Having reunited the pilgrims, we wished them a safe journey and parted ways. Now changing directions once more, we set out walking this time directly to the north and towards the hills known as the Claws of the Beast. According to the rumors, these jagged spurs of rock form a gauntlet of wickedly curving claws of stone rising out of the earth. It is said that travelers, those who are fortunate enough to make it through the vale, feel as if they are constantly being watched. In a couple of days, we shall see if our information about what lurks in these hills is true…
The Journal of Jareth Ambrose
(Continued from) Sunday, March 5th, 745 B.C.With Valuan the elven wizard dead, we took a few seconds to look about and assess the situation. Dozens upon dozens of mutilated kobolds lay all about. None of them moved. Ladislav darted across the stone bridge and ran over to where Vance was lying. But as we had feared, he too was already dead. Fortunately, with our rod of resurrection, his soul was not, however, beyond retrieval. Ladislav quickly produced the rod from his pack and moments later Vance was once again among the living. Meanwhile, Scar and I began examining the body of the fallen wizard, looking for anything of value as I detected for magic. Redwald did the same with the kobolds on the far side of the chasm and eventually he made his way over the bridge where we continued searching the bodies. Once Vance had regained his feet and was updated on what took place after he was struck by the lightning bolt, he and Ladislav took the set of keys we had found on the dead elf and went to release the five prisoners who waited patiently nearby. Upon gaining their freedom, the pilgrims thanked us for their rescue and asked who we were. We gave them our names and explained to them the circumstances of our meeting the rest of their band of pilgrims. When they mentioned they were heading to the Vale of the Blest, Ladislav warned them against going there and we offered to reunite them with the others. They gladly accepted the offer and once we had finished searching the kobolds and tended to any serious wounds, we led the pilgrims out of the caves. From there, we made our way through the desert and back to the wizard’s windmill, arriving sometime in the early afternoon. We have since then spent the remainder of the day, going through the wizard’s home and noting anything worth taking, including any provisions that we and the pilgrims can carry. I was fascinated by much of what the wizard had managed to accumulate inside his curious place of residence, including his collection of books and the various electrical contraptions, much of which I did not fully understand. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to study most of these things and so must settle for taking only a relative handful of books that may prove to be of some use to us. Among these however, and most importantly to me, is a spell book containing a few spells that I would like very much to learn.
Monday, March 6thWe left Valuan’s Windmill this morning and led the five pilgrims through the remainder of the desert towards the southwest. Because I cannot cast enough spells to provide mounts for us all, we have had to travel by foot. It has been a slow and exhausting trek through these barren lands. But at least the weather has been bearable and we have had no hostile encounters. On the other hand, the pilgrims have been in very low spirits and it has been a very trying task to keep them going. I fear they are suffering from the effects of the animator.
Tuesday, March 7thWe resumed our journey back to the southwest this morning and soon left the desert behind us. As a result, our rate of travel was slightly improved over yesterday and yet it still felt agonizingly slow. To make matters even more discouraging, there is the fact that we have been retracing our steps for two days and are now even further away from our ultimate goal than we were before. There is also the disheartening prospect of having to pass though the rugged hills to the north of us, known as the Claws of the Beast, which a few days ago I had been hoping to avoid. But once we have parted ways with the pilgrims, assuming all goes well there, this forbidding range of hills will then be directly in our path on the way to our next destination. I must also mention that while at Valuan’s Windmill, we came across some information that suggested the cause of the reported disappearances in those hills as being another tribe of kobolds. With the advent of this recently acquired information, my companions are now quite determined to rid the land of this dangerous menace in an effort to save the lives of any future travelers who might pass through or by those hills. So it appears we will soon be taking on yet another tribe of kobolds. One final thought, though it should probably go without mentioning – the pilgrims are once again in very low spirits this evening.
Wednesday, March 8thWe resumed our trek to the southwest this morning and at about midday, arrived at a familiar looking valley where we had first encountered the pilgrims. It had been 5 or 6 days since we left them behind and therefore we could not be entirely certain they would still be there upon our return. But soon after our arrival, the pilgrims emerged from a line of scraggly trees, where they had been hiding, and came out to greet us. A tearful reunion between the separated pilgrims was then further enhanced by many thanks and blessings directed towards us, as we took comfort in knowing we had brought some measure of joy to these sorely deprived and misguided people. When we asked them about their plans at this point, they told us they had decided to turn back south, thereby avoiding the so-called Blood River to the west, until they reached the main river. From there they would follow the river to the west and gradually make their way northwest to the city of Dervish, unless, of course, they came across something along the way that altered these plans. .. …Though we still traveled by foot for the remainder of the day, I believe we made better time after leaving the pilgrims behind. I will also mention that the band in general appears to be in better spirits.
