The creature skips across the road and keeps under the trees on the right side of the road, four hexes from Enrico and Sofia. It has six legs. It's huge tongue, about three feet long, snickers in and out of its mouth as it contemplates the party.
The party finds the path turns to the left of Cauldron Mountain and ends in a river bed and gravel field, with interspersed plants and trees growing throughout. Sofia sees something odd just eighty feet ahead and moves to investigate it: she sees the bases of three pillars, with no pillars atop them, dating perhaps from the Greek or Roman periods. They are placed across the bottom of the stream bed.
As she sees these, nine hexes behind her (a fairly safe distance, regarding giving yourself away), are Kismet and Enrico. They have just heard a very large sound in the direction of 0315, ahead and to the left, but immediately there is no evidence of anything there; whatever it was, it was big. They are not surprised, however (Kismet rolled a 5).
Sofia comes within five hexes of an orc who is working in a clearing about fifteen feet across, a wide place in the trail as it were. As near as she can tell, she has not been discovered. The orc is humming to itself, a curiously familiar tune that Sofia cannot put her finger on. Apparently, the orc has just killed an antelope, which it is in the process of freeing of its entrails. The orc has its back to Sofia.
It is dressed in the manner of an Oriental; instead of a yalma, he is wearing a heavy shirt, baggy pants and a four-inch wide beaded belt around his waist. He has removed his jacket, which appears to be embroidered silk. He is also wearing heavy leather boots, which must weigh at least three pounds each by the look of them.
He's a fairly large fellow; you would guess he to be about six-foot-six or thereabouts, weighing at least 300 lbs. You don't know enough about orcs to guess his age, but he is certainly no older than a mature male.
It is still the 20th; the day is still cool, the sky clear and there is no sign of rain. You set out for the southern Bolat Range, which you can distantly see. Coming at it from the north, you will be approaching the cuestas from their gently sloped backs, so that you cannot see the cliffs (these would look out over the sea).
For most of the afternoon, you will follow a clean, trimmed pathway created by the loggers, until that gives out about three miles south of the carter's post. The path continues, but now it has begun to grow over, as the loggers have not worked this part of the forest this season, and perhaps most of the last. The forest closes around you and you feel the slope as you begin to climb perhaps a hundred feet an hour.
Night comes as this second pathway quits, so you make camp near a bare karst outcropping surrounded by trees, which provides good shelter. The journey so far has been easy, but you can see from the forest that the next day will not be. Standing on the top of the nearby rocks, you can see the ridge to the south, a line of three humps extending from the northeast to the southwest (or, to put it another way, the nearest hump is on your left and it grows farther away towards your right). The nearest ridge, you would guess, is about 1,500 feet above you and three to four miles away.
Looking the other way, towards the northwest, you see the cliff of a cuesta that is at least five miles from you. The cliff is broken by a bowl in the middle of it, so that you begin to think of it as "Cauldron Mountain." You have no idea what it's real name is.
The next day (the 21st of May is a Sunday), you pick the easiest looking direction through the forest, on the argument that if something intelligent is living out here, it must make its own tracks and trails, as it must emerge from the subterranean occasionally to make hunting trips for extra food. Kismet leads with his machete and you cross through some light thickets and into a series of rocky meadows, separated by further thickets that you must hack through. You are moving generally in a south-south east direction, towards the middle hump on the ridge to the south. You find yourself climbing about 300 feet in the first hour.
Now, at this point, I roll a die to see what you might discover, and roll the unlikeliest chance possible. Weird. On a hunch, Kismet chooses to lead the party up a nearby defile, a stone path between banks that might have been gouged out by a glacier ten thousand years ago. This leads you onto a ledge that overlooks the valley between the back of the cuestas and Cauldron Mountain, about 300 feet over the swoop of the land below. And here you find a shrine.
It is a single block of stone in the shape of a font, weighing in the neighborhood of four tons. It is two feet by four feet, and four feet high, with smooth, masoned edges and a basin in its center that is about five inches deep. On either side of the basin are two gargoyle-like shapes, each about 12 inches high, looking down into the basin as though willing water to appear.
The basin has water in it, about a gallon. This cannot be rainwater, for you're quite sure that it hasn't rained in this country for many days. Moreover, there is a bundle of wildflowers on a small shelf above the basin, bound with twisted grass, that must have been collected that morning. The wildflowers are the same as you've been seeing, mostly dandelions and crocuses.
