Episode 17: 8/15/09
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger-rogue/2-3
Nineve, human knight/5
Sarek, human wizard/5
Xicar, human cleric/5
The sun rises over the rim of the valley as we finish placing the last stones on Captain Lorring’s cairn. The sunlight turns the heavy smoke still drifting across the valley from the ruins of Blackwall Keep gold and crimson in the early light. The few surviving rangers and convicts share a solemn moment of silence over their fallen leader. Edain, his arm in a sling and his face badly burned, turns to us and mentions that someone should say a few words for the Captain.
Skill Challenge! A few kind words.
We’re on the spot and we hardly knew the guy, but as professionals, these survivors-turned-funeral-attendees are looking to us for peace, comfort, and profound insights on the nature of mortality. Drawing from our deep well of experience in service to the goddess of death, we take turns addressing the group and manage to put in a stirring eulogy for Captain Lorring. Edain offers us the Captain’s sword (a +1 Spell Storing longsword), which we graciously accept.
FLASHBACK TO BLACKWALL KEEP, BEFORE SETTING OUT FOR THE ORC STRONGHOLD
Xicar finds some time to talk to Captain Lorring and confirms that the dragons do seem to be working with the orcs. The orcs have become much more organized in the last 6 months or so, and Lorring suspects the appearance of the dragons around the same time is related to this change in orc behavior. They discuss some details of Lorring’s proposal to strike at the orc leadership while the bulk of their forces regroup.
Sarek finds Black Bart working among the convict teams and pulls him aside. He commends Bart for doing such an excellent job, and, in an uncharacteristic move, rewards him with a necklace of dragon teeth reclaimed from the wyvern cave.
I look around for my dog and realize I haven’t seen him in a couple of days. He must be in the woods. After we set out for the orc caves, a few of us notice the elven hound shadowing us from the woods. I leave some food out for him at the edge of our camp that night.
FLASH FORWARD We finish of the half-dragon arcanist and advance to a large chamber, deep in the cave. The chamber is basically empty. It’s lit by a large fire, and orc bedrolls and supplies are scattered about. Like the rest of the cave, this chamber reeks of foundry smoke.
The chamber slopes upwards. At the far end, three orcs spot us and the hostilities begin. Suddenly, orcs and goblins pour in from all sides – an ambush! It’s a long and grueling fight, but we manage it.
We advance down a passageway that seems to be the source of the smoke. Emerging from a tight corridor filled with choking smoke, we find ourselves in an exceptionally warm chamber…
At the far end of the room, crudely formed iron racks suspend stony black and red ovoid objects over a large, tended fire. Could these be dragon eggs? Suddenly, an incredibly cute red dragon hatchling hops up to us and seduces Nineve into attempting to feed it. Then, it tries to take her face off with its flashing teeth and claws. Two other hatchlings, as well as two hellhounds are drawn to the commotion and join the fray. Waves of fire wash over the party as we battle fiercely on. Soon, a red dragon wyrmling flies over to join the fight. Swords flash and spells fly as we are locked in a life-and-death struggle with what are essentially dragon TODDLERS. However, they’re so evil and dangerous that when the last one finally falls, we’re just happy to be alive. Several wounded wyrmlings manage to flee the chamber during the battle. We smash all of the dragon eggs – no sense taking any chances.
Moving on, we climb up some crude steps into a large cavern. Fire from huge cauldrons casts dancing shadows on the rough stone walls. Along the edge of the chamber, a large gathering of orcs of all ages and stations look down on us, just watching. We cross the wide, recessed floor of the cavern and can’t shake the feeling of being in an arena. At the far end of the room, seated on an iron and bone throne, is the first old orc we’ve ever seen. At our approach, he gives a nod, and several orcs and ogres jump down and charge us. So much for diplomacy.
An orc battle royal ensues, where groups of orcs and ogres jump in and attack us in waves while the crowd looks grimly on. During the battle two of the wyrmlings that escaped our wrath earlier fly into the cavern and perch on the old orc’s throne. For some reason he shouts in rage and kills one of the wyrmlings, while the other flies beyond his grasp and exits the cavern. The last champion to fall is an orc riding a dire boar, and we survive by the slightest margin. Exhausted and battered, we wait in tense silence for another challenger to appear. Suddenly from behind us, we hear one person clapping in slow, grim applause.
We turn to see the old orc, now standing in front of his throne, applauding us. He was obviously once tall and broad shouldered, but his thin frame is now hunched and bent, and long stringy white hair hangs around his face. When he has our attention, he stops clapping and begins to speak:
“Congratulations, pinkskins. You’ve done what old Kroghut could not.” He thumps his chest dramatically, indicating he must be Kroghut. “You’ve freed my people from the tyrant, and I expect, destroyed the other pinkskins in the bargain. We will fight you no longer. You have bested my champions, and you have surely brought burning doom upon my people. Go now. Your work here is done. My people will not hinder you further. Were I you, I would scurry back to the walls of the pinkskins so that you might die heroically at their sides when their doom comes on fiery wings.”
He sits back down with a note of finality, and we are aware that the conversation is over. After a pause, we turn around and leave the cavern the way we came in, watched grimly by the orc crowd, our footsteps echoing loudly off the walls of the silent chamber.