Thursday, March 9thWith the pilgrims no longer with us, I was able to resume my routine of providing magical mounts for us all, thereby making our travel easier and swifter. And while I cannot be certain of this, it is possible that having horses to ride has also decreased our chances of having hostile encounters along the way, for we have had few such difficulties overall in our journey to the north. By the end of the day then, we were able to make it to the southern edge of the hills where we have made camp for the night. Though it might be inviting trouble we have gathered wood and lit a fire as it is still too cold at night to go without. We will simply have to keep a sharp eye out tonight. It has been noted that none of us have experienced any episodes of despair, as we typically would, for more than a day now, and it is beginning to look as if the animator has finally decided to leave us. This, of course, would appear to be very good news for us, were it not for the fact that it likely means the animator has now found a new group of victims to feed upon, one more likely to provide it with negative emotions – in other words – the pilgrims. Unfortunately, assuming the animator has in fact gone with the pilgrims, there may be little if anything we can do to aid them against it.
Friday, March 10thAs we probably should have expected, we were attacked in the middle of the night by a small band of kobolds, which, like the previous tribe of kobolds, contained a few minor sorcerers and skilled warriors. But the kobolds almost certainly underestimated their victims and we were quickly able to counter attack. We therefore managed to kill all the attacking kobolds without suffering much in the way of injuries to ourselves. When the fight was over, we healed our wounds, removed the bodies of the fallen kobolds and returned to our schedule of sleep and watches. The following morning, after readying ourselves for the day, we set out on our magically created horses and began the ascent up into the hills known as the Claws of the Beast. Early on we discovered that the rumors about the difficulty of the terrain were no exaggeration, as we found ourselves faced with traversing past steep pinnacles of stone and through narrow gorges. Our progress soon slowed to a veritable crawl and at times we were forced to dismount and lead our horses on foot. Eventually though, we came across a trail that wound its way through and sometimes over the hills. Indeed, were it not for this trail, certain sections of the hills would have been impassable. And all the while, as we passed through the upper vale that lay amidst the rugged hills, we sensed we were being watched, just as the rumors had said. At one point, about midday, as we were making our way along the trail, which cut along the edge of a cliff that loomed over the vale hundreds of feet below, we were suddenly attacked by another band of kobolds who hid behind a ridge of stone about forty feet above us. With a wall of stone to our left, a sheer drop to our right and only a narrow path ahead of us, it was a perfect spot for an ambush. I realized we had to quickly eliminate the threat from above. So I launched a fireball towards our attackers and managed to kill all but a few of the kobolds. Unfortunately, the loud explosion just above us frightened our horses, which of course were not trained for nor accustomed to such things. All except Scar were able to keep our horses under control. Scar, however, was thrown from his horse and nearly fell off the cliff to his certain demise. Only a last second grab at a tree root kept him from plummeting hundreds of feet to the valley below. Vance quickly ran to where Scar was dangling from the edge of the cliff, and grabbed a hold of him. Then Redwald rode over and, while grasping on to one end of his blunderbuss, lowered the other end to within reach of Scar. When Scar grabbed on to the blunderbuss, Redwald directed his horse backwards and pulled Scar back up on to the trail. Meanwhile, the rest of us worked to eliminate the few remaining kobolds as they continued to attack us from above with their slings and crossbows. Before long, we were able to kill them all, and suffered only a few minor injuries from the attack. Though for a bit, it was looking pretty dicey for Scar. Once we had the situation under control and were all back on our horses, we rounded the bend and found that we were able to ride up to where the kobolds had been so we could loot their bodies. Afterwards, we followed their tracks down the backside of the hill and soon came upon what appeared to be the entrance to their lair. We took a few minutes then to prepare ourselves and secure our horses. When we were ready we cast a few light spells and entered the cave. Though the cave walls were not quite as narrow, this kobold lair was much like the one we had entered several days ago, with various traps and ambush sites set up in a maze of tunnels and chambers. And just like before, we dealt with a few minor sorcerers and experienced warriors in addition to the more average kobolds who made up the bulk of the tribe. Eventually though, we arrived at a much larger cave chamber where it appeared the tribe’s chieftain was located, in addition to his more powerful warriors and sorcerers. Vance had been scouting ahead and he managed to get a look at the chamber without being detected. So we were able to come up with a plan and better prepare ourselves before entering the chamber. I summoned another hound archon and sent him into the chamber to attack the chieftain before launching a barrage of fireballs into the rest of the cave. This, combined with a holy smite spell from Ladislav, killed the vast majority of the kobolds in the first few seconds of the final battle, and quickly cleared much of the chamber, allowing us to easily rush into the room. At this point, it looked as if the battle would be over very soon. But many of the kobolds who remained were not so easily killed, and more reinforcements entered the chamber from another passageway. I was able to slow or even stop some of the reinforcements with a web spell. But the rest we had to fight with more conventional means. Vance and Scar headed for the chieftain and his bodyguard of warriors, while the rest of us stayed near the entrance and attacked from a distance. The chieftain and his warriors proved to be very tough and before long, Vance found himself in a very desperate situation. In time however, thanks in part to the hound archon, the chieftain was killed and many of his warriors began to drop. But Vance paid a price for this, as did Scar soon after, when the two of them were eventually knocked unconscious, forcing Ladislav to come to their rescue and get them back on their feet again. The kobold sorcerers also proved to be quite a challenge as they continued to launch what seemed to be a near endless onslaught of lightning bolts and magic missiles. Protected by multiple mirror images, they were difficult to kill. But eventually, they too fell. And what at first looked to be a fairly quick and easy fight, turned into a rather long, protracted and dangerous battle, albeit a victorious one in the end.