Selanis

Who needs guard captains?

Captain Jamus gave the professor a pitying look, then addressed the party.

“You have a half-dozen invisible crossbows pointed at your chests, so I really think it would be best if you stopped and listened to what I have to say. Do you realize what we’ve found here? This place… and that book, especially… change everything! It changes history! Do you know what something like this is worth? So much wealth and power were invested in this expedition on the mere hint that it would reveal the true founders of Old Amnor. The elves, naturally, want proof it it was them, and to bury the secret if it was the dwarves. The dwarves want the opposite. But to find out that the ORCS were the ancient ones, and that the elves and dwarves had been the ones to throw them down?
The stakes just got so much higher than you can possibly imagine. BOTH sides will want this secret buried, and buried completely. The merest rumor that Mazon enterprises possesses something like this… there will be money, there will be favors, and I will see to it personally that the elves and dwarves are played against each other to the company’s profit. Me and my men are going to have our careers revolutionized by this. Naturally, there’s no point in letting either the elves or the dwarves get their hands on this book: they’d just destroy it, the influence it represents would disappear like water. And we certainly can’t let the orcs get their hands on this: the savages probably wouldn’t even bother to read it before ripping it to shreds. They wouldn’t even appreciate the irony: an artifact like this is even more revolutionary to their culture than it is to the elves or dwarves. This is their history AND their religion, never mind that it is made from pure Starheart!”
“I am offering you a choice. Several choices, in fact. I don’t appreciate the complications you’ve caused in somehow provoking an entire orc army to hunt you down. It’s clear, though, that you are competent and dangerous. I’d rather have you as an ally than an enemy. As I said, this find means a lifetime of wealth and privilege for me and my men. I am offering you the chance to join my company and share in all of that. An item like this is powerful, but it is also dangerous, and it will take dangerous people like you and me to keep it under control. "
“Perhaps you are not as ambitious as I guess. Very well: in that case, I ask for your cooperation until we return to Feldvale. You will be compensated, as promised, and I will see to it that you receive a generous bonus as well. Our involvement will end there, and you will be free to pursue whatever other future you desire.”
“If you are willing to neither join me or cooperate until we return home, I am afraid you leave me little choice, and you will die here. I don’t believe any of you are so foolish.”

Jamus looks at each in turn, then asks “What say you? Please decide quickly, the orcs are on their way and the teleportation spheres take some time to prepare. I would also appreciate your help retrieving those eyes: they’re made from Starheart of the same smelting as the book, so they and the book will all shine as long as they are near each other. They’re too valuable to leave behind.”

After some hurried whispering, the party agreed to help Jamus (some were even seriously considering his offer). Believing himself to have the upper hand firmly and as a gesture of goodwill, Jamus allowed the party to keep their weapons… that turned out to be a fatal error.

The party followed Jamus back out through the strange circular rooms under the catacombs, invisible crossbow men following close behind them. The room with the corpse balloons had changed: glowing stone images of Selanis’ two moons, the larger bloodmoon and the smaller goldmoon. The alcove near the entrance to that room now had a small sapphire placed within the circular rune there, which apparently was enough to light up the room and make the moons glow. Most importantly, whether from light or heat, the remaining corpse balloons had all drifted upwards to the ceiling, allowing plenty of room to pass underneath unhindered.

Halfway across the room, Samiel made his move. He summoned a sudden strong downdraft of air in the space behind him, causing the corpse balloons there to tumble downward. One touched an invisible Mazon crossbowman and exploded, but not before he got a shot off at Sam. The spores from the corpse balloon quickly overcame that guard, and he suddenly was visible, dead on the floor of the chamber. Two other guards were briefly visible flinging themselves away from the falling balloons: apparently there were only three guards, not the six Jamus had claimed, and being dead cancelled their invisibility.

Jamus hissed at them. “Fools!” he said, drawing his sword to fight. The resulting fight was chaotic, as Sam pulled down more balloons, crossbow bolts fired from invisible hands, and Magus grabbed the sapphire to plunge the entire room back into darkness. After a brief but intense sword fight with Gyth, Jamus donned an invisibility ring of his own and fled. Magus and Gyth pursued him, determined not to let him reach the surface and warn his men.

A superior running roll by Magus had him catching up too much for Jamus to risk trying to climb the elevator shaft, so he turned to fight. Magus took the opportunity to disappear into the shadows, then work his way around to the elevator shaft and make sure nothing got through. Jamus made his second mistake: deciding to stalk instead of immediately fleeing or fighting. The party figured out that he must still be in the room. They tipped over the enormous stone basin to flood the room, figuring that even if it wasn’t a deadly acid, the water would at least make his location clear. The telltale rippes gave Jamus away. Magus charged and grappled him, using the magic-cancelling ring he was wearing to keep Jamus more or less visible while Gyth put an end to him. Magus decided to keep Jamus’ head.

For once, Magus wasn’t the only one harvesting body parts. Samiel had been busy looting the dead invisible guards. They all had stained-copped-green rings and some sort of runic tattoo on their arm. Since putting on the ring merely made him tired (but not invisible), Sam concluded that the tattoos were somehow involved and cut them out of their unfortunate owners, carrying the strips of marked skin back with him for further study and/or use. His magic, however, had left him fatigued to the point of exhaustion.

After another hurried discussion (and stealthily retrieving Darak and Razius from the camp above), the party decided their best bet would be to lure the remaining Mazon guards down into the catacombs in small groups and ambush them. The strategy chosen was simple: Razius would tell them that Jamus needed some backup and send a few of them down, where the party would deal with them. Razius reluctantly agreed, and left to do exactly that. Meanwhile, Sam decided to hide in the dark and push the Mazon guards down the elevator shaft with a blast of air when they came to it. The plan seemed to go well: three dark figures appeared, hurrying through the catacombs. As they approached the open elevator shaft, Sam let loose a massive blast of wind, sending all three hurtling to their deaths.

There was only one problem: as the three figures fell into the shaft, the party noticed something not quite right. The front figure of the three had been far to close to the back two, and had they had their hands on his shoulders? Peering down the elevator shaft, their worst fears were confirmed: Beside the two figures in Mazon-branded armor lay the broken and twisted figure of Razius.

Meanwhile, that shield from Narak-Nalun kept getting steadily brighter…

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The Shame of the Cast-Down God

Arkan, Gyth, and Samiel entered the catacombs, accompanied by the Professor and both guard captains. Magus snuck in behind everyone, carefully remaining unobserved. Meanwhile, Darak and Donavan remained with the camp, acting on some plans of their own…

Near the entrance of the catacombs, a large room full of carvings captivated the Professor’s attention: despite the looming threat of the orc army finding the expedition, he wanted to stop and study the contents of the room carefully before continuing. Frustrated entreaties by everyone else had no success budging him, but he did acknowledge that the rest of the catacombs were likely to be dangerous and probably trapped. After some further discussion, Sam, Arkan, and Gyth decided to move forward and check it out, while Captain Jamus guarded the Professor. Captain Razius returned to the camp for the time being, to help prepare in case the orc army tracked them down before the Professor could be bothered to move. Magus followed his comrades stealthily, staying out of sight for the time being.

