Raiders of the Realms

This campaign is not part of the Farrir world building project, so this podcast will only be added to as and when I have the time. The reason we have decided to put it up is simply for those who might be interested to hear how our group began and how the whole project started. Raiders of the Realms is a massive, sometimes unwieldy, but very good fun, collaboration from almost all of the players in our group. Ten players in a room, it’s quite management task for a DM.

The campaign is set in The Forgotten Realms, hence it not being a part of the canon of Farrir. It is an epic storyline that spans more real time and combined levels than anything I’ve attempted in 25 years of DMing.

For those of you who are interested the original adventure write-ups are included below.

Episode 1 – Of Crabs and Shadows

Strange job adverts have been cropping up in Silverymoon, Sundabar, Everlund and surrounds – Daring adventurers sought. Are you not afraid to stare death in the eye? Do you wish to test the limits of your magical or physical might? Fame and fortune awaits. Apply to…

Many applied.

On the 19th of Ches 1491, The Year of the Scarlet Witch, a goliath named Griac Vemi-Gar, two halflings; Alstromera Whitetip and Cade Tosscobble and a half elf named Bethrynna Innis A’sualen get a message to be at the Bell Market, Everlund at sunrise in a tendays time. Early in the morning of the 29th the four gather and watch as a halfling in a black travelling cape pulls into the market in a pony and trap and tells them to climb aboard. There are some raised eyebrows as the seven and a half foot goliath squeezes onto the narrow wooden bench, but soon the trap is creaking its way along the Everlund Pass.

After a while it turns off onto a less travelled track towards the sleepy village of Ellen’s Creek in the foothills of the Nether Mountains. With the sun now warming the late spring morning the trap enters the courtyard of a dour, grey-stoned keep. The building is the little-known ‘Institute of Reclamation’ and waiting for the adventurers is Constantine ‘Clockworkcogs’ Berryweather, otherwise known as Constant. A grey-haired, wrinkled rock gnome in her 300’s, Constant is the person who had originally interviewed the applicants. She explains that the Institute is a wizards college, of sorts, but it is also a museum and more importantly a safe hold for important objects of antiquity. The characters have been hired, she tells them, to be part of a team that will go out into the wilderness and bring back objects the Institute has ear-marked for their collection. Any treasure they find they can keep minus 10%. In a weeks time the second round of recruits will arrive but for now they are free to explore the village.

Griac and Beth already hail from Ellen’s Creek. Beth is a cleric from The Temple of the Enduring Heart, situated on the hill above the village, whereas Griac works in the local smithy and is regarded as local hero for playing a large part in fending off an orc attack three years back. With their knowledge of the village they help the two halflings get their bearings. Eventually the characters converge on The Vixens Tail, the village tavern. It’s whilst they are having a late lunch that they overhear Tonquist, the village fisherman, trying to convince his friends that there are crabs in the river, downstream, the size of small carts. His friends don’t believe him but the PC’s are curious.

After talking to Tonquist they gather that he had seen two immense disc-like shapes disappearing under the water just before he managed to get a good look at them. Both times he was near a place called the Hollows Rocks. The place gives him the creeps now and he tends to avoid it. In fact the last time he was there he found something that reinforced his fear. About three rides back some adventurers had come into the village asking about the Hollow Rocks, he gave them directions and thought nothing more of it. Recently though, he found the pack of one of the adventurers washed up on the shore downstream from the Hollow Rocks. It is almost six in the evening when the characters set of to investigate the Hollow Rocks.

Forty five minutes later they reach a stretch of the river that becomes faster and more dangerous as it is challenged through eight foot high banks of porous rock. in places, channels and caves have been carved out of the rocks. Two openings in particular look most accessible. Griac lowers Cade, suspended by a rope, over the river bank so the bard can look into the cave and spot any potential dangers. Spotting nothing untoward the characters all shimmy down the rope and begin to edge their way into the cave using the plentiful hand and foot holds to keep them above the water. The passage they head down leads them past a branch to the right but they continue to the left to bring them into the large cavern that Cade first checked on whilst dangling from a rope. There is a shore at the back of the cave made from gravel and crushed shells. Griac wades into the water and helps the other characters over the channel of water to the beach, while they are doing this they hear a splash coming from the passage they passed earlier.

Searching the beach they discover the grim remains of what they assume must have been the adventurers. Three skeletons; bones white and picked clean by something. There are scraps of armour, as well as a shortsword, a mace, a silver dagger, 38GP, 16SP and a potion of cloudy green liquid with a bubble that resembles a jellyfish. Griac watches the cavern and river whilst the others hastily gather the small treasure into their packs. Whilst he is watching he sees a shape break the surface of the water near the entrance to the cave and then disappear under the water. Warning the others they turn to see three gigantic river crabs rising from the water in the middle of the cavern. Behind them the smaller shape breaks the surface again and they see that it is some kind of hideous fish man carrying a vicious looking trident. He shouts something guttural and unintelligible before swimming fast towards the characters. The crabs also advance.

Alstromera reaches into her component pouch and takes a pinch of sand between her fingers whilst muttering strange and soothing words. A misty haze descends on the crabs and the central one falls into a deep slumber and disappears below the waves. Beth reacts next calling on Ilmater’s power as she sends a flash of brilliant white light towards the crab on the characters right, which frazzles and explodes spraying cooked crab meat all over the cavern walls (10XP Drama). By now the last crab has reached the shore and snaps viciously at Griac grabbing him round the chest and holding him tight. The Goliath exerts a force of will to stave off injury and swings his mace into the crabs carapace between its eyes. Shell shatters but the crab maintains its hold on the huge fighter. Cade’s rapier fails to pierce the thick shell of the crab, but for the second time the smell of cooked crab fills the chamber as the warlock hurls a beam of crackling energy and the last crab falls.

The hideous fish man has made it halfway across the cavern already and before they can celebrate the characters see two more crabs rising from the water behind him. Cade attempts to demoralise the creature by calling magically-laced insults in its direction, but there is no noticeable affect. Alstromera has more luck with another bolt of wicked eldritch energy. The creature howls in pain, but rushes on towards the shore. As it steps onto the gravel it lowers its trident and charges at Griac. The goliath manages to avoid being bitten but the trident gashes his side. Beth and Griac then launch a vicious counterattack piling into the hideous creature from both sides allowing Cade to finish the fiend off with a rapier to its kidneys. As the creature dies the other crabs sink below the surface.

Griac hacks off a huge pincer to carry back and vindicate Tonquist as well as to offer assurance to the fisherman that it is now safe to return to the Hollow Rocks (15XP Roleplaying).

When they return to The Vixen’s Tail it is evening and many of the patrons are merry with drink. Tonquist is over-whelmed with the news, but as the characters sit down to a well-deserved drink they hear an argument from the bar. It is the owner of the general stores, Porterpike, a sour old Chondathan man who looks much older than his fifty five years. He is well known for coming to the Vixen as soon as he has closed his shop and drinking the long hours away. Usually he is silent, not talking to anyone, but today he is shouting at a young farm hand standing at the bar, accusing him of killing his son. The tragedy that has led Porterpike to drink is well known and the patrons are currently keeping their eyes down on their drinks.

The characters make their way to the bar and Griac places his immense form between the two men. The farm hand who is known to Griac (in fact he is Botrim Halstead, son of Longston Halstead owner of The Lost Luck Farm) and he mutters apologies and wanders off. Griac buys Porterpike a drink whilst Cade adjusts his lute and climbs onto a stall next to the shopkeeper. Through some gentle probing the charismatic halfling manages to discover that fifteen years ago Porterpike’s son was playing with three other village lads; Pannas, who is now a guard in Sundabar, Ghildred, who has joined the monastery and taken a vow of silence and Botrim. The three of them dared his son to enter The Dark House, a place feared by the villagers and untouched since a tragedy befell it fifty five years before that. As the story goes a travelling merchant bought home for his wife, a beautiful perfume bottle that he has picked up in Waterdeep. The bottle was said to have come from Thay, but when it was opened, the rumours claim, an evil spirit was released killing the merchant and his wife.

The shopkeeper goes quiet and looks as if he is going to withdraw into himself when Alstromera climbs up on the stool the other side and together the two charming halflings fix him with easy smiles and innocent eyes. He sighs, almost regretfully, and recounts a fable, which he is sure is nothing but nonsense. The perfume bottle is said to be in the house still and if the words ‘bright stars, dark glass’ are uttered whilst holding it, whatever haunts the house can be trapped within the bottle. It is late and the characters bid Porterpike goodnight.

Bethrynna has heard tales of The Dark House and has an idea that the evil spirits inside may be Shadows, she resolves to study at the temple before sleeping. Griac makes his way to the large hayloft that doubles has his sleeping quarters in the smithy whilst the halflings head to the Institute where they have been offered rooms in the cloisters.

Once at the institute they knock on Constant’s office door and find her still working. They show her the trident, picked up from the fish man and the strange liquid. She tells them that if they head down the stairs under the east tower they will find a dwarven alchemist called D, he is the man to talk to. D is one of the craziest figures they have ever seen. He stands about four feet high and four feet wide and has a crazed shock of bright red hair which sticks out from his head in all directions, his beard does likewise. He is currently wearing a blacksmith apron and huge leather gauntlet, the room smells of sulphur and he is covered in blackened soot marks.

When asked about the potion, he dares them in a manically jovial, booming voice to take a little sip, promising it won’t kill them. After some hesitation Cade eventually lifts the cork and is over-powered by the smell of the ocean. Taking a sip, the magical nature of the contents transfers the knowledge to Cade that if he were to drink the entire contents he would be able to breath underwater. The trident greatly interests D and he asks if he can borrow if. It belongs, he tells them, to the Sahaugin, an evil sea-dwelling race. What one was doing so far inland though is quite beyond him.

Meanwhile Beth has been pouring through books in the temple library (10XP Roleplaying) and has found information that seems to confirm they are dealing with Shadows. These malevolent beings suffocate the life out of those who enter their domain. If these people are of a ‘good’ nature their spirit is corrupted and they rise to become another Shadow.

The next morning the characters meet in the market and swap information. Alstromera deduces that they are likely to face four Shadows if they enter The Dark House, the original one that came from the bottle, the merchant and his wife and Porterpikes son (25XP Solving).

They stroll up the west road and stand outside the malevolent presence of the last house on the street. It is crumbling but still solid, the garden has been entirely overgrown with shrubs and weeds and the door and windows have all been boarded up. Alstromera suggests that they let as much light in before entering and asks Griac to pull all the boards off the east side of the house (10XP Solving).

Opening the door Cade enters the first room with his silver dagger drawn, Alstromera follows and quickly casts faerie fire into the room. There is nothing in the room save a hearth in the centre which now gives off a dim blue light. Beth enters illuminating her holy symbol with a light spell and finally Griac squeezes in through the front door. This room is the height of the house, but as they make their way through a door to the next room the ceiling is only six foot high and Griac finds himself severely stooped.

An old cabinet begins to glow blue as Alstromera maintains her spell and a humanlike outline also begins to glow. It shrieks as it realises it has been discovered and flits quickly through a gap in the door leading to the back room. Hurrying after it they see it disappearing upstairs and all give chase.

In what was once the solar, another Shadow shrieks and joins the first heading towards a gap between the door which leads to the final room of the house. Griac swings for it, but in the cramped conditions his mace smashes the window on the west wall splintering the boards and casting more light into the room. Alstromera blasts the Shadow with a crackling beam of energy before they both slip into the last room. Just then her faerie fire spells expires and they enter the final, dimly lit room.

Inside is a bed against the east wall and a bedside cabinet. Griac senses cold ghostly hands try to grab his face and pulls away just in time, but within moments the characters start to get overwhelmed as the four shadows flit around the room circling trying to wrap themselves around their prey. Griac wrests the dressing table away from the wall and a glass stopper skitters across the floor. A Shadow latches onto him draining his strength, but with another surge of willpower Griac resists the necrotic damage of the undead.

The shadows close in.

Griac and Alstromera, both get attacked this time and Alstromera’s already slender strength becomes drained and Griac becomes weakened further. Cade rushes for the bed and underneath he spies the perfume bottle. Grabbing it he darts to the stopper nimbly ducking a Shadow’s reach. Holding the bottle aloft he yells “bright stars, dark glass” (15XP Drama). There is a split second silence then shrieks and howls as the Shadows are sucked into the bottle. Cade pushes the stopper in tight and the characters collapse against the walls of the room in shock and relief.

Episode 2 – Tree-huggers and Feathered Friends

Seven days pass as the adventurers recover from their encounter with the shadows. Cade though, feels worse and worse until it is suggested that maybe the bottle of perfume with the four shadows trapped inside is making him feel weak. He takes it to the temple and they confine him to a room for a few days and confiscate the bottle. Over that time Griac has turned the crab claw into a reinforced maul. He is leaving it at the tannery for a week to go through a hardening process.

On the 28th of Ches, Alstromera, Bethrynna and Griac get a message from the Institute to come for a meeting. Awaiting them are three new recruits. A large, well-built Illuskan picks his fingernails with a dagger and nods at them as he is introduced as Garrett. A tiny gnome, wrapped in tight cloth straps scowls at them, she is introduced as Windstrike and seems as tightly wound as her attire. Bethrynna recognises her from the monastery. Lastly there are a few, quickly disguised, gasps as the final recruit is introduced. Sitting in the corner a dark hood pulled up over her even darker skin is a Drow who goes by the name Aklime. She utters a greeting in a husky elven accent.

There is still no assignment; according to Constant the Institute is still trying to find one last essential recruit before the team is ready. She dismisses the team and they file out into the courtyard, providing each other with hasty introductions. Griac explains that they have heard rumours about a place called Bhaal’s Finger and everyone agrees that an outing together might help bond the team a little further. So they make their way to Sal Tammidy’s farm. Four years ago Griac led a resistance against an Orc attack on Ellen’s Creek and although many villagers were saved, Sal’s father was one of the unfortunates to have been killed. Despite this Sal is pleased to see Griac and his company, although she does raise an eyebrow at a Drow walking through her farm. Sal is a beautiful woman in her late twenties and has many men in the village wooing her. They thought she should marry after her father died but she took on his business and it has gone from strength to strength. Currently though she has a problem. Some of the best grazing land is near a sharp outcrop of rock known as Bhaal’s Finger and since an old shepherd known as Mok the Lame went missing none of her shepherds will go near the place. She offers them 10GP each if they can find out what’s going on and convince her shepherds that it’s all ok. Aklime smoothly suggests 20GP each (10XP Roleplaying), Sal smiles nervously but explains that she couldn’t pay any more.

As the companions head into the village market they see some kind of argument taking place near the Shrine of Silvanus. Lasslantius the village druid is being surrounded by three woodcutters from the lumber mill. Gnarled Pete, Corrim Tannow and Big Sal are demanding that he come with them to settle a dispute with some druids in the forest. Hugo Paltrim, the village’s dwarven constable, is desperately trying to calm things down. Making their way over, the companions ascertain that somehow the woodcutters have upset three druids who live in the forests where they log. The druids have banned them from entering the forest. Hugo is worried that it will have a devastating effect on the economy of the village, but Lasslantius doesn’t think the druids would suddenly become so militant with no good reason. He doesn’t believe the woodcutters are telling the whole picture and won’t go to mediate until they have gone to apologise to the druids. Hugo spots the companions and is already aware of their rising status within the village, he offers them 800SP if they can make the woodcutters go and apologise and somehow sort this mess out.

Deciding that this is more pressing than the shepherds, the six companions do some shepherding of their own and make the woodcutters lead them to where they can find the druids. They walk for a couple of hours upstream until they come to a place that is fairly obviously the cause of the disagreement. About a hectare of forest has been lost to a fire and the woodcutters have become very red around the collar. Approaching them through the soot and ash are two figures. The first is an elderly human with a long grey beard, he carries a large staff. The second is a halfing, dressed in little more than scraps of green cloth, he carries a nest of blue tit chicks that he is feeding caterpillars to. Between their legs a weasel runs back and forth, squeaking at the top of its voice, Windstrike has never heard a weasel with quite such a capability for swearing. The halfling shouts out that if the woodcutters have come to fight them they will need a better army that this “bunch o’ raggle taggles”.

The companions assure them they are here in peace and Griac pushes Corrim Tannow onto his knees at which point Corrim begins to blurt out an apology for the fire, claiming they didn’t mean it to get out of control. And so begins a terse round of negotiating. The Druids, Gilbert the Oak and Auton Vinetangle, claim that its not just the recent fire; the woodcutters have been logging more and more indiscriminately and on top of that seem to have lost respect for them and ignore their requests. Windstrike kick-starts a set of proposals that will minimise the effect on the forest and asserts that they will act as guarantor (10XP Solving) Slowly suggestions are made that there should be logging quotas, replanting schemes and even that the woodcutters should spend more of their time in some of the less profitable forests.

The Woodcutters claim that they need to take at least fifty trees a year to keep the village going, but the Druids are not happy with this. Garrett makes a comment that perhaps the Druids “need to move with the times” (10XP Roleplaying) at which point the weasel suddenly morphs into a svelte flame-haired elf, who is anything but genteel as she launches herself into Garrett’s face screaming about how; “if it wasn’t for bollocksing humans the world wouldn’t be in as bad a shape as it is.” Despite this little set back the negotiations continue, but Russet the flame-haired elf now joins in the debate and refuses flat out to allow the woodcutters naked flames on site. After much moaning, this point is finally conceded and a deal is struck. Alstromera makes the point that the druids can send messenger owls to Ellen’s Creek to provide updates.

[3000XP was awarded to the players for the completion of this role play based scene. More XP than they would have got for simply defeating the druids in combat. Windstrike and Alstromera also pick up 15XP (Roleplaying) each for finding the majority of the bargaining points.]

Once back at Ellen’s Creek the companions stop to eat at the Vixen’s Tail. They ask Helena if she has heard any rumours regarding Bhaal’s Finger. She says she can only pass what she has overheard the shepherds saying whilst they’ve been in the Vixen. Even before Mok the Lame went missing there were reports of strange sounds, everything from children crying, tortured screams and eerie, beguiling singing.

Soon after, the six of them are making their way up the sheep track into the foothills of the Nether Mountains. The pleasant spring weather has been continuing unabated and today there are blue skies with the common bands of white clouds that scud off the tops of the gigantic peaks. The track splits so that one path heads off towards the Everlund Pass, stretching throughout the hills below them like a ribbon. The other leads up towards the mountains straight towards a pinnacle of sharp rock that points into the sky like a finger. One side of the finger is a very steep, but traversable, climb over heather, gorse and broom. the other side is a sheer drop of about 100 feet. After a brief debate as to whether they should look for Mok the Lame at the base of, what they are fairly sure must be, Bhaal’s Finger, they decide instead to head straight up.

In a few moments the sound of children giggling can be heard spilling down on the wind from somewhere up ahead. About halfway up the pinnacle there is a particularly dense thicket of gorse and broom and the companions have the feeling that the laughing is coming from something pretending to be children. Garrett sends a warning shot up towards the bushes, his arrow catches the wind and is taken harmlessly off the side of the finger, but the laughter stops and they see some of the bushes shake as something appears to move through the undergrowth away from them. The companions press onwards.

Reaching the midway point they push through the bushes until they emerge at the other side, ahead of them, right near the pinnacle, they can see a narrow cave opening which cuts back down into the finger, but before they can really take it in a beautiful, haunting music distracts them all. Swaying hypnotically for a moment they manage to snap to their senses. All, that is, but Griac and Aklime who start to run towards the sound. The sound, of course, is coming from beyond the finger. Reacting instantly Bethrynna races after Aklime as Garrett charges ahead shouting and waving his arms in an attempt to drown out the noise of the song. Windstrike leaps onto the goliaths back and tries shoving her hands over his ears. At the same time two arrows fly from the cave opening narrowly missing Garret and Griac. From beyond the tip of Bhaal’s Finger a hideous shape ascends on vulture-like wings. She is naked and has a disturbing elven beauty to her, but her hands are gruesome talons and her legs are those of a vultures from the knee down. Her hair lies lank across her face as she keens in a seductively, plaintive voice.

Realising that Griac is going to charge headlong over the cliff Garrett throws his arms around the huge man, biceps bulging, he digs his heels into the ground to halt Griac’s run. Alstromera’s eyes begin to glow with a green light as she summons the power of her fey patron and blasts the winged horror with eldritch force. The thing looks pained but it doesn’t stop singing. From Griac’s shoulder Windstrike whips out a dart and throws it through one of her wings, still the singing continues. Bethrynna has now got a hold of the dark elf, literally inches from the hundred foot drop.

Without warning Alstromera watches as two strange cowled figures dart from the cave entrance. One stabs at Garrett with a shortsword that glances off the big man’s leather tunic, but Bethrynna is not so lucky. She lets out a scream as the creature’s sword finds a gap in her chain mail and opens up her side. Bethrynna’s vision swims as blood pours from the gash, she is close to loosing consciousness, but with a valiant surge of willpower refuses to let go of Aklime even as she falls to her knees (20XP Drama).

Grunting with workman-like distain Garrett shoves his left forearm under Griac’s belt as he unsheathes his shortsword with his right hand, with his sword pointing backwards he then stabs behind him and nods with satisfaction as he hears his attacker groan and stagger away down the hill (15XP Drama). Alstromera still has her glowing green eyes fixed on the winged monstrosity and this time she unleashes another bolt with even greater force than the first (10XP Drama). Screaming in anguish the hideous creature plummets out of sight resulting in Griac and Aklime awakening on a precipice. Immediately Aklime can see that Bethrynna has almost sacrificed herself to stop her falling over the edge and she helps the cleric to her feet. Griac in the meantime can see the creature recovering and banking round and is two minds as to whether he should just jump onto her back from where he stands (10XP Roleplaying), instead he clubs Bethrynna’s attacker with his mace sending it down the hill to join its friend. The companions can not make much out about these creatures other than they have huge black beaks protruding from their hoods. Windstrike leaps from Griac’s shoulders, she hits the floor in a forward roll and by the time she is on her feet her shikomi-zue is unsheathed and in the belly of one of the bird beings. Before it has hit the ground, dead, she has wiped her blade, sheathed it and is walking away (10XP Drama). Bethrynna casts cure wounds on herself and a blue light shimmers across her body as the wound closes and the bleeding stops.

Suddenly the winged creature bursts over the lip of the precipice and tears her talons down Aklime’s back. At the same time the remaining beaked creature runs for the shelter of the cave, taking another heavy club from Griac’s mace as it runs past him. Bethrynna responds quickly to heal the drow, using up her last spell in the process.

Realising she has met her match the vulture woman soars over their heads and tries to escape over the steep sloped side of Bhaal’s finger. Garrett reacts first loosing an arrow into her thigh, then Alstromera, whose eyes are are almost orbs of green light now, with her hair swaying on unseen magical currents lets out another blast of power that literally engulfs the beast. Still she beats her wings and her escape seems assured. Then Aklime whips an arrow from her quiver and narrows her eyes. Under her breath she bites off the words “no one charms a drow”. Her arrow streaks through the air straight through the creatures skull and it drops like a dead weight into the heather below (15XP Drama).

Garrett loots the bird creature, which they see has the head of a raven, but the body of a small humanoid apart from the bird-claw-like feet. He find a few coins on the creature.

Cautiously the team enter the cave and see before them, after a steep climb down a rocky path, a small cavern full of huge man-sized fungi. Aklime assures them that they are harmless, they grow all over the underdark. Garrett points out that of the two narrow paths that go around the fungi close to either wall the left hand one looks much more travelled. At the same time he spots a glint of silver on the right hand side and curiosity gets the better of him. He strides over and scoops up a silver necklace from the ground, but suddenly feels a terrible stinging sensation as something whips at his neck. Hidden among the brown fungi is one vivid purple fungus with four lashing tentacles. Luckily for Garrett the other tentacles seem to get tangled up giving him time to stagger back to the others. His neck is in a bad way, looking like the wound has almost gone rotten. As the cleric is all out of spells he thinks it prudent that he wait for them down the bottom of the hill. The others make their way cautiously along the left hand path and at the other end of the cavern see a narrow path descending further down. Two of the beaked creatures, one very injured, are cowering in the passageway. They throw down their weapons in surrender. Griac takes this as a sign that it is over and heads out to make sure that Garrett is ok.

As the rest try to make their way past the two cowering figures they shake their heads urgently and make a pantomime of some scary creature up ahead. Aklime and Bethrynna grab one each around the back of the neck and force them to lead the way. As they make their way down the passage the reek of rotting flesh becomes almost unbearable.

They come to a cavern that turns even the strongest stomach. Animals carcasses and parts of humanoid bodies litter the floor. Aklime shouts a warning as her keen eyesight picks out a hunched figure with grey skin. It charges at them, once it realises it has been discovered, sharp teeth fill a mouth from which protrudes a long pointed tongue. Windstrike slashes with her blade but the creature dodges only to receive a sharp kick to the leg from the gutsy gnome. As it tries to regain its balance Bethrynna clubs it with her mace. The disgusting horror then falls upon Bethrynna sinking its teeth into her neck. Bethrynna pushes at the creatures shoulders and sees the blade of a shortsword protrude from its chest. As the thing falls to the floor Bethrynna sees Aklime cleaning her blade. “I think we are even” the drow say with just a hint of a smile (15XP Drama).

During the battle the bird figures managed to escape. Alstromera leads Bethrynna down to the safety of the camp whilst the gnome and the drow are left with the unpleasant job of going through the rotting meat to dig out treasure.

Meanwhile Garrett has studied the body of the winged creature and is sure it is a Harpy. Eventually they are joined by Aklime and Windstrike who bring with them a mountain of coins, 5 precious stones and a bottle of red liquid. Satisfied the place is once again safe for grazing sheep the weary companions head back to Ellen’s Creek.

Episode 3 – Lair of the Lizard Dogs (Part 1)
A Nervy Entrance

Alstromera is walking down a dark stone corridor. Beside her walks a tall knight. He is dressed head to foot in shining armour, including a helm that has a grilled visor and dragonwing designs sticking out from the sides. A dark blue cloak trails off his shoulders. He seems familiar. He puts a hand up and halts and she stops by his side. Looking down at her he says in a deep southern accent “you should wait here little one what comes next will likely only bring death.” With that he screams as his helm begins to melt. Molten steel, burns into his skull. The screams continue until Alstromera realises they come from her, sat bolt upright in bed, covered in sweat. Then her patron comes to her, whispering calming words, the fey spirit sits in the back of Alstromera’s mind and watches over the halfling as she drifts back off to sleep.

Six days later…

The wound that Garrett suffered from the violet fungus has created a bad reaction in his body. His poor constitution is a result of his early years on the cold streets of Sundabar, which left him with weak, damaged lungs. The allergic reaction has caused a spate of uncontrollable coughing and when the companions get their first call to the Institute Bethrynna insists that Garrett is not well enough to join them and that she will stay behind to continue caring for him.

So it is then, that on the 18th of Tarsakh, Windstrike, Griac, Cade, Aklime and Alstromera meet in the grey stone courtyard of the Institute of Reclamation. The temperature has climbed to about 16°C, but the sky is overcast and a light rain falls. Even up in the foothills the rivers have melted now and the snowmelt is running into Ellen’s Creek almost tripling it’s size; it’s now an unnavigable, broiling torrent. The wrinkled form of Constant approaches them and leads them into the South Tower.

She takes them to a room on the first floor that has been blacked out with heavy drapes. Torches in sconces light up the room and in the centre is a large wedge-shaped table that is curved on it’s larger side to direct the focus of everyone sitting there towards the smaller edge on the opposite side. Sitting opposite the companions are Constant and two human men. “My name, as you are now aware, is Constantine Berryweather. There are some here who refer to me as Clockworkcogs, but most call me Constant. I may be a gnome, but I have not lived among my people for almost two hundred years. The Institute is my life.” She seems to pause briefly with her eyes fixed on Windstrike, then she continues. “We here at the Institute of Reclamation are concerned with issues that go beyond political boundaries; matters of race or economics. We are concerned with preserving and learning from the past. I am your first point of call in this building, nothing happens at the Institute that I am not aware of.” She stops abruptly and looks to a solid and imposing Illuskan man two seats away from her. He is handsome with a sparkle to his grey eyes, his hair is blonde and braided neatly, five silver rings pierce his left ear and a blue warpaint covers the right side of his face. When he speaks his voice is heavily accented from the far north. “I am Olaf Bearfriend, I am your ninth. You must only seek me out if you feel the entire mission is about to be failed. I will always be near your mission sites and may be able to bring help, but my one task is to save the treasure you seek, above all else at least one of you must get the treasure to me and the rest of you die trying to make that happen.” Then the man in the middle speaks. He is a human, possibly Chondathan, tall and thin and dressed in elaborate high-collared blue robes. “I am Vostaramin, the head of the Institute. I will need convincing. We will speak more when that day comes.” With that he gets up and leaves.

Constant then explains that they have located an item of interest in a cave system currently occupied by Kobolds. In their collection is a wall frieze from the ancient dragon temple of Loxin, one of the dragons is missing and they have recently discovered that the kobolds have it on the top of a totem pole where it has become an object of worship for them. The institute want the dragon for the completion of the frieze. Standard terms apply to this mission in the sense that all other treasure found belongs to the characters bar the 10% tithe. With that she takes them to D’s labs underneath the East Tower.

D is busy with some obscure looking alchemical equipment and is in good spirits when the characters arrive. He explains that the Institute will provide equipment for each mission, but because this is their first mission all they will receive on this occasion is a donkey and cart to help carry the heavy item back. Aklime narrows her eyes and asks why they can’t have more (5XP Roleplaying). D laughs “You’re as green a goblin’s backside so you don’t think the Institute would give ye anything precious now de ye?” Then he leads them to seven tailors dummies from which hang seven outfits, all beautifully tailored. One is a nightblue surcoat with red piping around the collar, cuffs and hem. The symbol of Ilmater (two hands bound in red cord) is stitched into the centre and the symbol of the Institute (three eyes in a vertical line) stitched on the left breast. The next is a collection of nightblue and dark grey silk wraps that cling tight to the upper arms, chest and thighs of a three foot dummy. The three eyes have become minute designs running across the wraps as if they stare out in all directions. Next to that is a giant dummy dressed in a long coat of thick nightblue wool and leather with a broad belt of orange leather, three eyes line the large brass buckle. On another small dummy is a pair of trousers and loose shirt both nightblue with bright blue diamonds scattered on the left hand side of both items. The three eyes are situated on the right leg of the trousers. The fifth suit is made from skintight black leather crisscrossed with subtle slashes of nightblue. The institutes symbol is stitched onto the left breast. The third of the small dummies has a diaphanous gown of billowing nightblue gauze with a yellow underlay of satin. Three eyes run down the back of the gown. Lastly a heavy, utilitarian suit of nightblue. Purple cuffs, purple belt and purple collar adorned the suit, which is covered in pouches and pockets. Every uniform comes complete with fur lined nightblue suede gloves, heavy fur lined mountain boots and thick nightblue travelling cloak complete with fur lined hood.

The companions collect their belongings together and stash them on the cart them lead Daisy the donkey upstream. They have been told that the caves are to be found on the eastern side of the river so they start their journey on that side knowing the fords will be impassable this time of year.

The first part of their journey takes them to the patch of burnt out forest where Gilbert and the other druids live. They keep their eyes open for them but see no one. Although a couple of them think they see a weasel darting into the undergrowth. Eventually the ground rises into the lower mountains, snow still covers the ground in patches and they struggle at times to heave the cart over ruts and troughs. Beyond an area of scrubland they see an escarpment cut into the side of a large hill. There is a tall opening in the rock that almost looks like it has been pulled open like a tent flap. Above the opening, thin wisps of smoke seem to seep out of the hilltop above. They can’t see the bottom of the entrance and decide to get the donkey nearer, but as they emerge from the bushes Griac spots two kobold guards half hidden behind rocks near the cave entrance. Hurrying everyone back into the bushes he tries to turn Daisy around and get her hidden, but the heightened sense of emotions and hurried movement cause her to bray. Barely hidden behind the bushes in time, the companions watch as the kobolds emerge and meet at the centre of the opening to discuss what they heard. Griac gives Daisy a little squeeze causing her to bray again in the hope that the guards will come towards them to investigate. It half works, but one of the guards hurries away into the cave. Once the Kobold guard is about 30 feet away from the opening of the cave entrance Alstromera calls up the power of her archfey patron. Her eyes glow with a gentle green light as an arc of crackling energy surges towards the kobold cooking it on the spot (10XP Drama). The companions are taken aback by it’s power, being the first time they have seen her new supercharged eldritch blast. Griac rushes from their hiding place and retrieves the body, dragging it into the bushes before any kobolds return (10XP Solving).

