Survival in the Mines
Game Session 9

In the depths of one of the mine passages, the Heroes of Hawksbridge battled a number of Abyssal beasts and a large, beastial, and terrifying demon that came through a portal, as well as an evil spellcaster. With the group tired and bloodied, Malroc decided it be best to head back up to the mine entrance and rest in one of the rooms of the Malachite Fortress. After barricading the door as the best they could, they settled in for a much needed rest. A good night’s rest seems to be too good to be true… and it was.

Mid-way through the night, their presence did not go unnoticed. The interruption by a patrolling group of foes didn’t prove to be difficult, but not having gotten a full night rest made it challenging. Once the battle was done, the group finished their rest and decided to head back down into the mines to search for the orb.

Now taking a different passage the Heroes of Hawksbridge encountered a nest of kruthiks, bug-like, reptilian creatures that swarmed the party from many holes in the cave tunnels. Their unusual tactics made the battle interesting, but the heroes prevailed.

Once they regrouped, they decided to keep heading forward. After a few hours travel through dark and dank tunnels, the passage opened up to a giant cavern. This cavern had a ominous and powerful essence about it with dead bodies littering the ground. A large rift split the cavern in two and only a natural rock bridge connected the two sides. Slowly the group crept up to the narrow bridge alert and ready for anything. Malroc started across the bridge with Crono and Eth following close behind while Stravo guarded the rear and Shivra hid in the shadows. Then it happened, the only thing the party wasn’t expecting.

Once the group made it halfway across the chasm, there was a noise, a rustling sound. Before the group knew it, dozens of the dead had risen surrounding them. Being extremely out numbered, the party figured fighting was the only way out so they prepared for battle. Before the fight really got started, there spoke a booming deep voice. The voice announced itself to be “The Watcher”, an entity charged with the mission to protect the orb. Stravo, being the crafty diplomat, convinced the great entity that they shared the same goal. Persuaded, the Watcher told the group of the history of the orb and it’s immense power and the evil it could wield if in the wrong hands.

With the group gaining the entity’s trust, they made a bargain for the Watcher to spare their lives in exchange for the party returning the orb. Not only did the Watcher agree, but also offered some equipment to aid them in their quest.

Beneath the Malachite Fortress
Game Session 8

It was with great concern that the Heroes of Hawksbridge regrouped after their latest battle. Their elven druid, Eth had fallen in combat, and their drow rogue, Shivra was too gravely wounded to move on her own. In a feat of incredible strength and endurance, the powerful minotaur warden Malroc hefted both limp bodies over his massive shoulders and the party set off back toward the village of Hawksbridge.

The seriousness of the situation demanded that the party not rest until they were safely in the confines of Hawksbridge. Luckily, fate was with them and they returned to the village without further incident. Serida, the cleric of Threecoins Chapel, was able to revive the fallen druid as she had with Luak, but she warned the party that she could not keep performing such miracles, for the afterlife cannot be avoided forever. Their next casualty may prove to be a permanent loss, lest the Raven Queen come looking for the wayward soul.

The party kept their return to Hawksbridge as brief as possible, for they were eager to return to the road. Shivra had suggested the idea that perhaps the orcs had not found whatever they were looking for, and maybe the party had scared them off before they had unearthed their prize. She suggested they make haste to return, lest the orcs make it back to the Malachite Fortress before them, and find whatever treasure they sought.

(More to come soon!)

A Journey Interrupted
Game Session 7

Emerging victorious in the battle with the kobolds, the Heroes of Hawksbridge found a book written in a strange language. Deciding to have it translated, they agreed to return to Hawksbridge. Crono felt it most closely resembled Draconic script, and as they made their way back to town, they pondered on who could decipher it for them.

Upon their return to the village, they made their way to the Sleeping Wizard Inn to talk to Dani and ask her advice. The beautiful innkeeper could only shrug her shapely shoulders. “If its Draconic, talk to Vhonarrys at the Grinning Dragon Inn. If its magic, maybe see if you can get that reclusive wizard to read it . . . what’s his name? Marthell? You know, the one who lives in that tower just to the west of town.”

The Heroes thanked Dani and left the inn, heading to the Grinning Dragon on the other side of the village. It took very little urging to convince Vhonarrys to translate the text. The burly dragonborn hunched over the book, reading it at the end of the bar.

“This looks like a child wrote it . . . you found it off kobolds? Guess that explains that.” The dragonborn read on in silence for a few short moments. “It looks like its a religious text of some sort. It describes in simple detail the veneration and rituals of the worship of a being referred to only as the ‘True Lord of the Earth.’ It describes this ‘True Lord’ as being very elemental, with lots of fire, lightning, thunder, burning acid, and freezing cold. If it didn’t repeatedly refer to the ‘True Lord’ as a he, I’d almost think they were talking about Tiamat.”

Vhonarrys reached below the bar to grab a pencil and a piece of paper. “There’s a note written in the back of the book as well. Sounds interesting, so I’ll write out the translation for you. But it says:

Vogran, (Who’s this guy? The guy you got this book from?)

Some foul dwarves have gotten too close to Podif’s Well. Eliminate them. And bring the hatchling (Hmm? That overgrown lizard you brought in here?). Just keep Malyx (Huh? Is that the name of the hatchling, or someone else?) safe. Amarindul’s (Ok, who’s this guy?) wrath will be great, should he be harmed.

—Tiirin (I guess he’s the boss?)”

The dragonborn innkeeper slid the book back to Stravo. “None of those names mean anything to me. Good luck finding out who or what they are.” The party thanked Vhonarrys for the help, leaving him a small stack of gold for his assistance.

The party decided to split, with Stravo and Crono heading west to visit the tower of the wizard, Marthell. Shivra had some unnamed business to attend to as well, something that would require her time for the next few days. The others would remain in town and take care of business there.

Stravo and Crono travelled to the wizard’s tower, which stood a good distance away from Hawksbridge. After a bit of waiting and negotiating with the wizard’s apprentice, the duo eventually met with Marthell. The wizard examined the scroll with great interest, but could recognize none of the names. He agreed to send off an inquiry to his colleagues in larger cities with more extensive libraries, but it would take some time and money to investigate this further. The bard and swordmage agreed to the wizard’s assistance and vowed to return in a week’s time or so.

Back at the village, Eth, Malroc, and Luak handled their mundane business, selling off their old gear and buying new potions and equipment. The goliath seemed particularly moody and distant and the elf and minotaur didn’t bother him. Upon Stravo and Crono’s return, he announced his decision to leave the group. The barbarian felt like a great deal of guilt and shame for needing to be raised from the dead. He felt like he needed some time and more training until he felt like he was worthy to stand beside them again, and so would travel alone for a while. When he felt stronger and worthy once again, he would await them here at the Sleeping Wizard Inn to rejoin them.

It was with a tinge of sadness and regret that the party made ready for their journey, now without their goliath friend. The mood was somber and grey, and although Stravo tried his best to cheer up his comrades, few smiles were to be found.

The party’s misgivings were well founded. At perhaps a day’s travel out from Hawksbridge, the group again encountered another group of orcish raiders, this one very well-equipped, accompanied by a powerful spellcaster and an elusive tiefling rogue. Without the might of their barbarian friend, the heroes had a very difficult battle ahead of them. The spellcaster proved difficult but the tiefling was downright lethal. He possessed a magic ability that let him teleport and become invisible for short periods of time, but enough to wreck havoc on the party. During the fight, the tiefling rogue was able to move past the party’s warriors and land a devastating blow on Eth. The elf druid, caught by surprise, barely had time to cry out before the enemy rogue pierced him through with a poisoned short sword. Shivra tried to come to the fallen druid’s defense, but the tiefling turned his poisoned sword on her as well, leaving her bloodied and extremely weakened. As they eliminated the rest of the enemies, the rest of the party was able to concentrate their attacks on the scoundrel tiefling and enact a brutal vengeance.

Though they emerged victorious, the battle had left them badly wounded and in need of rest, as well as in need of aid for their fallen comrade. Distraught and flustered, they gathered the body of their friend and turned back to the village of Hawksbridge.

Trouble in Hawksbridge
Game Session 6

The group was grim and somber as they collected the body of their fallen companion, Luak. Even the weather seemed to mimic their mood, for the skies grew cloudy and grey, with the threat of rain. They took only a few brief moments to rest before they set off, with the powerful minotaur Malroc carrying the goliath’s body. There was a shared understanding that the longer their friend was dead, the more difficult it would be to enact a raise dead ritual.

Being only a short distance from the dwarf gravesite, the party decided to stop by there and see if Thoradin Ironstar and his companions were around to possibly provide some aid. When they arrived at the site, they found evidence that Thoradin and his allies had just recently left.

Undeterred, the group left and headed south, to the village of Hawksbridge. They traveled through the night and the next day, through the rough terrain and the Redstone Hills, exhausted, but unwilling to waste time. Around mid-day, the party heard what may have been the faint, far-off sound of combat.

“A battle?” Eth stopped and wondered aloud. His companions slowed their march and stopped, straining to hear.

“The sound of metal clashing against metal,” Shivra agreed. “Likely the sound of combat.” The drow rogue turned to her allies. “Sit and rest a moment. I will not be gone long.” In a blur, Shivra rushed off, toward the general direction of the sounds. She had not travelled too far, however, before the sound of fighting vanished. Unable to determine the direction of a battle, however, Shivra could only climb to the next hilltop. However, she could see nothing and no signs of a struggle. She could only shrug and report back to her friends.

Throughout that day, rain started to fall, eventually increasing into a downpour. The party’s mood could not be any worse, and they were relieved when, just before evening, they finally came to the Hawksbridge. As they moved across the old stone bridge, the thunder of hooves alerted them to a group of cloaked horseriders from the west, heading toward them and the village. As the party moved aside to make way for the horsemen, Stravo caught a glimpse of the the symbol of the Stone Hawks on the riders’ gear and he waved and shouted a greeting as the soldiers sped past.

Much of the village was asleep or indoors as the party made their way through the empty, rain-soaked streets. As they neared the market square and the Sleeping Wizard Inn, they saw the horsemen who had passed them, in front of the Stone Hawks garrison. The horse rider’s leader was talking intently to a bedraggled Donnell Waynwood, who glanced over at the heroes.

“I’ll talk to Donnell,” Stravo offered. “Let’s find out what’s going on.” His companions nodded their agreement.

“I’ll take Luak to the Threecoins. If anyone can help us, the priestess Serida Bonhart is the most likely.” Malroc reasoned. He turned to Crono. “Go to the inn and bring back some mead. It’ll be a rough night, and we’re gonna need it.” The eladrin agreed and trudged through the muddy streets to the Sleeping Wizard Inn.

“I also have some unfinished business elsewhere,” Shivra spoke up as the party started to go their separate ways. Stravo turned and nodded.

“Do what you have to do. We’ll see you when you get back.” The drow rogue nodded and ducked down a shadowed street, quickly disappearing from view.

