The sprawling port city of Thaarstead stretched out haphazardly around a great natural deepwater harbor, tall, the proud merchant ships seeming oddly out of place against the backdrop of haphazardly placed buildings and neighborhoods, as if the city was built with little rhyme, reason or overriding purpose beyond the desires of individual builders, and local lords guiding the neighborhoods that surrounded various longhouses. Haerak found the cheerful chaos of the place oddly comforting, this seemed to be a city where a man like Haerak could make his mark.
After finding suitable lodging for his company, and enjoying a well earned night’s revelry and morning’s rest, Haerak began the search for transport to Silverbridge. He soon found that few ships headed for the great city, as many recent ships had been lost, whether to piracy, or something worse, depending upon which rumors one bent ear to. The only suitable transport was a ship called the Vaar, a great southern vessel commanded by a hard, but seemingly fair captain. His price was steep, and worse, the stories told by his men brought back ugly memories of Theobold Kline’s treatment of Haerak’s underdark allies. Still, with no other option presenting, he negotiated a possible passage fee for himself and his companions.
The following day, the barbarian was approached by a messenger, he was asked to meet with a powerful timberman named Raeval. Raeval, accompanied by a small, but confident and well equipped halfling named Jecklen, informed Haerak that the shipping losses had primarily been among those vessels transporting loads of timber, and that the timber consortium was offering considerable reward for whoever could stop the attacks. Further, the halfling informed Haerak that he was employed by a wealthy merchant of Silverbridge, who had lost several ships to the attacks. Though Haerak was sympathetic, and interested in the considerable sums they mentioned, he was unconvinced what use he would be in the investigation, and further, why they were interested in his help at all.
Upon further reflection, Haerak surmised that word from Lastinn may have reached Thaarstead of his adventures there, and, if that were the case, Raeval and Jecklen would at the very least likely be able to trust that he was not allied with whomever was taking these ships, as they surely had agents within the city identifying the ships with heavy loads of fine timber. Haerak also knew that he could be of great use to Jecklen with the power of his mind reading cloak, not to mention the strength of his arm, and so he offered to help the little halfling with his investigation on the morrow.
Haerak and Fjensir awaited the little man, but, some time after the agreed upon hour had passed, Jecklen had still not arrived at the Skittering Crab. Worried that something might have happened to the little investigator, they found the inn where Jecklen had been staying, and quickly learned that he did not return to his room the night past. More worried now, Haerak began to search in earnest, soon finding a trail of clues that led to the markets, one stall in particular, where they found a shabby merchant, clearly selling goods that had belonged to the halfling. With the aid of the Ilithid cloak, Haerak easily determined that the man had purchased the items from a dangerous, scar faced man named Geirr.
Haerak and Fjensir returned to the Skittering Crab for backup, finding K’larsh enjoying the attention of several barmaids. When the great orc learned that the little halfling may be in grave danger, he immediately insisted upon assisting in the search, the kindness of the smallfolk in Pebbleford clearly in his thoughts. They tracked Geirr to a rotten, shabby bar, where, for a small bribe, the barman abandoned all thoughts of loyalty to his renter and explained the situation. Geirr had been warned of their impending arrival by the merchant, but had left in such a hurry that he had not taken the time to gather his things from the shabby room he had rented. More clues lay within, including the halfling’s fine blade. Wasting no time, they began tracking Geirr further, eventually finding him seeking safe transport from the city. Upon spotting Haerak, the warrior fled, leading the three companions on a short chase through the confusing streets and narrow alley’s of Thaarstead, eventually though the back kitchen of a local drinking establishment, where he was attempting to rally his countrymen against the foreigner’s who meant him harm. A strange incantation from Fjensir caused the scar faced warrior to double over laughing, nearly rendered helpless by the spell. Haerak quickly joined in the laughter, and dropped gold on the bar, calling for drinks for all. They then dragged the guffawing warrior out of the bar, into the alley behind the bar.
A savage beating, combined with the power of the cloak informed them of the sad truth, that Geirr had murdered Jecklen in return for the small bag of gold on his hip. The man was defiant, cursing Haerak, and refusing to name who had paid him for the job. Haerak offered Geirr a choice, he would beat him to death, or, he could offer up the name, and Haerak would give him a fair fight, one on one, for his freedom. Geirr chose the latter, and spat out the name Garth Brunnel. Haerak drew his flail and nodded at Klarsh and Fjensir, who released the murderous scum. Even disarmed of his greatsword, Geirr was a brutal opponent, with decades of experience fighting, but he was hurt, armed with only daggers and facing and enraged Haerak, fuming with hatred from seeing the mans callous murder of the friendly halfling in his mind. Haerak knocked Geirr from his feat and punished him with powerful blows from his flail, and, when the warrior struggled back to his feet, Haerak knocked him back down and smashed him a second time. With that, Geirr had had enough, he yielded.
Still enraged, Haerak only barely redirected his killing blow through a red mask of hatred, he brought his flail down on the murderers knee, rather than his skull, leaving him ruined and crippled, but, for now, alive at least.
Garth Brunnel proved to be nothing but a cowardly fisherman, easily cowed by the still angry Haerak, he explained that he had been bought by pirates to identify the ships that left harbor carrying timber for a man named Korrod Fisheyes, and had paid for the murder of Jecklen so that he could continue his treachery without the halfling’s prying. Haerak learned what he could from Garth, and then brought him to Raeval, for whatever punishment the timberman thought fair for betrayal and murder.
Haerak and his allies made plans to attack the ship of Korrod Fisheyes, a garish red merchant vessel called the Scourge, when it arrived, as was expected to happen soon. They had reason to hope that one of the pirate leaders might accompany the ship, an elf named Niram Renotal, who was purported to be the ship’s owner, and was often found buying strange components from the local wise woman. Indeed, within a few days the merchant trader the Scourge arrived, painted a garish red, crewed by pirates and led by the man Korrod Fisheyes. Haerak, Fjensir, K’larsh, Grestmaul and Rain moved to the ship, Haerak dropping all pretense of guise, called for unconditional surrender.
The pirates were seasoned warriors, and they outnumbered Haerak and his friends by two to one, they immediately attacked. The battle was fierce and bloody, K’Larsh immediately leapt onto the ships deck, driving the magical axe into the nearest pirate, paying little heed to the pirates that swarmed around him, slicing and slashing with their curved blades. More pirates fired down on the unarmored Rain with crossbow and dagger, wounding the wizard before he could throw up a magical protection. Two of the pirates who had been unloading the ship moved to flank the party, but were met by the heavily armored Grestmaul, their clumsy gaff hooks boucing harmlessly off of his heavy steel plate. Another swung down to the dock from the ships rigging, nearly catching Fjensir by surprise, but the canny skald caught the blow on his shield at the last moment.
Haerak moved up onto the ship to backup K’larsh, who was bleeding from a number of wounds, though he seemed to feel them not, Haerak carved a great bloody swath through the pirates with his greatsword. The barbarian swept the head from the shoulders of the nearest pirate with his opening blow, and nearly cut down one of the ships lieutenants with his followup, the man twisted away from the worst of the blow, but it left him bleeding badly. The next moments were a blur of battle, K’larsh and Haerak raging on the ship, hacking and tearing through the men who stood against them, while their companions mopped up the rest of the pirates with sword, axe, and magical shock.
Fisheyes was the last to die, his cries for aid from Renotal cut short by Haeraks sword opening his gut, then K’Larsh’s burning axe splitting his spine. With their leaders gone, the three remaining pirates dropped their weapons and begged for mercy.
Haerak and K’larsh made for the wise woman’s shop as quickly as they could, hoping to catch Renotal there. They found the wizard, but, before they were upon him, he disappeared with a snarl, snatching a wand from the wise woman’s hip.
The Scourge was theirs, and within they found sea charts leading back to the pirate cove where Morgan Krell, the captain of those men, made his base. On a hunch, Haerak had Fjensir take a closer look at the ship, where, he discovered that the Scourge was, in fact, the badly re-painted, stolen ship the Sea Hawk, the very ship that Evald Ferrier, Jecklen’s employer had sought.
Haerak and his friends then resolved to find a crew, follow the sea charts, and put an end to the pirate threat on the merchants of Thaarstead and Silverbridge, collecting two fat bounties, and a pirate’s cove worth of loot in the process
The sprawling port city of Thaarstead stretched out haphazardly around a great natural deepwater harbor, tall, the proud merchant ships seeming oddly out of place against the backdrop of haphazardly placed buildings and neighborhoods, as if the city was built with little rhyme, reason or overriding purpose beyond the desires of individual builders, and local lords guiding the neighborhoods that surrounded various longhouses. Haerak found the cheerful chaos of the place oddly comforting, this seemed to be a city where a man like Haerak could make his mark.
