Skeeve wakes in the morning, sweaty and full of dread. He dreamed that some black-cloaked being was standing watching, beckoning him to relinquish the orb. In his dream Skeeve stood still, frozen with fear until finally he handed over the orb. He wakes and finds the orb is still at his side. Skeeve quietly tells Enoch about the dream, but no one else.
Thordek notices Skeeve’s obvious panic when waking and asks him about it. Skeeve doesn’t telll him anything.
Endo gets up and wanders around the camp, stretching and doing one single push-up. Endo is still weak and recovering from his ordeal. He does seem to be getting stronger, though.
They review the map:
They determine they are probably halfway from Tal Podere to Hillstead. They proceed south.
They head south. The hills roll by at a steady pace as the day slips by. To the east is the great expanse of evergreens known as Pinestaff. To the southeast they can see the foreboding peaks of Khelberg reaching up beyond the rolling blue-green of Pinestaff. To the south they can see the woods eventually give way to smooth green fields.
After a few hours they come to a fork in the road. They consult the map and head toward Hillstead. At about mid-afternoon they crest a hill and they see the village of Hillstead below. The huts seem small. They ride into town and find it to be a halfling village. This is obviously a farming community, with many farms dotting the surrounding countryside.
There is a standard detachment of Alidian guards at the entrance to the city: A group of bored Ailidian soldiers, and four elite guards. After their papers are checked, they are granted entry into the city proper.
The “streets” of the city are simple dirt paths that wind around the clusters of tidy cottages and small gardens. Many homes have a ribbon of smoke that drifts upward from the chimney. The smell of food is in the air as the halflings ready their evening meals. The town is quiet and unhurried. The party is greeted with polite but uninterested smiles if they are noticed at all.
They check into the inn, which is small by the standards of most towns, although here it towers over the other buildings. There are “big people” rooms available, although the rooms still feel quite small to the humans in the group.
Enoch settles in to study his book.
Skeeve visits the Magistrate Witman, who is a stout old Halfling. Skeeve asks if there are have been any attacks on the town by undead. Whitman is amused by this, and makes it plain that this town sees little in the way of excitment. Skeeve also tries to see if perhaps Garret came through here. He asks carefully if a lone human, a young adult male, has passed this way. The Magistrate hasn’t seen anyone like that lately. Lone travelers are rare these days, and a young human passing through would certainly have caught his notice.
In the meantime, Thu’fir and Thordek visit the blacksmith, hoping to get some new gear. Their hopes are dashed when they see that this blacksmith concentrates on plows, horseshoes, farming tools, and other uninteresting items. He has little in the way of battle gear, and what he does have is fairly basic. Thu’fir is annoyed. He’s been looking for a grapple hook since they left Joland Vallage, and can’t believe that such a simple item is so difficult to obtain.
However, the blacksmith does have one thing that catches their eye: a horse. The blacksmith owns a single, patchy, old, sick-looking horse. It is a sad, droopy beast with patchy black and grey fur.
Thu’fir inspects the animal. While old, it isn’t dying. It could certainly bear a rider, albeit at a slow pace. Thu’fir negotiates a price of 200g for the sick horse, which is named Thunder. They pay for the horse and leave.
They retire for the night at the inn.
In the morning they leave the town of Hillstead. They make much better time today, since they now have enough horses so that everyone can ride. Two people ride each of the Alidian horses, and Beck rides Thunder alone.
During the journey they see more traffic on the road. Some are single horsemen, speeding past them without a word; doubtless Alidian messengers of some sort. They also see merchants and other travelers heading both north and south. Thet can sense they are drawing nearer to the capital city to the south.
After midday the road turns east. Directly south is a vast expanse of grasslands. In the distance they can see the dark outline of the towering Citadel. The map tells that it lies on the other side of a river. They could cross the grasslands and walk over the river (with Enoch’s help) but then they would be obliged to abandon their horses. Instead, they elect to follow the road east and cross over the bridge. This will take them many miles out of their way, and prevent them from reaching Fol Thron today, but it will let them keep their horses.
They finally come to the river. This is obviously the river that flows from the feet of Khelberg to the western sea. A great stone bridge, obviously old and of Dwarven make, spans the wide, slow river. A small camp is built on the southern side of the bridge, and a dozen soldiers stand guard on the bridge itself.
Their papers are carefully inspected before they are allowed to proceed.
The grass on this side of the river looks pale and unhealthy. The trees are sparse, small, and twisted. Everything seems to be drained of color and life. The grey slopes of Khelberg loom large to the east.
As the sun sets, they come upon Della Minera, which is obviously a human-built mining camp. The western side of town is a collection of various businesses that cater to travelers. There is a large inn, a tavern, some stables, and other places where travel goods might be purchased. The east side of town is a simple collection of shanty buildings near a fire pit and a latrine. Between these two halves of the town is a large fence, watched by guards. The party infers that the eastern side of town is inhabited by slaves who work the mines.
They decide to stay at the inn. Thu’fir goes to the blacksmith and asks about a grappling hook. He’s been trying to get his hands on one since they faced the trap doors in the Wizard’s lair outside of Joland Village. He hasn’t been able to find one for sale until now. When he finds they are for sale here, he buys two – along with a good supply of rope. He won’t be caught unprepared again.
During the night, Skeeve has another nighmare in which Mordan asks him for the orb, and he relinquishes it.