The naval forces of the eastern empire have been repelled from the shores of Bloodpurse Isle by the combined efforts of its pirate denizens and the underwater inhabitants of the nearby Mermen Bay. This is due in no small part to the intervention of a familiar band of Hodamites, who restored the treaty between the pirates and the mermen after discovering the treachery of the empire's spy, Tallybrooke. Tallybrooke may have escaped-- rumours point to his destination being the Black Spire that lies on the nearby western peninsula-- but the pirate lord Captain Bergris-- Jarmangle's father-- is deeply appreciative and houses our heroes for the next few days, supplying them with ample food and drink.
Too much drink, perhaps-- the dwarven monk Uncle, sworn to bring Jarmangle back east to his adopted human family, finds himself heavily indisposed. Jarmangle and the others decide to take advantage of this, leaving Uncle behind and heading back to the continent. There they'll seek to find the master blacksmith, Orgath Blackhammer, in hopes of having their dragon scales and mementos made into fearsome armours.
Before they leave the island, though, they've two bits of business to attend to. First, they hire a local scallywag to cleanse their vessel of the bloody remnants of their battle with its undead prisoners. Secondly, Irving meets with Captain Bergris about the possibility of opening trade between Hodam and Bloodpurse Isle. Irving suggests that a Hodam pub and bawdyhouse be opened on the island; Bergris is amenable and promises to firm up the details during a future visit to Hodam.
The Gnollish Warning
They arrive on the continent without incident and make their way towards the dense woods where the blacksmith of Bloodpurse Isle said his former teacher resided. At the outskirts of the woods, they are met by a small group of gnolls-- part of a tribe native to these woods.
Our heroes tell them that they seek the blacksmith, and they're given permission to venture into the gnollish woods, provided they adhere to their law.
"Take what you need for sustenance, and do what you must to protect yourselves from harm, but do not destroy wantonly. Follow this law, and you will be a friend to the forest gnolls, and you shall be rewarded with one of our bows; disregard it, and your only reward shall be death."
Tralamin-- an owlbear rug still draped over him as a cloak, and still clad in rotting "pants" made from an elk, accentuated by a severed frogdog tongue used as a sash-- assures the gnolls that this is how they generally operate. Irving quickly promises the gnoll that they'll obey, and the head gnoll warns that they will be watched.
Jarmangle searches for something edible, and comes across some mushrooms that no one in the group can identify. Jarmangle being Jarmangle and Tralamin being Tralamin, they decide to eat them anyway. It has no effect on Jarmangle.
Rage of the Owlbear
As they make their way into the woods, our quintet spies a large owlbear in the distance. A twig snaps off a nearby tree and lands on its head. This infuriates the beast, who begins to "attack" the tree relentlessly until, minutes later, it knocks it over.
Some discussion follows during this time as to how they might get by the owlbear without engaging it in battle-- a battle they could very likely lose. Usually in cases like these, Feer, Jarmangle, or Robyn rushes in and starts fighting, while Irving (and, in his more lucid moments, Tralamin) tries to find a creative solution. In this case, the roles are reversed; Irving seems strangely resigned to fighting the beast, while Robyn and Jarmangle provide the solution: Jarmangle sends his dire falcon after the beast and Robyn uses a explosive smoke pellet to drive it towards an adjacent bog. The rushing owlbear sinks in the heavy bog, writhing and snarling all the way, until it disappears forever.
In the same bog, they see a half-sunken wagon. Tralamin casts a spell over himself and Feer, enabling them to walk on the bog without sharing the owlbear's fate. To protect his owlbear "cloak", Tralamin leaves the rug beside the bog.
The mushrooms Tralamin ingested begin to kick in; as he and Feer make their away across the bog, he "hears" glimmers of light singing about how "awesome" he is. Once within the wagon, Tralamin begins conversing with a compass he calls Bradbury, who "claims" to have been left there by two halfling bounty hunters. Feer, of course, only hears one side of the conversation, and doubts Tralamin's assertion that Bradbury is a "magic" compass that points towards whomever its bearer is looking for.
That's not the only thing Sherriff Feer starts to doubt with regards to the flightly eladrin; in the wagon, she finds the remnants of a wanted poster bearing Tralamin's name and visage (wearing, as a hat, a dead puppy) but with no crime indicated. She also finds a hefty supply of some strange dust.
When they return to the group, Tralamin hallucinates that his owlbear cloak is a living owlbear. Jarmangle "kills" it, and Tralamin puts it on as a cloak once more. Feer reveals the wanted poster she discovered, and the group questions Tralamin about it; Tralamin is evasive, perferring to focus on his "magic talking compass", who will help them find the master blacksmith in exchange for a sum of gold.
Irving detects that the compass is magical, though Tralamin is the only one that can hear it speak. Feer is slightly perturbed to learn that the "compass" finds her sexually attractive.
Hedging Their Bets
Feer gives the strange dust to the alchemist Robyn, who determines that it is used to reveal faint tracks in the earth. They detect the tracks of halflings emanating from the bog into the woods; the tracks lead in the same direction that Bradbury points. Irving has reservations: what if the compass is really pointing towards the halflings that Tralamin says "he" is angry with? But the group decides to follow them for the time being.
Both tracks and compass point bear them North-West, but just off to the East they spot a stone cottage. On close inspection, it's revealed to be the home of Ograth Blackhammer, the Master Blacksmith. Now the others join Irving in doubting the compass's veracity, and "Bradbury" has fallen silent as Tralamin's mushrooms have worn off.
