[24 Mirtul 1372]
As they cross the Evermoors headed for Startop Mountain, the group suddenly see boulders flying through the air over their heads and crashing down several yards away. Much to their astonishment, they realize that they've unintentionally walked into a dispute between two hill giants, one high up on a tor and the other on the moor below, chewing contentedly on a dead branta. The two are shouting over who has the right to the branta, and neither seems to notice the adventurers until Markus screams "hill giants!" and draws their attention. "Let's turn'em over ta Princess Gerti for the reward!" shouts one of the giants.
Markus spurs his warhorse forward to seek some cover behind a collection of nearby boulders, while Mellia directs her mount to gallop forward in a bid to escape, but soon the sorceress and her steed are starting to sink in a treacherous bog! With boulders raining all around them, Markus heroically comes to Mellia aid and throws her a rope. Although her horse is lost, Mellia reaches solid land and is hoisted on to the back of Markus' mount. Meanwhile, Fargrim and Cain have great difficulty containing their untrained mounts as one of the hill giants charges towards them and begins swinging a massive club. Battered and bloodied, the two adventurers decide to trust in luck and allow their steeds to bolt while holding on for dear life. A timely taunt by Markus distracts the pursuing giant just long enough to allow everyone to escape.
As the group begins looking for a safe campsite, Mellia thanks Markus for his aid but reminds him that his shouting at the beginning of the encounter was not wise. The group agrees that if they see any more hill giants, they will immediately flee as silently as possible. Before turning in for the night, Fargrim continues practicing with his new urgosh and Mellia rehearses the gestures to hurl an exploding sphere of flame.
[25 Mirtul 1372]
The group cautiously continues east, making slow progress but avoiding any further threats. That night, while the others slumber, Mellia is visited by a strange, menacing figure that appears from out of a black fog. He tells her that the bones he has cast indicate she is on the correct path, and that she should remain with "these dolts". His auguries show that she is further along than the others he has sent forth, but that his foretellings show that a descent into darkness is necessary. With a last warning that she must succeed in order to secure the safety of her daughter, the figure disappears.
[26 Mirtul 1372]
In the morning, Mellia shares what had happened with the group. Fargrim is secretly relieved that he may not have accidentally fallen asleep while on watch, while Markus openly questions whether they should continue to aid an evil figure in obtaining something so potentially dangerous as the Crown of Horns, which legend says contains the essence of the vanquished god Myrkul. Mellia asks Cain about the origin of the strange nightmares he and Fargrim often have, but the cleric jokingly dismisses the subject. Fargrim is more candid and discusses the mysterious island they were shipwrecked on, as well as the tower of bones. Mellia speculates that the figure who has kidnapped her daughter may be an avatar or priest of Myrkul, hoping to restore the god's power.
The group continues heading east, and late in the afternoon see Startop Mountain in the distance. The mountain is not huge, but looms imposingly over an otherwise flat landscape. The white marble walls of a ruined castle can be seen at its rounded rim.
The adventurers find a concealed place to camp for the night. Markus suggests a potential name for the group: "Pilgrims of Fortune", but Mellia and Fargrim indicate an immediate dislike and the subject is dropped.
The night sky is filled with rain, thunder, and lightning as the four try to rest. Fargrim and Cain's dreams are unsettled with visions of a Dread Knight leading an army on Nesme from the south and a Witch-Queen overseeing the production of vile weapons.
[27 Mirtul 1372]
Cain and Fargrim wake up feeling little rested. The group discuss whether the nightmares are simply that, visions of what is actually happening, or prophecies of what may happen.
The group discuss how to approach Startop Mountain, which Cain recalls once featured a fortress built by Arden Brightheart. The group decide to wait until dark, leave their horses behind, and walk to the base of the mountain. There, Markus and Mellia send their familiars around the perimeter of the mountain to check for guards or secret doors, but none are found. Mellia's weasel, Warren, excitedly indicates he has found something, but his discovery is revealed to simply be a wide wagon trail that begins to wind its way up the mountain. The group decides to return to camp and discuss what to do next.
Director's Commentary (March 4, 2014)
The guy who plays Markus is still teased to this day for having his character shout "Hill Giants!" and drawing their attention when the group had a fair chance to slip past while the giants were fighting each other. A lesson that the group didn't learn from this session, that led to fatal ramifications in a recent session (I write this just after Session # 69) is that controlling mounts in battle is quite difficult if you haven't put any ranks into Ride.
We see a quick snapshot of the mysterious figure who has driven Mellia into searching for the Crown. He makes another appearance several sessions down the line, and I think it's just about time he makes another appearance. Rereading this, I find it funny that Markus questions the wisdom of turning an evil artifact over to the dark figure, as Fargrim and Mellia just had a big blow up about the very same thing approximately 45 sessions later!
The vision of the Dread Knight assaulting Nesme ended up coming true, as we'll see.
Perhaps the most important thing from this session is that the PCs finally reached Startop Mountain. As others who have run Castle Whiterock have noted online, it's actually quite difficult to picture how the mountain and castle are supposed to fit together because it's simply not very clear from the materials. I went for it being a small, dormant volcano with the castle perched on the lip of the volcano's caldera that had filled with water over time. It seemed to work well enough, and hopefully no one thinks very hard about it!