The Eroding Empire

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.
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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.
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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.

View
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.

View
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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