The warrior

Kernoc led Haerak and Ardel deeper and deeper into the underdark, always following some strange dwarven instinct which seemed to give him direction. The barbarian and the ragged priest were once again hopelessly lost almost immediately. After several days the rough caves gave way to worked stone, which rose far out of sight into a worked staircase. From far above the distant sounds of battle were barely audible.

Haerak moved up the great stair cautiously, worried that whatever battle raged above might be coming down upon them.

When he finally reached the apex of the great staircase, he found that it led to a narrow walkway over a great chasm, with molten lava far below, the walkway led to a bridge, and beyond that, barely illuminated by the firelight of the chasm, lay the source of the now quiet battle sounds, a pack of duergar and bugbear corpses, strewn around a pair of large wagons.

As Haerak and Kernoc approached the bloody scene, Haerak caught a glimpse of a living bugbear hiding behind a toppled wagon. Feigning ignorance to the ambush, the barbarian approached, and, as soon as he was close enough, moved to intercept the hiding goblinoid. As he rushed forward, he noticed one of the bugbear corpses crack an eyelid. The barbarian drove his huge sword into the creature as it struggled to rise, with Kernoc sliding his spear into the creatures back. The rest of the monsters struggled to their feat, and sprung their now ineffective ambush, hoping their size and strength could accomplish what their guile could not.

The battle was quick and brutal, the three bugbears each fell to Haerak’s brutal sword blows, backed up by Kernoc’s jabbing spear, and while their own strikes were powerful, the barbarian shrugged them aside, relying on his armor and speed to keep their blows from landing true. In less than half a minute, it was done, the large goblinoids were all dead, hacked to pieces by the great blade of Haerak Martel.

In the wreckage of the caravan, Haerak and Kernoc found a single survivor, a Duergar, trapped under the weight of the wagon. The pair of them managed to lift the wagon free, and, quickly found the duergar to be far more hospitable than is typical of his brethren, though, in this moment he had little choice. He introduced himself as Pazzark Smoothstone, and offered Haerak a bargain, if the barbarian were to safely transport one of the wagons to a nearby settlement, he would gain the barbarian safe access to the stronghold, and give him half the value of the goods.

Haerak accepted, and, over the next few days, dragged, pushed, pulled and forced the merchant’s damnable wagon through endless miles of dark, dangerous terrian.

The journey was perilous, with Haerak risking his life to save Kernoc from certain death when the dwarf lost his footing on a particularly narrow passage. The barbarian managed to pull the dwarf free of the monsters of the deep which sought his flesh, despite the howls of Ardel to leave the dwarf to die.

Eventually the walls of Dunmudden’s freehold rose out of the darkness, surrounded by a small tent city of humanoids not rich or influential enough to enter the duergar stronghold. True to his word, Pazzark gained entrance for Haerak, with Kernoc and Ardel posing as his slaves. The stronghold had one small inn which accepted non-duergar guests, the Gullet of the Purple Worm, a small, expensive, and simple establishment, run by a strange white skinned dwarf know as Uasrk the Undying.

The relative safety of the freehold was a welcome change for the barbarian and his companions, the food was simple, and expensive, but hot and filling. After a short rest, Haerak began searching the marketplace for those who might have knowledge of how to reach the surface. He quickly found two leads, a small, upstart outfit called Darnbell & Sons, and a larger, wealthier operation run by a duergar named Fegren Blacktooth. Both had access to surface goods, and Darnbell’s price was more than fair, for naught but a bit of labour hauling iron, he would take Haerak and his companions to the surface, though, the trip would be one way, for the Duergar needed to keep his passage secret, or risk losing his business advantage.

Fegren’s price was far steeper, and he would only lead Haerak as far as the city of Fulldrum, for this he demanded ten thousand pieces of silver, and, he refused to take Kernoc even at that price, for he shared strongly in his people’s hatred of the mountain dwarves.

Haerak quickly learned that Darnbell & Son’s offer was indeed too good to be true, that none who hired on with them ever returned, even other duergar, so he resolved to come up with Fegren’s price, as long as he could convince the merchant to bring Kernoc as well. Haerak sold his magic eyepiece, and, with the help of Pazzark’s negociating skills, convinced Fegren to take his entire group, including Kernoc.

