In which a dragon makes an appearance.
Pierce, Hunwald, Esma, and Gareth make their way along the path through the trees in the direction of Osric’s last gasp, continuing to hold the flock of ravens at bay. Gareth, using Hunwald’s flint and steel, has managed to light his torch, and between that, intermittent blasts of trumpet, and Pierce’s whirling net, the birds are sufficiently flummoxed. However, Pierce fails his whirl-and-move roll again, so progress is slow.
By the time they round the bend into the next clearing, the only sign of Osric’s existence is the bloodstained snare net that lies in a heap on the grass. In my head I had been plotting the movements of the bugbear and the three “thornlings” (kobolds as written) who sprang the trap, and decided that they absconded to their base of operations with Osric’s corpse. So no sign of the fallen burglar, his killer, or accomplices. The four villagers fear the worst, but since Osric had only been on the lam in Hovick for a few days, no one had grown particularly attached to him. Except me! I had loved that foolish burglar from the moment he rolled up “stocky” and “wanted” as his traits.
At this point the ravens break and wheel away, much to everyone’s relief. Pierce stops whirling his net, and everyone is especially grateful that Hunwald stops bleating on his horn. In the interest of conserving light, Gareth quickly extinguishes the torch. From this clearing, again, they have two choices: left (north) or right (east). The stone spire looms high above them to the northeast, so either path might get them closer. Pierce makes the call, and they head to the left.
Shortly they arrive at the base of the spire. The trees open up to either side, revealing a breathtaking architectural feature, craved out of the natural rock:
Sticking together, the group peers up into the maw and counts sixteen wide stone steps leading up to a pair of great iron-bound doors, one of which is ajar. Poking around the outside a little bit, they see that there’s room to move along the base of the spire in either direction without stepping into the creepy, vine-covered trees. As they explore a little along the north side, they hear the sound of rushing water in the distance.
Deciding that they definitely don’t want to go in through the front door, the group decides to push on to the north, with Pierce in the lead. Keeping their eyes on the skies in case the ravens return, they sidle along between the sheer rock face and the dense forest, toward the sound of the water.
Soon, they come upon a place in the rock where a rushing stream pours out of the spire and splashes down a rocky cataract into a ravine (the same ravine already encountered by their friends, further downstream). There is no description in the module of the nature of the stream or its outlet, so I describe it as splashing down over the rocks from a low opening in the stone face about 6′ above ground level.
The tunnel opening looks small, and Gareth is very short, so he volunteers to climb up and scout out the situation. He makes the DC 5 Agility to check to ascend the slippery rocks. He peers into the tunnel as far as the ambient light of the day will let him, and sees that while the ceiling drops low, the bigger folk should be able to make it through if they crouch down in the freezing water.
There seems to be little trepidation as the other three hand off Esma’s pigs to Gareth before climbing the rocks themselves. All four stand in the knee-deep water at the mouth of the underground stream, discussing who should go first. Gareth haughtily asserts his fearlessness, relights his torch, and leads the way into the cold darkness.