Crag Mountain

Elementary my dear WHG
Part 1. The wizard's tower.

Back to Crag and various routine debriefings etc. New members of WHG introduced.

New mission briefing. Strong wraith glow on map but not near any portal. Looks like at least a day travel but hard to tell as scale not exact at edges of map.

Portal through to ruin in middle of nowhere, abandoned for centuries, any sign of path in entirely wrong direction.
Wilderness treck through woods, crags, rivers etc for a day. Have to camp overnight half way. At 11 pm the player on watch sees a small glow on horizon in direction of travel, just as about to maybe do something about it, sky lights up as massive explosion of light fills the sky from glow point. Moments later, watchman knocked off feet and others sent sprawling out of bed as wave of force hits like a brick wall. Strangely no physical damage noticed but campfire is noticed to flare up and, the most perceptive players swear they saw lightning crackle through for a second.

Next day as travel elemental phenomena seen around. Random fires. Lightning crackles through trees. patches of ice. Gets worse as various elemental phenomena bombard the party. From flocks of flaming birds, to rivers of chaotic ice spires to the very ground rising up into an earthen maze.

Toward afternoon, can see tower on horizon over trees after a while. Pick up very rural road through woods, signs of carts but not many and not often. Leads to small village at base of hill, tower towers over. From break in trees to village can now see top of tower seems to have been blown open as if explosion. Passed not a soul on the road and eerily quiet.

Searching village find signs of something very strange happening to inhabitants. In first buildings – Scorch marks on floor/furniture mainly beds. Burned people shaped holes in bed sheets. Once move further in and see side street, statue of man holding lantern on stick.
Second building, no sign of inhabitants, all nails in walls, cutlery on table melted and running down walls. Third defrosting shards of shattered frozen people scattered around. One room filled with water soaks boots as open door and drains away. Sets of clothes lying entirely unscathed in people type formations in bed and draped over table/chair.

As party approach tower can see rubble strewn around. Bricks, roof slates, lumps of mortar etc. Figures can be seen at tower’s base. Fight with Grigori and Nikolia, two vampires who seem to have been expecting the party though not quite so soon as this.

“[Spit] He said we had two days at least until they would turn up Brother Nikolai. We’ve barely started the clear up. Too busy having our fun.”

“No matter Brother, there are but a handful of them and they shan’t get any further, the tower will hold its secrets for our employers and we will have more entertainment in the meantime.”

Inside tower, fragments of a dark tongue slate type object found. Not put together very well the message can only be translated as:

‘Word ….. Crag …. WHG.
…. planar … communication …. messenger …. will be ….
….. preparations …. abandoned …… ritual …… immediately ….. sacrifice ….. needs be.’

Fight with ghouls in basement. Fight with elemental zombies on upper floor. Find diary of housekeeper.

’Diary of Mungo Bedpan, faithful servant of his Mightiness the Great Wizard Thraxar

Head of small team of servant staff for a reclusive wizard. Mainly keeping the place well stocked and ticking over while his master makes many journeys to unknown destinations for his ‘research’. Seems to never know when he will return and sometimes he comes back pretty worse for wear. Various guest, usually hired to accompany him on his journeys.
Starts getting more interesting toward later entries.
A few weeks ago the master returns from one his journeys clutching an artefact of some kind. Only got brief glimpses but described as orb shaped, but made from geometric flat panels, it glowed with inner light that was always shifting, and would wildly fluctuate in temperature requiring need for it to be handled very carefully. Seems to have abandoned his hat which he was usually never seen parted from in favour of some kind of ‘ensorcelled glowing hood’. Mungo thought it looked quite impressive.
Never the most sociable, the Master withdrew even deeper into his study, rarely calling for even food or water, Mungo became quite concerned for his well being. Flashes of energy would light up the village below from his workshop windows at night.
Visitors start arriving without warning, dark cloaked figures who arrive without warning and never stay long, though the master always seems to expect them and ushers them into his chambers.
Last entry details the arrival of two different visitors, clearly Grigori and Nikolai from the description. Mungo did not take to them at all but was ordered to tend to their needs as they would be ‘making themselves comfortable for a while’. Signs off with mention of the new guests asking very uncomfortable questions about the village below the tower, or rather its villagers. Age, number, compliance, defences…’

The party conclude Thraxar has been possessed by a hood wraith.

Carrying on up the tower the party pass various research rooms, arcane devices recently converted to more necromantic arts. Come to a door which they realise is strongly magically trapped from the other side. Take this as the sign to call it a night and bunk down in the servants quarters. Horrible howls and growls outside in the dark during the night.

Opening door next day, find portal room. Golden pyramids in the centre of the room serve as an arcane focus and everything goes crazy when they are disturbed. Portals start spewing out various elemental energies and a giant demonic arm. The party must wrestle tiny imp-like constructs to recover the pyramids and calm everything down.

Moving on, to the ‘roof’ where the top of the tower has been blown out. Large plinth at centre of ritual circles seems to be centre of devastation. Couple of stone statues come to life and are quickly thrown off the tower by the party’s magic. Find head of Mungo kept alive in a tank of necrotic goo. Before expiring he tells how Thraxar had seemed in a panicked rush and ordered him to help in a ritual which culminated in the orb on the plinth exploding and Mungo being decapitated by flying debris, but his head landing in the tank. Tells how last night while the party slept, Wraiths on dark steeds came down from the sky and collected all the shards of the exploded orb and remains of Thraxar.

The tower starts collapsing and mad dash to outside with walls coming down around them. Escape straight into angry bears who have been elementaly transformed into rocky/earthen creatures.

Searching the tower rubble find three out of four golden pyramids and the plinth that sat at the centre of the ritual. Has cracked open to reveal dozens of stones, each carved with a name. Many of them recognisable as WHG members, including a few members of the current party.

After touring the local area and finding it to be an otherwise dull farming region, the party return to Crag. As part of their debreifing they get the full translation of the slate message:

‘Word from our worm in Crag is a WHG is headed your way. The planar interference forces mundane means of communication so you will not have long once this messenger arrives before they will be on you. Any additional preparations must be abandoned and the ritual must be completed immediately, to the sacrifice of the source if needs be.’

View
Old Debts

The first crag
Prelude

A figure exists, somewhere, once, perhaps always. A man of slight build and some height.
So bright are his surroundings, or perhaps so dark is his appearance that he is but a silhouette to any who could see him.
He watches a scene set out before him as one might spectate a play… Upon a bed within a house, within a city, within a mountain, a youth lays dying of a malady without name, weak breath falls ragged from his withered lungs, sweat drops glisten on his pallid cheeks and his terrible cries echo beyond the agony of flesh. So intense is his corruption that only priests will attend him, but only from a distance..for even the gods would not catch this affliction.

Elsewhere now the watching figure regards another scene, small humanoids displaced in time, he counts them, this is important. Each one he studies, as a child might regard a new wooden soldier, strengths, defects, weaponry, demeanour…. in the corner behind him another figure exists, perhaps it only just existed, perhaps it always had, an undefinable shadow of light or dark, hunched and ancient it leans over a tome, quill darting from word to word each is scrawled with the haste and fervour of a madman, never slowing, never pausing, never ending.

…and yet something is about to happen, something that may not have happened in all of creation, not even once, maybe never again, something they are looking for is about to be realised, something they are planning for is about to be enacted, perhaps all of these things, perhaps something different entirely.

The watching man speaks now to his companion “All parameters are correct, variables are accounted for at this moment, everything is ordered then?” the scribe, never ceasing his work nods in agreement.The man turns from the scene to regard his associate “How long can you give me?” the scribe hunches further over the desk as if concentrating then in a voice that is rarely used replies “Perhaps only a moment”.

The watcher nods “Then let this begin, so that we might see it end”, the scribe says nothing, instead he raises his hand, trembling he slowly lifts it from the page, the effort required seems tremendous as if he was lifting the very world itself, yet still the quill, ever writing, rises upwards. When it seems he cannot lift it any further and his arm may falter, he outstretches his fingers and releases his grip, the quill falls ….the writing stops.
Even as it falls from his hand his gnarled fingers attempt to catch it, as if controlled by forces that aren’t his to command they desperately reach for the falling quill and catch it, the writing begins anew. Yet in that moment something changed.

Somewhere upon a bed within a house, within a city within a mountain, a human sits, yet no malady now afflicts him, where he was once broken and ruined now he is fit and well, where death was all but on him now life fills his being, surrounding him are priests and doctors, jubilant, jubilant and confused.

Within this same city another possibility now exists, for lined up perfectly on the cobbled street of the upper quarters, are four anomalies, bearded some, peculiar others, they existed once but then they ceased to do so, now they exist again, yet something has changed.

Only the scribe remains now, the watcher is gone, quill in hand he writes again, it has always been this way, yet something has changed… in those short moments of anomaly, there was a change, so slight, so well crafted that none but the writer could have seen it.Written upon a single blank page, is one word that could change everything, now, then and beyond.

Paradox.
Ancient tome
Part 1
Concordant escutcheon
The Hunters and the Hunted

After a brief catchup in Ma Gravel’s soup kitchen the Wraith Hunters can no longer delay the inevitable and head off to meet the Supervisor fully expecting a monumental grilling for causing yet more problems.
As they make their way to the upper levels passers by seem to recognise Durn, but rather than seeming impressed they instead appear to be a bit miffed, perhaps something to with WHG being reported as dead for some time now.

They were right to be worried, Secretary Broadaxe is his usual unpleasant self, shrewdly looking them up and down he announces the Supervisor is in a meeting and they should take the time while waiting to get their story straight as this is highly irregular indeed.
Boryn tries to talk, but a great deal of idiotic sounds come out, luckily Durn steps in before Secretary Broadaxe flies into a rage.
Fladnag thinks he can hear some of the conversation inside and both parties sound concerned.
Eventually the door opens and a nervous looking youth walks out, clad in priest robes and seemingly of about twenty years in age, the part do not recognise anything about the insignias he wears, although Durn and Tamok believe they are not from any of the most common orders.
They enter the Supervisor’s office and for a brief moment are surprised to see some concern on the usually severe looking dwarfs face.
They are ushered in and made to explain all that has happened, whilst interested the Supervisor seems more concerned with issuing the WHG a new job… namely escorting the young priest outside to his monastery in the Falkreaches. It is explained that the usual (ancient) arrangement with the priest’s order was for him to be collected after his studies, except the collection is five months overdue. He asks the WHG to act as an armed escort, ensuring the priests safety at all times and trusting no-one along the way.
The Supervisor is furious at Durn’s tatty equipment and issues them all with permission to obtain all of the provisions they require, including the best weapons and armour Crag currently has to offer, he also affords them a carriage and a driver before ushering them out.
He is sure to stress that this is a personal favour he is asking, and not part of their duties as Wraith hunters (something the team find most odd) Durn brashly attempts to intimidate the Supervisor for more information but the grim faced dwarf gives nothing else away. As they leave he wishes them luck and asks for them to see it through to the end, no matter what. (most strange)
The WHG get the sense that this is going to be anything but a routine escort mission.
Outside they meet Althor, the priest they are tasked with escorting, he seems nervous of the Dwarves but greets them respectfully.Althor2
It is also explained to them by Secretary Broadaxe that the Falkreaches are some twelve to fifteen days journey by horse, and that there are no portals there, only a small trade route that has seen little use.
They are instructed to meet their driver in the Slags, an apple vendor who they will greet with the phrase"by Valkur those apples sure look tasty" the secretary then stamps their provisional passes and sends them to the quartermaster.

The quartermaster is unamused to have to give away such expensive gear, clearly outfitting a WHG to this level is almost unprecedented, he seems to wince with every bit of armour or weaponry he has to hand over. He also offers up a few potions, but his helpfulness goes unrewarded as the rest of the party try to shake him down for some beer. Looking to Durn to be the voice of reason was also a mistake as the young Dourstone joins in with the bullying until the hapless quartermaster finally relents and hands over a barrel of old ale. The Supervisor will hear of this, no doubt.

They make their way down to the Slags where a bustling market resides, all manner of stalls are crammed in to every available bit of space. It isn’t long before they find an apple vendor, a human who is inspecting apples with a monocle, he spots them and proceeds to ramble on about the virtues of apples from all over the land, Durn chalks him up as a wrongun and is quite abusive.
Tamok speaks the codeword but the human seems oblivious, continuing to rant about apples. Market
The aggressive Durn who has backed away and washed his hands of the whole situation spots what seems to be another apple seller nearby. This vendor has a poorly presented stall with apples spilled everywhere and a wrongly spelled sign advertising “Aplles” beside the sign stands a dwarf who has numerous appliances, instruments and weapons hanging about his person, rather than politely regale passers by with tales of apples, he seems to be swearing and ranting at them between swigs of ale. The more perceptive members of the party sense that although he seems oafish, this dwarf is very shrewd indeed and has probably been watching them from the moment they entered the Slags. Durn, clearly relieved to be away from the previous prattling vendor slams the ill-gotten cask of ale from earlier down on to one of the apple barrels and proceeds to speak to the shrewd dwarf, bodging the codeword.
Beer being the universal language of all dwarves, the offering helps to break the ice and the dwarf soon introduces himself as Yargus, indeed, he says… “I am your driver”.Yargus2

It isn’t long before Yargus has explained a little about the journey and the seating arrangement, he finds it curious that the Supervisor would grant them such a large and impressive carriage along with not one but FOUR, horses.
He bundles Althor into the only remaining space left inside the carriage and explains that the WHG will have to ride on top on account of all the apples he has stuffed inside. Sure enough the carriage is absolutely packed with apples, all except a human sized space where a hunched Althor pitifully stares out at them. This almost causes a mutiny as the vociferous Durn demands he remove all the apples, Yargus refuses however and explains that the apples are as important as they are and besides the apples were always going to be making this journey, it was the WHG that came second, he’s “Just doing the old Sup a favour” It seems he is hiding something about his cargo.

