One of the founders of our hobby and one of the most unsung contributors to Dungeons & Dragons, Len Lakofka has passed away at the age of 76.
Along with the many adventures, classes, spells, and rules he created, Len was also father of the Suel in Greyhawk, designer of their gods, and namesake of the Lendore Isles.
The value of his work goes without saying, but his presence will be sorely missed. The adventures of Leomund go on.
Hate to use the word solitaire in the title but that is what this is, using the Mythic Engine to emulate a DM along with the Red Hand of Doom adventure and a few other supplements. As I play, I write a first person journal which might be of use to some here for ideas or (perhaps) entertainment. Comments are welcome
8 Fireseek 579
My name is Aalas, Son of Agnure or Aalas Agnureson and though those are the only names I carry, I barely remember the man whose son I am called. It was in my third winter that my father finally succumbed to the curse that killed him and though I remembered little, I grew to know Agnure well from the stories my mother would tell me as I grew older. From these, a furious desire for revenge grew within me as I played beneath the trees of beautiful Pinitel at the northern edge of the Olven Kingdom of Celene. My sister was born after my father’s death and named Forwen Nienast in Olven or Forwen the Sorrowful Blessing and joined me in my desire for vengeance as soon as she was able to hear the tales our mother told. When I was twelve and she was ten, we vowed together solemnly that we would finish what our father had started but alas Istus had other plans for us and that is the story that has prompted me to record this journal and so it will be told in its place. For now, I will recount the story that has brought me to this point and the frustrated childhood that my sister and I enjoyed as we plotted and planned how we would return to Castle Greyhawk and avenge the man who was called Agnure the Old when he finally died at the age of thirty one.
My mother and my father met as members of an adventuring company that came to be known as the Company of the Wolf for the banner of a hobgoblin tribe that they defeated in the Kron Hills. A gnome named Goldrock Girfalen led the company and Burne, the Mage of Hommlet was among its number along with my mother and father. Together, they ventured forth from Hommlet in the Verbobonc where they met and travelled east to mighty Greyhawk, called the Gem of the Flanaess by the learned and other, less flattering names by the less learned. There, they travelled forth exploring the Cairn Hills and performed services for the merchants and nobles of the city and as they did, my mother, Gaernal Half-Elven and my father, Agnure the Bold as he was then known, fell in love. Their prominence grew in Greyhawk and eventually, they decided to brave the greatest danger that the city and its surrounding lands held - the stronghold of Zagyg the Mad Archmage – Castle Greyhawk. They fared well in their explorations until they reached the lower levels of the castle dungeons and there, my father confronted a lich, an undead wizard of terrible power. He and my mother, along with their companions forced the creature to retreat into the deeper halls but in the battle, my father was terribly wounded and afflicted by the dreadful touch of this fell creature. He recovered, but overnight, his hair turned grey and his limbs began to stiffen and slow.
My parents retired then to Hommlet and then to Pinitel in Celene where I was born. By then, my father was already weakening but my mother was soon with child again. Alas, Agnure the Old, as he was known then, weakened and became sick until eventually, death took him two months before Forwen was born. Thus was Forwen named the Sorrowful Blessing for as my mother grieved, she also brought my sister into the world. We grew up in Pinitel, our mother looking after us with the help of the elves that dwelt there and we were happy until we learned of our father’s fate. Soon after we had both been told, Forwen and I vowed to avenge our father but alas, fate would not allow us to fulfil our promise.
Our mother, Gaernal Half-Elven, stayed with us for many years but as time wore on, she became restless and wondered about the fate of her former companions. Often she would leave us in the care of the elves and wander north to Hommlet where Burne yet lived and would stay with him for weeks at a time. Three years ago, she began to adventure again, attacking the dark temple that has so plagued Hommlet for many years with Burne at her side. She returned briefly but then travelled south to the Wild Coast and battled slavers as far as the Pomarj before returning. When she did return, my mother brought with her, Thaddeus, my new step father and I began to rebel. We would argue over when Forwen and I could leave to finally fulfil the vow we had made and my sister and I were unkind and cruel. Then my mothers enemies sowed dissent in Pinitel and she left with her companions to draw these enemies out. From this journey, she did not return.
And so we come to where I am now, staying at an inn in the town of Mittleberg in western Sterich. Forwen and I set out with Thaddeus, our step father, with Kiriel, our childhood friend, and with Arianrhod, the betrothed of Furnok, one of my mother’s companions. We learned in Hommlet that my mother and her companions had journeyed westward to Sterich and so we followed. In Istivin we found that they had apparently defeated a great evil that had enclosed the city in a dark bubble but they had never returned from the western mountains. And so we came here.
We journey on at dawn, following a trail that is months old without knowing where it will lead us. We know only that we have to find my mother and her companions so that we can return home together as a family. The Witchwood and the upper Davish valley lie ahead of us and beyond them the mountains which seem to have claimed my mother and her friends.
Last edited by Flint on Fri Apr 09, 2010 7:57 am; edited 1 time in total
12 Fireseek 579
We were ambushed by goblins on the road today, a little way to the east of Drellin’s Ferry where we now stay. Thaddeus was the first to see the glint of a weapon in the trees along the road and as he stepped into the undergrowth, a goblin came forward with a curved short sword in hand. My step father cut the creature down with a single blow but then a large, grey wolf came from the trees along the trail ahead and another wolf and more goblins came from a stone shack at the end of a path that led off the trail to the left. I met the wolf and the goblins that followed it, holding it at bay with my blade while slashing at it when I could. Behind me, Forwen and Arianrhod met the goblins from the left while Kiriel began hurling bolts of crackling black magic at the wolf there and the goblins that came with it. Thaddeus came forward to stand with me and together, we cut down goblins while keeping the wolf from charging past us at Kiriel and the others.
We needn’t have worried for Kiriel’s magic was powerful already and with it, she felled first the wolf, and then a furious goblin with a huge battleaxe. The rest of the goblins surged forward, spurred on by a shaman who came behind them and while the fell spellcaster blinded Arianrhod with a bolt of magic from the rod he carried, his minions surrounded the ranger. She was cut in the side and the belly and fell to the dusty road but by then, Thaddeus and I had cut down the goblins and the wolf before us. Together, we rushed at the shaman, forcing the goblin back as more of its minions rushed down the road from the west. I remember hearing Forwen chanting a prayer to Pholtus behind me and as we drove the shaman back, Arianrhod rose. I managed to look back as the last of the goblins behind me fell and with a roar, Thaddeus and I surged at the shaman. My blade cut into the goblin’s hip and my step father’s clove into its side. With a gasp it fell and the line of goblins behind the creature wavered.
One of them yelled and they charged us but what remained of the battle was short and furious. The goblins fell to sword and spell and prayer, staining the road with their blood. When the last had fallen, the five of us looked at each other, realising finally that we had faced our first true battle and we had been victorious. We began to smile and then shared embraces and laughter as the fury of battle subsided. In the shack from which the shaman and the axe-wielding goblin had come, we found a rod carved of black wood with patters as of woven rope etched into it. Kiriel guesses that the shaman had been toying with using the item but now the warlock who has been my friend since childhood carries this fierce implement. Already we have the bearing of adventurers, I feel, though we are no closer to finding my mother and her companions.
We came to Drellin’s Ferry as dusk settled over the Davish valley, the road descending into the small town built mostly on the eastern bank of the river. Six old stone piers jutted from the water, marking the spot where a bridge apparently once stood although the span itself was long gone. Instead, two thick ropes stretched across the river, each secured to a flat-bottomed ferry boat. Brown fields and green orchards surrounded the town and as we neared it, we almost forgot the frantic battle we had faced on the road barely two hours before. The place seemed to be an island of peace but as we reached the edge of town, we saw a group of four armed men standing guard. Three were dressed in leather jerkins and the fourth wore a coat of mail and at their belts they wore old swords that looked like they had seen better days.
“Halt and state your business, strangers,” one of the men said.
“Our business is our own,” Forwen answered sharply. “We have faught goblins on the road and are in need of rest.”
After warning us to mind our manners in the town, the guard who had spoken told us that reports of goblins skulking near the town had been reaching his ears for days now. He pointed us toward two inns in town, telling us that he favoured the Old Bridge. We chose to follow his advice and found it to be a large and busy place on the edge of the town green run by a clan of halflings called the Shadowbanks. The room I write in now is wood-panelled with a grand, canopied bed, a writing desk and a washing bowl. A strong chest at the foot of the bed holds my armour, my shield and my sword while in a room down the hall, a pretty halfling girl draws me a hot bath. It has cost us two gold a night but it is worth it. I only hope the others do not waste their gold on ale and gambling downstairs as I write this.
Last edited by Flint on Fri Apr 09, 2010 7:57 am; edited 1 time in total
13 Fireseek 579
I was woken after midnight by a knock at the door of my room. Outside in the hallway stood a tall, balding man of about fifty winters and a capable looking swordswoman who stood beside him.
“Sorry to trouble you, travellers,” the man said as my companions emerged from their rooms. “But I’d like a few minutes of your time.”
The man was called Norro Wiston, the Town Speaker of Drellin’s Ferry while the woman was named Soranna, the guard captain of the town. He said without preamble that the town was in a lot of trouble and he hoped to persuade us to help out.
“Our town is under attack,” the Speaker began once we had all gathered in my room. “Goblin raiders have been harrying our lands for several days now. They’ve attacked and killed people in the outlying homesteads, and they’ve been waylaying travellers along the Davish Main Trail.”
Captain Soranna spoke up then explaining that occasional goblin raids on homesteads to the west of the river were common and rarely serious but this time she thought that a large, aggressive tribe had moved down out of the Crystalmists hoping to attack while Sterich remained weakened from the Giant War that ended last year.
“Frankly,” she finished. “I fear they may be numerous enough to sack the town.”
“Beyond the immediate threat to our homes,” the Speaker went on. “The road is out lifeblood. If the goblins make the Davish Trail impassable to the west then trade goods for the dwarves of the mountains won’t come this way, and we’ll be ruined. Not only do we need to repel the raiders from our town, but we’ve got to keep that road open. Can you help us?”
My companions spoke amongst themselves then while the Speaker, Captain Soranna and I listened. I wanted them to reach a consensus between them if they could before I spoke for I knew that they would weigh my words heavily as a paladin and sometime leader of the band. Arianrhod wished only to continue the search for her husband Furnok but Forwen, Thaddeus and Kiriel all argued for helping the townsfolk. I found myself torn between both arguments, knowing that I could not abandon the search for my mother before it had even begun. Finally I spoke, knowing that I would disappoint my sister and Kiriel, my closest friend.
“We are bound for the mountains,” I said at last. “And we cannot turn aside. Alas others have need of our aid for now but if we return this way then we will aid you.”
The Speaker nodded grimly while Soranna turned brusquely and stalked from the room. He spoke quietly then, thanking us for our time and advising us to seek out a woodsman named Jorr if we passed through the Witchwood on our journey to the mountains. He bade us farewell sternly and then turned as Soranna had done to leave the room. I watched him go with some sadness for he desperately wanted our aid. Our blades, alas, were promised to another quest and at dawn, we would journey on.
15 Fireseek 579
We came to the Witchwood at dusk and camped beneath its eaves. It is a dark and tangles place but the trail that we have been following seems to lead inside and take us toward the distant mountains whose peaks now tower on the western horizon. The weather was milder today than it has been of late but flurries of snow still fell as we walked south and westward so that by the time we made camp, a thin dusting covered the ground. We travel into the wood at dawn and I for one am not looking forward to the prospect.
16 Fireseek 579
The trail proved harder to follow than we had first thought, wandering as it did through the undergrowth, around hills and rocky outcroppings while being frequently crossed by game trails that looked strangely similar to the route we followed. Although Kiriel kept us on the right track for a while by remembering some obscure olven lore that referred to this apparently ancient way, by afternoon today we had become lost. We resorted to hopefully steering as best we could toward the westering sun in the hope that we would find the Davish river again and follow it toward the mountains but as dusk began to settle over the wood, even that seemed a forlorn hope.
We came into a clearing filled with tangled bushes and vine-covered boulders in the last of the winter sunlight and thought that we would make camp. Suddenly, we heard a chirp from the bushes to our right and there, we saw a small, sharp-toothed, dragon-like creature that stood on its back legs and peered at us curiously. It chirped again and from somewhere behind it, another chirp answered and then another, and then another. Arianrhod, sensing danger, rushed off the trail to the right, drawing her swords from her belt as she did. More of the dragon creatures burst from the bushes in a swarm of teeth and claws and the ranger met them with her blades. They bit at her and she swiped at them while Forwen rushed to her aid, hurling bolts of divine energy into their midst. Kiriel circled around the other side of the swarm and began hurling black, crackling bolts from the rod she held into the swarm of creatures, felling several. I rushed to aid Arianrhod, lashing out with my sword to cut down more of the dragon creatures and Thaddeus came behind me, his own blade felling more of the small creatures. Only then did we realise that the true danger lay behind us as Forwen called out a warning.
I looked back and saw that one cluster of vines had crept across the floor of the clearing now reared up close to my sister. Kiriel cried out from the left and I saw that another of the vine creatures had driven a thorn through my friend’s leg and was dragging her toward it. I went to aid Forwen, leaving Thaddeus and Arianrhod to battle the dragon creatures but by the time I reached her, the tangle of vines had driven a thorn into my sister’s hip and was dragging her toward it. I slashed at it with my blade, cutting down fronds and thorns without knowing whether I was hurting the creature or not. Forwen struck at the vines with her morning star and then managed to struggle free. I waved her away from the creature and as I had intended, it turned its thorns on me next. Before it had chance, I uttered a prayer to Pholtus and, as my blade glowed with golden light, I clove it through the creature, hewing its vines to pieces that fell limp to the forest floor.
I turned around and saw that Thaddeus had now been impaled by the other vine creature while Kiriel lay bleeding near the middle of the clearing. Deciding that my step father could hold his own, I rushed to Kiriel’s side intending to heal her. As I looked back, Thaddeus clove the vine creature to pieces with his sword and yanked the thorn that had pierced him from his leg. Forwen and I reached Kiriel and began praying, hoping against hope that she would cling to life and somehow, our friend did.
We have made camp in the clearing as we intended and Arianrhod thinks that she has spied the river to the west by the light of the setting sun. We go on in the morning, heading for the forbidding mountains that shadow our path.
. . . I uttered a prayer to Pholtus and, as my blade glowed with golden light . . .
I take it you and your sister worship Pholtus -- which is interesting -- how many clerics in the group?
Still a good story. Keep it coming!
Yep. Two followers of the Blinding Light here. Quick breakdown of the PCs is as follows:
Aalas is a human Paladin of Pholtus and my chronicler
Forwen Nienast is a half-elf cleric of Pholtus and sister of Aalas
Kiriel is an eladrin warlock
Arianrhod is a human ranger
Thaddeus is a human warlord and step father to both Aalas and Forwen
This group has been created as PCs in 2E and 3E before these latest incarnations and are related to PCs that go back to the early days of my GH gaming with school friends years ago giving them some hefty back story behind them. And incidentally, PCs start this at 1st level meaning that I have done some work on Red Hand of Doom to make everything level appropriate.
One final detail for now for those that haven't spotted this yet is that both Thaddeus and Arianrhod were NPCs from A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords who married members of the rescuing PC band and thus became permanent fixtures in my Greyhawk.
Last edited by Flint on Mon Apr 12, 2010 12:26 pm; edited 1 time in total
17 Fireseek 579
We found the river this morning but it did us little good for it was difficult to keep close to the bank and soon tangles of undergrowth forced us away from its banks. Though Thaddeus forced paths through bushes and Arianrhod found game trails for us to follow, we had soon lost sight of it and were lost once more. As the sun passed its zenith at the height of what was a mild winter’s day, we climbed onto the top of a hill hoping to sight the river again. On the hill’s summit stood the jagged ruins of an old watchtower and as we climbed out of the forest’s canopy, we found the air around us grow cold and icy.
Arianrhod drew her swords and approached the ruined tower warily for as ever she sensed danger ahead of us. She waved back at us and gestured toward the ruin.
“Something sleeps within,” she whispered.
I moved forward and saw what she meant at once. A dragon, small for its kind and with scales as white as the snow that capped the peaks to the west slept within, curled up on the stone floor of the ruin. Forwen and Kiriel came forward and as they did, they raised their implements of power. With a word of prayer, Forwen loosed a bolt of golden energy from the symbol of Pholtus she wore and a moment later, Kiriel loosed a bolt of black, crackling energy into the dragon. With a screech, the wyrm woke up and together, Thaddeus, Arianrhod and I charged the creature. As we struck at it, the wyrm reared back and we felt the dragonfear wash over us. Arianrhod shrank back but I steeled my heart and held firm. The dragon breathed a moment later, searing us with frost and driving us away from it. Prayers rushed from my lips as I tried to shake off the terrible cold of the dragon’s breath and I managed to strike at the creature again and again though its scales defeated most of my blows.
The wyrm lashed out at Thaddeus with its claws but despite the terrible cold of the dragon’s breath, my step father leapt back and ducked under the dragon’s fiercesome weapons. He shouted at me to strike at the creature more fiercely and I drew strength from his encouragement. My blade slashed into the dragon’s chest and with a roar, it breathed again but we were all ready this time and ducked under the blast of frozen air. Still the creature lashed out wildly and our blades as well as Forwen’s prayers and Kiriel’s spells took their toll.
“Finish it!” Thaddeus yelled and charged at the wyrm.
He plunged his sword into the dragon’s side and Arianrhod rushed in after Thaddeus. I, meanwhile retreated and called out a prayer that loosed ribbons of light from my blade to strike the wyrm. The creature reeled back onto its hind legs and as it did, Forwen charged past, me, drawing her morning star as she ran. The dragon breathed one last time and then lashed out at Thaddeus with its claws before a bolt from Kiriel’s rod struck it in the chest and it fell amidst the ruins of the tower.
The dragon’s hoard, such as it was, for the wyrm was very young by the standards of its kind, was made up of a few hundred gold and silver coins and a finely wrought medallion of Pholtus that Forwen took. We spied the river from the hill and made our way down into forest toward it again. We camp now on its banks and our way ahead toward the southern mountains seems clear.
18 Fireseek 579
We followed the river as best we could and by noon we saw ahead a crossing point in the distance that looked to be an old wooden causeway that carried the trail across the west. Still we could not find the road and as the afternoon began we wandered into a clearing on the river bank that showed that the crossing point was not unwatched. Two tents had been pitched at the eastern end of the clearing and around a fire sat four goblins each with a grey wolf lounging nearby. They saw us at once and began to shout in alarm but we were quicker, Arianrhod, Thaddeus and I drawing our blades and charging at the camp. The wolves came forth to meet us, yapping and howling as they ran and then the goblins rushed behind them, curved short swords in their hands. From behind us, Forwen and Kiriel prayed and cast spells, hurling golden and black bolts into the battle. Arianrhod fell back quickly, wounded by blade and bite but Forwen rushed to her aid, healing the worst of her hurts and felling one of the goblins that harried the ranger.
Meanwhile, Kiriel felled one of the wolves before me with a bolt of black energy and between them, Arianrhod and Forwen felled another but then Thaddeus began to fall back, wounded and bleeding. I lashed out with my sword at the wolf before me and uttered a prayer and as my sword struck home, Pholtus granted his protection to my step father. A golden aura surrounded him for a moment and he held off the wolf and the goblin he faced. Then Arianrhod and Forwen came to his aid felling the wolf he faught quickly and the two goblins that still stood broke and ran. The wounded wolf before fell as a bolt of black, eldritch power tore into its flank and my sister, grim and determined as she has always been, rushed after the fleeing goblins. One fell to a bolt of golden light from Forwen’s amulet and the other fell to my blade as I rushed after it. If goblins truly menaced this part of western Sterich, we could not have any fleeing from us to alert others of our passage.
We came to the crossing point around the middle of the afternoon as rain fell from a dull grey sky. A wide expanse of water had flooded the woodland in the low valley around the upper Davish and trees still protruded from the calm, dark waters here and there. Despite this, many large reaches seemed to be little more than algae-choked water and the trill of frogs joined the whine of insects in the air. The forest road led right down to the edge of the flooded section and up to a rickety-looking causeway made of thick planks lashed together with mossy rope. The wooden causeway ran for several hundred feet through the boggy patch and crossed the river barely a foot above its surface. A stone on the near bank was carved with dwur and common runes, marking it as the way to Overlook.
“A dwur city on the edge of the Crystalmists,” Kiriel said as we looked down at the stone. “I had thought it only a legend.”
Now that we knew that it was not, though, I felt my spirits rise for surely if any knew where my mother had gone, the dwur of the mountains would know. Buoyed by a new sense of direction, I boldly stepped onto the causeway and led our band toward the river. Ahead, I made out the wreckage of a wagon close to the river bank and lying on its side, half-sunk in the flooded forest. I wondered what had brought it to such an end and indeed how it had ended up so far from the causeway. I did not have to wait long to find out.
We had nearly reached the other side of the river when the water to our left suddenly erupted and from it came a dragon with scales as black as night. I felt the fear wash over me but I faught it as I had when we had faught the white dragon but then it breathed, spraying acid from its mouth. I ducked down behind the rails of the causeway but Forwen and Thaddeus reeled away, their skin burning and smoking. The dragon bit out at Thaddeus but he leapt back and then together we rushed to the edge of the causeway and slashed at the creature with our sword. Then a cloud of darkness descended on us, blinding us all and leaving us helpless before the terrible wyrm. From my right, on the far bank of the river, I heard Kiriel curse at the dragon and wondered how she had got there but then I banished such thoughts and lashed out blindly at the dragon. Thaddeus shouted from my left and I heard the dragon screech as though it had been struck but a moment later, my step father cried out. The darkness lifted as suddenly as it had come and I saw Thaddeus lying bleeding on the causeway, his belly ripped open by the dragon’s teeth and acid burning at his flesh.
From the far bank, I heard Kiriel shout out another curse and the dragon reeled away from the causeway, tearing at its own head with its claws. I learned later that my friend had assailed the wyrm with dark dreams that forced it to torture itself but as I stood on the causeway I could only wonder. The dragon before me roared and spewed acid again and this time, my sister Forwen reeled away and collapsed on the causeway. Desperately, I lashed out at the dragon with a prayer on my lips and as the blade struck the wyrm’s chest, a golden glow flared around Arianrhod. Golden ribbons followed, lancing from my blade to strike the wyrm and then Arianrhod charged at it, lashing both of her blades at it again and again before plunging one into its side. The wyrm reared back and then dived at me, snapping its jaws shut just in front of me as I leapt back. I reached down and healed Forwen and then leapt forward and slashed at the dragon’s muzzle. Again it screeched and as it did, my sister rose to her feet at the end of the causeway. She reached out toward Thaddeus and healed him and then she hurled a bolt of golden light into the dragon that pierced its chest. The dragon reeled back and roared one last time before splashing into the water, dead.
18 Fireseek 579
We made our way onward into the forest, following the old dwarven road and as dusk began to settle over the land, a haunting sight loomed out of the shadowy woods ahead of us. It was a ruined keep sitting on a small rocky hillock with glimpses of a broken tower visible between the trees. A moss-covered stone at the side of the road marked a footpath that looked like it led up to the keep.
I suggested we turn aside and Thaddeus spoke up to agree with me while the others nodded tired acceptance, presumably hopeful, as I was, that we would find a sheltered place to rest within its walls. We followed the path through the trees until it began climbing the gentle eastern slope of the hillock and as we got close to it, I could see that the keep was in very poor repair. The gatehouse was partially collapsed, as was a section of wall to the south while outside the walls, a small wooden building sat next to the remains of a long-abandoned garden. The walls surrounding the keep were more than twice my height with a two-storey tower looming in the southwest corner of the courtyard within. Large boulders lay strewn amid the ruins of the two gate towers and a massive humanoid skeleton slumped amid the ruins of the northern one. The skeleton wore tattered fragments of hide armour and a large club lay next to one of its bony arms.
I started toward the main gates, drawing my sword as I got closer in case anything lurked within the ruins. A fortified place such as this surely would not remain empty for long, I reasoned. As I neared the keep’s gatehouse the ruin of the structure was clear. The watchtowers to either side had partially collapsed and several large boulders lay strewn about. The decayed remains of two sets of wooden gates lay in a heap on the ground.
“This is surely Vraath Keep,” hissed Kiriel from behind me as she and Thaddeus rushed to catch up, having investigated the hut outside the keep.
“I have read about it,” the elf maid went on. “It was destroyed by firbolgs after its lord grew too bold in trying to attack the giants. They say he still haunts the vault beneath where he fled after being mortally wounded with a poisoned arrow.”
The skeleton looked big enough to have been one of the firbolgs that laid the place low and I shivered at the thought of what had befallen the place. Still, I stepped forward into the courtyard of hard-packed earth beyond the gates, feeling the eerie air of desolation that permeated the place. Jagged boulders embedded in the ground seemed to have been dropped there, or thrown from a great distance, while many of the walls bore large dents and cracks where the rocks must once have struck. Two more massive skeletons lay at opposite ends of the courtyard, one propped up by the watchtower and the other sprawled at the far end by a building that could once have been be a stable. To the south, where a section of the keep’s outer wall had collapsed, a third giant skeleton lay partially buried in the rubble.
Arianrhod knelt just inside the entrance and pointed at marks on the ground identifying them as wolf tracks mixed with those of goblins and hobgoblins – something did dwell in the keep! I turned to one side warily and flung open the door to the southern gate tower only to find the ruined room within empty and devoid of life. The next door led into an outbuilding in the southeast corner of the courtyard whose original purpose was unclear. All the furniture had been crushed into rubble, and a large nest-like mound of tree branches, bones, bits and pieces of foul-smelling animal parts, and long thin spikes of some sort of black material filled the northwest corner of the room. A gaping hole in the northeast corner provided a view of the darkening sky above and I had stood in the doorway for only a few moments when a loud squealing identified the room’s occupants as rats!
We surged into the building as the rats surged from the nest to meet us as a huge swarm. My blade sang left and right, killing a rat each time but wherever one died, two seemed to surge forward to take its place. We managed to hem the creatures in against the north wall of the building and more and more of them died as we forced then back toward the wall. Then from outside, I heard Forwen shouting and one word rang loud and clear from my sister – goblins!
18 Fireseek 579
I heard horns blowing then as the keep came to life around us. Arianrhod scattered the last of the rats and we rushed outside where we found one goblin fighting Forwen just outside while others swarmed across the courtyard toward us from the north. I heard crossbows click and felt searing pain as a bolt drove into my hip. I stabbed my blade into the leg of the goblin that Forwen faught but then it stabbed out with its own sword, driving the blade into my belly. Through the burning pain, I felt warm blood flow down to my waist and then dizziness assailed me before finally, blackness welcomed me.
In the darkness I heard Thaddeus calling to me, urging me to rise despite my injuries and I remember thinking how typically bossy that was of him. Still, I felt some strength return to me and managed to open my eyes before rising unsteadily to my feet. Arianrhod and Thaddeus were forcing the goblins back and one lay dead in front of the ranger. My sister, meanwhile, was looking for a way to get behind the creatures. Before I could shout out a warning, she ducked through a hole in the wall of the outbuilding across from the rat lair and was gone.
Two wolves joined the battle against Arianrhod and Thaddeus and seeing I had no room to help them, I rushed across the gap between the outbuildings and dived through the hole after my sister. As I straightened up beyond the hole in what seemed to be a barracks, I found myself face to face with a hobgoblin. The creature seemed to be a shaman for it was beginning an incantation but it also seemed not to have noticed me for it was focused on Forwen who stood in the doorway at the northern end of the building, hurling spells of her own at the goblins in the courtyard. I lashed out at the creature hoping to catch it unawares but it must have heard me because at the last moment, it ducked and twisted away from me to avoid my sword. It spun on the spot and spat out a spell as it turned, sending lightning coursing down the staff it wielded. The weapon struck me and hurled me back into the stone wall through which I had climbed, sending sparks of pain through my head and down my back.
The hobgoblin snarled toward the doorway and then came toward me, apparently seeking to finish me off but then Kiriel ducked through the hole in the wall and hurled a bolt of dark, crackling eldritch energy into the shaman’s chest. It reeled back and I took my chance, plunging my blade into its leg. The shaman lashed its staff around toward me, spitting another spell as it did and this time a wave of force threw me back a step toward the wall. The creature snarled angrily, apparently having expected Kiriel and I to be thrown back through the hole from which we had come. Kiriel blasted the goblin again with black, crackling energy and as it reeled, I stabbed my sword into its chest and it collapsed atop the remains of a fire in the middle of the room, dead.
Forwen lay wounded in the doorway of the barracks but she still lived and so I called on Pholtus to heal her and he answered with a pulse of glowing light. My sister’s eyes opened and she smiled up at me.
“I take it there are still goblins to kill,” she said.
I nodded and she leapt to her feet, charging across the courtyard at the nearest goblin beside me. I stabbed the creature once and it leapt back to the stable wall at the northern end of the courtyard, thinking itself safe there. I did not follow and instead, called on the power of Pholtus again to conjured ribbons of divine light that engulfed the creature and seared it to a blackened corpse. It fell beside one of the giant skeletons to no doubt be found by others who come to the troubled keep when we are long gone.
Arianrhod and Thaddeus had fallen but Forwen set to healing them at once and the two goblins that remained bolted as they saw their companion incinerated. The wolf was wounded and would not flee so I killed it, driving my blade into its side before it even knew that I was rushing at it. Vraath Keep was ours for what it was worth and at least we had secured shelter for the night.
18 Fireseek 579
Thaddeus and I found a set of armour each in the vault below the keep and despite the smell of goblin we took them but no sooner had we donned our new finds than we were called back upstairs by Forwen. What she and Arianrhod had found amazed me for in a side room off the barracks chamber a map was laid on a table clearly showing south western Sterich and with crude goblin runes scrawled on it in ochre ink.
I read the runes easily as my mother had taught me to many years before and as I did I became more and more troubled. A horde of goblins and hobgoblins was apparently massing under the banner of something called the Red Hand at a place called Cinder Hill to the north of the keep in which we stood. Numerous spies had apparently been scouting out the region, and they had determined that Drellin’s Ferry, the village we had passed through on the way to the keep would be easy to take. The strength of the goblin forces at Cinder Hill was not clear from the map, but the goblin runes hinted that the horde was large enough to not anticipate any major resistance once they marched on Drellin’s Ferry. From there they would march onward toward Mittleberg and possibly further, falling on battered and weakened Sterich just as spring would be reaching across the land.
All of this, I related to the others but there was more for from the map for I could see that the Red Hand had identified a bottleneck in the horde's approach to Drellin’s Ferry. With troops massed near Cinder Hill, the easiest route down from the mountains to the village was along the dwarven road that we had followed and that meant crossing an old bridge at a place called Skull Gorge. It seemed that the bridge was well guarded to stop it falling to any enemy but it was obvious that if the bridge was destroyed then the hoard would have to take a long and slow route through the Witchwood to attack Drellin’s Ferry across the Davish. No sooner had I relayed this to his companions than the group fell to arguing about their next course.
Surprisingly, Arianrhod was the first to argue for attacking the Skull Gorge bridge and to my amazement, Thaddeus joined her. Both had apparently gotten a thirst for goblin blood at the keep and now they wanted more even though it meant abandoning, for now at least, the search for my mother and for Furnok, Arianrhod’s husband. Forwen wanted to return to Drellin’s Ferry to warn the Town Speaker and Captain Soranna that their fears had been right all along. As I have done before, I left my companions to speak and argue before weighing in with my own views and in doing so, I let my sister persuade them before electing to agree with her. At dawn, we head back to Drellin’s Ferry to warn the townsfolk and for now, we can go no further toward the mountains and my mother.
25 Fireseek 579
Our walk back to Drellin’s Ferry was long and tiring but otherwise uneventful as though the Witchwood and the lands beyond waited with baited breath for the arrival of the horde. We destroyed the causeway across the Davish with fire once we had passed over it and then hastened on to Drellin’s Ferry.
We returned to the Old Bridge inn but had barely paid for our rooms when the Town Speaker, Norro Wiston stepped into the inn’s common room with Captain Soranna following him along with another tall, broad-shouldered woman with blonde-grey hair. She proved to be Delora Zann, the master of the town’s livery stable and as the speaker ushered the rest of the townsfolk from the common room with the help of Kellin, the halfling who ran the Old Bridge, I knew we could expect ill tidings. The speaker waved us to a table as the four townsfolk took seats on one side and we sat down opposite them.
