game reports

Hugo Tuya’s guards have fled the Middlemarch, pursued by deepfolk, and arrived at Iruva on the western edge of the spine mountains. They have failed in their job as guards, losing Hugo Tuya to a deepfolk raid in the middle of their journey through the pass, then abandoning his wagon and losing the wagoneer as they fled the mountains. They have managed to save Hugo Tuya’s “niece” Selina and her maid Leia, but when they reached Iruva they collapsed into sleep disappointed in themselves and their failed mission. Now they must think about where to go and what to do next.

A purpose: Mystery and Revenge

They woke by midday and gathered in the dining room of their hostelry to discuss their failures and their next steps. They had no special reason to travel onward, but they could not return over the Middlemarch until the way was cleared, probably only as part of a large raiding party. Iruva’s bailiff had immediately sent word to the next town, Antika, of the gathering storm in the mountains but he would not receive aid sufficient to do anything better than defend his town. They were all aware that no raiding party would be unleashed on the Middlemarch until winter was over, and unless they wanted to spend several months in the small and boring town, they needed to consider heading down the river to Estona.

Over breakfast they discovered that this was everyone’s preference. They needed to find better armour and weapons, they wanted to meet Siladan the Elder and inquire as to the various members of his old adventuring group whose bodies they had found on their journey, and they wanted to investigate mysteries they had encountered on the road. Estona was Hadun’s second largest city and no doubt had large libraries and many wise folk who could answer their questions – not to mention Siladan, and better weapons dealers. So they would set off soon.

As this discussion unfolded they discovered Selina hanging in the shadows, waiting to talk to them. She interrupted and begged them to take her with them. Her true purpose in traveling with Tuya had not been love or money, but escape: her family had promised her to an older man in another town and she could not bear the thought, so had used her charms to negotiate her way onto Tuya’s caravan to Estona. She had an uncle in Estona with whom she had stayed for a year when she was younger, and since he doted on her she hoped he would look after her. However, she would need work in Estona, and now she offered the group a deal: if they would escort her to the city she would negotiate with her uncle to allow them to use a piece of land he held on the eastern edge of the city. It was a derelict tea merchant’s, which he had not been able to develop and could not sell for legal reasons. Then, if they promised her the chance to stay in the building and work for them, she would help them to enter into Estona society: she would be their representative in the town when they were adventuring, and her maidservant would work in the kitchen and bedrooms of the house. She would use her connections in the town and her charm to put them in contact with the right people, and negotiate for them when they needed things smoothed over with local businesses and petty officials. All they had to do was take her down the river and support her now that she was penniless and without a guardian. They agreed, and next day they set out for Estona.

Estona and the black cliffs

Later that day they were called to the walls of Iruva to witness the sad spectacle of the reanimated corpses of Hugo Tuya and his wagoneer shambling towards the town. They explained the situation to the bailiff and his men and, in a last sad chapter of their relationship with Hugo Tuya, sent Kyansei out to kill both the approaching zombies. When it was done they burnt the bodies and left town.

The journey to Estona was uneventful. They walked along the river bank from Iruva to Antika and after 3 days caught a boat from that small town down the river west to Estona. This journey took another 3 days, and they arrived in Estona on the 13th of the month of Travel. From the morning of the second day of this journey the land on the northern bank of the river began to rise, and it rose continuously over the remainder of the journey, revealing a huge cliff face of black stone that crept up and up until, as they approached Estona, the north bank became a wall of black stone 2-3 kms high, its uppermost reaches shrouded in clouds. The river widened rapidly as they traveled down it, becoming a sluggish 100m wide channel as they neared Estona. On that northern bank, at the foot of the vast cliff, stretched long beaches of black sand, interspersed with huge chunks of rock that had fallen from above. Ships navigated on the southern side of the river, passing close to each other to avoid the rocky shoals at that edge of the cliff, and they saw local workers labouring over fallen rocks, breaking them up and dragging them out of the channel to be shaped back at the city and shipped off to all corners of the Archipelago. This was their first time seeing the stupendous majesty of the black cliffs of Estona, and they stared at them in awe as they slipped by in their little riverboat.

Estona was a lively city, nearly 200,000 people living in comfortable stone and wood homes stretched along the black sand banks of the river and on higher hills inland. The land on the urban side of the river was flat and fertile, rising gently to a headland with a lighthouse looking out over the western sea. Riverboat docks jutted out from the raised banks some distance from the sea, where the river turned brown and sluggish with the estuarine tides. Here a throng of labourers and merchants unloaded and loaded the small ships and a busy throng of carts led along the sea wall to the maritime docks further around the harbour. They left their ship here and found a comfortable tavern on the saltroad, the main road that stretched from the town’s eastern extent to the ports at its western end. They took good rooms and dumped their gear, explored the town a little, and rested while Selina ventured out into the busy streets to find her uncle.

The next day they met her uncle, a man called Arvil, who explained to them that he had inherited a once-profitable tea merchant’s compound from his older sister before she died. This tea business had stopped being profitable some twenty years ago, when a larger merchant opened up on the coastal side of the river, and his sister had somehow managed to mismanage the business into ruin. When he inherited the business he discovered it was caught in a complex web of legal arrangements and a business in Rokun had a legal claim on it such that it could not be sold, though he could use it freely. With no experience or interest in tea he had allowed the land to become unoccupied and unused and now, some 20 years later, with three successful businesses already running and his retirement looming, Arvil no longer had an interest in the place. He and his husband were focused on settling into their retirement and handing over their successful businesses to their two adopted children, and they had no interest in starting new adventures. As far as he was concerned the group could occupy and use the land freely, though the legal claim meant there were limits to how much they could change the land, and he would not be able to sell it. He offered them a year of rent-free occupancy without interference provided they would employ his daughter as their local agent, and were willing to clear it of its current squatters.

They were surprised to hear this, but long since used to the idea that nothing they encountered would ever be simple. Apparently some small number of rural types had moved in some years ago and were now making use of the place. Its lack of neighbours and rural surrounds meant they did not really bother anyone, and so he had been unconcerned. But if the group wanted it they would need to clear it. He gave them a brief description of the land, and left them to it. The next day they headed to the property to clear it out.

The Hag

They approached the compound from the land side, but it seemed to take an inordinate amount of time, repeatedly losing themselves in the loose forest and bogs of the area until finally, slightly worn out, they came into sight of a low wall that they guessed was the edge of the compound. They paused to rest and sent in various animals to investigate the area. These confirmed they were in the right place, and there were bad smelling non-human things living there. They slipped inside the nearest gate and moved into the compound itself.

Inside the gate they found a scrubby patch of land that may have been an abandoned herb garden, with a broken glasshouse and wooden shed on the side closest to them. Opposite that stood a long, single-story stone building connected to a wooden stucture from which steam rose into the grey sky, and which was in turn connected to a large longhouse-type central building. They had been told that the compound was centred around an onsen that provided hot clean water to both the main building and the tea preparation area, and they guessed that was it. They could see signs of people or things living in the main longhouse building, but they had no time to get a closer look because as they entered the compound a group of creatures came rushing through the grass of the herb garden to attack them.

When the creatures came closer they saw that they were large humanoid types, wearing nothing but loin cloths that revealed thickly-muscled bodies covered in fine dark brown fur. They ran upright but slightly stooped, and their heads were strangely animalistic, as if a human face had been merged with a boar and a lion. More came charging out of the longhouse, accompanied by a larger leader type, and the battle started.

