The Eroding Empire

Of Truth and Trust [part 1]
Session 9

The party of three – The elf, the human, and the tiefling – emerged from the tunnel to find the streets of Crozier filled with the chaos of war. Small bands of dwarves tried desperately to hold their ground as rivers of orcs streamed down the streets towards them. The stockade gates went flying off their hinges and a huge ogre came stalking through the open portal, with a swarm of goblins rushing past its feet. Above the din code words were being yelled between the defenders, in hoarse, battle-weary voices. The code word for setting fire to the town could be heard, as could the code word for falling back to the Whistling Willow.

The two dwarves urged the party to hurry and ushered them towards the Whistling Willow. They dashed down Crozier lanes, making their way through the maze-like network of lanes between the Crozier buildings. Every now and then the dwarves gave the command to stop and the three adventurers kept watch while the dwarves paused to set alight some kindling prepared to get the houses burning as quickly as possible.

Every corner they dashed around, they were expecting to come face-to-face with a lane packed full of orcs, but so far they had been lucky.

As they ran towards an intersection with the howls of orcs filled with battle-lust coming from behind them, Brostin Orebelly stepped into the intersection, ushering the party to keep coming to him.

“We need to buy some time,” he yelled, half out of breathe.
“Behind you, you have a straight run to the willow. But this intersection is a funnel point. Hold this place for as long as you can, and then make a fighting retreat back to the Willow.

The sounds of orcs charging down laneways was getting louder.

“Archers in the Willow have this lane covered, so when you and the orcs get within range, their arrows should give you the chance to break free and get back to the Willow.”

“Now, give me a hand up here.”

The two dwarves boosted their commander so that he could grab the edge of the roof of a building. He deftly pulled himself onto the roof just as a throwing axe thudded into the wall where his legs had been dangling.

He popped his head over the roof to quickly say “Good luck” and then he was gone.

The party took a moment to glance around and they could see that they were in an intersection where three roads combined into one that led towards the center of town, and towards the Whistling Willow. The three roads were rapidly filling with orcs and the trio and the two dwarves unconsciously took a step backwards, taking them out of the intersection.

Given that Lythvard, the elven druid, could barely stand due to his injuries, he took the wise option and turned in a chimpanzee and made for the relative safety of the rooftops. Thybalt and the two dwarves stood their ground and met the orc charge head on, while Robbin disappeared into the shadows.

Serious damage was dealt by both sides in the initial clash, but first round honors went to Robbin, who dispatched two orcs in a flowing after emerging from the shadows. Enraged at the sight of their comrades dropping at Robbin’s blade, the orcs threw their arms angrily aside and began tearing their armor off in some kind of primal rage. Before the heroes knew what was going on, they found themselves being swamped by a wave of frenzied and feral orcs, thinking of nothing except biting and tearing them to shreds.

They fought a fighting retreat in the street between the wooden buildings, with each parry or thrust accompanied by a step or two backwards. Stray flaming spears set buildings alight. The retreat was made slightly easy by the orcs instinctive attraction towards a wounded foe. This instinct pulled them from the street and towards Lythvard. Lythvard was able to pick the orcs off with his flaming spear spells as they tried to climb up the buildings to get him.

Several savage attacks by the frenzied orcs brought Thybalt to within an inch of his life. He struggled to keep his feet and the orcs off him as he fought back towards the inn. One dwarf companion had been drawn out of their defensive line, and the last they saw of him was him standing with his back to a wooden wall, standing in a moment’s defiance before he was descended upon by a horde of orcs, ripping his body apart with their bare hands.

Just as all looked lost, a hail of arrows began thudding into the earth around them, and then into the orc bodies in front of them. The orcs had strayed into range of the archers in the Whistling Willow, and the barrage was enough to give the heroes the break they needed. They turned and ran past burning houses, the wounded helping the wounded in a mad desperate dash for the relative safety of the inn.

They crashed through the Willow’s doorway, to the cheers of the inn’s defenders. They immediately set about patching up Thybalt’s wounds, but it was too late for their one remaining dwarf ranger companion. His wounds were too grievous, and he spent his dying moments to entreat Lythvard to take the dwarf’s boots and use them in the service of the High Druid.

A glance out the windows of the inn showed that the orcs had the Whistling Willow completely surrounded, and mostly concealed by the thick black smoke that was covering the city. But through the gaps in the smoke, the defenders began to see something that their eyes had difficulty making sense of. When they first saw the orcs fighting each other, they thought the smoke was causing their eyes to play tricks on them. But the longer they looked, the less they could deny what their eyes were showing them. Outside the inn, the orcs were battling amongst themselves. Some were battling to the death, while others were surrendering to another orc faction.

Within a few minutes the fighting died down, as one of the orc factions seemed to accept the surrender of the other. Against a backdrop of smoke, flame, and orcs taking weapons away from their kneeling brethren, a wolf almost the size of a rhinoceros emerged out of the smoke, slowly approaching the inn. Astride the giant wolf was a giant orc, his straight posture and long, fur cape giving observers no doubt about his leadership status.

“People of Crozier,” he boomed in a deep, powerful voice. “There has been a terrible mistake. We mean you no more harm.”

Only a few of the inn’s defenders were brave enough to send a few sarcastic jeers towards this fearsome looking warrior.

Realizing that at times like this actions speak louder than words, the orc leader waived his arms and barked a few sharp commands, and the people in the inn watched as the orcs sheathed their weapons and set about trying to extinguish the fires around them, trying to save what was left of Crozier. They formed long daisy chains, stretching hundreds of meters from the river to various parts of the town, which they used to rapidly transport hundreds of buckets of water to fight the fires.

The orc leader tried to address the inn’s defenders again.

“My name is Sarfu.” As he talked, tusks the size of small bananas moved up and down. “I am commander of this orc horde. The cohort that attacked you did so against my orders. They will be punished.”

The discussions inside the inn that followed Sarfu’s declaration were short but intense. Of course they could not trust the orcs, but what choice did they have? If they fought, they would surely die.

The people of Crozier, and the Tameronian refugees, began to trickle out of the inn and help with the firefighting effort.

Sarfu summons a half-elf to his side, issues some short instructions to him, and then dismounts and walks towards the inn, overseeing the establishment of his headquarters in the inn.

The half-elf bows politely towards Sarfu, and then turns and approaches the three adventurers. Dressed in what once were the robes of the Church but are now ripped and soiled almost beyond recognition, the half-elf smiles politely as he bows and introduces himself. His name is Thomas Sterling, Emissary of Light, Vizantar of the Light Orchestra and, for today, Sarfu’s peace representative.

The introductions were cautious but civil, with Thybalt, Robbin and Lythvard curious as to why a half-elf representative of the Priestess’s Church would be travelling with a nomadic orc horde. Thomas explained that Sarfu has several such people travelling with him as guests. The orcs are trying to learn as much as they can about the civilized world. The Orc Lord dreams of bringing education to his people, to raise them out of the despotic miasma his brethren have wallowed in for centuries, to establish an orc civilization in the north. So Sarfu invited Thomas to travel with him, and Thomas spends his days teaching orcs about the Church and the Gods of Light.

Several hours later, after the flames had mostly been extinguished, most of Crozier’s homes burnt to the ground, and the Crozier roads a quagmire of ash-infused mud, Sarfu called a town meeting in the square in front of the Whispering Willow. The Crozier survivors gathered around a raised wooden dais, from which Sarfu addressed the crowd.

“We have captured the traitor who gave the order to attack your town.”

The crowd parted as a badly beaten orc was dragged through the mud to the dais.

“His name is Yamarz, but that name shall soon be removed from our collective orc memory.” Sarfu said with Yamarz on his knees on the dais, head bowed with his long top-knot half concealing his face.

“Yamarz,” Sarfu said as he pulled Yamarz’ top-knot, snapping the kneeling orc’s head back, allowing the crowd a good look at Yamarz’ face. “Tell them why you brutally attacked them!”

“My Commander, I did it for your honor!” Yamarz yelled proudly, one tusk wobbling loose in his jaw, suggesting the intensity of the beating he had received. “The deceitful dwarf rangers stole your Horde Baton. My Cohort skillfully herded them here, where I could strike them all at once, and return the Baton to you, where it rightfully belongs.”

Murmurs ran through the crowd. None could deny the accusations because all the dwarf rangers had been killed in the defence of Crozier.

“Is this true?!” Sarfu roared in anger. His question was met with a stunned silence from the crowd.

His voice returning to usual low rumble, he continued his public interrogation. “How do you know the dwarves took the Baton?”

“Yara, the elven shaman, told me she saw it in a vision.” There was a short pause before Yamarz added “Her visions have never been wrong before.”

