Evening of the 14th of Dacal, 1331 Avard.
The four of them – Hadarai, Dolon, Sunalor, and Johannes – found themselves in an uncomfortable situation. In the next room an arcane fire blazed warmly in a fireplace large enough for a horse. The fire backlit a throne-like chair in which someone sat, and had beckoned for them to enter. Two other exits led out of the room on the first floor, and two entries led onto the balcony that surrounded the room. Four undead stood on the balconies, their hands on the rails, watching the four of them.
They cautiously entered, ready for anything, but surprised and wary by someone speaking to them in a tongue that not even the linguist, Dolon, could understand. It was the Olde Common tongue, used before the ascension of the Karatikan language a millennium before.
The figure on the throne was skeletal, as their sunrod revealed him. His bones were blackened, and there was no flesh on them anymore. A shadowy darkness filled his skull. He was dressed in the darkest of leathers and clothing, save for the bright mithril chain mail on him. Sunalor wanted desperately to destroy the undead immediately, but caution and his deference to Johanness held him back.
Dolon found out quickly that the skeletal figure spoke the Karatikan tongue, as well – and a dialogue began. The figure was the last remaining Griffon Knight, bound to the keep for all eternity to watch over the Candle of Truth. All of the undead within the keep were his and his alone, to defend the candle. The orcs had come in in such numbers, though, that they had managed to obtain the candle, and loot other things besides, before he could turn the tide. The orcs did not manage to get the striker needed to light the candle, nor the incantation needed before using the striker.
Johannes, through Dolon, told the Griffon Knight the truth of their travels. He told the knight that the candle was needed once again, to unravel the nest of lies in Rakore and uncover the Traitor and his machinations. Johannes told the knight that duty, honor, and justice were still needed in the world, and that the Candle of Truth would save many, many lives.
The knight considered this, and told the four of them what little he knew of where the candle might have gone. All of the undead within the keep were his to control – including the griffon corpses. The one they had defeated, was risen again mere minutes later under the control of the Griffon Knight. The knight told them that they were his eyes and ears outside the keep, but only in the night. In daylight, his minions were limited. The griffons had brought him a small bit of information, and told him that the candle was southeast of the keep. If the party were to return the candle, and speak the truth within its light, then perhaps he would agree to release it to them.
The four of them decided to rest until daylight, up in the courtyard of the keep, and then move out as quickly as possible from there. Johannes and Hadarai got into a bit of a terse argument regarding necromancy. Johannes felt that all necromancy was inherently evil, and that the figure could not be trusted. Hadarai, having taken one course on necromancy at Lok Magius, felt that not all necromancers were evil and not all necromancy was corrupting. Both went to sleep irritated with the other.
In the morning, they set out across the discrepit draw bridge – and right into an ambush. The orcs had waited for them, even digging a pit on the lower part of the road, triggering a small landslide that drove Hadarai and Johannes into the pit. Ten orcish axemen, backed by belly-bow archers, advanced and attacked.
Johannes drew upon the druidic teachings of the land, and changed himself into a giant spider. Hadarai leapt upon the spider, and together they crawled out of the pit, into a ready and waiting nest of orcs. The two of them made several quick attacks – and Hadarai revealed himself as a mage. The belly bowmen concentrated their fire Hadarai, knocking him off of Johannes in spider form, and back into the pit, where he fell unconcious.
Bastard, Sunalor's horse, proved to be a vicious combatant. The warhorse kicked and fought against the orcs left and right, and together with Sunalor he proved to be a formidable warrior. Dolon and Sunalor withdrew to the narrow drawbridge, where they felt they would have a better chance of fighting the orcs.
Johannes, still in spider form, slipped into the pit, picked up Hadarai, and then exited the pit on another side. Moving quickly, he was able to cross the drawbridge from the other side, all the while amidst a hail of belly bolt fire.
