The Eroding Empire

Of Priorities and Privateers
Session 21

After a short discussion the group offered to try track down the Ley King Loadstone (which appeared to be in the Web) for the vampire elder Nicodimus, though the mission to find Darilth (a blue dragon cursed and exiled by the Three hundreds of years ago) hung over them as well. It was a crisis of priorities with the Armada of the Three proverbially rumbling on the horizon like an angry storm: they had to find the Loadstone before it disappeared, but if they fail to find Darilth for the Archmage, the consequences for the Dragon Empire may be even greater.

Robbin was given a compass by the vampires to help the group track down the Ley King Loadstone.

Thybalt also felt some consciousness emanating from Aejis Lothsvir, the magic red sword he inherited. He found a few moments of privacy to draw his sword and commune with it. It’s usual matt red finished had become a polished red metal, and Thybalt could see his own reflection in the blade. Only, it was not his face – it was like he was sharing a face with someone, or something, else. The thoughts “I must not fall before I complete my mission. We must be allowed to complete our mission. Aid will be summoned” fell upon Thybalt’s inner mind before the blade returned to its normal matt finish.

It was decided that the group should follow the direction given by the compass (and planning to question any kobolds they might chance to encounter). The decks of Flotilla were a hive of activity. As they moved along the group saw a Shapen woman being accosted by a growing mob of people accusing her of cowardice. As Vorax moved to intercept the situation, Thybalt as a monkey swung in and grabbed her out of harm’s way.

The woman, Cepae, expressed her gratitude to Thybalt saying that she owed him. She warned the group against staying on Flotilla and said that the group would be welcome to leave with the Shapen as they were to leave to make a new home with their creator, an ancient elf who had been imprisoned by the Elf Queen but was now free. Some smooth talking from Thybalt convinced Cepae to help them for a short time.

Moving through the bowel of a ship, Vorax caught some movement that indicated an ambush was being hastily laid. Robin used a mirror to identify a half-orc and a troll waiting to ambush them above. As the group quickly tried to decide whether to go forwards or backwards an ettin came up from behind and cut off their escape route.

The ettin charged to attack while the half-orc ordered the troll to “grab the girl”. Vorax and Thybalt fought the troll and half-orc to protect “the girl” Robbin while Lythvard and Rawdon handled the ettin. The initial assault from the ambushers hammered the party hard. The battle was intense, particularly against the troll which Robbin and Vorax struggled to hit. Fortunately, Thybalt’s spells were more effective and he dropped the troll once. The troll rose again though, requiring Vorax to put it down again. Robin’s efforts to find flame to finish the troll permanently were less than successful.

Meanwhile, Rawdon’s axe and Lythvard’s spells were much more effective against the ettin. With the ettin and troll downed the half-orc quickly sued for peace. He insisted that it was just business and offered to pay the group what he would have been paid to give Robbin to the Shapen leaders. After many threats the group eventually agreed and the half-orc fled leaving a bag of 500 gold coins behind.

Moving on, the party spotted a kobold rummaging in a barrel. Despite making a bad first impression the party was able to get directions to a ship called the Dirty Trident. It took them off course from the Ley King Loadstone but they soon found the ship crewed by kobolds.
Thybalt magically disguised himself as a kobold to infiltrate the ship and try find Darilth. Lythvard became a rat-catching snake to accompany Thybalt on board. Kobold Thybalt and snake Lythvard began searching the ship under the guise of rat catchers. Deep in the ship they found six kobolds in ceremonial armour and other priests indicating that the kobolds had established a temple for Darilth in the ballast section of the ship.

Back above deck the group discussed the plan of attack to get access to Darilth. In the end it seemed to be decided that they would take a direct approach and try to convince the kobolds that Darilth needed to be protected from the approaching armada of the Three.

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Of Flight, Fight, and Flotilla
Session 20

Pelaios Tallstag led the group through Flotilla’s Hell Quarter to a private cabin on a ship. The cabin was dimly lit with magical red fires. A pair of small Tiefling children played quietly in the corner. Pelaios immediately identified the group as outsiders and asked why he shouldn’t identify them as such. The group explained in vague terms what their mission was (leaving out the names of their patrons).

As the conversation continued a black mist swirled into the cabin through a window and coalesced into a pale human soon identified as Octavian. Octavian informed Pelaios that Nicodemus had called a Meeting of the Four Quarters. This was a very rare occasion, the last having occurred before Pelaios was born. On his way out, Palelos pointed them in the direction of a Master Fear, a magician on a ship called the Hellish Whore.

Lythvard and Vorax left the group behind to find Master Fear. After some searching they found the Hellish Whore and went on board and began searching for Master Fear. Directed to deck two, they found a likely looking door, with the smell of sulphur and alchemical reagents suggesting that they had found Master Fear’s abode. Inside was a tiefling alchemist. Confirmed as Master Fear, Lythvard and Vorax began talking and eventually admitted to being servants of the Archmage and that their presence on Flotilla was a quest in the service of the Archmage. Master Fear (also a follower of the Archmage) didn’t know of Darilth but did agree to give them identities to help the Vorax and Lythvard blend into Flotillan society better. He also directed them to a library in the Blood Quarter on a galley called the Insanity of the South, suggesting that they might find something about Darilth there. And with that, Master Fear began training Lythvard and Vorax in the ways of Flotilla to help develop identities for themselves.

Later in the evening, Master Fear’s imp came in and gave him some news. The news intrigued Master Fearand he immediately turned to his scrying cauldron. An image of a meeting took shape in the cauldron. Around the table sat three members from each of the four quarters. They could see Pelelos representing the Hell Quarter and his visitor Octavian sitting for the Blood Quarter. There were twelve grooves carved into a raised circular dais in the center of the large meeting table. In the center of this circular dias was a smooth, grey stone, roughly the shape and size of a dragon egg. Master Fear told Lythvard and Vorax that the stone was called the Ley King Loadstone, and it was the heart of Flotilla.

To start the meeting, each of the representatives placed their compass into slots on the table. Eleven compasses were expected because the twelfth compass disappeared with the Prince of Shadows, millennia ago. So the Vampires of the Blood Quarter were only expected to put two compasses into the grooves. All of the needles on the compasses pointed towards the Ley King Loadstone.

However, murmurs of confusion immediately spread around the table as it become apparent that there were only ten compasses in the grooves. The representatives from The Womb were missing a compass! The murmurs of confusion soon became shouts of anger and accusatory finger-pointing. The thre vampires sat quietly and calmly because they had been expecting this reaction. After the ruckus had died down, they calmly explained that a ground-hugger had come to Flotilla and warned them that the Three had possession of the missing compass, and were even now preparing to attack Flotilla (adding significance to the dragon attack as the group flew over Flotilla upon arriving). Before the conversation could continue further, Nicodemus appeared to look out through the image in the scrying cauldron and make eye contact with Lythvard and Vorax. Just as Nicodemus said he felt they were being watched, the scrying cauldron went dark and silent.

Flustered by proceedings, Master Fear saw Lythvard and Vorax out. After a quick discussion about the situation, they decided to head back to the group to drop off the compass before heading for the library. On their way back they saw masses of people moving towards a common point. Lythvard and Vorax went with the flow expecting to hear news from the meeting. Their suspicions proved correct as they found Pelaios informing the tieflings of the Hell Quarter about the news of the impending attack. The Armada of the Three had taken to the air and could meet Flotilla in battle within a day. He told them that the vampires and the citizens of the Web were going to stay and fight. The Shapen from the Womb said that Flotilla should be disbanded to scatter from the attack. Palaios gave the citizens of the Hell Quarter the choice as to whether to flee or fight (although he gave permission for any individual ship to leave if they felt it best).

Pelaios allowed the tieflings to discuss the matter. During the discussion Lythvard and Vorax made their way forward and caught the eye of Pelaios as well as Thybalt and Rawdon (Robbin remained missing). After some discussion Pelaios called for a vote. The voting method was to designate one ship to represent “stay and fight” and another ship to represent “scatter to the winds”. The Tieflings would stand on the ship that represented their vote, and whichever ship rode lower in the air would win.

Vorax argued to remove the party of four heroes from the decision by splitting their vote across the two ships, so as not to affect the outcome. Pelaios overheard this and appreciated the nobility of the sentiment and asked them to simply remove themselves from both boats. However the bearing of the group did have an influence on the vote nonetheless. The strong yet considerate bearing of Vorax influenced many into believing that the fight could be won. Lythvard also fell into a strange trance brough on by the High Druid. As Lythvard mumbled to himself, a flock of giant eagles arrived and perched on many of the ships, the omen giving faith to many of the tieflings below. They voted to fight.