Sarfu released his grip on Yamarz, allowing the orc to slump down again.

“So it appears,” Sarfu said as his eyes ran across the crowd, trying to make eye contact with as many people as possible, “that the dwarves also had their part to play in this tragedy that has befallen Crozier.”

“Nevertheless, this orc is a traitor, and a threat to peace in the north.” He breathed in some extra air to increase the volume of his voice for his next proclamation: “The this show you how seriously the Orc Lord takes peace!”

With that, his sword arm came down, removing Yamarz’ head from his body in a fluid motion. Yamarz’ head plopped into the grey-brown mud while Yamarz’ kneeling body teetered on the dais for a moment before another orc gave it a shove with his foot, sending the body to join its head in the mud.

“Where is my Baton?” Sarfu asked the crowd.

Silence.

“Return it to me know!”

The onlookers from Crozier and Tameron exchanged a few confused and nervous glances with each other, but none dared speak.

“Very well.” Sarfu said with a sigh as he began cleaning the blood off his blade with a rag. “I told you I would not harm you and I still stand behind that promise.”

“But.” His word was punctuated by the sound of his sword snapping back into its scabbard. “None shall leave this town. None shall enter this town. Until my Baton is returned to me.”

The massive orc stepped off the wooden dais and stalked off angrily through the mud. Suddenly, the pouch that Lythvard was carrying, the one with the Horde Baton in it, began to feel very heavy indeed.

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Of Defense and Duty [part 2]
Session 8

Urgent hands shook the adventurers out of their short slumbers. The three quickly put their boots on and checked their weapons one final time as shouts of “Stand to!” echoed around the stockade walls. They entered Orebelly’s room in time to see him give a nod to a dwarf standing in the courtyard below them. The dwarf activated a rune on his warhammer, held it skyward, and a ball of light shot out and high up into the sky, lighting the plains around Crozier like a second full moon.

The unnatural light unveiled the unnatural sight of a wave of orcs teeming over the rolling hills, running shoulder-to-shoulder in silences, each with a stone-faced look of determination set into their tusked jaws.

“So it has come to this.” Grumbled Orebelly as he turned from the window to address the three adventurers. “Release the pigeons. The world has to know that the ceasefire has come to an end.”

The party made the short trip across town to the pigeon shed at a run, but pulled up short when they saw that the door to the pigeon shed had been forced open. A party of orcs had somehow found a way into Crozier, and were intent on killing the pigeons and cutting of Crozier’s final message to the outside world. An orc snapped the neck of one of the two pigeons before the party had a chance to react, but the other pigeon proved to be more elusive to the orc. The party charged into pigeon shed and came to blows with the intruders. The combat was intense in the cramped shed, with bodies being thrown against pigeon cages, causing them to come crashing down on others. They managed to kill the intruders before they could get to the second pigeon, but not before Lythvard was felled and crashed to the floor. One orc tried to escape through the town streets, but the party cut him down and returned to where Lythvard was lying prone on the floor of the pigeon shed. A potion of healing was put to Lythvard’s lips and he was nursed back to consciousness.

Meanwhile, the orc cohort was probing the Crozier’s defences with a teasing assault. The main body of orcs held back and watched their brothers be sacrificed to find all the traps the dwarves had prepared for them. Orc bodies piled into spiked pit traps that had been hidden in the long grass. More orcs ran around screaming afire after flaming arrows had arc out of Crozier and ignited concealed tar pits. Tens, perhaps hundreds more orcs found themselves impaled on ten-foot spears at the base of the stockade walls. The spears had lain flat in the grass as the orcs charged across the plains. At the last moment, just before the wave of orcs crashed onto the stockade walls, the mechanism was sprung and the giant spears sprang up at an angle of about 30 degrees, and the momentum of the orc charge impaled one orc after the other.

From the top of the stockade walls, the mixture of human and dwarven defenders cheered as the orcs withdrew. Orc bodies littered the battlefield, but as Yamarz, the cohort commander, looked on from his hilltop, he smiled. This assault had achieved its goal: it had paved the way for the real assault by neutralizing all of the dwarven traps.

Back at the pigeon shed, the party released the one surviving pigeon. It took to the sky and turned southwest, beginning its long flight towards the Forge. The pigeon for Axis had been killed, but at least the Dwarf King would know about the orcs’ surprise attack.

Dawn was breaking as the party made their way through the Crozier streets to the defence’s headquarters. They heard the crashing sound of something large and heavy smashing into wooden walls and wondered if the orcs might have some catapults with them. Back in the room above the tavern-cum battlefield headquarters, Brostin Orebelly listened as the adventurers explained the incident at the pigeon shed, and in turn Orebelly explained how the first wave of orcs had been defeated. But now a small battery of catapults was pummeling the stockade walls, softening them up for the next assault. Lythvard suggested sending a sortie out to destroy the catapults, and Orebelly heartily agreed. He explained that the mission had already been planned: the catapults were only lightly guarded, and were located near the entrance to another tunnel the dwarves had dug out of the town. Pausing only for a quick drink and to patch their most immediate wounds, the party soon found themselves once more following two stout dwarves into a long, dark tunnel leading under the town walls, and into the midst of the encircling enemy camp.

Emerging from the tunnel, the three adventurers made a beeline to the catapults, leaving their two dwarf escorts to guard the tunnel entrance. They found the catapults lightly guarded, and seized the opportunity to launch a surprise attack. The catapult defenders defended stubbornly, making it difficult for the party to set the catapults on fire. Eventually they managed to dispatch the orcs and get the catapults ablaze, just before orc reinforcements arrived.

With a large force of orcs approaching to deal with the raid on their catapults, Lythvard thought now was a good time to try an experiment. He drew the Horde Baton from his pouch and held it aloft, to see how the orcs would react. As soon as they saw the Baton, their broke formation and started charging towards him. One orc broke off from the charge to pass the information on to the cohort commander.

With the orcs frenzied by the sight of the Baton, the heroes wisely decided that now would be a good time to run. They beat a hasty retreat back to the tunnel entrance, with the two dwarves buying them some time with some well-placed crossbow bolts. They bolted into the tunnel and made their way in the darkness at an awkward run: with their backs stooped by the low ceiling, it was hard to run and not hit themselves in the chin with their own knees. Behind them, the two dwarves fought a rearguard action as the orc forces had followed them into the tunnel.

When the party emerged from the tunnel back inside the Crozier walls, they were greeted with the sight of defenders desperately fighting with orcs on the stockade walls. The orcs were soon beginning to spill over the walls. Behind them the two dwarves emerged bloodied from the tunnel and quickly pulled a lever, collapsing the tunnel on the orcs still in it. Although their raid on the catapults had been successful, it looks the orcs had found a way over the Crozier defenses anyway. It was time for the next phase of the battle: viscous hand-to-hand fighting in the streets of Crozier.

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Of Defense and Duty [part 1]
Session 8

Having agreed to help defend the frontier town of Crozier, the party spent the evening preparing for the coming battle. They discussed ways to take the offensive to the orcs, to sting them first.

The Sheriff of Tameron, Derlin Borse, tried to interview the party to determine what really happened down in that living dungeon. They weren’t able to tell him much, just that a mage had been controlling the living dungeon, of which a portion had been converted into the Fair, until a band of renegade elves killed the mage, setting the dungeon free. Unsatisfied with their answers to his questions, Borse had no choice but to send an incomplete report to Axis, letting them know what had happened to the townsfolk of Tameron.

Another message was written to Axis. It informed that that the orcs had broken the ceasefire and had attacked Crozier. These two messages were to be sent by pigeon if (or when, as most people seem to think) the orcs attack on the morrow. A similar message was written, to be sent by pigeon to the Dwarf King in the Forge.

Brostin Orebelly held a war council that night to give precise orders for the defense of the town. The party members were informed that they would be most useful if held in reserve, to be used in response to the strongest orc attacks, or to exploit weaknesses in the orc assault. They also met a shy human woman called Robbin. Needing every able hand for the defense of Crozier, Robbin was asked to join the party to make a reserve force of three: Thybalt, Lythvard and Robbin.

Curious as to why the orcs would choose tomorrow, and choose the town of Crozier, to break a decade-long ceasefire, the party requested permission to mount a reconnaissance mission that evening, to try to gather some information about the orcs disposition and motivations. The dwarves had dug several secret tunnels leading out of the town, so Brostin Orebelly assigned a pair of dwarves to escort the party through a tunnel, to the tunnel’s entrance, hidden amidst the enemy lines.

The party snuck out of the tunnel entrance, with the two dwarves staying behind to guard the tunnel entrance. The trio found themselves under the stars on the grass plain, in a place hidden from the orcs by the roll of the small hills nearby. They set out towards the nearest orc campfire, hoping to eavesdrop and gather some valuable information.