“Well?” asked Wiston. “What happened? What sort of trouble are we in for?”
Between us we relayed to the townsfolk our journey into the Witchwood and our battle at Vraath Keep along with what we had found there. They were unsurprised at the dragons we had faught in the Witchwood, saying that the dark places of the forest were dangerous and seemed pleased that we had won through and defeated the goblins at the Keep. Finally, I brought out the map that we had brought from the keep and laid it on the table.
“That’s our vale, all right,” said Norro Wiston. “What do these goblin scribbles say?”
“There is a horde coming down from the mountains,” Forwen answered. “They march under the banner of the Red Hand and they are coming here soon.”
“But you can stop them, can’t you?” said Kellin, apparently unperturbed by the dire news we had delivered.
“We don’t know,” Thaddeus answered, surprising me with his measured response after his vitriol at the keep.
At that, a commotion in the street outside disturbed us and as I heard the voices, it became obvious that trouble had again come to the town.
“Awake! Awake!” came the cries. “Goblins are attacking the west bank!”
From the front window of the inn, we could see bright flames leaping up from houses and buildings on the other side of the river and as I strapped on the sword belt that I had only just removed, I heard the faint roar and crackle of distant flames. Captain Soranna led us from the inn, blowing a war horn that she carried on her belt. When we reached the Old Toll House on the banks of the Davish, some of the militia had already gathered and together, we all rushed aboard the ferry that awaited us. In the twilight we crossed the river and I remember peering ahead into the garish light of the flames to pick out where the goblins awaited us.
As the ferry bumped against the far bank, Soranna led her men ashore and rushed off to pursue goblins in one direction while shouting at us to go westward toward the edge of the town and the borders of the Witchwood beyond. We were only a hundred feet or so from the ferry landing when we spotted a trio of goblin wolf riders charging down the street toward us, whooping and waving their spears in the air.
The goblins swept into the small square in which we stood and rose across our front, hurling javelins as they passed but they proved poor shots and all of the thrown spears missed their marks. Arianrhod shouted that we should target the wolves first and then charged at one while Kiriel hurled a bolt of dark, crackling energy at another. The smell of burning fur filled the air accompanied by the yelps of wounded wolves as I rushed to aid Arianrhod. The wolf she had wounded turned toward me and I plunged my blade into its throat, felling it in a shower of blood. The goblin rider leapt to the snow-covered ground and stabbed its spear into my thigh drawing a cry of pain from me as blood began to pour down my leg.
Arianrhod stabbed the creature in the side and forced it back from me while I lashed out wildly with my sword. I heard Thaddeus shout at me to finish the wounded goblin and with a roar, I plunged my blade into the creature’s leg, driving it back another step. I stepped forward sensing victory but as I did, a whip of crackling blue energy wrapped itself around my wounded leg and with a jerk, I was dragged, staggering across the courtyard. A hobgoblins shaman had rushed into the square behind the wolf riders and within a moment, I stood face to face with it, smelling its foul breath. More hobgoblins charged into the square behind the shaman, two of them rushing at me with swords in their hands.
I dodged to my left and brought my shield across my body to meet the blades of the newcomers while driving my sword between my body and my shield into the leg of the shaman. The creature spat a curse at him and from behind me I heard Thaddeus roar again for me to finish my enemy for he was coming to aid me against the others. I stabbed at the goblin again but it brought its stave down and smashed my sword into the ground. The hobgoblin brought its staff up then before I could recover and with a word, called lightning to its tip just as it slammed into my chin. My head snapped back and white light filled my eyes as I reeled back and away from the fierce creature. I felt a sword stab into my right leg as I staggered but somehow I didn’t fall and summoned the last of my strength to hold the hobgoblins at bay until the others came to my aid.
Moments later, Thaddeus was beside me, urging me to fight on but just as I felt my strength returning, the shaman shouted out in its own tongue and struck its staff on the ground, sending forth a wave of blue energy. My step father and I were thrown back and knocked to the ground. I got to my feet but as I did, Kiriel hurled a bolt of flame that seared into the shaman’s chest and sent the hobgoblin reeling into the wall of a nearby provisioning store. The sickly sweet smell of burning flesh filled the square and the goblin leader collapsed in front of the building. The two hobgoblins that remained tried to flee but Thaddeus cut down both before they could leave the square and now more came to aid them.
While Forwen was tending my wounds, Soranna returned and told us that she too had routed the goblins she had faught leaving the town safe for the moment. We have retired to the inn for the night Speaker Wiston and Captain Soranna have left to speak with the other town elders so for now we can rest though I suspect it will not be for long.
26 Fireseek 579
We were called to the speaker’s house at noon today and led into the sitting room where Kellin the innkeep, Captain Soranna; Delora Zann and a tall, sour-faced man who we had not yet met were already gathered. The man proved to be Iormel and from what I could gather, he seemed to be a man of some property and he, along with Norro Wiston and the others comprised the Town Council.
“Well, you all know why we’re here,” the Speaker said without preamble. “In a matter of days we’re going to have an army of goblins, hobgoblins and monsters on our doorsteps. What do we do? Fight? Try to talk to them? Abandon the town and flee? Or do nothing and pray to Pelor that they don’t come this way?”
The discussion that followed lasted through the afternoon as from the start, the Council was divided. The stable owner Delora turned out to be a seasoned ex-adventurer who had faught in the recent giant wars in Sterich and she had few illusions. She had seen towns put to the sword before and was convinced that death or slavery awaited any who did anything other than flee to the east as soon as possible. Iormel did not surprise me for he had much to loose and so he argued for fighting while snapping at those who disagreed with him. Kellin was optimistic and calm despite Iormel’s biting sarcasm, arguing that we should buy off the horde with treasure for a year and then fight them next year if they come back. The Speaker proved indecisive and Soranna stayed neutral for as long as she could, leaving us to lead the Council one way or the other. Alas, we could not agree ourselves on the best course.
Forwen and Thaddeus quickly sided with Kellin, my sister and step father arguing that bribery may work and would allow the townsfolk to hold their ground. They swayed Delora and Iormel and I could see that the Council was loathe to flee its town but I was not convinced that we should parley with goblins so I argued that we could perhaps hold them at the river. We knew not the strength of the horde and I had seen the militia fight well so I felt sure we could win. Finally, it was Kiriel who persuaded me otherwise. The elves of Celene have apparently been buying off goblin tribes for centuries when they cannot be certain of victory in war. I was persuaded then and while Arianrhod quietly told us that goblins could not be trusted, we did not listen and as the Speaker and Soranna sided with the majority, the decision was made.
As we had already faught and likely angered the horde it was agreed to send what Iormel termed “more skilled negotiators” and just before we left, the rich landowner agreed to lead the delegation on condition that all those of means in the town contributed to the bribe he would offer. I left the Speaker’s house troubled though as I write this I still cannot decide precisely why. Bargaining with goblins bothers me surely but there is something deeper. I pray that Pholtus will shed his light on my doubts in good time.
28 Fireseek 579
Today I discovered what had troubled for two days as this afternoon, despite Iormel setting out from the town just after nightfall on the night of the Council meeting, the horde came to Drellin’s Ferry! We heard them before we saw them – a dull, constant rumble of thousands of booted feet and the creaking of heavy wagons. War drums boomed in the distance and then the first legions appeared, marching out of the forest across on the far bank of the river. Goblin wolf riders ran ahead of the main body, hulking giants strode alongside the goblin ranks like living siege towers, and winged monsters, mostly dragons – circled over the advancing army like harbingers of doom. Amongst all the chaos of the horde, I thought I saw Iormel and am convinced now that he betrayed us!
We met Soranna on the eastern bank of the river where she had gathered the militia of perhaps a hundred men and women before cutting the ferry hawsers and drawn in the boats. The leading ranks massed near the riverbank, clashing sword to shield and shouting defiantly. Yellow banners emblazoned with the image of a clawed red hand waved over the ranks of the goblin warriors while from somewhere within the horde’s train, goblin labourers dragged up hundreds of rough-hewn logs to the water’s edge and began stripping the trunks with hatchets. Even Forwen was cowed by the sheer size of the horde and I saw rare panic in her eyes as she turned to me.
“The townsfolk have to leave,” she said. “There will be no battle here, only a massacre.”
“Agreed,” I answered, turning to Soranna.
The militia captain nodded to me and then to Forwen before we turned away from the river together and started emptying the town. Though the horde had arrived late in the afternoon, by sunset the town of Drellin’s Ferry was empty. Houses stared vacantly out at shadowy roads, the sun having just vanished behind the formidable scar on the horizon that was the Crystalmist Mountains. We met Speaker Wiston on the Green at the centre of the town and he took a deep breath while wiping tears from his eyes with the back of his hand.
“It seems we’re about out of time,” he said. “We’d best be going now if we want to keep ahead of the wolf riders.”
“You’ve already done us good, heroes,” Captain Soranna said, nodding to us. “Without your warning we’d have all been asleep in our beds when the horde arrived on our stoops. You’ve saved many lives today and for that you have my thanks but I’m afraid your work may not be done yet. There’s nothing to stop the Red Hand before they reach the walls of Mittleberg.”
“If there’s anything more you can do to slow down the Red Hand, we’d be very grateful,” the Speaker said then. “I’ll personally make sure that Lord Jarmaath knows what you’ve done for us.”
I asked what would happen to the people of Drellin’s Ferry and the Speaker answered that they would likely head east until they reached Terrelton where they’d be able to rest and see whether the horde was following or not. In the worst case, they would make Nimon Gap and then Talar or even run all the way to Mittleberg if they had to. Riders already rode ahead to warn the towns and to alert Lord ]armaath to the dire news. Forwen suggested we travel behind the refugees to harry any pursuers but Kiriel wanted to go south to see if more of the horde had crossed the river despite our destruction of the causeway. Arianrhod interrupted the apparent stalemate with brutal practicality.
“Will we get paid for slowing down the horde?” she asked.
“I can't speak for Lord Jarmaath,” answered the Speaker. “But I'm fairly certain he’ll reward your services generously.”
“Then I say we serve as rearguard,” the quiet ranger said.
We talked more but Captain Soranna finally decided things for us, convincing Arianrhod and my sister that her militia could serve as an adequate rearguard. She also told us that the dwarves of the Hammerfist Holds could aid us, both against the horde and possibly with information about my mother. We bade the folk of Drellin’s ferry farewell then and headed south across the open farmland around the town. We have camped in a copse a scant few miles from Drellin’s Ferry and I write this in the garish red glow that is now coming from the burning town. Tomorrow we head for the Jotens to the south and for tonight, I pray that Pholtus keeps us safe from the horde as it burns the town we have just left.
2 Readying 579
Having kept ahead of the horde for two days, we came at last, this night, to Hammerfast, the gateway town to the Hammerfist Holds and once a dwarven necropolis we quickly found out. We came to the West Gate where two massive towers were flanked by steel doors reinforced with by a portcullis that in better times would have controlled the ebb and flow of traffic through the gate. We asked the gate sergeant, a dwarf woman named Thora Longhammer where travelers might stay while in town and she directed us to two nearby inns within the walled Gate Ward that was separate from the rest of the town. We followed her directions to the Arcane Star, a wooden, one-storey building painted a bright blue and nestled against the southern wall of the ward. Next to the inn stood an imposing building with a broad flight of stairs that led up to an entrance flanked by statues of Moradin, the dwarven All Father. It looked to me to be a court house or temple but I did not linger to find out, instead following my companions into the inn.
The common room was crowded for many seemed to have rushed to reach the town by sunset as the horde swept across the vale behind them and there, behind the bar, I saw a tiefling for the first time. I had heard rumours of the so-called demon-born but I had never seen one before and my paladin’s heart could not help but recoil. He proved to be the innkeep who Kiriel told me later was called Therai but I would not speak to him and so while the others went to see to rooms, food and drink, I stalked to a table in a corner of the room far from the warmth and light of the fire.
I started talking to the dwarves of the nearby table and asked them whether they had heard any rumours of adventurers passing by who could possibly be my mother or her companions. They told me that they knew of such a band that had attacked a hill giant steading to the south east and defeated the chieftain there. My heart sang as for the first time, I had real news of where my mother had faught and travelled! I spoke to the dwarves a while longer even after my companions had returned and they told me more, for one knew my mother’s company by name. They were called the Temple Raiders for their exploits against the legendary Temple of Elemental Evil and he knew that they had faught frost giants deeper in the mountains though he could not be sure where. One did, though, draw me a crude map to the hill giant steading so that I could lead my companions there quickly and learn what I may. Of course, as it quickly became apparent, it would not be that simple.
When I turned back to my companions, my eyes alight with newfound enthusiasm, they proved less keen to immediately follow my mother’s trail. They had learned that bandits already plagued the mountains hereabouts and that the Rhest Trail that led to the shores of Lake Rhest at the headwaters of the Davish had been blocked by unknown enemies. It seemed likely that the horde had seized the trail and ventured into the Blackfens, the marshes around Lake Rhest to the south of the Hammerfist Holds and would soon threaten the dwarven fastnesses. Kiriel and Arianrhod argued that we should seek out the bandits around town to earn the trust of the dwarves and despite the heaviness that settled on my heart at the thought of abandoning my mother’s trail again, I could not argue with them. I nodded and the others followed suit. In the morning we will seek out one of the town’s merchants to see if we can aid them against the bandits.
3 Readying 579
Kiriel stayed up late into the evening last night talking with the tiefling Therai and despite having known the warlock all my life, I now find myself wary of her. Still, she had arranged for a message to be sent to the Goldspinner clan elsewhere in Hammerfast and during the night, she had been allowed to browse the library kept by Therai’s wife Nemeia in the cellar of the inn. There, Kiriel had found the journal of a dragonborn paladin who once lived in Gardmore Abbey in the Stark Mounds to the north and included a map of the dungeons beneath the abbey. According to Nemeia, the abbey was attacked and destroyed many years ago but the dungeons beneath were said to still contain the treasure of those that dwelled there. The story intrigues me and when all is done with the horde and my mother is found, it is somewhere that I would like to explore.
The dwarf Galwik Goldspinner proved eager to accept our offer of help and asked us to go out along the road back north to meet a caravan that was to be coming in from Mittleberg by the end of the day. He was a stout, red-bearded dwarf who was clearly nervous about the advancing horde and the bandits that were plaguing the area. He speculated that perhaps the two could be related before sending us on our way to meet the caravan.
We found the group of five wagons around noon, stopped at a trailmeet where the road from Hammerfast met a trail that led west toward the Witchwood. The caravan master was glad of our aid and sure enough we were soon needed though at first, we thought that it was not in the way that we had anticipated. When we left the trailmeet, the northern sky was dark with smoke but as we climbed back up the trail into the mountain vale that led to Hammerfast, we saw a burning farmstead off the road on the western slope of the vale, seemingly having been attacked by goblins. I heard the cries of injured people calling to us for aid from the place and without hesitation, I drew my sword and led the others away from the caravan to investigate.
As we reached the farmyard, it seemed that the the cries seemed to be coming from a feed shed ahead of us and another outbuilding to our right. Thaddeus rushed to the right while Kiriel rushed forward seeking to aid whoever hid in the feed shed. She ducked into the dark interior and immediately cried out in fright as a squawking sound seemed to fill the shed. A squawk of pain followed as Kiriel lashed out with her sword and Forwen and I rushed forward to aid our friend who was shouting something about bird men.
I had only a moment to wonder what she meant before a beaked humanoid that did resemble a crow that walked upright leapt from behind the shed and smashed a wooden club into my shoulder spinning me away. I knew it to be a kenku, an opportunistic avian creature that lived amongst tightly knit clans of its own kind called flocks. They were said to be devious creatures that moved in groups and worked exceptionally well together. I spun away from the first and ducked as a second swung a club at me while behind me, I heard Thaddeus shouting at me to strike at one of the creatures. I did as he bade me, plunging my sword into the belly of the nearest kenku and dropping it in a spray of blood to the frozen farmyard. Forwen felled the other with a bolt of light and as Kiriel had killed both within the shed, for a moment, the steading was calm.
I stepped into the shed and found no one inside leading me to think that the kenkus has lured us here with false cries. As I emerged, Arianrhod rejoined us and a feeling of cold dread seized me. We had heard cries from another outbuilding as well but now all was quiet!
A sling stone whipped past my head a moment later, confirming my suspicions as more bird-like squawks filled the farmyard. Two pairs of kenkus rushed at us across the farmyard, one pair each side of a tree that dominated the yard. Thaddeus and Arianrhod rushed to meet one pair while I turned toward the other but just as I started forward, Kiriel sent a blast of crackling black energy into the leading kenku and sent it hurtling across the farmyard to lie unmoving in front of the farmhouse itself. I rushed at the other kenku, the one that had flung the sling stone at me and met it just as it drew a spiked chain from its belt. It leapt back as I lashed at it with my sword and then swept the chain out toward me, lashing it into my leg. The spikes drove painfully into my thigh and then tore at my flesh as the creature drew back the weapon but somehow I stopped myself from crying out in pain.
A bolt of light that must have been hurled by my sister flashed past the creature and seemed to distract it for a moment, giving me a chance to lunge and drive my blade into the kenku’s hip. It screeched and lurched away from me before lashing out with its chain again. I ducked this time and stepped forward, trying to keep forcing my enemy back while it lashed out at me again. I leapt back and a bolt of black lightning lanced past the creature just before a bolt of light struck it in the chest and sent it reeling. Before it could recover, I leapt forward and plunged my blade into the creature’s belly. It screeched one last time and then fell to the ground.
3 Readying 579
Thaddeus and Arianrhod had dealt with the other kenkus but we had no time to do any more than tend to the worst of our hurts before we heard shouts from the caravan on the trail beside the stream that we had been following. At once, I saw that a handful of halflings now stood guard over the wagons while the merchants and teamsters cowered beneath and other stout figures, most likely gnomes, picked over the contents of the caravan. The kenkus had lured us away from our charges and now the caravan was at the mercy of the bandits that worked with them!
We charged down the snow-covered hillside and as we did, the halfling in the centre of the caravan ducked back between two of the wagons while shouting orders to the other bandits. The others came forward with a green-scaled drake in their midst. Kiriel and Forwen felled one of the halflings with magic before it reached us while Thaddeus charged at the drake and I ran after the leader who still barked orders to the others. A sling stone whipped past me from somewhere to my left but I paid it no mind, focussing on leader but then the halfling ducked around one of the wagons, weaving its dagger before it as it rushed at Arianrhod. The ranger turned toward the halfling for a moment and the drake leapt at her, biting into her arm. Another halfling hurled a blade into Arianrhod’s shoulder and she reeled back, wounded and bleeding.
Small crossbow bolts shot past me from more hidden enemies but at last, the bandit leader was within reach and so I leapt toward him, lashing out with my blade. Deftly, he leapt away from me but then Arianrhod leapt at him from my right and plunged one of her swords into the halfling’s thigh. The bandit leader twisted away, ducking behind another wagon and I looked toward Thaddeus who seemed hard pressed against the drake and another halfling. He shouted at me to go after the leader and as I followed his advice I saw him plunge his blade into the drake and fell it where it stood.
I rushed around the wagon and lashed out at the halfling only for it to duck back and for my blade to thud into a wooden side panel. The halfling laughed for a moment but then Arianrhod ducked between the horse and the wagon to appear behind the bandit leader. She lunged with both blades and both drove into the halfling’s legs, pitching him toward me. At the last, he twisted away and darted toward the bank of the stream before turning along the bank to get away from us. I rushed after him calling out that he would only die here if he did not surrender to us now. The halfling laughed out loud so I lashed out with my sword and swept his head from his shoulders where he stood.
I expected the bandits to flee once their leader had fallen but they fought on until only two, a gnome and a halfling fired sling stones and crossbow bolts at us from the back of the wagons. As we closed in on these, they broke and ran, fleeing back along the trail to the north toward Drellin’s Ferry and Mittleberg.
Seems to be a lot of "thigh" and "leg" wounds as opposed to killing blows, from our "hero," a Paladin and from his friend, a Ranger, as well. I find it strange when speaking of taking on Halfling and Gnome bandits -- and the like. These are 1st level characters?
I only ask because they've "defeated" two dragons -- even if young ones -- with apparently greater ease than they seem to handle kobolds, halflings, gnomes and such.
Seems to be a lot of "thigh" and "leg" wounds as opposed to killing blows, from our "hero," a Paladin and from his friend, a Ranger, as well. I find it strange when speaking of taking on Halfling and Gnome bandits -- and the like. These are 1st level characters?
I only ask because they've "defeated" two dragons -- even if young ones -- with apparently greater ease than they seem to handle kobolds, halflings, gnomes and such.
The thigh and leg wounds are my way of writing serious but non-fatal wounds which happen a lot in 4E given the high hit points that all enemies have. Perhaps I've overdone using it though.
As to the toughness of this combat, the PCs were 2nd level IIRC and these enemies are 2nd to 4th level 4E monsters so they are tough foes. Good point though about the dragons. Not sure why they seem easier though it could be that the way I write this has changed from the early combats so these seem more difficult. Equally, the combats against the (admittedly low level) dragons earlier on did seem to be fairly easy for this PC group. I actually started this "campaign" over a year ago and then picked it up again recently so it's tough to remember more of how those first battles went beyond what I wrote at the time.
3 Readying 579
We found an enchanted sword and a pouch of gold amongst the possessions of the kenkus while the bandits travelled light and once Thaddeus had strapped on the blade and we had split the gold between us, we started back along the trail again. The sun soon began to set behind us but the dwarves in the caravan were excited as the day waned for they could see the peaks near to Hammerfast and their wagons carried jars of hydra blood which would apparently make them a handsome profit in the dwarven town.
The trail began to climb toward our goal when I saw yet more trouble on the road ahead. In the shade of several tall poplars where a narrow trail from the north joined the main trail, a two-horsed wagon had been dragged off the road. Small goblins clambered all over the wagon while a pair of hulking ogres roared and shouted at the goblins. Beside the wagon, I thought I could make out a pair of motionless bodies in surcoats of blue and white lying at the side of the road. I drew my sword and together with the others, I started toward the wagon. That the horde had come so close to Hammerfast was truly troubling and I knew we had to drive off these raiders.
The goblins loosed a hail of arrows at us as soon as they saw us and Thaddeus stumbled as two shafts drove into his right leg. He snapped them from the wound and kept moving while the goblins started shouting at the ogres and gesturing at us. One goblin had come forward from the wagon to fire at us and Arianrhod picked that one as her first enemy. She charged at the goblin with a ferocious, guttural roar and beheaded the creature before it had chance to throw down its bow and draw the sword at its belt. I charged at another goblin but it was quicker than the first and leapt back as I reached it, just beyond the reach of my sword. A moment later the ogre rounded the wagon ahead of me and lashed out with the huge club it carried, smashing the weapon into my side and almost pitching me into the stream beside the road. As it struck I heard a crack and shooting pain lanced up my side making me certain that it had broken at least one of my ribs.
I spun around as the goblin fired an arrow that flew past my shoulder and decided that I could not finish the archer. Instead, I charged at the ogre and lashed my blade into its leg forcing it back toward the wagon. Forwen hurled a bolt of light into its side before it could recover but both attacks seemed only to make it more angry for it roared and lashed out wildly with its club. I ducked the wild swing and as the goblin archer turned its bow toward my sister, I shouted out a prayer to Pholtus that would protect her. My blade glowed golden and I slashed it into the ogre’s side sending it staggering back into the wagon. The ogre roared again and lashed out its club, smashing it into my chest and hurling me back to the bank of the stream.
Daggers of pain lanced across my chest as I struggled to heave in a breath while the ogre strode over to me with one step and raised its club to finish me. Suddenly, a bolt of crackling black lightning seared into the creature’s side and forced it back and away from me. It roared again and then staggered back another step as Thaddeus charged at the creature with a roar. I half-smiled despite the pain in my chest for surely the ogre was now beaten but then something drove into my right side with a sickening thud and I staggered. I looked down at the red-fletched goblin arrow in my side and then fell to my knees as dizziness assailed me. A moment later blackness took me and I knew no more.
3 Readying 579
I woke to the familiar sound of Thaddeus shouting at me and the pain was already fading to a dull ache as I opened my eyes. I lay where I had fallen and the battle seemed to be still raging but as I sat up, I saw that the ogre I had faught lay close to the wagon. I looked over to where Thaddeus faught just as he plunged his blade into the belly of the archer who had felled me and with a screech, the creature dropped to the snow.
I got up but by the time I reached the wagon, the last of the goblins was fleeing northward for the cover of the trees on the slope above us. Four dead guards lay around the wagon, each wearing blue and white surcoats with a golden lion over the chest that marked them as armsmen of the Lord of Mittleberg. They were dressed in chain shirts and carried swords and bows although the goblins had started to strip their arms and armor from their bodies. We found a leather satchel lying in the back of the wagon near one of the dead guards which held a key and a letter in a sealed envelope.
The letter was addressed to Captain Ervath Helmbreaker of the Shining Axe Company, Hammerfist Holds and the dwarf guards we travelled with knew his name well. The coffers proved to contain gold and the letter, our dwarven companions surmised, would likely be a mercenary contract for the Shining Axe were a company of almost two hundred dwur axe warriors who would fight for most causes for a price. If Mittleberg summoned them then we had to ensure they received the summons and their payment!
The wagon joined our caravan and we hastened on to Hammerfast, finally reaching the hold a little after dusk The Gate Ward was crowded for in the Gate Market, a fiery dwarf was preaching against the influence of non-dwur in Hammerfast and the other Holds. As we led the caravan through the wide plaza he pointed us out as examples of the trouble that would be brought upon the town by outsiders. I urged the others to ignore the preacher and they did as I bade but I am intrigued by such hatred and will try to find out more while we are in Hammerfast.
Tonight we will lodge at the Coach and Pony in the Trade Ward which is owned by the Goldspinners. The owner, Varda Goldspinner seems pleased that we delivered the caravan safely and has promised us free lodging for the next week if we need it. Tonight I have retired early after the day’s battles but tomorrow we must decide our next course.
4 Readying 579
I had hoped for a quiet breakfast this morning so that we might decide where we will travel next but alas it was not to be. Varda Goldspinner proved pleasant enough this morning and has sent word to the Shining Axe company that payment and a new contract awaits them here but despite this and the fine breakfast she served us, we did not have the discussion we had planned. In fact, we had barely begun discussing our next course when an elderly dwarf with graying hair and beard tottered into the inn on a wooden crutch. He smiled at us at once, showing us yellowed teeth and sidled as quickly as he could up to our table.
“Here ye’re adventurers and ye’ve taken some goblin heads,” the dwarf growled without preamble. “Happens that Old Gaff knows where the goblins hereabouts is coming from.”
Unsurprisingly, I was less than impressed by the old dwur but still he managed to linger long enough to show us a map to a ruined tower overlooking the Blackfens to the southwest that he called the Broken Tower and it was there, he insisted, that the goblins had established a stronghold. We got rid of him quickly with Varda’s help but he insisted on leaving his map behind and so, despite my reservations, we were left with a third course before us.
We talked about the choices as we ate with Forwen starting off our discussion by arguing that we should return to our investigation of the horde by heading along the Rhest Trail to find out who had blocked it. Surely then, she argued, the remaining dwarves of the hold would be persuaded to muster their forces. Varda Goldspinner had promised to take news of the horde to the guild leaders of Hammerfast but she could promise little at the moment.
Still, I would not be swayed and argued again for heading for the hill giant steading lest we find our mother there but Thaddeus disappointed me. Siding with Forwen, he argued that we should seek out the Broken Tower before heading for the Rhest Trail and my sister relented, agreeing to our step father’s course as a compromise. Retiring Arianrhod went with the majority and Kiriel naturally sided with her friend Forwen. Again, my arguments had been defeated and so once again we set out from Hammerfast seeking a goal that will bring us no closer to my mother and her company.
4 Readying 579
We left for the Broken Tower as soon as we had finished eating, heading out of Hammerfast and then turning south when the trail from the town reached the edge of the foothills. We walked with the peaks of the Jotens towering over us on our left and the rolling slopes of the Davish Valley on our right. We could see the trees that lined the river in the distance and ahead of us, the dark line of the Witchwood marched across the snow to our right until it almost met the way that we followed. Across the valley, smoke rose from burning farmsteads and hamlets while ahead of us all was quiet. Before noon, we saw the broken shell of the tower on a rise to the left of the trail we followed and turned off the path toward the ruin.
The tower was square and at least two floors, including the ground floor, seemed to be relatively intact. I drew my sword and stepped toward the double doors in the south wall while beside me, Thaddeus held up his shield and raised his own sword ready for whatever lurked within. At a nod from my step father, I shoved the doors open to reveal the square chamber beyond.
Some goblins loudly argued while standing around a table covered in playing cards, while another dipped its mug into a boiling cauldron. Toward the back of the room, a block from the sagging ceiling had smashed down onto the floor. A hobgoblin stood near a gong close to the block while a set of stairs on the eastern wall apparently led up to the next floor. At a shout from the hobgoblin, the goblins drew jagged, slightly curved short swords and rushed at us in a fierce wave while their leader came forward behind them with a flail in his right hand and a shield on his left arm. The shield was painted with a crude clawed hand in red paint while the other goblins wore similar marks on the front of the leather jerkins they wore.
Thaddeus cut one down as it leapt at us and I hacked down another before forcing my way through the doors and into the goblin throng. Another goblin fell beside me and Forwen forced her way into the tower room with me, smashing the skull of another goblin as she came. The hobgoblin strode forward to meet us with a roar and then lashed out its flail to strike my sister in the chest. I roared my own angry response and then with a quick prayer, I called a shield of translucent force that appeared in front of Forwen just as my sword stabbed into the leg of the hobgoblin. The creature staggered back and from behind it, where Kiriel had just appeared in a shower of light, it was struck by a blast of black lightning. The hobgoblin leapt back and away from me then while shouting again to the goblins in its own tongue.
The goblins surged forward, one jabbing its sword into my arm but still we somehow held the doorway. I lashed out wildly with my sword and the goblins leapt back but none fell to my reckless swing although Forwen and Arianrhod managed to force their way through the goblins a moment later, each felling one. I spun on the spot and swept my blade out again, this time beheading one of the goblins in front of me. Black lightning felled the goblin next to the one I cut down and looking up I realised that I faced no more enemies and that Kiriel had felled the hobgoblin with her magic.
The goblins realised that their leader was dead at about the same time I did for their line suddenly wavered and weakened. For them, though, it was too late for before they could flee, Kiriel and Arianrhod felled three of the four that remained in the chamber and Thaddeus cut down the last before it could bolt toward the stairs. We were victorious and none of the goblins had managed to raise the alarm!
4 Readying 579
Kiriel found a trapdoor behind the fallen stone near the north wall and immediately opened it while Arianrhod looked on with her swords at the ready.
“A staircase!” cried Kiriel excitedly. “And little used by the looks of it. We should explore what lies below.”
Arianrhod started peering into the darkness beneath the tower with a smile on her face and despite my reservations about possibly leaving goblins in the ruined tower above us, even I was swayed by the obvious excitement of the two girls. Finally, I drew my sword again and started toward the hatch while Forwen lit a torch behind me.
The stairs led straight down from the hatch and then opened into a wide room dominated by an ancient fountain filled with clear water, seemingly fed from a nearby spring. Three goblin-like figures turned toward me in the shadows as I reached the bottom of the stairs and as they turned I saw with horror that they were in fact goblin skeletons with the flesh of other goblins grafted clumsily over their bones. Against the far wall, two goblins raised bows but as they did, I saw that they too were undead, apparently zombies. Near the spring, another goblin shape rose from a fissure in the wall, this one made only of flame. There was only death in the place but before I could shout a warning to the others, Arianrhod leapt past me into the room and rushed at the skeletons with Kiriel following.
The warlock loosed black lightning into the nearest of the hideous skeletons but the creature would not fall and instead lurched toward her. The other two leapt toward Arianrhod, lashing out at her with putrid hands but then Forwen pushed past me and began chanting the Prayer of Turning, a powerful prayer intended to force back undead from the faithful of Pholtus. Light flared around the amulet that my sister held in her left hand and bolts lanced out to strike each of the three skeletons. Hissing at Forwen, the three retreated to the far side of the room but by then, the undead archers had loaded their bows.
