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.