Having left off with everyone meeting at the stables of The Baron of Mutton, and Csoka meeting the group, we resume our tale after relating the Legend of the Dirty Gnomes. This colors the rest of the night.
Over dinner at The Baron, the group notes some locals eyeing them. Tayeohnaas overhears some farmers talking about another group of adventurers disappearing lately. A old dwarf is seated alone, and Tayeohnaas starts a conversation. The dwarf is gruff, but seems to enjoy having someone to talk to. Tiiria speaks Dwarvish to him, which delights him to the point he has the barkeeper serve her a tankard of his special dwarven ale. Tiiria has no head for alcohol, and gets lightheaded from the powerful stout. It turns out the local Huclere family has recently lost two “children” who joined a couple of outsiders for adventure. They went to explore some ancient ruins southeast of town about 3 weeks ago and haven’t returned. A reward is offered.
The group hits the sack, after arranging a rotating guard on the mule & chest. The next day they set off, and other than a few tense sightings of farmers that turn out to not be ambushes, they arrive in the hamlet of Thurmaster. They deliver the chest of components to the senile mage Tauster, who notes his apprentice hasn’t shown up, so he can’t offer them tea. Instead he offers to buy them lunch at the local tavern, The Hounds and Tails (ever after known as the Pounding Tails). He warns them off of the mutton pie. Burrk’duz eats a mutton pie, much to his stomach’s concern, but his orcish blood defeats the questionable pie (barely). They make it back to Oakvale just at sunset.
Tayeohnaas goes out to hunt some dinner and encounters a feral human druid accompanied by a pair of wolves. She comments on another member of the Circle who descended into dark places and never returned. She warns Tayeohnaas that his new pack should be careful, and let him know a ranger named Kuiper in the “city” (Oakvale) knows how to contact her, if necessary.
After dinner and more dwarf conversation, they hit the sack. After breakfast on 21 Tarsakh, they head to the Hucrele manor and meet with the matriarch. Her grandchildren (in their 20s) are missing, and she wants either their return, or proof of their fate. She gives names and descriptions, and describes the signet rings they wear. If found and returned, she will pay 150 gold each; if the rings are returned due to their demise, she will pay half that. They set off on the Old Road, without the mule, and arrive at ruins at midday. A slightly weathered rope is tied to a pillar at the edge of a ravine. After climbing down to a ledge, they see the ravine opens into a cavern with ruins below. They avoid antagonizing the huge rat living in the debris on the ledge, successfully navigate the uneven path & switchbacks, and reach an entrance to a stronghold that appears to have sunk beneath the earth. It appears lightless and deserted, and a cold, dank breeze blows into their faces from the depths, hinting at dark places and death.