Razmus waves you goodbye and returns to his cave...in the end the whole encounter with the giant has been a rather pleasant one - much to your surprise.
The further ascend to the fort is exhausting at first, but soon you reach a small path again on which you can ride behind the other.
After several hours of riding you enter a wide valley that runs along the southern edge of the mountains. The landscape is rugged, forlorn and bleak and stretches for several miles from here to the Kreegwood.
At the northern end of the valley lies Fort Rannick, an impressive structure that seems well suited to be the home of an order of rangers.
And that runelord has returned now - after aeons of slumber...or even death? Or is only a cult of misled people trying to revive something that cannot return...a futile atempt to bathe in the glory of long forgotten times...something that wouldn't surprise me from humans...anyway, I think you have to be careful. If this cultis counts stone giants, ogres and lamias as its followers there must be something about it besides smoke and mirrors...
I can't say that I saw such a symbol ever before...and I know the region like the back of my hand...Surely such a symbol cannot be found here, but I have read about the Runelords. Rulers over Varisia and the adjacent lands thousands of years ago...what connection does their tale have with the HookMountain Ogres?
Razmus seems intrigued by the possibility to learn something about his long-time enemies.
Razmus smiles as he hears some words in his mother tongue
A very sophisticated being you are, speaking the world's most dignified language, hah! But I'm sorry, I have not seen that symbol you are talking of and I know the region quite well. I guess that answers also your friend's question.
You are by far the dumbest or bravest human I have ever met, Harry Handsome - either way, I like you, hah!
BTW. where is Marek?
Razmus arches an eyebrow, obviously your deeds have impressed the gigantic hermit
You killed Mammy and the Grauls who were still at the house? That is a true hero's deed...The mayor was right, I'm no friends of the ogres of Hook Mountain...and especially not of their new leader, Barl Breakbones who now dominates the Kreeg ogres...Kreeg ogres you ask? Hah, so few you know...Mammy and the other Grauls are...I mean were, exiled from the Kreegs long ago because they feared her necromantic powers. Only after that she started that inbred family of hers, heh.
As Harry had expected, the cultists have been stripped of all REALLY valuable possessions. However, there are still some provisions and a small chest containing 155 gp.
For a moment nothing happens and some distant bird voices are the only sound, but then you hear a deep
Mhm? from the cave's interior and then stomping footsteps...
As Razmus emerges from the cave you are a bit surprised by his appearance that is not as friendly as you had hoped for.
Visitors or challengers? he booms angrily.
The manticores head to the higher regions of the Hook Mountain Ridge. Most probably they live in caves that can only be entered by means of flying.
I guess you're not searching the camp then.
Quickly you leave the clearing and head further northwards. Soon the forest becomes more dense again and on more than one occasion you have to guide your horses on foot through the thick underbrush. The land reminds you of a boreal jungle now and you doubt that many humans have set their foot into this area of the forest.
After another day's travel you finally reach the valley in which the mayor said Razmus was living. While you had hoped for some kind of inviting-looking valley inmidst rolling foothills, the truth does not look very friendly - it's rather a very steep canyon, with walls of bleak stone rising 30m to the left and right...at the end is a looming black cave entrance with bones scattered in front of it.
As the üride of the manticore finally reaches the clearing, the monster's confidence is boosted even more.
In a strange dialect of common the pride leader explains the agreement with "pesky mortals" and gives out scouting orders.
A bit surprised and even a bit reluctantly the other monsters obey his orders and soon they have all left the place...
I wasn't referring to the rules, rather to Karlan's world view^^
The manticore nods and shakes his massive head in a deep laughter
Don't threaten me puny mortal. We have a pact and I will follow the lines of our agreement...As far as I understood, you are going to meet Razmus now and find out what he knows, right? I will tell my pride then to scout where the lamias are and how the fort looks like at the moment - how and when do we meet again?
The manticore smiles and the creature's large canines send shivers down your spines
A pact? I like that. You seem confident, good hunters. And the fact that you have fought the lamias before and are still alive proves that you are no cubs anymore. Tell me, what is your plan?
the monster asks eagerly.
You're lucky that Karlan has become so quiet :).
Friend? the manticore sounds offended and growls angrily No! Lamias are rivals. They are predators like we are, but this area is too small for both of us...I told the sister who was living on the colourful boat to leave, but she stayed until the boat burned. Now they are two and they have human followers. the manticor looks again at the mangled corpses of the cultists and a certain amusement becomes visible in its countenance.
As if the evil creature feels the coming of his kin, he smiles broadly and crosses its front paws.
Yes, Razmus indeed is a friend of humans...I think he's a fool because of that, but nevermind, he will help you fight the Grauls. The sky serpent is very strong, a lamia she is. A race of creatures that is a distant cousin of my kin...they're clever, but they lack power. She's also not alone, her sister is here, too.
then the manticore looks at the cultists and snorts
That symbol is not unknown to me. You can find it high up in the mountains, carved into old temple walls. It means nothing to me.
The manticore grimaces like a neglected child as Karlan states his point, he prefers to answer Ailetha's question
We have made pacts and contracts with the giant eagles who are friends of the rangers...mostly these contracts are kept, sometimes we have to fight, but we never annihilated the other side...I know all the giants. Razmus the Humanfriend and the new one too...he is the reason why they are here. and he points with one massive paw at the dead cultists.
Perception DC 16:
A group of larged winged monsters has appeared at the sky...seems like the manticore was right and his pride is approaching...