The catacombs were full of dust and the dead, coffins and and mummified bodies lining the walls. In one large central chamber, a half-dozen more-ornate-than-usual sarcophagi got the better of curiosity, and Arkan gleefully used his earth sorcery to loudly fling the stone lids off and onto the ground. The party found some treasure this way, but also attracted some unwanted attention… they were soon attacked by a half-dozen frightening creatures, pale humanoids bounding on all fours, their faces entirely occupied by a single, massive, black-toothed mouth. They were dispatched fairly quickly… a few of them, however, found Magus where he was hiding in the hall, and although he was able to dispatch them, he was severely wounded in the process. Stumbling into the large chamber, he weakly greeted the rest of the party. Although surprised to see him, they were happy to toss a healing potion his way.

Moving onward, the party found a locked wooden door at the end of a hallway. The lock had rusted shut, so Arkan decided to use his new “Burrow” power to see what was on the other side. He dived down into the rock, shot forward under the door… and found himself coming out into open air. What was on the far side of the door was an elevator shaft! After an critical fail, he found himself plummeting down the shaft, but fortunately had enough presence of mind to try to burrow again when he hit the bottom. His efforts succeeded well enough that he survived without serious injury, although he was half-buried in a stone crater of his own making. The rest of the party climbed down more conventionally (there was a stone ladder at the back of the elevator shaft) and continued onward.

The next room was fairly large and circular. The far wall contained a single metal door and a handle inset into the wall. A stone basin sat in the center, with a candelabra above it lit with tiny stones glowing a brilliant white. The basin was full of a clear liquid, and looking into it was like looking into the night sky, the candelabra lights reflecting like stars. Looking closely, the party also saw a small golden ring, apparently resting on the bottom of the basin. Suspecting the liquid was acid or something else similarly nasty, they decided to try to fish the ring out with a javelin. After a bit of complicated balancing and poking, they found they couldn’t reach the ring… it never seemed to be there when they poked at it. Samiel suggested searching upward instead, in the candelabra… and there was the ring, hidden in the center of the candelabra, its image reflecting on the water in such a way as to make it appear to be inside the basin.
After some experimenting, it was clear that the ring had some sort of magic-nullifying effect. Guessing that the recessed handle was trapped and that the ring was meant to nullify the trap, Arkan put on the ring, reached in, and turned the handle, while the rest of the party moved to “a safe distance” back by the elevator shaft. The handle turned, the door clicked open, and nothing else happened.

The next room was pitch black: but by the dim torches and using Gyth’s low-light vision, the party was able to see it was completely full of brown, barrel-sized spheres, milling around in the air without touching the walls or floor. Shifting breezes kept the balloon-like plants moving. Gyth recognized them as “corpse balloons,” a rare and dangerous plant normally found in swamps. When touched, they explode in a cloud of poisonous spores, often enough to disable their prey, whose flesh becomes the seeding ground for more corpse balloons. The ones in swamps normally have a leathery tether keeping them rooted to the earth. These had either had their tethers cut or were a different variety. Either way, it was clear that touching any of these was a bad idea.

Next to the entrance to the room was a small alcove. A small round rune written in some sort of silvery metal was placed on a stone shelf. Inside the rune was a curious lack of dust. Magus experimented with this for a while, placing his fingers, his weapons, and various other items inside the rune. The only change he noticed was that after a while, some of the bits of dirt and earth attached to whatever went in the rune had disappeared, melted away somehow.

While Magus experimented with the rune, Samiel and Arkan were trying their own plans. Arkan sent several waves of rising stone through the chamber, trying to hit as many of the balloons as he could: although his blindness prevented him from aiming, there were enough of them that he simply couldn’t miss. Meanwhile, Samiel produced a stiff breeze coming out of the hall and into the chamber, preventing any spores from the exploded balloons from floating into the hallway. Once the number of balloons had been significantly reduced, he created a wall of air currents around the edge of the room to keep balloons away and allow the party to creep by.

The door on the far side of the room was locked, and nearby was a large metal wheel. Turning the wheel resulted in a lot of creaking sounds, then the nearby door popped open. The next room was fairly small, roughly cubical in shape. The far wall had another metal door in the center… the rest of the wall was covered with recessed handles, numbering in the dozens. Above each recess was a small rune or symbol of some kind. Clearly one would open the door, and the others would cause something nasty to happen.

The party decided that their best bet was to get the professor and see if he could tell them anything about the runes. They made their way back to the initial chamber where he still was, explained what they had seen, and persuaded him to come take a look. Jamus insisted on coming as well.

Once back in the small room, the Professor narrowed it down to two symbols: the Sun and the Moons. “The Late Amnorians worshiped the God of the Light,” he explained, “in the form of the sun, moons, and stars. I believe we’ve already seen a representation of the stars… I don’t know if the next step is the moons or if we’ve already seen that and need to go straight to the sun.”

Once again, Arkan decided to take a chance, selecting the handle marked with the sun. Everyone else crowded against the back wall of the small chamber. Once again, the handle turned, and the door clicked open without incident. About this time, someone noticed the metal spike plate tucked into the back of the ceiling, and determined that it was designed to swing down into the far wall, each spike lining up with one of the recesses.

The next chamber, also a fairly large circular room, was well-lit: a large, flat, white-glowing stone took up most of the ceiling, illuminating the room as if with sunlight. In the center of the room, a large figure stood, in the shape of a man, like a statue formed out of steel. It remained motionless. The far door was open, for once. Gyth started to inch around the edge of the room, towards the door. Just as he passed the halfway point, the door slammed shut and the steel statue turned towards him, its eyes lighting up with a green glow, and spoke: “Who seeks the shame of the cast-down god?” Gyth fumbled for an answer, but didn’t produce anything that satisfied the steel figure. It began to run towards him to attack.

Jamus grabbed the Professor, pulling him to “safety” going back down the hall. The rest of the party rushed to Gyth’s defense, and quickly incapacitated the steel figure. The green light went out, and the door at the back of the chamber opened once more. Magus, sensing something interesting, pried open the back of the steel figure’s head. Inside, he found a flat surface marked with the same silvery rune that he had seen earlier near the corpse balloons and before that in Narak-Nalun, in the chamber above the city containing the enormous stone sphere. Inside the silvery rune, held in place with a thin metal bracket, was an egg-sized emerald. Magus grabbed it, then experimentally, replaced it in its bracket. The eyes of the figure lit up and it started to move, but before it could get far, Magus yanked the emerald back out. Very interesting indeed, he thought as he pocketed the massive gem.

Jamus and the Professor returned, the Professor thanking Jamus for his quick action. The whole group moved onward, into the final chamber… the last room was clearly the inside of an ancient temple or cathedral of some kind. Stone benches lined the floor, and elaborate carvings covered the walls. As the party moved into the room and added some illumination, a massive figure became visible in the back of the hall, behind the benches and a stone pulpit. An massive idol, as tall as the roof forty feet above, stood proudly, carved from the stone in the back of the enormous room. Light gleamed from the metal carved to represent its eyes: all four of them, mounted in two heads. The party had seen this image before: the same statue, in smaller scale, had been found in Norgrug’s lair, before knocking it down and prying out its ruby eyes. Ornak, the two-headed god of the Orcs. The metallic eyes gleamed with a strong white light, as did a large tome made from the same metal that sat on the pulpit.