A sulking Durn along with the rest of the WHG climb on board and prepare to leave, just as they do a pair of strange figures peel away from the wall nearby and approach them. One them is of slight build and fully robed, an old face peers out from beneath the cowl, the other seems to be strapped up within his robes, large and misshapen its face cannot be seen, it makes strange almost primal sounds as it comes closer.
The slight figure makes a mock bow and enquires as to where they are travelling, Yargus seems reluctant to answer and when the figure requests if there is room for them to ride, the dwarf refuses.

As the robed pair leave, Althor pokes his head out briefly, and his face is a picture of terror, the compassionate Durn immediately picks up on this and begins trying to press the poor priest for information. Trapped between an angry dwarf and a carriage full of apples the poor priest can only promise that he will explain when they are on the road, but they have to leave now before The Unwelcome find him.

The others pick up on this and wonder what “The Unwelcome” could be, numerous highly detailed recollections are made with an incredible level of expertise from Fladnag and Tamok (Boryn tries to recall if he ever heard about this in a pub one time) and it occurs to them that they have never in all of known time, creation, history or otherwise, heard of The Unwelcome, which suggests it is something perhaps not of this realm.

Eager to be off Yargus starts the wheels rolling, and they are soon outside of the stone comforts of the Crag Fastness and heading to unknown lands on a long and perilous journey, it’s a beautiful day and the oppressive stone of Crag gives way to a wonderful forest, verdant and warm, rich sunlight spills on to the track as they wind their way through it.
Yargus is concerned by the poor tracks they are using as it means he cannot take the carriage to full speed. He’s also concerned by the two figures from earlier in the distance behind them, seemingly keeping pace with them, even though they are travelling faster than a man can sprint.
Fladnag’s owl familiar takes a closer look and to the Wizards horror the large misshapen figure is carrying the smaller one on it’s back and is literally bounding after them, each stride seemingly getting longer as they get closer.
Forest2
Yargus is concerned and he tells the others to expect an ambush, as they prepare, a wily Fladnag takes the time to cast a befriending spell on Althor in an attempt to glean more information, Althor obliging begins discussing what little he knows of the The Unwelcome but it is hard for the others to comprehend what he means, as he seems to be almost cryptic about what they are.
There’s little time for this however as Durn and Tamok notice that only one figure is following them now… where did the other go?.

On the road ahead a mounted human courier dashes towards and then past them, he has a large parcel hanging from his waist, despite the group’s shouted warnings he either doesn’t hear them or is simply too afraid to slow down and as he dashes past them the group sees the ominous black figure behind them move to block the courier.

As the courier nears the figure, the area around it begins to shimmer, much like a road on a hot day shimmers with the rising heat, this dark haze rises, first around the figure and then it spreads outwards all around, the courier is quickly engulfed in this black miasma and the group watch in horror as he topples from his mount.
Both the man and the horse erupt in blue flames, the unfortunate man’s mouth stretched open in a silent scream as the flames erupt from within, both the horse and the man seem to be in a state of rapid decay, and then to the group’s horror these ravaged cadavers shamble and jerk their way upright.
They turn to face the carriage, hollowed eye sockets now filled with a terrible blue glow, and then they start to advance.Wasted courier

All around them now this black haze filters into the trees and the ground, soon enough things begin to move, things that have been dead for a long time, some things barely any time at all. Animals, insects, even ooze and detritus sloshes it’s way out of a nearby pond, a decayed bear snaps upright, wasted limbs dragging it towards the Dwarves, the birds sing no longer and even the blazing sun cannot quell the terror that is unfolding, a terrible silence has fallen on the wood.

The silence does not last long because now a new sound can be heard, a slurping sound, a slithering sound, tendons stretching, bones scratching, cracking, snapping, for all around the carriage things are moving.
A rabbit leaves its hole, spying the moving bones of a previous mate it draws closer to inspect it, as it does the flames engulf it and it too turns its ravaged body turns towards the carriage.

Althor begins to pray, Durn and Boryn think they can hear him say “The Wasting” Yargus brings the carriage to a halt as a huge fallen log blocks their path. Truly, the trap has been sprung.

“BY THE BLEEDING GODS, GET THAT LOG MOVED” He yells, his calm composure starting to waver at the realisation of the horrors around them.

All hell breaks loose.

At the same time in a different place

“Hadring’s stead, population 74, 42 sheep 31 cows”
In a small village armed men duck in and out of doorways ushering people into the square outside, there are no screams or panic, but there is tension in the air and their expressions are of uncertainty.

A man stands in the center of the square, regal demeanour with strong features and a flowing moustache, the setting sun glimmers off of his golden epaulets, on one side of him stands a scribe, on the other a robed and cowled figure. The scribe holds a list before the man in golden armor, who in turn is reading names from it.

“Cassus Turnwright?” he enquires to the gathered crowd. “I am Cassus Turnwright” a man steps forward and announces.
“Very well, thank you my good man”the man nods curtly “Cassus turnwright, married to Lorise Turnwright, father of Corrus and Sammus turnwright?”the villager nods,“yes here they are my lord” and he ushers them forward.
The golden man dips a quill into a small ink pot crossing through the names on the list and then waving them away “Please go stand with the others I have called, A fine family you have there my good man”
It goes on like this for some time, with names being called and crossed out until at last only four names remain.

“Margorise Pentergeist?” The man asks, an old woman steps forward “I, I think that’s my name M’lord” the woman answers, another villagers speaks up “She’s addled in her mind M’lord, mad Margo we call her” he gives a nervous chuckle as he says it. “Very well then” the golden armored man gently takes her by the arm and leads her to where the others stand.

“Randale harrowson?” now only one person stands in the uncalled part of the square, a youth, no more than 20 in years, he walks forward and says “yes my lord I am Randale” The golden man nods “The smith’s son right? I remember your father, a fine man, you should be proud” the youth nods and takes his place with the crowd.

Only two names remain, the man smiles slightly as he reads it “Ulrik and Odessa Greeneye?” the reaction to these names are as if he had spoken silence itself, none come forward to claim them, indeed some step back as if distancing themselves from it.
The golden man furrows his brow slightly, never losing his smile “Surely someone must know their whereabouts? this census is but a year old!” he states to the crowd. There is no answer for what seems like an eternity until finally a terrified looking woman steps forward “They be dead, lord, consumption took them and we buried them two moons previous”.. the lord seems surprised by this “Is that so?” he asks “Well then, I’m afraid in the interests of being thorough I am going to have to ask you to prove it” he waves over several armored men, one of them is holding a shovel “My dear lady, if you’d be so kind as to dig up their bones, I’d be most grateful” there are gasps of horror from the crowd as he places the shovel into the woman’s hand and she slowly makes her way to a small plot of graves and starts to dig.

He dismisses the gasps and mumblings of dismay from the crowd “I do apologise for this crass display, I promise it will be over soon” they all watch as the terrified woman digs, each shovel of dirt seems to add to the tension, deeper it plunges into the earth until at last it meets resistance. The woman exclaims “There, bones, you see now? they be dead”

The robed figure detaches itself from the golden man’s side and drifts over to the grave, it regards the bones for merely a moment before it returns to the mans side.
The Lord smiles, “my lady forgive me, please take your place with the rest of your village” the relieved woman joins the crowd.

The golden man smiles apologetically to them “Forgive me for taking up your time, but before I leave I’d like for us now to give thanks” he gestures to the village priest “Come, join me friend, let us all kneel in prayer together” The nervous priest approaches the man and they both kneel in prayer.

The priest bows his head and speaks;
“Pelor oh Pelor, light and sun of the land, let your blessings fall upon us in incandescent benevolence”
The golden man never ceasing to smile makes a gesture with his hand and as he does it is answered by the sound of a hundred of swords being drawn, chaos erupts in the crowd as terror and panic set in all around them while the two kneeling men continue to pray, the terrified priest trying desperately to maintain his composure, while all around him people are the sounds of slaughter.

As the prayer reaches its end, silence has fallen upon the village, not daring to lift his head the priest remains where he kneels.

“Thankyou priest” the man says while rising his smile still fixed, he turns from the square, as if blind to the carnage around him, his men follow, the robed figure by his side as always.
As he prepares to mount his golden saddled horse he speaks to the robed figure “Sheep bones you say, but why would they cover for them?” the robed figure does not speak “No matter, Balter’s stead is next, someone will know” the man chuckles “Pelor” he speaks the name with scorn “When will men realise their gods have abandoned them?” the robed figure replies at last “They will understand soon enough, when the rest of my brothers are free” the golden man nods “Of course my lord, our armies march towards that goal as we speak, soon this loose end will be tied up also, but tell me…how fares the situation in the Dwarf mountain?”the robed figure says nothing for a moment as if thinking and then speaks “There was a setback, but my brothers will rectify that before the day ends, do no fear Lord Rellgus, it has all been foreseen”

A pale hand extends from the robe, holding another roll of paper, the golden man takes it and begins to read “Balter’s Stead, population 233, 27 sheep, 43 cows” he smiles “Yes my lord”

Will the Dwarves escape the terrible trap, can mortals prevail against such insanity? will these many mysteries be revealed or will they perish instead?

Find out next time….

The unwelcome

Part Two
Concordant escutcheon

The Chase

The WHG along with their suspicious chauffeur and their cargo of one priest and thousands of apples find themselves surrounded, by a multitude of creeping horrors as the trap is sprung in earnest.

Swarms of rats pour out of dark holes in the ground, the wasting energies seemingly consuming their flesh even as they advance, a Dire bear slowly rises from it’s heap, whitened bones jutting out of long decayed flesh, atrophied muscles and sinews snapping as it propels itself towards the carriage.
Elsewhere great oozing masses of once living creatures slough their way out of a nearby pond, all the while as the horrendously altered courier and his horse continue their advance.

Overcoming the initial shock of what is happening around them, the WHG waste no time springing into action, Durn vaults down from the carriage immediately engaging the advancing courier and horse.

Boryn summons some kind of ludicrous overpowered flying thing and makes a beeline for the log that is blocking their path. Tamok and Fladnag do what they can to hold back the advancing ooze which is now flanking the party.

Behind them on the road a great miasma of insects and decay roils towards the group, as it passes over vegetation and other creatures, they blacked and wither, some returning, different.

The birds no longer sing, and the blazing sun is forgotten as a terror has now fallen upon the woods, like an army of hideous marionettes the very life inside the forest itself has turned upon the WHG and a sense of urgency can be felt…. Soon they will be overwhelmed.

Boryn does his best to move the log but it is massive and proving to be more than a challenge for the barbarian, Yargus focuses on keeping the terrified horses under control whilst searching the woods ahead and muttering to himself.
Durn finds himself amongst a great flurry of attacks from all sides as he stands directly between the main advance and the carriage, but whilst the auras from these creatures damage the dwarf, they do not overwhelm him as they did with all of the creatures nearby.
In the carriage Althor can be heard desperately praying.

One of the rat swarms reaches the carriage despite Tamok’s best efforts to keep it away, as it draws near to the rear wheel, the wood can be seen to blacken and crack as the corruption threatens to destroy the very wheel itself.
The WHG realise this before it is too late and Durn backs up to engage the swarm, securing the carriage from further harm.

Up top Fladnag levitates himself to a good vantage point and soon discovers that fire has a devastating effect on this wasting corruption, he sets a nearby log ablaze and the radiance and heat seem to drain the power of the nearby wasted horse, which collapses to the ground, lamely trying to move it’s tattered legs.

The great cloud of chaos behind them is close now and the WHG manage to dispatch several oozes and rat swarms, which gives Durn the opportunity to sprint to the log and assist Boryn in shifting it, Boryn having nearly moved it completely out of the way by now.

Recalling his earlier days of Ramball the dwarf manages to push it the final foot or so and the path is clear. With the path ahead finally clear the WHG think that escape seems a possibility but in an instant a great shape bursts through the bushes ahead of them.
Gigantic in size, with a huge shaggy mane and terrible claws, this creature advances with such speed and silence that the WHG can barely believe what they are seeing. No simple beast, it’s eyes glow with a terrible aspect as it bears down upon them, the eyes of a cunning hunter, and thus the second jaw of the trap swings shut.