The flight from Dorl’s caves went well at first, the confusion of their magical distractions, and with invisibility and insubstantiability on their side, K’larsh and Haerak were able to meet with their friends in the woods south of the cave, without the goblin horde giving chase. Jhota however, had no such luck, despite the magical protection offered by the potion, he did not make it to the cave mouth, but instead was almost certainly captured or killed by those inside.
Haerak and his companions made haste for Lastinn, but before long, the howl of wolves could be heard behind them, goblin worgs, hunting them down. The scouting party that found them numbered four worgs and riders, hardened goblin veterans, more dangerous than the cowardly rabble that makes up the bulk of any goblin force. They struck the party swiftly, the worgs attempting to knock their victims to the ground, where they could be savaged by the beasts powerful teeth, and lacerated by the jabbing spear of their rider. Still badly weakened by their ordeal against Dorl, the fight went badly for Haerak and his friends, they managed to drive off or slay their attackers, but, they were left bleeding and torn by the brutal attacks of the worg riders, and there were more of them not far behind.
Knowing that their flight could not succeed against the speed and tracking skills of their pursuers, K’larsh offered to lead the enemy away from the rest of the group, planning on relying on his berserker speed, combined with a temporary boost from Grestmaul, to keep ahead of pursuit, hopefully buying enough time for Haerak and the others to lose the rest of the creatures. Haerak could see this was the only chance for survival, so he agreed, clasped K’larsh on the shoulder, and led the rest of his friends with all haste for Lastinn.
They had nearly reached the city when a lone waylayer attacked them, a skilled and dangerous bugbear wielding a pair of blades, both dripping poison. The creature fought well, but when Haerak survived its initial assault, it quickly found itself surrounded and slain.
The group at last made the city gates, where they returned a beaming Firella to her amazed and grateful father. Haerak refused to take the mans life savings, and gave the young maiden a few pieces of jewelry looted from the bugbear encampment to help her and her father start anew. He then found the nearest temple of St. Nadia, where they were able to undo some of the damage the spirit of Dorl inflicted upon Haeraks soul.
Haerak sent his companions to the inn, and set out to find his friend K’larsh, heading into the wilderness alone.
He returned to the point the where red skinned orcish berserker had left them, and followed his trail for hours, seeing the trail of his pursuers merge and break off, and merge again, where they must have guessed wrong and doubled back. In two places he found the savaged corpses of slain goblins, but, other than a cold trail, no sign of the mighty warrior K’larsh. When night fell Haerak spotted a bonfire in the distance. Fearing goblins, but too concerned for his friends safety to avoid it, K’larsh investigated. The bonfire was goblins indeed, or rather, a pyre of their corpses. The goblin force had apparently chased its way into the territory of a group of elves, who did not take kindly to the presence of the monsters. Haerak parlayed with the elves, whom he quickly realized had been tracking him for some time. They were not friendly to the barbarian, making it clear that he had best be gone from their territory sooner rather than later, but, they at least informed him that they had seen no sign of his friend.
Haerak slept a cold night in a dark hollow, by a river when the magical gaze of his helmet failed him, and, in the morning was only able to find a few hints of his friends trail. Haerak was a reasonable tracker, but time, traffic, and a bit of fresh snow made trail difficult to follow. As luck would have it however, he was near the trails end, after a few short hours he came upon a walled logging town, he came to learn was called Pebbleford.
The little logging town was run and protected by a stout force of halflings. Many of the workers were human, and to Haerak, the place seemed as close to a paradise as anywhere he could imagine. The men and halflings worked together without obvious quarrel, and he quickly learned, one of their patrols had found his friend in the river while on patrol the day past. Rather than leaving the strange half-orc(or finishing him off), they had brought him to town, offered him healing, and, with Haeraks assurance of K’larshs character, removed the chain they had placed on him for their own protection. Haerak enjoyed the hospitality of the town for some time, learning of the history from the Mayor, and a pretty young bard in the towns tavern. The mayor also introduced him to his horse, a strange and eerily intelligent beast they mayor claimed might be an ancient creature, tied to the tragic history of the area. The pair stayed there for a day before taking passage on a barge headed to Thaarstead, all the while waiting for the other shoe to drop. However, the good people of Pebbleford played them true, to Haerak, the little village seemed like a tiny beacon of goodness and freedom in a mad cruel world.
The gigantic, magically empowered forms of Haerak and K’larsh tossed open the heavy iron & brass doors of the temple of Dorl the Vain with ease, weapons at the ready. The Chimera, a beast forged by divine power from the blood of a would be god, was ready, it dropped from the ceiling, blasting a wave of terrible cold into the midst of its would be killers.
Haerak and K’larsh shrugged off the assault, and charged the beast, while the rest of their allies fanned out around the creature, surrounding it. The fighting was fierce and terrible, Haerak and K’larsh attacked with desperation, simply throwing caution to the wind and trying to slay the beast before it ripped them to bloody pieces.
For all of the magic that enchanted them, Haerak and K’larsh’s blades found little purchase in the beasts hide, a few blows struck true, but the snapping jaws of the creature, and its thick scaly hide turned the majority away harmlessly. However the fury of their assault allowed Fjensir to lay open the beasts flanks with a series of strong strikes with his longsword. The bandit Jhota risked a shot with his crossbow from the antechamber, but it fell well wide, and he disappeared, whether to cower or reload, Haerak knew not. Rain surprised them all, showing that there was more than bluster to his claims of magical power, he summoned a powerful stroke of lightning into his palm and slammed it into the creatures hide, filling the room with the acrid, metallic odor of ozone and burning flesh. When K’larsh staggered and fell to the beasts relentless flurry of tooth and claw, Fjensir saw his opening, and drove his blade into the beast to the hilt. The sword was pulled from his hands as the great chimera convulsed in agony, and turned upon him. It’s dragon head gathered for one last terrible blast of icy death, but it’s heart’s black blood was all that trickled forth. Confused and in agony from its terrible wounds, the best collapsed, shuddered, and then was still.
The Chimera made its lair in a small, unworked stone chamber behind one of the great temple tapestries. Its nest had a few small trinkets of value, but, more interestingly, the party found strange green shards of metal. A thorough search turned up quite a number of these, enough to form an entire blade, including the hilt. All that was missing was the pommel stone, and the sword Verdane, the famed green blade of Dorl would be complete.
The party searched the temple thoroughly for some time, Haerak and K’larsh dipping their blades in the temple font, watching the strange blue magic fire slowly lick it’s way along their weapons.
Eventually, they discovered the secret exit, a small, illusioned passage high above the fountain, just barely distinguishable from the wall itself. Climbing there was no easy feat, but, after some struggling, scrambling, falling and cursing, Haerak was able to grasp the disguised ledge and pull himself up into the chamber, a small passage leading far, far down.
A lowered rope allowed his friends to easily follow, and Haerak made his way to the hidden, private chamber of Dorl the Dandy, not vacant, even after all of the centuries that had passed, but rather, inhabited by the hateful, cursed spirit that was once the mighty hero known as Dorl.
For a time, Haerak was able to assuage the rage of the spirit with platitudes and a ruse of loyalty, but the curse of St Leofar had changed the once mighty Dorl into something far less than human. The twisted and hateful spirit grew more and more angry at the adventurers for bringing their life into his presence, mocking his lack of it. Eventually, the spirit could stand them no longer and it attacked.
The thing that once was a man proved a horrific opponent in battle, even with their weapons bearing the flames of the pool above, their blows could find little purchase, as the spirit flickered in and out of reality as easily as breathing, and its touch was death itself, stealing the very life and essence from the adventurer . Rain attacked with his enchanted, shocking grasp, but the spirit struck him down quickly. Fjensir was more resilient striking the horror of unlife with his healing magic. Grestmaul stripped the enchanted greataxe from Haeraks back, and attacked, but his blows did not strike true. Haerak and K’larsh managed a few blows, but were driven back by the relentless assault of the horror. As the creature moved to finish Haerak he timed one last, desperate attack. The blow struck true, and, with a howl of agony, and, perhaps, relief, the terrible spirit of Dorl the Vain was put to rest at long last.
Dorl’s chambers held no secret escape, but the party was able to find several interesting treasures, including the spellbooks of the powerful wizard. Rain nearly wept at the site of these, leafing through the first with shaking hands and a reverent expression. He found several scrolls of power within, including one that would allow him to magically transport several party members directly out of the caverns. Unfortunately, this only accounted for four of the group, the others would have to chance riskier methods, for K’larsh, a strange potion that would turn his flesh to naught but gas, allowing him to escape through the natural air vents of the complex. Haerak would take a riskier route, with rain using a scroll that would turn him invisible. He planned to simply run through the goblins that had retaken the temple in the confusion caused by an illusory monster, summoned by yet another of Dorls scrolls.
