Giantslayers

Episode 11: Onwards North to the Kestrel River
Bulettes and Bears, Oh My

The party left the Trunau Council of Defender’s meeting with a mission: journey to Grendelsek’s headquarters at Redlake Fort, defeat her and her nefarious Twisted Hearts tribe, and recover the missing part of the mysterious geode map. They had a letter of introduction for Captain Bloodtusk, the half-orc who would transport them to the fort via the Kestrel and Esk Rivers. They also had a map of their route, the hammer Agrimmosh, and Uskroth’s armor to aid them. The adventurers set forth into Lower Trunau to sell the loot they had recovered from Uskroth’s tomb, and buy additional potions of healing for their trip.

Their haul from the tomb had brought in 430 gp for each party member, in addition to the 350 gp of treasure they already had in coinage. After buying their healing potions and other sundries, the group deposited the following items in their Countinghouse vault: the giant-skeleton’s enormous crown (from the Plague House); Skreed Gorewillow’s alchemist’s kit; the skald’s wardrums; and the orcish collars of Enlarge Animal (which they found would not work on Kingsley and Toboe).

That evening, the party divided up the magic items between them. Naturally, Draken was given stewardship of Agrimmosh, while Asa (who had spent the afternoon finishing the razing of the Plague House) received Uskroth’s armor. The group pooled their remaining money to commission various potions and scrolls from Turin. The wizard had already been working on a few items, and informed them he’d need just two more days to finish the rest.

On the second day after the Council meeting, Janekfan and Gydion and their animals, together with Silvermane and his wolf, communed in Hope Pond. They combined their Druidic powers to cleanse the sacred body of water of giant blood, and other foul pollutants resulting from the Battle of Bloodmarch Hill. After they finished their ritual, Silvermane went into his cave and emerged bearing a lantern and a scroll. The scroll explained that the lantern was a magical Ghostlight Lantern, created by the Council of Thorns before their demise, in order to help allies find their secret Vault of Thorns—a treasure-trove of magic weapons specifically designed to help defeat the orcs of Hold of Belkzen, hidden deep within Ghostlight Marsh. Since the Marsh was on their route to Redlake Fort, Silvermane told them he thought it prudent for them to stop and retrieve the items on their way. The (non-magical) scroll told them that two Druids and a dead will-o-wisp husk were required to power the lantern: one druid should hold the lantern, while another inserted the husk into it. Upon doing so, the lantern would emit a beam of bluish light that would show them the way to the Vault. (The lantern possessed other magical properties as well). He told them that their journey would begin at a rock etched with a circle of thorns, on the banks of the River Esk, soon after they reached Ghostlight Marsh. He kissed them both and wished them good luck in their quest.

The next morning—the third day after the Council meeting—the Giantslayers met at Trunau’s city gate to begin their journey north, to the Kestrel River, where Bloodtusk’s boat awaited. The militia gave them a trumpet-music send off while the townsfolk showered them with droneberry petals. Chief Defender Halgra of the Blackened Blades appeared, wished them good luck, and warned them they had a dangerous road ahead in order to reach the boat. She smiled, gave them an additional 1500 gp each, and wished them good luck. The party mounted their horses (Asa chose to ride Toboe instead, with Jane’s permission) and headed north into the velvety mist of the midsummer morning.

The party had only traveled about two miles when they were intercepted by Jagrin Grath and Kurst Grath, bloodied and out of breath. They warned the party that they were returning from a routine patrol of the farmlands to the north of town, when they discovered a two-headed giant had taken over their northern watchtower. The patrol attacked the tower, but the giant killed 14 of the 16 men in their troop—the Grath father and son were the sole survivors. They asked for the party to defeat the giant and reclaim the watchtower on their way to the river. Jagrin told them it was about 5 miles north (their entire journey was 18 miles), and wished them godspeed.

About a mile further on, Silaqui sensed danger and sent Bracken to investigate. The bird came back and warned them of something in the underbrush to the east of the road. Suddenly, they were attacked by a bullette, crashing noisily through the reeds and shrubs. While the rest of the party battled the rampaging creature, Kingsley caught the scent of something peculiar—a human—and raced into the shrubbery in hot pursuit. Gydion followed and, using his Woodland Stride ability, quickly caught up with his lion. They heard a male voice laughing in the distance as they came into a clearing containing a tent and a chest. At that very moment, the bullette disappeared—it had only been an illusion! Silaqui and Asa ran into the underbrush and searched the campsite while Gydion attempted to track down man he and Gydion had been chasing. Asa opened the chest, releasing a fiery, magical trap that injured himself, Silaqui and Kingsley. Gydion, meanwhile, discovered to his dismay that the laughing voice had gone silent, and the man’s tracks irrecoverable. Bewildered, bruised, and burned, the adventurers recovered a number of potions and Druidic scrolls from the chest—as well as their spooked horses—and continued north.

A few miles further up the road, they came upon a curious sight: two dire bears clawing and growling at the base of a huge oak tree. They were looking up into the crown of the tree. As the party drew nearer, they could see the objects of the bears’ attention: a half-dozen frightened humans hiding in the branches above. Their clothing was emblazoned with the holy symbol of Iomedae. Jane and Gydion put together a plan: Jane would cast Entangle on a patch of ground between the bears and themselves; and Asa would command their attention. When the bears charged them and became Entangled, Gydion and the others would pick them off with their missile weapons.

The plan worked perfectly. Jane missed spectacularly with her arrows, until the final round, when she landed the killing blow on one of the creatures [but not before it mauled Asa—who entered the Entangled area—rendering him unconscious]. The other bear freed itself enough to reach the edge of the Entangle effect—only to feel the power of the mighty Agrimmosh, for fifteen points of damage. When the second bear fell, Gydion woke Asa with a potion of Cure Light Wounds while Jane dispelled the Entangle enchantment.

The party approached the tree and called out to the humans. As they drew near, they witnessed magical bolts being shot at the humans from the other side of the tree—but try as they might, the couldn’t see who was firing them. Two of the humans were already dead on the ground, having fallen to their deaths as a result of getting shot! The party helped the four survivors to the ground, while searching the treetops for the guerilla attacker. The humans explained that they were worshippers of Iomedae, on a pilgrimage to Trunau, to visit Tyari Varvatos’s Sanctuary. Asa welcomed them, hugging them, and expressing the party’s deepest sympathies. After burying the dead in an Iomedan ceremony, they healed the pilgrims. The party then fed them a light meal, and sent them on their way south to Trunau, with Iomedae’s blessing.

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Relief, Drinking, and Contemplation

Following the carnage of that fateful night, Janekfan and Toboe immediately lent aid to the burning city of Trunau. They toiled through the dead of night alongside their fellowship and into the morning rescuing creatures and quenching the blazes that painted the remaining structures as red as the spilled blood on the earth. Lives had been lost this night and it was with a heavy heart Jane set to burying those who had become friends and acquaintances, comrades in arms against a foul scourge.

Over the coming days Jane healed where she could and used what magic remained available to her to brace or rebuild falling structures. She sent Toboe to scout the surrounding land with orders, not to engage, but to inform. How many enemies still lurked in the surrounding wilderness? Were they retreating? Were they regrouping?

She and her brother, Draken, lifted what spirits they could in the tavern-regaling survivors with tales of heroics and daring, of the brave men and women of Trunau who had fought so valiantly to keep claim over what was theirs. Nights were spent in the company of friends and survivors. Though there was still so much left to do, they were all stronger for the hardship they had faced in both the attack itself and reconstruction. These were new bonds forged in the fires of shared adversity, and not easily unbroken.

Days fell into an arrangement of sorts, wake, rebuild, end the time with drinks and merriment. But it was in the quiet of the night, when all else had retired but sleep remained unreachable, with naught but the stars and small insects to accompany them, Jane and Toboe would sit outside the dwelling of her grandfather. She would think then, on a question that had plagued her since her parents’ untimely death, Toboe a still and silent sentinel: could she have done more?

When the light, a promise of new things to come, would creep above a harsh and beautiful horizon, Janekfan would make the same vow:

“Next time, I will fight harder.”

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After the Fire (post-raid thoughts from Asa, Paladin of Iomedae)
A post by Asa del Ray, Paladin of Iomedae

The Battle of Bloodmarch Hill has ended, and Trunau is stronger for it. I, Asa, however, remain traumatized. The raid brought back memories of the cruel death of my partner, Amos, four years ago, at the hands of an orc-general. I saw that general’s face in every orc I vanquished during the Battle. That horrible visage haunts me every day. My training as a Paladin of Iomedae since that time has served me well, but it is so difficult to let go of the anger I have over the tragic loss of you, Amos—my great Love.

The first few days after the raid are now a blur. I remember spending hours in the Sanctuary with High Priestess Tyari Varvatos and the others, Laying on Hands, and applying Holy Mercies to cure survivors’ fatigue. I also used my new divine spellcasting ability to cast Cure Light Wounds. I must admit, I was stunned by the arrogance of some of our wounded warriors. Every time someone thanked me for healing them, I would say, “Don’t thank me, thank Our Lady of Valor, Iomedae.” But would they? No. You would think they could spare a few moments of prayerful gratitude, but none did. A few of the non-believers actually scoffed loudly—I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from saying something rude in response. Oh, Amos! how I miss you at times like this. You were always so gentle, so welcoming, so peace-making…so full of Love. A lamb among wolves. Just as Iomedae commands us to be.

Every day, as soon as my divine healing abilities were spent, I would lend a hand to help rebuild Trunau’s city walls. One week later, almost all the holes have been patched, and the city is secure once again. I for one am certainly breathing easier! It’s always amusing to see the humans’ faces when I demonstrate my strength. I may be a halfling, but I’m one of the strongest halflings in town, and I can move bricks and stone with the best of them.

Today, we burned the Plague House, as Iomedae commanded Tyari to do. After rescuing what artifacts and relics we could, we set it afire—as the High Priestess told us, we simply cannot risk the structure being used again by Trunau’s enemies. Funny thing is, as we planted explosives in the basement, two of our acolytes discovered a recently-dug, unfinished tunnel leading underneath the city—Silaqui had been right: the orcs were attempting to tunnel into the city from the old Church! Silaqui has always been a kindred spirit—so good and so noble. I must admit I enjoy them all—from the nomadic druid Gydion to the obnoxious dwarf, Draken. Indeed, they were all touched by the Light of Iomedae’s Sword, in the depths of that Plague House, as well as the Sanctuary, and that makes them kindred spirits to me.

Tonight, we burn our dead in the Flame of the Fallen. I remember when your body was cast into that eternal fire, Amos, so many years ago. What a sad day that was. But, if not for your death, I would not have become the halfling I am today. You died for justice, and in doing so, you gave me new life in Iomedae. Oh, Great Lady of Valor, let Your spirit continue to flourish and grow within me, so that I will never tire of the struggle against the darkness.