Taxoruxam

Althor inside the carriage can be heard shouting a name, almost feverish with fear now he shouts out “IT’S THE SLINK, WE’RE ALL DEAD, EVERY LAST ONE OF US”

However, Yargus who is clearly no stranger to ambushes seems to have expected this and with a simple click he fires his already primed crossbow and a strangely shaped bolt thuds into the monstrous being’s chest. The bolt seems to shatter as if it were glass and a great blast of smoke envelops the area, fiercely glowing eyes can be seen thrashing in the smoke as the creature tries to regain its composure

Before The Slink can recover Yargus is already whipping the horses into motion, forcing the WHG to perform some risky maneouvres to get back on to the accelerating vehicle. Boryn ends up facing the wrong way on a horse.

No sooner are the WHG all on board when the Slink charges back towards them, with his massive claws he reaches across the carriage, raking the deck and slamming into the WHG. Durn takes the brunt of it but The Slink isn’t done, it grabs the side of the moving vehicle and it is in danger of toppling over, wood splinters and cracks as the great horror hangs on preparing for another swing. Fladnag springs to action unleashing a powerful spell that immobilises The Slink, it falls from the carriage and can only watch helplessly as the carriage starts to speed back up.

It’s soon apparent that the carriage is in bad shape and Fladnag recognises what seems to be sulphur and saltpetre spilling out of a gaping hole in the side where the apples once were.
Yargus knows the game is up, and the WHG soon realise they are riding a bomb, the future is looking grim.

Durn thinks he can fix up the side of the carriage with some rope before the whole things shakes apart entirely but the cocky dwarf ends up falling off and landing unceremoniously in the road, luckily he manages to save himself from total disgrace by teleporting back up top. Boryn saves the day with a daring side by side repair as he rides his mount and hammers a wedge into the broken panelling.

The Slink catches up but despite several clumsy swings he can no longer keep momentum with the carriage and soon the WHG are crossing a cobble bridge over a small stream, which seems to stop the creature for a short while.

Confident he can maintain the pace Yargus tells the WHG to hold on, and they dash down the roadway, leaving the horrors they have witnessed behind them. Even as they glance back, they can see the lumbering shape of the Slink hurtling after them. Althor looks up through the smashed planks and says “It will never stop pursuing us”.

REPRIEVE?

Night is drawing in on what is only the first day of the WHGs journey towards the Falkreaches and Althor’s mysterious monastery, their transport has been badly damaged, their driver is questionable and cargo is utterly deadly, all the while they are pursued by something out of a nightmare, heading to somewhere they have never been.
The future is grim.
Yet there’s always time for questions and Durn wastes no time in grilling Yargus who feebly attempts to put the focus on Althor and divert it away from his previously hidden cargo. After the usual threats and intimidation Yargus explains that he runs “mineral cargo” from Crag to his employer in Rithwic. Although pressed for more information Yargus only adds that it is “legit, but not sommit we wanna be flashing about” justifying, perhaps, by he needed to hide the barrels under a score of apples.
Durn is very mistrusting of Yargus’s motives but cannot get more out of the shady dwarf.
Meanwhile the WHG remember the package they obtained from the courier, and what better time to do some academical investigation than when you are riding an explosive death trap being pursued by otherworldly beings that wish to kill you and them reanimate you in the most horrendous ways?

They open the burlap sack hesitantly and discover two rolled up parchments, one of them is rolled up with a hasty scrawl written on it in common which says “Find Ulrik Greeneye” and the second one seems far older, the paper is ancient and a strange seal clasps it shut, on first impressions it seemed to be gray wax, but a closer look reveals it to be almost as it is were stone. Fladnag expends great effort in determining if the seal has magical properties but isn’t quite sure of it, closer study reveals that the seal seems to be depicting a hammer striking a mountain, Fladnag recognises the mountain as a Caldera, or rather the enormous crater left over after a volcano erupts. Few dwarfs have ever seen a volcano and so this is most peculiar.
Durn tries to recollect if he has ever seen the sigil before and sure enough there have been several occasions when such a thing has turned up, usually in old dwarven belongings or the occasional inheritance, on old trunks or the odd ancient weapon, it is often a hit with collectors in the Slags who murmur of legendary ancient dwarf ruins and even suggest a Dwarven civilisation that pre-dates Crag!
Boryn tries to recall if he ever heard anyone mention it in the pub.

Whilst they ponder the scroll Fladnag thinks he can detect a faint trace of magic within the seal and they agree it might be best to leave it be, upon presenting it to Althor the priest explains that there is a similar sigil within his monastery.

Night is falling upon the WHG and the horses are starting to wane from the ceaseless pace that Yargus is keeping as he struggles to avoid potholes and ruts in the failing light, ever present in the groups mind is the knowledge that behind them, something terrible is coming…

…and soon they won’t be able to run.
Nightnight

With the horses fading fast Yargus suggests that they try and secure fresh ones and continue their flight, since leaving Crag little in the way of civilisation has been seen and the group aren’t too optimistic about finding four fresh and able horses any time soon.Yargus, however, knows of a place nearby that may be able to help them and although he explains it might be tricky getting the owner to part with his horses, it is possibly their best chance to keep running.

The forest seems like a dark and terrible place at night and the groups minds start to play tricks on them as they race down the winding road between the trees, far behind them the darkness seems to move and blur as fatigue and paranoia start to get the better of them.

It’s a welcome sight for all when up ahead of them lights shine through the murk, and it isn’t long before Yargus slows the horses and steers them into what seems to be a brewery.

Sitting between a fork in the road is a large collection of wooden buildings, they are ringed with a large log palisade making the area look like a small fortress, a large gate hangs partially open as torches blaze in sconces all around.Inside the gate goods can be seen stacked everywhere, barrels and barrels of what smells like ale and a couple of huge brewing tuns can be seen close by.

As the WHG dismount, eager to be on solid ground, a nervous looking dwarf approaches them. He greets them politely and asks what business that might have with the esteemed master.
Clearly holding the proprietor of the brewery in utmost respect, when the WHG press him the Dwarf apprentice begins rambling on about his accomplished the master is and how he must be a great visionary to create such marvellous ales.

Yargus and Durn press the dwarf to fetch his master so that they may try and trade for horses but the apprentice insists that the master is not available.

Tamok spots a set of feet stuck out from behind a barrel and despite the apprentice’s protestations, the WHG go to investigate.
On closer inspection the feet belong to a dwarf, one that Durn recognizes almost instantly as Badbeer, former Wraith hunter and avante garde brewer.

Badbeer eventually manages to get to his feet and once he realises he isn’t hallucinating, is genuinely delighted to see at least one of his old comrades.
A few tales of past adventures are shared and the WHG discover that Badbeer was whacked with a cease and desist order from the Supervisor after one too many of his concoctions exploded. So he brought his operation some distance from Crag and has been brewing there ever since.The WHG offer to put a good word in to the Supervisor if Badbeer aids them and this seems to please the volatile dwarf.

After the smalltalk is done, Badbeer spots the near dead horses that Yargus is unhitching and proceeds to ask them what they are running from, he agrees to let them have new ones (For old times sake) and wants to know what their mission is, except his question is cut short by a strange thud on the ground beside him.

Twitching a convulsing close by them is a mass of feathers, a nearby mongrel approaches to investigate this strange occurrence and as it sniffs at it a great gout of flame erupts around the poor creature, consuming it in an instant.
More thuds can be heard and soon the ground is covered in twisting, writhing birds, and above them now a new sound can be heard rhythmic flapping of giant wings and then terrible and shrill, a great shrieking as something big descends.
Behind them a great mass of buzzing creatures filter through the protective pallisades and swarms towards the group, blue flickers of flame corruscating as it does.

The flapping gets closer and the group can see the outline of gigantic bats descending upon them, great leathery wings ravaged by the Wasting they dive awkwardly into the fray and above them a great shape moves downward for the kill, black as night with a terrible piercing shriek a Cloaker descends.Dx20060906  cloaker

The dark miasma of the necrotising cloud from earlier surrounds these new creatures and as Yargus desperately tries to hitch new horses the party prepares for a desperate fight.

The WHG fight hard and well and with some direction from Durn and a little bit of thought, the WHG absolutely triumph, cutting down the bats with ease and finally even dispatching the terrible Cloaker (which Fladnag had turned into a frog) with an almighty blast from one of Badbeer’s more potent kegs of Old Flamebusters Flaming Flame of Fire which had been lit by a rather daring Durn…. but there is no time for gloating, because they know their pursuer will not be far behind.

Yargus has the horses hitched and the group spent a few moments extra loading a few barrels of ale on to the carriage before they are off as they leave Badbeer waves them farewell before peering at Yargus as if seeing him for the first time, he chuckles and simply says “Silk is looking for you!” with that he slaps the rump of the nearest horse and the WHG flee into the night on fresh steeds.

In the distance behind them the welcoming lights of the brewery fade away, and they are soon in darkness as the forest once again envelops them and the carriage rattles through the gloom, the WHG cling to the top, injured and tired and with a long road ahead and such horrors behind them, each perhaps now wondering if they will survive what was a seemingly simple escort mission, each wondering what they have been mixed up in.

Yargus peers ahead into the murk, his face is set in a grim expression…

“We’ll hit the Deepslick by dawn I’ll wager….

….best you hope the ferry’s there"

To be continued…

Part Three Prelude

Two figures exist, one is standing, the other isn’t. They are silent for some time.
The standing figure speaks at last to the scribe “The scrolls were intercepted”, the other is hunched, silent, and ever writing “Was this recorded?”

The hunched scribe seems to lean in close to the book as if concentrating and there is a long silence, a silence that seems to last for an age until eventually the figure replies
“No..”

The standing figure seems pleased and he states “Then it is working”

The scribe looks up from his long vigil over the great tome, his hands still feverishly writing “Yes, they are outside of our chronicle, however we still need to ensure that the message reaches its intended recipient, or the variables will be unacceptable”

The standing man nods and smiles “I’ll go” he says.

Part Three.
Concordant escutcheon
Adrift on the Deepslick

The WHG arrive at banks of a huge river, the bank is barely visible on the far side, the black expanse of water seems to be almost two miles wide, a big river indeed.
On the crossroads is a small shack and ferry terminal although no ferry is visible, with dawn breaking a rather surly looking man glares out from the doorway.
Thoroughly unpleasant, he refuses the WHG passage across, telling them to come back around noon, with the WHG being pursued by The Slink, this isn’t an option. Yargus however mentions a hidden ferry, one belonging to ‘Silk’ and the WHG manage to force the ferryman into winching up a sunken raft that seems to be roped in a different direction to the original ferry route. Desperate to escape their pursuers the WHG realise this is the only real option and so they manoeuvre the carriage on to the raft and the miserable ferryman grudgingly begins to pull them across the huge river.

Moonlit river fantasy wallpaper 3452
The WHG are on a barge on the deepslick, the rope below them slides through iron rungs on either side. A steady rhythm pulls them across the massive expanse of water.

Yargus points to an oily film that on closer inspection seems to cover the surface of the water.

“That’s the reason it gets its name… aint nobody sure where that stuff comes from, aint much that lives in the Slicks boys, well. Not much good.”

Althor is asleep, and every now and then the WHG can hear a snoring sound from the carriage.

After the madness of the previous day, the water seems almost soothing, Yargus spends his time inspecting the damage and securing the cargo, grumbling as he goes.

The journey is slow and it seems that after an hour of slowly being pulled, they are only a third of the way across, as the bank and the ferryman gradually fade from view, just as they do, however a large shape can be seen bounding along the bank to the terminal.
Time seems to stop for a moment as the horrified WHG realise that The Slink has found them, it’s hard to make out anything clearly at the terminal, but all of a sudden the slow rhythmic pulling of the raft stops and the raft is almost capsized by a tremendous yank on the ropes attached to it, the horses start to panic and it’s all the WHG can do to stay upright, Ludwig goes tumbling across the deck and as the raft starts being pulled back towards the back and the monstrous Slink, the WHG have to make a decision fast.

Cut the raft free, or prepare for what would almost certainly be a fight that they probably wouldn’t survive.

Durn and Boryn act fast and cut at the thick sheathed ropes severing them just in time as the raft very nearly tips them into the Slick. As the loose rope now screams through the eyelets that previously fixed it the raft, the entire thing begins to float freely.
The current takes the raft, and they begin to pick up speed, for one horrifying moment it seems as if they are being brought back to the bank but instead they drift back out to the middle and are headed downstream at a good rate of knots.

Yargus thinks this is actually a fortunate turns of events, and with a little luck the WHG might even be able to drift into Rithwic faster than anticipated. With little to do but drift helplessly down the huge river, the WHG spend some time collecting their thoughts and discussing the situation they are in, Yargus explains about how Rithwic is Silk’s territory and how Silk is criminal boss of sorts, one that he himself used to work for.By all accounts this Silk sounds like a thoroughly unsavoury fellow.

Durn presses Althor for more information and the cagey priest finally explains some details about The Unwelcome and his order, he mentions that the order’s sole purpose is to stop The Unwelcome, whenever they appear, and to entrap them, although he refuses to explain how they are trapped, genuinely disturbed by the subject.
The WHG can sense he is being honest with them, as is Yargus, and despite Boryn threatening to kill Althor, everyone seems to have a little more trust and tolerance of each other.

In the distance downstream a shrouded blur of lights can be seen, they are approaching Rithwic, approaching safety, and they can start their journey proper!

Tantalisingly, they drift ever nearer to the port town, spirits are high as they have made good time, and yet when they think they are home free, a dark shape appears from a nearby bank, drifting slowly towards them.