As for Jhota, Haerak had no answer for the bandit, nor would he risk his life, or the lives of his friends for the cowardly man who had done nothing to help them thus far. He gave the man a potion that would offer him some protection from the goblin arrows and simply told him to run, and run fast.
The flight of Haerak and his companions from Bannertown went smoother than the barbarian expected, the small group did not move quickly, but they kept off the roads, and Haerak kept their trail obscured to the best of his ability. They passed the shattered ruins of Corburr, giving the destroyed city, and the strange beasts that still dwelled within, a wide berth. They kept their fires small, ate cold simple meals, and Haerak pressed his new companions as hard as their ravaged bodies allowed. Luck stayed with them, and, after a week of hard travel, they reached the small fortress city of Lastinn, spared the worst of the war by it’s small but professional army, and it’s heavily fortified keep.
The stay in Lastinn was intended to be a brief one, resupply their food stores, perhaps look into a wagon or another horse, now that they could take to the roads with relative safely, and acquire better winter clothing for the former prisoners.
In Lastinn, Haerak heard the tale of a desperate half-elf named Enthenol, a peasant whose daughter had been taken by the bandit Pellack and his men as they fled their farmstead. The bandits were demanding the princely sum of one thousand pieces of gold for the girl, vastly more than Enthenol could hope to scrape together. Intrigued, and, perhaps a little bored from travel, Haerak and Fjensir met with the man. The mental probing of the Illithid cloak revealed he was exactly what he appeared to be, a man brought near the brink of collapse by the ravages of fate. His daughter Firella had been falsely identified as being from a moneyed family, and the meager chest Enthenol hid beneath his peasant bed held but a fortieth of the demanded sum, and it was all the money the man had in the world.
Haerak was not unsymapthetic to Enthenols plight, and the thought of the young girl being held by the bandits, or worse, convinced him to at the very least bring the situation to his friends attention.
Fjensir was already convinced, he cared little for reward, rather the thought of ending the threat of the bandits, scum who preyed on people at their most vulnerable, and rescuing the damsel in distress, was enough to convince him. K’Larsh needed little encouragement to slay bandits, pitting his strength against them, and taking what treasure they had stolen from those too weak to defend it was a calling he knew well. Grestmaul was harder to convince, the pragmatic dwarf, while skilled in battle, was a merchant at heart, it was only when he considered that the city may well be offering a bounty for Pellack and his men that he began to come around. When this was confirmed, the dwarf was delighted for the opportunity to begin to refill his empty coffers.
Enthenol was ecstatic at finding someone willing to help him, and while the four adventurers would surely be outnumbered by the bandits, it was far more help than he had likely dared hope for.
Haerak concocted a quick and simple plan, he bought a small wagon with a large chest, with which he would deliver the ransom with Enthenol, but of course, the bandits would find Grestmaul and Fjensir’s ambush instead, with K’larsh joining the battle from hiding as soon as they were engaged.
This was not to be however, upon their arrival at the ransom point, they quickly realized that the bandits had found a far more terrible ambush than they could have planned. The area was littered with bodies, brutally crushed, hacked, and torn to pieces, the brutality was recognizable to Haerak and K’larsh as the work of bugbears, and by the tracks, not to mention the savagery, the goblinoids had been led by a huge and powerful ogre.
The dead bandits numbered many, and amongst the tracks, Haerak found a set of drag marks leading away from all others. Following them, he found a horribly wounded bandit, dying from a terrible, festering leg wound. A charge of healing from their wand of cure light wounds managed to bring the man around, and some food and water were enough to get him talking. He knew little other than that they had been savagely ambushed by a large pack of bugbears, and that their leader Pellack, as well as his second in command, a wizard, were not amongst the dead. Haerak left the dying man some water, and a small fire, to suffer out his last hours alone. A harsh end to be certain, but the bandits had been preying on refugees from the war for months, and the fire was the only kindness Haerak could muster for the man.
Haerak send Enthenol home, doing his best to give the man some hope, as his daughter had not been among the victims, but, making no promises, as the young half elven girl was in a far worse predicament than when held by the bandits, who at least managed to honor their kidnapping deals, and seemed to avoid bloodshed when they could.
After a few miles, the bugbears gave up all pretense of hiding their tracks, and after perhaps half a day, Haerak learned why. In the distance, they could see the trail wind into the mountain, leading into a large cave mouth, and, at the foot of the trail, a large, fortified goblin war camp. The adventurers guessed that the camp could easily hold a hundred goblins, as well as their leaders and perhaps bugbears and hobgoblins in the larger tents as well, though from the lack of daytime guards and organization, Haerak guessed that any hobgoblins within were certainly not among the camps leadership.
Haerak managed to find a hidden path to the base of the mountain, where he could climb to the point where the trail met the cave mouth, mostly unseen by the camp. It took some work, but they managed to scale the cliff unseen by the horde below, though Grestmaul was somewhat unceremoniously hauled up the cliff in his heavy armor, carrying his giant shield.
In the cave, the party found a large set of doors, with a sprung pit trap in front, and a couple of mostly consumed bugbear corpses within, impaled by rusty spikes. Haerak scaled around the cave walls, making his way to the doors, only to find them locked. However, he made just enough noise to pique the interest of the guards within, who Haerak could clearly hear were coming to investigate. He shooed his friends into hiding, and pressed himself against the wall. When the bugbear head popped out to investigate, Haerak grabbed the brute by the scruff of its neck, and hauled it into the spikes below, where it lay groaning, nearly slain by the combination of the fall, and the rusty spike through its hip.
As he did so, K’larsh bolted into action, leaping across the chasm, glaive in hand. He smashed a second guard with a brutal blow as the creature struggled to rise from its seat. Haerak was only moments behind, he leapt onto the table the two remaining guards were struggling to rise from, and hacked the head from the body of the wounded bugbear.
Fjensir’s luck was worse however, his leap fell short, and he found himself in the spike pit, struggling with the wounded bugbear. He managed to put the wounded creature down, but he was badly injured himself by the fall, and his ill treatment from the awful rusty spikes.
Grestmaul’s crossbow bolt thudded into the table inches from the final bugbear, who screamed in rage and panic then, rushed for a large bell near the doors. Before it had taken two steps, Haerak savagely cut the creature across his back, driving it to it’s knees. K’larshs’ deathblow followed a moment later, his glaive punching through the creatures heart.
Through a small door, the party found another of the creatures, struggling to wipe the sleep from its eyes. Surrounded, it fought grimly and well, but soon joined its fellows in death.
The party could hear the muted sounds of screams of pain, and distant revelry through a larger set of doors, and investigation with the Illithid cloak indicated the presence of several minds, in one of which Haerak could feel terrible torment, and a desperate desire to give up any information if only it would stop the torture.
The torturer was a powerfully built bugbear shaman, guarded by several more of the brutes. The makeshift torture chamber was small enough that the creatures had little room to manouver, and no room to escape. The shaman fought well, and attempted to leverage his magic against the party, but it was to no avail, they were cut down by the adventurers, their cries echoing those of the still screaming victim.
Haerak quickly closed the doors, and, again using the power of his cloak, determined that the revellers to the north had sent a scout to investigate possible noise. They quickly dispatched the bugbear before he could raise further alarm, and, after providing some healing, learned that the tortured man was the wizard(though he had long since lost his spellbooks) of the bandits, being brutally tortured for information regarding a strange amulet which he carried. The amulet was inscribed with what could be a map, marked with something called the ‘Obsidian Hoof’, which Fjensir believed could be an ancient artifact of magic, said to give its possessor the protections of a demon.
They learned from the horribly wounded bandit lieutenant that the Orge leader named Brough lay in the room to the north, with the bulk of the remaining bugbears, and all of the surviving prisoners, though how many lived, the man could not say.
The group quickly prepared for this coming battle, K’larsh using the blood of the dragon on himself, Haerak and Grestmaul. As the enlarged warriors burst through the door, their berserker blood starting to boil, they were met by a fearsome sight, the ruined, tormented, half eaten corpses of several bandit prisoner, including the leader Pellack, half a dozen grim bugbears, scrambling for weapons, and beyond them, greedily clutching a glowing, skull clad club the size of a small tree trunk, the massive ogre Brough.
