Die in Battle, Do Us Proud

Session 5 - The Ones Who Wait and Watch

One morning, the dwarf Marley awoke to find a note left for him by his twin brother Farley, in which he explained that he and his ex-wife Expertise had decided to journey to the City-State of Kaladon to become adventurers. Suspecting that the whole thing was a plot to get out of a fifty-gold-piece debt, Marley set out in pursuit. Once he arrived in Kaladon, it took him about a day of asking around to be directed to the King’s Blade Hotel, where the two were said to be staying.

That same day, the party was visited by Captain Herrod Guy of the Black Dragons. He showed them a letter he’d received from one Balthazar Trenton of House Trenton Mining. In it, Balthazar wrote that one of their new mines had been subject to several raids over the past few weeks. People had been abducted and killed, and equipment had been damaged. Recently, one of the attackers had been killed; the body appeared to be that of an orc. Balthazar wished for the Black Dragons to be sent out to protect the camp. Because of the ongoing war between the Thieves Guild and the New Blades, the Black Dragons were already stretched to the limit, and so Captain Guy needed to outsource the task. He wanted the adventurers to determine the nature of the orc threat—his primary fear was that this marked the beginning of a new horde invasion—and, if they deemed it manageable, handle it themselves. In exchange, he offered to pay 5 g.p. plus expenses, with a 250 g.p. bonus if they could deal with the orc threat on their own. The party agreed.

As Captain Guy was on his way out, Marley was on his way in. Expertise informed him of his brother’s death, and did her best to console him. She needn’t have bothered. His primary concern, it turned out, was that he might never get his 50 g.p. back. For some reason, this endeared him to the rest of the party, and they offered him a spot on the team.

They booked passage on a boat headed up the Black River, and in an hour, they were off. On the way up, Choice sidled up to Expertise with some kind words and fruit, but she wasn’t having it. They arrived at the Trenton Mining Camp at noon. Expertise chose this moment to scatter her ex-husband’s ashes while singing a mournful dirge. It would have been rather touching had laborers not been unloading cargo right next to her.

The party met Balthazar Trenton, who was at first furious that his request for Black Dragons and Knights of Kaladon had been answered with freelance adventurers, but they managed to talk him down. He showed them the body of the creature they had killed, a grey-green-skinned, pig-faced humanoid. It corresponded pretty closely with descriptions of orcs that they’d heard. He told them a little more about the situation: the raids had begun three weeks ago, when they’d begun construction of a new tunnel. They always happened at night, and until recently, they’d had no idea who their attackers were. Four days ago, a miner had manage to strike one of them down with a pickaxe. Upon realizing what they were dealing with, Balthazar had halted all work at all the mines and called everyone back to the camp. The halted labor was costing him a fortune, and he was eager to resume work, but the prospect of an orc horde lurking just behind the next mountain was too terrifying. Further questioning resulted in a history lesson:

Before there was the City-State of Kaladon, there was Fort Kaladon, the northernmost outpost of the Knights of the God-Emperor. A century ago, an orc horde—called by historians and bards “The Hated Horde”—came over the Greyfang Mountains from the Great Desolation, intent upon invasion, slaughter, and whatever the hell else it is that orcs enjoy. An alliance was formed between the Dwarves of Stonehome, the Shriekwood Elves, and the Knights of the God-Emperor, and the Black River Treaty was signed. The three united armies were able to drive the Hated Horde back over the mountains. Not a single orc has been seen since…until now.

The signing of the treaty resulted in trade opening up, and suddenly Fort Kaladon became an important commercial center. A city sprung up around it. Fifty years ago, when the God-Emperor was assassinated and the Empire of Nol collapsed, Kaladon declared itself an independent city-state, which it remains to this day.

Thirty years ago, when an earthquake leveled the city of Stonehome and the dwarves sought refuge in Kaladon, they were granted it on the condition that they turn mining rights in the Greyfang Mountains over to the humans. House Trenton Mining now owns almost all those rights.

Balthazar introduced the party to Whispers Trent (no relation), leader of the Storm Company, a band of mercenaries tasked with guarding the mining camp. She had no interest in engaging with orcs, and was relieved that the adventurers were there so that no one would ask her to. She agreed to bring them out to the new mine that’s been causing so much trouble in the morning.

