The cast of heroes
Arken (Half-Elf Cleric) – leader of the partyBardan (Human Fighter) – the muscle
Knil (Elf Ranger) – the tracker
Rioja Hyrule (Human Mage) – the wizard
Korum Proudfoot (Halfling Thief) – the scout
NPC (Human) - the guide
The fourth day (morning)
After an uneventful night, the adventurers rose from what little slumber they could manage and began to prepare for their next day’s journey further south. Whilst stacking firewood, the Elf spotted a small dust cloud in the distance. The party took up a variety of defensive positions, with Arken the Cleric, Bardan the Fighter, Rioja the Mage and the Guide continuing to look like they were collecting the supply of firewood, whilst Knil the Ranger and Korum the Thief took up position in the upper storey of the barn to get a good view on the yard below, bow and crossbow at the ready. The cloud slowly revealed a small cart with a single occupant.
The adventurers in the yard hailed their greetings and the journeyman alighted from his cart. After a brief discussion it was found out that he was an itinerant merchant on the plains. Whilst discussing his wares it turned out the merchant had a magical sword in his stock (determined by the subtle use of the Cleric’s divine magic). Negotiations got off to a poor start after the initial price of 2,500 Gold was asked, so the merchant called for help from his hired muscle that was lying down in the back of the cart. With a fully armoured warrior at his side the merchant became more confident. He started his negotiations from what he thought was the stronger position. Arken and Bardan were dismayed by his lack of movement on the price, due to not being able to find that amount of cash, so offered the party’s services as part payment. The merchant was unconvinced the party could offer him more protection than his own hired sword and a scuffle started. Seeing this from his vantage point in the barn, Korum let loose with his crossbow at the merchant as he was the least armoured. The bolt flew true and hit him in the arm. Weapons were readied again on both sides, but Arken diplomatically defused the situation and healed the merchant after a little argument over whether the bolt should be pushed through the arm or withdrawn. Tempers steadied, so Arken, again, offered the protective services of the party in part payment for the sword. The merchant would not budge and decided to take his leave. Arken smashed one of the cart’s wheels using his divine magic and the negotiations now turned in favour of the party. Knil saw the scuffle about to start up again so shot at the horse pulling the merchant’s cart. It hit the horse’s rump causing it to buck and throw the merchant from the cart. The merchant’s guard was cowed by threats from Bardan and the obvious superior fire power of the party, so the merchant had no choice but to agree to the party’s terms. The sword passed into the party’s possession.
It was decided that the party would move out after they had rested, fixed the cart wheel (which Rioja did using his newly learned Mending spell) and collected firewood for their journey. Korum had, in the meantime, come down from his hidey-hole but Knil remained hidden (the party still needed an ace up their sleeves) and idle chatter was entered into. The merchant mentioned that he knew the owner of the house but hadn’t seen him in quite a while. He asked the party what they were doing out here in the plains, but their answer of “looking for unicorns” was met with a snort of derision and the snippet that the owner of this farmstead was obsessed with unicorns. Once the conversation was over and the wheel on his cart fixed, the merchant mentioned he had another client to see. He left the sword and the party to their own devices and took off in a cloud of dust.
Whilst waiting for the cleric to recover from his magical exertions, Rioja and Korum decided to explore the rest of the farmstead; there was one building they had not entered yet. The other three stood guard over Arken and worked on completing the tasks in readiness for moving on.
The two adventurers entered the third building but found it relatively empty. There were many small, carved unicorns dotted all over the room and a few items of furniture. A few of the unicorns found their way into a variety of pockets of both the mage and the thief. There was a half-eaten meal on the table, but any thoughts of eating it were firmly put away as the food was rotten and smelled awful. After checking the safety of the flight of stairs at one end of the room, which led up to a small sleeping chamber, the pair of adventurers continued on. Searching this upper storey room only provided more carved unicorns but, behind a closet, a door was discovered. After a swift search for traps, Korum opened the door which led down into darkness.
