The group of young mages found themselves being beaten down on by the sun while breathing the dust of the road once again as they traveled south along the Trade Road East. Fauna (played by Jenn) in an effort to relieve her companions of the blistering rays used her pup tent as a covering for the rear of the wagon. Excor (played by Cris) sat shotgun next the driver, Corje whom he engaged in conversation. Corje believed that their goal laid 3 or possibly 4 days ahead if all went well.
The wagon wheeled along at a somewhat frantic pace. The crew had decided they should push the oxen to the limit to reduce their time on the road. They also feared overlapping by their mark and that they should somehow miss them. However the mages wanted to be prepared before they ran into Hufom and his guards.
It was late afternoon, the unforgiving sun continued to blast the land with its shriveling rays. The sky was smeared with a few clouds here and there. The air grew heavy and increasingly humid as they continued south. They had made great time although the pair of oxen was losing speed and strength. They needed water. Therefore, the wagon stopped for a break near a low scrub thicket that partially leaned over onto the road.
Suddenly a lion leapt from the underbrush onto the back of one of the oxen tearing open its back with a great gush of blood and pulling it to the ground. Gornix (played by Gil), having spotted the lion the second before its leap, cast Spook. This causing it to turn tail and run away disappearing into the thicket. Gornix and Excor cast Close Wounds on the oxen as the lion’s attack had nearly killed it. It took Corje an hour to calm the animals and tend the still open though not bleeding wounds. They continued as soon as the animals were ready.
The landscape changed gradually from barren desert slopes with small tufts of woody tangled thickets and clumps of pale thread grass to flat spans of weedy fields of tall grasses and increasingly large thickets of yellow pine. It was early evening by the time they crossed the bridge over the River Wuhar stopping at the small hamlet there. The pennant that hung limp over the open-air tavern there bore a gold sun on a green field.
The hamlet, they failed to get the name of the place, was surrounded by a water filled moat carved directly from the river and instead of walls to protect it on the other side of the moat it had porcupine hedges, large shaved logs bristling with sharpened wooden stakes. They pulled into the wagon-park area just beyond the bridge and a gate and went to the tavern for food and drink.
Fauna commented on the amazing speed and endurance of the oxen having covered such a great distance in such short a time. Excor and Gornix innocently acknowledged as much and then exchanged a knowing glance as they took their seats at a table.
The group ate grilled fish and drank a couple of pitchers of ale. Gornix talked to the waiter as he delivered their food. More than likely the guards around Hufom would be guilded spearmen of the Yellow Spears outfit operating out of the city and not the Iron Wheels, which Gornix had surmised. Fauna asked the waiter about the safety of the road and the waiter replied that there have been plenty of dragon sightings lately, Wher mostly. Fauna turned to her companions and explained that Whers were nocturnal so they should be fine. Szoo (played by Isis), still chewing a fish, asked if there was another nearby settlement. The waiter said that the closest were back northwest and into the interior, mostly small ranches. Further south following the trade road, at least 3 days, there was Farmers’ Cross Lodge just before the territory of the Breadbasket.
Tempting fate the group decided to head out and try to close more distance in the few hours of daylight they had left. As soon as they finished eating and interrogating the waiter, they headed out at full speed. Only a few hours out a giant constrictor came alongside the moving wagon probably aiming for the oxen. Gornix easily spooked it away.
As night fell Fauna guided them to a well-hid campsite where they bivouacked. The night passed uneventfully.
The 2nd of High Summer – they had been on the road for some hours when suddenly just before noon Fauna shouted at Corje to stop. When he brought the oxen to a halt, she leapt out of the wagon and ran to a large blue-green bush specked with white blossoms growing a ways from the side of the road. Her companions looked on as she simply stood in front of the bush for some minutes before they realized something was wrong.
Cris: “Ha ha! I thought she was just taking a piss break!”
Fauna tried to back away as her mind reeled from a sudden psychic surge but found that some invisible force grappled her. Szoo leapt from the wagon and slithered close enough to conjure flame on the bush but to no effect. The strange flowery bush didn’t seem to do anything at all. Gornix jumped down and moved in as close as he could. He was unable to identify the plant. Excor jumped from the wagon and moved 15 ft. from the road towards the plant. He pulled his copper spike and shot a lightning bolt at the bush dealing a little damage.
Fauna again struggled in vain to free herself. Szoo summoned his fire naginata and slashed at the bush hacking free a few thick limbs. The strange flowery bush didn’t seem to do anything at all. Gornix pulled his sword and cast Brighten Blade upon it. Excor once again shot the bush with a lightning bolt dealing some damage.
Gornix slashed at the monster plant with his brightened blade chopping away a few blue-green leaves. The strange flowery bush didn’t seem to do anything at all.
Then Fauna winced as if in pain and the wounded bush seemed to heal a little.
Fauna again struggled redoubling her effort, as she knew the thing was now draining away her life but again failed. As all of the mages were close enough to be sensed by the plant’s tremor-sense it unleashed another surge of psychic energy stunning all of them. As a reflex Szoo struck with his flaming naginata but it simply glanced harmlessly from the plant. Gornix slashed with his sword and again only managed to hack free a couple of round leaves. The salt-lotus mage then quickened a Cone of Frost dealing some damage but nowhere near expected. Excor again shot a bolt from his copper spike but this time it had no effect. So he quickened a lightning bolt which upon striking its target blasted the bush to smoking bits.
