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 . . .”
“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.
“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!)