The group escorted the two villagers, they found in the bandit camp, to the area the remains of camp were.
"Thank you." Trevor said." I remember the way from here."
"Right. You go back and tell the others what happened. "Nihala said. " We'll keep the monsters focused on us for now. And then we'll see what we can do to find the others."
"Yeah, about that." Prudence said when the villagers were out of sight" this job is turning out a lot more complicated than just a rescue mission."
"I mean we can ask for more money, right." Nihala said.
"If they have any. That village looks rather poor." The mage stated.
"I don't really care." Nihala said." I kind of want to get to the bottom of this."
"I agree. This is serious and money shouldn't matter." Nora said. "Somebody is kidnaping people."
"Yeah, that's what I mean. They said the bandits were foreigners. This could lead into some politics bullshit. "The mage said.
"I see what you mean. Then we just need to settle this and make sure it doesn't reach the wrong people."
"Might be too late." Raven said." They were taking people from different locations not just here. You said this is near a border of another kingdom. They could have taken people from there too."
"Why are they kidnaping people?" Nihala said. "Bandits steal money right?"
"Nothing good. Maybe for ransom?" Prudence guessed.
With some light still left they decided to finish inspecting the bandit camp. There were more shelters, some with rags and rotten food. Nora found a strange cross made out of twigs tried together. It had a circle in the middle and the circle had a triangle in it.
"Is it some kind of religious thing?" Nihala asked.
"I don't know." Nora said." I found it in the rags over there. "
"We found a letter." Raven said, emerging from a make shift hut with Prudence.
"What does it say?"
"Can't read most of it." Prudence said" it's elvish, but not quite. Must be a dialect of some kind. "
"What we could read." Raven said." Is that somebody was coming to meet them here."
"Somebody was coming here? Were they here already?" Nihala wondered.
"Doubt it. The two villagers would have been found by those people."
"What about the seal? It there a seal?" Nora asked looking at the letter Prudence was holding.
"There is, but I don't know who it belongs to."
The seal on the letter depicted an anchor and a fish.
"Anchor, so a port." Nihala said.
"Doesn't say much. Alerion has a port. The dwarf kingdom has no ports, the place next to it has a river port, and then there's Alltaria who has several." Prudence said." We don't know it belongs to a family, a person, a guild. "
"But once we get out of here we could start looking. "
"I'll hold on to it." Raven said.
"We should get ready, the sun will set soon." Nora said looking around the forest as mist was starting to form.
"OH, yeah. We should leave the bracelet out here. Maybe it will leave us alone." Nihala said.
They decided to climb down onto the pits and cover the bars at the top with rags. There wasn't much room to fight down there if they got attacked. Nobody got much sleep, as the sound of something walking up above and growling noises could be heard, the rotten smell drifting down though the gaps. But the creatures didn't seem to find where they were exactly. Coming close to the covered pits but not spotting them. After the uneasy night and some struggles to get out of the pits they found the bracelet where they had left it.
"Well so much for that theory." Nihala said.
"There were wolves here." Raven pointed out the tracks.
"Probably more monsters" Prudence said.
"What do we do now? I was so certain they wanted the bracelet back. "Nora said disappointed.
"They something about a witch. I say we ask her why those things are after us. And if she refuses to call them back we burn down the trees." Prudence said with determination.
"We are good burning things down." Nihala noted." But won't that make them angrier?"
"I don't care, we've taken down a lich. These things whatever they are can go suck it."
"Well, we can't get much done with those things after us. " Nihala agreed. " And we still need to find out where they took villagers."
They made their way to the grove of dead oaks. Investigating the place once more.
"Hey! It looks like there is a path." Nihala pointed to the ominous arch forming out of connecter branches and vines.
"Yeah, no way am I going in there." Prudence objected.
"Were being watched." Raven said.
There was a heard of deer in the tall grass and bushes surrounding the clearing and all of them seemed to be observing the group. Nihala took step through the archway.
"I feel fine. Now come on."
The rest of group followed. Prudence stepped thought it reluctantly.
After walking for a bit they noticed the deer that were following them, had gone away. The grass thinned out, the ground became mushier and water seeped out the moment one place down their foot.
