When we last left our heroes, they had just emerged from the Khun Ut Khali ("Path of the Dead"). After braving stirges, darkmantles, and wells of cold water, they succeeded in reaching the Oracle to be judged and to hear their fates. Having proved their worth, they returned to the waiting Alvorin patrol for a night of mild celebration and restful sleep.
The next day, the patrol moves to a larger, semi-permanent village nearby. Meeting with the Elders there, our heroes discuss politics, revealing the staged attack on the Dhunraven trade delegation and the disappearance of Lord Khulvan's nephew Allayn. The Elders support the adventurers' decision to press on to find Allayn and resolve the issue. The Alvorin cannot send assistance, though. As part of their agreement with Dhunraven, they established a border between human and Alvorin lands and limits on the number of troops that can cross over either way. Despite apparent Dhunraven attacks, the Alvorin are still keeping up their part of the deal. However, they will send along a guide: a young but capable Alvorin named Strohm Keeth. He is a warrior of the Middle Circle, and carries a huge falchion of the black stone-metal of which all true Makaneth Alvorin weapons are made. The adventurers promise to return as soon as possible for their official indoctrination into the tribe at the next clan meet on the new moon (about 3 1/2 weeks away). They have much to learn about Alvorin culture before they can become full tribe members.
Traveling a day and half, camping through yet another nightly snowstorm...
...the party reaches Shaman's Crown. Much less impressive than imagined, it is little more than a very large mound on a high hill, though the mound is crowned with a circle of large, jagged, standing stones. There is a wide cave entrance.
After much discussion, our heroes decide to attempt stealth over a direct frontal attack. Sarah argues against slaughtering men without first granting them a chance to surrender Allayn; others are more concerned about just who or how many might be camped within the Crown. Also, Luceo and Invellios secretly nurse doubts about the reliability of some ethereal old hobgoblin witch, even if she did feel very wise and powerful at the time.
The party sneaks around the back of the mound to look for other entrances. Finding none, they climb the mound from behind. They secure two 50 foot ropes around the stones and dangle them on either side of the cave entrance. Invellios drinks a potion of Invisibility and repels slowly down towards the entrance, before dropping the last 10 feet to the trampled snow in front of the entrance.
Here begins a string of bad luck for Invellios. The Crown houses seven human bandits, and three Uskander orcs, led by a fourth barbarian Uskander named Barrath. However, control of all Crown operations has recently been usurped from Barrath, on orders from above, by the strict and fiery dark cleric, Morgrissa.
Motivated by Morgrissa's temper and demand for discipline, three of the human guards sit in the large entrance cave, all unusually attentive. Invellios makes a poor drop down to the path, twists his ankle, and manages to make quite a thump . One guard is roused enough to wander a few steps outside and look around, but, failing to trip over the invisible Invellios and failing to notice the ropes from above in the recesses on either side of the entrance, he returns to guard duty. Invellios sneaks into the cave, but he stumbles over some bedding , knocking a discarded pot against the stone floor and causing the bedding to disappear when he puts out his hands to catch himself.
The guards begin to fire crossbow bolts in his direction. Invellios takes a couple hits and tries to scramble back out of the way. But the guards listen for the sound of his movements. He shoots a red ribbon-tipped arrow off out the cave, signaling distress to the rest of the party waiting above. They begin to scramble down, their descent masked by the battle sounds in the cave.
However, shooting the arrow (which turned visible in flight) gives his position away again. One of the guards charges forward, swinging his sword, and manages to connect, screaming "I got him! I got the invisible bastard!" One of the guards yells down the passageway for reinforcements. Invellios tries one last time to slip around the guards along the wall, but the guard next to him hears him and lashes out with his sword. Invellios sinks to the floor, healing potion actually in hand, and becomes visible again as he loses consciousness.
The nearest guard paws Invellios, disarming him and investigating this mystery--what's a dark-haired elf like this doing here? The other two run back to the entrance to look for more, as a couple reinforcements trot up the passage-way, including one of the orcs. Invellios continues to bleed his life out onto the cold stone floor.
As the guards peer out into the coming dusk, Strohm steps around from the side of the entrance and starts swinging. The other adventurers are quick to follow suit, particularly the now-raging Rorik, who really starts sinking them. Strohm calls for the orc to surrender, but Rorik cleaves him in two before he has a chance to consider it. Sarah calls out that they've only come for Allayn, but she isn't too squeamish about Sound Bursting a couple thugs before they can hack into Luceo. After only a few seconds, two bandits and an orc lie dead, and the remaining two bandits, stumbling and barely alive, stagger away down the passageway, screaming for backup. By the shouts coming back down the corridor, it sounds like it is already on its way.