After the vote, Lythvard handed off the compass to Thybalt. Then he and Vorax went off to find the library. On their way to the library, the witnessed a change in the in people of Flotilla. In some ways, chaos had broken out as Flotillans prioritised saving their own skin, gathering supplies and finding ways to untether their ships from the Flotilla. But just as many Flotillans had a quite resolve about them as they prepared ballistae and piles of arrows for the defence agains the oncoming armada.

The library, made from two ships, one atop the other, was in chaos. Lythvard went to work searching for some census records without success. Vorax saw an old vampire moving about with a purpose. The vampire was preparing a ward to protect the library. Vorax and Lythvard helped the vampire with his task (Vorax carrying books and Lythvard actually being useful with magic stuff).

After helping the old vampire they asked him about looking for some records. The vampire knew the name Darilth but could barely remember where he knew the name from. After wracking his memory, he said that about 700 years ago a ship of kobolds brought a comatose human to Flotilla, requesting permission for her to stay on Flotilla. Usually Flotilla doesn’t welcome outsiders, but their granted the kobold their wish because this outsider couldn’t move nor talk, and thus was no threat to Flotilla’s secret existence. This shell of a human was called Darilth.

The vampire then mused about a series of writings he had been fascinated with for years. The writings span a period of about 700 years, appearing once every hundred years or so. He found one of the writings and gave it to Vorax and Lythvard. It read:

“What manner of torment be this? I know not my name, I know not my body. I know I have a history, but I remember it not. I recognize not these with which I write. I see these hands form these words on this page and know that this be not my handwriting. Everyday I wake to see new hands before my eyes. Nay, someone else’s eyes also. What torment be this? When will it end?”

From reading the journal-like entry, Lythvard and Vorax surmised that it was written by Darilth as she transferred from one person to another each day. They made the connection to the Dawn Delerium and rushed to find Vox, the Halfling cobbler who that had met the previous afternoon. Vorax had suspected that Vox had been under the influence of the Dawn Delerium. They found his ship just before dawn and Vox’s wife let them in to try wake him as she couldn’t. Vorax managed to wake him by whispering to Darilth in the cobbler’s ear. But Vox was no clearer than before despite Vorax’s urging to Darilth. As Darilth/Vox seemed to be pulled back down into a magical slumber the Halfling mouth murmured the words “dark… damp… ropes… kobolds” before falling silent.

Vorax was too tired to continue the search so they retired back to Pelaios’s quarters where they found Thybalt keeping watch. Vorax and Lythvard then managed to sleep for a few hours before being awoken by Robbin who had entered the cabin in the company of several vampires, one of which was Nicodemus himself. Robbin told the party that they had to return the compass to the vampires because it belonged to them (which the rest of the group had also found out in her absence). Vorax spoke up admitting to having the compass and having just recently learned of its significance to the vampires. He said that they had been planning to return it to them because it was the only way they could think of to prove that they would no longer be a threat to Flotilla. Vorax said they would return it but asked in exchange for permission to leave Flotilla when the time came. Nicodemus agreed to the deal because Robbin had previously proven herself a friend of Flotilla, but Nicodemus still promised threats of bloody retribution if they ever spoke of their time on Flotilla to anyone.

It was agreed to and the compass was handed over just as another vampire materialised and informed Nicodemus that the Ley King Loadstone had been stolen. Nicodemus screamed in rage…

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Of Delirium and Darilth
Session 19

Flashback

Back in Horizon Lythvard met up with Sebastian Redtail, a mouthpiece for the Priestess and the Church. Sebastian questioned Lythvard about his progress in finding out what the Archmage is searching for. Lythvard mentioned that Superior Barrick had them looking for Flotilla and someone in there. The contact thanked him for the information and assured him that his debt to the Priestess had been fulfilled.

Present

Outside, Robbin continued to tail the two sailors who had taken an interest in Rawdon. From talk around her she picked up that she was entering an area known as “the Web”. She saw them go into a ship called the Deceit of the Serpent. With that information she turned back to the Sad & Merry.

Meanwhile, the man who had been previously saved from committing suicide by Vorax entered the tavern with a posse of his friends. A lot of the posse members appeared to have animal parts grafted onto their bodies. One used a prehensile tail to help load a crossbow. Another had a fat pink tentacle growing out of his chest. And one brute had the arms of a gorilla and a third muscly leg to form a stable tripod base for his think frame. After a brief attempt at apologizing and placating the man a fight broke out. During the fight Lythvard (as a gorilla) and Rawdon drew the adulation of the crowd with their bloody kills. Thybalt on the other hand drew their laughs as accidentally sliced a barrel of pickled octopus its sticky contents fell all over him. Robbin returned to the tavern mid-fight, dispatched one three-legged thug (angering Rawdon who was facing him) and then tried to reason with the man who had initiated the fight (and since lost his will to fight). Unfortunately, Robbin’s treatment of the men set off the crowd who had bet on the outcome of the fight. The group were lucky to escape with the unconscious Dawn Delirium victim from the general melee that had erupted.

Back out in the sunlight, the group licked their wounds and looked for somewhere to lay low and talk. Robbin led the group to a garden ship she had noticed on her earlier journey. Lythvard concocted a brew to revive the man who they discovered was named Hip. They tried to question him without giving themselves totally away but failed fairly miserably. Dropping any pretense of fitting in they tried to get as much information as they could from Hip.

They discovered that Flotilla has four quarters: the Hell Quarter (run by tieflings), the Web (where the Dawn Delirium has been a problem for generations), the Blood Quarter (where it seems that vampires extract a blood tithe from those that live there), and the Womb (…). Unfortunately, Hip hadn’t heard of Darilth. Hip also described how he had been affected by the Dawn Delirium losing effectively losing a day of his life. Apparently his friends said that he was very out-of-sorts all day… in additional to the psychotic episode where he killed his wife.

Eventually it was decided that they should head for the Hell Quarter so Thybalt could try gather some information for them. Robbin said she wanted to go do some shopping and did so against the wishes of the group. The rest of the group followed Thybalt’s instincts on which way to go. Along the journey they crossed the ship of a halfling man (Vox) who seemed very disoriented, not seeming to know where he was. Vorax stopped the group to talk to the man. The halfling cobbler didn’t seem to know what he was doing with his tools and couldn’t even match an appropriately sized shoe to Vorax’s foot. As he was leaving, Vorax asked him if he knew the name Darilth and for a moment he seemed to but then he couldn’t remember. His wife (?) put her head up from below deck to get him down for dinner. She mentioned that he had been acting oddly all day. The group moved on although Vorax felt conflicted about leaving the woman in potential danger.

Meanwhile, Robbin had made her way back to the Deceit of the Serpent and tried to talk her way onto the ship to talk to Captain Weaver. Although very persistent she was unsuccessful. One of the men she had followed earlier came up on to the deck and recognised her from the Sad & Merry. He made a deal that if she brought Rawdon back to the ship then she could get in to talk to the Captain.

Eventually the group found its way to the tiefling-populated Hell Quarter. Thybalt found a tiefling “gentlemen” to talk to. The tiefling didn’t seem to buy Thybalt’s story of just being a traveller but certainly recognized him as being non-local. And being a new-comer he said it would be best to get Thybalt somewhere safe…

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Of Council and Corruption [Part 2]
Session 12

While the rest of the party went to Clan Copperhelm, Robbin went to check Bili Ironfist’s office. She was able to trace the air shafts to open vent, which she entered to attempt to reach the office. As she worked her way closer to the office, Robbin encountered water, which became deeper and deeper the closer she got. She tried swimming underwater, but the distance seemed too great to attempt unaided. Temporarily stymied, Robbin backed out and attempted to figure out how to get into the office.

Meanwhile, Thybalt, Lithvard, and Marek walked to Clan Copperhelm territory, where they found Garnan Silverhammer, the enormously fat leader of Copperhelm. Silverhammer was also a Council member and Master of the Coin, but he had been suspended from the Council pending an investigation into claims he has been stealing from Forge coffers.

Silverhammer revealed that Redarm and Graybeard had conspired to get an exclusive contract to supply arms to the army, cutting Clan Copperhelm out in the process. When Silverhammer objected, he was arrested by Bili Ironfist. Ironfist had not produced any evidence, and appeared to be stalling the case, which would prevent Silverhammer from opposing the upcoming war.

Near Ironfist’s office, Robbin rummaged through her equipment, turning up a waterbreathing elixir she had obtained previously. After drinking the potion, Robbyn reentered the vent, swimming easily through the water-filled pipe that had defeated her earlier. Emerging into Ironfist’s bath, she located a trapped drawer containing the Warden’s private files. She found the files on Belinis Coldflayer, Garnan Silverhammer, and the kidnapping investigation. Belinis Coldflayer was betrothed to Yenli’s son, but the files Robbin found documented Belinis’ long history of infidelity.