The great barbarian’s presence in the town soon attracted other attention as well, the Human Herrance Fain quickly offered to lead Haerak to Mir, where he might find work with the army of the Ressurection, the same army which once called the barbarian slave. Herrance was served by a skulking brute of a bugbear named Ragga, and a duergar named Dilcor. This human served as diplomat for the armies of the ressurection, though, he proved a poor choice for this job, for once he finally managed to secure a meeting with the xenophobic Dunmudden, he quickly found that insulting the duergar was unwise indeed, and he was chained to the walls of the water pit, Dunmudden’s favored form of execution. The duergar Dilcor plead with Haerak to free Herrance before the slowly rising waters drowned him, fearing the retaliation of the Warsoul’s of Mir upon the freehold, but the barbarian was unswayed. While he did make a halfhearted effort to search out the now missing bugbear Ragga, in the end he simply returned to his room, letting the human die rather than risking near certain death freeing someone who was almost certainly his enemy.

The gullet also housed a small company of orcs, led by a powerful and articulate orc named Kalarsh, son of Mogolarsh. Kalarash set his henchman Merkoz upon Haerak in the gullet, fighting hand to hand, the barbarian punished the orc brutally for his attack. This gained Haerak the respect of the orc leader, and, he found Kalarsh to be an amiable sort, at least as far as he was likely to find in the keep of a brutal duergar lord, miles benearth the surface.

When the time came for Fegren’s caravan to leave, Haerak was approached by a hobgoblin warrior, an elite of the army of the ressurection. The creature asked that Haerak speak once more with Dilcor, who awaited him just outside the gates. Thinking little of this, Haerak agreed, and followed the hobgoblin outside, alone.

This mistake almost proved fatal, for the hobgoblins had come for Haerak and his companions, and, most terrifyingly, they had brought the great ogre Ripper with them.

Ripper’s first blow caught the barbarian almost completely by surprise. The ogre raised his club to finish the job, as the stunned barbarian realized he had stumbled into a trap he could almost certainly not survive. Haerak was not about to give up however, roaring in rage, he brought his sword around, slamming it into the orge with terrible savagry and swiftness, calling for aid as he battled. Hobgoblins moved to cut off the barbarian’s retreat, but they did not yet advance upon him, content to let the sadistic ogre finish his work, as he had done so many times in the past. Ripper’s second blow should have split Haerak’s skull, but amazingly, a loose stone caused the ogre to stumble, and his great club smashed harmlessly to the barbarian’s side. Haerak pressed his attack, and, as luck would have it, he was joined by Kalarsh and his companions, not content to watch from the sidelines, the orc warriors attacked the hobgoblins, and Kalarsh joined Haerak against the great ogre. This proved unwise for the orc, though strong and skilled, a horrific counterblow from Ripper shattered his ribs and left him bleeding on the ground, organs ruptured. This momentary distraction gave Haerak the opportunity he needed however, his next blow struck true, shearing Ripper’s face and skull nearly in two, the ogre was dead on it’s feat, it struggled to raise it’s dreadful club one last time, but death took it before it’s body carried out the cleaved mind’s final, hate filled orders.

Haerak and the orcs brought Kalarsh back to the gullet as quickly as they could, where Haerak forced Ardel to heal the wounded orc leader, pulling him back from the very brink of death. Moments later more hobgoblins burst into the inn, and the battle was joined again. Haerak brought one low, but before he could battle any others, Uarsk brought his terrible flail to bear, smashing the life from the hobgoblins as if they were made of paper.

Haerak gathered up his companions and fled with the orcs, managing to meet with Fegren’s caravan, beginning the  journey towards a real change at daylight.

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The Scavenger

Haerak led his feeble band away from the vampires lair as best he could, half dragging the exhausted, drained and still ensorcelled Kernoc along with him. The barbarian pushed his companions as hard as he dared, hoping to put enough ground between himself and Theobold that the vampire would not take the trouble to hunt them down.