The Professor was speechless. The implications were clear: Old Amnor wasn’t elven or dwarven: it was orcish! The elves and dwarves had allied and formed a new Amnor on the ruins of the old, obliterating it almost utterly. The Professor reverently picked up the shining book, muttering to himself that this changes everything, completely upsetting known history. “We have what we came here for,” he said in a muted, yet triumphant, voice.

Just as he said that, the professor staggered forward, dropping the book onto the stone floor with a crash. His face went white, and he fell forward, a dagger protruding from his back. There was a slight shimmer in the air that vaguely resembled a man crouching near the book, then it disappeared. Magus leaped forward, swiping at the where the figure had been with his daggers. He missed, but as he swung, a face briefly appeared near the hand wearing the golden anti-magic ring, then immediately disappeared. Captain Jamus walked forward to the pulpit swiftly, coldly saying “I think we’re done here.”


P.S.
The idol’s eyes and the book shine with the same kind of light that Thormin Starshield’s shield shone when it was first found in Narak-Nalun. The shield had dimmed to “normal” since then, but during the course of the latest adventure, had gradually gotten a bit brighter…

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The Demon

With the sound of howling wolves approaching, but still distant, the party decided to make a run for it and try to reach the Professor’s camp before the wolves caught up… hopefully, they hadn’t moved yet this morning. The chase was on, and with some good rolls by the party, they managed to get to the camp with plenty of time to spare. The wolves, with their goblin riders, had been surprised when the party disappeared as it crossed the line marking the camp’s invisibility field. They continued to approach, but cautiously.
Meanwhile, inside the camp, most of the guards (Mazon and Mercenary alike) had been watching the situation and readying weapons to deal with intruders. Razius and Sam were immediately recognized, and as the party ran stumbling into the camp (tripping over tents that had appeared out of nowhere), the mercenary guards welcomed them while the Mazon guards scowled. The greetings were short-lived, however: Darak yelled that goblins were coming, and two dozen men armed their bows, readying shots from behind a wall of invisibility. They let loose on a command from the Mazon captain, and all but one goblin-and-wolf pair were cut down immediately (the survivor managed to flee).
In the confusion, Magus had managed to slip away undetected, diving into a tent as soon as the party entered the camp. While everyone else was busy fighting off the goblin riders, he tried to sneak up to the large metal box placed next to the campfire in the center of the camp that presumably was responsible for the invisibility shield. He was spotted by a keen-eyed Mazon guard, who yelled at him to stop… instead, Magus ran for it, diving around the side of a tent to lose his pursuers, then sneaking into the back of a different tent to hide. Pretty soon, the entire camp was on a manhunt, trying to find the strange interloper.
Magus was eventually found, and probably would have been imprisoned or killed if it hadn’t been for the intervention of Razius. Razius was pretty angry, though, at the (in his mind) completely unnecessary incident.
Minutes later, the Professor emerged, and gleefully called to Razius to come over. “There you are! Where have you been, anyway? No matter. I think I’ve found it!” He excitedly explained to Razius how he’d found the site of the cathedral, which was about a day’s march away, across the river and south of Teledil, nestled up against the mountains. When he could get a word in edgewise, Razius explained about the new “recruits”, and was able to convince the Professor to hire them: a thousand gold each once the expedition was complete and everyone was home. None of the party had any objections to that. Razius (as well as the party) had also attempted to explain the the professor about Mazon’s treachery, but the Professor wouldn’t believe any of it, to everyone’s great frustration.
The party broke camp and set out across the foothills. Darak had mentioned to the Mazon captain (Captain Jamus) that there was an orc army somewhere behind them that the scouts just maybe were associated with. He hadn’t seemed to react at the time, but while marching, they noticed that the Mazon contingent seemed to be short a few men. Perhaps he had sent some scouts to investigate.
On the way, the Professor explained something about the purpose of the expedition. Everyone knew about the ancient civilization of Amnor, he said, a prosperous nation in which elves and dwarves had worked together, until invading orcs destroyed them. What was less known, he explained, is that Amnor was actually the second civilization to occupy this territory. “Old Amnor” had not been the mixed-race nation that “Late Amnor” was, but Empire historians (“such as myself”) had never been able to definitively prove what race the Old Amnorians were. The elves claimed that they were the first Amnorians, but so did the dwarves. Old Amnor had also apparently been wiped out by Orc invasions, and Late Amnor had been rebuilt from the ashes, the elves joining with the dwarves (or perhaps the other way around) to form a new civilization that shone gloriously for several centuries before its downfall.
The Professor obviously cared very keenly about the issue. It was a question with significant historical implications…and he, Professor Quintus Quiffidern Hansemalenius, had finally found the clue that would settle the question once and for all! It would be the crowning moment of his career…
While professor waxed passionate about his work, some dust clouds had appeared in the distance behind them, their source hidden by the folding of the terrain. Darak mentioned to Razius that there might possibly be a small orc army chasing them. Razius was not pleased by the news. The seriousness of the situation was such that Razius and Jamus found themselves conferring quietly about the situation, other concerns temporarily forgotten. As the afternoon stretched on into the evening, the clouds got closer, and a sound like a distant waterfall started to grow in everyone’s ears. The expedition decided they had no choice but to make a stand… according to Darak, the incoming force was probably about 30-40 orcs & goblins with a couple of ogres… and they had the advantage of invisibility. The expedition stopped at the top of a tall grassy hill on the east side of a bowl-shaped valley, and waited.
Before long, the orcs appeared… as expected, about three dozen of them. They stopped halfway down the far hill… while another couple hundred orcs appeared on the hill behind. A magically amplified-and-translated voice boomed out across the valley, issuing a formal challenge to “The Demon,” who had so vilely defiled their god and slaughtered their people.
All eyes turned to Magus. The orcs had apparently decided that their recent misfortunes were supernatural in origin, and the theory that an evil Demon had come to plague them certainly fit with the shape of recent events as well as the appearance and actions of Magus. The voice reiterated the challenge, daring the Demon to a single, ceremonial combat.
Gyth stepped forward out of the invisibility bubble, ready to answer the challenge. The voice angrily demanded that the Demon himself come forth, and not send his servants. Magus asked to borrow the fireball wand, and fired several shots at both the orc champion who stood alone on the valley floor and the army on the hill behind. His shots mostly missed, leaving several patches of smouldering grass and angering the orc army further. Someone decided to take matters into their own hands and bodily threw Magus out of the shield… who then proceeded to taunt the orcs, make “rude gestures,” then disappear back inside the invisibility shield With a roar. The furious orc army began to surge forward…
Meanwhile, Razius and Jamus were conferring, apparently trying to decide if the orcs would leave them alone if they just gave Magus to them. Magus, deciding he didn’t want to be killed by “allies” or enemies, decided to run for it. He charged down the hill towards the orc champion and the army several hundred yards behind him. The army stopped and cheered… and Magus, continuing to run at full tilt, swerved sideways and sprinted for the nearby river. The champion and the army both turned to pursue him, ignoring the expedition still huddled under the invisibility shield on the hilltop.
At the same time, the grassy hillside was starting to go up in flames. It turns out that everburning candle + tall grass + helpful artificial breeze (courtesy of Samiel) is a great recipe for a brush fire. With the fire masking them and the army distracted by Magus, the expedition took the opportunity to retreat down the back of the hill they were on and ford the small river, hoping to get deep enough into the mountains to evade further detection. This turned out to be successful.
Magus, in turn, had also managed to evade his pursuers, diving into the same river at a different point and swimming downstream at full tilt. He eventually emerged, and while deciding whether or not to risk returning to the expedition (who all apparently wanted to kill him), a sharp-eyed hawk somehow found him in the darkness and delivered a note. It simply said, “You’re a hero.” Razius, who had been considering tying Magus up and rolling him down the hill to save the expedition, had instead seen a man courageously charge an entire army in order to draw them away. Magus wasn’t pleased about having his actions interpreted as heroism, but did follow instructions from the note to find the expedition camp and trail them quietly…
The next day, after a short journey, the expedition found the ruins of the cathedral that the Professor had been after. Some excavation revealed the catacomb entrance that was needed… according to the Professor, the Late Amnor cathedral had been built on top of an Old Amnor cathedral of some kind, and the catacombs linked them. With any luck, enough of the old cathedral had been preserved to determine what god or gods the Old Amnorians had worshipped… was it the Builder God of the dwarves, or the Sun Goddess of the elves?
Preparations were made to enter the catacombs and find out.