As Stravo approached the commander of the Stone Hawks garrison, Donnell finished his conversation with the cloaked rider. The horseman and his followers led their horses around to the stables. Donnell raised a hand in greeting to the bard and gestured for him to enter the garrison and get out of the rain. The half-elf entered, and the old soldier followed, closing the door after him.

“Orcs.” Stravo spoke up as the tired commander eased into his chair. “Orcs and a minotaur, stronger than any enemy we have faced before. Most likely raiders, we killed them all, but at a great price. Our comrade, Luak has fallen in battle, and we seek to restore him to life.” The old soldier sighed deeply as he listened and nodded.

“My deepest sympathies. I am sorry for your loss, I truly am. I hope your efforts to revive him are successful.” Donnell took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his damp hair. “And we know of the orc raiders. Those riders you saw just now were some of my best men, led by the sheriff, Brannock Foss. He’s a good man, and a veteran warrior with a talent for tracking. They found the broken and battered remains of a merchant caravan that had been absolutely destroyed by raiders, with a few bodies of the slain scattered around the wreckage. The caravan guards have been all killed, with a few of the orc and minotaur raiders as well.”

Donnell Waynwood looked thoughtful as he spoke. “The merchants killed were foreigners, travelers passing through the vale, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s enough to make the common folk uneasy.” The commander looked directly at the half-elf bard. “The last time you were in town, there was that incident with the drunken mob. But once the attacks start hitting people that they know, that they grew up with . . . I fear that the tolerance for your minotaur friend will be harder to find.”

“I understand.” Stravo stood and moved toward the door. “Then it is clear that we must do deeds so great, so valorous, so legendary, that they will have no choice but to accept our heroism!” The bard smiled at the prospect, before opening the door and stepping back out into the rain. “Good night, Sergeant.”

Malroc unceremoniously threw the front doors to the Threecoins Chapel wide open. The doors swung back, slamming into the walls with a loud bang, startling the young priest who knelt in vigil before the altar of Avandra. The priest was barely eighteen years old, and his jaw dropped and his eyes grew wide when he turned to see the imposing figure of a powerful minotaur outlined in the open doorway, with the heavy body of the goliath slung over his shoulder.

The warden stepped forward, looming ominously over the young man, water dripping off of him and onto the floor. “Priestess Serida! Where is she?!”. The young priest could not help but stammer his reply.

“Um . . . uh . . . the . . . the High Priestess . . . L . . L . .Lady Serida . . . she . . . she has taken ill . . . she’s not available right now.” The young man stepped back, his hands raised defensively.

“Taken ill?” Eth stepped forward from behind his minotaur friend. The young priest seemed relieved to see a more normal-looking person and eagerly spoke with the elf.

“Yes,” he nodded, speaking to the druid. “She’s been ill for the last few days. But something is wrong. No spell or ritual we’ve tried has seemed to have any effect.” The young man’s face wrinkled with concern.

“That is a problem,” Eth sighed and scratched his head as he thought. “We encountered a group of orcs intent on raiding the village. We fought them off, but our friend the goliath was killed in the battle. We want to revive him before his spirit departs to the planes beyond.”

The young priest nodded as he reconsidered the situation. “I’m sorry I reacted poorly. My name is Daris Rivers, acolyte of Avandra. Please, follow me and you can place your friend’s body down.” The cleric led them to a small room near the back of the chapel, which contained a stone table that Malroc set the goliath’s inert body upon. “With your permission,” Daris said, “I can enact a simple ritual that will preserve your friend’s body and spirit, easing the ritual to raise him.”

The minotaur and elf agreed, and they watched in silence as the priest began his ritual. The minutes stretched on as Daris intoned the words to the ritual and the warden and druid stood in quiet vigil. After some time, they heard the front door open and Crono shuffled into view, staggering under the weight of a keg of mead cradled in his arms. “Think this will do?” The eladrin grinned as he set the keg down. Mud and rainwater dripped off the young swordmage as he produced a few mugs from somewhere. Malroc grimly appraised the barrel of mead.

“I guess it’ll do. Didn’t they have anything bigger?”

As the party passed the first round of mead around, Stravo rejoined them. Crono informed the half-elf that Dani from the Sleeping Wizard Inn had a message from the bard’s parents. Apparently, they left word with the innkeeper that they had evacuated Hawksbridge in anticipation of war, as had many of the common folk. They joined many of the refugees and were making their way to the city of Hawkstone further north.

After Daris had finished his ritual, Eth began talking to the young priest about Priestess Serida’s illness. Offering to help cure her, Stravo and Eth convinced Daris to let them examine her and see if they could speed her recovery. Leaving the rest of the group in the silent church to watch over Luak’s body, the bard and druid accompanied Daris to a residence only a short distance away. Nervously, the young man led them in to a candle-lit room, where another young priest of Avandra sat at the bedside of Lady Serida. The older priestess was pale and clammy, slipping in and out of consciousness as she lay in bed, her breathing shallow and labored.

Daris introduced the other underpriest as Marek Goodweather and informed him that the heroes wanted to help in the recovery of Lady Serida. Marek gladly accepted their aid, and told the druid and bard all he knew and could remember about the events leading up to her illness. As Eth examined the priestess, he found signs consistent with poisoning, although exactly what type of poison, he could not yet be sure of. As a precaution, Stravo questioned both of the junior priests, but felt like both were genuinely concerned for their high priestess’s health and were trustworthy.

Eth spent the next few hours perusing some books the priestess had in her home, trying to find a description of any poison that would match the one used on her. Stravo continued to talk to the underpriests and find out the events leading up to her illness. Marek had been with her the night before she became ill. They had met with a number of local folk and shared an evening meal at the Rest on the Run Inn here in town. Marek couldn’t remember much else, other than the inn was very crowded that night. Stravo listened as the acolyte priest explained that Lady Serida had not had any quarrel or fight with anyone, that she had always been helpful and eager to aid those in need. Stravo mused that perhaps if she had been poisoned, then she was deliberately targeted for some other, nefarious purpose. But who, and for what reason?

After a great deal of research, the elf discovered a poison consistent with Lady Serida’s near-death condition, a poison called Ground Thassil Root. Having discovered the poison used, Eth could now go about trying to brew an antidote for the injured priestess. It was now well into the next morning, so Eth traveled to the Crimson Hawk General Store to gather some missing components needed to create a remedy. The elf druid was able to talk the owner, Ahren Mallister, into giving him a seemingly discounted price on the necessary herbs. With the ingredients in place, Eth immediately returned to Threecoins Chapel to work on brewing the antidote.

After a great deal of time and effort, an exhausted Eth finally finished creating the remedy for the ill priestess. He delivered the healing draft directly to her, trickling the antidote into her mouth so she could drink it easier. Within minutes, there was a visible change in her. Color returned to her skin and she began to breath much easier. With the poison banished from her, there was nothing else to do but let her rest and recover. The bard and druid took their leave, and rejoined their comrades at the Threecoins.

The tired group rested for much of the next day, until Marek came to inform them that the priestess had recovered and would be able to help them later that afternoon. The party talked amongst themselves, and finished their mundane tasks while they awaited Lady Serida’s arrival. Stravo went to the Sleeping Wizard Inn to talk to Dani, to see if there was any more to the message his parents had left. Crono went to talk to Kettrick Varise, the innkeeper at the Rest on the Run, about the night that the priestess was poisoned. Kettrick could remember nothing about that night, other than it was very busy and he noticed nothing out of the ordinary. The innkeeper turned down the clumsy bribe that Crono offered, and even the barmaids didn’t remember anything unusual happening that evening. Malroc stayed at the Threecoins and kept a vigil over his fallen friend, but he spent his time thinking. If the minotaurs and orcs were planning a war, wouldn’t it make sense for them to remove or incapacity the enemy healers?

After some time had passed, the bard and swordmage rejoined their companions at Threecoins Chapel, where they were warmly greeted by a grateful and smiling Serida Bonhart. She thanked Eth and the others profusely. She was willing to perform the ritual, but she would require more components to be gathered. Sparing no expense for their ally’s recovery, the group agreed and found the costly components in short order.

The priestess was ready to begin the ritual and the group kept a quiet, respectful vigil as Serida started her incantations. It was a few hours before the ritual came to its conclusion, but there was a flare of blinding radiance and a peal of thunder. As everyone rubbed their eyes, they were gratified to see Luak open his eyes and take a deep breath, then sit up. They warmly welcomed their friend back to the world of the living.

The goliath would need a solid night’s rest before he would feel “normal” again, so the group deeply thanked Lady Serida and made their way back to the Sleeping Wizard Inn. Upon their arrival, Luak’s recovery was greated with a chorus of cheers, and a few bold patrons stood to greet the barbarian. After some time spent eating and drinking in the common room, the party made their way upstairs for some well-deserved rest.

The next morning, the party gathered together and made ready to set out. The reports from the west of orcs and minotaurs attacking bothered them greatly, and so it was decided that they would go west, to eliminate the raiders and save any other travelers on the Old Trade Road.

Within a half day’s travel from Hawksbridge, they encountered a band of orc marauders. The orcs tried an ambush, but the keen senses of the drow elf Shivra detected the clumsy attempt and it was a ready and determined group that sprung the trap. It was a hard-fought battle, but the outcome was never really in doubt. A quick examination of the enemies’ gear showed that the orcs had carried supplies for a few days travel, and there may be another camp within a few days march. The elf druid found a faint path to the north, deeper into the Redstone Hills, a path that the orcs had travelled recently.

The party continued further north, before coming upon another group of enemies lying in ambush. This time, however, the enemies were kobolds, bolder and more aggressive than was normal for their kin. Led by a kobold wyrmpriest, and aided by a vermin master, the kobolds put up a surprisingly difficult fight. The vermin master unleashed a swarm of flesh-eating beetles upon the battlefield, and the party found it difficult to avoid the vicious insects altogether. The group of heroes were flexible with their battle tactics, however, and adjusted their tactics. In the end, the kobolds were vanquished and the beetles dispersed.

Upon the body of the kobold wyrmpriest, the party found a book written in a strange language. Unable to read it, the group decided it might hold necessary information. They agreed to return to Hawksbridge and decipher the writing.

Shadows and Death
Game Session 5

The party recovered from their ordeal and rested in the tower through the night. Shivra scouted as far forward as she dared, venturing near the entrance to the Malachite Fortress. Seeing only distant torchlight and hearing little commotion, she returned to the tower and her companions, but kept a watchful eye out for enemies.

The party awoke early the next morning and arrayed themselves for combat. The massive metal doors of the fortress flanked the dark entryway to the ruins. The adventurers moved cautiously but quickly toward the shadowy entrance, feeling somewhat exposed with little cover between them and the open gateway. They met no resistance however, and Shivra was the first to look into the dwarven ruins.