The battle was terrible and vicious, the empowered, enlarged adventures cut through the bugbears with horrific efficiency, but Brough was another matter, the ogre flew into a battle rage, and rushed for the human barbarian, shrugging off a blow from K’larsh that would have cut down any of his bugbears. Brough brought his horrible magic club down upon Haerak savagely and was nearly able to fell him with a pair of blows more powerful than even mighty ripper could have managed. Haerak struck back valiantly, bringing down one of the bugbears, and following the strike through he managed a savage cut to the ogre’s side, but he knew that he could not stand up to the ogre’s next strike, nearly dead on his feet, the powerful warrior choked out blood, and, with all of the strength his punctured lungs could manage, gasped for aid. Fjensir stopped his chanting, and called on his strange magic, turning the great warrior momentarily invisible. Haerak managed to choke down his strongest healing potion, a gift from the mysterious inhabitant of the witch caves. It was enough, the worst of his awful wounds knit shut, and he moved to rejoin the battle. Though at this point, there were only a handful of bugbears standing, and without their leader, they were no match for the empowered adventurers.
Haerak learned quickly, that in those terrifying moments where he struggled for his potion, K’larsh had dropped his glaive, and tore into the great Ogre with his powerful claws, leaving deep, bleeding furrows in the monsters flesh, even as Grestmaul buried his axe deep in the ogre’s shoulder. Brough had had enough at this point, and, with a flash of magic provided by the strange and powerful club which Fjensir would come to identify as Skullcreeper, was whisked to safety.
With the complex temporarily at least under their control, the group took a moment to rest and heal, using many of the precious charges from their healing wand. Beyond this area they found the last of the prisoners, one surviving bandit, and the frightened, hungry, but physically unharmed half-elven Firella. They searched much of the complex, and, finding a hidden switch on a statue, discovered the true purpose of the complex, a temple to one of the many aspirants to the throne of the gods, a swordsman called ‘Dorl the Vain’.
Fjensir told the group that the temple had been cursed by St Leofar, the sword lord, when he destroyed the disrespectful Dorl, and that they dare not enter. Haerak put little stock in this, considering it foolish superstition. After all he argued, even if the saint had put some terrible beast in the temple, surely it would be long dead by now. With that, he and K’Larsh managed to force the doors open, and they began to explore the long abandoned temple, through frightened, K’larsh was too proud to let Haerak and Grestmaul explore without him.
Ignoring Fjensir’s warning so brashly was nearly the death of them all, the beast was no myth, and was very much still alive. Bursting forth from within one of the tapestries, a terrible abomination called a chimera hammered into Haerak like the wrath of an angry god, felling him in a swarm of bites from its three heads, savage rakes from its claws and a blast of its frozen breath, he managed a strong blow in return, but the creature struck five times for every one of his blows. He awoke to his friends healing him and fighting a losing, and hasty retreat. With K’larsh falling to the awful blows of the creatures as he struggled to his feet.
He managed to grab his fallen friend, and, with Grestmaul barely managing to survive holding the creature back with all of his battle prowess, they made it to the temple antechamber, where the bulk of the creature slammed the great doors closed. They were wounded, battered, but, somehow, alive to fight another day.
More magic had the party’s fresh wounds closed, and, they set about looting the remains of the ogre and bugbear camps, and the shamans vile altar. Ready to depart the foul place, Haerak cast his mind through the great outer doors, where, to his dismay, he felt countless minds, all ready to ambush whoever should open the great doors.
Stranded in the complex, with a small army goblins without, and a horribly dangerous monster within, the party took stock of their meagre options, with Haerak and K’larsh combining to offering the only solution that seemed to have a hope of success, resting in the hidden antechamber, and facing the beast again, with the power of knowledge, preparation and magic on their side, not to mention the recovered magic axe of Pellack. If they could fell the beast, perhaps they could find another way out of the death trap, or at least, something to even the odds vs the army of goblins. As they gathered the surviving prisoners, and made their way to the antechamber, Fjensir softly sang the epic, known as The Ballad of Dorl the Dandy
The Ballad of Dorl the Vain
(written by Kent, performed by Fjensir the Skald)
Dorl the Dandy, he desired Divine,
He used magic to halt the ravage of time,
He claimed to be greatest to wield a sword,
Of beauty and blade-craft, he planned to be Lord.
Saint Leofar, certainly, did take offense,
But Dorl’s vanity made him too dense,
When challenged to duel, Dorl foolishly said,
“Any dare face me, soon will be dead.”
Leofar snarled as Dorl drew his Verdane,
(The green-bladed sword from which he gained fame),
The Lord of the Winds smiled and spun,
In less than a moment the battle was won.
The first blow he landed, Leofar shattered Verdane,
The second to Dorl’s shield, the same;
The third and the fourth, to Dorl’s left and right side,
The fifth, sixth and seventh, the price of his pride.
Stunned and bewildered, Dorl fell to his knees,
His dignity dashed, he sobbed out his pleas,
“Oh spare me, Great Sword Lord,” he said,
“Oh spare me,” he begged as he kneeled and bled.
Saint Leofar though, was not moved in the least,
And from the blood of his victim he created a Beast,
The terrible monster roared and then slew
The gullible followers of Dorl the fool.
Assuaged not yet, was Saint Leofar’s ire,
He reserved for Dorl a fate much more dire;
Beneath his temple, the vain Charlatan’s room,
Would for-ever-more be employed as his tomb.
Fjensir led the dazed Haerak and K’larsh back to Bannertown, along with the comatose Grestmaul, and with the Blessed of Breyes as prisoner. Fjensir hoped that the return of the Blessed would be enough for house Hussard, as he had promised to return to the prison after healing his companions, offering to take Lyle, as well as Ferenetti, Tyriam and Nis away from the perils they faced in Bannertown. Fjensir told Rook to take his friend and begone, and to consider himself lucky for escaping with his life, telling him that quarter would not be granted should they meet again.
The estate he returned to Oban Relks, who offered what reward he could put together, far less than what Rook offered, but a vastly more honourable option than murdering the merchant Rolphus, and robbing the estate of its goods.
The warden of House Hussard was ill pleased with only half of his prize, but, he accepted Fjensir’s explanation without question, and provided much of his offered reward.
After delivering the Blessed, Fjensir made for a small temple of Kharzoul called Hersa’s Forge. It was a good choice, as luck had it, Hersa was a good friend of Grestmaul, and healed much of the parties mental trauma at no charge.
Grestmaul was grateful for the rescue, and more grateful still for the news of his fathers death and last words, sad though the news was. The dwarf was still enraged at the betrayal and ill treatment he had suffered however. Despite Haerak and Hersa’s pleading, he was bent on revenging himself upon the dwarf who betrayed him. Unable to dissuade him from the course, Haerak agreed to help, saying that it would be ill service to the debt he owed Kernoc if he freed his son, only to let him die in an rashly conceived attack.
Haerak and Fjensir investigated the once prosperous Starhammer plate, now nearly derelict, it’s mighty furnaces now cold. They spent some hours gathering what rumours they could of the comings and goings of the few occupants. Learning little beyond that only the office seemed to yet be inhabited.
As they left the area, Haerak was assaulted by the magic of a black cloaked man, who tried to paralyse the barbarian. Haerak shrugged off the magical attack, as it was far less potent than the power of the Githyanki. When he realized his spell had failed, the priest commanded his thugs to attack. Haerak was quickly surrounded by the scum, though to their horror they quickly came to learn that Haerak was no easy meat. He cut the men down with terrible blows, sparing only one, and the priest, who fled under the cover of magical darkness.
The survivor informed the two that Haerak had simply been swept up in a plan to capture fighters for a local pit, a role which, if pressed, Haerak could hardly deny he seemed well suited to. Haerak hoped to be gone from Bannertown before another press gang could be mustered, but all the same, he left the man bruised and bloodied, hopefully as a message to the thugs boss to find easier prey.
The neighbourhood of Starhammer plate was even worse in the evening, as the workers tried to drown their sorrows at local pubs, or in the tired embrace of the local whores. The armed company of Haerak, Grestmaul, K’larsh and Fjensir had little to fear from local thugs, but they still kept to the back streets, as the fighting in the lower quarters was still sporadic, and was close enough to spill onto these streets at any time, particularly if the warring factions found themselves contesting for the same pleasures.
The sounds of a terrible scream drew the warrior to investigate. They found a robed figure crouched over the quivering corpse of a local working girl. The figure fled into the darkness before the could react, and moments later another blood curdling scream let out. Haerak ignored Grestmauls pleading and investigated.
The killer proved to be a far more terrible opponent that Haerak imagined possible. A powerful, cunningly evil creature called a Kyton, a resident of the Nine Hells, the thing was a mockery of a man, covered in chains, with the power to command any nearby chains. Even with four seasoned warriors, it took nearly all they had to bring the creature down. After the battle, as Fjensir tended to the half dozen deep cuts with the healing wand, Haerak felt like a fool for playing hero and chasing the creature down, but, what choice did he have, it seemed to murder with impunity, and if he did not stop it, who would?