That night, the many, many dwarf miners at the camp got drunk. Junior and Expertise tried striking up conversations. The dwarves weren’t particularly chatty, but they did discover that at least some of the dwarves were bitter over the fact that they were now mining what they saw as their mountains for someone else’s profit.

Morning came, and they set out for the camp. At noon, they came across an enormous, three-headed, winged creature splashing in a creek. Whispers identified it as a chimera. Fenton managed to stay his bow, and they moved on.

When they reached the new tunnel—construction had only begun, and it was still quite shallow—they decided to set an ambush for the orcs, with Junior and Fenton acting as bait. The rest of the party arranged themselves nearby. Whispers found a nearby ledge, asked not to be disturbed, and went to sleep. Everyone else watched and waited. After a few hours, they heard the sound of the beating of giant wings. Fenton emerged from his hiding place and fired an arrow into the night sky. In a moment, everyone saw what he missed: a giant bird of prey, quite unhappy at being fired upon. It plunged towards them. Thinking quickly, Brick doused their campfire with a blanket. Unable to see them, the bird perched on a nearby rock for a while, and then left. As soon as it was out of sight, Expertise went at Fenton, weapons drawn. He survived, and so didn’t seem to take it personally. Eventually, everyone managed to calm down.

Whispers, awake, offered the party some advice: “The best thing is getting paid not to fight. The worst thing is fighting without getting paid.” Then she went back to sleep. Everyone else followed suit, except Choice, who kept watch. Some time later, he heard the sound of footsteps approaching. He woke the rest of the party, and they armed themselves.

Four figures in monkish robes emerged from the night. Marley spoke to them in orc, and they spoke right back in the same language. Choice bewitched one with a Charm spell, and they had a brief conversation.

“We are the ones who wait and watch,” it said. “When the nations of mankind grow weak, we will send fire into the sky, calling forth the Horde.”

It believed that that time was drawing near: the dwarves had lost their city, and the elves were bickering among themselves. One of the orc’s companions demanded to know why they’re wasting time talking when they should have been killing, and got a mace in his face for the trouble. So it was fighting time. The two non-Charmed orcs were defeated. The one still under Choice’s spell marveled at the party’s strength. Fenton chose that moment to show just how strong they were. Before anyone could stop him, he cleaved its leg from its torso. It bled to death.

Arguments ensued.

Examining the bodies, Marley found that each wore a clasp engraved with the image of hundreds of faces—human, orc, demon, miscellaneous—all pressed up against each other, all screaming. None of them recognized it.

When the sun came up, Whispers bid adieu and set off down the trail. The party followed the tracks of the orcs they had killed back to their source. After a couple hours, they came upon a doorway dug into the base of a cliff. Around the doorway were carved more screaming faces, much like the ones on the orcs’ clasps. Some discussion was given to whether the cave should be entered, but the party ultimately decided against it. They agreed that they had enough information to report to Captain Guy, so they traveled back to the Trenton Mining Camp. On the way, the encountered another group of the robed orcs, whom they managed to defeat without too much trouble.

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Session 4: Grinding Meat

After some discussion about how to handle the two captured goblins, it was decided that Fenton would lead them out into the forest and set them free. We can only assume that that’s exactly what he did.

Crown in hand, the adventurers returned to Kaladon. By the time they reached the city, the sun had set and the gate was closed, They set up camp near the edge of the woods so as to not be too near the elven encampment. The next morning, the gate opened and the adventurers followed a lumber cart into the city.

They headed to the address that Perrin Featherly had given them: a third-floor apartment in the Castle View district. There, they were admitted by his human wife, Mara Featherly. They sat down with Perrin. He told them how grateful he was to see them, especially after having learned that The Copper Cask had burned down. When the adventurers offered him the crown they had discovered, his disappointment was apparent. It was not the crown he was looking for. He thanked the group for the efforts and told them they were welcome to keep the advance, but he seemed to feel that their business together was concluded. They were not to be so easily dissuaded, and they offered to further explore the ruined mansion, in case there was anything they had missed. After some questioning, Perrin explained his interest in the Oakleaf Crown.

Perrin is actually the uncle of the current Elfking of the Shriekwood, a post elected by the heads of the eight elven tribes of the Shriekwood. From the time of the founding of the city-state, Perrin served as the elven ambassador to Kaladon. However, twenty years ago, when he fell in love with and married a human woman, the Elfking banished him from Oakleaf Tower and stripped him of his title. Perrin hopes that if he recovers the Oakleaf Crown, his people’s ancient symbol of power, he will regain his lost honor and be reinstated as ambassador.