Sarah drops to her knees to heal Invellios, who staggers to his feet and retrieves his bow. Everyone quickly flanks the corridor. Sarah again calls down that they've come for Allayn, on a mission from Lord Dhunraven, and request a surrender. Peering into the gloom, our heroes can see a few orcs (one of them very large) peering out from a doorway a ways down the hall. The big orc hollers back, asking what incentive he has to surrender. Sarah promises they'll go free if they turn over Allayn. Then a cold, feminine voice from deeper down the corridor warns, "Barrath, don't you dare try to betray me!" Sarah tells the orcs to drop their shields and weapons and come out with their hands up. Then things start to happen very quickly again.
Barrath and his two companions drop their gear and start to hustle up the corridor, their hands up. At the same time, Morgrissa charges forward with her five healed and regrouped bandits. She chants a dark spell, and suddenly she's telling Barrath she needs him, that his orcs are abandoning him, that she's his only real friend. Barrath stops, blinks, and falls under her Charm Person spell. As he turns back for his weapon, Morgrissa grabs him by the shoulder and hustles him on down the corridor with the rest of her charge. "Let the back-stabbing orc die barehanded on their swords, for all I care!", she whispers to herself.
The other two surrendering orcs run past our heroes, where Rorik and Strohm ready themselves for the charging bandits. Sarah yells that the orcs need to wait outside and not come back in before called, on penalty of death! Luceo translates for her (adding a few Orc expletives) to be sure they understand, before firing crossbow bolts down the corridor at the charging bandits. One orc turns and flees out into the coming night; the other considers his leader's apparent last-minute change of heart, and throws himself on Invellios in a furious, fumbling grapple. Rorik's axe disabuses him of that sort of behavior, along with his life.
Now the opening of the passageway is a mess of sword-swinging and crossbow-firing bandits, with the raging, slobbering Barrath throwing himself at Sarah and Strohm in turn. From farther down the corridor, Morgrissa calls out orders, curses, and dark spells, her red hair and dark banded mail gleaming in the dim light.
Between Rorik's axe and Strohm's black falchion, the bandits begin to fall. Barrath runs with blood, and shrugs off Luceo's Cause Fear. Sarah, trying to disable the victimized Barrath before he falls ("He's enchanted! It's not his fault!"), casts Hold Person on him, freezing him in place. Suddenly there's only one injured bandit left standing, cowering back in the corridor. And then Morgrissa is walking between them. Strohm and Sarah go to swing at her, but back down under a terrible compulsion. She shrugs off Luceo's Color Spray. Invellios dodges back and looses a couple arrows, before Morgrissa holds out her dark medallion and Invellios starts screaming, "My eyes, my eyes! I can't see!"
Rorik and Luceo move to block the cave entrance, trying to cut her off. But Morgrissa charges Luceo, knocking him to the ground, leaping over him into the darkness beyond. Rolling over and pulling out a scroll, Luceo makes a last attempt--another Color Spray. Searing, sparkling rainbow light fills the air around Morgrissa, and she crumples unconscious to the snow. Everyone pauses for a second. Barrath suddenly unfreezes, throws himself at Sarah, and then passes out at her feet from loss of blood. The battle is over.
Invellios stands, blind and unsure of himself. Rorik scrambles up the cliff to get one of the ropes and trusses up Morgrissa before she wakes. Sarah checks the fallen bandits. Strohm chases down the last bandit as he flees back down the corridor, returning with him unarmed and quivering. Luceo guards the unarmed, surrendered orc, who is still standing out in the snow.
Leaving the others to guard the prisoners, Rorik and Luceo investigate the Crown. There's a large storage cave, filled with crates of trade goods--textiles, dried food, ore, etc. There's a large sleeping area with a number of fur-covered piles of straw. In the back, what must be Morgrissa's den--a nice pallet and even a desk covered in papers. Luceo roots through these, finding caravan routes, maps, a prayer book of the dark god Hextor, and a letter from some Lord Beoric to Cordwellyn (the powerful merchant in Cador who employed the traitorous guide, Venya) concerning the commission of Morgrissa, the need to kidnap Allayn, and moves to garner power in the Council of Lords. In another cave, Morgrissa has hung tapestries and set up a dark altar. But there's no sign of Allayn.