The WHG fall silent as the boat approaches, dark shapes can be seen leaning on railings, and soon the boat draws level with the WHG’s raft and things can be heard flying through the air.
Hooks and ropes snake and wind their way across the raft, thudding into the wood and hooking it, the WHG try and free themselves, but the rope is well sheathed and several hooks are connected to chains.
The boat turns and slowly begins to pull the raft away, away from Rithwic,away from safety, down a small side stream and into the swamp.

Swamp
Unable to do anything, the WHG try to devise a plan for every eventuality, and it isn’t long before they find themselves approaching a small dock, well concealed in the swamp, the kind of dock used by smugglers and those who don’t want to be found.

The tow boat is moored and the raft with the WHG on comes to a halt some thirty metres away, helplessly drifting just out of reach of the dock.
On the jetty a man stands watching, in his hand is a small parasol which he twirls around in an almost comedic manner, he extends a hand in a mock bow to the WHG and waves at Yargus.
“Hello Yargus” he says “Silk is looking for you”, Yargus winces slightly “You are Silk” his voice holds a tinge of fear as he replies.

“Well then, I guess I found you.” the man says.

Silk
Silk offers the WHG a deal, he mentions there are parties in the Falkreaches that are offering rewards for priests and monks just like Althor, if they hand him over, he will let them leave with their lives, no possesions or equipment,just their lives.

The WHG find these terms unacceptable and Durn has a plan to keep Althor safe, sneaking himto thebackof the raft and instructing him to stay submerged in the water using a reed to breath through.
Althor is hesitant but listens to the Dwarf and with him safely out of the way, Durn challenges Silk with an audacious insult. Silk smiles, and suddenly the swamp seems alive with shapes as theambush is sprung.
Archers melt out from the treeline and splashes can be heard as people dive into the water and swim towards the raft, just as the WHG prepare to fight an almighty surge of water erupts next to the raft and a monstrous ogre rises up from the murk, waving a huge flail about its head.

“AH BLAZES, IT’S ROSIE” Yargus yells.
The WHG are plunged into desperate combat, marooned on a raft they are sitting ducks for the snipers on the bank and on the jetty a powerful mage bombards them with spells.

The WHG scatter in disarray and Durn valiantly charges to the jetty alone, Boryn attempts to defend the raft cleaving one would be assailant in half with a mighty blow. Soon however the scattered and outnumbered party begin to falter in their efforts, Ludwig loses control of his mind as the wizard on the jetty overpowers him, and after a desperate fight on the bank an outnumbered Tamok falls to the floor, dying.

Things are looking bad but through sheer determination and grit, Durn manages to hold the jetty long enough for Ludwig and Boryn to join them, soon they are pushing back the bandit fighters and Silk is locked into a frenzied duel with Durn, each of them well experienced in melee combat.

The battle seems to be balanced on a knife edge, but teamwork and ingenuity win out as Ludwig does his best to confuse and distract the opponents while Durn and Boryn smash through them.

Silk realises the battle has turned and when defeat seems almost certain he attempts to dive into the murky swamp waters and escape, the wily Durn has planned for this however and just when it seems like Silk might really get away, a well placed blow finishes the fleeing crimelord and he crashes into the water dead, his surprised lifeless eyes staring up into the sky as he slowly sinks into the gloom.

The WHG have triumphed, with their leader dead the remaining bandits flee, there is no time for celebration though, as on the bank nearby a gravely wounded Tamok fights for his life.

Will his life be the price of their victory?

Part Four
Concordant escutcheon
Fall of a Villain

Tamok lays dying, the sound of battle dies down and slowly darkness takes hold of him as he drifts into unconsciousness, lights flash before him and he finds himself somewhere else entirely.

Sounds ring all about, a great cacophony of noise, grinding stones and anvil strikes, laughs and jeers, a great roar of chants and voices.Two figures stand within a regal looking tent, a dark robed shape and a man in golden armour. Before them is a bowl of dark liquid, the robed man stares into it intently and shapes seem to form, often a strange sound seems to emanate from it. Eventually the shapes fade and the robed figure straightens up and turns to face the golden man who clearly intrigued enquires “As you foresaw then? they are dead?” the dark figure simply replies “No, there have been unforeseen developments, my brothers have failed” shock registers upon the golden man’s face “but but my lord,how can that be? you have seen all things to come, it was foreseen that the priest and his envoy would die” the robed figure turn to leave the tent “the envoy has changed, they are beyond my sight, it would seem there is something else at work here….” the figure pauses a moment before lifting his hood and letting it fall backwards,revealing a bleached white mask, with runes and symbols ingrained into it “My brother Culatraxus will return to us, the other is lost, he will not return until he has completed his hunt, such is his way. it is no matter, the only way for them to reach here is in Rithwic and Rithwic is about to experience it’s destruction”

As he exits the tent a great roar sounds out, and laid out on the plains below him are thousands of tents with thousands of twinkling fires and around them standing to attention is an army of a size almost beyond comprehension. Slaves and messengers run around like ants, delivering orders, whilst supply carts trundle along with good and rations for them.

The figure gestures with its hand and the noise dies down, it looks from left to right, surveying the force and then in a terrible voice that seems to echo across the battlefield it says “The promises of false gods and weak lords have been exposed, you who are here now are here for the chance at a new world, a world not ruled by the weak and greedy, the fat and lustful,but by a new race, one that cannot age, cannot die, can never grow sick, these things I offer you who will serve me, once my brothers are released from their cruel incarceration, we will shower our gifts upon you faithful servants. I have foreseen our victory, as you know, all I have seen has come to pass, I am the prophet Waking Bell and all I foretell will come to pass.”

The army cheer and several figures are brought forward from the mass, they kneel before the figure in complte adoration

“My faithful children kneel before me, seeking all I have promised, I will show you now the reward of humility and servitude”

He spreads his arms and a terrible blue smoke bursts from his sleeves, serpentlike it winds its way towards the kneeling humans, surrounding them and enshrouding them, eventually it fades and the hushed crowd falls to silence as they watch the figures rise.
Cracks line their faces, as if scarred, they criss cross every part of their skin, a blue light can be seen glowing from them as if they were tiny rivulets of flame. the altered humans turn to the crowd and the Prophet exclaims “now watch as my promise is fulfilled” he gestures and the golden man steps forward, swinging his sword he cleaves one of the altered shapes in half, and the crowd gasp. the two halves settle on the floor for but a moment before they reassemble in a gout of flame and smoke, the altered human slowly rises, it turns to the crowd and roars in jubilation arms raised to the sky in defiance"

“When my brothers are free, you will all know what it is to be a god… now my faithful,let us free the world of the living from their unbearable flaws, and as we march on the Greenstone Mount let us shake the world”

“Candeth falls first!” the figure returns to the tent as great bells ring out from the roaring army below him, shaking the very ground itself, and like a endless swarm of ants, they begin to march.

WHG
A small ripple can be seen from the water next to Tamok, where earlier a desperate battle was fought, now quiet has fallen over the swamp.
The ripple gets closer, on the docks several dwarfs can be seen, Tamok isn’t sure if he knows them, he drifts in and out of consciousness, and yet the ripple gets closer.

Althor bursts out of the water, the reed Durn gave him still in his mouth, he runs over to Tamok and quickly begins to administer aid to the wounded dwarf, showing a remarkable skill in the arts of healing, with his bleeding staunched and several arrows removed, Tamok start to come round, partially obscured by the light Althor’s face is hard to see, and yet for some reason he senses it is althor, how could it be anyone but? perhaps he isn’t quite conscious yet,but something about that thought disturbs him.

He relates his strange experience to the rest of the WHG who theorise about what it could mean, the Greenstone mount is recalled by Ludwig as being a huge and ancient volcano, deep in the weird wilds of Falkreach. Durn also recalls mention of it in old Dwarven tomes and historic artifacts.

The WHG more interested with potential loot than the wellbeing of their druidic comrade, set about ransacking the docks and the ship that originally towed them there, Durn discovers some gold well hidden beneath a barrel rim, 200 pieces! a good amount.
Boryn meanwhile is determined to pilfer whatever Silk had on his person, although the dead crime lord is now hidden in the gloom of the swamp, it does not deter the mentally slow barbarian, and he spends a good amount of time bobbing up and down trying to locate the corpse. Eventually he is successful and is disappointed ot find the only item worth keeping is Silk’s parasol, which has survived the chaos and seems very distinctive.Useful for later perhaps.

Yargus with some help from the others gets the carriage on to a narrow track running from the jetty and assures the party that he can get them to Rithwic within the hour.

They reach the town without incident, dawn is breaking but rather than the populous being in slumber, there is a mass of activity and shouting within the town, it sounds like utter chaos.

Rithwic

As the WHG approach the gate, they recognise one of the archers from the battle with Silk, he points to them and the burly looking man he is with bellows at them.

YOU KILL SILK?” He yells

He doesn’t wait for an answer.
“HE BROUGHT MONEY TO THIS HOLE, NOW WE NEED A NEW SILK, MAYBE I’LL TAKE THE JOB AND START BY ROBBING YOU

The WHG are about ready to teach this idiot a lesson but he is interrupted by a voice behind him .
“That’s enough from you Cregg and the rest of you, the watch is here now, I kindly suggest you all get lost before every last one of you has an accident”

Behind this Cregg, is a middle aged man, in rusty looking chain armor he looks more like a poor mercenary than a soldier, and yet is is plain from the manner in which he speaks and the way he is defiantly stood that he is not afraid, next to him are several other guards, their armour in similar disrepair, most of them seem too young to be wearing such attire, others seem too old

YOU GET LOST WITHERS, WHY DON’T YOU TELL THEM WHY YOU GOT DEMOTED AND EXILED TO THIS DEAD END SINKHOLE IN THE FIRST PLACE, YOUR JOKE OF A WATCH COULDN’T PROTECT A BARREL OF PISS, LET ALONE THIS TOWN, GO BACK TO THAT SHED OF YOURS AND PRETEND WHAT YOU DO MAKES A DIFFERENCE”shouts the huge stupid looking man who appears to be called Cregg.

The man slowly begins to approach Cregg, and his face is set with grim resolution “you think you have the makings of a man like Silk, Cregg? You think cutting throats and robbing innocents is something to be proud of? what about your wife, your daughter? I may be an exile but I still believe in something, I’m still loyal to this town.”
He pauses and gestures at Cregg “What about you? I remember you made some of the best furniture in the reach,when did you give up on honour?”

Durn, clearly tired of this Cregg’s idiocy brandishes his axe with menacing intent.

Cregg seems to be unsure of what to say “Ain’t no money in honest trade no more though Withers, and my family gotta eat”

The man is finally stood in front of Cregg, who is cowering slightly, he speaks quietly now, and slowly “We have a chance now, to turn this town back around, back to the good times, but we can’t do it if we are divided, now I’m asking you one last time, take your buddies, and be elsewhere”

Cregg grumbles looking at the WHG, clearly knowing when he’s been beat, him and his mob slowly filter away into the streets and are gone.

The defiant man turns to the WHG and smiles, his grim expression remaining

“I’m sorry you had to see that, he’s not a bad man, none of them are, he just lost his way, this town has fallen on hard times, and from what little news I’ve had from the reaches, they are only going to get worse”

“My name is Sergeant Withers, Queensman of the Reach. Please, come with me, I have some half decent ale from Nurn somewhere, let’s share a drink and talk”

Sargeant withers

The watch house really is little more than a shack, the furniture is ramshackle and in bad repair, and the weapons hanging on racks are worn and tatty. The Sergeant apologises.

The WHG soon realise that Sergeant Withers has been running his watch on a shoestring, using his own meagre savings to try and equip what few guards remained and even faking letters from the mainland to try and keep spirits up.

This strikes a chord with Durn, who donates the 200 gold he found previously to aid in restoring the watch,the Sergeant is moved by this kindness and they share an ale and discuss matters at hand.

Silk had a large monopoly on the town, many people were scared to cross him and he had intimidated many of the watch to desert and even defect, leaving Withers with very few loyal guards and a whole corrupt town full of problems.They present Withers with Silk’s parasol and he expresses his most humble thanks that they have ridded the town of such a menace.
He tells the WHG that they have brought hope to Rithwic.

Withers recognises Yargus and nods politely to the nervous dwarf, Yargus mentions something about tending to the horses and rapidly exits the hut. The WHG upon noticing the worn weapons mounted in racks and the tattered armor worn by the guards, propose that there may be some way of setting up trade with Crag. Withers thinks this could be a great idea and explains how he has always wanted to see what Crag mountain was like, ever since his grandfather had told him of his time fighting side by side with dwarves.
He asks the WHG to follow him and leads them to a small room, with an old worn desk in the middle, but everyones eyes are drawn immediately to the shield hanging on the wall behind it.
Utterly beautiful in design, it is clearly Dwarven craftsmanship, Withers goes on to explain that his grandfather had been given it by the Dwarves as part of an agreement, something which his grandfather never explained to him. Only that there would be a time where it was needed again.

Durn and Ludwig inspect it, both recognise magical properties unlike any they have ever encountered, Durn believes it was crafted within Crag itself. The symbol on the shield matches that of the seal upon the scroll they got from the courier, and Ludwig hazards a guess that it may be the Greenstone mount.

