Campaign Logs

The Sunset Vale Saga

By Brian Flood

Chapter 6 - The First Camp

Along the Uldoon Trail

East of Berdusk, The Sunset Vale

Early Evening, 21st Day of Eleint, Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)

Slyvia softly shivers as the temperature begin to drop.  “I should have brought along more warm clothing,” she thinks as she surveys the open area.  She quietly speaks, “Hmm, looks deserted, but you never know.  I wonder if we should spend the night in the open -- it looks like it could get rough if there is no cover, or no wood for a fire.”


Kjira looks around at the area with a dour look on her miserable wet face.  “Wide open vulnerability,” she says, surveying the characteristically bland terrain.  “We would have to move beyond the horizon to hide ourselves from anyone traveling on the road….”


“We should perhaps look for a stream or river nearby, to refill our supplies and to clean off some of this…this…” she motions towards the wet mud and gunk clinging to everyone’s boots and clothes, “this muck from the road.”


Dolak slides off the side of his mount and stretches his back for a moment before turning to Kijira.  “All this open sky and not a rock to take cover around.  We’re wide open here, indeed.  Perhaps we can site our campsite in one of the slight folds around here.  That could help minimize what others might see from a distance.  On the other hand, our guards will still be able to see quite a distance.”


Turning to the group at large, the dwarven smith asks, “Has anyone spotted a small stream or other water source within a mile from here?  Other than what is falling from the heavens,” he adds grumpily.   “I'd not recommend moving more than a thousand dwarf-heights from the road, unless we find something significant like a water source, shelter, or a deep fold in the land.  If we move more than that, we will eat up our daylight, and make our trip tomorrow even longer.  And, we will still be seen by those on the road.  We saw the patrol earlier, and we are only a day from Berdusk.  The risk is there, but not so much as if we were a fourday from Berdusk.  If no one has seen water, I recommend we move about 750 dwarf-heights south of the road and start setting up camp.”


At the front of the party, Darius and Soft-Fang pad over to Alani, “Seems we’re going to stop for the night.  Let’s head back,” and he walks along with her back to the group.


Once back, Darius looks around at everyone, “We need shelter of some sort, a fire, and a defensible position, even if it means just using the wagons.  Then, food and water so we don’t have to use our supplies.  Perhaps Slyvia, Alani, Soft-Fang and I can search for food and water, while Kryian, Dolak, and the rest find a good campsite and get a fire started?”  Darius waits patiently for any response, other suggestions, or short discussion.


Alani nods, “Agreed, Darius.  Let’s hunt for some game and take the opportunity to fill the party’s water skins.  Given the amount of rain over the past few days, the streams around here should be bursting with fresh water,” says Alani, ruffling Soft-Fang’s ears.  “I’ll also build and set some snares, I think we’ll be needing something hot and fresh to eat, rather than the preserved stuff.”


Zell approaches the group without warning, “Searching for a suitable campsite should not take more than maybe a few minutes.  As for where, it might be wise to stay near the road.  However,” Zell turns to Darius, “it might be wise to circle the area before we decide to set down for the night.  The ground is still soft, and any tracks would be visible if we found any.  I will volunteer to go.” 


Zell turns and starts to walk south without looking back.


As Zell starts to leave, Darius speaks up, “Zell, even though there is probably no danger in such an open area, I’d suggest we don’t go off alone.”


“I'll scout about with her,” Cyzicus pipes up as her begins to follow Zell.  “I like to know what's around me before I get too comfortable.”


Cyzicus turns as he trails after Zell on their scouting mission.  “I'll be happy to join you on a watch.  Be back in a bit!”


Zell continues heading south with Cyzicus following her trail.  Cyzicus is soon lost to sight in the tall grass.  Zell, however remains visible from about her mid-torso.  When Zell is about fifty yards away, she pauses briefly and then continues moving.  Another yards later, she appears to stop and turn.  After a few minutes, she continues moving again.


After the pair has made their way from the halted caravan, the discussion continues.  “I think the wagons will probably be all we have for protection,” Kjira says grimly.  “Maybe we can find some higher ground to give us a better advantage, or possibly we’ll get lucky and find a low spot hidden from the road.  I don’t particularly relish the thought of spending the night visible to any brigands that happen to be travelling down the road….As for shelter,” the mage says, looking toward her mule, “I do have a small tent packed in there somewhere.  It will not hold many, however.”