At the drawbridge they made their stand, as the orcs charged and the bolts rained down. The narrow portions of the drawbridge allowed them to begin working together, and they began to push or fight orcs off the edge of the drawbridge, where several fell into the chasm below. Dolon was nearly knocked off, himself, managing to grab Bastard's reins at the last moment. The warhorse kicked several more orcs off the bridge, and Johannes and Hadarai together brought considerable firepower against the orcs, too.
The remaining orcs fled. As they did so, five more that had been heavily camouflaged and overwatching the ambush, got up and fled as well.
In the chasm, a number of the orcs were still alive – and they were limping out of the chasm.
The party decided that Firland was their best hope. If they rode hard, they could make it, and perhaps find help to go and attack the Crackfist clan, whom they knew had the candle. One of the corpses even had a leather bracer with the sigil of the Crackfist clan on it.
They found themselves harried, pursued, and chased. The orcs at the base of the chasm came out near where the road up to the keep came out. The belly bowmen linked up with the five observers, and a chase began. Doubled up as they were on their mounts, and with Bastard tired from several bolts into his flank and the battle itself and running low on grain, they knew it was just a matter of time before the orcs caught them. In desperation, Hadarai broke his Horbe token, hoping the mage might come to their rescue.
In the sparser woodline, they found a big tree and held to make a stand. Dolon's riding horse, the only riding horse they had left, went behind the tree for cover. Hadarai climbed up the tree to stand on a branch, and use its height to rain down damage if he could.
The orcs caught them, and rushed in to attack. The scouts, those five that had been hidden and observed, took up longbows and began to rain arrows down on them. Belly bowmen, five in total by then, also began to attack. The five axemen were soon augmented by the true master of the ambush, an orcish sergeant armed with a glaive and even chainmail.
The party realized that they had been fighting scouts – and the orc sergeant represented the true infantry might of the orcs.
Worse, as the arrows began to fall, they heard a horn call behind them. More orcs were coming. Oddly enough, though, the orcs fighting them redoubled their efforts to kill the party not because they thought the incoming orcs would help, but because they apparently feared the orcs with the war horns!
Dolon was hit by so many arrows that he looked like a porcupine. Sunalor went down, as well. Johannes was caught in a hail of bolts. And Hadarai began to take arrows, as well.
And then the tide turned, with other orcs arriving.
Dolon awoke to Hadarai pouring healing potions down his throat. The new orcs even tended to the parties wounds, as well. They, were the Longtusk clan. Both clans belonged to the platoon of Thunderdome, but there was a long rivalry between the two clans.
Dolon, Hadarai, Sunalor, and Johannes, and their horses, and the surrendering Crackfist archers, were all force-marched back to the Longtusk clan's mott-and-bailey fort.
There, the clan leader of the Longtusks heard their story, and listened. He was fearful of Master Hadarai Jelleneth, because he was a mage, and Hadarai demonstrated his power to the fearful orcs. Tanger Longtusk, approaching sixty years of age and still formidable for an orcish warrior, told the party to rest. He would send word of what happened to Leftenant Thunderdome. In the meantime, the archers of the Crackfist clan were held prisoner.
Throughout that night, and the next day, the party was treated with respect, though guards followed them everywhere. They found out that there were no orc females anywhere within the small fort. During the war, the troops had left their women behind in the Ogre Nations. Some few had been smuggled in or brought in during the war, but after the orcs surrendered to the dwarven King of Rakore, they had been cut off from the females. The party learned that female orcs had little better than animalistic intelligence, and so there were no 'marriages' as the people of Rakore saw them. But having no cubs meant the orcs would die of old age with no children to succeed them. This kept them from going to war with the Ogre Nations again, as their women were held hostage there. And they couldn't go to war with Rakore, as they'd surrendered – and the mages of Rakore could kill them again if they rebelled.
Hadarai and even Johannes began to feel a deep sympathy for the plight of the orcs, despite what the Crackfist clan had done to them.