The WHG are exhausted and Withers tells them to get some rest, he suggests Yargus might be able to point them towards The Gentleman’s inn, a popular tavern on the dockside.

Gentleman

As the WHG enter, they are almost overwhelmed by the bustle and noise that hit them, the inn is well lit and the atmosphere is almost of celebration, people can be seen in animated discussion, some are striking deals, clearly free of Silk’s oppression, news travels fast and several of them pat the WHG members on the back as they walk past, some are cheering, the only sour face seems to be that of the innkeep, who is currently scowling at Yargus.

BLAST CAME BY, SAID HE WASN’T PAYING YOUR TAB, YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS RIGHT?”The angry looking barkeep says.
Yargus grumbles, looking sheepish he produces a small coin purse and empties it out on the bar “That should cover it”

The innkeep scowls “Not even close, but seeing as your companions there got rid of Silk, I’d wager I’ll be saving some gold from all the protection money I no longer need to pay, I’ll let it slide” He pulls out some flagons and begins to fill them. “Blast left you a package” he pulls a large parcel from under the counter and hands it to Yargus.

Inside is a letter and a box.

The letter reads:

DEAR WRAITH HUNTER GROUP 8

ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF, MY NAME IS BLAST AS YOU WELL KNOW BY NOW, BEING SOMEWHAT OF A PHILANTHROPIST I HAVE BEEN FASCINATED BY YOUR JOURNEY SO FAR, MY LIMITED OBSERVATIONAL TALENTS HAVE ALLOWED ME TO TRACK IT THUS FAR. I MUST SAY YOU ARE INTERESTING FELLOWS, ALTHOUGH WE HAVE NEVER MET I’D LIKE TO CONSIDER US FRIENDS, AND AS FRIENDS I WANT TO PRESENT YOU WITH A GIFT, MAY IT AID YOU WELL ON THE JOURNEY AHEAD. MY EMPLOYEE YARGUS HAS DONE RIGHT BY YOU SO FAR AND WHILST I APPRECIATE THAT TRUST IS NOT SOMETHING HE EXUDES IN GREAT AMOUNTS, HE IS LOYAL TO ME AND AS SUCH WILL BE LOYAL TO YOU, I CANNOT MEET YOU RIGHT NOW FOR I HAVE BUSINESS IN THE REACHES, HOWEVER I KNOW OUR PATHS WILL CROSS IN TIME, THEREFORE I ASK THAT YOU MEET ME IN CANDETH BEFORE TWELVE DAYS HAVE PASSED, THAT WE MAY BE BETTER ACQUAINTED"

I WILL BE WATCHING YOU, SO FAR IT HAS BEEN MOST INTERESTING.

Signed

(Ludwig recognises the arcane symbol for ‘Blast’)

In the box is an intricately written recharging spell scroll of fireblast that Ludwig takes possession of and a map, which Yargus explains is of the Falkreaches.

In the morning Sergeant Withers is waiting for them with news of a development in the night, he explains that a boat arrived some time before dawn packed with refugees from Khanjar in the Falkreaches, many were injured, some were dead. Almost all of them were terrified, he asks the WHG to follow him as he needs their help. As they head along the docks they see a huge ship that was not present the previous night. Great holes in the side and ballista shots embedded into the deck suggest a terrible battle had gone on, the WHG pass it warily as it sits in the dock, a silent witness to some unknown terror.

Outside the guard station are hundreds of people, many are ragged, some lay injured and others aren’t moving at all, they wear flowing sashes and garments, very foreign looking (almost alien!) to the denizens of Crag.
Withers ushers them inside. What was a ramshackle station the previous night has now been converted into a triage center, people lay on benches and tables, injured, groaning. Some of their wounds seem terrible, unnatural. The WHG recall ‘the wasting’ and realise some of the blackened flesh on these hapless victims seems very familiar indeed.
In a small cell is a pale looking woman, her eyes are red and she is clearly exhausted, a kindly looking older guard brings her a bowl of soup which she eats feverishly.

Withers has his hands full co-ordinating the crisis and so it falls to the WHG to try and find out what is going on.
They greet the woman and ask her name.

She nods curtly, clearly a strong woman she begins to tell the WHG of her plight.

“This one is Semira from Khanjar my lords, I am seer for my people”
She continues.
“The Prophet Waking Bell he came to my people with honeyed words and promises of glory, but we are proud and we remember the gods, when he saw we would not bow to him he had his army slaughter us.”

She pauses and the room seems to darken as she fixes each of them with a hard stare.

“Do you know what real slaughter is?…such horrors my nightmares could not even contain, the streets were piled with dead, the ones who protested loudest were hanged from a bridge, so many were hung that the bridge collapsed, only then the bodies were thrown into the water until even the river was damned, Khanjar is lost, GODS! Falkreach is lost, the queen does nothing while her people die, now her army is gone, her people are sundered. What can men do?”

“We fled upon a merchant vessel, the captain risked all to get us clear of Khanjar, we were pursued for many nights by many vessels, intent on finishing us. The captain strapped himself to the wheel so as not to lose ground, but by the time we came upon the maelstrom our pursuers had almost caught up with us…”
She pauses as if she cannot believe the memory of what happened next.
“There was another ship, it came from the direction of this town, black as night, it sailed past us and towards the many ships pursuing us, we tried to warn them, but…
…never in my dreams could I imagine what came next, this ship, this black ship it destroyed them all, as if they were made of tinder.”
She pauses again, fearful of what she is about to say.
“Such magic, such incredible power, never will I forget it, that ship, it was a monster, it breathed magic and destroyed everything before it.. and then it was gone, bound for Candeth.”

She seems to snap back to reality and suddenly spots Althor, her face becomes a picture of terror, “NO! THIS IS FORBIDDEN” She begins chanting, unable to look at him again.

A young guard rushes in, no more than a youth, an arrow haft juts out of his bloodied tunic, “SARGE ITS THE DOCKS! ANOTHER SHIP CAME, WE THOUGHT THEY WERE REFUGEES, THERE ARE MEN IN ARMOR, THEY HAVE AXES AND SWORD, SARGE OH GODS, THEY KILLED DAMOR AND TAIN, OH GODS THEY ARE KILLING EVERYONE.”

The Seers eyes are wide with terror “Oh Pelor, they followed us, oh sweet Pelor, preserve us”

The Sergeant jumps to his feet,“PREPARE FOR BATTLE

He turns to the WHG “Friends, will you aid me once more?”

Althor who has returned to the room says “We must go now, if we stay here then all could be lost, we must head east and hope that we find a ship on the way”

Yargus is furious at hearing this “I dunno what they taught you at that there monastery boy, but I wasn’t raised to be no coward, what say you?”

They both turn to the WHG.

In the distance, all hell breaks loose, from the docks can be heard great clunks and whirs. It’s the sound of siege weaponry, the sound of genocide. Rithwic is under siege, and soon its people will be slaughtered.

The WHG ready their weapons, they made their choice before they even left Crag. Now they will begin to see the consequences unfold.

They charge towards the docks, a great black behemoth awaits them, spewing fire and death upon the town, truly a ship of nightmares.

Part Five

Concordant escutcheon
The Salvation of Rithwic

The midday sun blazes down upon the bank of the Deepslick, dark waves gently lap on the shore, blackened with oil. Close by stands a small farmhouse, children play within an orchard, verdant and healthy, somewhere North of Rithwic.

One of them looks out to the shore, something is there now that wasn’t before. The child approaches a large shape upon the bank, still rolling slightly in the lapping waves.

Perhaps it is a tree trunk, or a boat, perhaps an old circus tent, these were the child’s thoughts as it approached.

Yet it wasn’t any of these.

Tattered and raw, a great mass of flesh and bone lays stinking on the shore, vapour trailing off of it like steam. Cows have often fallen in to the river and been washed up here, yet this is no cow. It is far bigger, human curiosity is a persistent folly, the child picks up a stick and draws up close until they are within arms reach of this thing.

The child pokes it.

It moves.

The farmer hears the screams and runs from the house, he sees his terrified children running towards him, what could it be? bandits? a wandering troll?

…then he sees it

Steaming vapour pouring off of it’s wasted flesh, huge and terrible stands a beast unimaginable even in his most wildest dreams.
Beastial in appearance, patches of fur and raw flesh cover it’s massive torso, and as the blazing sun dries the moisture from it, the very flesh itself seems to heal, revivifying, regrowing.
But it’s the eyes, out of all the horrors that a man could fathom, it is knowing that such a terrifying creature could be so intelligent.

The Slink stares at the humans for but a moment, it has no care for easy quarry.
The crossing was hard with the ferry gone but at last it is here, its great claws are covered in mud and detritus from where it dragged itself along the bottom, its skin has been ravaged by the water. Yet it is here.

The farmer watches the great mass stand and sniff the air as if searching for quarry, and then with a terrible howl it is gone.

No living thing can match such terror.

The Siege

The Sun blazed down upon the town of Rithwic, upon weathered roof tiles and worn cobbled paving, upon empty market stalls and the trees and hills surrounding it. Yet there was a chill in the air, indeed throughout the streets there were people running. Like tiny ants, they milled about in haste and terror, some stumbled, while others fell entirely…. Some never stood again.

Out on the Docks a great whistling roar pierces the air, followed by a terrible smash. Soon more follow and buildings begin to collapse, fires are also breaking out and before long the entire dock is ablaze.
The panicked townsfolk flee inland further into the town in hopes of finding safety, desperate to escape. Behind them great boulders smash into the street and ballista shots embed themselves in walls, exploding in a storm of splinters.

The source of this panic lays some thirty feet off of the docks, black and menacing, a great warship, over fifty metres long looms on the water. All along its deck are machines of war, whirring, screeching and pounding their payloads into the besieged town.

Everyone is running away, everyone that is, except a small group of Dwarves and Humans, who are running through the panic and towards the docks with their weapons drawn.

Wraith Hunter Group 8 have chosen to stay and fight, and so it begins.

Rithwic is burning

The Wraith Hunters are led through several narrow side streets by Sergeant Withers, ever aware of the growing din from the direction they are approaching, the entire city seems to be on fire and Withers shouts out orders to his guards who are frantically passing buckets from a nearby well in an attempt to slow the advancing flames. Soon even the sun is gone as the growing cloud of smoke shrouds it from view, plunging Rithwic into a terrible flickering darkness.

When they break from cover into the open dock square they are greeted with a vision of carnage, before them most of the dock is on fire, fishing nets and stored cargo are well aflame as are most of the buildings surrounding the square. Within the square itself are a number of bodies, but perhaps most alarming of all are two flickering plumes of black smoke that seem to be emanating from craters in the cobblestone, a strange blue energy seems to pulse within the smoke and to the Wraith Hunter’s horror they can see the shambling corpses of a number of unfortunate citizens begin to move towards them.

Withers shouts out to them to hold the docks and not let a single one of those things get into the town proper, he then tells them he is going to get help and runs down a side street, leaving them with the task at hand.

No strangers to the effects of The Wasting, the WHG charge into battle with Durn locking down several of the shambling atrocities, things are quickly complicated however. Shouting from the decks of the great warship results in the huge siege weapons lowering their aim and with a great thud a barrage of huge bolts scream towards the Dwarves.

Exposed and distracted in melee, a couple of the lethal projectiles glance off of Durn and Tamok, both struggling to hold back the tide of shambling horrors that threaten to overwhelm them, Boryn and Ludwig do their best to stop the stragglers from advancing past them and into the town, Boryn almost falls to their frantic slashing attacks, eventually falling back to where Durn and Tamok are holding their ground.

With the WHG bunched up and preoccupied the ship presses its advantage, several more volleys explode into the cobble around the dwarfs, Durn takes a direct hit, his armor only partially absorbing the damage. If they remain in the open any longer they will surely fall.
Common sense prevails and with the majority of the reanimated townsfolk dispatched, Durn calls for the party to make for cover behind a pile of burning goods.
With a brief respite from the floating artillery the dwarfs theorise that the weaponry cannot fire upon them if they get closer to the ship due to the railings restricting their trajectory.

It’s just a theory but the dwarfs think it’s sound enough for them to make a break for it, they creep along the edge of the barrels as close to the dock edge as they can while still remaining in cover, and then they make a dash for it.

They sprint out into the open as a volley whistles over their heads, and they realise with some relief that they are at least safe from the barrage for now.
Closer to the boat now, they can see that the warship is within arms reach of the end of the end of the jetty. The WHG believe that if they can reach the end of the pier they may be able to board the ship and overrun it. The only problem with this plan is the presence of a small group of armed soldiers, shields raised and halberds readied, they block the jetty, watching the approach of the WHG, ready to fight.

Unlike the poor shambling wretches from earlier, these soldiers are well armored and seemingly well disciplined, several of the more perceptive Wraith Hunters spot something odd with the complexions of these soldiers, indeed blue flames can be seen flickering along scar like fissures in their skin.

It’s all or nothing now, and the four of them prepare to charge, except there’s no longer four of them but five! A new dwarf leaps into the fray, with a great axe, flowing robe and hair as red as that of an Azer, Snorri Nosebiter rejoins his comrades. An old friend has returned.

