Returning to Hodam from the ruins of Justice, our heroes are surprised to meet Darface-- whom Sheriff Feer had deputized to look after the city in their absence-- about a half-mile outside of Hodam. Something's happened, but they're unable to coax it out of him; he does advise, however, that they seek out Melany behind the brewery and give the rest of the town a wide berth.
They do so, meeting Melany, and their wizard friend Irving. They have bad news: the townsfolk, angered by how Feer and Jarmangle had appropriated a number of horses, wagons, and supplies, had rioted. Darface was unable to quell the riot, and the city's grain-stores had been burnt to the ground. But at least, Melany says, you have some good news to help quiet things down.
Of course, they don't; most of the ale is gone, without a cent to show for it. The city of Justice has been utterly destroyed. The bounty on Aratin's head was unclaimed. And the six whores were exhausted not for coin, but by Tralamin and Aratin's raging libidos. This, Melany tells them blankly, is the very opposite of good news. Chances are, if word of this disaster gets around town, the lot of them will be lynched.
They decide to seek out another town to ply their wares, with the bard Robyn suggesting that they head southwards. They leave four of the whores, and the severely hung-over Jarmangle, in Melany's care; Melany, in turn, appoints Irving the protector of the prostitutes, so that they might not be ill-used by Tralamin.
Having run out of food-- including the meat from Robyn's horse, the untanned skin of which is still worn by Tralamin as a foul-smelling cloak-- they keep a special eye out for something to hunt as they make their way south. Shortly after coming to a mountainous pass, they find an elk. Feer's longbow proves ineffective, and it starts to run off; Robyn, with an elf's special precision, kills it with an arrow to the head. Tralamin and Irving run over to pick it up.
A few yards from the elk's body, they see a group of ettercap hunters emerging from a hidden nook in the mountain. The ettercaps are lean with hunger, and seem prepared to fight over the meal. Wishing to avoid conflict, Irving offers them a third of the meat. The ettercaps find this agreeable, and leave our adventurers alone.
Feer cooks the meat-- it's gamy, but good-- and Tralamin decides to complement his rotting horse carcass with elk-skin pants.
Moving through the pass, they come to an obstruction; it's a huge plant, with a closed bulb the size of a man. Its roots and vines stretch out, thick and green, over the entirety of the pass. And entangled within that mass of foliage is the skeleton of a bard who wears a particularly fetching hat.
Tralamin-- and it's always Tralamin, isn't it?-- decides that he wants the hat for himself. Brashly, he rushes towards the growth and reaches for the hat. The vines lash out, grabbing him and hoisting him in the air; the plant's bulb opens, revealing seven petals, each lined with sharp teeth, and a sharply-pointed stem flinging out from the gulf of its seven-sided mouth.
Seeing the danger, Irving unleashes a magical blast of cold into the mouth, damaging the stem. Feer bravely rushes in with her sword in one hand and the gnollish mace Peacebringer in the other; before she can reach Tralamin, however, the vines grab hold of her, too. She hacks at the vine, but in vain; when she touches it with the Peacebringer, however, it releases both of them. They roll to safety.
Tralamin starts to reach for the hat again, but Irving intervenes, using his mage-hand to pluck the hat out of the mess. Tralamin puts on the hat and discards the horse carcass; Robyn, at long last, can bury what's left of her steed. The party pulls back and hits the plant with a number of ranged attacks, until it seems dead. Now that it's safe to approach, they examine and then loot the skeleton of the unfortunate bard.
Irving sets the plant mass on fire, and after it has burnt itself out, they ride their wagon right over its ashes.
The bridge and the gorge
Coming out of the pass and still heading south, the group comes to a deep, fairly wide gorge with seemingly no way down. There is a rickety old bridge swaying in the wind-- wide enough to accommodate the wagon, but unlikely stable enough to holds its wait. A number of possibilities, both ingenious and impractical, are considered, and it seems as if night will fall before they reach a solution. Finally, combining elements of various plans which brought new possibilities to light, which were then incorporated into other plans, which were then combined together, they arrived at an answer.
Capturing a small insect in a beer bottle, Tralamin and Irving use rope to lower themselves several feet along the cliff-face. Finding a crevice in which to place the bottle, Tralamin performs a difficult ritual-- made more-so by the fact that's he's hanging off the side of a cliff-- to transform the insect into a tree for a handful of hours. At the same time, Irving performs a ritual to increase its size, timing it so that it takes effect just as Tralamin has finished his ritual. The insect-turned-tree grows sideways from the cliff-face until its trunk stretches over the entire gorge, its branches destroying the rickety bridge and some mud huts on the other side.
Tralamin and Irving climb back up, and the group hurries over the gorge before the size-changing ritual loses its effect. On the other side, they meet a group of ettercap villagers who are quite upset at the destruction of their huts. Irving, however, is able to prevent things from escalating into violence.