They cautiously approached one campfire in the darkness, and they could here the orcs grumbling about their food, and a senior orc reprimanding juniors for allowing their weapons to get rusty. Another orc was moving around campsite, distributing water and arrows.

Before they could listen for any longer, the grass seeds from a breed of grass unknown to denizens of the Wild Wood settled into Lythvard’s nose, causing an instant and uncontrollable loud sneeze. The orc camp became instantly alert, shouting out alarms and the sound of swords being drawn could be heard in the darkness. The party thought it best to make a hasty retreat, but struck west towards Crozier, rather than south towards the tunnel entrance, because they did not want to accidentally lead the orcs to the tunnel entrance.

As they retreated west towards Crozier, with the sound of an orc warband swinging into action behind them, the silhouettes of two seated orcs loomed on a ridge before them. The orc sentries faced west, towards Crozier, but were looking over their shoulders behind them to where all the noise was coming from.

The party didn’t hesitate. They flew into battle against the two orcs, hoping to quickly cut them down and continue their escape. The two sentries, however, put up a stubborn resistance, and were soon aided by two orc archers who joined the fight. A quick game of cat and mouse was played out in the long grass, where movement would give away one’s position, yet without movement no one would win. In the background of the skirmish, orc leaders could be heard giving short, concise orders to their troops.

“Dress of my right shoulder!”

“5 foot spacing!”

“Don’t let them draw you out of position!”

The party soon dispatched with the two sentries and their short bow-wielding allies and hastily retreated to safe safe distance, somewhere in the no man’s land between the Crozier stockade walls and the orc lines. Catching their breath, they asked each other if it as normal for an orc military to be so organized. They had even heard an orc commander telling his troops not to bother pursuing a simple probe. On the one hand, they were glad that the orcs had been ordered not to follow them. On the other hand, they were a bit perturbed that the orcs were so well-trained that they actually followed those orders.

Deciding that their reconnaissance methods required a rethink, Lythvard transformed himself into a bird and took flight. He started at a high altitude, revealing all of the rolling plains below him. He could see a speckled ring of orc campfires encircling Crozier. Swooping in lower, Lythvard perched on an rudimentary orc tent, consisting of a square clothes held above the ground at waist height by two small poles, some string and some pegs in the ground. Lythvard had chosen his perch well, for it was the tent of a warband commander. Lythvard listened intently as a message runner came from the cohort commander to deliver the warband leader his orders. There was to be an assault on Crozier at dawn, and this particular warband was to attack from the northeast.

Having heard all there was to hear at this tent, Lythvard decided to fly a bit further through the orc encampment. This time, however, somebody must have sensed his presence, because several small fireballs shot up at him from the darkness below. He dodged them and arced his flight upwards, and decided it best to return to Robbin and Syrion with the information.

The party made it back tot he tunnel entrance without incident, and reported their findings to Brostin Orebelly back at his makeshift headquarters. They were still none-the-wiser as to the orcs’ motivations, but the information they gleaned could have given their allies the edge they will need in the coming battle. Exhausted, the trio fell into a fitful sleep as the dawn approached.

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Of Orcs and Owlbears [part 4]
Session 7

The sun rose on a lush sea of long green grass and rolling hills. The band of refugees, feeling somewhat refreshed after a night’s sleep under the stars, set off towards the nearby town of Crozier. A small river meandered on their right as the cut through the plains towards Crozier, leaving a wide trail of trampled grass in their wake. On a few isolated hillsides they saw the abandoned remains of small mineshafts, and they passed wordlessly by a grizzled old gold prospector as he panned in the river for gold.

They walked up to the wooden gate in the stockade walls protecting Crozier from the nasty threats in this frontier land. In a small tower, a dwarf stood like a silent, motionless sentinel, scanning the green horizon for danger. They were challenged at the gate, but after explaining their situation, the refugees were welcomed into Crozier.

An immensely fat elf called Mindiran greeted them in the center of town, explaining that she was the owner of the Weeping Willow and de facto spokesperson for the town. She set about organizing billeting and food for the new arrivals, She explained that Crozier was founded as a gold mining town, but now it serves mostly as an intermittent base for Dragon Empire patrols along the frontier.

After the adventurers had eaten, Mindiran told them that a dwarf called Brostin Orebelly was waiting for them in a room above the tavern.

The party walked upstairs and into a guestroom that had been converted into a military headquarters. Weapons land armor ay propped up against the wall, and the desk had been moved ot the center of the room. A map of Crozier was spread across the desk. Looming over the map, peering intently at it, was a dwarven warrior. His skin was leathery and brown from decades of exposure to the sun. his armor was brown, hardened leather, with patches of green. His hair and beard were both over a meter long, dyed green and plaited so that it resembled the long grass of the plains surrounding them.

The dwarf introduced himself as Brostin Orebelly, local commander of the dwarven ranger company tasked by the Dwarf King to keep an eye over this region of the Dragon Empire. He listened thoughtfully as the party explained their journey in the living dungeon and their current predicament. Orebelly sympathized with their plight, but sadly explained that they may have been safer in the belly of the living dungeon after all. An orc cohort was moving to encircle Crozier, and his best guess was that they would attack at dawn, breaking the ceasefire that had held for several decades. He had no idea why the Orc Lord would choose now to break the ceasefire, nor why at Crozier, at town with little strategic significance.

Lythvard delivered the wooden orc baton to Orebelly, explaining where it came from and entreating Orebelly to deliver it to his king. Orebelly seemed uninterested in the baton, but promised to do what he can to get it to the Dwarf King.

*Meanwhile, elsewhere in the vicinity of Crozier*


An orc cohort lay encamped for the evening, with orcs lying in small clusters on the grassy plain. Campfires could be seen intermittently scattered across the rolling hills. Most orcs camped in the open under the stars, but in the center of the cohort was a single tent, made of a patchwork of furs and leathers.

Inside the tent, several orcs lounged on the ground; the long grass now trampled down to make a relatively soft floor. There was only one piece of furniture in the tent: a wooden chair made of branches lashed together by some kind of twine.

On the chair sat Yamarz, his rippling arm muscles adorned with the armband signifying his command of the cohort. He sat motionless, expressionless as Naghig – his second-in-command and leader of the strongest warband in his cohort – whispered in vicious to his leader. Naghig circled the chair as he talked, leaning in close to Yamarz for each utterance.

“The brothers are getting restless my lord… they thirst for blood… the scent of drawf blood has been in the air for so many days now, yet you forbid us to attack… an orc army that does not fight… will not stay together as an army for long… the brothers will turn on us, Yamarz, and tear us apart…those dwarves mock us by walking on the surface… in our lands… ”

For the first time, Yamarz moved. He slowly turned his head to face Naghig and give him a cold look, eyes narrowing ever so slightly.

“Prepare a battlemap. Summon the warband leaders. We shall be drinking dwarf blood tomorrow.”

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Of Orcs and Owlbears [part 3]
Session 7

After the encounter with Yara, the mysterious elf living as an orc shaman, Lythvard returned to the dungeon entrance with a vole in one pouch, and an ancient wooden baton that entitles the bearer to command an orc horde. Upon arrival he found that Thybalt had returned from the barracks in the dungeon and had brought six Tameronian hunters with him, who were now crouching by the stream filling as many waterskins as they could.

With waterskins full, it was time to take more water back to the Tamerionian survivors, get them back to strength, and then lead them out of the dungeon. Syrion and Thybalt led the six hunters back down into the dungeon, but Lythvard – who couldn’t stomach the thought of returning to the dank, claustrophobic atmosphere of the dungeon, volunteered to stay at the dungeon entrance and keep an eye out for orcs. As Syrion descended down the shaft into the dungeon, Lythvard quietly told him that he had something important to tell him as soon as he got back.

On their way back to the barracks where the Fair survivors had made their refuge, Syrion and Thybalt could again feel eyes watching them from the darkness.

At the barracks, Thybalt, Syrion and the six hunters distributed the water to the survivors, shared the roasted dog meat to those who had regained their appetite, and waited patiently for all the Tameronian survivors to regain their strength. With in a few hours, everyone was saying that they felt strong enough to make the journey to the surface, and the pressed Mayor Sequitos to lead them to the surface as soon as possible. Sequitos, Thybalt and Syrion organize the survivors into a long train, with each survivor holding hands with the person before and behind them in the line, so as not to get lost in the dark dungeon. With the line snaking around the room like the queue to the Emperor’s hearing chamber, they were ready face the short but dangerous journey to the surface.