Tomorrow, I begin preparations for a river journey to the Mindspin Mountains. The Mindspins! The mountain range that Iomedae Herself commanded me to journey to, when She first healed me and took me into Her care. That which She prophesied, will now come true. I have seen so much suffering this past week in this fair city; I am glad for the opportunity to end my people’s plight, once and for all.

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Lending Aid

With the battle behind him and his allies, Gydion the Druid knew the time had come to help lend a hand in the rebuilding of Trunau. In the following days, he lent his strength to the care of the wounded and the rebuilding of homes and businesses, wherever he thought he was needed most. He was always sure to carve out some time to bring Kingsley to see the convalescing children, and together they would put on a little show in the hopes of bringing a smile or two to their war-scarred faces.

Within a few days, when it seemed safe to do so, Gydion sent Kingsley hunting to bring meat into the settlement. The orcs had done a good job of scaring away much of the wildlife, and there were evenings when Kingsley returned empty-jawed, so to speak. Fortunately, as things settled down and goats, cattle and other creatures made their first cautious steps back into the land, the cat’s hunting grew increasingly more successful.

“Don’t go too far afield, my friend. Be stealthy, be safe,” Gydion urged him daily with their empathic bond. Kingsley would nuzzle him fondly in understanding before heading out into the wilds.

In the evening, seeking a chance to rest and relax some, the druid would inevitably find himself at the Tavern. Although not a drinker in the same league as, say, Draken or Jane, he would enjoy a cider or two, and listen to the stories of the locals. He was interested in what one fellow had to say about the Ghostlight Marsh. His guardians – how he missed them! – had told him stories of the brave Druids who defended the bastion, and his curiosity was piqued about the place. It would seem a visit there may be in order to see what could be done about reclaiming this bog for The Wild, if stories of mysterious lights and strange creatures were more than mere fanciful tales.

As it so happened, Fate stepped in and it seemed his path would take him and his companions straight to the marsh … fortuitous! With a quest presented to them by the city council (“Are these bureaucrats completely incapable of doing anything for themselves?!?” he wondered silently, before chiding himself for being so ungracious.), he decided the time had come to restock supplies. He would need to restock bullets for his sling, and maybe, perhaps, find some healing potions in this war-torn town. He was definitely interested in getting his hands on a fire-breath potion, considering what luck he had with it against the orcs, but wondered if there would be any magic items left in the ravaged town?

He also knew he would need to procure lots of rations, since a hungry lion is no easy thing to feed, and other staples that may have been lost in the battle.

“Ah, the life of an adventurer,” he joked to Kingsley, ruffling the lion’s mane.

Kingsley’s response, if indeed he had one, took the form of a yawn, and with that, he lay down his head and napped.

“As always, Kingsley, you are the voice of reason,” Gydion murmured, curling up against the great beast and taking what was sure to be one of the last moments of quiet he would see for some time.

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Feeding Survivors, Helping to Rebuild Trunau
a post by Silaqui

Trunau is quite battered after the damaging assault by giants and orcs. Rebuilding the town and walls will take a long time. There is much work to be done, but the first priority is healing and feeding the surviving Trunauans. I asked for as many militia that could be spared to go with me on a foraging and hunting trip to the farms and woodlands south of Trunau. Omast Frum led four other militia to go with me and we borrowed 2 wagons and teams for the trip. After five days we filled the wagons and headed back to Trunau. The farmers we met were horrified to hear the details of the attack on Trunau. They don’t have much but gave everything they could spare. They know their own security depends on Trunau, and many offered to come to Trunau as soon as they were able to help rebuild. Two farm families who live near some woods promised to cut some trees for lumber and bring them to Trunau. Omast assured the locals that Trunau had indeed survived and would rebuild its walls ad regain its strength. Soon the militia would patrol again for the safety of all.

While hunting alone in a small meadow near the woods, I happened to see a red-winged blackbird perched atop a tall bunch of ferns just inside the woods. There was something special about this bird, but I couldn’t describe what that was – just a feeling of connection, the start of what would become a strong bond. As the blackbird called to me, I whistled to it and felt this connection immediately. He flew over to me, and when his wings opened in flight I could see his beautiful red and yellow wing bars. I knew we would be constant companions, and I named him Bracken, after the ferns. I discovered that I could communicate with Bracken, and we soon developed a close working relationship on the hunt. Bracken would scout ahead and lead our hunting party to the game. The goddess Calistria has surely blessed us, and I’m sure Iomedae also has a hand in sending Bracken to me. He cannot attack my enemies like my druid friends’ animals, but Bracken is surely the best companion a ranger can have. He now rides in my hood, and sometimes on my head or flying above. Judging by the militia’s expressions, we must look an odd sight, Bracken and me, but they probably already think rangers are odd – but in a good way.
Silaqui

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Interlude
Wreckage and Aftermath

The Giantslayers—as your party has now come to be known—spend the next week helping rebuild Trunau and healing the wounded. The admiration of the townsfolk is clear from the moment you emerge from Uskroth’s Tomb, but becomes muted as everyone faces the situation at hand. Restoring the city to its original might will be a long process.

Turin manages to steal some time to copy the two spells (Phantasmal Killer and Tongues) from the scrolls you found in the tomb into his spellbook. Silaqui recruits a blackbird companion, whom she names Bracken, during a hunting expedition with some Trunau militia members.

After three days, when you’re not rebuilding and healing, Gydion, Jane and Turin finish identifying the magic items retrieved from the tomb. Uskroth’s armor is +1 half-plate that changes size based on the size of its wearer. In addition, the wearer can invoke Righteous Might once per day for five consecutive rounds. You also learn that the four magic arrows found in Uskroth’s funerary are Human Bane.

Being an artifact hunter, it doesn’t take long for Turin to confirm that Uskroth’s war hammer is indeed the mighty dwarven artifact Agrimmosh, the “Hammer of Unmaking”, as he originally guessed. Legend has it that it was used to forge the first dwarf! Made of stone and bearing the symbol of Minderhal (dwarven god of creation and justice), this item has significant magical ability, and unlocking its secrets is a complex affair. So, to that end, Turin enlists the help of Trunau’s resident dwarven wizard, Agrit Staginsdar. Together, you confirm that it’s a +2 Impact Warhammer that resizes to fit its owner. In addition, once per day as a full-round action, the wielder can use it to cast heightened Enlarge Person (Fortitude DC 23 negates), which lasts for 20 minutes. You’re both convinced that the artifact has additional powers, but you cannot discern them at this time.

After five days, some of the shops re-open, allowing you to sell and trade your newly acquired non-magic treasure. If you attempt to sell any items which belong to the town, or to the survivors of the raid, you are compensated for your heroic efforts with an amount of gold equal to half the items’ value.

At this point, in the evenings, you’re able to relax a bit, and share war stories with the Trunuan natives in the Killing Ground Pub. Although its owner, Rabus Clarenston, perished in the raid, the pub is open for business under temporary management. One patron is very interested to hear that Gydion and Jane are Druids, and his interest is piqued when he learns that Jane is Silvermane’s granddaughter.

“Silvermane—now there’s a character for ya! Word is, he’s the last survivin’ member of the Council of Thorns—Druids who died defendin’ Ghostlight Marsh when the orcs of the Hold of Belkzen pushed their southern border to Lastwall. That was way back in 4237, I reckon. Silvermane never says nuthin’ ‘bout it—in fact, he never says nuthin’ a’tall! Been hearin’ some words about the goin’s on up there recently. Me bruver, Max, he says he seen strange lights and shapes moving in the mist. Nobody goes near that nasty bog now—not even orcs.”

At the pub, you also learn some interesting facts about the orcs who raided Trunau. “Did you see their banners? Their insignia? They’re called the Twisted Hearts—so-called because they’re a combination of the Twisted Nail orc tribe and the Heart Eater hill giant tribe,” one Trunaun old-timer tells you. “They operate out of the Mindspin Mountains to the west and north. Tribe’s been around a long time—since the forty-third century AR, if memory serves. That’s when their Chieftain, Uskroth, led them south and conquered these parts of Belkzen. They were finally defeated by crusaders from Lastwall. Looks like they’re on the move again!”

On the seventh day after the raid, Trunau’s Council of Defenders meets at the Ivory Hall in Upper Trunau, which was untouched by the devastation inflicted on most of the city. All of you—Draken, Gydion, Jane, Silaqui and Turin—are summoned by Halgra. You are asked to bring the warhammer with you. “Well then,” begins Halgra, “Trunau owes you Giantslayers our thanks. Trunau is forever in your debt.” She looks around at the rest of the Council. “I’ve reconsidered my original assessment of you. I… misjudged,” she adds. You notice Council Members Agrit Standisdar and Sara Morninghawk exchange a knowing glance, and a wink. High Priestess and Council Member Tyari Varvatos nods and smiles at you.

Council Member Lessie Crumkin speaks up. “The note you found on your captives is alarming, to say the least.” Tyari nods. “The Council is very concerned that a Hill Giant chieftain engineered this attack, and in addition, that she was searching for objects long-buried and forgotten beneath our fair city,” she says solemnly.

“About those objects,” Halgra interjects, regaining control of the meeting. She scans each of you with her eyes, and then she looks at the war hammer on the table in front of her. “What have you learned about that hammer?” she asks. You tell them that you believe it is a mighty dwarven relic, Agrimmosh the Hammer of Unmaking, and they look at you with wide eyes. Halgra nods, looks at Trunau’s Master of Stores and says: “Kessen, tell the Giantslayers what you’ve learned about the geode they discovered.”

Council Member Kessen Plumb rises, and places the sparkling stone on the table in front of you. Unable to glean any more information from it, you had left it—together with the note from Grendelsek—in the Council’s hands, soon after emerging from the tomb. “As Draken said, it is a rare tourmaline, almost certainly from the Mindspin Mountains,” he begins. Then his face becomes hard as he leans forward and squints at the stone. “See here,” he continues, pointing at the crystals inside the geode. “As Turin suspected, the pattern of crystals is not random—it has meaning.” Then, looking up at you, he declares, “It’s a detailed map of the southern reaches of the Mindspin Mountains.”

Kessen takes a few minutes to show you the geode and explain the map in detail. He and other Council members tell you that, according to the note you found on the half-orc alchemist’s body, it appears to be a map to the tomb of the “giant-killer” mentioned in the note. “We believe this ‘giant-killer’ to be none other than the legendary dwarven giantslayer Nargrym Steelhand,” he adds, quickly glancing over at Draken. “Unfortunately, the map is incomplete,” he continues. “The other half of it, according to the note, is in the hands of Grendelsek, evil Chief of the Twisted Nail Tribe.” He then looks at Halgra, who addresses you again.