They let fly with unerring accuracy, two arrows driving into Kiriel’s right side and spinning her back toward me. Raising my sword, I charged into the chamber and rushed at the archers while Thaddeus ran to the left to aid against the flame goblin as it came forward. The goblins ducked my first swing and lashed out at me with their free left hands as they tried to scramble away along the wall. Behind them, I saw double doors that were barred on the inside but then a bolt of light struck one of the goblins, presumably hurled by my sister, drawing me back to the battle before me. I lashed out again at the goblin before me but again it ducked with a speed that surprised me from a zombie. It lashed out again with its fist and I leapt back just beyond its reach as another bolt of light from Forwen struck the wall next to the second creature. A moment later, an arrow drove into my side and slammed me into the wall filling my mind with pain and my vision with dizzying lights as my head hit the stone.
The zombie rushed at me but I recovered quickly, plunging my sword into the undead creature’s belly. The zombie lashed out at me and then leapt away along the wall just as a bolt of light lanced between where I stood and where it had jumped back to. The undead creature grinned for a moment but a moment later, its mouth hung open loosely as two swords drove out of the front of its chest from behind. Arianrhod let the goblin fall to the floor off her blades and then winked and smiled at me. I nodded my thanks and began to survey the cellar room.
4 Readying 579
Stairs led downward beyond the barred southern double doors and as we emerged into a long chamber that opened up to our right, I realised at once why the doors had been barred from the inside. In front of a row of ornately carved pillars, three large dogs stood guard and immediately began barking as we reached the bottom of the stairs. Alas, these were no simple guard hounds for their flesh was rotten and hanging off them in ragged, blackened hunks while bones could be seen here and there where their undead forms had decayed enough to expose them.
From the shadows beyond the pillar came answering yelps accompanied by a clacking sound as though dozens of insects or spiders rushed forward across the stone floor. I raised my blade and stepped forward only to find that the truth was far worse. Across the floor toward me came a horde of severed hands crawling toward me on sharp nailed fingers. I recoiled, wondering what darkness had claimed this tower to bring such horrors into being for only powerful necromancy or strong dark energy could animate crawling claws.
The creatures rushed at me and I leapt back, lashing out at them with my sword while another swarm of the horrible creatures swept across the floor toward us. One of the creatures grabbed my leg and then another grabbed my other leg, rooting me to the spot as I tried to fight off the claws. Behind them came another pack of undead dogs, these with desiccated skin barely stretched over their bones forcing me to wonder whether we had ventured too deep beneath the tower. Arianrhod though, was unbowed, and she leapt forward into the midst of the hounds and claws, her blades flashing left and right. Forwen shouted out her turning prayer and threw back some of the claws while destroying others with a wave of divine fire that swept forth from her.
The three larger undead hounds came forth to pin us in the entrance to the room but we battled hard with Thaddeus at the heart of things, shouting his own form of encouragement to the rest of us. I lashed out at the claws as they again took hold of me and sent several sliding back across the floor in smears of putrid black blood. Still the claws kept coming, swarming up my legs and tearing at my flesh while I tried to keep them at bay with my sword. Beside me, Thaddeus hacked at them with his own blade while trying to fend them off with his shield and together we managed to whittle down the swarm of claws one by one until there were only a dozen or so left. Still, though the claws kept surging forward until finally, one seized Thaddeus’ throat and tore at it until my step father fell beside me.
I looked quickly to my left and realised that he was not the only one to have fallen for the hounds had felled Kiriel, Forwen and Arianrhod and now were turning their red hungry eyes on me. Knowing I had to act quickly to save my friends, I shouted out a healing prayer to save Thaddeus and then lashed out at the claws with my sword to try to keep them off him. I leapt back then toward the foot of the stairs, hoping that I had done enough while the smaller hounds leapt after me as though they sensed a chance to escape their prison. One bit at my leg and as I staggered I felt sure that we faced the end of our brief adventures but then suddenly, I heard Thaddeus roaring at Forwen to get up. From amongst the hounds my step father rose with a roar and for perhaps the first time in my life, I felt proud that he had married my mother.
4 Readying 579
Forwen rose with a shout of her own and as she shouted a prayer, a burst of white light exploded from her and engulfed us and our enemies alike. I felt new strength fill me while the hounds before me staggered and seemed to lose their undead power. My heart sang but just as it seemed as if we would snatch victory from our enemies, Thaddeus almost fell again, staggering as the remaining crawling claws tore at his neck and face. I leapt back up the stairs, summoning what little strength remained in me for the final battle we faced. With a roar, Thaddeus fell for a second time and then with a cry of pain, my sister fell as the claws surged over our step father and onto her, tearing at her flesh as they came. She collapsed beside Thaddeus and the hounds leapt over both of them toward me.
With another prayer I blessed my weapon so that Pholtus would grant me the power to strike down as many of his enemies as I could before I fell too. Suddenly, though, the claws turned away from me and beyond the hounds I saw Arianrhod cut down one of the bigger hounds and Kiriel slay the other with a blast of fire. I cut down another of the hounds before me and stepped forward while uttering another healing prayer to save Thaddeus. The man’s eyes opened and I smiled at him before turning my blade on the last of the hounds. A blast of black lightning flashed across the chamber and hurled the hound against the wall before I could cut it down and I turned to nod my thanks to Kiriel but before I could, I heard Arianrhod start crying.
Looking toward the ranger, I saw that she knelt beside my sister surrounded by the remains of the terrible crawling claws. Her blood stained swords were on the floor beside her and she held Forwen’s head in her arms.
“So young!” she sobbed. “So young!”
A sick feeling grew in my belly as the horrible realisation struck me that my sister was dead. We had finally beaten the horrible undead that dwelled beneath this dark ruin but we had paid the ultimate price. I remember little after that beyond a furious anger at anything that dwelt in the tower. I sat with my sister for some time, cradling her in my arms and sobbing as Arianrhod had done but beneath my grief, the anger grew and as we wept together, Arianrhod and Kiriel became consumed by it too. We took my sister’s body back up to the ground floor of the tower and laid her on the stone block close to the north wall. After closing and barring the doors, we started up the stairs. The goblins would pay for what had happened beneath the tower.
Nothing beneath the tower worth exploring, nor any treasure? A magic knife, ring, nothing?
Nope. All looted by the necromancer to pay for his dark experiments. Cue Fu Manchu style evil laughter
I do need to be a bit more descriptive with the treasure the group do find though as it tends to be divided up after combat when I'm back in the Character Builder rather than in Masterplan which is what I use to run the combat encounters. Next part follows.....
4 Readying 579
The floor in the centre of the square room at the top of the stairs from the tower's ground floor was a sagging ruin that looked dangerously unstable while to the west lay a pile of broken stones and bones. In the southwest corner was a low wall covered in a faded tapestry and in the shadows of the southwest corner was a wooden platform that seemed to be of recent construction and stood nearly twice the height of a man above the floor. Two goblins were lounging around on the platform and began to shout as soon as we reached the top of the stairs. From the pile of bones, I saw a flicker of red light in the eye sockets of one of the skulls as it seemed to fix its gaze upon us. Thaddeus started toward the bones and as he did, a collection of them gathered together and rose as a skeleton in front of him. With typical skill, my step father lashed out with his blade and shattered the skeleton with a single blow before continuing around the room toward the tapestry-covered wall.
He shouted back to me that there were archers behind the wall and so I raised my blade and charged around the room before stabbing my sword downward over the chest-high structure. The two goblins behind the wall leapt back and loosed bolts from the hand crossbows they carried that thudded into the wall in front of me. From the platform to my left I heard chanting and then something burst in the centre of the room, filling the chamber with a pale white smoke that hid the goblins from us. Thaddeus hauled himself over the wall to fight the goblins on the other side while I stabbed at one over the wall to make room for my own climb over the barrier.
At last I managed to stab my blade down into the goblin’s chest and as it fell to the stone, I pulled myself over the wall. A crossbow bolt drove into my shoulder fired from the platform and with a roar, I rushed toward the ladder that led up to the goblins there. Thaddeus and Arianrhod cut down the remaining goblin that stood between us and the ledge and as they charged toward the ladder, I shouted out a prayer that called down ribbons of light to fell the goblin at the top of the ladder. A blast of fire from Kiriel felled the last of the archers leaving the shaman alone atop the platform but still the goblin would not give in. It chanted another spell that blinded Kiriel but a moment later, Arianrhod and Thaddeus reached the top of the ladder and with two sweeps of his blade, my step father cut down the goblin.
We have chosen to retreat now for the tower has wounded us beyond measure both within and without but we will return in the morning to finish our vengeance against the dark ruin. I must rest now, though whether sleep will come I cannot tell.
5 Readying 579
We returned to the tower at dawn and made our way up to the top floor where a room filled with sunlight awaited us. The roof of the tower was gone and the spiral staircase continued up to nowhere. Much of the southern half of the room had fallen away while a large stone throne sat to the west with a pile of soiled bedding directly across from it against the north wall. A circle of runes, interrupted by a gap along one side glowed faintly on the floor but of goblins there was no sign. Arianrhod put a hand on my arm, pulling me back as I started forward and pointing at the stonework in the centre of the floor.
“A false floor,” she said quietly. “A goblin trap left for us to find.”
We searched the room, deciding quickly that goblins and perhaps wolves had been here the night before but that they had fled during the night. Gems encrusted the throne but Arianrhod decided that most were fake apart from one that she pressed to slide open the seat of the throne. A compartment beneath the seat held a pouch of gold and a longsword in a scabbard marked with the gentle, flowing runes of Olven script. The ranger took the sword in place of one of the blades she already carried as Thaddeus already bore an enchanted sword and I had found one in the dark crypt where Forwen had fallen.
I knew that we could not forlornly carry Forwen with us seeking a priest to raise her for the meager gold we carried and so grimly, we made our way back downstairs. We cleansed crypt of the undead that had infested it and I consecrated it anew with the Litany of Purging so that Pholtus would look kindly on my sister’s burial place. Finally, we interred her then in a tomb alcove and sealed it with a stone so that she would rest in peace. As we left, I vowed silently that one day I would return to claim the broken tower as my own so that I would ever be close to my beloved sister. For now, though, I am determined to avenge her on the goblins that we came to the ruin to fight even if the darkness beneath the ruin was perhaps not of their making.
We walked the Rhest Trail in grim silence, a cold mist hiding most of the Blackfens from us on our left. The ground was icy and as the day wore on, our spirits dropped even further, something I did not imagine was possible after the loss of my sister. Finally, as the afternoon began, we saw what we were looking for, a crude palisade of logs nearly twice my height erected across the road and extending a short bow shot either side to the edge of the marsh and the edge of the Witchwood which now rose like a menacing dark shadow on our right. A squat watchtower perhaps three men high loomed in the middle of the palisade and as we drew nearer, I caught a glimpse of movement up in the tower. A hobgoblin archer leaned against a post, chin on his chest. Suddenly, the creature saw us and let out a shout of alarm and with a shout of my own, I charged the palisade.
"In my day," it would have been easier/cheaper to Raise either "you" or "your sister" at a Pholtan temple, given that you are servants of Pholtus. I suppose that has been done away with in 4E?
Sad change to the game, if true.
But, the story continues.
I mulled this over for a while as there is indeed raise dead magic in 4E but the components cost a a fair bit at any level and the group simply didn't have enough gold at the time. There are no Pholtan temples nearby as well meaning a difficult journey back to Mittleberg would have been needed although it would not have been one that Aalas would have necessarily refused.
In the end, I decided that he would not put the battle against the horde in jeopardy in order to restore his sister to life. Whether he changes his mind in the future is another thing though.....
5 Readying 579
A moment later, I saw the true threat that the barricade held for on my left, an ogre stepped up onto a firing platform behind the palisade and hurled a javelin at me. Another spear struck the ground close to Thaddeus and Kiriel rushed toward the right, hurling black lightning at a second ogre behind the palisade there. The creature was struck in the chest and reeled away from the log giving Arianrhod chance to charge at the gates and slam her shoulder into them. The wooden portals parted in the middle but the hobgoblins loosed arrows down from the top of the tower, two shafts driving into the ranger’s body and throwing her back.
Holding my shield above me, I rushed to the doors and dived through the gap, finding the lower chamber laid out as a barracks room with several beds and racks of weapons. In two corners, ladders led up to the roof above and I rushed across the room to climb one of these. As I started to climb, I heard the sounds of blades clashing at the top of the ladder and thought for a moment that the hobgoblins had fallen to fighting amongst themselves. Only when I reached the top did I learn the truth for a gaunt, yellow-skinned man faught four hobgoblins at the top of the ladder and though they had wounded him badly, he held them back with a ferocity that I could not help but admire.
Deciding that he could only be an ally if he faught against such odds, I reached out and touched his arm while asking Pholtus to heal some of his hurts. Golden energy flowed into him confirming that the Blinding Light had answered my prayer and he nodded thanks to me before we both attacked the hobgoblins before us. I wounded one and then with a shout in a tongue that I had never heard before, my fighting companion drove his own sword into the creature I had wounded and felled it before lashing out at the other three in turn, wounding another one in the process.
I felt a strange tightening of my skin as the gaunt man attacked and as the next hobgoblin leapt at me, I realised that somehow he had armoured me against blades for a short while. Before the feeling could fade, I leapt at the next hobgoblin and slapped aside its jagged sword with my shield before plunging my own blade into its chest. It fell to the wooden floor with a gasp and I stepped over it quickly seeking a new foe. My companion slashed his sword into the side of another of the hobgoblins and it too fell leaving only one before us and that creature leapt for the ladder. I stabbed it in the shoulder as it clambered into the hole in the floor but then it was gone.
5 Readying 579
Looking across the tower roof, I saw that Thaddeus faught two hobgoblins from the top of the other ladder and so I rushed over to aid him. The hobgoblins did not hear me coming until I shouted a challenge to one as I drew near. The creature half-turned but it stood no chance and I plunged my blade into its belly before it could bring its own sword down. It fell in a spray of blood and the other hobgoblin looked around to see what had befallen its companion. Thaddeus struck in that moment, plunging his own sword into the creature, felling it beside the other.
“Your companions need help below,” shouted the yellow-skinned man then before hurling himself down the ladder hatch next to him.
Knowing he was right, Thaddeus and I leapt down the hatch next to us, climbing quickly down the ladder to the lower level. There, Kiriel and the newcomer faught one of the ogres while the other ogre and Arianrhod lay dead or dying close to the doors. Another set of double doors to the south had been thrown open, presumably by the fleeing goblin as it escaped us. Thaddeus charged the ogre in front of me whirling his blade before him as he attacked but the ogre, despite obvious burns from Kiriel’s magic, swatted my step father’s sword away with the huge club it carried. The huge creature leapt back toward the southern doors and then turned to run, evading the gaunt man’s sword as it made its escape. It rushed out of the doors and fled down the trail to the south before we could follow.
I rushed to Arianrhod and found that she still lived and would survive if we tended a bleeding head wound that an ogre’s club had inflicted on her. I began to tend to her while the others searched the stockade and talked with our fighting companion. His name is Ferzth and he is a githzerai, a race I had thought only mythical until now. His kin inhabit the Astral Sea, a plane beyond Oerth but some dwell on our world, mostly in isolated monasteries where they study nature and magic. He belongs to an order that protects nature and strikes out against any who damage it or slay beasts unnecessarily.
He would say little more than that except that it seems he has common cause with us as he is allied with elves that dwell nearby that are called snow elves and was scouting out the horde when he was captured. Snow elves I had never heard of and to me, his tale seems fanciful but for now at least he has asked to travel with us. If he was to be judged only by his ferocity in battle then I would trust him immediately but for now I am not so sure. I shall watch him closely and pray that the Blinding Light will illuminate our new companion’s intentions to me.
Ferzth wanted to take us further along the Rhest Trail into the Blackfens to scout out the remainder of the road but I insisted that we return to the Broken Tower to secure it as a base. It was after dark when we finally sighted the ruin and we approached it cautiously, thinking that the goblins we had driven out could have reclaimed it or that other creatures could have claimed it as a lair. It proved to be quiet and so we have secured the lower level as sleeping quarters while we watch in shifts from the top of the ruined spiral staircase in the upper level. I have taken the first watch to give me some time alone and as I look out over the snow-covered foothills to the east I sense that tears will finally come this night. I have lost my dear sister and it is finally time to grieve.
6 Readying 579
This morning we talked of our next move with Ferzth again arguing that we should go on into the swamp. I argued for a return to Hammerfast as did Arianrhod but Thaddeus overruled us and in the end we decided to set out along the Rhest Trail again. We secured the tower as best we could and then made good time to the barricade, reaching it a little after noon. The surviving ogre and goblin had seemingly not returned and we passed through without seeing any evidence of the horde.
Beyond the palisade, the trail turned away from the forest and entered the Blackfens themselves, cloaking us in the icy mist that covered the snow-covered marsh. As the light of the day began to fade we started to look for somewhere to camp and ahead of us we saw a low, mossy island of mud and peat that protruded from the marsh waters. Two gnarled trees grew fitfully on the rugged ground, and sprawled across their turgid roots were the ruined and bloody remains of a horse-sized snow leopard. The once-magnificent cat’s body had been partially dissolved in places, and swaths of foul, dark green fluid still sizzled and popped, eating away at exposed flesh and bone.
“A mount of the Tiri Kitor,” Ferzth exclaimed. “How could it have been defiled in this way?”
He rushed forward and as he did I saw movement in the tangle of plants to either side of the trail. Arianrhod rushed to the right as a reptilian humanoid with bronze scales and curved horns on its head leapt up from the undergrowth. Another leapt from the bushes to the right of the trail and Kiriel hurled a blast of black lightning from her rod into its chest. Another of the creatures leapt at Ferzth, beating its wings as it came and then slashing at the githzerai with a serrated sword while two more broke cover and rushed behind their companion. The one that Kiriel had attacked leapt at her and slashed its sword into her leg before Thaddeus could go to her aid. Still, he reached the creature quickly and drove his sword into its side before it could turn to face and with a screech, the creature died only to turn to stone, holding Thaddeus’s sword in its side as it did.
With a shouted challenge, I charged at the creature that faced Ferzth, stabbing my sword into its thigh and forcing it back from our new companion. The githzerai stabbed at the creature as it fell back but it recovered enough to parry with a snarl. From the water to our left came two more of the dragon-men, both with scales the colour of iron and sharp horns that grew straight back from their heads. Each wielded two broad bladed, curved short swords and they came at me in a fury. I parried one blade with my shield but another slashed my sword arm just above the elbow. The other rushed at Thaddeus, shouting out in a strange tongue as it came.
The creature before us leapt toward Ferzth again and with a shout, I called a golden ribbon of energy forth from my sword that struck it in the chest and turned it to stone in mid leap. The last of the bronze-scaled creatures leapt at me and lashed out with its sword but I ducked under the blade and then dodged back beyond its reach. I heard Thaddeus shouting behind me, urging Arianrhod onward and then felt burning pain as the iron-scaled creature slipped one of its swords past my guard and drove it into my hip. I staggered back, my leg threatening to give way beneath me and then from behind me I heard a muffled explosion. Brown rust engulfed me and I coughed as the metallic dust filled my mouth and throat. Still I parried the blade of the bronze-scale before me and then stabbed my sword under the creature’s blade and into its belly. Too late, I snatched my blade back and as the creature turned to stone, it trapped my sword halfway inside the statue that it had become.
The iron-scale started shouting then and leapt away from me before turning tail and running back along the trail toward the deeper swamp. Thaddeus charged after it as Kiriel turned the last of the bronze-scales to stone with a blast of black lightning. Impressively, my step father caught up to the creature and lashed his blade across its back as I charged after him. The creature twisted on the spot and tried to leap away again but by then I had reached it. I stabbed my blade into its shoulder but it did not fall and instead leapt away from me and then with a beat of its wings it took to the air. Turning away from us it headed south eastward over the Blackfens toward the heart of the marsh.
". . . the creature died only to turn to stone, holding Thaddeus’s sword in its side as it did."
". . . as the creature turned to stone, it trapped my sword halfway inside the statue that it had become."
"Impressively, my step father caught up to the creature and lashed his blade across its back as I charged after him . . . I stabbed my blade into its shoulder but it did not fall . . ."
I'm just curious as to how you and your "step-father" retrieved your swords from the "stone" dragon-men -- in which they were halfway stuck -- so quickly as to attack the other dragon-man?
Good point. Baaz draconians in 4E, for draconians these are of course, turn to stone as they have done since they first appeared in the Dragonlance Chronicles way back.......let's just way back in my childhood. In this edition, though, a weapon can be retrieved with a standard action, the equivalent action used for an attack. That means killing a baaz effectively costs you your next round's attack but you don't lose your weapon completely.
Glad you're still following. Next post follows....
6 Readying 579
Arianrhod named the creatures draconians and called the bronze-scales, baaz draconians. They are apparently said to be the most common type of these strange creatures and serve as foot soldiers whenever such gather for battle. Ferzth named the other creatures ferak draconians and told us that they were brutal warriors who relished battle and were used as shock troops in draconian forces. Both wondered what such creatures were doing in the Blackfens and why they had attacked with such ferocity but there were no more answers on the battlefield for the baaz statues crumbled to dust soon after the end of the battle and the rust cloud that was all that remained of the ferak we had killed drifted apart on the wind.
We were soon ready to leave but before we could, we heard rustling in the marsh to the south and from the grass and bushes emerged five huge snow leopards like the one that lay dead in the clearing. Each bore a rider – a blonde-haired elf wearing leather armour dyed green and brown no doubt to match the colours of the marsh while atop their armour they wore cloaks of white fur. The snow leopards stalked forward, circling us to block the trail before their riders urged them forward to stand next to the slain cat. The elves studied us with narrowed eyes before one spoke.
“Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing in the marsh?”
“I brought them here,” Ferzth answered. “We faught draconians here when we came upon the body of your felarath. They awaited us in ambush having slain the great cat and feasted upon it.”
“That does not answer my question,” persisted the elf. “You led them here, gith-kin and you know some of our tongue but what brought you here? I see no bodies so perhaps you are the raiders who slew the felerath.”
“We are no raiders,” answered Arianrhod. “There are no bodies because draconians destroy themselves when they die. We came here exploring the Rhest Trail to see what the horde that assails Sterich has done to block the trail.”
“We speak the truth,” I said then for I wanted none to think us raiders. “We have battled goblins from Drellin’s Ferry to this road and if it bodies you seek, we have left plenty. The palisade that blocked the trail some miles back holds the bodies of goblins and an ogre that died on our blades. We would be your friends and not your enemies for if Ferzth has spoken truthfully to us then we have common cause with you as we do with him.”
“Well spoken,” said the elf at last. “It seems perhaps that your presence here may prove more fortuitous than it is suspect. You will come with us to our encampment in the heart of the Blackfens to meet the speaker of our tribe.”
6 Readying 579
We had no wish to fight the elves and so we agreed to go with them though I found it odd that they had shown no recognition of Ferzth beyond knowing his kind. The leader of the elf patrol was named Killiar Arrowswift and he bade each of us mount a leopard behind an elf so that we could, as he put it, more quickly reach the heart of the marsh. The leopards did indeed prove fast and fleet of foot even when carrying two passenger and despite having travelled what I reckoned to be perhaps ten leagues into the marsh we could as easily have been on swift horses on the High Road out of Verbobonc. Certainly, it was before midnight when we reached our destination.
Rising from the marsh was a low hill of solid ground, encircled by a thick ring of trees. Dozens of pinpoints of light dotted the hill – small lanterns filled with fireflies, each hanging from a tree-platform or the upper reaches of a conical tent. Many elves silently emerged as neared a causeway that led across to the hill while ahead of us, with Ferzth behind him on his mount, Killiar produced a sleek, silver horn of some sort from a saddlebag and blew one wailing note similar to a loon’s cry. Wooden gates at the far end of the causeway swung open and we entered the settlement, heading toward three large trees near the hill’s peak. Built into their boughs were wooden structures, one glowing softly with luminescence of its own and seeming to be a temple. Another looked to be some sort of public building or town hall and the third, our destination, was the smallest of the three – a cozy-looking tree house set above a large pool.
Our mounts leapt easily into the tree when we reached it, landing softly one by one on the porch of the tree house. We dismounted and the leopards jumped away into the snow-covered branches presumably seeking places where they could rest from their labours. Killiar asked us to wait and stepped inside the tree house for a moment before emerging and bidding us enter.
Waiting inside was a wise-looking and ancient elf. She wore flowing golden and green robes and her silver hair was braided around a complex headdress made of wicker and wood. She stood next to a much younger elf woman in plain brown and green robes who looked to have been crying recently and was sitting in a large wicker chair. The standing elf indicated nearby chairs for us while behind us, I sensed Killiar taking a silent stance near the door.
“I am Sellyria Starsinger, Speaker for the Tiri Kitor,” the standing elf said. She indicated the seated elf and continued.
“This is High Singer Trellara Nightshadow. We do not often see strangers in our homeland. What brings you to the Blackfens?”
I told our tale then from the very beginning for much about the encampment reminded me of Pinitel where I had grown up making me trust the Speaker at once. Both elves listened intently, smiling in the rare happy moments of my tale and sternly nodding when I told them of the darker times. When I told of the death of my sister, the younger elf smiled weakly in sympathy and from her tear-streaked face I guessed that she too had experienced such grief recently. When the tale was done, Speaker Sellyria nodded and thanked me.
“As you have seen,” she said. “The marsh is growing dangerous. We have long struggled to hold these beautiful lands for our own. The local lizardfolk have vexed us for many decades, but now a new peril stalks the Blackfens.”
She welcomed Ferzth then with an embrace and bade us stay and talk with her about the threat to Sterich that we had discovered. Arianrhod asked at once whether the elves had faught draconians as we had and the Speaker nodded solemnly in response.
“They are something new,” she said. “We’ve seen only a few of them over the past few weeks. Poor Lanikar, Treallara’s brother, was the first of us to fall to one. Our high priest, Illian Snowmantle claims that they have ties to dark magic but until today, none of the creatures had been sighted far from the Rhest ruins. Now it seems obvious that the ruin’s new tenants have something to do with them.”
“And what dwells in the ruins now?” Thaddeus asked.
“Months ago some dark power established itself in the ruins and brought the lizardfolk under its dominion,” the Speaker answered. “Whoever it is had not meddled with out encampment yet and we have not tried to infiltrate the ruins for fear of arousing a wrath we may be ill-equipped to deal with. What we do know if that those who occupy the ruins are not many but they are strong. Their leader is a cruel and clever goblin chief and they have claimed several buildings near the centre of the ruins. The thing that worries me most is the dragon.”
“A dragon?” Thaddeus queried at one.
“We have seen the beast in the skies,” Sellyria answered. “It has not attacked any of our encampments yet I fear it is simply biding its time. The dragon is black and not yet fully grown.”
“And what were the ruins of Rhest?” asked Arianrhod. “Where we come from they are not well known.”
“Nor are they here,” came the answer. “And we do not go there. “The place has bad memories for it was once the centre of a proud nation. Now it is little more than a few ruined buildings sinking into the mire. We respect the memories of the Flan who one dwelt there and avoid the place. The lizardfolk do not.”
Thaddeus immediately spoke up that we should go there and Ferzth and Kiriel quickly agreed with him. They looked to Arianrhod and I for agreement and I could only nod solemnly. My quest for revenge would continue against the goblins of Rhest. Trellara smiled at me as the conversation drew to a close.
“I thank you for slaying my brother’s killers,” she said quietly. “He will be honoured tomorrow and I should like you to be there.”
I nodded, tears welling in my eyes that forced me to hastily turn away. Killiar opened the door to the tree house and we left. We sleep tonight in a tent close to the centre of the encampment that still holds some of the smoked meat and fish that it had been storing. I have tried to sleep but for now it will not come for whenever I close my eyes, the grief-stricken face of Trellara Nightshadow appears before me though why I do not know.
7 Readying 579
Kiriel left our tent soon after we had been shown to it seeking to meet more of the elves while the rest of us settled down for the night. The elf had not returned by the time sleep finally took me. In the morning, we attended the service to honour Trellara’s brother in the temple at the heart of the encampment. The place was a beautiful structure that was surely the most impressive in the village, made as it was from wood shaped from the trunk and branches of a large squat tree. I saw no evidence anywhere that the wood had been carved or the tree harmed but rather it had simply been encouraged to grow into a shape that the elves wished it to form. In the large, circular worship hall the elves spoke and sang in their own tongue and though I understood only a few words, I found it deeply moving nonetheless. Trellara sought me out after the service and we walked together in the woods for more than an hour talking of our respective losses and slowly I found that I truly liked the elf maid. Not only did we share the sense of loss that we felt but within her, too, burned a desire for vengeance. As we returned to the heart of the village, she asked to join us when we set out for the Ruins of Rhest and I found that I could not refuse.
My companions for the most part welcomed Trellara with only Ferzth remaining distant but I understand so little of the githzerai that I cannot yet judge whether this is simply his normal reaction to those he does not know. We set out from Starsong Hill at noon after eating in the home of Speaker Sellyria and receiving her good wishes. Our journey took us northeast through the heart of the marsh and we spent the rest of the day trudging through icy water and mud until our feet were numb and sore. I asked Trellara why her people had settled here and she told me that the Blackfens served only as their winter territory for in summer, they dwelt in the mountain vales of the Crystalmists to the south west.
Smiling for the first time since we had met, she told me that the marsh had its own beauty if you knew where to look. I find that hard to believe and was grateful when we sighted a knoll of solid ground as dusk settled over the marsh where we could camp for the night.
Trellara carried two of the tents that the elves favoured and set them up quickly with Kiriel and Arianrhod sharing one with her while Thaddeus, Ferzth and I shared the other. We took a two hour watch each, wary of more draconians finding us but most of the night passed peacefully until the early hours when just as I had returned to my tent after my watch, I heard Thaddeus shouting. I grabbed my sword and shield and leapt from the tent, emerging into the dying light of our fire where I saw Thaddeus and Kiriel facing a large goblin-like creature that was rushing toward our camp. Hobgoblins and another of the larger goblins came from the right.
Thaddeus, Arianrhod and Trellara met the first creature I had seen while Ferzth charged to meet the group coming from the right. I charged after the gith as he met two hobgoblins and one of the larger creatures with his blade. Black lightning flashed from Kiriel’s rod as I started forward and struck the side of the large goblin just as I reached it. It reeled back and I stabbed my blade into its leg drawing a roar of pain and anger from it. The creature lashed out with its axe and slammed it into the gap beneath my left shoulder plate the blade driving into the flesh beneath. I cried out and spun away as fire flashed past the creature into the night from the direction where Kiriel stood. I shouted out a healing prayer as Ferzth reeled back alongside me and then asked Pholtus to shield the githzerai as I drove my blade into the hip of the large goblin creature.
The huge goblin roared again and Ferzth leapt at it smashing his sword into its side with a resounding explosion of what sounded like thunder. A blast of energy exploded from the blade and flung the two hobgoblins back and away from us. For a moment they looked stunned but then they charged again, whirling their flails above their heads.
Trellara -- your "sister's" player got a new character?
You need a few more killing blows, I don't care what 4e's rules say, too many arm and leg wounds -- sorry. but that's too unrealistic for me.
But all in all, not bad, still reading.
Ferzth the githzerai (a PC race now in 4E) was the replacement for Forwen and Trellara is an addition. Red Hand of Doom has her as an NPC companion for the PCs but I chose to make her a new PC and since this is solitaire I can do that without having to find another player.
This still doesn't mean Forwen is gone for good though as using the Mythic GM Emulator can through up literally anything. She is gone at the moment though (and entombed beneath the Broken Tower).
Duly noted about the arm and leg wounds. Will see if I can improve the way I write combat which is something I've always struggled with. The story is around a chapter ahead of the posts so any changes to the writing style will be a bit delayed but I do appreciate the feedback and will see if I can incorporate it into later posts.
Glad you are still following and if a CF luminary such as yourself calls this "not bad" then I must be doing something right. Many thanks.
7 Readying 579
Suddenly the form of the large goblin shifted before me as it sank onto all fours and stretched its muzzle into that of a vicious, goblin-like wolf with black fur streaked with white along the monster’s back. The creature leapt at me and I twisted back and away from it so that it landed beside me. It snarled, baring its teeth and I raised my sword just as black lightning seared into the creature’s flank and hurled it to the ground where it lay still. I nodded my thanks to Kiriel who still stood beside the fire and then shouted a challenge to one of the hobgoblins. The creature snarled a response and I leapt at it, bringing my blade into low into its thigh before it could lower its clumsy flail to parry.