They wait for a moment and Aklime is the first to notice the smoke has stopped seeping out of the hillside. The second guard reemerges and starts barking for his partner. Creeping about the same distance from the entrance as the first kobold the second guard keeps calling nervously. Eventually he becomes too suspicious and panics, running for the cave. Alstromera unleashes another bolt of eldritch energy as Aklime releases her drawn bow. A microsecond separates their attacks, but the arrow pierces the kobolds skull (10XP Drama) just before it is engulfed in crackling bolts of lightning. This time Windstrike rushes out to clear away the body.

Knowing that the kobolds inside have likely been warned and are possibly suspicious, the group approach the cave and decide to let Aklime scout ahead. Her exceptional vision adjusts to the dark instantly and she melds with the shadows along the left hand wall of the cavern. When she is about 40 feet inside she becomes aware that kobolds have hidden themselves on ledges about 15 feet up (10XP Solving). They have not seen her, but she almost gives her position away, jumping out of her skin, when Cade’s voice appears in her head asking her what she can see (10XP Solving). She explains the prepared ambush and slowly withdraws back to the others.

Pulling back a little way from the entrance the characters start to discuss the best way to enter, but Windstrike is getting antsy, itching just to get in their and take them out (10XP Roleplaying). They quickly decide on a plan to appease the excitable gnome and the dark elf and warlock sneak back into the cave. From the shadows Aklime points out where the kobolds are and Alstromera, who can see as well as the dark elf thanks to her patron’s gift of devil’s sight, holds her arcane focus as she closes her fingers together like a shutting eye. Whispering soporific words two kobolds on the opposite wall fall drowsy and drop to the cave floor with a crash. All hell breaks loose as the kobolds react to the noise and spot Aklime taking an arrow from her quiver. Two giant shapes start to charge from the back of the cave, Aklime can see them clearly, two giant lizards with heavy scaled skin and sharp teeth. She puts her arrow deep into the shoulder of one of them as the kobolds swing slings over their heads.

Loosing stones from their slings Aklime is struck twice in the head sending her reeling backwards. In angry response Alstromera’s eyes flash green and she blasts the charging lizard with the arrow in it’s shoulder, but her shot goes horribly wide dislodging debris from the cavern wall which rains down on the already suffering dark elf. Now the others charge into the cave. Windstrike streaks in, her darkvision locating the first kobold. She runs straight up the ledge towards the shocked creature. Griac runs in next, lighting a torch and throwing it to his feet. Suddenly the cave is alive with flickering shadows and smoky orange light. Aklime fires another arrow, but her vision is swimming and it whistles past the giant lizards head. Last into the cavern is Cade, he spots the lizards and laces a string of mocking words with magical psychic energy, stunning one of the creatures and putting it off as it tries to bite Aklime. She forward rolls underneath the beast as it rears at her. The second lizard crashes against the unmoving shield of the Goliath.

With an incredible display of panic and bad aim, six stones rain down from above but all fail to find a target. Alstromera’s hair and robes are now billowing about her with an unseen magical current as she sends another eldritch strike at a giant lizard. Windstrike stabs at the kobold on the ledge who staggers backwards out of harms way, she angrily punches at it, but it slams itself against the wall, dodging a second strike. As the giant lizard prepares to leap at Griac the huge man swings his morning star but the creature moves with surprising speed out of the way. Aklime fires yet another arrow, but are senses are still reeling from the head wound and again the arrow goes awry. The bard keeps up his barrage of magically-laced insults causing the heavily injured giant lizard to drop dead as it attempts to charge the dark elf. The second giant lizard crashes against Griac’s shield again as the big man’s leg muscles strain to hold his ground. Things start to look a bit worrying for the companions.

More stones rain down and this time one hits Griac in the neck whilst another strikes the drow in the head for the third time knocking her out cold. All the sweet beauty has left the halfling’s face as Alstromera’s fierce glowing green eyes fix on the culprit and she roasts it whilst it gloats, dropping it, dead, to the cavern floor. Encouraged by Windstrike’s failure to hit it the kobold fixes her with a malicious grin. Replying with a sarcastic grin of her own, which lacks any humour, she slashes the tendons behind his knee then casually kicks him screaming from the wall where he snaps his neck on the floor below. Griac’s frustration with the lizard boils up inside and throwing his morning star and shield to the floor he unstraps his huge crab-claw maul and swings it straight into the giant lizards ribs. Cade rushes to Akime’s side and, bringing a blue nimbus around his hands, he revives her with powerful healing words. The remaining lizard rushes at Griac in a rage and clamps onto his side with it’s vicious teeth. The goliath grunts and plants a foot behind him as he fixes the beast with a disdainful look, pushing it away.

The remaining kobolds fire more stones down, two of them over-stretching in their desperation and toppling from their ledges. In a horrible twist of fate, just after saving Aklime, Cade gets hit in the head dropping unconscious to the floor with blood on his temple. The kobolds have already figured that events are turning against them though and are running for a passage towards the back of the cavern. Alstromera tries to halt one with a blast but it strikes the ground just behind it’s heels. Windstrike runs off the ledge at full speed giving chase to the first kobold who has disappeared around the corner. Griac swings his huge maul and there is a cracking sound as he breaks the giant lizards jaw. Aklime also misses a retreating kobold with a shot from her bow as Cade lies pale and still at her feet. The giant lizard thrashes at Griac but is now weak on it’s legs.

Another eldritch blast fails to connect with the retreating kobolds as they run round the corner after Windstrike. The gnome catches up with the lead kobold and fells it with a swift stab of her Shokumi-zue to its spine, as she spins round she sees three panicking kobolds suddenly trying to halt their run as they stare into the grim features of a miniature killing-machine. The killing-machine kicks a kobold in the face, knocking it prone. In the meantime the giant lizard is causing no end of problems for Griac as he swings his weapon and fails to connect. Aklime rummages frantically through Cade’s backpack and locates the potion of greater healing which she pours down the prone halfling’s throat just as they nearly get trampled by the giant lizard as it staggers out of the way of Griac’s swing. Cade gasps as the revitalising fluid fixes his broken head, with barely a second to react he sends the giant lizard reeling with another chant of vicious mockery. No surprise the giant lizard fails to hit Griac.

Drawing daggers the kobolds slash at Windstrike, she dodges one but is cut down the side by the second. Alstromera runs around the corner and obliterates a kobold with an eldritch blast as Windstrike stabs the second through the heart and stamps on the neck of the prone one (10XP Drama). Griac hefts a huge overhand swing of his maul straight down onto the top of the giant lizard, crushing it’s skull. The cavern falls quiet save for the echoes of water dripping and heavy breathing from the companions as they try to catch their breath.

It’s decided that they will dispatch the two sleeping kobolds.

Now they have a moment to examine the cavern properly they can see that a bonfire has been hastily extinguished at the back of the cave, the ruined carcasses of some semi-cooked quail thrown into the ashes. Very near to the bonfire is an extremely narrow cleft in the wall. The smaller characters could fit through, but there is no way that Griac could make his way down this passage. There is also the slightly wider passage that the kobolds tried to escape down. Windstrike, as she is smallest, makes her way through the narrow cleft for about 50 feet before finding herself about to step out onto a triangular shaped plateaux that juts out into a gigantic cavern about 40 feet above a cold black lake. In the middle of the lake is an island that rises out of the water on 10′ high cliffs. There is a rope ladder leading from the island to a ledge below her vantage point and on the island are kobolds dancing around a fire. Peaking further round Windstrike can make out the centre of the island and there she sees a wooden totem pole with draconic designs carved into the surface and sitting on the top of the pole a huge stone statue of a red dragon, wings spread.

She returns and reports what she has seen. Aklime decides to also check out the ledge in order to see if it would be a good vantage point to take up a snipers position. She sneaks a little further onto the ledge and when Cade sends a magical message to her she replies that she can see three bonfires in total and two more rope bridges leaving the island in different directions. In total there are three giant lizards basking by the fires and eighteen kobolds. One of which looks to be bigger and stronger than the others, and is wearing armour.

Once Aklime has rejoined the group they head off carefully down the slightly larger passage. Aklime leads, followed by Alstromera and then Windstrike. Then after a gap of 30 feet Griac and Cade bring up the rear equipped with a torch. Keeping her eyes peeled Aklime suddenly spots something after travelling about 90 feet down the passage. It has been almost impossible to walk silently due to the passageway being littered with thousands of tiny mammal bones and insect cases. It is beneath a thin layer of this detritus that Aklime spots a trip wire. Pointing it out, the others step carefully over one at a time, and Griac marks the spot with a lit torch. Following the wire up the wall they see it leads to some rickety wooden planks suspended in the gloom above.

After another 90 feet or so the passage opens out into again into a 12 foot high cavern. It is large but difficult to say how large because the cavern is split in two by a dividing wall of rock that obscures view of the other side. A faint orange glow plays on the dividing wall about 50 to 60 feet away coming from somewhere to the right. In the distance, deeper in the cave complex, comes the dull reverberations of drum music and a shrill, barked chanting.

Behind that noise though is something else. Griac strains to listen and holds his hand up. They can hear the soft pattering of feet and what sounds like something heavy being dragged around. Aklime sneaks ahead to find out what it is. Two giant lizards are patrolling the cavern and she runs back to the others as she realises their flickering tongues have smelt her presence. The companions have moments to react as they hear the lizards running towards them. Griac asks the others to distract the lizards with ranged attacks as he hoists the gnome onto his shoulders and runs around the rock in the middle of the cave in an attempt to cut them off from behind (15XP solving).

Cade calls out a string of praise to Windstrike reminding her of all her training and how she was made for moments like these. The gnome feels enthused and confident thanks to the bards words. As they come into view Aklime hits a lizard with a well placed arrow. Griac charges round the rock behind the giant lizards and smacks his morning star into the creatures back. Startled it halts and Windstrike leaps off Griac’s shoulders stabbing lizard through the neck, whilst kicking out at the second lizard putting it off its stride (10XP dra). A powerful eldritch blast hits the second lizard. Confused and angry the lizard spins and lunges at Windstrike, as the gnome steps down from it’s slain companion. Just as it goes to bite her in half it finds itself chewing on Griac’s shield as the goliath reacts quickly to protect his friend. Cade’s vicious mockery fails to have any effect on this enraged monster, but the arrow that Aklime puts through it’s head does, as it drops to the floor, dead.

The companions give each other satisfied looks as they realise that was a well planned combat that went far better than their first. The sound of drumming and merriment continues to echo dully throughout the cavern and the same thought comes to everyone… how do they do it all over again with over twice the numbers?

Episode 4 – Lair of the Lizard Dogs (Part 2)
A Bridge Too Far

As a young acolyte shuts the door to Garrett’s sanatorium room, the big Illuskan whips the covers off his bed, hurries across the floor and swings himself out of the first floor window. Climbing swiftly down the wall he runs through the temple grounds and is at the Institute for Reclamation a mere fifteen minutes later.

“Thought you were supposed to be recovering” says Constant, peering over the top of her half moon spectacles of rock gnome design.

“Bored.” Garrett replies. “They mean well, but I’ve taken about as much molly-coddling as I can handle”

An hour later, dressed in his Institute attire he is treading through heather and bracken near the burnt down woodlands. He suddenly notices a svelte red-haired elf leaning against an Oak.

“Hello human, moving with the times I see.” Says Russet flashing him a mocking smile. “Your friends passed here a couple of hours back. Perhaps you should get one of those fancy new timepieces from Waterdeep?”

Grunting, Garrett stomps on.

Two hours later, Olaf’s directions have led Garrett to a cave opening and hidden nearby is a donkey and a cart. the donkey stops her chewing and regards the rogue suspiciously. Stepping closer he disturbs three crows, who’s angry shouts make his heart skip a beat. Garrett notices they have been pecking the eyes from two burnt kobolds, one has a black-flighted arrow in the back of its head. He loots the bodies and takes a few coins from them.

Meanwhile inside the cave the companions are looting the first cavern they entered having posted Aklime as a guard at the narrow passageway. Garrett hears the activity from inside and attempts to creep inside, but Windstrike pops up from behind a Kobold who’s money-pouch she has lightened and pipes out “Oh look, its Garrett”.

After bringing the rogue up to speed, Aklime opts to position herself as lookout on the vantage point whilst the group rest, eat, meditate and heal.

After an hour the companions make their way towards the sound of the festivities on the island, they hunker down in the shadows and try to work out what they should do. Ideas abound including taking out a bridge of kobolds, creating illusory ledges, blasting the totem pole and creating an illusion that would make the bridge seem like its five foot over from where it actually is. (75XP each Solving)

Eventually Garrett is commissioned to creep forward to the bridge with the ends of two fifty foot lengths of rope. He ties one rope around one of the posts that anchor the bridge into the stone ledge. He then ties the second rope to the other post. After that, still trying to stay quiet he pulls one of the posts from its mooring. Griac is holding the other end of the two ropes and takes the slack. The second post is not so easy. Garrett wiggles the post and tries to pull it free, but it won’t budge. All the time he is attempting to stay unnoticed by the Kobolds, but even hitting it forward and pulling it back the stubborn post still will not move, until finally, after almost two minutes work, the second post slips free (20XP Drama).

Now Alstromera creeps forward to get one of the three bonfires within the range of her sleep spell. Clutching her arcane focus and whispering the words of her spell, as her hair begins to float around her head, four kobolds slump to the ground asleep mid-dance. The last two kobolds at their bonfire look at their friends in confusion. Aklime has spotted the signal from her vantage point and fires an arrow down towards Ignin Leathergut, the war-chief, from her ledge. It strikes him in the shoulder of his padded armour. He pulls it from his coat and looks around in anger, the music is petering out as all the kobolds are starting to realise that something is up. Kobolds from the nearest fire are running for the bridge along with a giant lizard.

Griac lets out a roar to lure them over the bridge, as Aklime releases another arrow. This time it whistles close to Ignin’s head. He fixes his eyes on the ledge and snarls, he knows exactly where the sniper is hiding now. As the kobolds approach the bridge Alstromera steps closer and her eyes start to glow green as she releases a crackling bolt of agonising energy, it arcs over the bridge but fails to connect with the enemy. Windstrike runs forward to guard the warlock. Now a giant lizard and four kobolds charge onto the bridge. The sudden shift in weight is too much for Griac and Garrett who are straining on a rope each. The ropes are literally wrenched from their hands and start rushing towards the lake as the bridge collapses and sends lizard and kobolds tumbling to the dark waters below (50XP solving, everyone). Alstromera and Windstrike both react quickly to stamp on the ropes as they rush past. Alstromera gets her whole foot on her rope, but Windstrike just gets a toe to it, meaning the weight of the whole bridge is tugging at the grip of the halfling’s foot. She is unable to take the strain and the ropes hurtle away from them over the edge of the cliff. Kobolds on the island stagger to a halt as the bridge has disappeared, instead they hurl stones over the separating distance. Windstrike reacts quickly to dodge those aimed at her, but Alstromera is struck brutally by two stones.

Griac runs to join Windstrike and Alstromera as Aklime fires another arrow down onto the island, but again the arrow skitters off the rocks and into the lake, she then shoulders her bow and starts to hurry back through the narrow gap in order to join her friends. Garrett also joins the group near the ledge and fires an arrow across the ravine at one of the kobolds. It hits the creature through the throat and it slumps forward and drops off the cliff. Alstromera sends another agonising blast across the ravine utterly annihilating a kobold, she then retreats away out of the range of the kobolds slings. Windstrike runs in the opposite direction, dropping to her belly to see what is happening to the kobolds and lizard that fell into the lake. The giant lizard is floundering on the rocks, it can’t climb up but its stopping itself from drowning. The kobolds are attempting to climb the cliff; they are just above the water line. The kobolds on the top of the cliff are running back to their leader.

Suddenly there is a scream and Windstrike sees eight milky white tentacles shoot up out of the water and drag a poor kobold down under the surface of the lake.

Griac runs to the edge and notices that only three kobolds are climbing the rocks.

“What happened to the other one?”

Windstrike informs him that some large, white tentacley thing dragged it under. Garrett also runs forward, taking aim he lets loose another arrow, it cuts through the leaping flames of a bonfire and thunks straight into the totem pole, putting the kobolds into a rage. Alstromera uses her incredible range to reach a retreating kobold, it convulses with the shock of the blast and drops dead to the floor. By now though, the rest of the kobolds and their giant lizards have bedded down behind rocks at the far edge of the island, apart from the three kobolds climbing out of the lake who have just reached the top.

Windstrike, Griac and Garrett hatch a daring plan to throw the gnome onto the island. As they prepare Cade provides bardic inspiration by encouraging Windstrike’s bravery and prowess asserting that its moments like this that are the reason for her long hours of training. Windstrike ties a rope around her waist as Griac takes the other end. In the mean time Alstromera and Garrett fire at the last three kobolds as they run for cover. Alstromera’s crackling energy bounces off rocks dangerously close to the stone statue of the dragon as her kobold escapes. Garrett puts his arrow through the throat of his kobold felling it instantly.

Griac and Garrett position the gnome with one of her feet on each of their cupped hands and hoist her with all their strength into the air (25XP solving, Griac & Garrett). Windstrike then pushes off from their throw to launch herself, heart-stoppingly, over the deep, black waters of the lake. She hits the far side and drops into a perfect forward roll as two kobolds leap up and sling stones at her. Continuing her forward roll the stones bounce harmlessly off the rocks behind her (60XP Drama).

Griac starts to bash a piton into the ground as Garrett attempts to pick off one of the sleeping targets, killing it where it lies. Windstrike takes the rope from her waist and ties it to one of the stakes still holding up this side of the bridge. She tries to pull up some of the bridge whilst Alstromera covers her with a crackling bolt of eldritch energy in the direction of the hunkered down kobolds, but is unable to lift it. Down below, the milky white creature is swimming about again just below the surface.

Griac ties the rope off on the piton as Cade provides him with bardic inspiration. At this point Aklime runs round to join them as Alstromera blasts towards the hidden kobolds, keeping them pushed back away from the vulnerable gnome. Windstrike runs to the middle bonfire and stabs a sleeping kobold in the throat. Now Ignin decides to take decisive action, having mounted his giant lizard he orders four kobolds to join him in a charge. The first two kobolds reach Windstrike, she ducks under a clumsy swing from one, but the second grazes her with its dagger.

Griac now lowers himself over the edge of the cliff and begins to swing himself arm over arm on the rope that now spans the ravine. Aklime looses an arrow at the kobold that cut Windstrike putting the shaft straight into its brain. Cade jumps down and starts to swing after Griac on the wildly swinging rope. Garrett fires an arrow at the second of the kobolds attacking Windstrike slaying it instantly. Alstromera sends a powerful blast at the giant lizard carrying the kobold war chief, they crackle along its side making it rear up in pain. Ignin holds on tight and urges the lizard forward. The kobold war-chief is now thundering down on the gnome flanked by two screaming kobold. Windstrike watches them, timing her run. With a burst of speed she leaps up a slashes at the giant lizards neck, still Ignin controls the beast. The giant lizard bites at Windstrike and she rolls forward, two kobolds run at her and they almost run into each other as she ducks beneath their dagger strikes, but then she feels a red hot flare across her face as Ignin whips her a vicious crack across her cheek. She starts to feel very sleepy but shakes it off and concentrates on ignoring the searing pain (25XP Drama).

Halfway across the ravine Griac witnesses the monster in the lake, now obviously a gigantic octopus, as it reaches up and drags the floundering giant lizard under the water. He hurries over to the other side. In the meantime Aklime fires at the kobold leader. His malicious smile disappears as her black-flighted arrow strikes him in the side. He shouts in pain and grips the reins. Cade follows Griac onto the other side of the ravine as Garrett also fires at the war-chief. Ignin gasps as the arrow hits him solidly in the chest knocking him off the lizard to crash onto the ground, dead (25XP Drama). A soft, petulant voice suddenly whispers in Alstromera’s ear.

“Little sister that big ugly Lizard Dog holds a weapon that does not belong to him. It was made by the fey, make sure you retrieve it.”

Emboldened by her fey patrons words Alstromera sends another eldritch blast, engulfing the lizard and dropping it dead to the floor (25XP Drama). Windstrike flashes the halfling a ‘do-you-mind’ look (40XP Roleplaying) and runs at the two kobolds; one takes a Shikomi-zue to the heart, whilst the second narrowly misses her fist only to have its neck snapped by a vicious kick. Alstromera watches her and mutters “you’re welcome” (40XP Roleplaying). Now the second wave swamp the gnome. She ducks a bite from the final giant lizard but the kobolds lynch her from all angles dropping the gnome to the floor.

Griac charges towards his friend, enraged. He smashes his morning star into a kobold knocking it, dead, to the floor. Aklime misses with her next shot. Cade runs as fast as he can and drops to his knees by the gnome. A blue nimbus of light around his hand, he send powerful healing energy into Windstrike, reviving her instantly and invigorating her in the process. Garrett fires an arrow into the side of the last lizard as Alstromera sends crackling bolts of energy at it. The giant beast sways and buckles from the attack. Enraged by having been dropped, Windstrike leaps on the lizard before it has time to recover and she puts her sword through the back of its neck, killing it. Not finished there, she runs down its back and kills a kobold by caving it chest in with a powerful kick (30XP Drama). The last kobolds strike out with their daggers. Cade draws his rapier and parries the shot, Windstrike knocks the attacking arm harmlessly to one side, but the Goliath is cut across the leg.

The backbone of the enemy has been well and truly broken, but the survivors have nowhere to retreat to, Griac smacks one in the chest making it stagger backwards. Aklime misses again with an arrow, but Cade lunges with his rapier felling the kobold with one stab. Garrett fires at the kobold that is staggering away from Griac the arrow goes through its head, felling it. The last kobold screams as eldritch lightning reduces it to a gruesome, spasming death.

Now the hard work begins as the companions try to work out how to get the bridge fixed. Alstromera suggests they bring the bridge up and tie it to the rope that now spans the ravine (50XP Solving). Griac pulls the bridge up, Windstrike ties the rope to the wet ropes that are still attached, using her bardic inspiration to ensure the knot is tight enough (20XP Solving) and Garrett pulls it back to the other side, using his hammer to bang the stakes back in.

Garrett climbs up the totem pole and gets himself straddled over the statue trying to see how it is attached. He notes that it is crudely attached with nails that have been banged into the totem pole and the bent over the base of the statue, which has, itself, been stuck into a hollow in the top of the pole. He begins to tie rope around the statue. Alstromera has, at this point, made her way to Ignin and relieves him of a key, some rather interesting boots, a fancy cloak and the whip that he struck Windstrike with. Using Griac’s idea of lowering the statue off the opposite side from where the supporting rope is draped (20XP Solving) Garrett carefully lowers (25XP Solving) the heavy, delicate statue into Griac’s arms.

After looting the kobolds, including two lizard feet that Griac cuts as a trophy (10XP Roleplaying), the characters prepare to take the statue over the bridge. Everyone crosses, apart from Griac and Garrett, as they do so they notice a series of small tents against the side of the cavern they have not yet explored. Garrett and Griac carefully start to make their way over. Griac stumbles and even with his bardic inspiration his foot goes over the edge. The statue drops into the centre of the bridge, Garrett goes down with it and uses all his strength and dexterity to hold it to the centre of the bridge. Two seconds later Garrett hears a huge splash as the Goliath hits the water.

A white shape rapidly rises towards the floundering giant as his armour makes it hard work staying afloat.

Aklime is the first to the edge. She fires an arrow straight into the octopus. It surges forward and lunges at Griac, he barely manages to kick away from it, but he does and that’s all that matters. Alstromera sends her agonising blast down making the octopus writhe in pain. Griac shouts for a rope (20XP Solving) and Cade obliges with good aim straight into the Goliath’s hands, Windstrike helps him take the weight. Meanwhile Garrett, pins the statue on the precariously swinging bridge (25XP Drama). Aklime puts another arrow into the beast, but this time the Octopus hits the goliath with force and wraps its tentacles around him, squeezing the air from the big man. In his panic Griac fails to shrug off much of the damage at all. Alstromera comes to his aid with another awesome blast, but the creature refuses to let go. Griac uses all his fighters calm to draw on extra reserves and heals a bit of his damage with his second wind and then, with a gigantic roar, bursts out of the octopus’ grip (25XP Drama). Cade and Windstrike tug as hard as they can on the rope, slamming Griac into the wall, but allowing him to get his feet secured and together they start bringing the goliath up the cliff face. Aklime fires another arrow into the creature, which lashes at Griac one last time. It misses and decides its chance has gone and sinks to the bottom of the lake.

Griac hurries up the wall with the help of Cade and Windstrike. This time Garrett suggests that they cut some animal skin away from the bivouacs to make a stretcher to place the statue in (50XP Solving). Finally they get the statue safely to the other side. All that remains is to search the bivouacs. In the main one they find a small treasure chest, which Alstromera uses the key on. Inside is lots of money and eight delicately carved bone dice.

Exhausted but victorious, the characters finally make it back to Daisy and from there to the Institute of reclamation. The characters have officially completed their first mission (100XP Solving, everyone).

Episode 5 – Barrow at Solstice Tor (Part 1)
Horny Lady

With the dragon statue safely returned to The Institute of Reclamation the companions return to village life. Bethrynna continues her duties at the temple whilst Windstrike splits her time between her training at the monastery and developing a new hobby that involves running up buildings all over the village, she dubs this pastime; Karpour. Secretly, when time permits, she also indulges in some research in an attempt to try and discover who her real parents were. Griac continues his ceaseless work. Half the time he works on commissions for Jaldar devoting the rest of his time to crafting his own suit of armour. Cade is becoming a bit of a household name in the village and the Vixen’s Tale is seeing large crowds on a nightly basis just to see him play. He can often be seen out with Lassantius, performing near the Shrine to Silvanus whenever there is a village celebration. Aklime tends to shut herself away during the day, often haunting the village by night, practicing her stealth or archery skills. Alstromera spends much of her time in secret communication with her patron who is speaking to her more frequently, she is still disturbed by the same recurring dream. Lastly Garrett is enjoying the change of fortunes in his life and is happy to nurse a few beers in the Vixen, whilst waiting for the call to their next adventure.

The festival of Greengrass arrives and everyone is invited to the annual Chauntean fertility festival. There is a huge bonfire, much feasting and somewhat intimate dancing into the early hours of the night. Amongst the attendees is Russet who gets rather tipsy on mead and spends a lot of the evening teasing Garrett with catty remarks. Most of the village are nursing hang-overs as the sun rises on the first day of Mirtal, but soon village life resumes as Mirtal melds into Kythorn and the village becomes alive with colour and blooms. Then on the 16th of Kythorn, when the Institute is almost forgot, the companions get a call to a meeting.

Taking seats in the meeting room you again find yourselves facing Constant, Olaf and Vostaramin. The head of the Institute seems a lot more relaxed with you this time around and even cracks a slight smile now and then. It is Constant who leads the meeting as usual and she tells you about a barrowmound on the edge of the Evermoors. This is not your usual Uthgardt burial site though, what appears to be no more than a man made hill up in the high moors is in fact an elaborate death trap. To make things worse, as far as they are aware, no one has ever entered, meaning none of the traps will have been set off. The place was designed by a Netherese wizard nearly two millennia ago, the entrance can only be seen as the summer solstice sun sets and even then only from a viewing stone some distance from the barrow. The viewer must then make it from the viewing stone to the entrance within one minute before the door disappears. To make things worse they must touch ten wardstones along the way and run a gauntlet of magical guardians all designed to stop the intruder reaching the door. The Institute want eighteen figurines. Standing about 2 inches high and weighing about a quarter of a pound each, they are carved from black opal and depict armoured skeletal warriors known as wights.

Eager to get going, Garrett takes Daisy from the stables and hitches her to the small cart and the group make their way out of the village on the first stage of their journey south.

Two and a half hours later Cade pays their 16GP fee to enter Everlund with weapons (20XP Roleplaying) and they set about selling the small amounts of treasure they have found so far. They raise a little bit of cash each, which makes most breath a sigh of relief because their funds were getting very low. Only Cade has an income that outstrips his living expenses. They decide to take a relaxing day in the city and treat themselves to a hot meal and a warm bed for the night before heading out again the next morning.

They are not more than two miles past the last of Everlund’s outlying farms when they hear snarls and barks in the near distance, and about 150 feet ahead of them a woman suddenly runs out from a small copse and heads for the Evermoor Way. She is dressed as a hunter and carries a longbow in her hand. Most strikingly she has long curving horns that sweep back from her forehead and a long tail that swishes the air behind her. Six beastly humanoid figures burst from the trees, they have the heads of Jackals and are chasing her down with a purpose. The woman spins round and looses an arrow into their midst then turns and continues to run towards the companions.

Aklime reacts immediately, running towards the woman in trouble and arcs an arrow toward the Jackal creatures. The sunlight is fierce in Aklime’s eyes though and the arrow sails wide. The rest of the companions dash forward to try to get to the troubled woman’s side, who they can now see is a tiefling. Only Garrett stays behind to stake Daisy’s tether into the ground (20XP Roleplaying). The tiefling sees that aid is coming to her and hurries to join them.

Now Aklime starts to sprint as Bethrynna utters a prayer to Ilmater and holds her holy symbol aloft. A Bright shaft of golden light shoots down from the heavens and completely engulfs one of the beasts. A pitiful cry of pain rips the air as it falls to the ground (50XP Drama). The other five Jackalwere’s charge on regardless, as Griac charges forward to meet them. Garrett casually strides forward towards the battlefield unslinging his bow from his shoulder. Cade unslings the crossbow that Alstromera gave him and fires a bolt just short of the oncoming horde. Windstrike runs up to the tiefling’s side and throws a dart into the shoulder of one of the monsters. Heartened by the support Ea turns to face her harasses and hurries an arrow into their midst but the flicks narrowly past ones cheek. Alstromera now shows off a new skill and fire a bolt of fire into the chest of the beast that has already been hit by the dart.

Aklime lets loose a second arrow, but the sun is really playing havoc with her aim and the Drow starts to snarl in frustration. Griac reaches the front line and takes a huge swing at a Jackalwere’s face, but it ducks. Garrett puts an arrow to his bow and letting it fly, it sails straight past Bethrynna’s ear into a snarling beast. He then strides up to join the fray. Cade fires another bolt just wide of the mark. Windstrike leaps forward but she slips on loose gravel and falls onto her backside by a Jackalwere’s feet. Reaching out she grabs at its heel and pulls but the monster yanks its leg away and leers down at the Gnome. Ea drops her bow and drawing two shortswords she cuts a deep cross into the chest of the Jackalwere attacking her. Bethrynna sends a small bolt of searing light from her holy symbol causing another creature to howl in pain. The Jackalwere’s launch themselves at the companions. One Jackalwere jumps down onto Windstrike, Griac tries to puts his shield in the way but it gets through and bites her shoulder. Griac lifts his shield back up to push two leaping jackalwere’s away from him. Ea ducks to one side as one of the creatures tries to bite her and then spin back in the other direction to avoid a second one. Alstromera sends another bolt of fire at the Jackalwere that has jumped onto Windstrike and slays it. The Gnome feels it go limp and throws it to one side.

Aklime fires an arrow towards one of Griac’s foes, this time it buries deep into its chest. Bethrynna follows this up with another bolt of blinding light and the creature falls to the ground dead. the last three jackalwere’s attack again. Another tries to pounce on Windstrike but she rolls out of the way. Another lunges for Ea and just as it is about to bite her its face connects with Griac’s shield. This leaves the goliath vulnerable and he finds himself bitten on the thigh. Griac swings for its head, but it moves out of the way. Garrett hits with a devious shot through the crowds hitting another enemy in the leg. Cade swears in all the languages he knows (10XP Roleplaying) and fires again this time finally finding a mark. Windstrike leaps up and swipes with her sword, it misses, but then she kicks out knocking one back away from her. Ea cuts out with both swords again, but this time only one finds its mark. Alstromera fire’s another bolt of fire and the flames burst against a monsters shoulder.

Aklime fails to hit with another arrow. By now though the Jackalwere’s have had enough and disengage from the battle. The Goliath scares them off with a primal scream and grabs the gnome around the collar before she can give chase. The halflings chase them on further with crossbow and eldritch blast. Victory is theirs.

With the danger averted the companions now have time to find out more about the tiefling they have rescued. She goes by the name Ea and was raised in the Nether Mountains by her mother attuned to the wilds she has avoided civilisation all her life, but recently her mother, a ranger devoted to Meilikki, went missing and she has had to think about a future without her (25XP Roleplaying). The characters explain their mission and say they could really do with someone of her talents is she would like to join them. She readily agrees. Whilst this conversation has been taking place Cade has been trying out a few chords on his lute and starts working out the opening refrain for a new composition that he has named “Horny Lady and the Jackals” (60XP Roleplaying/humour).