Rioja decided to go back to the rest of the party to enlist their help, but Korum couldn’t wait so continued on alone. At the bottom of the stairs, the thief saw that the narrow passageway hidden in the walls opened out into a small study. He lit a few torches to make things easier to see and scoured the room. There was a huge desk in the middle of the room and a large book case against one wall. The desk had a couple of books open on it, alongside a large number of hand-written papers. Further searching revealed more books on the shelves of the book case, more of the small, carved unicorns, but one much larger one. Korum made a mental note of everything, carefully picked up the papers and books on the desk and made his way back to the rest of the party.
Korum gave the scrolls and books over to the magic users of the party and described what he had seen. It was mutually decided they would send the rest of the day searching through the office and stay one more night at the farmstead – anyway, the merchant still hadn’t come back.
The whole party, except for the guide, returned to the underground office to search it. The first place that was looked at was the desk. It had six drawers. Korum opened these in swift succession revealing more hand-written documents, a scroll with strange writing on it (which Rioja snapped up with great gusto), a shiny new short sword (which Korum buckled on), a magical ring (which Arken purloined) and a couple of purses containing gold coins that Korum secreted away on his person without anyone else seeing. The desk was searched thoroughly but upon trying to push the last drawer back in, it caught on something. Korum couldn’t work out what was blocking it so got Bardan to give it a tug. The front of the drawer came off in his hands. Realising there may be something important behind the drawer, Korum asked Bardan to shift the desk so he could see; it didn’t budge. Bardan used his great axe and tried to smash it out of the way but the axe bounced off a solid steel interior. All the wooden panels of the desk were removed revealing a solid metal desk set into the concreted ground. This convinced the party that there must be something beneath it. Korum thought it may be a combination type release mechanism so started playing with the drawers, pulling them out and pushing them in, in a variety of logical sequences. Rioja remembered seeing some numbers “5 1 3” on a piece of the paper he had just skimmed through and realised that they may be part of a sequence – possibly for the desk.
Their research was going to take some time, so the magic using side of the party retired back to the barn to read, digest and discuss the books and scrolls that had been found. Many clues to the owner of the farmstead and his search for unicorns were found but most importantly it was discovered that the scroll was the Magic Missile spell, which Rioja copied into his spell book. The ring turned out to be some form of protective ring which Arken deduced with an augury. He gave it to the mage who was the least protected of the party.
Korum worked out the remaining sequence by listening carefully to the clicks and the movement of the drawers in and out of the desk. Once the correct combination was found (513426), the desk popped up from its concrete slots and easily swung round. Bardan and Korum decided they would leave the exploration under the desk until the morrow, as the day was starting to wane. They grabbed the largest carved unicorn (which happened to be painted), reset the desk into its slots and closed the doors on their way out.
The guide and Knil had finished their preparations for the night; setting the fire places and so on, so the party set watches. Nothing happened of note except that on the third watch a scream was heard in the distance. It may have been from a person, an animal or even the wind playing tricks, but Korum could not tell.
The fifth day: Going underground
After a good rest and a hearty breakfast, the party decided to split up to investigate both the desk and the merchant’s tracks. Knil, Bardan and Arken followed the tracks made by the merchant, the guide looked after the horses and a cart and started to collect the wood for that night, and Korum and Rioja decided to head back down to the basement office.
The cart tracks left the farmstead, heading south, but after only a short distance, the merchant’s cart was espied. The horse and the merchant were severely mauled as if by some wild creature, but there was no sign of the guard and confusing tracks everywhere. The party searched the cart for anything of use but didn’t find anything except a pouch of gold that Arken pocketed. They returned to the farmstead.
Meanwhile, Rioja and Korum had returned to the desk, input the code and sprung open the mechanism. They easily pushed the desk aside, although it creaked a little through disuse, and saw a bare earth floor beneath. The earth wasn’t compacted and was quite easy to remove by hand, but the trowel found under the desk proved more than sufficient to reveal a wooden trapdoor beneath. This was pulled open to reveal a dark shaft with a ladder on one wall leading down. Korum made to go straight down but Rioja warned him of the dangers of descending into dark places without any support. Korum chose to ignore the advice and made his way down the shaft. The shaft descended about 30’ and then led away along a featureless corridor for about 50’ and turned right. This part of the corridor led on for about 10’ before another shaft led directly upwards at the end of it. Korum’s infravision could not make out more than 20’ up the shaft so he lit a few torches. In the meantime, Rioja had heard a noise upstairs, so went back to investigate. Luckily the commotion was just the rest of the party returning.