“We’ve…interviewed…the two half-orcs you captured in Uskroth’s Tomb,” she says. “Their names are Skreed Gorewillow and Urnsul Vandro. Apparently, they and a team of four other half-orc saboteurs infiltrated Trunau months ago, casing the town and providing vital information to Grendelsek. Skreed was their leader, but he always kept his identity safe using his magic tattoo. He told us he was using the Plague House to meet with flood troll allies, who sent messages back and forth to Grendelsek, whose headquarters is an abandoned border station known as Redlake Fort, located on the River Esk at the base of the Mindspin Mountains to the north of here.”

She continues: “Which brings us to Rodrik’s unfortunate death. From what Skreed told us, Rodrik Grath accidentally came across one of Skreed’s flood trolls at the Plague House while on patrol. Skreed couldn’t risk Rodrik pursuing the matter any further, so he murdered him in his sleep—making it look like a suicide, using a fake hopeknife crafted by Urnsul, who was working undercover at Morninghawk’s Fine Steel.” You look over to see Sara Morninghawk gazing at the floor and slowly shaking her head. Agrit has her arm around her.

Halgra then produces a map from a desk drawer and hands it to Silaqui. It details the area north of Trunau, and a route is traced on it. As you pass the map around the table, you note that the Kestrel River, Ghostlight Marsh, the River Esk, and Redlake Fort are all labeled—the route spans all four. “We can’t risk Trunau being targeted by Grendelsek—we can’t afford another raid. You will follow this map to Redlake Fort, and eliminate Grendelsek and her monstrous minions once and for all. You must also obtain the other half of the geode, as a guarantee that none of Trunau’s enemies will ever lay hands on Nargrym Steelhand’s secrets.”

Halgra then takes the map, holds it up, and points to an area just north of Trunau on the southern bank of the Kestrel River. “You will begin your journey here,” she says. She informs you that she has already secured passage for you aboard a keelboat owned by a half-orc named Raag Bloodtusk, who has agreed to transport you to Ghostlight Marsh, and then up the River Esk to a location near Redlake Fort. The only things he wants in exchange, she explains, are your assistance in sailing the boat, and defending it from any dangerous river denizens. “Why can’t we just journey overland to Redlake Fort? It seems more direct,” interjects Silaqui, who has studied the maps of southern Belkzen extensively. Halgra considers the ranger’s suggestion thoughtfully. “Overland travel to Redlake Fort would be foolhardy and dangerous, as it would take you right through the orc-infested Hold of Belkzen,” she says. “On the other hand, Bloodtusk’s riverboat is well-known among the orc tribes along the river, and he enjoys rights of safe passage from those tribe’s chieftains.” Halgra then takes a document from her robe and hands it to Gydion. “This is a letter of introduction to give to Bloodtusk,” she says.

Tyari looks between you and Chief Defender Halgra, and then speaks: “I will send Asa de Ray with you as an emissary, as soon as he and the rest of my paladins finish burning the Plague House—as Iomedae has commanded.” She smiles again. “Right, now, if you need anything while you are in town, you have but ask. If there are no other questions, you have preparations to make: you’ve a long journey ahead of you. Thank you, good luck, and may our Lady of Valor guide you and keep you in her care.”

In the space below, indicate what YOU are doing to prepare for the journey to Redlake Fort. What items are you selling, and what equipment will you buy? What magic items might you be creating or buying? Is there anybody you want to interact with before you leave Trunau? [NB: You can email this information to Scott if you don’t want to post it publicly here]

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Episode 10: The Battle of Bloodmarch Hill, Part III
Rodrik's Killer Revealed!

With the battlefield cleared for the moment, Trunau’s heroes took a few rounds to catch their breath, and plan their next move. Just as they decided to head into Lower Trunau and light the Hopespring beacon (the fourth and final beacon), they caught sight of figures moving towards them, from beyond the smoke-filled inner gate. Suddenly, a great monitor lizard appeared through the gate, being led by a fierce-looking orc warrior. Omast Frum was the first to leap into the fray, attacking with a solid blow from his great sword. Everyone followed the brave Patrol Sargeant, and soon found out that the lizard and orc warrior were not alone—three orc shield-breakers (warriors armed with shield-disabling javelins and curved swords) were right behind them. The next found, the orc warrior—an orc-ranger/beast-tamer—threw a potion of Enlarge Animal at the lizard, doubling its size!

The battle was short but intense, with Draken caught, at one point, in the Enlarged lizard’s mouth—grappled! Luckily for him, Kingsley finished the reptile off, while Janekfan vanquished its orc-ranger master. As soon as the party finished off the last orc, Halgra of the Blackened Blades appeared behind them with an elite Trunauan team of soldiers, shouting “We have secured the Inner Quarter! Victory is ours!!” The heroes turned to see citizens coming out of their houses, cheering the Chief Defender. “Halgra! Halgra!” they shouted. Dumbfounded, Silaqui muttered, “Figures she’d take all the credit. Let’s go light the last beacon,” and led the way through the gate, into Lower Trunau. As they walked through the gate, they noticed that Trunauan guards had retaken the guard towers, and the portcullis was dropped behind them, effectively quarantining the Inner Quarter.

Upon reaching the Hopespring, the party healed themselves magically, and then found their way to the fourth beacon. Jane, with her alchemical training, was the first to notice the yellow powder sprinkled liberally over the wood and kindling in the beacon. “Stop! Don’t get any closer!” she warned, “this is explosive!” She then ordered everyone back 30 feet, set one of her arrows on fire, and shot it at the beacon. Ignited in this way, the beacon exploded in a 15-foot radius, creating a bright bonfire—but harming no-one. Just then, a team of Trunauan militia-men appeared on the scene, begging their assistance: fiery boulders were still being launched at the town, from a catapult stationed behind the Barterstones. The soldiers told them that they must help eliminate the orc bombadiers, and their siege engine, if Trunau was to be saved!

Running out the front gates and around the Barterstones, the heroes caught a flash of light in the distance, and were surprised to see a giant-sized humanoid, surrounded by four staunch Trunauan defenders: Asa, Inez Grenell, Tyari Varvatos and Kurst Grath! The flash was evidently from a magic spell being launched by Inez—“Inez? Casting a spell? I didn’t know she was anything but an alcoholic!” muttered Silaqui. The others echoed her sentiments. Seeing that they were quite far from the giant and Asa/Inez/Tyari/Kurst, and separated by legions of troops, they turned to the task at hand: Finding and destroying the catapult.

Rounding the last boulder, the party spotted the catapult. It was being manned by three orcs, while two others stood watch. The heroes, gaining Surprise, launched the first attacks: two well-aimed arrows from Jane and Silaqui took out the two guards, while two of the other orcs were injured by Toboe, Kingsley and Draken. For their part, the orcs who were operating the catapult—the bombadiers—did some hefty damage with their exploding grenades. In the end, however, the party prevailed once more, collecting six unused grenades, and four bags of flash powder, in the process. They were busy disabling the catapult when they heard Trunauan guards hailing them from atop the city walls: “Giant in the town! Giant in the town!”

Entering the town, the guards hastily explained how another giant had busted through the wall and headed to the Hopespring. As they rushed into the Lower Quarter, the party noticed that the white graffiti mark in the Barterstones had been busted into rubble. And in the Lower Quarter, the white graffiti above the Sanctuary had been busted open as well. Upon reaching the Hopespring, they saw a ten-foot tall, tusked giant standing aross Hope Pond, directly in front of a gaping hole in the stone wall where another white graffiti-sword had been painted. The giant was growling something in Giant-language as it strained against the chains on its arms, each held by a rather terrified-looking orc raider.

“It’s a cave giant,” Draken whispered to the others as they cautiously moved to the edge of the pond. Jane crouched and fired the first arrow, hitting the giant squarely in the chest, and it cried out in pain. Silaqui fired next, killing one of the giant’s orc handlers. The remaining orc shouted, “Crusher! Throw rock!” [as translated by Silaqui], and the giant threw a massive rock at Jane, missing her. Gydion moved into the water and attacked with his sling, but missed. The giant flung another massive rock at him, pegging him for a lot of damage, while Silaqui injured the remaining orc-handler with another arrow. After a few rounds of exchanged missile fire, Crusher went berserk, rushing into the pond, splashing towards the party with an angry growl. Having readied his action thoughtfully, Gydion gestured and spoke a Druidic incantation, activating a Soften Earth and Stone spell under their opponent’s feet. The cave giant found himself sinking in quicksand up to his chest, making him prone for two rounds, unable to move or attack! Seizing the advantage, the party launched a massive missile attack at the stuck giant. Finally, at the beginning of the third round, Silaqui landed a critical hit with her longbow on the beast, delivering 21 points of damage, killing it. As it fell into the pond, lifeless, its remaining orc handler—terrifying and struggling against its chains as it hopelessly tried to escape—was put out of its misery by missile fire from Draken and Jane.

Just then, Kurst rode up to them on horseback. “You did it!” he congratulated them. “Trunau is forever in your debt”. He explained that the orcs were retreating, and with Crusher defeated, the orc raid had effectively been halted. There was, however, an additional problem: just after the giant had opened the tunnel where the white graffiti mark had been, Trunauan guards had spotted two humanoids, accompanied by wolves, dash into the tunnel. He then asked them to enter the tunnel, secure whatever’s inside, and apprehend whoever’s hiding within. Meanwhile, he told them, he would appoint guards outside the tunnel entrance to ensure no-one else enters or exits it.

Silaqui’s brother Turin wandered up the road at that point, wide-eyed at the devastation around him. “What on Golarion happened here?” he asked the others. “I’ve been so busy copying spells into my spellbook in the basement of the Sanctuary, I didn’t know we were under attack!” Then, spotting Crusher, he exclaimed: “Wow, is that a cave giant?” The rest of the party explained that Trunau had been under attack for the past hour by orc raiders, and that they’d brought a few cave-giants along as back-up. They pointed to the newly-opened tunnel and told him that their magic was nearly depleted. They asked for the elven wizard’s help, and he nodded silently. “Let’s see what’s in that tunnel!”, he answered.

Steeling and healing themselves, the party crossed the pond and entered the tunnel. Their marching order was deliberate: Draken first, because of his darkvision; Turin last, to support with ranged spell attacks. The humid tunnel was laced with gossamer spiderwebs, dripping with condensation, and water could be heard down below. Exploring further, the heroes came to an intersection with a narrow tunnel heading west; a steep drop-off to the south; and a stone bridge, spanning an underground river, to the west. Silaqui and Gydion successfully checked for any signs of passage, and found tracks heading across the bridge; the party cautiously followed.

A large cavern opened up on the other side of the bridge. As soon as Draken set foot off the bridge, however, he was set upon by a small, stork-like bird with black, greasy feathers, a razor-sharp bill, and six legs! The bird missed! The dwarf, returning the attack, cut it deeply with his battle axe. Silaqui and Toboe joined Draken at the front of the line, only to be attacked by two more of the avian horrors, swooping silently down from the dripping stalactites above. During the brief battle that ensued, Toboe found himself grappled by one of the foul birds—which then twisted its abdomen around, revealing an ovipositor with which it attempted to deposit eggs into the wolf’s torso. Luckily for Toboe, the attempt failed. In the end, Draken defeated one of the birds; Silaqui killed the second; and Kingsley & Gydion cut down the third, with a Force Bolt assist from Turin.

