Early spring winds blow cold upon the Black Hills’ crests. Persistent drizzle and nearly freezing temperatures diminish our strength; even Trigal, the weather-hardened barbarian of the Northlands complains against the bitter gusts which beat upon this trail. Every soul of this intrepid band struggles to find what warmth may be had in our resolute march towards the elf-home of Moondale. Libations were offered, but the liquor’s false heat would soon give way to greater chill. It is far better to endure the sting of nature’s cold, hard truth than to freeze solid in the warmth of a lie.
Moondale. We should be a few scant days from the nativity of Wojtek Wyvernjack, but my memory of that city is as gray, dismal, and clouded as this noon-sky. So much is lost to me from my enslavement in the Master’s accursed mines! Why cannot I remember more?
Such is the intense artic weather that Rozlyn von Wolfhausen, muse to skalds, is not able to hold her fingers steady on the neck of the lute she carries. Through clenched teeth Rozlyn stammered, “I n..n..know s-something of thisss la-annnd, a s-saga pass-ssed down fr-from bardzs of yore.” Lifting her voice above the din of the howling winds, Rozlyn attempted to sing about the lore of the elf-land’s mysterious city, but the bitter temperatures split her fingertips turning the song into a chorus of screaming, frozen pain.
We are unprepared for this wintery assault. It is apparent something must be done. “Modo Formidor” I mumbled over a few strips of cloth. My magic spun the Weave upon the rags creating a warm blanket to drape about the bard. Perhaps it is warmer than the biting, icy air buffeting the body directly, but full recovery for Rozlyn will require uninterrupted rest.
Long ago we left the awakening fauna of the Vandal Wood and budding flora of Hoffstead’s verdant fields. Just behind us the Black Hills’ ridges yield to a rugged setting of desolation. This expedition for Wojtek’s cure caries us across a strangely changing landscape blemished by bits of charred debris and broken obsidian shards. Why do I have an ominous feeling of dread crossing terrain that has more in common with the nefarious planes of the Abyss than with the fabled lands held by the elves?
It is a little past three in the afternoon as I write, though Lathandar’s sun has not pierced the gray veil of clouds drawn by Shar’s dark claw. A choice lay before us, to either press forward towards a blood –red finger of rock thrust through the earth’s crust towards the heavens in an apparent act of defiance against all that is good, or to add several days’ journey and additional peril for Wojtek’s health circumnavigating the geological obscenity blocking our path to Moondale. Kaden Broadfoot dropped to his knees imploring Garl Glittergold to show the safest path through this course. Only the druid can say for certain what was said in the exchange, but we must be members of the advance landing party of Carideshes’ sea-forces for we assail the summit jutting before us.
Some great mystical cataclysm must have occurred here long ago. This land does not carry any hint of the pleasant sensibilities characteristic of my people. Volcanic ash, obsidian, black pumice combine to slow our progress as we climb the slopes of the blood-finger. A bluff of glass-like basalt rises at the base of the blood stone. A narrow ledge some fifty feet above offers the only sliver of sure ground upon which a man would dare stand. Razor sharp obsidian debris flake from the black basalt cliff creating large scree fields that pull down away from the elevation in all directions.
Calling upon the ancient knowledge of the druids, Kaden took the form of a keen-eyed hawk and swiftly soared to the summit above. Two large crows launched into the air from perches hidden within the crags of the rock, and for a moment it appeared that there would be an aerial altercation between the black birds and our druid-cum-flacon. Kaden landed safely on the ledge and returned to his natural halfling form; the two black birds landed on outcropping of the crimson pinnacle to watch what would become of us novice mountaineers. With minor difficulty, Trigal climbed to the outcrop, let down a rope, and hoisted the rest of us above the devastated plane. I don’t believe that we provided much promise of a dinner for the rancorous raptors.
We stood before a dagger studded field of treacherous scree extending for some sixty feet to another precarious landing. Fortunately our climb up the cliff face was brief, taking only about a half hour. Every minute we spend in this hellish landscape returns the torment of my enslavement in the Underdark.
Though muted, the sun provided more than ample light allowing us to see that this razor field was a perfidious crossing. Borrowing my quarterstaff, Kaden probed deep into the debris, pushing the battle-staff five and half feet down, with the sense that the depth remained unsounded. What appeared as a reasonably stable surface supported no more weight than pond water on a hot day.
Garvin Goldpebble, the illustrious Canon of Garl Glittergold, provided the solution. Stepping forth with bold confidence, Nibbles withdrew a twisted, black branch enmeshed in a ropey, white matrix from the confines of an impossibly deep haversack. Waving the wand before him, sinewy strands of thick, sticky thread shot across the entire length of the intervening rubble, coiling into springy, webbed circles binding the rubble into a more-or-less stable surface. Nibble plied layer upon layer of the webbing atop the lake of broken black glass. Satisfied that sufficient webbing thickly blanketed the path, Nibbles asked the hunter Trigal to carry him across the makeshift bridge. I believe that only the barbarian’s lighting speed allowed him to cross the webbing without sticking to its surface.
Trigal again provided the muscle for traversing this difficult terrain, yet not without peril. On his third transit to ferry the party across, the webbing sagged under the combined weight of the Northern king and his passenger, the still suffering Muse. From either end of the silken bridge the party watched in impotent suspense as the passage rang with the sound similar to that of a tall ship’s mainsail cable snapped free from its load. Trigal flailed as the webbing beneath his feet sprang apart. Pushed through the taught silk, the barbarian’s powerful legs scoured through the abrasive, dagger-like obsidian field below him. Fortunately, Rozlyn landed in the sticky webbing, withholding her from further peril.