Unpegging Daisy from the ground everyone sorts out their equipment and they continue on their way down the Evermoor Way. Throughout the day they pass merchant caravans on their way north from Yartar and a few hunters, but otherwise the journey is quiet, Aklime spends a lot of it sitting on the back of the cart with her hood shading her eyes, sulking about the bright sunlight. That is, until they reach a wooded area where small copses have started to encroach near to the large trade route. From one of these a voice suddenly calls out.

“We have twenty trained men with arrows on you, empty out your pockets and we’ll let you move on.” Although this statement really only concerns Cade, the rest of the companions take an affront to being ambushed in this way, whether they have anything to steal or not. Aklime calls back, squinting into the trees, “tell me your name.”

“My name doesn’t concern you.”

“It might. I’ve run with smugglers out of Yartar and they’re a damn sight scarier than some highwaymen used only to picking on farmers and rabbits.” (25XP Roleplaying)

A silence follows.

Windstrike peers into the trees and manages to spot the speaker. A rough looking human in studded leather and wielding a shortbow at the same time Alstromera moves subtly behind Griac and then turns herself invisible.

Garrett picks up on Aklime’s deception and calls out that he recognises the speakers voice (20XP Roleplaying). There is muttering from the trees and a sense that the whole ambush is loosing its momentum. Cade casts message in the direction of the speaker ‘this is the voice of the forest, begone’. Telepathically all Cade hears in response is an expletive laden voice wondering what on earth just spoke to him. An angry voice calls out from the forest “What the bollocksing hell is going on here?” And a sunburnt man storms out pushing the speaker out of the tree as he passes (50XP Solving, everyone). He is bald, gruff and wears a bright blue gauntlet on his left hand, but when he sees Aklime he breaks into a huge smile. He is her old employer, the famous smuggler, Cocoran the Blue.

“Aklime my friend!” He envelops her in a bear hug, “What are you doing here?” He notes the uniform. “You are in employment now?”

“Well only until something better comes along.”

“I guess the money must be good huh?”

“Um. I wouldn’t exactly say that.” (50XP Roleplaying/humour)

After a period of catching up, throughout which the other bandits sullenly come out of the trees fed up that there will be no looting, Aklime asks which direction they are headed. Cade sees where she is going with this and feels with all the rumours of trolls on this road there would be safety in numbers. He asks Cocoran if they would fancy camping up for the night (25XP Roleplaying/humour) to which a huge half orc bandits gives the halfling an agreeable smile. Cocoran agrees and they continue south down the Evermoor Way, an hour later Alstromera blinks back into sight scaring the life out of the bandit that was walking next to her. Only once do they spot anyone else, a mounted unit of the Argent Legion, who give the eighteen heavily armed adventurers a strange look for guarding a donkey and a empty cart in such numbers.

As the bandits and the companions join forces to set up camp, they make three bonfires and Ea goes out to hunt to add to the food the bandits have. After a while they settle down to a great night out on the road. Plenty of eyes on lookout allow them to listen to Cade performing songs as they drink and eat. Sadly, the next morning (the morning of the 18th), they say goodbye to Cocoran and his outlaws and head off road into the gently rolling hills and meadows towards the Evermoors.

Such wilderness is no problem for Ea and she guides them unerringly in the direction they need to travel, she is just happy to find some way to thank her new friends for rescuing her and happy to find acceptance amongst people whom her mother had always scared her away from. The landscape is beautiful; gentle hills with long swaying grass, meadow flowers, flocks of birds, herds of deer, elk and branta. There are awkward moments where Daisy’s cart has to be pushed through long grass and over ruts, but eventually they come to the magnificent sight of Scarbrook.

Scarbrook marks the entrance to the Evermoors in this region. High escarpments and plateaux’s line the horizon with the windswept moors on top of these regions of craggy hills. Scarbrook is the easiest way up, a gushing waterfall that has cut a deep gorge out from the moors. A steep winding path leads from the bottom to the top, but there is no way they will get Daisy to the top before nightfall. Alstromera suggests they have a look to see if there is somewhere safe a little way up the path that will at least give them a slightly safer place to camp (20XP Solving). After 20 minutes scouting, Ea returns with just such a place, a deep corrie cut in the side of the hill near the path. She suggests taking a couple of planks from the path to lay before the wheels and help to get it over the deep ruts and large stones that dot the narrow path up (60XP Solving).

They make a fireless camp at Windstrike’s proposal (20XP Solving) and settle down to a nervous sleep. In the early hours, whilst Ea is on watch she hears scuffing sounds and kicked stones. Looking over the edge of their campsite she sees three hideous trolls shuffling about down below in the dark. For a hair-raising moment they look towards their camp and sniff the air, but in the end they head on out into the meadows.

The next morning the companions make their way to the top and before them they see two hills. One has the distinctive feature of a barrow on the top whereas the one opposite has a stone that looks like a teardrop, thin end dug into the earth. In the centre of the stone is a hole that looks directly towards the barrow mound. running down into the valley and back up the other side, between the two hills are ten standing stones all evenly paced.

This is Solstice Tor.

Episode 6 – Barrow at Solstice Tor (Part 2)
Death at Sunrise

Finally at their destination and with a day and a half to spare the companions set about investigating the two hills and setting up a camp. They discuss the viewing stone, waystones and the barrow mound. They walk the distance between them and speculate on how the guardians might manifest and what form they may take. They notice each waystone has a symbol carved on it and after a little closer inspection, Cade realises they simply read 1-10 in Netherese (10XP Solving).

After some discussion they decide that Windstrike will be the runner and the rest will take up positions along the hillside to help protect her as she tries to reach the door in time (75XP Solving, everyone). With that decided they then start to set up their camp. Ea hunts a deer and six pheasants as well as finding some berries and roots to cook with. Alstromera and Windstrike build a low pit fire, whilst Griac constructs a shelter from wood and foliage. Cade amuses them all with songs as they settle down to a hearty lunch.

The escarpment lies about 300 feet to their east while to the west high moors and crags spread out, patches of swampland dot the valleys. Miles in the distance lower regions of the Evermoors stretch out until they are lost in mists. Ea checks the two hills local to their camp for recent signs of activity. There is a sporadically used hunters trail, but few other signs of use save for the passage of three trolls in the last few days and possibly a hill giant about two weeks ago (25XP, Solving).

They decide not to risk too much exploration so settle in for the next six hours gradually improving their camp, cooking up a broth for the evening and listening to Cade regail them with songs and stories.

At about nine in the evening as the sun is sinking behind the hills Bethrynna and Aklime hears snatches of noise coming on the wind that’s now blowing over the edge of the escarpment. Going to the edge the companions can see a camp being set up not far from the river, mostly humans it would seem and about twelve in number. They opt to send Aklime down with an invisibility spell on her in order to investigate, but then the halflings decide to follow to lend back up should she be discovered. Whilst this is going on Griac starts to collect large rocks at the edge of the escarpment (20XP, Roleplaying).

Down near the camp, Aklime pads quietly through the grass, she can hear a spattering noise and as she rounds a lone tree has the unfortunate experience of almost walking into someone relieving themselves. She hears a woman’s voice. A half elf dressed in chain mail and gold trimmed tabard, she has two intricately fashioned hand axes with gold inlay and appears to be fit and well trained.

“Badger stop playing with your only friend and get over here. I want to make sure you all know what you are doing.” Once the camp have gathered around the woman she starts to speak. “Did you spot the travellers that were coming down?” Badger shakes his head so she continues. “Right listen up. They are probably already up there, those two may have been part of them. Knowing Vostaramin he’s had them camped there for days. Shildersmelt is amazed he’s going for the wraiths this year, from what we’ve heard his new team have hardly been tested. Personally, I’m not surprised, he’s an arrogant ass and it’s not the first time he’s sacrificed his seekers for this obsession. Obviously we are not going in. That place is a death trap, we will finish what’s left of them off when they come out. If they come out. If they don’t, which I suspect will be the case, then the plan is to come back here next year as originally intended. Colvin, Nut and Badger (Aklime notices three human males nod) you will join me in front of the barrow, we will offer help or whatever it takes to draw them into the open. Furnaise (a half elf female), Dharran (a human male), Pol (a dwarf female) and Slim (a human male) you will flank the barrow from the east and Jillen (a human male), Keedar (a male half Orc), Satin and Diath (human females) the west. Dog (a half Orc male) and Ilsa (a halfling female) get above the entrance and pick them off from behind. There is something that’s making me nervous though.

“you boss?”

“Yes me Badger you fawning idiot. Olaf is out there somewhere and he will do anything he can to prevent us getting those pieces. Stay alert.”

So despite the halflings having been spotted, luckily for them the camp was obviously not suspicious that they may be coming in their direction. The three hurry back to report the news.

The news causes consternation and splits opinion. Some want to deal with the threat straightaway and others want to pretend they have died inside the barrowmound and hope the ambushers get bored and leave (30XP, Roleplaying, everyone). They decide to post a double watch and see what happens the next morning.

In the early hours of the morning Bethrynna spots some shapes in the grassland below, she calls Windstrike over and the two of them watch. About twenty dark humanoid shapes are fanning out through the grass in the direction of the enemy camp. Two of the dark shapes break away and close in further. Windstrike and Bethrynna can see that the guards in the enemy camp are unaware, but after a few minutes the two front-runners return to the main groups and all of them start to head for the escarpment. At this point Windstrike and Bethrynna wake the others.

With everyone now watching over the edge of the escarpment a chill goes through them as they observe four of the strangers seem to crouch down and become dog like things that begin bounding up the track. The companions know that it will only take them about fifteen minutes to get there.

As they close in they can start to make out jackal like features and they realise that this is more Jackalweres seemingly still on Ea’s trail. She throws her voice out over the escarpment, making it seem like she is somewhere down below. “Hey guys you looking for me?” (60XP Solving). Turning on their heels with a howl the whole pack starts to rush back down the hill to give chase to the phantom Ea. Knowing it won’t fool them for long the companions watch with baited breath as they head out of site beneath the escarpment.

Suddenly a terrified howl rends the night, followed by a terrifying combination of growls, yelps and ripping sounds. Seconds later ten of the dark shapes are racing away from the escarpment, heading out into the meadows as quick as they can. Even figures from the other camp stand at the edge of their tents to try and see what’s going on. The rest of the early morning passes in eerie silence.

The next morning as the companions start waking in their camp they can see that the other camp, down in the meadows, is already awake and four of them are starting to walk through the meadows towards the part of the escarpment where the noise took place the night before. Aklime argues to meet the four and see if they can get any information out of them (10XP, Roleplaying), whilst Griac mutters something about orcs and insists they should go and ‘deal’ with them while they can (10XP, Roleplaying). The companions decide to head down the path to block the four off and prevent the getting back to their camp.

By the time they get to the bottom they can see the four returning from a jumble of large rocks that have clearly fallen from the escarpment at some time in the past. They spot the companions at the same time and start to communicate to each other. Ea appeals to the companions one more time for using the opportunity to fane ignorance and try to get some information from them (10XP, Roleplaying). As they near they can make them out as Dog, Satin, Badger and Dharran, Dog is twiddling an arrow between his fingers. Nerves start to fray as Cade urges the group to ready weapons (10XP, roleplaying), whilst Windstrike appeals for everyone to look casual (10xp, roleplaying). Soon they are with 120 feet; Dharran calls out.

“Ho fellows, what brings you here?”

“Heard a racket last night,” replies Griac. (10XP, roleplaying)

“We heard it too, its pretty gruesome, I can tell you.”

“Ooh what is it? Do you know what caused it?” asks Windstrike. (10XP, Roleplaying)

“Troll I reckon. Took out a load of Jackleweres, which is a bit weird in itself.”

“Hmm what where they doing around here,” says Bethrynna innocently. (10XP, Roleplaying)

“That’s exactly what we were thinking. So what brings you here, you don’t look like hunters to me.”

“We’re on our way to Olostin’s Hold.” Alstromera puts in quickly. (10XP, Roleplaying)

“You’ve got a long way to go friend.”

“We’re taking our time,” says Windstrike. (10XP, Roleplaying)

“We got lost,” adds Alstromera. “We gave Griac the map.” (15XP, Roleplaying/Humour)

“So you were camping up on the moors, did you get bothered by trolls?”

“No we got lucky.” Says Windstrike. (5XP, Roleplaying)

“These guys weren’t so lucky. Well we’ll let you get on.”

“What are you doing here?” Asks Alstromera. (10XP, Roleplaying)

“We’re just here to collect as many hides as possible, take them back and flog them in Olostin’s Hold, looking for elk mostly.”

They start to walk their way around waving their goodbyes, Dog keeps his eyes warily on the companions as they move towards their camp. From up in the meadows there is a shout from a familiar female voice.

“What is it you’ve seen? Come back and report.” The woman with the golden axes and two more of her group approach from over the hill.

Urgent whispers start to go back and forth between the companions. The halflings want to put the four to sleep quickly, whilst Windstrike thinks they should conserve their strength for the mission that lies ahead. In the end the group goes for the attack. Rubbing eyelashes between their fingers the halflings release their sleep spells. They watch as Satin’s knees buckle slightly before she supports herself on Badger, only Dharran drops to the ground. Dog, Badger and Satin turn to the companions.

“Shit! They are on to us.” Shouts Dog, he looses an arrow which flies over their heads and then picks Dharran over his shoulders as they start to run to their leader. Badger shouts, “they’re bandits boss, they’ve come to steel our pelts.”

“I want to shoot him.” Spits Aklime.

Alstromera releases an agonising blast at Dog, which connects with the half orc making him shout, but he keeps hold of his companion and keeps running. Garret fires an arrow, but it whistles just wide of Dog as Aklime’s arrow narrowly misses him on the other side. Cade has loaded his crossbow and hit the half orc in the back with a direct hit. Dog stumbles and drops Dharran to the floor, he takes one look at Cade and then carries on running, leaving his friend behind.

“They’re not meant to engage.” Calls Windstrike. (15XP, Roleplaying)

Ea lets another arrow fly at Dog, striking him again in the back. At this point they have reached the line of their reinforcements. The leader yanks Dog behind her to safety as the rest launch a hail of arrows at the companions, every single one failing to hit. Now all of them turn to run. All that is apart from the leader who can see the enraged gnome charging straight at her. She draws her two axes and parries the gnomes shikomi-zue, but fails to stop Windstrike kicking her knee out from under her. Bethrynna aids the gnome with a guiding bolt from the heavens that has the half elf with the axes screaming in pain and rage and then she disappears, simply blinks out of sight. Griac charges forward to meet the battle line.

Pushing up to defend her rapidly spreading line of warriors, Alstromera fires another agonising blast at Dog which throws him face forward, out of sight, into the grass. Garrett targets Badger this time with another well placed arrow to a retreating back. Aklime follows up with an equally good shot to Jillen’s back. The battle quickly becoming a ballistic rout, Cade adds a crossbow bolt to Jillen’s collection. The archery takes a turn for the worse though as Ea draws on her bow and the string snaps. The retreating foe put all their energy into the retreat, slinging bows over shoulders they start to sprint through the grassland. Windstrike suddenly sees the grass parting and swaying in a line away from her and gives chase. She swipes out with her sword but feels the clash of metal as her shot is parried, she punches forward but hits nothing but air as her enemy rushes through the grassland. Bethrynna holds her ground in the middle, not knowing where she may be needed whilst Griac charges on to where Dog fell. He spots the half orc crawling away through the grass.

The group are now starting to become pulled all over the battlefield as Alstromera pulls out of formation to chase after the gnome who is running, seemingly after nothing, across the meadows. Garrett launches a long range arrow at Jillen, but with yet another arrow in him the heavily built man continues to run away. Aklime puts a sprint on and flies through the grassland to get nearer to Jillen. Squinting painfully into the sun Aklime’s eyes water as she locks onto the blurry shape at range and lets fly. The arrow soars high and drops, straight through Jillen’s throat, dropping him to the meadow floor (20XP, Drama). Cade calls to Ea for her broken bow string and starts to mind Dharran’s hands before the sleep spell wears off (15XP, Solving). Ea then sprints off to catch the rest of her companions. Dog scrabbles to his feet and starts to run full pelt with the rest of his allies. Windstrike focusses on the swaying path of meadow grass as the invisible woman lets out a shrill whistle. A dark shape starts descend from the sky. Windstrike leaps and cuts out with her shikomi-zue sending a spray of blood spraying out, seemingly from thin air, as she descends, she punches out snapping the half elf, who reappears and drops to the floor, dead (30XP, Drama). An angry eagle-like cry comes from above as a Griffon plummets down towards her former mistress. Bethrynna brings her rope to Cade to help him tie up Dharran as Griac lumbers after Dog swinging his crab claw maul in a huge arc over his head. The half orcs skull explodes on contact and he drops to the ground (15XP, Drama).

As the Griffon dives Alstromera continues her lone run through the meadow and sends an agonising blast straight at the beasts face. It shrieks in anger and targets the vulnerable halfling with its dive. Garrett sends an arrow from distance and manages to strike the beast. Aklime, at full sprint again, adds another arrow to the attack but it sails wide. Cade and Ea run towards the new threat from the sky, but they are a long way from helping their companions. The griffon swoops in, dead set on Alstromera, at that point Windstrike leaps from the grass, slashing her shikomi-zue down the griffons chest and kicking out at the inside thigh of its rear lion-like limb. Time seems to stand still for the rest of the companions as the huge beast tears into the diminutive halfling warlock. Its talons rake at her as its beak tears a chunk of flesh from her back. Even as she sustains a massive amount of damage the gutsy halfling utters a hellish rebuke and blasts the griffon with hellish flames of retribution as it flies on away from her (15XP, Drama). Bethrynna runs as fast as she can to try and get aid to the warlock. In the meantime Griac spits and curses at the half orc before looting his body.

From the griffons eye view the meadows spread out before it. It banks round and sees, disparate, panicking figures trying to reconsolidate their positions. All that matters to it right now is that the small creature with the painful sparks is alone and bloodied below her. Alstromera is wobbling on her legs as she watches the griffon swoop round for another attack. She launches another agonising blast at the creatures muzzle, causing obvious pain but still not slowing its dive. Garrett fires an arrow in desperation, but it flies behind the beast. The griffon closes on Alstromera. The halfing looks up at the steely expression of death from the eagle-face as blood runs in rivulets down her own. She closes her eyes and is therefore not witness to Aklime who has run round with her back to the sun. The dark elf fires a shot, straight and true. It hits the creature in the heart and it plummets to the ground, bouncing one, twice, three times before coming to a broken halt a mere three feet away from the trembling warlock (30XP, Drama).

Bethrynna catches up to Alstromera and washes the halfling in a soothing, restorative blue nimbus. The halfling’s cuts close up and the nasty gash in her back heals, leaving the warlock looking slightly bedraggled in tattered robes, but alive and well.

Episode 7 – Barrow at Solstice Tor (Part 3)
Guardian’s of the Tor

By 11 in the morning the companions have checked over their wounds, and inventoried the dead bodies. Liesta has gold-gilted chain mail and hand axes as well as some money and jewellery, but there is not much of value on Jillan. Aklime interrogates Dharran, asking him what he knows and who sent them (10XP, Roleplaying). He claims to not know much. They are just outlaws and mercenaries hired by Liesta. All he knows is that she works for a man known as Shildersmelt, he does not even know if this is his real name. They frog-march him to the enemy camp which is being broken down rapidly by the mercenaries. Some of them start to run as they see the companions approaching, but they are called back by their superiors. The companions untie Dharran and shove him towards the camp and tell them in no uncertain terms to begone before the morning is over. As they head towards the escarpment, one gutsy mercenary shouts at them that they ‘will never make it out alive’.

Back at the camp, no one is keen to do anything other than prepare and rest. Spellcasters spend time communing with their patrons, gods and muses, Windstrike meditates to regain her ki energy and then studies a gold ring she found on Liesta. It has the design of a closed eye upon it and the warrior woman’a name inscribed inside and is in fact a ring of invisibility. The rest of the companions check over equipment and rest to ensure they are fully fit for whatever the sunset may bring.

Ten minutes before sunset everyone takes up their positions along the line of waystones. Garrett and Bethrynna closest towards the barrow mound with Alstromera, Ea and Griac in the middle of the valley and then Cade and Aklime protecting the beginning of Windstrike’s run.

Using her ring to become invisible, Windstrike peers through the viewing stone and watches the last of the red sun drop down below the barrow mound. Almost immediately the hill directly in line with the viewing stone starts to shimmer. A crack of light that looks like its formed from pure moonlight begins to form the shape of an arch and a stone door replaces the turf that, a moment ago, covered that portion of the hillside. The waystones begins to smoke and everyone, not just Windstrike, can see insubstantial forms, made from fog, start to coalesce into ghostly, incorporeal skeletal warriors dressed in black armour and wielding longswords of black iron.

Windstrike drops from the viewing stone and bursts into a sprint focussing all her attention on the door opening almost a kilometre away from her.

Bethrynna holds her holy symbol aloft and channels Ilmater’s power against the undead. As her symbol bursts into golden light the guardians at the waystones either side of her let out shrieks of discomfort, shielding their eyes from the half elf’s righteousness. Ea runs straight towards on of the coalescing skeletons nearest to her drawing her short swords as she runs, her tail flicking out behind her. With two vicious swings she lays into the guardian, cutting the creature with a ferocity that sets it stumbling backwards. Windstrike opts to use some of her ki energy giving her an awesome burst of speed. Running a full 140 feet she slaps the first of the waystones with her hand as she runs past and, with a howl, the first of the guardians explodes in a column of smoke. Cade cannot see Windstrike, but he sees the guardian evaporate and knows she must be nearby at this stage, so he offers her bardic inspiration as she runs past. Alstromera’s eyes begin to glitter with their customary green as she blasts a guardian with an eldritch blast, she then runs past a stone to create distance between her and the guardian. Aklime has started at the viewing stone to act as a potential decoy to the runner, now she runs after the invisible gnome stopping only to loose an arrow at the nearest guardian. It is just slightly outside her normal range but her arrow remains true and strikes the skeletal apparition. Garrett spins to face the guardian near him. Employing a swift assassinating strike with his short sword he administers a brutal attack, backed up by a further strike from his dagger. Griac, in the middle of the valley swings his crab claw maul into the body of the guardian forming at the waystone near him.

Now the guardians have formed completely they swiftly react to the onslaught. They move with frighting speed as their bodies float across the ground. Two of them are doing nothing but running from Bethrynna in opposite directions, but those near the companions attack. Ea parries the blows from her stunned opponent. Cade narrowly misses a black iron longsword as it swings over his ducking head. Like her fellow halfling, Alstromera also ducks beneath the blade of the guardian she struck a moment before. Garrett is not so lucky. After his vicious assault, the guardian rallies and, holding the long sword flat, it pushes on the pommel with its other hand, delivering a strike that cuts through the rogues leather armour and across his ribs. The cold iron, makes him gasp in shock and pain, but as he feels himself start to weaken he musters all his resolve to fend of the enchantments of the ancient blade. Bethrynna stalks towards the nearest guardian that is not running from her, and calls down a beam of bright light, which engulfs the undead. It does not defeat it, but has clearly hurt it a lot. Ea drives her attack forward, this time not only does she deliver two more powerful blows, she enchants her blade so that when she strikes barbed vines and thorny briars encircle the guardian, trapping it and causing more damage. Windstrike continues her run. Despite her invisibility, as the gnome draws near the guardian seems to sense her and swipes it’s sword, she ducks beneath the swing and taps the waystone, causing her assailant to disappear in a puff of smoke. Cade uses his vicious mockery spell to harm and disorient the third of the guardians. With a guardian right up close to the warlock she unclasps Sleeptongue and strikes at the guardians bony visage. Aklime runs on and now her target is well into her long range, but with the dark elf’s vision at it height now the sun has gone down she strikes again. Garrett spins on his heel and makes himself an elusive object then springs back to attack the guardian, missing with his short sword he does, nonetheless, manage to get a strike in with his dagger. Griac remains locked in mortal combat with his guardian, he swings his maul but chips the waystone also chipping some crab claw off his maul.

The guardians affected by Bethrynna’s ‘turn undead’ are still fleeing the battle, whilst Ea’s opponent cannot free itself from the briars she has wrapped around it. Griac defends a sword swing and Garrett ducks to one side, meaning the characters survive a round of combat with no damage taken. Bethrynna rushes towards the next guardian as Ea batters her entwined enemy with yet more punishing blows. Windstrike keeps running, whilst Cade provides Alstromera with bardic inspiration. Alstromera runs towards Ea, using Cade’s inspiration to blast the beleaguered guardian to smoke, freeing Ea to run on towards the next. Aklime is now so far removed from the battle that her third arrow has to travel so far it misses its target. Garrett continues his epic struggle and this time with two more stunning strikes, especially the second hit with his dagger, the guardian is finally looking like it is on its last legs. Griac swipes again, but misses.

In retaliation the guardian swings for Griac; employing both a parry and stones endurance the Goliath manages to vastly reduce what could have been a devastating blow. In the meantime the two frightened guardians continue their retreat. Garrett yet again side steps a bow from the guardian he is battling. Bethrynna continues her advance on one of the remaining guardians to hold the centre ground of the run, she sends flames of sacred power towards the guardian but this time the skeletal warrior ducks to one side and fixes its evil gaze on the cleric. Ea rushes towards the next guardian and continuing her breath-taking display of swordswomanship knocks it onto it’s back foot with two strikes of deadly intent (30XP, Drama [for four consistent rounds of high performance]). Windstrike expends a send ki point sending another guardian into the ether as she slaps at a waystone on her way past. Cade joins Aklime and Alstromera in a dash towards the barrow mound, trying to catch up with the combat. Garrett spins around his guardian leaving it defenceless and then plunges his sword into its back. The ghostly being bursts into smoke (15XP, Drama). Griac, throws himself at the guardian wrapping him huge arms around the cold armour of the guardian.

The guardian that has been grappled by Griac, pushes itself through the goliath’s body and swings it’s sword at the invisible gnome, she manages to duck the swipe as Griac shudders at the supernatural chill that has momentarily enveloped his body. Meanwhile the guardian that Bethrynna tried to hit rushes at her with terrifying speed at strikes her with a terrible blow. All the strength leaves her body as she collapses to the floor, alive but horrifically pale and weakened. Now that her opponent has evaporated, Ea sheaths her swords and takes her longbow from her back and fires a shot towards the nearest guardian, but it narrowly misses. Windstrike runs on away from the guardian that attacked her, it lashes out one last time and she feels the cold of its sword a hairs breath from the back of her neck, but then slaps the waystone and it explodes in a cloud of smoke.

With the guardians defeated the companions run on in Windstrike’s wake as she streaks like lightning towards the door (50XP, Drama).

Reaching the door, Windstrike holds it open as everyone stumbles into the antechamber of the barrow mound. Garrett leads Daisy and the cart in and then the doors slam shut, enclosing them inside the room. (100XP, Solving Everyone)

The companions find themselves in an octagonal room about 50 foot in diameter. The air is cold and stale and has a lingering touch of death and sulphur to it. As they move around they kick up thick clouds of dust, which adds to the feeling of suffocation. The walls are carved with reliefs of skeletal warriors standing in silent vigilance over the room. Every inch of the walls are covered in the intricate carvings, occasionally they depict battle scenes where the skeletal warriors are defeating hordes of demons or rampaging hordes of beastmen such as minotaurs. At the midway point of the room, on either wall, the legion of skeletal warriors is broken by two large stone eyes also carved in relief. The floors are hexagonal flagstones, grey stone flecked in green, every now and then there is a flagstone with the image of a horned skull. The 15 foot high ceiling is similar to the floor, but the tiles are much smaller, creating a mosaic. A stone plinth stands before them with an ancient script carved into it. At the opposite end is a stone door flanked by two elaborate suits of armour. Lastly the room is lit by four skeletal arms that protrude from the walls at the cardinal directions, they look as if they are clutching an invisible globe, swirling, glittering blue sparkles swirl around the hands providing a dim blue light everywhere.

Studying the plinth, Cade determines the language to be the same as that on the waystones outside, Netherese. This time though, being more than just numbers he cannot read without the use of a comprehend languages spell. Everyone is happy for him to do that and they stay put near the door whilst he studies the writing. They wait an hour to make use of a short rest. After about 10 minutes he provides a rough translation:

“So intrepid fool, you have found your way in. Three of the nine guard these chambers, ever-watchful we shall seem to halt your progress”.

Slowly the characters start to investigate the room working their way towards the middle. They notice that there is nine flagstones that have the horned skulls engraved on them and feel that it may have something to do with the script. Griac suggests they investigate the first four of the tiles on their side of the room, but can’t make out anything odd about them (15XP, Solving). They are suspicious about the stone eyes though and don’t want to pass them until they have investigated further. Ea attempts to pull at one of the skeletal arms incase they may open the door, but nothing happens (15XP, Solving). Windstrike turns herself invisible and slowly walks past the eyes all the way to the door on the far side of the room, she then becomes visible again and waves to the others (15XP, Solving). Griac decides to attempt the same thing, but as he steps in line with the pupils, crackling purple light shoots from each eye, attempting to paralyse the goliath where he stands, he pulls himself away from the ray and stumbles forward out of the ray. At that moment though, the two suits of armour animate and start to stride towards Griac.

Bethrynna quickly moves towards an agitated Daisy to keep her calm whilst the others move into combat mode. Windstrike slashes out with her shikomi-zue towards one of the suits, there is the horrible sound of metal on metal as sparks fly. Kicking out with her foot at the second suit, she dents the armour casing of the leg.

Cade loads his crossbow and fires, but the bolt ricochets off the armour. Griac ducks back under the height of the pupils and rejoins the others. Garrett fires an arrow and it lodges itself between the joint of the animated armour. Windstrike again lashes out with her shikomi-zue, but this time a spark hits her in the eye, making her wince, but she follows with another powerful kick that dents the armour in the chest plate. Alstromera’s agonising blast fails to have any impact, but Aklime puts an arrow through the joint of the helmet and breast plate of one of the lumbering hulks of metal as does Ea. One of the suits turns to attack the gnome whilst the other continues towards the original target of the goliath. Windstrike ducks easily under the two punches aimed at her. The other suit strides past the eyes and nothing happens. Griac fends off both the punches with his shield.

Cade’s second bolt is deflected and Griac takes a big swing, which results him being shoulder-charged to the floor, he scrabbles to his feet before the armour can take advantage of the situation. Windstrike also slips to the ground, but leaps up and kicks out buckling more of the armour. Alstromera tries another agonising blast at Griac’s enemy, but again the bolt goes awry failing to damage the construct. Aklime shoots an arrow at Griac’s suit but misses and, just as she mirrored Aklime’s hit last shot, Ea now mirrors her miss. Windstrike finds herself pushed back towards the door under a barrage of punches, the slender gnome is hit from both sides. Griac still manages to fend off his enemy.

Cade fails for a third time to get a crossbow bolt to penetrate the armour and Griac’s swing of his morning star, is parried by its raised arm. Windstrike, however, is backed into a corner and she runs at the suit, leaping onto it’s chest she puts one arm around it’s helmet and twists as she leaps over it’s back, pulling the helmet clean off. Alstromera use Sleeptongue to lash out at the armour narrowly missing. Aklime moves in for the kill drawing her shortsword and dagger and attacking from behind and prising part of the armour apart. Griac dodges one fist and attempts to parry the second but it stills connects bashing the goliath’s side.

Cade draws his rapier and slips it between the armour’s helmet, popping it from it’s shoulders and after the loud clanging of metal armour crashing to the ground, the room finally goes silent. (50XP, Solving Everyone)

Episode 8 – Barrow at Solstice Tor (Part 4)
Three of the Nine

Due to Bethrynna’s highly weakened state the companions opt to take a long rest before heading any further into the dungeon. They spend some time sorting Daisy out and making sure she is tethered safely near the entrance and has a bag of hay to munch on. Ea, Griac and Garrett check over the equipment in grim silence and pass out food, before people take to uneasy rest in the chill yet suffocatingly dusty air of the entrance room. Windstrike uses some of the time in mediation to recharge her ki energy and Bethrynna sits in silent prayer to her god as he slowly infuses her body with strength once more. Alstromera looks somewhat troubled and almost unwilling to sleep, whilst Aklime twirls an arrow around her fingers, her eyes never leaving the door they are set to go through.

Eight hours later, everyone is shocked awake or startled as Alstromera wakes up screaming something about maggots, she is reticent to talk about it though (30xp, Roleplaying) and so they decide it is time to press on. With a little trepidation, the goliath pulls open the stone door and they slowly head deeper into the barrow mound.