It would have gone relatively smoothly except for the horrible, scaled humanoid thing that emerged from the longhouse after a few seconds of battle and started casting spells on them. It used a piercing scream attack to reduce Itzel to near unconsciousness, healed some of the beastmen that fought for it, and cast a fog spell that allowed it to disappear and move amongst them, using its screech again to try and knock the PCs unconscious. They managed to kill the majority of the beastmen but at the last, just as the scaly-skinned monstrosity melted into smoke and disappeared, the leader of the beastmen hit Quangbae with such a vicious tearing attack that it destroyed the former blacksmith’s left arm. They killed the beastman leader then, and drove off the rest, and the creature that had been leading them dissolved into mist and slunk away to the river, but their victory had exacted a steep price: Quangbae’s arm was permanently destroyed.

During the desperate battle to save his life they discovered that the onsen at the centre of the compound was actually a healing onsen, and by bathing him in its waters they were able to ease his pain. Perhaps the strange beast had been drawing on the magic of the onsen to support its own powers and control the beastmen as its soldiers. Was it a fey? They did not know, but now they did not care. Quangbae was safe despite his wounds, they had a new base of operations with a magic healing onsen, and now they were in a position to begin exploring the mysteries they had uncovered in their journey here. A new chapter was about to begin …

Hugo Tuya’s guards have lost Hugo Tuya and failed to discharge their sole responsibility on their journey through the Middlemarch. Morning has come after the deepfolk ambush, and they need to make decisions about what to do next. It is the 5th of the month of Travel and they have two days’ food left when the sun rises. The roster for this mission:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

With the morning light they were able to check their camp and their situation, and they decided it was dire. They packed up their belongings as quickly as they could and set off along the Middlemarch, hoping to find their way over the cracked and broken land of this part of the pass as quickly as possible. They struggled all day, lifting and dragging the cart through rougher patches of path, losing the path several times, and finally reaching a smoother, grassy patch of the pass by evening. Here they found a camp in the shadows of a broken mound of stones, setting their cart near the entrance to a niche in the stones and building their campfire inside.

They had used another day’s food supplies, and with Hugo Tuya gone they had no way of knowing how long it would take to leave the Middlemarch, so they decided it would be a good idea to scour the pass for food. Over they day their journey had brought them lower on the pass, and as the late afternoon sun began to set they had noticed they were passing into areas with occasional trees and grassy patches. They guessed they might be able to find goats or small mountain rodents to supplement their supplies, and decided to send Itzel out hunting. In the interests of safety, Quangbae accompanied her. They kept Kyansei at the campsite in case it was attacked while Itzel and Quangbae were hunting.

Itzel and Quangbae had not been searching long when they stumbled onto the outriders of another wave of deepfolk. Four goblin raiders, wearing leather armour and carrying spears, surprised them on the path only a short distance from the camp. As Quangbae engaged them Itzel cast an ice bolt into the group, freezing them where they stood, and they both fled back down the slope through silent groves of stunted trees to the camp. They warned the others of the incoming raiders and everyone took their positions, but by now the last light of day was beginning to fade and they knew they were in trouble.

It came soon enough, but not from where they had expected. Four small gourds fell from the sky and exploded in their camp, burning them all in a wave of heat and flame and setting the wagon alight. The non-combatants – Hugo Tuya’s grieving “niece”, the wagoneer and the maidservant – had to leap from the wagon to cover, but the wagoneer’s luck was up: he burnt to death in front of them, screaming horribly as he did. They had no time to tend to him though, because the surviving raiders charged down towards their camp at the same time as the bat riders swooped back overhead, and arrows began to pour into the camp.

Now things were desperate. they used arrows and magic to bring the bat riders down from the sky so Bao Tap and Quangbae could kill them in the camp, while Kyansei defended against raiders, Bao Tap’s conjured rockhopper could attack one gang of Grig scouts and Itzel and Calim backed the group up with healing magic and bolts. Itzel was also able to extinguish the fire on their wagon before it destroyed the last of their food, or their precious Manticore egg. Another team of Grig scouts moved in, using arrows to cover their goblin captain, who charged into the rocky periphery of their camp just as Kyansei finished off the raiders. Bolstered by Calim’s magic, she charged over to attack the captain, and after a few more bloody moments all their attackers lay dead. They picked their way over bodies to check the perimeter of the camp, ignoring the last desperate whimpers of their dying wagon driver and arguing over what to do next. Somewhere in the distance they could hear the wail of pipes, a discordant keening that did not promise any respite. As everyone paused to gather their courage and catch their breath, Bao Tap called an owl from the darkness and bound it to him, sending it off to find the source of the pipes. Through luck or desperation his spell was so over-powered that he was able to become one with the owl, and could see through its eyes as if he were a part of it.

And so it was that through the owl’s eyes he saw what was coming for them, not very far back along the path in the higher parts of the pass: a much larger gang of deepfolk perhaps more than 20, led by an Orc champion of the type that had been so hard to kill when they fought the raiding gang at Estala, and accompanied by another Grig spellcaster. There were more batriders, goblin raiders, and more archers. While they had been able to best a gang of this size once, in Estala, on that occasion they had the benefit of surprise, and they were not exhausted and injured. None of them doubted that another confrontation with a gang of this size, in their current exhausted state, in the dark, could have only one outcome. They needed to flee.

They had little time, but they did what they could. Obviously they would have to abandon the wagon and the body of the wagoneer, because they could not hope to escape if they were dragging the wagon through the difficult paths of the Middlemarch. While the two girls untethered the horses and saddled the striders they rushed through the wagon, saving what they could load on the back of the horses: the manticore egg, their coin, a collection of steel weapons for recrafting, some armour and other treasures they had picked up on the way. Itzel threw all the books they had collected into a bag, and it was as she was doing this that she stumbled on something that they had picked up in Regald’s house but forgotten: a map of the Middlemarch, with an “x” mark somewhere a day or two’s journey back from where they were now. Looking at it now she realized they had probably been carrying a warning about the location of their deepfolk enemies all along, but had not realized it. Would Tuya still be alive if they had remembered the map?

Did she care? She stuffed it in with the other books, they loaded the horses and fled their camp. They hoped that the deepfolk pursuing them would approach the camp with caution, and take a little time searching it, so that they could gain a head start, but they were uncertain about the batriders. They needed to make time, so they rushed headlong down the path, hoping to go as far as they could while the deepfolk were distracted and the last light of the fading day still stained the sky. They did not dare use any light of their own until they were sure they were far enough from the deepfolk to be out of sight, and even then they did not want to be found by the batriders. Fortunately the sky was clear and soon after the last glow of day faded the sunshard emerged, casting pale silver and green light across their path and giving them just enough light to find the path. Itzel, able to see perfectly in this limited light, guided them expertly down the path, and somehow they stayed ahead of their foes, making good time down the pass. So it was that in the last hours of the night, just before the sky began to lighten with the first hint of the coming day, they staggered out of the Middlemarch and into the quiet farmland of the slopes around the town of Iruva. They had survived the deepfolk, and made it across the Middlemarch.

