Still talking to Alligan, the party traded twenty gold pieces for information relating to a contact in the ugly woods, who could help them find a Dryad without wandering blindly for days.
The contact, Alligan told them, was a troll named Cho’Zar. Cho’Zar was, according to Alligan, a somewhat friendly troll who would trade information or gold for assistance in finding a dryad in the forest. Alligan drew them a simple map with instructions to follow to find Trollhaven, the land where Cho’Zar lived.
They began preparations to leave immediately.
Two days after after Sam and Eres’ date with Becky and Tammy, the party geared up and headed out for the ugly woods.
They brought Hodor’s pony, but left the two horses and the cart at the Rose and Crown Inn.
The journey took two days of walking through hilly scrubland. It was an uneventful hike. As night came they camped at the edge of the trees. In the morning a slow drizzle began, and their bright sky turned into damp darkness.
They began their trek through the forest. Progress was painfully slow, but they managed, with John Smiths fearless navigating, to find the path which led to Trollhaven.
Unfortunately, while following a shallow stream east, they encountered a single black bear. This specimen was in the late stages of Mange, and was clearly driven mad from the discomfort of its ailment. It immediately attacked, sending Sam Who to the ground, clearly dead from a mighty bear hug.
The group attacked, firing arrows and crossbow bolts. The beast was injured, but not dispatched.
Steuben Chapman, enraged at the temerity of this bear to strike his ally, cast a powerful magic missile attack. Six purple meteors of power came rushing out of a small portal opened in the air. The missiles struck the bear with the force of a sledgehammer, wielded by a powerful man. The poor bear was blown into several constituent bear pieces by the mighty blow.
Meanwhile, Reese Bronson, trying to cast a spell to aid his allys, somehow managed to displease his God. Feeling the immediate need to beg forgiveness, he spent an hour in quiet supplication on his knees, begging his God for forgiveness for whatever sins, real or imaginary, he may have committed. Sometimes its hard to worship an insane, predatory God.
Poor John Smith, his body unnaturally twisted, lay with his face in the mud. Sam Who turned him over, to check for signs of life, and as he did so, John took a deep breath, filling his lungs with air. He started hacking violently, but otherwise seemed uninjured, though his walking staff had been snapped in half.
Having defeated the bear in mortal combat, they continued on their way.
Another two hours of travel brought them to a wide clearing in the dense forest. In this open area (about one hundred yards to a side) were several cottages, a few small crop fields, some pens for domestic animals, and a large permanent tent, roughly in the center of the clearing.
The adventurers arrived quite late, and the rain was still pouring relentlessly on their heads. The little hamlet was deserted, with no villagers out in the open during this downpour.
The adventurers walked boldly to the central tent and called for the attention of whoever resided inside. An obsequious man answered. Forty-something, in good shape with brown hair, this mousy man introduced himself as Borem. He bade them come inside to get out of the rain. Sam Who, Reese Bronson, Pink, and Eres followed him inside, leaving the others to stand in the rain.
As they filed into the large room, they were struck first with the animal smell in the large tent. They could see a large, shadowed form moving in the back corners of the tent, gnawing on bones and largely ignoring them.
Borem asked them what their business was in Trollhaven. They explained that they were there to find a Dryad. He declared that Cho’Zar could indeed help them find a Dryad, and would they like to stay the night? They asked if they could speek to Cho’Zar directly, but Borem explained that he was the voice of Cho’Zar, as if that was all the explanation they required.
They conversed for a while, asking Borem about Cho’Zar and what had been going on. Borem entertained them for a time, mostly dodging their questions, and invited them to sleep out in the open field, offering to erect a pavilion, with a large, dry strip of cloth underneath for them to sleep on. The party agreed and Borem began the preparations, rousing some of the villagers to begin work.
Reese Bronson wandered to the nearest farmhouse and politely knocked. After a moment, a little girl answered the door, followed by her father and mother. They spoke to Reese for a moment, telling him that things were essentially good for them and that he’d enjoy his time in Trollhaven. Reese thanked them for their time and left. The man of the house introduced himself as Hildren, though Reese seemed generally uninterested in him or his.
Meanwhile, Eres, ever the mastermind of his little cadre, sent Danil Owens and Jonny Owens, to listen at doors until they spied upon a couple in an argument. They listened for a while and eventually found a home with a man fighting with his wife.
They knocked on the door and a moment later a large man opened the door. He asked them what their business was and they answered they were new to the area and just wanted some information. They were convincing enough that the family invited them in and told them of their woes.
Everything had indeed been great until Borem showed up. Before then Cho’Zar had spoken to the people and had been friendly. Recently some people had even disappeared, Borem claimed they had gone of their own accord. The family told the brothers that this story was highly unlikely, and they were worried, but were too afraid to leave.