What greets them is a corridor, at least a hundred feet long. The skeletal motifs are repeated all the way down the walls, they follow geometric patterns and are interspersed with lots of Netherese script. Whilst the floor still has hexagonal stone tiles, there are no longer any with the horned skull motif. More skeletal arms clutching invisible globes, surrounded by blue sparkles, provide a dim light. Lastly the companions notice that the corridor is on a gentle incline, taking them deeper under the hill. Cade casts comprehend languages and whilst he spends about half an hour studying the walls the others patiently kick their heels. Eventually the bard reports that the writing appears to be nothing more than obscure philosophical battle tactics and strategies. They are somewhat bizarre though and seem to be more like a game than real war. One theme runs consistent through the writings; the armies are always the undead, hordes of demons or, what are referred to as beasts of men. A passage near the far end of the corridor stands out for not seemingly having any connection to the rest. It reads – The dead will rise, evil will triumph over good, all shall be black and the light shall disappear. They open the door.

The room they enter is not exactly what they were expecting for a barrow mound. They find themselves spilling out into a gigantic chamber of cathedral-like proportions. It is about 200 by 90 feet. Its walls are almost 20 feet high and the ceiling arches up even higher than that, with an elegant lacework of spiderweb-like beams, arches and supports. This room has very plain walls in contrast to the dense skeletal reliefs they have seen so far. The floor is a marble-like substance that runs away from the door to the other end of the chamber in alternating black and white lines. Again skeletal arms light the room, but they are so small in this vast place that they only create small pools of blue light near the edges of the room. Bethrynna utters a word and her holy symbol becomes a beacon of pure white light. Griac adds the guttering orange flame of his torch to the mix. Even so, the characters light sources are small havens in a vast sea of gloom.

Huddled together in a tight group the companions slowly make their way forward along the central white strip, which happens to be twice as wide as all the other strips. A fear of stepping on the black starts to grip the group like a herd mentality as they edge further into the cold, silent room. At this point only Aklime’s superior vision can make out the back of the room. In relief is an immense carving of a horned demonic being with goat legs and a huge cleaver-like sword. They discuss the floor and look for cracks, but don’t make many conclusions. After they have travelled about 50 feet into the room there is an ominous click that echoes around the walls. No more than a split second later the floor drops away from them.

Despite the shock of the situation three of them manage to leap to the black strip to the left and four to the black stripe to the right. Only the goliath, whose extra weight sends him plummeting downwards fails to jump to safety. He falls 20 feet to a long pit, which runs the length of the room, taking minor bruising. At the same time there is the ominous sound of chains running through a mechanisms and the sharper-sighted of them spot huge dark shapes appear at the end of the room. Looking around for a quick escape Griac notices that the walls are very smooth, so throws a rope up to Garrett, but opts to stay down in the pit for now.

Aklime reacts first and leaps over a five foot gap onto a black ledge closer to the left hand wall and runs swiftly in the direction of the looming shapes at the far end of the room. Drawing back on her short bow she fires from 130 feet away the arrow soars across the room and strikes one of the shapes in the distance causing a bellow of rage. Bethrynna runs up the room to provide cover to Aklime. The shapes begin to thunder down the room towards the companions and as they do so they move into vision showing themselves to be huge skeletal, bull-headed monsters. Alstromera [with a strength of 3, standing jump, one and a half feet] quips that she wishes she could use eldritch blast as an eldritch jetpack, 15xp, roleplaying. Windstrike meets the challenge and charges straight towards her nearest monster. Alstromera runs along the right hand side of the centre, her eyes begin to glow green as she releases a blast of eldritch power at a charging skeletal minotaur. Cade moves up with everyone else and calls out encouragement to Aklime providing her with bardic inspiration. Griac and Garrett charge along together, Griac in the pit and Garrett up above with the rope wrapped round his waist, the rogue looses an arrow at the same monster that Alstromera blasted. Ea runs along the right hand side and also fires an arrow at the same charging minotaur. It charges on regardless.

Aklime melds into the shadows and fires a second arrow into her target on the left hand side. Bethrynna moves into the centre of the room now and makes sure she can get to all her companions in case they need her aid. She loads up her crossbow and fires towards the already riddled beast striking it yet again. The beasts thunder on and now everyone can see them clearly. Dried leather and fur drip from the bones, their eyes glow red and they wield huge scary-looking great axes. Windstrike rushes headlong into the first of the charging beasts, unleashing a flurry of blows. Her shikomi-zue is deflected by the axe before she kicks and punches at the giant. Releasing a burst of ki energy the gnome attempts to push the creature backwards into the pit, but the monster is no push over and digs it hooves into the floor and holds its ground. Alstromera now holds her ground and unleashes more energy at the arrow-riddled monster charging down the centre right. Still it charges on. Cade has noticed that the minotaurs have bronze rings on the horns, two on each horn. He moves a little further forward, his bolt goes dangerously close to Bethrynna’s head and misses its mark. Griac and Garrett run either side of the skeletal minotaur that has been hit the most, the rope still between them. They take the monsters shins straight out from beneath it and it lands on its knees (30xp, Solving [Griac]). Ea takes immediate advantage of the prone creature and strikes it in the skull with an arrow.

Still moving through the shadows Aklime fires a third arrow at the minotaur fighting Windstrike. Bethrynna now holds the centre of the room and unleashes the brilliant white light of a sacred flame at Windstrike’s enemy. One of the skeletal minotaurs charges and leaps across one of the gaps horns down, straight at Garrett. The solid rogue is hit hard in the side. There is the cracking of ribs and a gasp as the air is violently expelled from his lungs. He hits the floor hard and still. Windstrike ducks beneath a huge axe swing from her enemy. Whilst across the room a third skeletal minotaur charges into the tiefling it’s horns ripping into her and knocking her unconscious to the floor. The gnome lunges with her sword narrowly missing her foe, but her fist connects with its pelvis. Alstromera blasts the minotaur over Garrett, but still it doesn’t fall. Cade sings a cadence of soothing melodies, which fills Ea with healing energy. The worst of her wounds heal and she gasps as she comes back to a conscious state. At the same time he calls out encouragement, giving the ranger bardic inspiration. Griac has felt the rope go slack, he tugs it gently and realises there is no reaction from Garrett, attempting to the climb out of the pit he slips back down and decides to move back to find another way out. Garrett’s life is slowly slipping away. Ea stares at the snorting beast above her and angrily flicks her tail. She rolls away, leaps to her feet and runs from the monster.

Now having got behind Windstrike’s enemy, Aklime strikes it with yet another arrow. With all the minotaurs now within range of Bethrynna’s holy sphere, she holds afloat her holy symbol and calls to Ilmater for aid. The skeletal minotaurs suddenly bellow in fear and three of them charge away from the cleric as fast as they can (45xp, Drama). Only the one locked in mortal combat with the gnome remains, his axe swinging over her head. She reciprocates by almost slipping on the edge of the pit. Her sword swings wide, but her foot kicks the monster. Alstromera moves in to finish the minotaur as her agonising blast explodes the skeleton into pieces. Cade now rushes towards Garrett. As Griac attempts to climb another portion of the pit. He gets near to the top before slipping and falling heavily on his shoulder. Ea runs to Griac’s aid, sending her own rope down to help the goliath climb out.

Cade reaches Garret and heals the rogue, knitting his ribs together and bringing him back from the brink of death. The companions take the opportunity to break for the far end of the room, but before they leave they unite to defeat the very injured minotaur, knowing that they may have to enter this room again. Aklime fires an arrow, severing the spinal column at the base of the neck, killing it before the others can even get an arrow to their bow. Ea takes two brass rings and sticks them on her own horns. Windstrike takes two as bracelets and Cade pockets two.

At the far end of the room the stripes give way to a grey stone floor for the last 20 feet of the room. In the centre are two sets of stairs that disappear down into the floor. They run down the left hand set.

The stairs wind down deep into the hill until they eventually come out into a 50 foot square room with a stone door at the far end. The room has the same green-flecked flagstones on the floor and the smaller mosaic style on the ceiling, but the walls are relatively plain. Each wall has a dusty, insect eaten tapestry hanging from it and each one has a different figure. One is a dwarf, his eyes are like looking into pits of madness. He is dressed in black armour covered in skulls and wields a double headed axe as big as himself and made of bone. The second is a half Orc sinking her teeth into the neck on a male warrior. Her eyes glow red and a blood red cape billows about her, the air around her is thick with bats. Lastly a tiefling holds his arms aloft wielding purple lightning. Behind him stand ghosts and shadows. On the door itself is another carving of the huge goat legged, demon with the massive horns.

Bethrynna asks the rogues to assess the value of the tapestries (15xp, Solving) and Aklime concludes that on certain markets they could be quite valuable so they roll them up to take later. The smell of sulphur is stronger again in this room, but it seems to be calm so they stop for a short rest. This gives time for Griac and Ea to tend to their wounds. During the hour, they hear the occasional echoing bellow and a stamp from up the long staircase.

Finally they stretch their aching limbs and dust themselves down before congregating around the next door. A 50 foot corridor, similar to the first one they travelled down, but without the netherese script, at the end is another door, which they cautiously open.

This huge circular room smells even more tomb like than previous rooms, there is the tang of dust and sulphur on your tongues. Like everywhere else the air is cold and still, the same flagstones and intricate carvings cover floor and walls. Huge battles between armies of the undeath sweeping demons before them. The same bony arms light the room. Around the circumference of the walls set about 15 feet in from the walls are stone plinths with round marble tops the floor beneath the plinth is indented to the same width and diameter of these tops. At the opposite side of the room is a double door crafted of solid stone and bound in iron that crackles with a faint red energy. On top of the plinth to the right of the door is a small alabaster figurine of a Wight, a skeletal warrior similar to the carvings on the walls. On the plinth to the right of that is another one and to the right of that one more. The fourth plinth round has two stood on it and the next one three. As the plinths circle around the room towards the door the number of alabaster figures on each one increases. Until the final plinth to the left of the door. It is empty. Near the centre of the room is a jumble of these figures, literally hundreds of them, they are in an unkempt pile right next to a large iron lever set in the very centre of the room.

As they all move into the room the doors behind them suddenly slam shut and a green gas starts to seep in through vents low on the wall. Griac runs to the centre of the room to study the pile of figures. Ea and Windstrike sense that it is a sequence and that the correct number needs to be placed on the empty plinth (60xp, solving each). [The gas starts to effect the companions as they lose a hit point each.]

Quickly they spread out and begin to count the figures on the plinths, hacking and coughing as they do so. [They lose a further three hit points by the time the figures are all counted.]

They now know that the plinths hold, in order, 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 13, 19, 28, 41. Ea begins to tackle the sequence as does Griac, but they struggle to reach a conclusion, as another minute passes. Now their eyes are starting to sting and the coughing becomes uncontrollable. [They all lose another hit point.]

Bethrynna hits upon the realisation that it is something to do with adding numbers within the sequence together (45xp, Solving). [The companions take another hit point of damage.]

Windstrike spots the numbers that need to be added (45xp, solving), but momentarily loses confidence she accidentally shift too far over in the sequence, but Griac spots that she is correct (15xp, Solving) and they work out that 60 need to be placed on the final plinth. It takes them five minutes to collect up 60 figurines and place them on the plinth [5 more hit points lost]. They pull the lever and the doors swing open. Everyone spills out into a 30 foot corridor, gasping, coughing and gagging as they slowly rid their systems of the poison. Realising they are poisoned and severely weakened they feel there is no choice but to have a long rest back in the tapestry room. During the rest the companions discuss what the ‘three of nine’ might mean. Cade recalls that some of the Netherese contained a phrase ‘the council of nine’. He then supposes that three of the nine guard or watch over this dungeon, three others may watch over a different dungeon and three more somewhere else. Therefore the three tapestries could be the ones responsible for the barrow mound they are in (45xp, solving)

Moving back through the corridor they open the final door revealing a strange room.

At first glance it’s difficult to know what is going on in this room. You realise though that it is a ten foot wide corridor with walls of twisted wrought iron that form vicious spikes and barbs. The corridor circles round and down forming a spiral that descends to goodness knows where. Although you can see through the fence-like walls you can only see three rotations in before the mass of fencing and dim light prevents you seeing further.

They make their way down and around the corridor and after 90 feet they see a small iron shelf about 3 feet off the ground. On the shelf is a 2 inch figurine of a wight, made from what appears to be black opal. Griac moves further down the corridor and notes that a figurine is placed on a shelf like this every 30 feet or so around the spiral. Griac decides that if they are to take the figurines, they should do it from the bottom and work their way up (30xp, solving).

Finally the winding corridor opens out into a chamber at the very bottom. A circular room hemmed in by the wrought iron walls of the corridor. In the centre is a column, with intricate designs. Near the edge of the room, at three points of an equilateral triangle are three sarcophagus (some or all open). Around the base of the column is piled a treasure horde like nothing you have seen before. Chests full of coins and jewelry. Weapons and armour of beautiful design, as well as bizarre items the use of what, you are still unsure. Only a portcullis stands between them and the treasure.

Bethrynna argues for taking all the treasure to Daisy and then coming back for the figurines. Alstromera’s eyes have lit up and she is staring with lust at all the gold behind the gate (30xp, Roleplaying). Before they take any decision Bethrynna casts detect magic. Lots of the treasure glows with all sorts of different schools of magic. A dark purple glow of necromantic magic emanates from the sarcophagi, walking up the corridor she sees that the shelves or the figurines also glow with a faint magic (15xp, solving).

Griac and Garrett then heave the portcullis about 3 feet up and Windstrike grabs Griac’s morning star to wedge it open. Windstrike then creeps under the gap and starts to pass treasure back out to the others. She gets a mace, a pair of boots, bracers, a broom, a cloak, a shield, a deck of cards, a bottle full of smoke, a pair of gloves, a javelin with a lightning design, mithril armour, shortsword and a fan. She also finds 12 smokey quartz stones, a gold ring set with a green stone, 15 gold bracelets and a silver and gold brooch with the image of a hippogriff on it. By now everyone is starting to get jumpy. The place is still quiet, but they call to the gnome just to collect platinum from the chests. Eventually she manages to grab about 50 platinum pieces per companions backpack. Eventually she rejoins them, there is a lot of money left, but they are scared that greed may be the end of them, as it is they have already been about a hour with the treasure so far.

Garrett and Griac lower the portcullis back into place and hammer pitons into the stone to wedge it shut as best they can. The group then place themselves, one person by a figurine at the top working down leaving two each for the rogues and then Windstrike at the very bottom to take the final nine. On a shouted command, they grab a figurine and start to run for the door. As soon as they do they hear a small click as darts shoot at them from somewhere in the centre through the iron fence. Alstromera, Griac and Ea feel it whistle past them and hit the wall behind them. The rest are hit by the darts. Of those Garrett, Cade and Windstrike feel poison enter their bloodstream. Now that everyone is at speed they can grab the figurines and avoid the darts. Soon the rogues have joined the others in the corridor as the gnome speeds up grabbing the remaining figurines. As she does they hear the cracking of stone from down near the treasure and suddenly there is smashing and bashing against the portcullis.

Only once does Windstrike drop a figurine, she manages to scramble it back into her hands and keep running.

Now it is all out panic as whatever is down at the bottom rattles the gate and wails. The companions hear a wrench as the portcullis is ripped from the walls. In haste they smash pitons into the door to try and further block them in. As they race through the tapestry room the strongest grab the rolled tapestries and heave them up the stairs. At the top the two minotaur skeletons are waiting for them.

Windstrike runs straight through the centre of the room, trying to get the minotaurs attention. Cade charges bravely towards one of them and intoning in a deep baritone laced with magic he throws the minotaur back into a pit with a powerful blast of thunder magic. Garrett runs after Windstrike, Aklime also runs but looses an arrow as she does striking the other minotaur. Alstromera follows after the others as quick as she can. Griac follows the crowd. Bethrynna moves up to Cade and calls on Ilmater to turn the undead, this time though it fails. The remaining minotaur now gives chase. Griac turns and rolls his neck as the beast pounds towards him. “Get behind me.” The Goliath screams as he hefts his crab claw maul in front of him. Cade offers him bardic inspiration as the mighty creature hits. Horns crash into Griac knocking the giant warrior backwards, but he digs his heels in. The fighter trades huge swing after swing with the skeletal minotaur, but it is finally the Goliath who shatters the foul beast and the companions escape with their lives (45xp, Drama).

Episode 9 – End of Season Finale
The Demon Gate

Previously on Raiders of the Realms…

It was the year 1491, the year of the Scarlet Witch. From Silverymoon to Sundabar and many places in between strange adverts began to appear on walls and markets calling to brave heroes and dedicated treasure seekers. Many people applied but finally eight were chosen. The successful applicants were brought into the employ of the mysterious Institute of Reclamation, a fortress-like museum for rare relics. Three of the chosen hailed from Ellen’s Creek, the small village where the institute was situated. These were Bethrynna, daughter of the Innis ‘asualen family, famous perfumers and largest land-owners in the village. Bethrynna had given up the riches of her family business, leaving it in the hands of her brother, in order to join the clergy of the local temple to Ilmater. A half elf of understated beauty, calm temperament and quiet nature beneath which hid a strong heart and powerful dedication to truth and justice. Also affiliated to the church of Ilmater, but this time as a monk in the adjoined monastery, was Windstrike a gnome with a far less privileged background. Adopted by humans after her parents died she was then abandoned on the streets of Yartar, before finally being taken into the monastery by her sensei Thomas Tomanta. With much of her gnomish heritage lost to her Windstrike was withdrawn, surly and bitter. She was driven by a passion to be stronger and better than anything that challenged her. Griac Vemi-Gar was a goliath from a tribe high in the Nether Mountains. Choosing self-imposed exile due to his own sense of inadequacy compared to his stronger more powerful sister he moved to Ellen’s Creek and took up employment in the local blacksmith. He gained local fame and folk hero status when his actions helped stave off the worst of an orc raid before help arrived. From Silverymoon came Cade Tosscobble a recent graduate from the most prestigious bards college in the region. A halfling with a cheeky wit and vast multi-instrumental talent he was to become the groups chronicler and negotiator. His quick tongue could undermine powerful enemies and encourage his friends to great feats. His swift rapier was known for finishing foes already beaten down by his companions. Next came Aklime. Cool, dangerous, and sardonic, she came with a reputation for brutal efficiency helped no end by her dark elf heritage. For those who could see past their prejudice, Aklime was a striking fey beauty, but it was a beauty that had been hardened by her life as a smuggler and staying one step ahead of the law. The last thing her enemies usually saw was her trademark black-flighted arrows sticking out from their chest. Whilst there are some whose tastes may deny the beauty of Bethrynna or Aklime almost no one could deny the beauty of Alstromera. A halfling, who was always regarded to have an earthy wholesome beauty, became a being of beguiling, unearthly, fey beauty after she found her patron. Although she had lost the memories of her past she gained ferocious magical powers. Last of the initial seven, came Garrett another orphan, but this time from the streets of Sundabar. A brawler and a thief, the big Illuskan was also escaping his past when he applied and finally found a useful outlet for his skills in stealth and archery.

As they settled into village life whilst waiting for their first mission, they made a good name for themselves with the locals by helping sort out, giant crab infested waters, haunted houses and a harpy up in the sheep hills. Finally though their first mission came through, the first real test of their mettle. They were to enter the caves of Ignin Leathergut, chieftain of a clan of Kobolds. In his lair was reputed to be a statue of a dragon the institute wished to have reclaimed. Over-coming sentries, ambushes, traps the companions made it to the dart of the kobolds lair. It was here that they fought a hard battle. The bridge over a deep lake went down early on forcing them to think around the situation (which involved throwing the gnome into the midst of the Kobolds. After defeating Ignin and his clan there was another moment of heart-stopping terror when the goliath fell from the hastily erected bridge, as he and Garrett were carrying the statue across. Griac found himself locked in mortal combat with a pale white, cave octopus. Finally though they emerged victorious and took the statue back with them.

The next mission took them south of Everlund to the north-western tip of the Evermoors. On the way there they aided a tiefling ranger who was to become the eighth member of their group. Ea had been brought up by her ranger mother, she knew little or next to nothing of her fiendish heritage, but loved nature and the natural world. At the time the characters discovered her, Ea’s mother had gone missing and she found herself being tracked by a large group of jacklewere’s. It was from these creatures that the companions saved her. Together the eight of them pressed on. At one stage they were ambushed by brigands on the road, until it became apparent that the bandits were led by Aklime’s old boss. At the barrow mound itself, their destination, things became a lot more serious. The instructions were to try and get through a magical door, which only becomes visible once a year. Whilst setting up camp and waiting for the solstice and the appearance of the barrow entrance they had another run in with the jacklewere’s. Managing to delude them the enemy ran into trolls and were soon ripped apart or ran away. The next morning though brought the companions in contact with another camp a camp they had spied on the day before. From what they could gather this other camp were in the region to ambush them as soon as they emerged with the treasure. Deciding to act before their enemy they attacked. The ‘ambushers’ were sent into disarray and their leader among others were killed. In a truly staggering battle Windstrike, Aklime and Alstromera even brought down the leaders pet griffon, but almost at the cost of the warlocks life. When the battle was over Aklime had pangs of regret that one of the enemy, a half orc called Dog, had been killed. She felt he had been brave and honourable and was determined to take him back and find a way to get him resurrected.

The eve of the solstice arrived and as the door appeared so did ghostly black skeletons in ancient armour. A grim battle ensued as Windstrike, using a ring of invisibility picked up from Liesta the dead leader of their potential ambushers, ran at full pelt towards the door. Inside things were to get even more dangerous as they defeated suits of animated armour, solved puzzles involving a poisonous gas chamber and a room rigged with poisonous darts. At the end of it all though they managed to come away with eighteen precious figurines that the institute had sent them for as well as plenty of treasure for themselves. On top of which they rigged an escape route that prevented them from having to face whatever it was that burst out from the sarcophagi at the heart of the barrow.

The Present

Thanks mainly to Cade’s performance at the Vixen’s Tail (a venue that is rapidly becoming known as the Vixen’s Tale) word of the companions exploits is all around Ellen’s Creek within days. Where they have always been respected as the village’s own personal heroes, people in the Ellen’s Creek are now starting to look at them as more than just that. Many of them give open looks of awe when they pass by in the street. The last adventure has finally provided the heroes with some serious funds as well, making them able to eventually loosen their purse strings. As such, the rest of Kythorn and the first half of Flamerule sees quite a bit of journeying.

What was perhaps the most surprising part of their return was the luke-warm response from the institute itself. They were thanked, rewarded, but then dismissed as if nothing much had happened at all. Over two rides later they set off on their next quest, this time to secure a two foot statuette of a tiefling. The object is exquisitely carved in limestone, magically hardened and adorned with countless diamonds. On the 22nd of Flamerule the companions (often being referred to now, by the villagers, as ‘the raiders’) find themselves stood beneath the giant mountain of Ieldruin. It soars above them, it’s snow-covered peak lost to the cloud. The narrow valley that they are standing in terminates at a gigantic cliff face into which has been carved the face of a horned demon some 200′ high. This is their destination, it has taken nine days to travel here, it is The Demon Gate. Alstromera shivers even though the setting sun still warms her back. Vostaramin’s words from a tenday or so back are echoing in her mind and she has a deep sense of foreboding about the place. Griac takes the key of Kiero Varim and inserts it into a tiny hole in the vast rock wall.

But perhaps first we should journey back to the 28th of Kythorn…

Bethrynna glances quickly at the halfling warlock walking beside her. Alstromera has always been beautiful, but the half elf is sure that she has never seen her as beautiful as she has been recently. Since their return the warlock has literally glowed with serene, fey otherworldliness. The cleric had brought a potion to help Alstromera sleep, (her unsettling dreams now being common knowledge among the group) before they decided to catch Cade’s performance at the Vixen, but on the way Alstromera realised she had forgotten her money pouch. As the two reenter the halfling’s room in order to pick up the purse they hear voices outside just as they are about to leave. It is Vostaramin and someone else, a male with a nasal high-pitched voice, they appear to be arguing.

“Quiet, I won’t have anyone hear us.” Vostaramin says.

“No, I’m sure you have an impeccable reputation here.” The nasal voice replies.

“They are all out at the moment, into the Bards room.” And with that there is a slam and then silence.

Bethrynna and Alstromera look at each other in confusion and curiosity. They decide that Bethrynna should quietly make her way outside whilst the halfling turns invisible and listens at the doorway, which they do.

“But they killed Liesta. Your so-called archaeologists murdered my commander.” The nasal voices snaps from inside the room.

“Now listen to me you fool. I had no idea you would send your people to the barrow mound, I have no idea why your people were there. I’m not going to punish my team for clearly defending themselves, because don’t try and pretend you did not have designs on their life Shildersmelt.”

“You think those figurines are yours by right Vostaramin? Finders keepers, you may have got the pieces of Orcus first, but you will not complete this collection.”

Alstromera suddenly backs away from the door as it swings open. A very tall, very lean man appears. He has a large hooked nose and dropping eyes that glint with a dangerous light. He hair is long black and oily. He seems to glance at Alstromera once before he stalks off down the corridor muttering to himself, his deep red robes swirling around his ankles.

Alstromera glances inside the room and sees Vostaramin sat on Cade’s bed, his head in his hands.

***

A few days later on the 2nd of Flamerule Graic and Ea are sat in a clearing with Aulin, Gilbert and Russet. They are feasting on a platter of leaves and roots, which is doing little to satisfy the goliath. He is thankful that he stuffed himself the night before during Alstromera’s birthday celebrations. The day has been a good one. Ea and Griac have made the journey as part of their promise to the druids to check in on the woodcutters progress and the druids are very happy. The woodcutters have shown respect and engaged in the proposals without complaint as a result the woodland is recovering and the woodcutters productivity has not decreased. They do have news of a darker kind though.

There are rumours that some kind of disturbance has taken place high up in the Nether Mountains something that has resulted in an orc tribe, known as The Fell Crows moving down into the foothills. Griac knows of The Fell Crows, they are a tribe that used to cause many problems with his own tribe. He wonders what may have happened up there. The druids go on to explain that the orcs are led by a particularly vicious commander who goes by the name Onetusk.

Thanking the druids, Ea and Griac depart to head back to Ellen’s Creek.

“Say hello to you friend, is he still moving with the times?” Russet calls after them.

A little later on, a small distance away, Jaenax watches the small orc war band she has been following. Jaenax is a half orc recently expelled from The Fell Crows. A practicing warlock she used to advise clan members, but found herself falling out of favour once Onetusk took over the leadership. Now she watches as the war band make excited hushing noises and sneak through the trees towards two figures walking along the forest path. One is a huge Goliath that seems very far from home to Jaenax and an equally unusual sight of a horned woman who is glancing into the the trees nervously, her tail flicking around her legs as she fingers an arrow to her bowstring. The half orc watches as the orcs draw back on their bows.

Suddenly four crude orc arrows fly from the undergrowth, one strikes Griac, bruising him through his chain and another slashes Ea across her upper arm. Ea responds immediately, her woodland senses pick out the hidden orcs straight away, but her arrow flies into the trees and fails to finds a target. The orcs are now rushing from cover, Griac charges and swings at one of the heavy-set tuskers, but misses as the orcs barrel into the two of them, cutting at them both with heavy chops of their nasty looking axes. Meanwhile further back behind the treelike Jaenax hears the cracking of twigs as a massive orc astride a snarling worg comes into view. The orc is dressed in ceremonial, spiked armour and his scarred face is distinctive for its one huge tusk jutting from his lower jaw.

***

It is the 5th of Flamerule and in a tavern in Silverymoon Cade and Windstrike are getting very drunk. They have made the trip so that Cade can visit some old tutors and access the libraries in order to find out more about the Council of Nine. Windstrike has been cagey about why she wanted to join him, but she too has been spending some time in the libraries. Right now though, Cade is seeing the rosy-cheeked drunken monk in an entirely new light. It is the first time he has seen her let her hair down, literally. As the night wears on the two descend into a conversation about how beautiful Alstromera is.

“No I mean she is, she is isn’t she.” Cade slurs. “I can say that without it meaning anything, I mean its just obvious, it’s just a fact isn’t it, I mean just because she’s more beautiful than Sheela Peryroyl doesn’t actually mean I’m in love with her does it?”

“No.” Nods Windstrike in sage agreement. “Just because you think she’s beautiful doesn’t mean you love her, of course not. Although if you did it wouldn’t matter.”

“Oh no of course, definitely, I mean it wouldn’t matter, but I don’t. She’s beautiful, but I don’t love her, even though it wouldn’t matter if I did.”

Their philosophical conversation is interrupted by three rude students who challenge Cade to a lute-off. Whilst the halfling battles them with ballads from Baldurs Gate and dirges from Damara, Windstrike steps outside to get some air. As she does so an almost comically-sinister man in a black cloak approaches her. He glances surreptitiously up and down the street before speaking.

“I hear your friend has been asking questions about the council of nine.”

Windstrike looks at him a little blankly and replies. “My friend?” Before she realises that he must mean Cade (30XP, Roleplaying).

“Your acquaintance then, the little chap with the instrument.”

“Oh.”

“You need to see a man called Borkan, he can be found on Ship Street in Sundabar, just let him know that Yarrish sent you.” With that he strides off down the street and Windstrike heads back into the wall of joyous noise coming from the tavern.

***

Five days later on the 10th of Flamerule a heavy summer rain falls onto the slick boards of Yartar’s riverside docks. Aklime strides with confidence through her old haunt. Garrett chews on some tabbac and glares intimidatingly at the tattooed boatmen who glower at them from the shadows. This is not a nice part of Yartar, especially at this time of night, but Cocoran the Blue was quite explicit in his instructions. The man known as, the Hood, will pay well above the value of your brooch, Cocoran’s finders fee alone will allow him to buy a new boat.

As the two of them head down a dirty, smelly, narrow alleyway close to their destination, three, burly men step out of the shadows.

“I ‘ear you’re carrying quite a bit of money.” The lead thug says to them.

“No we’re not.” Aklime responds cooly.

“I ‘ear, you are.”

“No we’re not! Do you work for The Hood?”

“What’s it to you?” He says a little less sure.

“Because we are going to meet him.”

“No you ain’t, not unless you give me money. Tell you what you give me ten gold pieces and I’ll let you go see ‘im.”

“I don’t like you offer.” (30XP, Roleplaying).

Garrett spits on the floor. “How about you let us past or I’ll put an arrow in your head.” (15XP, Roleplaying)

“Oh now that I’d like to see.”

“You are blocking our way, we’re in a hurry, it’s wet, I’d rather be somewhere else and you’re just really annoying me.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

“I tell you what, seeing as I’m getting bored of you being in my alleyway. If you can punch me before I punch you, then you can go past, otherwise I want 20 gold.” With that he runs at them.

He takes a massive swing at Aklime who ducks underneath and responds by kicking him square in the face, breaking his nose and sending him flat on his back. By then his two friends have also run into the fray. Garrett steps forward and lands a punch square in the face of the first assailant, putting him straight on his arse. The second puts his hands into the air and says “I’ll take you to see the Hood.”

***

A few days after Alstromera eves-dropped on Vostaramin she and Bethrynna get called to his office.

“I know you heard my conversation the other day, I saw Bethrynna outside. I think I owe you an explanation. The man you saw me with was a man called Shildersmelt, we have a rivalry that goes back years, we are both collectors. The figurines held within that Barrowmound are items that Shildersmelt has wanted for a very long time. I had no idea he was going to attempt to retrieve them this solstice I honestly didn’t think he was anywhere near prepared to attempt such a thing. Although I don’t officially condone your actions, I think you did very well to recover those items.”

It is at this point that he looks at Alstromera very intently.

“What do you know about the Demon Gate Alstromera?” She looks blankly at him. “You don’t remember anything about the gate?”

“Explain the Demon Gate.” She asks slowly, a suspicion welling up in her gut.

“You’ve been there before. You have always worked for us Alstromera and we sent you there with a team a few years back. Its where you got your amnesia, its where you found your powers. You were the only survivor from that mission and even then we don’t know how you made it back. I’m saying this in front of Bethrynna so you have a witness, but I would prefer it if you didn’t mention this to the rest of the group.”

“Why?” Asks the cleric.

“Because I want to send you back there, all of you.” And with that he hands them a large heavy key made of red iron. The head of the key is that of a horned demon. “This is the key of Kierno Varim. I want you to recover a statuette of the ancient warlock.”

Bethrynna immediately realises that Kierno varim is the tiefling on the tapestry from the barrowmound (60XP, Solving)

“Why are you sending us back to the place where we all died?” (30XP, Roleplaying)

“Because you failed Alstromera, you came back without the statuette.”

***

Back in the woodlands near the river of Ellen’s Creek Jaenax has seen red at the appearance of her hated rival. She draws dark power within herself and strikes at the chieftain with witchbolt. Onetusk reacts immediately and wheels his worg around. He appears spooked.