They passed the outlying farms in the dark under the sunshard, and reached the gates of Iruva at first light, exhausted and shattered. Stumbling through the gates, they made their way to the town’s only hostelry and called for the bailiff. They warned him of what might be coming, sent their stormrider with a message back to Estala, and collapsed into their beds. They had failed in their only mission, to protect Hugo Tuya and his caravan, but they were alive, and now the world knew what they knew: Dark forces stirred in the mountains. Something was coming from the bowels of the earth, and they were not ready …

Walking up the Middlemarch after the storm

Hugo Tuya’s guards have entered the Middlemarch, and are now committed to dragging their wagon and charges across the pass to the far side, even though they know this pass is likely guarded by deepfolk. The roster for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

They set off from their camp in the scree-scattered entry to the pass into a higher zone of smooth ground, the path winding easily through a kind of scrubby moorland interspsersed with streams, geysers, and broken ground. Around midday they realized they were being followed by a deepfolk scouting party, and in the early afternoon they set an ambush. They parked the wagon in the lee of a jumbled pile of rocks, and Kyansei and Calim pretended to be repairing it while the others hid in the rocks. The deepfolk seemed to fall for the trap and, rounding the curve of the rockpile, rushed to attack the wagon. There were four goblins and their captain, the captain standing back and firing crossbows, but soon after the guards sprung their trap a squad of Grig archers appeared from ahead – the deepfolk had also been attempting to set a trap around these rocks. The battle was short and easy, with the scouting party reduced to nothing in a very short time. Sadly, though, one of the Grig managed to escape. They did not risk leaving the wagon to find him, but proceeded on their journey.

It was the 1st of a new month, the month of Travel, when they broke camp to head deeper into the Middlemarch. After their struggles with the relatively smooth tree-scattered slopes at the head of the pass the land now rose sharply into a long, torturous slope of jagged ground criss-crossed by streams of steaming water, scattered with boulders and uncertain, crumbling patches of rough ground. The path was winding and unclear, sometimes fading into the scrappy ground and forcing them to wait at the wagon as Itzel or Kyansei scampered ahead over humped, rocky ground to find a clear path. By the end of the day they had reached a small but stubborn escarpment, which refused to offer them a pathway to the higher reaches of the pass. Here they stopped, but as they prepared to build a camp they were surprised by a sudden, violent storm. They had no time to make a camp but had to huddle as best they could in the shelter of the wagon. Bao Tap used his magic as best he could to ward it off but his magic was weak against the storm’s rage, and in the morning they woke exhausted, half frozen and hungry to find the wagon had been damaged by the storm. It took Quangbae all day to repair the wagon, and while he worked on it Itzel and Kyansei searched for – and found – a better campsite. They moved there before the cold night fell, and spent a second, more comfortable night huddled against the escarpment.

The following morning they resumed their search, and finding a way over the escarpment proceeded through the pass, reaching its highest point by the end of the day. They set another camp, and on the 4th of Travel broke camp to begin the careful descent towards the far side of the Middlemarch. Here as the pass began to slope downward the travel became extremely difficult. The ground was not only broken and cracked, but treacherous with ice from the recent storm, and covered in debris. Boulders, smashed trees, and rubble-strewn ground, cracks in the road, and sudden points where the road seemed to be lost, made the going difficult. By the end of the day they had made little progress, and everyone was exhausted from wrestling with the wagon. Night and the cold came quickly, and they had no time to find a camp. They found a small, pathetic stand of struggling trees and bedded down as best they could in their shadows.

Of course they set a watch, but it was to no avail. During Itzel’s watch, as she was huddling against their tiny fire trying to catch the last faint glimmer of its warmth, a squad of gobliin batriders fell out of the sky directly into their camp and began attacking them. Itzel screamed for everyone to wake up and attempted to escape the stabbing and slashing swords of the batriders, as a team of goblin raiders burst into the campsite to attack Bao Tap, and a band of small Grigg fighters slashed and hacked their way in too, accompanied by a goblin captain. Everyone struggled out of their bedrolls to join the fray, but their circumstances were dire: rolling on the ground, being stabbed at with spears and swords, grabbing for weapons and hasty spells as the darkness turned its teeth on them. The Grigg scrappers grabbed Hugo Tuya and dragged him screaming off into the dark, and other Grigg in the shadows fired arrows at Calim and Kyansei. Bao Tap, struggling to his feet among a horde of raiders, managed somehow to cast his most powerful spell, and moments later a huge, shaggy, iron-skulled old mountain goat charged into the clearing, trampling goblin raiders under its feet and roaring in rage. With this distraction they were able to regroup and slowly begin killing their attackers, but somewhere out in the dark they heard a man screaming and gurgling, and then more arrows fell on them.

Still, with the help of Bao Tap’s nature’s champion, they were able to slowly hack their way outward from the campfire, and eventually the last of their attackers fell or fled. The enormous shaggy goat chased after them, bellowing with all the inchoate rage of the mountains in winter, and silence fell on the camp. Calim cast his healing magic on those he could, they gasped and panted in the aftermath, and then they realized they had lost Hugo Tuya.

They found him soon enough, just outside the ring of trees, his throat cut from ear to ear and the snow around him brown with his own blood. He was dead, killed by the Grigg that captured him when they realized the battle had turned against them and their help was needed. Perhaps if one of the guards had charged out of the campsite sooner they might have been able to save him, but in the press of bodies and heat of battle no one had noticed. Their patron was dead. They had failed.

Here they stood, in the still cold dark of the coldest period of the night, exhausted, bloodied and cold, their mission failed, a dead merchant their only prize. They were at least two days from the base of the Middlemarch if their journey went smoothly, with only two days’ food remaining to them, surrounded by deepfolk who knew the land and the dark, running out of ammunition and energy. They had to make a decision: did they flee the pass as fast as they could, or did they follow these beasts and exact a bloody revenge for what they had done? The time had come for Hugo Tuya’s guards to define themselves, as failures or heroes…

Hugo Tuya’s guards have returned from exploring the mountains, and there is no more reason for them to remain in Estala: the time has come to escort Hugo Tuya’s trade caravan through the Middlemarch to western Hadun, even though they know that a deepfolk raiding party has entered the pass ahead of them. The roster for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

They spent only another day in Estala, gathering supplies and weapons for the journey, and then set off for the pass. Amestra, the Myrmidon who had sent them on the mission to Cauldron Lake, was eager for them to continue their journey into the pass, even though they knew deepfolk hid there: she wanted to know if another raid was planned on the town, and what numbers hid there. To this end she gave the guards a stormrider, a strange flying animal something like a jackal on wings, made of a strange mixture of bird and bat and lizard parts. This beast could fly fast and high, was tough against the mountain weather, the same colour as the rocky passes it flew over, and trained to return to Estala. Should they learn of the deepfolk situation in the pass – or even if they needed help – they were to tie a message to it and release it to return to Estala, where she would have a small squad of guards ready. This was not enough to ease the guards’ misgivings, but at least gave them some hope of rescue if all went wrong. They were ready to leave!

They took the wagon and their striders back the way they had come just two days ago, along the road to Cauldron lake, and passed the southern edge of the lake until the trees all around them began to change shape, the ground became rockier and more hostile, and they reached the scree-scattered slopes of the mountains near the Middlemarch. Now the forest thinned and the trees became smaller, stunted from trying to grow in the hard ground and bent and twisted from the harsh weather of the mountains. It was here at the edge of these trees, as they began to move into the open rocky ground at the entrance to the Middlemarch, that they were attacked by a manticore.