The hobgoblin staggered back a step and as it did, Ferzth stabbed his own sword into its side. The creature roared and tried to bring the flail down on my head but I leapt back and the spiked ball on the end of the weapon’s chain whistled through the air inches in front of my face. The creature stumbled forward as its wounded leg gave way and I met it with my sword, plunging the blade into its throat. With a gurgle of red foam, the hobgoblin collapsed on the ground in front of me and I turned on its one remaining companion. Outnumbered, the hobgoblin backed away from me and then turned tail and ran.
I turned back toward the others just as another of the goblin-wolves leapt at me from where it had been fighting Thaddeus. I saw Kiriel stagger close to the fire and realised that it had attacked her on its way to me and now it sought fresh prey. It shouted snarled something in the goblin tongue and the hobgoblin we had driven away seemed to hesitate but then black lightning struck the wolf creature and sent it rolling away from me. I leapt after it and stabbed my blade into its side before it could roll to its feet. Ferzth was on it a moment later and though it did manage to stand it was only for a moment before the githzerai plunged his sword into its throat and felled the foul creature. The hobgoblin turned again and ran as fast as it could away from us while Ferzth and I went to the aid of our companions.
One of the large goblins lay dead next to Thaddeus but two hobgoblins still faught back to back with their shields held outward to try and fend off my friends. I charged at the nearest one and lashed out with my sword only for the hobgoblin to bring its shield around and block my attack. Trellara stabbed her sword into the side of the other goblin which seemed to have already suffered at her hands and Arianrhod’s. The goblin gasped and then fell leaving its companion standing alone against us. It tried to retreat, ducking back between Arianrhod and Trellara before turning to flee. Both women struck at it with their swords and drew blood but still it managed to escape us for a few moments. Kiriel sent black lightning after it and as it dodged, I charged after it and caught it. My blade sang out and lashed into the goblin’s back felling it in a tumble of blood and snow. It did not get up.
8 Readying 579
Ferzth called the shape shifting creatures barghests, said to be a blessing from goblin gods when they were born amongst the tribes of the stinking creatures. One carried a pouch of gold and gems that we divided and another had a rune-carved sword on its back that Kiriel took to wield. I knelt beside Trellara as she tended her wounds and found that she was cursing herself for leaving her longbow in her tent when she came out to fight the goblins.
“You faught well,” I said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Your brother would have been proud.”
She smiled at that and I left her alone as we abandoned sleep altogether and ate breakfast around the fire. A pale dawn crept over the mountains to the east and as it did, we broke camp and started onward toward the ruins. Before noon, we came to a large dark lake brooding in the marshland, measuring perhaps two miles wide. The cloying reek of decaying vegetation and swamp ooze was thick in the air, and countless frogs, insects and marsh birds chirped and croaked to call to each other.
Out near the middle of the lake, dozens of decrepit stone buildings jutted from the black waters with most sagging and leaning treacherously, the windows in their upper stories now even with the lake’s surface. Two buildings did seem to have survived relatively intact though – one a large stone tower, about a quarter mile from the southern shore, and the other a large stone building near the lake’s centre. Both structures had rickety wooden walkways ringing them at water level that looked like recent additions making it seem as if someone had made an attempt to settle down in the ruins.
Ahead of us at the mouth of the stream that had led us to the lake was a cluster of slightly crooked huts at the water’s edge and moored near one of the huts were several small boats. Seeing that this was the only way for us to reach the ruins, I waved the company forward toward the structures.
As we crept cautiously into the cluster of huts, I saw movement ahead of me and as I looked, I saw a green-scaled lizard-like humanoid standing up from where it had been sitting next to a fire. It’s gaze met mine and it let out an ululating cry of alarm before raising a club and rushing at me.
Another creature leapt from behind a bush to our right, swinging its club
wildly at Thaddeus and then more lizardfolk burst from the nearest hut. One rushed at me, slamming its club into my breastplate and sending me reeling backward. It leapt forward and I lashed out with my sword, cutting it across its belly but barely slowing it down. An arrow drove into its shoulder from the left where Trellara stood and then a blast of black lightning struck the creature, finally sending it reeling back from me. Arianrhod was beside me a moment later and spinning on the spot she swept out her swords and with one of them, beheaded the creature before it could recover from Kiriel’s attack.
Ferzth charged past me to meet the other lizardfolk that had come from the hut and beyond him, I saw two more emerging from the far huts. Still, I could pay them no mind for the club-wielding creatures close to us were surging forward and driving back Ferzth and Thaddeus with blow after blow from their weapons. I moved to aid Thaddeus, lashing out at the nearest lizard creature only for it to parry my blow with surprising skill. I saw Arianrhod leap past me and unleash a whirlwind of blades on several of the lizardfolk while I found myself parrying a flurry of blows from the creature before me. I heard Ferzth crying out for aid ahead of me and though I knew I couldn’t reach him I forced my way forward still, lashing out at the nearest lizard man as I did so. From somewhere I heard Trellara singing and knew that the lilting words were infused with magic to heal Ferzth. For a moment, the song brought a smile to my lips but then the creature before me slammed its club into my side under my guard jolting me back to the battle.
Suddenly, Kiriel was beside me, driven back by a dagger wielding creature and I found myself momentarily concerned for Trellara who had been fighting beside the warlock. My mind restored discipline and focus quickly as it had been trained to do and I parried another flurry of blows from the lizard creature before me. Seeing an opening at last, I lashed my blade under the creature’s club and drove the edge into its belly. The lizard man gasped and staggered back from me, barely managing to duck Arianrhod’s blade as she swept it at the back of its head. I sensed victory and roared a challenge at the wounded lizard man that suddenly turned into a strangled gasp as a searing pain pierced my side. I looked around to see another lizard man beside me withdrawing a dagger from my body. I reeled and then as numbness began to spread around the wound the horrible realisation that I had been poisoned struck me.
The battle became a blur then for Thaddeus fell a moment later and then the wounded lizard man smashed its club into the side of my head sending me reeling anew. I remember lashing out at the dagger-wielding creature with my blade while roaring to Pholtus, my blade lashing into the lizard man’s side. Black lightning struck the creature a moment later and it fell to the ground while I cast around for more enemies. Arianrhod and Thaddeus had felled the remaining warriors around me and together we all rushed to aid Trellara who I realised had fallen fighting a shaman and the last of the warriors close to the far huts. Ferzth felled the remaining warrior and I charged the shaman while roaring a challenge at the creature. It drew a dagger to try to fend me off but I lashed my sword high into its neck before it could parry, felling it in front of its hut.
I knelt beside Trellara at once and found to my relief that she yet lived and so I tended to her wounds while the others tended to their own hurts. We had secured the boats we needed to reach the ruins but it had been a difficult fight and it left me wondering, as the haze of battle passed from me what worse dangers could lie amongst the broken buildings in the middle of the lake.
8 Readying 579
We took to boats on the shore of the lake and sailed for the stone tower thinking that it could serve as a stronghold for us amongst the ruins from which we could attack the other, larger structure. As we drew near I saw that the stone building was obviously an old bell tower but now it protruded from the lake at a slant, reaching a height of perhaps thirty feet above the surface of the water. Eroded images of dozens of lions – stalking, sleeping, and pouncing – adorned its sides while two rickety-looking wooden platforms protruded from its walls at water level with three small skiffs docked alongside. As we reached the western platform I decided that the tower had once been three stories tall but only its upper two floors remained above water.
We leapt from the boat and drew weapons, Thaddeus and I ducking through an opening in the tower walls with our swords before us. We found ourselves in a wide chamber with a pit in the centre of the floor to our right which seemed to serve as a well for the hobgoblins that lounged on piles of rotten bedding close to it. They started to rise as we entered and began shouting in their own tongue while Kiriel darted past me, hurling black lightning as she came. Trellara loosed an arrow at another that flew wide of the mark and Ferzth charged past me to attack another hobgoblin with his sword. I charged the one that Trellara had fired at, lashing my blade into the creature’s shoulder as it rose from its bed. It slumped back and Thaddeus stabbed his blade into its thigh as he joined the battle and the goblin scrambled back across its straw bedding.
Finally the hobgoblin rose, lashing its flail at me as it stood. I ducked the wild swing and stepped toward the creature but then another goblin rushed at me from my right. I parried its flail with my sword and leapt back while the newcomer twisted away from me behind its companion’s shield. Seeing this new foe dodge away, I stabbed my blade into the belly of my first foe and then, as it staggered back a step I twisted around to its left smashing my shield against its shield as I followed the other goblin.
“I’ve got this one,” Thaddeus shouted. “Kill the other one.”
I did as he had said, lashing out at the other hobgoblin only for it to raise its shield and deflect my blade down into its leg. The goblin cried out and staggered back but somehow it kept its shield together with its companion and both lashed out at me with their flails. I took one blow on my shield and dodged the other while preparing to finish the first goblin that was now barely standing. I stepped toward me foe just as I heard shouts from my right and saw three more goblins emerging from a stairway that led to the upper level. The hobgoblin in front of me snarled at me as though gloating in the arrival of its allies and so I plunged my blade into its throat and turned to face this new threat.
The three hobgoblins charged me in an almost perfect shield wall, lashing out with their flails as they reached me. I parried one high to my right and turned my shield across my body to deflect another but a third spiked ball struck my shoulder with a loud crack and a burst of searing pain. Still I managed to stab my blade beneath the shield of one and drive it into flesh and bone beyond, forcing one foe back. I looked back over my left shoulder to see if any aid was coming and saw that the remaining goblin was retreating toward its comrades that faught me with Thaddeus and Ferzth following it while the others were fighting a foe I could not see to the north of the well. Quickly, I turned back to my enemies just as they came forward again, one lashing a flail under my shield and into the side of my leg while the others attacked from my right only to find my sword barring their way.
Ferzth charged into battle then with a guttural shout. His blade lashed out to his left and right, lashing into the side of one hobgoblin and forcing another back from him. As he shouted I felt the tightness in my skin that was now a familiar sign of his protective incantation and I nodded my thanks to him before surging at the other two goblins with my sword before me. I called on Pholtus to protect the githzerai in turn but as my blade clashed with a goblin shield, the prayer died on my lips. The Blinding Light would not reward failure.
8 Readying 579
I shouted out in rage and leapt at the hobgoblins again, parrying their flails and lashing them aside with my sword. Dimly, I heard Trellara singing somewhere behind me and lashed out again and again at the goblins trying to find some way through the locked shields before me. Suddenly Arianrhod and Thaddeus faught beside me and the goblins began to retreat as they realised how hopelessly outnumbered they were.
Black lightning and arrows flashed from my right and this proved the final straw. The goblins broke and ran, heading for a second gap in the wall of the ruined tower to the south. As they reached the opening, I heard Kiriel shout out a spell and inky black tendrils seemed to emerge from the body of one of the hobgoblins. They curled around the goblin’s body and began to tighten, drawing screams from the creature until finally, with a loud crack of breaking ribs, it collapsed to the stone floor.
Trellara called out to the other to surrender but it ignored her and started to clamber through the hole in the wall .Ferzth and I reached it before it could escape and while the githzerai swung at it only to strike the stone above its head, I placed my blade against its back and demanded as Trellara had that it surrender. The hobgoblin stopped, seeming to think about its options for a moment and then it threw down its flail and dropped to its knees. I grabbed the back of its jerkin and dragged it back into the chamber out of sight. We had, it seemed, secured the bell tower.
We have made camp within the tower with watches posted at each of the entrances, Kiriel and Arianrhod taking the first shift. As we settled down to eat from the trail rations we carried, I talked with Trellara again and found a glimmer of happiness growing within me as we talked. She is determined now to establish a shrine in honour of her brother and as we talked, I realised that I had been channeling my grief for Forwen into dark violence and not into bolder aims as the elf maid was doing. It is time that I brought the word of Pholtus to others as Forwen would have done though in this dark fenland I doubt I will gain any converts. Tomorrow, I will start with Trellara to see if we cannot build a shrine to Pholtus in honour of her brother and my sister.
Can't wait to read your explanation of his "failure," for which Pholtus would not reward him.
This may disappoint but the prayer died on Aalas's lips when his swing missed as he knew Pholtus would not reward him with the boon he was praying for now that his sword had swung wide. The Blinding Light does, after all, require stern devotion and as I see it, a good level of martial skill amongst its paladins. I'm not quite sure yet, though, how particularly militant Aalas's order is. The Church Militant from Fate of Istus are good for the orthodox devotion of the Pale but I think other orders may be less strict and more tolerant although with a similar basis.
Aalas, does however, as will be seen in future posts, adhere to a code that is going to be tested as the company's adventures continue.
As an aside, it was at this point that I expanded the PCs a bit more with random motivations from a PDF called UNE - the Universal NPC Emulator. Trellara's desire to build a church is one of these motivations and I didn't roll for Aalas as his principle purpose in adventuring is already clear (searching for his mother). The other PC motivations will emerge as the story continues.....
Hmmm. Are you implying that Thaddeus' motivation is not searching for his wife, Aalas' mother?
That is my implication, or at least, he has another motivation that he views as more important. You may want to dig out Scourge of the Slavelords and check the guest list for Dame Gold's festival celebration to get an idea of where I'm going with this since his random motivation tied in beautifully with his background there. Or you may not and all will be revealed as the story continues.....
And fair point about Aalas's miss but he was asking for some aid from Pholtus and to get that, he needed his blow to land. As for Trellara missing, even elves miss sometimes (at least in D&D) and I offer the elf maid's apologies to the Seldarine
Last edited by Flint on Thu May 27, 2010 10:02 am; edited 2 times in total
9 Readying 579
We ate a meager breakfast and then set out in three boats across the lake to the structure at the centre of the ruin. As we drew near I saw that what must have been an impressive stone structure now lay half-submerged in the lake. Its façade still displayed majestic heroes bearing heraldic lion devices and armed with swords, spears, and bows, their countenances carved into marble pillars. The building’s ground floor was now completely submerged, and its second floor sat just above the water level, its marble heroes caked with moss and mud. The third floor was partially collapsed, exposing its rooms to the sky above while a wooden walkway had been lashed together around the building, a floating bridge leading to another low ruin surrounded by a fence nearby. Two flights of wooden stairs led up along the façade to the ruined roof above.
I quickly looked around the building and saw no way in level with the lake so I led my companions toward the left hand set of stairs and, drawing my sword, I made my way up. Side chambers opened up to the north and south off the roof but what drew my attention at once was the ogre that stood looking out over the lake at the far side of the roof. Kiriel pushed past me and loosed black lightning at the creature before I had chance to react and the ogre turned, shouting loudly in its own tongue. The ogre charged and slammed its club into Kiriel, spinning her back into the roof parapet while another creature burst from a side chamber with a roar.
Trellara and Ferzth rushed up the other set of steps and emerged on the other side of the ogre while I stabbed my blade into the ogre’s thigh and dodged under its flailing club. At a cry from Thaddeus, I looked around and saw another ogre lumbering below us on the wooden boardwalk, momentarily surprised by my step father’s ferocious attack. More ogres burst from the side chambers and from the building below us I heard another roar as another creature apparently stirred itself to meet our assault.
I took a blow from a second ogre on my shield and then ducked under the club of the first ogre once again. A third ogre brought its club down on my shoulder and with a crack of breaking bone, blinding pain lanced down my shield arm. Still I managed to stab my blade into the hip of the first ogre and draw and enraged roar from it but the realisation that we were surrounded made me fearful.
Kiriel vanished from the rooftop in a shower of light presumably going to aid the others on the boardwalk below while the three ogres around me lashed out with their clubs. One swung in low and crashed into the side of my knee buckling my left leg beneath me and forcing me to spin away as best I could but I ducked and fended off the other blows. I stabbed at the ogre again, driving my blade into its side as Trellara drove her own sword into its chest from the other side. The creature roared again but somehow did not fall. Arianrhod leapt at the ogre and stabbed both blades into its belly forcing it back a step just before black lightning struck the creature in the chest. Finally, it keeled over onto its back before its companions, dead.
One of the ogres looked down at its companion’s corpse and immediately bolted for a stairway that led downward from the rooftop. Another ogre roared and charged at me and behind the remaining defenders, a two headed giant, an ettin my mother had called it, advanced with a club in each hand. An ogre club smashed into my breastplate and sent me reeling backwards while I raised my shield to meet the club of the other remaining ogre. I retreated as the blow smashed into my shield, gathering what little strength I had left for the next ogre assault.
9 Readying 579
The ogres came forward soon enough, squeezing their bulky forms between the northern and southern side chambers to reach me. I ducked one swing and then dodged to my right to evade another before yelling a challenge at the creatures and leaping at the one on the left. I stabled my blade into its hip and forced it back a step as it struggled between the building and its companion. The other ogre managed to swing its club freely at me with its left hand and slammed it into my side with a painful crack. I spun into the wall next to me and saw white light for a moment as I fought to recover from the blow. Suddenly, I heard a cry from the boardwalk below and then a splash as something heavy hit the water.
Footsteps on the stairs followed and the ogres before me seemed to hesitate. The one pressed against the building that I had wounded suddenly stepped back away from me and as I leapt after it, it broke and ran. It vaulted the parapet of the building and splashed into the water below, disappearing from sight. I heard another splash below me and to my left as something else either fell or jumped into the water and then Trellara was beside me and the odds were shifted in my favour. I enjoyed the sense of triumph for a moment and then the ettin charged into the battle and with a single blow from one of its clubs, it sent me spinning back across the roof toward the eastern parapet.
Ferzth joined Trellara and I against the ogre and the ettin while moments later, Arianrhod and Thaddeus joined us, the latter urging us all forward. Kiriel joined us a moment later, loosing black lightning into the ogre over our heads. I sensed victory and leapt forward only to be met by one of the ettin’s clubs slamming into my face. I felt my nose smash across my face as the nose-piece of my helm was driven down into it and then I saw blinding light before blackness took me.
I woke a moment later, Trellara’s voice ringing in my ears as she finished the enchanted elven song that had brought me round. I leapt to my feet at once and chanted a prayer as I plunged my sword into the ogre’s side, feeling reinvigorating energies flow through me to heal the worst of my wounds. They would touch my companions too for we need all the strength we could muster if we were to fell the ettin. From behind me, Thaddeus urged me forward and with my renewed strength, I did as he bade me.
The ogre roared as I started toward it, apparently angry that I still lived and with a huge swing, it smashed its club into my breastplate and slammed me back into the wall of the southern side chambers. The ettin roared in turn, bringing one of its clubs down on my wounded shoulder drawing a cry of pain from me. Its second swing came down on my helm and I fell into blackness for a second time.
9 Readying 579
When I woke, the battle was over and Trellara was kneeling over me having tended to the worst of my wounds. She had slain the last ogre and then together, the others had driven off the ettin, forcing it to flee down the stairs into the building below. Presumably whatever dwelt within the ruins now knew that we were coming not least because of a huge hole in the western side of the roof that led into the chambers below. We divided up the gold of the fallen ogres and then readied our weapons again, ready to descend the stairs. Having seen the ogre ascend one set of stairs and flee down another, we decided that both likely led to the same place so we divided into two groups of three, Thaddeus leading one and me leading the other. Trellara and Arianrhod came with me while the Ferzth and Kiriel followed my step father. We nodded to each other across the rooftop and then made our way down into the darkness below
The ogre and the ettin awaited us in a chamber that was dimly lit from the stairways above. It was once probably a great hallway but was no bare except for shaggy furs piled against one wall. A foul, fetid smell rose up from the place that marked it as the ettin’s den, a place where it would likely fight to the death. By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, Thaddeus was already fighting the ettin on the far side of the chamber so I rushed forward to attack it from behind. I stabbed my sword into the back of one of the creature’s legs drawing a roar of annoyance and pain from it.
Kiriel appeared in a shower of light along the wall of the chamber close to me and began attacking the ogre with her sword where she was soon joined by Trellara. I moved to my right to allow Arianrhod the chance to attack the ettin and then stabbed my blade into the creature’s back. It roared again and lashed out blindly with one of its clubs toward me. I leapt back against the wall of the chamber and the club whistled harmlessly passed me as the ettin turned back toward Thaddeus.
Suddenly, a door opened behind my step father and a hobgoblin in spiked black armour emerged with a spear in its hands. It took in the situation quickly and stabbed its spear into Thaddeus’s back without a second thought.
A moment later, I heard a door open behind me and a hobgoblin rushed out wielding a red hot poker that it rushed at Arianrhod with. She spun around just as it drove the poker into her thigh, drawing a cry of agony from the ranger. With a prayer on my lips to shield Arianrhod from harm, I plunged my blade into the ettin again as it turned its attention to Ferzth who faught from the bottom of the far stairway. I heard the githzerai cry out as the creature rained club blows down on him and then I saw him tumble down from the stairs to land at the ettin’s feet. With a roar of triumph despite the many wounds it bled from, the creature turned on the spot and smashed a club into my chest, slamming me back into the wall behind me.
I chanted a blessing over my sword then before leaping at the ettin and plunging my sword into its belly. With something that sounded like whimper, it keeled over and died. I spun on the spot and lashed my sword into the chest of the hobgoblin that had attacked Arianrhod, spinning it back into the doorway from which it had emerged. The creature stabbed its makeshift weapon into Arianrhod’s hip as she followed it into the doorway and I went with her, stabbing my blessed sword into the goblin’s shoulder. It staggered, seeming to hesitate and Arianrhod took the chance she was given, plunging both her swords straight forward like daggers into the hobgoblin’s chest. With a gasp, it fell, and the ranger and I both turned back to the rest of the battle.
Kiriel had fallen to the ogre and Trellara now faught it alone while the remaining hobgoblin was dodging behind its ogre ally toward a set of double doors at the western end of the chamber. I moved to where Kiriel lay while the ogre focused on Trellara and reached down to touch the warlock’s arm while uttering the Catechism of Healing. Kiriel opened her eyes at once and I leapt at the ogre without waiting for her to stand up. I plunged my sword into the creature’s back and with a strangled roar, the creature fell to the floor of the chamber.
I rushed after the hobgoblin as Trellara began chanting and singing to heal our other wounded members. Arianrhod got to the doors ahead of me and as she lashed her blades into the back of the hobgoblin’s armour, she darted to the right and began shouting.
“Dragon!” she called out and cold fear gripped me.
9 Readying 579
Sure enough, a black dragon roughly the size of the one that we had faught at the causeway moved forward to the double doors from its chamber beyond. It breathed a burst of black acid through the doorway which engulfed my left leg and began searing my flesh, inflicting unbelievable agony.
I staggered and shouted out in pain before charging at the creature only to find the hobgoblin blocking my way. Shouting out the Chant of Reinvigoration, I slashed my blade into the creature’s belly and sent him reeling into the wall before turning my attention back to the dragon. Arianrhod spun in front of me, lashing a blade across the wyrm’s snout and slashing her other sword into the belly of the hobgoblin. Both roared and reeled away while the ranger momentarily blocked my way to the dragon. Instead, I shouted a challenge to the hobgoblin chieftain and with a growl, he accepted.
The goblin stabbed out with his spear and I raised my shield, turning the big hunting weapon aside. Its guard down, I stepped toward the goblin and stabbed my sword into its breastplate, the blade piercing metal bone and flesh to find the creature’s heart. With a gurgling gasp, the hobgoblin slid off my sword and collapsed on the floor unmoving.
I moved forward to the doorway just as black tendrils burst from the dragon’s body and began to envelop it. It roared while from the hole in the roof above, Kiriel began chanting another spell. Admiring the resourcefulness of the elf maid, I raised my sword and my shield and stepped toward the dragon. I heard Thaddeus urging me forward from the far side of the room and so with a surge of optimism I leapt into battle against the dragon. The wyrm retreated before us as we charged into its chamber and as it drew in a sharp breath, I raised my shield, the painful burns to my leg reminding me of what was coming next. It breathed more acid but my shield protected me, keeping me unharmed. Then the dragon leapt, spreading its wings to take flight and though I lashed out with my sword and connected with its leg, it flew out through the hole in the ceiling and quickly disappeared from view.
The realisation that we had won filled us all and to my shock, Trellara ran up to me and threw her arms around me before kissing me firmly on the lips. I kissed her back for a few moments before my discipline took over and I gently pushed her away from me.
“I cannot,” I said quietly. “My order forbids it.”
It was true of course, though I wished it were not. Knights of the Church Militant take a vow of celibacy as soon as they join the order for only through complete focus on devotion and skill in battle can we defend the Church from its enemies. I will remember the crestfallen look on the elf maid’s face, though, for as long as I live and likely I will wish things were otherwise for just as long. Understandably I know little of such matters but I am as certain as I can be that I have fallen in love with Trellara but instead of it being a joyous thing it will be another burden for me to bear.
This is one of those lovely curve balls that Mythic can throw you that you then have to make work and I found this one particularly harsh on poor old Aalas.
Still, I thought it possible that the Knights of the Church Militant may have some strictures for paladins in this regard, asked Mythic, rolled some dice, and hey presto, Aalas loses his first love. Such is the price of divine service.
9 Readying 579
We made camp in one of the side chambers and searched all for treasure and for any signs as the what had been plotted at the ruin. The dragon’s hoard held two sets of armour, one of which I took to replace my now-battered set of enchanted plate. Trellara took the other and we divided the coins and gems amongst us. Trellara also took an enchanted set of armbands and a second set of armour made of black iron to sell while Arianrhod gained an amulet that also bore an enchantment.
We found a box in the room that had belonged to the hobgoblin chieftain and within it was a single folded letter that smelled of strange perfume. An indentation in the velvet lining of the box suggested that something the size of a child’s fist had once rested within and the letter commended a phylactery belonging to someone called the Ghostlord into the safe keeping of the hobgoblin chieftain. He was called Saarvith and in the dragon’s horde we found a small iron coffer that held what must be the phylactery. It was a delicate adamantine chain on which were threaded a lion’s claws and teeth while just from touching it I could sense powerful evil radiating from it.
Ferzth offered to take the first watch on the rooftop and Trellara went with him flashing me a stern look as she left. I had hoped to ask her about the Ghostlord but she ignored me as I tried to speak with her and simply left with her bow in her hands. As she left, Thaddeus put a hand on my shoulder and steered me back toward the east wall of the chamber where we sat down.
“I have heard of this Ghostlord,” he said and then he began to tell me what he knew.
It seems that the Ghostlord was once a druid called Urikel Zarl who was the leader of a beast cult that worshiped the lions of the nearby mountains. Some legends apparently record the druid’s people as noble Flan nomads but in truth, according to my step father at least, they were feral cannibals who believed that in death their bodies would transform into lions and then live forever. Legend and history agree that the druid and his people were attacked with their lion allies between the paws of their great lion shrine but long before his defeat, Urikel Zarl had turned his back on the natural world for the dark promises of eternal undeath.
The Flan cavalry and the cultists are said to have destroyed each other in their final battle sealing the doom of both factions. From examining the necklace, Kiriel is sure that the Ghostlord is a lich and in the letter we found, the hobgoblin chieftain was instructed to keep its phylactery until after the fall of Mittleberg. Apparently it would harm the cause of the horde were the necklace to be returned to its master. Alas, none of us knows where the Ghostlord’s lair was or more correctly, one of us might but she will not speak with me. I pray that the morning brings peace between the elf maid and I and perhaps the answers we need.
10 Readying 579
At breakfast this morning, I managed to speak to Trellara and she told me brusquely that she had never heard of the Ghostlord but that she knew of a stone lion in the foothills of the Jotens to the northeast. We resolved at once to set out for the place to seek out the Ghostlord and learn what we may of him and his involvement with the horde.
The lizardfolk thankfully left us alone as we left the ruin in our boats and made landfall on the north eastern shore of the lake. We set off at once through the marsh leaving its misty cold behind us around noon and emerging into the snow-covered foothills of the Jotens. As we neared the end of our day’s travel, I was hopeful that we would be able to make camp peacefully but alas it was not to be.
Ahead of us, along the old trail we were now following, we heard harsh shouts and crude laughter and as we rounded a corner between two rocky outcroppings, we saw a gang of hobgoblins and an ogre tormenting two dwarves who they had hog-tied before them. The victims lay listlessly in their bonds, their faces and bodies covered in blood.
I drew my sword but before I could move forward an arrow drove into my thigh, drawing a cry of pain from my lips. I looked around for the unseen archer and saw that a copper-scaled draconian had appeared atop the outcropping to my right. Another arrow clattered off the ground close to me, this one coming from another draconian archer on the ridge to the left. Another appeared on each ridge as the realisation that we had walked into an ambush struck me as the arrow had.
The ogre surged forward, barreling through the hobgoblins and lashing out at me with its club. I ducked the swing, raising my shield above my head as I stepped toward the ogre but in the meantime, Ferzth rushed forward to my aid and forced the huge creature back. I leapt forward another step and lashed my blade beneath my shield into the ogre’s leg, drawing a roar of anger and pain from it. Thaddeus joined Ferzth and I against the ogre and shouted to me to try to outflank the creature. I held up my shield while my step father darted in from the ogre’s right and shifted around to its left. As I did, though, the hobgoblins surged forward with jagged swords before them seeking to cut me off.
I took the first sword blow on my shield and then parried a reverse swing just as an arrow clattered off the rim of my shield from the ridge to my right. I heard wolves howling behind me but the hobgoblins and the ogre prevented me from looking back to see what new peril had closed the trap that had been sprung on us. Instead, I uttered a prayer of shielding to protect Ferzth and then, with my shield before me, I stabbed my sword into the ogre’s side.
The huge creature roared and staggered away from me apparently losing its will to fight but Thaddeus would not let it escape. He stabbed his sword into its hip and then shouted to me to finish the creature as it tried to retreat. I moved my shield across my body and spun to lash my blade across the hamstring of the ogre as it turned away from e, seeking escape. Its leg gave way and as it sank to one knee, Ferzth plunged his sword into its throat and dropped it to the blood-soaked snow of the trail.
I turned on the hobgoblins with a roar but my blade smashed into the shield of the nearest warrior as it raised the jagged piece of steel to defend itself. One of the goblins fell to Thaddeus’ blade to my left but the others came forward in a line, their shields locked together across the snowy trail. From behind me, I heard Trellara shouting something in elven that sounded like a battle cry but again I could not look back as the hobgoblins were pressing forward.
Ferzth leapt into them as a spinning whirlwind, his blade slashing the throat of one and sending it pirouetting to the snow but the others, for the moment at least seemed intent on pressing their attack. I smashed my shield into the shield of the goblin in front of me and then stabbed my blade around its edge into the creature’s belly felling it beside its companions. Thaddeus cut down another and then suddenly, the last hobgoblin stepped back and threw down its sword and shield before kneeling in the snow before us. Thaddeus gestured for it to lie down and as it pressed its face into the snow, we turned back toward the battle at the back of the group.
There, Arianrhod and Trellara faught two of the wolf-like barghests that had attacked us on the way to the ruins while Kiriel tried to hold off the three draconian archers that remained on the ridges above us. As if to remind me of the archers’ presence, an arrow drove into my shoulder as I turned, sending me staggering to my right while daggers of pain shot down my left arm. My shield dropped for a moment and a second arrow nicked my cheek before I faught back the pain and raised it again.
I charged at the barghests but Ferzth reached them first, lashing his blade into the one that faught Arianrhod. The creature turned on him at once, ignoring the ranger and, hoping for the same result, I rushed toward the far creature that Trellara was holding at bay. Fearing I could not reach the creature in time, I shouted out the Prayer of Delirium in Battle, calling on Pholtus to smite the barghest. Sure enough my god answered and ribbons of radiance engulfed the creature, searing its flesh and filling the gully with the smell of singed fur. With a final howl, the creature collapsed to the snow and died.
Trellara flashed a smile at me, the first since our awkward moment in the ruin, and then rushed to join the battle against the remaining wolf creature. The remaining barghest leapt back and then turned tail to flee but I would not let it go. As it leapt away from us up the shale slope behind the outcroppings next to the trail, I rushed after it and somehow caught up to it, lashing my blade across its back. Arianrhod and Ferzth caught up to the creature a moment later and slashed their swords into its body forcing it to the ground in an ungainly sprawl. It leapt up in one last attempt to escape as we stabbed at it again trying to stop it getting away from us. Only Arianrhod drew blood and somehow, the weakened creature bounded away from us across the snow until it was quickly beyond our reach. Then, shouting from behind us drew our attention back to the trail.