The manticore sniffs the air for a heartbeat but then turns his attention back to Celestra and Ailetha
You are not JUST travellers...know that my pride is close and should you trick me or even hurt me, they will come and find you...so again, stop speaking about wine and reveal your true motives!
the monster booms.
The manticore is flattered by the honeyed words and relaxes a bit
It is good that you are no friends of the sky serpent that has come into our hounting grounds...the skies are ours and we will fight until they are ours again...my pride has ruled these lands for centuries and I will not tolerate any more provocations.
boasts the monstrous creature and then turns to Celestra
I'm called Blacktail and Hook Mountain has been our home until the recent happenings...but...who are you? Are you also chellenging our claim on these lands?
When Celestra steps on the dry branch, the manticore's head snaps around to face her...the monstrous creature then raises its scorpion-like tail but does not fire the spikes at her...instead it speaks in a low growling voice
More sky-serpent servants coming to die?
The malice in the creature's eyes is profound and makes your blood curdle...
Cautiously you advance, every heartbeat expecting another terrifying roar...Harry leads you through a group of trees to a clearing about 100m away from the path...
A terrible sight awaits you here: From the bushes you can observe the remains of several tents and a fireplace - a camp site. Between the tents lie the mangled bodies of at least seven dead men and women, torn apart, ripped open, dismembered...there are also the three dead horses and - towering above the whole scene a creature with a vaguely humanoid head, the body of a lion, and the wings of a dragon. Its tail ends in long, sharp spikes.
Know Nature DC 13:
Suprise: A manticore!
Know Nature DC 17:
This is no ordinary manticore. Its body is that of a dire lion which makes this beast even more fearsome. (Advanced manticore)
The monster is heavily wounded itself. One wing and one hindleg are ruptured and at the moment it seems to be unable to move.
perception DC 22:
By chance you spot a skinsaw mask lying next to one of the tents.
You follow the trail for about three hours, the sun has reached its peak and you wonder how such a serene forest land could become the home of the Grauls.
For several moments only silence follows and only very slowly do the sounds of the forest return.
Know Nature DC 19:
The sound reminds you vaguely of that of a lion, the creature sounds wounded...
Ailetha's and Alana's horses both slip once on the narrow mountain trail and suffer some abrasions that don't look very nice...
After about two hours the trail widens and you leave the dense fir forest. It feels good to leave the heart-sinkening darkness of the tall black trees behind and see the open blue sky again. It must have stopped raining while you were in the forest and now the sky has cleared up and the weather is actually quite nice for an autumn day.
The trail is now wide enough to ride in pairs and there is a gap of about 5m of grassy ground between the trail and the forest's edge to both sides.
Special marching/riding order
Now that harry has joined you again, you slowly ride northwards and after about an hour the thin pillars of smoke rising from the wooden houses in Turtleback ferry are out of sight.
Luckily there is a narrow riding trail leading up into the mountains - but even here, it takes a skilled rider to guide the horse...
Ride check DC 11
Vale seems surprised by our harsh tone but does not interfere. Shalelu frowns a bit but explains
Not yet Mr. Handsome. But I would love to join the arrows once the fort is retaken. I heard a lot of stories about the Grauls, but I still need to know where my father now is. Are you searching for him?
Harry, Vale and person X:
Vale seems surprised but soon begins to smile
That must be Jakardros' daughter you spoke of, right?
Smiling Shalelu confirms Vale's suspicion
That I am! I see you are a Black Arrow too?! Nice to meet you. then she turns to Harry and looks a bit disappointed
You don't seem very happy to meet me again?
Sure, what potion are you looking for?
While the others slowly get out of sight and leave the town, Harry and Vale...
Harry and Vale:
move back into the town proper. While Vale is still asking questions about the potion, you are suddenly interrupted by a familiar voice. Shalelu has just left one of the trapper stores and calls out to Harry
Mr. Handsome! Finally I found you!
Vale nods and walks over to Karlan and the barkeep and orders a round of ale.
As Vale aproaches, the barkeep looks at him and says to Karlan
We had an army when the Black Arrows were still at Fort Rannick...now they're all dead...
Vale won't be away forever, so you should make a decision rather quick :)
Vale seems a bit lost and hesitates before he answers
Uh...but it's too close to Winter for Magnimar to send troops! Either we do that on our own or we rally the people from Turtleback Ferry.
Then he looks at Marek and starts to explain
The aeries are the homes of the giant eagles of Hook Mountain. They are long-term allies of the rangers. North? Here, upper left corner of the map is north I think.
The barkeep grows paler by the minute as you retell the happenings in Sandpoint and Magnimar...unconsciously he rubs his skin where the tattoo is and replies
...s#**...ok, how can it be removed?
Vale hesitates, but then shakes his head
The secret entrance underneath the waterfall is not passable for the ogres, even a human has to squeeze through...I bet they don't even know about its existence.
Vales takes ink and parchment and begins to draw
Ha! I'm not a great artist, but I think I can come up with something...uh...and here...yeah, looks about right!
Vale says at last and presents: Map of the fort
In a hurry? Well Jakardros is obsessed by the idea of retaking the fort...don't count on his sanity in that matter, hah.
The barkeep throws the piece of cloth he uses for cleaning the tankards away in frustration
Too true...but those who tried to hide are already dead...I guess because they were alone...oh and there were Wilbur and Garret...their house burnt down while they were inside...hiding...that counts too, eh? I have a freakin' bad feeling about this all, so maybe you shed some light and tell me everything you know about "what happened in Magnimar"?