The beast dropped straight down on their party, not even bothering to strafe them with its spines first, but they saw it coming and were prepared when it hit the ground. Itzel cast her blur spell, Quangbae and Kyansei attacked it, and although it was able to knock Kyansei down with a vicious clawing attack it was no match for the party of five: after a brief and terrifying struggle it lay dying on the road. They wasted no time, but harvested the spines from its tail even before its breath had stilled, and leaving the butchered corpse to cool among a throng of gathering ravens, continued their journey.

They made quick progress on the first slopes of the Middlemarch, finding the path quickly and even managing to locate the Manticore’s nest, where they found an egg. They used the nest as a camp for the night, choosing to steal the egg to either hatch or sell when they arrived at a larger city, but disaster stroke as they were bringing the wagon up the road to the camp: one of the wheels cracked, and the wagon broke. They had to leave it near the camp while they rested, and in the morning would have to devote considerable time to repairing it.

Morning came and, well rested after a night spent in the safety of the Manticore’s nest, Quangbae set to work repairing the wagon. With some magical help from Itzel he repaired it very quickly, and they were able to look forward to a whole day of travel. Ahead of them the Middlemarch rose to more forbidding heights, the road barely visible among the scree and clinging mist of the pass. They packed their things back into the wagon, cast salt to the road in hopes Quangbae’s repairs would hold, and set off on day 2 of their journey across the mountains. What did the pass hold, and would they make it to the other side?

Hugo Tuya’s guards have finished investigating the destruction of an observatory to the north east of Estala, and are ready to make their way over the high pass to Cauldron lake in pursuit of the deepfolk team that did this terrible deed. The cast for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

They rested another day at the observatory, to recover a little more from their injuries and prepare for the journey over the high pass. It was during that rest period that, standing on the outer wall of the observatory looking over the mossy stone of the mountain pass below, Bao Tap realized a huge storm was coming. They gathered in the tower to discuss it, and decided to set out anyway: they had little time to rest, and Bao Tap’s storm magic in conjunction with Kyansei and Itzel’s wild knowledge would surely be enough to see them through the worst of it …

They were right. The following morning they set off early, picking their way along a narrow path that would merge into the high pass over the mountain range, and by midday the storm was upon them. They kept moving for as long as they could, but in the early afternoon the raging winds and hail became too intense. Rather than stop, Bao Tap cast a spell to protect them from the worst of the weather and they trudged on over the slick and icy ground. Just an arm’s length from their small group on either side the winds howled and a swirling wall of hail and snow blocked their view of the mountains and the gulfs of air beyond their path. They picked their way carefully along the narrow path to the high pass, and then began trudging wearily up the jumbled stone-scattered, ice-slicked ground of the path itself. The storm was still furious when they stopped for the evening, but Bao Tap was able to cast a storm shelter to protect them for the night. They set up a small camp and did their best to sleep on the frozen ground, and in the morning when they woke the storm was gone, its rage spent harmless against the uncaring stone of the mountains, their sleep barely disturbed by its raging winds. Under a clear sky, they set off along the pass towards the west.

That evening the pass descended into the valley on the far side of the mountain range, and opened out to a vista of steam-shrouded forests. Below them lay Cauldron Lake in a bowl in the mountains, surrounded by trees and thick with mist and steam. Beyond the lake and the forests, mostly obscured in the last clouds of the storm’s passing, the mountains rose again – somewhere in amongst them must be the middlemarch, the passage they would take with Hugo Tuya to the western half of Hadun. For now though, their goal was to explore those mist-covered forests. They found a small travelers’ hut at the top of the pass, and settled in to rest.

Cauldron Lake

The next morning they set about exploring the Cauldron lake area. They started heading south towards the entrance to Estala, then circled clockwise around the lake. They sought signs of passing deepfolk raiders, injured trappers, and any remaining camps of deepfolk they might need to destroy. They found no deepfolk, but a ruined trapper’s camp on the eastern edge of the lake held four reaminates, which attacked the PCs as soon as they entered the camp – sure evidence of passing deepfolk. Near the exit from the valley towards Estala they found signs of multiple deepfolk camps, and as they passed west around the southern edge of the lake they found more evidence that the deepfolk had passed this way.

On the western side of the valley the forest gave way to a slope of scree and rubble, which led up to the middlemarch. Their guess was that in this area some piece of the mountains must have fallen in the distant past, creating a field of destruction strewn with huge rocks and broken ground. Many streams ran through this area, some of them erupting as boiling water from the broken ground, and the rocks were slick with constant fresh water. In a chasm here they found a dead deepfolk raider and a small handcart he might have been dragging; pulling it up, they recovered a small telescope from the observatory, confirming that the deepfolk who destroyed the observatory must have passed back through the middlemarch. They moved on, checking the northern slopes of the lake and finding no evidence of the passage of deepfolk there.

This search took them two days to complete, and when they were done they had some sense of what had happened. A force of deepfolk raiders had come out of the middlemarch, traveled through the Cauldron Lake area and exited the valley to Estala. At the edge of the valley they made camp, and at some point between leaving the valley and reaching Estala they had likely split, with a small force heading to the the observatory. That force, after sacking the observatory, traveled over the high pass and returned to the mouth of the valley facing Estala, where they camped and met up with the remnants of the force that attacked Estala. Together that force then retreated through Cauldron valley to the middlemarch, losing a member and a telescope at the entrance to the middlemarch before disappearing into the mountains.

With this knowledge the PCs prepared to return to Estala, where they would rejoin Hugo Tuya and begin their own plans to enter the middlemarch. Now they were sure something waited for them there, and the pass was nowhere near as safe as Hugo Tuya had led them to believe. What would they do? Could they convince Tuya to give up his journey, and if not, could they survive the pass? They turned their backs on the mountains and headed back towards Estala, their hearts heavy with all the slaughter they had witnessed, and the foreboding of the bloody work that almost certainly lay ahead of them.

Hugo Tuya’s guards are hunting the remnants of a deepfolk raiding party outside of Estala in the southern spine mountains. After being ambushed in the mountains northeast of Estala, they are close to an observatory that is said to be inhabited by an Astrologer and his small and cultish group of followers. The cast for these two sessions:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

The guards had defeated their ambushers relatively comfortably, and with few injuries decided to push on after only a short break. They climbed through more switchbacks and edged their way along more mountain trails until they reached a flat stretch of bare stone at the edge of a chasm. On their right this bare plateau vaulted up into stony cliffs, and on their left plunged into an abyss. Ahead of them stood a few small stone buildings, clustered around a bridge over the chasm, and on the far side of the chasm they could see the observatory itself, a squat octagonal tower. The area was deserted, silent and still. In the still air the mountainside, buildings and the tower itself were wreathed in a foul-smelling mixture of smoke and fog, and from where the stood at the edge of the cluster of buildings they could see smoke from fires inside the observatory tower, drifting lazily out of its shattered gates and falling in wisps from its ramparts. It seemed that a fire had been set here perhaps a few days ago, and its last smouldering dregs combined with the mists of the mountains to form a thin haze that obscured their view across the canyon.