The party moved further into the cavern and found another stone bridge, 10-feet wide, traversing another underground river. Draken, who was still in the lead, found himself immediately stuck in a strong, nearly invisible web as soon as he stepped onto the bridge—he was snared! A giant spider dropped down and attacked him, narrowly missing the dwarf with its snapping chelicerae! Draken broke free of the web (a full-round action) and found himself attacked again (again, unsuccessfully)! Meanwhile, four other spiders dropped down from the ceiling and attacked the other party members!

Aware of Silaqui’s arachnophobia, Gydion bravely stepped between her and the nearest spider, and attacked with his quarterstaff. Jane and Toboe double-teamed another spider; the wolf got bit, but managed to resist the spider’s poison. Silaqui overcame her fear and took aim at another spider, nearly killing it; her brother Turin finished it off with a Force Bolt as it attempted to escape up a wall. The next round, Jane and Toboe’s spider attempted to shoot webbing at them, but missed both times. After six founds of combat, the group dispatched the spiders, Draken killing two of them. Luckily, all of the heroes avoided being poisoned by spider venom.

They attempted to cross the bridge once more and found that there were more webs than they originally thought—the ravine seemed to be covered by them; they were strung between stalactites, and spanned the entire bridge. So, the party moved off the bridge, and Draken used Silaqui’s torch to set the strands on fire. They burned quickly and brightly, revealing an underground river, slowly flowing, 10 feet below the bridge. The party quickly crossed the bridge and once again found tracks, indicating that the half-orcs and the wolves had somehow crossed the bridge and come this way.

The heroes followed the tracks down a 10-foot-wide, natural stone corridor which opened up on one side, revealing, once again, the underground river below them. Draken heard voices, and quickly hushed the group. Approaching cautiously, he found the corridor opened up into a large, natural cavern, roughly 100 feet long by 65 feet wide. With his darkvision, the dwarf saw ledges and stairs carved into the stone walls of the wide-open, high-ceilinged cave, in the middle of which stood a 15-foot-tall spire of old bones and broken equipment—an ossuary. And, embedded in the spire, stood the skeleton of a massive, armored warrior, surrounded by the bones of his enemies, armor and broken weapons, and other trappings of battle. To his dwarven eyes, it appeared they had found a burial chamber—the burial chamber of a giant! The giant’s scarred, half-plate armor was still on its body, and his hands gripped a massive stone hammer. Beneath its helmet, a thick, round rock was embedded in one of its otherwise empty eye sockets.

Tearing his eyes away from the dramatic funerary spire, Draken spotted the source of the voices he’d heard: two half-orcs appeared to be busily searching the ledge along the southeast corner of the cave. He recognized one of them: it was Urnsul, the half-orc mercenary he’d battled in the alleyway in the Inner Quarter! Draken scanned the room again and spotted two huge, black dire wolves standing guard, close to the spire’s base. He whispered his observations to his friends, and quickly planned their attack.

Luckily their enemy had not yet noticed them! Even the dire wolves seemed taken by surprise as Silaqui jumped into the room, firing an arrow and Urnsul which hit her squarely in the shoulder. The half-orc rogue screamed in agony as Draken, Gydion, Jane and Turin filed into the room, ready for battle.

The other half-orc turned and stared at them. He was blonde, and rather gangly for a half-orc: tall and skinny. His face was tattooed with bizarre lines, and his belt held a mesh bag with glass spheres. In his hand he wielded an orc falchion, dripping with a strange black liquid. “My assassins should have finished you meddlers off, days ago!” He smiled at them. “But now, it looks like I’ll have to do it. Just like I did with Rodrik Grath. That’s right, I killed Rodrik Grath!… and now, I’m going to kill you, too!”

Draken moved to attack, but the blonde half-orc was quicker, throwing a glass sphere at Silaqui which detonated and seriously burned her. Urnsul dropped her sword and loaded her crossbow, aiming at Silaqui. Turin was next: he moved within range and then cast Scorching Ray at one of the dire wolves—hitting it and damaging it for nearly half its hit points! Toboe then rushed in to finish the job, the small white wolf contrasting strongly with his larger, black, now-scorched opponent. Jane fired upon the dire wolf that Toboe had engaged while the second wolf ran up the stairs, only to be met with Kingsley’s claws—Gydion’s lion companion had wisely readied his action as soon as battle had begun.

At the beginning of the next round, Draken cleaved the half-orc raiders with his axe as Turin came up behind him and stunned them with a Color Spray spell. Down below, Toboe landed a bite on his dire wolf opponent which tripped him, leaving him prone! Meanwhile, on the stairs, Kingsley and Gydion attacked the other dire wolf, wounding him deeply, though they both suffered painful bites from its razor-sharp teeth in return.

Stunned and blinded as they were, the two half-orcs didn’t stand a chance against Draken’s second cleave, which (assisted by an arrow from Silaqui) dropped them both. Toboe endured a dire wolf bite and then offered a bite in return, reducing his enemy to a furry, bloody pile on the floor. Next, Gydion and Kingsley vanquished the second dire wolf, which collapsed on the stairs in a pool of blood. The battle had ended!

Jane Stabilized the two half-orcs while the rest of the party searched the cavern. They found various equipment and items on the two half-orcs, including a peculiar, handwritten note from someone named Grendelsek, “Glorious Chieftain of the Twisted Hearts”, apparently asking for the war hammer and a rock of some sort.

But the most exciting treasure was to be found in the funerary spire (detailed below). The chests, vases, and other containers piled around the spire were overflowing with coins, gemstones, jewelry and other fineries, including more than a few magic items. Using a combination of Detect Magic, Read Magic, and Spellcraft skill, the heroes managed to identify nearly every magic item they found. The most notable item was the war hammer in the skeleton’s bony hands, which Turin identified as the powerful artifact known as Agrimmosh—the dwarven Hammer of unmaking—an item he’d been researching in the Sanctuary’s library. “I knew that Uskroth’s burial chamber must be nearby Trunau”, he muttered to himself. (When questioned further, he told his friends that Uskroth was the name of the ancient giant hero who had wielded Agrimmosh, and that this must be his final resting place—underneath Trunau, the entire time!).

The heroes busily examined all of the treasure, and took what they could carry—including the stone embedded in the skeleton’s eye socket, which Draken identified as a rare tourmaline geode, the nearest known deposits of which lie in the Mindspin Mountains, to the north and west of Trunau. “This must be the rock that this Grendelsek-person must be looking for. Sort of looks like a map,” said Turin, examining it.

“But why did they kill Rodrik?” Silaqui asked.
They all looked at each other.

Why, indeed?

Experience: 4,096 xp each player.

Treasure: 3 potions of Cure Light Wounds, 3 antitoxins, 1 potion of Enlarge Animal, 6 fuse grenades, 3 bags of flash powder.
On Urnsul: two alchemist’s fire, one thunderstone, one masterwork studded leather armor, one light crossbow with 10 bolts, one masterwork warhammer, one Shield Cloak .
On the blonde half-orc: two alchemist’s fire, 2 does of black adder venom, 2 does of bloodroot, blue whinnis poison, one oil of taggit poison, one tanglefoot bag, 2 thunderstones, masterwork studded leather, masterwork cold iron falchion, dagger, light crossbow with 10 bolts, Forula Alembic, Kin’s Face Tattoo [currently stuck like glue to the half-orc’s face], True Love Locket, two antitoxoins, his alchemy kit/lab, masterwork thieve’s tools, and an alchemy book.
In Uskroth’s funerary spire: magic half-plate armor (properties of which remain undiscovered), four magic arrows (properties not yet discovered), 13 adamantine crossbow bolts, a masterwork breastplate, a suit of masterwork splint mail armor, a Heavyload Belt, scrolls of Phantasmal Killer and Tongues, and a Wand of Inflict Moderate Wounds. Plus, 1750 gp worth of gold, gemstones, equipment and fineries.

Next: Interlude: Wreckage and Aftermath

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Episode 9: The Battle of Bloodmarch Hill, Part II
Tonight’s menu: Orc-kebabs a la Gydion

The party took in the view from the eastern tower’s roof. With the skald’s drums silenced for good, it was strangely quiet, though the faint sounds of war cries, screams and barking dogs echoed up from the city below. In the gloaming, they could see a group of orcs operating a catapult near the Barterstones, bombarding a guard tower on Trunau’s western wall with flaming boulders. They watched as it collapsed into a heap of rubble. To the north, a small group of orc raiders could be seen charging towards the town’s front gate. Further away, to the northeast, eagle-eyed Janekfan could just make out the forms of Kurst Grath and his companions charging a group of orcs who were accompanying a monstrous giant hurling boulders at Trunau’s palisade.

The orcs had a giant! That was what one of Kurst’s men had referred to, a short while ago, as “that thing”, which was throwing boulders at the city’s battlements. The party healed themselves by expending charges from one of their magic wands of Cure Light Wounds, and headed down the tower. They were intent on lighting the last beacon, near the Hopespring, and then leaving through the front gate to help Kurst and his men.

As the four adventurers rushed down the street towards Lower Trunau, however, they were distracted by the sounds of guttural, orcish voices down a dark alley, partly filled with green mist—a nauseating smoke emanating from the burning trees along the roadside beyond. Stopping to listen more intently, they heard a female voice growl, in rough Common, “Move an inch and six of my best come to join us. They won’t be as friendly as we are!”, followed by a male voice pleading “Please don’t hurt me! I’ll give you anything you want!” Draken, who was in the lead, immediately ran into the alley, battleaxe raised. There he saw two half-orcs (one female, one male) threatening an elderly male human kneeling and cowering on the ground. Silaqui rushed into the alley next, shooting an arrow above the dwarf’s head and striking the female half-orc squarely in the shoulder. Battle was engaged. As Draken’s axe bit into the half-orc’s other shoulder, she let out a low whistle. Two rounds later, six orc raiders appeared at the opposite (western) end of the alley.

The alley was only five feet wide, so the rest of the party were forced to wait as Draken and Silaqui rescued the old man. The orcs at the western end of the alley couldn’t join the battle either—so three of them ran around the building and attacked Jane and Gydion, and their animal companions. In the more well-lit street outside the alley, Gydion, Jane, Toboe and Kingsley proved more than a match for the three orcs. As the last one fell, however, a female orc rounded the corner, leading three snarling dogs on chains. “I am Vilma, orc ranger!” she cried, in Common, and then spoke an Orcish phrase which seemed to make her dogs grow angrier, and bigger—to Large size! “Let slip the dogs of war!” she shouted, in Common, as she released the chains. The wild-eyed dogs bounded towards the druids, growling fiercely. Hearing someone announcing herself as an “orc ranger” forced the curious elven ranger Silaqui from the alley, leaving Draken on his own against the two half-orc mercenaries.

