Our brave explorers found themselves in the shadow of the 1,800 feet tall plateau atop which Musharib had assured them was the cursed village of Mbala. The place was full of ill omens and it wasn’t long before they came across a body in their path. The corpse looked as though it had been bludgeoned to death but closer inspection showed that the unfortunate half-elf had been dropped onto the ground from high above. A stoppered, wooden tube containing gemstones and Silver arrows was found nearby and quickly recovered. Night was spent under a full moon and in the shadow of a 10ft tall statue overgrown with vines. The statue was carved to resemble a stylized Chultan king — a representation of Ubtao according to Musharib, the albino dwarf guide who had so far guided the party expertly.
In the morning everyone made their way through the thinning jungle, amidst boulders the size of ships, to the base of the plateau. Through many switchbacks, a path cut across the cliff face for 3 miles before reaching the top. Tumbled boulders and tangled roots blocked the path in many places and would have to be cleared to make the climb possible.
Climbing higher above the treeline revealed stunning views of the surrounding wilderness. To the East; a steaming swampland, clouds of insects hovering over reedy swamps and herds of dinosaurs drinking at waterholes. The Adlani Basin.
Across the Aldani Basin to the southeast, was an amazing sight. A massive chunk of earth and rock torn from the earth driftied over the swampy forest, about a hundred feet above the ground. The Heart of Ubtao, said Musharib, an ancient place holy to those once devoted to Ubtao.
Nestled in the choking jungle to the west, the massive brick and stone ziggurat at Orolunga where the wise guardian Naga was to be found. That was the goal – to seek the wisdom of this mythical being.
After climbing for 3 hours, ever watchful of Pterafolk, they made it to the top of the plateau and the grim sight that was Mbala. The path lead into a ravine, the walls of which were adorned with scenes of jungle predators, flying lizards, and erupting volcanoes carved in shallow relief. Steps lead up to a once grand but now rotten and mouldy wooden gateway, the rusted hinges and bindings the only remaining evidence of a gate. Piles of skulls lay about in mounds, picked clean of flesh and grinning at the oppressive sun. Most of the party climbed up and around rather than wade through the grisly scene. Valdimir and Xandala were untroubled and strode on through.
All that remained of Mbala was some overgrown stone foundations. The only standing building was a shabby thatched hut, with walls of hide stretched over the rib cage of a giant reptile. Animal skulls, wind chimes, and totems of feathers and shells rattled in the breeze, and smoke drifted from hut. There was movement and a figure was spied up ahead, a foul crone impossibly old and bent, blinded by cataracts. Vald shouted a greeting and the hag replied “Speak up! I got this huh-ringing in ma ear.”
The crone, calling herself Nanny Pu’pu, told her tale. How the villagers had all been killed by the flying beasties that lived in a cave to the South. How she had survived by being too tough and stringy. “Too canny too for those flying beasties!” she wheezed. She explained that she had rites to perform, for it had been a full moon the previous night. Perhaps the brave explorers would stand guard for her whilst she performed the rituals to honour the Lord of Bones? This all sounded a bit much and after deciding that they was no actual reason to stay, the Fellowship of the Forge simply walked away, forever making them enemies of Nanny Pu’pu.
Orolunga was still 6 days march away. The first day was beset with heavy storms which forced them to stop for a few hours to take shelter. When they set off once more something was detected moving up ahead. Using their airborne scouts – Shadows and Rizz the owl, the party discovered a quirky little ecosystem. A group of cannibals nurturing a Yellow Musk Creeper. This insidious plant lures humanoids to it, kills them and implants a bulb in their spine. After 24 hours the victim rises as a zombie under the control of the Yellow Musk Creeper. Musharib suggested staying well away and everyone agreed.
Not far down the road from this Xandala made an excuse to have a rest stop. She eyed Cole and asked if he would walk with her. Cole jumped at the opportunity but played it cool. Xandala questioned the street wizard about his ability to predict what was about to happen before it happened, his power of divination. She had been watching carefully ever since Camp Righteous and wanted Cole to explain this gift. When he did her demeanour changed, she angrily told him “I can’t let you ruin my plans to capture Artus Cimber!”
Her hands weaved as she conjured a spell, but before the words of power could be said, Cole reacted with a Counterspell. Xandala cursed as her magic fizzled out and looked at Cole in rage. He was able to retaliate with a psychic assault but it was not enough. Xandala cast a spell and flew up into the air disappearing from view. What was the evil bitch up to?
Summerwise had stayed behind and could only apologise. He had always thought her plan to find Artus was dumb and was glad no one had been hurt.
After a couple more days of marching and fighting off scorpions as large as horses, the explorers came upon another band of travellers camped in a clearing. They were Zhentarim searching for Artus Cimber and had tracked him here. They explained that he was very dangerous and in possession of a mighty artefact which the Black Network desired – The Ring of Winter. It was agreed that the Zhents would pay a princely sum for any word of Cimber. The Fellowship shared camp with the Zhents but kept to themselves and set double watches.
During the morning march another bizarre sight, a sphere of wintry weather in the middle of the steaming jungle. All the plants and surfaces within the sphere were covered with glittering ice and frost, and the temperature within the sphere was a biting −30 degrees Fahrenheit. Could this have been the work of Artus and the ring?
By evening they made their way closer to Orolunga coming to a deep ravine with a fast flowing river at the bottom. A rickety rope bridge was being guarded by a group of apes. Musharib tried to speak to them using his spirit guide abilities but they shrieked and threw soft fruits at him. Valdimir took a step forward and putting on his scariest voice managed to intimidate the primates and open the way to cross. They would reach Orolunga the very next day…