Our heroes had joined the convoy and helped repel an attack by Wraiths and Spectres with only a few casualties. The action had brought a sense of camaraderie among the wagons except for Vassily’s harsh words to Captain Boris of Wagon 2. It was clear from his scowls that this was unfinished business.
A couple of days later, Vassily suffered from some sort of bug and was feeling pretty sick. Old John, his faithful retainer had to nurse him through the worst of it, cleaning his “smalls” as he had done since Vassily was a nipper. The paladin managed to fight off the poison with the help of some herbal remedy from Sharazade (the Arabian priestess) who went into the nearby woods to fetch herbs for him. He was pretty sure Grey Sally – the assassin from Wagon 2 – had slipped something into his food.
David sent his invisible “brother” to investigate the barbarian furs in wagon 4 – all furs, no treasure and then to investigate Wagon 2. He couldn’t get in but had got close enough to overhear them chatting in Draconic (perhaps like Dragon Cultists?). Ragnar snuck close enough to hear them too, snickering over Vassily’s discomfort.
Agetul – convoy captain – called them all together at breakfast for a warning about the up-coming Spider Forest. It was more than a day’s journey so usually they would have to camp at the roadside somewhere in the middle of it. As long as they stuck together and lit plenty of lanterns, the spiders should keep away. They would enter the Spider Forest about 3:00 that afternoon.
However, as they were about to break camp a magnificent stag was spotted on the road ahead. It was such a fine example that Agetul agreed to keep the convoy here for an hour or two while any that wanted to pursue it, did so. The two barbarian Cossacks from Wagons 4 & 5 immediately galloped off in pursuit. Vassily and Col had both spotted a glint of silver from the beast’s chest and thought it might be magical.
Col and Ragnar decided to go after it, led by the wise old ex-gamekeeper, “Old John” all on borrowed horses. David decided to stay at the camp and chat to Beyd the chef from the refreshments wagon. He got on very well with Beyd, who gave him free ice cream and cakes and the old chap knew all the gossip from the convoy.
Just to split the party up completely, Sir Vassily started goading the mercenaries from Wagon 2, particularly the obvious half-elf hunter, Restogar, about why he wasn’t out hunting. The upshot was that Vassily offered to go with him and then Capt Boris “allowed” Grey Sally to tag along too “as it might not be safe” [nudge, wink].
So that’s how Vassily found himself lost in the forest with two people who were probably going to ambush him. To put them off he casually mentioned that he was a great warrior who could also heal people – including heal himself! In the end he got so worried about them getting the drop on him that he frightened off their horses and galloped off on his own. He’d never been in the forest without faithful Old John and he had never listened to Old John’s good advice about which side of trees moss grows on. He wandered for a couple of hours before finding a clearing with the signs of recent battle.
Meanwhile Col and Ragnar followed their tracker – Old John, deeper and deeper into the wood. For an hour they followed the deer and then followed the pony tracks of the cossak hunters until they reached a clearing where OoVarVoo, the huge male barbarian was struggling with the enormous stag while his sister IrarNoo, lay gutted on the forest floor. Not only was he fighting the Stag, but hidden in the shadows of the trees were three women, a wizened hag, a matronly middle-aged woman and a beautiful and naked girl of about 19.
Old John succumbed to a charm spell and dismounted and staggered towards the beautiful maiden.
OoVarVoo succumbed to a Hold Person spell cast by the ancient crone.
Ragnar leapt from his horse and hid.
Col cast his Pass without Trace and snuck nearer to the fight, intent on stealing the amulet from the Stag and ignoring the other opponents.
Old John, stupefied by the maid’s magical charm didn’t fight back when she kissed him and bit him with vicious fangs. As the only member of the group visible, he was also hit by a ray of sickness from the middle-aged woman. He soon fell and began bleeding out.
Col and Ragnar pretty much ignored him, focussed purely on the glittering prize at the Stag’s throat. It was a triangle of silver, inscribed with an eye. Col got close and cast a Darkness spell, engulfing himself, the stag and the paralysed OoVarVoo.