Indeed, after Snorri’s return to The Crag, much of his time had been spent in studies with his order, it was surprising then, when one night he received an urgent summons to see the Supervisor.
Snorri was shocked to see how tired the usually indomitable Supervisor now looked, lines of worry crossed his face and there was a tinge of almost fear in his voice.

Snorri was even more shocked by what the Supervisor had asked of him. For many years now all mention of Greenstone and The Unwelcome had been struck from the annals of Crag history, something much lamented within his order. Books had been confiscated and pages torn out, and those who remembered their contents were ordered to be silent of them. Snorri remembered, indeed he knew quite a bit about the matter, and now he stood before the Supervisor who was expressly telling him to share everything he might know with Wraith Hunter Group 8, against all protocol!
Perhaps Snorri questioned how he might rejoin his old comrades, already some estimated three days ahead, perhaps he didn’t. The answer was provided regardless, in the form of a horse, provisions and the knowledge that if he does not catch up to them in time, everything could be in jeopardy.
For two days and nights he rode, often falling asleep in the saddle to save precious time, he passed Badbeer’s brewery on the first night and whilst taking a brief rest Badbeer explained a little of what had happened a couple of nights earlier. Snorri reached the Deepslick in good time only to find the ferryport smashed and sundered, flies buzzed around a bloated corpse closeby, the area had an aura of unease.
His lucky break came in the form of a small fishing boat that for a fee took him swiftly down the slick until at last he could see a great mess of huts and houses in the distance, smoke was pouring out of them….flames were spreading along them.
He rode into the town, his horse flying along the cobbles, around him people fled in terror, he followed the source of their terror until he came to the docks, there he saw the cause, and there amongst the chaos and killing he saw something he recognised, Wraith Hunter Group 8.
He set down upon the cobbles, stiff from two days ride, un-holstered his axe, and charged… it felt good to be back… there are, after all, only so many books you can read.

The soldiers raise their shields to block the advancing dwarfs but Durn teleports behind them and breaks their defense, plunging one of them off the side and into the water! The water hisses and roils around the armored guard as he sinks into the depths.

The rest of the WHG press their attack and the second soldier joins his comrade in the depths, two more soldiers advance upon the Dwarves but a great cry can be heard from the docks and the WHG look back just in time to see Sergeant Withers and a group of ragtag soldiers charge the remaining enemies. What’s most surprising is that these were some of the same ruffians who had previously met the WHG at the gate, perhaps with a view to robbing them. Also with them is the oversized carpenter that threatened the WHG and got a swift talking to from Durn.
The unlikely allies keep the rest of the enemy soldiers engaged and upon seeing their opening the party leaps aboard the ship, ready to mete out justice on all those upon it.

For the first time in what seems like forever the docks grow quiet and apart from the faint sound of battle, screaming, or the crackle of flame, there are no other noises.
The bombardment has been halted!

The WHG quickly realise they aren’t out of trouble yet, indeed there is a lot of soldiers upon the ship, relinquishing their siege weaponry they now pick up great halberds and shields and as the captain shouts orders to them from the front of the ship, they charge at the WHG.

The fighting is brutal, both sides are skilled and battle hardened, the altered soldiers seem to ignore pain, or even the fear of injury, several take terrible wounds and seem to not even flinch.
Snorri claims the first kill, instantly teleporting a soldier off of the ship and into the depths, following his lead the wily dwarves manage to push several over the edge of the ship and take the initiative to push forwards to the captain. Ludwig blasts the enemy with several powerful spells, flinging them across the deck like ragdolls, Tamok and Durn use this opportunity to gain ground and are soon engaged in combat with the captain.
Several of the highly trained troops fire upon the WHG with crossbows and Snorri breaks away from the party to attempt to stop them.

Boryn however has other ideas and as is often the case with the barbarian, nothing is truly unfeasible until he has spent a long time pounding his forehead against it. Such was Boryn’s heady and fast paced journey into the world of siege weaponry and part time bombardment.

So it was that Boryn with a little help from Ludwig spent some time on the rear of the ship, spinning and messing with various whatchamcallits and whojimathingies, until finally he gets the weapon to fire.
The first bolt whistles soundly into the deck, exploding the planks around it, the second does the same. Not knowing when to quit the Barbarian hamfists another great bolt at the mass of frantically fighting shapes on the deck and finally this one hits home! Piercing one of the soldiers shoulders, the bolt embeds itself within it, a good hit! However the soldier barely seems to flinch.

Perhaps he’d reached his limit, perhaps he’d grown bored, or perhap he’d simply remembered that he was a barbarian who was supposed to use his axe, whatever the reason Boryn soon rejoined his beleaguered comrades and promptly cleaved one of the soldiers in two, in a single strike.
Questions about appropriate use of WHG time and tactics would no doubt be raised, but not at this particular time as Durn was hard pressed to keep up with the blows raining down upon him from numerous attackers.
As if that wasn’t bad enough a hatch bursts open and several more fresh soldiers join the fray, the dwarves grit their teeth and pull out all the stops as they fight to stay alive. Snorri nearly goes down in his attempts to stop the crossbowmen and Tamok takes a severe injury, but they keep fighting and soon the captain is slain!

The soldiers seem undeterred by this and it’s starting to look bleak for the WHG as they fight to survive, fragmented and outnumbered. Suddenly a great cry can be heard from behind them and Withers and his men flood the deck of the ship, the Sergeant’s shield glowing a fantastic golden light. The soldiers seem to melt under this light and before long the WHG and their allies have cleansed the ship of this vermin, all except one, which they take prisoner.

The makeshift militia and guardsmen on the docks applaud and cheer as the WHG emerge victorious, only Sergeant Withers is unsmiling, his face set in a grim expression and a distant look in his eyes, limply in his hand he holds the strange dwarven made shield. A perfect fit on his arm, a slight glow still emanates from it.

As they return to the dock they are hailed as the twice saviours of Rithwic, many are singing songs of celebration, Withers thanks them and Cregg apologises for his lack of respect when they arrived in town, explaining that he is going to change his ways and join the watch.

Withers apologises, saying he must take his leave to try and sort all of this mess, as he walks up the road Althor runs after him, they are some fifty metres away and it is hard to hear what the priest says to the man, but suddenly Withers seems to reel back as if some terrible revelation has been discovered, the shield falls to the ground and both men stare at it.

Althor continues talking and he lightly traces his fingers over the shield, a faint glow can be seen, and the troubled expression in Wither’s eyes seems to fade, he reaches down and picks up the shield, holding it firmly now, he nods at Althor "He speaks a little louder now, “What’s the use, we can’t expect help” and then turns to look at the WHG , studying them as if recalling all that has happened, the uncertainty and doubt in his eyes have gone, now there is something new… resolve.

The WHG question Althor about what he could have done to cause such a reaction but the priest tries to deflect any questions, and the WHG aren’t convinced with any of his answers.
A soldier gives the WHG word that the Seer wishes to see them and they fin the woman in the makeshift infirmary within the guardhouse, she greets them and thanks them for what they have done in defending the Khanjaree refugees. She leads them to a bed where a tired looking man greets them, he introduces himself as Captain Eldritche and explains that he will captain their newly acquisitioned vessel back to the Reaches, as a way of repaying all the WHG have done for him and his people.

The WHG agree to this and take their leave to interrogate the altered soldier who is restrained and ringed by guards upon the dockside. The soldier regards them with an expressionless stare and they seem to be making little headway getting answers from him, something seems to change however and suddenly his eyes seem to radiate with a blue light and he begins searching desperately, looking all around as if he is trying to find something that isn’t there.
WHO IS DOING THIS?” it demands, of no-one in particular. It’s almost as if it cannot see the dwarves, yet it knows they are there. “WHAT ARE YOU?” it demands, it’s voice rasping and sinister. Then as one might pour water on to a flame, the glow is gone, and the soldier seems to melt, his skin and bones breaking apart as if it were putty, Ludwig finds this fascinating and some feverish studies reveal the fading presence of some extremely strange energies, certainly Ludwig believes them to be primordial, unshaped and chaotic, raw magic.

The WHG rest for the night and prepare to leave for the Falkreaches at first light of dawn, the captain greets them along with a small crew, the terrible ship from the day before has been stripped of its weaponry, indeed Cregg (now sporting a tatty guard’s uniform) and several guards are mounting the siege weapons along the dock. He waves to the WHG and hands them a letter, explaining that Withers left in the night.

It reads,

Withers letter

Snorri tries to trick Althor into a reaction over this but all the priest will say is several cryptic lines about how the WHG have changed the man’s destiny.

There is little time for farewells and soon the carriage is loaded aboard and The Groaning March casts of its mooring and slowly drifts out to the slicks.
Along the docks people gather to ’Throwoff" the heroes, Yargus standing on a pile of assorted items and reaching out to catch more explains it is like a sendoff, only they throw things, whatever the people on board catch is meant for their journey ahead, whatever they miss is meant for the gods of the depths.
Tamok catches a scroll, Boryn catches a wrapped bundle of ten sunrods, Durn manages to snag a burlap bag containing three potions with Ludwig snatching a wooden staff out of the air and finally Snorri lands himself a fine chair leg.
Cregg and the Seer wave respectfully, the Seer calls out a blessing of Pelor upon them.
The grateful townsfolk cheer and wave until they are mere specks on the horizon. The Groaning March heads into the murk of the Slicks, their destination the Falkreaches.

A strange thud from beneath the ship causes it to list violently, the captain struggles to hold the steering but eventually manages to gain control. He isn’t sure what caused it, but thinks it may have been debris beneath the ship.
The WHG think it may be something else.

Their unorthodox cargo, mysterious comrades and uncertain future perhaps all play upon the minds of the WHG as they sail into the unknown.

This is just the beginning.
March leaving
Elsewhere….

A robed figure stands besides two other figures, they are stood upon a huge dock and before them are hundreds upon hundreds of ships, one of the figures is a man in golden armor, the other is a tiefling, behind them the very horizon seems to be on fire, a great city is in flames, screams of agony ring out across the skyline.

The figure turns to the tiefling “Sartos, our gift to the mainland has not been well recieved, this was unexpected but not impossible, I believe more gifts are required”

The Tiefling smiles, jagged teeth glinting in the fire light “Of course my lord, it is simply a matter of numbers, after all. I am a statistician before a general, I’ll be sure to share my calculations with those I am to meet”

“I believe one hundred ships will do, fifty men in each should suffice, altered of course”

The robed figure nods “Very well, depart now, and start with Rithwic. infect that land, follow each road like a vein, blacken, corrupt, waste all you find, until you reach the heart, until you reach Crag. Let their arrogance entomb them, let them know the wasting”

“Very good my lord prophet” the tiefling replies.

One hundred red sails sail west out of Khanjar, their destination certain, their victory assured. Death is coming to Rithwic, and this time there will be no aid.

Part Six
Concordant escutcheon
The Journey Begins

So the WHG have left the familiarity of the mainland, far from home and bound further still, only a fool would not consider their future when faced with the rumours of what awaits them. As the Groaning March cuts through the waves and the last sliver of land fades in the horizon, who can say if they will ever see their home again? certainly some may not.

The first day at sea is spent organising equipment and planning for the journey ahead, Yargus spends a lot of time with Althor discussing religion, perhaps even with a view to embracing faith!(this is unlikely, knowing Yargus)

On the second day a great storm comes in, huge waves take the ship and crash over the sides as it lists and rolls furiously on the raging sea, most of the crew stay below playing dice games with only the captain remaining on deck, ever fighting with the wheel.
The WHG sleep poorly, fragmented dreams haunt them, dreams of things that have happened, and strange dreams of things they can’t previously recall.
Tamok has one such ‘dream’.

Somewhere

Two figures exist within a room, white on black, just silhouettes to any who might observe, one is writing, the other is watching a scene play out before him, a great hall carved within a mountain, tiny figures mill about their business, the watcher’s gaze is drawn to one in particular, a dwarf (they are all dwarves) this one in particular is of interest, old with chiselled features, a huge dwarf indeed, looking more suited to fist fighting than an honest days work.
“You must stop meddling” the writing figure says. The watcher doesn’t look up “You are referring to me almost being discovered?” he seems amused, he watches the dwarf charge up to a door, outside of it is an official looking clerk sat at a table stamping papers. “Among other things, you risk much, you were almost seen” … the figure turns for a moment to the writer “I do what I must, besides, we planned for certain variables” the writer almost huffs before quickly replying “If she had seen you properly, it would have been over” the other figure returns to watching the scene before him before replying again “She only saw what wasn’t there”.

The old dwarf in the scene below storms past the now surprised figure at the desk and wrenches the stone door open, several guards scurry to stop him, but he is already inside. Within the room at another desk is a tired looking dwarf, rather than surprised, he seems to have almost been expecting this angry white haired dwarf’s arrival.

The watcher speaks one final time “The truth has arrived, let’s see how it fares against our stubborn friend”.

