked their path and the party could hear ogres inside grunting in pain as they were stabbed by the wall’s many barbs. Apes and ogres battled among the trees and there was the roar of fire and lighting from somewhere ahead as someone, hopefully Rahim, worked powerful magic. The forest was on fire in several places, though the heavy rains earlier in the day and the generally cool, damp weather over the last week prevented the fires from raging out of control.
As they took all of this in and quietly discussed how they might work their way closer to the school, a little girl named Adilan came rushing through the trees, crying hysterically, her face a perfect mask of terror. Behind her came a huge ogre reeking of burned flesh. Fully half of its skin was cracking and black and the beast looked like it had lost what little reason it had. It reached out its huge hands to pull the girl down by her flying ponytail as the pair blundered into the party. It seemed stunned that it would run into the arms of its enemies just as it was about to catch its prize and hesitated just a moment. That delay proved fatal, for the ogre was slammed again and again by magic missiles . It’s blasted carcass crashed forward and skidded to a stop at the feet of the party. Adilan hurled herself into Pearigren’s arms and cried uncontrollably, disjointedly describing the many horrible things she witnessed between lurching sobs. Pearigren finally managed to calm her down and set her on the path toward the Finhold, telling her that they would save everyone they could. The party moved more deliberately into the smoke and flames near the school, fully expecting that they would not survive the battle to come.
(DM’s Note: At this point, the players were given the opportunity to use the Luck Points they had accumulated during the Organic Character Creation Process. Each party member could use Luck Points to accomplish one or more story objectives through exposition rather than roleplay. A party member could choose from the following: visit Rahim’s alchemical lab, rescue their boyfriend or girlfriend (if they had one) or find out more about their parents. Everyone save Galen chose to use their one Luck Point to slip into the alchemical lab to see if they could find anything useful. Galen used his one Luck Point to help Roz, his long-time crush, escape the battle. Obosh, who was the only character with two luck points, used his second point to learn more about his parents.
Those visiting the labs were not disappointed, and they garnered many useful potions. Galen found Roz in a smoke-filled clearing with an ogre bearing down on her. He was able to distract the ogre, lead it into the smoke and slip away with Roz before the thing could find them again. Obosh ducked into Rahim’s record room after he left the lab and found a diary that detailed information about his birth at the school and contained important clues about his parents’ identities.)
The courtyard of the school was a heart-wrenching slaughterhouse. Many of the younger students, most no older than 7 or 8, were killed leaving the school or were carried outside and beaten against the white marble walls of the courtyard. The entire area near the school was a chaotic, flame-and smoke-filled battlefield. The party could not find Rahim and struggled to make their way into and around the school. A number of ogres lay dead in the area, a testament to the fierceness of the Rahim’s magic and the power of Thridein’s students. They did not see the mindflayer or Rahim, and could only assume that the pair were locked in a magical duel elsewhere.
As the party began to slip away from the school, they were spotted by a ogre. This one was uninjured and was spoiling for a fight. It wielded no weapons, but rushed at them with an ear-splitting scream. Its huge fist laid Galen out cold with a single blow, but that was the last thing it did as the Roz and the party slew it with arrows and magic missiles . After this, the party retreated back toward The Knee and away from the battle. The area nearby was aflame, but they took a few moments to heal their wounds and listen to Roz’s story. She could only say that she and Haim (another older student) were running into he woods when they suddenly encountered the mindflayer and his ogre guards. Rahim appeared out of no where just then and unleashed a fiery attack, and Haim rushed in to help. The ogres that acted as the mindflayer’s personal guard killed Haim and threw his broken body into a tree. She fled the area before they could reach her. She did not know whether Rahim was alive or dead or if he was even able to damage the mindflayer.
The party decided that they could do nothing more at the school except prepare a place of safety for whatever survivors managed to escape the battle and make it to the Finhold. They used the last of the daylight given to them to hike far into the woods, staying within earshot of The Knee. They walked as late into the night as they could then bedded down for a few hours rest. During the night, Obosh spotted a a small group moving along The Knee. It turned out to be Drilani, a friend of both Roz and Pearigren, and two young students. Obosh directed the footsore students to the camp, where they rested in relative peace and safety for what little remained of the night. Drilani could add little to Roz’s story except to say she is positive that Rahim and the mindflayer were engaged in battle and that she saw Rahim land a roaring column of flame on the mindflayer. She could not be certain if the mindflayer was injured or destroyed by the spell, however.
The next day, the 16th, the tired band of students resumed their march along The Knee and eventually reached the place Rahim had told the younger students about. There they found Thardon and Adilan, who slept in the woods nearby, waiting for older students to lead them into the Finhold. With the party’s arrival, all of the survivors entered the underwater cave that gave access to the Finhold and climbed onto the rocky shore inside. There they found a store of clothes, torches, tools, fishing line, hooks and a number of other useful though mundane items all well sealed and stored here for just this sort of emergency. While the other students sorted through the supplies, the party explored the rest of the Finhold. At the rear of the place they found a number of stalagmites that were covered with a thick matting of spider webbing, effectively forming a wall that blocked access to another part of the cave system.
Over the next several hours, stragglers from the battle arrived in ones and twos. Some were injured and all were tired and and in a state of shock. For a time, the party was busy helping those that arrived and discussing what their next step would be. Foremost on their minds was Rahim’s fate and whether any students had been captured and if so, how long it would be before the mindflayer was able to extract information about the Finhold from its captive.
Lastly, Obosh never seemed to feel quite right after being bitten by the giant fly. The wound seemed to heal well enough, but it remained painful. As the party aided the newcomers to the Finhold, the pain grew from something that merely bothered the dwarf into something that was incredibly painful. It is now clear that Obosh suffers from some grave malady, but no one has the skill to determine what ails him or how to cure it.