In the morning, the party was ready to head north to try to investigate the situation at the mine. After sleeping on it, they decided they wanted to see the mine firsthand instead of just listening to what the dwarves and presumably the elves would say about it.
On the way out of town, Hef tried to pay a dwarf 1 gp to fight another dwarf, which insulted the dwarf, who challenged Hef to a fistfight. Sam laughed at that and remarked that HE could probably beat up a silly miner, and so the miner accepted Sam's challenge first. "Afterwards, I'll take on you, Ogre."
...it was not the most epic of fistfights, but eventually Sam (barely) won against the first level warrior, and proudly claimed his gold piece from Hef.
On the way north, they watched the grasslands gradually turn into salt flats -- a featureless white plain stretching as far as they could see. So they saw the wreckage from about a mile off. Lily's ferret and Talos' hawk both thought they saw something moving in the wreckage, so they were on alert as they headed closer.
When they got within 500 feet, the wind whipped up the salt in the area into a stinging storm, harsh enough to do (minor) hit point damage. A 35' radius storm was unable to catch the entire party, however, due to Talon and Hobbes being on point, so since this was obviously hostile action of some sort they broke into a run, and managed to get in range of the caravan before dropping dead from salt storms. As soon as Samuel could hear the moaning of the creatures summoning the storms, he unleashed an acid ball which disrupted their concentration, letting most of the party see them for the first time -- a pair of salt... mummies? standing in the middle of a wrecked caravan, surrounded by dead bodies littering the ground.
One of the dead bodies stood up and tried to eat Talos. That didn't end well for it.
Hobbes and Hef charged at the salt mummies, but their very proximity did severe damage -- but the mummies' own resistance to damage was not enough to protect them from the whole party unleashing hell, and they fell before Hef (who was much easier to hit and thus the focus of their attacks) went down. Liliana cast detect undead to try to see if any of the other bodies scattered around were likely to get back up, and did in fact detect that there were several undead in the area. Before she'd managed to pinpoint them, though, Hef and Sam's undead detection pass had provoked the remaining ghouls into revealing themselves and attacking, and they didn't last long.
Searching the caravan, they were able to piece together what had happened -- the elves had attacked the caravan, killing everyone with arrows, and then stripped everything valuable off them, piled it on top of the carts, and set it all on fire. They found a few gold pieces and a few small diamonds that the elves had missed... and a dwarven child concealed in one of the wagons that the elves hadn't seen, and had therefore inadvertantly roasted to death. Oops.
They headed on, passing several similar attack sites, but didn't find anything more threatening than a random ghoul or two until once again the hawk reported movement from inside a wrecked, burned cart. The party approached cautiously, and when he was only a few feet away Talon finally spotted a large wormlike creature concealing itself in the pile of burned wood, and fired an arrow at it. That got it moving -- it leaped out and bit him, slathering him with a shadowy acid venom that hurt a lot even though it was quickly dispersed by the sunlight before it could do its full damage. Hef and Hobbes leaped into melee again, only to get stuck by the thing's spiky bristles and poisoned and paralyzed... and bitten of course. But once again, the party was able to focus fire and take the monster down before it could finish off its paralyzed victims.
Then they administered anti-toxin and waited anxiously while the deadly paralyzing poison ran its course, failing to kill its targets, although Hobbes was badly weakened.
Lily explained that the wormlike creature was the caterpillar stage of the extraplanar Gloomwings they'd been warned about -- and they found the burst-open corpse of the dwarf that this one had hatched from, among the dead.
Regardless, they pressed on, and soon came to the deserted village of Black Run, on the shore of Crystal Lake, near the edge of the elven forest. It was dusk -- not dark yet, but getting dimmer. Against the advice of several party members, they decided to enter the village immediately and see if they could find a building to hole up in for the night -- that was bound to be safer than trying to make camp out in the open, with the bandits they'd occasionally seen signs of shadowing them and the monsters from the mine around.
They entered the gate and passed the trading post, and the massive pile of coal, heading for what looked like it might be a wizard's tower, only to find it locked. Arcane locked. Lily had a scroll of Knock, but it wasn't able to open the door -- it was always iffy trying to Knock Arcane Locked things. Hef tried to smash down the door, but his axe didn't even leave a dent.
So they decided to check out the trading post instead. It had a couple offices, some store rooms, and in the back a storefront and some ghouls. The ghouls shrieked as they rose up to attack, and other undead started to close in from around the front half of the tiny village -- along with three gloomwings, whose mesmerizing wing patterns confused Sam, Calvin, and Liliana. Hobbes and Talon averted their gaze while fighting off the ghouls outside, while Hef finished off the ghouls inside, and eventually Liliana managed to get her head clear enough to cast a Daylight spell, which drove off the remaining enemies (they hated light, even if it didn't actually hurt them).
The party quickly retreated into the trading post, and ... Hef put on a blindfold, drank a flying potion, and charged blindly out after the gloomwings, shouting a battlecry, knocking down Lily as she tried to hold him back. The half-ogre was actually trained in blindfighting, and managed to chase down the butterflies until they gave up and tried to engage him in melee. Talon, not wanting to abandon even a suicidally insane friend, ran out to give support, and Liliana contributed a summoned air elemental to the cause. Between them, they managed to take out one of the gloomwings, but the other two escaped unless the air elemental chasing after them managed to catch and kill them before expiring in a few rounds -- the party had no way of knowing. On the way back, Talon spotted a caterpillar lurking in a shed nearby, but ran for his life back into the daylight area, where the beast wouldn't follow, and so they were all able to get inside and seal up the trading post with an arcane lock of their own.
Then they remembered that the caterpillars hatched from dead bodies, and tossed out the dead ghouls.
Then they looted the trading post, and actually found quite a bit of money and supplies -- the trading post dwarves had sealed themselves inside with their goods instead of risking the trip south, and only then had expired from the ghoul disease. The building had no windows, and only one entrance, and they were able to spend the night safely.
...but in the morning, when they opened the door, they were blasted by a symbol of pain that someone had inscribed just outside, along with the inscription, "You have murdered my children! The vengeance of Shabra is upon you!" Liliana knew a bit of history, but couldn't place the name. Talos' tracking revealed that a group of humanoids and caterpillars had left the symbol, then headed back into the mine.
They took another crack at the tower, and since it was daylight the dwarven mages inside decided to risk opening the door to let them in. They told what they knew of the situation, which wasn't much that the party didn't already know. They were SHOCKED that the elves had attacked the fleeing refugees -- they knew the elves had been hitting supply caravans to try to starve them out, but they'd always *claimed* that they'd be satisfied if the dwarves left the mine. They were willing to sell the party magical scrolls, but they weren't going to give away anything for free unless the party needed it to go into the mines, and after seeing how huge the mine was -- the dwarves were basically undermining the forest, and had tunneled miles laterally -- they weren't about to do that just yet. They had no desire to meet more than one of the caterpillar monsters, especially in the dark!
The dwarves suggested that they might be able to find additional muscle in Ironforge (which had been taken over by Duergar) which was nearby, or Rally, the orcish capitol, which was less nearby.
Instead, they were going to go see if they could get in touch with the elves, after all.
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