Whilst Rioja was away convincing the party to join them down the shaft (it was a very tight fit for Bardan) Korum investigated the upper part of the shaft further. It seemed to be a wall of darkness, but not like the darkness that had been assailing the party for the previous few nights. He took a torch with him up the ladder set into the wall and noticed that the torch could go into and be withdrawn without any damage. He then took a pebble from his pocket and threw it up into the darkness. It did not come back down.
By now the rest of the party had caught up and decided what to do. He explained what had happened and Rioja revealed that this situation was very similar to something he had read in the papers that were found. Arken asked if he could borrow the mage’s ring and if anyone had any rope. When Korum supplied it he tied it around his ankle, gave the other end to Bardan to hold and ascended the ladder to the darkness. He put his ringed hand in but felt nothing untoward, although his hand started to numb slightly. When he withdrew it, it was perfectly OK. He decided to climb right in. The rope attached to his ankle fell down from the shaft, severed a few feet from where his foot would have been. He didn’t come back down. Bardan decided to follow his compatriot leaving the rest of the party to ponder their situation.
After careful deliberation they decided to follow their two friends. Korum headed back to the barn and told their guide what they were doing. He said that if they didn’t return within 5 days, the cart, horses and all provisions etc would be his to do with as he pleased. He offered to join them, proffering his abilities as a guide and an archer, but Korum declined saying they needed someone to guard their possessions. He grabbed a few bags of rations and water and headed back to the shaft.
Knil, Rioja and Korum had a quick, final discussion on the merits of the facts about accessing other planes of existence contained in the material read the night before, then proceeded to climb up the ladder.
They passed through a zone of numbing cold and emerged in a forest. There was no sign of the shaft they had just come up, but looking around they saw that Bardan was propped up against a tree and Arken was motionless on the forest floor.
Luckily both were just resting and they began to explain what had happened to them since they had arrived. They realised time was measured differently here and the days seemed to be only 9 hours long when watching the motion of the sun. When they arrived they had found the mauled body of the owner of the farmstead. They had also discovered that if wood was cut from a tree, or grass was plucked from the ground, the removed item disappeared. They realised that they didn’t have enough firewood for a long night if the terrors of the previous few nights returned; just a few torches that Korum had brought with him.
After a quick discussion they decided to head deeper into the forest rather than out onto the plains towards the mountains that could be seen through the boles of the trees. As the day wore on, a set of tracks crossed their path. They decided to follow them as the three-toed feet seemed to match the claw pattern of the wounds on the dead investigator back in the clearing.
Night was closing in fast, so they decided it would be time to make camp for rest. They moved away from the tracks and found a small alcove in which they could huddle. No fire was lit, so they ate a cold meal, much to the disgruntlement of Korum. They set watches and turned in to sleep.
A few hours into the night, the moon rose; it was very bright, matching the descriptions from the papers that had been read. Maybe they were onto something here? Is this the place where unicorns were found? That question would need to be answered over the coming days. On the final watch, Bardan spotted movement amongst the trees. He picked up his axe and moved towards the others to wake them. Just as he was doing this, a man-sized humanoid shape exploded from the shadows and made directly for him. Claws flashed at Bardan, scoring gashes upon his body similar to those seen previously on the dead investigator, but his axe returned the compliment. Confused by being woken in such a start both the thief and ranger fired into the combat narrowly missing Bardan. Arken was next into the combat, and whilst the ranger reloaded his bow, Korum headed round behind the creature. By the time Rioja has started preparing his offensive spell, Bardan and Arken had made short work of the creature. It fell to the ground dead.
However, within seconds of it hitting the forest floor, the body had disappeared leaving only bloodstains on the weapons that had hit it.