Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"The Story So Far" - Part Six - "Reprieves & Rumors"

"The Story So Far" is an ongoing series recanting the details of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that I've been running since 2002.  Links to the previous entries can be found here:  

Prologue          Part I          Part II          Part III          Part IV          Part V 

I've "fictionalized" the session reports in a likely-vain attempt to make them more "entertaining".   

And now, our story continues...

Solstice 23rd, Earthday, 1492 (supplemental)

"Told you did I," the orc chieftain barked in his harsh native tongue. "They come to free the others! Kill them!!!"

And with that, any chance of parley was over. The orc archers drew back their weapons to fire but suddenly one of them dropped their bow, grasping at an arrow protruding from his neck. The remaining orcs began to spin around, desperately looking for the source of the attack, but could see nothing.

Bria, still confused and angered by the sight of the bloody crescent moon death head insignia on the orc's shields, took advantage of this blessing and perforated another adversary with her crossbow. Her allies seized upon this initiative and surged ahead, dropping their startled enemies like cordwood. Periodically another arrow would fly out from the underbrush to strike an orc stone dead with unerring accuracy.

Spooked by their phantasmal assailant and the subsequent death of their lieutenant, the orcs were quickly routed. As the dust settled, the Fellowship noticed that one of their foes was still alive. Thanks to some "encouragement" by Pol, the wounded creature began to talk about the human who'd tipped them off about the merchant caravan. The human didn't give a name, just implicit instructions to keep at least one hostage alive and help themselves to the spoils of the raid.

"Ev'ry moonrise we wuz to chop one...to shut 'der flappin' yaps!" confessed the creature with a bloody leer.


He was also told that more humans would try to rescue the prisoners and if they were also "dealt with", there would be a significant reward. The orc refused to give up any more information, lapsing into unconsciousness when pressed for details.

After the shock of their stunning victory wore off, the companions searched through the carnage for clues as to the identity of their mysterious benefactor. The darts used to kill the orcs were sheaf arrows, not unlike the ones used by Lorelei. She then remembered something that Uther the armorer told her about one other customer that buys them.

In spite of their stunning coup, the group trudged back to town in silence, wrestling with mixed emotions. At daybreak the rain finally eased up. Completely exhausted and working on no sleep for the past two days, the heroes knew that they were highly vulnerable to another orc ambush. As they finally passed through the south gates of Castebridge, everyone heaved a collective sigh of relief. 

Responding to the adventurer's request to house their orcish prisoner, the recently-liberated William led them to the stockade beneath the barracks. It was here that they met 'Arrold the gaoler, a slimy, decrepit fellow who kept leering incessantly at the female members of the group. In spite of his loathsome bearing, 'Arrold promised to keep the orc locked down until they came back.


William then escorted the Fellowship to the council chambers, which was already in session. Everyone was present including the town guard Lieutenant Duran de Montfort and his retinue of five  soldiers. While waiting to address the council, the group learned that Berowne, the guard Captain, had just left for Footholde to try and find some new recruits to replace those slain during the orc ambush.

They also witnessed a young farmer named Stefan harangue the council about failing to complete the western town wall. During this time he made a passionate plea about orcs and other "mongrels" constantly stealing from him.

Martin, the town Treasurer, quickly shot down the idea of finishing the wall.

"There just isn’t enough money in the town coffers right now to complete it," he blustered.

As soon as Denneth noticed the group loitering at the back of the council chambers he halted the proceedings, ordered all of them to come up front and center and then paid them their reward on the spot, right in front of Stefan. Incensed by the display, the beleaguered farmer blasted the Mayor for giving taxpayer’s hard earned money away to "a pack of self-serving vigilantes that are never around when you need them." He then stormed out in a huff, leaving the heroes standing around feeling awkward.

Still peeved that the group was M.I.A. when the caravan was attacked, Denneth mellowed considerably after hearing about how well the rescue went down. When they brought up the orc’s comments about their human benefactor, he told the group that it was probably the fault of local bandits.

"Trust me," he said, "there are plenty of human mongrels out there as well!" 

When challenged about the details of the orc trap, Denneth seemed unfazed.

"Well, one unfortunate thing about working for the town council is that you’re bound to make a few enemies. I just assumed that you'd know this."