Late that night, Leftenant Thunderdome arrived and his troop arrived. Thunderdome saw the writ that Mistress Brin had written, and he 'interviewed' a member of the Crackfist clan. Thunderdome said that, in the morning, they would force march their way to the Crackfist clan – and tear it down. The missing caravan that Dolon had spoken of was like throwing lamp oil on a fire. Thunderdome was pissed.
The next morning, they marched hard and fast, the numbers of the orcs seeming to swell as they traveled. Sunalor and Johannes rode Bastard, and Hadarai and Dolon rode the riding horse, doubled up on each. Tanger Longtusk had an enchanted axe very similar to the one that Leftenant Thunderdome had, and during a break they managed to find out why. Thunderdome – a big, balding axe – had been an apprentice to one of the ogre magi during the war. Originally, the ogremai would kill any orc with magical talents, but as the war progressed, they became desperate for apprentices, and Thunderdome had no small skill with the arcane. He made the axes, one for each of his squad leaders, chieftains of nearly forty orcs apiece.
Hadarai began to wonder if he could get Thunderdome into Lok Magius, for more formal training. If he could make enchanted axes of lightning and thunder, then he had considerable talent. If he could lead a platoon of orcs, he was formidable, as well.
That evening, they made Crackfist's fort, with its wooden pallistrade similar to that of Longtusk's. Crackfist himself was beheaded with a single blow from Thunderdome, and his clan split up among the other clans in a formal challenge with no infighting. Crackfist's orcs surrendered in the face of Thunderdome and so many gathered orcs.
The village was carefully gone over by Hadarai and Dolon, and the evidence gathered and shown to Thunderdome. Thunderdome allowed them to keep Onnager Crackfist's enchanted axe, and gave Master Hadarai no trouble with keeping all the rest of the caravan's equipment – including a logistics book written in the Karatikan script.
Dolon was fascinated. The logistics book told of shipments and supplies sent to various Karatikan fortresses, nearly a century before the Storm Wars. Essentially, the book told the location of several Karatikan-era fortresses that were probably ruined – but whose location had been lost to time and war.
They camped out on the lands around the remains of Crackfist's broken fort, and left out again for Longtusk's village in the morning. Thunderdome went his separate way with reassurances from the party that neither he nor Longtusk would be held accountable for the actions of one lone chieftain. Dolon, picking up on things during the translations, felt that Crackfist had been allowed to do as he did – so long as he wasn't caught. By being caught, he had given up all protections.
Thunderdome and Longtusk both were impressed with the party, that they could stand up and survive as they had against Crackfist's troops. It reaffirmed in the orcs eyes that Rakorans were a tough and hardy breed of 'pink skins'.
Halfway back to Longtusk's village, all of them arrowed up to the Griffon's Nest. Longtusk's orcs set to clearing the roadway, while Hadarai and the rest went in to speak with the Griffon Knight.
Johannes memorized the strange chant that the Griffon Knight spoke before using the enchanted striker to light the Candle of Truth. Then the party retold their tale, and in so doing, revealed that they spoke only the truth. The Griffon Knight agreed that it was time for his long vigilance to end; that the candle was needed again. He turned over to them the candle, and the striker. Then he bid them follow him.
Further back in the catacombs of the deep, past a dozen sarcophagi standing against the wall, was an empty sarcophagus on the floor. The Griffon Knight pulled forth from the sarcophagus a skull made of ebonite metal, black as black could be, soaking up the light from the sun rod. In the skull's eye sockets were emeralds that glowed with an unholy, unearthly greenish light.
The ebonite skull had been captured by the Griffon Knights from a necromancer, in long ago days. The skull was the source of the Griffon Knight's necromantic powers. Only in destroying the skull could he finally rest in peace. But he could, at least, rest in turn. Dolon put the skull into his haversack, and then together with Hadarai, Sunalor, and Johannes, they helped put the lid in place over the last remaining Griffon Knight.