“Its the witch, kill them all, I need to get to the elders.” With that he gallops off.

Ea has heard the crackle of lighting from within the trees, she is already staggering backwards from the axe hit to her sternum, which luckily did not pierce her armour. In one swift move she draws both her swords and draws them in a cross over the orcs throat severing his head from his shoulders. Griac makes a wild swing with his crab claw maul, but the orc gets in under the blow and shoulders into the goliath.

Two of the orcs have also heard the lightning and following their leaders command run back into the trees to see what threat is coming from there. Another two force Ea back, one with an axe blow to the back, the other is swinging straight for her head when suddenly his axe rings against Griac’s shield. Griac is pummelled from all angles by the remaining orcs but none penetrate his armour. As the two orcs rush at Jaenax, she utters some guttural words and flames leap from her hands, making one scream out and writhe in agony, whislt the second manages to avoid the worst of the flames by rolling underneath them.

***

Windstrike stumbles back to her table. Cade is still immersed in the battle of the bands so her eyes wander around the room and suddenly she notices two elderly gnomes. They are sat with their prodigious noses poking over the top of a table their arms up high gripping the handles of their drinks, their faces ringed by great shocks of grey hair. They are both staring at Windstrike. Windstrike slips back off her stool and approaches them, which makes them suddenly jump as they realise the object of their staring is now suddenly much closer.

“Ooh, ooh, no sorry, we didn’t mean to stare.” The female gnome says. “You’re friend’s very good.”

“You like him?”

“Well he’s very good.”

“Yes he is, I can introduce you to him if you like?”

“No.”

“I can though, if you like, apparently he’s my friend. I’ve never had a friend.” (60XP, Roleplaying)

“You look a lot like Bell.”

“Who’s Bell?”

“She was a bit of a bad egg actually, used to live here in Silverymoon. You look a lot like her.” As the woman rambles on the old man just continues to stare.

“What do you mean gone? How long has she been gone?”

“Anyway we better be going.”

“Oh erm hang on wait, what you mean gone? She’s moved town?”

“Yes she joined some group and just left one night, rum deal really, not good what she did, not good at all. Anyway we really must…” And they both start to climb down from their chairs.

“No, no, no wait. Tell me about this group.” And then Windstrike experiments with a smile and a word she’s not used to using. “Please?” (60XP, Roleplaying)

Her smile just seems to unsettle them even more.

“We really don’t know much about them.”

“How alike is she? Like you think I could be her?”

“Mmm sort of, back in the day.” And they scurry for the exit.

***

The only thug without a broken nose opens the door to a nondescript shack near the end of the alleyway and ushers the two rogues inside. With immediate professionalism both of them spot two shooters hidden in the rafters and two more hulking guards deep in the shadows at the back of the room. The second two guards are standing behind a large desk, behind which sits a medium-sized person of unknown race. They appear nothing more than a cloak and a deep, black hood.

“I believe you have something to sell.” Says the Hood. “Pop it on the desk, lets have a look.”

“Where’s the money.” Aklime responds. (15XP, Roleplaying)

“Pop it on the desk, lets have a look.”

Aklime carefully unwraps the brooch. The griffon glints with a burnished golden light in dim flames of the sconces and she sets it down. The Hood leans ever-so-slightly forward for a moment. “Now where’s the money?” Aklime asserts. The Hood slips a copper piece onto the table. Aklime fixes him with a very unamused stare.

“This is where you tell me how much you think its worth.”

“Are you the hood?” There isn’t a hint of irony in Aklime’s voice.

“I am.” There is no mockery in the Hood’s voice either.

“So we’ve heard that you’re willing to pay some serious money for this.” (15XP, Roleplaying)

“This is the real deal, I’ll give you a 1000GP for it.”

“A 1000?” Aklime considers the offer for a moment. “1500!”

“What about you silent man?” He addresses Garrett, standing menacingly behind Aklime.

“Sounds good to me, yeah.”

“1000 sounds good to you.” Repeats The Hood smugly, turning back to Aklime. The Dark Elf’s eyes narrow with annoyance as she makes a mental note to have words with Garrett later. “He says a 1000.”

“1250” She counters.

“Where did you find it? It’s very old, do you know that?”

“We got this from a place that no one has ever ventured into before us…”

“No one has ever survived… blah blah.” He mimics as if he has heard this kind of boasting a thousand times before.

“You know your people bothered us.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

“Yeah they do that.” He sighs, seemingly with genuine regret. “They bother me. Alright, yeah I’ll give you 1250 for it.”

Aklime purses her lips as if she is about to argue.

“No, no, you can’t up it now, I’ve met you.” And he starts to fish out bags of money, from a very insecure drawer in his desk.

“We will sell this to you, but we want your word nothing will happen to us.”

“You can have my word.” He shrugs.

***

Ea is on her back foot as the heavy-set orcs press down on her, she has one sword parried, but solissia, her magic blade, cut into one of them. Griac in turn cracks one solidly with his maul. Jaenax now finds herself vulnerable and alone in the woods, the two orcs snarl and cut at her with their axes. She takes some serious wounds and stumbles back out of their way. Griac also finds himself the victim of a vicious assault again, but his armour and parrying skills prevent him getting too damaged. Ea now ducks under the orc fighting Griac and stabs him in the gut with her magic blade, dropping him before slashing at the other. Griac is now free to run into the undergrowth and find out what is happening.

The remaining orcs see that things are not going their way and on Griac’s charge they run.

Ea steps into the woods behind Griac and the two of them look at the half orc who is clutching her wounds. Griac growls with mistrust, but Ea slaps him on the arm and approaches Jaenax. Quietly the tiefling takes out her medicine kit and tends to the half orcs wounds. Jaenax explains her position.

“This Onetusk guy, I’ve disliked him for a long time, I think he should be stopped at all costs that’s why I tried to step in. I saw you two and saw them attack you so knew it was time to put a stop to him.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

***

Deep, Deep down in the belly of Ieldruin, Bethrynna, Windstrike, Griac, Aklime, Alstromera, Garrett and Jaenax find themselves in a cavern of immense proportions. Spindly stone walkways crisscross the open space some 400 feet above bubbling lava pools. The ceiling stretches about another 600 feet up into the black depths. The cave entrance they have entered is mirrored another seven times at various points around the cavern. The precarious walkways all lead to a central pillar of stone from the various cave openings around the outside.

The Raiders start to move single file along the walkway towards the centre. As they do so Alstromera’s vision starts to play tricks on her. Griac momentarily becomes a human knight with a flowing night blue cape. Windstrike turns into a dwarf and back again.

In the distance a cicada-like chittering begins to increase in volume, flapping noises, squeaking and wailing echo down the corridors leading into the cavern and then suddenly, thousands of demonic bats burst into the cave. The companions have reached the centre but these hideous creatures are hurtling at them from all angles. They are like giant bats but their faces are those of demented humans, goats, hideous demons and everything in-between. Alstromera leaps onto her broom and everyone else starts to run.

The bats flood around them.

Windstrike lashes out in all directions with a flurry of blows that sees her dropping 7 bats down into the fiery depths below. Bethrynna sends a beam of radiant light into the midst of the bats and 3 more drop out of the sky. Griac swings his mace in a wide arc as he runs forward crushing the bodies of five bats. The cloud of bats is taking their toll though as wings claw and little teeth bite at the fleeing companions. Alstromera speaks in dark intonations her friends have not heard before as her eyes burn with a green light and dark black tentacles reach out from her and lash at the swarm of flying fiends. Nine of them crash to the lave far, far below.

The characters struggle forward. The minutes grind on and seem like an age as they lash out with weapon and spells. No matter how many they destroy more seem to take their place. All of them become bruised and bleeding. At one point Windstrike is pushed to the very edge of the walkway where she slips and just manages to grab on with her tiny hands (60XP, Drama). She dangles 400 feet above the boiling pits of lave before Griac scoops her up and carries her cradled to his chest. Heads down they struggle on, Bethrynna calls on her powers to heals all of them in a pulse of cleansing energy (15XP, Drama), until finally one by one the companions stagger into the blackness of the cave entrance…

Only to discover that they have awoken from a bad dream into a nightmare.

All of them are tied to pillars of stone, bound at the wrists with cords of magical energy. They are all facing down into a central chamber that is dominated by a giant portal gate with swirling amethyst energy filling the centre of it. In front of the portal is a pentagram made from salt and iron. Kneeling down in the pentagram is a tiefling in flowing gowns, he turns and regards them one by one with eyes that are orbs of swirling metallic purple. Finally his gaze rests on Alstromera.

“So you’ve managed to wake them have you Whitetip? I’m impressed, perhaps what they say is true, maybe you could have had potential, you are certainly hard to charm. Well I’m sorry to tell you beautiful but I’ve got a 1000 years on you.”

He turns back to the portal and raises his arms. A huge demonic head begins to force its way through the swirling amethyst gate, everyones blood runs cold as the horned face they have seen in various carvings becomes very real before their eyes. The demons black eyes seem to have the ability to suck the very breath from their lungs. A huge goat-like leg steps through the creature standing a full 60′ his fetid breath filling the room with an unnatural heat.

Suddenly Alstromera’ patron speaks to her. “Little sister, this is Orcus, The Black Prince. If he enters the material plane there may be no stopping him. It is up to us.”

With that Alstromera feels her bonds break and she drops to the floor, but almost immediately begins to swell and grow to match the size of the Demon Lord. Kierno Varim wails in dismay and hurries from the chamber. Power surges through the halfling, her eyes literally blaze forth flames of green fire as she incants the spell dominate monster. Orcus pauses halfway through the gate as her power pushes at him, but he looks upend his eyes burn red.

“You have no power over me Titania ad he forces himself further into the room.”

Pointing her finger at him she releases finger of death. Orcus howls in pain and staggers back through the portal leaving the room in shocked silence. Alstromera towers above them her gowns billowing, her hair flowing around her and her eyes like orbs of green light. when suddenly a black whip flicks through the portal and wraps around Alstromera’s body. She is yanked into the swirling amethyst glaze and disappears to the Abyss beyond. (60XP, Drama)

The portal suddenly goes dull and the bonds break dropping everyone to the floor.

Alstromera is gone. She is no more.

Episode 10 – Cold Winds and Dark Tidings

The companions return from Ieldruin on midsummer and enter Ellen’s Creek to music, dancing and feasting. It is early evening, there is still bird song in the air and the warmth of the day still lingers. A huge midsummer fire is blazing away in the field behind Constable Hugo Paltrim’s tower with many of the villagers stood around drinking, eating and chatting. Across the market from there, the shrine to Silvanus is home to much dancing and music as Lasslantius and Cade entertain the crowd. As they wearily near the fire, Piku, one of Dorren Bucklebrow’s daughters, runs over to them with a big beaming smile. She looks up at all of them, casting her gaze around and then with a frown asks Bethrynna “Where is auntie Mera?”

There is an awkward silence as Bethrynna looks at her companions who are all looking at their feet or the fire or anywhere but her.

“She won’t be coming home anytime soon Piku, I’m sorry.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

The small halfling girl, wrinkles her brow and hurries back to her father in the queue for the hog roast. There are a few groups of villagers standing around eating. Olaf and D seem to be the token offering of members from the Institute, but Griac spots his boss Jaldar and his wife with a small group. They keep glancing to a lone figure on the edge of the market. The weary travellers move over to find out who the new comer is.

“Some Moon Elf from Silverymoon.” Jaldar mutters in his gruff voice. “Born on Lloth’s watch rather than Corellon’s, Rualym says. I wouldn’t know anything about that, but he’s certainly a sullen chap, said nothing ‘cept ask about you lot and something about a council of nine.”

The companions look at each other with startled expressions.

“Let me see if I can find out who he is.” Bethrynna suggests.

She makes her way to the elf, who is stood nursing a mug of mead, and greets him in Elvish. “Happy Midsummer stranger, I’m Bethrynna and on behalf of Ellen’s Creek and the temple of the Enduring Heart, may I welcome you.” (60XP, Roleplaying)

The elf looks at her coldly. “I don’t need your welcomes, leave me be.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

Bethrynna is too taken aback to respond and merely nods curtly, before returning to the others.

The companions start to disperse to find, food, drink and somewhere to rest their weary bones. The long journey and horrific experience at demons gate has left everyone shocked and the loss of Alstromera has touched them more than they had realised.

Aklime notices, standing with a small group from the temple, a cleric in gowns, that although modest still point to someone of rank. This must be the high priest from Damara. She makes her way over and nervously introduces herself.

“I have heard much about you Aklime, a shining example of how race does not define the person. I am Seberek the Just, I shall be performing the Resurrection tomorrow.”

“I have most of the money.” She says meekly. This is a situation where the hard-haggling smuggler doesn’t feel comfortable. “I’m just a little short, can I pay the last in instalments?” (30XP, Roleplaying)

Seberek smiles at her. “We have every faith that you will meet your debts Aklime, please do not trouble yourself.”

Not yet realising that her friends have returned, Ea is watching Lasslantius and Cade perform a song about a fornicating satyr who has had a spell of repulsion cast on him by an angry wizard. The audience are in tears of laughter, but Ea only has half her attention on the song. She did not make the journey to Ieldruin because she had already left to scout out more details regarding the ambush that had brought Jaenax into their fold. Now though she finds herself surrounded by Aulin, Gilbert and Russet who are gushing their apologies at her.

“I should have realised earlier.” Says Russet. “Your mother is well respected by the northern druids and often attends the moots. She is a Harper Ea, she wanted you to join when you where ready. She would be so proud of you now.”

“Do you have any idea where she went?” Ea asks, her tail twitching with nervous excitement.

“All we know is that she went to investigate some strange migrations of beast men in the Evermoors.”

***

The next morning sees Aklime accompany Bethrynna to the temple. Bethrynna has been asked to help Seberek and Jondath with the duties. Aklime is asked to wait in an ante-chamber outside with two acolytes from the temple.

By now, Dog has gone into a stage of active decay. Without having been protected from flies for a number of days and without being suitably chilled prior to today he has moved beyond rigor mortis, his body has already boated and ruptured and maggots have already begun to break down much of his corpse.

Bethrynna manages a whole minute in the room before running out with her hand over her mouth. Aklime leaps to her feet as she watches the cleric run down the corridor. The acolytes put their hands on her shoulders and lower her back to her seat, assuring her everything is fine.

Back inside the room Seberek takes what looks like a very valuable diamond between his fist and holds it above the decomposing corpse, intoning deeply he touches his other hand to the centre of Dog’s chest. Bright motes of dust float down from his closed fist and as the particles land on the body, the maggots begin to squirm and shrivel until they disappear. Slowly over the course of an hour Dog begins to reknit and reassemble until eventually he looks fit and healthy as colour returns and muscles start to twitch.

Seberek looks drained, but smiling at Aklime he informs her that Dog would like to speak to her.

Entering the room, she sees Dog sat up on a bed, still looking weak. He smiles at her.

“Why?”

“Because you fought with honour. Because you are brave. Because you did exactly what I would have done.”

“The others?”

“Some were killed.” She replies. He nods, sagely expecting nothing more.

“What about Dharran?”

“We returned him, he survived.”

“That’s good, Dharran was ok, a good guy in a bad bunch. I have something to ask. Dying is a strange experience, I have no desire to return to a mercenaries life, but it also means I have no purpose. No one’s given me a second chance before, I would serve as your bodyguard, if you would have me?”

The tension in Aklime’s shoulders subsides and her dark lips break into a smile.

“I would be honoured.” She laughs. “I’m Aklime by the way.”

“Dog.” (90XP, Roleplaying [scene])

***

As the month of Eleasis rolls by, the Insitute remain quiet both on the subject of Alstromera and what the next mission may be. Olaf left on some kind of secret mission shortly after Midsummer and hasn’t returned. Unhappy to stand around doing nothing, Griac, Windstrike and Garrett leave for Hilltop, to try and find out more about the movements of the orcs. Ea continues to try and break through to the sullen newcomer. He has taken up lodgings at The Merry Fey Inn and hardly ever leaves his rooms, apart from for food. People have complained about strange noises and smells. One day Ea catches him in the dining room and thinks it would be a good gesture to share some of her catch with him. She boldly walks over and throws a skinned rabbit down on the table next to him. He jerks back in surprise.

“And what? Am I supposed to do with that?”

“Its food!” Exclaims Ea in a hurt voice. “Look I’m just trying to make you feel welcome and quite frankly you’ve been nothing but rude.” (45XP, Roleplaying)

“Ive told you before I have no need of welcomes, just quiet so I can concentrate on my work.” (45XP, Roleplaying) With that he grabs the rabbit carcass and disappears to his room, only to appear a few hours later covered in black soot.

***

It is evening of the 1st of Eleint, the warmth of the summer sun has gone and although it has been a moderate day, variable winds have started to blow down the valley from the mountains. Everyone knows that it is a matter of days before autumn starts to chill the life from this part of the world. The companions have met together at one of the more private tables in the far corner of the Vixen’s Tale for a semi-clandestine meeting. It is away from the fire, but they are looking for quiet. They have had to almost smuggle Cade in so he doesn’t get mobbed with requests. Alstromera’s disappearance through the portal gate at Ieldruin has obviously affected the companions, but it has clearly affected the villagers also. Although they never knew her well, the almost supernatural fey beauty that radiated from her had made her a kind of agricultural fertility good luck icon. What concerns them more is the lack of communication from the Institute. They are itching for activity, something to help them get over their feeling of failure from losing a companion.

There are three main points of concern.

Firstly The Orcs of a Thousand Fists have moved much lower into the valley and are already making skirmishes against farmsteads surrounding Hilltop and Jalanthar. Jaenax explains that recently a tanarukk approached the chieftain of her clan. Whatever he suggested, it fell on deaf ears and he was sent packing. Within a ten-day the chieftain was dead and Onetusk had taken control of the tribe. It wasn’t long before the tanarukk was back and slowly the elders and Onetusk had been subverted to a form of demon worship, rejecting Gruumsh and the other orc gods.

“Lets just say my particular source of power has always made me a bit of an outsider in the clan, but now I found myself a clear rival to this tanarukk, Golgrieg. It wasn’t long before he had poisoned the elders and Onetusk against me and I had to leave.” (45XP, Roleplaying)

The second point of concern is the Council of Nine itself. With so little being known about this entity, but it appearing a couple of times at least now, on their quests, they realise it has some significance to what they are seeking and to know more would be prudent.

Having realised by this point that the annoying villagers who keep disturbing his peace are in fact the very adventurers that he came to Ellen’s Creek to seek out, Aoefell has made his way to the Vixen’s Tail to seek them out. Seeing them at a table in the shadows he knows they must be deep in conversation and subtly wanders in that direction. As soon as he hears the phrase ‘Council of Nine’ being muttered all attempts at subtlety leave as his hunger for knowledge takes over.

“Did I hear you mention the council of nine?” The companions are horrified at being overheard, all but Cade who is already tipsy. Being the one who has gathered the information they have to date, Cade is keen to discover more and if this creepy wizard can help all the better.

“We did.”

“What do you know of the Council of Nine?”

“Not a lot to be honest, we have been into an ancient tomb that spoke of various things connected to it. We have been given a lead, some chap in Sundabar who knows more. Problem is, one of our members, Garrett, has a contact there who says he is a complete madman and we should stay away.” (45XP, Roleplaying)

“I too seek knowledge of the Council of Nine, I can pledge my spells to your cause if you will consent to have me accompany you?” (45XP, Roleplaying)

Bethrynna and Ea give each other a look, but the group agree.

The final point concerns Ea’s mother. Just a couple of days ago Russet came to the village seeking Ea out. This time it was such a state of emergency that she did not even have the energy to make sarcastic jibes about Garrett. It has been confirmed by a Harper agent that her mother is alive. Unfortunately the agent is deep undercover in a place called Black Crag’s Blood an illicit trading city, full of bandits, smugglers and murderers and they are unable to get any more news. To find out more would require getting into the camp in disguise. This would not be easy, the place is run by a terrifying ex-gladiator minotaur known as Huge Heffner and he rules the place with an iron grip and his only specialist agents. The only thing they know for sure is that Ea’s mother, Allusia Foxfriend, was held captive by the beast men she was tracking. Jaenax knows that Black Crag’s Blood is hidden away near the river in Turnstone Pass.

Looking at the map, they realise that their mission objectives fall in a line.

“I think I’ve made my choice clear.” States Aoefell. “But I suppose as we are going that way, we might as well give those despicable orcs what they deserve.”

“Excuse me! We are not all despicable.” Jaenax growls, tightening her fist. (30XP, Roleplaying)

Aoefell continues, undaunted. “We will obviously then discover what we can at Sundabar and seeing as we will have already gone that far we might as well se if we can locate this hunters mother.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

***

The next morning sees the companions in Everlund, although the winds are stronger at times, the weather is warmer than the previous day. There is a crush of merchant activity as caravans and traders bustle through all five of the cities gates. Autumn is almost here and in this part of the world it means winter is close on its heels, so people are trying to secure as much trade as they can before the weather turns. The walls are also bristling with soldiers. Everlund usually boasts a good show of defence, but this time of year also sees many dangers move down from the mountains to predate the low-lying countryside. Rising above everything in the city is the black stone of Moongleam Tower.

Ea decides to pay a quick visit to the tower as she has recently learnt from Russet that not only is her mother a Harper agent, but that the tower is one of the foremost Harper strongholds in the region (15XP, Solving). She is greeted by a woman in armour and travelling cape.

“I’m sorry Ea, I knew your mother well. I cannot allow you admittance just yet, but if you really are heading to Black Crag’s Blood find out whatever you can and I assure you it will stand you in good stead should you wish to become a Harper yourself.”

The rest sort themselves out with some supplies. Cade manages to haggle a trader down from 90 to 75GP for two suits of studded leather, one of which is for Jaenax and he pays most of the money for. (30XP, Roleplaying)

The rest of the days journey takes them about halfway to the ruined village of Lhuvenhead, where they find a campsite. Three large wagons have set up camp with a full entourage of guards, teamsters and merchants. There is a travelling band of musicians and a tinker with a pony and small cart. Cade approaches the tinker and asks whether he has seen any broken swords or artefacts that could help identify the orcs in the mountains (15XP, Solving) The halfling tinker replies that he has not, but he has seen much evidence of them and even spotted to scouting parties since his journey down from Sundabar.

As they make camp, Ea heads into the woods to find food.

***

Ea pads silently through the leaf litter beneath giant shadowtops and maple. Ahead of her she sees a stag, it appears lame and walks nervously through the trees. Crouching quietly Ea pulls back on the bow and hits the creature solidly in the neck.

It bolts. Ea curses and springs up to give chase.

The deer leaps fallen trees and cuts sharply around low lying branches, Ea lithely replicates each move and after half a kilometre the deer breaks out into a small clearing. Following, Ea slams her tail into the ground to help her stop and draws another arrow to her bow. Letting fly the second arrow brings the magnificent animal down cleanly. Shouldering her bow she kneels by her kill and offers a quick blessing to Mielikki, as her mother would have done and begins to truss the four hooves together. As she works her keen hearing picks up a noise. She sees a shadow moving beyond the tree line. Could it be one of the travellers from the campsite? There are others, moving towards the edge of the clearing. She sees them now, tall, animalistic humanoids with long jackal-like faces.

“Oh you have got to be kidding.”

One sniffs the air and then howls. Suddenly ten of the creatures crash into the clearing and start running straight at the ranger. Giving one look of regret at the trussed up animal, Ea spins on her heels and sprints back the way she came. Calling on her inherent ability to lend power to her voice Ea shouts for help. Her voice is amplified threefold and booms through the forest. It is the second time she has used her voice in her struggle against the Jackalweres (15XP, Solving).

***

Back at the camp Cade, Aeofell and Bethrynna are preparing bedding and cooking utensils near to the fire, whilst Aklime and Jaenax hunt for firewood. The bard, wizard and cleric lift their heads as they hear the faint reverberations of an explosive shout from deep in the woods. Aoefell looks puzzled, but Bethrynna and Cade look at each other. “Ea.” They mutter in unison. Quickly they are calling to Jaenax and Aklime to come back from across the road. Some of the caravan guards have obviously also heard something because they have half drawn their weapons. Aeofell, Bethrynna and Aklime rush straight into the woods whilst Cade calls to the guards. Jaenax hangs back to wait for the bard.

“Our friend is in danger, we will be assured of victory in numbers, glory lies in those woods, I can make your names immortal.” (60XP, Roleplaying) It is a pretty speech and the guards look moved, but they call out that they have strict instructions not to leave the wagons. Jaenax moves up close to the lead guard. She stands a couple of inches taller than the thick set man and allows her red eyes to burn into the man’s pale grey.

“That could be my ex clan out there. Trust me you’d rather face them alongside us than all on your own here, with the light of the fire to highlight you as sitting ducks.” (60XP, Roleplaying)

He gulps nervously and flicks his eyes at his men. “We can’t I’m sorry.”

“We’re losing time.” Cade whispers and the two sprint after their companions, Cade’s new boots allowing him to keep up.

***

Ea’s lungs burn as her feet pound through the soft loam of the woodland, she can almost feel them breathing down her neck as one makes a grab for her tail. As with the first time she encountered them she realises they are just too fast. Suddenly a giant shadowtop rears up before her. Leaping for a low branch she allows her momentum to carry her up as she swings into the lower branches. (30XP, Solving). The lead jackalwere almost runs straight into the tree. It grabs at the trunk with a clawed hand and begins to climb after her, swiping for her leg and just missing. Two others throw themselves at the base of the tree and begin to climb. Ea, catlike, rushes from branch to branch managing to put distance between her and the lead jackalwere. Throwing her back against the trunk she lets fly an arrow, but it grazes past its shoulder nothing more. Realising she is climbing towards a dead end, she opts to move out across the branch and try to leap to another tree (30XP, Solving). At the dangerously flexing, narrow end of the branch she goes to leap, but suddenly it snaps and she drops straight down.

Managing to grab a branch, she stops her fall but pulls painfully at her shoulders. Her feet are now about 8 foot from the floor and jackalweres are leaping at her trying to grab her feet. There is a grunt and she watches as one drops to its knees a black-flighted arrow in its back.

“Aklime.” The ranger, almost cries in relief.

There is no time to relax though as the lead jackalwere climbs back down and the two lower down eye up her branch with a view to climbing out to her. Three of the jackalweres have turned and spotted the dark elf running silently in the lessening light, straight towards them, and have set off to meet her. Throwing caution to the wind Ea drops. Her ankle gives under her slightly, as she hits the floor, making her stumble. One shortsword slashes out to the side striking a jackal were who then tries to leap at her, but she stabs it in the gut.

“Meet Solissia, dog face.” (30XP, Drama)

Aklime hits an oncoming jackal in the shoulder with another of her trademark arrows. Bethrynna is close behind and she holds her hand forward, bringing forth a beam of golden light that rips into the same beast that Aklime has just shot. Even with a sword in its gut the jackalwere leans forward and bites at the neck joint of Ea’s armour. On Aklime’s other flank is Aoefell, black robes billowing behind him, muttering something in a guttural tongue three bolts of bright flame streak out towards the oncoming trio. One of them just misses its target and strikes the damp leaf litter, the other two blast their targets, making the jackalweres throw their arms up in alarm.

Surrounded Ea looks to cut her way free. Pulling Solissia from the jackalweres gut she replaces it with her other sword before stabbing Solissia through it throat. The jackal were drops heavily to the floor and she makes a run for it through the gap (30XP, drama). Another of the beasts lashes out at her arm as she runs past. Now having reached the battle Cade begins to intone an unnerving, sinister dirge. The jackalwere with Aklime’s arrow in its back, clutches at its head and falls back to the floor, it writhes in agony as hideous, dissonant whispers test at the beasts mind. Then it shudders and lies still. With a new threat appearing from another flank, three more jackalweres focus their attention on the newcomers. Jaenax blasts a ferocious spear of jagged red lightening straight at one of them, which knocks it sideways as it runs at them. As the three approach Bethrynna and her companions get closer she calls down a beam of devastating radiant power, which hits one of them, making it knees buckle.

Then they strike.

Three beasts plow in, but the dark and moon elves dodge to the side. Bethrynna finds herself face to face with a slavering maw as its teeth cut across her jawline. Ea is tackled from behind, as a jackalwere wraps its arms around her legs and brings he to the ground, suddenly a second has jumped on her and is biting at her arms. Aoefell, meanwhile, unleashes three magic missiles at close range slaying two and injuring the last of their close enemies (30XP, Drama).

Scrabbling to her feet Ea, lets out a cry of rage and stabs down at each of the jackalweres at her feet, they roll away from her to escape the enraged tiefling. Three jackalweres are now bearing down on the halfling and half orc. Cade binds magical threads of music and madness together to create an iron crown of thorns which tighten on the skull of the lead enemy. It eyes, glaze over with insanity as it waits Cade’s command (15XP, Solving). The next thing the three of them feel is a sheet of agonising flame as Jaenax sprays them with the heat of hell. The one that she had hit early with her lightning, drops dead to the floor (30XP, Drama). Bethrynna pushes at the chest of her enemy to prevent it chewing her face off, as she does she fires her sacred flame straight through its chest and it drops to the floor, dead.

Back with Cade and Jaenax, the mad jackalwere lunges at its surprised companion as one burning beast starts to bite another. By now Ea is back under pressure as her foes leap to their feet and rush her, she sidesteps one, but the other slams into her and slashes at her face. With the view now clear, Aoefell a second batch of scorching rays, all three of them slam into Ea’s assailants knocking them backwards in shock (30XP, Drama).

Taking advantage of their confusion, Ea reverses her swords and stabbing out to either side puts a blade through the throat of both her enemies. Her tail gives a flick of satisfaction as they go stiff and slip from her blades to the floor (30XP, Drama).

“Call it a thank you for the rabbits.” Aoefell calls dryly. Ea gives him a sardonic smile and a mock bow as Cade rushes to her side and washes the battered tiefling with healing energies. Aklime sends an arrow into the jackalwere being bitten by its companion, dropping the creature. The mad, enscorcled jacklewere looks up confused as his head gets battered one way then another by Jaenax’s two clubs as he staggers backwards Bethrynna puts a bolt of golden light into his chest and he falls to the ground a smouldering ruin.

“We thought you were getting food, not being it.” Jaenax says with a wink.

“I did catch a deer.” Ea replies defensively.

“Well then, lets get it, I’m famished.” (15xp, Roleplaying)

That night the watches go without interruption. Although those on watch earlier in the evening claim to pick up the faint hint of sulphur on the air. This has gone by the early hours of the morning though as thick, damp cloud descends from the mountains.

***

The next morning the wind has dropped right down along with the temperature a little and the companions find themselves in fog so thick they can only see clearly to about 20 feet in front of them and only to a maximum of 50 feet at all. The Merchants caravan is heading to Sundabar so for the first half of the day they travel with it, but the fog makes the merchants nervous and they decide they don’t want to be in Lhuvenhead in such weather so the companions bid their farewells and carry on without them.

The broken, burnt buildings of Lhuvenhead fade into view through the thick fog. They look like black teeth in the fading light. Six years ago this village was destroyed by the Many Arrows tribe before they continued down the valley to besiege Everlund and Silverymoon. Now in this inclement weather the place truly seems like a ghost town. The unseen waters of the Rauvin to the right lap against the shore and as they do they unsettle broken jetties and the remains of tied boats. The noise that it creates is an unsettling blend of creaks, groans and thuds. As they reach the first of the buildings, they are suddenly surprised by a throaty cough. With their hands going to weapons, an orc rounds a building. He is just as surprised as the companions. He is a large brutish fellow, with very large vicious looking tusks. He is dressed in studded leather armour and carries and hammer and shield with the symbol of one solitary tusk painted on it. His eyes go wide and he bolts for cover.

Jaenax calls after him in orcish. “Stop, we mean you no harm.” (15XP, Roleplaying). He does not stop though and from somewhere in the fog-riddled village they hear a pained groan and then silence.

“I know of him.” The half orc whispers with uncharacteristic caution. “Guthic Bolge. A loner. An agent of Onetusk, spy and scout. What’s more, its rumoured that he is a wereboar.”

The others shiver and suddenly every grey shadow in the fog is a monstrous boar about to charge and gouge them.

Quickly they move into the village, weapons at the ready. The wooden structures are completely delapidated and seem to offer no protection, but then they spot the village hall, a stone structure that has lost its door and windows, but at least seems partially defensible.

Just then there is the scrape of something on the floor and a pebble skitters. Quickly Cade throws a Faerie fire spell in the direction of the noise, everything in the area begins to glow with an eerie blue light, including a massive hunched shape now shining through the fog. It snorts in rage and charges away into the distance.