The Supervisor sits staring into space, dwarfs live a long time, and he has a myriad of memories to recall, often with what little free time he had he would recall better days. Now his thoughts always return to one thing. He opens the desk drawer and there are a great collection of scrolls, many are old, some seem new, the strange messenger’s scroll is there.Unrolled with the two words upon it “IT’S TIME”. Perhaps cryptic to some, yet he knew what it meant, “It’s time” he could almost have chuckled at that if he’d been the sort to do so. It was long past time, perhaps too long. So few remembered.. that was intentional of course, such knowledge was best remembered by the trusted few, why burden the masses with the uncomfortable truth?
Yet he knew it was wrong, as was his failure to act upon it.

He lifted the unfurled scroll and turned it over in his hands again and again.

That was about the time that the door burst open in a spectacular swing.
Standing there, slightly out of breath with a bright red face and an utterly livid expression is Durnoc Dourstone and before the supervisor can even stand and demand an answer to this outrage, the intruder jumps into a tirade of anger
Durnoc
“I KNEE WAT YE DUN, I ALWAYS KNEW YE WERE A RULESMAN BUT I DIDNAY THINK YE WERE A COWARD TOO

The supervisor bristles at this “What is the meaning of this outrage Dourstone?”

The enraged dwarf continues “SOME OF US AIN’T FORGOT THE CONCORDANT, NO MATTER HOW YE MIGHT HIDE IT!” the supervisors eyes narrow at this and Durnoc takes his cue to push on with the rant.
AYE THATS RIGHT, I’M NOT AFRAID TO SAY IT, WE MADE A DEAL DO YE REMEMBER? LONG BEFORE YOU OR I EVEN EXISTED, OUR GRANDFATHER’S GRANDFATHERS MADE A PACT, NOW WILL YE BE THE ONE TO BREAK IT?”
He carries on before the supervisor can even answer.
“THAT’S RIGHT, YOU MIGHT BE TRYING TO KEEP IT SECRET BUT I PUT THE PIECES TOGETHER, I KNOW YE SENT ME GRANDLAD OFF TO THE REACHES WITH HIS GROUP, I KNOW WHAT’S BEEN GOING ON IN THE REACHES TOO, WORD TRAVELS, TURNS OUT AN OLD ENEMY HAS BEN SPOTTED IN OUR LAND TOO….IN OUR LAND!
He shouts extra loud to emphasise the previous point.
WHY IN THE NAME OF THE STONEFATHER HAVE YE NOT DONE ANYTHING?”.

The supervisor is shocked but only for a moment before he too is furious and as a score of guards filter into the room he stands nose to nose with the livid dwarf and shouts
DURNOC DOURSTONE YOU FORGET YOURSELF, THIS IS ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOUR, I COULD HAVE YOU EXECUTED FOR THIS KIND OF CONTEMPT.GUARDS! TAKE HIM AWAY AND GIVE HIM A FULL DAY IN A CELL TO CALM DOWN, UTTER NONSENSE!”

As the berserk dwarf is led away The Supervisor lifts the scroll again with trembling hands, staring at it for the longest while… then he quickly throws it into the desk drawer and locks it.

For the first time in countless years, he is afraid.

The watcher sighs, the scene below him fades and changes “I underestimated the stubbornness of dwarfs it seems”, the scribe nods “You will have to rely on your other dwarven friends it seems, for the ripples they are making have yielded some rather interesting results, that may surprise even you”.

On cue with him saying this, the scene changes, now there is a huge black river, a road winds along the bank, and upon it is a grey haired human on horseback, he hangs to his saddle, clearly tired and upon his back hangs a beautiful shield.
The road winds through the forest, and beyond that there are great mountains.
The watcher almost gasps “This result is unexpected”

The dream fades and the sea roils and out of all the dreams Tamok can recall, this one was the most vivid.

On the third day the captain summons the WHG to his quarters, inside are Yargus and Althor and unfurled before them is the map of The Falkreaches that Blast provided.Before they discuss future plans the captain tells them about the sighting of over 100 ships sometime in the night, he mentions that the storm saved them from being pursued but by all accounts this gargantuan fleet seems to be headed towards the mainland, back the way they came! A terrifying prospect!

Falk map day 1
All present agree that landing in Khanjar would not be possible due to the city being sacked and almost certainly occupied. This presents a problem for the Captain as he explains there are sheer cliffs around great expanses of the Western side of the island, making it nearly impossible to dock anywhere close to the monastery.
Althor speaks up and suggests another option, one that causes the Captain to show genuine fear, and sets off a great deal of mutterings and prayers within the group.
He suggests that they use the old docks at Tethana.

The Captain refuses, explaining that only the insane would entertain such a possibility, Althor is persistent however and mentions that the monastery use it from time to time. Yargus also pipes up that judging by the map it is certainly the best route and possibly the only option.

There’s a lot of discussion regarding this and Snorri chimes in with some of what he knows, explaining that Tethana is a mass grave. Althor explains that it is the first known site of The Wasting, and a place of great intrigue and study for his order.
He also mentions that so long as the wards remain, nothing can get out of the dead city, and that they will be quite safe.

The Captain takes some convincing, he eventually recognises that the only sensible option is indeed to dock here as the docks are some way away from the island that the city rests on. He does, however, explain that he and his crew will not be staying there once they have unloaded the passengers and cargo.

The prospect of being close to this mysterious and ominous city weigh heavy on the crew and several can be heard muttering prayers and singing strange songs about it.

The WHG spend their time looking into clues and artifacts they have accumulated on the journey so far. Ludwig easily identifies the staff he recently caught on ‘The Sendoff’ in Rithwic as a Staff of Aura Killing. A lot of the magic within it has faded through time, doubtless it was a heirloom , it does seem to retain it’s primary power, however, which is to negate certain negative auras entirely! Something which may prove useful in the days and weeks to come.
Tamok inspects his scroll to find it is a deed, written rather poorly and perhaps in a dark room, it is hard to make out what it says although it seems to “PROMISE THE BERRER O’ DIS DEDE, TOO OF MA FYNEST HOSSES SHUD I BE UNABLE TO RIDE NO MORE” Who can say whether this is worth the paper it is scrawled upon?

The main event comes in the form of the ancient scroll that the WHG looted from the unfortunate wasted courier on the first day of their journey.
Ever since Ludwig sensed powerful wards upon the seal the party have been hesitant to investigate it further, however with Snorri’s arrival and his typical thirst for knowledge, they are soon convinced that it’s worth looking in to, although Ludwig advises a powerful and time consuming ritual is needed to do so.

The WHG wisely go above deck and begin trying to unravel the mysteries of this scroll with the strange seal that Snorri believes to be the Sigil of the Greenmount.
It starts well with Ludwig and Snorri both channeling energies, both divine and arcane, into the scroll, the seal reacts to this and matters escalate quickly as it seems to be drawing pure energy from the very air itself.
Ludwig realises it is charging itself up for an almighty explosion, perhaps powerful enough to take down the ship itself, time is suddenly a big factor.
The seal charging seems to summon long forgotten memories within Durn and the Dwarf manages to advise Snorri and Ludwig on where he believes some of the magic may be originating, he then wisely steps away.
The atmosphere is tense as the scroll gives off an eerie green glow, illuminating the deck and alarming the sailors, time is running out and Ludwig realises that the next few seconds are critical.

Snorri and Ludwig channel one final effort into the scroll and just as it seems to be at critical mass, the energy focuses upwards in an almighty beam, snaking up the rigging and arcing into the heavens.
The open scroll lays on the deck between the WHG, they’ve done it.

The first thing the notice is that it is in ancient Dwarven, a very unrefined version of the current common variety spoken today. Both Durn and Snorri with their experience of Crag and its more ancient texts are able to decipher it.

It reads;
Rongritt s concord

Most Dwarves in Crag have heard of Rongritt Foehammer, he was one of the founding Dwarves of Crag, some say perhaps even the first Supervisor. This is a development indeed, although as to why it was being sent to Crag and indeed who might have sent it, is still a mystery.

The rest of the voyage goes without a hitch although the captain and the crew are very much on edge, and as land is sighted they lower their sails and are the crew are hushed into silence.
They sail into a huge bay with mountains on either side of them, odd shapes can be seen jutting from the water and the captain struggles to steer his way past.
As they turn a corner a great island comes into view, upon it is a massive city.
No guards patrol its ruined towers and walls, no people mill around its ruined streets, not a single bird sings and not a single plant grows within it. This must be Tethana, the terrible monument to The Wasting.

Will you meet me in Tethana,
Within the marble halls of old
Will you meet me in Tethana
Upon the flowing steps of gold

I will not meet you in Tethana,
Tethana is alive no more
Instead of gold and marble halls
A million skulls adorn the floor

Tethana
It stands tall, casting a dark shadow across the bay, no movement can be seen and yet the WHG feel a terrible menacing presence hidden within the shadows of the city.
Many of the crew are praying and the captain struggles to steer around the sunken ruins and ships within the bay, the dock is close and soon they are upon it.

The crew silently unload the carriage and Yargus hitches the horses on to it, a large and overgrown cobbled road leads away from the docks, skirting the edge of the city and rising up over a great ridge to the North East.

The Captain nods respectfully to the WHG and explains that his debt is repaid to them, he then casts off leaving a confused and agitated WHG to question whether their ship has just been stolen from under their very noses!

As the ship turns and the sails are fully raised it seems to jolt suddenly and several crew cry out, their nerve finally breaking, the captain shouts out that all is well however, and that they simply nudged an underwater object. The WHG are not convinced however, certainly the vessel seems higher in the water than it previously was, as if a weight has been lifted from it.

The WHG set off on their journey for the monastery, Althor stops briefly to show Ludwig the ward around Tethana, certainly there seems to be an invisible line circling the city, with a noticeable difference in vegetation on their side and no life at all on the other.
Althor raises his hand to a certain point and a purple glow can be seen radiating around it, the Apprentice monk is visibly relieved by this, someone has renewed these wards, and recently!

The WHG don’t hang around and have soon reached the crest of the ridge, with a fantastic view for many miles over the land, they can see scrub land and dunes roll on for miles, far in the distance desert can be seen! A far cry from the rocky expanse of Crag.

Below them a large road rolls through the heathland, great expanses of dark trees dwarf it on either side and in a clearing several miles along it there are several ruins with a group of men tending to wagons there.

Luwdig sends his owl for a closer look and it seems as if there is a small garrison within the ruins, some thirty or forty men. No visible banners or markings can be seen, so it is hard to discern whom they serve, which could be a big problem for the WHG.

There’s no way round it and the owl spots movement in the trees nearby, suggesting that the WHG have been spotted.
The party trundle towards the makeshift garrison and are greeted by a heavily armoured soldier, he has no insignias or crests to identify him and the WHG are cautious about how pleasant he is being towards them.

He insists tht the WHG join him in his makeshift office so that he can record their passing and their purpose. The dwarves are highly suspicious of this and start questioning the Captain whilst trying to discern his intentions. Certainly the situation starts to grow tense as dozen soldiers surround the group with a great deal more approaching.
The Captain explains that it doesn’t have to get unpleasant and he promises to let them go free once they have followed him.
The WHG who are used to cajoling,bullying and if all else fails fighting their way out of a situation are hard pressed to find a way out of this predicament that won’t involve them being summarily executed on the spot. Grudgingly they follow the captain to what seems to be a cellar, with stairs leading into a dimly lit room and several figures seemingly sat around a table. The captain ushers them forwards and stays back, demanding that his guests are server liquor to take the edge off their journey.

As the WHG enter the cellar, a crashing sound can be heard from the steps behind them as a great barrel smashes its way towards them splitting as it hits the floor and spewing a foul smelling liquid everywhere. Next to it a smaller thud can be heard as a torch hits the ground, igniting the concoction.
Above them the trapdoor slams shut and heavy objects can be heard being dragged over it, a muffled voice can be heard taunting the WHG “The Prophet sends his regards”.The figures they had seen from outside turn out of be stuffed straw dummies, they’ve been duped!

The stairs and the area surrounding it are quickly turned into an inferno, the heat cracks the very walls itself sucking the air from the room. The WHG are in severe danger!
From down the wooden planked and pitch soaked hallway several old pipes can be seen jutting out of the wall, perhaps from an old drainage system within the fort, from these pipes spew forth a large number of oozing creatures. Seemingly resistant to the heat they splash their way towards the trapped WHG, intent on destroying these new intruders.

The WHG waste little time in retreating from the fire, Durn immediately ties up several of the slimes, buying the others some time to get past and head towards the back of the room.

Snorri and Ludwig discover a huge stone door at the back of the cellar, small gaps under the door show airflow as flecks of dust can be seen travelling through them. There is hope!
The door seems to have not been opened in centuries and while the hinges are still sound, a great deal of detritus is holding it fast.

The two dwarves frantically work at loosening the door whilst Boryn and Tamok struggle to reach their comrades amidst the terrible heat and smoke. Durn does his best to distract the slime, as the fire draws dangerously close to him, several barrels explode close by but the dwarf retains his calm disposition and stays one step ahead of the inferno.
Smoke fills the room and the WHG struggle to breathe as the burning vapour fills their lungs, several of them use various fabrics to filter the smoke, Ludwig utilises a mask from his alchemy experiments.
With what little they know of the door’s workings and a bit of brute force from Boryn, the door swings open just enough for the WHG to enter, the fire accelerates behind them as fresh air rushes in.
They slam the door behind them, trapping the ooze outside, several huge blasts rock them and their foes can be heard crackling and hissing within the roaring blaze.