Just before they stepped out of the door, Syrion noticed the Tameronians who had succumbed to their wounds, or who had perished waiting for water, lying discarded on the stone floor of the barracks. He felt that something should be done to pay respect to those who would not be leaving the dungeon with them. However, not being a cleric or well-versed in the ways of the Gods of Light, Syrion did not know what the appropriate thing to say would be. Instead, he broke out from the line of survivors, silently removed his cloak, and laid it over one of the bodies of the fallen, without saying a word. Cabin Goodmar, sensing the collective wave of grief wash over the group of survivors, also stepped forth and silently laid his coat over another body, maintain the respectful silence. One by one, the Tameronian survivors stepped out from the train and laid whatever clothing they could spare on their fallen neighbors. Without saying a word, knives were used to tear clothing into pieces, so that even those without any clothes to spare would be able to lay something on the fallen. The whole ceremony took about five minutes, and not a word was spoken the whole time. Through Syrion’s simple action, the entire group had instantly understood what they should do, and why they should do it. It might not have been the official Church-sanctioned way of sending the departed off to the afterlife, but it was from the heart. With this short moment of joined consciousness complete, it was time to reform the train and step out of the barracks into the cold darkness.

They progressed through the dungeon passageways hand in hand, with torches being carried at intervals along the column. They emerged from one of the corridors into a large open hall, with a ceiling three stories up. There were dozens of doorways on the walls, some at ground level, but many more on the second and third floors. Catwalks looming above the survivors connected the elevated doorways.

When the Tameronian survivors reached the center of the hall, they heard the sound og goblin laughter and they could see hundreds of pairs of eyes emerging from the darkness of the doorways. At first only eyes reflecting the light of the torches were visible, but soon the silhouettes of goblins became visible as they piled into the hall and flooded the catwalks above. There must have been hundreds of them, all with their shortbows draw and waiting for the order to begin the carnage.

The terrified Tameronians wheeled and formed a tight circle in the center of the hall, with children and elderly towards the center. The goblin chief – a huge, stinking bugbear – dropped down from a second-floor doorway and began screaming orders in the indecipherable goblin tongue. Syrion stepped boldly out of the defensive circle and strode towards the goblin chief. Planting both feet squarely in front of the bugbear, he put the tip of his sword on the stone and his hands on the upright pummel, and told the bugbear that it would have to go through Syrion to get to the cowering Tameronians.

The bugbear and Syrion faced of for only a moment – pregnant, tension-filled moment – before Syrion noticed Xet skulking behind the bugbear. Xet was a female goblin that the party had rescued from kobold torture. She had promised them that her chief – her lover – would reward them greatly if they freed her from her kobold cage. They had let her out of the cage, and Syrion wasted no time in identifying her and reminding her of her promise.

Her head bowed in shame, not daring to look her chief in the eye, she explained to the goblin chief what had happened. The bugbear roared in frustration. His goblin tribe needed to feed, but he also felt compelled to spare the Tameronians out of gratitude to Syrion, Thybalt and Lythvard. He dealt Xet a blow to the head, send her crashing to the floor. He yelled so more orders, his voice carrying throughout the hall, and the goblins began to retire. To ease his frustration, the bugbear hacked into a nearby goblin with his greataxe, cleaving the hapless creature in two. Xet picked herself up and scampered after the man as he stalked angrily down a hallway.

There were scenes of joy as the Tameronians slowly emerged from the dungeon entrance into the fading afternoon light. Syrion and Mayor Sequito kept the survivors from straying too far, and corralled them into a tight perimeter to help defend against any orc attack that might come during the night. There was no food, so the Tameronians spent the night with empty stomachs, but at least there was plenty to drink.

Lythvard quietly woke his to comrades in the dead of the night, and in a whispered voice he told Thybalt and Syrion about Yara and the orc baton. They debated about what to do. Should they give the baton to the dwarves in Crozier? Or was it a trap? Could Yara be trusted? Perhaps they could keep such a powerful artifact to themselves? They decided to make the journey to Crozier because the Tameronian refugees needed food. They could reassess the what to do after they had seen what it was like in Crozier.

*Meanwhile, in Crozier*


A battle-scarred dwarf looked over a map that was sprawled across a desk in the center of a room. There was a knock at the door and the dwarf bade his guest to enter with a gruff “yes.”

Another veteran dwarf warrior entered the room. Not a word was said between the two while the newcomer removed his helmet and laid his shield against a wall.

“Good to see you again.”

“Aye, ‘tis good to see you too.” The new comer replied as he collapsed into the wooden chair in front of the desk. “Tho, I had not expected we should be meeting here again so soon.”

“If you’re going to tell me that there’s orcs in the region… a lot of orcs… and whichever way you turned your patrol, they were there, waiting for you… not attacking, just forcing you to change direction… forcing you to Crozier… well, if you were going to say that, you needn’t, because I’ve heard that tale already.

“Aye. So all the patrols are back, then?”

“Aye. You’re the last.”

“So I suppose they’ll be attack soon then.”

“Aye. Now that they’ve got us all where they want us.”

View
Of Orcs and Owlbears [part 2]
Session 7

Lythvard, in bird-form, soared unnoticed over the orcs spying on Thybalt and Syrion from a nearby hilltop. He flew into the dungeon entrance and transformed back into his elf-form, making sure the orc spies could not see his transformation. He discretely told his comrades a small party of orcs was watching them.

Pretending to be unaware of the orcs, the trio stood in the dungeon mouth and discussed what to do about the orcs, all the while conscious of the orcs observing them from a distance. One option was to attack and kill the orcs, before the orcs could leave and come back with a horde of their brethren. But the three adventurers were nursing numerous wounds after numerous battles in the dungeon, and weren’t sure if they could handle a small squad of orcs. None of them had seen an orc before, let alone fight one.

A contrasting option was to leave the orcs be. They hadn’t threatened the party yet, just quietly observing them form a distance. Did the trio really want to be the ones to strike first, bringing the wrath of the orc brethren in the area down upon them and the surviving Tameronians? Perhaps if they played it cool, the orcs would allow them to pass unmolested. The Dragon Empire and the Orc Hordes have been observing a truce for several years now.

While the three adventurers were debating what to do, the orc patrol ended the debate for them by getting up and leaving. Where they going to return to their cohort and lead their brethren back here for a bit of sport? Or were they simply going to report the unusually phenomenon of a living dungeon surfacing in the middle of these rolling plains?

Before the trio had time to ponder these questions, they heard footsteps behind them. They turned to see a tired yet ever-gregarious Cabin emerge from the dungeon. They directed him to the stream where he drank his fill. The four of them decided that Cabin and Thybalt would take as much water down to the Fair survivors, while Lythvard and Syrion would guard the dungeon entrance, so that the Tameronians would not emerge from the dungeon and walk straight into an orc ambush. Lythvard also planned to use the time to set a few traps and try and catch some food for the ragged group of survivors.

Thybalt and Cabin descended once more into the dungeon, laden with as much water as they could carry. Thybalt was forced to reign in his tongue and stay patient as Cabin insisted on spending the journey back to the barracks by recounting in great detail each instance of courageous leadership Cabin had made during the last few days, no doubt sparing his flock from greater misery. It took all of Thybalt’s patience to mutter something about how blessed they were to have a Goodmar amongst them at such a tragic time. But more worrying than Cabin’s self-inflated prattling, was Thybalt’s nagging feeling that someone was watching them as they moved through the dungeon.

Back at the guard barracks-come-triage-center, Cabin and Syrion distribute water to the disaster survivors. It takes several hours, but six of the strongest Tameronians – some hunters and trappers – get well enough to eat some food (roast canine) and regained the strength to make the journey to the surface. They planned to bring back even more water to the survivors. Cabin stayed with the survivors while Thybalt escorted the six to the surface. Again, as they made their way by torchlight through the dungeon, Thybalt could not shake the feeling that somebody was watching them, waiting.

Back at the dungeon entrance, Lythvard bid Syrion to stay at the dungeon’s mouth while goes and checks up on the traps he set earlier. He had had to push out a bit further from the dungeon than he would have liked in order to find good spots for traps, so it took him quite some time to check all of the traps he had laid. Glancing back towards the dungeon, he could see that it was now concealed from him by the low, boulder-spotted rolling hills. Lythvard was not having much success with his traps: they had all been empty up until he approached the final trap, the one furthest from the dungeon mouth. As he approached he could see that the trap had been sprung, but as he got closer he could see that only a small vole had been ensnared. Hardly enough meat to feed the fifty or so starving Tamerionian refugees.

As he was putting the vole carcass into his hunting pouch, he sensed a presence, and quickly looked up to see about half a dozens orcs surrounding him, at a distance, with their short bows trained on him. They had used the low hills around the trap as cover, and had lain waiting for the trap-setter to return. An orc shaman also emerged from behind a boulder, ordering Lythvard not to move, and telling him that he would not be harmed if he complied.