The companions hurry to block off the windows and door and make a small fire to cook some of Ea’s hunt. They pass an uncomfortable night fairly certain that Guthic Bolge had come back during the night and was snooping around, trying to find away in (200XP each, 100 Solving, 100 Monster XP)

***

By morning the fog has cleared and the wind has got up again. They set off straight away in order to put Lhuvenhead behind them and walk out their aches from a disturbed night. It is an uneventful day that takes them past some breath-taking scenery of broken moorland and plateaus as the river valley starts to rise towards the mountains.

As the day is ending, with still about 10 miles to go before they reach the junction to Hilltop they see lines of black smoke beyond a small woodland. There are the sounds of shouting and screaming. Carefully making their way over the rise the companions look down from the edge of the woodland to a farmstead on fire. There is a lot of destruction and other fires dotted around, such as the barn, but the first thing they notice are three huge monstrosities. They have massive distended guts, which contradict a frightening mass of muscles and tendons in their upper bodies. Small heads on thick necks, with piggy eyes above a massive jaw of tusks, even though Ea and Jaenax are the only two to have seen one before they all know these to be ogres. They are smashing at the house with clubs and screams can be heard from inside. As if that wasn’t enough, removed by about half a kilometer from the ogres to their left are a party of orcs carrying prisoners away up into the crags beyond the farm.

Episode 11 – Orcs of a Thousand Fists (Part 1)

With the smell of snow from the mountains, crisp in the air, Windstrike trudges along the banks of the Rauvin almost two days out from Hilltop. Griac, certain of an imminent attack, has opted to stay in Hilltop. Garrett has made his way further east to Sundabar, there he hopes to meet up with his former mentor and find out more about this mysterious Borkan. As Windstrike is thinking about where to stay for the night she remembers there was a farmstead in this region. She rounds a corner on the road to be greeted by the smell of smoke and she sees two thin black columns reaching up to the sky. Running down a farm lane she arrives at the farmhouse to see one end of it on fire and hears cries for help from somewhere inside. Using her ring, she blinks out of sight and makes her way around the building to where she can hear loud excited voices and the smashing of heavy objects against brick. Three very large, very ugly ogres are swinging over-sized clubs into the side of the house.

By now the companions on the hill have opted to move towards the house. Ea, Aklime and Dog sneak as swiftly as they can ahead of Aoefell, Cade, Jaenax and Bethrynna. Two thirds of the way down Aklime and the rangers suddenly see one of the ogres (who has been shoving his hands into the side of the house and pulling away the masonry) yelp in pain as an arc of red blood sprays from his calf. Some unseen force propels him into the side of the house as Windstrike blinks into view stamping her tiny foot down hard on the ogres toe. (30XP, Drama)

“Ow.” Yells the ogre, known as Mash Mash. “I’ve been stung.”

“Liesta’s ring.” Mutters Dog as he shakes his head with a bittersweet smile.

“Where in the nine hells did the gnome come from?” Laughs Ea.

“Don’t know, but she’s coming this way.” Replies Aklime leaping to her feet.

Windstrike is indeed tearing up the hill towards them with an enraged Mash Mash in tow. Aklime releases one of her signature black-flighted arrows straight into the huge beasts belly. Dog fires on Aklime’s cue but his arrow is swatted away by Mash Mash’s club. Ea also fires at Mash Mash her arrow thudding into his chest, just above his heart. In response the ogres pull huge javelins from straps at their backs and in unison hurl them at the attacking group. One whistles past Aklime as she dodges to the side. Ea barely moves out of the way as it thuds into her armour breaking a rib and knocking her backwards (30XP, Drama). The tiefling’s silver orbs burn with anger as she curses the ogre who hit her. Wicked red flames suddenly wash over the ogre known as Hector and he screams in pain, Ea’s Hellish Rebuke wracking his body. As Windstrike turns she sees the javelin flying directly for her, she leaps to the side and palms the missile away with the bottom of her feet (30XP, Drama). Aoefell hurries forward to the lead group and releases an acid arrow at Mash Mash. It splashes straight into his face. The poor Mash Mash falls to his knees clutching his face.

“I’m melting!”

Cade puts a crossbow bolt through the centre of his forehead and the monster slumps to the ground out of its misery (22XP, Drama). Cade looks at his crossbow, a gift from Alstromera, and mutters “she never even got to see me finally hit something with this.” In the mean time Bethrynna runs to Ea and washes her friend in healing energy. The tiefling’s rib knots together and her breath returns. Jaenax sends an agonising spear of energy at the female ogre, called Gorzu, and makes her shudder with the pain of the spell.

Windstrike, crouching on the floor after deflecting the javelin, now charges straight back at the ogres. Aklime sends an arrow directly over the gnome and into Gorzu, but Dog’s arrow misses for a second time. Ea’s anger is wholly directed at Hector, but her arrow goes wildly astray missing the lumbering brute. The diminutive gnome races towards Gorzu at the same time as the huge female ogre pounds up the hill towards the gnome. Gorzu’s breasts heave back and forth like forty-pound pendulums of flesh and her shoulder muscles ripple as she brings the giant club up over her head. In a flash the gnome slashes out with her shikomi-zue cutting Gorzu across her huge gut, she grunts and stumbles low as Windstrike leaps up and smashes her fist into Gorzu’s jaw. Enraged Gorzu brings her club down hard into the turf, but the gnome has long since run through her legs. Aoefell unleashes a sickly beam of green energy at Gorzu, who goes a horrible grey colour and clutches at her stomach in pain. Bethrynna follows it up with a beam of white flames from her hand that strikes the sickened ogre and knocks her reeling. Cade plays a wicked little ditty on his recorder that sends magical dissonance at the beleaguered woman. Jaenax finishes her with a second agonising spear.

A blur of action, Windstrike slashes, punches and kicks at Hector as Aklime and Dog fire arrows into the brute. Still maddened at that damage Hector caused her, Ea draws her two swords and runs straight at him to join Windstrike. She stabs with her shortsword and utters an incantation. Suddenly vines and thorny brambles burst from the weapons blade and entangle Hector squeezing at him as the thorns puncture his skin. Burying the sword a little deeper, Ea kicks him to the ground, dead.

By now the fire is getting more intense. The screams are continuing from inside, but no one has come to a window or tried to exit the building. Ea uses thaumaturgy to increase the volume of her voice, calling at those inside that help is on it’s way (30XP, Roleplaying). At the same time Windstrike ties some of her bandages across her face and climbs in through a broken window (30XP, Solving). Ea and Jaenax follow her as the others stand guard outside. They find themselves in a dining room. The door is ajar, leading to a hallway outside where the shouting is coming from. It is louder here, but still muffled, they can make out that it sounds like an elderly woman and children. In the hallway the heat from flames near the front door beat at them. They can see a cabinet has fallen in front of an under-the-stairs cupboard trapping whoever was hiding in there, inside.

Jaenax heaves the heavy cabinet aside, with the others help and they open the door to find an elderly chondathan woman with an 8 year old boy and 12 year old girl. Hurrying them out to safety, everyone starts to pull their weight to get blankets, water and food (22 or 30XP, Solving everyone). Eventually they have them housed in one of the outhouses. The elderly lady is Esme Strongplough, the boy is Tep and the girl Shansi. Cade plays some soothing music (22XP, Roleplaying), which has Shansi completely entranced. Esme pleads with them to rescue her son and daughter-in-law, the children’s parents. She says the orcs took them along with many farm workers and the children’s cousin.

After a quick discussion as to whether they should rest, they decide, despite it being evening they should head off straight away, at least to get an idea as to where the orcs tracks are leading. They head to where the orcs were last seen and it only takes Ea a few moments to pick up the tracks. They follow these for a little while, but the clouds have come down in the evening covering the peaks of the Nether Mountains and night is pressing. In order to be able to rest the group decide to send Ea, Aklime and Dog on ahead while the rest stick to the small sheep track they are on.

After a mile Ea can see that the party of orcs have left the track and crashed through bracken towards a scree slope above a lake. On the scree it is harder to follow the tracks and from there they head up a rocky ravine (30XP, Solving). It appears that they are trying to disguise their passing at this point. At the top of the ravine the trackers can see a broken down tower on a hill opposite the valley, down in the valley itself are the orcs. There are eight of them and they are making a camp and tying the prisoners to stakes.

Heading back, they report what they have found to the others. By now the fog is coming down again and after running through a few ambush ideas, Aklime’s Dancing lights for example (30XP, Solving) they decide that with the lack of light and fog they should camp for the night. Ea leads them across the scree, but by now the cloud is all around them. The ravine looks too dangerous in these conditions so they camp at the base.

Cade and Bethrynna take first watch. It’s cold, damp and they have very poor vision as the cloud swirls in motes around them. After a couple of hours they wake Jaenax and Aoefell, the two spell casters hear the odd distant shout from the orcs over in the valley. More unsettling though is the fact that they feel the ambient temperature gradually rise until they are almost comfortable. Waking Aklime and Dog the two of them go their blankets somewhat unsettled. Aklime and Dog have an even more unsettling watch. The temperature continues to rise, but also they start to hear the sound of hoofs and the snort of breath outside the camp. Along with the rising temperature there is also the smell of sulphur in the air. The two of them are very nervous, but still nothing comes into view. They wait it out until the end of their watch. Waking Windstrike and Ea, the dark elf and half orc immediately get the two of them to listen. The monk and the ranger note the temperature and strain their ears to keep track of the hoofs as they pad gently around the camp. About an hour into their watch they see a shadow form in the fog, which marks it at about thirty feet away. Its a very indistinct shape, but it is huge; hunched over but still twenty feet tall. Two points of red glow from near the top of the shadow as they feel it stare down into the camp. The sulphur is very strong now and the heat around the camp is starting to make the sleepers turn uncomfortably in their sleep.

Feeling by now that its getting too dangerous to stay unprepared they begin to rouse the camp. They wake Aklime and Dog first and the two of them witness the red points of light above them. At this point it retreats into the fog slightly. Everyone’s skin is now prickling and clammy. Suddenly from the valley, they can hear the orcs brutally waking the prisoners. The sudden noise seems to alarm whatever has been watching the camp, it takes to the air so swiftly that it’s huge mass sucks the fog after it and for a brief moment they see a dark, shadowy form fly up into the air on giant wings.

The temperature instantly drops to what you would expect in the early hours, up in the Nether Mountains. The shock wakes the rest of the camp and quickly they set about running, pitons and rope down the crevice until everyone is safely at the top. The orcs are already moving along the valley, so Ea choose to move along the ridge and track them by sound. As they move though, the ridge gets higher and the sound of the orcs gets quieter. There is a point at which they realise the have lost the sound of the orcs entirely. Hurriedly making their way down off the ridge, Ea and Dog guide the companions across the rocky slopes and around prickly gorse bushes until they reach the bottom. Ea picks up the tracks and realises that the valley has spilt into two. The orcs have headed away from them up the valley furthest from the ridge they were on.

Finally at about midday the fog begins to thin and for the first time the companions spot them almost half a kilometre away. They are trekking up the steep sides of the valley along a rocky path, pushing the prisoners before them. The fog has turned into a continuous drizzle. At this point there is the cry of an eagle and looking up they see the huge twelve foot wingspan of a giant eagle, reddish, golden feathers glinting in the pale sunlight as it soars overhead. The orcs have also heard it though and they turn to look, facing in the direction of the companions. Everyone hits the deck, trying to fall behind bracken and rocks. All apart from Aoefell and Cade who are currently have a good-natured argument over who was a better pre time-of-troubles wizard; Manshoon or Khelben Arunsun. After a few seconds they look around at everyone hissing and telling them to get down. Its too late though the orcs have spotted them and start to shove the prisoners into a trot.

Giving chase the characters get a reaction from the orcs. They shove the prisoners down into the bracken beneath the path, then trot back down the path towards the companions. Seven of them are dressed in leather armour and large axes, their commander is dressed in, chain with a plate shoulder guard decorated with spikes.

Windstrike blinks out of sight and starts to run towards them keeping to the more rocky terrain above the path. Within about 150 feet of the companions the orcs start to throw themselves down either side of the path into positions of cover. The commander shouts down in orcish. “These lands are not yours begone if you value your lives.” Dog and Jaenax translate. Cade responds by casting mage hand showing them all the finger. Aeofell smiles, one of his dark, sarcastic smiles. “For once Cade I agree with you.” (22XP, Roleplaying each)

Cade hurries on and casts crown of madness against the orc closest to the leader. So close to his commander though, the orc is able to resist the spell. Windstrike is still hurtling forward as Bethrynna runs alongside Cade. Aoefell releases three scorching rays at the leader, for a second the orc is engulfed in flames as he covers his face with his arm. He snarls at the wizard. Aklime attempts to hide but the orcs have her pegged, even so she shoots an arrow straight against the side of the commanders armoured helm, making his head ring. He yells out something in orcish. Jaenax leans across to Aoefell. “He just said, ‘kill the wizard’, I don’t think he means me.” Then she blasts at him with an agonising spear, but he is already rolling away into the cover of the bracken. A volley of arrows fly towards the companions, Cade ducks to one side, Aeofell, however, feels one slice through the side of his neck as he dodges to one side. Ea takes an arrow solidly in the shoulder, her armour protecting her from any major damage. The others duck or have the arrows deflected off their cover, all but Bethrynna who takes a blow to the stomach from an arrow, which bounces off her mithril. Ea launches an arrow at the commander as he takes cover, striking him.

Cade attempts crown of madness for a second time, but yet again the orc shakes off the effects of the spell before it can take hold. Windstrike, still invisible, continues to hurry along the rocky part of the ridge, she can see three orcs hiding behind rocks ahead of her. Bethrynna sticks with Cade, as does Aeofell, although he now moves into the rocks to take some cover. He blasts the closest orc with magic missiles. Jaenax adds an agonising spear to the wizard’s strike and the orc falls back, a smoking husk. Aklime strikes another with her trademark arrow, Dog again, narrowly misses. Firing another volley, the orcs, incredibly fail to get a single hit on target, Cade is yelling a stream of verbal abuse to put them off. Ea is still targeting the leader but her arrow thuds into the turf before him.

Cade intones his signature, dissonant dirge, directing the magical energies straight towards the commander of the orcs. The large orc clutches at his head, clearly pained, but this is an old war veteran and its going to take more than that to defeat him. Windstrike now pulls back and lets fly with her magic javelin. It arcs into the sky, turning into a bolt of bright lightning. It blasts two orcs to pieces before crackling its energy down at a third. It turns back into a javelin and buries itself into the stunned orcs stomach as he drops to his knees and gasps his last. There is utter shock from the rest of the orcs as the destructive little gnome blinks into view, hurtling straight towards them. Aeofell takes advantage of the disturbance to fire an acid arrow at the commander. He turns just in time and the majority of it splashes over his back. Aklime and Dog fire at one of the remaining orcs, the dark elf hits. With a roar the orc commander yells out a battle cry and charges towards the gnome. His remaining orcs, fired up by his cry, rush headlong into the rest of the companions. The commander takes two huge swings with a massive double-headed axe, Windstrike nips under the first swing and then straight past the second. An orc hits Ea, but she rolls with the blow and it doesn’t pierce her leather armour. Aklime takes a more serious blow, that cuts into her side making her stagger backwards. Ea draws her swords, sticking solissia into the orc that attacked her, he just misses her normal sword. She spins on her heel and kills the orc that was standing next to her with another thrust from solissia.

Episode 12 – Orcs of a Thousand Fists (Part 2)

Running to the centre of the battlefield Cade casts bane, cursing the remaining orcs. Surprisingly the orc troops manage to ignore the effects but their commander is not so lucky. Windstrike leaps at the orc commander, her shikomi-zue glances off his chain mail, she then lashes out with her foot and kicks him in the stomach, as he staggers backwards she tries to punch at him, but he manages to step out of the way. His manoeuvre means that Bethrynna’s guiding bolt also strikes the ground just where he was. Whilst backtracking though Aeofell sends four gleaming bolts of magical energy straight into his back. On another part of the battlefield, Aklime and Dog stalk forward and menacingly suggest to the orc they are battling that he runs while he can. He stands his ground though so Aklime steps forward, quick as a viper, and plunges her dagger into him. The orc gurgles and drops to the floor. Jaenax casts her witch bolt, crackling energy lancing towards the remaining orc. He manages to avoid the spell but walks straight into Solissia as Ea stabs forward and dispatches him, leaving the commander alone on the battlefield.

The commander is smiling though and looking around the companions see that the prisoners that had been dumped into the bracken are now being herded together by more orcs, knifes held to their throats. From the crest of the ridge appear dire wolves, straining at leashes being held onto by huge, muscular orcs know as Orogs. Their leader calls down to the companions in a surprisingly refined voice. “Put your weapons down or the prisoners die.” The commander of the orcs hefts his axe slightly and winks at Windstrike. Slowly one by one they throw weapons onto the ground in front of them. Windstrike eyes the commander with a steely gaze and eventually drops her shikomi-zue to the floor.

Cade quickly casts invisibility and blinks out of sight (30XP, solving). The leader of the Orogs gives a resigned smile.

“We appear to have lost the Halfling, perhaps we ought to release the wolves?”

Cade starts to run towards the prisoners as two orcs reach down and unhook the dire wolves leashes. With lightening reflects Windstrike reaches down and snatches her blade back, the orc commander slams his foot down to prevent her, but too late. She holds her blade and waits as the orc growls (30XP, Roleplaying).

Continuing to sprint away, Cade glances over his shoulder as the dire wolves bay and start to sniff around where he was last seen. As he reaches the prisoners and their captors, he starts to weave between them as the dire wolves bay again and give chase, having picked up his scent.

Meanwhile the rest of the companions find themselves shackled, although it takes three orcs to hesitantly remove the monks blade from her hand first. Aeofell cast minor illusion to make it look as though he has already been shackled (15XP, Solving), but it fails to trick the orcs.

Throwing caution to the wind, Cade crashes into the bracken as he heads towards a tree. Lungs bursting he pushes himself forward as the wolves knock prisoners and orcs alike out of the way as they rapidly gain ground. Cade manages to reach the tree seconds before jaws close on him. Using his boots of springing and striding to aid him he leaps high into the tree and starts to scrabble up, but in his panic and haste he slips and falls. Grasping desperately for a branch his fingertips can’t quite grip it and he falls straight into the maw of a dire wolf, who clamps down on the halfling and pads back to the orcs wagging its tail with pride. Cade, reappears dangling from the huge wolves jaw like a very pissed-off rag doll (60XP, Drama).

So, chained, stripped of their gear and shackled, the companions find themselves being force-marched with the rest of the prisoners. There is not much time for talking, and questions find themselves being answered by a smack round the head. Many of the orcs recognise Jaenax and are keeping their distance as if she has the plague.

After about half a day they find themselves higher in the mountains, there is more snow here and the forests are almost all coniferous now. Behind the trees, near a rounded coll, a palisade wall comes into sight. It is new, in fact it is still being built. The gate house is complete though and the towers on either side each have a ballista, each manned by an ogre. Windstrike and Bethrynna notice that over near where the wall is being built by a chain gang of prisoners, is a huge hill giant. She is stomping around, frightening prisoners who do not work hard enough. One of those prisoners they can see is none other than their friend Griac.

They get taken into the complex, past tents; campfires, a training ground and a huge cages full of dire wolves. Shoved into a wattle-fenced pen they are then chained to iron posts. With them are the mother and father of the children from the farmhouse, five labourers and the children’s cousin.

Over at the wall are the prisoners already captured by the orcs. These include five dwarven miners, Griac and two others. A dragonborn and a sun elf.

Griac was captured three days previously and the working day consists of six hours working at the fence and the rest of the time chained up. He and his new-found friends have learned some things about the camp in that time though.

The camp is run by an ettin called Mosscrag Snapjaw and like a lot of ettins the two heads really do not get on with each other. In order to avoid each other one is often asleep whist the other is awake. The rest of the camp is mostly made up from orcs and orogs. The leader of the orogs (the same one responsible for capturing the rest of the companions) is called Herk and not such a bad guy as far as orogs go. He sees himself as a bit of an intellectual. The other character who is well known around the camp is a goblin known as Pisscup. He runs errands for all the leaders and is the most put-upon member of the camp, his errands usually always being at odds with one another.

Soon the rest of the prisoners are brought to the pen and there are funny looks, to say the least, when Griac enters to see almost his entire adventuring team in irons.

“Right, so what’s the great plan?” He asks with droll sarcasm.

He then introduces the others. They are two survivors from an adventuring party who were attacked by the orcs about five days back. Griac saw the battle and ran to help, but was captured along with his new friends. They are Ungredal, a dragonborn paladin and Axirute a sun elf bard.

Just then Pisscup enters the pen, muttering to himself.

“Are you feeling a bit put-upon.” Windstrike mutters sarcastically (30XP, Roleplaying)

“Don’t talk to me about put-upon.” whines Pisscup, oblivious to her tone.

He starts dishing out bowls of boiled offal, which doesn’t look in the slightest bit appetising to the companions. Jaenax, who knows Pisscup, subtley manipulates her hands and charms the stressed goblin.

“Jaenax! You’re back.” He squeals in delight. Then more conspiratorially. “They hate you.”

“I know, that’s why I’m here. How have you been?”

“Terrible. Eat, eat, I’ll try and get you something better.”

“Thank you so much.” Jaenax sees he is about to leave. “Wait, do you know what they are doing here, have they told you anything?”

“They don’t tell me anything, but I know what they are going to do. They are going to attack. They are going to attack all the towns.”

“All of them?”

“They’ve gone crazy for some demon-orc, he tells them what to do. That’s all I know.”

“Listen, Pisscup, between you and me. Do you hate them as much as they hate me and I them?”

“Do? wait a minute… I don’t hate them as much as they hate you, no! They really hate you.”

“How do you fancy joining us Pisscup? We could protect you, all you have to do is untie us and fetch our weapons.”

“They’ll kill me.”

“No. We’ll protect you.”

“We’ll pretend to stay tied up.” Windstrike adds, sensing the goblin weakening to Jaenax’s will (30XP, Solving).

“You’ll never get out.” Pisscup cries. “They’ll kill you.”

Axirute leans over to Ungredal. “Can’t you do your acid thing in the cauldron? If the orcs eat that, they won’t be chasing us for sometime.” (15XP, Solving)

“We’d have better luck emptying the cauldron and sending the Gnome out in it.” The Dragonborn counters. (15XP, Solving)

“Listen.” Says Pisscup. “What are you going to do? If I untie you are you just going to run riot?”

“No.” The group cry in unison.

“We just want to talk to them.” Says Cade in his most placating voice.

“They must want to talk to me.” Says Jaenex. “Do you not think you could untie us and take me to see them, then we can all have a jolly old chat just like the old days.”

“I can’t take you, not before I’m asked.” Pisscup writhes with indecision.

“We have magic powers Pissup. We can protect you.” Cade urges. “Show him Windstrike.” (30XP, Solving)

Windstrike blinks out of sight and then a moment later becomes visible again. Pisscup is standing with his jaw wide open. He turns back to Jaenax. “Is this true?”

“Of course. You know the reason they hate me is because I can do things, not quite like that, but you know… they’re scared of me Pisscup.”

“Yea, they are. They’re pretty mad that the sisters have gone.”

“Yeah well… they’ve gone? Where?” Asks Jaenax, suddenly alarmed.

“They don’t know, they think you know. That’s why they want to question you.”

“Ok, well when are they going to question me? Today? Tonight?”

He shrugs. “I’ll get you some better food Jaenax.” And with that Pisscup runs from the enclosure.

Ten minutes later he is back with grouse and rabbit and a key, which he uses to unlock Jaenax’s manacles. He then hurries off again to the campfire where he busies himself with chopping things up and generally making a mess. The companions can see the key, hanging from a chain at his belt.

“Take my ring.” Says Windstrike. “See if you can get the key.”

Jaenax uses the ring to turn invisible and creeps towards the campfires. Standing just behind Pisscup she whispers. “Pisscup, put the key down and carry on with your work.”

Pisscup screams and throws broth all over himself. Then begins to run in circles around the cookpot. He gets the attention of the orogs, who take one look at Pisscup, shake their heads and continue with their game of dice.

“Is that you Jaenax?”

“Shhhh, please you have to do this for me. Put the key on the ground.”

He does so and Jaenax hurries back and unlocks the rest of the companions. She then returns the ring to Windstrike (120XP, Roleplaying and 90XP, Solving). Cade and Axirute move amongst the prisoners, encouraging them to stay calm and remain where they are whilst they put together an escape plan (30XP, Solving each). Windstrike suggests that someone uses their ability to turn invisible to sneak into the ettin’s tent and steal back some of their equipment by hiding it under their cloak (30XP, Solving)

They pause briefly whilst an orog with a dire wolf passes on patrol. One he has gone past, Cade turns Dog invisible and Jaenax borrows Windstrikes ring again, so that the two half orcs can listen in on some conversations.

They head to the ettin’s tent, but just hear snoring so from there they make their way to the orog camp. Its here they come across something more interesting. Herk is inside talking to someone else.

“So it’s going to be tomorrow then. Spread word around the camp, we’ll need to work out what to do with the prisoners.”

“I shall go and clear that with Mosscrag Snapbone.”

A moment later an orc emerges from the tent and the two invisible half orcs follow him back to the ettin’s tent. Cautiously the orc enters the ettin’s tent and they hear a deep voice boom out. “What is it?”

“Word from Herk my lord, he believes the hunt should begin tomorrow. He wants to know how many you would have guard the camp?”

“I will talk to Herk.”

With that the tent flap swishes open again and a huge ugly man with two heads strides out and makes his way to the orog camp with the orc messenger in tow. Dog sneaks quickly into the tent whilst the flap is falling back down and holds his breath as he sees four orog guards standing in the tent. Jaenax follows the ettin.

As Jaenax listens to the conversation between the leaders of the camp she determines that the ettin likes to throw his weight around and make things sound like they are his idea or with his consent, but really Herk seems to be the one who drives the decision making. They are planning to go on a hunt, but for what she is not sure. What she does ascertain is that 10 orcs, the hill giant and Vulgas, the orc commander will remain to guard the prisoners. They will also keep two of the dire wolves. The hunt is due to start in about six hours time.

Meanwhile Dog has crept to a huge pile of backpacks, weapons, armour, pelts and treasures chests and is slowly manoeuvring items of use under his cloak. Hearing the ettin return, Dog tiptoes towards the entrance, standing a mere few feet from one of the orog guards. As soon as the ettin opens the flap Dog nips behind him and through the entrance before it closes. He joins the companions moments after Jaenax returns.

Knowing this the companions attempt to settle down for a long rest, whilst hotly debating their next move. For about three hours not much happens and they manage to get to meditate and pray before they see the camp start to ready themselves for their exit. The rest of the prisoners are nervous, but baring up.

Vulgas approaches the pen. Jaenax knows that he is Onetusk’s cousin and went for the leadership himself about ten years ago, but was beaten by the previous incumbent. He enters and walks straight up to the gnome. He leans right into her face. “I’m going to really enjoy myself in about three hours time.” Windstrike holds his stare with her own steely gaze. After a moment Vulgas smirks and leaves.

Three more hours pass and now the war party is ready to leave. They chain dire wolves to their arms, get into formation and leave. Now all that are left are eleven orcs, playing dice and Pandygone the giant who is currently chewing on a whole roast sheep. Pisscup is still pottering around by the fires. For another two hours they are left to their own devices.

Finally it starts to get dark and colder, a snow flurry has started and the prisoners begin to shiver.

The orcs are getting raucous and rowdy by now and its not long before they seen Vulgas stride over and enter their pen. He takes a set of keys from his belt. Griac edges towards the orc.

“Settle down big fella, its the gnome I’ve come for.” He growls in common.

Cade attacks Vulgas’ mind with dissonant whispers, which takes the orc by surprise, taking his attention from what he is doing. Ea suddenly leaps at him and stabs with solissia. This sets off a chain reaction as, first, Axirute leaps in with rapier and dagger, but fails to penetrate Vulgas’ armour. Jaenax fires an eldritch blast, which makes him shout in pain as the crackling energy cascades over his back. Aklime strikes at him, but now his warrior instincts are kicking in, he ducks to one side. At the same time Griac swings into the empty space and the goliath almost brains the elven bard. Windstrike jumps forward and smashes Vulgas in the face with her forehead, making him reel backwards into Ungredal’s vice-like grip. The dragon born throws her arms around him and binds his arms to his side. Even with her immense strength Vulgas’ muscles bulge and he breaks free. At close range Aeofell looses a series of magic missiles straight into his chest, but still Vulgas manages to move out of the way of Bethrynna’s sacred flame.

Now Vulgas unhooks his battle-axe and swings at the gnome. His aim looks good until Cade throws his magically-laced cutting words at him and it whistles wide. Cutting back in the other direction though, his anger-empowered swipe smashes Windstrike against the iron post. He is unable to protect himself fully against Cade dissonant whispers this time as his emotional state opens him to Cades full damage. Ea stabs solissia straight through his armour into his side. Axirute is more accurate this time as well and his rapier pierces the orc commander from the other side. Jaenax throws a ray of frost in, causing rime to encrust Vulgas as he takes cold damage. Aklime sticks him with her shortsword straight in the belly and now he is beginning to buckle at the knees. Windstrike slashes at him with her shikomi-zue, he side-steps and the gnome leaps up kicking him to the head, snapping his neck.

The companions look up to see Pandygone and ten orcs thundering towards them.

Episode 13 – Orcs of a thousand Fists (Part 3)

Having just dispatched Vulgas, the orc commander, the companions rush out of the wattle-fenced prisoner pen. They point the farmers and miners in the direction of one of the camps and tell them to hide in the tents.

Jaenax fires an agonising spear towards the charging orcs but they run around it with ease. Axirute begin to move through the companions, encouraging them to fight like heroes. He specifically encourages Jaenax after her miss helping her to prepare her next strike. Aklime, Ungredal and Bethrynna rush for Mosscrag Snapbone’s tent in order to get more weapons for those still lacking. The orcs and Pandygone have now run within range. Pandygone barrels through the orcs to take the lead and as she comes into range Aeofell unleashes three scorching rays. Unbelievably, the giant weaves clumsily from side to side and all three miss her.

Cade conjures up a crown of madness in order to subjugate an orc, but the orc closes its mind to the spell and runs on, unaffected. Aeofell pulls out his wand of webs and covers a portion of the ground between the two parties with thick sticky webbing. The giant is getting everyone nervous as she pounds towards them at great speed. Jaenax fires again and this time with Axirute’s encouragement still ringing in her ears she strikes true, blasting Pandygone with painful crackling energy. Axirute attempts to follow suit with a firebolt but it flies over her head. The orcs keep pounding forward and they begin to arm themselves with javelins. Two of them fail to notice Aeofell’s web and blunder straight into it. By now Aklime, Bethrynna and Ungredal have picked up weapons and are running back out to join the battle. Pandygone now thunders right into the front line menacing Griac and Windstrike.

Ea has been crouching on the ground and in one fluid movement, tail whipping behind her she leaps and slashes at the giants thigh with solissia. Cade’s dissonant whispers causes some pain to the giant, but she is too fired up to be fully damaged by it. Aeofell incants an acid arrow and strikes it straight at Pandygone’s gut making her scream in agony and rage. Ungredal finds herself exiting the tent right next to the giant, she swings her greataxe and bites deeply into her lower back. Running to the back of the group so she can see the giant clearly without her companions getting in the way, Jaenax throws a witch bolt at the giants head (This hit was made on a d12!!!). By now the prisoners have all made it to the tents and are now out of sight. Axirute starts to distract the giant with vicious mockery. She spins to him in pain, but doesn’t have time to respond before Griac shatters her kneecap with a well-placed swing of his morning star. The orcs now release their javelins, Axirute, Griac and Jaenax are all struck whilst the others fall harmlessly on the battlefield. One orc fumbles his throw so badly that he staggers straight into Aeofell’s web. Aeofell is almost hit, but Cade distracts his attacker with cutting words putting him off his throw. Throwing everyone’s weapons onto the ground, Aklime fires off an arrow, but it whistles past and orc as does Dog’s. Bethrynna passes Griac his shield and then holds forth a hand and washes a webbed orc in sacred flame. Pandygone smashes a giant club against Griac just as he lifts his recovered shield and takes the shock of the blow. Aoefell’s acid is still eating at her stomach and she becomes so enraged that her backhanded swipe at Windstrike, who somersaults out the way, over-balances her and she lands heavily on the turf.

