[27 Mirtul 1372]
At camp, the group decides to discuss their options for Startop Mountain. Various ideas are proposed, including a frontal assault, luring Grim out for a duel, sending Fargrim in alone and invisible, and more. Eventually, the consensus is to climb the trail at nightfall with Fargrim leading the way with his darkvision and then trying to sneak in and find Grim.
[28 Mirtul 1372]
During the night, Fargrim has terrible nightmares of the inhabitants of Nesme being slaughtered by undead hordes and wakes up feeling exhausted. Fortunately, Cain has discovered a way to temporarily attenuate the effects of fatigue.
The group decide to stay in camp during the day in order to climb Startop Mountain at night. Cain tries his hand at hunting but comes back empty-handed.
That night, the group climb the winding trail up Startop Mountain. It takes several hours for them to close in on the summit, and soon the worn path leads into a man-made stone tunnel about 40' long. Moving through it cautiously, the group reach a stout wooden door at the end. Mellia uses a spell to unlock the door, but doing so causes a very audible click. After everyone prepares for battle, Fargrim slams the door open. Markus charges in to an empty stone chamber with a pair of double-doors at the far end. Before he can react, arrows suddenly land all around him and one grazes his shoulder. Cain realizes there are murder holes in the ceiling just as the double-doors open and two men dressed as monks charge through wielding quarterstaffs. Fargrim quickly dispatches one of them, while Cain throws one of the clay pots he obtained after the battle outside Nesme at the other. It shatters and releases a terrible stench, sickening the man and forcing him to flee. The escapee shuts and bars the double-doors behind him, leaving the adventurers to face arrows and
stench-pots from above.
Cain staunches the bleeding of the fallen defender and drags his body out of the chamber and back to the tunnel. Fargrim tries to parley with the figures he knows are on the roof of the chamber, announcing himself and demanding to see Grim. They reply that they are peaceful clerics and that they won't give in to this murderous assault. The group decide to retreat, taking their new prisoner with them to their campsite west of the mountain.
That night, Fargrim suffers strange nightmares about a massive darkened form stirring, wearing a horned circlet. He gets a sense that the source of all of his troubles are to the east.
[29 Mirtul 1372]
The group decide to interrogate their prisoner. Cain brings the man back to consciousness through careful application of healing magic, and Mellia channels her own arcane ability to detect the captive's thoughts while Fargrim questions him. Although the prisoner, Vortuitas, initially tries to be evasive and claims he is a monk, his lies are quickly detected and he decides to trade the truth for his life. He acknowledges to serving as a guard in the slaving operation that has a base atop Startop Mountain. He provides a rough layout of the base
and an estimate of the defenders' numbers. He states that the group is led by the rarely-present Grim, with a massive half-orc named Iskenvar as second-in-command and a "creepy" man named Melchor in charge of the caravans. He claims never to have seen Grim, but says he suspects the mastermind behind the operation may be on site as he had heard the man was racing to get to Startop before "the dwarf". He indicates that the operation sells slaves to a variety of purchasers: an orc tribe underneath Startop Castle; a witch who runs
a weapons-making operation in the center of the Evermoors; and, most recently, a small tribe of Frost Giants who are pushing into the area. He claims not to know what any of these groups use the slaves for. Having extracted several useful bits of information, the group allows Vortuitas to go, and the wounded man stumbles away to the west.
The group decide to move their camp east of the mountain, acting on a suspicion that they may have pinpointed the source of the nightmarish events indicated in Cain's and Fargrim's nightmares. That night, Fargrim's nightmares are of a witch-queen overseeing vast cauldrons smelting a strange, bubbling toxic brew
that emanates from a rift in the ground into strange-looking weaponry. He feels that the true source of all this evil is to the west.
[30 Mirtul 1372]
When Fargrim tells the group of his dreams, the group reaches the conclusion that Startop Mountain may be the key to their quest. They decide a return trip is necessary.
Director's Commentary (March 28, 2014)
The group's first foray into Startop Castle is a push; they're injured and forced to retreat, but they cannily take an unconscious foe with them for interrogation. The move allowed the PCs to confirm that they have the right place to find Grim. The combat scene in the guardroom was pretty fun, as I'd never used murder holes before and they presented a good challenge. The PCs by this time were a few levels higher than the designers planned, so I knew the slavers wouldn't win a sustained engagement.
Fargrim's nightmares continue to be helpful in providing some picture of the overall plot. Not only do they foreshadow the undead siege of Nesme, point a clue to where the Forge is, but they give the PCs confidence that Startop Mountain is the key to finding the Crown of Horns.