Having defeated the “hizra-krontos” and restored the Goblins’ territory to them, the party returned uneventfully to the town of Goblin’s Tooth to be greeted by a grateful populace. Soon life had returned to normal. They relaxed for a few days at the Shady Oak Inn while their wounds healed.
Suddenly the evening stillness was broken by the sounding of the warning bell —- the tower sentries had sighted something! Shouted orders could be heard over the clatter of watchmen exiting the barracks, accompanied by the rumble of wagons being pulled to close off openings in the protective hedge. Moments later, Sir Derrick the Reeve burst into the Shady Oak Inn, carrying his sword and baldric in one hand and a hastily snatched up shield in the other. He paused, quickly regarding the group. “I know you have no obligation to assist us, but you have done good service for our village in the past. I ask that you come with me.” Without waiting for an answer, he turned and left.
The party followed Sir Derrick to the West Gate of the town where they spotted in the twilit distance a group of goblins approaching the village. As the creatures grew nearer, they could see that there were only about dozen. Nine goblins armed with spears were escorting three others: one standard-bearer displaying the colors of the Zrisk-Horak tribe, another bearing a length of white linen attached to a stick, and Thrask Three-Teeth. Although the goblins arrived under flag of truce, the reeve did not order the archers to stand down. Unruffled, Thrask greeted the reeve, the party and watchmen, and related the following in his broken common:
The goblins came in peace. Thrask personally undertook the risk of approaching the town out of obligation to the heroes who slew the beast that was preying upon his people. He had learned of a danger to Goblin’s Tooth, and wanted to repay the heroes’ service by warning them. A strange creature had taken control of the northern goblin tribe, the Morak-Hrazzt. It was said that the new chief was a massive goblin champion, as tall as a human male, and was bent upon the utter destruction of humanity. Thrask obtained this information from the dethroned chief of the tribe, who had fled to Thrask’s court. Thrask’s scouts had reported that the Morak-Hrazzt were mobilizing for war. He feared that a second Goblin War was eminent if the Giant was not stopped. After being decimated by the bear, Thrask’s tribe lacked the numbers to do more than mount a simple defense of their own lair; they could never attack the Giant directly, nor prevent him from attacking the humans’ village. He would never assume to tell the humans what to do, but suggested that they at least heighten their defenses, if not send a scouting party into Morak-Hrazzt lands to see the Giant and his activities for themselves. The goblin scouts also reported that the Morak Hrazzt war parties were massing along the south and east boundaries of their lands; if the humans were to investigate, it would be safest to journey along the river, then enter the range of hills on the north side.
Following this exchange, Sir Derrick ordered that the town be placed on alert. All off-duty watchmen were summoned, along with any militiamen who resided within the hedge. A dozen watch-posts were established around the perimeter of the hedge, and pairs of sentries rotated from post to post every half hour.
Throughout the village, every door was barred and every window shuttered. A tense silence again descended upon the village as the archers took their posts. After issuing the orders, the reeve turned to the heroes. “This will be another sleepless night,” he said, “but I ask that you take what rest you may. If it pleases you, I would speak with you about our plight on the morrow.”
The next day, watchmen with blood-shot eyes summoned the heroes to Sir Derrick’s office in the barracks. They found the reeve, fully armed and armored, seated behind a desk. The Reeve’s sword, obviously magical, was thrust point-down into the desktop, emitting a soft bluish glow across the documents scattered upon the desk.
Sir Derrick asked that the heroes investigate Thrask’s statements regarding the Morak-Hrazzt. While he could take comfort in knowing the old goblin’s tale was at least half lies, the probability of it being half true demanded immediate action. He proposed that the heroes enter the Wildwolfe Hills on a reconnaissance mission of sorts; they were to locate and destroy the giant goblin champion, if he did in fact exist. Most importantly, it was imperative that the heroes enter and leave the goblin territory quickly and undetected if possible, for if the northern tribe was preparing for war, the lives of any human “spies” could be cut short.
The party accepted the mission and Sir Derrick, as an expression of his gratitude, gave them three Potions of Healing and a Potion of Goblin Control. He also gave them a map of the surrounding area and showed them roughly where the Morak-Hrazzt Goblin tribe’s lair was:
They would have to travel southwest along the river, and then south into then Wildwolfe Hills. After breakfast, the party set off. As they traveled along the river, they encountered a farmer driving a team of exceptionally fine oxen. His name was Cedric and he was the proud father of two sons, both of whom serve as archers in the militia. Since his sons had responded to the call to arms, he had much more work to do. Fortunately, he had his team of new oxen to lighten the work load. Laughingly, Cedric told the heroes that the oxen once belonged to a fool: not the noble kind that entertains kings, but the common sort you find in every village. The fool, or “prospector,” as he called himself, drove a wagon right across his alfalfa field a few weeks ago, filled with all sorts of provisions, on his way into the Wildwolfe Hills. As if his destination wasn’t enough to mark his foolishness, the prospector was headed into the deadliest area for miles without so much as a dagger about him to defend himself!