The entryway was a large, open chamber with a ceiling at least thirty feet high, and there were clear signs of devastation that once battered the fortress. Pillars lined the sides of the room, and a series of stairs in the back led up to a landing on a second floor. Many of the pillars were blackened by a past fire, and were cracked and crumbling. Fragmented rocks, rubble and debris were strewn about the chamber. There were a number of doors that lined the lower walls, but many were partially collapsed and blocked by fallen boulders and rubble.

A large fire on the upper landing cast a illumination throughout the large entry chamber. There were close to a dozen orcs scattered throughout the room.

The party entered, alerting the orcs, who opened the door on the upper landing and called for reinforcements. There was also a rug on the floor that the orcs avoided. The party used range attacks on the lead orc warrior, then rushed the enemy. An orc barbarian entered the room from the second floor and charged down the stairs to battle Malroc. Orc archers wielding greatbows took up position on the landing and fired volley after volley at the party.

The orcs fought the party in a ferocious battle. Luak discovered to his dismay that the rug covered a 10’ wide, 10’ deep pit and fell in. Shivra used the pit to their advantage and tripped her enemies, pitching them into the pit with the goliath, who was quick to finish them off. The barbarian orc knocked Malroc off the stairs and into a pile of rubble, but Stravo was able to quickly come to the minotaur’s aid. Using outstanding teamwork, the party systematically finished off the orcs on the ground floor.

The orc archers were devastating and would have continued feathering the party with arrows, but Crono charged close and then fey-stepped up to the second floor landing, surprising the archers. His sword swept about in wide arcs, cutting through surprised orcs and soon the party stood victorious.

Unsure of where to continue next, the party decided to open a locked set of doors on the ground floor. A darkened hallway stood beyond, but the party could see and hear nothing down it. Stravo sent Guybird down the dark hallway to scout out and his familiar saw twisted, goblin-like shapes move in the rooms along the hallway. The party moved back from the door, with Malroc and Crono set to receive the enemies, and Shivra and Luak taking position alongside the open doors.

“Look over here!” Malroc yelled out to lure the prey into their trap. As the malformed goblins stepped into the hallway and into view they moved in to attack the two defenders, but stopped as soon as they saw something in the corner of their eye. It was the goliath and drow. As both friend and foe were caught off guard by each other, more something more horrible was lurking down the hallway. It was a round floating creature with a large central eye over a mouth full of razor sharp teeth and many eyestalks. This fell, aberrant creature was a gauth, a lesser type of beholder. It directed a beam of dark power and light, immobilizing Malroc and it made it impossible for the minotaur to join the fight.

As the battle progressed, Luak, Shivra, and Crono held the front line while Eth and Stravo attacked from a distance. This formation did not last long as the enemy broke throught and went after their ranged attackers, starting with Eth. The party was starting to weaken and get spread out as the round multi-eyed foe’s eye powers crippled and hindered the heroes. At the same time, while the heroes were starting to fall and strained to stay alive, their enemies were showing signs of weakness as well. Then finally the end came and the party, now bruised and bloody, came out victorious.

Being in such bad shape after two hard battles, they locked all the doors they could and headed back to the tower outside the cave to rest. While the rest of the party was regaining their strength, Shivra noticed about a dozen orcs leave the cave and quickly head east towards the Beast Plains.

When the group awoke and learned what Shivra saw, it was decided that twelve orcs with a day’s lead wouldn’t be hard to track. So instead, they went to search the cave to get clues of what it was they came for. In the cave, opening the door which the gauth came from, they found it led to a mine entrance. Looking to find answers quickly, they decided to try the other door in the main chamber. This door opened up to another hallway, only this one ended in a T-shape. One way led to a library that had been ransacked with books and shelves thrown about. The other led to an entryway with a dead orc, carved and mangled, holding scrap of paper with smudged writing, but it was still mostly readable. On the paper was written:

” . . . and find them. Make sure you find and bring back the right orb as soon as you can. It looks like a black ball made of smooth stone. Be careful with it, or you could . . . .”

Now very curious about this “orb”, the party moved through the entryway and into the final room. With display cases lining the walls, it looked like this room held important items, but unfortunately, it too had been ransacked and was now empty.

“Damn!” Crono cursed, kicking at the debris that littered the display room floor. “Those stinking orcs took everything! We need answers, and all we have is more questions!” He growled in frustration and paced the room.

“Calm yourself, young Crono,” Shivra spoke evenly as she methodically searched through the rubble about the room. “We are dealing with orcs, here. They are cunning, but they are not thorough. They make mistakes. They are not . . .”

“Not drow?” Eth smirked as he looked over at Shivra. The rogue glared coldly at the druid for a moment, then resumed her search.

“No. They are not drow. If they were drow, you’d already be dead.” Shivra’s quietly spoken words hung in the air momentarily, inadvertently sending a chill through her companions.

Stravo looked over at her, studying the drow female’s expression. “And if they were drow? Where would Shivra be?”

“A shadow on the breeze,” the rogue softly replied, “disappearing into the night.” She glanced over at her stunned allies and then it was her turn to smirk at them. “Oh, don’t worry. I’d come back and avenge you. Eventually.”

Shivra bent down and picked up a scrap of paper that was torn and partially burnt, but legible bits of writing could still be made out on its surface. “Not thorough at all,” she smiled triumphantly. The lettering looked familiar, but it was in a language that Shivra could not read. “This might be dwarven. Luak?” She held the scrap of paper up for the goliath, who squinted as he examined it.

“Yes. Dwarven script. Its hard to make out, and some parts are unreadable. But it says, ’ . . . found in the third . . . underground cavern . . . perfectly round orb, possibly made of polished obsidian, one hand wide, . . . more. Gifted to Thane . . . .’”

Malroc frowned as he listened to the goliath read. “A polished, round, obsidian orb, one hand wide? Is this the same orb that the orcs were after?” He looked at his companions, who were all nodding thoughtfully.

“Looks like it.” Stravo agreed. “And this means that whatever it was, they found it in the mines, past that passageway where we fought the gauth.” The half-elf’s brow furrowed as he considered this latest bit of information.

With the mysterious orb being their only clue, the party set out to track down the fleeing orcs. After two days of pursuit with no sleep, the orc tracks showed they met up with more of their allies, totalling their group to around two dozen. With such large numbers the heroes decide to be more cautious while tracking but kept in pursuit. By the end of the third day, in the distance they saw a orc encampment that numbered a couple hundred. With numbers like that, the party turned back, heading to town to try and find some answers.

On the way back to town, the group thought to perhaps catch up with Thoradin Ironstar and his companions as they consecrated the remains of their relatives. Instead of heading straight for Hawksbridge, they decided to make a slight detour to find their dwarf allies. Their overland trek was uneventful, until they were less than a day from the dwarf mine, when they encountered an orc raiding party.

Assuming that this group of raiders was much like any other they’ve met so far, the heroes confidently plunged into the thick of battle, blasting apart the camp watchment and eagerly engaging the common orcs in melee. The orcs’ leaders who emerged from the tents, however, were far from ordinary.

One was a heavily muscled orc wielding a vicious-looking double axe, while the other was a massive minotaur barbarian who hefted a huge fullblade and grinned eagerly at the prospect of combat.

The battle was fierce. The lesser orcs were not much of a threat, but the large orc and the minotaur shrugged off numerous hits that would have felled their lesser allies, while dealing numerous vicious attacks of their own. The group was able to drop the enemy minotaur, but at great cost. The enemy orc waded into the fray and dealt grevious wounds to the majority of the party, with many of the heroes left on the ground, bleeding out and dangerously close to death.

It was Malroc and Shivra, both teetering on the brink of unconsciousness, who were able to drop the big orc. The dark elf, in a last-ditch, desperate lunge, was able to dart in under the orc’s guard and bury her dagger up to the hilt in the orc’s neck. As he collapsed in a spray of blood, the two heroes still standing rushed about the battlefield to bandage and heal their friends.

When they approached the body of Luak, however, they were distraught to see the big goliath’s heart had already stopped. In mournful silence, the ragged band of heroes gathered around their fallen friend . . . .

(More to come soon!)

Journey to the Malachite Fortress
Game Session 4

After the escapade with the drunks at Hawksbridge, the heroes were standing at the entrance of the city plotting their next move. “Should we ask counsel of Eth’s elders at Thorlian Crest, or march directly for the ruins of the dwarven fortress?” was the question, and the fortress proved to be the answer.

After some last minute discussion of resupplying, the heroes headed out towards the Redstone Hills and their mysterious ruins. With Shivra scouting in the lead, the party made haste with their usual speed, thanks to Stravo’s motivating tunes. Sometimes on a long hike like this one, the heroes tended to get a little anxious when one party member was not in sight for long stretches of time. Midway through the second day’s march, Shivra had not been seen for quite a while. The impulse to break silence and speculate on her location was on the minds of several as Shivra stepped out from the shadows with news.

“I have spotted a band of orcs ahead. They have not yet seen us. It seems they are discussing something, but I cannot understand their brutish language.” With some discussion about how to proceed, the group decided to use their favorite tactic, to sneak close, then strike with the ferocity of a hungry wolfpack.

The party managed to get within fifty paces before one of the orcs sensed their presence and gave alarm, upon which Shivra faded back into the shadows and circled around the enemy’s right flank. Malroc led the charge, goring one of the orcs and knocking him to the ground for the rest of the party to chew on. Seeing this impressive display, Crono felt he had to add his abilities to the fight, and jumped ahead of Malroc to lead two of the orcs snarling after him. Eth and Stravo struck from the rear, bringing all the might of a raging storm down on any number of orcs that dared gather too closely to each other. Luak tried to hold the steady rhythm of the fight, but within minutes the excitement of battle overcame the goliath, and he let out a mammoth roar.

Swinging his greatsword clean through one orc’s head and charging heedlessly toward another, he struck utter fear into the hearts of the monsters, and even into some of his companions. The orcs gnashed their teeth at the heroes and tried several times to gain control of the altercation, but to no avail. Each time one of the several enemies fighting Malroc and Crono tried to attack someone else, they would be wracked with pain as the mighty defenders’ spells and earthen might took their toll. When they focused on the minotaur and the swordmage, the barbarian and the rogue would rain terror on their exposed flanks. Through it all, the druid and the bard continued to stir and rearrange the battlefield to their own liking with their deadly spells and mysterious words. Fate was with the heroes this fight and held their sway till the last of the orcs felt his last breath come too late.

After searching the bodies of the fallen orcs, Stravo went around singing a song of healing to aid his companions while everyone gathered their strength for the miles yet ahead. With everyone ready, Stravo introduced his new familiar, a black crow named Guybird, who sported an unusually bright streak of silver runing down his back. Guybird could help the party by acting as a messenger from Shivra when her only other companions were shadows. Shivra shrugged and it appeared that, as usual in his dealings with the humorless drow, the bard would have to prove that his words bore more than an idle promise.

The party traveled for several hours more throughout the night, with Shivra and Guybird scouting for any susprises that might be awaiting them in the darkness ahead. As the first glimmers of light began to show in the east, Shivra spotted a tower and two smaller buildings, with torches outlining the profiles of at least eight orcs standing watch. With her report, Guybird confirmed the count and the the group began discussing strategy.