They moved toward the cluster of houses on the near side of the stone bridge, and soon realized that these houses too had been looted and burned, though the fires had not taken properly to the buildings’ stone walls and the small cluster of fires had long since exhausted themselves in the cold mountain air, leaving only tendrils of smoke drifting through the narrow ways between the houses. The road through the centre of the cluster passed through an arch of off-white structures that looked disturbingly like the teeth of some huge beast, rising from the ground to arch menacingly over the road. Itzel moved forward to investigate one, and as she approached a swarm of reanimates emerged from the buildings. The previous occupants of this small community had been mercilessly slaughtered, and their undead bodies left as a trap for any who came here.

They were surrounded, but the battle was brief and decisive. Soon they stood in the muck and stinking gore of 12 dead reanimates, tired but only lightly injured. The fate of this place was clear to them now, though they had had little doubt when they first saw the smoke. Deepfolk had raided it and killed its occupants, then reanimated them. They expected to see worse in the tower across the chasm. They searched the houses and found them already looted, all coin and valuables stolen, mirrors stripped from walls, glass shattered and removed. They moved carefully across the bridge, and entered the octagon of the observatory itself.

The Immolata

They passed through the shattered gate and into the observatory compound itself, where they immediately found the source of the smoke. A circle of six of the same strange tooth-like stone statues stood in the centre of the courtyard just inside the gate, and a huge bonfire smouldered under those teeth. The deepfolk appeared to have formed a pile of wood and furniture, covered it with huge quantities of books, and set the whole thing alight. From the teeth they had hung four of the tower’s residents, tortured horribly and chained facing the fire, and at the last they appeared to have thrown the body of the tower’s chief Astrologer onto the pyre, leaving it to burn. The fire was now just a smouldering pile of ash, stifled by rain, snow and cold, and the dead astrologer lay at its foot, having fallen from the flames as the pyre subsided.

The group split up. Some of them went to the outhouses of the tower to look for possible reanimates, while others stood around the pyre and wondered at the cruelty of the deepfolk. Calim moved forward to check the body, to see if this many had been dead when he hit the fire …

… and as he checked the corpse it twitched to life, rose up and grabbed him by the face with a burnt and scorching hand. Its eyes snapped open to reveal shadowy pits, and it raked him with claws of fire-hardened bone. At the same time the reanimates emerged from the outhouses to attack the party, and the trap was sprung.

This undead on the fire was not like reanimates they had fought in the past. It was blindingly fast, its touch burnt and sparked when it hit them, and it fought with feral intelligence. By the time they defeated it and its horde of undead accomplices it had seriously injured several of them, and when at last Kyansei was able to sever its head and hurl it back onto the smouldering ash heap they were all spent with the fury of the battle. Now they had learnt some more about deepfolk – that their necromantic powers extended beyond simple shambling zombies to dark rituals that could create much more powerful and dangerous creatures. Now, standing under a darkening sky against a tableau of torture and cruel arcane ritual, they realized that there was no depth of evil and savagery that the deepfolk were incapable of reaching. From now they agreed, they must always expect worse than they could imagine from these vile beasts.

The Observatory’s Secrets

Itzel and Kyansei searched the hot ash pile, hoping to recover any scraps or fragments of books that might be useful to her, but found only one, in a language Itzel was unfamiliar with. Though they found little, it became very clear from the structure of the fire that the intent of this ritual had been to burn the books – and Itzel suspected that the creation of the Immolata had been only a happy side effect of the book burning, that the deepfolk had taken advantage of rather than planning. The guards knew little of deepfolk culture, so they could not answer the question of whether deepfolk always destroyed human books when they raided, or if there had been some specific desire to destroy hidden or forbidden knowledge in this particular bonfire – they could only speculate as to the motives of such inchoate evil, but they were assured that the burning of the books was purposeful.

Having exhausted all avenues of exploration around the strange fire they began methodically searching the tower itself, hoping to learn something of what had happened here, but the place was thoroughly looted and yielded up few of its secrets. The chief Astrologer’s bedroom had been looted and its sole surviving clue, a chest, exploded with a trap as soon as Quangbae touched it, destroying all its contents. The library was empty, thoroughly divested of all its learning. The only clue they could find was in a strange laboratory-like room on one side of the building. In this room they found fine wires hanging from the ceiling, which appeared once to have ended in ornate coloured balls of blue, yellow, white or red, all hanging at different heights from the ceiling and at seemingly random positions in the room. These balls had been stripped from the wires, many of which had also been torn down, and now these balls, and more balls from a large supply held in baskets on shelves, had been cast all over the floor. There was nothing else in this room except a blackboard, which had been torn from the wall and cast on the ground, where it broke. Acting on a hunch, Calim put the pieces of the blackboard back together, and saw that someone had hurriedly erased some writing from the blackboard. The chalk duster they had used was nearby, covered in blood, and he guessed they had erased the board as the raid began, but been interrupted before they could flee. What message was so important that it must be erased even when a deepfolk raid was afoot? Calim carefully traced the shadow of the erased words, and discovered this strange message:

Seven deadly sins

Seven ways to win

Seven holy paths to hell

And your trip begins

Seven downward slopes

Seven bloodied hopes

Seven are your burning fires

Seven your desires…

It made little sense, but he copied it regardless. Had this message been erased to prevent the deepfolk reading it, or had it been scrubbed because it was forbidden knowledge that must not be left written down where future rescuers of the site might find it? They could not tell, and all they could do was record the words themselves.

They searched the remainder of the tower and found nothing. All its telescopes had been carefully removed and taken by the deepfolk, who had also taken all mirrors and any glass they could easily carry, all the coin, and anything else of value. The place had been stripped bare, its knowledge destroyed, its secrets buried in ash and blood and its treasures carried away by unholy and savage raiders. There was nothing for them to do here except ponder on the barbarity of the deepfolk mind, and the enigma of this place’s lost purpose. As night fell on the peak and a storm rolled in, they withdrew into the inner sanctum of the tower to contemplate these mysteries, and to prepare to leave.

Hugo Tuya’s guards have set off into the mountains as the month of Storm enters its last, tumultuous week. They are chasing the possible remnants of a deepfolk raiding party that they destroyed in the caves just outside of Estala, on the request of that town’s doughty Myrmidon. The roster for today’s session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

They decided to travel to the Observatory first, on the eastern face of the mountains, then take the high passes from the Observatory across the peaks to Cauldron Lake. The journey to the Observatory takes two days of carefully picking narrow paths through culverts and gullies, along switchbacks and sparsely-forested mountain faces, then into thickly forested sheltered canyons that are perfect ambush spots for raiding deepfolk. They traveled slowly and carefully along these usually-peaceful pathways, mindful of heavy rainclouds above and wary of the dripping stillness of the mountain pines. At the end of the day Itzel and Kyansei sought camp, but with little success: they passed a harsh night sleeping on rough stones in a windy rock outcrop, eating cold food with no fire for fear of being seen by any deepfolk scouts that might be about.

In the morning they were glad of their chilly fastness, though, when they descended the rockface to find the footprints of a large animal in the mud at its base. The creature must have been looking for them at night but failed to find the path, and after coursing the ground at their base in confusion wandered off. They were glad to have hidden, because each of its prints was easily larger than a bear’s, something like a huge cat with what looked like scales on the underside of its paws, and many wicked claws. Though they had been cold and damp, they had escaped a vicious fight they could ill afford to risk.