The draconians were still firing from their high positions and so Ferzth, Arianrhod and I charged up the back of the nearest ridge and attacked one of the reptilian creatures. My blade slashed its hamstring and Arianrhod lashed her blade into its back, spinning it around toward us. The creature screeched and then leapt from the outcropping, beating its wings to take to the air and sweep across the trail. Its companions on the opposite ridge similarly realised that the battle was lost and took to the air, flying north into the mountains and disappearing from view. Amazingly, we had defeated the ambush and I hoped that having driven off these enemies that we could make camp and rest peacefully for the night.
12 Readying 579
The two dwarves went on their way the morning after the attack, heading north toward Hammerfast while we bore northeastward on a trail that was clearly old beyond measure. The rest of the journey passed uneventfully and this afternoon we saw, rising from a low hill ahead of us an intimidating sight - a massive lion of stone crouched, as if ready to pounce on a nearby hill. The cyclopean monolith was composed of a dull tawny stone and looked to me to be about two hundred feet in length while the top of its head rose over eighty feet from the ground. There seemed to be some sort of hollow between the lion’s front paws, in the area bordered by its chest. Likewise, hints of a dark cave were apparent in its gaping maw.
We walked forward into the hollow flanked by massive stone paws to the north and south finding it all but hidden in the shadow of the great stone head above. A worn stone path led between the great paws to a low stone ramp which climbed up to an impressive archway in the lion’s chest. Two basalt statues of skeletal lions stood facing each other on either side of that arch, as if passing judgment upon those who travel between them.
I drew my sword as I started up the ramp, expecting the lions to animate and attack at any moment but they did not and at the top, the archway led into a large chamber with touch-hewn walls and a domed ceiling rising more than twice my height overhead. To the north was heaped a large mound of crushed nettles and briars, arranged in some sort of nest, while to the south lay a massive mound of bones. The area smelled strangely musty and acrid and no sooner had I stepped over the threshold than the nest began to move as the creature within stirred.
I shouted a warning to the others and Ferzth came bounding up the ramp past us all to lead the attack. From the nest emerged the head and neck of a blue-scaled lizard-like creature with lightning crackling between its dagger-sharp teeth. Spines swept back from its head and down along its neck and as it emerged I saw that it had at least six legs, each ending in razor sharp claws. I recognised it as a behir, albeit a young one, but my mother had taught me that behirs were vicious predators from birth and this one would surely give us a fierce battle.
Kiriel and Arianrhod charged into the chamber ahead of me, the ranger attacking the creature with her two blades while the elf maid hurled black lightning at it. Thaddeus charged next, shouting to Arianrhod to move to her left as he swung his blade and drew blood from the creature’s flank. The behir roared and lightning burst from its body to strike us. I was thrown back onto the ramp while my three companions around the creature were sent reeling.
I recovered enough to charge the creature but as I lashed out with my blade, the behir used one of its claws to swat my sword aside. One of Trellara’s arrows ricocheted off its thick scales and I uttered a prayer to shield Arianrhod as I leapt forward again only to have my sword knocked aside for a second time. Trellara’s next arrow found a mark in the flank of the behir but the creature seemed unbothered by the wound just as it seemed unconcerned by the black lightning that Kiriel was hurling into it. Thaddeus ducked back away from the behir to get his breath back and the behir turned its attention to Ferzth while roaring its anger at us all. More lightning burst forth from it and hurled us back.
Desperately, I called out a healing prayer and then leapt at the behir again, driving my blade into its body at the top of one of its legs as it reared back and away from me. A burst of white light spread from me, healing the worst of my wounds and those of my companions. The behir roared again though and lashed out with a claw, striking the side of my head and sending me spinning into the rock wall behind me. I tasted blood and spat out a tooth that had been torn free by the fierce blow before turning back toward the creature – just as it lunged toward me with its tooth-filled maw. Teeth seized my throat and pierced my flesh while more blood filled my mouth and threatened to choke off my breathing. Blackness took me then and I felt myself falling.
I woke after a few moments with Trellara’s melodic voice echoing in my ears but the sound was soon drowned out by my step father shouting at me to get up and carry on the fight. I rose quickly just as Thaddeus was struck in the side by one of the behir’s claws and sent spinning across the cave. He collapsed against the wall and lay there unmoving. I summoned what remained of my strength and with a roared challenge, I leapt at the behir, lashing my blade into a shoulder joint at the top of one of its legs. It snarled its response to me and then lashed out wildly at me with another claw. I ducked under the claw and the behir lashed out at Ferzth.
The githzerai began chanting and as he did, his face distorted, his mouth widening to resemble that of a hyena. He made a whooping sound and then leapt forward, plunging his blade into the behir. The creature lashed out at him and swatted him away but then Arianrhod and I leapt at it from its other side and drove out blades into its body. Again it turned and lashed out at us, spinning Arianrhod into the rock wall behind us but as it did, Kiriel seared it with flame. Thaddeus charged back into the battle despite his wounds but the behir, now bleeding from numerous cuts its swatted my step-father’s blade aside.
I stabbed my sword into the creature again as it turned toward Thaddeus and it lashed another claw at me in response but I took the blow on my shield and held it at bay. The creature roared again and lightning burst from its body once more, throwing me back against the wall behind me. When I recovered, I saw to my dismay that only Kiriel and I remained standing. I knelt beside Arianrhod and uttered a healing prayer while holding my shield before me to protect my body and hers. As golden light covered her body and her eyes opened, I leapt forward and stabbed at the behir. The ranger got to her feet beside me and leapt past me before stabbing one of her blade’s into the reptile’s chest, drawing another roar of pain and anger from the creature. It lashed out at Arianrhod and sent her reeling away across the cavern but this time, she stayed on her feet.
Kiriel circled around behind the ranger and shouted out a spell that caused the behir to claw at unseen enemies apparently clawing about on its own body. It tore at its scales and the flesh beneath while Kiriel loosed more black lightning into its body. The behir leapt at Arianrhod and lashed her to the floor with one of its claws but in the moment that the ranger fell again, I saw my chance and leapt forward. With all my strength, I plunged my blade into the side of the creature’s throat and with a final roar, it collapsed to the cavern floor.
Kiriel and I dragged our fallen out of the cavern to a nearby copse of trees and made camp out of sight of the entrance to the lion structure. I returned warily to the cavern once we had lit a fire and tended to the worst of our companions’ wounds. Amongst the bones, I found a leather sack holding two gold chalices and a ruby that glowed with an inner light but the find that excited me the most was a map drawn on yellowed parchment. It showed a nearby path leading into the Joten mountains to a place marked as the steading of Nosnra, Chief of the Hill Giants. The place that my mother had explored was within reach and excitedly, I showed the map to Kiriel and the others.
Thaddeus immediately balked at the idea, insisting that we were not ready to face the dangers of the mountains and that we had to defeat the horde before we “chased after” my mother. Surprised and angry, I retired to my tent early without speaking much more to the others. Again, we have decided to turn away from my mother and her companions and whilst I know my order would want me to defeat the evil of the horde, I cannot help but feel that those I came here to save are slipping away from me.
13 Readying 579
This morning we ate quickly for Thaddeus and the others were eager to return to the lion structure and seek out the Ghostlord. They, at least were keen that we should defeat whatever lay within and I soon found myself sharing their new ferocity for returning to the place. The behir’s cave had no obvious ways out but after several minutes of searching, Trellara found a lump in the wall that when pressed slid open part of the south wall of the chamber. Beyond was a long hallway wide enough for two of us to stand abreast. It climbed around to the right seemingly doubling back on itself while climbing gently upward from the hidden door. Trellara and Kiriel lit torches and then Thaddeus and I led the company into the darkness.
The hallway looped around in a circle once and then began another turn as we climbed into the stone lion but as the passage turned back toward what I though to be the north, I saw movement up ahead. I shouted a warning to the others as three lions, their flesh rotten and their fur mangy and stained stalked out of the darkness toward me. Ferzth rushed past me to meet the undead lions and Thaddeus charged after him, the two blocking the corridor and leaving me helpless.
One of the lions roared, a keening, mournful version of a mountain lion’s roar filled with the pain and anguish f its undead existence. I staggered back as pain filled my head from the roar and for a moment I was frozen to the spot while Thaddeus and Ferzth faught on against the lions. Thaddeus shouted at Arianrhod and I to withdraw, seeking to pull back himself and tend to his wounds and while the ranger did as he bade, I found that I still could not make my limbs obey me. Kiriel appeared amongst the lions in a shower of silver motes, her blade in hand, and began lashing out at one of the lead creatures.
Ferzth shouted out something in his own tongue and as he struck at the lions in front of him, I felt my skin tighten as whatever incantation the gith had shouted took effect to protect me from harm. Still my step father did not retreat, the roars of the lions seemingly rooting him to the spot. He faught fiercely nonetheless but the lions slowly began to drive Ferzth back. One leapt at the gith and smashed its paws into his chest, forcing him back toward me. The lion leapt after the warrior and finally, I had a chance to strike at our enemies. I leapt forward and swung my sword wildly with a prayer of shielding on my lips to try to protect Thaddeus but my blade swept over the lion’s back and struck the stone wall of the narrow passageway. The prayer died on my lips but as it did, I heard Trellara singing one of her healing songs in her melodic tongue and she leapt forward to drag Thaddeus clear of the battle. The elf maid leapt into battle in his place, her sword swinging left and right to try and keep the lions at bay.
The lead lion roared again but I paid it no heed and stabbed my blade toward it only for it to dodge to one side and evade my sword. Trellara started singing again and stabbed her blade into the flank of the undead beast Kiriel stabbed her own sword into the creature’s back but still its rotten form faught on. The lion leapt toward me and I stepped back so that its paws lashed into my shield rather than my breastplate and then I countered, lashing my sword into the creature’s flank. Ferzth and Trellara stabbed at the creature again and finally it staggered as though its undead life force was at last weakening. Thaddeus shouted to me to finish the beast and I stabbed at it once and then a second time before it fell to the floor of the passageway, unmoving.
I leapt over the creature thinking to aid Kiriel with a healing prayer but as I reached her, she vanished in a shower of silver motes, escaping the worst of the battle. Trellara leapt forward ahead of me and from behind me I heard Kiriel chanting a spell but then all was drowned out by the roar of another of the lions. Again I felt nothing and this time the roar was answered by whooping yelps from Ferzth as he again transformed himself into the likeness of a hyena. He struck fiercely with his blade until the lion leapt away from him and toward me. The creature leapt and sank its teeth into my sword arm, tearing painfully at my flesh until I knocked it back with my sword. I felt a numbing cold begin to spread from the wound and struggled for a moment to hold onto my sword.
Somehow, I managed to keep a hold of my weapon and leapt around to the right of the lion I faught, stabbing my blade into its flank while uttering a prayer of courage. Thaddeus finally freed himself from the paralysis of the lion’s roar and stepped forward while Arianrhod leapt over the fallen lion and plunged her blades into the second creature. It staggered and Trellara brought her sword down like a dagger into its back, dropping it to the floor of the hallway.
The last lion had its back to the wall where the corridor apparently ended and it roared its defiance at us as we moved forward. This time, its roar did pain me and my limbs stiffened with fear of the creature but I pushed myself onward, lashing my sword across its face as I reached it. Arianrhod and Trellara stabbed at its flanks while behind us, Thaddeus urged us on but the lion still managed to bite my right leg sending more pain and numbing cold through my limbs. I staggered and swung my sword wildly, numbness and fear combining to make my blade lash over the creature’s back and into the wall. For the first time in battle I felt truly paralyzing fear and I called back to the others to make room for me to retreat. The lion roared again and froze my limbs meaning that I could not retreat and so I shouted out to Pholtus to bless my weapon and save me from the certain doom I was convinced I faced. The lion leapt at me and I stabbed my blade into its chest, the beast impaling itself there until I could lower the sword and kick it back off the sword. The lion leapt at me again and I managed to jump back as some measure of movement returned to my limbs. Holding my shield before me, I retreated and to my eternal shame, once I was clear of the lion, I turned and fled back down the corridor.
My companions found me back at our camp but I could not look at them, even when Trellara put a comforting arm around my shoulders. I walked away to the edge of the camp and knelt in the snow, praying to Pholtus for forgiveness of my cowardice. I stayed like that until the pale winter sun reached its highest point and then I returned to the camp to rest, ready for our next foray into the stone lion. In my absence, the company had decided that we will wait out the rest of the day and the night to come to ensure we are fully healed of our hurts when we return to the place. The pain of shame that I feel will likely take much longer to heal.
14 Readying 579
Again our camp was undisturbed during the night but as we started out back toward the stone lion, we saw two goblin wolf riders coming down from the northern trail. They made for the entrance without paying any heed to us and so we charged at them, Arianrhod rushing forward ahead of Thaddeus and I to attack the nearest wolf and rider. Trellara and Kiriel moved toward the entrance to our left and began loosing arrows and black lightning at the creatures while the rest of us followed Arianrhod into battle. All trace of the fear I had felt the day before had gone and I felt only the excitement I normally felt when I faught in Pholtus’s cause.
One of the wolves knocked Ferzth to the ground before I could reach the battle and the other snapped at him as he tried to scramble back beyond its reach. One of the goblins stabbed its sword into the gith’s belly and as the battle seemed to get desperate, I shouted a challenge to one of the goblins and charged at it and its mount. My blade sang out but the goblin parried to its left and right as I rained blows on it. I saw Ferzth fall again, knocked down by one of the wolves and as I turned to see how he fared, the goblin I faught shouted something and its mount leapt onto the fallen gith, its teeth tearing at his throat. The other goblin stabbed its blade into my companion’s chest and he fell back into the snow, unmoving.
The goblin I faught lashed out clumsily with its blade and I met the blow with my shield, holding it firm against the attack. I lashed my own blade around to my right and the goblin parried ably once again. Before I could react, the goblin twisted its blade in its hand and stabbed it over my shield and into my shoulder, forcing me back as pain lanced down my arm. My shield dropped as I reacted to the pain but with a roar I lashed my sword into the goblin’s side, almost toppling it from its mount. As it pulled itself upright, Thaddeus stabbed his sword into its hip, beneath its guard and it shouted what I assumed could only be a goblin curse. Its mount leapt forward, smashing two paws into my chest and seizing my sword arm in its jaws. I fell backward into the snow and just managed to raise my shield as the goblin stabbed down at me with its sword.
I scrambled back and got to my feet, lashing my blade wildly at the goblin to keep it at bay. An arrow drove into the wolf’s flank but neither beast nor rider paid it any heed, so fixated were they on laying me low. The wolf leapt again, knocking me to the ground as its teeth tore at my breastplate seeking the flesh beneath. I rolled away from the creature and the goblin’s blade that stabbed down at me before scrambling to my feet again. With a shouted prayer to Pholtus to grant me the strength to fight on, I drove my blade into the goblin’s belly, almost toppling it again from its mount. The creature’s chainmail saved its life and it clung onto its mount for a few moments until Ferzth lashed his blade into its chest and sent it tumbling to the snow.
Thaddeus shouted at us to finish the goblins and Ferzth and Arianrhod surged forward in response. The wolf knocked me down a third time seeking to finish me but as it leapt forward, I plunged my sword into its chest and it slumped down on top of me, dead. I pushed the creature off me in time to see the two goblins fleeing back toward the northern trail leaving trails of blood in the snow as they ran. Happy to let them go, I sat down in the snow next to the dead wolf and began tending to my own wounds.
Coooooooooooool read. But what is the Mythic Engine?! You lose me there. _________________ "Rise, O artist, from thy slumbers - hasten from thy couch unworthy;
Forge from gold the Moon for Northland - forge anew the Sun from silver..."
Essentially, it allows you very easily to emulate either a DM/GM, or as in this case a DM and PC decisions. You frame a yes/no question, roll dice, and the Mythic engine will give you an answer based on a probability you decide on. It's a bit (but only a bit) more complicated than that but since discovering it relatively recently, I have found it the best way of playing totally solitaire. I have had no time to join (or form) a group since I was a teenager so I have been writing like this for a number of years. You get random plot elements and the bizarre decisions that only players can throw at you meaning IMHO it's the closest thing to playing apart from actually...well, playing.
I am now (as of two weeks ago) also using Klooge Werks as a game table which I find superb.
A saddlebag on one of the wolves held an enchanted robe which Thaddeus took and a rolled scroll sealed with an ugly lump of red ink that seemed to be a message to someone called Ulwai Stormcaller. The rest of the message was simple but its implications were terrifying for it said that Terrelton, the next village along the road to Mittleberg from Drellin’s Ferry had fallen a week ago and that the horde hoped to reach Nomin’s Gap, the next nearer village today. If all went well, the message said, the horde would reach Mittleberg in about a week and a half. We had little time before the army of goblins and their allies fell upon Mittleberg and opened up the rest of battered Sterich to its predations. We resolved then to head for the city once we had explored the rest of the stone lion and so we set off up the stairs into the structure again.
The curving passage led to a dead end that concealed another hidden door and opened into a room that was empty of furnishings except for a low stone bench set against the western wall. Carvings of undead lions on that wall loomed over the bench, as if about to pounce on anyone foolish enough to sit there. A stone spiral staircase rose up near the northeast corner, and stone doors led out of the room to the north and east.
We turned to the door in the eastern wall and opened it to reveal a large chamber with simple sleeping mats of woven reeds, eight in all, lining the southern and eastern walls. The walls were hung with numerous strands of large scales strung on leather strips, with colours ranging from white to green to blue to black. Teeth and claws of ominous size hung from strips of leather overhead, creating a menacing false ceiling a little way above my head.
These adornments paled, though, before the figure crouched in the northwest corner of the room for here stood an intricate statue of a great five-headed dragon with a stinger-tipped tale. The statue was painted in glaring colour, the dragon’s heads and hues matching the colours of the scales on the walls. The statue reached nearly to the ceiling, its long necks arching up and then back down to loom over a point just in front of its raised claws. All this I took in in a few moments for no sooner had I stepped into the chamber than several hobgoblins began stirring from the reed beds.
I shouted a warning and Ferzth was the first to react, pushing past me into the room with his blade before him .I called to the githzerai to draw the goblins out of the cramped quarters of their chamber but then Trellara rushed into the chamber after Ferzth leaving me torn between my desire to protect the elf maid and my desire to fight them on a more even footing. My head overruled my heart this time and I retreated into the curved passageway to allow Ferzth to retreat, the gith ducking back into the main chamber a moment later. A blast of force followed, throwing Ferzth further back into the main chamber but of Trellara there was no sign.
With a shout, Arianrhod rushed past us all and into the room that Ferzth had just left and I saw her kneel for a moment just inside the door, presumably to tend to Trellara. I leapt into the doorway after the ranger as she rose and spun at the hobgoblins with her blades whirling around her. One of the hobgoblins reeled back, bleeding while the other retreated a step or two giving me a chance to kneel in the doorway and utter a healing prayer. Trellara looked up at me and smiled and I beckoned her to follow me as I leapt to my feet and retreated out of the room again. Once more, Trellara did not follow and the next I saw of her was when a blast of force knocked Arianrhod back into the doorway and the ranger retreated, dragging Trellara, again unconscious, from the room.
Arianrhod dragged Trellara over toward the bench and I rushed over, uttering a healing prayer as I reached her. Again her eyes opened and my heart sang as I turned away from her to face the doorway. I shouted out another prayer and from my sword burst ribbons of light that struck a wounded hobgoblin with a quarterstaff that was starting toward the door.
The light seared through the creature and with a scream, it collapsed to the floor of the chamber. Thaddeus shouted something unintelligible then and charged back into the chamber apparently seeing a chance for us to beat the goblins. Kiriel charged after my step father and a few moments later the two of them retreated back our of the chamber, drawing the goblins behind them. Thaddeus fell in the doorway as a hobgoblin plunged a scimitar into his belly and two more of the creatures leapt over him and surged into the outer chamber. They held us at bay and charged at Kiriel and Trellara, both now at the western side of the room. Panic gripped me for a moment as the goblins ran rampant but then Ferzth dragged Thaddeus out of the doorway and stepped in to block it with his own body and blade.
Ferzth’s stand lasted only until one of the stave wielding hobgoblins hurled a blast of force through the doorway that sent the githzerai reeling and threw me back into the western wall. Thaddeus slammed into the wall next to me and with horror, I saw blood begin to seep slowly from the back of his head as he slumped motionless against the stone. To my left I heard Trellara singing and with a roar, I rushed to aid the elf maid against the hobgoblins that had charged forth into the outer chamber.
Spinning around Arianrhod, I lashed out my blade into the side of one of the hobgoblins only for it to counter with the two scimitars it wielded. I met one with my shield and tried to parry the other but I only succeeded in knocking it downward into my hip, spinning me away from it as blood sprayed from the wound. Pain exploded from the wound but somehow I kept standing and managed to chant a healing prayer as I landed my next blow. Then, though, the two hobgoblins surged at me, their blades lashing left and right too fast for me to parry them all. I felt a scimitar cut the left side of my back and another lashed into the shoulder of my sword arm, forcing me to stagger back. Weakness and dizziness assailed me as blood flowed freely from the three wounds I had suffered.
Kiriel saved me then, plaguing one of the hobgoblins with terrible nightmares of biting creatures that forced it to stagger away from me. Arianrhod and Trellara set upon the other hobgoblin and cut it down with their blades before the ranger spun away from it toward the remaining hobgoblin that Kiriel still tormented. I turned toward our remaining enemies who had now emerged from the eastern chamber and found that a female hobgoblin wielding a jagged sword led them. The two scimitar-wielders though were badly wounded and began to seek retreat, one fleeing into the eastern chamber while the other dodged past Arianrhod to try to escape Kiriel’s spells. Flailing at unseen enemies, it lashed its own scimitar into its belly and fell against the bench, dying.
The female fled then, ducking back down the curved passageway that had led us here and the stave-wielding shaman that remained ran after her. With our blades ready, we made our way back to the doorway to the eastern room and as we stepped inside, the remaining hobgoblin threw down its scimitars and started begging for its life in its own tongue. I smiled despite my pain, pleased with our victory, but then Trellara called me back into the main chamber.
“It’s Thaddeus,” she called out. “He’s dead.”
Aalas, Arianrhod, Ferzth, Kiriel and Thaddeus (despite dying) reached level 5 after this encounter.
Very interesting! Thanks for the clarification. I might come to try this one some time. Seems like a good enough preparation for DMing larger modules, and one that is not at all as tedious as this can become some times. _________________ "Rise, O artist, from thy slumbers - hasten from thy couch unworthy;
Forge from gold the Moon for Northland - forge anew the Sun from silver..."
14 Readying 579
Thaddeus’s death hit us all hard and reawakened in me the pain of losing my sister. Quickly, we decided that we could not go on into the lair to seek the Ghostlord and so we left the place soon after, taking Thaddeus’s body with us and leaving behind the surviving hobgoblin. I have failed Forwen, I realised as we left, by entombing her in an old ruin when I should have sought a priest to raise her, even if it had meant selling my armour and sword to do it. We are thus heading for the Broken Tower which Trellara thinks lies to the west and north of us and there we will retrieve Forwen’s body before heading to Mittleberg, seeking salvation for both her and my step father.
Kiriel has wept for most of the day, feeling our failure and the losses we have suffered more than most. As we made camp this evening, she turned on me in anger, accusing me of abandoning my sister in a moldy old tomb. She is right of course, but her anger hurts me nonetheless and I fear that our fragile company is falling apart as loss and failure assail us.
15 Readying 579
We came to the Broken Tower late this afternoon and found the place empty and undisturbed. We disinterred my sister’s body and have made camp, ready for the long journey to Mittleberg in the morning. The company remains tense and anxious but we will take watches alone tonight to make sure we are not disturbed or attacked. Days ago, I had considered this place to be where I would build the shrine to Pholtus that Trellara and I plan to build but now that we are taking Forwen from here, it seems an empty ruin once more. Perhaps Mittleberg could benefit from another place to worship the Blinding Light beyond the large cathedral that I saw briefly when we passed through the city at the start of our journey.
19 Readying 579
We came to Mittleberg at dusk today and found it impossible to miss the fact that the city was at war, even though as yet there were no smoldering fires or war-torn battlefields. Soldiers toiled in what only a few weeks ago were idyllic orchards and productive farms, digging trenches, raising watchtowers, and securing wooden palisades. The city was almost completely surrounded by a twenty-foot high wall of stone with the only stretch not protected in this way the section along the river that marked the city’s northern boundary. Two bridges crossed the Davish and connected the city with the river’s far bank while the highest point of the city was a hill nestled in the southeastern quadrant. A large, well-built keep of stone surmounted the hill, its majestic towers rivaled by the presence of the nearby grand cathedral of Pholtus.
Despite the city’s size, we found the streets strangely silent and empty as we passed through the gates. Patrols of soldiers marched down some roads but there was little sign of the normal mercantile activity I would have expected. As we walked further into the city, we saw that many of the town’s buildings had been boarded over. War had indeed come to Mittleberg.
We headed for the cathedral, seeking to restore our companions to life but as we walked the deserted streets, a sense of unease crept over me. Suddenly, I heard a shout from behind us and into the street from an alley came a rough-looking man with lank black hair and a scar beneath his right eye. He held a mace and with a shout, he charged at Ferzth. The gith drew his sword and leapt back as the man swung at him and then Kiriel leapt away and hurled black lightning into our new enemy’s body. Another man rushed out of the alley into the street and charged Arianrhod but the ranger met him with her two swords drawn and held him back.
I drew my own sword just as another man rushed from an alley on the south side of the street leading west from the crossroads we had reached. The man charged and lashed out at me with the mace he carried but I raised my shield and knocked the blow aside. I plunged my sword into the man’s belly and he spun back from me with a gasp but as he did, I heard a shout from behind me.
“You killed my brother!” a voice called out and with a glance over my shoulder, I saw a halfling with a hand crossbow dashing across the eastern street leading from the crossroads. With a click, a bolt flew out toward Kiriel as the halfling entered the shadows in front of a building. I turned back to the wounded man in front of me as another halfling darted out of an alley and whipped a sling stone toward the rest of the group. Another man rushed from the alley and charged at me but I parried his mace with my blade and somehow held both foes at bay.
Arianrhod drove her swords into the side of the first man then and he reeled away, staggering off back up the street away from me. I lashed out at the other man and he leapt away from me but before I could pursue him, a rain of sling stones lashed into Arianrhod from the halfling further along the street. She reeled away, bloodied and badly wounded leaving me to face our remaining foes in the western street alone. Thankfully, the remaining man had had enough of the battle as well and turned tail to follow his companion leaving me to charge the halfling slinger. To my amazement, Arianrhod charged into battle beside me against this last foe, my sword lashing into the halfling’s side while the ranger lashed her blade into his opposite hip. The halfling staggered and from behind us, I heard the halfling that had first claimed we had killed his brother calling off the attack.
“Scatter, all of you,” came the cry. “We cannot win today!”
The halflings did as their master bade, the one before us turning tail and fleeing west down the street and the other fleeing north from the crossroads. Arianrhod dashed after the one heading north and as I turned around I saw her cut the halfling down with a cut across his back. The halfling leader lay in the middle of the street to the east apparently dead or mortally wounded leaving only one halfling in sight, fleeing down the western street. I started after the halfling but before I had taken two steps, an arrow flew past me and slammed into the back of the halfling’s head, pitching him forward onto the street in a shower of blood.
We hurried away from the crossroads without waiting for a guard patrol or trying to learn from the bodies of our enemies why they had attacked us. Trellara feared how the Lions of Mittleberg, as the soldiers of the town were called, would react to such a disturbance on their streets and so, despite the misgivings I felt, we left our attackers where they had fallen and quickly made our way north toward the cathedral.
As we drew nearer, I saw that the cathedral was a huge building with towers rising well over a hundred feet in height. Flying buttresses and ornately carved pillars supported the structure and made sure that it dominated the surrounding city. My only regret then was that I did not visit the place in happier times with Forwen when first we had passed this way.
Wide double doors stood open and led into a wide great hall supported by more of the ornate pillars. Four priests knelt before a traditional moon altar at the far end of the hall beneath a great dome but there were no other worshippers present. All were presumably hiding in their homes or aiding the soldiers beyond the walls as the city awaited the horde’s arrival. One priest rose as we entered and turned to regard us, apparently hearing our footsteps. She was a tall and stern looking woman with shoulder length grey hair who wore ornate plate armour and a curving silver headdress decorated with a ruby in the centre of her forehead. Emblazoned on her chest was the symbol of the great moon Luna eclipsed by the crescent of Celene much as I wore on my shield though mine was crudely painted and hers was resplendent in silver and gold.
“Welcome, Aalas, Son of Agnure,” she said at once. “Your arrival is expected and timely. Please, leave your fallen with Tika here and come with me. Lord Jarmaath would meet with you.”
The woman led us brusquely from the cathedral and around the hill toward the keep that crowned it and as she did, she introduced herself as Tredora Goldenbrow, High Gleaming of Brindol. She had an ethereal beauty tempered by a stern demeanor that made me immediately like and respect her as a leader of our church here. She led us around to the keep and was waved through its gates without a second glance. We headed for the great hall down a wide hallway, the low murmur of a dozen muted conversations falling silent as the great double doors at the southern end of the hall were opened for our passage by a pair of guards. The room beyond was a large chamber, the floors polished smooth and the walls set with many alcoves, each containing a trophy or work of art. The ceiling rose to a cavernous height of nearly forty feet, and deep-set narrow windows reached nearly to that height along the northern wall.
A long table dominated the middle of the room, its surface covered with books, maps, ledgers, parchments, sketches, drinks, and plates of half-eaten food. Around the table were gathered several men and women including Captain Soranna and Speaker Wiston from Drellin’s Ferry and Sellyria Starsinger of the Tiri Kitor. A tall man with neatly trimmed brown hair and an equally well-groomed beard and moustache smiled as we entered and rushed to greet us.
“Welcome, travelers!” he said, gripping my hand and arm firmly. “You are most welcome here in our hour of greatest need. I am Lord Jarmaath of Mittleberg.”
Lord Jarmaath then introduced the others around the table who we did not know, naming them as Lady Verrasa Kaal, a quiet woman who led a wealthy merchant family; and Captain Lars Ulverth, a man girded for war who commanded the Lion Guard of Mittleberg. Lady Sellyria had brought Tiri Kitor warriors to Mittleberg when she had learned from scouts that we had driven the dragon from the Ruins of Rhest. The introductions over, Lord Jarmaath bade us tell the council what we had learned of the horde and the enemies we had faced so far.
Together, Arianrhod, Trellara and I told our tale with occasional disinterested additions from Ferzth and Kiriel. The elf maid truly shone and I saw why she had chosen to become a bard amongst her people for she wove the tale of our battles at the ruins and in the stone lion into heroic stories that would not have been out of place in the legends of old. Even our retreat from the stone lion after Thaddeus had fallen sounded like a tragic withdrawal that had been forced upon us rather than the ignominious retreat I viewed it as. Throughout, the council listened keenly with Lady Verrasa Kaal asking occasional questions and Tredora Goldenbrow asking more about the parts I played in our journey. When all was done, Lord Jarmaath bade us join what he called the Defence Council of Mittleberg to decide how the city could be saved from the horde.
As we talked, it became clear that the Council had debated for several days, considering plans for the defence of the city and come to conclusion. Lord Jarmaath wanted to meet the horde in the fields outside the city walls in the hope of slowing down its advance and keeping damage to the city itself to a minimum. Captain Ulverth, meanwhile, argued that this tactic would cost too many lives given the horde’s superior numbers and that meeting them on equal ground would be foolish. Instead, he wanted to use the city’s walls and buildings as fortifications to even the odds.
“Let the horde exhaust itself battering down walls and houses,” he said to the Council, presumably not for the first time. “While we focus on defending rather than fighting at a disadvantage in the field.”
Lady Kaal, Tredora and Sellyria Starsinger seemed undecided and looked to us for guidance. Though I felt unready for it, it seemed that in Mittleberg, our exploits against the horde were well known and our aid was sought in order to stop this great army. I knew not what help we could offer but first we had to decide how to defend the city and so we offered what counsel we could.