Robbin reported back to the party, omitting information about the kidnappings. They reported the findings to Redarm, who was pleased to receive a pretext to call off his son’s wedding (along with a wagonload of gold). In exchange, he provided a magical sphere to Lithvard, along with finely crafted equipment for the party. The sphere was perfectly round, a feat of workmanship that none in the Dragon Empire had ever been able to reproduce. Yenli had hoped to reverse engineer it, but was unable to learn anything from it. Finding no other purpose for the curio, he let Lythvard have it.

Out of time, the party left Forge to await the decision of the Council. They had worked hard to sway the Clan leaders to vote for peace, but, regardless of the outcome of the vote, it would be best to be away when the decision was made. Once out of Forge and back in Lougheed, Lythvard assumed the form of a crow to observe the actions of the dwarves.

As dawn broke, the gates of Forge opened, and the mighty Dwarf army marched forth, going to war. Lythvard returned to tell his companions the dreadful news, then collapsed into a seizure. Robbin began idly playing with her hair. Thybalt set up a hammock, to get some rest while he could. Marek drew his new dwarf-forged sword and began to sharpen it, preparing for what was to come. . .

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Of Council and Corruption [Part 1]
Session 12

The companions looked down at their fallen foe. The unconscious golemnist lay crumpled by the door in an untidy heap. Momnorlum quickly searched his robes, and produced a Stormcleave clan pendant.

Lithvard and Marek worked together, Lithvard mixing chemicals to awaken the Dwarf, Marek going to work using pain to extract information. Robbin was disgusted by these actions, but her protests fell on deaf ears. Finally, the prisoner confessed that he was sent by the Warden, Bili Ironfist, to deal with the inconvenient existence of Marek.

The adventurers returned to Adalagin Bluefist’s office with Momnorlum, only to discover that the Pebblebeard clan leader was absent, likely attending the mourning celebrations in the common hall. While waiting for Robbin and Momnorlum to locate Bluefist, Lythvard, Thybalt, and Marek were disturbed by mysterious noises, as of dripping, oozing, and laughter, coming from the walls, furniture, and various unidentifiable sources. None were able to locate the source, despite frantic searching, and finally gave up.

When Bluefist returned, he disclosed further background of the politics of The Forge. Clan Steelfire’s Yenli Redarm’s son was betrothed to a woman from another clan, and Redarm wanted to cancel the wedding without suffering any political fallout. Clan Ironeye’s Valdag Graybeard hated the Diabolist to an extreme degree.

With this information in hand, the party set out to speak first with Graybeard. A drunken Ironeye Sergeant directed them to a magma-heated sauna, where Graybeard was preparing for the upcoming war. The Clan leader revealed that he had previously failed the Dwarf King, and felt a need to redeem himself in battle. Thybalt and Marek drew upon their shared hatred of the Diabolist to plant a seed of doubt in Graybeard’s mind regarding the justness of the war, which may have been enough to sway his vote when the Council meets to reconsider the war against the orcs.

Robbin made a separate investigation of the commercial district, locating a foul-smelling dwarven male servant of the Sisterhood. He warned her to leave the kidnapping cases alone, and to stop all investigations into the matter. He also gave Robbin a fine short sword which seemed to have some sort of enchantment.

Armed with a letter of introduction from Bluefist, the rest of the party met with Yenli Redarm. Redarm took the party to the Lava Flows, the heat source of the forge, and explained that he had promised to marry his son to a woman of clan Ironeye, Belinda Coldplay, but was having second thoughts about his son marrying a dirty Ironeye woman. While he made no promises, Redarm intimated that solving his son’s problem could help him be more favorably inclined to vote for peace on the council, especially when the party offered to “compensate” him for the profits he would miss out if war were averted and demand for his weapons reduced.

After reuniting with Robbin, the party was ambushed by a group of drunken xenophobic Ironeye warriors while en route to Clan Copperhelm territory. The group decisively trounced the attackers, despite a clumsy fall from the walkway into an aqueduct by Marek.

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Of Forge and Funeral [Part 2]
Session 11

The half-orc looked up from his seated position on the floor as Bili Ironfist entered the cell.

“What is it with you Cambion Scurge? Why do you always have to go and make a mess of everything?” Ironfist asked, not expecting much of an answer.

“Gotta send a message, make an example.” The half-orc replied.

“Well, ye sent a message all right. Now Clan Pebblebeard are incensed and old Bluefist is demanding I do something about the mess you left in their communal hall.”

“We had a deal, dwarf.”

“Aye, that we did, that we did. But I cannot protect ye if yer not subtle with these things.”

A silent pause as both of them stopped to think.

“You stay in the cell and think about the problems yer causing me, while I try and figger out what t’do with you,” commanded Ironfist as he turned to leave.

Ironfist paused in the doorway, and glanced back over his should to look at the half-orc.

“Honestly, though, I think the easiest thing will be to just have ye killed and throw yer body into a magma flow somewhere.”

The funeral dispersed and the dwarves began to trickle out of the Foundry and return to their respective clanholds to continue the party. The three adventurers followed the crowd out of the Foundry and into a low tunnel, heading for Stormcleave territory, believing that that was where they were most likely going to find the half-orc murderer.

They soon found themselves in the Stormcleave communal hall, which was filled with dwarves singing, dancing, and throwing back mugs of ale. A small crowd had gathered to listen to one dwarf who was standing on a table, spinning a tale. The three adventurers listened closely, and they realized the dwarf was giving an account of how they forced a half-orc to surrender his weapons and threw him in a cell.

After the tale had been told, the three adventurers discretely approached the dwarf and asked about the half-orc. He told them where the half-orc was currently being help.

They extracted themselves from the festivities, with the sound of the party fading into the distance behind them as the traversed the meandering tunnels, looking for the holding cells. They soon found the cells guarded by a sentinel-like dwarven warrior, whose face was as immobile and impassive and the stone statue he was standing next to.

The party first tried the fool the guard by telling him that they had orders from Ironfist to escort the prisoner elsewhere, but the guard would not be taken in. Lythvard tried to taunt the guard, to goad him into arresting him, believing that once Lythvard was inside the cells, he could transform into a small animal and escape. The guard, though, was not interesting in arresting ill-mannered elves and hoisted his battleaxe, making it clear that the dwarf intended to deal with this threat using deadly force.

And before anybody could stop to think, the situation had escalated into a fight to the death.

The stone statue sprang to life, carrying out its programmed function of keeping those inside the cells inside, and those outside, outside.

Robbin kept her head and tried to talk them all down from fighting, but Thybalt and Lythvard probably would have preferred her to help out in the combat, as they found the dwarven guard and stone golem to be formidable opponents.

In a nearby cell, the half-orc could hear the sound of fighting. Thinking that this might be an opportunity to escape, he began to try and bash down the sturdy cell door. He bounced off it painfully on the first attempt, but on the second attempt it gave way to his brute force. He found himself in a small corridor with a door at one end, and behind that door he could hear fighting.

On the other side of the door, the four combatants traded blows in the cramped room. The dwarven guard felled the elven druid, but was too busy fighting Thybalt to prevent Robbin reviving Lythvard with a healing potion.

The door flung open and the half-orc joined the fray, unarmed. Thybalt cast a spell at the dwarf, intending to knock him unconscious, but spells are difficult to control. It proved to be too powerful, killing the dwarf outright.

With Lythvard back on his feet and the dwarven guard out of the way, it did not take long for them to destroy the stone golem. With no time for formal introductions, the half-orc grabbed his possessions from a nearby shelf and quickly left the area.

They moved at fast-paced yet stooped walk as they traversed the low dwarven tunnels, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the Stormcleave cells as possible. Introductions were made along the way: the half-orc’s name was Marek and, given Chief Warden Ironfist’s new attitude towards him, Marek was quite content to accompany his liberators to a meeting with Councilor Bluefist.

They passed a few small groups of revelers in the tunnels, but none of them paid them much attention.

They saw one young dwarf standing guard outside a dwelling. A dwarven woman was talking to him, begging him to join the wake festivities. He tried to explain that he had been order to guard the crime scene, but she batted her eyelids enticingly, and the guard muttered something about “ok, just an ale or two” as he abandoned his post and wandered down the corridor with the woman on his arm.

Not wanting the let an opportunity to sate curious minds go to waste, the four adventurers were soon inside the dwelling, investigating the crime scene. Blood stained the stone floor, and the wooden cupboards appear to have burst from the inside out, with wood splinters scattered about the dwelling. But yet the four of them could find no sign of entry or exit, forced or otherwise. The victim – the occupant of the dwelling – was some kind of tinkerer. Strange contraptions littered workbenches, along with a plethora of strange looking tools and raw working materials. Those of the party even the least bit familiar with gnomish devices could tell that these contraptions were a very poor imitation, and none of them were functional in any way. In fact, one wonders if a six-year old dwarf with a hammer and lump of cheap iron could do a better job.

They left the crime scene before the guard came back, and passed him in the corridor later, catching him correcting his belt buckle. They soon crossed the chasm that marked the border of Pebblebeard and Stormcleave territory.