"Oh great, a swamp. Just what we need." Prudence said annoyed as the water seeped into her shoes.
"You really think we'll find a witch at the end of this road?" Nora asked.
"I don't know, but it's the only think we've got. " Nihala said.
Raven went ahead to check.
"There is a clearing over that way." She pointed North east." The trees just end. "
Nearing the edge of the swampy forest they saw a small area with no trees, cliffs surrounding it from the back and the beginning of the mountains in the distance. Part of the area was flooded since it was a lot lower. The forest was up hill and the cliffs were also much higher and going up. It the shadow of the cliffs stood a ruined old shack. Cautiously the approached the old house. Part of the roof had a hole in it, the door was wide open.
"I don't think the witch is home." Nihala said looking at the cobwebs in the entrance.
"Let's look around and see if she comes back. "
The group began investigating the building. There were very little in there to do with magic. Mostly old clothes, dishes, toys that seemed like they were made for a child. Some very old medical herbs and brewing books.
"I don't think a witch lived here." Prudence said" maybe some kind of healer. But most of this stuff isn't magical."
"I found a diary." Nora said. "Maybe we can find answers."
The leather bound diary was old and some pages were damaged by water or mold. Most told a story of young girl as she trained under an unnamed woman she referred to as the elder. Teaching old traditions and shamanic rituals.
"Does anyone know anything this shaman thing? Nihala asked.
Nobody in the group had heard of it before. few entries seemed less damaged as they more recent ones.
"Today something happened. The elder died and I buried her according tradition. Now I am the elder but there is no one for me pass the knowledge to as I am the last.
But out of all the times why now. Maybe it's a sign. There was a commotion in the woods. I thought it was hunters but I was wrong. It was carriage and the driver was dead. More importantly there was a chest full of gold completely unprotected. I took it, I had to. I don't want to die in these woods. There is world out there, I want to see it. Now I just need to wait until some kid gets lost and tech them to care for the grove and the spirits. "
"Maybe she really did leave." Nihala said after reading the page.
"There's more." Prudence pointed out.
"Oh, what have I done? I'm in so much trouble. I looked at the chest and there was symbol with a crown on it. I didn't notice before. There are men in the woods, I bet they are looking for this thing. I can't give it back. What if they kill me? I'll hide it. I'll hide it where I can keep an eye on it. If they come here, I'll pretend I don't know. But what if they don't leave? "
As the days go by the passages get a lot more sporadic and paranoid.
"They came to me in a dream. The spirits of the elders. They are angry that men are coming to their secret woods. I know they are coming because of me. But I could use this to protect my treasure until I find someone to take my place. The books the elder told me to never open speak of rituals that bind spirits to totems of bone and skin. They follow whatever order is given upon creation. I will make them protect this place, kill anyone who comes close to finding it. Anyone comes here is coming for the gold. I can't let them take it from me."
"Sounds like she was bit crazy." Nihala said.
"More importantly, we know what those things are. "
"Spirits bound to totems? I've never heard this kind of magic." Nora sighed" there is so much out there I don't know."
"None of us knew this either, kid." Prudence said.
"So, do you think she just took the money and left?" Nihala asked. "And maybe just forgot to call off the spirits."
"Or maybe she's still here and so is the money." Prudence said.
"We should find the gold." Nihala agreed. "Does it mention where it's buried?"
"No. Just mentions dirt. "
"This whole is dirt." The elf complained.
"Yeah, but it's not very big. We could dig up the whole place in three days." Prudence said.
"Except the flooded part. Oh shit, I bet that's where the treasure is- under water."
Prudence found a rusty old shovel behind the house and a gardening spade and tossed it to the elf.
"Here you can dig with this."
"I'm going in the water." Nihala said.
Taking all her armor and clothes she jumped into the water. It was freezing cold and dirty making it impossible to see under water. After three minutes she gave up and got out shivering. Prudence handed her the shovel.
"It's a good way to warm up"
Angrily the elf took it got some of her clothes on.