Lythvard, in is weakened state, in the face of four orcs (he had had time to count them properly now) and an orc shaman, had not choice but to comply. The shaman barked some orders in that guttural orcish tongue, and the orcs turned to face outwards, took up positions on the high ground, and set up a secure perimeter around the shaman and Lythvard. Lythvard eyed the shaman as he approached. In fact, as Lythvard looked more closely, he could see that the shaman was not a male, but a female. Nor was she an orc: dirty, long, straggly white hair was not enough to conceal the shaman’s pointy elven ears. But she was like no elf Lythvard had ever seen. Stooped over with age, her skin a course, leathery brown, and wearing a patchwork of dirty furs and leathers, it was hard for Lythvard that this being before him was truly an elf. Her chest was unclothed, revealed wizened, sallow breasts. Her clothing was adorned with necklaces made of the small vertebrae of small field animals, like the vole stuffed into Lythvard’s pouch. On her waist was a belt, from which hung a collection of skulls. Some were big, some were small. Lythvard recognized a human skull, and what he thought might be a dwarf skull, but he could only guess at what kind of strange creatures belonged to the remaining assortment of odd skulls at the shaman’s waist.

The shaman walked up close to Lythvard, and spoke in low tones so that the orcs could not hear her. She spoke in the elven tongue. She told Lythvard that she would not hurt him, but requested that Lythvard pretended to be threatened by her, so as the surrounding orcs would not suspect anything. She introduced herself as Yara, a servant of the Elf Queen. She told Lythvard to get on his knees so that, from a distance, it would look like Lythvard was begging for his life.

Yara proceeded to Lythvard that she had spent her whole life living amongst the orcs, and had been accepted by them and even been chosen to be a shaman within orc society. However, the orcs did not know that she was really a spy for the Elf Queen, on a deep cover operation for the Court of Stars. Judging from her accent and the way she struggled to speak the elven language fluently, it was clear to Lythvard that it had been a long time since she had spoken in elvish, corroborating her story somewhat.

Yara asks about how Lythvard came to be in these plains, so he gave her a brief version of the story. For Yara, this was indeed a fortuitous turn of events for her, perhaps even the gods had had a hand in this. She explained that she had managed to get her hands on a very important orc artifact. So important that she was willing to abandon her cover as a shaman that she had spent her life cultivating just to deliver the artifact into the hands of some dwarves. But with a fellow elf on the plains, she now had a means of delivering the artifact without having to blow her cover.

Lythvard asked her what kind of artifact could possibly be so important. She showed it to him. It was a wooden baton, ornately carved with hedonistic and violent orc images. Yara told Lythvard that this baton symbolized the authority to command an entire orc horde: whoever bore this baton would have around ten thousand orc warriors at his service. The Elf Queen wants the baton delivered to the Dwarf King, as a present to salve the patchy relationship between the two kingdoms, and also to give the Dwarf King the upper hand when the fragile truce with the orcs inevitably breaks down.

Suspicious, Lythvard probed her story with questions, but could find no holes.

Yara told Lythvard where he was: Just north of the Koru Behemoth trail, south of the Dragon Wood and north of the Fangs. To the northeast was Starport, and the Forge lay to the west. She explained in her crackly voice that the town Lythvard has seen was called Crozier, and a small force of dwarven warriors were currently resting there. Suddenly becoming serious, she formally requested that Lythvard serve his Queen and deliver the baton to the dwarves, and thus allow her to maintain her cover with the orcs.

Half-motivated by the possibility of repair his own fractured relationship with the Elf Queen, and half-tempted by the thought of having such a powerful artifact in his own hands, Lythvard accepted, despite his natural suspicion of Yara.

Yara thanked him and discretely passed him the baton wrapped in a dirty cloth. She hastily explained that she would need to kill the orcs protecting her. Their plan was to call them in from the perimeter they had set, attack without warning, and kill them all before they even knew they were being attacked. And that’s exactly what Lythvard and Yara did. Yara waited until all the orcs had gathered in, and then unleashed some powerful magic on three of them, killing them instantly. Lythvard took care of the fourth with a flaming spear spell. At that, Yara nodded sagely at Lythvard as if to bid him success, turned, and shuffled off through the waist-high grass.

View
Of Orcs and Owlbears [part 1]
Session 7

The spear made an odd sucking sound as they pulled a second spear out of Syrion’s leg. The party had been forced to pause and rally after the battle with the kobolds, which had ended prematurely when an accident with an exploding flask set off a chain reaction with all the other exploding flasks, destroying most of the kobolds in the process. The owlbear – their ally for the time being – was uncontrollable and had pursued the fleeing kobolds deeper into their lair.

So the sounds of kobolds trying to escape a raging owlbear provided the soundtrack as the party paused to catch their breath and patch their most serious wounds. As the party shared their last drops of water, the sounds from down the corridor changed from terrified kobold screams to the squawks of an owlbear in pain. The party advanced down the corridor, fearing the worst for their temporary ally.

Syrion emerged first into the inner sanctum of a kobold lair, with Lythvard and Thybalt close behind him. They found the owlbear hung upside down with a rope around its feet, with three kobolds savagely thrusting spears into its defenceless body. The owlbears feathers were all stained s slick blackish-red color, and a stream of blood was running off the owlbear’s head and pooling onto the floor beneath it.

With the pool of blood rapidly expanding, Lythvard was the first to act, launching a flaming spear at the rope suspending the hapless owlbear. The flaming bolt crashed into the ceiling near the rope, and a Kobold hero cautiously advanced on Syrion, the closest combatant. They tested each other out with a series parries and thrusts designed to test their opponent’s skill, and then the kobold surprised everybody aggressively thrusting forward, catching Syrion in his midriff. But the kobold’s bold thrust had left it exposed, and with the kobold’s rapier wedged in his armor, Syrion was free to return the blow, with interest. Thybalt called upon the powers granted to him courtesy of the pact his father signed with the Crusader and unleashed a screaming curse on a kobold engineer and a booming shriek erupted inside the kobold’s skull, knocking it against the wall as it fumbled with something it had grabbed from its bag. Dazed from the mental assault, the kobold engineer tried to fling an exploding flask at Lythvard, but it landed harmlessly against a wall, the blast bothering no one.

On the second attempt, Lythvard’s flaming spear burst through the rope around the owlbear’s feet, sending it crashing to the ground. It wallowed around in a pool its own blood for a few moments, flapping a blood-soaked wing/arm as one last effort to grasp onto something in this world, before life exited the beast’s body. The kobold hero, having decided that he was no match for Syrion, wisely disengaged and struck out at Lythvard while he was distracted by the dying owlbear. A rapier slash across Lythvard’s back quickly reminded Lythvalt that he had more pressing concerns than an owlbear’s last living moments. Syrion followed up on the kobold hero, drawing upon the might of the gods to smite the kobold. The kobold’s armor withstood the blow, but the heat of the smite superheated the armor, burning the kobold inside it. Thybalt took control of the shadows and directed them to rip at the kobold engineer. The engineer tried his best to shake the shadows off, and broke free long enough to hurl another exploding flask, which caught Lythvard square on the side of his head, showering him in a blue flame. The third kobold hopped from foot to foot, trying to decide what to do, and then made a dash for the nearest corridor.

Lythvard arched his back as the kobold’s rapier raked across it. In the same movement, he burst in to bear form, turned somewhat slowly and launched itself at the kobold hero, who was still dealing with his super-heated armor. The bear ripped the arms from the kobold, and used one of the arms to beat the kobold’s head into pulp. As this was happening, Thybalt’s shadows once more entwined themselves around the kobold engineer, contracted slightly and lifted him off the ground for just a moment, and then tore him apart, spattering parts of his body over the walls of the chamber.

With the immediate threat passed, the party scouted the immediate area and found it clear of any more kobolds. They searched the area a bit more thoroughly, wary of any traps the kobolds might have left behind, and found some gold, some potions and some runes. They also found the engineer’s workshop, which had enough odds and ends to allow Lythvard to conjure up a makeshift filter, which they could use to try and generate some drinkable water from the filthy water that runs throughout this dungeon.

While they were creating the filter, they also debated what to do next. Lythvard insisted that they return to the forest, so that he could take the owlbear eggs and keep his promise to the dead owlbear. The rest of the party were loathe to spend the time necessary for the detour: the longer they dilly-dallied, the more Tameronians would die of thirst. A slight change in direction from the living dungeon as it tunneled through the earth caused the party to stumble, but the change of direction gave them hope that they might actually be moving upwards, and Lythvard convinced them to stop by the forest. The owlbear eggs were large and fragile, so Syrion carved some cases for them from the odd-looking trees in the dungeon’s forest.