At Starhammer plate, they found the factory even less occupied than they expected, in fact they found none but their target, Grestmaul’s former assistant and betrayer.
Grestmaul raised his axe to put the pitiful creature out of his misery, and take his revenge, but, when Haerak argued that giving the pitiful, broken dwarf a warriors death was more than he deserved, Grestmaul relented and granted mercy.
Grestmaul was not satisfied with this however, he wished to recover his personal equipment, even upon learning that they belonged to a member of house Hussard, kept under lock and key in his manor. Again he offered to go alone, but again Haerak explained, he did not save the dwarf only to see him throw his life away, so with that, they set out for the manor.
The house was guarded inside and out, but the guardsmen working the grounds were laughably incompetent. Haerak and his companions were easily able to silence the lot of them without taking their lives, even given their heavy armour and lack of skill at the subtler arts.
The guards in the study were a different matter however, the pair were skilled and dangerous fighters of house Hussard, one human, the other, hobgoblin scum. They covered the retreat of their lord, who rushed up the stairs at the appearance of the very familiar and angry armoured dwarf.
Haerak attacked the goblinoid ferociously, all of those months of terror and torment rushing back as blind fury. His assault was more than the creature could match, and it was cut down in moments, though not before landing several telling blows.
The human was an able combatant, but was outmatched and outnumbered by Haerak’s companions, he quickly fell as well. As he went down, Haerak attempted to quickly bind his wounds, and Grestmaul made for his armour, kept as a trophy of the lordling. Moments later, a flash of magic summoned a strange noxious cloud. As it started to spread, Grestmaul shouted for Haerak to grab his shield, mounted to a nearby wall.
Their prize in hand, Haerak and his companions fled the manor, not planning on stopping until they were well outside the walls of the merchant city of Bannertown, and as far from the reach of House Hussard as they could manage.
The city of Bannertown lay in a state of near open war. Armies of varying loyalties surrounded the city, though the open war seemed to have subsided. Haerak led his friends though the main gateway, a hefty bribe ensuring they had no trouble from the guards.
Some straightforward investigation led them to learn that the young dwarf Grestmaul had been imprisoned by his enemies, and that he was held by one of the great houses of Bannertown, house Hussard. Haerak was able to secure a meeting with the member of the house in charge of such matters, and the man was amenable to a bargain. He offered Grestmauls freedom, in return for Haerak securing a transfer of two of the prisoners from the prison/vineyard where they are held, a man named Lyle Benedict, and a mad priest known as the Blessed of Breis. Haerak agreed, and set off to find this prison, and free his dead friends son.
The trip to the vineyard was uneventful, though upon arrival, Haerak found the place in disrepair, many of the fields left fallow, though not all. Clearly the prison had fallen upon hard times. Likely the war was to blame, though Haerak and his companions approached with caution, not knowing what to expect. They were met by a guardsman, who ushered them into the wardens office after looking upon their transfer papers. The warden, a handsome, hard looking man, was wrapped up in negotiations with a fat, and rather drunk merchant.
The warden explained that they were desperately short staffed, and that Haerak would have to secure the prisoners release on his own, he provided keys, and sent the Barbarian on his way. Haeraks mind reading cloak could not penetrate the Wardens thoughts, though the merchant seemed to be oddly delighted by a deal he was negotiating, and Haerak sensed a great deal of fear of the prison from the man at arms who led them. Still, Grestmaul was in the depths of the prison, and so it was there that Haerak would go.
The prison elevator was a cleverly devised cage, it sealed perfectly with the stone of the top and the bottom of the prison, and was operated from above only, so without intervention of the guards above, there was no obvious exit to the prison.
Shortly after entering the dungeon, Haerak and his companions learned the reason for the fear of the guard above. The prison had become a place of madness and horror, many of the prisoners were consumed with a terrible insanity, they attacked without reason, tortured and killed each other horribly, forcing Haerak to trap them in their cells. Worse still, the creators of this madness stalked freely, spreading terror and insanity throughout the prison. The horrors were terrible, evil, little creatures called meenlocks, they slipped though the shadows, tearing at the minds of the prisoners, as well as Haerak and his companions as they attempted to navigate the prison, striking from shadow and returning just as quickly. There were still a few among the prisoners with some semblence of sanity. A man from the Phazian empire named Ferinetty gave them some information on what had happened, and begged that they return for him, if they could find a way to open his cell. Fjensir attempted to keep a murderer who had a small vestige of sanity remaining with them, though the man ran at the first opportunity.
Deeper in the prison, they encountered a terrible man, a famed serial killer from Bannertown, chained within his cell. Haerak managed to intimidate the man into giving him the keys to the rest of the cells, as he had managed to secure them in the commotion by killing a guard, but was unable to remove his restraints to make use of them. Haerak threw the man a dagger, telling him that he would not be freed, but that he could end matters and avoid the fate of the horrors of the dark.
The mad priest, the Blessed of Breis seemed blissfully uncaring at the situation in the prison, though even his once powerful mind was likely stressed to the breaking by the mental assault of the creatures. He simply informed the travellers that he would not be leaving the prison unless all of his imprisoned brethren were freed.
Further still they found the warden, partially transformed into one of the hideous creatures. K’larsh put the man out of his misery with one strong blow, angering the creatures, who took this opportunity to attack the intruders who seemed so bent on spoiling their fun. A blast of soul quaking fear hammered into the group, already staggered by the repeated mental assaults of the creatures, they found themselves too terrified to move, trapped and helpless as the little creatures crawled from the dark and set to destroying their minds.
Somehow Haerak, Fjensir and K’larsh were able to weather the assault long enough to recover from the terror, and though Haerak and K’larsh’s minds were little but vortex’s of terror and madness, they grasped their weapons and attacked, ripping the little monsters to pieces before the last of their sanity was lost. In the confusion of the battle, they realized one of the guards from above had joined them against the creatures, now nursing a nasty headwound. He identified himself as none other than Lyle Benedict, and gave Haerak and his companions an abbreviated version of what had happened.
With the keys, and a respite from the horrific monsters, they hastily freed the surviving prisoners, knocking out those who had fallen victim to the madness of the prison, and acquiring the assistance of those who still had sense to help drag the unconscious.
One of the prisoners, a one legged man named Teriam Trust, was a skilled hand with lockpicks, which he recovered from his wooden leg, long since confiscated by the guards. He was able to open the locks to the wine production area, and from there, they found a second elevator, and made their escape from the madness and horror of the prison.
Though his mind was nearly shattered, Haerak and K’larsh sought vengeance against the warden, now identified as a rogue named Rook. Enlarged by K’larsh’s magic, they burst into the main building and cut down Rooks guardsmen. Rook himself fled when he realized the battle was lost. His men bought him a few moments, but he could not make it far, Fjensir tackled him, and before long Haerak and K’larsh were upon him, their enormous forms making escape near impossible.
Rook threw himself upon their mercy staying Haeraks blade, and K’larsh’s claws. He explained that the merchant was set to buy the bulk of the estates wine, and that he would cut Haerak in for half of the take if he helped maintain the illusion that Rook had built with the wine merchants.
Haerak, Fjensir and K’larsh quickly took control of what remained of the refugees in Witchcaves, setting themselves up in the home of the former sheriff. K’larsh delighted in particular the ordering the frightened men & women about.
From one of the surviving guardsmen, Haerak learned that black riders had been seen in the distance for the last several nights, and that the caves themselves were haunted, with a ghostly apparition warning off those who approached, especially in the evening.
Haerak guessed that the rider might well be the recipient of his package, but, as he had no idea when they might return, he decided to investigate the caves, both to satisfy his curiosity, and in the event that the ghost might prove a threat. Haerak and Fjensir found no ghost in the caves, rather, the remnants of a small cookfire, and, interestingly, a set of small footprints, perhaps the size of a teenage girl’s. They pressed deeper into the caves, but after some distance gave up, not wanting to mount a full expedition without K’larsh, and additional planning. As they left, Fjensir left a few small, useful objects, an offering for the spirits he claimed. Bemused, particularly given the strong evidence for a more corporeal explanation of the ‘spirit’, Haerak followed suit, leaving a small amount of food behind.
The first night passed uneventfully, Haerak returned to the cave to find their offering gone, in its place, a small mural, showing a cloaked rider trampling houses and warriors, surely meant to be Haerak, his companions, and the town of Witchcaves. Haerak waited at the cavemouth for several hours, enjoying the exceptional view from the cliff-face. As evening came, he noticed a dark rider appear, far below on the opposing side of the village.