If one was looking closely, it would have been possible to see a very faint expression of surprise flicker across Councilor Adalagin Bluefist’s face as he saw a half-orc accompany the three visiting adventurers into his chamber. The ensuing conversation included Marek’s account of what happened, and what to do next. Bluefist was keen to use Marek’s testimony to bring down Bili Ironfist. Bluefist was a bit disturbed that a dwarf had been killed to free Marek. But, staying positive, Bluefist found a measure of relief in the fact that there were no witnesses to the death. Nevertheless, Ironfist would immediately suspect Bluefist’s involvement, so Bluefist urged Marek to stay with him, where it was safe, because it was quite likely that Ironfist would try to find a way to eliminate Marek.

The party, however, were more interested in the spate of kidnappings they had heard about… and seen the aftermath of. They asked Bluefist what he knew of the kidnappings. He told them that dwarves were being taken from all clans, there’s no indication of how the kidnappers are getting in and out of their victims dwellings, the kidnappings are very violent and the victims get badly hurt, and sometimes they find a red hat left behind. When quizzed about the red hats, Bluefist said that they were all different kinds of hats, that had been stained red. Perhaps it was some kind of calling card, Bluefist mused. The adventurers asked Bluefist where the most recent kidnapping in Clan Pebblebeard had been, so he sent Momnorlum to guide them to the scene of the kidnapping.

As they stepped into the Pebblebeard dwelling where the most recent kidnapping had occurred, the party immediately noticed several similarities – and also several differences – with the previous crime scene. Splinters of wood were scattered around the scene also, but this time it was not cupboards that had exploded but several wooden chests. There were signs of struggle and a lot of dried up blood, but this time the struggle had been in the bedroom, and it was the bedsheets, not the floor, that was caked with dried blood.

They asked Momlornum about the victim, and he told them that the victim was an idiot, born with “sumthin’ missing inside,” and was not much use to the clan except for doing some laundry. And he couldn’t even be relied on to do that properly.

The party continued to poke around the dwelling, looking for clues. There was one room full of bedsheets, a mountain of clean bedsheets and a mountain of dirty bedsheets, presumably because the victim had been responsible for cleaning them.

Before they could complete their investigation, Momlornum hissed that someone was coming, and hands quickly went to sword hilts or began the first movements of a magic spell. They watched in dread anticipation as the door handle on the closed outer door slowly turned, and then the door flew open and a stream waist-high grayish brown figures swarmed into the room, followed by a mysterious dwarf, features concealed by an oversized hood and cloak.

Although their vocabularies knew no word for their opponents, the four adventurers were facing an small army of midget-sized clay golems. But it appears that the golemist assassin had underestimated his quarry. Lythvard took advantage of the fact that the golems were still clustered together to unleash a storm of ice upon them. The dwarven golemist responded by launching a clay golem through the air with but a flick of his wrist. The airborne increased velocity and moulded itself into a javelin shape as it moved through the air towards Thybalt. The battle continued with the adventurers cutting down the clay golems as they tried to swarm over them, while dodging the clay javelins the golemist was launching into the mix. Before long, the adventurers had dealt with the golems, so the golemist turned to run. They managed to intercept him at the door and render him unconscious. Picking globs of clay out their armor and hair, the party waited for their would-be assassin to come to, so they could get some answers to some burning questions.

GM’s notes:

  • The only reason Marek was able to escape from a finely-engineered dwarven prison cell, crafted from the strongest stone and reinforced with iron, is because he rolled a natural 20.
View
Of Forge and Funeral [Part 1]
Session 11

Bili Ironfist sat behind a teak desk, rubbing his bald scalp as he watched a large half-orc enter his office. Ironfist studied the greenskin as he approached, and Ironfist’s trained eye could see that this half-orc was an experienced and cold-blooded killer. Ironfist had seen his type before: Cambion Scurge, the Crusader’s secretive enforcers who serve to make sure the Crusader’s legions don’t lose their spines or their loyalty in battle.

“What brings ye t’ Forge, Scurge?” Ironfist asked, already knowing the answer. Indeed, he already knew how this conversation would play out.

“The Crusader has business here,” was the curt reply.

“The Crusader can’t just walk in like he’s the Lord of the Underworld, y’know. We’ve a civilized society here, and it’s my job to keep it that way.”

The half-orc produced a cloth pouch and tossed it onto the desk. Ironfist inclined his head and an aid stepped up to inspect the bag. Nobody looked surprised when he emptied the bag onto the table and a multitude of jewels cascaded across the polished teak surface. The aide inspect a few of the jewels, gave a nod that confirmed their quality, and began to return the jewels to the bag, counting them as he went.

“Just don’t make a mess,” Ironfist said to the half-orc, concluding the negotiations. The half-orc gave a sharp nod indicating acceptance of the terms, turned, and walked out of the office.

The clouds hung low over Lougheed, casting a grey pall over the town and temporarily concealing the huge mountain the loomed over the town. The mountain was Forge, home of the dwarves, and it dominated the sky over Lougheed like it dominated Lougheed’s economy and the thoughts of Lougheed’s people.

It was unusually cold for this time of year, and the surrounding fields remained unploughed because the soil was partially frozen. Pillars of smoke rose from every chimney in the town, intermingling with the grey clouds to add to the gloom.

The frozen ground crunched underfoot as Lythvard inspected the carts, just to make sure everything was all right. Sebastian Redtail’s guards had theibarn well-secured, but you could never be too sure, not on a mission as important as this one. The carts contained the bodies of thirty-two dwarf warriors, who Lythvard, Robbin and Thybalt were returning to Forge in an attempt to put their souls to rest and, perhaps more importantly, convince the Dwarf King to choose peace instead of war.

After a well-earned bath in the tavern, the party enjoyed dinner with Sebastian Redtail, who had made good on his promise and had brought a cartload of Church gold to Lougheed, and Turin Undonae, the white-haired high-elf diplomat who had promised to introduce the party to the dwarves of Forge. Over dinner they discussed the ins and outs of Forge politics, and the best way to move their plan forward. Forge has a five-member Council, consisting of the heads of the five clans in Forge. These council members provide advice to the Dwarf King, who usually ensures he makes the decisions that have the support of the majority of the Council. It is also possible for the Council to veto the Dwarf King if the Council can unite. This has never happened.

So the path forward was becoming clearer: to prevent this war, the party would have to convince the Council members as well. They had a cartload of gold that might assist their cause, but they debated the best way to use the gold. Their bribes would have to be discrete, yet there was no way they could get that much gold into Forge without attracting attention.

One option was to use the services of Justina Sweetblade, a local brigand who boasted of being able to smuggle anything in and out of Forge. Her band of outlaws had already helped the party once, carrying the thirty-two coffins over the rough, hilly terrain that the carts couldn’t handle. There was only one reason Justina Sweetblade was helping them: Robbin Basketweaver.

Robbin left the tavern that night, braving the cold to speak with Sweetblade at her camp just outside of town. Sweetblade explained that she could get the gold into Forge, but on one condition: her way in and out must remain a secret, and thus her smuggling team cannot be accompanied. Also, she would need to know where to put the gold after she got it inside.

The long, low wooden tables contrasted almost comically with the incredibly high stone ceiling that hung, concealed in shadow, over the communal hall in the Pebblebeard clanhold. Most of the long drinking tables were unoccupied, but one group sat at the end of one table huddled in conversation. Three dwarves listened as a jittery human told stories of his service in the Crusader’s army.

The conversation was cut short, however, when a half-orc suddenly appeared, lifted the human off the bench, turned him around, and plunged a knife through his chest. The half-orc kept pushing down, until the human was lying on top of the table, the knife in his chest pinning him to the table, with blood quickly spreading out across the table. The half-orc released his grip on the knife, revealing its unusual bone handle, carved into some kind of demonic form. Blood began to spill over the table edges spatter on the stone ground as the half-orc turned back receded into the shadows.

The next morning, Robbin explained Justina’s conditions to the skeptical party. Redtail said he could look after the gold if necessary, so the party decided to leave the gold in Lougheed for the time being. If a bribe recipient wanted the gold, he could pick it up himself from Lougheed.

With the decision finalized, the party rolled out of Lougheed on their carts, taking with them the dwarf bodies, the orc heads, and some golden necklaces Redtail had made using the tusks taken from the orc heads.

The track to Forge led them into a steep canyon, which rose steeply on their left and right. If they looked up, they could make out the grey sky snaking between the two sides of the canyon, in parallel with the path. On their way the passed several dwarf patrols. Some were returning from a patrol, others were on their way out. Sometimes that would observes two patrols meeting on the path, where they would stop, light up some tobacco, and the returning patrol would share stories and warnings of what they had seen out there.

