The Dragonslayers III Pt. 19: Inquisition at Hangman’s Fork

Come noon the mysterial-rowboat was zooming along Barbarian’s Tread between the North Forest to the east and the ever thickening tree-line what was rapidly becoming The Left Wood to the west. By sundown they were going to be at their destination, the town of Aáhké, barring anything unexpected happening. Suddenly, just ahead of them a massive tree crashed onto the road. Vorwulf stopped the boat with a hard jolt throwing them all forward and Vorwulf almost head over heels out onto the ground. Another fell across the road behind them sealing them in the narrow cut between the trees of the two forests that served as the road. There were punji stakes studding the trunks of the fallen trees. Bursting from the bushes and from behind trunks were around twenty highwaymen, most had trained loaded crossbows on the adventurers. The thugs were fairly well-armed the cheap black paint on their weapons and shields showing heavy with large swaths rubbed nearly clean and the black dye in their leathers and hides fading into a sickly grey.

Cris (Vorwulf’s Player): “Must be some of those ex-black-soldier guys.”

Their leader sauntered into the road before the slayers with a smug look on his face which disappeared as soon as he caught full sight of the Blackwings’ weird vehicle. He then noticed Magiia was very ill; shivering with large streams of snot running down her face. The robbers immediately backed off panicked shouts of “plague” erupted from their ranks as they attempted to make the most space possible between them and the perceived plague-carriers barely able to prevent themselves from fleeing. Grom, the shaman, confirmed their fears acknowledging, falsely, that indeed she did have the plague. He feigned a slight cough. Almost shaking the leader waved his arms and the road blocking log ahead of them lifted up from the road, they could hear more hidden bandits heaving. A strong rope was tied to its top end as it stood on end disappearing into the tree line on one side of the road. The head-highwayman began waving them through and shouting at them in a heavy Hill-Lander accent, “Begone! Get da’ hell OUTTA here! Gew!” So the slayers did as they were told and sped off laughing all the way. Vor contemplated the apparent wasp-stings he had spied that were spattered over some of the bandits’ faces and necks.

Come evening, the boat was stopped and setting in the embankment among the bushes while Vorwulf looked about for a suitable campsite. He found a spot and went back over to the other two when he spotted, and just barely, a serpentine dragon stealthily gliding over the treetops directly at the rowboat and the sickly Maggi. He shouted to alert the others. Maggi sprang to life and snatched up a short-spear and her shield. Grom tried to identify exactly what species the dragon was but failed. Vorwulf quick drew his composite longbow and shot at the monster with a dragonbone arrow which it instantly knocked aside midair. Maggi chucked her spear missing by a mile and losing the weapon in the bush. The dragon swooped by in a flyby attack, its talon strike thwarted by Maggi’s shield. Grom called down lightning from the sky which had no effect when it struck the dragon’s hide. Vor shot another dragonbone arrow which was swatted down by the monster’s tail. Maggi grabbed a javelin and threw it at the beast. It barely parried the weapon, the javelin stuck into the dirt of the road. The dragon turned in midair and threw itself fanged maw agape directly at Magiia. She met it with a shield bash wounding it badly even in her weakened state but also taking a nasty bite at the same time. She found instantly that the creature was venomous. Bolts of lightning struck down once again on the beast dealing little damage. Another dragonbone arrow shot at the monster but this time found its home. The dragon crashed into the trees about a hundred away from the rowboat. Without missing a beat Maggi downed a Neutralize Poison potion and ran to the giant, bleeding corpse Alchemist’s Kit in hand.

Vorwulf, after getting a good look at the thing, recognized it as a Lindwurm, a native species of the Hill-Lands which usually preys on livestock, and probably the one the trappers had warned them of. Grom cut off the dragon’s nose horn. Maggi struggled with the shakes and her own impatience as she attempted to brew up at least a single dose of Dragon-Blood Potion, she failed using up the materials of the entire kit. To say the least she was a little disappointed but she still had the presence of mind to fill up all eight of her empty potion bottles with the creature’s blood. It was near dawn by the time Maggi finally collapsed back into her place at the rear of the rowboat. It was third watch and Grom the shaman was sitting on a log by the glowing embers of the dying fire.

The chance sound of a snapping twig alerted him to a presence very near him. He looked over his shoulder and only about a dozen feet away coming out of the tree-line were a small group of black-skinned trolls were trying to sneak up on him and when they noticed they were spotted silently melted back into the bush. They were long gone by the time the shaman had woken the others. Vorwulf waited till first light and found their tracks guessing there had been at least four trolls. Soon after that they were again on their way. After a few hours and enduring a slight drizzle they came to a fork in the road, a gibbet and a rotting corpse to great them.

Vorwulf: “Crap. Which way? North or East?”

They had broken the tree-line about 20 miles ago passing a rough, stone monolith engraved with the spiral horn symbol of the Old Satyrs, the elder gods of the Hill-Lands, a signpost that they were now in the Norusk region. They found themselves coasting over a rolling grassland along the well-traveled dirt road with the trees of the North Forest less than a mile or two to the right (south). They inspected the corpse hanging from the gallows at the fork. It was the corpse of a full-blown Satyr the remains of his Acton emblazoned with a red ram’s head on a quartered field of white and light green. The rope stretching its neck was fashioned from a knotted tartan sash. It looked as if the body had been there for a full season at least.

Grom [referring to the emblem]: “Why is that familiar?”

Cris (Vorwulf’s Player): “Wait! I have Speak with Dead on my helmet!”

Vorwulf [using the gold helmets second ability]: “Which way to Norusk.”

The Corpse: “You are here.”

Vorwulf: “Which way to the nearest town then.”

The Corpse [lifting its decayed arm to point to the North]: “Traitors to the right [North].”

Grom: “Come across any giant mushrooms?”

The Corpse: “Seasonal on the cursed White Heath.”

Magiia [to Vorwulf]: “What was he hung for?”

The Corpse: “For being of the Achaánal, there was a rebellion.”

Vorwulf: “Know of a red dragon in the area?”

The Corpse: “No.” With that the putrid thing went limp and its horned head dropped back to its chest.

Cris: “Well, I guess we go right then.”

It wasn’t long, a few minutes at most but a distance of about 6 miles, before they came to another fork in the road. The road continued west and spurred off to the northeast.

Vorwulf: “Okay. Now which way are we goin’”

They unanimously voted for the left so Vor mentally steered their strange craft along the northeast spur. A ruined stone keep atop a low hill soon rose before them. There was no town or anything living for that matter in sight.


To Be Continued…

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