Tredora seemed unwilling to commit to any plan, preferring instead to retreat from the city and she would not be moved even when Kiriel spoke in favour of a battle in the field. Ferzth sided with the warlock and tried to sway Sellyria Starsinger to no avail and only when Arianrhod and Trellara spoke up in favour of defending the walls, was the council resolved. Though I preferred a battle in the field to keep the horde from the city, Lady Kaal and Lord Jarmaath were persuaded by the elf maid and the ranger and the decision was made. Our discussion was then about to move on to the detail of our defence plans when Sellyria Starsinger raised something none had dared consider.
“What do we do if the walls are breached?” she said grimly.
We decided quickly to build numerous barricades along major streets, block off alleys and to station small groups of soldiers inside buildings as snipers. Guerilla tactics would be the order of the day with the Cathedral Square serving as a central marshalling point. What could not be decided was how to use the precious few clerics that remained in the city. Lord Jarmaath looked pointedly at Tredora Goldenbrow as he argued for the clerics to retreat to the cathedral but I spoke up then, arguing that they should be spread throughout the city to aid the soldiers with healing prayers. Tredora looked at me pointedly and I thought for a moment that I saw tears in her eyes as Lord Jarmaath nodded slowly.
“You are right, young Aalas,” the Lord of Mittleberg said. “We cannot selfishly keep the clerics back. They must tend to the wounded.”
Our decisions made, we moved on to discuss how we could aid the defenders when the battle finally came. The Defence Council viewed us as some of its strongest allies, and while I thought that they flattered us, I wanted us to play as great a part as we could in fighting against the horde. Lord Jarmaath saw us as skirmishers, moving wherever we were needed to tackle the foes that other soldiers dared not and I was content with that. He also told us that he would ask Immerstal the Red, wizard of Mittleberg to bond my mind to his and to Lord Jarmaath and another council member so that we could always speak with each other. I liked this idea and said yes at once but then the council fell to arguing over who the second council member should be. Lord Jarmaath favoured Tredora and again a look passed between them as though they shared more than friendship. Captain Ulverth and Lady Kaal spoke up vocally that it should be them but Ferzth opposed the Lion Guard captain at once saying he would need to focus on leading his men. The Captain balked and both glared at each other fiercely across the table. Again, Trellara broke the deadlock, persuading the Council that whatever his other duties, Captain Ulverth needed to be a part of the mind bond.
“The hour grows late,” said Lord Jarmaath finally and to my amazement, I saw from the windows that we had passed almost the whole day in the great hall.
“You are welcome to stay in the keep,” the Lord continued. “All the inns in the city are closed.”
I nodded our agreement but then Lady Kaal led Ferzth away from the table and when they returned, the githzerai told us that he would take a room in her household. Suddenly too tired to argue I nodded and asked to be shown to my chamber. As an afterthought, I passed Tredora a pouch of gold and asked her to send Thaddeus and Forwen to the keep when they had been returned to life. Kiriel glared at me, mistaking exhaustion for insensitivity but did not argue and together, the five of us sought our chambers above the gatehouse of the keep. My room proved to be a small one but it is comfortable and after several days sleeping in the wilds, the bed looks warm and welcoming. Tomorrow, my sister will be returned to me but I wonder for how long for the horde will be here in days and I cannot see how we can win.
20 Readying 579
Forwen and Thaddeus were already in the great hall when I came down for breakfast this morning and as I saw my sister, I ran to her and embraced her as if we had been parted for years.
“You saved me,” she beamed. “You saved me from death!”
“We all did,” I answered, unwilling to tell her how we had left her behind at the tower with little but hope and prayers to guard her from anything that might come upon the place.
I embraced Thaddeus and he too thanked me for returning him to life as the rest of our company gathered to eat. It was a joyous meal despite the shadow that hung over the keep and the wider city and we decided then that we needed to provision ourselves for what lay ahead by visiting Immerstal the Red the wizard that Lord Jarmaath had mentioned. Surely a wizard such as he would be willing to sell us magics and potions to aid us in the battles that lay ahead.
Forwen followed me to my room as I gathered up my belongings and donned my armour, apparently unwilling to leave my side. She asked me about Trellara and all that had happened since the battle at the Broken Tower where she had fallen. I answered as best I could but avoided talking of the decision I had taken to entomb her at the tower. I would never tell her that and I hoped that the others would keep silent as well.
When we emerged from the keep, Ferzth was waiting for us on the street that ran around the building for the Kaal Manor lay just across from the keep. The gith had acquired a rough-looking dog that loped along beside him as we started back down the hill, trudging through fresh snow that had fallen during the night and was still coming down in large flakes. I asked Ferzth where he had got the dog and he told me that Lady Kaal had gifted the creature to him.
“I like animals,” he answered. “They are often more dependable than people.”
He turned away from me and as he did I thought I saw a mouse peak out from his hood before disappearing once again. As we walked I wondered about the mystery that was the githzerai and how I could learn more about him. At least, I mused, I had learned that he liked animals, but beyond that, I knew little else. We circled around behind the Kaal manse, directed by Lord Jarmaath’s guards and then descended the hill, turning west at a crossroads marked by an inn called the Laughing Manticore toward the Mittleberg Market next to which, we had been told, stood Immerstal’s home and shop.
Only a handful of stalls dotted the market square as we emerged onto it and immediately, we heard the sound of panicked shouting from the riverbank. I looked to my right and saw black and green scaled creatures swarming onto the bridges and the nearby riverbank while a detachment of the Lion Guard tried to hold them off. On the bridges, the fighting was already fierce and at the southern end of the far bridge, the enemies were being held but at the nearest, eastern bridge, the creatures had broken through. Stepping over the bodies of fallen soldiers came a warband of lizardfolk much as we had faught at the lake in the Blackfens. The stall keepers in the market shouted in panic, desperately trying to summon aid that seemed not to be coming, before turning to us and shouting for us to stop the attackers.
Kiriel reacted first, rushing out into the square and hurling black lightning toward the lizardfolk. One of the creatures shouted something incoherent and charged the warlock, smashing a club into her side and spinning her back toward us before we could go to her aid. Thaddeus rushed forward then and dragged Kiriel free while stabbing his sword into the body of the huge black lizard man that had led the attack. The creature reeled away but four more were coming behind it led by a shaman that chanted and capered as it came.
Suddenly, a cloud of noxious gas burst from the ground next to me and I leapt to my left as Ferzth, Trellara and Arianrhod began to cough and choke. Hoping my companions would recover and quickly, I charged into battle beside Thaddeus, driving my blade under my shield and into the belly of the huge blackscale. Two more of the brutes joined the battle, swinging their clubs at me from the left and right but I met each blow with my shield or my blade, escaping harm, at least for a time.
Kiriel and Forwen circled around behind the blackscales and loosed bolts of light and black lightning into them while Thaddeus stabbed at the creature in front of me whenever he could. Finally, the creature staggered forward as another bolt hurled by Forwen struck it and I plunged my blade into its chest. It staggered back, sliding off my bloody steel and was then blasted in the back with black lightning that pitched it forward to die at my feet.
Thaddeus and I turned on the next blackscale in a fury while Arianrhod, Ferzth and Trellara held the others at bay to my right but the blackscales had almost at once lost their will for the fight. The blackscale before me broke and ran even as I lashed my blade across its back and I charged after it with Thaddeus and Arianrhod beside me. The shaman leapt into the river with one of its warriors and the others followed as we drove them headlong. Elsewhere on the bridges and the river bank, the lizard folk retreated as well but their raid on the city had been costly with eleven of the Lion Guard slain. We did what we could for the wounded and then turned back toward the tall building on the edge of the market square that was the home of Immerstal the Red.
The tall, thin building that served as the home of the wizard stood out as one of the few completely stone structures in the lower parts of Mittleberg. A door off the market square opened into a cluttered but well-stocked shop filled with all sorts of weapons, amulets, vials and other items, all doubtless bearing some enchantment. Behind the counter stood an attractive woman with white-blonde hair who smiled as we entered.
“I have been expecting you,” she said. “Please look around and ask me about anything you see. I am Alandri and Immerstal and I bid you welcome here.”
I sought only healing potions in the shop and quickly bought half a dozen with most of my remaining gold but the others sought out more powerful items. Kiriel, Thaddeus and Ferzth all bought amulets while Trellara found an enchanted bow that Alandri told her would loose arrows on trails of lightning. Arianrhod, meanwhile, bought a belt that would grant her more hardiness in battle and with that, our visit to the tower was finished. Forwen had no gold remaining to buy anything, having given all that she had to the cathedral so we were ready to leave. Before we did, though, Trellara asked Alandri whether there had been any news of random attacks within the city.
“The horde has driven all before it including the best and worst of the vale folk,” Alandri answered. “I hear that some wanted bandits from Hammerfast were found dead yesterday where Scholar Street meets the South Road. Of course, though, you would know nothing of that.”
The last was said with a knowing raising of her eyebrow and I realised at once that Alandri knew that we were responsible for the deaths at the crossroads but the news that they were bandits from Hammerfast comforted me. It explained why the halfling had accused us of killing his brother and why they had singled us out to attack. The only questions that remained now were where the bandits now laired and whether Alandri would report our actions to Lord Jarmaath.
“And will you speak of this to others?” I asked.
“Tredora Goldenbrow already knows,” Alandri answered. “I suspect that she had expected to hear of this battle from you, Knight of the Church Militant.”
Guilt struck me then like a blow as I realised how badly I had let down my church and my order. Somehow, I managed to smile and take a deep breath before turning and leaving the shop with calm but purposeful strides. I told the others I would be going to the cathedral and Forwen immediately offered to come with me. The others paused for a moment and then one by one said that they would come with me as well.
“If you face censure then we stand with you,” said Thaddeus. “We defended ourselves, nothing more.”
We started back up the hill toward the cathedral by a different route that took us past a boarded up building marked as Velorian’s, apparently a playhouse, on the roof of which had now been posted soldiers serving as lookouts. They peered northward through the snow across the bridges and the Davish River.
“The weather is clearing,” one shouted down to us. “The enemy will be upon us soon.”
We hurried on, anxious to get out of the cold despite the confrontation that likely awaited us at the cathedral. When we finally reached the grand building we fount its great double doors closed and barred against all entry with Tredora nowhere to be seen. Seeing no one around, we decided to return to the keep, postponing the judgment of the High Gleaming to another day. We bid farewell to Ferzth at the gates of the keep as he headed back to Kaal Manor, his dog loping along behind him, the creature having lurked around the edge of our battle with the lizardfolk without getting involved. I retired to my chamber once we were inside the keep to ponder the judgment that Tredora Goldenbrow might visit upon me. Beyond that, we await the arrival of the horde and the battle that will follow.
23 Readying 579
We met with Immerstal the Red in the keep this afternoon, the old mage saying little as he cast the ritual that would bind us to Lord Jarmaath and Captain Ulverth to us and the mage himself. I linked hands with the Captain and the Lord who both linked hands with Immerstal while the mage chanted, joining our minds with a psychic bond that I felt immediately. When it was done, the mage explained that now, no matter where we each were, we could speak mind to mind. We set out for the South Gate then where Lord Jarmaath wished us to go and there we were met by four of the Lion Guard and four Tiri Kitor archers who would fall under our command.
The gatehouse was thronged with soldiers and we joined them atop the battlements as the sun began to set and across a ridge to the south west, a dark line appeared. The braying of horns and the rhythmic thumping of thousands of booted feet filled the air as the line resolved itself into a horde thousands strong that marched ever closer to the city while overhead, winged beasts, including dragons, circled. All thoughts of seeing Tredora Goldenbrow vanished from my mind as I saw the great army approach and nervously, I looked back at the meagre barricades that blocked the streets up to the keep and the cathedral. Surely, they could not be strong enough.
Alongside us, soldiers young and old beheld the horde with obvious fear, many casting their eyes upward to the dragons and other fell beasts that circled above the horde. Many of the Lion Guard were veterans who had faught the giants that had assailed Sterich the year before but many more were new recruits facing their first taste of battle. I placed a steadying hand on the shoulder of a young boy next to me who was all but quaking in his ill-fitting armour.
“Even dragons fall to a good sword thrust or a well aimed arrow,” I said to the young soldier with an assurance I did not feel.
We watched as the horde drew itself out across the fields in front of the city torching farmhouses wherever they stood in its way. From somewhere along the wall, an archer loosed an arrow and drew a rebuke from his officer about wasting ammunition as the missile fell well short of the gathered mass. The setting sun stained the spears and banners of the horde crimson, accentuating the bloody red hand that flew from every standard pole. I looked along the short row of troops under our command and noted the steely determination on the face of the elves while the four Lion Guard, veterans all, showed fierce but controlled anger. They would fight well, I decided. They would have to.
23 Readying 579
It was two hours after sunset when the assault finally began with great boulders raining down on the walls hurled by trolls and ogres amongst the goblin ranks. Before long, it became obvious that the hurled rocks were not intended to kill the soldiers atop the walls though some did fall but rather they were intended to destroy the walls themselves. Soon after the attack began, Lord Jarmaath’s voice sounded in my mind telling me that two groups of trolls were bombarding different sections of the wall. The Lord had already ordered a sortie to sally forth and deal with one group but he could spare no more men to attack the other group. Rather, we were to go forth on out own and destroy the trolls.
“Torch the bodies as they fall,” his voice said. “Trolls can only be permanently slain by fire.”
The trolls were apparently gathered around a cluster of now-ruined farm buildings perhaps a hundred feet from the walls and in the dark, they had avoided the fire of archers on the walls. I spotted the trolls from the walls quickly, their huge forms lit by the fire from the ruined farm buildings in which they laired. The chunks of stone they threw seemingly came from the buildings themselves, the wreckage of someone’s home turned to a deadly purpose.
We decided to leave our elven archers on the walls and tasked the Lion Guards with setting fire to the trolls as we felled them. Finally, when all was ready, we drew our weapons and made our way down to the gates where a postern gate was opened for us to let us out into the cold night. As we made our way out onto the road, I heard one of the guards snarl at Forwen.
“Why aren’t you back at the cathedral with the rest of the precious Blinding Lights?” the guard growled.
Forwen glared at the man but said nothing while I turned a fierce stare of my own on the soldier but then I realised that I had seen no clerics on the walls or at the barricades as we had agreed there would be. The High Gleaming had not kept to the agreement the council had reached and now, the Lions of Mittleberg faced the horde with no clerics to aid them. Forwen hurried forward to walk beside me, apparently upset by what the guard had said.
“What does he mean?” she asked me.
“Our order has let the city down,” I answered.
The trolls saw us as soon as we had left the gate and threw down the rocks they held ready to meet us but they would not leave the cover of the trees and the ruined farm buildings. Arianrhod led the guards out to our right while Kiriel and Trellara moved ahead of the rest of us and began loosing arrows and black lightning at the creatures. I saw an arrow strike home in one of the trolls and heard it bellow in pain while another of the creatures moved to meet Arianrhod and the Lion Guards. With a yell, Thaddeus led our charge with Ferzth and I following toward the farm buildings. Another of the trolls rushed forward to meet our charge and as it did, it emerged from the cover of the buildings to where the archers on the wall could fire at it. An arrow and then a second truck home in its body before it reached us but still it lashed a backhand blow into Thaddeus’s face and sent him reeling.
A second troll rushed at me from the right, flailing a claw at me but I ducked under the blow, raising my shield above my head as I did. I heard Thaddeus shouting that Forwen needed aid and then Ferzth shouting back that he would help her. I parried another flailing claw with my shield and then stabbed my sword underneath toward the troll but I struck nothing but air. The troll lashed out at me again, smashing its clawed hand into my side and spinning me away from it. Somehow, I kept my shield up and black lightning hurled by Kiriel kept the lumbering creature from following up and finishing me off.
Thaddeus ducked towards me then as I raised my shield to fend off another attack and as I deflected the ringing blow, he stabbed his sword into the troll’s side, drawing its attention toward him. Fire hurled by Kiriel behind me seared into the creature’s chest and it staggered, howling at the pain that the hated flame was causing it. I leapt forward and stabbed my sword into the troll’s belly and thought to finish the creature but then the other troll we faught lumbered in from my left and backhanded Thaddeus again, hurling him back along the road to the gate. In the moment that I hesitated, the wounded troll before me recovered, lashing one of its claws into the side of my head and spinning me back and away towards Thaddeus.
White light burst across my vision and a ringing sounded through my helmet but dimly I heard my step father shouting that we had a chance to bring the troll down. I turned back to face our enemies just as Thaddeus charged at the trolls, holding one at bay with his shield and plunging his sword into the body of the other, just below its breastbone. The wounded troll gasped, took a step back and then keeled over on the ground, apparently dead.
I looked around to see where the Lion Guards were and found them gathered around the troll that had rushed forth to meet them. The brute was reeling and bleeding from numerous wounds but for some reason, I could not see Arianrhod. As I looked, Kiriel hurled black lightning into the creature the guards had surrounded and it toppled over onto the ground to reveal Arianrhod who had fallen already just beyond it.
I called to Trellara to aid the ranger and then called the guards to fire their fallen troll and then come to burn the one that Thaddeus had slain. Praying that the guards would reach the fallen troll close to me in time, I turned toward the remaining troll and rushed at it, lashing my blade into its side before it had chance to react. It smashed Thaddeus back again and I stabbed at it once more but it showed no signs of weakening. Instead, it merely roared its defiance and turned toward me. I heard one of the guards shout out as it hurled a pitch-soaked brand atop the fallen troll next to me.
“For Arianrhod!” the man cried out and then the corpse caught fire and lit the night brightly.
The remaining troll that faught Thaddeus and I leapt backward as I charged at it again, twisting away from my flailing sword. The Lion Guards joined the battle in a rush then, surrounding the troll as behind us, I heard Trellara singing one of her enchanted ballads of healing. The troll roared at me and lashed out with one of its claws but I ducked under the clumsy blow as halberds stabbed into the creature from behind. It staggered as Arianrhod reached the battle and stabbed her blades into the small of its back before falling as a halberd speared it in the side. Another Lion Guard rushed up to it and plunged his halberd down into the creature’s chest until finally, it lay still.
Another of the Lion Guards set fire to the body immediately and the rest of us turned to attack the last of the trolls. Ferzth had faught it since the start of the battle and was wounded but still battling fiercely while Forwen had retreated to hurl divine spells at the creature from range. We surrounded it quickly and while it faught on for perhaps half a minute, it fell in the end, brought to its knees by one of Trellara’s arrows and then pierced through the chest by a halberd of the Lion Guard.
We set fire to the last troll and then retreated toward the gate but as we reached the walls, I realised that Kiriel was not with us. I ushered the others through the postern gate and waited, searching the burning battlefield for the warlock. Finally, she emerged from the smoky darkness carrying a black rod that was not her own.
“Found it in a bag by one of the trolls,” she announced proudly as she stepped past me through the postern gate.
I smiled to myself and followed her into the city, happy that we had all survived our first foray against the horde. The soldier who had dedicated his troll burning to Arianrhod doted on the ranger once we got back to the city despite her insistence that she was married to Furnok the Treasure Finder, noted adventurer who had defeated the Black Bubble of Istivin. He was called Salenn and would take no refusal, however bluntly it was delivered.
Soon after our return we were jolted back to the reality of the war by word from Lord Jarmaath that announced in my mind that the other group sent forth into the night had failed to stop the trolls it had faced. The wall had been breached at the western gate and the Lion Guard was now mustering its strength there to hold off the horde. Some of the soldiers around the southern gate were ordered away to the west by Captain Ulverth but we decided to remain, knowing that more attacks could come. We tended our wounds quickly and made ready for whatever came next. We did not have long to wait.
Suddenly, there was an explosion of brilliant fire at the South Gate as a building burst suddenly into flame. Over the wall swept a red dragon in all its fury, one of the wyrms that we had seen circling over the horde as the sun had set. Its scales were crimson and a row of spines protruded along its neck and back while two horns swept back from its head. One of the soldiers that had faught with us against the trolls rushed into the street behind the gate and lashed at the low-flying wyrm with his halberd only to be swept aside by one of the great creature’s claws. The Tiri Kitor archers fired arrows from the gatehouse towers but their shafts only bounced off the wyrm’s scales and I wondered for a moment whether we could even hurt the creature. Then, just as I considered calling for a retreat, another of the Lion Guards rushed forward and drove his halberd into the dragon’s flank, piercing its scales and drawing blood. The wyrm swept around, turning on the hapless soldier and together, we all charged to his aid.
I rushed across the dragon’s flight path just as the Lion Guard that had struck it once drove its halberd into its body again and brought it to the ground. The wyrm rolled onto its feet and roared its anger at our impudence for daring to challenge it. It breathed then and though I held my shield before me, flames seared my arms and shoulders, heating my armour and burning the skin beneath. Still Thaddeus called me forward and I did as he bade me, charging at the wyrm while it still stood on the ground. I lashed out with my sword as we all moved to surround the dragon but the blade bounced off its scales as though it struck solid stone. Arrows from the gatehouse glanced off the creature’s thick hide and the creature twisted on the spot to lash its tail into my chest and send me flying back across the cobbles. I tried to get up but a claw swept down and drove into my belly while another swept across and sent me flying back across the street again. My head hit the ground, I saw blinding light and then there was only blackness.
I woke a little later with my sister’s voice in my ears shouting the Litany of Healing to Pholtus from where she stood some way away from me. I heard the dragon roar and the dragonfear gripped me, freezing me where I lay on the ground. I looked around and saw my companions and the Lion Guards similarly shaken as they staggered back and away from the wyrm. It lashed out once and then a second time at Ferzth, sending the githzerai spinning away across the cobbles of the street.
Thaddeus rushed after the gith, urging him to get back into the battle and Ferzth responded, charging at the dragon while shouting something in his own tongue. His sword struck the wyrm with a crack that sounded like a peal of thunder the dragon was thrown back in turn to land on the grass beside the street. I got to my feet with a roar and charged the dragon myself, plunging my blade into its chest with a prayer on my lips. I felt healing energy flow through me as the blow struck home and then I heard Forwen chanting the Litany of Healing again to restore my strength.
We all surged forward then, refusing to allow the dragon to take flight again, though it beat its wings furiously as we closed in. It swept over the gatehouse, ignoring the arrows of the snow elf archers who fired at it from the gatehouse. Two arrows found their mark but still the wyrm stayed in flight and swept south over the fields to the safety of the horde’s encampment.
Fire took hold around the gatehouse and as we went to the aid of the soldiers in putting out the flames, a man I had not seen before started shouting orders to us and to the Lion Guards. He directed us skillfully with Kiriel and Forwen leading the first parties of soldiers in relays of buckets to put out the fires closest to the gatehouse. From beyond the walls, a great windstorm arose that could only have been summoned by magic and it fanned the flames, driving back Thaddeus and Arianrhod from the buildings they sought to extinguish. The flames leapt from building to building until eventually it looked as though we would be surrounded by fire. The man who had arrived to direct the fire fighting shouted for us to fall back and Lord Jarmaath’s voice sounded in my mind at the same time.
“Retreat to the barricades,” he said with obvious tension in his mind voice. “The enemy has breached the walls.”
The retreat sounded across the city and we fled headlong toward the Dawn Way west of the marketplace where the defenders were desperately trying to hold back the encroaching horde. We found the barricade on the Dawn Way as the braying of goblin war horns announced the beginning of the next assault. It was manned by ten militiamen under the command of a single Lion Guard and all seemed frightened and nervous. As I started toward them, the man who had aided us fighting the fires at the gate put a hand on my shoulder.
“I am Frush O’Suggill and I am needed elsewhere,” said the bearded, grey haired man. “Good luck, Aalas and please, seek me out once the battle is won. I travelled with your mother.”
Stunned, I thought of going after him but then stopped myself, knowing that my duty lay there, on the Dawn Way. Questions swam through my head in a stream of thought. When had he travelled with my mother? How had he come to be here? When had he last seen his companions? Quickly I banished such thoughts and rushed forward to the barricade. As we reached the barricade, we saw a column of hobgoblins round a corner beyond the crossroads in front of the barricade and with a yell, they charged forward. The Lion Guard at the barricade shouted for the militia to hold and they did, even as two griffon-like flying creatures swept over the top of the charging hobgoblins, each bearing another goblin holding a huge spear. Ferzth named the mounts hippogriffs and from the barding they wore, I assumed that they had been bred for war.
The guards and archers that had faught with us at the gate, charged forward at a wave from my sword and we ran with them but before we could reach the barricade, one of the hippogriffs landed atop it with a screech. The hobgoblin on its back stabbed out with its spear, driving the point through the body of one of the militiamen while its mount tore the head off another with a swipe of its beak. The other militiamen wavered while Trellara and the snow elves loosed arrows over the barricade at the second mounted hobgoblin. The other hobgoblins swarmed toward the barricade shouting battle cries as they came and one of the militiamen broke and ran back toward us down the street. I rushed forward to take the man’s place at the barricade and tried to clamber atop it only to find that the ramshackle structure of barrels, crates and furniture allowed me no foothold.
Then the whole structure creaked as the second hippogriff landed atop it and a spear drove into my shoulder, forcing me back and away. I raised my shield but the hippogriff seized it and the arm behind it, tearing at my flesh while apparently trying to strip the shield from me. Panic gripped the militiamen behind the barricade and then suddenly, the Lion Guard who commanded the group began calling for a retreat.
“We cannot hold here,” he shouted. “Flee while you can! The city is lost.”
The militiamen broke as a group then but I ignored their cowardice, instead focusing on keeping the spear-wielding hobgoblin and his mount at bay. I stepped back toward the barricade with my shield before me and as I did, Arianrhod pushed her way through the fleeing militiamen and drove one of her swords into the hobgoblin’s side. It recoiled but by then the rest of the hobgoblins had started to clamber on top of the barricade and I ducked as one swung a blade at my head. An arrow drove into the chest of the hobgoblin that had swung at me and it fell backwards off the barricade amongst its companions.
Another hobgoblin took the place of the fallen one as Trellara appeared to the right of me and met it blade to blade. It stabbed its blade into her shoulder and she fell back as another leapt atop the barricade in front of me. This goblin roared at me and before I could raise my blade to parry, it lashed its own sword into my right arm just below my shoulder. I cried out as the plate of my armour drive down onto my flesh but channeled the pain into anger, my cry becoming a guttural shout of rage. I leapt forward and plunged my blade into the belly of the mounted hobgoblin, toppling him from the hippogriff in a shower of blood.
Arianrhod leapt forward and lashed her blade into the flank of the hobgoblin’s mount while the hippogriff snapped at me with its beak. I ducked back and raised my shield as the hobgoblin atop the barricade in front of me lashed his blade at me. The sword struck my shield, jarring my arm but the steel held firm and I slashed my sword at the hippogriff’s head in response. The creature jerked its head back beyond my reach and my blade slashed only through air but along the barricade, the hobgoblins had been cut down with only two now atop the structure. Heartened by the sight, I ducked again as the hippogriff snapped at me and then parried another sword blow on my shield before stabbing my sword into the creature’s flank. It screeched in pain and before it could recover, Arianrhod plunged both of her swords into its breast.
The beast screeched again and plunged its beak down at me but I raised my shield and held it at bay. A blade lashed into my sword arm again as I ducked back but as I reeled away, an arrow drove into the throat of the hippogriff and it collapsed atop the barricade. I heard Thaddeus roar as he clambered atop the barricade and charged along it to face the remaining hobgoblin. The creature snarled and lashed its shield out to parry my step father’s sword but as it did, I lunged with my sword, driving the blade into its side. The hobgoblin turned and hissed at me before tumbling off the barricade, dead.
We barely had time to tend to our wounds and reform our line before the next assault came. A group of bugbears appeared out of the darkness and with a roar, they charged at us. Arianrhod leapt atop the barricade and with typical bravery taunted the creatures to come at us. They needed no urging and came on in a rush but a furious bravery filled us as they came. One of the archers clambered up beside Arianrhod and loosed an arrow into the lead bugbear and though the creature barely broke stride, Forwen, Ferzth and Thaddeus followed the others onto the barricade.
As the neat three lines we had formed behind the barricade disintegrated, Ferzth leapt down on the other side and charged the nearest bugbear, slashing his blade into its belly. Kiriel appeared in a shower of light on the far side of the barricade close to Ferzth and hurled black lightning into the creature the githzerai faught while the rest of the bugbears surged forward threatening to overwhelm my two companions.
Arianrhod leapt down to join them then and Thaddeus followed while to the right, I saw Kiriel fall to a blow from a morning star. I started to clamber up the barricade and as I did, I saw the fearless elf warlock hurl a storm of lightning and fire from her fingers that engulfed the bugbears in front of her and kept them at bay for a few moments. Again, I struggled to climb the barricade and thankfully one of the Lion Guards saw my frantic efforts and gestured for me to go to the right hand end of the barricade. There I found a gap between the structure and the boarded up building next to it that was wide enough for me to squeeze through.
I rushed out with sword and shield before me and saw that Kiriel now lay unmoving, surrounded by bugbears. I dragged her clear and uttered a healing prayer before taking her place in the battle line. With a prayer to Pholtus to give me strength, I stabbed my blade into the chest of the nearest creature and then spun as the others moved to surround me, their morning stars raised to strike me down.
A morning star struck my helmet and knocked me to the ground before I even had a chance to parry and another lashed down its weapon toward me as I fell. I parried that blow with my blade and Thaddeus stabbed the first bugbear in the belly, dropping it to the bloodstained cobbles of the road. I lashed out at another of the bugbears while scrabbling back across the ground but it leapt back and evaded my blade while another smashed its morning star down on my chest, driving the breath from my body. I heard Forwen praying from where she stood on the barricade and then a blast of flame flew over me and struck one of the bugbears in the chest. I lashed my blade into the leg of the same creature while still struggling to rise and as it lashed out at me in response, I raised my shield and parried the heavy morningstar. The bugbear roared but the sound turned into a gurgle as an arrow drove into its throat and pitched it over backwards onto the ground.
Another bugbear fell a moment later, blasted backwards by Kiriel’s black lightning before falling to the cobbles of the street. Still I heard ringing in my ears from the blow that had struck my helm and as I tried to get up I fell back to the ground. One of the bugbears leapt forward, thinking to finish me but with a cry to Pholtus, I plunged my sword into its belly forcing it back and away from me. I stabbed my blade into its leg as it retreated and finally found my balance returned. I pushed myself to my feet just as an arrow drove into the chest of the bugbear and pitched it over to lie beside its companion.
I got unsteadily to my feet and turned to survey the rest of the battle just as Thaddeus drove his sword into the chest of a bugbear and felled it. Ferzth twisted on the spot and cut down another of the creatures leaving just one enemy standing but this creature roared its defiance, refusing to retreat or surrender. The bugbear lashed out with its morningstar, swinging it in a wide arc into the githzerai’s chest to send him spinning back and away from it. Kiriel conjured black tentacles from the creature’s body that wound around it, constricting its breathing and its movements but still it faught on. I charged at it but as I reached it, the bugbear swept its morningstar across and swatted my sword aside.
Thaddeus urged me on as we surrounded the last bugbear but still it lashed out, smashing Arianrhod back and away from it. Finally, it sank to its knees as Kiriel hurled black lightning into its back and with a sweep of my sword, I beheaded it.
We retreated back behind the barricade and waited for the next assault but no more enemies came and Lord Jarmaath’s voice announced in my mind that the assault had abated for now. We have decided to get some rest while we can with the archers and the Lion Guards manning the barricade while we wait for whatever comes next. I pray for the dawn to come and with it a great army to drive the horde away but it is a forlorn hope. They will be defeated here or they will run rampant over all of Sterich. We cannot fail.
24 Readying 579
The next attack came some time after midnight in the darkest part of the night and this time, we saw the horde spreading out around the crossroads toward the other barricades throughout the city. Horns brayed and drums thundered as they came forward and toward us came five goblins mounted on huge blue-scaled lizards with lightning crackling between their jaws. Thaddeus and I had taken the two of the Lion Guards each and rested in buildings off the street in front of the barricade and on top of the structure, the Tiri Kitor archers had build firing nests from which they could attack any new enemies that came our way. Kiriel and Forwen waited atop the barricade with the archers while Trellara and Ferzth stood in front of the obstacle ready to meet attackers blade to blade.