After several hours travel, the canyon widened, and the intricately carved stone entrance stood where the canyon floor met Forge. Carved into the canyon walls above them were numerous alcoves, each with a pair of dwarf guards armed with crossbows, eying the visitors warily.

The five-meter tall stone door to Forge lay open before them, presumably because it was too heavy to open and close every time someone wanted to get in or out of Forge. A large number of guards ordered the party to stop, so they brought their carts to halt near the entrance. Turin introduced himself, and spoke of the bravery of the three bulette-slayers, and requested they be invited into Forge.

Being a representative of the Elf Queen, Turin was granted immediate admission to Forge. The three party members, being strangers despite Turin’s introduction, were inspected with greater diligence. The dwarf guards demanded to know what was on the carts. Lythvard explained that he carried the dwarves who fell defending Crozier. The trio had carried the slain from Crozier to Forge so they could be laid to rest with their dwarven bretheren.

Impressed that an elf, human and a tiefling would show such respect for dwarven culture and the dwarven warrior spirit, the guards allowed them to enter. The carts had to be checked, of course, for contraband, and a few dwarves also protested about allowing a tiefling demonspawn into Forge. For a moment it looked like prejudice would prevent Thybalt from entering Forge, but one Dwarf remembered that his morning runestone divination had urged him to “grab the troll by the horns” today and, with the tiefling having horns, interpreted the divination to mean that Thybalt should be granted access to the dwarven homeland.

They passed solemnly through the massive stone doorway and were taken into an antechamber where their carts were taken from them. The party kept the thirty-two gold orc-tusk necklaces, and the sack of rotting orc heads, and watched their carts be led away, presumably to prepare the bodies for the funeral ceremony.

They were led into a low but wide tunnel, obviously a major thoroughfare within Forge’s labyrinthine networks of tunnels. Even an untrained eye would be impressed with the degree of precision this tunnel was constructed with. Stone walls met the stone floor and ceiling at sharp right angles, and each stone fit snugly in with those around it. The floor stones were arranged into some kind of pattern, but its meaning was lost to the visitors. The only architectural failing the trio of adventurers could observe was the low ceiling, which forced them to stoop and admire the intricate stone patterns on the floor a bit more than they would have liked to.

Their guide told them they were entering the Pebblebeard clanhold, and that they were being taken to meet with the Pebblebeard clan chieftain, Councillor Adalagin Bluefist. On their way they passed through the clanhold. They saw a huge chamber filled with long, low wooden tables – “Fer drinkin’,” their guide explained. This was the Pebblebeard communal hall. As they moved through, the party also noticed that one of the tables had a large and distinctive stain that was now familiar to the adventurers: a lot of blood had been shed onto that table, recently.

The ancient clanhold revealed more of itself to the adventurers as they moved through it. There were rooms for martial training, water running through a stone aqueduct system, family dwellings, and communal steam baths separated by gender, among other things.

Eventually their guide stopped at a seemingly nondescript door mid-way along a seemingly nondescript tunnel. The guide indicated they should enter, so they stepped through the portal and into Adalagin Bluefist’s chamber.

Adalagin Bluefist greeted them amicably, and thanked them for bringing their fallen bothers home. The party began their explanation of the unfortunate events at Crozier, describing how renegade orc cohort had attacked Crozier on the mistaken belief that the dwarves had taken something valuable to them. The attack was not sanctioned by the Orc Lord, so for the Dwarf King to declare war on the orcs would be huge mistake.

Bluefist shook his head solemnly at this tale of innocent lives needlessly ended, and agreed the war was a bad option. The problem, he explained, was that the majority of the Council had been itching for war for sometime, and this incident had provided the spark they needed. The dwarves have since been whipped into a frenzy, and it was too late to back out of the war now. There would be a funeral for the Crozier fallen, then a twenty-four hour wake, and upon completion of the wake, the Dwarf King would march his army into the northern plains. The one council member who might support the peace option – Garnorn Silverhammer of Clan Copperhelm – had been suspended from the Council while accusations of skimming some money from the annual tithes could be investigated.

During the course of the conversation Bluefist struck upon an idea that might take them one step closer to preventing the war, and satisfy Bluefist’s personal desire for retribution at the same time. The previous night, there had been a brutal murder committed with impunity in the Pebblebeard communal hall. The murderer – a half-orc – blatantly flaunted Forge law and make no attempt to hide his identity, suggesting that the Chief Warden had taken a bribe to permit the killing. That the Chief Warden was taking bribes was not what angered Bluefist so; instead, it was the fact that Ironfist’s coffers where growing larger at the expensive of Clan Pebblebeard’s much-valued peace and tranquility.

If the party could expose Ironfist’s corruption, the scandal might see him suspended from the Council. When asked how they might expose the corruption, Bluefist replied bluntly: “Find the half-orc.”

As the meeting was concluding, a messenger entered the chamber and informed Councillor Bluefist that there had been another kidnapping, just like the last one, with a red hat left at the scene being the only clue.

The large half-orc was packing up his travelling gear after spending the night on the stone floor of the Stormcleave communal hall, when a squad of Stormcleave wardens surrounded him. A quick estimate told him that there were at least twenty dwarves around him, all armed. The guard captain informed him that he was to surrender his weapons and armour and with them to a holding cell, until “a resolution to a delicate matter can be found.” Seeing himself hopelessly outnumbered, the half-orc surrendered, trusting that his bribe had been sufficient.

Their assigned guide, Bluefist’s steward Momnorlum Stormcloak, was leading them through the tunnels of Forge towards the Stormcleave Clanhold, when the party suddenly found themselves in a tunnel filled with dwarves, all slowly shuffling in the traffic towards the same destination. Momnorlum explained that they were all heading to Forgeheart for the funeral of the fallen. It was impossible to fight against the flow, so the party allowed themselves to be swept down the Foundry, where Forgeheart was located. The regretted the loss of precious time, but there was nothing that could be done.

The foot traffic spilled out of the tunnel and into an immense cavern. The rocky walls on the far side were so far away they could barely be seen. Looking up, the orange light from thousands of other entrances to the cavern on higher levels appeared like dim yellow stars in a night sky. This was the Foundry, the traditional seat of dwarven tradecraft. The Foundry floor was dotted with large, honeypot-shaped iron furnaces, each as large as a three-story building, and rivers of magma flowed along straight channels cut into the stone floor. There would be countless workbenches littered with all manner of tools, but these were obscured from view by the crowd the had filled every square inch of the Foundry floor.

The crowd focused on the slightly smaller honeypot-shaped furnace roughly in the centre of the Foundry floor. Unlike the other giant furnaces, this one was carved from a single boulder. The outside of the stone furnace was adorned in intricate stone carvings depicting the history of the dwarven race, whilst the inside of the furnace, seen through a large opening that had a stone ramp leading up to it, was a bright orange maelstrom of fire and magma. The super-heated air around the opening shimmered, giving the illusion of magic. The party of three were looking at what few outsiders had ever been privileged to see: Forgeheart.

Suddenly, the crowed hushed. The bodies of the thirty-two fallen dwarves were carried by the crowd across the Foundry floor. Raised arms carried the bodies above the crowd like crowd-surfers, each member of the crowd doing their bit to push the bodies ever-closer to the glowing opening at the front of Forgeheart.

The silence continued until the last fallen dwarf had joined his warrior ancestors inside Forgeheart. A fearsome, one-eyed dwarf elevated himself above the crowd by standing on a stone dais and began addressing the crowd. Momnorlum whispered to the three adventurers that this was Councillor Valdag Greybeard, Battle Commander of the Forge Armies.

In a fiery and angry speech, Greybeard demanded retribution for the act of wanton violence committed against their brethren. The crowd cheered emphatically, and the chant of “War! War! War!” echoed up from the Foundry floor into the cavernous expanse above them.

After allowing the chant to continue and gain in fervour, Greybeard called for silence. It took a few moments for the crowd to fall silent, and then Greybeard concluded his speech.

“On the morrow, we march on the northern plains to erase the orc kingdom from history. But until then, we celebrate and remember our fallen comrades!”

As if by magic, every dwarf on the Foundry floor had a filled mug of ale in their hands. Each mug was raised high, heads faced upwards, and each dwarf let out a long roar from the bottom of their bellies. The roar continued until they were out of breath, and then the drinking began.

GM’s notes:

  • This session was played with a lot more GM improvisation than earlier sessions.
  • This session was prepared with a Fiasco-like list of relationships, needs, locations, and objects.
  • The teifling got into Forge so easily because he rolled a natural 20.
View
Of Bulettes and Brigands
Session 10

The small rocks and shrubs on the expansive Koru Trail cast crisp shadows in the moonlight. A pack of gnolls moved with purpose across the rocky and barren terrain, stopping frequently to put nose to ground to try to catch the scent of something. It was clear that they were searching for something, or someone. They didn’t notice that the ground beneath them had been recently disturbed, and moved on, unaware that they had just passed over three shallow graves where their recently slain pack-mates lay.