I'll let you decide what you make of that. There is no evidence of a trail leading immediately from this location, but you are surrounded by an area of bare rock, about a hundred yards wide.
Come the morning of the 20th, the party begins along the road west of Kefe, circling the bay in a couple of hours until ~ with a little directions ~ reaching the cart tracks on the left side of the road that will take them up into the South Karamio Hills. It is a fine, cool day for hiking, with a light rain that lasts until you enter the forest and begin to a gentle climb. It quits soon after.
The hills, you will find, have a sharp drop of fifty or sixty feet on the south side, with a long gentle slope on the north, what is called a "cuesta." Marciana leads the camel(s) behind the party, remarking on the ease of the route, as a cart rack ~ grassy, with ruts ~ leads the way.
She has explained that she has heard the rumors, but doubts if there are any real "cities" to be found. There are many caves in the Yaila Mountains, the term for all the mountains of south Crimea, but only those in the highest ranges are unexplored. These hills where you're travelling now have been tramped over for centuries, so you are unlikely to find anything.
You look about at the thick forest, full of thickets, and find it difficult to believe that there can't be places that might not have remained hidden, even after all this time. The land looks overgrown, with high grass growing into dry thorn bushes, from which emerge tall mastic trees, fat oaks, tangled ash trees and 125 foot pine trees.
Marciana tells that she hasn't spent much time in the bush here, much more on the plains in the last two years that she has been in Crimea; she's been on this road only once before. The thing to worry is the large Crimean lizards; they're fifteen feet long and are known to emerge from the bushes to attack travellers. She is not too worried, however, as this road gets a lot of travellers ~ and that is true, the ruts show a lot of use.
In fact, along about noon, as you've climbed to a point where you can see the Black Sea in the distance, you begin to meet carts loaded with wood rolling down out of the forest, one about ever ten minutes or so. This holds you up quite a bit, as Marciana has to move the camel(s) off the road, keeping them calm and then moving forward again. As such, moving against this stream, it takes about two hours before you reach a tiny settlement called Aknar, where the road ends.
Aknar is little more than a carter's post, with stables for donkeys and mules, granaries for feed grain, huge dumps of logs being brought out of the forest and at least a dozen saw pits ~ that you can see ~ that are right now in steady use. About fifty men can be seen working hard to shave and straighten the logs, some to cut them into beams or lumber, others loading the logs onto carts and some wrestling with the animals to get them into position to be loaded. When a cart is loaded, it begins to descend down the road on its way to Kefe.
After shopping in Kefe for the rest of the 19th, I'll need the party to make some provisions for spending the night in the market town. Sofia can let the new camel handler make provisions for herself and show up for the first day of the month starting tomorrow, the 20th, before you leave. The camel can then be left in the stable of the camel seller and she can arrive there with the dawn, with yourselves, to pack the camel with whatever things you'll want. That will manage Sofia's knowledge deficit decently ~ and you can pay the handler next on the 20th of June.
Let's see, she needs a name. We'll make her Polish, a rational choice for a Catholic in the area, heralding from Lwow, by the name of Marciana Wojik, 22 years old, 5'9, 154 lbs., stats withheld for the moment, not combat trained and without experience for the present. Marciana is anxious to get out of Tartary, where you are presently, and out of the Ottoman Empire generally. She has had many dealings with half-orcs and they get along. She knows the way to Or-Kapi, where the Crimean Peninsula connects to the Dneiper country to the north, thus getting you on your way to the north shore. She's a little unclear as to your motives for moving through the forest as you plan, but her's is not to question why.
Gawddamn, I just found this page! And that led to me searching for the Principality of Feodoro, getting me here. Mangup-Kale is way to the west, at the other end of the range, but of course we can find our own cave-city, can't we?
Let's suppose you hear about these cave cities from the common room stories that go around the inn, how they were cleaned out in the late 15th century by the Ottomans, at least as far as anyone knows. There are tales that some of the inhabitants of these cities took to retreating completely underground, that they are now white-skinned humanoids that do not see the sun but who still have untold riches collected from the days when Tartar emperors ruled the Crimea, perhaps even objects left to them by the Mongols. There might be anything in the depths of unknown tunnels up in those hills!
Anyway, I will leave you with this to mull over, while I go find a name for the two 7 hexes that you wanted to visit. I stumbled across the cave cities looking for a gazatteer of the mountains.