Defeating the chirogs and rescuing Tuss proved to be quite the adventure. Nilara was safe and Eeshina was reunited with her aneen. On the way back to Aversil, the party encountered a rather odd jack who calls herself Nyx the Wob. Nyx had followed the group and observed their battle from a nearby hillock. Now she travels alongside them, talking to herself (or rather, her transdimensional alternative self called Vyx) in a singsong language that is incomprehensible to anyone else.
As the party reached the edge of town, it became apparent that something was dreadfully wrong. The townsfolk were in an uproar because, suddenly and apparently without reason, the Gold Falls dried up. Residents gathered around the town’s leader, Norama, demanding answers.
Norama tried in vain to quiet the crowd. Hedge pushed through to the front and addressed Norama directly. She had little information to share. The Gold Falls stopped flowing early in the morning, and the river was quickly disappearing as well. Soon the town would be without water, and people will begin dying of thirst. Norama was able to point Hedge and his companions towards others in town who might know more.
The group first visited the Aversil Inn. Frankyl, the Inn’s proprietor, stood behind the bar organizing bottles and polishing countertops. Nilara stood by a fire in the center of the room, stirring a large pot with a spoon longer than her. Hedge, however, was focused on a middle-aged gentleman sitting alone in a corner.
When the group approached the stranger, he was gruff in his manner and introduction. His name was Guthrain, a trapper who had once sought out the headwaters of the Gold Falls. He took a long drag from his pipe before recounting his tale. Years ago, Guthrain found the source of the Gold Falls. High in the mountains, water jetted from a perfectly round hole set in a flat metallic surface. However, when Guthrain approached the hole, strange singing drifted out in long, alien tones. It felt like a warning, so Guthrain fled. But not before recovering a strange silver sphere from the base of the hole.
He offers the object to Hedge and his friends in exchange for 10 shins. Eeshina and Hedge combine their coin to acquire the artifact, while Psirryk, Nyx, and others take turns examining it. The sphere seems to be a sort of key, though to what is unclear.
The group leaves the Inn, and heads to the Skymother Shrine to speak to Enautan. The shrine’s keeper is sleeping under a tree when the party approaches. Nyx immediately assumes napping position, while Hedge tries to gently shake the old man awake. Enautan startles out of his slumber.
Enautan tells a tale from when he was a young adventurer. He and his friend Hilga attempted to find the source of the Gold Falls. However, they never made it past Yellow Lake. A metallic man ambushed the couple on the shores of the lake. They were able to escape before engaging the creature in combat, but Hilga disappeared that night and was never heard from again.
The party’s final stop in town took them to the Aversil Apothecary. Shaniath, the shops owner, has put out a bounty, asking that someone find out why the Gold Falls has dried up. Like most people in town, Shaniath believes the Skymother is punishing Aversil for a perceived injustice. But she is also a practical woman who would like to find a less supernatural solution than appeasing the gods. She sells various supplies to the group and reminds them to dress warmly. The mountain is cold and brutal this time of year.
Nyx leaves the group momentarily and travels around town in search of useful rumors. She discovers that a young boy recently found a path up the mountain just west of town. The party decides to use this trail for their ascent.
The path is steep and difficult, and the five-mile hike to the Gold Falls results in several minor injuries. The once thundering waterfall is now completely gone. Only damp rock and a few rapidly drying pools remain. A tree with leaves – each containing a single blinking eye – grows at the base of the falls. It whispers in a strange language, but Hedge’s orange contact translates the dialect. “Thirsty, thirsty, thirsty…” the tree repeats again and again. Nyx and Itchybald carry small handfuls of water and pour it over the trees roots. The tree responds in kind, sending pleasant images into the minds of any living creatures nearby. Nyx notices a pair of ravage bears and two cubs in a nearby hollow. The party decides to leave the tree and the bears in peace, and continue up the mountain.
Another five miles, a broken nose, and several other delays take the party to the top of Gold Falls, where Yellow Lake lies in silence. The lake is much lower than normal, but still retains water. Fish still swim in the water, all bright yellow, despite otherwise seeming to be of different species. Upon closer inspection, each fish is revealed to have tiny, humanlike fingers on its pectoral fins. They also glow in the dark, like fireflies. The fish are not dangerous however, and even make a good meal. Nyx eats several of them raw. Itchybald catches one and places it in a strange pane of glass that has holes filled with water.
When Nyx ventures too close to the shore, however, an Oorgolian Soldier emerges from the water. The mechanical soldier is lost, alone, wounded, and essentially insane, but Psiryyk manages to calm the creature and communicate with it. Itchybald is able to remove a large rock from the creature’s leg, allowing it to move freely. Eeshina then uses her healing powers to fix any lingering damage the stone might have left. In apparent gratitude, the Soldier begins following the group and even accepts orders from Psiryyk to guard them while they sleep.
In the morning, the Oorgolian soldier offers three cyphers to the party, though it is unclear where they came from. The group then heads further up the mountain. Five miles further, an avalanche strikes, knocking those further behind down and inflicting damage on those caught in its wake.
To make matters worse, the pair of ravage bears the party previously avoided have caught up to the party and attack . Vix is mauled and disappears leaving a pile of clothes in her wake. Hedge throws a water weapon at the nearest assailant, while Eesihna and Itchybald execute a violent onslaught. Nyx and Bartholomew perform a series of savage strikes. The bears fall one after the other and the party is left mostly in tact.
A few more grueling hours on the trail, and our heroes arrive at the source of the Gold Falls. They are now well above the tree-line and trudging through several feet of snow. The freezing, thin air burns their lungs and sunlight does not offer any reprieve from the cold. Clouds come tumbling in from the west in portent of a serious storm.
The dry river bed that the party has tracked ends at the flat face of a metallic, rusted wall set flush with a much higher snow covered mountain. A circular cavity about 30 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep pierces the center of the wall. The interior wall of the cavity is also metallic, but unlike the outer wall, it is without rust, as fresh as newly forged steel. It is covered in unfamiliar symbols, and water stains reveal that the Gold River once issued from the cavity. Now, however, a silvery metallic seal closes it off.
Upon closer inspection Hedge determines that the seal is actually a massive powered door. Using the silver sphere gifted the party by Guthrain, the door is mysteriously opened. The silvery back wall of the cavity doesn’t slide open – it shimmers and disappears from this reality. Unlike what our heroes were expecting, water does not instantly begin gushing out. Instead, an unlit corridor is revealed leading back into the mountain.
Despite the darkness and the distant sound of yelping coming from within the cavern, our heroes light their glow orbs and head into the mountain.
To be continued…