Ilvia Episode 2: The Box

May 3, 498

Led by Katra the ranger, the party followed the tracks of the gnolls that had apparently killed Ian Tarrell and his family -- and Abbot Everam -- hoping to backtrack them to find out where they came from. Leaving Tarrell's farm at midday, they headed north through country that was rocky and hilly, with occasional patches of trees and scrubby bushes. Nigel soon came to regret the haste with which he had left the abbey; his soft shoes weren't appropriate for the rough country, and his feet had started to hurt. Before long, he was in so much pain that Orbin the dwarven merchant offered to let him ride his mule, Castor. Nigel gratefully accepted.

Late in the afternoon, the gnolls' tracks led them through a valley with a hill on one side and a rocky outcropping on the other. They paused to debate the best course of action, uncomfortable with the possibility of wild animals hiding in the rocky wall above them. Soon, however, they noticed a dark shape, an animal of some kind, lying motionless in the shelter of the rocky wall.

Cautiously, they moved closer and saw that it was a badly wounded donkey. One of its legs was broken, and it had a spear embedded in one flank. Nigel was astonished to realize that he recognized this donkey: its name was Victor, and it belonged to Kerrow, one of the other priests at the Abbey.

Unwilling to let the animal suffer, Nigel used a spell to heal its wounds. Just as the donkey was getting back on its feet, however, the party was attacked by a pack of wild dogs that had been crouching in the shelter of the rocky outcropping above. Several of the party members were wounded, and the donkey was injured again, but the party members (particularly Katra, Janis, and Jazzie) were able to fight off the dogs with little trouble.

Nigel had exhausted his healing power on the donkey, so he was unable to heal any of the party members after the battle. Indeed, Nigel himself had been injured, having been knocked down by one of the dogs, and Janis the paladin used her healing ability on him.

After the battle, they searched the donkey to see if they could find any indications of what had happened to it, and to Kerrow. Katra discovered a scrap of paper, apparently left from a missing pack, which seemed to be a fragment of Kerrow's journal:

       aid the situation may
      d deal worse than E.
      pects.  Although I was able
       e group, more gnolls
          movin
In the remaining pack, Nigel found Kerrow's morning star, suggesting that he had been attacked without warning. He also found a pair of good boots, but they were too small for him.

Still recovering from the battle, they decided to camp that night, some distance from the rocky outcropping.

May 4

During the night it rained, and when they awoke, Katra could no longer find the gnoll tracks. The donkey's heavy hoof prints, however, were still visible, so they decided to follow those to see where they led. Orbin tied Kerrow's donkey to his mule, Castor, and they began following the donkey's tracks.

Before long, they found what appeared to be the site where the donkey -- and Kerrow -- had been attacked. There were spears there like the one that had wounded the donkey, and lots of footprints. Interestingly, though, the footprints were too small to be those of gnolls; it seemed that whatever had happened to Kerrow was not the gnolls' doing.

The party discussed what to do next. Some of them wanted to follow the new footprints to see where they led, and perhaps to find out what had happened to Kerrow. Others felt they should continue with the original mission, returning to the valley and trying to pick up the gnolls' tracks again. Orbin pointed out that the fragment of Kerrow's journal tied Kerrow to the gnolls, suggesting that the two matters were related. Katra also felt that Kerrow's fate was important. "We do better with more information," she said. Nigel revealed that he had found some additional information in Kerrow's pack: a roughly drawn map, apparently showing part of the ruins of Sendara to the north. They weren't sure what all of this meant, but eventually, they decided to follow the new footprints.

The trail led them to the dry bed of what used to be the Dallyn River. The footprints led down into the riverbed, but Katra couldn't find where they went from there. Making their way up the opposite bank in single file, the party members were surprised when snakes began to fall on them from above. Tagart, in particular, was terrified, although he was able to control his impulse to flee. One snake landed on Jazzie and bit her; she reacted quickly, whipping the snake off and snapping its neck. Several other party members also got bitten, but soon all of the snakes were dead.

Once they had dealt with the snakes, the warriors in the group (Jazzie, Tallis, Katra, and Janis) quickly climbed to the top of the bank to find out who had been throwing the snakes. Tagart, Nigel, and Orbin stayed behind, working their way up slowly. The warriors found a group of small humanoids, which turned out to be kobolds. The kobolds initially fled, but when they saw that they couldn't outrun the humans, they turned and fought.

Oddly, the kobolds seemed to ignore Tallis and Katra almost completely, concentrating their attacks on Jazzie and Janis. In the ensuing battle, all of the kobolds were killed, but not before one of them scored a lucky hit and left Janis gravely wounded. Nigel's prompt healing saved her from death, but she remained weak and unable to walk. (She also vomited on Nigel as he was tending her wounds.) They moved some distance away from the scene of the battle and camped for the night.

May 5

In the morning, to everyone's surprise, Janis seemed to have completely recovered. They now decided to track the kobolds along the edge of the dry river bed and find out where they had come from. After a couple of hours, they approached the ruins of the old city Sendara. They noticed the smoke of a campfire rising from a mostly intact building on the outskirts of the city, and its location seemed to match a notation on the map Kerrow had been carrying in his pack.

Approaching cautiously, using the ruins as cover, the party approached the building and saw a bored-looking gnoll standing guard outside the building, occasionally turning and speaking to others through the doorway. After some discussion, the party decided to try to draw the guard away from the doorway, where he could be killed without attracting attention from those inside. Tagart and Orbin circled around to the opposite edge of the building, making noises just loud enough to attract the gnoll's attention. It almost worked: the guard had begun moving away from the doorway when Katra accidentally made a noise behind him.

The guard sounded the alarm and drew his weapon, and the gnolls inside the building started grabbing their weapons and heading for the door. However, they had to file out through the door one at a time, and they simply couldn't match the skill of the party's warriors. Soon all of the gnolls were dead, including one they recognized as the survivor from the group that had invaded Cullan on Market Day.

As the battle ended, Tagart and Orbin climbed into the building through the side window and began checking out its contents. The main room, where the gnolls had been waiting, contained nothing of interest; but at the back, they found another room whose door had been propped open. Inside, they found a wooden box sitting on a table. Orbin opened the box with his knife, finding what appeared to be two empty potion vials inside. At the moment he opened the box, he felt a tingling sensation in his head, but thought nothing of it.

As the rest of the party entered the building from the front, Tagart and Orbin came out of the back room to show the others what they'd found. However, as soon as Orbin saw Janis, he dropped the box, drew his hand axes and charged her. He landed one blow before the party was able to wrestle him to the ground. The impact seemed to clear his head, and he immediately yielded.

Afterward, he explained that he had felt irrational hatred as soon as he had seen the Church holy symbol Janis was wearing. He also recalled the tingling sensation he'd felt when opening the box. It all made sense: the kobolds' special attention to Jazzie and Janis, both of whom wore the Church symbol prominently; the attack on Kerrow; the death of Abbot Everam; even the seemingly random attack on Bennh the merchant, who sold Cullan holy symbols. But without knowing where the box came from or how the gnolls got it, it was impossible to determine what was really going on.

Nonetheless, the party had achieved their immediate mission: they had found out where the gnolls who killed Everam had come from, and they had dealt with them. Nigel took a pair of boots from one of the gnolls; they were too big, and they weren't very clean, but they were better than nothing. After camping for the night among the ruins of Sendara, the party headed back to Cullan the next morning.

Continue to Episode 3