A crabbier-than-usual Baron Gilles de Vrais suddenly swooped in with his trophy bride Rosalind, the strikingly-beautiful daughter of the Mayor of Footholde. As William led the group out of the council chambers, they noticed de Vrais drag Denneth off to the side and berate him about something. Whatever it was, the Baron was none to happy about it.


Pol and Lorelei returned to the Inn, Roman went back to the House of Pelor, Bria headed toward Slayde's Place and Rincewind meandered back to Legacy Tower. Trying to make some sense out of their recent adventures, Pol and Lorelei shared a pleasant dinner at the Rambling Rogue. Otherwise, the rest of the day was spent in comfort, recovery and solitude.

Solstice 24'th, Freeday

Training and recuperation was also the order of the following day.

Emerging late from her room, Lorelei was less then thrilled to find Barant downstairs fawning over his latest obsession Veronique. Barant picked up on her irritation over breakfast and asked a barrage of questions, exhibiting genuine concern for his former charge. He also volunteered to be Pol's sparring partner later on that day, a non-existent "date" that seemed to incense the green-eyed Veronique.

About an hour later, Rincewind showed up and invited Lorelei to Marlak's lecture about  "The Specialization of Sorcery" at Legacy Tower later that afternoon. Weary of human company, the half-elf begged off, choosing to go for a hike out in the woods instead. Knowing that her compatriots would never let her go alone, Lorelei had to fabricate a story about "going shopping" to cover her absence.
Roman, on the other hand, was granted no reprieve whatsoever. Regis woke him up at the crack of dawn to deal with all of his "derelict" duties.

"I don't care if you're the acting bad example for that roaming band of misfits you've been gallivanting around with; you're not going to ignore your responsibilities!"

Roman was forced to divide his time between leading a small group of novice priests in study of scripture and cleaning out the stables. Periodically Regis would re-appear to top his young ward's ear up with endless lectures about duty, wisdom and the honest labors that truly please Pelor.

Keen on sharpening her lock-picking skills, Bria spent the day at Slayde's Place, the local thieves guild. She waited endlessly for the veteran cut-purse Vittorio to show up, but was told by a dark-skinned rogue named K'sama that he was "out of town". K'sama went on to tell Bria that she was eavesdropping on Slayde earlier when he ordered his majordomo to pass a harsh message on to some hermit that lives out in the woods past the logging camp.

With Vittorio indisposed, K’sama offered to teach Bria some tricks of the trade. During this the pair over-heard a con-artist, thief and professional bar-fly named Argenta talk about rumors that were swirling around the Lost Souls tavern. Intrigued, Bria cornered Argenta who told her the following:

"The usual shipment of dwarven ale never arrived at the Lost Souls yesterday!"

"Some rangers claim to have seen a wild light-show near the dwarven fortress of Kiras Toth a few nights ago."

"The dwarves delved too deeply and woke up something nasty from beneath the earth. Or was that just something I heard in an out-of-key bard’s song last weekend?"

Curiosity piqued to the point of distraction, Bria had a hard time focusing on K'sama's instructions. By the time she's absorbed all they was to know, the hour was very late. Anxious to share this scuttlebutt with her companions, Bria dashed off to the Stongholde Inn and discovered to her chagrin that everyone was already asleep. Irritated, went back to the guild house and spent a sleepless night tossing and turning at the prospects of another exciting adventure.  

Solstice 25'th, Starday

By the time the Fellowship reconvened at the Rambling Rogue the following morning to discuss their next move, the place was also rife with gossip.

"The Hall of the Dwarven Lord has fallen to the hobgoblins!"

Sensing that another assignment was imminent, the group wolfed down a hearty breakfast and then dashed off to Sentinel Arms and Armor for supplies. Even though he was under the weather, Urland hauled himself out of bed to tell Lorelei that he makes sheaf arrows for only one other person: a mysterious ranger named Thornmorrow.

He told the companions that Thornmorrow used to be "some great explorer of note once upon a time" but now he lives like a disgraced hermit in a cabin to the north of the lumber camp. He also mentioned that the uncompleted house in the north east quarter of town was supposed to have been his.