Walking back through the cave complex, Luceo looks for the auras of magical items using Detect Magic. He finds a sack under Morgrissa's pallet (and gets a nice dose of burning cold from a magic trap for his trouble) and another stash in the storage room. Everyone confers back in the main cave. Morgrissa watches them venomously; it's a good idea to keep dark clerics firmly bound and gagged at all times though.
Sarah takes aside the only conscious thug. He's little more than a boy, and quite unnerved after watching the mighty Morgrissa, and even Barrath, laid low. Sarah offers him leniency if he'll spill the beans on Allayn. He reveals that there's a secret door behind one of the tapestries in the altar room. Allayn is found, bound and wounded, barely breathing, but alive. And with him, two chests of gold intended for the Alvorin negotiations.
Further interrogation of the orc and thug reveal that Cordwellyn has been here once or twice, but Venya--that traitorous "guide" and leader of the thugs in the hills--has been here a number of times.
A tense night of little sleep and double-guard duty over seven bound prisoners follows. Invellios's eyes are no better--milky white and useless--and there is little Sarah can do for him. She tries a few minor spells, but no luck. Invellios is very quiet, apparently deeply affected by this loss of his autonomy.
At dawn, after more conferring, Luceo makes a Prestidigitation show of "cursing" the trade goods, and installing an "invisible eye" to watch the entrance. Barrath is awake, and no longer Charmed. Sarah extracts a promise from Barrath and his remaining orc to never again return to the Shaman's Crown. Luceo adds, "The invisible eye will reveal to me if you do." They look at Luceo, his face still dark with the Outcast's Mark from his initiation to the underground Bleak Academy, and slowly nod. They take off into the snow.
Our heroes leave the young bandit with a crate of food from the storage room and in care of the other three wounded men. Luceo expects the orcs will be marauding again in a week, and the wounded will probably be abandoned to die by nightfall. But, admittedly, the only other options are to slit their throats (too dark) or try to transport them back to town for trial (too difficult and too dangerous; sorry Sarah). But Morgrissa is definitely the most dangerous, and without her drive and direction, the others are probably not all that dangerous.
Retrieving the stashed ponies Hansel and Gretel, our heroes head back to Cador with the trussed Morgrissa, the recovering Allayn, and evidence of the involvement of some powerful players.
That night, as most of our heroes sleep in their tents, the blind and subdued Invellios and Luceo sit on watch (or rather, on "listen") by the fire. Morgrissa lies bound by the fire. Luceo hears something, and leaps to his feet in time to sink a crossbow bolt deep into the shoulder of a charging, now bellowing, owlbear as it bursts suddenly into the firelight!
Before Invellios can even get to his feet, he is clawed and then rent by the thing's beak. The beast drops him and mauls Morgrissa, dropping her too, bloody, to the ground. Luceo keeps trying to scare it off with Cause Fear, but it roars on, unphased. Rorik and Strohm burst out of their tents, unarmored, and start cleaving at it. The owlbear bellows again and dives for Sarah, who ducks and fends off the groping claws with her buckler. Trying again, the owlbear succeeds in pulling Sarah from her feet into its claws, rending her body and slashing with its beak, before tossing her, barely conscious, over its shoulder. Rorik and Strohm continue to hack away at it. As the owlbear turns its mad eyes on Luceo and stumbles towards him, fumbling for him with its great feathery arms and blood-soaked talons, Strohm sinks his great black falchion into its back for a final, undoing blow. The owlbear groans, and sinks to the snow to die.
Luckily its mad drive to tear through each person in its path means that no one died, but Invellios and Morgrissa are both deeply wounded. Stabilizing Morgrissa (practically, its easier to transport an unconscious dark cleric over the back of a pony) and healing the deeply-abused Invellios, our heroes wait with trepidation for dawn to come. This surely is a bleak and dangerous land.
Late the next day, after a weary trek through mountain passes, our heroes once again reach Cador. We shall leave them there for now, standing together, gazing down on the fortified hamlet, preparing to hike down with their evidence of high corruption, kidnapping, and dark magic.
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SD Emporium : Tellurian Tales :
Last Edited: 24 Apr 2010|
©2006 by Z. Tomaszewski