Danil ducked out of the house and spoke to Eres, who was skulking in the dark and rain. He related the stories they had been told.
Eres, having heard enough, crept into the tent where Cho’Zar and Borem lived. Once there it didn’t take him long to find Borem’s things. Borem had a sleeping mat and chest for his clothing and other personal effects. Eres quickly searched through his sleeping pallet and came up with nothing, he than unlocked the chest with little trouble. Inside he found some clothing and some food, but what most caught his eye was a bound leather book. The book was bound locked, but Eres easily circumvented the lock by cutting through the leather binding.
The book contained a journal of this Borem. He had come to this place roughly six months ago. The entries from that time mentioned a creature that he could bend to his will and a village full of potential subjects.
With all the evidence he needed, Eres rushed to a nearby farmhouse he had spotted earlier with well used weapons hanging from the wall. He jumped through the window and, over the protestations of the outraged family, showed them the evidence.
Presented with a golden opportunity. the family, which consisted of a father, mother and an old grandfather, agreed to gather as many fighting men as they could and meet the adventurers by the newly-erected pavilion. Surprisingly, the old man took the weapons down from the wall, claiming he was quite the swordsman in his day.
Eres scampered back to the pavilion, letting his party know that crap was about to hit the fan. He then started to stall Borem.
Borem, all smiles and laughs, was overseeing the process of setting up the sleeping area. His work completed he set out for his tent. Eres intercepted him, asking him about Dryads in the area. Borem answered that he knew where to find them, but couldn’t describe it in words. Eres asked a few more questions, clearly stalling.
After a few moments of Borem trying to extract himself from the conversations and retire for bed, a group of armed villagers, led by the old graybeard, blocked is passage to and called his name. Borem turned to look at them and looked nonplussed by the confrontation. He turned a bemused smile on Eres and his compatriots, only to find Eres aiming a crossbow at his throat.
“Hands where I can see them. Get that little wizards book you carry with you and place it upon the ground,” Eres said.
Borem looked sadly between the group of traitorous villagers, and these smiling, villainous travelers. “I just want to say, that I wasn’t planning on killing any of you.” With that he brought his fingers to his lips and let out a whistle, which was cut short by the crossbow quarrel puncturing his windpipe. He fell gasping to the ground, blood spurting between his clutching fingers.
A furious roar echoed through the little clearing. A moment of stunned silence was followed by the ground shaking as something enormous raced across the sodden earth. Out of the shadows, a nightmare on two legs emerged. A huge, gray monstrosity. Its muscles bulged beneath its rubbery skin as it began to lay into the villagers. Within the space of a single heartbeat, two villagers had fallen, one being flung far into the night, the other crushed to pulp beneath the beasts monstrous fists.
In this moment of horrified confusion, Borem took advantage and sprang forward, his lethal wound ignored, to strike at Eres with a blade he had kept concealed within his robe. His hand, slick with his own blood, fumbled the knife and he went back down to his knees.
Their path clear before them, the adventurers sprang into action, attempting to kill the creature which now controlled the fearsome beast. With steel and magic they struck the man. John Smith tried to cast magic missiles at the beast, but made a simple mistake. The backlash of arcane energies rushed into his body. He immediately sprouted a dozen hideously pustules from his face.
With only superficial wounds dealt so far, the wizard, Steuben Chapman, cast his favorite spell, magic missiles. He opened a portal to another realm, releasing 6 purple meteors of power, which struck with bone-shattering force, crushing Borem into a pile of bloody, broken bones on the ground.
However, the beast continued its rampage.
As Borem lay, dead on the ground, his chest began to stir and rubbery tentacles clawed their way free of his robes. A strange monster, resembling a brain with octopus’ tentacles emerging from the left and right hemisphere, struggled free and began to float away.
The party renewed their assault, striking the beast with all they had. Firing arrows, hitting it with clubs, daggers and swords. The beast, clearly near death still struggled on. The troll, now within striking range of the party, lifted poor Buzz Aldrin off his feet, one hand upon his head and the other upon his feet, with the clear intention of tearing the hapless man in half.
Just as Cho’Zar began to tense his muscles, preparing to slay Buzz, the old graybeard that Eres had met in the house he’d invaded, brought his blade down in a perfect overhand chop, neatly cutting the floating brain-octopus into two halves. It fell, limply, slowly to the ground. Thunder could be heard in the distance, and the eyes of the troll, heretofore the blank eyes of a dumb animal, regained sharpness and clarity.
Blinking, Cho’Zar looked around the clearing. Standing in the falling rain he examined the man clutched between his fists. In a mild baritone, a shockingly high voice for such a large creature, Cho’Zar said, “What the devil is happening here?”