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.
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.