Because of the Elfking’s repeated concessions to the Kaladonians regarding lumber rites in the Shriekwood, many of the Shriekwood elves are growing dissatisfied with their liege. Perrin fears that the situation is headed quickly towards a boiling point, and believes that his expertise is needed in order to ease tensions.

After two days of rest and shopping, the adventurers once again left Kaladon. On their way out of the city, they were accosted by three elves, who demanded to know their business with Perrin, whom they called “The Outcast.” They were satisfied (and even a little impressed) by Fenton’s claim that they were goblin hunters, and that Perrin Featherly was their patron.

Back in the Mansion of the Silver-Faced Wizard, they followed a secret passage to a room that contained a pool of clear liquid, at the bottom of which rested a single red gem. Experimentation revealed the liquid to be a powerful acid. Fenton and Noid constructed a spatula-shaped tool from some dislodged stone, and used it to scoop the gem from the pool.

Further exploration led them to a decrepit, abandoned office. In an old desk on the verge of collapse, Shoshana discoversed a wrought-iron key and an old letter. It told of a library hidden in the caves beneath Littlefang Mountain, and of a ritual to summon something called “The Elfsbane,” a creature the letter’s author cautioned was not to be trusted.

The adventurers came to a door upon which a message was carved in Goblin. Since no one could read Goblin, Noid opened the door, stepped through into the hallway beyond…and vanished, with a yelp. Bracing himself in the doorway, Brick leaned his head in. He found himself not in a hallway at all, but at the top of a deep shaft. At the bottom were several sharp metal spikes. The spikes impaled the skeletons of several goblins, and also, sadly, the corpse of Noid. He stared up at Brick with a look of utter shock on his frozen face.

They pressed on. Shoshanna’s key opened a door to a room with a large domed ceiling. Every inch of the wall was covered with skulls, running from the floor all the way up to the dome’s apex. The flickering of the torch caught a metal glint all the way up at the top. A large stone hand rested in the center of the floor. A human-like mouth was carved into its palm. Shoshanna took a seat on the hand, and the mouth immediately animated.

“Greetings, Master,” it said.

It explained that it can lift her up to the top of the dome, but that first she must answer one question: “What secret is hidden by the Silver Mask?”

“Human?” she guessed.

The hand squeezed shut, bursting Shoshanna like a jelly packet. When it reopened, the mouth was no longer animate. Fenton used his sword to fish through the pulverized bone and flesh to retrieve his comrade’s valuables.

With half their party gone, Fenton and Brick decided to return to the city.

They stopped for a drink to plot their next move and to recover from the day’s horrors. Across the room, Brick spotted a familiar face: Expertise, an old nemesis from his school days. She had recently arrived in Kaladon with her ex-husband and adventuring companion, the dwarf Farley, in search of work. After some tense, almost hostile negotiations, Brick and Fenton offered Expertise and Farley positions in the party. The next day, the four of them set out once again for the Mansion of the Silver-Faced Wizard.

This time, they descended into the caverns beneath the mansion’s basement. They discovered a flock of strange birds with mosquito probosces instead of beaks, and drove them off with arrows. In the center of the cavern floor, someone had painted a pentagram and several strange runes, and surrounded the whole thing with candles. Nearby lay a skeleton wearing ragged white robes and a silver plague mask. Fenton took the mask and noted that the skull that it covered was that of an elf.

One tunnel led to a pool bubbling with glowing blue liquid. Fenton filled a waterskin. Another tunnel led to a small chamber. A creature perched upon a ledge above them. It was enormous, ten feet tall at least, and though humanoid, had the skin and face of a salamander. An extra pair of arms hung off its torso, and a stripe of white hair ran from the top of its head all the way down its back. When they entered the chamber, the creature stared ahead, its eyes milky and blank, and gave no sign of having noticed of the visitors.

The adventurers began to back out of the room, but they didn’t make it far before Fenton fired an arrow at the creature. He missed, but it woke up anyway. Farley launched an arrow as well, and his found its mark. In return, the creature beat him to death. It turned its attentions to Fenton and Brick (Expertise had ducked back into the tunnel), but they managed to cleave it in half.