“Should we rush into them, or somehow make them come out to us?” asked Eth.

Malroc replied “From what the goblin Vraag told us, these orcs may have had ties with the minotaurs. I might be able to pose as a friend, so as to draw some of them out into an ambush.”

Ambush sounded better to all than their usual direct route, and a plan was quickly agreed on. Pacing before them, Stravo volunteered, “You know that I have some talent with disguise. After we kill off the scouting party, we could use their armor and weapons to disguise ourselves as orcs and perhaps get into one of the buildings before any alarm is sounded.”

So it was agreed. They would wait until dusk, then Malroc would build a fire and wait for a scouting party to arrive. The rest of the party would wait in ambush until the minotaur drew the orcs into the firelight. They would kill the orcs, take their armor and weapons for disguises, and approach the fortress outbuildings as if they were the scouting party returning victorious. At that point, they would have to play it by ear, as Stravo put it.

Twilight found the party well rested, with Malroc sitting beside a small blaze reciting the advice Stravo had given him on diplomacy. Guybird returned from patrol and reported a small group of orcs, accompanied by wolves, coming their way, and the party had just time to retreat to the ambush positions they had selected.

“Who are you and why are you here?! Explain yourself, minotaur!” said the largest orc.

“The goblins you drove away from here have been seen in our territory. My chieftain sent me to escort a search party to find and destroy the rest of them.” Malroc spoke calmly, although his hand rested easily on the haft of his axe.

“We have our own orders. Why would we send a search party from here?” the orc captain asked, suspiciously. An archer behind him readied an arrow, aiming it straight at the minotaur’s massive chest.

“How large is the party you have with you in the fortress? I was led to believe I would be rewarded for my assistance if I were to rid the place of goblins.” Malroc eased his other hand close to his shield, ready to bring it to bear in a moment’s notice.

“If you are who you say you are, you would have no need of that information! Surrender your weapons and we will escort you into the fortress you are so interested in. If you are who you say, all will be well.” The orc captain pointed his sword at Malroc meaningfully.

A menacing silence filled the pause. The orcs were just within the edge of the firelight. If Malroc could lure them even a few steps closer, they would be within range of a charge by the hidden heroes. As he racked his brain desperately for the words that might have graced the bard’s tongue, however, a smaller orc near the rear of the scouting party caught a scent that was not the minotaur and began jabbering excitedly in the orc tongue.

“I see you have friends with you. They will die alongside you! None of you will live to see the dawn!” the larger orc roared.

With that, the party was thrown into another battle where their lives would hang in the balance. Malroc again charged the orc captain, knocking him prone with a wicked upper thrust of his horns. The orc archer beyond, overwhelmed by the sheer power of the attack, released his arrow wildly, missing completely, and retreated several paces for a better field of fire. Brandishing a whirling green circle of electrical energy that drew one of the orcs toward him, Crono took a chunk from his enemy’s hide with his longsword. Eth showed himself from the tree he was hiding behind and struck out with grappling vines that pulled the orcs feet to the ground and held them, while Luak dashed in and showed the orc the business end of his mighty greatsword. Stravo launched into a song of battle that drove the party on, dashing in and out with his sword. Shivra appeared suddenly as if from the darkness itself, stabbing an orc in the back with her deadly blade.

In the wink of a young maiden’s eye the battle was raging, with the orc captain calling for help from his comrades, and the heroes calling upon each other. Shivra recognized that the orc archer, retreating steadily, might make an escape back to the fortress and dash their hopes of a surpise attack there. She called out softly to Malroc, and she and the minotaur both gave chase. As the drow charged, she positioned her daggers ready for a quick kill, but the orc got an arrow into her as she closed, and she staggered, wounded to near unconsciousness. Malroc rushed in between the orc archer and Shivra, and the orc knew he could not retreat with a seven foot minotaur in his way.

Stravo knew he had to help, so he sang out a few words of healing to her, just as the orc captain attacked him viciously, and two of the wolves closed in on either side. Stravo went down in a heap. This brought Luak’s temper to a full boil, and he dashed into the fray, chopping down one orc and severely injuring another one. Crono, the fight still centered around him, deflected blow after blow as the rest of the party cut the orcs down from the rear, and just minutes after it had started, no enemy remained standing.

The victorious party equipped themselves to resemble the defeated orcs. Eth wildshaped into a wolf, while Stravo and Crono took the orcs’ armor and weapons. Luak attempted to look the part of a prisoner, while Shivra simply melded into the shadowy night.

They approached the outlying buildings, and were able to get close before the archers on the tower parapets shouted out a challenge. In a flurry of movement, the party charged forward, trying to limit the archers’ shots. Orcs swarmed them, coming from the tower and the neighboring buildings, and one of the archers on the tower blew a warning blast on a horn. It was a tough and dangerous fight, but the party emerged victorious. Stravo intimidated one of the orc archers into submission, and was able to find a series of notes on the horn to call off the alarm. The party decided to rest, and waited out the rest of the night in the enemy tower. In the distance, the two massive steel doors to the fortress gleamed in the moonlight, accentuating the shadowed entrance to the dwarven ruins.

A Shifting Perspective . . .
Game Session 3

Following the campfire discussion that ended with a clash of cultural backgrounds and differences, the group sat quietly around the crackling fire pit. The only sound that came from the group was the soft strumming of Stravo’s musical instrument, while the bard kept playing songs and stories in his head. And in darkness of the forest, Shivra sat quietly in the trees, keeping a vigilant watch in the moonlit night for any potential goblin patrols.

As time passed, the dark elf’s gaze caught a glimpse of a patrol of eight goblins slowly approaching the campsite, and her party members were unaware of the oncoming danger. She grasped a rock from the ground, hastily scribbled a note onto the rock’s surface and threw it into the group. Missing by a good distance, Stravo went to investigate and when he realized what it was, he said in a loud voice with a puzzled look “Hey guys, it’s a rock.”

Malroc recognized the rogue’s scribe marks on the surface, “On guard, we have company to the north east!” Just at that moment four of the eight goblins charged in, surrounding the fearless minotaur. The enemies’ blades slashed and thrust at Malroc, drawing blood. Unexpectedly from the darkness, lightning crackled through the air, further wounding Malroc. As the electricity wracked the warden, a smaller bolt leapt out towards Crono, damaging the eladrin as well.

Seeing his friend surrounded and deeply wounded, Luak courageously charged in, letting out a barbaric roar and giving his ally renewed strength. Crono surrounded the goblins while shielding the warden from further lightning attacks. As the combat unfolded, Stravo confidently played his instrument as he moved through the battlefield. In one smooth motion, he swung his instrument over his shoulder, while simultaneously pulling out his sword in a lunge.

Seeing everything unfold, Shivra, in an elegant motion, jumped down from the trees, dashing into the fray and striking fear into their enemies. When out of the darkness struck a blast of magical energy from a second spell caster, weakening Shivra. She cursed in an Underdark dialect towards the caster. Watching everything from the back, the fierce druid stepped forward, unleashing a bolt of lightning towards the caster nearest to Shivra with immense force, causing him to howl out in pain.

As the battle raged on, one by one the goblins begin to fear their death as the adventurers moved across the battlefield with such ferocity. But it was not without a price, as many of the party were sorely wounded. Two of the goblins tried to flank the group, but were quickly met by a fearsome trio; Stravo and Eth fighting side by side backed by a large minotaur.

Shivra and Crono had finally turned their attention to one of the casters, when all of a sudden, the young swordmage took a full blast of eldritch energy, flinging him to the ground. With the sudden thirst of vengeance, Shivra struck out at the goblin caster with such precision that her daggers slashed at the goblin’s arteries. The vicious wound sprayed blood across the ground and her enemy fell lifeless at her feet. As the bloodlust faded away, she called out for Eth to come and tend to Crono’s bleeding wounds.

The bard and druid both converged on the fallen swordmage, working together to stabilize the battered eladrin. “Get up,” Stravo grinned and smacked the swordmage on his shoulder. “We still have work to do.” As Crono rose unsteadily to his feet, the bard darted off after Eth, toward the last enemy.

The goblin sorcerer shrieked in anger and frustration as the last of his allies fell. He ducked as Luak ‘s greataxe narrowly missed decapitating him, and darted behind a nearby shrub, trying to find cover against Eth’s blasts of elemental fury. “They’re all dead!” He spoke in oddly accented Common, his high-pitched voice echoing through the campsite. “Why do you keep hunting us!? Why won’t you leave us in peace!?”

Stravo stopped his spellcasting as his concentration wavered momentarily. “What?! You’ve been attacking the people of our village, and you dare question why we hunt you?”

“No! It wasn’t us! I swear it!” The goblin shouted as he stuck his head out from around the bushes. “We’ve been chased from our home, and something is hunting us as well!”

“Your people’s tracks were all around the attacked cabins! We followed those tracks here to you! How do you explain that?!” Eth questioned, his eyes narrowed as he watched the sorcerer’s every movement, readying himself for any threat.

“Yes!” The goblin nodded. “Yes, we did come across the devastated cabins! We looked for signs of the attackers, or survivors, but found nothing! I forbade my people to take anything! And we killed no one!” The diminutive sorcerer reiterated emphatically.

“Then why are you here?” Crono spoke calmly as he limped toward the goblin, but his icy gaze was every bit as threatening as the longsword he leveled at the sorcerer. “Why venture this far into the vale, if not for pillaging and looting?”

“I told you,” the goblin practically hopped in frustration, “we were driven from our homes! We only were seeking a safe place which we could settle in peace! We desire no conflict!”

Stravo remained unconvinced as he slowly stepped forward, his longsword resting uneasily on his shoulder. “Your people attacked us as we investigated one of the cabins? If you come in peace, why attack?”

“Because of him!” Everyone’s eyes followed the path of the goblin’s pointed finger . . . to Malroc. The warden’s brow furrowed in confusion as the goblin continued. “His people drove us from our homes! The minotaurs! We thought it was they who tracked us still!”

“Lies?” Stravo whispered as he edged closer to the druid. The elf paused for a long moment as he considered the goblin before him. “I could be wrong,” Eth cautioned, “but . . . no. I think he speaks the truth.”

The goblin shrunk back as Luak stepped toward him, growling, but the muscled barbarian swung around to face his allies, hefting his greataxe threateningly. Not understanding the language of the elves, he thought he sensed malice in their tones, and his goliath honor could not allow underhanded dealings with even such a formidable foe as this sorcerer, wounded as he was.

“Stand down!” The bard reprimanded the goliath, misunderstanding his movement toward the goblin. Luak merely growled in reply and faced his friends defiantly.

Sensing no immediate danger from the hulking barbarian standing still two paces ahead of him, the goblin leaned forward, straining to hear the exchange between the two. He seemed to wrestle with a thought for a long moment, before he spoke out. “Please! I truly mean you no harm! If you will trust me . . . then I will trust you.” With that, the sorcerer threw his dagger to the ground, and raised his hands in surrender.