The session of digging got interrupted but the start of rain. It got dark and clouds gathered. Water began to pool on the surface of the ground. They got inside the house. Avoiding the giant hole in the roof. Using the fallen straw and twigs to start a fire in the fire place.
"I have a bad feeling about tonight." Raven said.
"Me too. " Nora confessed.
"What makes you say that?" Nihala wondered.
"This whole time, it feels like something is watching us." Raven said. "And the mist is coming."
On the edge of the forest mist was gathering. Slowly slithering downhill and towards the house. There lights in the mist, groups of them different distances and heights apart.
"Something is coming!" Raven shouted.
"Block the door!" Prudence commanded.
Nihala helping push the large wardrobe on front of the broken door and Prudence froze it in place. Pushing some other furniture in front of the windows. One window remained unbarred. Raven broke it with her arrow and knelt down putting the arrow thought the hole enough to shoot it. Nihala decided to parkour up to the hole in the roof and get outside. Nora cast a lesser protection spell on her.
They were close enough now to be seen from the house window. They looked like animals: deer, wolves, a bear, and boars. And moments later they transformed into the shambling skeletal beings .Nora attempted to get on the roof, managing to pull herself up and called upon the chains to restrain the bear creature that was approaching the blocked entrance. Prudence shot an ice bolt thought the broken window, hitting one of the wolf creatures but it wasn't frozen in place. Raven shot twice hitting the wolf and the bear. Nihala dropped down in front the bear, focusing she channeled her aura and slashed it across the back. Meanwhile several other creatures surrounded her from the sides. The wolf making a slash at her but the protection spell Nora cast on her reduced the damage. The bear broke free from the chains making a move towards the blocked door. The other creatures moved closer but weren't in range to attack yet. Glowing orbs of light radiated in the empty sockets of the animal skulls.
Nora shot a fire ball at the wolf creature near Nihala. The bear being out of her sight. Prudence cast magic missiles hitting the bear and the two wolf creatures. Raven shot at the bear. Nihala missed her attack on the bear. Fear came over her as the attack missed, her sword sliding just an inch away from creature as her feet slipped in the mud. The two wolf creatures took an opportunity to attack her, slashing with their claws. The bear had reached the door and tried to smash the closet blocking it, but it held supported by the ice.
Nora missed her attack aimed at the wolf attacking Nihala. A strong sense of doubt came over the cleric. Maybe they can't do this after all, maybe this where they all die. Prudence took a health potion and gave to her fox familiar Glacie. Then tossed the creature into the air towards the hole in the roof. The pale blue fennec fox managed to pull itself up and run towards Nihala. Then the mage launched another round of arcane missiles aimed at the bear. Raven focused her shots on the bear as well. The arrows were sticking out of the leather and fur but it impossible to tell how much damage it had taken. With the tiny blue fox pawing at her Nihala managed to snap out of it and take the potion. The bear launched an attack against the door and this time it broke. One wolf creature attacked Nihala the other moved towards the house. The deer and boar creatures had come close enough to attack. Two taking their shot at the elf while the others moved towards the house.
Nora snapped out of her panic and sent another fire ball at the first creature in sight. Prudence was getting low on energy to cast spells and cast a shadow bolt at the bear. Raven aimed a piercing shot at the bear. Nihala focused, channeling her aura once more and slashed at the wolf creature, severing it's spine. The bones began to fall to the ground as it crumbled to pieces. Light blue and green smoke seeping out of it and vanishing. Glacie ran back towards the house and sent a blast of ice at the bear from behind. The bear focused it's attack on Prudence and hit her with both of its claws. The remaining wolf broke the window attacking Raven. The deer attacked Nihala and the other deer and boar were circling the house looking for a way inside, since the giant bear was blocking the entrance.
Nora sent fire at the one of the deer creatures on Nihala. Prudence moved as far back as the small space of the house allowed her to and sent another shadow bolt. Raven broke out of the grasp of the wolf creature that had grabbed her through the window and shot it twice. Nihala ran towards the house, blue aura surrounding her blade and viciously slashed the bear several times taking it down as it's spine got damaged and the bones began to fall apart. Glacie shot another ice bolt this time at the wolf in the window.