Ea reacts instantly. Snatching her other shortsword from the ground she leaps on top of the giant and stabs down viciously with both blades. Cade casts dissonant whispers and puts the agonised giant out of its misery. Aeofell casts ray of sickness at the trapped orc, which Bethrynna targeted earlier. It writhes in agony but is not killed. Ungredal now charges straight towards the nearest orc, she enchants her axe as a sacred weapon, which makes its head glow with a bright light. She smashes the orc heavily in its armoured chest. Windstrike also runs out to meet the oncoming orcs. Stabbing her shikomi-zue into its stomach she jumps up and snaps its neck before rolling on the ground behind the body and continuing her run. Jaenax fires another eldritch blast out at an orc who rolls forward and leaps up safe from the spell. Axirute curses the nearest three orcs with a bane spell. Griac runs to join Ungredal and Windstrike at the front line and smashes an orc with his morning star. The orc responds in kind and opens a gash in Griac’s chest with his greataxe (one for the scar collection). Windstrike ducks and dives as two orcs cut at her, but meet only thin air as the tiny gnome eludes their blows. One orc runs up to Ea and hacks at her, knowing her from the giants body. Another orc swings straight for Ungredal’s head, before he hits though he finds Griac’s shield has struck him straight in the face breaking his nose. Aklime runs to Ea’s aid. Sneaking up behind the orc she runs him straight through with her shortsword. Ea, still recovering from the blow, watches Aklime’s blade burst from the orc’s chest, it looks dumbfounded at the blade, before Aklime draws her dagger across its throat dispatching it. Dog runs to Ungredal’s side and cuts the injured orc to the ground, killing it with a powerful sword thrust. Bethrynna runs to Axirute’s side and places her hand on his side. The blood that has been pouring from the javelin wound ceases and colour returns to the elfs face as a blue light emanates from her hand.

Thanking Aklime, Ea runs to Griac to pass the favour forward, she strikes at the second orc attacking Griac, stabbing it brutally with solissia. Cade takes his crossbow from the battlefield and fires a bolt through its head, finishing it off. Aeofell fires a trinity of magic missiles splitting them between Windstrike’s opponents. Ungredal casts thunderous smite on her sacred axe and swings it at the next orc she reaches. There is a huge boom as she sends the orc staggering backwards with blood pouring from its chest. The battlefield is now definitely favouring the companions. Jaenax stalks towards the webbed orc.

“Jaenax! Wait. No!” They scream in orcish. “I never wanted you exiled.”

She smiles with malice as her eyes glow red. “Go to hell.”

Fanning her fingers she roasts all three alive with the flames of hell. Windstrike rushes at one of the orcs, punching his jaw so hard his neck breaks. Axirute points a finger at one of the remaining orcs and fires a bolt of fire straight at the side of his head. Griac kills his remaining opponent with a swing of his morning star. Windstrike is hit from behind by the remaining orc, but Aklime drives her sword through it and victory very much goes to the Midnight Raiders.

The battlefield goes quiet all for the snapping, snarling dire wolves still in their cage.

With no mercy in mind, Jaenax sets fire to the wolves (30XP, Roleplaying), Cade begins looting the orcs, whilst everyone else enters the ettin’s tent to collect the rest of their equipment. They also discover mounds of cured furs and three treasure chests. Two are made from reddish wood one bound in brass, one in dull beaten copper. The remaining one is made from sturdy oak wood. Aeofell is keen to open them, but prudence brings him to ask for Bethrynna’s help in detecting traps (30XP, Solving, both). They don’t seem to be trapped so Aeofell open the copper bound one. It is almost full of silver pieces as well a large round-bottomed vial full of clear liquid with a very large toenail in the bottom. The chest bound in brass is a little less full of gold coins and six small vials of sparkling red potions. Lastly the oak chest is full to over-flowing with copper pieces and two large octagonal bottles of the same sparkling red liquid. Griac takes a tiny sip from the two different types of red potions and determines that the small ones are healing potions, whilst the larger ones are potions of greater healing. Aeofell doesn’t like the look of the large toenail in his potion and attempts to use his arcane knowledge to decipher its use. He can tell that it is a potion that enhances ones strength, he can’t be sure to what degree though.

“Are you going try that or what?” Calls Griac.

“Some sort of strength potion.” Aeofell replies throwing it to the Goliath. “Be my guest.” (30XP, Roleplaying, both)

Griac tries it. It is a potion of fire giant strength. Meanwhile Ea has been looking at the pelts, she has counted that there are 12 wolf pelts, 36 beaver pelts and 16 deer hides, she thinks they have some market value. Griac remembers that there is a large wagon with two shire horses where they had been working on the wall. He suggests fetching it to load all the equipment and treasure on (30XP, Solving). Cade and Jaenax both enter the tent. Cade has found some money (36GP, 18SP) and on one of the orcs, a black bone dice. Where the six should be is a horned skull which looks reminiscent of the images of Orcus they saw in the barrow mound.

Griac returns with the wagon and everyone starts to load everything onto it. It currently holds a lot of six foot long sharpened fence posts, which they decide to keep for now. Griac initiates the cutting of cloth into rudimentary cloaks for the prisoners (30XP, Roleplaying) and it is around this time that they notice Pisscup has done a runner.

Aeofell makes his way to the orog camp. The tents all have pallets on the floor with furs and blankets, there are tables for eating and gambling and in Herk’s tent there is a desk. Searching carefully, Aeofell finds a drawer hidden beneath it (30XP, Solving) in which he discovers a map and a letter. The letter is written in Abyssal:

The council are almost all awake. We must strike fast and strike hard. Demogorgon awakes, Orcus must die.

Taking the note discreetly to Jaenax he gets her to cast her eye over it (30XP, Roleplaying). She is not sure what it refers to, but feels it must have something to do with the tanaruuk, Golgrieg. Orcus they now know is the demon lord of the undead. Jaenax has also heard of Demogorgon. He is the unrivalled lord of all demons, although this does not mean that there are not those after his crown. He is a hideous two-headed demon with heads like baboons, tentacles for arms and he stands about twenty feet tall. He is the demon of madness and duality.

After conferring in Abyssal they explain what they have found, with the others. Ungredal calmly takes the note from them and scans it to confirm the contents (30XP, Roleplaying) as Jaenax and Aeofell glance at each other nervously when they realise there is another abyssal speaker in the group.

Griac and Jaenax are determined to burn the camp to the ground, so whilst the others get the wagon and prisoners on the road, they set about torching tents and building fires under the palisade wall as a gentle snow begins to fall. Cade climbs up onto the wagon and plays restorative music to help the prisoners rest and recuperate (30XP, Roleplaying)

After an hours travel away from the orc encampment, Ea and Dog report that there is a secluded valley with unusually large Heixel trees providing shelter from the snow and a good place to camp and hide. Everyone agrees and so they turn the wagon off the track and slowly make their way into the sheltered valley. Some start making a fire, some arrange the bedding, others start cooking meat and vegetables obtained from the orcs.

Throughout the watch no one spots anything dangerous and the night passes in comfort, but Ea, Jaenax and Aeofell notice there is a ‘charge’ to the night air. Ea has been thinking about the strange creature near their camp the previous night and is more and more certain that is was smoking of fiend. Jaenax and Aeofell notice that again the night is warmer than it should be and that there is the slight smell of sulphur again. For them it seems to provide a boon, because as they study and worship on their shifts they both sense their powers and knowledge grow.

Episode 14 – Orcs of a Thousand Fists (Part 4)

As the camp wakes up, feeling refreshed after their ordeals of imprisonment and battle, they take their time to cook breakfast and break the camp down. No one is in a hurry to start marching again just yet. It is while this light activity is going on that Ea calls the camp to look at something she has found. Bright blue toadstools of a species she has not seen before grow in the dark loamy soil. It is Cade though who notices that they form a vague ring shape, albeit about sixty feet in diameter. Bethrynna casts detect magic and determines the whole area is giving off an enchantment magic.

Cade and Axirute wonder if this could be a fairy ring and if so maybe some music would encourage any shy fairy out of hiding. They start to play and slowly everyone hears the tinkling of bells, laughter and clapping of hands (30XP, Roleplaying, Cade. 15XP, Roleplaying, Axirute). After about ten minutes the clapping and laughing stops. Cade takes his deck of Illusions and draws the queen of clubs, throwing it into the ring. There suddenly appears a Erinyes who stands with her hand on the pommel of her sword, she ruffles her wings and looks around. Cade nods at Axirute and the two start up their tune again, but this time Cade makes the illusory Erinyes dance. There is a distant peel of thunder and a pop of green light from the far side of the glade, laughter starts again and soon they hear a small voice call out “come dance with us.”

Cade makes the Erinyes move towards the sound of the voice and as he does it calls out again “bring the pretty elves to dance with us… and the halfling… not so much the others.” Cade doesn’t need to be beckoned by a pretty female voice more than once so moves into the ring still playing his lute. Axirute follows him in (30XP, Roleplaying, Cade. 15XP, Roleplaying, Axirute). Aeofell scowls in disapproval at them (30XP, Roleplaying) and as he does so Aklime decides to enter with them.

As soon as they enter they feel an immense sense of well-being, they feel revitalised and reenergised. Their senses seems heightened and the sound of bells and laughter increases in volume. The air also becomes thick with the scent of a heady perfume. Around them are holographic motes of green leaves and coloured flowers, spiralling down through the air. They continue to play.

Outside the ring the others are starting to wonder what is happening because they don’t get all the effects of the ring and they wonder why the three of them are getting so immersed in the song. Aklime at least has not started dancing, although she doesn’t want to leave the wonderful feeling emanating from the ring, there is an uncomfortable sensation in the back of her mind and she tries desperately not to let herself go entirely. Looking at everyone outside, the two bards and the rogue see them as if through darkened glass. They look so grumpy and the more they think about it they more they realise what kill-joys they really are. To be honest they can all go to hell, they want to spend the rest of their days in this beautiful place. Just as they are thinking this Griac bounds into the fairy ring with them. Immediately he is overtaken with the same feelings as the others and starts to dance with the Erinyes. Cade thinks this is hilarious and begins to make the she-devil grind seductively against the goliath.

After Griac has been in the glade for about two minutes and the others three, the rest of the group start to lose patience.

“Seriously! What’s going on?” Cries Windstrike in exasperation (30XP, Roleplaying).

Aklime, the two bards and Griac notice that its getting really hard to see the rest of their friends standing outside the glade, but they aren’t really bothered by this at all.

“Come on.” Calls Cade. “Show yourselves, come and dance with us.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

At this a six-inch-high pixie boy with dainty butterfly wings alights on a tree branch. He has big wide eyes and looks down at them. “I would love to dance. You people are so brave.” Then he disappears in a hole in the tree.

Ungredal has completely lost patience now and walks to the edge of the glade. “Come out now, this is completely undignified.” (15XP, Roleplaying) All but Griac, who is busy grinding with the beautiful devil warrior, turn to look and stare at her chastisement. Axirute responds as if he is twelve and his mother has asked him to come in for tea (15XP, Roleplaying), he simply turns back and blasts out a little frenetic solo on his lyre. Cade is entranced by the pixie and wanders off to the tree to try and find it. Aklime though, knows something is wrong and determines to leave and take all the others with her, but as she starts to step towards the edge of the glade her will is over-powered and she refuses to leave.

As the companions start to shout at those in the glade and those in the glade disappear more into their own state of bliss it is only Aeofell who sees a four foot long, green, spiked and barbed leg protrude from a tunnel of webbing high up in one of the Heixel trees in the glade.

“Um guys, spider!”

The pixie boy pokes his head out of the hole. “Ooooh, she’s here.” He says. And then, looking at Cade. “Have you come to dance with Lo’an Dreth?”

Axirute and Cade nod their heads vigorously (30XP, Roleplaying, Cade. 15XP, Roleplaying, Axirute).

“Yeah, absolutely.” They nod enthusiastically.

Aeofell fires a ray of frost at the spider, which hits the leg and makes it retreat into the tunnel of web. All Cade, Axirute, Griac and Aklime see is a beautiful shooting star of blue light fly over their heads, sprinkling holographic snowflakes all around them. Suddenly Aeofell hears a whispery feminine voice in his head, speaking to him in Elvish. “Come and fight me on my terms elf.”

Jaenax casts suggestion at Griac. “Leave.” She cries, but she can’t break through the enchantment of the glade. Shrugging Windstrike simply throws a dart at him. As he looks in dumb shock at the dart sticking out from his upper arm, he looks up and sees Windstrike beckoning to him. Shocked to his senses, his strides from the glade straight to the gnome.

“What do you want you little scrot? That hurt.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

“He’s back.” Smiles the monk. She then slaps him (30XP, roleplaying).

The cold air blows the cobwebs from his senses as he suddenly realises just how warm and heady it was in the glade.

Aeofell has remained obsessed with the spider since it spoke to him, and yells up into the trees, “You will fight me on MY terms or I will destroy this glade.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

Meanwhile Cade has seen a shiny gold object poking out from underneath the loamy soil. He leaps down and grabs at it and as he does so disturbs the soil exposing three bony fingers, which he finds hilarious. Digging around he finds a bony arm connected to the hand, which is even funnier so he picks it up and starts waving at everyone with it.

Aeofell casts mage hand and slaps the halfling in the face. This makes Cade really angry. How dare this grumpy elf try and ruin his fun? Cade staggers back disturbing more bones, a jaw, thigh bone and more fingers and suddenly he is laughing once more.

The elven voice sounds out in Aeofell’s head once more. “Leave these fools for me and I can guide you to great wealth.”

“What form does this wealth take.” Aeofell replies.

“This wealth takes the form of great knowledge. Ancient knowledge that has been locked away up there for three hundred years.”

“What knowledge?”

“Spells… spells that someone of your… persuasion would greatly desire.”

“Where?”

“Only if you lead the rest of your troop away elf. I want my fun.”

“Not with my companions.”

“Then the secret stays hidden.”

“Then you die!” He shouts and fires up at Lo’an Dreth’s entrance with a ray of frost (60XP, Roleplaying). Ungredal joins him with her crossbow and Jaenax with more rays of frost.

By now Griac has fashioned a lasso (90XP, Solving) and tries to land Axirute. He misses the first time but then loops it over him the second. This make Axirute furious, he has murder in mind for someone disturbing his bliss. Griac simply tugs and Axirute flies out of the glade. Scrabbling to his feet, Axirute stabs at Griac with his dagger. but the goliath palms him around the head and he falls back to the floor. Now the cold air rushes into the sun elf’s lungs and he looks around in shock, wondering what he has just been doing.

Griac now lands Aklime, who also reacts with anger. She tries to pull back on the rope but the goliath over-powers her and pulls her free of the circle. Just as Axirute, Aklime draws her shortsword and stabs Griac in the side. He staggers back bleeding. Air rushes into Aklime’s lungs and Griac expects her to be remorseful, but instead she looks at him with a curious expression.

“I feel better now. I think I’ve wanted to do that since you killed Dog.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

Griac stares at her not sure what to say and is relieved to be distracted by the gnome.

“Griac, when you get Cade, I’m going to stand ready and if he comes out like an arsehole, I’ll kick him in the nuts.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

“Get Cade? Pah, leave him in there.” Snorts Aeofell. (30XP, Roleplaying)

Griac throws the lasso and as it flies past his face he reaches out and grabs it taking the goliath by surprise.

“Tug-of-war!” Squeals Cade in delight and wraps the lasso around a tree-truck before Griac can respond. Windstrike throws a dart at the halfling. It sticks into his chest and he looks at it dumbfounded.

Bethrynna starts to run around the edge of the glade kicking at the blue toadstools that ring the glade (60XP, Solving).

A web suddenly shoots down from the heixel above and engulfs Cade. Before the companions can react he has been hauled half the height to Lo’an Dreth’s nest (30XP, Drama). Now she is uncontrolled, the Erinyes reverts to standing in the middle of the glade, flexing her shoulders and ruffling her wings. Windstrike fires a dart at the spider but it pings of the hardened leg. It happens to be now that Cade come to his senses.

“Guys? Help!!” Wriggling to reach a dagger at his belt, Cade slashes the webbing and drops through a hole. He holds onto the webbing and hangs from the webbing. Ea draws back on her longbow and strikes Lo’an Dreth in her bulbous abdomen. Aklime and Dog fail to hit. Griac notices that Cade is back to his senses and helps Bethrynna kick the toadstools down, they hear the violent tinkling of bells and a hissing sound. They look at each other and stop. Bethrynna then brings down a powerful guiding bolt straight onto Lo’an Dreth’s back making the spider scurry back down into her nest.

In elvish Aeofell calls up to Lo’an Dreth. “This is your last chance, we shall not fight on your terms we shall fight on mine. We are bargaining with your life now, we either kill you or you give me the knowledge and we leave.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

He is greeted with silence.

Ungredal senses that Cade’s safety is now more important than the power of the glade so she runs to the tree to try and bring him back (15XP, Roleplaying).

Cade calls out to his companions “Don’t cut the rope, I have a plan.” His voice carries to them through the magic muffling effect of the glade to which Jaenax hears “Cut the rope I need to get down.”

Jaenax casts cloud of daggers targeted at the spiders nest.

There is a scream in Aeofell’s mind. “Make it stop, the broken tower. Make it sto…!” And the link is severed. The cloud of daggers has also severed the rope holding up the halfling and he drops. Landing just before Ungredal can catch him, his magic boots at least help him to soften the landing.

Aeofell turns to Jaenax and in Abyssal says “You did well.” He then stalks away from the glade.

[Jaenax rolls perception for sarcasm]

Cade calls out to the pixies to show themselves, but then notices that Ungredal is starting to look around with a sense of awe. He petitions the fey beings again, but this time casts faerie fire. The trees become outlined in electric blue as do six small shapes that fly up into the trees to hide.

“Its all over now, I’ve seen you, you might as well come out now.” Cade calls. The boy pixie flitters back down to a low branch.

“You killed Lo’an Dreth. I would get out of here, begone.” He says.

Cade hadn’t realised the spider was dead.

“Um, yes we killed her.” He says. “Why do you stay here?”

“We have to stay here, we’re are the keepers of the gateway.”

“What gateway?”

“To the Feywild.”

“Show me?” Says Cade with visions of a thousand stories to tell.

“You are not worthy yet.”

“How can I be worthy?”

“Follow the brooch.” He says then flies up into the trees out of sight. Now the smell of perfumes disappear and the temperature returns to normal (60XP, Solving, Cade).

“That was fun wasn’t it guys.” Say’s Cade with a grin (30XP, Solving)

As the party walk away, Jaenax takes Aeofell by the elbow and leads him out of earshot, although Ungredal hearing Abyssal, subtly tries to keep pace with them (15XP, Roleplaying).

“Did the spider talk to you?”

“You killed it. She mentioned the broken tower, we have to go.” (30XP, Roleplaying, each)

As they set off Cade sits on the back of the wagon looking at his brooch. It opens up, but where you would expect to find a picture, there is instead a polished mirror surface. After about an hour of opening and shutting this and thinking about what the pixie told him an image swims into view. It is Alstromera. She is walking on a rocky stone bridge in a brimstone environment. There is fire behind her, her robes are shredded and her bare feet bleeding. She looks dazed and confused and then the vision fades.

By the time they are looking for a place to stop and eat, they hear a cry above them and notice the giant eagle is back. It soars overhead and as they top the crest of the hill they see a lake spread out before them and at the far end is a rocky cliff with an aerie at the top. A griffin is crying out in rage and anguish and diving at orcs who are climbing the clips to its nest. There are also two ogres at the bottom and the broken body of a dead griffin. They notice that the ogres and orcs are from the camp they left that morning.

The griffin swoops in towards the cliffs, it grabs one of the orcs by the neck in its beak, shakes it violently, and drops it down to the rocky shore of the lake.

“This is not our fight.” Says Aeofell, surveying the scene. Jaenax nods in agreement.

Windstrike has gone misty-eyed as she watches the mythical beast, swooping and crying in the sky.

“But its a griffin.” She murmurs, remembering how her last encounter with one was not under circumstances she would have hoped.

“No way.” Says Jaenax, already well aware of what that gleam in the gnomes eyes signifies.

Cade strokes the griffins feather that he has kept in his lute ever since that day. “But she need help.”

“No way!” Says Jaenax again more firmly.

“That could be the entire orc war party.” Aeofell points out. “And do you really think a griffin will make a distinction between you and an orc?”

“But its a GRIFFIN!” Windstrike cries.

“I’m going to help.” Cade says with determination.

“We have more pressing matters.” States Aeofell, clearly thinking of the broken tower.

“Plus we have a wagon full of treasure.” Adds Griac.

“Not to mention prisoners, which we can’t afford to lose.” Aeofell states. this gets some raised eyebrows from various quarters.

The giant eagle has banked once round the lake and now it glides towards the companions alighting a little distance from them on a large rock. It spreads its wings wide once before flooding them behind its back and fixing them with an orange-eyed stare.

“Who are you?” Griac calls, thinking it to be a druid. “Show yourself.” It looks at Griac, unblinking.

Axirute casts speak with animals. “Are you following us? What do you want?”

It lets out a cry that the sun elf interprets as “there is not much time,” it then takes to the wing and rushes to the griffin’s defence. Cade decides to rouse everyone with a song and, almost begrudgingly, one by one the companions draw their weapons and prepare to engage once more. Jaenax and Aeofell exchange a glance and shrug.

[For this scene Aeofell, Cade, Griac, Jaenax and Windstrike gained 90XP, Roleplaying and Axirute gained 45XP, Solving)

Ungredal steps forward and says. “Someone will need to protect the prisoners, I shall remain a guard them.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

As the Midnight Raiders run around the lakeshore they see the griffin get hit by a number of orc arrows, several more orcs have been knocked from the cliff by its swooping attacks. An ogre has nasty gashes down its back where the eagle raked at it. The ogre then hit the eagle in the side and it has now taken to soaring above the battle at height.

Within 120 feet Windstrike blinks out of sight and streaks off ahead of the group to engage. Bethrynna runs behind the gnome. Cade lifts his Flagolet to his lips and summons a crown of madness. Spikes rupture into an orcs skull as his eyes go mad. He unhooks his great axe and takes a swing at the orc next to him. The axe goes straight under the shoulder blade almost cutting the unfortunate in half. Griac thunders in to engage as does Axirute. Aklime sprints forward whilst Dog pulls back on his longbow and takes an orc in the chest. Jaenax follows up with an eldritch blast finishing it off. Aeofell joins Jaenax and release tree scorching rays at the cut up ogre. Two of them meet their target and burn the ogre, who turns in pain and surprise. Watching from across the lake Ungredal can see the battle kicking off, but suddenly her wagon finds itself under siege from a barrage of javelins. One bounces off her armoured shoulder a couple hit the woodwork of the wagon, but one impales a dwarven miner through the neck, making the prisoners scream and shout in horror. Spinning round she sees four orcs running up the hill towards her. Growling with anger she casts thunderous smite on her axe before charging in to meet them head on. There is a deafening boom as her axe connects with the first orc, making it stagger backwards in shock. The companions hear the huge boom and realise that Ungredal is under attack.

Half way towards the enemy, Windstrike pulls out her javelin and launches it at an orc towards the back who is manning the rope the orcs are climbing. She blinks back into sight as her javelin arcs over the battlefield becoming a deadly lance of coruscating lightning. Five orcs are roasted on the spot (60XP, Drama). The griffin swoops in and grabs another orc from its nest dropping it to the rocks below. There is now only one orc near the griffins nest. Bethrynna fires a sacred flame at the nearest orc to her but it dodges. Cade moves forward retaining control on his crazed orc. Griac runs in to engage with the unhurt ogre. Axirute casts vicious mockery at the same ogre, paining him slightly and putting out of step as the goliath charges in. Aklime now runs in to the first orc. It parries her sword, but as she spins behind the brute she plugs her dagger into its throat. The orc gurgles and falls to the ground dead. Dog releases another arrow, taking a second orc in the chest. Jaenax targets an orc with cloud of daggers, who screams in pain as he becomes ripped to pieces. An ogre swings a heavy wooden club straight at Griac’s shield. The other one hurls a javelin straight into the griffin’s chest and it plummets to break on the rocky ground. Windstrike’s eyes narrow with rage. Ea rushes straight for the ogre that has killed the griffin. Aeofell beats her to it by firing a handful of magic missiles. The ogre is knocked to the ground, dead. Cade’s orc smashes his axe into another confused target. Meanwhile Ungredal is beset by three orcs. She parry the first blow, but the next two drive into her, cutting and bruising her through her armour. The fourth orc runs straight past her for the prisoners. With the orcs right up in her face, Ungredal opens her maw and blasts forth a gout of burning acid. The injured orc dies in shock as the acid splashes into the one behind him and he raises is hands to his face in pain.

Back across the lake Windstrike runs past the fallen ogre and leaps to attack the one fighting Griac. It back-pedals with surprise, dodging sword and fist, until it howls as the monks foot contacts with its kneecap. Bethrynna washes the ogre in sacred flame. Cade casts dissonant whispers on the injured orc who clutches his head in agony and drops to the floor, dead. Griac swings at the ogre, over-balances and falls at the ogres feet. Axirute closes in and spotting Griac’s plight he releases a fire bolt at the ogre, blasting him in the chest. It succeeds in putting the ogre off though who smashes its club into the ground just as Griac rolls out of the way. Aklime spots the last orc as it creeps into the griffins nest, she sends an arrow high into the air, it hits the orc in the chest who stumbles back in surprise, trips on the edge of the nest and tumbles over the cliff. Dog hits the ogre solidly between the shoulders with a well-placed arrow. Jaenax can now see the orcs at the wagon and sends an audacious blast of eldritch energy all the way across the lake, but it just fails to reach the orc approaching the wagon. Aeofell looks up at the orcs clambering up the rope, he fires three scorching rays concentrating on the rope above them. The rope burns and frays and all five orcs tumble to their deaths (90XP, Drama). Cade’s orc is momentarily released from his control and swings at Bethrynna in confusion, but she ducks out of the way. Ungredal hears a scream from behind her and prisoners are running in all directions. She advances on the remaining orcs, she enhances her axe with another thunderous smite decapitating the orc with one huge swing of her axe and a blast of thunderous energy.

In close quarters Windstrike kicks and slashes at the ogre, but also takes a heavy hit from the ogres club. The ogre is panicked now though and attempts to run, leaving itself open to one more attack from Windstrike. Bethrynna fires a sacred flame after it, but misses. Cade however, brings it to its knees with dissonant whispers and the huge beast whimpers and expires. The only enemy now standing is an orc with crazed eyes and a crown of thorns stuck in its head. Griac stands, rolls his neck, pulls out his maul and smashes it in the face, dropping it. Axirute calls to the eagle to help him aid Ungredal. It swoops down grabbing Axirute in its claws whisking him over the lake. Jaenax can see the orc by the wagon is now terrorising the prisoners, who are running everywhere, she fires another agonising blast, this time bringing it down. Aklime begins to climb the cliff towards the nest. Ungredal takes another hit to the side and responds by removing its head from its shoulders, its rolls on the ground to join the other. [60XP, Drama for holding the camp alone]

Windstrike joins Aklime in climbing the cliff and Bethrynna begins to loot the bodies. As everyone runs back round to the wagon, Jaenax dispatches the last of the orcs harassing Ungredal with another long range eldritch blast. The giant eagle drops Axirute off ahead of the others, but by now the camp is secure. As it takes to the wing again he is sure it cries something like “see you later, gorgeous.”

At the nest Aklime and Windstrike find one single egg, it is larger than a watermelon, beige with heavy brown splotches. It is still warm (30XP, solving, each). The eagle soars up to the aerie and lands near to the dark elf and the gnome, then transforms into Russet. She smiles warmly at them and embraces each of them.

“Well met sisters.” She lifts the egg and hands it to Windstrike. “Please look after this egg, there are not many breeding pairs left on the southern slopes.”

Regrouping the companions assess the damage. The prisoners are in grief and the companions quiet as they carefully lay down the dead bodies of the miner and two farm labourers.

Episode 15 – The Broken Tower

Whilst farmers and adventurers alike start preparing a meal and clearing the orc bodies away from the camp, Rowan, the mother of the children back at the farmhouse, approaches Ungredal. She is awed by the exotic dragonborn’s presence, but no longer scared.

“You saved us, we are grateful, but we wish to head straight home now. I understand you have a duty to clear orcs from these farms and villages, but I do not wish more to die like Thomas and Legbo. They were simple farmers who had worked for us as long as I remember.”

Ungredal nods and assures Rowan that they will take them straight home, she is aware that most of the companions want to get the treasure secure anyway. The main dissent comes from Aeofell, who wants to investigate the broken tower as soon as he can.

As they are discussing they hear a deep solemn funeral dirge coming from the lakeshore. Some of the more stealthy among them go to investigate, not wanting to engage in further combat, and they see the dwarven miners have build a burial mound from rocks on the shore. They are singing some kind of paean to the dead. After they report to the others, Bethrynna goes to see if the dwarves want someone to perform burial rites, which they’re happy to receive. Again it is Ungredal who is approached. Ilde, the only female among them, extols the paladin’s bravery, just as Rowan did, and hands her an octagonal stone on a necklace. It is made from polished granite. She tells the dragonborn that it is the key to their kingdom and that she is welcome anytime she is passing. The dwarves thank the group for all their help and say they will not hinder them any further that they are going to make their way back to their kingdom, which lies in the opposite direction.

Soon after the companions set off again.

Snow continues to fall and it becomes more and more difficult to drive the heavy wagon along narrow sheep tracks in rising snow. By night fall they reach the valley that splits in two and see, high on a rocky bluff, the broken tower. There are a flock of birds circling the tower.

The steep hill leading to the tower is forested and the companions decide to use the stakes from the wagon to build shelters under the trees. It takes them an hour and the conditions are cold. Ungredal and Axirute in particular have suffered, working in the cold, and wrap their hands round warm broth once all the work is done. Luckily the camp is well made and the night is uneventful, save for a passing pack of wolves who decide to avoid the camp, so they wake refreshed to the smell of cooked breakfast as Rowan and Matra have prepared slices of bacon and slabs of rye bread, with goat butter. As they sit around enjoying breakfast the uncomfortable conversation about what to do next begins, watched very carefully by Rowan.

“Right we should get the humans back to the farm.” States Ungredal.

Aeofell looks through the trees in the direction he knows the tower to be. “Although now we are here…”

“We have three choices as I see it.” Says Dog. “We take them back to the farm and turn straight around again getting here by nightfall tonight. Or we rest up in the farmhouse, leave tomorrow morning and get here tomorrow at midday. Or. Or we investigate now.”

“Head back here tomorrow.” Says Axirute (30XP, Roleplaying).

“I think we should investigate now.” Counters Aeofell.

“We could give them a fur each and send them on their way.” Suggests Griac.

Mara looks up at Rowan horrified.

“You are Goliath.” Laughs Dog. “I think you forget what the cold does to these humans. My toes freeze in the winter and I blame my mother for that.”

“Anyway I am not sending them with the money.” Exclaims Aklime (63XP, Roleplaying).

“No. No.” Everyone shouts. “We don’t mean with the money.”

“No.” Agrees Griac. “Just a fur to keep them warm.”

“You know what they call this region?” Asks Dog. “The Starved Wolf Crags.”

“That changes things.” Muses the goliath.

“That changes nothing.” Snaps Aeofell.

“Well I am duty bound to protect these people and I shall see them safely to their home.” Ungredal states again looking at each of them in turn (60XP, Roleplaying scene).

“Ok we will drop them off and come back, do not worry.” Say Griac.

“We could wait here.” Jaenax suggests (30XP, Roleplaying).

“Whoa.” Cries Aeofell. “No one said anything about staying here alone.”

“But will we not get here by nightfall again?” Asks Bethrynna (30XP, Roleplaying).

“This camp is well made, we can just spend the night here again.” Aeofell answers (60XP, Roleplaying scene).

“Then its decided.” The goliath affirms. (125XP, Roleplaying scene)

This part of the journey is easier. The tracks are wider and the snowfall less severe. Dog points out to them that it would be very difficult work bringing the wagon back to the tower in these conditions.

“We could leave a guard at the farmhouse.” Says Axirute.

“Um guys.” Interrupts Cade rubbing his eyes. “I’ve finished counting the money.”

They look at him expectantly.

“We have over 120,000 copper, nearly 71,000 silver and 14,000 gold.” There is silence, someone gives a low whistle.

Pulling up at the farmhouse, there are tears, hugs and much rejoicing as the family members are reunited. The companions can tell these are salt-of-the-earth types and feel they wouldn’t steal their treasure, the question is, how safe would it be from outside influence? Some workers have arrived from Hilltop and already begun work restoring the farmhouse. The characters watch the family as they rejoice and Griac suggests that perhaps they should donate some money to them to help them get back on their feet (213XP, Roleplaying – finally a truly Lawful Good action from the goliath ;-p). They offer them 840 silver and 60 copper.

“We could perhaps give them these remaining wooden posts, they might help with their repairs?” Axirute suggests (90XP, Roleplaying).