Everyone seemed to hesitate for a moment, unsure of what to do with the helpless goblin. Except Shivra. The rogue stalked in menacingly, her two daggers in hand. Her hood had fallen down, revealing her for the deadly drow she was, and the goblin winced in fearful anticipation.

“Tell us your tale now, and in full! Speak true, or you will soon beg for the swift death that we gave your companions!” She pointed her blade at the goblin, the tip mere inches from his eyes. The sorcerer gulped nervously, and nodded. As he began to talk, the rest of the party moved in closer to hear.

“My name is Vraag, once a member of the Redhand Goblin Tribe. My tribe lived in the ruins of a dwarven fortress, in the northern part of the Redstone Hills. The dwarves had abandoned the place long before we settled there, but their buildings still endured.”

“One day, a group of minotaurs, along with a few of their orc allies, came to us. They talked to our chieftain, offering an alliance. Our chieftain was wise and asked for time to consider the offer, for our people rarely benefit much from such partnerships. They agreed, and then seemingly left.”

“Instead of honoring our chieftain’s request, the minotaurs and orcs set a perimeter, and then attacked, slaughtering my people by the dozens. Rather than wait for our reply, they simply decimated us instead. We were nothing to them. They were clearly there for something else, we were just in the way. So they killed us without a second thought. A few of us escaped their ambush. I gathered as many as I could find and led then away, to find a new, safer place for us to rebuild our tribe.”

“But even as we travelled south, something followed us, haunting our every step. Those individuals who wandered off away from the main group were killed. Often, only small bloodstains marked where they were taken. We fled further south, and still we were hunted, our numbers ever shrinking. Whatever stalks us is stealthy, and more cunning than we.”

“As we made our way through this area, we avoided the human homes, for we wanted no misunderstanding between us. But not long after we passed a homestead, we would hear screams in the distance. Some of our hunters investigated, and found only recently abandoned cabins, with clear signs of bloodshed. As we moved on, this scene replayed itself over and over. I feared our pursuers did this to shift the blame onto my people, so the humans would move in force against us.”

Shivra stared intently at the sorcerer as he spoke, and Vraag met her gaze unflinchingly. “But we harmed no human, farmer or hunter! We only want a new, safe home to live in peace!” The goblin looked imploringly at the surrounding party.

“How do we trust the words of a goblin?” Eth wondered aloud. “The goblins we know have only ever been bloodthirsty raiders, scheming and conniving creatures intent on savagery.” The sorcerer growled and stamped his foot in frustration.

“Yes, most goblins are deserving of that reputation! Yes, most ARE evil! Most are bloodthirsty and savage! Most bring pain, and death, and destruction in their wake! But cannot you also say the same things about MOST dark elves?!” Vraag pointed a finger up at Shivra and the rogue could not deny his assessment.

“I only ask for the same chance you’ve shown the dark elf! The same opportunity to show I am different from the dark reputation of my other kin!” The sorcerer spoke with a determined conviction. There was a moment of silence as everyone paused to consider the impassioned goblin’s pleas. They looked at each other and nodded their agreement.

“Very well, ”/campaign/andrannar/wikis/vraag" class=“wiki-page-link”>Vraag. You have our trust, and our support. So now what do you do?" Stravo asked the strange goblin. Vraag bent to retrieve his discarded dagger and placed it in his belt sheath.

“Some of my people have found a series of caves near the Dragonwater River that may be a suitable new home. It is far enough from the humans that contact should be minimal, so we may fish and hunt without disturbing others. Some have already gone there. I was to lead the remainder of my tribe there in the next few days.” The goblin sorcerer glanced across the campsite, at the bodies of his fallen companions.

“I am sorry,” Luak knelt by Vraag and place a reassuring hand on the sorcerer’s shoulder. Even kneeling, the massive goliath towered over the small goblin. “You and your people have been wronged. Perhaps some still cling to life? Perhaps we can still save some?” The barbarian stood and moved to the bodies of the fallen goblins, checking to see if any still were able to be saved. Feeling remorseful, a few of the others joined him, and together they managed to rescue three of the fallen goblins before they succumbed to their wounds.

“You have been most unjustly treated. As it is my people who have robbed you and your tribe of your home, I feel it is my duty to help you find a new one. Please, allow me to escort you to these river caves.” Malroc sympathized with the goblin sorcerer. He knew what it was to be wrongly attacked and driven out by his people. Nearby, Shivra heard this and nodded.

“Use them as bait? To draw out their attackers.” The drow turned to Stravo and Eth, speaking softly in Elvish. “That is the accepted strategy.” The druid chuckled and shook his head.

The bard sighed and responded in Elvish. “Shivra. Here on the surface, if we’re trying to help someone, putting them at risk just to make things a little easier for us is NOT okay. Malroc has the right of it. We go with them, escort them, and if their stalkers are foolish enough to show themselves, then we take them out. No more will die, not if we can help it.”

Shivra nodded thoughtfully. The strange ways of the surface folk were still foreign to her, and she walked away, considering the half-elf’s words. Before they left camp, Vraag approached her and offered the dark elf a few things from his fallen comrades, in a show of goodwill and thankfulness. Shivra accepted without hesitation, and left to check the perimeter of the camp.

A short time later, the odd group left the encampment and began to make their way west, toward the caves and the goblins’ new home. Vraag and his kin cautiously led the way, and Luak walked protectively alongside his new goblin friends. The rest of the group followed along, watchful for enemies hiding among the trees. Shivra moved silently through the underbrush, away from the main body of the group, her keen senses alert for any signs of pursuit.

They had been traveling for nearly two hours, slowly making their way through the forest, before Shivra caught a glimpse of their pursuers. A hint of green and a flash of movement where there should be none was all she saw, but the alert rogue knew their trackers were at hand. She hastily scribbled a warning note on a small rock and threw it toward the other party members. Her thrown rock bounced against some trees nearby, but it was enough to alert the others.

The party quickly moved into defensive positions, their weapons flashing out in the sunlight. Out from the shadows of the forest leaped a large number of small, draconic humanoids. Slightly larger and more muscled than kobolds, these fierce dragonkin were covered in mottled green scales and brandished strange, wickedly edged blades.

Before anybody had time to react, an orc hunter, the leader of the attackers, fired two arrows, nearly immobilizing the drow that gave their position away. Fighting fiercly side by side with their new found allies, the battle proved to be long and hard. Working together to vanquish their foes, only a few goblin fell before wiping out all but the enemy leader. In fear of defeat, as the lead hunter now saw that his prey was now hunting him, he disappeared into the shadowed forest, not to be found again.

While Shivra searched for the tracks of the vanished hunter, Stravo was able to save the goblin friends that fell during battle. Luak collected the strange weapons that the dragonspawn used, for trophies and perhaps to resell. After a moment to rest and regroup, the party decided that they would press on and if the attacker wanted to try again they would be ready.

Reaching the caves that the goblins would now call home, they thanked their escorts and offered to help anytime the party passed by, for they are forever greatful.

Once the heroes were sure their new friends were settled, they decided to head north to look into the ruins of the dwarven fortress in the Redstone Hills and to stop in Hawksbridge on the way to rest and resupply.

When the moon was high in the sky the party entered the small town of Hawksbridge. Stopping for a moment to figure out which inn to stay at, a group of townsfolk exited a local tavern. The smell of ale was heavy on their breath as they noticed the group of outsiders trying to find a place to stay. With frustration and anger one of the intoxicated men shout out, “Hey! There’s one of those minotaurs right there. Let’s get him!” Before the angry mob had a chance to start their charge, Stravo managed to calm them down by telling them how Malroc was outcast by his own people and has working to help save these lands from evil.

As Stravo tried to reason with and calm the drunken mob of humans, Shivra drifted inconspicuously into a nearby alleyway, slipping into the shadows. A few clouds on an otherwise clear night partially obscured the moon, giving the dark elf more darkness than she needed to sneak about unnoticed. An ordinary, alert human could have walked down the darkened alleyway right past Shivra and never notice her.

Shivra noiselessly eased down the alley and moved further around the building, repositioning into a spot that offered easy flanking, in case the dialogue with the drunkards came to violence. As she crept to her new position, she softly pulled her bone-handled dagger from its sheath. The rogue knelt, and hiding in the shadows, listened to the bard at work.

" . . . literally hundreds of them! Goblins and kobolds alike fell before our fury! And who stood at the vanguard, hewing down all the foes that dared stand against us, with his mighty axe of righteousness? Our noble minotaur, Malroc, that’s who! Though he was trained to fight with all the fury of nature, and despite his fierce appearance, his heart is virtuous enough to rival that of any paladin’s! Countless times he risked his life to safeguard yours, and those of your loved ones!"

Shivra smirked humorlessly as she heard the drunken humans grumble their grudging agreement. In the cities of her homeland, no worthy drow would ever be swayed by the honeyed words the half-elf spoke. No drow that would live very long, anyway. Stravo’s voice echoed down the alleyway to her as the bard led the group of drunks away, toward a nearby inn and tavern.

“Come, my friends! Let’s hoist a round of ale at the Sleeping Wizard, and I’ll tell you the tales of our adventures! Did you ever hear of how we slayed a dragon? A great, monstrous beast! Scales of the deepest sapphire-blue, with razor-sharp teeth, and claws like great scythe-blades! If I hadn’t acted when I did . . .”

After her friends and the inebriated mob made their way into the inn, Shivra stood, and started to move to rejoin her comrades. Suddenly, an inner warning gave her pause. Years of living in the deadly Underdark had honed her instincts and so she turned, dropping into a ready stance, her daggers flashing out in the dim starlight.

She caught only a glimpse of a slim, hooded figure bursting from the shadows before he was upon her. He wore simple, worn clothes and a travel-stained cloak with a hood that partially concealed his features. But it was the massive greatsword he brandished, starlight glinting off the long, silvery blade, that worried the rogue.

“Your judgement is at hand,” the hooded newcomer whispered hoarsely to Shivra in Elvish. The drow elf nimbly darted to the side, but the hooded figure matched her step for step, equally agile.

He swung a powerful, arcing cut, his greatsword glittering as it whistled through the chill night air. Shivra desperately brought her daggers up to block, but his devastating attack blasted through the drow’s defense. She choked back a scream as she felt burning explosions of pure agony across her midsection.

Her daggers clattered to the rough cobblestone pavement as Shivra collapsed, her hands frantically pressing against her wound, desperately trying to slow the blood that spilled out to the ground. She rolled onto her back, looking up helplessly as her attacker slowly approached, looming over her.

“Do you remember me, drow?” Her attacker whispered in perfect Elvish. “I remember you.” His words dripped with hatred as he reached up, and pulled his hood back from his face.

He was a relatively young elf, with shoulder-length golden hair that seemed to gleam on its own, in the moonlight. He may have been handsome once, if not for the many scars that were etched across his face. Another, larger scar was carved across his throat, pink and silver against his light bronze skin. “Look. Look, and remember.”