Haerak decided that the rider may well be the recipient of Gobbage’s package, and that ghostly(or at least, ghost-impersonator) warnings or no, he was eager to clear this debt from his ledger. He knocked an arrow in his bow, and launched it in the riders general direction, hoping to gain the attention of the distant horseman.
As he returned to town, he found the rider gone, and with night falling, he had little to do but rest and wait.
A dark premonition awoke the Barbarian some hours later, from his window he could see a strange, unnatural fog rolling in. Haerak woke his companions, gathered up his blade, and went out to investigate, falling perfectly into the powerful Githyanki wizards trap. A quick blast of psychic energy paralyzed Haerak, and he soon found himself bound, disarmed, and facing a company of gaunt, tall humanoids, the likes of which he had never seen. The leader, snarling his disdain for Haerak, ripped away a tiny hidden compartment in Haeraks cloak, drawing out a strange, charred, diamond encrusted bone, obviously the true package.
With his prize in hand, the leader ordered his warriors to kill the paralyzed trio, insisting that no witnesses be left behind, but before their throats could be cut, one of the warriors begged his master for the chance to face Haerak and K’larsh in combat, wishing to prove his might for all to see.
The master agreed, and the three faced off. The Githyanki warrior was well armed and armoured, and he was strong, fast, and skilled. That, combined with his psionic abilities would make him far more than a match for two average warriors, however, he found himself outmatched by Haerak and K’larsh. Their strength and fury forged in the brutality and terror of the underdark, the two powerful combatants smashed through the warriors defences, cutting him down where he stood, much to the delight of the Gith’s chortling companions.
With his servant dead, the disgusted wizard ordered his remaining troops to finish the job, giving them a minute to slay the pesky couriers. Faced with three more of the powerful gith warriors, Haerak and his companions fought fiercely, and, with the strength of their steel, magic, and more than a little luck, were victorious.
A dying gasp from one of the warriors reminded Haerak of the wizards timeline, and, fearing reprisal, he called for flight to the caves. This was barely a moment too soon, as the village erupted in blasts of flame, engulfing the surviving buildings in explosions. Haerak and his companions were neither attacked nor followed however, and, they were able to safely rest the night, albeit in the relatively poor comfort of a haunted cave. In the morning, they found their latest offerings gone, this time replaced by a small collection of potions.
Haerak took the time to write a short missive to their would be savior, thanking him or her for trying to warn them, and their assistance, he also informing them that he would shortly be returning to Deepwatch. He pinned the note down with another stack of food, a good blade, and set off for the City.
A handful of refugees had survived the attack, and despite K’larsh’s reluctance to help them, Haerak offered to try and lead them to the relative safety of the city. They managed to recover some good steel from the smouldering wreckage of the site of their desperate battle, and, without looking back, left Witchcaves behind.
The journey to Deepwatch was dangerous, but Haerak managed to avoid further encounters with the strange monsters known as wigglers, several time skirting wide around them to avoid confrontation.
In Deepwatch, they found where the refugees would find the best welcome, put a handful of coins in their pockets, and sent them away. They acquired their rooms once more, and Haerak found Lawrence the Bear, informing him of all that had happened, and of the strange bone that was the true package he was delivering. The Bear found the news of Githyanki troubling, and promised to inform his superiors of all Haerak had learned.
Fjensir was eager to find a building known as the House of Iron Ore, as his destiny was promised to lie within. Haerak and the bard found the building soon enough, though it had been long shuttered. Within, they found a sad building, once princely, now stripped bare of valuables, long taken away to pay creditors. They found the desiccated corpse of Drelix the Dragon, a noted gladiator turned merchant. Evidently when a turn of bad luck destroyed his business, Drelix took his own life, leaving behind no friends, no family and no possessions, save the deed on his newest ship, under construction in Silverbridge, awaiting the final payment.
Haerak suggested that perhaps this ship was the destiny Fjensir sought, and, that if he came with Haerak to Bannertown to find Kernoc’s son Grestmaul, he would help him reach Silverbridge and claim his destiny
Haerak walked out of the great citadel of Deepwatch in something of a daze, free and, at least for the moment, relatively safe. If asked, he would tell you that he could not remember the last time he felt safe, and a slave, escaped or no, in the underdark is never truly free.
Still not used to nothing but sky over his head, and all too eager to be free of his the last obligations he felt towards Ardel, Haerak quickly found directions to a nearby inn, large and well appointed, but currently serving as much as a refugee flophouse as a place of business. The inn bustled with activity, dwarven owners and their staff catering to the few paying customers, and trying to keep the remaining horde from damaging their livelihood. Haerak paid for a room quickly, and had soon counted out a large stack of gold for Ardel. The barbarian wearily told the angry little man that his obligations were now complete. Ardel did not wait long, he sneered that he owed Haerak nothing, gathered up his coins, and walked out of the room.
Haerak then counted out a similar sized stack of coins, and passed them to K’larsh, asking his strange sorcerous ally what he intended to do next. K’larsh indicated that he meant to travel with the barbarian, at least until their obligations to Gobage were satisfied. Grateful for this answer, Haerak thanked the half-orc, then suggested they spend some time in the inn, learning what they can about the state of Deepwatch, and of their destination, the Witchcaves. Also, as a precaution against betrayal, Haerak paid an unemployed, and rather drunk scribe to quickly copy the journal within Gobage’s package.
The news of the Witchcaves was not good, Haerak spoke at length with a Marshal of Deepwatch who impressed upon him that the way to the Witchcaves was not patrolled, and was extremely dangerous, as it lay in the no mans land between the territory of the Army of the Resurrection in Mir, and what remained of Deepwatch’s army. Not willing to give up and face the wrath of Gobage, Haerak and K’larsh set out overland, hoping to avoid any patrols relying on the main roads. This proved a dangerous choice, for their first encounter in the woods north of Deepwatch was helpful, their second proved nearly fatal.
The patrol of deepwatch soldiers warned the two travelers that they were foolhardy to continue their mission to the Witchcaves, but, asked that if they intended to do so, that they seek out a missing knight, feared lost to the hobgoblins, or the monsters of the woods.
The second encounter came after a fretful nights rest, three strange vaguely horse shaped horrors, the stuff of chaos and madness, come hunting for flesh. The creatures were strong and fierce, and without Ardel’s healing magics, Haerak and K’larsh found themselves terribly wounded in their victory against the creatures.
This condition put them at a terrible disadvantage when they reached the Witchcaves, as they found the town mostly destroyed, with some few buildings restored, and a large band of ruffians holding it. They were greeted first by a swordsman who identified himself as Grelm, a brute of a man, who ordered Haerak and K’larsh disarmed and taken to their feeble jail. In no condition to fight, the two had little choice but to accede to the demands. Shortly, they met the leader of the strange melting pot of people that made up this town’s inhabitants, a small, confident man who identified himself as sheriff Cage. Cage offered Haerak a chance to join his colony, on the condition that K’larsh be offered to the monsters called ‘Wigglers’ as a sacrifice. The alternative the sheriff supplied the barbarian was that the both of them be sacrificed.
Haerak and K’larsh found neither option to their liking, and, as soon as they safely could, they fled the tower, ripping their bonds free from the earth, and climbing out the back way of the tower. They then quickly made their way for the woods, monsters or no, at least they were no longer chained.
They moved quickly the way they had came, making for a second set of tracks they recalled leading away from the town. By moonlight they saw a large stone in a clearing, and, thinking it might offer either clues or shelter, they made their way to it, Haerak securing a hefty branch to use a club.
On the stone they found a badly weakened man, chained atop it, with strange small monsters nipping at his heels. Haerak made short work of the creatures, though K’larsh fell to ones bite, the blood loss finally toppling the mighty orc. The man was still alive, and, once freed identified himself as Fjensir, a traveller on route to Deepwatch when he was taken by the Witchcave brigands. Fjensir proved to have some small skill with healing arts, and, over the next few days was able to restore Haerak and K’larsh to health, as they plotted their revenge against the brigands of Witchcave. One the third night, the party attacked, K’larsh once again called on the blood of the dragon and enlarged himself, Haerak and Fjensir, then, the three struck the town like an avalanche, crushing the feeble guardsmen, who were not prepared to face the warriors, enlarged to the size of giants. Haerak and Fjensir chased down and slew Grelm, then interrupted Cage as he struggled into his armor while K’larsh battled the bulk of the town’s militia. Cage proved a stronger foe, quick and deadly, but he was not prepared for the brutal savagery of the Haerak’s assault, and the life was crushed out from him as he attempted to flee the mighty warrior.
With Cage’s death, the battle was done, the remaining guards surrendered or fled, and the townsfolk who remained warily came forth, hoping the giant’s wrath was assuaged with the killing thus far.