They ate another cold meal, decamped and continued climbing into the mountains. Around midday their path turned into a wider, heavily forested canyon, ideal for an ambush – and of course it was here that they were ambushed. A fusillade of arrows struck them from both sides of the road, striking Itzel down instantly, and as they set themselves for battle another huge Orc warrior came screaming out of the trees, barreled straight down into the path and slammed into Kyansei. Remembering their last encounter with these monsters, Kyansei, Quangbae joined Kyansei in battle immediately while Bao Tap tried to find the archers, and Calim frantically healed Itzel.

Fortunately this time they found the archers quickly, and Bao Tap was able to charge into the trees with his summoned monster to fight them. On the other side of the road Itzel, brought back to consciousness by Calm, used her magic to pick off archers, and Calim alternated between healing Kyansei and shooting archers. The archers were Grig, the small pale-skinned and large-eyed creatures they had slaughtered in the cave. They were good at hiding and shooting, but frail and easily downed. This time the numbers were in their favour, and they soon killed all the Grig and brought the Orc champion down, Bao Tap returning from killing the Grig to join the brutal butchery. Just like the last Orc, this thing had supernatural endurance, and long after even a wildling Berserker would have collapsed it kept fighting, hopelessly weak but refusing to give in. Finally Quangbae tore its arm off and it collapsed in a heap, snarling weakly as it died.

They had prevailed, but it was obvious now that the raiding party they had destroyed near Estala had been part of a manoeuvre, and there was more happening in the mountains. They turned their faces to the higher slopes of the mountains and pressed on. The observatory was up there somewhere in the high cold air, and they began to have a very bad feeling about what they would find on those stony heights …

Hugo Tuya’s guards have destroyed a nest of deepfolk and rescued the villagers those deepfolk abducted. In this session they returned to Estala to collect their reward, recover and repair their gear. Unfortunately they found no reprieve here: the night of their return the Myrmidon Armestra came to them and asked them to depart immediately in the morning to scout the surrounding areas. She expected that there might be some deepfolk left in the area, and wanted to find where the deepfolk emerged from, so they could seal their tunnel. She also feared there would be more deepfolk coming, or that they had despoiled the homes of independent trappers and forest folk living in the woods.

Hugo Tuya’s Guards desperately wanted to rest and take a few days to recover, but they had no time. The rest of this session was spent discussing the clues they have picked up so far, healing, asking questions about town, getting what help they could, and preparing to leave for the hills. They have been given three locations to check over a period of 5-7 days:

  • The Observatory, to the north east,
  • The high passes, which stretch from the observatory to
  • The Cauldron Lake, in the north west

In the next session the guards will choose a direction, and head off to secure the lands around Estala while its people fortify its walls in preparation for another onslaught. Truly, there is no rest for those who do good deeds …

Ell’s Hamlet

Having destroyed Argalt’s raiders in the fens near Miselea, Hugo Tuya’s guards were now ready to return to their main journey. They would travel to Ell’s Hamlet to rest and investigate the raiders’ purpose, then they would travel on to Estala where they hoped to receive payment for the first third of their services, and take a few days to rest and enjoy life off the road. The roster for today’s session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith
  • Yoog, changeling scoundrel

Ell’s Hamlet

After their successful battle at the waterfall they rested only briefly before returning to a worried-looking Hugo Tuya on the road to Ell’s Hamlet. The journey from there was short, passing through the same complex of low hillocks and slightly marshy hollows that they had passed through the previous day, and where Rimgalt and his raiders now lay rotting. Towards late afternoon they reached Ell’s Hamlet, easily in time to clean up before the evening meal. Ell’s Hamlet was a small and secure village of only a few score buildings, set inside a combined stone wall and wooden palisade atop an ancient earthworks. The entrance road passed through a small complex of raised mounds, on which stood empty wooden archers’ nests, and passed through a wooden gatehouse in one of the few gaps in the earthworks’ lower barrier wall. From there they passed through a switchback road up to a higher level, overlooked by a smaller internal palisade, before entering the small village area itself.

Ell’s Hamlet had a single small hostelry called the Ell, right at the centre of the town, which was the primary purpose of its existence. Behind the Ell was a small barracks, and spreading out from this central square the various homes and warehouses of the local farmers. From the outer palisade of the earthworks they could look out over a mixture of good farming land broken up by small, bare hillocks and water-logged hollows. To the northwest the low peaks of the southern end of the Spine mountains vaulted into the sky, looming over the landscape like distant shadows; to the east the land stretched out in a rough and wrinkled patchwork of grey and light green and browns until it merged with the distant, darker swathe of the great forest. Everything was cool and peaceful, though a new storm threatened to gather over the sea far to the east, and they all knew that to the southwest lay the broken corpses of a squad of raiders. Looking back on their journey thus far, they thought this peaceful landscape held many secrets, and a great deal of danger and dark magic was buried beneath its bucolic scenery.

And so they set about plumbing the depths of those secrets. Rimgalt and his raiders had been sent to the Hamlet to find a man called Regald and bring back any documents he possessed, and any necklaces. Their scouts had entered the Hamlet and learnt that Regald died a year ago and his daughter had left town, so were returning to Rimgalt to tell him and find out what to do next when they saw Tuya’s caravan and made the mistake of assuming it would be easy pickings. Hugo Tuya’s guards suspected that Regald was the owner of the necklace they held, and that his daughter who left the town had died in the woods north of Ebara with her elven lover. They wanted to find out for certain, and word of valuable documents in his possession drew their attention like moths to a flame. So they sent Yoog through the town, in her generic human form, to ask questions and find out what the story was with Regald. After some time and painful conversation at a coffee shop Yoog returned to tell them that Regald had died of a heart attack and his daughter had left his house only a little later, apparently on a quick journey – she had not prepared the house for a long time away, neither preparing it for winter nor sealing the storm shutters nor putting up protection against wasp nests, and all her neighbours were angry at her when she did not return promptly. Following Yoog’s information, they set off for the house.

One of the Gull’s Sketches

Regald’s History

They found the house quickly and after some confusion and unsubtle approaches were able to break in and start exploring. It had only three rooms: a large, comfortable kitchen and eating area, a messy and cluttered study and a small loft bedroom above the eating area, set off from the main room by a curtain. The study was obviously Regald’s comfortable room, and clearly undisturbed for a long time. They explored it thoroughly, finding tools and weapons suitable for the study of a retired adventurer. In amongst this general clutter they found:

  • A partial map of the Middlemarch, with a single cross marked on it
  • A set of books describing the towns and geography of the west coast of Hadun, referred to generally as Azale’s Almanac, which is generally considered accurate and useful
  • A folio of sketches labeled “The Gull’s sketches” which contain pictures of a changeling, a human astrologer, a human explorer, and a human warrior, with probably a dwarven stormcaller they guessed was “The Gull”, because these pictures seemed more like self-portraits
  • A letter, two years old, addressed to Regald and left opened and read beneath the folio

The letter suggested that this Regald had been sent some important documents and had never translated them. But even more, they realized that the man Verbere whose widow they had robbed in Ibara was also a member of the same group as Regald: both had been written letters by Siladan the Elder, and their lives had come to bitter ends soon after.