Before they left, Urland warned them to stay away from that "lunatic". He then told the story of how  Thorn became obsessed with crossing the Ironwall Mountains to the north. Supposedly his followers rebelled against him and he murdered one of them in a fit of rage. His group disbanded and Thorn became a bitter, strange recluse. Urland confessed that he hates dealing with him on the odd occasion when he ventures into town, which is usually at night.

As the heroes left the armory, they were intercepted by Barant who escorted them to an audience with the Mayor. At the Council Hall, Denneth introduced them to Elster Lorearthen, a chaplain with the dwarven fortress of Kiras Toth to the north.

***

Elster Lorearthen
played by Angela

Age: 67


Elster’s conception was the direct result of the "Thunder Blessing": an honor bestowed upon a few lucky families of the dwarven undercity Deepdelve by the Sonnlinor priests. At the time of his birth, Elster's people were dying out due to mysterious circumstances that even he is hesitant to talk about. His devotion to the forge started young and soon he began crafting armor out of mithril and platinum to tremendous effect.

While bent in inspirational prayer before work one morning the Forge-Father Moradin spoke directly to Elster, which initiated his calling as a Sonnlinor. Not long after, he was appointed acting chaplain for the fortress of Kiras Toth by the dwarven lord Giran Oakenshield.

Even though dire portents are all around, Elster's people remain complacent, refusing to believe that the threat they once defeated has returned. His greatest fear is that his people have been lulled into a false sense of security and unless he can rouse them to action soon the extinction they once narrowly avoided will be inevitable this time.

***

Denneth proceeded with his grim briefing.

"I’m afraid that our guest has some dire news: the dwarven fortress of Kiras Toth has fallen into enemy hands. The levee holding back a wave of vermin to the north has broken, leaving hordes of mongrels free to stream south, destroying everything in their path. To make matters worse, if Elster’s words are correct then an ancient evil, long considered extinct, has been awakened."

Looking exhausted and desperate, Elster began to elaborate:

"Up until recently the only thing we’ve had to worry about is the occasional cave-in, but things have changed. I was acting chaplain for the most efficient mining team in Kiras Toth, dispensing the wisdom of Moradin to my peers. Now we’re all fighting for our lives.

"A swarm of goblins and hobgoblins, lead by a bugbear, attacked and occupied most of the fortress just a few short days ago. Under normal circumstance, they would have been repelled, but this time they had formidable help: a red dragon. The thing razed Sentinel Tower to the ground and killed many of my clansmen.

"After some hard and bloody battles the goblin horde achieved a strategic, if not overwhelming, victory. We killed scores of them during this battle of attrition and there aren't enough of them left to secure their holdings. When I left there was still a small handful of my kinsmen doggedly holding out. They sent me here to try and rally some reinforcements. If I can't get someone to follow me back and shore up their defenses, more goblins will arrive and consolidate their gains."

The group immediately began scrambling around town, gathering up some much-needed supplies before their departure. But then everything came to a halt when the Fellowship discovered that Elster  can speak orcish. They immediately rushed off to the stockade to interrogate their prisoner in greater detail.

Everything seemed to be in order until Elster confessed that he couldn't understand a single word the orc was saying. To their horror they realized that the creature’s tongue had been cut right out of his head!

'Arrold claimed ignorance at first but eventually confessed to the bloody deed.

"Wha' else wuz I s'posed ta do?!?" the gaoler railed. "That l'il bleeda got saucy wif me, so I 'ad to teach 'im sum manners!!"

Faced with this ill-omen and the daunting task ahead of them, a palpable sense of dread began to infect the group like a virus. Roman did what he could to rally their morale but even he knew that to expect survival in an encounter with a red dragon was naive at best.

In silence, the group packed up their gear, strapped on their weapons and ventured out towards the northern hills and the Hall of the Dwarven Lord. In spite of their dire mindset, none of them could  have fathomed that death was waiting patiently for their arrival.

To be continued...

PHOTO CREDITS:

Wounded Orc: http://www.marvelscustoms.com/gardien/igalerie/albums/LOTR/WOUNDED_ORC_WEAT_BUST_20.JPG

'Arrold the Gaoler: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-images/Film/Pix/gallery/2002/10/23/argusfilch3.jpg

Baron Gilles de Vrais: https://eglima.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/gilles.png

Elster Lorearthen: http://mightymeep.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/dwarf-cleric-770x360.jpg

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