Hadarai marveled at the dedication it had taken the Griffon Knight to maintain his vigilance all that time. He felt sorry for the undead knight in many ways. It seemed as though his world had been turned topsy-turvy: orcs that were 'good', undead that were 'good', good mages that were bad, and no one to trust…
The Griffon Knight had had one last gift for the party – in addition to his chain mail, his whip, and his gauntlet. Following his directions, Dolon found a rotted velvet back with a gross of tiny diamonds in all the colors of the rainbow. Something about the gross of diamonds tickled Johannes' memory, but he could not place it.
Later that evening, they made it back to the Longtusk tribe's village – only to find Master Horbe and a troop of knights there, waiting for them in eager anticipation. Horbe had indeed received their summons from Hadarai's breaking of the token – but he had been at sea, on his way to Firland. As soon as he could, he landed in Firland, gathered up half a dozen of the local baron's knights, and proceed with all haste to Longtusk's village, where he had finally been able to scry on them.
Horbe's inherent racism towards the orcs came to the surface, and Hadarai found himself disgusted with Horbe despite their close friendship. He said some biting things that evening that would haunt him for some time.
Later the next morning, after camping well aways from the orcs, they headed into Firland. The Dellistar was there, and it was a heartfelt reunion for the party and the crew of the ship that they considered 'home' in so many ways.
While the rest of them partied with the crew, Dolon took to copying the Karatikan logistics book as quickly as he could.
Master Horbe made a report to the local baron, and from there they rested for several days, obstensibly to recover and recuperate, but really to let Dolon finish his copy of the book.
Horbe spoke with Hadarai, having made a breakthrough in Kambator's Journal. The book made mention of giving over all of Kambator's notes and spells and more to an elf maiden. Horbe realized that the elven druidess that they had spoken with, Ilinaranee, had to be the same elf maiden. Horbe seemed desperate to gain access to Kambator's spell books for Lok Magius – and the situation disgusted Hadarai even more, regarding Horbe. Hadarai was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the mages at Lok Magius, as though they were desperate only for more power. But he also knew Master P'Arkon well, but still… He felt conflicted.
After several days' rest, they set out for a quick journey to the Star's End monastary to keep their word to the abbot there. That evening, the five of them – Hadarai, Dolon, Sunalor, Johannes, and Master Horbe – spoke with the abbot. There had been no sign of the men that had driven the caravan, and they had not thought to have Longtusk or Thunderdome question the remaining Crackfists about the fates of those men. But they returned the books and some of the other items from the caravan. In return, the abbot and the monks of the Star's End monastary gave Dolon a very special gift – the gift of the Celestial tongue.
And then, in curiousity, Johannes began to examine the ebonite skull in the dark of his room.
Evening of the 22nd of Dacal, 1331 Avard.
Each player received 1200 experience points for playing. Hadarai and Dolon now have 6495 experience points each, and Sunalor and Johannes have 6050 points apiece. All characters made 5th level.
The following notes represent the 'behind the scenes' and 'post op' actions of the players and the Dungeon Master.
I made chili this time, and though it was my first time to do so, the boys said it tasted fine. Special thanks to Todd for showing me Stalker0's Guide to the Anti-Grind on EnWorld. After the gaming session, I sat down with Fred and the Character Generator, and we tweaked Hadarai a bit. We're all still learning to work with 4th Edition in some ways, and making some fair rearrangements of stats to better reflect a sorceror than a wizard helped considerably. They don't affect the storyline much, and the 'awakening' ceremony would be a fair explanation for what had happened if it were a consideration. With any luck, this will make Hadarai a better member of the party and better able to hold his own. Fred recommends we sit down with all the players and go over their characters in this way. With the Character Generator, it's easy to tweak things and see how they affect the stats, and to get a better feel for what works and what doesn't work in the game mechanics.
Dun dun dunnnnn!
Haahaa, Oh my God Ross I just happened to catch your title on this one and couldn't help but laugh… Ha, badass MY ass!