They continue south, and as night falls, they make camp.
Early in the morning, they come across what appears to be an ancient temple. The doors are blockaded with slabs; unable to find any mechanism to gain entrance, Irving opts to just knock on the door.
A voice answers, at first claiming, ridiculously, that there is no one within. The group explains that they're on a mission of trade and commerce. The voice relents, and, after a moment, the slab moves aside.
Two kobolds are in the room, operating cranks to move the slab; they rush off down a corridor, leaving the room empty. Irving peers in and notes a large cage suspended over much of the room, and cautions the others to be careful. No sooner has he said this, however, then he sets off the trap; luckily, everyone is able to avoid the cage.
A kobold appears, hoping to take them by surprise, and he is understandably miffed that they're not inside the cage. He distrusts them-- especially the elves-- but they're finally able to convince him that they are indeed simply trying to sell some ale and "entertainment". A couple of kobolds are sent to escort the wagon to the back of the structure-- which the first kobold calls "Kobold Pocket"-- and Tralamin accompanies them. The others follow the first kobold deeper into the temple.
It's been converted to a kobold settlement, with shops, homes, and areas for recreation. Irving, Feer, and Robyn take particular notice of the tall stalks of wheat growing here, without any visible source of sunlight; this is Darkwheat, the kobold explains, and it grows from the blood of their dragon. Said dragon was slain many years ago "by the gnollish kings", who "stole" its hatchling and sealed it up somewhere. Robyn realizes that this might be the "great evil" that is locked behind the door in the tomb of the Gnollish Holy Dead.
The Orc Problem
They are led to the leader of the kobolds, and there rejoin Tralamin and the wagon. The kobold leader finds the ale to be most excellent, and agrees to buy some "after the darkwheat season". Irving inquires how long that will be; the kobold says it won't be much longer. They're just waiting for the orcs to raid Kobold Pocket, butcher scores of kobolds, and steal the wheat, leaving only a few desperate scraps for the hungry kobolds.
It began when the ignorant kobolds tried to trade with the orcs; to an orc, an offer for trade is an insult. The kobolds then tried to give them some of the wheat, so that their lives may be spared; to an orc, a gift is an even graver offense. Orcs only accept that which they can take through violence and theft, and an insulted orc will err on the side of the former. This has been going on for generations; no matter how many traps they set, there are always more orcs, and a kobold can't hold his own against those mountains of muscle.
Tralamin says that they'll come back after the season, then, but Irving pressures the group to do something about these orcs. Learning from the kobolds that the orcs are completely unable to hold their liquor, the group decides to "allow" the orcs to "steal" the remaining ale, with Irving playing the role of the "victim". Then, the four heroes and the kobolds can make short work of the drunken hordes. The kobolds agree that this is a grand plan, and hold a feast in their honour.
Told it is a custom for guests to tell a story at a kobold table, Robyn regales them with a grossly-exaggerated version of their adventures, claiming to have single-handled destroyed the city of Justice (which, it could be argued, is technically true) and to have rid Firepalm of its dwarfs (which is an outright lie). Fully believing the prowess of their new friends, the kobolds prepare for battle.
Battle in the swamp
Robyn, Tralamin, and Feer wait with the kobolds some distance from the swamp where the orcs have made their camp. Irving drives the wagon into the swamp, and is soon set upon by vicious orcs. Using a smoke pellet to cover his exit, he watches from a distance as they discover the strong spirits within the wagon.
An hour or so later, the kobolds and the four adventurers head into the swamp together. Most of the orcs are passed out, or wobbling pathetically-- quick work for even the most cowardly of kobolds. However, a few orcs have proved to be made of sterner stuff, among them their fearsome leader Worgi, who holds the mighty two-bladed sword The Mouth of Death.
The battle is, in a word, hard-fought. Each of the four come dangerously close to death, and Worgi's armour proves frustratingly difficult to pierce, especially for Feer, who doesn't have the options that magic affords the others. Slowly, however, the half-dead and exhausted heroes manage to eke out the slimmest of victories. Feer claims Worgi's blade as her own, and they leave the swamp to tend to their many wounds.
The kobolds are elated to at last be freed from the orcish raiders. They give the heroes a quantity of darkwheat to take back home as a gesture of good faith, promising to come to Hodam to trade after they have finished celebrating.
Feer, still hungry for adventure and danger even as it brought her close to the reaper's embrace, suggests that they return to the Tomb of the Gnollish Holy Dead to seek out the young dragon imprisoned within, to either vanquish the evil or free it if its imprisonment proved unjust. Telling the dragon-worshiping kobolds only the latter, the quartet adds two of the kobolds to its ranks, and heads back to Hodam so that they might prepare for the challenges that await them.