The party returned to the guard barracks where the Fair survivors were waiting for them as quickly as possible. Fortunately, Lythvard’s map held true, and they were able to get back without any incident. They wisely decided to hide the cases with the owlbear eggs from the Tameronians. To placate their hunger, Syrion was carrying the carcass of a dog a kobold had been using as a battle mount. The direction of the living dungeon also shifted while they were on route, this time moving in a definite upwards direction.

Most of the Fair survivors were lying down or sitting, leaning against a wall. They were devoid of energy, forcing themselves to wave a tired greeting to the party as they entered. They didn’t talk, because the effort would tear up their dry throats. Lythvard set about setting up the water filter contraption they had bought with them, and Syrion skinned the dog and began to cook it for them. Cabin Goodmar, son of the local Lord that presides over Tameron, grew tired of watching the cooking show. He dragged himself to his feet and stumbled out of the barracks, mutter something about needing to find a way out.

The filtration system was very slow, providing only enough water to keep a few people going for a bit longer. The party needed to find a way out of this dungeon, and fast. As if in response, the rumbling that had been their constant companion since the living dungeon had been freed – the rumbling sound of the living dungeon burrowing its way through the earth – stopped. A few survivors had had a drink and now had enough energy to tend to the filtration system, so the three adventurers donned their equipment once more, pushed through the fatigue barrier, and once more ventured out into the dungeon to find a way out.

They cautiously moved forward through the tricky dungeon passageways, slowly edging towards that spot on the map that Lythvard had marked as “entrance shaft.” The first sign that the dungeon had surfaced was the feeling of a soft breeze on their faces. At first they dismissed the sensation as merely being the product of their hopeful imaginations, but as they progressed forward, the breeze grew stronger and they could no longer deny that it was real. The found the bottom of the shaft, which was still angling upwards at a 45 degree angle, just as they had left it. A cool and firm breeze was issuing from the bottom of the shaft, and as the party craned their heads to peer up to the top of the shaft they could see bright daylight. As their eyes adjusted to the glare, they could even see blue sky at the end of the tunnel. With whoops of joy and smiles of relief, the three adventurers made the short climb to the top of the shaft and stepped out of the dungeon.

After the dark, dull colors of the dungeon, their eyes were somewhat shocked to be greeted with a vista of two very bright colors: the top half of their vision was a solid plane of bright sky blue, not a single cloud in the sky to break up the blue, and the bottom half of their field of vision was the bright green of lush, long green grass. As their eyes adjusted further, they could see that they were standing in a vast plain of rolling hills covered in a sea of long grass. The grass was longer in the depressions between the hills, and a bit balder on the tops of the hills. There were no trees, no bushes, no roads or fence lines. The only thing breaking up the green was the occasional boulder on scattered on the hilltops. As the wind blew through the long grass, the grass rippled like the waves of a benevolent ocean.

The almost missed it because it was completely hidden by the long grass, but the found a very small stream running between the two hills on their left and right. It was only about two inched wide and an inch deep, but it was enough to quench their thirsts and fill their waterskins.

With their thirst quenched, it was time to find out where they were. Lythvard transformed into a bird and flew out to scout the area. It was a sea of green as far as his bird eyes could see. He could see a small river cutting through the green nearby, and as he flew along the river a small town came into sight. It had about twenty buildings and was surrounded by a wall of logs thrust vertically into the ground. To the northwest Lythvard could see numerous wisps of smoke rising in the distance, like the smoke of a hundred campfire clustered together. Most disturbing, though were the orcs lying on their stomachs just behind the ridge of a hill, observing the dungeon entrance and Lythvard’s two companions.

View
Of Blood and Balance [Part 3]
Session 6

Leaving the empty vault behind them, the party pushed further into the dungeon’s darkness, with Lythvard’s attempts at drawing a map slowly turning the unknown into the known. After travelling for about an hour, sipping on the last of their shared water, the sound of a trickling fluid could be heard through the eerie silence of the dark dungeon. Hopes lifting at the prospect of finding water, the party unconsciously picked up their pace as they moved towards the source of the sound.

They found a well-made passageway that had a thin, v-shaped channel cut into the stone floor, and a thick, dark fluid flowing down it. They briefly considered drinking the fluid, but it didn’t look like something that would agree with their surface-dweller bodies. Nevertheless they followed the channel cut down the corridor in the hope that it might lead them to some water. The corridor came to an intersection, as did the channel in the floor. As the party explored further, the found that they were in a region of the dungeon where every corridor had a groove cut into the floor, with a visceral liquid flowing slowly along it. Sometimes the grooves would converge into larger rivulets, other times the grooves would stop abruptly as the liquid disappeared into a whole in the floor.

They opted to follow the largest channel they could find, and followed it until it ran into a dead end. The channel disappeared out of sight through a low, shallow arch at the base of the wall. A sense of cool moisture in the air around the archway suggested that there was more of the liquid on the other side, so the party wriggled their way through the arch one at a time.

On the other side, the party found themselves in a large, circular cavern with a low, domed ceiling. Most of the cavern was a lake of that sticky, brackish liquid, although the party was standing on a rocky outcrop, a peninsula of slippery stone that pointed jaggedly towards the center of the cavern like a crooked finger. Closer inspection of the liquid revealed all manner of garbage floating through it: bones, half digested food, leather armor, and even the odd finger or two. Bubbles formed on the liquid’s surface, and the liquid was so thick and sticky it looked like you could poke the bubbles with your finger and they wouldn’t pop. The bubbles moved slowly and lazily across the surface, suggesting a slow current underneath the surface.

The party noticed some flasks floating in the muck, but as the party debated how to retrieve them, a whooshing, sucking sound filled the chamber as two small water elementals formed from the sticky liquid into slowly spinning vortexes. The party did their best to find a stable place on the wet and slippery rocks as the elementals attacked.

The battle was short but intense. Tentacles from some unseen inhabitant of the lake grabbed Lythvard and tried to pull him into the goo, forcing Lythvard to focus on the tentacles for much of the battle. Thybalt did his best to keep his distance from both the elementals and the tentacles, preferring to launch his hexes and curses from a distance. Syrion, on the other hand, strode down the peninsula towards the center of the chamber, meeting both elementals head on, with one on each side of the rocky outcrop. Syrion was battered by high velocity liquid as he traded blows with the elementals. He dispatched one as Thybalt cast a spell to freeze the other elemental. The elemental’s brackish surface froze into an inch-thick layer of black ice. The liquid inside the layer of ice was slowly draining back into the lack as the elemental looked to re-form elsewhere. Syrion acted quickly and sent a Holy Smite at the base of the frozen vortex, smashing the icy base and cutting off the draining liquid’s escape back into the lake.

With the two elementals gone, the party was able to easily hold off the tentacles while Thybalt retrieved some potions from the lake using a jury-rigged rake. They crawled back through the low arch and emerged back into the stone corridor catching their breath. They had failed to find any drinkable water and thirst was growing in the base of their stomachs, but at least they were still alive and they had some new potions.

The party continued their exploration of the dungeon, this time heading in a general upwards direction whenever they could. After another four hours or so, they found themselves passing through some familiar territory, although it had been drastically changed. They found some of the zoo cages for the Fair, all they had been smashed open, or crushed, or both. They also found the strength test game that Syrion had won. However, instead of being a pole standing vertically upright with a bell on top, it was sticking out of the ceiling at an acute angle. Soon they stumbled across something that momentarily caused their hearts to lift. It was the wooden platform they had used to originally descend into the Fair. They could even see the metal lever still embedded into the platform. Their eyes quickly found the shaft that the platform had once brought them down into the Fair in, although now it was pitched at 45 degrees rather than being a vertical shaft. The party quickly scrambled up the steep slope, with the hope of finding an exit motivating them. Their hope soon turned to anguish as they shaft ended in a wall, confirming what they has been suspecting all along: the exit was closed, and they were trapped deep under the earth’s surface. Syrion beat his hands against the shaft’s walls in despair, while the others turned their thoughts to how they might get this living dungeon to rise to the surface.

After another three hours of exploration, the party came across an abandoned kobold lair. It contained all the signs of recent occupation: a cooking pot was suspended above a fireplace, once corner of the lair was a straw litter with the cracked shells of kobold eggs, and several traps were found still armed. The party also found a small, waist-height cage. Crouching inside it was a badly tortured female goblin. She told that her name was Xet and begged the party to let her free. She explained that she was the lover of the goblin chieftain, and that the chieftain would surely reward them if they returned her to him. They decided to release her, and asked her to lead them to her chieftain. She said she would try, but the way back to the goblin encampment had been changed when the dungeon decided to restructure itself.