The room above the living area was a young woman’s bedroom, in a state of genteel disorder as of a slightly messy girl preparing for a short journey. In her small desk they found a small bundle of letters written in very simple elvish from a man called Haltzel, which Itzel translated with some scorn at the way he simplified elvish grammar for a human reader. These letters confirmed their suspicions: that this girl, whose name was Azagald, had been the lover of the elven man Haltzel, and it was their remains (and her reanimated corpse) that they had found in the woods north of Ibara. The last letter from Haltzel suggested Azgald had taken Regald’s documents to him to be translated. Presumably they had met in the woods north of Ibara for a tryst and to exchange the documents, and there they had been set upon by deepfolk and cruelly murdered, with Azgald’s body left reanimated as a trap for any elves that came looking for Haltzel’s ruins. Hugo Tuya’s guards assumed also that the deepfolk had stolen the elvish documents.

Why were those documents so important? Regald and Verbere’s group had taken them from a deepfolk lair and then left them unopened for years; Siladan had found them when cleaning his study and sent them to Regald for help translating, but Regald had died of a heart attack before he could read them; after his death they guessed his daughter Azgald had been cleaning his room and found the note and documents, seized the chance to visit her lover Haltzel, and been ambushed and murdered by deepfolk north of Ibara. Had those deepfolk known she was carrying elven documents stolen from deepfolk? Why would deepfolk care about elven documents? The story confounded them. Furthermore, in the year since he sent this letter to Regald, Siladan had translated some of the work of this Aveld the Foul, learnt of buried iron, and told his old comrade Verbere about it – but Verbere had been ambushed and died on the way to the location of the iron. Was Siladan organizing the death of his former adventuring colleagues? Was the whole group cursed? Or was it just poor luck? They all agreed that they must find him in Estona and learn the truth about his past and his actions.

With that, unable to learn anything else, they left the house and Regald and Azgald’s secrets, and returned to their hostelry.

Smoke in the mountains

They set off for Estala the next morning, eager for rest and payment. From Estala they would cross the mountains through the pass known as the Middlemarch, which was supposedly safe, and arrive in the western side of Hadun before the end of storm season, from there to travel comfortably down to Estona along its eponymous river. Before the trials of the mountain crossing they would take a few days to re-equip, to rest, to make offerings, and to discuss their next plans. They made good time on the road to Estala, spurred on by the storm behind them and the promise of a good bath ahead. Towards late afternoon, however, as they crested the first of the foothills of the Spine mountains and Estala hoved into view, they realized that their plans had been confounded. Estala had been raided.

Estala lies in the bend of a river, its southern flanks protected by this deep and fast-flowing river and its northern side guarded by a stone wall that stretches from the eastern to the western edge of this large curve in the river. All of Estala is nestled inside the twin barriers of wall and water, with the northern gate of the town looking out from the walls at the looming mountains, while the southern entrance is possible only through four fortified bridges that are all separated from the mountain side by the river itself. Within this oxbow and its northern face, the town is said to be secure. Yet here they could see multiple smouldering fires, and when Quangbae used his telescope he could clearly see that the northern gate had been smashed in. The fires now smouldered, likely lit in a raid the night before and damped down during the day. He could see frantic activity in the town, as people repaired the damaged gates and attempted to make the town safe before nightfall. Hugo Tuya became very agitated at this report, and urged them into the town; convinced by Quangbae’s reconnaissance that it was safe, they headed down the hill to the river’s edge and the dawn bridge, from which they would enter the town’s south eastern suburbs.

They entered a town in quiet uproar, but did not disturb its busy residents until they had safely ensconced themselves in a hostelry near the north gate. There they learnt the horrible truth: the town had been raided the night before by deepfolk, who had overcome its defenses and broken through its northern gate, then despoiled the town itself for a few hours while the town’s defenders organized themselves. Before a solid counter attack could be mounted they had withdrawn, taking with them 10 hostages and leaving behind 10 dead citizens and 14 dead soldiers from the local levy. They had broken through the defenses using batriders, who had come over the walls in silence in the depths of night and taken the gatehouse by force before the guards knew of their presence; with the gate then open, the rest of the deepfolk force had been able to enter the town and do much damage before the remaining troops of the levy could be alerted and coordinated.

A terrible circumstance indeed but nothing they felt would affect them personally, until Hugo Tuya called them together within the hour and confessed to them the horrible truth: Hugo Tuya had no money, and had been expecting to call in a debt from his brother when they arrived in Estala. Unfortunately, his brother was one of the 10 hostages, the money Hugo Tuya had been hoping to take from his brother was buried somewhere, and if his brother died he would never get it, which would mean his guards would go unpaid, and his journey to Estona would end in penury here in Estala.

Itzel asked about the money he had made on the journey here – the reward for defeating bandits, payment for killing spiders, and so forth. He confessed that he was seriously in debt in both Miselea and Inorat, which was why he was journeying to Estona to sell iron in the first place, and when he had arrived in Miselea he had used the extra money he made from the guards’ valiant efforts to pay some of the principal on his debts in Miselea, thus buying time to pay the rest. So he had no money. The last of his coin had been spent on their hostelry in Estala, and if they did not find money soon his journey was over. So it was that they would have to rescue his brother.

The town’s chieftain and its Myrmidon were heading to negotiation with the deepfolk in an hour, Hugo Tuya had talked his way into their entourage as a concerned family member, and the guards were to go with him to see how the negotiations proceeded. Hugo Tuya was concerned that the chieftain would refuse to negotiate, out of some misguided principle, and his brother would die. If so, he wanted his guards to rescue his brother – or at least to find out where the money was buried.

In truth Hugo Tuya seemed more concerned about the money than his brother, but then so were his guards. They agreed to his request, on the condition that their contract be significantly rewritten in their favour, and so an hour later they found themselves heading out to meet the deepfolk.

The Orc captain

The Skydeath Clan

The town chieftain was a petulant, poorly-mannered and skittish man called Amygdal, sitting atop a fine horse and speaking to his underlings with haughty arrogance that barely concealed his obvious figure. He was thin, middle-aged, with a weak jaw and a brooding, aggrieved manner. The Myrmidon Amestra, leader of the levy, was a slightly overweight woman of similar age, dressed in chainmail and carrying a real steel sword. She also rode on a powerful horse, but with obvious comfort and familiarity. Behind them 20 of the remaining troops of the levy were gathered, looking nervous but determined. Amygdal ignored Hugo Tuya’s guards, but Amestra welcomed them into the group and rode alongside them as they headed north into the rapidly darkening hills. As they walked Amestra told them that the deepfolk would likely demand food and glass in return for the hostages, with the intention of making the townsfolk’s winter tough, and would probably not free all the prisoners unless a very good price was offered. Her relationship with her chieftain was obviously strained, but she was familiar enough with the burdens of leadership not to show it too much to her soldiers.

They found the deepfolk band after an hour of careful walking, as the sun sank below the mountains and the evening light faded to grey. One of the hostages had been impaled on a stake on a slight rise, and as their group gathered around it Amestra told them to take up positions; sure enough within a minute the deepfolk emerged from the darkness under the trees ahead of them, a horde of misshapen and vicious-looking miscreants led by a huge and violent-looking white-skinned orc. Amongst the horde they saw many Griggs, scrawny alabaster-skinned nightstalkers infamous for their perfect darkvision and magical skills. There were no other orcs, but a phalanx of goblins, grey-skinned monsters the size of humans, carrying scrap spears and sneering and yelling incomprehensible abuse at the humans from behind their shields. Behind the orc captain a goblin held a banner on a long spear. The banner was a blue field over a black field, with a ragged skull image painted in the centreline, and streaks of red tumbling down the blue field from the top of the banner.