Not that it would matter much -— he was thin as a scarecrow and didn’t look as if he could fight his way out of his own bedroll, let alone survive the hills. Cedric could tell the Prospector was an amateur for another reason: his wagon. No self-respecting wainwright would have built such a contraption, and Cedric suspected the Prospector built it for his own use. Instead of being made of sturdy, level planks, the floor of the wagon was made of entire logs, each one easily 18 inches in diameter. he added weight would have greatly slowed his progress, and guaranteed that the wagon would be buried in mud after the first good rainstorm.
In any event, the hills must have taken the prospector, because Cedric found the oxen wandering loose a few days later, grazing in the fields. There had been no sign of the prospector since; Cedric thought the goblins either took him prisoner or killed him outright, since the Prospector was too scrawny to make a descent slave.
After bidded farewell to Cedric, the party continued along the river until they arrived at the point where Sir Derrick suggested they enter the Wildwolfe Hills. Rugged hilly terrain was disorienting: the north side of one hill seems to look almost identical to the east side of another, and in some cases only the direction in which shadows are cast coule tell you if you were still headed in the appropriate direction.
After a few miles, the party negotiated a ravine floor between two of the larger hills, small pebbles and rocks shifting under each step. As they rounded the base of one of the hills, they noticed their path was taking on a mild, descending slope. Moments later, a valley came into view, some three miles in width and about five miles across. Unlike the brown and beige tones that everything in these hills seemed to have, the floor of the valley was a verdant green; waves of straight reeds, tall as a man, waved gently in the slightest breeze. It was doubtless that the valley was considerably lower and wetter than the surrounding terrain to support such vegetation, if it wasn’t actually a swamp.
As the party debated whether it would be better to try and negotiate these unstable hillsides or wade through the swamp, they noticed some brownish objects at the edge of the marshy ground. On inspection, they found two wagon wheels, each roughly five feet across, at the swamp’s edge. Another wheel could be seen several feet into the reeds. While the grasses appeared to stand more or less vertical, there was an area near the wheels where they leaned inward slightly, as if a large animal entered the swamp at that point some time ago.
The party decided to go into the swamp, especially since Jarbryn the Dwarf and Gasha the Ranger, after surveying the steep surrounding hills, decided that it would take much longer to take the high ground around.
The journey through this accursed swamp was anything but bearable. Hours of slogging through stagnant, thigh-deep, leech-infested water was enhanced by all manner of biting insects feasting upon the party’s drier body parts. Finding no place dry enough to stop for food at midday, they gnawed upon dried rations and drank as they cut their way through the reeds. The sun began to disappear below the mountains in the west, and it seemed that their luck might be turning -— a low hill rose out of the reeds to their left, and while not especially inviting in appearance, it did present the only dry patch of ground for miles, and it could serve as a defensible campsite.
The party cautiously mounted the hill and began to hack away at reeds to clear a campsite. As they did so, they uncovered several bones, first an arm bone, then a leg bone, and finally several skulls. Gasha identified some of the the bones as humanoid, probably Goblin, and others as human. Holes in the skulls and fragments of rotted armor suggested that this had been the scene of a battle many years ago. Gasha, realizing that she had neglected to purchase a sword in town and that she was only armed with a bow, took one bone, a large human femur, and began to whittle it into a makeshift sword.
As darkness fell, the party set up a watch order and settled own to sleep. During the first watch, just as the last glow of twilight faded to black, Xeon, the first watchman, heard splashing sounds coming from the surrounding water. He quickly woke the others and they made a circular formation around the campfire. All except Rhúnen the Rogue, that is, who continued to sleep soundly. They waited, but the splashing sounds seemed to be approaching very slowly. Finally, at the flickering periphery of their torch light, they saw four human-sized forms emerge from the darkness. As the figures slowly walked up the hill, the party saw that they had the bloated, white-blue flesh of corpses that had drowned in water. One was missing a jaw bone; another had an eyeless socket; another had a gaping hole in its skull. The creatures closed in, moaning and clawing at the party. Petya the Cleric recognized these creatures as unholy denizens of the world of the undead. He held his holy symbol high and loudly chanted a prayer, but the zombies were not affected. The party engaged the creatures in battle. Rhúnen, who was on the ground asleep, awoke to the stinging pain of cold, bony fingers clawing into her flesh. Petya and Jarbryn also took damage from the zombies before the creatures were finally slain. The party then inspected the corpses and found nothing of value, except for a gold ring on the bony finger of one of the zombies. Inside the band was the encrusted engraving: “To my brother, Davis, for courage —- Edward.”
The party now lay down to an uneasy sleep. However, those that had suffered clawing damage by the zombies noticed that their wounds were exceptionally painful and burning and did not seem to settle down, but rather actual grow worse…