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Sam vs The Brotherhood

After leaving Narak-Nalun, the party decided to rest briefly before continuing onward down the tunnel… but not too long, lest the purple-shell or the orc army they presumed was still tailing them caught up. The rest of the journey through the dark tunnel was blissfully uneventful, and the cracks in the walls and floor gradually became smaller and less frequent, until they disappeared completely. The tunnel ended in a flat stone wall, which opened to the touch of the staff, and letting glorious daylight and a fresh breeze spill into the tunnel.

Once his eyes had adjusted to the suddenly bright light, Razius darted up a nearby rockslide, scrambling to get a better view of the area. He returned a few minutes later and reported that he thought he knew where they were, and where the Professor’s expedition camp lay… or at least, where it had been when he was captured. Following his lead, the party set off through the woods towards this camp.

The terrain here on the north side of the mountains consisted of rolling foothills, fairly populated with trees close to the mountains, but thinning out as the terrain dropped downward towards the enormous inland lake in the north. As the party worked their way through the thinning forests, they spotted an odd sight in one large clearing: a man, bound hand and foot, danging upside-down from a tree. Near the tree, towards the center of the clearing, was a tall staff set into the ground with what looked like a large gemstone set on top. The gemstone was slowly pulsing with a faint blue glow.

Razius recognized the dangling man: “Sam? Is that you?” he said. Samiel responded in the affirmative, and as Razius cut him down, he explained that he had been rousted out of his bed some time the previous night and carried off by several of the Mazon guards in the expedition. They’d hung him from the tree, set down the staff, and left him.

Since it was clear that nothing good was going to come of the staff, Gyth deemed it a category-1 threat and obliterated it with his axe (the “gem” turned out to be carved glass inscribed with runes, and shattered just fine when faced with angry steel). The resulting explosion didn’t hurt anyone badly, but did catch someone’s attention…

While the party deliberated over their next action, they noticed what at first appeared to be some sort of large birds approaching. As they got closer, they turned out to be human figures, flying on some sort of glider (looking something like this)

“Uh oh,” Sam muttered to himself. Darak turned to him and asked “Are these guys friendly?” "No, " Sam responded, “most definitely not.” Darak nodded, and proceeded to fire a blast of lightning from his fingertips at the nearest of the five gliders, sending him tumbling to the ground in a smoking ruin. That ended any prospect of negotiations with what turned out to be members of the elven Brotherhood of the Aether, an order of aeromancer monks. Not happy with their reception, they immediately attacked, landing their gliders and folding them up into a long staff, with which they attacked and blocked in a frenzy of superhumanly fast blows.

The fight was rough, but the party eventually prevailed, downing all but the leader, who hopped back on his glider and managed to escape, vowing revenge. Sam’s aeromancer abilities had shown themselves during the fight, and the rest of the group demanded an explanation (in the meantime, Magus was quietly visiting each fallen monk to “pay his respects”). Sam explained that the Brotherhood of the Aether had basically kidnapped him when they discovered a human who could do air sorcery. They’d taken him back to one of their monasteries in elven territory, where they could both study him and keep him under control. He had eventually escaped, and after being on the run for weeks, had gotten a lucky break when he met Razius. Razius had been hired to guard an archaeological expedition bound for the ruins of Teledil, and Sam had managed to smooth-talk him into accepting him as a member of the company. Getting into the distant wilderness had seemed like an excellent way to avoid the attention of the Brotherhood, and the pay was actually fairly decent. Everything was going great for a while: the expedition left, accompanied by Razius’ mercenary guards as well as a contingent of guards from Mazon Enterprises, which was funding the expedition and wanted their own boots on the ground. Things went smoothly for Sam, the weeks ticking away as the expedition got closer to its destination… until several Mazon soldiers had dragged him out of bed the previous night and left Sam how the party found him.

Since it was unknown how soon the Brotherhood monks would return, the party decided it was expedient to find a place to hide. Darak had completely exhausted himself in the fight, doing Emperor Palpatine proud with multiple full-strength lightning bolt attacks. Gyth dragged his unconscious body a mile or so into the woods, where the party found a secluded spot that would be ideal for resting. At this point, knowing that Sam had some training in magic items, everyone pulled out various bits of unidentified treasure and asked Sam to tell them what it did. (See items page)

Donavan also noticed something strange about the shield he had pulled from the tomb of Tekin Starshield. When he had first found it, it had shone with more-than-natural brightness, seeming to amplify light as it reflected it. Now, though, no such effect was visible. The party wondered about the implications of this.

Meanwhile, everybody discussed what to do about Mazon. They had apparently betrayed both Razius and Sam, and were clearly a threat. One proposed solution was to simply attack, and count on Razius’ men to join in on the right side. Razius was not in favor of this approach, however, not confident of victory and not willing to sacrifice his men in the all-out bloodbath that would result. Furthermore, the Mazon guards controlled both the magical device that kept the expedition inside of a bubble of invisibility and a set of “teleportation spheres” that would be used to get the whole expedition home once they were done.

In order to gather more information, Razius and Donavan snuck to the camp, where they made contact with one of Razius’ guards. The guard was overjoyed to find “the boss” alive after all, and was happy to relay that information to the others. In addition, Razius told him to make sure all of his men kept an eye out for the Mazon contingent, and also to leave a sign of passage in case the (invisible) camp got moved before the rest of the party reached it.

The night’s work done, Donavan and Razius returned to the rest of the party, a mile and a half away. The night passed restfully, but dawn brought the sound of howling wolves, approaching fast… the familiar tone told them that the wolves probably had goblin riders, and that the rest of the orcs probably weren’t far behind…

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The abandoned town of Narak-Nalun (part 2)

At the back of the school, two doors beckoned. The door on the right contained an office, complete with a note on the desk:

To my successor: I hope you find everything in order. I expect this regrettable evacuation will prove only temporary, and that the vile orc-kind will be driven out of our fair cities. When the students return, consult Tekin: he is the most trustworthy and level-headed of the bunch, and will assist you well. Regardless, the time has come for me to retire. My mind has become too old and brittle to teach younger, fresher heads. The password to the vault is the name of conqueror of Eniadar: you will want to change it to something more secure, of course. You will also want to deactivate the guardian that I have set up to discourage any would-be looters. You will find within the vault a few trinkets that may or may not prove useful to you – I have no attachment to them, and am leaving them behind. Once again, congratulations on your appointment, and good luck.

