The first few hours of rest were uneventful, but in the dark hours of the morning Sheeva found herself the unwelcome target of an attempted strangling. Spinning around as she called out to her friends, she found herself facing some sort of hideous spidery humanoid. Well, “hideous” might be a bit rude — by spider standards the being might be quite handsome — but it was unnerving nonetheless. Taking quick stock of their surroundings, the adventurers counted two spidery things and one actual spider, the latter of which Khakun valiantly decided to face alone.
Quwazac’Dun and Sheeva decided to engage in melee combat with the initial attacker, while Altes decided he’d rather use his newfound metal crustacean to deal with the second creature climbing down the nearby cliff face. After a few rounds of one-sided fighting, the encounter ended almost as quickly as it began. Truly, the arachnid creatures seemed so inept at using their webbing as garrotes that one could almost wonder if they had truly been attacking and not simply offering gossamer necklaces to the passing travelers. The combat did serve to remind Sheeva how much worse her armor would be if it was filled with spiders, though.
The remainder of the night passed quietly, and the heroes awoke the next day feeling about as well-rested as one could expect, given that they were probably all suffering from that phantom crawling feeling you get after a bug lands on you. They gathered their things, and very soon they crossed into the rocky Aedar Expanse, where they knew — or at least hoped — they would find Redwater Keep. After a few more hours of travel, Altes decided to send his raven familiar scouting ahead. Through its eyes, he quickly found what they were looking for: a small stone keep atop a flat mesa, surrounded by earthen walls and apparently filled with all manner of flora.
Unfortunately, Khakun also spotted something: a large dust cloud off to the party’s side, as if a group of creatures was kicking it up as it moved about. Sure enough, the source of the disturbance quickly came into view: a roving band of gnolls, accompanied by several hyenas, was headed straight towards the adventurers. The heroes quickly readied themselves for combat, and not a moment too soon, as the gnolls took a knee and let loose a volley of arrows. It was little more than a potshot, and none of the arrows connected, but now they knew that the hyena-humanoids were not here for tea and biscuits.
The fighting was tough; these fierce warriors were clearly better suited for battle than their spidery counterparts. Every hero was bruised or bloodied by the end of it, and Sheeva’s noble warhorse valiantly died defending its rider from the direst of hyenas. She found that the giant beast was still alive, however, and decided that a hyena was a suitable replacement for a horse. She stabilized its wounds and managed to convince it that she wasn’t a threat; after a moment of trepidation the creature seemed to accept Sheeva as her new master…much to the chagrin of the dragonborn ranger, who very much felt that his specialty was being infringed upon.
The party finished the final stretch to the base of the mesa, and found the staircase that would take them to the keep proper. It was incredibly well-hidden; it had been expertly carved into the stone so that, when viewed from below, it would be indistinguishable from the surrounding rock. It was quite lucky indeed that Altes’ raven had spotted it from above, or the heroes might have spent an entire day trying to find the way up. Deciding to leave both the lobster apparatus and the inherited hyena, the group made the long walk up and found themselves standing within the keep walls, at the edge of what appeared to be a hedge maze.
As it turned out, “maze” was a fairly generous term. It was more like a hedge path, with only to real choices: right, which lead the party to an armory or garrison of some sort that seemed to have been abandon in quite a hurry; or left, which lead through a long but linear path to Redwater Keep itself. Along the left path, Altes spotted a thin vine pulled taut across the way: clearly a trap of some sort, he reasoned. He gave it a few hefty tugs from afar with his magic, but after a few moments with no reaction, the party carried on, careful to step over the vine just in case.
Reaching the end of the path, the party saw the far end of the vine tied around a small palm tree, and realized that when pulled it would visibly shake the tree. No sooner had they realized the nature of this alarm system than a group of plant-like lizards appeared from the circle of ferns around the base of several nearby trees. With a hiss, the closest fern lizard spit a glob of goo at Kathra. She immediately realized that she was now blinded, and gave a brief cry of panic before regaining her composure and springing into action. Despite their offensive spittle, the lizards posed little challenge for the group, and were quickly dispatched.
Nearing the entrance to the keep, Quwazac’Dun attacked by a cactus. It was exactly was weird as it sounds, and the dragonborn decided that he was having none of that and swiftly struck the plant down…only to have it explode in a rain of needle-like shrapnel that pierced his skin and set off a second nearby cactus with a loud pop. Quwazac’Dun and Sheeva continued into the building through the main entrance, while Altes and Khakun opted for a more stylish entrance: they secured a grappling hook to the roof and scaled up the side of the building, perhaps mistaking this quest for a heist.
From their vantage point on the roof, Altes and Khakun noticed that the central courtyard of the building was absolutely infested with the strange exploding cacti. Risking a pretty ballsy move, Altes decided to fire an arrow into the plant mass, setting off a chain explosion that sounded more like a cannon barrage than the machinations of desert flora. The cacophonous burst blew out most of the courtyard windows, causing quite a scare for the two inside, but otherwise seemed to do no damage to the structure, assuming your tastes in decor allow for embedded cactus needles in the walls.
Peering into the now significantly emptier courtyard, the party found a large saguaro cactus in the center. Assuming it to be the source of infestation, Quwazac’Dun confidently approached it with the intention of finishing the fight…only to have an elfin face just sort of materialize out of the plant’s surface. Quickly explaining that she is a dryad and this cactus was her home, the party spared the fey creature, who quickly ran outside when Sheeva mentioned that they had battled the fern lizards on their way in.
Pushing further, the party found a trapdoor in the kitchen area leading to a dark, vine-filled cellar. Sheeva bravely — or perhaps stupidly — decided to head down alone, only to have the door slam shut behind her and a leafy hand wrap around her throat. What was it with all these enemies and trying to choke people, anyway? The strange, eyeless being casually tossed her across the room as if she weighed nothing at all, while Sheeva’s companions reopened the trapdoor and made their way down the ladder. The female human was knocked unconscious from the powerful throw, but her companions were able to finish the aberration off as it attempted to flee back up the ladder into the keep.
After stabilizing their fallen comrade, the party ventured outside, where they found the dune dryad — who introduced herself as Keerla — feeding small green berries to the lizards that they had fought earlier, apparently rejuvenating them. She offered a few for Sheeva, grateful for the adventurer’s aid in freeing her from the monster in the cellar. Quwazac’Dun decided then and there that a needle-covered fey creature was clearly the best target for his advances and began flirting with the strange woman, but she seemed as uninterested in that as she was with the finer points of real estate. Oh well. Not every adventure has a happy ending, apparently.