Next to the orc captain a Grigg skulked, dressed in leather robes and dragging one of the townsfolk by his hair. This man was a middle-aged merchant type, his once-rich clothes torn and ruined and muddy and his face bruised. His thighs and upper arms had been shackled together so that as the Grigg dragged him around he was forced to duck-walk and stumble and squat-jump after the Grigg. Even in the grim half-light the guards could see his eyes darting about and feel his exhaustion and terror. It was their first experience meeting deepfolk, and his fear was contagious.

The Grigg spoke, calling out to them in the deepfolk’s harsh and incomprehensible tongue as the Griggs capered and the Goblins blustered behind him. Once his voice had fallen flat on the damp earth of the clearing they watched in horror as the human prisoner’s throat began to swell, his neck arched, and his eyes flooded with tears of horror. He coughed and spluttered and then spoke in a deep, horrible voice, spitting out words in the human language with bile and rage, his throat and mouth strained with the effort of forcing his voice to unnatural volume and gravelly tone. When his speech was done he fell forward, gasping, into the mud, but the Grigg dragged him back to his knees, and they saw spittle and mud smeared across his jaw.

We are here with our demands. You will heed!

Amestra gestured for Amygdal to be silent, and spoke in return. The Grigg seemed to understand her human speech but refused to speak even a word in response; instead it forced its human prisoner to speak with its unnatural voice of gravelly rage.

We want coin

At this Amestra seemed surprised. She looked over at the guards in shock, raised and eyebrow, and asked the Grigg why it wanted coin.

When a hunter of your wretched kind flays a deer, does the deer ask what the hide is for? Does it beg to know if it will be a rug on your filthy floor, or a ragged cloak to hide your spindly and disgusting form? No! It is prey, it gives what it is made to give. So!

This speech was too much for the prisoner, who coughed up blood and fell to his side in the grass. The Grigg dragged him up again and a goblin behind it poked him with its spear. He sagged again but had enough sense not to fall. As he dragged himself back up they saw he was bleeding from his mouth.

Amestra acknolwedged the sense of the Grigg’s little speech, and asked for a price. The Grigg made its demands, for a large amount of money for each prisoner. Then added,

Except this one! I will eat it when I am done with you

After he said that the prisoner heard his own voice, and broke down in sobs. The goblins laughed and another one jabbed him with its spear. The Grigg kicked him and said something else, and with a final, hoarse gasp he added,

We will return here tomorrow night. Bring the money or we feast on your kin

And then they turned and faded into the night.

The raid

During the journey back it became clear that the Chieftain was unwilling to pay the deepfolks’ price. It was too much coin for the town to comfortably spare, and he doubted it could be recouped from the rescued townsfolk themselves. Besides, he argued, capitulation would just embolden these scum. Instead they would redouble their defenses, refuse to pay, and if the deepfolk returned would make them pay for what they had done; and if not well, 10 dead townsfolk was not such a great tax on top of what they had already lost. Such was life in the mountains, right? He added a small aside about how the tax would be unnecessary if the town were better defended, and retired to his home to leave Amestra to explain the decision to her confused levy.

Hugo Tuya’s guards returned to the hostelry and made their plans. They estimated there were perhaps 20 or 25 deepfolk in that group, and they could not leave the prisoners to be slaughtered; nor could they let their own payment slide out of their rip. They would launch a raid at first light, and free the prisoners or die trying.

As they made their plans Amestra came in and, with dour grunts, indicated her assent to their assault. She told them the likely location of the deepfolk camp, and wished them luck. They made their preparations and at first light slipped out of the town to do their work.

In the hills north of town was an old cave complex with two entrances, a narrow crack at ground level and a wider hole to a cave higher up the cliff. She suspected that the batriders nested in that higher cave, while the rest of the gang hid out in the lower part. If they entered by the upper part they might be able to creep down to the prisoners and then fight their way out with the prisoners secured.

It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was all they had. At dawn they found themselves at the cliff face, scaling a narrow goat path up to the entrance to the bat rider cave while below them the cave entrance’s Grigg guards cowered away from the dawn sun in the shadows of the cave mouth. Hugo Tuya’s guards had done everything they could to prepare for this: blessings from the local Rimewarden, some magical herbs that gave the humans power of dark vision, Bao Tap’s animal companion prepared, all potions readied for use. They would give their all for this raid.

They slipped past the sleeping bats into a narrow tunnel. They passed the hole where the batriders rested, and moved down the tunnel towards the lower level. Where it curved towards the ground floor they saw a narrow ledge, on which crouched a team of Grigg archers. Without further thought they split up and began the attack. Yoog and Quangbae crept up to the ledge to ambush the archers, and as soon as their trap was sprung Kyansei charged into the main room to confront the rabble there, followed by Itzel. Bao Tap and Callim backtracked to ambush the bat riders and slaughter them. The battle was begun.

With her rush attack Kyansei was able to place herself between the goblin guards and the prisoners, and with her ferocious valour held the goblins back from wicked sacrifice until the rest of her companions could finish off the batriders and the archers and join her. By the time they did, though, the Orc captain and his Grigg mage were in battle. Kyansei managed to dispense with a Goblin captain and some of his guards but paid a heavy price in blood. The battle turned grim and desperate and there on the cave floor they made their stand, slicked with the blood of goblin, Grigg and their own fellows as the cavern echoed with screams, curses, horrible grinding sounds and the clash of metal. More Grigg ran in, and they felt sure they would be overwhelmed.

Somehow, though, they prevailed. Kyansei fell, hacked down by the Orc captain before Quangbae could finally fell him, and Itzel too was downed by magic and arrows, but then the tide turned and they found themselves chasing the last goblins around the room, brutally finishing the whole gang. When they were done they stood gasping on a pile of corpses, surrounded by blood, pain and murder. The prisoners were spared, and somehow they had done it.

Now, where was their money?

Hugo Tuya’s guards have tracked a band of raiders to a nest in the hills outside Ell’s Hamlet, and having destroyed their outriders, pounce on the leader and his band. The roster for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

They had killed the outriders in a small grove of trees on the edge of a tract of swampy ground. Following a narrow path through the trees, they came to the edge of a small, clear pool, on the far side of which a cascade of small waterfalls fell of a raised knoll. A narrow path under the waterfalls cut down to the pool’s level, and on the banks of the pool they could see a small camp ground, where probably the leader had been staying. Unfortunately he was not there: he and his remaining squad had taken position on top of the gnoll, from where they fired arrows at the guards.

Kyansei the berserker charged forward along the edge of the pool and the others followed more carefully, firing bows as they advanced. The raiders’ leader soon lived up to his name and gave up on the patient battle of archers: he came hurtling and sliding down the path from the top of the raised ground, axed raised, to meet Kyansei as she advanced. The rest of his warriors, beset by Bao Tap’s swarms of conjured midges and dragged forward by their leader’s compulsive madness, followed him into battle. Missile weapons were dropped, spear and tonfa drawn, and brutal hand-to-hand battle was joined.

Hugo Tuya’s guards triumphed quickly and almost without injury. The raider leader fell dead into the pond, and his last archers fled in terror of the guards’ fury. They scoured the camp for goods and coin, stole the raiders’ horses, and left them for the crows as they turned with renewed purpose in the direction of Ell’s Hamlet …

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