“I agree with you on the wagons,” Dolak says to Kijira.  “We can put the wagons on the road side of the camp to help block the view of the fire--assuming we can find any firestuffs.  We may have to start using horse and mule manure like up north again.  I'd also recommend two guards, one to the north of the wagons (roadside) and one to the south of the fire, where they can see each other.  I've got some line, we can tether the animals to the north side of the wagons.”


Kjira grimaces as the stout dwarf suggests using horse manure for fuel. “I can only imagine the stench,” she says, “and I daresay we wouldn't want to cook over it... I've also got some line, if we need more rope to tether animals or set up camp.  Why don't we scout out a little ways from the road and see what sites we can come up with,” she says looking at Dolak expectantly. “I'd like to get camp set up before it begins to rain again.”


Slyvia nods in agreement.  “I think that we should also look for some firewood, it is going to get very chilly at nights.”  


Dolak shrugs as he responds.  “It does leave somethin' of an aftertaste on anything ya roast, but if you use a covered pot, yer all right.”  Looking off into the distance Dolak says to Kjira, “It appears two of our scouts are out there looking right now, but I am not sure what they are looking fer.” 


Turning to Tomar, Dolak says “Kjira is right, we need to scout out a place now.  Shall we hold up on the road for a short pause until a scouting party finds something decent, or at least usable?”  Looking back at Kjira he asks, “Who that is left should have a look about?  I'd rather we not get too many that far away from Tomar, just in case some trouble does find us.  It would be in bad form to lose our contract first day out.”


Tomar pauses to consider the suggestion before responding.  “Agreed, Master Dolak.  We will stop here until your band can locate a suitable site to set up camp for the eve.  Please do hurry, I would like to dry these clothes before they are ruined.  Oh, and do be sure we are safe in whatever site you choose for the evening.”


Lucas nods, “Yes, we need to make our camp someplace we can defend or at least see anything that would try to approach us.  Also someplace on higher ground in case the rain starts up again.  Let’s try to stay as dry as possible.  I say we make our fire as soon as possible so we can cook our meals and dry out a bit, but we might not want a fire all night as it would attract attention.  As for the watch shifts, I would like to volunteer for the last watch before daybreak”


Lucas moves over to the side of the others when he finished speaking.  He then appears to concentrate and stares off into the distance.     


Rubbing her arms to keep them warm, Kjira looks curiously at Lucas.  “I would agree that we may not want a fire at night because of the attention it would draw, particularly since it appears we will be visible from the road,” she says.  “But with this chill in the air, I dare say it is going to get rather cold once the sun dips below the horizon.  Is everyone prepared for a cold night without a fire?  I should be all right, but I am unsure of the others…As far as the watch,” the lady mage adds, “I would like to be close to daybreak on the rotation, as well.  Perhaps I could have the shift immediately before the daybreak shift…”


Alani looks around at the rest of the party.  “Put me down for a watch, too.  I’d prefer if watches were in twos.  So, I’d like to be assigned a warrior as a ‘partner’ – a useful compliment of skills.”


Alric bows formally at Alani.  “I will volunteer to stand watch with you,” the paladin offers.


As the others speak, Slyvia continues to look around for signs of life.  As the conversation changes to the guard shifts, she shrugs her shoulders, “Any shift is OK with me.”


Hearing the party discuss watches, Darius chimes in, “Soft-Fang and I like to be up in the morning, so we would prefer the last watch.”


“I prefer middle of the night--that way I get to sleep twice," Dolak says with a smirk.

Before leaving for the hunting expedition, Darius turns to the group, “It seems that we have a lot of spell casters, both priestly and mage.  Perhaps the only two who do not are Alani and Alric.  Maybe they should take the middle watch.  Kjira and Lucas should be on separate watches, so should Zell and Sylvia.  Dolak, Cyzicus, Kyrian and myself should also split watches.  This way we can ensure that at least half of us regain spells in case of a middle of the night emergency.  That would mean first shift is Kjira, Zell, Dolak, and Cyzicus; second shift is Alani and Alric; and third shift will be Lucas, Sylvia, Kyrian, Darius.  Given this time of year, I imagine each shift should about three and half hours – that should take us past sunrise with the last shift.”


“Friend Darius!” exclaims Alani.  “My talents in magic, whilst not obvious, are the equal of any here.  However, your watch order is acceptable and I will take the middle watch with Alric as I have not cast any spells that need memorizing” she says. “But come, let us see if we can find some game.  Sleeping on a hungry stomach is never easy.” 


With that, she turns to leave with Darius. “We should be back in an hour,” she says to the rest of the group.  If we're not back by then, come look for us in that direction,” she nods in the direction of the northeast.