Shivra closed her eyes and nodded, her memories coming back to her with sickening clarity. Back in her youth, it was she who had been chosen, as a newly anointed priestess of Lloth. She had been given the great honor of leading a raiding party to the surface. The drow elf opened her eyes and saw her attacker staring intently at her, his blue eyes seemingly alight with an inner flame.

“Over twenty years ago,” the male elf’s hoarse voice trembled with rage as he spoke. “The drow of House Zar’Haelirin mounted a surface raid. Against my village, they attacked. Without provocation. Without warning. They came in the night, arrayed for war. But my people were not warriors.” The elf’s unwavering expression was a mask of anger, even as tears streaked down his face.

“It was a massacre. You killed my friends. You killed my family.” Each damning sentence hit Shivra with the force of a hammer. “I was a mere child, but your warriors made a game of me, cutting me apart as slowly as possible. When they got bored of my screams and cries for mercy, they cut my throat and left me to die. Slowly.”

“But the gods decreed my time had not yet come. I was fevered and delirious, but still clinging to life when some kindly hunters came upon my village days later, and brought my broken body to the healers. When I recovered, I spent my days developing fighting techniques, and my nights dreaming of vengeance. I exhausted my time, energy, and coin to learn the identity of my attackers. And I sacrificed much to hunt you down. But now, the gods have seen fit to place you here, helpless at my feet.” The elf tightened his grasp on his sword, his very expression promising pain.

“You deserve to die.” The grim elf raised his greatsword, poised for a killing blow. “To die in the darkness. Alone.” His eyes narrowed as he watched for the drow’s reaction.

Struggling to maintain consciousness, Shivra watched in morbid fascination as her blood, glittering black in the starlight, ran down the sword blade. It dripped to the ground, into the widening pool that spread out from the fallen rogue’s body. She glanced up at the stars, wondering if the elves that died on that raid felt as she did now.

“Do it.” Shivra‘s words were punctuated by wracking pain and coughs of blood. The warm, coppery taste and smell of her own blood overwhelmed her senses and she struggled to draw a breath, gasping. Her petite frame trembled as she forced the words out. "I accept . . . your judgement. For my wrongs . . . atrocities committed . . . I’ll . . . face my sentence. Then, let that . . . damned Lloth . . . try to chase me . . . through the afterlife!" She slumped back to the ground, exhausted and barely conscious.

A low growl of pure anger escaped the male elf’s lips and he brutally thrust his blade downward. Shivra‘s body stiffened reflexively as the greatsword struck home. In the silence that followed, the elf knelt beside the fallen rogue’s body.

“Am I dead yet?” Shivra thought to herself. Tentatively, she opened her eyes, to see the elf kneeling next to her, a grim, yet thoughtful expression on his scarred face. Less than a hairsbreadth away, his greatsword had been driven, point down, into the earth beside her. She could feel the cold metal of the blade resting against her cheek. She was overwhelmed by the feelings of confusion, and she looked at the elf incredulously.

“You intrigue me, drow.” Shivra watched in disbelief as her attacker first applied an ointment and poultice to her wounds, and then began bandaging her. His movements were quick, deft, and surprisingly gentle.

“I finally find you, only to discover a drow different from the one I remember. Forsaking her people. Forsaking her goddess. Turning her back on the darkness. Defending a village. Protecting the innocent. It was too much for me to accept.” The elf finished binding Shivra’s wounds and propped the weakened drow into a sitting position against the wall of a nearby building. He pulled her waterskin from her pack and brought it to her lips, and the dark elf drank gratefully.

“I could not believe it. I would not believe it,” the elf continued, pausing to wipe away some water that had spilled down the rogue’s chin. He stared intently into the drow’s eyes. “But now, with you here before me, I can see into your heart. And I believe your conversion is true.” He gathered her weapons from where they fell, gazing down at the two daggers for a moment before sliding them back into their belt sheaths at Shivra’s waist.

“The goodly gods, in their infinite mercy, have granted you a rare chance at redemption.” The scarred elf stood, and yanked his greatsword free of the ground. “Take care, and do not squander that opportunity, drow. It will not be offered again.”

The elf placed a hand on Shivra‘s shoulder and whispered some arcane phrase. Shivra gasped and her eyes grew wide as she felt the smallest portion of her essence flow into the elf’s body. His intense gaze never left her for a moment.

“I can sense you now. Anywhere you go, I will know. You may travel a thousand miles, but I can find you. You may cloak yourself in the darkest shadows, but I can seek you out.” The grim elf shouldered his greatsword and turned to go.

“But know this, drow. If you ever embrace evil again. . . if you ever return to your wicked ways . . . if you ever harm the innocent . . . I will find you . . . and I will finish you!” The elf’s words carried a determined certainty. He started to walk away down the alley.

“Wait!” Shivra reached out to stop him, but pulled back as waves of pain wracked her body. “Tell me. How did you find me? Why did you spare me?”

The elf stopped and looked back at her, smiling sadly. “There are many gods in the worlds beyond, many more powerful and far worthier of praise than that thrice-damned Lloth. A word of advice, dark elf. When you seek something, do not ask for the darkness to help you find it. Instead, look to the light.”

A glittering object arced through the cool night air, landing square in Shivra’s lap. It was a silver necklace with a small, dual-sided medallion. On one side was the symbol of the Platinum Dragon, the god Bahamut, patron of honor and justice. She flipped it over, to reveal a golden starburst on the opposite side, the symbol of the god Pelor, patron of mercy and compassion.

“Justice. And mercy. Both have been served here tonight, drow. May the grace and light of all the goodly gods shine upon you and light your way,” the elf’s voice echoed from the end of the alleyway. Shivra looked up, but he was already gone, disappearing into the night. Thinking hard on what had just transpired, Shivra sat in the darkness and stared up at the stars, slowly turning the medallion over and over in her hand.

The stars had all but faded in the hour before dawn, when Eth and Crono finally came looking for her. Seeing Shivra’s body bloodied and slumped against the wall in an alleyway, the druid and swordmage rushed to her side.

“Are you okay? What happened?” Eth asked, his brow furrowed with concern. He looked to her bandaged wounds. The drow did not answer, but stared off into the horizon, rubbing the medallion idly between her thumb and forefinger.Crono looked down, to the pool of drying blood that stained the cobblestone, and then back to the wounded rogue.

“Damn! Looks like you got knocked the fuck out!” The young eladrin spoke before thinking, and as he realized what he had just said, he winced, anticipating the drow’s retort. Shivra leveled an icy glare at the swordmage, but surprisingly said nothing, gripping the holy symbols tightly in her fist. The elf and eladrin helped her to her feet and supported her as she limped back to the inn.

“So . . . you wanna tell us what happened to you?” Eth asked casually as they moved along. Shivra paused and looked to the horizon as the sun began to rise, the first rays of light streaking the sky. She closed her eyes and felt the warming light of day wash over her, then looked down, and shook her head. The elf and eladrin looked at each other and shrugged, both confused. Without another word spoken, the druid and swordmage sighed, and then helped their wounded friend into the inn.

The next morning, a few hours before highsun, the party gathered in the common room of the inn. Stravo nursed a slight hangover. Shivra was conspicuously absent, ostensibly sleeping in her room, recovering from the last night’s injuries.

Luak or Eth had made some inquiries, and Thoradin Ironstar was expected to arrive in town in the afternoon. In the meanwhile, the party took care of errands, such as selling gems, and buying healing potions. While they were selling some dragonsplitters to the weaponsmith, they discovered that he had a magical sword named Goldenclaw, that he was willing to sell to the party. After a bit of persuasion, they convinced him to sell it to them. Chrono was the happy owner of the enchanted blade, one that glowed yellow and radiated a faint light.

The sun was low in the sky, casting long, deepening shadows by the time some caravan wagons rolled in. They were not the usual merchant wagons, but instead filled with grim-looking soldiers and a great deal of steel weapons and armor. Accompanying them was Thoradin Ironstar, as well as a number of tough-looking dwarves.

Luak and Stravo met the dwarves at the Grinning Dragon Inn, and Thoradin introduced his companions: Karthain Steelheart, a cleric of Moradin, Balaim Bronzehammer, a fighter, and Nalthren Bronzehammer, an invoker.

It was with great sadness and regret that Stravo told Thoradin of his clansman’s fate. The dwarf paladin accepted the news with a grim expression. He thanked the party for their help and gave them as a reward, a magic belt and the thanks of all of Clan Ironstar. Thoradin and his companions would quickly resupply and immediately head out toward the fallen tower and the bodies of their fallen kinsmen. Luak sighed with a heavy heart as he watched the dwarves march off, then followed the bard as they moved to rejoin their companions at the Sleeping Wizard Inn and discuss their next move.

Marauders of Hawksbridge
Game session 2

The adventurers awoke after a restful night after returning from their journey to help search out the kin of Thoradin. With several days remaining until Thoradin returned to Hawksbridge, the current party decided to have Crono, Stravo, and Eth contact Donnell Waynwood about his past inquiries for their assistance.

The local leader of the Stone Hawks regretted to inform them that the homes outside of Hawksbridge were still being attacked, and more families disappearing. With that information, the three adventurers left to go to Threecoins Chapel to purchase a few healing potions for their journey. Afterwards, they picked up the remaining members of the group at the Sleeping Wizard Inn.

Together, the adventurers headed south out of Hawksbridge on a journey to uncover the mysteries that have been plaguing these people. With Shivra scouting ahead of the group, the adventurers came upon the first abandoned hunter’s cabin. The door was broken, with no motion and lights coming from the home. The group separated into teams to search for information that shed any light onto the abandoned cabin.

As Eth and Shivra scouted the grounds nearby to uncover any tracks, Crono and Stravo went inside the cabin to search for clues, while Malroc and Luak stood guard outside. Searching the hunter’s cabin showed signs of struggle by the slashes and cuts on blood-stained walls, but no further details. Meanwhile, Eth and Shivra discovered some faint tracks that continued to lead south, but the trail was lost among the underbrush leading into the forest.

The party regrouped, and decided to continue to head south in the direction of the tracks. The adventurers slowly approached the next abandoned cabin, but something in the atmosphere did not sit well with the party. The group decided to go in and survey the empty home and its surroundings in the same methodical manner as the last home.

As Crono and Stravo searched the empty home, Eth and Shivra slowly scouted the clearing around the cabin for tracks, but the unnaturally quiet forest did not set well with the elves. These two elves stealthed around the cabin’s surrounding land, only to see a band of marauding goblins sneaking up upon Malroc and Luak, who stood guarding the area. As discreetly as possible, the rogue signalled her comrades outside the cabin.

Stravo. Crono. We got company.” Malroc whispered over his shoulder. The minotaur nodded to the barbarian, and they both slowly grasped their weapons, hefting them over their shoulders. Luak planted his feet, slowly tamping them into the dirt, readying to charge any enemies that showed themselves. The bard and swordmage gradually drifted toward the front entrance, unsheathing their blades.