Once free of their oppressive stares, we heal up and discuss our options. We realize we don’t really have any. We’ve accomplished our mission – the orc leadership is definitely broken, and the dragon-orc alliance is almost certainly on the out since we smashed up the hatchery. We decide there’s nothing left to do but return to Blackwall Keep, so we head out.
The first half of our journey goes uneventfully, though we’re all tense over Kroghut’s parting words. No one is in the mood to talk, and we travel for hours on end in silence. I notice the elven hound periodically, watching us from the woods.
As we travel from the orc hold through the deepening shadows of the mountainous foothills, around late afternoon of the second day, a flicker of light from a high distant peak catches our eyes. Far off, the peaks are barely visible on the darkening horizon; mostly screened by the hills and pine forest at the far end of the valley. Suddenly the peak flickers back to view, a brief glow touches it and fades away.
We continue on, trying not to think about what this might mean, when suddenly, a great light appears in the low place in the hills where the orcs make their lair, and the gathering evening clouds turn golden. Faintly, in the distance we hear warning trumpets sounding,and drums booming and echoing along the rocky foothills as the glow fades, then flares again, even brighter than before.
We press on towards the keep. An hour passes. Distantly we can see something; a spark of fire low in the sky rushing towards us and growing ever larger and more bright. Before long, so great is its speed that the fantastic shape of a fiery dragon appears over the tall trees. Soon the roar of the dragon’s terrible approach grows loud, and the rocks turn red as fire beneath the awful beating of its wings. Roaring it sweeps over the valley, leaving flaming desolation in its wake. We crouch behind what cover we can find as it flies past us, perhaps 100 yards to our right. Frightened, but with no other options, we continue our desperate march towards the keep.
We’re still several hours away from the keep when the valley trembles with the dragon’s approach. Things happen quickly as we look on helplessly from the far side of the stony valley.
As the dragon wheels to swoops upon the keep, a hail of dark arrows leap up and snap and rattle on its scales, and their shafts fall back kindled by the dragon’s breath, burning and hissing into the swift running stream at the base of the keep’s walls. At the twanging of the bows and the shrilling of the trumpets the dragon’s wrath blazes to its height, til it was blind and mad with rage.
Green and scarlet fire leaps from the dragon’s jaws. It circles for a while high in the air above the keep lighting all the valley; the trees shine like copper with leaping shadows of dense black at their feet. Then down it swoops straight through the arrow storm, reckless in rage, taking no heed to turn its scaly sides towards the foes, seeking only to set the keep ablaze. Fire leaps from thatched roofs and wooden beams, and hard stone flows like wax as it hurtles down and past and round again, breathing gouts of terrible fire. Back swirls the dragon. A sweep of its tail and the tallest tower of the keep crumbles and smashes down. Flames unquenchable spring high into the night. Another swoop and another, walls crumble and towers spring alight and fall, burning. The silhouetted figure of Captain Lorring can be seen urging his men to fight on. Still, no arrow hinders the dragon or hurts it. Men jump from the walls on every side. Weapons are flung down and the dragon vents its full wrath upon them at its leisure.
At last the dragon circles the blazing keep with a broad sweep of its dreadful wings. It swoops to snatch at a pair of fleeing figures, and then roaring and belching fire, spirals up through the low clouds to vanish into the darkening night sky.
With heavy hearts, we continue onwards to the now destroyed keep. When we finally arrive late at night, the keep and most of the valley is still ablaze. As we arrive, we find a few of the rangers and convicts have actually survived the attack, Vander Anderhof among them. Vander is with a group of people searching the rubble near the ruins of the wall, evidently for survivors. Another group of 4 or 5 is huddled around a still form near the base of one of the walls.
As we approach this group, we are shocked to see they are gathered around Captain Lorring, who is pinned under a huge piece of stone. He’s dying, but still cheerful. He sees us, and insists on knowing if the orcs have been stopped. We tell him their leadership is broken and they’ve been thoroughly routed. Upon hearing this, he coughs out a “Jolly good show, chaps” – his last words.
The rest of the night is a blur of activity – putting out fires, tending to the dead and dying, and trying to rebuild order in the wake of utter destruction. We learn that Astrid was taken by the dragon in his final dive, and that Black Bart died defending her. Jarkardos was killed when his tower fell, his remains were found in the wreckage of the stairwell. Parne and Torkan were killed defending the walls, and Orin, Astrid’s brother, died in the subsequent fires. Edain and one other ranger have survived, along with a mere 15 of the convicts.
After the last of the bodies has been buried, the survivors salvage what they can from the wreckage. We find the leg for 31E that Jarkardos was holding for us in the ruins of the observatory tower, along with a large golden scarab (a spell-sink scarab). We also scavenge:
a Sepulchral vest
oil of Greater Magic Weapon +2
potion of Greater Magic Fang +3
Talk turns to what to do next. Obviously, we will return to the Ruby Temple in Istivin, but what of the survivors? Vander and the rest of the convicts refuse to return to the city, i.e. prison. Edain proposes they take up residence at the Broken Bow lodge until the Keep is rebuilt, if that ever happens. Until then, they can continue the rangers’ work of maintaining the frontier by keeping the orcs, ogres and goblins in the mountains where they belong.
This sounds like a reasonable plan. With things pretty much wrapped up at the ruins of Blackwall Keep, we agree to set out with the survivors for Broken Bow lodge in the morning.