The survivors left the mansion.

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Session 3: After Dark

The adventurers abandoned their spots in the trees and returned to Kaladon. At the Castle Keep, they met with Herred Guy, Captain of the Black Dragons, who asked several questions about last night’s fire at The Copper Cask. He then recommended an expensive hotel near the Castle Keep and sent them on their way.

As they made their way towards The King’s Blade, Brick was approached by a flower vendor who insisted that he had dropped something as he walked. The slip of paper she pressed into his hand contained an address and the message, “After Dark.”

Shoshanna secured rooms at The King’s Blade while the rest of the party went to visit the abandoned temple in Temple Square. It was a large, stone structure, entirely boarded up, with all identifying markings and religious iconography removed. They decided that the place’s significance could most easily be identified by Shoshanna, and so they returned to the hotel for the night.

They awoke before dawn. Junior purchased a city map from the hotel’s night clerk, and they set off for The Cuts, the city’s worst slum. At the noted address, they encountered Fenryl Two-Blades, a large, bald man, and a dozen-or-so armed thugs. The bald man refused to give his name, but identified himself as a local businessman, and a friend and colleague of both Fenryl and the late Nader Maley. He expressed his gratitude for the adventurers’ having saved both Fenryl’s life and the lives of the many guests at The Copper Cask. As a token of his appreciation, he offered them a single wooden coin marked with three connected rings, which he identified as his “marker.” He explained that it could be exchanged at the flower stall on Castle Hill for one favor. “Anything within my power,” he said. He refused to elaborate on exactly what that entailed, but he hinted that it was not slight.

At first, he was reluctant to tell the adventurers much about what had happened the night before. When pressed, he told them that the men who had burned down The Copper Cask belonged to an organization called The New Blades, a group with nefarious goals and an utter lack of scruples when it came to achieving them.

As dawn broke over the city, the adventurers bid adieu to the bald man, and set out of the city’s eastern gate, into the Shriekwood, and to the Mansion of the Silver-Faced Wizard. Along the way, Shoshanna told the story of the God-Emperor of Nol, whose abandoned temple now stands boarded up in Kaladon’s Temple Square:

For centuries, the Empire of Nol was ruled by living deity called The God-Emperor and governed by his priests. Practice of any other religion was prohibited, and the Priests of Nol waged constant war with nations and kingdoms that did not recognize the God-Emperor’s divinity. Sixty years ago, the God-Emperor was assassinated, and Nol erupted in civil war. The former Empire lays fractured now. In many of its former territories, worship of the God-Emperor is banned outright.

Rather than a repeated attempt at a direct approach, they opted to climb up onto the mansion’s balcony and gain access that way. On the second floor, they found a room that contained a single door and a statue of a knight. Brick, suspecting a trap, rigged a rope around the door handle and urged everyone to step aside. Choice was skeptical. He commanded Thura to open the door herself, and, ever-helpful, she complied.

So she died.

There was no time to mourn her passing. The group descended to the now-familiar first-floor of the mansion, where they dispatched a pair of goblin guards, and then to the basement. They discovered a secret passage, but opted to not explore it yet. Instead, they entered a room that contained three more goblins, one of whom wore several bits of jewelry and a crown, as well as a massive pile of coins. The other two goblins surrendered once the one in the crown was decapitated. The adventurers bound their prisoners and filled their packs with loot.

Choice examined the goblin’s crown, and declared it to be of elven-make.

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Session 2: A Fire in the Night

The adventurers returned to Kaladon, lugging an unconscious Clode Cavernesse with them. They passed through an elf camp and arrived at the city’s East gate, where a pair of black-armored guards stopped them. The guards considered not allowing the party into the city for fear that Clode might be carrying some sort of disease. A bribe of 15 silver pieces enticed them to reconsider their diagnosis.

They returned to the Copper Cask, the inn where they were first hired. There, they met Narder Maley, the innkeeper, and Fenryl Two-Blades, his dwarf bouncer, whom they soon learned had no tongue. They also made the acquaintance of a pair of adventurers, Noid and Brick, who had recently accompanied a merchant caravan to the city from the South. After some drinks and some haggling, the two were invited to join the party.