There was a soft twang of bowstrings from beyond the clearing, and arrows flew out of the darkness, striking Luak. The moonlight revealed the outline of goblin archers and it was enough for the enraged barbarian. The goliath charged, his angry roar echoing through the forest, his massive greataxe promising death to the archers. As Luak brought his axe to bear, more goblins leapt from the underbrush, their crude, wickedly-edged short swords gleaming in the moonlight. The small humanoids swarmed the large goliath, their sheer numbers threatening to overwhelm him.

Malroc rushed to his friend’s aid, his axe hewing down a goblin with each swing. Crono again jumped into the biggest group of enemies, his swordbursts blasting through multiple goblins with every attack. Stravo conjured blasts of magical energy, some seemingly coming from his allies rather than him. The bard shouted encouragement to his embattled allies. “Take heart! And fight on, my friends! Our destinies are too great to end here!”

The druid and the rogue attacked the goblin invaders from their concealed, flanking position. Eth channeled the power of nature and blasted a bunch of goblins, his chill winds freezing the blood in their veins. Shivra stalked in slowly, looking for an ideal opportunity to put her razor-sharp daggers to use.

While the party hacked their way through the lesser goblins, two larger, tougher goblins stepped forward. These two were more heavily armored than their companions, and armed with big, vicious-looking axes. Shouting a war cry in their strange, goblin language, they entered the fray.

The battle became much more dangerous, with the archers and the axe-wielding goblins being the main threat. After they had been battered and bloodied, these vicious goblins went into a reckless fury, their strength seemingly increased by their rage. One goblin hit Stravo with a grievous cut and the half-elf fell to the ground, clutching at his bleeding wounds.

Seeing their friend fall, the rest of the party fought with renewed determination, tearing into the remaining goblins. Axes, blades, and spells decimated the rest of the marauders. The party rushed to their fallen companion, bandaging his wounds and offering whatever healing they could muster. After a few tense moments, the bleeding ceased, and Stravo staggered back to his feet.

“Should we rest? For the bard’s sake?” The question was asked, but Stravo shook his head emphatically.

“No! There are more of these damned creatures out there! More of these wretches waiting to prey on the innocent! On our friends! On our family! We defeated this group. But we are rare talents with spells and weapons, while these hapless farmers and woodsmen are not. We must root these vermin out, and defeat them! Kill all of them that threaten Hawksbridge!” Stravo spoke with a fiery determination.

“Kill them all,” Eth agreed, and the swordmage, warden, and barbarian shouted their assent. Shivra said nothing, but nodded her silent, grim approval. The dark elf began searching the bodies of the fallen and the rest of the party sooned joined her. They found little other than some gold on the bodies, but the tracks that the goblins had left were still fresh.

“They’ve no food or water,” Shivra spoke aloud. “They must have a camp nearby.” In short order, the druid and the rogue were back in the woods, following the trail that would lead them back to the goblins’ camp. Even in the low light, their keen elven eyes found the signs the goblins left.

After following the goblins’ path, Shivra and Eth came upon a goblin encampment. The rest of the party followed after the elves, and before assaulting the enemy camp, they regrouped and planned a strategic attack. Undetected, and using Stravo’s magic, the bard quickly moved Malroc, Crono, Luak, and himself into the goblin camp, bypassing the enemy sentries. Shivra and Eth skirted the perimeter, trying to flank the guards and take advantage of the chaos that their friends caused.

Unfortunately, the sentry goblins reacted faster to the intrusion than anyone anticipated. After the main party’s initial, brutal surprise attack, the goblins on watch turned and ran toward the intruders, pulling their bows and firing arrows. Left without their planned targets, the elves continued moving around the perimeter, hoping to find more targets of opportunity.

The goblins rushed the party’s main warriors. Malroc drew upon the fury of nature, causing roots and vines to ensnare the goblin fighters and pull them next to him, and his mighty axe killed many of them. As before, Crono dove headlong into the fight, his magical swordbursts hitting multiple enemies. These goblins were more hardy than the ones he killed earlier, and the swordmage would have been overwhelmed if Stravo, Luak, and Malroc hadn’t been nearby. The bard shouted words of encouragement as he fought, renewing and empowering his allies. He alternated between striking goblins with his longsword and deftly conjuring magical blasts that confused and bewildered his enemies.

Surrounded by enemies, Luak fell into a deep rage and thundered about the battlefield, spreading his attacks against many different enemies. His anger may have left him unsettled, for his swings were often wild and erratic, with goblins ducking under his greataxe. When the barbarian’s attacks did strike home, however, Luak was gratified to hear the crunch of bone and feel the spray of goblin blood, and the goliath roared with delight.

As the battle continued, more goblins came out from the tents in the encampment. One was a devious spellcaster, whose spells caused Crono and Malroc great hurt. One particularly vile spell left the mighty minotaur wracked with pain, leaving him unable to move about properly. Eth and Shivra finally entered the battle to great effect, immediately setting upon the most dangerous goblins. They scattered before the elf druid’s mighty evocations and the drow rogue darted into the ensuing chaos, eager to put her vicious dagger blades to use.

The remainder of the battle was a brutal, hard-fought one. Ultimately, the Heroes of Hawksbridge proved victorious, narrowly defeating the goblins. The last enemy was exceedingly difficult to hit, the agile goblin dodging out of everyone’s attacks. It was the frustrated goliath who finally struck the elusive goblin down, his deadly greataxe cleaving the poor creature in two.

After the fight, the party searched the bodies, finding a fair bit of gold, as well as a magic staff. Exhausted from the fight, the party made camp and rested, using the reprieve to discuss the events so far . . . .

(More to come soon!)

A hint of shadows
Game session 1

Two days after fending off a group of assassins, the current party of adventurers were resting, recovering, and relaxing at the Sleeping Wizard Inn. In fairly quick succession, they received two messages. The first was from Thoradin Ironstar, a dwarf paladin and friend of Luak, asking to meet with them. The second message was from Donnell Waynwood, the leader of the local Stone Hawks garrison, inquiring for their assisstance.

The party first met with Thoradin at the Grinning Dragon Inn. The dwarf explained that a few months ago, one of his kinsmen had set out and attempted to start a new mining operation in the Redstone Hills a few days travel to the west of town. They had set up their base in the ruins of an old tower, and things had seemed to be progressing well. However, few weeks ago, all communication from the prospectors had ceased.

Thoradin greatly wished to know what had befallen his clansmen. Unfortunately, his honor and duty called him away to help defend the dwarves of Bronzehammer Halls from some unknown threat that had attacked their underground patrols. Turning to Shivra with both caution and suspicion, he said, “We fear an incursion from the Underdark. My people suspect drow or the dark dwarves.” He could offer a small reward if they found out for him while he was away. Thoradin would return in around ten days, to hear back from them.

Thoradin needed a response from the party before he left town later in the day. The party told him that they needed to hear from Donnell Waynwood before agreeing to help Thoradin, since the Stone Hawk sergeant was also requesting their help. The party agreed to give Thoradin an answer before he left town.

When the party met with Donnell Waynwood, he told them of how some farms and hunters’ cabins to the south of town had looked like they had been attacked. All of their inhabitants had gone missing. The veteran soldier asked them to investigate these disappearances, doing what they could to keep the area safe. He couldn’t afford to spare any men, especially with the increasing threat from the minotaur tribe to the west.

Before leaving town, the party decided to gather some information. Stravo used his many skills to gather from a soldier in the Stone Hawks that most likely, the attacks to the south of Hawksbridge were perpetrated by some type of goblins.

The party then returned to Grinning Dragon Inn to speak with Thoradin. Stravo explained the situation to Thoradin of the situation to the south of town. After taking a moment to discuss their plans, the party made a final decision to help Thoradin. Meanwhile, Shivra sat at the table with Thoradin in a private conversation until the party returned. The party agreed to help and the dwarf gave them his thanks, as well as some gold and a healing potion.

Concerned for his parents that live outside of town, Stravo has Eth send an animal messenger to the half-elf’s parents. He warned them of the increasing dangers in the region. Then the party set out to the west, to find the dwarven prospectors.

Stravo performed a song, laced with a bit of magic, to help the group travel faster. They quickly traveled over the land, but the Redstone Hills are dangerous. The party was ambushed by a group of goblin raiders. After the initial shock wore off, however, the adventurers quickly composed themselves and defeated the goblins with little effort. Crono charged headlong into the goblins, dropping multiple goblins with each sword blast. Malroc proved his toughness, gathering a group of goblins around him and calmly withstanding the chill as Eth dropped a blast of frost on him, freezing the surrounding goblins. Everyone worked in concert to end the goblin threat.

The journey to the new mines continued, and the travel was uneventful. The group found the remnants of the dwarven prospectors’ camp, as well as the ruins of the old tower. The camp had signs of a struggle throughout, with much of the tents torn and shredded, with dried bloodstains all over the camp, but ominously, with no bodies to be found.

Nearby, there was a cave entrance, with heaps of earth and stone piled near the outside of the cave mouth. As the party approached, they heard some odd, high-pitched voices and the sound of some things moving around deeper within the cave, but as they drew nearer, the sounds stopped.

Hoping to surprise whatever was in the cave, the party’s melee combatants rushed into the entrance. It was they who were surprised, however, as they accidentally set off a tripwire, causing a load of rocks to drop on them, causing minor injuries. At this, from deeper in the cave, there came the sound of many voices giggling with delight.

The light from the outside didn’t enter very far into the cave, so while the elf, eladin, half-elf, and drow could see well enough in the low light, Malroc and Luak could not. The party broke out the sunrods, and the drow rogue moved ahead to scout, taking the point position. The cavern split into two different caves, one larger and one smaller. The larger one had a series of ever-higher ledges, each roughly five feet higher than the one before, while the smaller cave sloped upward more gradually. The noises they had heard earlier had come from the larger cave, so this was the one they chose to investigate first.

Shivra snuck through the first part of the cave without incident, reaching the first ledge. There, she saw a multitude of dead bodies and half-eaten corpses, appearing to be the remains of the dwarven prospectors. The rest of the party entered into the cave as Shivra vaulted up onto the first ledge.

These monsters were exceptionally sneaky, on their home turf, and well-prepared. As soon as the drow rogue got up on the first ledge, a small, reptillian humanoid lept up from among the bodies of the slain dwarves, screaming shrilly, and launched a javelin at Shivra. At this signal, nearly a dozen of his brethren leapt up from their hiding places, charging the surprised rogue before she could fully get her bearing.

The kobolds quickly swarmed the drow, hacking and jabbing at her with their jagged, rusty weapons. Shivra would have quickly been overcome, but thinking quickly, Stravo was the first to respond. The half-elf conjured a thunderous, magically-charged battle cry that blasted the kobolds surrounding Shivra to their deaths. Seeing an opening, he called for Shivra to dodge to her left, away from the kobolds, but further into the cave. Moving purely on instinct, the drow did as the bard hoped, leaping clear of the surrounding kobolds.