Through sheer brawn, and a dagger borrowed from Rozlyn, Trigal extricated himself from the webbing then cut the ensnared bard from her silken bonds. I was not wild to be the last to make the perilous crossing carried upon the barbarian. Fortune smiled upon our passage without further incident.
Beyond the pool of black knives we encountered what can only be appropriately described as a briar of obsidian. One hundred and fifty feet of pain before us; this obstacle represented our greatest trial and final challenge of the Demon’s Finger, as if the red rock would do all it could to defeat us, impede us, or negate our attempt to transgress its presence. After spending the better part of an hour debating which approach the group should take, we determined that each person should do that which was wisest in their own estimation for navigating the bladed bramble of Baalzebul.
Norik and Trigal advanced directly against the tangled forest of barb-edged needle glass. Perhaps they are the most physically dominant of our number, certainly gifted with greater than mean ability, yet their choice of approach pleads that one question their sanity. A delicate dance through the tight maze ensued as the two warriors trusted their fate to their physical abilities and greater stamina. While the ginger movements of the fully armored dwarf and loin cloth clad human pirouetting though the darkly shining stone blades forest surely proved a spectacle enviable even to Troupe LaFavare, neither transversed the field unscathed. I have serious doubts than any of the rest of us would be able to follow their lead.
My remaining compatriots agreed with this assessment. Kaden returned to falcon form and simply flew to the other side. From their avian perch high above, the magpie observers cawed out their objection. Nibbles and Wojtek opened their packs to retrieve vials of curious gray oil possessing strange rainbow sheen. Dousing themselves liberally with the oil, the gnome and the half-elf faded from view. Each man phased into the ethereal plane from whence they easily crossed the wicked field. This left Rozlyn and me pondering the path through the predicament.
Our bard was not in any condition to deal with the stone impediment, and I lacked the desire to tear my robes or spill more of life’s precious blood for this passage. I chuckled as myriad possibilities coalesced in my mind presenting the single solution to this dilemma. Clasping the Muse’s right hand, I calmly said, “Atmo Decelerata”. Rozlyn looked puzzled. She was about to ask a question when I interrupted. Looking through squinted eyes, I pointed off into the distance above the horizon, past the end of the barbed field, and uttered “Megalo Bayma”. Instantly we were transported to a point beyond, and about two hundred feet above, the slopes of the finger. Gentle as a feather, we floated down to land just beyond the scree field surrounding the spire’s base near the edge of a sulfurous swamp.
Rozlyn was ashen-face and needed to rest. Uncertain of the arrival time of our delayed comrades, I began the ritual conjuring Leomund’s Tiny Hut. Within seconds of starting the incantation, Trigal ran down the ragged obsidian range, overtaken at the last by Norik using his shield as a sled to slalom down the slope. Kaden appeared, and I can only assume that Wojtek and Nibbles made is safely to us, as later events will soon reveal.
One rarely needs to rush when resting. I do not find it convenient to memorize the magics necessary for producing Leomund’s Tiny Hut, but wished that I would have done so earlier this day. Chanting as I stood reading my spell book, I was utterly confounded as the tome flew from my fingers with a wicked chortle as it glided a foot from the ground. Master Norik reacted instantly, his quick blade slicing through the air. His swing connected with a small reptilian humanoid cleaving the foul creature in twain horizontally. I rushed forward to retrieve my treasury of knowledge from the beast and recognized it to be a fiendish imp before it turned to hell borne powder and blew away in the shifting winds.
Fortune shifted against us this side of the Demon’s Finger. Sulfuric gases and various toxic vapors combined with the slurping, gurgling sounds of a living swamp evoking the sensation that one traveled through a disquieted stomach.
Oh? Did I forget to mention that this land-lubber’s-first-time-at-sea digestive system was replete with fiendish host? You understand that the imp was only the first denizen of this demonic playground we encountered. I am loathe to recount the battle we fought with those fell creatures in the swamp, the terrible miasma inducing gasses wafting upon the breeze, or the putrid pools of acid water waiting to strip an unwary traveler’s hide from his bone. Sufficient to say that each of faced fierce foes that day, an enemy that would see the world enslaved or destroyed than to allow anyone to live as a free person.
I am ashamed to confess that cowardice nearly drove me to abandon my mates when it was witnessed that my pyromantic enchantments had no effect upon these fiends, yet how could I do that to a stalwart and faithful band as the Dragon’s Eye Company? They never leave anyone in need of aid, and rescued me from the Eye. Summoning the little strength of arm available to me, I advanced upon a barbed devil with the mythic Oomvari, one of the Cat Lord’s five long swords, held high above my head. No matter the cost, the mighty blade Roar would swing in my hand in defense of my friends
On the far side of the swampy ground, our salvation appeared. Nibbles and Wojtek, cloaked in the ethereal oil, slipped across the swamp unscathed while the rest of us battled in desperation against hell’s harbingers. Shifting to this plane’s reality when they removed the oil, the gnome Canon of Garl and half-elf Superhero assailed the demonic forces’ commander. Though the swamp gases obscured clear vision, it was evident that Nibbles and Wojtek carried the day.
We were not intent on spending the day within the swamp, so made haste to extricate ourselves from its confines. A brief search did reveal a demonically enchanted halberd head, and a small cache of coin. After collecting these few things we departed, continuing our journey to Moondale.