Silaqui and Jane fired arrows to defend themselves against two of the magically enlarged canines, while Gydion Summon ‘ed a dire rat to deal with the third. He and Kingsley rushed Vilma, who threw a javelin at him, missing. Gydion struck the orc with his mightly quarterstaff while Kingsley attacked her with tooth and claw. Vilma then switched weapons and drew her orc double-axe, which caused her to lose an attack; Gydion seized the opportunity to land a crushing blow on the ranger’s hide-covered head, killing her. Kingsley, meanwhile, took down the war dog that was engaged with the summoned rat. At about the same time, Jane and Silaqaui put down the other two dogs—Jane somewhat saddened over the unnecessary loss of another, innocent animal life.

Meanwhile, in the alley, Draken had prevailed, his most recent axe blow having reduced his half-orc opponent to zero hit points! Stepping back, she produced a potion from a belt-pouch, downed it, and disappeared! “Urnsul! Where’d you go? Come back here!” her male, half-orc comrade yelled, as he stepped forward and drew his great axe to attack Draken. The dwarf and his new half-orc combatant traded axe blows, while the female half-orc was nowhere to be seen.

Gydion, who was within earshot, recognized the name “Urnsul”—wasn’t that the name of the new, female, half-orc apprentice of Sara Morninghawk, who’d forged Rodrik Grath’s replacement hopeknife, and then had disappeared—along with the hopeknife—the day before Rodrik’s death? He relayed this to Jane and Silaqui—and Silaqui realized that her conspiracy theories were, in fact, true: half-orcs had indeed inflitrated Trunau, and had apparently laid down the groundwork for the orc siege happening around them. Unfortunately, the elven ranger’s thoughts were shattered by the sound of three orcs bursting through a window to her right. Apparently, the three orcs from the other side of the alley had run through one of the buildings, in an attempt to surprise her, Gydion and Jane. Once again, battle commenced, and the war raged on!

Draken, weakened from his fight with Urnsul, was getting shaky after his new half-orc opponent swung his axe widely around his shield, hitting the dwarf in the torso and drawing a lot of blood. Lucky for him, the half-orc was shakier still, and Draken brought him down to one hit point with a crushing blow to the head, splitting his iron helm. At that precise moment, having finished off her orc opponent, Silaqui ran back into the alley, and shot an arrow above Draken’s head. It landed squarely in the villain’s left eye, finishing him off. Blood squirted everywhere as he slumped to the ground beside the cowering old man, who had covered his head with his cloak at this point. Draken helped the old man to his feet. The man thanked him profusely, quickly explaining that he was a merchant from Lastwall who’d been visiting a trade partner in Trunau when the raid began. Drawing open his rucksack, he offered Draken one of his most prized possessions—a set of portable platinum merchant scales worth 600 gp. The dwarf happily accepted the gift, and promised they would accompany him to a nearby medical station, from which he would be escorted to the safety of Trunau’s militia’s headquarters, the Longhouse. Meanwhile, Silaqui searched the fallen half-orc’s body and turned up three potions: Bull’s Strength, Cure Moderate Wounds, and Enlarge Person. In addition, Jane grabbed the dog’s collars, which radiated magic.

As the party regrouped, distributed the newfound potions, and magically healed, Toboe cocked his head and sniffed the air. Via their empathic link, Jane felt the wolf becoming more and more alarmed. Suddenly, he took off through some buildings to the west, empathically urging her to follow him. The adventurers followed Toboe through the alley, and then through a destroyed building, where they carefully picked their way through smouldering debris. They emerged in a wide clearing in front of the Inner Quarter’s western gates. The Hopespring, where they were headed next to light the last beacon, was not far away, on the other side. As they entered the clearing, a familiar voice greeted them: “Hail, heroes!” It was Omast Frum! He was being propped up by two militia members between two makeshift (5-foot wide, 3-foot high) barricades, who were apparently trying to sober him up. The adventurers brainstormed sobering Omast up with a dose of antitoxin, but Jane (the only party member with Alchemy skill) knew it wouldn’t have any effect—the antitoxin substance in question was only useful against poisons—and her wolf was urging them all onward, across the clearing. As they crossed the clearing, they noted a barrel of pole arms, two large bundles of logs tied together, and a 10-foot boulder positioned between the barricades. Passing the western gate, they were greeted with a troop of six orcs swearing at them. The orcs picked up an iron-clad, wooden battering ram and started banging it against the portcullis, which had been closed by the Trunauan militia. Gydion tried to enter one of the towers that flanked the gate, but it was locked. The group hurried across the field while the orc’s ramming attempts became louder and louder. “We’ll be back!” they yelled.

As the group pursued Toboe down another alley across the field, they heard the sounds of another wolf up ahead, howling and whining. It was Alphonse, Silvermane’s animal companion! He was faithfully guarding the body of his master, lying near the rubble of the first guardtower the adventurers had watched crumble, at the end of Rodrik’s funeral. Jane ran to her grandfather and, after a successful Heal check to verify that he was alive, cast Stabilize. Then, after failing to wake him up, she used one of the wands of Cure Light Wounds to revive him. Helping him to his feet, she asked him, “Who did this to you?” He took his staff and (after casting his special sign-language-orison on it) drew long elven letters in the air: “Orcs”. He seemed unsteady, and when Jane questioned him about it, he drew the Elvish word for “poison”. Jane gave him some antitoxin, which appeared to help him—but didn’t’ heal him completely. They heard shouts from behind—Omast was calling for their assistance—and she asked her grandfather to stand with them—with Omast—against the next wave of orcs. Silvermane simply embraced her, and then, releasing her, wildshaped into an eagle. The mysterious druid then took to the sky, flying towards the sunset. Alphonse was nowhere to be seen. Confused, Jane and the others hurried back to the field, which was in danger of becoming thick with orc invaders.

The porcullis wouldn’t last long. The party raced up the hill towards the first barricade, when one of the militia men jumped over the barricade and intercepted them. He spoke quickly, his words a “crash course” in military tactics. He told them that orc bloodlust causes them to charge blindly—and if they braced spears and polearms against them, they’d be likely to charge right into them. He also urged them to cut the bundles of logs once orcs entered the battlefield. Jane examined the boulder, and found it covered with a strange, green powder which smelled like the smoke coming from the burning trees, not far away. They toyed with the idea of lighting the boulder on fire, but decided it was too dangerous. They decided to ready an action, to release the logs, once the orcs broke through the gate. So after helping the elderly merchant into a hiding place between the barricades, the four adventurers readied themselves at the log bundles (two per bundle) while their animal companions climbing into striking positions at the top of the barricade.

CRASH! The portcullis gave way. Sure enough, as the soldier had predicted, the orcs immediately dropped the battering ram. and ran at full speed towards the barricade. Having readied their actions, the adventurers cut the lashings on the two log bundles, to devastating effect: all six orcs were instantly killed by the rolling timber. Omast, between swigs from his flask, cheered them from atop the barricade, shouting “Huzzah!!”

Our heroes had a brief reprieve before another, smaller wave of orcs charged through the gate: three orc soldiers and one orc bombadier. Rather than charging headlong into the fray, the orc bombadier allowed the others to run up the slope, while he stayed behind and tossed what appeared to be alchemical grenades! The first grenade missed its target, exploding on top of the barricade; Omast’s men then spent the round putting the fire out. Omast himself lept over the barricade and shouted “Let’s give them orcs what they came for!” while the party rushed to engage the three orc soldiers.

Fortunately, the three orc soldiers didn’t make it far upslope—their progress was restricted by the twisted tangle of logs and dead orcs before them. The heroes met them downslope and prevailed against all of them—Omast and one of his two men bringing down two of them with their greatswords—just as a third wave of orcs charged through the gate. Silaqui’s heart skipped a beat as she counted eleven more orcs entering the battlefield!

Swords clashed and blood spilt around her as the elven ranger shot arrow after arrow at the charging orc batallion. Some of the enemy managed to reach the barricade, but were stopped cold by Kingsley and Toboe (unfortunately, the wolf was reduced to two hit points and had to retreat from battle). The orc bombadier used his last grenade against Omast’s second man, lighting him on fire and renderingunconscious from the severity of his burns.

At this point, Gydion found himself inescapably cornered between a the rolled-down logs and the guardtower. To his left, he watched as Omast desperately tried to extinguish his second man, whose clothes and hair were burning. Gydion had an idea. “Let’s fight fire with fire,” he thought, pulling out his potion of Fire Breath. The druid stepped back, took a swig, and exhaled towards the advancing orc host. His breath was like a flame-thrower, incinerating six orcs simultaneously. One of them, the orc bombadier, exploded like a fireball, owing to the mass of explosives and smokesticks he was carrying. After two rounds, the fire died down. The logs which had been in the path of Gydion’s Fire Breath were now smoldering, however, creating a wall of thick smoke in front of the gate—they were safe from further invasion, for now.

Gydion then turned then to the fallen, burned Trunauan militia man and _Stabilize_’d him. Then, the other Trunauan militia man escorted his burned comrade, and the old merchant, to the Inner Quarter medical station.Meanwhile, Jane healed Toboe while Silaqui picked off the last orc with her bow. The Inner Quarter had been secured.

Or had it?

Experience: 2696xp each player.

Next: The Battle of Bloodmarch Hill, Part III

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Episode 8: The Battle of Bloodmarch Hill, Part I

After a hasty explanation to the guards at Trunau’s front gate, Gydion and Janekfan interrogated their two half-orc captives in the Sanctuary’s meditation room. That didn’t work, so they confronted them with the sheer power of nature—an ancient, Druidic intimidation technique. Even so, the Drethan cleric, Malgorzata, remained tight-lipped; and the only answers Elga, her witch friend, offered were hissing and spitting. Frustrated, the party put them into Jagrin Grath’s custody at the Longhouse. He was in a heated discussion with his old friend Omast Frum, regarding the latter’s relationship with Inez Grenell, but the two stopped talking when they saw Malgorzata, whom they recognized as the town’s midwife, in chains. Jagrin took the two captive cultists and informed the party that Chief Defender Halgra herself would lead their interrogation; he would let the party know what information (if any) they acquired.

Next, the adventurers walked over to That ‘N Such (the Trunauan consignment shop and general store), where they tried to sell some of the treasure they’d recently acquired. Proprietress Jess Meeson gave them gold pieces for nearly everything except the two Drethan Passwall tokens, which the party had tried to activate themselves, to no avail. Jess asked them to remove the tokens from her store at once—they were probably bad luck! So they made for the Countinghouse (the Trunuaun bank), where they received the same response. “These aren’t proper orc coins” they were told by bank owner Lessie Crumkin, who eyed the tokens suspiciously. She did, however, allow them to deposit the large, red chrysoberyl set in a gold bracket—the Drethan unholy symbol that they’d snatched from the top of the Drethan altar—in the bank’s vault. After leaving the bank, they, together with their Silaqui’s wizard brother Turin, identified the five potions they’d found in the Plague House “wax museum”: one potion of Fire Breath, and four potions of Cure Serious Wounds.