Darius, Soft-Fang, and Alani head off into the northeast.  Slyvia splits off from the chosen ‘hunting party’ and slips off into the tall grass on a southeasterly heading.


* * * * *


{Darius’ Hunting Party}


Darius, Soft-Fang, and Alani head toward the northeast.  The move carefully through the tall grass, looking for any signs of game.  After about ten minutes or so, they spot a small band of deer coming from the south side of the road.  The tiny herd races through the tall grasses to the front of the party – out of range of Alani’s bow.  A small flock of quail burst from the underbrush, frantically taking to the air to escape the panicked deer.  The fowl and deer both flee to the northeast, away from the small hunting party.


After about twenty minutes, the hunters have moved about three to four hundred yards without any further sign of game.  Sighing, and realizing the need to return to the party so that camp can be found, the small band turns around and heads back to the main body of the caravan.


* * * * *


{Slyvia’s Hunting Foray}


Slyvia strikes out to the southeast.  She slips through the tall grass with a flight arrow notched to her string.  After about ten minutes or so, she hears a commotion about 30 yards away.


A small herd of five deer suddenly rise from their sleeping place in the grass and begin to race toward the northeast.  Slyvia is surprised at the sudden appearance of the creatures and cannot bring her weapon to bear.  Precious seconds later, she finally draws a bead on the last deer – which is now almost a hundred yards away.  She releases the arrow just as a sprinting black hunting cat abruptly leaps onto the deer.  The arrow tears a groove along the cat’s side and then the animal falls into the grass with an angry howl.  Slyvia curses at her poor luck and then watches as the grass quivers in the area of the wounded cat.


Slyvia decides that it would be wise to avoid a wounded hunting cat and instead retraces her steps back toward the direction of the caravan.  On the way back, she strays slightly to the west, intending to sweep the area about one hundred meters south of the road for any more hidden game.  She comes upon a small thicket of berries.  Rejoicing slightly at this new turn of events, she kneels and harvests several handfuls of the fruit. 


Slyvia wanders northwesterly for about another five minutes before reaching the road.  She glances in both directions and spies the party still waiting about one hundred meters east of where she came out of the grass.  She then walks back to the party.


* * * * *


{Back at the Main Body}


After the hunting parties have departed, Dolak addresses Lucas.  “I seem to remember you were the first to spot the Guard's patrol earlier today.  Would ya be able to use yer farsight now, to find a campsite fairly close in?”


Turning to Dolak after seeming to come out of a trance, Lucas responds. “I am doing that just now mighty Chak.  I am ‘gazing’ about for a suitable campsite as of which you have well as looking for more possible unsuitable encounters.  Give me a minute more and I should know something.”  With that said, Lucas turns back facing outward from the party and enters a tranquil state almost as if meditating.


A few minutes after the hunting parties have departed, Lucas turns to the remnants of the party.  “There is a water source about 500 yards to the north.  It is most likely a pond or pool of some sort.  I suggest we wait until the remainder of our group returns and then head toward that location to establish camp.”  The rest of the party murmurs its consent.


The party waits for the small detachments of characters to rejoin the main body.  About forty five minutes later, Darius, Soft-Fang and Alani return empty-handed from the plains to the northeast.  They report seeing no signs of wildlife – other than a panicked herd of deer that subsequently causes a flock of quail to flee, as well.  They also report finding no water sources to the northeast.


The party digests this information for a few minutes before Slyvia reappears.  The half-elf informs the rest of the party that she came upon a small herd of deer but failed to bring any down.  Then she announces that she has found a small amount of berries to supplement the evening’s meal.  This small victory does little to cheer the waterlogged party members.


The minutes stretch as the party waits for Zell and Cyzicus to reappear.  The party can see Zell’s head and shoulders above the tall grasses.  She is about two hundred meters away and moving in a circle clockwise around the party. 


* * * * *


{Zell and Cy’s Scouting Foray}


Cyzicus slips into the tall grass – most of which reaches to his head or higher -- on Zell’s trail.  He watches the ground and the grass carefully for signs of his passage as he follows in the same general direction.


A few minutes later, when he finds her, he sees a large black, leopard trailing behind her.  At about that time, the cat stops and turns toward him.  Cyzicus thinks, ‘Black Leopard??’  An instant later, he hears as much as feels the growl of the cat as it's shiny red eyes looks towards him.


Zell cannot immediately discern what the cat is growling at – but she expect it to be one of the party members of the group she was traveling with.  Regardless, her hands disappear underneath her long cloak and stay there, “Whoever you are, you might want to come out.”