There's no answer when they knock on the door. Peering in the window, they see that it is unoccupied and in obvious disarray; there's been a struggle here. Robyn's dust reveals dozens more tracks, all around the cottage, and a bottle of Hodam Ale that should, by rights, not be this far south. These new tracks converge with the halfling tracks, and our heroes head once more in that direction.
All the tracks disappear at the banks of a small but fast-moving river that rages through the woods. The five adventurers would be able to swim across it with no great effort, but their horses would have trouble fighting the current. Irving summons a wind and directs it underwater as a sort of counter-current, allowing all of them, humanoids and horses alike, to cross.
The Ants and the Plant
On the other side, they see a grisly scene; an orc lies draped over a rock, his armour ripped open. They soon determine the cause-- sharp-mandibled giant ants that suckle some sort of nectar from a strange plant. Jarmangle sneaks ahead and attempts to move the orc's body closer to the group so that they might inspect it. In trying to move the heavy orc, however, he draws the attention of the ants. The plant itself makes a strange noise, and more ants crawl out of the woods, apparently to defend it.
As our quintet fight for their lives, they soon determine that the plant is the major threat, and try various ways to destroy it. Magic missiles, warlock curses, bardic spells, and weapons both thrown and shot from a bow prove ineffective. More and more fresh ants heed the plant's call for help, while our heroes get progressively weaker and weaker.
Finally, Irving conjures a hand that rips the plant up by its roots. As he does so, the ants screech and fall over, losing their balance. Feer takes pity on the creatures and examines them. She determines that they're not in any pain, and that they'll likely survive without the plant.
The Orc's Secret
Irving uses a powerful spell that they found on the body of the headless dwarf from whom they borrowed The Eve of Destruction. This spell enables him to see the orc's last moments through its eyes. Sure enough, he was attacked by the ants. But that's not all Irving sees; he sees a number of other orcs, and a particularly feisty looking dwarf.
Studying the destroyed armour of the orc, Tralamin determines that it's a match for same worn by the orcs they fought in the swamps near Kobold Pocket. They only won that victory, and just barely, after tricking the orcs into consuming massive quantities of Hodam Ale. Now they understand how that empty bottle got outside the blacksmith's cottage.
Jarmangle is the only one among them who has not tangled with the orcs; he resolves from looking at the corpse that they don't look so tough. And now that Feer weilds the mighty Mouth of Death, and Robyn rides a skeletal steed-- both former possessions of the orcish war-chief-- surely, they'll be more than a match for whatever remains.
The Halfling Bounty Hunters
As they follow the orcish tracks and the compass point, they hear muffled cries for help just off the path. They decide to investigate, and find two halflings tangled up in the web of a gigantic spider. The halflings are fading in and out of consciousness, apparently drugged by spider-venom.
Tralamin suggests that they just leave the halflings there, so as not to deprive the spider of its meal. Irving pushes the spider harmlessly off its web and they cut the halflings down. Robyn and Feer administer healing to counteract the spider-venom, but the halflings do not regain consciousness.
Searching the halflings, Robyn discovers a scrap of papers bearing a list of names; at the top of that list is Tralamin. Again, the group attempts to get some answers about the warlock's past; again, Tralamin evades and instead suggests that they leave the halflings there to be eaten.
They decide to take the halflings with them instead; Feer ties them to the back of one of the horses.
Soon the group comes across the scene of a pitched battle; orcs and gnolls alike lie dead and bleeding. The head gnoll, who has been following them, greets them dourly, and proclaims that this time, the orcs have been particularly egregious in their tresspassing. He shall ride to the other gnollish tribes, and make a true war against the swamp orcs.
Before he does so, however, he determines that the quintet have heeded his warning, and rewards them with one of his tribal longbows.
The woods give way to the orcish swamp as night begins to fall. They leave all the horses save Robyn's undead horse at the edge of the swamp, along with the halflings.
Soon, they meet the orcs and their blacksmith captive, and the battle is one of the hardest they have ever fought. Robyn and Feer, bearing the treasures of the fallen orcish war-chief, are particular targets but it is Jarmangle, unprepared for both the brutality and the tactical cunning of the orcs, who falls and finds himself near death. Feer attempts to heal him with the scepter she took from the Gnollish Queen of Peace, but discovers, to her horror, that his demonic blood is immune to the holy scepter's power.
Robyn rears back on her skeletal steed and rides across the battlefield. She jumps down to his side and using her bardic magic, brings him back from the reaper's grasp. Jarmangle, typically, uses this as an opportunity to hit on the comely elfin bard.
Though their wounds are many, the five do manage to defeat the orcs and rescue the blacksmith.
It turns out that the orcs abducted Blackhammer to create a new sword to replace the stolen Mouth of Death, for it was Blackhammer who, in his youth, created that dark blade.
En route back to the woods, they run into a couple of unpleasant surprises: first, the halflings and their other horses have disappeared. Secondly, the gnolls have banned Blackhammer from the woods, for it was he that brought the orcs upon them. Our heroes suggest he take up residence in Hodam, which they assure him is slightly less cesspool-y since they came to town. Irving and Robyn circle around the forest, moving all the way south to get The Eve of Destruction while the others make camp on the edge of the forest. Irving and Robyn come up the Great River, pick up the others, and they all sail back towards Hodam.