A week or so later, the three peace envoys – Robbin, Thybalt and Lythvard – noticed the terrain change around them as they slowly moved off the Koru Trail. Sparsely vegetated hills began to rise around them, with their sides covered in shale, giving the trio and their three carts the choice of either moving along the creek lines between the hills, or moving along the ridgelines. The creek lines provided concealment, but exposed the party to the dangers of an ambush. The ridgelines were difficult to ambush, but anybody travelling on them was visible to all from miles around. Neither of options had tracks for carts, and the party found the going very slow indeed. The carts were more hindrance than help, with only Thybalt’s deft carpenter’s hand keeping them from falling apart in the unsuitable terrain.

They were trying to force their coffin-bearing carts up a creek line when a distraught wailing could be heard over the frustrated grumbling at the slow pace of the carts. Up ahead, out of sight in the trees, somebody was crying. Robbin stayed with the carts as Lythvard and Thybalt when forward to investigate.

They came across a scene of carnage amongst the trees. A well-dressed male elf was on his knees, forehead to forehead with a dead female elf, who lay on the ground with her chest ripped open. There were five other elf bodies lying scattered around. There was on other elf still alive, a young female elf who leaned back against a tree trunk with a distant look of non-comprehension set on her face.

Thybalt and Lythvard gently introduced themselves and asked what happened. Their leader, the well-dressed male survivor, introduced himself as Turin Undonae, and he explained that he was a diplomat, on a diplomatic mission to the Forge, bearing a gift from the Elf Queen to the Dwarf King. A well-camouflaged green bulette had ambushed them, tearing their group to pieces. To add insult to injury, fate would have it that the bulette also ate the gift for the Dwarf King: a millennia-old amulet called the Amulet of Maldhrinina.

Thybalt and Lythvard invited the elven survivors back to their carts, where they set up a temporary camp. They helped the elves burn their dead on a funeral pyre. Afterwards, they explained their peace mission to Turin, who proposed that they help each other. Turin could use his diplomatic position to get Robbin, Lythvard and Thybalt an audience with the Dwarf King. However, the elves needed to recover the Amulet of Maldhrinina before they continued on to the Forge, so the three adventurers agreed to hunt down the bulette and get the amulet back.

The trio discussed at length how to go about killing the bulette. It was much to strong for them to face it toe-to-toe: they would need some kind of strategy to defeat it. They made a plan to construct a large pit trap for the bulette, made of stone so that it could not tunnel out. They even purchased a goat from a goatherd to use as bait.

However, all their planning went to waste because the bulette found them first. They had been walking up a ridgeline looking for the bulette’s lair when the sleek, shark-like beast appeared on the ridgeline above them. The bulette quickly closed the distance to the three adventurers, its powerful clawed feet sending loose rocks tumbling down the steep slopes on either side of the ridge. Knowing that just one strike from a bulette could kill them, they did their best to keep their distance from it. Robbin instinctively sought the relative safety of the shadows. Lythvard entertained the idea of scaling a large boulder nearby, but the bulette intercepted him, pinning him to the base of the boulder and ripping into his slim elven chest with a maw of razor-sharp teeth.

Thybalt sent a warlock’s curse at the bulette, momentarily confusing it, before Thybalt tried to put some distance between himself and the bulette by circling around on the perilously unstable shale-covered slope. Seeing that its first target – Lythvard – was close to death and not going anywhere, the bulette decided to chase down its second meal and began to charge down the slope towards Thybalt. But not before Robbin momentarily emerged from the shadows to strike the bulette on its way past.

The bulette raked Thybalt with its claws, but Thybalt somehow managed to keep his footing. With power of the Crusader permeating through Thybalt’s body, Thybalt’s armor hardened for just a moment, protecting the Crusader’s pactling from much of the damage of the blow.

Lythvard slid down from where he had been pinned to the bolder and found himself bent forward on his knees, watching blood pour from the gaping wound on his chest and soak into the porous, gravelly surface of the ridge. Bringing one knee to plant one foot on the ground, Lythvard found the strength to bring himself upright and summon a swarm of vines from the shale at the bulete’s feet, quickly twisting themselves around the bulete and constricting fiercely, causing the bulette to roar in pain.

The bulette struck out again at Thybalt, but the tiefling managed to avoid the blow. The momentum of the strike caused the bulette to loose its footing on the shale. The immensely heavy beast began a rapid slide down the steep slope, only to snap to a halt as the vestiges of Lythvard’s vines pulled tight around the bulette’s neck, snapping it.

With the dead bulette hanging down the grey 45-degree slope like it had been executed at the gallows, the trio sliced open its belly and found the Amulet of Maldhrinina.

After a quick rest, the trio made their way back down the ridgeline and into a tree-lined creek line. However, someone was waiting for them. They first saw a human female standing arrogantly in their path, and it was only after she ordered them to stop did they notice dozens of crossbows pointed in their direction. They had been trapped by some dwarven brigands, and they were not happy about it.

The human woman demanded that they pay a tax and demanded the surrender of all their valuables. Thybalt and Lythvard responded aggressively, claiming that they had just slain a bulette and were perfectly willing to destroy two dozen or so dwarven brigands, even if it meant dying in the process. A shouting match ensued, but Robbin remained quiet. She was intently studying the brigand’s human leader’s demeanor, and something about the way she carried herslef suggest to Robbin that this brigand might be a member of the Sisterhood of the Silent Shadows. Robbin made a few subtle gestures with her hands, making sure the human brigand leader noticed.

The brigand leader instantly changed her tune. “Bulette-slayers, you say? Well, I am sorely mistaken, then, and I offer my humblest apologies. You’ve done these here hills a great service, and that shall surely count in lieu of your tax.”

With hostilities cooling, the brigand leader introduced herself as Justina Sweetblade. Robbin met Justina in private and they talked to each other using the sign language of the Sisterhood. Robbin explained their mission and why they were carrying thirty-two dwarf bodies, thirty-two orc heads, and were hoping for the delivery of a tonne of gold in Lougheed.

Sweetblade replied by explaining that they won’t be able to just walk up to the Dwarf King with a cartful of gold and expect him to accept it. The transfer will need to be done in secret, under the table, so that the Dwarf King can keep the windfall secret from his political opponents in the Forge. Fortunately, Sweetblade and her band specialized in sneaking things in and out of the Forge unnoticed, and she offered her help. But she pleaded with Robbin to help her gain Lythvard and Thybalt’s trust. Without their cooperation, she would not be able to help their mission of peace. Robbin promised to try.

Sweetblade made her offer of help to Thybalt and Lythvard, but they were skeptical. Sensing that it would take time and deeds to earn their trust, Sweetblade offered to have her band of brigands carry the dwarf coffins to Lougheed. The carts would go no further in this terrain, she argued, and their best option was to leave them behind.

Unable to find fault with her logic, Thybalt and Lythvard reluctantly agreed to allow the band of brigands to start shuttling the coffins to Lougheed. It took several trips, but within several days Robbin, Lythvard and Thybalt found themselves on a hilltop overlooking the gateway town of Lougheed. They had with them two elves and a priceless amulet, thirty-two dwarf bodies in a state of magically-induced stasis, some sacks filled with rotting orc skulls, an elven torso that was slowly mending after being savaged by a hungry bulette, a couple dozen brigands lurking behind them, and a promise from a merchant of the Church of rendezvous with them in Lougheed with enough gold to stop a war.

View
Of Gold and Grindleroot
Session 10

Behind the party of adventurers were the sounds of hammers and saws as Crozier began rebuilding. In front of them was a small track, disappearing in a sea of rolling green grass. Dressing off their right shoulder was a huge orc, sitting bareback on an even larger wolf.

All eyes were fixed on the green horizon before them as Sarfu spoke. “In a week the hills and the grass will flatten out, and you’ll be on the Koru Trail. Your carts will be happier for the harder ground, but there will be many dangers awaiting you there.”

His hands gripped the wolf’s coarse hair as his heels dug into the creature, spurring it forward, in front of the three carts until Sarfu and the wolf were directly in front of Lythvard, looking him directly in the eye.

“You tried to aide a elven sister of yours, in an attempt to strengthen the elves at the expense of the Orc Empire. You admitted as much, yet I let you live. Do you know why?”

“It is natural for one to side with one’s kin. Loyalty to family, to the brotherhood. Were I in your position, I would have done the same thing. And if your elven brethren had caught me, they would surely kill me, yes?”

“But it is time to move beyond these ancient hatreds. The Orc Lord wants his people to grow and prosper, not to be eternally hamstrung by a constant demand for revenge.”

“I forgive you, Lythvard, because the cycle of revenge needs to stop. I set this example for my horde, because they need to see that there is strength in forgiveness and peace… ”

At Sarfu’s direction the wolf padded backwards, twisting so that Sarfu now addressed all four adventurers.