A skeleton on the floor had a helmet that seemed overly heavy and a rusty dagger, both taken by the party.

The next room contained some dog-size flying orange-shelled insects, which were quickly dispatched. It turned out to be some sort of magic lab: Benches and shelves stacked the walls, and jars of all sorts of magical and mundane reagents (or their remnants) lined the walls. In the middle of the floor, a large rune written in silvery metal on the stone floor surrounded a small cast-iron brazier, still giving off a faint heat. At the back of the room was a safe door with a handprint on the front.

After trying unsuccessfully to use the hand of the skeleton found in the school office, Donavan volunteered to try his own hand. He found it stuck, unable to move. Quickly recalling the words of the note from the office, the party started racking their brains to remember “the name of the conqueror of Eniadar:” Donavan recalled seeing it somewhere recent, and wondered if it was in the book of military tactics that had been stolen from Norgrug’s library. Darak started flipping through the book to find out.

About this time, there was a sudden flare of light from the brazier, and a seven foot tall figure made of glowing fire appeared: a fire elemental. The party quickly discovered that regular weapons were useless. Magus annoyed it by throwing a jar of something liquid obtained from a nearby shelf, then ran back outside, heading for one of the wells. Darak continued to flip through the book as fast as he could, while Donavan did his best to avoid attacks with one hand stuck to the safe. Arkan attacked the brazier, first trying to cover it with stone (foiled by some sort of shielding around the rune) and then simply kicking the thing out of the door, scattering the coals but not stopping the elemental. The elemental breathed a blast of fire, scalding the party slightly… finally, Darak found the name he was looking for in the book. “Tenzar!” he shouted, and Donavan repeated it. His hand was freed and the safe swung open. Donavan scooped everything he could find into his pack, then everyone ran for it. The elemental chased them to the door of the school… where it got a face full of water from the bucket Magus hauled, then was finished off by choking dust from the doorway collapsing on top of it, courtesy of Arkan.

The party continued to explore the city. They found a building that appeared to have been a general-purpose arena… and hiding in one of the back closets, a ragged-looking human. He seemed glad to see someone who wasn’t an orc, and introduced himself as Razius Hekodan. His story was that he had been part of an archaoelogical expedition to the ruins of Teledil, led by “the Professor” and bankrolled by Mazon Enterprises. He was the captain of the mercenary guards the professor had hired to help protect the expedition… and suspected that the Mazon contingent had somehow set him up to be captured by orcs. He’d managed to escape when the orcs were resting at the inn, and had been hiding out since then (several days ago). Razius offered to hire them on the professor’s behalf: he figured he could use all the help he could get keeping the professor safe, and wanted some skilled manpower to check the power of the Mazon contingent of the expedition. The Professor, of course, had enough discretionary funding to pay them well…

Darak was keenly interested in this: violently opposed to all things Mazon, he accepted Razius’ story and was eager to help with anything that opposed them. Razius joined the party, and indicated he would guide them to where the expedition was as soon as they got out of the tunnel.

Behind the arena, a large gated door was set into the back wall of the cavern. It opened to the name of Tekin Starshield, and revealed a vertical elevator shaft leading upwards. The elevator part, of course, had long since broken, but a set of deep grooves carved into the back wall formed a ladder leading to the top. Magus and Donavan climbed up to investigate further. At the top of the shaft, a passage led to a door with a small alcove nearby, around waist height, containing a silvery rune and some fine white powder.

On the other side of the door was a fairly large room, that had apparently once served to illuminate the city. An enormous stone sphere hung in the middle of the room, suspended by chains from four pillars set around it. The glass floor had long ago been covered in moss, as had the walls and pillars… the strange moss reacted to being stepped on by glowing, and sending ripples of light outward to other moss it was connected to. The creaking and cracking noises coming from the floor made it clear that it was not entirely safe to walk on. On the south side of the chamber, however, was their goal: a white-stoned coffin, untouched by moss.

Donavan headed for the coffin, army-crawling across the mossy floor, a rope tied around his waist and belayed by Magus, who stood at the entrance. Donavan found that some large gaps in the glass that had been covered over by moss, but managed to work his way around them. He finally got to the coffin, and proceeded to try to hoist the lid off… snake eyes on his strength check sent him tumbling to the floor instead, nearly careening through a hole in the glass. He managed to save himself, though, and made a second, more successful check to push the lid off to the side. The massive cracking and splintering sounds that ensued indicated that this might cause problems, but he had reached his goal. Inside the coffin, a dwarven skeleton lay, dressed in armor and missing its right arm. A gleaming silver shield lay on its chest, somehow reflecting more light than his feeble torch should have been making. Donavan took the shield and proceeded back to the entrance, crawling on all fours and pushing the shield ahead of him. The glass finally cracked underneath him, sending him and the shield falling into the dark void above the city. He managed to grab the shield as he fell, though, and Magus was able to hold Donavan in place and prevent him from falling to his death.

As Magus pulled him back up and Donavan finished crawling to the entrance, the dark shadows on the far end of the chamber began to move. The sound of massive legs skittering across stone and the foulest sour smell they had ever known gave them all the motivation they needed: Magus and Donavan ran for it, as a swarm of red-shells appeared to give chase.

Magus literally ran down the elevator shaft. In an incredible feat of daring and dexterity, he used his momentum and sure footing to run down the walls of the shaft in a steep spiral, push off of each wall in turn with his feet to redirect his momentum sideways instead of downwards. Donavan attempted to follow, but slipped, grabbing the ladder as he fell. He started climbing down normally as the red-shell swarm came at him from above. Gyth attempted to throw one of the glands to him, but missed. Arkan, after concentrating briefly to be sure of Donavan’s location, sealed off the shaft just above Donavan’s head with a barrier of stone.

The party fled, making for the tunnel. As they crossed the center plaza near the fountain, they found their escape cut off: a massive bug, similar in basic shape to the others they’d seen, stood between them and the tunnel. It was massive: the size of a bus, armed with sharp mandibles, clawed legs, and spiked tail. The dark purple shell dimly reflected the torchlight as it charged forward. To make matters worse, it drew a Joker for initiative.

The battle turned out to be short, however. The monster charged at Arkan, slashing with its mandibles and gashing him badly. Arkan staggered back, severely wounded. Donavan fired an arrow at one of its massive eyes, which bounced off harmlessly. Gyth took the cue, however, and buried his axe in the same eye, blinding and stunning the beast. Magus jumped onto its back, gaining a position to strike at it without being reachable. Darak, however, was the one to finish the fight. Gathering all of his energy and affinity with nature, he screamed a word of command, causing the monster to stop attacking but knocking himself unconscious from the effort. Magus revived him by shoving one of the insect glands in his mouth.

After a hurried debate, Darak ordered the temporarily-docile monster to go jump in a nearby underground river. Amazingly, it complied, and the party hurried onward into the tunnel, hoping to put as much distance between themselves and it before it changed its mind…

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The abandoned town of Narak-Nalun (part 1)

The going was monotonous as the party proceeded into the darkness of the tunnel. Despite having crossed more large cracks and holes in the tunnel walls and floor, they had seen no sign of any living creature, although they did pass more picked-clean skeletons. The only sound was that of their own footsteps. The vile smelling glands retrieved from the yellow-shelled bugs hadn’t become any more bearable with time, and made eating normal food nearly impossible simply from their presence.