Trellara loosed an arrow into one of the goblins as soon as the lizard riders started toward us and then they charged the barricade, surging past the building where I waited. The two guards would not wait any longer though and charged out to attack the lead lizard riders from the rear. They drew some blood with their halberds but before I could join the battle, another lizard rider charged into them from further down the street, cutting off their escape. Lightning flashed and one of the men was knocked to the ground by the surging mass of blue-scaled flesh. I charged out of the building after the Lion Guards and lashed my sword at the lizard’s hind quarters only for the blow to ring off the spines of its thick tail. Her lizard rider charged in from behind me, the beast driving the single horn on its nose into the belly of the fallen soldier and in a spray of blood he fell back unmoving on the cobbles.
One of the lizard riders turned its mount back toward me, the huge beast swinging its head at me to try to gore me with its horn. I leapt back but the rider brought the lizard forward and the goblin stabbed its sword into my side, sending me reeling away from both of them. The lizard lunged at me again and I lashed my sword across its snout drawing a roar of pain from it but despite this small victory I knew that I had been cut off from the others. I faced a tough battle before any aid could come
One of the lizard riders fell from its mount close to me with an arrow in its throat but the lizard faught on unfazed giving me more cause for concern but then the lizard rider I faught urged its mount forward again, forcing me to dodge to my right. I raised my shield, anticipating a high stab at my throat but instead, the goblin swept the blade in low into my belly, forcing me back as my breath was driven from me. I lashed out again at the goblin’s mount but this time the scales of the creature turned my sword aside and threw me off balance. The lizard pounced then, driving its horn into my side while the goblin lashed its blade into my neck. Searing pain exploded down my right side and I staggered, certain that I would fall.
Somehow I stayed on my feet and lashed out wildly at the lizard, keeping it at bay for a few more moments. From my right I heard another cry and saw first Trellara and then another of the Lion Guards fall as the rider-less lizard spun and lashed out with its blood-stained horn. I tried to raise my shield with what little strength I had left but I was too slow and the goblin drove its blade over the top of it and into my chest. I felt blood fill my throat and fell back, dizziness and blinding pain overwhelming me. Blackness came and I knew no more.
Those who have read the original adventure will note that I have stretched out the Battle of Mittleberg (Brindol in the text) to allow the PCs to rest. Proceeding with the battle as written would have made it very difficult for the PCs to survive it given the tough encounters involved and the need to replenish powers in 4E. Conceivably, PCs can battle through 5 or 6 encounters without an extended rest (6 hours minimum) but in reality, 2 or 3 encounters often warrants an extended rest.
I have also substituted draconians for dragonspawn throughout as whilst dragonspawn exist in 4E, draconians fitted with the power levels of the PCs well. It also adds the interesting story point of good dragon eggs being corrupted to produce the draconians. Admittedly its a story borrowed from Dragonlance but I liked it.
When I woke, the battle was over and Thaddeus was leaning over me. Four goblins lay before the barricade along with three of the lizards, the others having fled for their lives. Three of the Lion Guards had fallen and Trellara was tending to them while weeping uncontrollably.
“Where are the clerics?” she shouted as I rose to my feet. “Is this what your order condones, the death of those who seek to defend it while its priests cower in cathedrals!”
“Forwen and I faught here,” I said meekly, still in pain from my wounds. “Isn’t that enough.”
“No,” she replied. “It’s not.”
At that, she returned to ministering to the fallen soldiers and I turned back to tending my wounds for I knew the next attack would come quickly. Something howled from the direction of the western gate and as I felt it chill my bones I knew that I had heard the sound before. It was a barghest, howling at some triumph and as cloud cleared from the face of the large moon, Luna, lighting up the streets of the city, I saw why it reveled. Bodies filled the Dawn Way behind the gate as far as the bend in the road while elsewhere, the red glow of fire lit the sky from streets level with the one we still faught in. We were being flanked it seemed but until I heard from Lord Jarmaath that we were to retreat, we would stand our ground.
We reset our ambush quickly knowing the next attack would come quickly and sure enough, the barghest led five draconians and two hobgoblins up the street in a rampant charge. I waited in the northern building this time with Arianrhod, Forwen and Kiriel while Thaddeus and the others waited in the southern building where I had rested during the lull in the middle of the night. Trellara had refused to attack with me, such had her mind turned against the faith that Forwen and I represent. I could not blame her for Tredora’s actions were unforgivable. I could only hope that she would come around.
Meanwhile the four archers and Salenn, the only Lion Guard who had survived the battle against the lizard riders, waited on the barricade as the new assault surged toward them. Three of the draconians led the charge, these of a kind we had not seen before with dark, blue-black scales and large, jagged, two-handed swords. The hobgoblin wore the top half of a skull atop its head and wielded a smaller, but no less jagged sword than the reptile creatures. Arrows flew from the barricade into one of the draconians and then Arianrhod led our charge from the building to meet the wounded creature blade to blade. I charged after the ranger, circling around her to come at the draconians from the front. I lashed my blade into the breastplate of the one she had attacked and sent it reeling back but then the others surged forward, trying to surround me.
To my surprise a halberd blocked the advance of the other draconians as Salenn came forward to our aid and then Kiriel hurled black lightning into the wounded draconian, sending it staggering back toward me. The creature roared and lashed out at me with its jagged sword but I took the blow on my shield and held it at bay. Behind the draconian I heard the hobgoblin let out a shrill keening and then thunder pealed from the creature in a rolling boom. Something unseen smashed me in the chest a moment later and hurled me back toward the barricade. The wounded draconian surged forward but Arianrhod, who recovered quickly from the spell, leapt to meet it with her swords. She swept her enchanted sword into the creature’s belly and with a cry it fell to its knees. I recoiled, suspecting what would come next as the draconian exploded with a great blast of thunder that threw me to the ground at the foot of the barricade and left me hearing only a roaring in my ears.
I leapt to my feet and rushed over to one of the draconians that had also been thrown to the floor by the death of their companion. I stabbed my blade into the creature’s chest but as I did it rolled away and turned a killing blow into a glancing one. It leapt to its feet and lashed its blade into my belly between the plates of my armour before I could react. I gasped as blood gushed from the wound and fell back, trying to recover my strength but the draconian kept coming at me. I shouted a prayer to Pholtus to give my companions and I strength before lashing my sword into the draconian’s side to it reeling back away from me, granting me a brief respite.
Next to me, Forwen began praying before leaping back from the battle but the draconian refused to let her go, leaping after her and lashing out with its sword. Still, my sister finished her prayer and a golden glow surrounded me as Pholtus healed the worst of my wounds. Forwen ducked behind me and the draconian came at me in a fiercesome charge, feinting to my left and then lashing its blade into my thigh from my right. My leg gave way for a moment and I took a step back to stop myself from falling but as I raised my shield again, the draconian was gone, darting away and around Salenn toward Arianrhod. I saw the creature lash his blade into the ranger’s side but then two arrows drove into the draconian’s throat one after the other and it exploded in a blast of thunder and blood.
To my left I saw Thaddeus, Trellara and Ferzth retreating toward us, their own battle going poorly but I could do little to aid them until our own enemies had been beaten. The remaining draconian had rushed off after Kiriel who had teleported to the northern side of the street while the hobgoblin now began to retreat toward its advancing allies. I charged at the hobgoblin, lashing my blade into its side as it tried to step away from me. Salenn drove his halberd into the creature’s side and the creature lashed out wildly before leaping back another step away from us. It snarled through yellowed teeth but before it could retreat further, an arrow from the barricade drove into its chest and the creature fell to the cobbles.
Kiriel had fallen before the draconian that she faught but as I started toward her, another arrow flew from the barricade and drove through the back of the reptilian creature’s head. It slumped forward to its knees and then exploded, showering the fallen elf maid in blood and gore. With a roar, Arianrhod led our charge to aid our companions but as I joined her I feared we would be too late. One of the draconians lashed its blade down into Thaddeus’s shoulder and he fell to the ground while Ferzth and Trellara both seemed to be badly wounded.
As I reached the battle, I called down a blessing upon my sword and then rushed at the barghest, still in its bestial hobgoblin form. My blade sang out but the creature swept its own jagged-edged sword around and parried my blow. Still Arianrhod pressed forward, though, driving the barghest back but as I came forward with her, the creature snarled at me and lashed its blade into my shoulder, spinning me away. From my left I heard Trellara cry out as she too fell to the snow covered and bloodstained cobbles while somewhere beyond her, I heard Ferzth roaring his anger at our enemies. Suddenly, with a clap of thunder, the githzerai appeared beside me and lashed his blade into the side of the barghest.
“We are lost, Aalas,” he cried out to me. “Why don’s they send aid to us!”
I could not answer him and instead I stepped toward the off balance barghest and plunged my sword into its chest. It snarled at me and then slid off my blade to the ground.
“Curse you humans,” it hissed as it died. “You will pay in your own blood for this.”
An arrow felled another draconian then and as it exploded, the blast of thunder deafened me so if the barghest said anything more, I heard it not. Arianrhod fell to the blast and both Thaddeus and Trellara were covered in the gore of the creature’s death throes. Though I heard only roaring in my ears, I saw the hobgoblin shout and gesture to the one remaining draconian and together they fled back down the street. We had beaten back another attack but as I surveyed our fallen, I wondered at what cost.
Forwen tended to our fallen quickly, rousing Arianrhod and Kiriel quickly but shaking her head when she reached Thaddeus and then Trellara.
“Thaddeus lives but only just,” she announced. “But Trellara is dead.”
Grief and beyond that, a sense of exhaustion struck me then and I insisted on carrying the fallen elf maid back behind the barricade myself. I managed to restore Thaddeus to wakefulness with healing prayers but his full strength would not return without rest and we knew we would get none here. We had to withdraw, we decided, and so grimly, I asked Lord Jarmaath for permission for us to retreat. He gave it, saying that the horde had all but taken the western part of the city and that he intended to regroup around Cathedral Square on the flank of the hill at the heart of Mittleberg. Suddenly, though, his voice stopped in mid sentence as though my link with him had suddenly been severed. I tried to reach him again and again but to no avail. With no other option before us, then, we made our way grimly back to the Cathedral Square dragging our fallen on litters made from parts of the barricade.
As we neared the square, we heard outcries of alarm and for a moment, I feared that the horde had outmaneuvered us and reached the heart of the city ahead of us. As we emerged into the open space, we found the place in chaos as soldiers scrambled toward the Cathedral as if fleeing from some invisible army.
“A hidden mage attacks us!” someone called out to us. “Lord Jarmaath has fallen! All is lost.”
As we watched a bolt of flame flew from the upper floor of a building on the western edge of the square and struck down another of the Lion Guard, spreading more panic. I drew my sword but as I did, Thaddeus put his hand on my shoulder and turned me toward him.
“I cannot join you in this battle son,” he said, and it was the first time I remember that he called me his son. “I will see Trellara and the others safely inside the Cathedral. Take the others and deal with this or there will be panic.”
I could not argue with him as his wounds still bled crimson into the bandages we had tied around him and he had barely kept up with us during the retreat from the barricade. I simply nodded and then waved at the others to follow me. As I turned my back, Thaddeus began calling on nearby soldiers for aid with the litters that held our fallen and despite their panic, I knew that the Lion Guard would obey him.
Arianrhod spotted the building that we sought after a few minutes of searching and it proved to be a coffin maker’s shop on the western side of Cathedral Square. The door was locked and I struggled to force it open until Arianrhod smashed her shoulder into it, cracking the frame and granting us entry. Kiriel and then Ferzth rushed past us into the building and within moments, the gith shouted in alarm back to us.
“Hobgoblins!” he called out as Forwen rushed past me after the others.
I heard my sister cry out in pain a moment later and with my sword before me, I rushed into the building after her. The main room proved to be a display area with various coffins set out for customers to look over. Three doors led from the back of the room with Ferzth fighting in one doorway on the right and Forwen fighting in the one on the left. The middle door remained closed and I ignored it for the moment as I charged to aid my sister. Rushing past her, I lashed aside the two glaives that the hobgoblins wielded and cut my blade into the side of one of the creatures. The other leapt back and drew a dart from a bandoleer across its chest that it threw into my left leg. Numbness spread from the wound as whatever toxin the dart had carried flowed into my blood and I staggered to my left as the leg gave way.
The hobgoblin I had wounded lashed out with its glaive but I managed to duck and the blade of the weapon drove into the wood of the doorframe behind me. Ferzth leapt under the glaive and into the chamber then, lashing his blade in into the chest of the hobgoblin in front of me and forcing it to reel away. It spun and hurled a dart into the githzerai’s shoulder just as the other hobgoblin stabbed at him with its own glaive. Ferzth parried the blow but the dart drove into his body, followed by another hurled by the same hobgoblin he had driven back. The gith staggered and weaved as the poison took effect leaving me to charge the hobgoblins with my blade before me.
I lashed out with my sword as I reached the goblin that had thrown the darts but it raised its glaive just in time and knocked my blade aside. It lashed its weapon across, the huge glaive a clumsy weapon now that the hobgoblin had its back against the wall of the office in which we faught. I ducked and then lashed my blade at the creature only for it to duck in turn while bringing its glaive back around to defend itself. The hobgoblin swung the long weapon in a wide arc more quickly than I had though possible and smashed it into the side of my head, sending me reeling away to my right. With a prayer on my lips, I spun with the blow, turning on the spot and lashing my blade into the creature[‘s chest, slamming it back against the window frame behind it. The hobgoblin hissed at me and then pushed itself away from the window while setting its glaive defensively before it.
I stepped toward the hobgoblin again and as I did, a door to the right opened and revealed Kiriel standing with her rod at the ready, a spell already on her lips. Both hobgoblins looked toward the warlock, realised they were surrounded and bolted past Ferzth and I out of the room. I heard the door to the shop slam as they left through it. Thinking the assassins driven off, I started for the door and had stepped out onto the square before I heard Arianrhod cry out. I had forgotten that the assassin we sought was a wizard or shaman while the hobgoblins we had driven off had wielded no spells.
Cursing my slow thinking, I turned and rushed back into the shop as Arianrhod stepped through the middle doorway from the main room and started up a stairway after some unseen enemy. A moment later, as I reached the others who were gathered around the doorway, the ranger tumbled back down the stairs to lie at our feet, her body blackened and burned by flame. With a shout, Kiriel dragged Arianrhod clear of the stairs and started up them herself, black lightning crackling from her rod as she went. Ferzth rushed up the stairs after the elf while Forwen knelt beside Arianrhod.
“She has no strength left,” my sister said looking up at me. “I cannot heal her. We have to get her back to the Cathedral but she may not live that long.”
I rushed to follow the others up the stairs, knowing that only by killing the assassin that lurked above could we safely get Arianrhod back to the temple. I reached the top and ducked past Kiriel through a doorway on the left into a large storeroom. Forwen and Ferzth faught the assassin in the middle of the chamber and I saw that it was a draconian with gold scales. The draconian retreated toward the northern wall of the chamber and hurled a bolt of light at Ferzth that seemed to stun the gith. Only when my companion turned around and lashed out with his sword at me did I realise that it was something far more dark and powerful.
I took the gith’s blade on my shield, swatting it aside as Ferzth seemed to wake from the charm that had possessed him. He apologised to me and then turned back toward our real foe. I rushed past the gith as Forwen hurled a bolt of light into the draconian’s chest, swinging my blade out in a wide arc before lashing it into the side of the creature. Blood sprayed from the wound and the draconian lurched to its left as though it would fall. Somehow, it stayed on its feet and managed to spin away from me before running headlong for a window in the north wall. It dived through it, and plummeted to the ground below, the gold-scale lacking the wings of its kindred dragon-creatures. Kiriel and Forwen rushed to the window and hurled spells down at the creature while Ferzth and I bolted for the stairs, seeking to meet it on the street.
I rushed out of the shop after Ferzth and found him fighting the creature beneath the window from which it had jumped but now its body was wreathed in flame that I had to brave if I was to get near it. I raised my shield and charged, stabbing my blade toward the creature only for it to leapt back and to its right. The creature lashed out at Ferzth, tearing open his throat with one of its claws but then, as the gith fell to the cobbles, so did the draconian. I stabbed the creature for good measure and then knelt beside Ferzth to see how he fared.
“It fell once but then rose, wreathed in flame,” he said quietly before lapsing into unconsciousness.
Aalas, Arianrhod, Ferzth, and Kiriel all went up to level 6 after this encounter and Forwen went up to level 4.
24 Readying 579
We headed back toward the Cathedral carrying Ferzth and Arianrhod on pieces of wood that served as crude litters. As we entered the square, I saw Captain Ulverth mustering the remaining troops, men, elves and dwarven mercenaries into a line around the edge of the hill and as we passed him, he waved us over.
“They are building barricades to defend against any counterattack,” he said, gesturing down the hill to where the goblins, trolls, ogres and bugbears were massing.
True enough, across each street that led up the hill, they were fashioning crude barricades much like the one we had defended, to protect themselves against any counterattack. Looking around the determined but battered defenders, I wondered where such an attack could ever come from but was glad at least, that this might give us some respite.
As we entered the cathedral, we found it had been turned into a hospital for the wounded with pews and beds filling the wide main hall, all the way to the altar. Between these, lay many more wounded, simply lain on the floor where they bled and died. Some cried out for aid while others moaned in pain and many more were silent, too exhausted or too dead to complain. I spotted Thaddeus talking with a young woman in an emerald green robe with long blonde hair. She looked no older than Forwen and was undeniably pretty with eyes that seemed alive with joy and determination.
“This is High Mourner Mhiram,” said Thaddeus as we reached him. “The High Priestess of Wee Jas in Mittleberg. She has looked over the weapon you took from the draconians.”
The last was said to Forwen and it was only then that I saw the morning star in Thaddeus’ hands, wrapped in a dirty piece of cloth. Dimly, I remembered that my sister had taken such a bundle from one of the fallen draconians.
“It is magical,” Mhiram said with a smile. “It will aid you in battle and when you heal others but it was crafted for a hobgoblin named Wyrmlord Kharn who commands the horde and he will seek you out to get it back.”
“And how do you know this, High Mourner?” Kiriel said with a clumsy bow to the young woman.
“My temple lies behind the horde’s lines now,” she answered. “And my priestesses have scattered into hiding around the city. They learn what they can and pass word back to me. For your part, brave elf maid, you have time to rest and heal before the final assault comes.”
She was right of course and rest we did as best we could but Trellara still lay slain and so once my wounds had been healed, I sought out Tredora Goldenbrow in the Cathedral. I found her regaling the slippery landowner Iormel from Dellin’s Ferry with tales of the valiance of her clerics in saving the wounded and dying. I felt my face flush and anger fill me as I heard her seeming to congratulate herself on a battle well won. I tried to resist saying anything, telling myself I should turn away but I could not. Instead, I rounded on my superior in a rage.
“You lie,” I roared suddenly, bringing silence to the main hall of the temple. Only the moans and cries of the wounded could not be stilled.
“You kept your clerics safe within this fastness while others faught and died for you! How can you claim any part in this battle when all you did was run and hide. You are unworthy of the robes you wear!”
My companions reached me then and dragged me away as Tredora Goldenbrow rounded on me, her own face red with anger. Iormel wore a sly smirk as though he knew what would come next and was pleased and I wondered again whether he had betrayed his kinsmen at Drellin’s Ferry.
“Arrest him!” the priestess roared, pointing at me.
My companions dragged me toward the door with sufficiently fierce looks on their faces that the priests around the room would not even reach for their weapons. Thankfully, Trellara’s body had been claimed by her kin and lay in their encampment in the Cathedral grounds else we would have left her behind in our haste to leave the building. We joined the soldiers on the western edge of the Cathedral Square, trying to remain hidden as dawn brightened the eastern sky.
We saw bands of Lord Jarmaath’s men wandering through the encampment seeking us but the soldiers around us warned us when they came near and we hid in tents or in buildings at the edge of the square until they passed. Finally, a little after sunrise, the braying of horns announced the final assault and we all formed into battle lines along the western edge of the hill as the horde came forward.
Goblins of all types led by ogres and trolls surged up the streets that led up the hill, their Red Hand banners catching the light of the dawn and appearing to be stained with blood. I saw a leaping lion banner not far from us and knew that it had to be the Ghostlord’s standard. There were shouts amongst the goblin ranks and the banner along with a huge Red Hand banner moved toward the street where we stood. Surging from amongst the goblin ranks to lead the charge came a huge hobgoblin in black armour surrounded by four ogres.
Behind these came the Ghostlord’s banner and at its foot stood a hobgoblin shaman and hideous undead creature in tattered robes with three skulls atop its torso, each glaring hatred at us. Goblins and undead lions surged out to the left and right around the buildings next to us to attack the line but the black-armoured hobgoblin pointed at us, seeming to single out Forwen who stood in the second rank with Kiriel. Together, the terrible group charged at us and we braced ourselves to meet the final assault of Wyrmlord Kharn, the Ghostlord, and their bodyguards.
One of the ogres roared and hurled a javelin that drove into Thaddeus’s shoulder before charging at our line. It lashed out with its club as it reached my step father and somehow, despite the wound he had suffered, he ducked under the flailing weapon. The shaman lashed out with its staff and sent lightning forth to seize Ferzth by the arm and drag him toward it while another ogre javelin flew unerringly toward me, driving into my right leg. I staggered as the ogre roared and charged after its missile, raising my shield too slowly as it swung its club. The weapon struck me a ringing blow on the side of my helm and sent me spinning away.
When I turned back, Ferzth was surrounded, the Wyrmlord, an ogre and the hobgoblin shaman all attacking him in front of us while Arianrhod had retreated in fear as the Ghostlord had come forward. A third ogre joined our battle, charging at Forwen and lashing its club into her chest to send her reeling. Thaddeus shouted at her to stay back and somehow, she managed to evade the ogre’s next swing and draw back from the battle, leaving me fighting beside our step father against the three ogres.
I stabbed my sword into the belly of the ogre before me but before I could dart back, it slammed its club down on the top of my helm and sent me reeling away again. Arianrhod charged back into the battle with her blades before her then and kept the ogre at bay while I recovered but then Thaddeus fell back, assailed by fear of the Ghostlord. He charged back into battle but as he did, the shaman circled around to our left with the Ghostlord and hurled a wave of blue energy at us that threw me to the ground behind the others. The ogre before me surged into the gap I left and slammed its weapon down toward me. I rolled to my left and avoided the blow just as Arianrhod spun around and drove one of her swords into the creature’s side. It staggered, letting out a roar of pain and then black lightning seared into its chest and toppled it to the snow-covered ground.
I rolled to my feet, and seeing that Thaddeus had fallen, I let out a roar of my own before charging at the shaman and the Ghostlord. I lashed my blade into the belly of the shaman and sent it spinning back and away while the Ghostlord laughed, a hideous evil cackle. Lightning crackled along the hobgoblin’s staff and it lashed out at me with the weapon but I raised my shield to hold it at bay. Only then, though, did the Ghostlord round upon me, shooting flames from the mouth of one skull that seared into my breastplate. I staggered back and a cold blue bolt shot from another skull to strike my shoulder which as it struck, infected me with a bone-numbing fear. I scrambled back and away from both foes, eager to put as much distance between me and the Ghostlord as I could. Only when I was safely past Kiriel did I stop retreating and steel myself to charge back into battle.
I charged the shaman with a prayer on my lips, lashing my blade into its side while feeling Pholtus restore some of my strength. As the blow struck home, a wave of light burst from my sword to heal the worst of Thaddeus’s and Arianrhod’s wounds. The shaman leapt away from me to stand beside the Ghostlord and I rushed after it only to be struck by searing flame from one of the Ghostlord’s skulls. Another spewed forth the chilling blue bolt and as it struck me I felt but legs weaken. I sank to my knees and then pitched forward into blackness.
I woke a few moments later with Thaddeus’s voice ringing in my ears as he urged me to get up. He was fighting the Ghostlord now, leaving the others to fight Wyrmlord Kharn and his ogres but he did not last long before the blue bolts drove him back. I summoned my remaining strength as Thaddeus charged back into battle against the ogres and one of the creatures fell to Kiriel’s black lightning. Behind the goblin ranks I heard catapults twang forward and huge stones flew overhead to smash into the Cathedral while from the towers, ballistae responded.
When I rose to my feet I charged at the shaman and the Ghostlord who now faught Arianrhod, spinning as I reached them and lashing my blade into the back of the hobgoblin. The ogres broke and fled then, and the shaman retreated away from me only for Arianrhod to plunge her swords into its chest and fell it. The Ghostlord laughed again despite the retreat of its allies and lashed its staff into my side, spinning me away from it. A chilling numbness spread from where it had struck me and then another cold blue bolt struck me and sent me scrambling away from the hideous creature in abject terror.
I recovered once I reached a safe distance from the creature and turned to stride back toward it. Kiriel hurled black lightning into the monster and then I chanted a prayer while holding forth my shield before me. Ribbons of white radiant light burst from my shield and seared into the Ghostlord, blasting apart one of its skulls. It staggered but then the other two skulls let forth that cackling laughter again and it stayed on its feet. Arianrhod charged at it and Ferzth appeared next to it in a swirl of dust as he teleported away from the Wyrmlord. Both lashed their blades at the creature and Kiriel hurled more black lightning at it before I charged with blade and shield before me. The creature raised its stave but it was too slow and with a huge swing, I smashed my sword into another of its skulls, cleaving the head in half. Again the monster reeled and this time it did not laugh but rather tried to retreat away from us. It leapt back and Ferzth and I plunged our swords into it, driving them through its body and out of its back. The creature hissed and then fell to the ground, finally dead.
Turning, I saw that the Wyrmlord was pursuing Forwen into the square while his troops rallied to his charge. I shouted a challenge to the hobgoblin and charged back across the edge of the square toward it while Arianrhod and Ferzth charged in front of me. I circled around the Wyrmlord, seeking to get between him and my sister and then charged into battle against him. My blade sang out but he spun his shield toward me and met my blade with a resounding clang. I saw other goblins rushing to fill the breach we had left then while the Lion Guard reserves flooded forward into the gap to hold them at bay. The goblins tried to rally to the Wyrmlord but we had surrounded him and though he lashed out left and right at us, he could not escape.
The hobgoblin lashed out at Thaddeus who ducked under its flail and then I leapt in and stabbed it in the back before it could turn. The Wyrmlord roared and I answered with a prayer to Pholtus to allow me to protect Thaddeus from the goblin’s wrath. The hobgoblin spun to parry Ferzth’s sword but then Arianrhod plunged both her blades into its side and it roared again. Spinning around, it lashed out at Thaddeus again and though my step father ducked, the return stroke smashed into the side of his head and sent him reeling. The hobgoblin, though, had not banked on Pholtus’ power for at once, the protection prayer took effect, bathing the Wyrmlord in blinding light and inflicting searing pain. Again, Kharn roared but it was too late for his goblins to rally to him. I leapt forward, lashed aside his sword and then plunged my blade into his chest. He hissed his last breath and then slid from my sword to the snow-covered cobbles of the square.
We hacked the Wyrmlord apart then, such was our fury and atop my sword I raised his head while the others held up his arms and legs to show the horde what had become of their leader. The battle line across the square wavered and then broke as the goblins, who had taken enormous losses, lost their stomach for the fight. Ulverth pressed home the attack and the horde’s line shattered, the army retreating into the western streets. A bright new dawn had come to Mittleberg and with it, at last, had come victory.
Thaddeus went up to level 6 after this encounter
24 Readying 579
The slain shaman proved to be the female from the stone lion that had previously fled from us and on her back she carried a rune-carved sword that Ferzth took as his own. We found that Lord Jarmaarth lay recovering from the sniper attack in the temple and he had persuaded Tredora Goldenbrow that we would face no sanction either for what I had said to her or for slaying the bandits without summoning the watch.
“We shall have a great feast tomorrow in your honour,” he said from his bed in Tredora’s quarters. “For surely this is your victory!”
We left gold with the temple to ensure Trellara would be raised and together we walked back to Lord Jarmaath’s keep and the comfort of our chambers. We ate little and barely sipped the ale and wine brought to us before exhaustion overtook us and we retired to our rooms. I shall sleep well tonight for the Horde of the Red Hand is beaten and Sterich is safe again, for a time at least.
25 Readying 579
I slept well into the morning and then enjoyed a bath prepared by Lord Jarmaath’s servants before descending for the feast late in the afternoon. Surprisingly it proved to be a grand affair despite the depredations that the city had suffered, the keep’s kitchen staff somehow producing roast boar, hams, fish and fowl aplenty. Toward the end, Lord Jarmaath made a long speech praising each of us in turn for our heroism during the battle and our slaying of the leader of the horde. He seemed to credit us with the defeat of the Red Hand which belittles the bravery of his own soldiers but we nodded and took the praise and applause as it came to us.
I retired early, in no mood for the dancing that followed the feast but the others lingered and woke me with raucous singing late in the night as they returned to their rooms. A knock on my door followed and there Trellara stood, somewhat the worse for wine, ale and other drinks. She threw herself into my arms apologizing for her harsh words at the barricade and pledging herself to me forevermore. My feelings for her resurfaced quickly and I found myself unable to resist the temptation she represented. I took her to my bed as my lover where she lies still while I write this but now I am assailed by terrible guilt. Dawn will come soon and I have slept little, praying for forgiveness from Pholtus but he is silent, though, and at last I have come to a decision. I will leave my order so that I can marry the elf maid I love and though this tests my faith I know that I must lie down and sleep beside Trellara while I can before facing Tredora Goldenbrow in the light of day. I only hope that Pholtus will continue to honour me with his blessing despite my transgressions.
26 Readying 579
I went to the cathedral at noon and though I wanted to go alone, my companions insisted on coming with me, having discerned quickly the reason for my return there. Ferzth saw Trellara leave my room having stayed at the keep after the feast and when I appeared at our belated breakfast dressed in my polished and repaired armour, they quickly guessed the truth. Pleased that they would stand by me, I led the group on the short walk to the cathedral but when we got there, we found Lord Jarmaath and Captain Ulverth speaking with Tredora Goldenbrow in her somewhat spartan quarters. They stopped talking as we entered, seeming surprised but at the same time pleased at our arrival.
“Ah, good,” said Lord Jarmaath. “It is fortuitous that you should arrive just as we have reached the crux of our discussion.”
As the Lord of Mittleberg quickly explained, his spies and information from captured goblins had revealed that despite the defeat of the horde two days ago, the draconians we had faught heralded a darker involvement in what had happened in Sterich. It seemed that the true leader of the horde served Tiamat and still lurked at a temple on the edge of the Crystalmists beyond Vraath Keep to the west. Lord Jarmaath wanted us to journey there to defeat someone he has discerned to be called High Wyrmlord Azarr Kul, the Azure Prince. The fane apparently sits above the road to Overlook and unless we destroy it, not only could the horde be reborn but trade with the dwarves to the west will never resume.
“We will set out at once,” I said quickly, all thought of confessing to Tredora Goldenbrow forgotten.
The others agreed but Ferzth paused as we turned to leave the cathedral to gather our belongings. He asked what had become of Frush O’Suggill, the man who had claimed during the battle to have travelled with my mother.
“He deserted the troops he led quickly and left through the western gate as soon as the battle was won,” Lord Jarmaath answered. “Pay him no mind for he has proved himself a coward!”
These words ringing in my ears, I rushed back to my chamber in the keep and packed up my meager belongings. Trellara came to my room when she was ready and we embraced happily before setting off to join the others. Still, the fact that one of my mother’s companions had proved such a coward troubled me for never had she shown much tolerance for those who deserted their comrades. We bade farewell to the keep and to Mittleberg before noon and set out westward after the remnants of the horde. I only hope, as we camp in the ruins of a burned village that Ferzth thinks is Nimon Gap, that the fleeing goblins stay out of our way.
5 Coldeven 579
Our journey passed uneventfully until today with only occasional sightings of rag tag bands of fleeing goblins that stayed well away from us. Even the Witchwood was quiet and we crossed the upper Davish by a rebuilt causeway at the site of the one that we had destroyed. Beyond Vraath Keep was a stone bridge that crossed a gorge which looked to one have been guarded but now lay open for us to cross. A little beyond that, a path led away from the old dwarven road to the north and, following Lord Jarmaath’s directions we took this. It wound into the mountains for a mile or two until this evening it turned into a winding ledge along the face of a sheer cliff. It rounded a corner and suddenly, the vista was one of terrifying beauty.