The next morning, once Clode had recovered from his injuries, they set out into the city in search of supplies and information. Shoshanna went to the Church of the Keeper and met with the Mother Superior. The holy woman knew little of either the Wizard with the Silver Face or the Oakleaf Crown beyond the fact that they were both bits of elven folklore. She castigated Shoshanna for choosing the life of an adventurer, when, as a member of the clergy, she should have devoted her life to seclusion and study in a proper temple. Call it a difference of opinion.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party headed to New Stonehome, the dwarf district, to equip Fenton, recently (possibly accidentally) promoted from hireling to full partner. From a dirty, impoverished dwarf, Clode purchased a map that allegedly led to the lost entrance to Stonehome, where he claimed all the treasures of the dwarves were buried. A few questions later, the party learned the story of Stonehome:

Stonehome was a dwarven metropolis that existed long before humans came to the region and Kaladon was built. Thirty years ago, a terrible earthquake leveled Stonehome and killed thousands upon thousands of dwarves. The great gates collapsed, and the mountains swallowed the city. The survivors fled to Kaladon for sanctuary, and were given the ghetto of New Stonehome as a place to start over.

Sufficiently exposited, the party returned to the Copper Cask. Choice hired an axe-fighter called Thura as his henchman.

That night, the sounds of fighting downstairs roused the party from there sleep. They crept downstairs and discovered a pair of masked figures holding Narder at swordpoint. Fenryl lay collapsed nearby, bleeding from a wound. Before anyone could act, one of the intruders slit Narder’s throat. They then fled from the building, with the adventurers in pursuit. The adventurers managed to bring one of the killers down with an arrow. The other escaped. Before they could do anything else, another masked figure stepped out of the shadows and hurled a molotov cocktail through the Copper Cask’s window, setting the building ablaze.

Thura rescued Fenryl, Clode rescued the inn’s guests, and Choice rescued his belongings.

City guards and a bucket brigade arrived. Fenryl was whisked away for medical attention. The guards requested that the party come to the Castle Keep in the morning to be interviewed about the fire. While everyone was distracted, Noid examined the corpse of the one felled attacker. He noticed details in his attire—tiny hooks on the palms of his gloves, thin padding on the soles of his boots—that hinted the dead man might might have been a thief. He also found a massive tattoo on his chest depicting hundreds upon hundreds of swords and knives all clashing together.

Morning arrived.

Rather than keep their meeting at the Castle Keep, the party headed out the East gate. They briefly spoke with an elf at the camp. They learned that though the Shriekwood elves will come to the city for trade and diplomacy, they prefer not to sleep indoors, and so they maintain a constant camp outside the gates. This elf scoffed at the idea that the Wizard with the Silver Face might be a real person, or that the Oakleaf Crown could ever be found; both, she laughed, were fairy tales.

After a brief hike through the Shriekwood, the adventurers arrived once again at the ruined mansion. Arranged in an arc around the front door, there now stood several wooden stakes mounted with severed heads. A pair of goblins guarded the door. The party managed to kill one of the guards, but the other ducked inside before they could stop him. Rather than follow, they elected to climb the trees at the edge of the clearing and wait to see what happened next.

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Session 1: The Ruined Mansion

A band of adventurers came together in a tavern in the city-state of Kaladon. They were:

An aging elf called Perrin Featherly approached them. He told them how, centuries before humans came to the region, the Shriekwood elves had fought a war against a sorcerer called The Wizard with the Silver Face. In battle, the wizard struck down the Elfqueen and took from her body the Oakleaf Crown, a symbol of power of her people. Shortly thereafter, he disappeared without warning, and neither he nor the crown were ever seen again.

Perrin then explained that he believed he had discovered the location of the mansion of the Wizard with the Silver Face. He wished to hire the adventurers to venture into the Shriekwood to where he believed the mansion’s ruins stood and, if it could be found, to retrieve the Oakleaf Crown. They agreed to perform this task for 100 gold pieces, with a 50% advance.

With henchmen and hirelings in tow, the adventurers set out to the Shriekwood, following the directions that Featherly had given them. They reached the ruined mansion by noon. Initial explorations revealed it to be the home of a harpy, a tribe of goblins, and various other monsters. They also discovered signs that a third party was inside the ruins, killing goblins with a sling.

A puddle of living acid dissolved Ethore. Goblin warriors slaughtered all but one of the party’s employees and rendered Clode Cavernesse unconscious. The adventurers crept back the way they came and returned to Kaladon to recuperate and reassess.

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