After two long days of travel, the sounds of battle stalled the small group. The dwarf, now in better spirits, called a quick halt as Haerak shielded their light. Kernoc investigated and reported shortly that a viscous battle between a group of hobgoblin’s and a party of Minotaurs was taking place. The little group did their best to lay low, hoping that the battle would not spread to encompass them. In time, the sounds of clashing steel and blasting magic faded, and it was not long before they heard the marching of regimented boots fading away. Investigating the scene of the battle, Haerak found a few items of value on an fortunately unlooted corpse, most importantly, the still intact armour that the hobgoblin wore.

More days passed, and the little group moved further and further down, following the flow of the underground water, and Kernoc’s remarkable ability to see the imperceptible changes in depth and direction in the tunnels.

In time, the rough stone gave way to worked rock, the remains of an ancient drow keep, long since abandoned and destroyed. The passage to the little fort was not easily accessed however, the entrance lay on the far side of a bridgeway, long since collapsed, though through time, or purpose, Haerak could not say. Haerak leapt across, taking their rope with him. He was able to anchor the rope to a torch sconce, and Kernoc was able to make his way across. Ardel was not so fortunate however, as he made to wrap the rope around himself, the defenders of the keep made themselves known. Ancient skeletons and zombies, still bound to their resting place attacked the frightened priest. Hurling himself back across the chasm, Haerak forced his way between the frightened priest and the walking dead, trying to drive them back with his spear.

Unfortunately for the barbarian, the spear proved ill suited to fighting the zombies, causing little harm to the long dead elves. Their blows however, were quite effective in harming the large warrior, several powerful slams made him pay for his attempted heroics. With his opportunity at hand, Ardel flung himself across the chasm, fear and adrenaline somehow giving him the strength to make the leap. With the priest out of immediate danger, Haerak hurled himself back across, a parting blow from one of the zombies nearly cost him dearly, as he only barely made the leap. Once across, the barbarian quickly fled, as the skeletal warriors which followed behind their flesh covered brethren hurled spears at the retreating group.

Inside the keep, more undead stirred as the group took stock of the surroundings. Haerak grabbed a promising looking pack, and the quickly lead the little party out of the keep, quickly outdistancing the undead, who still seemed bound to their ancient resting places.

Past the drow keep, the underdark itself proved as perilous a locale as the undead attackers had been. The group suffered painful falls, and were nearly swept from the relative safety of their path by swift moving water, and badly eroded pathways.

Sliding out of the eroded passageway, the group caught a few moments rest in a small cavern. As they caught their breath, they had only a moments warning before a small scouting party of goblins came upon them. The battle was quick and decisive, the goblins proved little match for the barbarian and the dwarf.

A much larger group was alerted however, led by the goblin Moogha, they numbered nearly 20, with at least half warriors.

Haerak managed to negotiate with the goblins, it seemed that they were once slaves themselves, but, thanks to the efforts of a great leader, had freed themselves. They were however, now hopelessly lost in the underdark, with their leader trapped by a terrible beast down at the bottom of the large cistern atop which they made their camp.

Haerak agreed to search the cistern for their shaman, in return for information the shaman might have that would lead them to the surface, as well as the ‘magic sword’ the goblins possessed.

The blade had no magic, but it was large, and well crafted, certainly an improvement upon Haerak’s spear. He led his companions down into the bottom of the pit, through the hole, and into an underground waterway, with waist high, fresh water swirling throughout the small cave complex.

Exploring, Haerak discovered a strange eyeglass, which, when placed over one of his eyes offered a massive improvement in vision, though it required the other eye be covered.

The beast within terrorized Haerak and his companions, with magic, poisonous bites, and frightening illusions, all while remaining unseen. The group soon realized they were outmatched by the creature, and attempted to flee the way they had came. As Haerak climped the rope out of the waterway, he saw the wounded shaman struggling his way towards them, begging for help.

Foolishly, the barbarian threw himself back in, grasping for the goblin. Of course, it was naught but another illusion, and with that, the beast made itself known. A great serpentine creature, terrible and beautiful, it rose up out of the water and lunged at Haerak, striking and poisoning him before he could bring the sword to bear against it.