“I beseech you to carry this spirit forward in the days and weeks to come. If my orcs can be convinced to turn their backs on revenge, then surely you can persuade the king of the dwarves to return his arms to the weapon rack, and avert a war that will stain the plains of the northlands red.”

Sarfu’s shoulders sag a little as he leaned forward slightly and glanced to the south.

“And I hope Syrion and Goodmar can do likewise with the Emperor. My son studies in Axis. Should war break out…”

His voice trailed off for a moment before his head snapped up as though he’d suddenly remembered something. He raised his massive right arm and signalled three orcs forward, each carrying a large sack.

“I have one more thing that might help you convince the Dwarf King that revenge is not necessary. In the sacks are the heads of the thirty-two highest ranking soldiers in the renegade cohort that attacked Crozier.”

“Godspeed, gentlemen.” Sarfu said as his wolf walked past you and back towards Crozier.

The party set forth with their three carts in single file, slowly picking their way through the sea of green on an abandoned track that was more often useless than useful. They journeyed for several days, getting to know each other a bit better as they moved forward. They shared stories of hell holes and living dungeons, but Robbin was still reluctant to talk about herself or her past. The remainder of the party was willing to let it go, as long as she had no ghosts from her past that might return to put them all in danger.

After about a week’s worth for travel, the rolling green hills gave way to a vast brown plain that was the Koru Trail. What scant grass there was was short, brown, and trampled into the ground. The ground was hard and rocky underfoot, but it was easier going for the carts than the grassland behind them. The occasional low shrub dotted the landscape.

Before long they noticed a horse train approaching them from their right, from the north. It was about twenty horses in total, six being ridden by armed riders, another ten or so bearing large sacks of something, and the remaining horses kept in reserve. The riders approached the party cautiously yet in a friendly manner. Their leader introduced himself as Sebastian Redtail, a merchant in the employ of the Church of Light.

Redtail invited them to camp together that night. He warned that gnolls had moved into this region, and that they had already fought off several gnoll attacks in the past few days, and thus safety in numbers is always a good thing.

The party, as always slow to start trusting a stranger, cautiously agreed to camp together.

Over the campfire, Redtail explained that he had successfully opened a trade route with the Orc Empire. Some orcs had stopped their nomadic meandering long enough to start growing crops, and the crop that interested Redtail was grindleroot, which could be made into a spice that was quite delicious. Redtail had convinced the Orc Lord to grant exclusive trading rights to the Church of Light – for a hefty sum, of course – and Redtail was now transporting the first shipment of grindleroot to Axis.

Redtail probed the party about their purpose on the Koru Plains, and slowly, piece by piece, the party told Redtail about the attack on Crozier and their mission to convince the Dwarf King to pursue peace.

Redtail thought that it was a vital mission: not only does the Church of Light abhor unnecessary bloodshed, war could also jeopardize his newly opened grindleroot trade route. Redtail was keen to help their mission in whatever way he could. He prayed to his gods and they magically patched the damaged dwarf corpses back together, who were still lying in a magically-induced stasis in coffins on the back of the carts. The dwarves were still dead, of course, but now when the dwarves families see the bodies they would not see how severely savaged by the orcs the dwarves had been.

Redtail also warned them that returning thirty-two dead dwarves to the Forge would not do much to convince the Dwarf King to abstain from revenge. Dwarf King loves gold, and that would be their most likely route to success. Given the Church’s interest in preventing this war, Redtail suggested that he approach the Priestess and try to convince her to open the Church coffers. If successful, Redtail would rendezvous with the party at the town of Lougheed, at the foot of the Forge, in about two weeks from now, carrying enough gold to get the Dwarf King’s attention.

As a final touch, Redtail gathered up all the tusks from the thirty-two decapitated orc heads. He told the party that he would turn them into thirty-two gold necklaces, each adorned with two golden orc tusks, which would be presented to the thirty-two families of the slain dwarves.

In the morning, the two groups of travellers parted ways, vowing to do whatever they could to keep to their rendezvous in Lougheed in two weeks hence.

They set across the barren and desolate landscape of the Koru Trail. They afternoon, they noticed silhouettes shimmering in the heat on the horizon. Lythvard assumed his scout animal form and scouted forward, to get a better look at who was coming at them. He saw three gnolls coming towards them at a jog, with weapons drawn and gradually picking up pace.

With Lythvard’s forewarning, the party was able to organize the carts into a makeshift defensive barrier and plan their defense. They planned to use ranged weapons to pick them off from a distance as they approached, but the gnolls were very quick across the last hundred meters, only giving the party enough time to loose a single volley of arrows.

The gnolls had an archer of their own, who took a knee once with range and deflty loosed two arrows in quick succession. The gnoll arrows found their mark, but the adventurers were protected by their armor.

The gnolls leapt onto the carts where the adventurers had chosen to make their stand. One gnoll was quickly dispatched while the gnoll archer continued to threaten with his arrows.

At one point in the battle, the gnoll archer noticed Robbin, a look of recognition glanced across his face, and he barked an order to the other remaining gnoll. The party dealt with the other gnoll and the archer turned and ran. Worried that the gnoll might bring more of his friends back next time, Lythvard turned into a leopard and chased the gnoll down.

Catching their breath, the three adventurers took the time to hide the three gnoll bodies, with Lythvard using his alchemy skills to mask the scent as well.

They asked Robbin why a gnoll might recognize her and change their battle tactics based on that, but she was at a loss to answer.

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Of Truth and Trust [part 2]
Session 9

After Sarfu had announced that Crozier would remain an occupied town under the strictest control until his Horde Baton was returned to him, the crowd gradually dispersed. Whispers of “do you think it’s true?” and “Do you think the dwarves hid the Baton somewhere?” whirled around the townsfolk as they set about salvaging what was left of their town.

Soon the only people left in the muddy makeshift town square were Robbin, Thybalt and Lythvard, who were deep in conversation in a tight circle, and the beheaded body of Yamarz, still wallowing in the mud at the bottom of the wooden dais.

The three adventurers were discussing what to do with the Horde Baton Lythvard had in his pouch. It didn’t take them long to decide that the best plan was to plant the Baton on Yamarz’ body. It took them a little while longer to figure how to do it, however. Robbin, unsure of the plan’s likelihood of success, and unsure of her own allegiances, refused to participate in the plan, despite knowing that her deft hands had the best chance of planting the Baton on the body without anybody noticing.

Finally Thybalt and Lythvard struck upon a plan. Lythvard found a nearby concealed place and turned himself into a stray dog. Carrying the Horde Baton in his canine maw, he snuck up to Yamarz’ body and made is if a dog was trying to get some food out of the dead Cohort Commander’s pockets. With fake tug, the canine Lythvard pulled the Horde Baton free from Yamarz’ pocket and a nearby pair of orcs dropped the jaws in a moment of astonishment. They grabbed Lythvard, and after a brief tussle with the dog – who seemed reluctant to give up his prize – the two orcs wrested the Baton from Lythvard’s mouth and went running to the inn to return the Baton to Sarfu.

Lythvard discretely assumed his elf form again, and while they were discussing what to do next, Thomas approached them and invited them to speak with Sarfu in the inn’s kitchen.

From a distance, Robbin helped with the rebuilding of Crozier, keeping a discrete eye on the activities of her temporary allies.

In the inn’s kitchen, they find Sarfu behind a kitchen bench, with a gory kitchen knife in one hand, wearing an even gorier apron that was too small for him. He was intently chopping away at some kind of animal, no doubt preparing it for the stew that was simmering in a giant bowl in the corner of the kitchen. The Baton also lay on the bench, disregarded for the moment as Sarfu concentrated on his cooking.

Orc soldiers also milled about the kitchen, keeping a close eye on a limp and twisted pile of rags and skinny legs and arms which, upon closer inspection, was the elf shaman Yara, lying bound and gagged on the stone kitchen floor.

Robbin also stole into the inn, find tasks to do that would keep her close to the kitchen, allowing her to eavesdrop on the conversation inside.

Sarfu continued to chop away at chunks of meat as he explained the predicament to Thybalt, Lythvard and Thomas. Yamarz’ attack on Crozier was unauthorized, and the Orc Lord does not want to send his orc hordes to war over Yamarz’ mistake. The Orc Lord is trying to bring education and civilization to the nomadic orc hordes, and a war with the dwarves and then Dragon Empire would set those efforts back significantly, if not bring an end to them altogether.

So, Sarfu explained as he pushes a pile of meat chunks from his chopping board into the boiling vat of blood stew, he would do anything to prevent war, including killing the entire town of Crozier and eradicating any evidence of orc involvement in the atrocity.

The problem was that a pigeon carrying word of the orc attack had already flown to the Forge, so the Dwarf King had probably already called a war council and begun preparations for a reprisal expedition to the plains.