The Warrior opened his eyes, and listened to the steady breathing of his sleeping companions lying on the floor near his cot. It was dark, the flame of his magical torch safely tucked away beneath a leather sack, yet something had awoken him. Instincts developed in the Fighting Pits of Minos and honed after months of survival in the lightless Underdark compelled him to heighten his awareness. Listening carefully, Haerak heard the faint scrape of a booted foot on the stone floor beneath his doorway. Muffled voices, nearly too faint to discern, whispered outside the small circular and shuttered window on the other side of the spare chamber. Swiftly and silently Haerak nudged his companions awake with his bare toe while simultaneously readying his trusted blade. The dragon-blooded half-orc K’Larsh, son of Mogha Larsh, prepared himself for danger with a quietly uttered shield-ward-spell, while the pallid and frail healer Ardel followed suit.
The wicker mat that functioned as the room’s door suddenly exploded open as a tall ladder thrust through the portal, it‘s bearers realizing that the element of surprise had been lost. Behind, a bestial roar heralded an attack from the window, as a monstrous humanoid smashed a maul through the surrounding clay wall, expanding the aperture.
Haerak slashed at the intruders, a trio of battle-hardened Army-of-the-Resurrection Hobgoblins, as they clawed their way up the ladder and into his room, while defending his flank from the two bear-like Quaggoth that had burst through the rear wall.
In moments it was over, the three elite goblinoids lay in expanding pools of blood on the hard floor and the shaggy quaggoth put out of their misery by the shining heavy sword of the Warrior. Security personnel employed by the proprietor moved swiftly to contain the situation, ordering the rudely-awaken guests to convene with their host in his quarters below. Haerak and his party left the servants to dispose of the mess, and gathering their meagre possessions, followed the head guardsman, a sinister looking half-orc named Gleric, down into the bowels of the labyrinthine inn to treat with Gobedge.
When the black-cloaked Gleric led the Warrior and his companions through the stained leather flap that served as the door to Gobedge’s suites, Haerak was assaulted by a wave of oppressive heat generated by a blazing hearth situated in the centre of the large chamber and the pungent stench of incense, which almost succeeded in covering the foul sweaty odour that otherwise permeated the air. His eye was immediately drawn to the enormous bulk of the inscrutable hobgoblin-innkeeper , lolling grotesquely amidst a sea of brightly coloured cushions and surrounded by platters heaped with every sort of decadent provision. Grease slithered down the creases of Gobedge’s fleshy jowls and pooled on the neck of his befouled coat as his piercing beady gaze dissected his visitors. He stuffed a fistful of dripping black meat into his toothsome maw, licked the juices from his sausage-fat fingers, and motioned for the party to enter.
Aside from the repulsive Gobedge, the room was occupied only by a hapless hobgoblin lashed naked to a blood-soaked table near the back wall, (whose pitiful screams periodically punctuated the conversation that followed between Haerak and Gobedge), and its tormentor, a slight razor-bearing orc with twitching fingers and an ill-fitting smock.
Gobedge praised the fighting prowess that Haerak and K’Larsh had demonstrated in their recent battle in his establishment, and revealed that he would be willing to assist such resourceful champions in their quest to gain the surface world, if only they would agree to deliver a secret and sensitive package to his associates in a small nearby town called Witchcaves after they arrived. The bloated, but palpably dangerous hobgoblin, warned them that failing to deliver the goods would not be advised, and claimed that even the surface world was not beyond the grasp of his certain vengeance. Upon their acquiescence to his terms, Gobedge instructed his minions to place a long, shallow, locked metal chest in their possession, and cover Haerak’s broad shoulders in a luxurious black cloak. The garment was crafted by expert hands from a strange, almost rubbery leather, and lined with soft ebon fur, and would supposedly act to identify Haerak to the surface associates to whom he was to relinquish the precious box.
After gathering up some necessary travelling supplies from the accommodating Gleric, and gaining a bit of needed rest in a fresh suite of secured rooms, Haerak and his unlikely band made at last for the long-denied surface world.
Trusting in the promised assistance of their prodigious patron, Haerak’s party rushed past the first Army-of-the-Resurrection outpost that barred their path to the world above. Although they were challenged and detained by a suspicious hobgoblin Captain named Thulsk, a convenient nearby slave-uprising distracted their inquisitor long enough for them to slaughter two guards and make their escape.
The party force-marched at a gruelling pace to reach the second Army post before tales of their deeds at the first could follow. Instigating the ruse devised by Gobedge, K’Larsh convinced the post guards to allow them to enter the fortified camp and meet with the Innkeeper’s agent, a sergeant named Attalar. When they were alone in his tent, Attalar informed them that news of their murders at Station Two had reached them here at Station One, and that they would have to proceed with the utmost caution. Attalar disguised the massive Haerak and the equally brawny K’Larsh in the uniform and hooded cloaks of his monstrous hobgoblin troops, and concealed the piteous Ardel with magical invisibility before leading them past the final gates between them and the human controlled fortress of Deepgate that lay but a single day of marching beyond.
Attalar proved to be an affable travelling companion, not burdened by the air of superiority borne by the majority of his militaristic race when dealing with non-hobgoblins. The Sergeant revealed that he had previously served and been mentored under Gobedge, who himself had formerly been a highly respected member of the Army-of-the-Resurrection, and who was also reputed to be a Warcaster (the ranks of which are mined for the development and training of new Warsouls, the rulers of the hobgoblins). According to Attalar, their shared acquaintance had run afoul of the Warsoul Gattax, who in spite had stripped Gobedge of his rank and lain a curse of gluttony upon him.
Sergeant Attalar led the small party for a few hours outside of the hobgoblin fort, and then bid them a fair journey and departed. However, before he disappeared back into the darkness of the tunnel beyond Haerak’s ever-burning torchlight, Attalar implored the Warrior to not underestimate the power of Gobedge, nor his wrath…
Pressing on, Haerak, K’Larsh, and Ardel surged ahead through the inky blackness of the tunnel, picking their way through the scattered debris and rotting casualties of countless skirmishes between the Army-of-the-Resurrection and the Knights of Deepgate, with the rhythmic sound of the rushing waters that bisected the width of the tunnel their constant companion. Nearing the limits of their endurance after nearly two full days of marching, Haerak and the group were caught unawares by an ambush of Deepgate scouts. Materializing ghost-like out of the darkness, the soldiers commanded the party to surrender their weapons and submit. Overjoyed and overwhelmed with relief, Haerak was only too happy to comply. The Captain, a young man with the haunted gaze of one who had seen far too much for his years, identified himself as Sir Darcy Winterscull, and his laconic lieutenant, a stone-faced cleric of St. Anders, as Shane Coal. After listening to their tale, the scouts insisted on delivering Haerak and his companions to their superiors at Deepgate Fortress, a demand to which they enthusiastically agreed.
Deepgate Fortress proved to be less impressive than expected, but a more-than-welcome sight none-the-less. Conquered and sacked by the Army-of-the-Resurrection and recently liberated by its former and present occupants, the great walls that guarded the surface realms from the indescribable horrors of the Underdark had been blasted apart and hastily rebuilt. Beyond the battered barbican rose the famed fortress itself, a massive, squat, and ugly tower-keep surrounded by the ruins of once-sturdy support buildings, and the military tents that replaced them. Haerak, K’Larsh, and Ardel were led directly through the thick iron gates of the grim tower by Sir Winterscull and presented to a portly castellan who sequestered the exhausted trio in separate quarters to rest and await the pleasure of the Lord of Deepgate, whom Winterscull named Knight-Commander Plankman. Sir Winterscull left them there with a hopeful blessing and a reassuring smile that promised the worst of their ordeals were finally at an end.
In a short time, Haerak was summoned to audience with the Lord of Deepgate. Alone and unarmed, and clothed in a simple but comfortable shift provided by the castellan’s steward, the mighty warrior was led into a sparsely furnished study, illuminated by a warm crackling fire, and populated by two men. The first, and most imposing, was a tall and gaunt middle-aged soldier. He had thin black hair combed back from his stoic face, which was disfigured by three parallel scars running from his forehead to his jaw, and was armoured in polished black plate embossed with the shield and crossed spears symbol of his god. The second was an elderly grandfather, with a bald head and gentle visage from which peered clear, brilliant green eyes beneath bushy white brows. He was dressed in a pure white robe encased by a beautiful, though clearly ceremonial, suit of tooled white leather. The men introduced themselves as Knight-Commander Douglas Plankman and Marshal Emmett Quill, respectively, and then questioned Haerak about his trials in the deep of the Underdark, and his past in bondage to Minos. Seemingly satisfied with his responses, Lord Plankman offered Haerak a position on the walls of Deepgate, if he was so inclined, as they were in desperate need of proven fighters. Failing that, he offered to send Haerak and his band to the surface where they could petition the High Protector of Deepwatch for their freedom. Wishing whole-heartedly for a chance to feel the radiant sun wash again upon his face, and to place the cold wickedness of the Underdark forever behind him, Haerak graciously accepted the opportunity to entreat the High Protector, and returned to his chambers to await the morning, with the parting blessing of Marshal Quill ringing comfortingly in his ears.