With all their treasure safely stored and accounted for, Silaqui broke from the group to walk the town’s perimeter, outside the town wall, searching for places where orcs might hide—or any places where they might easily invade. All the while, Trunau’s archers guarded her from atop the wall, not letting her out of their sight. Not finding anything useful outside the town’s walls, she next questioned Sara Morninghawk about a possible half-orc conspiracy. Sara said she knew nothing about disgruntled Trunauan half-orcs, or any conspiracy plots; and, unfortunately, took offense at what she perceived to be a racist line of questioning. Silaqui apologized, and next visited all the white-sword graffiti symbols in town, hoping to discover hidden doors or tunnels near them, where orcs might invade. Unfortunately, she found nothing of the sort. The last graffiti symbol she investigated was at the Barterstones outside Trunau’s front gate, where she struck up a conversation with a merchant selling arrowheads. Silaqui asked her about the white symbol in the Barterstones, and the merchant told her that it had just appeared one day, overnight; she had no idea how anyone could have painted it so high on the rocks. Silaqui asked her if she’d noticed any strange half-orcs who were new in town; the merchant knew nothing, saying that lots of folks come and go every day. Silaqui then informed her that an orc invasion seemed imminent; and, even the farmhouses surrounding the town were not immune—she told her about the Drethan cult she and her friends had tracked down and exposed earlier that day. Spooked, the merchant passed the information along to the seed-seller in the next stall, who then passed it on to the merchant next to her. Within a few minutes, Silaqui’s news had spread, and the entire market started packing up. They thought it best to close early today (and probably tomorrow as well), they told her.

Meanwhile, Gydion, Draken and Jane passed the afternoon at the Killing Ground (Trunau’s most popular pub, located in the Inner Quarter). Upon learning of their brave exploits against the Drethan cultists, bar owner Rabus Clarenston offered them free drinks for the rest of the day, and dinner, too! After about an hour, Inez joined them. She explained that she and Omast had decided to stay in Trunau, and Omast was going to come out to his boss, Jagrin, about their relationship—and let the chips fall where they may. The three adventurers congratulated the couple on their bravery in the face of half-orc prejudice. Just then, Kurst Grath entered and invited them all to his brother Rodrik Grath’s funeral, scheduled for sunset the next day at Trunau’s Flame of the Fallen. After dinner, as the trio strolled home, they spotted Brinya Kelver in an alley, dressed as a prostitute! She approached them and whisperedly asked if they’d uncovered anything about the Drethan cult, or what had happened to Inez and Omast. She was happy to hear that they’d already exposed the cult and rescued their friends, that very morning. “Well, I’m relieved I won’t have to be undercover anymore”, she added, “although I must admit, I’ll miss the extra money. It certainly pays a lot more than weaving!”

The next day passed quickly, with everybody assisting High Priestess Tyari Varvatos with preparations for Rodrik’s funeral. In addition, Turin (having memorized Read Magic overnight) identified the two scrolls they’d recovered from the cult of Dretha as Endure Elements and Touch of Idiocy. The elf added them to his spellbook. Soon, it was close to evening, with a beautiful sunset in store on the horizon. The group headed southwest towards the Flame of the Fallen, joining dozens of Trunauans to pay their last respects to the late Patrol Captain.

Tyari began the funeral ceremony by consecrating the Flame, and the body, with sacred herbs: wormwood for Rodrik’s skill in battle; hart’s tongue fern for his literary accomplishments; and lungwort for its perfume and cleansing properties. Next, she said a few words about Rodrik before requenching his hopeknife in the Flame and handing it to his teary-eyed widow, Brinya. Her acolytes next placed the body on the flames as Tyari took a white bird out of a golden cage. “I commend Rodrik’s spirit to the Great Forever. May he soar on wings, like eagles, to the Great Beyond.” She then released the bird into the sky, saying, “Although the sun is setting on Trunau, Rodrik’s soul is enjoying a new dawn, as he enters eternal life.” Her eyes followed the bird as it flew, but then she squinted and turned her eyes eastward. What was that thing in the sky?

At this point, the player characters had noticed it, too: a flaming boulder, hurtling through the air! A militia man on the town wall interrupted the peaceful ceremony as he shouted “INCOMING!” Then, the boulder crashed into the southwest tower of the town’s inner quarter, utterly demolishing it with a mighty boom. The landscape quickly transformed into chaos: crowds of running, screaming people; sounds of barking dogs; and plumes of smoke rising from Lower Trunau. The invasion had come: Trunau was being attacked by orcs!

The funeral attendees scattered in every direction as Kurst approached the adventurers. Acknowledging their great success investigating his brother’s death, he assigns Gydion, Draken, Silaqui and Jane one more task: light Trunau’s beacons. He quickly explained to them that orcs always attack as darkness falls because it gives them a great advantage over the light-dependent humans of Trunau. In addition to the Flame of the Fallen (already lit), there were three beacons in town: One in Upper Trunau (not far from where they now were), one in the Inner Quarter, and one in Lower Trunau, near the Hopespring. Kurst urged them to light them as soon as possible, while he rallied the militia. In addition, he said, you must clear orcs everywhere you go, and point all injured and non-combatant people to the Longhouse for healing and safety. “Good luck!” he said, and headed to the nearest tower to get an overview of the invasion.

The party rushed to the Upper Trunau beacon, not far from the open-air amphitheater known as the Commons. As they approached, they heard a familiar voice—a voice seething with hatred—shouting “This is all her fault! Get the half-orc wench!” It was Basil, a cleric of Aberdon, and head teller at the Trunau Countinghouse. As the party rounded the corner, they saw that he was inciting a mob, which had completely surrounded poor, grieving Brinya! The angry crowd had her cornered, backed up against the unlit beacon. Another man piped up, suggesting they burn Brinya at the stake! Gydion was the first to react, attempting Diplomacy; when that didn’t work, he tried Intimidation. Unfortunately, Basil was not so easily intimidated, and reached for his sword. Suddenly, Halgra herself appeared, throwing down a thunderstone, which instantly silenced the angry mob. “Stop this at once!” She commanded. “I will not tolerate prejudice in our fair city, least of all against half-orcs. Some of my own children are half-orcs, you know. Basil, you should be ashamed of yourself. Brinya, come with me.” Then she took the half-orc weaver under her arm and headed towards the Longhouse. Before she left, she addressed the party, reminding them that they need to follow Kurst’s orders: Light the town’s beacons! She then warned them: “You’re all going to have to think and act more quickly if you’re going to survive this raid!”

Chagrined, and a little annoyed, the party lit the Upper Trunau beacon and then made haste to Trunau’s Inner Quarter. The Inner Quarter, surrounded as it was by its own protective wall, had closed its gates against invasion; but, when the guards in the Southern Gate Towers saw the heroes, they hailed them, and raised the portcullis. The scene inside the Inner Quarter contrasted sharply with the relative peace of Upper Trunau: screams and cries pierced the air; and, up ahead, strange, green smoke was rising from some burning trees, stinging their eyes. Compared to Upper Trunau, the Inner Quarter was a war zone, filled with burning rubble, obstructed pathways and half-destroyed buildings. Unfortunately, the adventurers noted, the Inner Quarter beacon had been destroyed as well—the wood and fuel were scattered all over the place.

Jane was the first to spot a short, makeshift barrier up ahead, apparently constructed of furniture, rubble and agricultural equipment. It was about three feet high by five feet wide, and already covered in the spilled blood of raiders and innocents alike: several victims of the bloody fight were strewn about the ground north of the barricade. Suddenly, Kurst Grath appeared from behind, leading a squad of stalwart Trunauan militia members towards Trunau’s front gate. He told the party that they were to secure the Inner Quarter as they make their way to the final, unlit beacon near the Hopespring. Already under heavy attack, he tells them, “The Inner Quarter may well fall to the raiders if you don’t restore some semblance of order.” He then instructed them to send any injured (or non-combatant) to a recently erected medical station located just behind the barricade (which he pointed out to them) rather than to the Longhouse (which was much farther away at this point). The heroes look over at the medical station, where they see clerics and acolytes busily tending to injured militia members and townsfolk.

Draken, Silaqui, Gydion, Jane, Toboe and Kingsley carefully navigated the rubble-strewn path through the war-torn district. Dark storm clouds were moving in over the town, mingling with smoke and the fading light of day to reduce the ambient brightness to dim light, putting Gydion (the only party member without darkvision or low-light vision) at a disadvantage. As the group passed one house, engulfed in flames, they heard a familiar voice crying out for help! It sounded like Agrit Staginsdar, the dwarven wizard who owned Trunau’s magic shop, the House of Wonders. “Help us! Somebody, please help us!” she cried hoarsely, in between coughs. The adventurers stopped and watched helplessly as burning beams crumbled to the ground beneath the weight of the sagging roof. Yet, the front entrance remained accessible—for now.

Jane quickly ran around the burning building to assess exactly where in the house the voice was coming from. Meanwhile, a group of four orc invaders charged out of nowhere, attacking Silaqui and the others! The foul creatures were quickly put down just as Jane reached the front door of the house, where the voice was closest. After a quick discussion, the group decided that Draken should attempt a rescue. The dwarf rushed through the front entrance and found Agrit desperately trying to lift a burning beam off of her wife, Sara Morninghawk, who was unconscious. Unfortunately, before he could act, Draken was overcome by smoke inhalation, coughing and hacking uncontrollably. Jane heard what was going on and rushed in. Assessing the situation, the druid cast a Warp Wood spell on the fiery beam, altering its shape just enough to free Sara, whom she dragged out of the burning house, the two coughing dwarves flanking her on either side. As the party accompanied Sara and Agrit to the medical station, they turned and saw the burning house collapse in a heap behind them.

After leaving Sara and Agrit, the group once again headed west down the debris-laden path. On their way, they noted a drinking well, surrounded by bodies of all kinds—orcs and humans, men and women, children and the elderly—scattered across the cobblestones where they fell. Veins of watery blood crawled from the base of the well, spreading from the limp body of a slain Trunauan guard draped over the side of the well. Draken investigated the scene and found a potion of Cure Light Wounds that had evidently slipped from the guard’s hands before he could drink it. He offered a moment of silence, and then pocketed the potion, thanking the now-dead guard.