The ledge led over a ten-foot wide natural bridge and then continued to wind up the face of the cliff on the other side to a large, flat ledge. The cliff side soared several hundred feet up from the ledge but dominating the vista was a lifelike rendition of a five-headed dragon carved out of the stone of the cliff face. The dragon was massive – easily a hundred and fifty feet tall – and carved to look as if it were perched upon the wide ledge and emerging from the stone itself. The dragon’s five serpentine necks arched up and then back down, the heads protruding from the cliff side with each leering down as if to challenge any who dared approach. Each head was that of a different dragon and each had a mouth agape in an eternal roar.
At the base of the cliff, under the dragon’s belly, a huge pair of closed stone double doors were set into the cliff, each six feet side and twelve feet tall. The motif of the five-headed dragon was repeated here, although this time only the dragon’s necks and heads reached out from around the door’s frame. Each of these heads seemed crafted from a different type of stone – obsidian, alabaster, soapstone, malachite, and marble – corresponding to the coloration of each head.
We drew our weapons and stepped out along the bridge heading for the doors but as we drew near, what sounded like five voices sounded from the stone dragon heads above us.
“Leave your offering for the Chromatic Dragon and depart,” the voices said as one.
“There is dark magic here,” said Ferzth. “It cannot be defeated by us.”
Thaddeus and Forwen seemed to agree with the githzerai but as they made to retreat I stopped them, for I had heard something as the voices spoke.
“Only one voice speaks to us here,” I said and Trellara nodded her agreement.
“It is true,” said the elf maid. “And it speaks from the blue dragon head above us. It is cleverly disguised but it is only one voice.”
“Very well,” said Ferzth. “We go in but I mislike this and we must be ready to retreat as soon as we face enemies we cannot defeat.”
“Agreed,” I said, before shouting out to the voice above us. “We seek an audience with Azarr Kul so that he might explain the wrongs he has done to the people of Sterich.”
Laughter echoed all around us followed by a loud roaring that seemed again to come from all of the dragon heads though I knew it came from only one. Kiriel, raised her road and rushed toward the doors only to stop short as she looked at the smaller leering dragon heads to the left and right.
“The doors are trapped,” she said. “Stay away from them.”
She began examining the glyphs surrounding the dragon heads as above us, the roar finally became a single sound and from the mouth of the blue dragon swept a smaller, but very real blue dragon. It banked into a dive, tearing down toward us at frightening speed while we readied our weapons and looked up at the attacking wyrm. Behind the blue came a red dragon and from its markings, I saw that it was the one we had driven off during the battle of Mittleberg. This creature swept out over the gorge and banked into a long turn, high above us.
I moved to stand with Arianrhod and Ferzth closer to the bridge while Forwen joined Kiriel in puzzling out the glyph trap around the doors. With a screech, a third dragon, the black wyrm from the Ruins of Rhest, erupted from the mouth above as and swept out over the gorge behind the red to turn toward us. Behind me, Trellara began firing arrows at the blue dragon while Thaddeus turned away from the dragons and rushed toward the doors.
“We have to get off this ledge,” he snarled.
A moment later, I heard the doors slam open but as they did, a searing liquid sprayed over my back and I staggered forward. Turning, I saw the dragon heads nearest to me dripping with acid while the ones beyond the doors let forth a blast of cold that dropped Forwen to the ledge, limned in white. A green dragon burst from the cave mouth above then and turned into a dive alongside the blue making me realise that this was a battle we could not win. I turned away, shouting to the others to follow and rushed through the open doors into the torch lit corridor beyond.
Steps within led up to another set of double doors and I shouted back to whoever could hear me to shut the main doors once all were inside. To my relief, Ferzth and then my beloved Trellara rushed into the corridor next followed by Thaddeus, who was shouting back at Kiriel and Forwen. Kiriel leapt into the corridor with a cloud of noxious green gas erupting behind her but Forwen did not follow. I heard my sister cry out as the roars of dragons filled the valley and then Kiriel pushed the doors closed without waiting for her to come inside. Anger surged within me and I rushed back down the corridor while Thaddeus tried to restrain me but as I neared Kiriel, she turned toward me and I saw that she was crying.
“She fell, Aalas,” she said, her voice breaking. “We cannot save her.”
I raged for a few minutes while the others restrained me, convincing me at last that my sister had given her life to make sure that the rest of us escaped the dragons. Again grief consumed me but this time Trellara comforted me and I felt better all the quicker for that. Determined to again avenge my fallen sister, I started toward the far double doors. The others formed up behind me, accepting my anger rather than challenging it and without any care for any traps, I pulled open the portals.
Beyond them was a rectangular room awash with a riot of colour. Five exquisitely sculpted stone dragon heads protruded from the centre of the ceiling, and in each of their open maws burned a different jet of fire – blue, red, green, black, and white. The polished stone floor reflected the light and amplified it while iron doors to the east and west each bore the image of a red clawed hand. To the north, a double door carried the same icon and two balconies flanking the door overlooked the room at a height of about ten feet.
I stepped forward but before I could cross the threshold, a wyvern swept across from my right and lashed a claw into my chest, knocking me to the ground. A second creature swept in from the left and stabbed its tail stinger down toward me but I rolled back and away from it at the last moment. The others surged past me and I rolled to my feet behind them before leaping forward into the battle. Thaddeus shouted at me to force one of the wyverns back and I lashed out with my sword only for the scales of the dragon-like beast to defeat its keen edge.
The wyvern lashed out with its tail stinger in response, driving the sharp barb into my right leg and sending me staggering back. Numbness started to spread from the wound at once making me fear my leg would give way but somehow I stayed standing. The other wyvern snapped its neck forward and seized my shield arm in its mouth, dragging me toward it while Ferzth roared his anger in response. I shouted out a prayer for strength and Pholtus answered despite, allowing me to lash my blade into the belly of the wyvern before me despite the poison coursing through me. The wyvern recoiled but as it did, a bolt of lightning cracked down from the eastern balcony and struck Kiriel, sending an explosion of thunder out from her to throw me back against the doorframe.
The elf maid fell but somehow, I stayed on my feet and even managed to dodge as the wyvern in front of me snapped at me with its razor sharp teeth. I retreated until my back was to the wall beside the door while Arianrhod and Ferzth lashed their blades into the wyvern. As the creature staggered, I pushed myself off the wall and reached out to touch Ferzth’s shoulder while uttering a healing prayer. He nodded his thanks and I half-smiled back before rushing at the wyvern again. As I did, Thaddeus pushed me aside and then plunged his own sword into the creature’s neck. Blood spurted forth and with a screech, the creature slumped to the floor, dead.
I leapt over the fallen wyvern after Ferzth and lashed my blade into the second wyvern’s back while shouting a prayer of vengeance. My sword clove into the creature and it gave a screech of pain while beyond it now I saw the source of the thunderbolts. Two blue-scaled demons that resembled draconians lurked further into the room, one in the northwest corner and the other in the eastern balcony alcove. As I looked a bolt of lightning lanced from the one on the alcove and smashed into my breastplate with a resounding thunderclap. I spun away, pain searing across my chest and then I fell, blackness engulfing me before I hit the floor.
I woke soon after to Thaddeus urging me to rise but as I tried to a thunderbolt and then another burst close to me, slamming me back into the stone floor. I rose again just as Ferzth shouted something incoherent and vanished in a whirl of dust only to appear on the balcony beside one of the demons. Arianrhod charged the other and as she lashed her blade into its side, lightning flashed from its body in an attempt to drive her away. Still, she held firm but as I rose, something else caught my eye – the fallen form of Trellara in the southwest corner of the room. With a shout to Thaddeus to help her, I charged after Arianrhod, lashing out with my blade as I reached the demon. The creature twisted away from me and lashed out with its own barbed tail which resembled those of the fallen wyverns. I ducked under the flailing sting and then lunged forward, driving my blade into the creature’s chest as it turned toward me. With a gasp, the demon slid from my sword and collapsed against the wall beneath the balcony, slain.
Thaddeus turned away from the slain creature and rushed to see how Ferzth fared against the one on the balcony but I had other concerns. I turned toward Trellara only for Arianrhod to rush to her side before me and kneel beside the fallen elf maid. Before I could even reach her, the ranger turned toward me with a grim look on her face and shook her head. Trellara was slain once more.
The other demon fell quickly but I cared not as tears filled my eyes again and I held my beloved Trellara who had given her life in battle for a second time. I wept, though, only for a short time for quickly I channeled my grief into anger. Anger at the horde and its terrible leaders; anger at the cruelty of our world and even anger at my stern and unforgiving god that seemed intent on denying me any form of happiness. By the time the others reached me, my face was a stern mask and I was fight on until my sword was drenched in blood and my foes all lay slain before me.
We decided to take the double doors but Ferzth insisted that we secured this entry chamber and rest here to tend to our wounds. I wanted to go on but the others persuaded me and since we saw no way to retreat from the Fane, we had to make camp in this chamber. We have made beds in the balcony alcoves, hoping to remain hidden from any enemies though the bodies of the wyverns and the demons that Arianrhod calls abishai would surely give us away. I watch over Trellara now while the others sleep and so far our rest has been undisturbed although the abishai are said to be Tiamat’s immortal servants so I doubt our enemies will tolerate our presence here for long.
6 Coldeven 579
Remarkably, nothing disturbed our rest and we descended from the balconies after a few hours and opened the northern double doors across from the entrance. Behind us, we left Trellara, secreted on the western balcony from which we would retrieve her later so that she may again be restored to life. Beyond the doors a wide torchlit hallway led into the shadows beneath the mountain and from it led two doors, the first to the east and another, a little way further along, that led to the west. We decided quickly to try the eastern door and with swords and other weapons ready, we made our way toward it.
I pushed it open and beyond was revealed an L-shaped chamber that contained several counters and tables for food preparation. Cabinets lined the walls, and the entire place was filled with pleasant smells of boiling soup, roasting meat, and fresh bread. The chamber was lit by the crackling flames of a large fire pit to the north, over which a large cauldron hung from a thick chain with steam rising from its bubbling contents. A wizened crone stirred the pot and looked up with annoyance as we stepped into the room while between her and the cabinets and counters flitted two black demonic creatures covered all over in sharp spines.
“Well?” the crone demanded. “What do you want? Are you new here or something?”
“Um, yes,” I answered, a little taken aback. “We were told to come here for food.”
“Well take some and get out,” she said, gesturing to plates of bread and cheese set on one of the counters. “Wish they’d tell me when new folks are arriving. Never know how much bread to make.”
Warily, I sheathed my sword and stepped forward to take a plate and the others followed suit, hardly believing that we were going to get away with what we were trying. I turned away from the counter and started for the door and the others followed but as we did, the crone spoke again and we froze.
“No thanks for Laryssa then,” she said. “Typical.”
We all mumbled our thanks and then stepped back out the doorway into the wide corridor, closing the portal behind us. Only then did I realise that I had been holding my breath and let out a long sigh of relief. Turning to the other door, we put down our plates of food and drew our weapons again while despite everything, I smiled at the ridiculousness of our escape. Finally, forcing the smile from my face, I nodded to the others to make ready and then pushed open the western door, not knowing what to expect. In fact, beyond the door was a narrow and short passageway that led to another door. We made ready again and slowly I pushed open the far door.
For those interested, thought I would start adding 4E encounter details. This encounter was:
Laryssa, Bog Hag (Level 10 Skirmisher) 300xp
5 Spined Devils (Level 6 Skirmisher) 1250xp
1 Bugbear Strangler (Level 8 Lurker) 250xp
Total 1800xp = Level 8
Beyond was a large chamber with vaulted ceilings that arched up to a height of perhaps twenty-five feet. Well over two dozen crude bunks lined the walls of the chamber and its large alcoves while several long tables surrounded by wooden chairs filled the central sections. The tables were filthy with partially eaten haunches of meat, goblets of mead, bones, and other less easily identifiable fare. A large footlocker sat under one of the tables and the putrefying body of a fifty-foot long bronze-scaled dragon hung from numerous chains affixed to the ceiling. The dragon’s body had been opened from the base of its neck to the base of its tail, and rancid organs and worse hung from within. The cloying reek of its body filled the chamber
I led the company into the chamber but no sooner had I rounded a corner into the main part of the room than two of bluish-black-scaled draconians we had faught in Mittleberg leapt from the cots they occupied and reached for swords. Kiriel rushed past me and hurled black lightning at one but she only succeeded in scorching the wall and the draconians began shouting in response in their own tongue as though calling to others. One of the creatures rushed at the elf warlock and lashed its jagged sword into her side, spinning her away while from the far end of the chamber came a gold-scaled draconian, shouting what sounded like orders to the others. It raised its hands, chanted something I could not understand and then hurled a bolt of fire at me that flashed past my right shoulder. The lead black-scale leapt forward to block my path to its master and the other came in from my right, lashing out with its sword as it came.
I took the sword of the newcomer on my shield and then with a prayer on my lips, stabbed my blade into the hip of the other, trying to force it away from Kiriel. From the far end of the chamber came a thinner, bronze-scaled draconian wielding a shorter, but no less jagged sword but from behind me came Ferzth to fight blade to blade with the other black-scale. Arianrhod rushed to aid Kiriel and force back the other creature and together, we forced our way into the centre of the room.
Beyond the black-scaled adamaaz draconians came another bronze-scale and together with the gold-scaled aurak, they formed a second line, blocking our way forward. Kiriel managed to get away from the draconian that had attacked her, though, and hurled black lightning that struck the creature this time. It reeled away from her and with a roar, lashed out at me, cutting its blade into my shoulder and spinning me back and away from it. As I recovered, a bolt of magic flashed out from the aurak behind the others and struck my breastplate, throwing me backwards again while confusing my mind. I remember sensing enemies all around me suddenly and without any control over my actions, I turned on Ferzth and lashed my sword into his side.
Lightning flashed from the bronze-scales toward Kiriel but seemed to miss her and with a second blast of black lightning, she felled the black-scale which exploded in a blast of thunder that knocked me from my feet. The enchantment that the aurak had placed on me seemed to fill me with rage at the death of the black-scale while the blast robbed me of my hearing for a few moments. I leapt to my feet and lashed out at Ferzth but this time, to my later relief, the githzerai was ready, and leapt away from me. Suddenly, my hearing cleared and the spell faded from me, freeing me from its influence. With an angry roar at having been used that way, I surged toward the remaining black-scale, intending to finish the battle quickly.
Thaddeus urged me forward and I lashed my blade into the thigh of the remaining black-scale and then lashed the blade across its back as it lunged at Ferzth. I uttered a prayer that I hoped would give us all the strength to finish the battle and then, as the draconian arched back from my last blow, I plunged my sword into its side. It fell to its right into the wall beside it and to my right, I saw Arianrhod and Thaddeus, charging with a roar at the bronze-scales and the aurak. Kiriel hurled black lightning before the black-scale could recover from my almost mortal blow and with another blast of thunder, it exploded, throwing Ferzth and I onto our backs on the stone floor.
I leapt to my feet quickly and charged at the bronze-scale that Thaddeus faught, slamming my shield into the creature and then stabbing my blade into its belly. I could hear nothing again but I paid it no mind, deciding that it simply drowned out the endless orders that my stepfather shouted at me. I saw Arianrhod fall in silence to my right and then Ferzth was suddenly beside me, driving his own sword into the bronze-scale before us. It fell back and lashed out wildly at Ferzth, allowing me to stab my blade into its left leg and force it to one knee. Thaddeus lashed at the creature only for his blade to pass over its head and I stepped forward, plunging my sword into the creature’s chest. It gasped and as I pulled my sword free, its flesh crumbled from its bones to reveal its skeleton….which promptly exploded in a shower of bone shards.
Arianrhod and Ferzth both fell to the bone shards while a large piece of skeleton struck the other, already wounded bronze-scale. Its own flesh fell away and it exploded, felling Kiriel, who had teleported beyond it, in its death throes. I knelt quickly beside Ferzth and uttered a healing prayer before moving on to where Arianrhod lay while the gith leapt to his feet and charged after the aurak. Thaddeus roused Arianrhod from her unconscious state with what looked to be shouts of encouragement though still I heard nothing, and then charged after Ferzth. The aurak, though, danced past them both as they stabbed at it and darted out of a side door that led eastward. I rushed after it into a passageway that led to another door and stabbed my sword into its back as it reached the second portal. The creature turned on the spot and lashed out with the claws of its right hand, tearing open my throat with one blow. I felt warm blood spill down my chest and then, mercifully, blackness claimed me.
I woke with Thaddeus leaning over me, having tended the terrible wound on my neck and stopped the torrents of blood that had been flowing from it. The door to the east was open and it seemed to lead back into the entry hall where we had camped. From somewhere in that direction, I heard Ferzth roaring in anger and the aurak answering with its own roar. I started to rise but Thaddeus held me down.
“They’ll take care of it lad,” he said and I realised he was right.
A few moments after he had spoken, Arianrhod and Kiriel returned to us, carrying Ferzth between us. They had slain the aurak in the northern corridor, close to the kitchen doors and whilst the githzerai had fallen he yet lived. We retreated to the main barracks chamber to tend our wounds and find what we could amongst their belongings.
Thaddeus retrieved an enchanted longsword from one of the footlockers which he claimed without asking any of us whether we wished to wield it. We made our way to the northern door then and pushed it open to reveal a large room lit by six guttering torches set in sconces affixed to an iron railing that surrounded a five foot high walkway around the circumference of the room. Short flights of stairs near the room’s entrance led up to the walkway, while the walls of the room consisted of five-foot wide cells, each sealed with an iron barred door and fitted with a nasty heap of straw that seemed to pulling double-duty as bedding and toilet.
The centre of the room was a well-stocked torture chamber. Chains and ropes hung from a tangle of pulleys and hooks set in the ceiling, some ending in manacles and others in clamps or cruel hooks of their own. A rack, an iron maiden, and a metal tank of some sort rounded out the chamber’s morbid furnishings. In the centre of the room stood one of the spined devil-creatures that we had seen in the kitchen and as we entered, more took to the air above the walkway around the room. Before I could react, the devil in the middle of the chamber grabbed a handful of spines from its body and hurled them at me.
The volley was followed by another that clattered into the stone wall beside me and then another and another, all of which found marks in my flesh. Flames burned around the spines for a moment and then the familiar numbness of poison assailed my shoulder, my sword arm and my right leg where the deadly missiles had struck me. As my limbs grew heavy, Ferzth, Arianrhod and Thaddeus surged past me and charged at the devil in the middle of the room while Kiriel hurled black lightning at one of the creatures on the western walkway.
I hauled myself up the steps to my left toward the devil that Kiriel had wounded with her lightning and somehow managed to lash my blade into its side, sending it pirouetting through the air away from me. The creature grabbed a handful of its spines and hurled them into my stomach, the missiles finding gaps in my armour. I staggered as more poison flowed through me just as I had dared to think that I had faught off the worst of the first volley’s effects.
Kiriel hurled a blast of fire into the devil as I tried to recover a second time but the creature seemed to shrug the spell off without harm so I paused and caught my breath before continuing my climb up the stairs. Finally, with a prayer for strength on my lips, I surged up the last of the steps and lashed out the demon, cleaving my sword into its chest to send it spinning end over end away from me. It slammed into the floor further along the walkway but as it rolled upright, it hurled another volley of spines that drove painfully into my sword arm and slowed me once more.
At that moment, Arianrhod surged past me on the walkway and plunged both of her blades into the ground devil, slaying it in a shower of blood. I looked down to the chamber floor to where another of the creatures lay dead and across from me on the other walkway, Thaddeus faught another. Determined to do my part, I pushed past Arianrhod in turn to the next of the devils on the northern side of the walkway, lashing my blade into the creature and sending it reeling away. The creature hurled more spines in my direction but this time I raised my shield and stopped most of them. The handful that struck me I hardly felt due to the numbness that now pervaded my body and so I pressed on along the walkway toward my enemy.
Behind me, I heard Thaddeus shouting then and with a glance I saw that Ferzth had taken my stepfather’s place on the opposite walkway. Thaddeus surged past me to tackle the devil before me and then Arianrhod pushed past with a sympathetic look that might have been pity on her face. I offered up a healing prayer and reached out to touch Thaddeus as the devil reeled away from him so that I lent what aid I could but I could do little more in my weakened state on the cramped walkway. Just as I thought the effects of the poison were fading another volley of spines drove into my right side from the opposite walkway and the weakness and numbness began again.
Led by Thaddeus and Ferzth, we drove the three remaining spined devils along the northern walkway from two sides but then one took to the air over the centre of the chamber. Arianrhod and I rushed back along the walkway and down the steps to cut the creature off, the effects of the poison again fading from me. Kiriel hurled black lightning at one of the flying devils and sent it slamming into the steel railing around the walkway before it plummeted to the floor, slain.
I charged at the other hovering creature, lashing my sword high above my head and into the flesh of the devil’s leg, forcing it to bank away from me. Thaddeus urged me on from the walkway above and I lashed out again, this time connecting with the creature’s body. It stuttered in flight and as it did, more of Kiriel’s deadly black lightning struck it and it dropped to the ground like a stone to land dead beside its companion.
The last devil tried to escape us then but we refused to let it leave the chamber. It darted out across the floor only to be met by Ferzth’s blade while Arianrhod moved to block the short southern passageway back to the barracks room. I moved to join Ferzth while uttering a prayer of shielding that would protect him if the creature tried to fight its way out. I lashed out with my sword and connected with the side of the devil’s spiny body but still it would not drop. It flew at Arianrhod, clawing at her as it reached her but Ferzth was ready and lashed oput with his sword, cutting it in two before it had chance to get past the ranger. The pieces of the devil fell to the floor and the chamber fell silent for a moment. Then we heard the cries of the prisoners.
6 Coldeven 579
Imprisoned within the cells, we found three prisoners and we knew them all. From one came Kellin, the halfling innkeep of the Old Bridge Inn at Drellin’s ferry and from another came Speaker Norro Wiston of the same village while in the third was Salenn, the Lion Guard who had become besotted with Arianrhod. I had not seen the last two since before the final battle in Mittleberg and the halfling we had not seen since the panicked evacuation of Drellin’s Ferry on a night that seemed an age ago. We embraced each in turn and learned that they had all been captured in the Battle of Mittleberg as the horde swept through the city. They had feared for their lives but now, rescued by “heroes” such as us, they were saved. We led them back to the entry chamber and bade them wait there with fallen Trellara while we ventured further into the Fane.
We headed into the wide northern corridor, ignoring the way to the kitchen and intending to ignore the next side passage on the right. Alas, it was not to be, for from that passage we heard guttural voices as soon as we passed the kitchen entrance and knew something was coming toward us. From behind me, I heard Ferzth shout a warning and as I glanced around I saw him leaping away as a bugbear sought to loop a garrote around his neck. I heard a shout from in front of us then and turning back, I saw another bugbear emerge from the side passage and charge toward us. The creature lashed out with a huge flail, smashing the weapon into my breast plate and sending me spinning backwards into Kiriel, who fell to the floor. I stumbled then myself and fell sprawling to the stone just as a second bugbear emerged from the corridor and charged at Thaddeus.
I scrambled back as a third bugbear came forth from the corridor but it slammed its flail down on my right leg as I tried to retreat along the floor. Thaddeus, who had also fallen, got to his feet and lashed out at one of the bugbears while shouting at Ferzth to take care of the one behind us. I leapt to my feet and uttered a prayer of shielding to protect Thaddeus while lashing my blade into the side of the bugbear her had wounded. The creature smashed into the wall of the stone passage but then with a roar, it lashed out its flail in a wide arc to strike my helm and send me reeling away to hit the back near the kitchen entrance. Thaddeus reeled back after me and the bugbears, four of them filling the corridor now, came surging after him, forcing us back, step by step.
Ferzth took my place at the front of the group and so as I leapt to my feet again, I ducked around Arianrhod to drive my blade into the garrote-wielding bugbear in the doorway to the kitchen. Outnumbered now, the creature lashed the axe it held in its other hand into Arianrhod’s side and then ducked back through the kitchen door, closing the portal behind it. A moment later, the door opened again and a flail-wielding bugbear emerged, seemingly shouting something derisory at the cowardly strangler. I moved to intercept the creature but as I did, a flail blow from the other bugbears struck Arianrhod and sent her spinning past me to land on the floor, further down the corridor.
Thaddeus urged me forward as he got to his feet again and I moved to block the side corridor that led to the kitchen, hoping that the spined devils would not follow the bugbear through the door against us. Ferzth was the next to be sent reeling away from the bugbears but as he got to his feet, a whiel of dust surrounded him and he vanished only to reappear behind the bugbears to the north where Kiriel had also teleported herself to. Together, they attacked the bugbears from that side while from my right, the bugbear charged from the kitchen and lashed out with its flail.
I parried the blow with my sword and stepped back just as Arianrhod leapt to her feet and charged back into the battle. She swept both her blades out lashing them into either side of the bugbear in a spray of blood. The creature roared and staggered back toward the kitchen door but as it did, another bugbear came at me from my left and swept its flail out in a huge swing that struck Thaddeus and I and sent us reeling back again. We spun to the floor behind Arianrhod but I got up at once and charged back at the bugbear in the doorway. I plunged my blade into its chest and it staggered back a step before lashing the spiked ball of its flail into the side of my head and spinning me away to the floor once again.
I got up almost at the double doors that led to the entry chamber and charged forward, determined to drive back the bugbears. I prayed to Pholtus to grant all of us the strength to finish the battle but as my blade sang out, the bugbear parried it with the handle of its flail and my prayer died on my lips. A bugbear lashed at me from my right but I lashed my sword out in a parry and knocked its flail away from me. I took another blow on my shield and somehow held my ground for a few moments before the third bugbear swept its flail into my breastplate and sent me reeling away. I hit the doors to the entry chamber hard and slumped down to the floor while the bugbear leapt forward after me. I pushed myself to my feet and prayed for a blessing on my weapon before lashing out at the budgear, my blade slashing across its chest and halting its charge. Thaddeus and Arianrhod struck at it then but still it managed to lash out at me again, throwing me back against the doors and down to the floor. I lashed out at the creature wildly and it leapt back only for Arianrhod to leap forward and plunge both her swords into its belly. It collapsed to the floor in gushing torrents of blood.
Thaddeus and I leapt forward then, both of us roaring incoherent battlecries. He lashed his blade at one of the remaining bugbears while I slashed my own sword into the side of another, slamming it into the wall of the corridor. The goblinoid recovered quickly, lashing its flail into my shoulder and slamming me back into the doors for a third time but as I turned and struggled to my feet, I saw Ferzth and Kiriel coming down the corridor beyond the bugbear. The elf maid and the githzerai had seemingly slain the bugbears they had faced and were now coming to our aid. The two remaining bugbears died quickly after that, before I could even get back into the battle and as one, we retreated to the entry chamber to rest.
We emerged into the entry chamber and found it empty. Thinking that perhaps the freed prisoners had clambered up to the balconies where we had slept, Ferzth and I climbed up to check but there was no sign. This was troubling enough but what struck me like a stab of cold steel was that Trellara’s body was missing. The prisoners had fled and they had taken my dear love with them!
We knew that we could not go after them for the fane still lay undefeated beneath this mountain and so we made camp. I pray that they escaped the mountain safely and that they will return Trellara to Mittleberg where I may petition my church for her to again be restored to life.
7 Coldeven 579
Again, our rest was undisturbed despite the battle just outside the kitchen that we faught last night and this time, when we ventured forth into the wide northern corridor, nothing emerged from the side passages. Determined to press on, we ignored the ways left and right and followed the passage to its far end where wide steps descended into a cavernous chamber lit by the flickering illumination of hundreds of red, blue, green, black, and white candles. The candles were fitted into niches all along the walls or into candle-holders affixed to the sides of the long pews that filled the southern half of the room. The ceiling vaulted to a height of what looked to be nearly sixty feet, but I found it hard to tell for certain due to the hundreds of dangling leather strands festooned with scales and claws. These grim decorations clattered and twisted softly on faint breezes, hanging in places down to just ten feet off the ground.
The northern half of the room was raised five feet above the floor of the southern half; a short flight of stairs to the east leading up to the raised area. The higher part was dominated by a large stone altar around which rose stony dragon heads, like the curling fingers of an upturned palm while the altar itself was stained, scorched and pitted. To either side of the altar stood a twelve foot tall stone statue of a five-headed dragon, her leering heads snaking down to look at the altar as if in curiosity and each statue had a long tail that ended in a hooked stinger. Five large alcoves, twenty feet off the ground overlooked the northern half of the room but there seemed to be no easy way of reaching these lofty perches.
Kiriel stepped into the chamber first, making her way toward the altar while chanting some form of spell. She announced that the altar was magically trapped soon after while Arianrhod moved to the right onto the raised area with her swords draw. At that moment, we discovered why the alcoves were so hard to reach for from the one behind the altar came a screech of alarm that was answered by other screeches from the other alcoves. From the recess ahead of us swept a thin wyvern that dived toward Kiriel and snapped at her with its teeth, seizing her arm for a moment before banking around the huge chamber to our right. Another swept down from an alcove and tore at her other arm while a third swooped down from another alcove.
Another swept down from the left and landed in front of me and then a fifth creature swopped down on Arianrhod from the right. I lashed out at the wyvern in front of me while Thaddeus stabled his sword into its flank and dragged me around it to the right to allow Ferzth room to join the battle. The githzerai charged at the wyvern and drove his blade into its chest but still it lashed at him with its stinger, and I lunged forward to plunge my own sword into its flank. The wyvern lashed out again at Ferzth with its tail and this time, the deadly stinger drove into the githzerai’s arm, slamming him into the wall and no doubt injecting poison into him. He staggered and I stabbed at the creature again and then a second time but still the wyvern would not fall.
Thaddeus urged me into the chamber to aid Arianrhod then for the ranger had fallen against the south wall of the chamber and was only now recovering. As I reached her, she rose and lashed out with one of her swords at the wyvern she faught before slashing at it with the other only for the second blade to skitter off the creature’s scales. The stinger of another wyvern stabbed into Arianrhod’s side and spun her toward me but she stayed on her feet and to give her time to recover again, I stabbed my blade into the creature as it spun back to face me.
Ferzth felled the wyvern that had faced us in the entryway and leapt to join the battle with the new foe I faced while Arianrhod spun around the creature to drive a blade into its back. Thaddeus meanwhile, shouted encouragement to Kiriel who faught unseen behind the other three wyverns at the western end of the room. A stinger lashed at me but I ducked and raised my shield, holding the dreadful weapon at bay while Thaddeus and Ferzth darted in and stabbed at the beast. It screeched in pain and staggered but seemed as though it would not fall. Then Kiriel appeared in a shower of light behind the creature and hurled black lightning that pitched it over atop the pews in front of me.
To my right, Arianrhod lashed at another wyvern and then danced away, bleeding herself from several wounds. The creature stepped forward to follow her but I stepped into its path and it lashed its stinger at me. I raised my shield and the weapon drove into the front, stabbing through to the back just above where my arm held it. I yanked it free and leapt over the back row of pews toward Arianrhod, uttering a healing prayer to aid her as I drew near. Spinning on the spot, I lashed out at the wyvern before the ranger and then turned back toward the one that had attacked me, hoping to keep it at bay long enough for the others to deal with its two companions.
The wyvern came at me, leaping atop the pews and lashing out with its stinger. I ducked under its lashing tail and as I did, Arianrhod spun between two rows of pews and drove one of her swords into the creature’s flank. It screeched and lashed out wildly with its tail, too fast this time for me to move or duck. The stinger drove into my side, sending pain shooting across my body and then numbness began to flow from the wound as poison coursed into my blood.
I staggered but then stepped toward the creature, plunging my sword into the base of its neck and drawing another screech of pain from it. It snapped down at me but I managed to leap back beyond its jaws as they closed sharply. I chanted a prayer for Pholtus to bless my sword and then lashed out at the wyvern’s snout before it could retreat, hacking the end of its nose off in a spray of blood. Arianrhod darted in from its right and stabbed one of her blades into its flank drawing an angry screech from the wyvern. It twisted and then lashed at me with its stinger again but again I leapt back. The wyvern lunged and I plunged my sword into the base of its skull and drove it up into whatever brain it possessed. The light in its eyes died at once and it collapsed on the floor at my feet.
With a roar, I spun around to face the other two wyverns, leaping between two rows of pews and lashing my sword across the neck of one.
It screeched and then black lightning tore into its flank, felling it amongst the pews. Arianrhod rushed at the last creature but as she reached it, it screeched in alarm and leapt away from her before flapping its wings and flying up the stairs down which we had come.
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