Ragnar took advantage and leapt into the dark, somehow managing to clamber onto the Stag’s back. With Ragnar distracting it, Col managed to rip the silver amulet free and ran off with it. Instantly the stag transformed into what felt and sounded like a wriggling goblin with Ragnar collapsed on top of him. “Ger Off me! S’not my fault yer idjit. I waz enchanted. It’s the ’ags ya want, not me – not Zarg the Scrofulant, ambassador to the Goblin King”. At the same time as the amulet was snatched, the three women screamed and the youngest one fell dead.
OoVarVoo snapped out of the paralysis and killed the crone and between them, they killed the third one too. They bickered for a while over who deserved the magical amulet as the pool of blood widened around Old John and the goblin sneaked away (Zarg was clearly a spellcaster as he teleported away once he got out of the cloud of darkness).
By the time they remembered Old John, it was too late. They left him and the three hags where they lay (Although OoVarVoo reverently carried the body of his sister away to be cremated) and returned to the wagons, having not even searched for the hag’s nearby lair [GM: which had magical treasure in it! Zarg will have made off with that].
An hour or so later, Sir Vassily rode into that same clearing and came upon the abandoned corpse of his faithful retainer – the man who had raised and guided and served him all his life. Grief-stricken [GM: at least he should have been!], Vassily rode through the forest for another couple of hours, carrying Old John with him. Eventually he found the road and made it back to the wagons. All the others had returned by then – Grey Sally and Restogar scowling their hatred and chuckling at loss of Old John.
Col and Ragnar took the amulet to the beautiful Elven Gypsy woman. She made a gesture to avert the evil eye and told them to take it away and destroy it. “Thou hast found a Hag’s Eye. Through that accursed item, the hags can see and are drawn to it. I assume thou hast burned their bodies already so that they shall not be re-born, but even so their sisters will know where the Hag’s Eye goes and will come for revenge”. [GM: for those who care, these were not standard hags – they were both weaker and more mysterious than usual – I often change the monsters, especially when players might otherwise know too much about them].
In the fire that cremated Old John and OoVarVoo, they melted the amulet into a blob of silver and Col sold it to Lewel the Elven Gypsy for 60 gold pieces. He claimed to have gotten only 15 for it and split it with Ragnar and OoVarVoo, pocketing the rest himself. In gratitude for his rescue, OoVarVoo gave his sister’s pony to Ragnar. Now the dwarf has to pay for fodder for the beast for the rest of the trip which will cost 10gp.
All the time his friends were chasing magical stags, David continued searching for clues about the cultists. He used his telepathic ability to chat to the mute Elf Selvek (not very talkative but seems to be honest and kind). He also discovered that Ivani, one of the Arabian guards had had his tongue cut out a few years back and did not appear to speak common anyway. He chatted telepathically with Ivani and tricked the man into revealing he was a cultist – the urchin tried to leave Ivani with the impression that he was a member of the same cult but there is some doubt as to whether Ivani believed him.
The Urchin went on to trick Grey Sally into revealing that she and the other mercenaries of Wagon 2 are also cultists. His clever use of the “secret” hand-sign convinced her and he told her that Vassily was useful as a cover, being a dumb paladin, nobody suspected his youthful ward. He told her that Col was a cultist too and that he was evaluating Ragnar to see whether to enlist him. Grey Sally appears to be completely taken in and, to David’s surprise, even seems to think this scruffy little boy is a senior member of the cult– almost as if she was expecting it!
They camp in the Spider Forest and because she felt sorry for Vassily (for the sad death of his friend) Sharazad the arabian warrior-priestess, went a little way into the forest to find more herbs to settle his fever. [GM tip #321 – make the players to blame for everything ].
Suddenly the alarm was raised. Sherazad has been poisoned (paralysed) by giant spiders and carried off (still alive) into the dark forest.
Wazim, the Arabian merchant prince (sorcerer or warlock) asks for volunteers to go with him in pursuit. He will leave Omar and Ivani to guard the wagon but asks for help rescuing the girl. Agetul agrees “She is a healer and therefore worth the risk”. The Spiders are big and scary but not so tough or brave if you whack them hard enough. They might be able to overpower a lone girl but a few tough warriors should manage a rescue."
[GM: Let’s hope the whole party, or at least most of the party will volunteer. Sharazad has helped and healed a few of the travellers so Restogar, Wazim and Toxa are up for it. If David doesn’t fancy a trip into the DARK to fight spiders, Toxa the dragonborn lady is available to be played for this fight.]