Thomas suggested that they take the bodies of the slain dwarves to the Forge as a sign of remorse and apology, and try to persuade the Dwarf King out of going to war.

Sarfu finally turned the discussion to the timely return of the Horde Baton. Relieved that the return of the Baton had cleared one more obstacle standing in the way of peace, he asked the party if they had any involvement in the theft of the Baton. He liked the idea of returning the dwarf bodies to the Forge as a peace gesture, but he needed to know if he could trust Lythvard and Thybalt.

Lythvard, not willing to implicate Yara, a fellow elf, denied any involvement with the Baton, aside from the fact that Thybalt was there when it was found on Yamarz’ body.

Sarfu laid down his knife and looked disappointed with the their response. He sighed and slowly walked over to the huge pot in the corner, turning his back on his audience as he gave the pot a slow stir. After a moment’s thought, he spoke, his back still turned.

“I would like to be able to believe you. I need to be able trust you because I need your aid to prevent this war with the dwarves.”

He returned to his chopping board and continued hacking away at lumps of meat.
“The problem is, we have a mystery on our hands that begs explanation. Two of my warbands – that’s about twenty orcs – all claim to have seen an elf brandishing the baton during the battle. An elf that looked exactly like you, Lythvard.”

There was a moment’s pause as Sarfu read the reaction on Lythvard’s face.

“So what I would like to know is how the Baton went being in the hands of an elf that looked exactly like you outside the city walls during the battle, to the body of Yamarz after the battle, without any involvement by you two.”

More silence.

“Yes. You can see why I’m disappointed. I can’t trust you to be my peace envoys. I may have to resort to eradicating Crozier after all.”

The conversation continued for a little while, with the two adventurers continuing to deny that they had anything to do with the Baton. When Sarfu suggested that they may be spies for the Elf Queen or the Emperor, it pushed Thybalt over the edge. He had been through hell and back, surviving a hell hole, living dungeon, and an orc cohort attack, and the insinuation that he was a spy was the last straw. He vented is pent up frustration and anger in a torrid stream of expletives and stormed out of the kitchen.

Sarfu calmly instructed some of his soldiers to hunt Thybalt down and return him to the kitchen, without harming him.

While all this is happening, Yara wass moving her hands in a blur of movement. To the untrained it just appeared to be nervous fidgeting, but Robbin’s keen eye recognized it as the secret sign language of the Sisterhood of the Silent Shadows. Suspecting that Robbin was also a Sister, Yara used her hands to tell Robbin that the Shadow Prince had placed in the orc ranks as a deep cover agent. She said that her mission was complete and begged Robbin to kill her before the orcs tortured her.

With Lythvard not forthcoming and Thybalt running around in the smoking ruins of Crozier, the investigation turned to Yara. Under pressure, she admitted to telling Yamarz that the dwarves had stolen the Baton. But she refused to explain why an elf was running around with the Baton during the battle, and how it finally ended up on Yamarz’ body.

Thomas suggested casting Charm Person on Yara to help get the truth out of her. However, Yara was a powerful shaman and could easily resist Thomas’ spell, so Sarfu ordered that Yara be beaten to soften her up. Lythvard let his objections to this cruel treatment be known, but his protests fell on deaf ears.

The orcs dragged Yara to the kitchen bench and Sarfu threatened to chop off her fingers if she wouldn’t talk. Yara met his threats with invective, and Lythvard could no longer stand idle while a fellow elf was being treated so. He drew his sword, causing a similar response from the nearby orc guards, and a brief but brief stand off ensued. Sarfu order Lythvard to surrender his weapon and Lythvard, realizing he was hopelessly outnumbered, threw his sword to the ground disgustedly and allowed himself to be incarcerated in the inn’s cellar.

Meanwhile, the orcs finally cornered the misfit Thybalt and he was forced to surrender. He did get some pleasure watching some orcs burn when they tried to take his sword Demonsbane from him.

With Thybalt and Lythvard locked in the cellar, Thomas and Robbin were left to witness Yara lose her fingers. Sarfu chopped them off in one clean cut, and then licked the blossoming red bases of the detached fingers, savoring the flavor before tossing the fingers into the slowly brewing stew.

With her mental resistance sufficiently weakened, Thomas cast Charm Person on Yara. Under the influence of the spell Yara admitted to stealing the Horde Baton from Sarfu, at the order of the Prince of Shadows. Before they could pry any more information from the shaman, Yara shook off the spell and collapsed to the floor in tears.

With that source of information exhausted, Sarfu turned to Thomas as his next avenue to find the truth. He asked Thomas to go to the cellar and reason with Lythvard: to ask him to fill the holes in the story so that the can put the past behind them and move on with the task of preventing a war.

As Thomas made his way to the cellar, an orc shaman approached him and clumsily asked about the prisoner named Thybalt. Thomas told her that he knew nothing about him, which has half-true.

In the cellar, Thomas employed all the diplomatic charm he could muster to convince Lythvard to come clean, but Lythvard remained tight-lipped, unwilling to implicate his elven kin, and unwilling to implicate himself. He had attempted to aid an elf in an act that would weaken the orcs and strengthen the elves and dwarves. Lythvard didn’t think that Sarfu would be very forgiving of that, despite Sarfu’s overtures of benevolence and peace. He was, after all, an orc…. and a very powerful one indeed.

However, when Thomas explained that Yara had confessed to working for the Prince of Shadows, and that Lythvard and Thybalt had unwillingly been part of one of the Shadow Prince’s nefarious plots, Lythvard’s attitude began to change. He still did not want to bring harm to a fellow elf, be he decided to allow Thomas to cast Charm Person on him. That way, the truth could come out, but at the same time Lythvard could ease his guilt of betraying an elf by telling himself that the truth had been forced out of him by the spell. They agree to cast the spell the following morning

Elsewhere, Robbin was hard at work helping the orcs and the Crozier survivors make enough temporary shelters out of the Crozier ruins. The same orc shaman tried to question Robbin about Thybalt: who was he? Where did he come from? Where did he get that sword? Robbin professed to not know anything, and the shaman shuffled away, frustrated.

That night, the adventurers get their first decent night’s sleep since the night the spent camped under they starts by the living dungeon’s mouth. But perhaps they weren’t sleeping that soundly. Perhaps Robbin’s conscience was dealing with having to stand by impotently while one of her Sisters was being tortured. And perhaps her conscience was also wrestling with the fact that one of her Sisters was trying to start are war that would result in a tremendous amount of bloodshed and suffering.

Likewise, it’s possible that Lythvard’s sleep was also disturbed by a disturbed conscience. Had he been right to aid Yara because she was a fellow elf? Is it really forgivable to give the information that will lead to her death sentence, even under the coercion of a Charm Spell?

And Thybalt’s sleep was interrupted by a harrowing nightmare. Paralyzed in his bed, Thybalt dreamed of a hideous orc shaman’s face floating inches in front of his own, yellow tusks and foul breath assaulting Thybalt’s dream-senses. She spoke a riddle in cracked whisper:

The lifeless life-taker;
The lifeless life-giver;
The lifeless life-snatcher;
The life-taker pierces the life-giver;
The three combine and the lifeless shall live again.

The next morning, Sarfu and his adjutants gathered in the cellar as Thomas casts Charm Person on Lythvard. Lythvard felt the warmth of the spell roll over him and the truth began to spill out. Lythvard explained that Yara had asked Lythvard to give the Horde Baton to the dwarves, who in turn would give it to the Dwarf King. The Baton would strengthen the dwarves’ position vis-a-vis the orcs should the ceasefire end, and in turn the relationship between the Elf Queen and the Dwarf King would be improved.

With the truth out, Sarfu seemed satisfied. Lythvard was expecting some kind of punishment, but instead Sarfu allowed the to return to their rooms above the inn and prepare for the journey to the Forge.

In their room, they find their equipment and a wooden box. Thybalt opened the box and found a magic ring and a message scrawled by an untrained hand on some parchment:

Bewar of the Diabolist. If she fins out hoo you rilly are…

After rearming themselves, they returned to Sarfu’s and discussed a plan for preventing war. They decided that Thybalt, Lythvard, Thomas and Robbin would take the 32 dwarf bodies to the Forge. At the same time, Syrion and Cabin Goodmar would return to the Dragon Empire with the Tamerionian refugees and try to convince the Emperor not to declare over the incident at Crozier. The party bound for the Forge refused an orc escort when Sarfu offered one.

Under the instruction of Thybalt – a trained carpenter – a work party hastily assembled 32 wooden coffins, which were promptly loaded onto three horse-drawn carts. Lythvard and Thybalt worked together to do some ritual magic, casting a spell that will keep the dwarf bodies frozen for a day or so.

With the preparations complete, the four adventurers rolled out of what was once Crozier’s west gate, on carts laden with coffins and provisions for the journey to the Forge.

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