As it coiled for another strike, Kernoc flung himself upon the beast, stabbing with his spear, giving Haerak the opportunity he required. With a terrible cry of fury, he hammered the huge blade into the creature, wounding it terribly, forcing it’s quick retreat.

With that, the battle was done, Haerak and Kernoc quickly retreated, and prepared to face the goblins, with the barbarian drinking both his antitoxin, and the strange potion he found within the pack at the drow keep. Both proved essential, as his system fought off the venom with the help of the anti-toxin, and the potion healed the worst of his wound.

Haerak was able to intimidate the goblins into not only keeping the blade, but taking some of their food & clothes for Ardel as well, punishing them for nearly turning upon him as they rose from their battle with the serpent.

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The Survivor

Haerak immediately knew Lassar was going to be trouble, the man was greedy and selfish, petty and cruel. Lassar was big and strong however, with the bearing of a warrior, so Haerak did his best to keep the peace with Lassar, allowing the man to torment Ardel, threaten the dwarf, and attempt to command the little party. Haerak convinced the dwarf to lead the party onward, hoping to make their way to the great underground lake upon which sat the town of Faradoon, and then, onward to Deepgate and the surface.

The going was slow, the party was exhausted, hungry, and fearful, but onwards they walked. After a time, they were attacked by a great beast of the underdark, a terrible centipede, larger than a man. It closed it’s jaws upon Haerak, but he shook it loose, and drove it off with a mighty strike from his spear.

After a fitful ‘nights’ rest, the little group marched on, hungrier than ever. Eventually Kernoc called a stop, and crept ahead. He reported back that in the distance he could see a group of humanoid creatures ahead, one group holding another in captivity.

The dwarf crept closer for a better look, but the captor’s managed to hear him, and so the group fled again. This time they were not successful however, as, when the stopped to catch their breath, the captors, brutal, blind humanoids known as Grimlocks, attacked. Two of them had followed the group. The fighting was savage, brutal and quick. In the end, Haerak’s spear made short work of one, and his companions brought down the other. The Grimlock’s wounded Ardel and Haerak badly however, though Ardel surprised the party yet again, by healing his own wound’s as well as Haerak’s with divine magic.
The party made their way back to the Grimlock’s camp, hoping to ambush the creatures, free their hobgoblin captives, and with luck, find food and equipment. Their simple ambush failed however, it drew several of the monsters, but not enough for Haerak to safely free the captives, and more than Lassar and Kernoc could safely handle.

When he realized how badly outmatched his companions were, Haerak rushed back to try and assist them, thinking that in all likelyhood he was rushing to his own death. He was greeted by five Grimlock’s, some bearing wounds, just as they smashed Kernoc to the ground. Knowing that he could not survive without the dwark, Haerak roared in berserker fury, and attacked, thinking that it would be better to die here, than be lost in the dark forever.

In the brutal seconds that followed, Haerak tore into the monsters, felling one after the other, and, with Lassar abandoning his ruse of unconsciousness, long enough to bring down one of the creatures(and then be felled himself), Haerak managed to slay the last of the monster’s, though with it’s dying blow the last one felled him as well.

Ardel surprised Haerak again, healing him from the brink of death, and saving Kernoc as well. He refused to heal Lassar however, but Haerak was able to stop his bleeding, staving off his death for now at least.

The group found that the leader of the Grimlocks had abandoned the battle, taking two of his captives with him, but leaving the tortured third behind. Haerak also discovered something of critical importance, a pack with nearly two weeks worth of food. With luck it would buy them a few more days at least.

Haerak was forced to threaten Ardel to see Lassar healed, but, their journey continued. A few days more march led them once more into mortal danger, a lair of lizard folk known as troglodytes. The group drove off the first assualt, but, as more and more of the monsters began arriving, they were quickly routed. Amazingly, they met an armoured man, whom the monsters seemed to fear more than they desired to slay Haerak and his companions.