“Not trying to hide yet,” the halfling says as he continues toward Zell and her cat.   “But I imagine your little friend could find me even if I tried.”


Zell motions her hand towards the cat's face, and the dark beast roams off into the tall grass.  “What brings you here, Cyzicus?”


“Assuming your question refers to my joining you in scouting rather than my joining the caravan,” the halfling replies, “it's quite simple.  I very much like to understand the lay of the land when I'm bedding down for the evening - especially when I'm being paid to protect something.”


Zell raises an eyebrow, “Good answer.  Anyway, I'm here looking for something suspicious.  Those guards back there gave a hair raising issue on the back of my neck.”  Cyzicus soon realizes that Zell's cat is now standing behind him, silently.  “Don't be wary of her.  She's just an overgrown cat that likes to play with halflings.  Do not worry, she won't hurt you, unless you provoke her.”  Zell pulls a blade from underneath, “But I must have your word to keep your mouth shut about her, I don't want that oversized merchant taking what I got left in this world that I can truly trust.”


“I have no reason to reveal your secret - we all have our own.  You have my word on that, and you've no need to brandish a blade to enforce that word.”  The halfling nods to Zell and then begins walking past her to continue scouting.


“Who said anything about threatening you?”  Zell returns the dagger its home.  She turns to her cat, “Scout ahead, and don't start a fight without me.”  The cat disappears into the tall grass.


Zell and Cyzicus proceed for about ten minutes, moving about two hundred yards to the south.  As they walk, Cyzicus is forced to slow his steps in order to keep pace with the Zell who seems to be slowed by the weight of her backpack.  Finding nothing, they randomly decide to begin to make a gradual turn to their left, circling counter-clockwise back to the road. 


A short while later, the angry howl of a hunting cat reaches the duo’s ears.  Hurrying forward, the pair pass a small clearing in which the grass has been matted down.  Following a trampled trail from the clearing, Zell and Cyzicus soon come upon the black leopard.  The cat is sitting on its hauches and licking at a furrow that has been gouged along its left side.  The growls deep in its throat as the two characters near the wounded animal. 


Zell produces a small, carved model of the cat and gently whispers, “Dermanaseen, time for you to return home to heal your wound.”  The cat bows its head as it rapidly becomes a swirling mass of black motes of light which then streak through the air and into the small carving in Zell’s hand.


Zell frowns as she wonders at the cat’s wound.  In the distance, to the northwest, Zell can see the cloaked head of a human-sized individual moving through the tall grass away from the pair of scouts and back toward the party.


Cyzicus and Zell continue their arcing path around the halted caravan, keeping two hundred yards between themselves and the mainbody.  They cross the road east of the main body, arc counter-clockwise around their northern flank, and then cross the road west of the main body.  After almost an hour of movement, the pair returns to a point two hundred yards south of the halted caravan.  Satisfied with their foray, Zell and Cyzicus walk north to rejoin the main body.


* * * * *


Back at the main body, Dolak grumbles something about proper planning and moves into the grass nearby, gripping his axe.  He returns a few minutes later with a bundle of scrub brush and long grass cradled in his arms.  He drops the cargo into his cart with a grunt.  “To start our fire – if we ever GET to that point,” the dwarf growls.  He turns and starts to walk back into the tall grass.  “I’d appreciate some help,” he says, over his shoulder.


Alric sets his rucksack on the ground and follows the dwarf into the tall grass.  For the next hour or so, the two warriors make multiple trips into and out of the surrounding area for fuel.  After amassing a sizable pile of scrub brush and long grass, they pause for breath and a drink of water at the cart.


Finally, about ninety minutes after they departed, Zell and Cyzicus finish their circuit about the party and return to the main body.  When they rejoin the group, Zell is looking visibly winded; her short hair is plastered to her head and her black cloak is thoroughly soaked from both sweat and the dampness of the tall grass.  The pair announces that the area around the party – at a distance of two hundred meters – is clear. 


Alric nods.  “Very well, then.  While you were gone, we organized the watch shifts.  You two will be on the first shift with Kjira and Dolak.  Now, let us move to the campsite Lucas has located.”


The party reforms and heads north into the tall grass.  About twenty minutes – and five hundred yards – later, they come upon an uncharted pool.  It looks as if it is a crater from a forgotten spell battle that has since filled with rainwater.  Glancing at the sky, the party members see that the sun has almost completely set – only a sliver of light remains on the western horizon, providing a pale luminance of twilight as the party prepares to set up camp.

The content of The Sunset Vale Saga are the property and copyright of Brian Flood, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.

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