Just when everybody was starting to contemplate how and where to rest, the air suddenly felt slightly fresher. There was a refreshing chill in the air, and a sense of air moving. Soon, there was the distant sound of flowing water as well. The left wall of the tunnel suddenly ended, revealing a vast cavern. The torchlight makes it hard to see any details, but clearly reflected off of stone and brick, Prominently carved into the nearest corner in foot-high letters, wass the text “Narak-Nalun” in the Old Tongue.

Darak decided to try the light wand he had found before once again, hoping to get a better view of the situation. Several minutes of swinging and experimenting with the wand later, nothing had happened. Frustrated, Magus took the wand and started waving it around wildly, banging and bouncing it off of the walls, ceiling, and party members. It jolted into life, sending a beam of light surging into the cavern for a couple of heartbeats. It revealed a city built inside of a smooth dome-shaped cavern, the flat roof reflecting light downward. Magus grinned, handed the wand back, and the party moved in to start exploring the abandoned town.

The eastern half of the town was dominated by a large multistory building, built out of stone bricks. Much of the wall on the side facing the tunnel consisted of an ornate mural depicting dwarves drinking, eating, drinking, sleeping, drinking, laughing, and drinking. Some steps led up to an entrance that still managed to look stately, despite the darkness and obvious years of abandonment. The letters inscribed in the stone nearby bore the name “The Builder’s Blessing.”

The party entered, and was immediately accosted by the faded but all-too-familiar stench of orc. The building seemed to be an inn of some kind, and from the look and smell of things, orcs traveling through the tunnel had been using it as a rest stop. The party discovered a swarm of red bugs in a kitchen area… and were pleased to note that the swarm immediately dispersed and fled, apparently driven away by the insect glands they had recovered from the large yellow bugs in their last fight. Some more yellow bugs on the roof, however, were not impressed, and charged the one carrying the glands. The fight was brief, but afterwards, the party decided it was time to rest before exploring further.

After a rest, the party returned to a door they’d discovered in the inn that stood out: the large metal door still gleamed, carved with exquisite craftsmanship. It bore the image of an armored dwarf, massive shining hammer in one hand and bright shield in the other, facing off against a dragon rearing to strike. The shield bore a crest of two crossed golden feathers. Some of the party recognized the figure and his crest: the legendary dwarven hero, Thormin Starshield. The door was solidly locked, and scratches in the nearby stonework bore testament to previous fruitless attempts to open it. Arkan proposed a simpler plan. After spending several minutes gauging the door and its surroundings, he placed his hands on the stone to either side. With a tremendous crack, the stone surrounding the door split. Arkan gave the door a push, and it fell inward, along with several inches of stone all around it.

Inside was a well-furnished bedroom. Although slightly dusty, it was neat and unspoiled. The large bed in the corner was crisply made. Trophies lined the walls, beasts magical and mundane. The party took particular note of a dragon claw and the invisible head of some magical beast. A desk stood on one side of the room, lit by a single red candle that apparently had been burning for the untold years since the room and city were abandoned. An attempt by Gyth to extinguish it by pinching the flame resulted only in singed fingers. On the desk was a book. The first part of the book appeared to be a registry of guests at the inn, but the last few pages held the following text:

It is over. We no longer have any choice: we must flee while fleeing is still available to us. I still do not know what happened to the great cities, or how the foul orc-kind defeated them so quickly. For nearly a year now, we have cowered in our hidden home, hoping that one day the tunnel would be unsealed and friendly faces greet us, telling us how the war was won and Teledil and Amnadil reclaimed. That day has not come and I fear it never will.
The sun will not last much longer. I have expended all of my wealth so that my people may have light and food, but at last it is at an end. We idle away our days in the arena, or in song, or in drink. When the plague of devourers appeared, not many had the will to fight. As their mayor, I could have compelled them, but in my stubborn pride I did not. And I have payed the price.
My son is dead. He took my hammer and my shield, hoping to win glory by doing what his father would not, and sought out the blue-shelled one. I will never forget the sight of him stumbling through the door, a ragged stump where his fighting arm once was. His last trembling words to me were an apology that he had failed, and that the blue-shelled one yet lived. But it is I who failed him, for if I had been at his side, he would never have fallen. I buried him in the High Vault, in a place of honor where the sun will always shine brightest upon him.
I have given the order to evacuate all of the citizens that remain. The master of the school is, I think, the only one who believes we will ever return, but his mind is gone. He refuses to believe that his best pupil is dead.
I have sealed the High Vault. It is a tomb to the best dwarf who I’ve ever known, and who I will never see again among the living. The gate will only open to those who speak his name, to allow them to honor him. May my shield guard him forever, and may we both find each other one day in the halls of the Builder. I, Thormin Starshield, do end my record.

The party also found a small chest under the bed, containing four silvery potions and a wand with a large obvious rune about where the thumb would go. Darak tried pressing it, producing a fireball that set the bed on fire but miraculously didn’t kill anyone.

Further exploration of the city revealed a “dip-well”, a shallow well with a constant flow of water through the bottom…not a true well as much as a piped convenience. The party passed a series of merchant stalls that had been long abandoned and looted. At the center of the town, they found an octagon-shaped plaza, centering on a still-running fountain. They also found some shards of thick glass.

A nearby building proved to be a school of some kind. The abandoned bookshelves contained one item of note: a short primer on basic arcana, which happened to have an illustrated diagram and instructions of a light-wand on one of the first pages… the workings of that item, at least, are no longer a mystery.

The session was cut short before the party could explore any further…

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Smelly stuff happens

With little time before more orcs arrived, the party sprang into action. Everyone agreed that it was time to make a run for it. Some noises from a nearby room prompted curiosity, and opening the door revealed a kitchen and a solitary cowering goblin. Adjacent to the kitchen was a small latrine. Magus dispatched the goblin while the others checked other doors from the main hall, looking for anything useful. They found nothing. Near where the goblin had cowered, Magus found and took a small keg: later inspection revealed it to be full of some kind of strong alcohol.

The party decided that the best option would be to escape down the latrine. The foul-smelling opening was little more than a large stone chute descending most of the way down the cliff. Despite being covered with all sorts of unmentionable orc slime, it seemed like the best way to avoid the incoming orcs and make pursuit difficult. A rope was secured in the kitchen, and the party descended one at a time. Gyth went first, making it down safely to a huge mound of steaming sewage. Arkan did not fare as well, losing his grip on the rope and falling… fortunately, Gyth was able to catch him well enough to prevent injuries. Donavan, however, was less lucky: he fell all the way into the sewage pile, ending up neck-deep in the stuff. Meanwhile, up above, the orcs had arrived and spotted Magus in the kitchen. He quickly untied the rope and dove head-first into the latrine, pushing out with his arms and legs to slow his fall. He cannonned out of the chute and landed on Donavan.