The man was Theobold Cline, and, as Ardel quickly ascertained, the troglodytes were right to fear him, as the powerful vampire could have easily destroyed their entire tribe, should the mood have struck him. Haerak and the others were fooled by the man however, resting in his home for some time before Theobold’s uncanny nature convinced him that something was amiss. By this time much of the blood had been drained from Kernoc, and the dwarf and Lassar were deeply under the vampire’s spell. Haerak managed to convince the healer to explain Theobold’s condition to him, and he realized that they were not just in danger in Theobold’s hidden home, but they faced certain death if they remained there. He gathered up Kernoc, and Ardel, but Lassar refused to leave, and, in fact insisted that Ardel would never leave as well, that the broken healer belonged to him.

When he realized that Lassar would not back down, Haerak struck him savagely with his spear, and threatened to kill him if he did not allow them all to leave. At that, Lassar yielded, and the weary dwarf led the party, now just three, back into the endless night of the underdark.

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The Slave

The Slave sat in the dark, crowded pit, trying to rest, to get a few precious hours of sleep before the lights returned, his harsh masters dropped the ladders, led him to the quarry, and the endless work began again. Around him, some men wept openly, others plotted hateful revenge against their masters, and still others squabbled over imagined slights. None dared challenge the Slave however, his large, hardened body bore scars of whips and battle far older than the welts raised by the goblinoids. Those few who were fool enough to try and make themselves his master had quickly come to regret it.

So it was for the Slave, so it had been, for what felt like a lifetime, but in truth, was little more than 3 months, though the Slave had long since lost count, day and night are as nothing in the endless darkness of the underdark. There is only work, pain, and a few scattered moments of fitful sleep.

When word came that the slave, along with many others would be moved, that the salt mines needed fresh lives to devour, his heart was heavy, but he allowed himself to feel little, as injury or death there would at least ensure he was never sent to the isle of wails when even his great body failed him.

The journey was long, twisting through the endless caverns of the underdark. His fellow slaves marched in a long, quiet line, guarded by the goblins, and their escort, the terrible ogre known as Ripper.

The slaves were split into small, well guarded groups to rest, the same groups each time. The Slave’s group was comprised of a young soldier from Deepwatch, onetime an enemy of the Slave’s former masters, a brutal thug named Lassar, the tireless dwarf Kernoc, and the broken healer, a whelp of a man name Alden. When Lassar took Ardel’s fetid rations, the Slave quietly shared his vile food with the healer, though he was offered no thanks in return, by the broken man.

The Slave spoke with the soldier and the dwarf in the brief snatches of rest their journey allowed. He offered them his name, though it took him a long moment to remember it. The dwarf yearned for freedom, and, he explained that he believed that if they could be free of their masters, there was a chance he could find the surface. The soldier and the Slave listened with interest, though they expected little opportunity for escape. The hobgoblins were vigilant, professional, and merciless, and as terrible as they were, their leader was all that kept Ripper from destroying the slaves for sport.

So it was that Ara gave the little band of slaves the miracle they sought. She heaved and buckled, the earth tearing and scraping with agony as she shuddered. A great earthquake rippled through the underdark, collapsing much of the cavern, splitting the column in two.

With a roar, the Slave leap into action, snatching a head sized rock from the ground, he brought it down upon the skull of the staggered guard, still reeling in shock from the heaving earth, it offered no defense, and it’s bestial head caved like a ripe melon.

Snatching up the guard’s spear, the Slave and his small band sprinted down the hallway, edging past the orge, caked in the gore of the slaves unlucky enough to be near him when the quake began. As the group ran past, the warrior from deepwatch threw himself at the ogre hopelessly, buying just enough time for the others to stumble down the cavern, finding a side passage small enough that the great beast could not follow.

The three humans followed the dwarf through twisting corridors, in utter darkness, for what felt like hours, until Kernoc believed that they were well away from any pursuit. Then, the healer surprised them all, for with a few muttered words, he conjured a glowing orb. When the cavern lit up around him, the Slave felt a tiny glimmer of hope light up inside of him. “Haerak”, he thought to himself, “Your name is Haerak, and you are not going to die down here”.

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