Wounds were tended, the battle was over. Fauna was finally able to identify the plant as a Mind Trap Flower bush. She collected a few of the white flower petals veined with red and peach patterns akin to the striations of the mammalian brain. After this, they hopped back onto the wagon and Corje drove the wagon on.
Come evening however Coje suddenly stopped the wagon dead and pointed out a bright green bush growing at the side of the road ahead, its umbrage hanging over their path. Excor identified it as a Spring Jaw Plant. He quickly spotted for more as “they tend to grow in patches”. He saw no others. So Fauna cast Call Lightning on the plant from a safe distance successfully 3 times (out of an overall total of 6 attempts).
The bush was a smoldering wreck but not yet completely “neutralized” so she went to cast her spell for a fourth (technically 7th) time. However, the magic got away from her and went wild (Natural 1 casting check) with the spell detonating in a magical explosion. Gornix was able to dodge, barely. Szoo and Excor taking the brunt had to make recovery checks to stay alive. Both managed to remain standing but they were still badly injured. Fortunately, the plant had been completely obliterated.
Gornix cast Close Wounds on Excor. Fortunately, Szoo was able to use his Silver Ring of Close Wounds and using up its uses-per-day was able to fully heal himself. After the healing had been dealt with, Gornix sifted through the ashes and found two of the Spring Jaw’s poisonous red speckled fruits. He stashed them in his robes.
They moved further down the road from where the Spring Jaw had been and pulled off the road to set up camp. Fauna handed Excor a healing salve as they settled down in a reasonably concealed area that the druidess had already scouted out.
The night was relatively quiet, almost too quiet as the natural sounds of insects, distant night birds seemed to be absent, and if present, could only be heard with some strain. They set the watches as usual with Fauna on the first watch, Corje on the second, and both Gornix and Szoo on the third. Excor needed to rest and heal and so was exempt this night from a watch assignment.
The night had been quiet for the first and second watches. When it came to third watch Gornix had his nose buried in a spellbook with his staff providing the light. Szoo on the other hand, was jumping at every sound real or imagined. Suddenly Szoo froze with terror as he saw a massive blue-scaled dragon sitting right across from him just staring with a mocking and somewhat amused expression on its beastly visage.
From somewhere deep inside, Szoosha was able to pull some strength and resist the need to flee from the utter horror that he felt. He demanded what the beast wanted.
Young Blue Dragon (in an ultra-deep rumbling voice): “Maybe I’ll pull your arms and legs off and leave you to die if you’re lucky.”
The hideous voice alerted Gornix to the intruder and trying to think his way out of the situation started with some light flattery. Excor had awakened and was feigning sleep with one eye open. Fauna was dead asleep and still snoring.
Gornix: “Oh bright blue beautiful scaly one! Oh mighty dragon we are but lowly mages! We could um help you maybe uh sir, lord, dragon? Blue mighty, uh, giant, scaled one?”
Cris: “You should’ve asked for its name first. C’mon!”
Isis: “Yeah, geez!”
Gil: “Sorry guys I was too busy s#!ting my pants.”
In response, it lunged lightning fast and leapt into the air. Before any of the mages realized what had happened the dragon had absconded with their last ox.
Cris was notably upset.
By morning (the 3rd of High Summer) the mages and their driver headed out trying to maintain their highest rate of speed (without any experimental potion meant for a rat). However, the landscape was working against them. It began to undulate as the road passed over a series of low hills and into oblong depressions. The morning was utterly quiet as was the afternoon. Around evening, they spotted the young blue dragon flying above them. It was intentionally letting itself be seen circling like a vulture above.
By sundown, the dragon had disappeared again and Fauna spent some extra time seeking out a well-hidden campsite. They packed into a small hollow in the side of a high hill a ways off the trade route surrounded by high, dense, and pungently fragrant bushes. The night passed uneventfully but it was still just too quiet.
Come morning (the 4th of High Summer), Corje prepared breakfast. Meanwhile Fauna scouted the wider area around their camp. She found that the dragon had indeed been prowling the area last night. By the circular paths it took, she surmised it had been looking for them. They decided to move as fast as possible even if it meant driving the ox to death.
Breaking camp they sent clouds of yellow dust up as they fled tearing the sod from the road. The day passed quickly without a sighting of the dragon.
Cris: “The dragon won’t show up near civilization and we should be close by now.”
They then came to an especially high hill that the ox struggled to surmount. From its summit, they could see what they assumed to be the lodge just a few miles away. They cheered. The players cheered.
Suddenly a lightning bolt shot from the sky and blew their last ox apart. They looked up in time to see the young blue dragon turning flying away laughing. Cris cursed.
The group of mages and Corje pulled the wagon the rest of the way themselves. A few hours later at sundown just before the gates of the wooden ramparts shut, they dragged their wagon in. The filthy, sweaty mages collapsed into the dust before collecting their wits enough to look for the saloon. They ponderously dragged their road-weary hides from the lodge courtyard into the lodge proper.
To Be Continued…