Our heroes were almost to the cloud of green smoke that was being generated by three burning trees ahead of them. The cloud barred their path, and so Draken (who was in the lead) prepared to enter it by covering his mouth with a wet cloth. Before he reached the cloud, however, the group was distracted by what sounded like orcs ransacking a cluster of nearby homes. When they entered the courtyard between the homes, they heard the sound of drums beating from the east—not far from their current location. They turned and saw a tower inset within Trunau’s town wall—was the sound coming from there? They also saw a cart piled high with clothing, food and other items—including a golden bird cage and bottles of fine wine. Just then, two orcs came out from inside one of the houses, and were immediately set upon by Silaqui, Jane and Toboe. As the three of them dealt with the looters in the courtyard, Draken, Gydion and Kingsley entered one of the houses, where they found three more orcs busily looting. One of the orcs was holding a metal statue of a dwarf and saying, to his comrades: “Check out this pig-faced iron trash can!” Draken grew furious and angrily raised his battleaxe. He cleaved through the orc, instantly killing both him and the orc standing next to him. He then turned and cut down the third orc, who had just begun sparring with Gydion and Kingsley.

The party regrouped outside, where they heard the drums getting louder. They decided to clear two more houses of orc looters before investigating the beating drums. The looters offered little resistance, and after doling out some healing, the group approached the tower, where the sound of the drums was loudest. The tower, which loomed 30 feet over the Inner Quarter’s eastern border, had two floors and one door, located on the first floor. The door was half-opened. From what the adventurers could tell, the drumming seemed to be coming from the tower.

Draken, Gydion, Jane and the animals entered the tower while Silaqui attempted to climb up to a window on the second floor. Three orcs occupied the guardroom that the dwarf and the druids found themselves in. Three human Trunauan guards who had been stationed there lay lifeless on the floor. Jane, Gydion and Draken heard shouts from above as they battled the three orc interlopers—more orcs were waiting for them upstairs! Silaqui, meanwhile, through the second-floor window, spotted three orcs climbing a ladder between the second floor and the roof! Unfortunately, at precisely that moment, the elf ranger lost her footing and fell to the ground, taking six points of damage.

After defeating the orcs at the base of the tower, the team of outlander heroes gathered inside and discussed what to do. They heard a door slamming and locking somewhere above them—apparently, the orcs on the second floor had reached the roof, and closed and locked the roof-door behind them. Gydion contemplated using Soften Earth and Stone to bring the tower crumbling down, then realized that the spell would only work on natural stone—not worked stone. So, leaving Kingsley and Toboe behind, they headed up the ladder to the second floor. They were greeted with pointed javelins raining down from the door above, which was quickly shut again. Draken followed them up the ladder to the roof and, sure enough, found it locked from above. The war drums were even louder than before, echoing inside the hollow tower walls and sending chills down their spines. In the name of Iomedae, what was going on up there?

Jane ordered everyone to stand back as she gestured a prayer, speaking ancient words that summoned nature’s fury in the form of a Flaming Sphere, which she directed upwards at the locked door. After two rounds, the door was incinerated. The drums stopped momentarily and the party carefully headed up the ladder, led once again by Draken. Fighting his way through the doorway with axe and shield, he found himself on the tower’s roof, completely surrounded by three orc raiders and two giant centipedes! Across the rooftop was a fierce-looking orc captain whose face with covered in blue warpaint; he held a large, hide-covered wardrum. As the rest of the party piled out onto the rooftop, the fierce captain started beating his drum once again. As his minions fought the four heroes, the orc captain (actually a skald—a primitive bard!) cast spells through his wardrums. Fortunately, none of the evil enchantments had any effect on the adventurers—all of them made their required saving throw. Within a few rounds, the skald’s minions were unconscious on the ground, together with Gydion, who was taken down by an orc’s unfortunate attack of opportunity as he tried to launch a spell.

Jane healed Gydion to consciousness, and the party focused their attacks on the orc skald, now alone, growling and wildly beating his drums… Silaqui, Draken and Gydion moved in and surrounded him. Silaqui hit him with a point-blank arrow for one point of damage. Then, Jane hit him with another arrow (from a safer distance). Next, Gydion hit him with his quarterstaff (equipped with Shillelagh). Finally, Draken finished the brute off with a cleave from his mighty axe.

Treasure: Upon searching the skald’s body and his pack, the team recovered a potion of Cure Moderate Wounds, a scroll of Cause Fear, a scroll of Grease, a scroll of Remove Fear, and a wand of Cure Light Wounds. They also found a thunderstone. He was wearing the following: masterwork chainmail (now broken and ruined), masterwork light steel shield, masterwork battleaxe, five throwing axes, antitoxin, and war drums.

Experience: TBA.

Next: the Battle of Bloodmarch Hill, Part II!

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Episode 7: The Cult of Dretha

It was late evening when Gydion, Silaqui, Asa, Janekfan and Draken returned to Trunau with Othdan, the pig-farmer’s son whom they’d rescued from the Plague House. It had been a grueling, trying night which had changed them all forever. Upon entrance Silaqui insisted on bringing Othdan to the Long House to speak to Patrol Captain Jagrin Grath, but he’d already gone to sleep for the night. So they took the boy to Halgra of the Blackened Blades (Silaqui using her friendship with her daughter, Ruby Red,— to gain entrance) and had him recount the story of his kidnapping for her. At Silaqui’s urging, he added that he’d heard his half-orc captor speaking with others about a planned orc invasion of Trunau. The Chief Defender listened quietly, said she would call a Council meeting in the morning to discuss the matter, and wished them goodnight. Jane sensed that she was more concerned than she was letting on.

Silaqui and Jane then returned Othdan to his home via the South Road; his parents were overjoyed that he’d been found. They offered the two elf-ladies one silver piece each as a reward, which they politely declined. The others, meanwhile, went to the Sanctuary, where they found Tyari Varvatos getting ready to turn in for the night, having just finished her evening prayers. They excitedly informed her that they’d made great progress clearing the Plague House of evil undead monsters. As the cleric healed their wounds, she thanked them, and told them they’d earned the undying gratitude of the Church of Iomedae; and, further, because of their heroic efforts, she invited them to stay at the Sanctuary, rent-free, indefinitely. The group graciously accepted and quickly retrieved their possessions from their rooms at the nearby inn, the Ramblehouse, where they’d been staying since they’d first arrived in town the past few nights. Each was then show to their own cozy (if sparse) monk’s cell; the two elf maidens joined them upon their return from Othdan’s farm.

The next morning, Tyari’s acolytes served them breakfast while she reiterated her gratitude. As a token of Iomedae’s favor, she gave them each a medallion with the holy symbol of Iomedae (a longsword with the sun in the background) on it. Silaqui’s wizard brother Turin was there, and even though he hadn’t set foot in the Plague House, he was also presented with one, by virtue of his affiliation with the party and their virtuous act of bravery. Tyari then excused herself, explaining that she and the rest of the church members were spending the day in prayer (it happened to be high holy day), during which she would be asking for divine guidance regarding the fate of the Plague House—should they try and salvage it, or raze it to the ground? Then she disappeared, with Asa and all the other Iomedaean disciples, into the Sanctuary’s worship space. The party was left alone in the dining hall with the scullery maid.

There was a loud knock at the door, and then the door opened. It was Brinya Kelver, and she needed help! She excitedly told them that she’d been visited, late last night, by Patrol Sergeant Omast Frum, and town drunk Inez Grenelll. The pair had just left the Killing Ground pub, where they’d decided to elope! The party expressed surprise, because they’d had no idea that the two had even been dating; Brinya nodded in agreement. Omast explained that he needed to leave town and get a fresh start, and Inez was going with him. He further explained that he’d been wracked with guilt over the untimely, mysterious death of Rodrik Grath, which the party had been charged with investigating. He told them how he’d sworn to Rodrik’s father (and Omast’s boss), Jagrin, long ago, that he would look after his two boys as their godfather—and now, he’d failed. Still further, he’d fallen in love with Inez, and Jagrin hated half-orcs. Omast couldn’t face working for Jagrin any longer, under the circumstances, and hence, their plans to elope. They were coming to Brinya to express their sympathy over Rodrik, and to tell her they were leaving Trunau that very night, for good.

Brinya told the party that they all shared a few drinks at Brinya’s, and then the pair left her. On her way out, Brinya said, Inez was so drunk that she fell into a basket of weaving yarn in her front room, and was covered in the stuff. After they left, she noted that the twosome didn’t take the path in front—instead, they ducked around into her backyard, towards the city wall. Then she saw a flash of light, which she found very peculiar. Unfortunately, the alcohol had got the better of her, and she fell asleep at her kitchen table, without going outside to investigate.

When Brinya woke up this morning, she replayed the previous night’s events in her head. Something didn’t seem to add up; she though that Inez’s behavior in particular had been very odd. So she went into her backyard, where she followed a trail of yarn right up to the base of the city wall. She then looked down and found a strange, gold token with a symbol on it: a glaring, bloodshot eye. Grabbing up the odd coin, she went to go find Jagrin, but when she found him, he wanted nothing to do with her—he wouldn’t even listen to her. He clearly didn’t like her, because she was half-orc; and moreover, because she had been the secret girlfriend of his dead son, Rodrik. Desperate, Brinya headed to the Sanctuary next, in hopes that someone there would know what the token was.

One by one, the adventurers examined the token, but no-one could say what it was. Turin cast Detect Magic on it, and determined it was indeed a magical item—but could not determine what powers it possessed. Unfortunately, they explained to Brinya, that was the best they could do, because Tyari and her followers were cloistered all day, celebrating an Iomedaean holiday. Just then, the seer Katrezra passed by in the hallway. Would the sickly, elderly half-orc know what the token was—and what the symbol meant? They hailed him and asked his advice.

When Katrazra saw the token, his eyes went wide. “Goodness!”, he exclaimed, “this is the holy symbol of Dretha, the Dark Mother.” He revealed that the symbol had featured in his dreams the past few nights—and now, he knew why. The seer revealed that Dretha is the orc goddess of fertility and domesticity, but also the goddess of possessiveness and revenge. He didn’t know what the token’s magical properties could be, but he was adamant that the appearance of the token was a very bad sign. The group listened intently as he told them that the Dretha’s cultists are almost always female orcs or half-orcs who live at the margins of society—refugees; embittered divorcées; disabled women; and scorned prostitutes. The group eyed Brinya suspicously, as she fit the cultist profile perfectly—but she rebuked them for even dreaming she’d be involved in a cult like that. Katrezra continued on saying that if such a cult existed in Trunau, and Omast and Inez were involved with them, they could be in serious trouble.

After some discussion, the group decided to examine the area where Brinya had last seen the couple: Brinya’s backyard. While they walked to her house, Brinya proposed a “plan B”: making contact with the Drethan cult; becoming one of them; and hopefully, being invited to one of their meetings. She said that since she fit the cultist profile, she was the natural choice for infiltrating their ranks. She proposed going undercover… as a street hooker! She asked Silaqui and Jane if they wanted to go with her—perhaps as “wingmen”? She said she might even be able to disguise them as half-orcs. Jane accepted the offer, and the two went into Brinya’s house to “slip into something more comfortable”, while the others investigated Brinya’s backyard, and the city wall that defined its back border.