They followed Xet for about three hours. They had to keeping telling her to slow down so that Lythvard could draw his map. They had, of course, asked her if she knew where there was any water, but she said that the goblins here only drank the sludge that the party had encountered earlier. The emerged from a passageway into what appeared to be a forest. Grass carpeted the ground and evenly spaced trees filled the entire area, forming a thick canopy above them. A closer inspection of the trees revealed that they were not actually trees. They were some kind of giant fungus, looking a bit like giant broccoli. Scattered about the forest floor were what looked like stone wells, and there was a strong, multidirectional breeze swirling around the party. The ground seemed to have a slight concave curve to it and, suspecting there might be water at the bottom of the curve, the party headed downhill.

They never found the bottom. The floor just kept on going in its shallow concave arc. Confused, Lythvard scaled a tree and popped his head through the canopy. The vista revealed that the party was actually inside a giant spherical chamber, with the forest growing on the sphere’s inner surface, with every tree pointing towards the center of the sphere. Gravity was playing tricks on the party, and they no longer knew which way was down. All they knew was that they were standing upright on the ever-so-slightly concave forest floor.

While the party paused to get their bearings, a creature silently crept towards them. A predator had made this forest its home, and considered the intruders to be its next meal. Thybalt was alert to the threat however, and noticed a bear-sized shadow flitting between the trees towards them. Thybalt warned the party and their collective horror grew as they peered between the trees to see an owlbear lumber towards them.

Lythvard dropped from the tree and attempted to commune with the beast. He found out that this owlbear had once considered the High Druid its sister, but it had been drawn into the dungeon and stolen away from its homeland. Lythvard made a deal with the owlbear: he promised to return the owlbear to the Wild Woods, if the owlbear helped them kill kobolds. The owlbear agreed, on one condition: that Lythvard would care for her babies were the mother owlbear to fall in the battle. The owlbear led the party to her lair, were they found two eggs, waiting patiently to hatch. Satisfied that her eggs would be cared for, the owlbear began the hunt. She sniffed the air and the set off apace, with the party struggling to keep up with it. It seems that the owlbear knew the smell of kobolds well.

Lythvard was forced to temporarily suspend his mapping as they followed the owlbear as it made a beeline through the labyrinthine passageways towards the kobolds. They spent the next six hours worrying that the owlbear would eventually get too far ahead of them, disappear around a corner, and never be found again. But despite their cotton-mouths and the thirst in their stomachs, that never happened. The first contact with a outer kobold patrol was as quick as it was brutal. The party dispatched with some kobolds mounted on dogs, while the owlbear pushed through their ranks to tear through a crossbow detachment further up the tunnel. Syrion paused just long enough to tie a slain dog around his body, reasoning that it would make a good feed for the Fair survivors.

Pressing on, the passageway opened up into narrow chasm, spanned by a short wooden bridge. The owlbear was already across the bridge before the party arrived, and as they stepped inot the opening they saw the silhouette of the owlbear disappearing down another tunnel.

Before they could step across the bridge and follow after it, they heard the sound of flapping mechanical wings above, and at the same time a squat, heavily armored kobold stepped onto the bridge, firmly planted its feet, lowered its spear, and beckoned for the intruders to come at it. Kobold wizards filled the space behind the kobold dreadnaught, and starting sending spells towards the party.

At the same time, flying kobolds swooped down from above them, hurling flasks filled with explosive liquids and noxious gasses. Syrion’s training as a bodyguard told him that they had stepped into a well-prepared defensive position, and that he had to get out of the killing ground as quickly as possible. And for Syrion, that meant charging forward, and soon the kobold dreadnaught and Syrion had met in mortal combat, in the center of a narrow bridge, with nothing but black nothingness above them and below them. Meanwhile, Thybalt and Lythvard traded spells with the kobold mages, whilst doing their best to dodge the meteor-like flasks raining down upon them from above.

The battle was not going well. The two combatants on the bridge traded blows with littlee concern for their own bodies. Syrion dished out pain despite the kobold’s immensely strong armor, but he also found himself with a spear thrust clean through each leg. He was unable to move, and had to spend all his energy just to stay upright. Sensing victory, the kobold dreadnaught moved in for the kill.

Just at the point when it looked as though the battle had been lost, fate smiled upon the party. A winged kobold fumbled with the flask it was preparing to hurl at them, and it began to ignite in its hands. The kobold quickly flung it away, and it landed on another kobold flying slightly below it, covering the second kobold in flame. The second kobold’s flasks all exploded, setting of a chain reaction that lit up the darkness above the bridge in a blossoming of orange and green flames. With the winged kobolds gone, Thybalt and Lythvard could dispose of the kobold mages. The dreadnaught, in its eagerness to finish Syrion, got careless and left itself open. The might of some unknown yet Holy power flowed through Syrion as he found the willpower and the strength land a killer blow on the dreadnaught.

Thybalt and Lythvard hurried across the bridge as it began to burn, dragging the incapacitated Syrion with them. Dumping his body unceremoniously on the far side of the bridge, the party paused momentarily to get their bearings and figure out where that owlbear had gone.

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Of Blood and Balance [Part 2]
Session 6

The three adventurers decided to move further, deeper into the dungeon. In fact, they had no idea if they were going deeper or not, but they knew that they were moving further away from the guards barracks where the survivors were congregated. Oddly, after about six hours of moving away from the Fair, the came across a stretch of dungeon that looked slightly familiar. They soon came upon an open door, and peering inside they realized that they had somehow found their way back to the quarters of Maerun Prekare – the mage who had been controlling the living dungeon until he had been killed by the Verisiels. The first time the party visited this room they were rushing to find an assassin before he could kill again, so they didn’t have much time to search this room.

This time, however, they gave it a thorough search, reading through Prekare’s personal library. Their research revealed something that could provide a clue on how to get the dungeon to rise to the surface. According to a theory in one of the books they found, livings dungeons have a kind of symbiotic relationship with its dungeon inhabitants. If the inhabitants all perish due to starvation, disease, or conflict, the dungeon has to return to the surface to replenish its supply of dungeon dwellers. The theory posited that the living dungeon must use some kind of pheromone or mind control agent to lure surface dwellers into the living dungeon. Prekare had scribbled notes all over the book containing this theory, declaring it to be “fanciful, unfounded nonsense,” but were the theory to be true, then the party could force the dungeon to surface by killing all of its inhabitants. But how many would they have to kill? And would they be able to kill them before they themselves died of dehydration? And, of course, there’s no guarantee that the three adventurers wouldn’t lose their own lives at the hands of the dungeon dwellers anyway.

Having been on the move for nearly a day now, and given the relative cleanliness and comfort of the mage’s quarters, the adventurers decided to take a rest there. With waterskins already half empty, they limited themselves to a mouthful of water each to moisten their throats before they slept.

They awoke several hours feeling slightly refreshed, but still thirsty. As they were leaving Prekare’s quarters, they noticed a segment of dungeon stone that Prekare had been researching. According to his notes, the stone was ever so slightly lighter than a rock of its type should be. Closer inspection revealed that the rock was actually riddled with tiny holes, so it was more like an incredible hard and dense sponge, rather than solid rock.

With the pangs of hunger and thirst growing in the pits of their stomachs, morale was starting to slide as they mapped their way around the dungeon for another five hours or so. Their moral sank lower when they came across a recently-beheaded human corpse lying on the stone floor. Blood had been sprayed everywhere, and they noticed that the blood was slowly seeping into the sponge-like dungeon stone. Their once-proud heads sunk even lower when they located the corpse’s head and identified it as one of the few guards that had been protecting the Fair survivors. The passageways were familiar to them so, fearing the worst for the survivors, they rushed back to the guards barracks.

They were relieved to see two guards posted outside the entrance to the guards barracks, immediately indicating that whatever had decapitated the other guard had been satisfied with that and hadn’t moved on to attack the survivors. When they entered the barracks it was silent, as each survivor sat alone with their thoughts. Any injured had either passed away or stabilized, so there was not much else for the survivors left to do but to remain quiet and not move about so as to conserve their energy. When the survivors noticed that Syrion, Thybalt and Lythvard had returned, they bombarded the adventurers with questions made croaky by their parched throats. Had they found water? Food? A way out? How could they be gone for over 24 hours and come back empty-handed? The questions grew louder and angrier as the crowd realized that the adventurers had no good news for them.

Mayor Sequito rose to his feet and implored the survivors to be quiet, arguing that loud voices were wasting valuable energy, and also more likely to encourage dungeon monsters to come and find them. The party quietly reported what they had found to Sequito, who implored them not to give up, and to once more venture out into the dungeon. They were the Tameronians only hope. Syrion, in a heroic gesture, gave his last waterskin to the survivors. Shared between fifty people it would only amount to a mouthful each, but it was better than nothing. Leaving the sound of frustrated and desperate complaints behind them, Thybalt, Lythvard and Syrion struck out from the guards barracks in a new direction.