The rest of the party charged in, eager for blood. Luak was perhaps, too eager. While he sliced the legs out from under his first kobold, his ensuing bloodlust made him less accurate, frustrating the competitive goliath to no end. Malroc also waded fearlessly into combat. Again, Crono and Eth entered gleefully into combat, each one battering groups of kobolds into mush with their area effect spells.

Shivra fought viciously, using every trick at her disposal to fight off the kobolds and buy time for her companions to fight their way to her. Just as they were slaughtering the last few kobolds, shrill cries from further back in the cave alerted them to the presence of more enemies. More kobolds, including heavily armored ones, a spell-casting one, and even a small, hatchling blue dragon charged across the large cavern toward them.

This fight was much more brutal and dangerous. The druid and bard matched against the kobold wyrmpriest, with Stravo taking the worst of that exchange. The half-elf bard was blasted to within an inch of his life, and would have died if not for the timely aid of his companions. The minotaur, eladrin, and drow systematically hacked their way through the remaining kobolds and severely wounded the dragon, who fled further back into the cave. Luak took an undue amount of time before dealing with a couple of kobolds. Frustrated and angry, the barbarian charged into the depths of the cave, landing the killing blow on the hatchling dragon.

After the battle, the party searched the rest of the cavern. As they sifted through the bodies, they discovered a dwarf who wore a signet ring that bore the symbol of the Ironstar clan, likely Thoradin’s kinsman. On the body of the kobold wyrmpriest, they found a small book, written in a script that none of them could understand. In the back of the book was a note, written in Draconic. In the rooms under the ancient tower, they found crates bearing the mark of Bronzehammer Halls. Keeping the ring, they gathered all the remaining bodies of the dwarves into a pile outside and burned them, creating a massive funeral pyre.

Believing that they had accomplished all that they could and learned everything possible here, the party of adventurers returned home to Hawksbridge, thinking deeply about the events that had just occurred, as well as the the plans fate had in store for them . . . .

The adventure begins . . . .

The pounding echoes of the drums of the Thunderhorn minotaur clan boomed and rolled across the Beast Plains like a storm thunderhead, and all of inhabitants of the plains took notice. The animals of the plains scattered before the minotaurs like leaves before an autumn gale, and wiser barbarian tribes did likewise, or risked enslavement or eradication. In the vanguard of the minotaur tribe stood Malroc, one of the finest warriors among the Thunderhorn Clan.

Malroc was a warden, one of the few chosen at birth by the spirits of the tribe to be a defender and champion of his people. The blood of his ancestors surged true through his veins, whispering to him of the ancient ways. Unseen by the uninitiated, the spirits of beasts, trees, the earth and sky would often swirl about the young minotaur, offering their guidance and power. In times of need, Malroc could channel the power of these spirits through his body, accomplishing deeds far surpassing those of normal warriors.

Malroc had been trained by First Warrior Taerak, the mightiest fighter of the Thunderhorn clan, except for Chieftain Durgroth himself. The whole tribe spoke of the growing fighting skills of Malroc, and Taerak himself had said that Malroc would most likely succeed him as First Warrior. When the day came that Taerak disappeared, seemingly on a quest, many in the tribe began treating Malroc as the First Warrior’s heir apparent. As Malroc’s first honor, he was given the duty of meeting with a group of emissaries from the Hawkstone Vale.

Across Hawkstone Vale, its settlements’ rulers looked upon the minotaurs with fear and apprehension. For many years, the Thunderhorn Clan had been peaceable and approachable enough, engaging in trade with their neighbors for their mutual benefit. But lately, the minotaurs had become increasingly aggressive, turning away foreign merchants and attacking other villages and barbarian tribes.

In search for answers, Lord Talamius Hawkstone, the ruler of the city of Hawkstone, decided to dispatch an official representative to the Thunderhorn minotaurs. The emissary needed to be someone well-known and well-connected, for the minotaurs to respect. He also needed to be expendable, in case the minotaurs were becoming as aggressive and savage as the rumors claimed.

Lord Hawkstone decided on sending an eladrin swordmage, Crono Telrunya. Crono was the son of a noble eladrin house, as well as serving in the Stone Hawks in a limited capacity. Also, Crono’s grandfather was Magnus Telrunya, a renowned hero who had once defended the land in years past. And although Lord Hawkstone hated putting anyone at risk, if the minotaurs were foolish enough to attack or even kill Crono, then the eladrin would be welcome allies against the Thunderhorn Clan.

And so, Crono set out for the village of Hawksbridge, the settlement closest to the Thunderhorn tribe’s ancestral lands. Hawksbridge had frequently traded with the minotaurs in the past and would have the most knowledge of the barbarian clan. In addition, a detachment of Stone Hawks were stationed in the village, to provide the eladrin with the information and support he would need.

Crono welcomed the dangerous assignment. In ages past, House Telrunya was given the task of defending the village of Hawksbridge and the surrounding land. And despite the heroics of Magnus and his other ancestors, the reputation of House Telrunya had fallen in recent years. Some years ago, an orc tribe had threatened to invade. Crono’s father and uncle had defeated the invaders, but at great cost to the defenders. In addition, injuries to his father and uncle had left them unsuitable for combat. But now that Crono had come of age and completed his arcane training, he was determined to restore honor to the family name.

Once he arrived in Hawksbridge, Crono met with Donnell Waynwood and Meggaro Elleric, the two highest ranking members of the Stone Hawks garrison. They advised the eladrin swordmage to enlist the aid of Stravo Vangelis to aid him in his mission. Stravo was a local bard, who had travelled far and experienced much, and had even travelled among the minotaurs within the last few years. His quick mind and his knowledge of people could prove quite valuable to Crono’s mission.

And as Stravo was quick to tell Crono, “Don’t worry about a thing! I’ve dealt with these minotaurs so many times, I’m practically a member of the tribe! This meeting, or negotiation or whatever you want to call it, will be over with in no time! The Thunderhorns love me! I promise! Relax, and just trust me on this!”

As fate would have it, Stravo’s best friend and constant adventuring companion was Eth Elleric, Meggaro’s son. Like his father, Eth was trained as a druid. And like Meggaro, channeling druidic powers came very easy to Eth. But where Meggaro was stern and serious, Eth was light-hearted and fun-loving. And while they both wanted to protect the land and its people, Eth craved excitement and adventure. Accompanying his friend on travels and adventures was much more entertaining than being stuck in the same old boring town for years.

The eladrin and half-elf had gathered around a table in the common room of the Sleeping Wizard Inn, discussing their mission well into the evening. Eth had little patience for the tedium of planning, and as the patrons of the inn began crowding the commons, the elf went to stretch his legs outside.

Crono soon realized that the three of them weren’t enough. The swordmage knew enough of minotaur culture to know that they respected combat prowess and physical might. And while the eladrin was a talented and skilled warrior, none of the three were particularly imposing.

Crono also felt more comfortable having a scout with them, someone who could move unseen through the shadows. He hated surprises, and knowledge, especially advance knowledge of his foes was always welcome. At hearing this, Stravo smiled wide. He knew of just the right person.

Less than two weeks ago, Hawksbridge had a most unusual visitor. In truth, most of the village’s inhabitants didn’t even notice. She was a drow, a race notorious for their ability to move unheard and unseen, and she was stealthy even among her own people. She was strikingly attractive and exotic, with a presence about her that could command a room, but when she wanted to be unseen, she was all but invisible. Her name was Shivra Zar’Haelirin.

Shivra was originally trained as a priestess of Lloth, in a drow city deep in the Underdark. She had a twin sister, Shali, and the two of them shared a bond stronger than any other. One day, Shali angered the Spider Queen. Lloth sent her followers to capture and execute the rebellious Shali, including her twin sister, Shivra. Shali killed her would-be captors and escaped, leaving drow society and heading for the surface. When Shivra discovered what had happened, she denounced Lloth, forsook the priesthood, and left the drow city behind her.

Alone, and without Lloth’s power for the first time in decades, Shivra trained herself in the ways of stealth, learning to strike foes who were unaware and off-balance. The journey to the surface was grueling, but Shivra eventually emerged from a mountain cave, half-starved and barely alive.

There, she was found by an old, human ranger. Although he knew of the drow and knew what evils they were capable of, he had seen too much death in his lifetime and could not bring himself to kill her. Instead, he nursed Shivra back to health, and keeping a watchful eye on her, taught her much about the surface world. Shivra was suspicious of the human at first, but soon realized that his help was real, given with no demand for compensation.

For a time, Shivra lived, at peace and content. It was a way of life she had never known, and the genuine happiness she felt made her question her past life and re-evaluate all the lies that drow society had told her. But all too soon, she felt an emptiness in her heart, which would not be filled until she found Shali again. Also worried that the minions of Lloth might track her to the surface, Shivra bid farewell to the old ranger and ventured out into the surface world, alone.

Shivra knew how the surface races would view a drow, and so she kept to the outskirts of society. She would shadow merchant caravans, listening to guards and traders talk around the campfire, trying to glean any information that would lead her toward finding her sister. When she came to villages or towns, she would wear a deep, hooded cloak and try to blend unnoticed into the crowd. Any story, tale, song, or overheard bit of gossip would draw Shivra’s attention. Every possible lead left her more confused.

In time, her journeys led her to the town of Hawksbridge. There, she overheard the bard, Stravo Vangelis, telling the locals a tale. He claimed to have encountered a drow elf in the lands nearby, only a few weeks previous. Despite the evil reputation of the dark elves, this one had seemed uninterested in conflict, and only wanted to be left alone.

Intrigued, Shivra stealthily followed the bard and confronted him when he was alone. Using the only interrogation methods she knew, she tried to threatened him into telling her all he knew of the drow he met. Surprisingly, the half-elf seemed more interested in Shivra rather than afraid of her. Although he couldn’t clearly remember the details of his earlier encounter, his description sounded like it could have been Shali.

Stravo offered a deal to the drow rogue. She would accompany him as an equal, using her skills in any manner she saw fit to help him and his allies. In return, he would vouch for her among the surface communities, as well as teach her the ways of the surface world. “After all,” Stravo grinned as he spoke, “She came for me once. It’s only a matter of time till she comes for me again. They always do.”

Shivra could barely contain her snarl of distain and contempt, but her own investigations toward her sister’s whereabouts had been fruitless. The half-breed bard seemed like he knew his way around, and he could prove useful. “Very well,” Shivra growled through clenched teeth. “I will aid you as I may. But if you prove weak, or incompetent, I will remove your entrails whilst you watch! And you will beg for me to kill you!” She brandished a dagger threateningly.

Far from concerned, Stravo practically jumped with glee as the drow agreed. He nearly laughed aloud, considering the adventures he was sure to encounter in the presence of a renegade drow! Just wait until he told Eth!

(More to be added soon!)


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