Following a night's rest, the party parted ways with the perky peddler and continued their quest to find Lady Nyra and the Order of the Wolf. Completing their exploration from the previous day, the group turned south to look for the tree where Izzir claimed to have found his silver pendant. A pendant which Carrion had recognized as belonging to the Order of the Wolf's hard-drinking cleric.
Late in the afternoon, they came upon a tall, withered oak with patches of missing bark and several broken limbs. Not wanting broken limbs themselves, it was decided that Cade should be the one to climb it, as he was the lightest of the group.
Despite concerns that he had yet to master the technique for falling safely, the halfling monk made his way into the upper boughs, where he found the remains of an old bird's nest. This seemed to confirm Izzir's claim that he had found the pendant while searching for eggs. Cade had just relayed this discovery to his companions on the ground when a tiny humanoid figure with iridescent wings appeared in the air before him, brandishing a miniature bow and shouting "Halt!"
Two more of the creatures appeared below, keeping their weapons trained on the party as the one above demanded to know if they were the "foul villains" that had destroyed the pixie nest. The group recognized these little beings as sprites, more militant cousins of the perpetually pacifistic pixies, with a proficiency for poisons and the ability to perceive a person's penchant for good or evil from the palpitations of their heart.
Realizing that the true culprits were likely the Order of the Wolf, the party proclaimed their innocence and informed the sprites that they were also searching for the ones responsible. At this, the little warriors proposed a test: The party would choose one of their number to represent them, (at which point Dixn began to push Carrion forward) and the sprite's leader would listen to their heart to judge whether they were friend or foe to the forest. (At which point the others quickly shoved the tiefling bard to the back of the group.) After a brief discussion, Cade stepped forward, his kind heart easily passing the sprite's test.
With that matter settled, the party inquired if the sprites had any leads as to the true culprit's whereabouts. They responded that their search had led them here, but that a squirrel had informed them that a group of adventurers had entered "the bad place," and not all had been seen to leave. When pressed for more information, the sprites explained that the bad place was an old ruin "about a day and a half's flight" to the southwest, that was apparently infested with undead.
From this, the party concluded that the Order of the Wolf must have entered the ruins and that their cleric (and possibly others) had died there before the rest were able to escape. They further reasoned that a bird must have plucked the cleric's holy symbol from his corpse and used the shiny silver item to decorate it's nest, leading to Izzir's later discovery of it in the mostly-dead tree.
Once the group expressed interest in going to "the bad place" to look for clues, the trio of sprites became very excited. Declaring it "the next test," the went on to say there would be three:
- The Test of the Heart - Which they had already passed.
- The Test of Courage/Intent - Entering the "bad place" and eliminating the source of the undead to prove their commitment to aiding the forest.
- The Test of ??? – The sprites seemed to have trouble coming up with a name for this one, demonstrating great zeal, but lacking in focus and attention span.
After further clarification, it appeared the sprites intended to continue searching for the "villains" who made it out of the the bad place, and would share their location with the group when and if they succeeded in eliminating the source of the undead. It seemed the third test, (and possibly reward?) would be to hunt down the remaining "villains" and aid the sprites in expelling them from the forest.
As evening was beginning to fall, the party decided to make camp. As usual, Cade prepared dinner, taking the opportunity to swap cooking tips with the little fey warriors. Afterwards, the sprites informed the group that they could not assist them in their second task, but would be watching to ensure it's completion—at which point the trio winked out of sight, having apparently turned invisible.
The next morning the party headed southwest, continuing to explore as they made their way toward the ruins the sprites had told them about. Shortly before noon they came across a set of large bear tracks, which soon led them to a cave. The entrance was a downward sloping tunnel in the side of a large, brush-covered boulder, and the numerous tracks surrounding it indicated that a family of bears dwelled there.
After a brief discussion on whether bears were considered "hostile creatures" under the terms of the gambit (and thus whether they would get a bounty for slaying them), Cade, Razi, and Carrion decided to go for it—only to realize that their guide, Dixn, had vanished. Thinking she might be nearby, some of the others called out to her, but there was no response.
Deciding to carry on anyway, the party left Treize and Enlail to guard the horses, and took up positions around the cave entrance. They discussed the possibility of using fire to smoke the the bears out into an ambush, but realized that the slope of the tunnel would cause the smoke to escape out the entrance rather than filling the cave. Finally, Artificer Razi simply threw a thunderstone into the cave, hoping that the noise would flush the bears out.
Sure enough, a large brown bear soon emerged from the tunnel, bellowing out a threatening roar at Carrion, Razi, and Cade. The trio fell upon the beast, which soon delivered a viscous bite to the tiefling bard. Reeling from his injuries but still standing, Carrion loosed a string of words in the infernal tongue so foul-sounding and full of malice that the bear actually burst into flames. At almost the same instant, Dixn emerged from the underbrush beside the cave entrance, firing two arrows which finished off the now-smoldering beast.
There was a brief pause as the party stopped to heal their injuries and examine the slain bear, which appeared to be female. The tracks around the cave indicated at least two cubs were likely still inside, though Dixn noticed that the tracks for the other adult seemed older, as if it had not returned for some time.
When they were ready, Cade and Razi both lit torches and took the lead, as Carrion followed and Dixn and her leopard companion vanished into the shadows behind them. The main tunnel continued on ahead, with side passages opening to the left and right. A pair of smaller (but still the size of a large human) bears emerged from these passages, attacking from either side. This time, Dixn remained hidden as Cade, Razi, and Carrion fought the two cubs. Despite this unexplained reluctance, the other three managed to prevail virtually without injury, with Cade delivering the final blow in the form of an impressive running dropkick against a creature more than twice his size.
Ahead they saw that the main tunnel opened up into a larger chamber strewn with bones and what looked like a few scattered weapons or treasure, but as Artificer Razi moved forward to investigate, a glowing, spectral form rose out of the floor before him…
Session XP: 475