Despite being intrigued by a blazing green ball of fire that arced across the sky, our party decided to first venture north to visit the flaming hills. If we keep the armorer happy, he may help outfit us for many more adventures to come.
The hike was fairly uneventful… until we reached a clearing where a goblin was pinned beneath a tree, calling for help like the poor sap he was. Goblins are nasty creatures, so I would have been content to walk past and leave the thing to his fate. The others, however, informed me that on previous forays beyond the walls of Aiwan, they had formed a loose alliance with a clan of those vile creatures (aside: What smells worse than a dead goblin? A live one!). In accordance with this moral arc, we were obligated to stop and render aid.
To me, this situation seemed too convenient. I assumed some cover and started taking stock of our environment. Off in the distance, I noticed a hobgoblin stumble out from behind a tree, and then clumsily re-assume cover. An ambush! Either the goblin was an ally of theirs, or bait. It didn't matter as we had far more important things to address – namely the unspecified number of enemies in the woods. I alerted the team to what I saw, and we started readying our weapons. Rost, however reached into his bag and put on a necklace. I was stunned by how strange Man is as a species… until he ripped an orb from said necklace and hurled it at the hobgoblin. Instead of thunking like a normal gemstone would, this one erupted in flames. Screams of pain and surprise filled the air as a group of hobgoblins emerged from their hiding places. Two were immediately felled by the fireball, while the others were singed and perturbed. As always, we battled and emerged victorious, but not before one hobgoblin escaped on horseback.
As luck would have it, the trapped goblin claimed to be of the same clan (the Blackfoots) that the party had aligned with. After giving him a bite to eat, we sent him on his way and ventured on.
As we approached the hills, the air started getting hazy and thick with the smell of burning coal. It reminded me of being a child and sitting in my grandfather's den, pipes billowing more than the chimney that I always forgot to clean. Entering a field, we spotted two flickering shapes in the distance charging towards us. As they grew closer, we readied ourselves, for they were elemental in nature, and raring for a fight. And, a fight is what they got! Oz fought like a dwarf possessed, felling both enemies with his prowess.
With that out of the way, we were able to take stock of our surroundings. There were two holes in the ground, and a squat building built against a hill. Much to our surprise, two fiery creatures emerged from the structure and engaged us… in conversation! How refreshing.
They identified themselves as Torch and Campfire, two miners from a different plane. Their kind visits the burning hills to mine for valuable ore, as the heat doesn't bother them. However, this time, as they were returning to their portal they encountered a hallway that was deathly cold. Since they were unable to pass through, they were effectively trapped in our plane… unless a group of good-intentioned adventurers would suddenly appear and volunteer their services. Now, where would you find one of those?
After we volunteered, they briefed us on the layout of the mine. The two holes in the ground were entrances – one a gently sloping entry into the main gallery, while the other a lift shaft that extended all the way to the bottom of the mine. Since the best place to start anything is at the beginning, we decided to start with the gallery and work our way down (and hopefully scoop up any loot on the way).
We encountered various fiery creatures as we cleared the levels, but none presented too significant of a challenge. Before we knew it, we were on the bottommost floor. Unlike the other floors, this lacked the distinct heat and light that we had grown accustomed to. In fact, it was somewhat cold! The keen-eyed dwarves in our party informed us that there appeared to be something coating the walls of the hallway just a ways off from us. Our eyes immediately widened as we recalled a previous adventure into the cathedral where we encountered the same material on some armor. This time, however, there was far more mold, and it was dangerous to approach.
As we brainstormed the best way to attack this problem, I noticed that the light from Rost's lantern was causing something underneath the lift to glint. I peered through the baseboards and discovered that the shaft briefly continued down, as if work on the next layer of the mine had just started before it was abandoned. We raised the lift, tethered Oz to the base of the lift with rope, and lowered him down.
Once below, he discovered a strange body equipped with some valuable-looking armor. As he commenced disassembly, he started to get lightheaded. To the point where he, the proud dwarf, asked for help. We immediately raised the lift, revealing his limp body swaying in the air, his face pale as if he had seen a ghost. Once recovered, he let us know that prolonged exposure to the air in that part of the shaft was the cause of this strange malady. We then shifted to plan B and lowered him into the shaft, only to pull him back up, this time with both the body and armor. Removing the armor on the mine floor was much easier, although we were unable to identify the race of the body.
While the pecuniary-minded of us were liberating the armor, Jorvan and Rost struck upon an idea for how to rid the hallway of the mold. We took a cue from our last encounter with the strange fungus: Rost would use one of his scrolls of protection to guard against the cold and scrape the fungus from all surfaces, gathering it into a pile. Jorvan would then cast a spell to generate a ball of acid to destroy the heaped fungus. To no-one's surprise, this worked! I'm fortunate to have linked up with such a resourceful party.
We explored further down the hallway and discovered the planar portal, just as Torch and Campfire described it. Stepping back, we continued exploring the remainder of the mine.
Since we were immediately drawn to the fungus coating the hallway when we initially debarked from the lift, we missed a nondescript doorway off to the side. Popping open the door revealed a small fiery creature. Unlike the previous times, this was no stroll in the meadow. Not only had our protections run out, this beast was far more hardy than the others we encountered. Rost's cold-iron spear came to the rescue, as not even my perfectly-fired silvered bolts could not penetrate the imps otherworldly hide. The spectral wolves summoned by Jorvan were extremely useful, too. Once cleared, we found a melted pile of bloomery iron – exactly what we set out to find!
We returned to the surface to inform Campfire and Torch of our success, and also delivered a warning about the mold. In thanks, they gave us a handful of gems (which, honestly, was far more generous than I was expecting). Sensing they didn't have a solid idea of just how valuable their reward was, I pushed a little and received verbal agreement of future favors and services rendered. They hinted that life would be easier if we eliminated all traces of the fungus from the hallway. We resolved to revisit it at some point.
Having accomplished all we set out to, and more, we returned to Aiwan to count our spoils and get some nice, river-cooled drinks at the Tasty Pig Tavern.