The Warrior opened his eyes lazily as a shaft of light crept across his pale face. Glorious sunlight filtered through the arrow loop in his stone-walled sleeping cell, illuminating dancing motes of dust. Gathering his gear Haerak rushed out of the tower with his companions K’Larsh and Ardel close at his heels. The trio assembled on the ground below the fortress and gazed up with wonderment at the awesome circle of light that marked the expansive mouth of the tunnel, the gate to the surface world. Tears of unabashed joy welled up from the humans’ eyes at the sight of natural light, matched by the tears of painful amazement that streaked down the bestial face of the half-orc. They stood in silence, drinking in the beauty for several long moments before allowing themselves to perceive their surroundings. They stood on a gray rocky beach gazing at the edge of a clear circular lake, the wellspring of the river that eventually plunged racing over the dark cliffs at Fuldrom, that lay at the bottom of a five hundred foot cylindrical pit. The lake was littered around its edge with the rubble and debris of buildings that had crumbled from the perimeter above. The ruin of a great zig-zaging double-back stair clung desperately to the opposite wall nearly three-hundred feet above the surface of the water, its lower reaches smashed on the beach below. The walls of the pit were dotted with small caves, some of which Haerak would later learn, were the entrances to catacombs housing the dead of the city above, while others served as sluice-drains from its sewers. Rising majestically and dauntingly above the rim of the pit was the fabled Deepwatch Citadel, an impregnable fortification encased by a dozen massive towers, each bristling with arcane siege-breaking weaponry, and decorated by hundreds of fearsome and watchful dragons sculptures. There were several long cables connecting the surface rim to the beach at Deepgate, and they were navigated by gondola-like cages. Haerak and his party clambered into one of the cages that connected directly to a wide balcony on the Citadel itself, and with a word from its operator, the elevator quickly slid up the cable, drawn by thick chains attached to massive mule-driven cogs on the beach.
The gondola-cage deposited the party upon an expansive stone balcony that provided a panoramic view of the once-mighty city of Deepwatch, which was now reduced to a blasted and smoking inhabited-ruin. Access to the Citadel consisted of a set of enormous, ornate, bronze-plated iron gates flanked by a menacing pair of thirty foot tall dragon statues. Two burly guardsmen, clad in shining steel plate and draped with snow white cloaks stood at attention near the portal. The Deepgate soldiers that had accompanied them from the beach below led Haerak and his companions through the massive entry and into a vast, impressive, hall with gleaming floors lain with fine gray marble that matched the eighty-foot tall sculpted columns that marched in tandem down its hundred yard length. The guards ushered the wide-eyed companions toward a non-descript side-stair ascending from the corridor to an upper level of the castle. After a short navigation, the three were finally brought to an airy audience chamber with a columned open wall separating it from a terrace that overlooked the eastern districts of the city. The comfortable chamber was furnished with thick bearskin rugs, a large expertly carved table complete with eight high-backed chairs, and several low cushioned sofas arranged around the entryway. Tapestries depicting regal dragons, various knightly standards, and the symbol of holy St. Anders fluttered with the gentle breeze along the inside wall. Occupying the room were a number of well-dressed courtiers, an armoured knight, and fantastically, a ten-foot tall robed bear inscribing a scroll, all of whom were entirely eclipsed by the woman. Beautiful beyond imagining, she was perfect of form. Her long honey hair was tied back and bound sternly, but in no way diminishing her loveliness, and she was clothed in the finest white robe that accentuated her flawless female figure. Her bright eyes shone with wisdom and compassion, and round her slim neck dangled a silver symbol of St. Anders on a fine mithril chain. The lady seemed to be surrounded by an aura which imbued Haerak with a feeling of safety and warmth and friendship. Behind him, the Warrior faintly heard the guardsman present his group to The High Protector of Deepwatch, Lady Katrina Bromwell.
The Lady welcomed the trio to her city, and questioned each about both his past and his future intentions. She appeared genuinely distressed at the revelation that none of the three had any family to speak of, and graciously offered each of them a place in her city to call his home. Katrina invited them to consider her invitation while they carried out their obligations to Gobedge and Kernoc, and that she would honour their decision without prejudice, either way. In confidence, the Lady warned Haerak and K’Larsh about the dark nature of their companion Ardel, for whom she seemed concerned rather than fearful or condemning.
With the audience at an end, the beatific Lady blessed them in the name of St. Anders, and wished them good fortune. The former slaves left the enthralling presence of the High Protector as free men in a new and free land.
The duergar caravan moved quickly, the dark dwarves pushing a hard pace. Even Haerak, tempered by years of slavery on the surface, and below was hard pressed to match their endless endurance. The first few days were uneventful, hard drives, the armed presence of the duergar seemed to keep the predators of the underdark at bay, and Haerak began to hope that Blacktooth’s caravan would see them safely past Fuldrum.
This of course, was naught but a foolish hope. The Duergar soon betrayed Haerak, poisoning him with a sleeping draught disguised as dwarven spirits. When Haerak awoke, he found K’larsh’s companions had been killed, and he himself was badly wounded, being dragged behind the wagon, Kernoc was knocked unconscious, and Ardel was whimpering in a corner of the wagon. Blacktooth soon confirmed Haerak’s suspicion, that he would sell the barbarian back to the hobgoblin’s when they reached the city.
Haerak convinced Blacktooth to let Ardel heal K’larsh, argueing that the orc was of no value to him dead. Haerak and Kalarsh soon resolved to escape the dwarves, planning to do so as soon as a viable moment arrived.
The moment indeed came, though it was not the escape Haerak imagined. With a murderous howl, a pack of Grimlock’s burst out of the darkness ahead, falling upong the Duergar with almost no warning. The grim dwarves quickly drew up battle lines and threw back the initial assault, their discipline and better equipment countering the ferocity of the blind savages. Just as the duergar seemed to be taking the upper hand, the second half of the monstrous ambush struck from behind, led by a hideous, snake headed woman, whose glowing eyes petrified those they met. The battle wore on, but the duergar lines buckled as more monsters burst from the dark, wearing down the grim dwarves. Blacktooth, seeing the futility of the battle, hurled his keys to Haerak and fled.
Haerak quickly freed himself, K’larsh, Kernoc and Ardel, grimly picked up his sword, and, as the last of the dwarven defenders in the rear fell, moved to engage the grimlocks. Just as the barbarian engaged, one of the duergar buried his axe in the head of the medusa, bringing it down.
K’larsh spoke words of arcane power, and Haerak felt his body infused with otherworldly might, growing in size. He smashed into the grimlocks, but his tired limbs disobeyed him, time and again the creatures were able to dodge his fierce blows. When the Grimlock chieftan joined, Haerak felt rage and desperation consume him, and with increased vigor, he attacked once more. The grimlocks could not stand his assault, and they fell before him, hacked into bloody chunks of pulp by the ten foot long blade he now wielded. Even their chieftan fell before him, Haerak cutting the monster in half with a vicious blow, as the creature attempted to flee his savagry.
When the last opponent dead, Haerak could see the devestation the battle had wrought, Kernoc was dead, struck down by the chieftan, K’larsh, nearly dead as well, unconscious beside Haerak. The barbarian himself was covered with wounds, some still seeping blood, others staunched by Ardel during the battle
Ardel was able to save K’larsh, and, after a fitful night’s rest, he was able to heal the orc’s wounds. The next few days to Fuldrum were hard days, but, they were able to navigate the path, following old tracks worn from countless similar journey’s, until at last the tunnel opened into a vast, dimly lit, tunnel.
The City sat far above, on bank of a fast moving river, which fell many feet into a great waterfall. The waterfall fed a vast lake, the shores of which they were not far from. Haerak led their wagon to a nearby fishman’s home, hoping for information before they braved the Duergar city.
The fisherman was a friendly fellow, for a Duergar, in return for a longsword and a dagger from the wagon, he gave the harried travelers considerable advice on where to sell their goods within the city, and their best bet at finding safe lodging.
The advice paid off in spades, K’larsh was able to bribe the guards for entry, and sell their Blacktooth’s goods and wagon for a good price. They then made haste for the inn known as Gobage’s place, where the fisherman had told them they would find no friends of the Army of the Ressurection.