The deer and boar began to move towards the door way. Nora cast her holy spell, sending a bolt of light at the deer she could see. Prudence took a potion to gain some energy back and aimed a round of arcane missiles at the creatures In the doorway. Raven shot an arrow directly at the spine of the wolf creature that was trying to climb inside thought the window. It fell apart like the others. Nihala took out a deer, the aura fading after the attack and the elf using her sword to keep herself standing. The remaining two deer and boar all tried to enter the house at once, getting stuck in the narrow door way. Nora started moving towards the hole to get bank inside the house. Prudence put all her energy into one last round of arcane missile and focused it at the door. There was a purple explosion of light as the walls gave in and the roof of the house came crashing down. The remaining creatures were crushed. Getting out of the rubble with cuts and bruises but alive the group looked around. The mist were clearing.
"I think we got all of them." Nihala said.
"Looks that way." Raven said.
"We should get healed just in case there are more." Nora said. "But it'll take a while. I can only purify with the wand three times."
Prudence had two wounds, Raven had two and Nihala only had one that was turning black around the edges.
"I can wait a day." Prudence said.
Nora healed Raven and Nihala, while Prudence remained wounded. They cleared some of the debris out, a small section of the roof remained. Prudence laid down on the bed. The others gathered around the bed using the straw from the roof as bedding. After getting some brief hours of sleep the sun was up too high to remain asleep. Nihala got to looking for the treasure. Prudence remained in bed, her side and leg injured and causing pain and bleeding. Nora looked after her. Raven went to look for something to eat.
"It had to be around here" the elf said." Can I see that diary again?"
Flipping thought the pages she stopped at the paragraph" where I can keep an eye on it."
"It must be in a spot you can see from outside the window." The elf said.
"So literally anywhere within 360o around the house." Prudence scoffed.
"But's if we find it, we keep it." The elf said." This could be like bonus."
"Yeah, no, were still demanding more money from those people." The mage said.
"I mean yeah. This is way more complicated than just finding some missing people. Speaking of which, we should probably get back to that."
"Once the wand recharges." Nora said." But we don't know where they went."
"There should be another path in the camp or something we can follow."
Raven caught some rabbits. Nihala dug around the house looking for the gold. The night passed without incident. The wand had recharged enough to heal Prudence the next day. They left the ruins of the house and headed back to the grove of oaks and set fire to the trees. Then continued their way to the bandit camp and started searching for another route out of the camp.
"There is a knife up in the tree." Nihala noticed.
"So what?" the mage said walking a long something that resembled a dirt road but could have just been ground.
"I don't know." The elf said" we still don't know what this thing does." The took out the wooden cross.
"Somebody's religious? So what?"
The elf lifted it up looking thought the hole in the middle.
"I wonder." Then she lined it up with the knife in the tree, the little triangle part in the circle line up perfectly forming an arrow pointing south.
"I got it. We use this to find the way!"
"Big deal" Prudence said." Let's get this done. And go back to the city. "
The new directions they followed using the wooden cross lead them to a small rocky path leading up to the mountains.
"There were people here." Raven pointed to the gravel where footprints were imprinted. "Recently, maybe in the past days or two."
"So this path will take us to the bandits hide out. Great" Prudence said.
They started following the path. It was one way path along a large ravine. Several rocks fell from up above but nobody paid them any mind as large mountain goats were skipping about on the cliffs of the mountain side. Raven was walking first, looking for tracks, Prudence was second. Nihala was watching the rear with Nora in front of her. Suddenly there were more rock falling as a giant goat slid down the cliff and head-butted Nora down into the ravine. Before Nihala could react another goat hit her of the path. Prudence and raven turned around suddenly. Managing to see Nihala fall and just before the impact hit her Prudence spotted a person, covered in furs lying flat on the goats back.
Slowly they all regained consciousness. It was cold, it was dark and very quiet. As each one slowly tried to move they realized they couldn't. As the silence was interrupted by rattling chains and they felt the cold metal beneath their feet- a cage. They were each alone in an unfamiliar place. And I would be a long time before any of them saw each other or civilization again.