The AdventureThe party leaves Astina without incident. Brek takes the opportunity to buy a shield with his otter skins, but the party otherwise keeps to the caravan, avoiding any untoward experiences like in the other Naissani cities. The Slave Road south is less traveled than the highway between Ceccana and Astina. While there is traffic coming in from the outlying farms, very little is heading south. After a couple of days, the caravan is the only group on the road.
Stopping in a thorp to rest for the night, Elihas takes a moment to investigate strange mounds the group had been seeing along their travel. It seems at the half-day distance, two mounds rise up on either side of the highway. In this case, it coincides with the town at which they’ve stopped. Covered with vegetation and dulled with the passing of years, he is still able to make out portions of a statue. A woman’s face that, no matter where he stands, seems to always be looking at him. He takes note of small wooden bowls filled with seeds and other trinkets, offerings to the statues. He tries to put the vegetation back in place and returns to the group. The rest of the evening passes uneventfully.
Continuing on their journey the following day, one of the other guards thinks he sees movement in a neighboring corn field. Ragnar also sees the anomaly, corn moving in a direction other than with the wind. Another guard is the first to discover what is happening when a javelin drives through his face, striking him dead. Small pygmy-like creatures with dark leathery skin, clawed hands, pug noses, and straw-like black hair pour forth. After a hard-fought battle with multiple wounds and multiple casualties, the party is able to fight them off. One of the other guards says he has heard stories of the little creatures, local folklore that tells of a Harvest Goblin. He had never seen one before and believed them to be made up to scare small children. The group discovers that while they were fighting, the goblins picked the lock of one of the wagon-cages and made off with some lion skins.
It seems an excessive expense, seven dead for a few skins even given the value of the skins. After a brief deliberation among the group (after Shahem Quickstep says he is deducting the loss from their payment), they decide to continue with the caravan, laying claim to the skins of those guards that had died. Not telling Shahem, Elihas also finds a minted gold coin hidden in the boot of one of the goblins. Gold is extremely rare, so much so that no nation is known to use it as a currency. The fact that a coin was even made is one thing, but it was minted. All together stranger.
They camp that night in between two of the large mounds. Not long after the camp has gone to sleep does a strange mist arise and the wind begins to moan. Elihas swears he sees something in the distance, but Fiona cannot see anything. Racing out of the mist like lightning, a Spirit Warrior (Lion) pounces, digging his claws into Fiona. Only her mettle keeps her from dying in the first barrage. The creature’s roar awakens the camp and those of sterner stuff jump to the ready while the rest cower behind the wagons. The creature stands ten/twelve feet tall with mighty thews and claws like daggers. It rends a guard apart, nearly fells Brek, and sets upon Fiona again. Only through a combined effort is the group able to defeat the beast before it kills them all.
The creature does not bleed. In fact, the same strange mist seeps from its wounds. Investigating the corpse, the group discovers that it is not a monster at all, but two harvest goblins, one standing on top of the other, dressed in the lion furs that they had stolen. They have blood painted on their faces and wear fetish necklaces. They have some tribal power that allows them to tap into the evil of the wild, obviously.
Tightening ranks and settling back down for the rest of the evening, Brek decides to climb on top of one of the mounds to get a better view during his watch. In so doing, he knocks loose some of the vegetation covering the stone. While time and wind should have pushed the soil up around the stone, letting the grass take root, it instead falls away easily, revealing the statue beneath. And while no one has touched the statue opposite the road, its vegetation is falling away as well.
The first statue is of a woman lying across a chaise. Behind her are her ladies-in-waiting and beside her a soldier dressed in ornate armor, a metal breastplate like the family heirloom Ragnar wears (unlike any modern armors worn today). Climbing off the statue, Brek feels a hand reach out and help him down. Looking at the woman, her eyes have color and he swears that she watches him. He calls out, but the sound of his voice comes seconds after he speaks. It echoes as if he were lost in a cave. He calls for Ragnar, but no one hears him. He pushes his friend, but he is as hard as stone. Not even his skin moves at the pressure of Brek’s touch. The same with Fiona.
Across the highway stands a man in wealthy attire, a fine cloak, a doublet, tunic, fine boots. And Brek recognizes he wears a gold crown much like the Old Folk that are buried in the mountains of the north. No one wears such things now and this one, he can tell, is made of gold. He bows to the powerful man, attempting to nudge Ragnar as he does. As he bows, a bass voice echoes “Well met. Stand and be recognized.” Brek stands. A female voice echoes, “My leige, the emissary from the northern mountains has arrived.”
Brek asks, “What is your bidding?” but his voice comes out normally. Next to him, Ragnar has awoken and stares at him strangely.