The party easily picked up the trail of yarn that Brinya had found earlier, and followed it to the base of the wall. They tried fitting the coin into different slots in the wall, in an attempt to activate the coin’s magic—but nothing happened. They then noticed that a piece of yarn actually seemed to be imbedded in the wall itself! Which they found very peculiar. The group then decided to see what was on the other side of the wall—to do so, they needed to climb up the tower a few hundred feet to the south. The guardsman on duty let them pass freely—“you have the run of the town, as per Halgra’s orders,” he smiled. Looking down, the group could see that there was a ladder positioned on the top of the cliff, outside the wall at its base, directly behind Brinya’s house. Silaqui asked one of the militia members about the ladder, and he told her that it must be new—he’d never seen it before, and it wasn’t there the day before! Then, the nimble elf ranger carefully climbed down the wall and down the ladder, while the others made a beeline for Trunau’s front gate. (Turin took the lead, because he was worried about his sister, out there on her own). On their way, the party ran into Jane coming out of Brinya’s house—she had poured herself into one of Brinya’s hand-woven knit dresses, and was ready for action. They informed her that they had found another lead they wanted to investigate. Slightly disappointed, she went back inside Brinya’s; quickly changed; and joined them as they headed towards the front gate.

By the time Jane and the others reached them, Silaqui and Turin had picked up a trail of yarn, which had begun again at the bottom of the makeshift ladder. The group followed the trail west to the South Road, and saw that it continued down the south road for about two miles. It was easy to follow in the bright, Spring sun. They passed a few farms on their way, and wondered: What happens to these farms when orc invasions come?

Munguk.2.jpg

As they rounded a bend in the road, they saw a most unusual sight: a garagantuan figure, sitting on a pile of rocks, shaking a jug above his head—as if he were trying to get the last drop out of it. The creature was sobbing to itself in some unknown language. Half of the group decided to head towards it, surreptiously, through a farm field, while Gydion, Kingsley, Jane and Toboe approached it from the road. As they got closer, Gydion, Jane and Draken recognized the creature: It was a hill giant! It had blue liquid dribbled down its chin, wore a necklace of humanoid skulls, and was surrounded by empty jugs and flasks. Gydion addressed the creature: “What seems to be the matter, friend?” The giant shook the jug in front of him and said “All gone! No more!” Over the course of several minutes—and fits of tears—he told Gyidon, in broken Common, that his name was Munguk, and that another hill giant, Queen Grenseldek of the Mindspin Hills, had left him, and now he was left with nothing! “All gone!” he kept repeating. As Munguk spoke, Gyidion recognized one of the flasks as belonging to Innez! (They’d seen her drinking out of it often, over the past few days they’d been in Trunau). Gydion pointed to the flask and asked the giant, do you know where we can find the owner of that flask? Munguk answered, with a question of his own: Could Gydion or his friends get him any alcohol? Gydion told him that unfortunately they didn’t have any alcohol on them; however, if the giant could kindly tell him where the owner of the flask was, he promised he would bring some alcohol to him. Munguk grumbled “OK” and then pointed to a farmhouse in the distance.

The group thanked him and quickly moved towards the farmhouse, the giant’s sobs booming behind them. The red, wooden building that Munguk had pointed to loomed before them: it was roughly box-shaped, about 100 feet on either side. Silaqui quietly scouted the perimeter of the place and found some stables on the west side of the building; she had to climb a fence, beyond which she found some horses grazing. She looked through the stables and saw a dimly lit barn inside, piles of hay strewn about. Meanwhile, Jane went up to the door and knocked—they waited a minute, but there was no answer. Jane then examined the door closely to see if it was locked, and found a thin, nearly invisible tripwire across it. She backed away and explained to the others what she’d found. Turin offered to use his Mage Hand to trigger the wire: his Hand threw a rock at the wire, instantly springing the wire loose. Nothing happened.

Finally, Jane went back up to the door, opened it, and shouted “Inez?!” She looked around and saw piles of hay everywhere inside the dimly lit barn. There was a loft space, with haystacks in it, on the far side of the barn. The room had opened horse stalls to the left, as Silaqui had reported to her. She and Toboe moved into the barn and beckoned the others to follow. After a few tense minutes, Jane found a bloody, woven blanket—resembling those made by Brinya—under some hay. At about the same time, Gydion found a door in the floor with a handle on it. The others gathered around.

Draken pulled the hatch open, revealing a set of iron stairs heading downwards into a dimly lit room. The dwarf started down the stairs slowly, the others close behind him. As soon as he reached the midpoint on the stairs, dark laughter reached his ears. Looking into the darkness, he saw an altar of piled stones, with a glittering red gem atop it resembling a glaring, bloodshot eye. Two doors, one on the north side of the room and the other on the south, exited the room. In front of the altar stood three figures: a slender, female half-orc wearing a black tunic and an ornate headdress; Omast Frum in his militia uniform; and a shorter, feminine figure wearing a black wedding dress, the veil pulled over her face. Omast seemed frozen in place, and his eyes were half-closed and glazed over. “Your too late!” screamed a voice, and Draken saw it was coming from the black-garbed half-orc. She seemed to be the one in charge. “They’re already been wed in an orc church!” She sneered, and added: “But you’re just in time for the sacrifice! Kill him, Inez!!”

Turin was the first to act: he darted down the stairs and cast Magic Bolt at the female half-orc, which sent her reeling towards the altar. Silaqui was next, firing an arrow that missed her by only a few inches. The black-garbed female composed herself and directed her minions—six dark-robed figures half-hidden in the shadows at the edge of the basement room—to attack the intruders. She then chanted an incantation and pointed a finger towards Turin—whatever spell she’d cast, the elf had successfully made his Will save, and he shrugged it off.

The woman in the black wedding dress acted next, drawing out a dagger from the folds of her dress, and stabbing Omast in the chest! Their would-be rescuers—our heroes—were greatly dismayed by this, and moved to intervene, but were blocked by the dark-robed Drethan minions, five of whom were rapidly advancing on them. (One moved towards the woman in the black wedding dress). It was only after the woman in the black dress stabbed Omast a second time that Draken broke free from the crowd, barrelled towards the altar, and tackled her. (In doing so, he suffered three attacks of opportunity, including one from the woman, but he only got hit by one of the minions, which only cost him one hit point). Helplessly grappled, the woman in the wedding dress dropped her bloody dagger onto the floor.

After a few rounds of combat, four of the Drethan cultists were lying on the ground, bleeding out—and Toboe, too, had lost a lot of blood. The black-garbed, slender female half-orc reached inside her tunic and pulled out a gold token—identical to the one that Brinya had found in her backyard—and pointed it up, towards the ceiling above her. Gydion tried to incinerate her with a Produce Flame spell, but missed. The woman then shouted a command word (Turin interpreted it as Orcish for “open sesame”) and a hole appeared in the ceiling above her—hay fell in on either side of it, onto the altar below. Before she could escape through it, however, she was hit with a double-whammy: Turin hit her with another Magic Bolt, and Jane hit her with an arrow. She fell to the dirt floor below; and, seeing this, the two remaining cultists surrendered. At the same exact moment, Omast woke up out of his stupor, and cried out in pain from his injuries.

Jane bound Omast’s wounds. She then checked the cult’s ringleader, now bleeding out on the floor, and Stabilize ‘d her. Next, she tied up the two remaining cultists, and then helped Draken tie up the woman in the wedding gown. Once secured, Draken ripped the black veil from the woman’s face, revealing the face of… Inez Grinell! Or was it? Turin’s elvish eyes were not fooled: upon closer inspection, the wizard saw the face of an old half-orc woman behind an illusion; perhaps Alter Self? The old woman hissed and spat at them, but would say nothing. Gydion ordered her to tell him where the real Inez was, but she remained mute. He threatened her with violence, and still, she said nothing. He acted on his threat and smacked the old woman with his quarterstaff—still, she said nothing!

Jane, meanwhile, was making better progress with the two half-orc cultists, whom she had also tied up. It didn’t take much encouragement to get them talking; they told her that the wedding ceremony and the intended post-wedding sacrifice were offerings to Dretha, to ensure that the orc attack on Trunau would be a glorious one. The party was very concerned at this news; however, the cultists didn’t seem to know much more—they didn’t know when the supposed invasion was taking place, or who would be leading it. After some prodding, however, they did reveal the names of their unconscious leader, as well as the woman in the black wedding dress who had posed as Inez: Malgorzata and Elga, respectively; a cleric of Dretha, and her witch accomplice.

While this was going on, Turin turned his attention to the two doors on the north and south sides of the room. When he approached the north door, he heard what sounded like muffled screaming! Throwing open the door, he found a small 10×10 closet, furnished with two chests. Behind one chest, he saw what looked like someone who was tied up and gagged. Pushing the chest aside, he turned the figure over, revealing Inez Grinell—battered and bloody, but very much alive. He untied her and removed her gag. She belched andthen asked him, “Is Omast OK?” Turin nodded, yes. She then quickly asked, “Hey, did you happen to see my flask on your way here? I could really use a drink!” He added that, in fact, they had seen it; and she told him that she and Omast had given it up to the giant Munguk the night before, in return for free and safe passage as they headed west from the city.

The party searched the bodies, and the rest of the basement, while Inez and Omast regaled them with a detailed account of their journey from Trunau. Inez told them that when she’d received word that some of her half-orc friends were going to surprise her and Omast with a country wedding as they left Trunau and the Hold of Belkzen for good, she was thrilled. When they arrived at the farmhouse, however, where her friends had told them they would be wed, they were jumped! Omast was quickly overpowered by Charm and Hold Person spells, forcing Inez to surrender herself. If it weren’t for Brinya’s instincts and the party’s intervention, Inez told them, she was sure that both of them would have been sacrificed to Dretha.

Treasure:

Opening the chests inside the north closet revealed three gallons of wine, and some dried food. A search of the other closet turned up a sack holding the following items: a wooden bowl and spoon; an empty clay jug; a few strips of dried meat (which Jane fed to Toboe); a glass jar containing a partially eaten pickled sheep’s head; a bent grappling hook; and 60 gp. The sack also contained two scrolls (which could not be determined, yet), and a gnarled piece of driftwood, which (after some careful study) Turin determined was a wand of Hideous Laughter. The party added these items to those found on the cultists themselves:

One magic shawl (worn by Malgorzata), granting a +2 bonus on Diplomacy and Intimidate checks;
One magic shawl (worn by Elga) of Protection +1;
30 gp (on the bodies of the six cultists).

The only other treasure in the basement was the glittering red gem (which Draken identified as a chrysoberyl worth at least several hundred gold pieces), perched on top of the altar; it radiates magic, but abilities/properties couldn’t be determined.

Experience: none.

NB: As the party walked along the South Road, back to Trunau, they paused to deliver the wine to Munguk, who received it gratefully. He allowed them to pass unharmed.

Next: The Flame of the Fallen!

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