After freeing Donavan, the party ran into the woods, trailing brown and green muck. Darak did his best to hide everyone’s tracks and conceal signs of passage… despite the sticky situation, an excellent Survival roll meant he was able to direct everyone out of sight and mask their trail. The overpowering scent would confuse any trackers temporarily. After moving quickly and quietly for a quarter hour, the party found a stream in which to rinse themselves off. Once clean and on the other side, Darak worked as hard and as fast as he could to patch up his wounded party members, applying various strange-smelling herb poultices and incanting quietly over them. His efforts exhausted him, but most of the party was healed, and they were all able to move onward.

The decision was to follow the strange-symboled map that they had found in Norgrug’s chambers. One side of the map showed the local countryside, marked with a distinctive rune also found on a short staff that had accompanied the map. The other side of the map appeared to show the region around the ancient city of Teledil, and was marked with a similar rune. The party reasoned that the fastest escape (and the quickest route to more adventure) would be to ollow the map and take the “teleport,” or whatever it was, to the Teledil ruins on the north side of the mountains.

After an hour or so of careful traveling while covering their tracks, the party found a wide, shallow depression in a cliffside with an unnaturally flat back wall. Touching the staff to the wall caused it to open, two huge stone doors quietly rotating outward and revealing a tunnel leading into the earth. The map didn’t mark a teleport: it marked the ends of this tunnel! The group decision was to rest up for a day or two, gathering supplies, and then venture into the tunnel to see what adventures came (and to put distance between themselves and a lot of extremely angry orcs).

The morning of the second day, they were spotted: a group of goblin scouts, mounted on wolves, had finally tracked them down. They were easily fended off, but one scout escaped, meaning their position would soon be known. With the clock ticking down once again, the party entered the tunnel once more and began their journey through the darkness.

The entrance of the tunnel was littered with debris from the orcs’ previous passage: discarded waterskins, shredded cloth, and foul-smelling fist-sized lumps of some sort of meat skewered on the ends of long sticks. The tunnel itself was unmistakably dwarven in make: the stone was smooth and unbroken, flawlessly carved, their path perfectly straight. The passage was about 25 feet wide and 30 feet high, the roof forming an arch. The first few hours of their journey passed like a dream: the walls and floor never changed, the only sound the steady rythm of their own feet.

Eventually, though, the flawless walls began to be broken. Small cracks were visible in the walls and floor. They grew bigger and more frequent as the party progressed. At one point, they passed the remains of an orc skeleton, his bones picked clean and gleaming in the torchlight. His near-pristine armor and the lack of dust hinted that he had probably not been there very long.

The cracks continued to get bigger and more frequent… eventually, they found themselves at a large crevice in the floor about 25 feet wide. Arkan stepped forward… after concentrating for several seconds, he gestured slightly. A stone bridge rumbled out of the side of the crevice, forming a smooth and narrow passage over the dark pit. As the echoes slowly died away, the party carefully moved across.

The dying echoes gave way to a new sound, like falling gravel, that grew gradually louder. Soon, a swarm of small red insects, like large ten-legged earwigs, flooded into them. Torchlight glinted off of their bright red shells as they rushed forward, swarming and biting everybody at once. Magus took off running down the hall, fleeing most of them but drawing a subswarm in chase after him. The party swung at the red-shelled bugs with their torches, trying to burn and smash them.

Darak, meanwhile, began to chant, and tap his feet against the stone in a rythmic, mesmerizing dance. The swarm was captivated, ceasing their attack, swirling around Darak in a spiral of tiny legs. The dance changed slightly, and the swarm departed, flowing into cracks in the floor and walls. Meanwhile, Magus realized he wasn’t going to outrun the swarm: they were gaining on him. He whirled around, brandishing his torch. The rest of the party sped towards him to help. The rest of the swarm was dispatched quickly, one torch finally managing to set many of them on fire. The rest retreated, dispersed. It turned out to be fortunate that Magus had turned around when he did: another large gap lay in front of them! Fortunately, this one was small enough for everyone to jump.

A short time later, the party encountered a new opening in the rocky wall: this time, it appeared to be some sort of burrowed tunnel. The smell emanating from it was the same distinctive (and nasty) scent that had accompanied the meat-on-sticks found near the entrance. Concluding that the orcs had been hunting something for food, the party decided to do some hunting of their own, and filed into the narrow tunnels.

The burrowed tunnels turned out to be home to more bugs: similar in shape to the first, but man-sized and with bright yellow shells. The resulting fight was brief, but left Arkan dangerously wounded. Deciding that hunting maybe wasn’t the brightest idea after all, the party returned to the main tunnel, where Darak applied his healing abilities once again.

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A challenging battle (at last)

Peeking outside the cave, the party could tell they were in trouble: A large group of orcs, backed up by ogres, were arrayed in battle formation outside the cave. Charging was clearly suicide.

While the party conferred about what to do next, Magus was having his own problems. A pair of goblin wolf-riders had been tracking his scent, and were catching up quickly. Rather than flee, he elected to hide in the bushes and wait for them. Once found, he sprung forward out of the bushes, tearing into the scouts like some sort of unreal nightmare. Although wounded slightly, he emerged victorious… then skinned the goblins and wore their hides on his body, as a gambit to hide his scent and throw any other trackers off. He continued prowling the woods looking for things to kill, while moving generally in the direction of the cave…

The party ultimately decided on a plan proposed by Arkan: use his earth magic to create an avalanche, sealing the cave. With any luck, they could hopefully convince the army outside that they had accidentally killed themselves, and at the very least seal off a passage behind them while they raced back up to the castle to fight out that way. The operation was successful, and a rumbling avalanche closed the cave behind them while the party sped back up the subterranean passage once again.

Magus saw and heard the avalanche. Going to investigate, he found that the orc troops had split up: a majority were moving on back up to the castle, while a dozen or so of them remained behind to guard the area while a shaman investigated the rubble. He decided to wait until “nature called” for one of the guarding orcs… then snuck up on him and mutilated him horribly while he was occupied. The screams brought other orcs: Magus hid in the bushes and watched. After a brief conference, and a lot of angry shouting and cursing, one of the orcs took off running, presumably to warn the remainder of the army. Magus followed, caught him, attempted (and failed) to interrogate him, then decided to add some orc to the horrible bloody pile of skins he was already wearing.

Knowing that the bulk of the army was probably returning to the castle, and that they didn’t have much time before they got there, the party charged straight in. Opening the secret door from the cave tunnel, they found a handful of orcs busy searching the walls. They dispatched them quickly, but two of them escaped up the stairs. The party followed, charging up the stairs and into a large entrance hall full of orcs and another ogre.

What followed was the toughest battle yet: the orcs knew some sound tactics, and used them. Several orcs grabbed swords and lined up in front of the ogre, while others pulled back further and started firing arrows at the Defilers. Gyth made a legendary charge straight towards the line of orcs and the ogre, sweeping two of their legs out from under them. Arkan backed him up, while the archers traded fire with Donavan and Darak. Towards the end of the battle, Magus arrived through the front doors as well, a ghastly apparition covered in several kinds of bloody hides cut from fallen foes. The battle eventually ended, nearly every benny spent and most of the party wounded one way or another. Arkan narrowly escaped death: a lucky blow from an orc scimitar had him bleeding out onto the stone floor, but Darak was able to administer enough healing to stabilize him.

The players decided to make a gamble based on gaming conventions and guessed that the blue potions (of which they had acquired several) were probably for healing. Arkan took one, confirming this guess, to everyone’s relief.

