After awaking in camp, the party move out on their last few days of travel before reaching Nivarih. That night, after the party's run in with the bugbears, Cutter had slept away from the group's camp (for reasons explained in the "Game 4" entry). On his personal retreat Cutter had found a curious bobble, a chess piece made of perfect marble. He took the piece, the Knight, and returned to the party before heading off to their destination.
A day outside of Nivarih, and one chat with his party later, Cutter starts to lead the party off the road. Curious, as the party knew they needed to head into town first before setting of to find this hermit, Estus, but nobody seemed to really notice, least of all Cutter. When the party questioned why Cutter had led them into the woods and in the complete wrong direction (East), Cutter merely replied that he was leading the party to where they needed to go, but Cutter himself couldn't think of where that would be. He knew they needed to go to town and then head North, and didn't know why he had lead the party out this way, he just had a feeling.
He showed the group the marble knight piece he had found, and even handed it off to Gormogon for closer inspection, to which Cutter's need to travel East receded and now Gormogon wanted to push East. Handing the piece back to Cutter, the group thought they should at least see what was out there, seeing as how two party members had been pulled this way by just holding the knight piece.
The party traveled for an hour, cutting their way through the woods, when they came upon a clearing. They decided to make camp here for the night, but had spied a large stone tower in the distance. In the morning, they would investigate. And so they did, when the party awoke the next morning they set out for the tower, but upon arriving found it to not be stone, but glass. Ashryn had a memory of one of her mother's stories, of the one time she had gotten lost in this forest surrounding her home. Ashryn's mother had found such a "stone" tower and had stayed for the night before traveling back home. The party investigate the tower, but find it to be empty, save for an old bedroom and a large glass room with a fountain. The party leave, still feeling as though they should travel East. As the part leave the clearing surrounding the tower, cutter feels as though he has reached as far East as he's needed, and looks at his feet.
The party had stumbled upon a slab of stone, cut out to resemble a large chess board but held in the ground as if to look like a stone cellar entrance. Cutter places the knight piece he found on the board, which then ripples like water. As the party talk amongst themselves about what this could be, Cutter correctly deduces that it's a door, and that doors should be entered, for whatever is on the other side usually holds some amount of value. As he walks in, the rest of the party panics and follows after.
Inside the chess board was dark. Pitch black. Lighting a torch, the party found themselves on a ten-foot wide stone path, akin to a bridge with railings and all spanning over a vast nothingness. Xander lights an arrow on fire and drops it into the void, expecting to see or hear a bottom, but there's nothing. What's more, the air didn't smell of earth, nor was there a breeze anywhere. Cutter felt like he wasn't even underground, but somewhere else entirely.
To their side, on the railing, is another chess board, this time small, and with a miniature knight piece sitting on the board relative to where the original piece sat outside. Ashryn takes the piece off the board and the part find that the way back is sealed. Returning the knight piece to the board reopens the passage. The party investigate further, coming to a few cross roads and choosing directions- Cutter and Gormogon even making maps of their travels as to not get lost. The party come to another small chess board at a dead end, this time with a marble white Bishop. The path ahead is open, rippling like water like the passage before, and the party exit only to find themselves in a clearing in the woods.
Was it the same clearing? Ashryn used her Elven awareness to find out that the party had traveled more than two weeks journey away from where they had originally been. The passages "underground" had lead them further away than the mere three hours they had actually traveled. The party leave the clearing and return to the passages, following their tracks back to the knight piece. They exit, and camp for the night at the entrance of the pathway they had cut back when the party first started traveling East. That night, a stranger approached their camp.
The stranger claims to be Estus Glimmerring, and he has been looking for someone. Xander questions him, telling him that the party was looking for him and asking why he's out so far from where we were to meet him, but Estus wont say much else, only asking if the party had experienced anything strange as of late. Cutter tells Estus about the chess piece, to which he replies that it is us he is looking for. The party looks confused. They tell him that we have seen some weird things, beginning with the sponge and working our story towards the tower and the passages. Estus tells them that the passages are known as the "Way", and that they haven't been disturbed in a long time. Estus tells the group of the Way, how it works, and of other oddities the party has come accross. Namely why Ashryn and Xander had both been knocked out and had lumps on the back of their necks at the exact same time way back when they got their first job with Bootlum. Turns out they were attacked and had small crystal implanted in their necks, because they both show signs of having the "spark". Estus says this spark means they can do magic. The party looks confused further. Estus explains what magic is, and reveals to Ashryn that her mother can do it. Ashryn finds this odd, as she had read every adventure that her mother had gone on, and every journal entry she had ever written, Ashryn would have known. The reason Ashryn may not have know however, is that to even say the word brings bad omens that the Magisterium would listen. These people apparently take magic so seriously as to silence anyone that knows about it other than themselves.
Estus tells the group that the Way is too important to let it stay open unguarded. He shares with the party, a way to close it off for good. in good faith, he also extracts the crystals implanted in Ashryn and Xander's necks. Estus says that anything that goes over the railing and into the void surrounding the Way is as good as had never existed. Cutter takes that to mean it would be a good way to dispose of the chess pieces, and the crystals that were once in his friend's necks, for these crystals are said to feed off of the spark within its host, and act as a beacon for the Magiserium to follow and keep an eye on potential victims. As the party declares their next move to close off the Way, Estus tells them that they need to dispose of the chess pieces, all thirty-two of them. Surely some will be gone by now just through the passage of time, but the party has a daunting task ahead of them, to travel the entirety of the Way, or most of it, and throw all but one chess piece into the void.
The party sets out, gathering food and torches for an extended stay in the Way. They gather a few new pieces, and after all but a few torches burn out and with not much food left, they decide they need to exit to camp and hunt. Cutter leaves the portal first, depending on stealth to take a look on what may be on the other side. The party wouldn't even know what time of day it is outside. As he leaves however, it's still pitch black, but Cutter can hear something large shuffling around. He retreats to the party, telling them that there's something big on the other side, but Xander wants to see. He wants to get the meat of whatever it is so we can continue on. Xander leaves first in stealth, followed by Cutter, who can hear and make a guess as to what the creature is- a bear. Ashryn follows behind, and Cutter tries to warnd her and Xander. Gormogon exits the Way with torch in tow, as planned, and the bear notices the party. It's size is massive, with bonny protrusions coming from its spine and shoulders, a Dire Bear.
The fight goes about as much as you'd expect it to go between a dire bear and a party of kids who are only just figuring out their group dynamic. Gormogon rushes in with Ashryn, taking most of the blows like a champ and shrugging them off. Xander stays at a distance, until he doesn't, and move into melee after dropping his bow thirty feet back. Cutter rushes in, taking advantage as the bear now focuses on Xander, the easier target. Xander gets hurt pretty bad, Gormogon took most of the bear's claw attacks but came out ok, that armor and shield we got for him paid off, and Ashryn and Cutter both came out unscathed. Xander took to carving the beast up, and even stripped it of its coat to hand off to Gormogon, who needed a new blanket.