After several days of recuperating in Redemption following the half-orcs’ clearing of the elven keep, Ten Thousand Skies returned from his extended walkabout through the Greenbelt. Eshah suggested1 that a group revisit Old Crackjaw’s den so the druid could assist in dealing with the ill-tempered turtle.
Eshah, Bluss, Torg and Ten Thousand Skies traveled to the cliffs on the eastern shore of the Tuskwater and located the trail through the stinging nettles that led to the secluded pool at the lake’s edge. Ten Thousand Skies confirmed that the tracks were those of a large hookjaw turtle. When he stepped into the water, Old Crackjaw appeared from the depths of the pool, swimming toward the druid with a menacing roar.2 Torg interrupted the beast’s charge, pushing Crackjaw back from the shore with a powerful blow from Nettle’s Wrath.3
Bluss drew a bead on the turtle and asked whether he should fire. Ten Thousand Skies attempted to magically befriend Crackjaw, but the crotchety turtle resisted the enchantment.4 With a resigned nod from the druid, Bluss buried a bullet in the beast’s thick shell. Eshah doubled Torg’s height and the enlarged fighter carved another chip in the chitinous carapace. Old Crackjaw responded by charging onto shore and, despite suffering another opportunistic polearm wound, chomped a chunk out of Torg’s enlarged leg. Ten Thousand Skies bowled a flaming sphere at the turtle, but it was the gunslinger who finally ended Old Crackjaw with a shot to the head.
They harvested the giant turtle’s meat and legendary shell and returned to Redemption where Fork began preparations for a feast of turtle soup. Ten Thousand Skies tracked down Arven the fisherman, who graciously provided his promised reward.5 The druid made it clear6 that he supported fishing, hunting, and farming in the kingdom, but he would be watching for the mistreatment of any creatures.
They then traveled to Tatzlford and met with Mayor Rezbin, who was very proud of the prosperous settlement’s growth. Bluss also presented Lily Teskertin with the mirthal statuette they had recovered from the elven keep; the barmaid rewarded him with a kiss and a magic cloak.7
The half-orcs continued south, spending nearly a week exploring the uncharted woods of the Narlmarches below the Murque River. Mid-morning on the sixth day, they found a huge deadfall of trees and brambles lying in a mossy heap, a mountain in miniature left from a violent windstorm several seasons prior. They found numerous cave-like hollows throughout the deadfall; a particularly deep one assaulted Ten Thousand Skies’ sensitive nostrils with the strong scent of a reptilian lair. Sneaking inside, they found a fantastically rare and legendary monster: a hodag! Bluss fired, hoping to put the beast down quickly, but the bullet barely penetrated the monster’s thick hide. Eshah magically greased the filthy floor beneath it, but the hodag’s clawed feet enabled it to scramble across the chamber and gore Torg with its spiked horns, tossing the fighter two full body-lengths away into a pile of bones and half-eaten carcasses.
Torg regained his feet and struck the beast; the others fired upon it with bullet and conjured flame.8 The hodag ignored its burning wounds and focused only on Torg, savagely tearing with fangs and claws. The fighter fell back, unconscious, rejoining the beast’s other victims.
Fate continued its swing against the half-orcs: Bluss’ musket misfired and Eshah’s flameball flew wide. Ten Thousand Skies moved up to put Torg within range of his healing orison and stabilized the fighter at death’s door. Unfortunately, the heroic maneuver also put the druid within range of the hodag’s fury; Ten Thousand Skies fell in a bloody heap.
While Eshah’s follow-up flameball hit the hodag harder than Bluss’s shot, the closer gunslinger became the hodag’s next target. But fate swung again: Bluss narrowly dodged9 the beast’s spiked charge and then cracked it under the jaw with a surprise musket butt uppercut that flipped the hodag onto its back;10 the sorceress fired a precision flameball into the beast’s exposed belly, flash-roasting its innards and instantly killing the monster.11
Eshah carefully administered a curative potion to Ten Thousand Skies; after regaining his feet, the druid used his healing wand to fully restore himself and Torg. Bluss searched the hodag’s lair, finding a number of valuable items – including the magic spear the lumberjack Stas claimed to have stuck in a hodag’s back. They returned to Redemption with the hodag’s head and presented the trophy and the spear to Stas; in gratitude, the lumberjack gave them the spear.12
1 Decreed, actually – the young ruler did that a lot.
2 If Ten Tousand Skies had speak with animals up, he would’ve understood the turtle equivalent of “get off my lawn!”
3 Reach weapon and Pushing Assault feat FTW!
4 Old Crackjaw made its Will save against charm animal.
5 A ring of feather falling, taken by Bluss.
6 Another decree!
7 Bluss accepted the kiss, but gave the purple cloak of protection to Eshah.
8 Flaming sphere and flameball.
9 Nimble class feature FTW!
10 This is the Pistol-Whip gunslinger deed; Chuck rolled a natural 20 on the combat maneuver check to knock the hodag prone. It was AWESOME.
11 Flameball crit!
12 Ten Thousand Skies kept the +1 keen spear.