It remains to be seen exactly how close the rest of the orcs are… Magus presumably passed them on the way up, and might have something to say about that.

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Curse those Defilers!

Earlier that night…

All around him, orcs howled in anger, swearing to exact vengeance. Shards of the broken statue of their god could be found in every corner of the room, and the sacred stones had been taken. The Defilers had been thorough. And they had escaped! Zulgar grunted in frustration. As far as he was concerned, worse than the unforgivable sacrilege was that they had robbed him of the pleasure of killing his brother. Zulgar had concocted a dozen fantasies about how he would kill Norgrug, each more elaborate than the last, only to find him gone. Most likely dead, the fool. His magic tricks hadn’t saved him from a real threat. Zulgar could have, of course, but the witless traitor had left him behind, thinking he no longer needed him. Had Norgrug’s ego inflated so much that he really believed that Zulgar wouldn’t seek bloody revenge on his traitorous brother? And yet Norgrug had evaded him, in the end… curse those Defilers!

A goblin rushed forward, babbling to him in his own foolish tongue. The news was interesting, at least… and useful! The wolves had found the scent of the Defilers, and had traced them into a cave. Five scents had entered… two had left, one of them a new scent. Zulgar smiled, for the first time that night. He may not have had Norgrug’s way with writing or speeches, but he was no fool. The instant the goblin finished, Zulgar started barking orders, mobilizing his troops. Perhaps the Defilers could yet be caught. Perhaps all of those revenge fantasies wouldn’t be completely wasted.

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Slaying the "Unslayable"

The robed orcs ran into Norgrug’s room, slamming the door behind them. The pounding of footsteps echoing through the halls indicated to the players that they didn’t have much time before orc backup arrived from upstairs. Working quickly, Magus and Arkan dashed back to the stairs leading upward from the current level. Magus detached and tossed a couple of orc heads up the stairs, while Arkan used his command over stone to seal off the bottom of the staircase by pulling a thin wall of rock out of the floor and into the cieling. Meanwhile, Darak noticed a subtly hidden lever in the corner of the corridor where he was standing: pulling it opened a previously hidden door into a disused library of some kind.

The party decided leave the library for the time being, and instead check out the room across from Norgrug’s. Inside, they found a makeshift temple, dominated by a hideous statue: an enormous stone orc, with two heads and four arms, eyes glittering with the red of rubies. Donavan, playing up his greediness, immediately tried to pry the rubies out. A critical failure caused the statue to topple onto him instead. The statue broke loudly, stone arms and heads cracking off and rolling across the floor, while the main body pinned Donavan to the ground. As the crash faded, a wailing shriek from the Norgrug’s room indicated that the shamans had heard the noise and guessed what it meant.

The party considered the possibility of simply sealing Norgrug in his room, but ultimately decided to go with the simple and straightforward plan: put Gyth in front, with everyone else supporting, and smash down the door. The battle was over quickly: although Norgrug was well equipped, and the shamans had contributed their magic to increasing his armor and adding a flame to his weapon, some great rolls led to Norgrug and his shamans falling within seconds. (The GM forgetting to use his bennies didn’t help either). Norgrug “the unslayable” was slain, and the party took his head as proof and as a trophy.

Meanwhile, orcs continued to pound at the barrier at the bottom of the stairs, while the party searched and sorted loot. Between Norgrug’s treasure room, fallen orc bodies, the thoroughly defiled orc idol, and a later perusal of the library, here is all of the loot:

Norgrug’s Armor (plate + 1, total + 4): Gyth (wearing)
Norgrug’s Gladius – Short sword, Armor-piercing 1: Donavan
Double crossbow (ROF2, + 2 attack if firing both barrels at one target): Gyth holding for now
Archer’s Gloves (+ 1 Shooting): Darak (wearing)
4 Blue potions (unidentified): Gyth
Pink potion (unidentified): Gyth
1041 gold: Gyth
runed Map & staff: Gyth
4 small rubies: Arkan
Ornate gold helmet: Gyth (not wearing)
Norgrug’s Head: Gyth
Runed golden bracelets: Gyth
Ancient tome on Amnor military tactics: Donavan

(details on some specific items and what’s known about them can be found here: Items)

The runed map and staff were of particular interest.
After loot processing, half of the party decided to check out the library for anything interesting, while Arkan and Magus decided to take care of the orcs trying to break through the stone barrier at the bottom of the stairs. Magus had the clever idea: executed by Arkan: turn the stone steps the orcs were standing on into a slide. It worked, and resulted in a satisfying series of yelps and crashes as a bunch of orcs slid and smashed into each other at the bottom of the former-stairs slide.

The next idea was to try some slightly more ambitious magic to collapse the cieling on top of those orcs. This partially worked: stone came down on top of them, but the extra weight and vibration caused the barrier at the bottom of the stairs to break. An avalanche of orcs and stone tumbled into the guard room at the base of the stairs: Magus pulled Arkan out of the way just in time. What was left of the orcs picked themselves up out of the rubble and set in to attack. The rest of the party ran to help, and another short skirmish ended with the orcs getting quickly cleaned up and killed.

Between the battle with Norgrug and the orcs, Arkan had taken a couple of wounds, which Darak was able to heal: however, some unlucky rolls (using the new power system) left him fatigued. The party had hoped to hole up in the library and rest for a while, but it was not to be: somewhere up stairs, someone smart had gotten his act together, and was putting pressure on the party. A goblin scouting from floors of the library above spotted them, and although an arrow from Donavan quickly dispatched him, his death alerted whoever was above that the party was below.

The party readied themselves for another fight with favorable bottlenecks: but this time, the enemy changed tactics. A series of torches came flying down the stairs, followed by a bottle of oil, splashing fire into the dusty library stacks. As the flames started to spread, the party decided it was time to retreat, and headed back towards the secret cave entrance.

There were a few goblins scouting the cave, but they were dispatched in seconds. As they navigated the cramped underground corridor, the party debated over the next course of action: Check out the rune on the map? Head back to Feldvale, to present Norgrug’s head and collect their reward? Or return to Norgrug’s base, clean out the rest of the orcs, and loot the place thoroughly?

The last option ultimately won out. After reaching the exit to the cave, the party looked out into the night air, verified that nobody was around, then looked towards the building on the cliff. They could see a lot of activity, and what looked like “platoon-strength” numbers (12-50). Confident they could handle that many more orcs if they needed to, they settled down for the night in the middle of the tunnel.

Meanwhile, Samus, the captive they had freed, had taken the opportunity to quietly slip out of the cave and run off into the night. Magus noticed this, mentioned he was going to go “take a leak,” and set off after him, alone. He never found Samus… but he did find a small patrol of goblins, which he ambushed and dispatched quickly. He then administered first aid to the last goblin, and decided to spend the rest of the night “keeping him company.” None of the players particularly wanted to know about the details. Their characters remained blissfully ignorant of whatever deeds Magus was doing… as the sun started to rise, he finally finished whatever it was and headed

Come morning, the party returned to check out the cave entrance. A large force stood arrayed around it, watching and waiting. Someone had not spent the night idle, and had deduced where the party had gone… probably by following the various tracks leading in and out of the cave. The party retreated back inside before they were seen.

Meanwhile, Magus was picking his way back towards the cave, as-yet unaware that he was probably being tracked too…

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