“What are we going to do with the treasure? Bury it?” Asks Jaenax.

“What about under the stairs in the farmhouse?” Says Ea (30XP, Solving).

Everyone nods agreement. They speak to the farmers who are happy to look after their ‘equipment’.

“It’s so gone.” Says Jaenax, shaking her head (30XP, Roleplaying). Her suspicion encourages everyone to pocket 50 gold now, just in case they come back to nothing. Ungredal is the only one who is not interested in material possessions (90XP, Roleplaying).

The last thing the companions have to do before they leave is prise the griffin egg from Windstrike and convince her it will be safer wrapped up warm in the mound of furs. Windstrike does not want to part with it (63XP, Roleplaying), but concedes when they show her that the shire horses in the barn help to warm the hayloft, in which they place the egg, covered in a mountain of furs.

By nightfall they reach the tower again and spend another uneventful night in their encampment.

Climbing the ancient rocky path to the towers entrance they notice that the trees have entered winter whilst the rest of the forests around them are still in the fullblaze of autumn. The flock of birds have disappeared and all that greets them is the odd caw of a crow. Nearing the tower the companions see bunches of sticks hanging from the dead branches of trees. The sticks are arranged into vaguely humanoid shapes. In the open doorway hangs a hoop of thin willow twigs. Stretched between the twigs is some kind of skin. Painted on the skin is the design of a crow’s skull. It has been painted in blood. Jaenax recognises the motif as that of the Three Sisters. These are the coven of hedge witches, Jaenax’s mentors, who are now out of favour with the Orcs of a Thousand Fists.

Inside the tower they can see an empty 30 foot diameter room, little shafts of light fall through possible holes in the ceiling. Griac and Jaenax light torches, whilst Bethrynna casts Detect Magic. Ungredal concentrates on the surroundings to detect evil, but there is nothing nearby.

Ea enters first and nearly slips in about 4 inches of thick greyish red mud. Everyone follows and they see that there are some stone steps leading up to the next floor and the ceiling is about 10 feet above them, there are lots of holes letting light through. They also see that the ceiling appears to be moving.

A flock of hideous bat like things with proboscis descend on the startled adventurers.

Axirute draws his rapier and thrusts up into the air skewering a stirge, as Ea has identified them, he flicks it to the floor in disgust. Griac starts to run up the stairs. Windstrike draws her silvered shikomi-zue and drops a couple of the creatures to the floor. The creatures are now a cloud around the companions and start to cling to them sticking their proboscis into body parts and sucking blood. There is mild panic as they start to spin around trying to rid themselves and friends of the horrible little creatures.

“Ungredal.” Shouts Griac. “Use your thunderous smite, it might scare them off.” (63XP, Solving)

Aklime and Dog draw daggers and stab each other’s parasite, ridding themselves of the blood-suckers. Aeofell blast the two on Jaenax with two magic missiles and use the last to rid himself of one. Cade stabs at one, but still has one sucking at him. Ungredal takes Griac’s advice and as she sends one flying across the room there is a huge reverberating boom, which sends the stirge shrieking out of the tower, all apart from the ones still suck to their victims. Bethrynna uses sacred flame to drop one of the remaining stirge still flying round the room. Jaenax fans her fingers and burns the rest out of the sky, dropping four to the ground.

Axirute draws his dagger and sticks it into the stirge sucking his blood, he is a tad too panicked though and stabs himself slightly with the thrust. Ea stabs the stirge off herself with solissia and tries to help Cade, but he won’t stay still and she misses. Griac places his giant fists on the two stirge stuck to him and smashes their bodies against the brick wall. He then continues up the stairs to the next room. It is slightly smaller and there is very little ceiling left. The stairs have crumbled away completely. On the floor is a pentagram. Bones, animals parts and a human skull litter the floor. There is a bone altar on the far wall with a bowl of blood on it and the faint smell of brimstone in the air.

“Guys there’s some freaky shit up here.” He shouts down.

“Cade’s dying.” Aeofell calls back

“What’s new!” Quips Windstrike (63XP, Roleplaying)

Windstrike is trying to reach the stirge on her back.

“I’m surprised you can’t just kick that off from there.” Calls Aeofell (30XP, Roleplaying).

She finally reaches the stirge and rips it from her. Then takes a couple of swipes at Cade’s bloodsuckers, but the halfling is running around in circles through the sludge, shouting his head off and she fails to grab them. They are starting to get fat with blood one hanging off each buttock.

Cade begins to slow down as he skin goes very very white. The two stirge detach themselves and try, clumsily, to fly away.

Aklime shakes her head and ascends the stairs to join Griac. Cade leans against the wall as Ungredal lays on hands and rejuvenates the halfling.

“I thought I would never be able to sit down again.”

Bethrynna heals Jaenax, but everyone else claims to be ok for now.

Everyone is now upstairs. Ungredal and Bethrynna are horrified by the profane accoutrement. Jaenax’s eyes blaze as she realises that this is an altar to her patron Melchazzar and that the Three Sisters must have been here recently. A look passes between her and Aeofell (30XP, Roleplaying each).

Aeofell bends down and studies the pentagram. He determines that it is made from powdered salt and iron filings, he also determines that some kind of summoning took place five to six days ago. Griac tries, unsuccessfully to distract Ungredal from the sight.

“I’m going to have to destroy this. It needs burying in the frozen ground.”

“Don’t you dare.” Screams Jaenax (60XP, Roleplaying each)

The stand off leaves the room tense. Bethrynna and Ungredal want to clear this room of it unhallowed nature, but for some reason Jaenax is vehemently opposed. Aeofell uses the distraction to prick his finger and squeeze a drop of blood into the bowl of congealed blood on the altar. Nothing appears to happen.

“Look this doesn’t concern anyone. Whats been done here has been done. Lets just leave it alone.” Jaenax appeals.

“Can you gain anything from this to help the group?” Griac attempts to mediate.

She shakes her head.

“Then I think you need to let these clean up.” He says (63XP, Roleplaying).

“No! Its important to me.”

“Why?” Asks Ea, her hatred of fiends starting to ring alarm bells.

Jaenax looks at the floor in silence (60XP, Roleplaying).

“Then I think you should let them clear it away.” The tiefling affirms quietly (30XP, Roleplaying).

Aeofell attempts to distract everyone by looking to find any secret passages or rooms that may exist under the tower. At that point Ea decides that while they are up here they should look to see if anything remains on the last remaining floor. The wall is cold and damp though and Ea is unable to climb up unassisted, so Griac gives her a boost. She balances carefully on the broken rim of the tower wall and sees nestled into the far side of the floor is a solid wooden box with heavy iron rims and a large lock.

“There’s something up here.”

Griac helps Bethrynna to join her and with her detect magic spell still running, she sees its shedding a tonne of necromantic energy and also not a small amount of abjuration magic. Whilst they are up on the top of the tower they see something else. A sight that chills them to the bone. In the valley beyond is a village, which would be picturesque in normal circumstances. A small brook runs through the valley. To either side are small farms that have been trampled and churned up. The houses are little domes set into the hills. Their doors swing open on broken hinges and furniture lies strewn, broken on the snowy ground outside. All along the valley between the houses are small dark shapes in the snow and each one has stained the snow around it bright red. Like small poppy blooms littering the valley floor.

“What is going on up there? Griac, help me up.” Snaps Aeofell.

Reaching the top Aeofell sees the box and assuming this must be what Lo’an Dreth told him about tries to clamber straight to it. Bethrynna bars his way and points out to the village.

“Look. This is far more important.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

“As if he will care.” The tiefling mutters (30XP, Roleplaying).

“You can have the box.” Bethrynna asserts.

“You just have to pinky-promise not to do anything bad with it.” Ea adds.

“I don’t even know what it contains, I just sense it holds something that will be of great value to us.” The elf defends himself (30XP, Roleplaying). Aeofell spends a few moments investigating it and with a bitter tone to his voice states that it is warded and no one should tamper with it if they know whats good for them. They tie a rope to it and carefully lower it to the others, there is a bit of a thump that makes everyone jump, but all ends safely.

The three of them descend back to that first floor and everyone, from there, heads to the ground.

“Its occurring to me that we now have an orcs looted treasure horde, some valuable furs and the gods know what it this box. Perhaps we should be heading back to Ellen’s Creek before continuing with our mission?” Griac asks (63XP, Solving).

“There’s a dead village over that ridge. I’m more concerned with them.” Ea says (30XP, Roleplaying)

Taking a long branch, Aeofell taps around in the thick layer of Stirge guano until near the centre of the room he hears a hollow thud (30XP, Solving). Griac also hears it and scrapes the guano away with his foot and they see a trap door. Griac opens the door and they see a small staircase leading down into the dark. Aeofell casts light on his dagger and they had down into a small cellar. It hasn’t been entered for hundreds of years by anything other than rats and yet the shirt of chain, hanging from a stand looks as new as the day it was made. There is also a small stone jewellery box on the floor nearby. Aeofell looks into the box. It is empty but has a small phrase engraved on the inside of the lid. Cade recognises it as Netherese.

The armour is clearly eleven chain and is very light and its agreed that it should go to Axirute.

They spend an hour resting before risking a venture to the village in the next valley. A little later as they are nearing the village they see Ea hurrying back to them waving her hand down.

“Trolls.” She hisses.

They are very near the village now, they can see an icy brook babbling away and the beginnings of some destroyed farmland. Next to them a broken sign swings loosely on a pole. It reads; welcome to Goodberry Vale. Ea passes on the information that, just around the corner, are two trolls currently feasting on the dead.

Before they can decide on an action they hear the thundering of footsteps.

“They’ve smelt us.” Say’s Windstrike. A glint in her eyes.

The lumbering brutes near the corner and Griac interprets their speak as one grunts “little ones.” Windstrike has clambered onto the goliath’s shoulders. The spell casters go into full defence mode as Aeofell casts mage armour on Ea and Jaenax casts mirror image on herself. Ungredal casts divine smith on her axe.

Aeofell throws a web down on the snowy path, just then they round the corner and straight into the sticky mass. Their claws rake forward just missing the front line. Ungredal, adds thunderous smite to her axe and swings. “Back foul beasts.” She calls. Her axe embeds itself deep in the first trolls chest and there is a deafening boom that shakes the troll. The troll screams in her face. Ea runs in from the side and attacks the other troll with a stab from solissia. Spinning round she then drives the same sword into the troll that has Ungredal’s axe still in it. Cade bites into Ea’s first victim’s mind with dissonant whispers, as Bethrynna calls down a bolt of golden light from the heavens to smite the same beast. Axirute banes them both and already the battle, incredibly, seems to be weighted against the hideous monsters.

“Trick-some wizards.” Griac hears one of them shout.

Aklime now runs past Ungredal to the back of the dragonborn’s enemy and sticks it with both her shortsword and dagger. Dog hits it with an arrow. The troll is raging now and starting to pull itself through the webbing. Windstrike leaps from the goliath shoulders to land on the trolls. She stabs her shikomi-zue deep into its back and keeps it there to balance herself as her feet push against its shoulders. She then proceeds to smash its eye to a pulp with her fist. The troll gurgles in pain as Windstrike pulls her shikomi-zue out of its shoulder then cuts its head clean off before leaping to the ground and winking at the second troll(213XP, Drama). Griac steps up to the other troll and smashes it solidly in the face with his morning star. As it writhes in pain, Jaenax calls a cloud of daggers around it and it screams.

Aeofell finishes the second troll with a stream of scorching rays that leave it burning in the snow.

Round the corner the village is a horrible sight. They begin to wander through the destruction in shocked silence. Dead halflings lie everywhere. Some are armed and have died in combat but most are farmers or artisans and have been butchered. Men, women, children, old and young. It looks like the entire village has been murdered.

Windstrike enters the first house she sees to look for a diary or something that may indicate what could have happened or if anything was spotted taking place in the tower (63XP, Solving). The only thing she finds is a planting diary. Ea has identified the paw tracks as worg and she is fairly certain the big footprints are armoured orc shoes. Ungredal and Bethrynna move between the bodies looking for survivors, but find none and spend all their time saying last rites.

From where they are they can see the dark tower looking down on the village, in alignment with its central path. As they turn back around they see two tall female orcs exiting a house, they are dressed in long grey robes and one is carrying a dead baby, by its ankle. As they look up Jaenax realises that it is Baggi and Briartooth, two of the three sisters.

“Jaenax. What a surprise.”

Episode 16 – Mother Graal

“What are you doing here?” Asks Briartooth.

“I could ask you the same question.” Jaenax replies, flicking a nervous glance at her companions. “What’re you doing here?” (30XP, Roleplaying)

The group are restless and tense, but before anyone can react Cade feels long thin fingers grip his shoulders with a firmness that suggests they are holding back on the potential for a far firmer grip.

“Calm down little man.” A quiet, slithery voice whispers from above him. She makes everyone jump, for no one saw her appear. She stands hunched over at seven feet tall, like a willow sapling in the wind. Long, lank, white hair clings to her back. She has evil little black eyes above a long, sharp nose and teeth like a sharks. In all other aspects she is orc. This is Mother Graal the head of the coven and Jaenax knows of rumours that say she is part hag. “This isn’t what it looks like, it might be prudent for us all to have a little chat.” Mother Graal continues.

In orcish, Jaenax asks the sisters if they killed the baby they are holding. Baggi shakes her head and Jaenax is sure she is telling the truth (30XP, Solving). Axirute subtly casts detect thoughts on Mother Graal and manages to avoid being caught out. Her mind is a dark, nasty place full of blood, death and devils, but right now she is trying to avoid a confrontation. Her mind is racing, spotting the opportunity to get something she wants from this encounter. Axirute murmurs in elvish to the other elves that he is reading her thoughts and does not trust her (60XP, Solving). Cade slowly turns and points his rapier up to her face.

“Just talk. What happened here?” The halfling growls.

Mother Graal throws her head back and laughs uproariously, showing rows of sharp serrated teeth. She puts a finger on the point of Cade’s rapier and pushes until a bead of blood rolls down the blade. “You are a very brave little man.” With that she waves Baggi and Briartooth to go sit down on a bench near the market place. While this goes on Bethrynna casts detect good or evil, quietly discovering that Mother Graal is part fey, but all evil.

Ungredal starts to steps forward a menacing scowl on her face. “We must arrest you for the crimes committed here.” (60XP, Roleplaying)

“Wait.” Mother Graal says, holding up her hand. “Just let me explain a few things here. This village has been the victim of an attack from the Thousand Fists, my former clan, and trust me they hate me as much as they hate you and this village. I’m not suggesting that we should be friends, but we could help each other.”

“Why did they destroy a harmless village?” Bethrynna asks.

“They are after something. Not that they would need that excuse necessarily, granted. Onetusk wants something that was held in this village and I fear he has not found it.”

Members of the group look at each other as they try to determine her truth.

“If that’s true help me kill them all.” Cade says grimly. Mother Graal, flicks her gaze at him and gives a half smile, part curiosity. An instant later she is ushering everyone to the central part of the market.

“Jaenax my dear, what has led you to join such…” Mother Graal looks around the members of the party. “Such a, varied group?”

“I’ve been trying to find you Mother. We are all united here in attempting to defeat Onetusk.” Jaenax replies.

Mother Graal studies her deeply. “I do hope you are still keeping good faith with Melchazzar.”

“Of course, I pray every day, you would doubt me?” (30XP, Roleplaying)

Mother Graal smiles and looks back to the rest of the group. “So what brings you to the village?”

“You can see the destruction from miles away, we had to see what happened.” Axirute explains. Aeofell starts to look very nervous, worried that the skald might mention the tower. Mother Graal’s gaze works around the group. It falls on Dog for an extended moment, but she says nothing. During this moment Axirute catches another rush of thoughts. She is convinced this is not a chance meeting, she is convinced that the group are after the same thing that Onetusk is after. It’s at this point her thoughts turn over a particular phrase – ‘the council of nine’. Then her gaze suddenly falls on Cade.

“What is that you keep playing with?” She asks the halfling.

Cade tucks the brooch away into his jacket and says nothing.

Looking back up at everyone, unperturbed, she says. “I think I could help you. I think I could give you information you are looking for, in return you can do something for me.”

Murmuring breaks out amongst the group.

“You would make me pay for information?” Jaenax pouts.

“How do we know we even need her information?” Bethrynna asks (30XP, Roleplaying).

Axirute uses the layer of noise to warn companions close to him that he read the phrase ‘council of nine’ in her thoughts.

“I want to see Onetusk defeated, I think you might want to see Onetusk defeated.”

“One hundred percent.” Jaenax confirms without hesitation. The rest of the group mutter their agreement.

“This depends on the cost.” Says Griac.

Cade messages Mother Graal ‘you help me with this and I’ll get you whatever you need’ (30XP, Roleplaying). Again Mother Graal’s eyes flick to the halfling, her expression remains passive but a sparkle dances in her eyes, before she returns her gaze to the rest of the group.

“Onetusk is seeking a key, a key that will lead to a treasure trove.” Mother Graal is trying to be as oblique as possible, but Axirute can hear her thoughts rushing ahead. If these adventurers can remove Graxuningrath, I will dominate the marshes.

“We have lots of money.” Axirute suggests.

“Money… Money is not my thing.” She shakes her head. “What do you have under your robes wizard?” She asks, suddenly looking at Aeofell.

“Nothing.”

Cade smacks the moon elf on the back and the surprise makes Aeofell lose his grip on the box and it crashes to the floor spilling out from the bottom of his robes. The necromancer gives the bard a dark look as Mother Graal raises her eyebrows.

“Something special, wizard?”

“I don’t know.”

“Show me, open it.”

“Why don’t you have the honour.” Aeofell says as everyone slowly starts to back away from the box.

“Nice try.”

Cade steps forward and casts dispel magic on the box, the glyph vanishes in a shower of frost and Aeofell leaps forward to open it. Inside is a black leather bound book, with a clasp. Embossed on the front is a picture of the demon lord Orcus. Mother Graal’s eyes go wide and everyone watches in silence as Aeofell unclasps it and starts to flick through the pages. The light around them seems to dull perceptibly and motes of darkness waft from the pages, each one tuning to the image of a skull before vanishing into the air. Aeofell recognises some of the early entries but as he scans forward he realises that it holds dark secrets even beyond his power.

Aeofell, eventually looks up. “Its a book.” (30XP, Roleplaying)

“So what do you want?” Demands Griac, bored of the mind games.

“I want you to get rid of a troublesome foe. There is a creature who lives in a cave, in a swamp, not very far from here. If you can defeat this creature I will tell you what I can about the council of nine.”

“Have you tried to defeat it mother?” Jaenax asks.

“It is the scourge of the swamps that we have moved into. I fear to tread within a mile of its cave.”

The companions look at each other, clearly disturbed by that revelation.

“Why?” Asks Griac.

“What is it?” urges Aeofell.

“It is a dragon.”

There is a unified gasp.

Looking at Cade, Mother Graal asks him to show her the brooch. Reluctantly he does so, but he nods her away from the rest of the group. Gripping it tightly he holds it up to her. Flicking the brooch open she lays a finger on the mirrored plate and then steps back.

“This brooch will now have the ability to show you how to get to my swamp. If you choose to take up my quest, you can meet me there. These are dark times, evil is rising up against evil and the victor will snuff out any light you hold dear. In these times, strange alliances may have to be forged to prevent the chaos.” Her gaze passes over Ungredal and Jaenax.

With that she sweeps up her robes and nods to Baggi and Briartooth that is time to go, and with that the three witches head away through the village and out of sight.

Ungredal looks at everyone and says, “I think its time you explain to Axirute and myself what you know of the council of nine.”

“Very little.” Cade mutters.

Griac explains the quest so far and how certain treasures have linked to some legend known as the ‘council of nine’. They describe frescos they have seen that depict, monsters, battling undead, battling demons. Tapestries that appear to have given them hints at power figures within the council. What the council stand for and what their goals are though, no one knows (63XP, Roleplaying).

“And so we defeat a dragon to get answers.” Asserts Ungredal.

“We really should have asked what kind of dragon it was.” Muses cade.

“That’s easy.” Ungredal answers. “If it dwells in a swamp it is likely to be one of my lineage. A black dragon.”

The rest of the day sees a sombre party digging in the frozen ground and putting themselves to the grim task of burying the dead. Aeofell claims a bad back and removes himself to one of the houses to study the spell book he has found. Towards the evening Ea, Cade and Jaenax also head inside to prepare food for everyone. Being a halfling village they find marvellously stocked larders and settle down by a fire to eat a hearty meal. Only poor Griac is forced to stay outside, due to his size not allowing him entrance to the house. Night passes and on the morning watch, Griac hears a long low horn blast too near for comfort. Some are woken by the noise and run outside, by the time a third horn has rang out all the group are awake.

Over the crest of the hill charge five ‘shaggybacks’, huge dogs similar to great danes but with thick, flowing fur, and atop them are halfling warriors dressed in leather armour, armed to the teeth sitting on specially made saddles. They see the companions and wave frantically at them to run.

“Get out of here, your lives depend on it.” Shouts the leader. A ruggedly handsome halfling with thick black muttonchops and shaggy black hair.

“Why?” Booms out the goliath.

“They’re coming back. The orcs are coming.”

Cade steps forward with his lute and laces a battlecry with magical energies. “Do not run. It ends here, we will avenge this village.” (60XP, Roleplaying)

The leader of the halflings pulls up near Cade and leaps off his dog, slapping the bard heartily on the back.

“That’s the spirit. That’s what I like to hear. I’ll ask you again though, my friend. Are you sure?” He points to the rise of the hill and suddenly four worgs burst into view with orcs in the saddles. Foot soldiers follow in their wake and then the hulking, two-headed form of Mosscrag Snapbone, rises up over the hill.

Cade winks at the rough-and-ready halfling commander and says, “see that Ettin. I’m going to make a lute case out of him.”

“I’m Pedwin.” The halfling laughs. “Good to have you on board.”

Just then a very big orc rises up over the hill, on a vicious worg. The orc has one tusk in his mouth and he screams. “Kill them all.” The last figure to lope over the rise is a huge, gorilla-shaped orc with a furry back, horns and glowing red eyes. A tanaruuk.

“Golgrieg.” Spits Jaenax. “Half demon, half orc.”

“Dork.” Ea shrugs (30XP, Roleplaying)

Already preparing to skirmish along the flanks of the orc army, the halflings look at the newly made graves and then back at the companions there is respect in their eyes.

“Grieve later.” Shouts Cade. “Today we avenge the dead” (30XP, Roleplaying). Pedwin gives him a salute and off they charge.

Axirute steps up to Ungredal and using bardic inspiration prepares the paladin for her front line duties. Windstrike rolls her shoulders and waits for the enemy to close in whilst Jaenax casts mirror image and three more versions of herself spring up to confuse the enemy. Ea casts spike growth on a large area of ground in the centre of the battlefield. Cade provides Dog with encouragement. As one of the worgs run past the tanaruuk, Golgrieg steps up and pats the worg’s flank. Momentarily the orc and the worg light up with a faint purple glow. As the first of the worg riders gallop into the centre of the field two worgs yowl in pain as spikes and thorns rip into their paws and legs. Aklime pulls back on her bow and takes one of the injured worgs, the one golgrieg enchanted, straight down, its orc rider hits the floor. Dog fires a split second after Aklime and strikes the second worg in the thorns, but this creature is, for now, still on its feet. Bethrynna casts beacon of hope, empowering her entire group. Aeofell casts mage armour on himself as Ungredal readies her axe with divine strike.

The halflings pull out short bows and as they charge along the flanks they drop a hail of arrows on the enemy, one orc is dropped dead off its worg. Axirute continues to work through the crew this time providing Aeofell with inspiration. He then launches a fire bolt at the other thorn injured worg, dropping it dead. Windstrike now turns invisible and runs up to the prone orc. Jaenax lifts her arm and a confusing array of four eldritch blasts hurtle across the battlefield. The true beam hits an orc seriously injuring it. Ea casts hunters mark on an orc and puts an arrow straight through its head. Cade casts vicious mockery on the prone orc at Windstrike’s feet making him roll around on the floor, clutching his head in pain. Golgrieg hurls a little ball of fire at Griac, who lifts his shield but the fire gets through his defences burning the goliath. A worg powers in towards the group. The orc swings a huge greataxe knocking Akilme back with a staggering bow. Aklime responds by stabbing her shortsword straight into the orcs belly dropping it from the worg. Dog looses an arrow at the prone orc, but the arrow thuds into the turf. Bethrynna runs up to the worg next to Aklime and hits it with her mace, it snarls at her.

It is then that those on the right hand flank, notice two hideous trolls climbing out from the river bank to investigate the battle.

Onetusk drives his worg around the area of spikes that almost felled two of his outriders. Griac steps forward and smashes at the worg bringing its attention fully onto the goliath. Aeofell fires three magic missiles at the orc commander who flinches and shouts out “kill the wizard.” Ungredal buffs her axe up further with sacred weapon.

The Ettin steps into the area of thorns, screams and leaps back out again. The orcs continue to charge forward approaching the companions. One of the orcs take damage from the thorns.

Episode 17 – The Battle of Goodberry Vale

The halflings, on shaggybacks, now double back and strafe arrows across the orcs as they return in the direction of the companions. Pedwin, himself, charges into a worg and slashes at it with two swipes of his shortsword as four arrows bury into it and the worg dies. Axirute casts sleep on the main group of orcs as they charge in and one of them drops to the floor unconscious. Windstrike leaps at Onetusk and slashes with her shikomi-zue and punches out with her fist. Onetusk reacts instantly as the gnome blinks into sight and slips to the side of his saddle as she leaps over him failing to connect (“Don’t tell her I rolled the dice”, says Ed). Jaenax fires an eldritch blast at Mosscrag Snapbone knocking him back ten feet and making him rage in pain. Griac hears the trolls shouting excitedly. “Hey Ferschy look, look elf meat.” “No Chunks, look, dragon meat!” They start to rush towards the group of companions. Ea follows the companions general movement onto the left flank loosing two arrows. She takes an orc through the throat dropping him and another one in the chest piercing his hide armour. Cade casts crown of madness on an orc in the middle of a group and the orcs eyes turn red with madness as a thorny crown stabs into its skull. Something takes place between Golgrieg and Onetusk, Windstrike clocks it, but is uncertain what the communication meant. The worg in the middle of the group leaps up at Griac, but the huge goliath simply shoves it away. Onetusk’s worg, however, bites at Windstrike. It attempts to push her to the ground but the gnome wriggles free. Aklime stabs at the worg with both her shortsword and dagger, felling the beast. She then follows the group to the left. Dog hits the troll known as Chunks with a well placed arrow. “Hey, he bite me.” Shouts the troll. Before Chunks can recover from the arrow Bethrynna strikes him with a critically powerful guiding bolt, which peels the very skin from his body (125XP, Drama). Onetusk rears up in his saddle and swipes at Windstrike with a deadly blow. The gnome staggers back, blood pouring from her side (125XP, Drama). Griac charges straight at the trolls and entices them to attack him by throwing a string of insults. Aeofell throws a huge area of web down to the right of the thorny ground and nearer to the companions. It traps the ettin and three of the orcs, including the sleeping one. Ungredal powers her axe up a third time with thunderous strike adding to the divine strike and sacred weapon. Taking a huge swing, Chunks wheels backwards and the axe swings just clear of his face. The orc with the crown of thorns puts his greataxe straight through the skull of the orc in front of him. Cade then forces the maddened orc to run into the thorn zone. Screaming in pain the orc lacerates himself to death (63XP, Drama).

The communication between Golgrieg and Onetusk now becomes clear as a horde of demonic creatures appear over the rise of the hill. The majority of them are disgusting grey, bloated bodies, parts of them being eaten away by disease. Aeofell identifies them as manes. Fewer in number and appearing to be leading the manes are pig-faced demons that Aeofell identifies as dretch.

The shaggyback riders now wheel across each other round the back of the companions, as they do they release yet more arrows, injuring yet more orcs. Axirute fires a bolt of fire at Chunks, making the foul monster howl in pain. In great pain Windstrike launches a second attack at Onetusk, again the wily commander dodges everything she throws at him. Jaenax fires an eldritch blast knocking Onetusk flying backwards off his saddle onto the ground ten feet away (125XP, Drama). The trolls now launch themselves at Griac and Ungredal, ripping into the two frontline fighters. Cade helps reduce the potency of the attack by throwing vicious mockery at the trolls. The manes and dretch continue to surge forward. Ea draws both her shortswords and tears into a group of orcs, injuring one and slaying another. Cade now attacks Ferschy with dissonant whispers making the troll scream in pain. He runs as far as he can from Cade straight into the web and gets stuck. Onetusk’s worg snaps at Windstrike again, but she rolls to one side and a steely glint appears in her eyes as she focusses on the prone Onetusk. Aklime slays an orc with a vicious stab from her sword and Dog sticks another arrow in Chunks. Bethrynna calls down another guiding bolt onto Onetusk’s worg wracking it with pain as its fur singes. Onetusk stands and hurries back to his worg in an attempt to mount. Griac charges at Chunks and smashes at him with his morning star as Aeofell follows up with scorching rays, but only one of the three rays strike him. Still the demons surge forward as Ungredal charges her axe yet again with flaming strike and swings, but again misses the troll before her.

The halflings charge forward for another sweep, this time turning Chunks into a pincushion as Axirute adds fire damage from his fire bolt spell. Windstrike releases her ki energy and limps backwards, unhooking her javelin. Onetusk is gripping the reigns of his worg about to swing up into the saddle. Her eyes narrow and she pulls back and throws. Bolts of lightening crackle down over the battlefield. Onetusk jolts in agony, his worg keels over and expires and a dretch and two manes explode (188XP, Drama). Jaenax, blasts at Onetusk with her eldritch blast, but he gains his senses enough to jump out of the way. Ferschy struggles in the webs and fails to escape but his wounds are healing. Chunks is in a rage now, but Griac batters every attack away with his shield. Ea continues to sweep through the battlefield her shortswords flashing before her, another orc falls as she stabs him with two shortswords. Cade attempts dissonant whispers, but Chunks is so infuriated that it doesn’t have any effect. Aklime fires an arrow into Chunks which drops him to the ground. Dog fires at an orc, but it goes wide. Bethrynna now runs to Windstrike and fills the gnome with healing energy. The nasty wound in her side closes up and the colour returns to her face. Onetusk is furious now and makes two massive swings at the gnome, she steps round one and ducks under the next “Its sucks huh?” She smiles at the orc commander. Griac runs to the nearest orc and hits him hard with his morning star. Aeofell throws scorching rays at Ferschy making him writhe in anguish. Ungredal’s axe is literally humming with energy now, she rolls her shoulders and steps forward as the webbing burns away from Ferschy, starting to release him from the web. As he looks up, her axe descends on his face. There is a deafening boom, flames and bright radiant light as Ferschy howls in pain (90XP, Drama). Orcs surge at Griac, but he moves and parries as orc axes bounce off him.

The halflings send more arrows into the orcs felling another two. Axirute seals Chunk’s death with a blast of fire to prevent him regenerating. Windstrike is now a mask of death as she bemuses Onetusk with feints and lunges. She stabs him twice in the side and as he grunts and staggers forward she lands a punch square in his face and the powerful ki force sends him onto his arse. To add to his misery Jaenax creates a cloud of daggers around the commander. The magical blades rip into him, opening gashes all over his body. The demons are still running forward, trying to reach the fight as Ea is able to leap forward and stab Onetusk in the throat finishing the orc commander once and for all (63XP, Drama). Cade now creates his own clouds of daggers over Ferschy ripping into him as he still tries to shake the shock of Ungredal’s attack away. Golgrieg shouts “back” in abyssal and he had the demons start to retreat. The Ettin has now made it around the thorny ground and Aklime fires an arrow into the two-headed giant. Bethrynna’s sacred flame just misses the troll, but Griac lands a staggering blow with his morning star. He shatters the trolls ribcage and Aeofell seals the deal by scorching him with a ray of fire. The other two scorching rays he sends off at the Ettin. Ungredal breathes in and releases a jet of acid breath at the two webbed orcs, they writhe in agony as the acid burns into them.

The halflings now charge past the Ettin some riddling him with arrows, some felling the two remaining orcs. Axirute cheers Windstrike on, giving her bardic inspiration as he fire bolts the ettin. Windstrike runs forward, pounding the ground and then leaps. The Ettin is staggering back from the onslaught of arrows and fire and suddenly finds an angry gnome swinging on Snapbone’s beard. She takes Mosscrag’s head clean off and as Snapbone stares dumbly at the stump, gushing blood, she takes Snapbone’s head clean off. Dropping to the floor, Windstrike walks back to the companions as the giant crashes to the ground behind her.

The Midnight Raiders cheer as victory is theirs.