After several hours of slow-progress through the topsy-turvy dungeon tunnels, with Lythvard maintaining his diligent map-making, the party came across an door in the floor, hanging open, making a rectangular hole in the ground. Syrion descended on a rope and found a room that had been turned on its side. All furniture had fallen to the far wall, which had now become the floor. Tables, chairs, wine bottles, and a lot of treasure chests lay smashed at the bottom. Syrion poked around in the debris, but he could find no food or water, and there were only a few coins.

He did, find, however, a large, well-maintained account-keeping ledger. The party surmised that this must have been the vault where the Fairmaster kept all the profits from the Fair. According to the ledger, the treasure chests should have been full of gold, yet they were mysteriously empty. Inspection of the ledger also had the name of a company that the Church was using to periodically transport the profits from the dungeon to Santa Cora. With nothing left to gain from remaining in this room, Syrion hauled himself out of the vault and they continued on their way.

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Of Blood and Balance [Part 1]
Session 6

The party members peered through a doorway into a room where many survivors of the disaster had gathered. They had all unwittingly entered a living dungeon, believing it to be the Fair, a traveling carnival under the administration of the Priestess and the Church of the Gods of Light. Claiming the beast’s right to freedom, a group of elves had killed the mage that had been controlling the living dungeon, releasing it from its captivity. As the giant creature threw off its yoke, it rearranged its internal architecture, and people were crushed and families torn apart as walls, floors and ceilings moved around them.

Returning their focus to the present, a gritty scene unfolded before the party as they ducked their heads under the low-set doorframe and entered what used to be the guards’ barracks. Torches on the walls combined with particles of stone dust still hanging in the air to cast a yellow glow over the room. A room with plenty of straight lines, yet devoid of right angles, with walls rising out of the floor at odd angles, and the floor itself listing down to the left. Braced up against the wall on the left were the guard’s beds, occupied by injured townsfolk being attended to by other less-injured survivors. Those around some of the beds were working feverishly to try and stop some bleeding or clean wounds before they became infected. Some of the other beds had a more sombre mood about them, as family, or friends, or even complete strangers comforted the critically injured through their last dying moments.

Elsewhere, small groups of men and women stood in tight circles, speaking in hushed, serious tones about the situation that faces them. In one corner a distraught mother wailed at the top of her voice, rocking back and forth clutching a baby’s bonnet to her bosom. Sitting at a table that had also slid down to rest against the left wall was an officious-looking man, with paper in front of him and quill in hand. Before him, people were lining up to share what food, water and other useful items they have in their possession.

A thin layer of stone dust covered everything – and everyone – giving the survivors’ hair and clothes a grey sheen. Some spat in a effort to get the taste of stone out of their mouths, others had taken to breathing through rags they held in front of their mouths.

Pitching out of the floor in the center of the room was a solitary door, unattached to any walls. A group of young children, too young to comprehend the disaster that has befallen them, amused themselves by playing an improvised game of knock and run. One child would wait behind the door, and the other children would knock on the door then run and hide before the first child could open the door and catch them.

The party watched one child as she ran and hid behind a slightly rotund fellow, deep in discussion with a small group of men. As he shifted slightly and the shadows from the torchlight fell from his face, the party recognised him as Nestus Sequito, Mayor of Tameron, and – technically speaking, their client. He noticed them entering the room, smiled grimly, and waved for them to join him.

Mayor Sequito and the party formed an informal conference circle, where they discussed their situation quietly. Sequito was at a loss to explain what had happened, such that it was perhaps an earthquake that had befallen them. The party told him about the living dungeon, news which Sequito took with a touch of skepticism, but given the absence of any better explanation, he had no choice but to accept their version of events. He told the party that the survivors had no food or water, and they had already used up all their medical supplies. He pressed the party to help, to find some food or water, or even a way out of there.

As the party broke off for their own private conference to discuss their best course of action, a middle-aged man wearing a dirty apron and a knife belt approached them discretely. He told a tale of when he was a young boy, still an apprentice cook to a company of Church paladins. The company had been charged with entering and clearing a dangerous and wild dungeon. The paladins fought hard and established a foothold in the dungeon, but at a heavy cost. Deciding that pushing further into the dungeon would be folly, they decided to fortify their foothold, blocking off corridors with stone walls to keep the monsters at bay. The cook wasn’t to know, but at that point the Church brought in a mage, who managed to cast a spell to control the living dungeon.

Given that the dungeon’s internal restructuring would have destroyed any walls separating the secure section from the wild dungeon, the party members swallowed nervously at the thought of a disparate army of dungeon denizens descending upon them before they could find a way out of their for themselves and the Tameronian survivors.

The party left the survivors under the protection of a few surviving Fair guards and went in search of food, water, and a way home. Progress was slow, as they pushed through dungeon corridors strewn with piles of boulders, broken walls and all manner of obstacles. Often they were reduced to crawling on their hands and knees to find a way forward through narrow gaps in the rubble. Slowing them down further was Lythvard’s map-making. They would need a map if they were ever to find their way back to the survivors’ camp, but the layout of this dungeon made map-drawing very difficult and time-consuming indeed.

They had been proceeding in this fashion for about two hours when they heard voices and torchlight around a corner up head. They had bumped into a kobold patrol. The kobolds threw their pet stirges at the party, and as the giant, mosquito-like beasts flapped their way towards the party, three kobolds formed a line and started sending volleys of crossbow bolts down the corridor. The battle was fierce but brief. Lythvard used his druidic powers to turn himself into a giant ant and tore through the stirges in no time. Two kobold soldiers, who had formed a rank to shield the crossbow-bearers, fled, abandoning their crossbow-wielding comrades to a fate of dismemberment by giant ant pincers.

Lythvard maintained his giant ant form and scuttled down the passageway after the two fleeing kobolds. He dashed past them and blocked their escape, looming up on his hind legs. Terrified, the kobolds dropped their weapons and surrendered. Syrion and Thybalt soon caught up with them, having removed a few small crossbow bolts from their bodies on the move.

The party tried to interrogate the kobolds, but these kobolds had spent their entire lives in this dungeon, and knew nothing of the common tongues of the surface world. Through pantomime, mimicry and the occasional threat of violence, the party was able to find out that the kobolds drank some kind of water in the dungeon, but it was much too filthy for any surface-dweller to stomach. They also found out that the kobolds hunt other humanoids in the dungeon for food. Satisfied that there was nothing more to learn from this pair of kobolds, the party allowed them to scamper away.

They stumbled forward in the darkness for another five hours or so, the stone passages dank with moisture but nothing to drink. Lythvard continued to do his best mapping the dungeon by torchlight, using boulders and sloping walls as his cartographer’s desk.

They saw a glow coming from up ahead, so they edged towards it carefully. They emerged into an octagonal chamber with a spherical, domed ceiling and eight passageways leading outwards. In the center of the chamber was a huge, roughly spherical crystal. An inconsistent glow emanated from the crystal, casting an eerie light over the faces of the adventures as they stared at the crystal in consternation.

Upon entering the chamber, Lythvard suddenly felt as though he had had lead blanket thrown over him, forcing him to struggle to keep his feet. A huge wave of emotion and feelings bore down on the young elven druid. Feelings of relief and new-found freedom and lingering anger assaulted Lythvard’s psyche. The living dungeon could sense that Lythvard was affiliated with those who set it free – the Verisiels – so it was allowing Lythvard to sense its emotions. There was one feeling that stood out as more prominent than others. Lythvard could sense a feeling of… imbalance, like the time Lythvard’s body felt imbalanced when Meister Rattnab, his alchemy master, had forbidden him to eat meat for half a cycle. Just as Lythvard’s body had been craving meat to address the nutritional imbalance, Lythvard was now sensing a strong craving from the living dungeon for… kobold blood?

Syrion and Thybalt dragged Lythvard from the chamber before the pressure overcame him. After regaining his composure, Lythvard told them what he had felt, and the group discussed its implications. Lythvard also told them that he was sure he sensed that the living dungeon would be grateful if its hunger for kobold blood were to be sated. Was this, then, a way out of the dungeon? A way to get the dungeon to return to the surface? But where to find the kobolds? And how much blood is needed to quench a living dungeon-sized thirst? Would they be able to find the kobolds and kill them before the party themselves succumbed to their own thirst? And how does one feed a living dungeon? Does it have a mouth? If so, how would they move all that kobold blood to the dungeon’s mouth?

(This adventure log post to be continued soon)

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