They find themselves in a small antechamber with little of interest and so they swing open a second door to reveal a huge hallway with a great ornate pool in the center, off to the left another door can be seen and in the far corner of the room there are several ruined chests.

Closer inspection reveals one of the chests to be intact, however there is something ominous about the gloom surrounding it.
While the other WHG members set about wrenching open the other great stone door, Durn charges towards the chest.
Not to be totally reckless he makes several assesments along the way for any danger that might occur, indeed whilst he can sense that something isn’t quite right, nothing is obviously apparent and so he leaps past the fountain and towards the chest.

Tamok identifies a silvery slime surrounding the pool as some strange form of ooze, although he can’t quite place where it is from (certainly different to the previously seen slimes) it gives the druid cause for concern.

All of this caution seems to work in the charging dwarf’s favour as he manages to stop himself a mere inch or two away from a hulking great gelatinous cube, which shimmers into vision as the dwarf comes close.
Gel cube
Tamok immediately counsels Durn on just how formidable a foe this creature is, and it is now obvious why with such a terrible guardian, this chest has not been pillaged, and with the fire slowly spreading across the old floorboards and under the door time is running out for the Dwarves.
Durn appears to be in mortal peril.

Just as the Cube prepares to engulf the careless dwarf Ludwig rushes to his aid, proving his worth he throws out an immensely powerful spell that sends the great mass of jelly flying back into the corner of the room and immobilising it.
Durn uses this chance to leap at the chest, deftly shearing off the lock and using his momentum (and perhaps a bit of luck) expertly avoids a great jet of lethal looking gas as the trap goes off.
He wastes no time inspecting the contents, truly something valuable must be in such a well protected chest, and indeed, it is!.
Two beautifully ornate scroll cases lay within the decay and dust at the bottom of the chest, most of the other contents have rotted some time ago, but these are still untarnished and utterly flawless. Encrusted with diamonds, emeralds and rubies, they seem to almost be priceless, and within them, something small rattles.
Durn pockets them and charges back to rejoin his comrades just in time to see Boryn bullrush an outward opening door, bruising his shoulder as he does.

Snorri gets it open with some help from Tamok’s staff and the WHG are greeted with an overwhelming blast of heat from the room inside.

Clearly this was where the oozes from earlier had made their lair as the ground is covered in thick viscous goo, making it hard to walk, this is further complicated by the room being connected to the previous cellar by way of the piping that the ooze used to get in, thus great jets of flames roar into the room, boiling the slime and creating a nightmarish scene.
The WHG have little choice and rush across the room, avoiding the ooze they instead leap through the gouts of fire, Durn slips however and is scorched by the flame.

At the end of the room the roof has fallen, making it hard to traverse, behind the rocks they can see another door which has flames flickering across it.
They squeeze, climb and indeed fly their way over the obstacles and with the great blazing inferno right behind them they are relieved to find the door fall off of its hinges, revealing a great open room beyond.

Before them is what once must have been a great library, books lay everywhere, ruined bookcases laye shattered on the floor and piles and piles of old scrolls and ledgers lay around the area, in the middle of the room a great shaft of light beams down and the air within the room is fresh.
Several slimes lurk within the corners of the room, seeming not to have noticed the dwarves entry.

Snorri rushes into the room towards the shaft of light, using his wings to aid his dash.
Hope soon turns to dismay however as silhouettes can be seen looking down from the opening above. They spot the dwarf below and start jeering and laughing, several thumps can be heard as heavy shapes are thrown down from above.

Corpses! With terrible twitching motions these shambling cadavers rise up, blue flames burn in hollow eye sockets, and they advance towards the surprised avenger surrounding him, tearing at him with their razor sharp filth covered claws.
Above them the soldiers jeer and laugh, watching the dwarves as one might spectate a gladiatorial contest, rocks and rubbish are thrown at the desperate Snorri, who now separated from the rest of the WHG is fighting just to stay alive.

With Durn some way behind the group due to his previous plundering and the rest of the WHG exhausted, things are looking grim.
From the darkened corners of the room, several of the slimes awake in the commotion and advance.

Snorri takes several ugly wounds from the frenzied attackers, their strength augmented beyond any kind of mortal reason, struggling to stay on his feet he can hear different sounds from above him now.
Rather than the taunts and jeers from before, there are screams, terrible screams. People are dying, horribly, and it isn’t long before the surface falls silent, a terrible silence that can only come from the finality of death. Another corpse plunges onto the ground next to Snorri, broken and bleeding, with terrible injuries.

It’s the captain.

What in the name of the Stonefather is happening up there? Will they emerge to find a new ally? Will they even emerge from this burning deathtrap at all? Can the WHG get to Snorri or can he escape in time before he is torn limb from limb?
Did Boryn really just smash down three doors, battle six oozes, vault through flames and climb a boulder just so he could read a random book while his comrade fights to survive some ten feet behind him?

All these answers in the next instalment!
One thing is certain, time is running out and not all may survive.
Conflagaration

Part Seven
Concordant escutcheon
Journey’s End?

In Crag

The Supervisor looks up from his desk, it had been a busy day, with Durnoc’s outburst several days previous, people had begun to talk, old words were being used, old memories and names were being recalled. He would not hear of it, grim faced he considered a show of force to suppress any rumour mongering, uncertainty only brought doubt and derision, yet that way not his way. He pondered long and hard on what to do, yet every scenario brought him back to the same answer, but surely it was too late.

A commotion outside makes him jump to his feet, he flings open the doors and sees a scene of chaos before him. There, ringed by scores of guards is a human, grey haired and old looking, the guards are trying to detain him as he struggles to approach the Supervisor’s chambers.

“You must let me through” he shouts. “You cannot hide the truth any longer, I have seen what is coming”

The supervisor strides forward “What is the meaning of this?” He demands.

The man looks at him, realising he must be of import, and just as the guards close in on him he tears off his robe, and pulls forth a shield, and what a shield it is.

All who see it are laid low with it’s beauty, shining in absolute radiance, it seems to illuminate even the great upper halls of crag itself, like a beam of sun.
Within it visions can be seen, old dwarves flicker into life on it’s polished surface, refugees, tired and worn many are injured or dying, they seem to be escaping something. Then the image changes to a mine, a huge cavern, buildings are being constructed, next there are dwarves sat around a great table. "The onlookers gasp, several exclaim “The old clans!” indeed some of the dwarves shown in the shield are of legend itself.
The last vision is of a great pact, many races sit around a great stone table, each signing a pact, priests in bright red robes oversee it all"

The crowd is awed at what they see, this old and scruffily dressed human holds the shield aloft for all to see, and then one final vision appears.

Upon the shores of Rithwic, a fire begins, black and terrible, heralded by hundreds of ships, the fire spreads through the land, blackening the very soil itself, until at last the mountains burn.

The crowd cry out, many are panicking, The Supervisor struggles to make himself heard over them “Unhand that man….YOU!!!” he says pointing at the man “Come with me at once and tell me your name”

“My name is Samuel Withers my lord…” he says “Wraith hunter group 8 send their regards”

The Dwarf and the human walk through seemingly endless hallways, a great maze of passages wind into the older part of the upper levels, the human struggles to keep up with the Supervisor’s ceaseless pace, often he stares around him in wonder, as if almost a sightseer"
__
Soon they arrive at an old wooden door, hewn with runes and sigils, The Supervisor stops at it for a moment and touches a strange stone to it.
The door glows and slowly swings open.

What lays behind it is unexpected.

A great hallway stretches before them, in the middle is a long stone table, stretching the length of it, and upon it is piled hundreds of scrolls, books, torn pages, pots, crests, garments, all of them bear the same seal as on the shield.

But what is most amazing is upon the walls of this hall, hundreds upon hundreds of shields and weapons, glowing a great golden glow, utterly beautiful in the gloom light of the mountain.

The human can only stare, The Supervisor sits upon a bench and stares at him “I thought it was over, that the order would take care of it” “The concordant is as old as this very city itself… at first I denied it, then when I came to accept that it was happening, I chose to believe we were not needed. Then when I knew that we were, I raged at the unfairness of it all. This was supposed to be a time of prosperity, why should we pay for an ancient folly?”

He sighs, the human says nothing

It is a long time before the supervisor speaks again

“I know now that Dwarves must play their part in this, yet I fear it is too late”

The human speaks “It is not too late, I’ve seen with my own eyes the changes even a handful of dwarves can make, there are still yet allies in the reach, so I ask you, will you honour your debt?”

The Supervisor says nothing, he bids for the human to follow him, as he leaves the chamber a nervous looking Secretary Broadaxe is waiting outside

“Broadaxe, it’s time to work. Send for the clans, all of them. If there is a single clan’s head missing I will strip them of their bloody crest myself”
The secretary nods “What about Dourstone?”

“What about him?” The Supervisor asks
Secretary Broadaxe replies “Well, he’s still in prison… it was only meant to be for one night but he assaulted several of the guards so they left him there a bit longer”

“For the love of the Stonefather, YES release him, tell him I want to see him, you’d better tell him he was right too, I don’t want him charging in here again like a raging bull”

The secretary nods “of course”

“Send word to Cormaa, Mildran and the mayor, send word to all outreaching settlements, recall all important personnel from the portals, I want every ally, every official, everyone who ever saw the inside of Crag to report to me.Also send for the portal masters , I will be having need of them too”

The supervisor seems stronger now, the lines of worry have gone, now there is only certainty, behind him the Secretary suppresses a smile.

“One last thing Broadaxe…. recall every available Wraith Hunter that is still on the roster and not MIA

“Even 8 sir?”

The Supervisor pauses for a moment

“Not 8, they are more important than they know.”

As they return to the main hall a great crowd has gathered all crying out to see the shield, a group of robed dwarves break away from the masses and approach the supervisor, learned and ancient, they are easily recognised by their long flowing robes As The Keepers of the Eternal Truth.

A particularly old Keeper approaches the Supervisor “I knew you would come to your senses eventually old friend” he pats the Supervisor on the back “Come, we have much to discuss, and I’ll also be wanting my books back”

Wraith Hunter Group 8

The situation is looking grim for Snorri as numerous shambling horrors seek to tear him asunder, however rather than flee, the determined Avenger digs in and summons a great aura of rage to smite his opponents as they strike at him.

Help soon comes in the form of Durn and Tamok who charge into the fray, taking the focus off of Snorri. From the open daylight shaft above them, not a single sound can be heard.

Several stray slimes find their way into the melee and while the battle is ardous, the greatest threat comes from the accelerating flames behind them, aided by the air from outside they surge faster towards the WHG threatening to overwhelm them.

Boryn is briefly enveloped in flames taking considerable damage, as is Durn who narrowly escape the advance. Ludwig in typical fashion manages to fly up and out of danger, heading up the shaft and into the daylight, leaving his desperate comrades to fend for themselves.
The wizard surveys the devastation outside, as corpses lay broken and dismembered across the ruins, he also managed to spot a dark shape lurking in some shady ruins nearby, although he cannot tell anyone as he is the only one there!

The rest of the party manage to strike down the cadavers, with both Tamok and Snorri landing some devastating blows. Durn valiantly holds back the ooze until the rest of the party are clear but not before the roaring inferno nearly overwhelms him!
The flames move ever onward and soon Tamok faces an impossible choice, surrounded by foes and with the flames at his back, does he flee and leave himself open to attacks from all sides or remain and almost certainly be engulfed by fire. Durn shouts out a warning and Tamok makes a daring charge through the middle, deftly avoiding several potentially deadly blows, one of them lands but glances off of the sprinting druid and he is soon clear.

Soon the WHG are at the end of the room and by a stack of barrels that seem to have daylight filtering through and despite Boryn’s attempts to fly up the shaft, the other WHG convince him he is needed down below, and sure enough the Barbarian bull rushes the barrels, shattering them and revealing a door with a stairway behind it leading up into the outside!

They’ve escaped!

The WHG emerge blinking into the daylight, a great plume of smoke can be seen nearby, billowing out of the hole in the ground where they previously just were.
The carnage around them is clearly not done by any conventional means of battle, certainly it seems as if the victims barely stood a chance. Regardless of whether they are enemies or not, it is a sad sight to behold some fifty soldiers mauled and smashed to death on the ruined ground around them.

It isn’t long before they can see the source of this terror, a huge shape detaches itself from a nearby shadowed ruin, massive in size and with terrible blood stained claws the Slink regards them with a huge grin across its bestial features, bright red eyes blazing like rubies.

It has finally caught up to its quarry, and just as the injured and weary Wraith Hunters prepare for a fight that will almost certainly claim some of their lives.. a voice rings out behind it.

HELLO?”

A woman’s voice rings out, questioning, almost jovial, a strange contrast to the terrible scene before them.

Some fifty metres away stands a figure, swathed in jet black plate armour, the plates of which lock beautifully, dark hair partially conceals her face, although a great multitude of scars can be seen, criss crossing it.Her shoulder is bare except for a small amount of chain, strapped to her back is an axe the size of a small child, she seems more suited to a gladiatorial ring than anywhere else.

She waves cordially although her expression is grim

The Slink turns to regard her, ignoring the WHG for a moment as if they were of little concern.

“Ah, there you are, glad to see you survived!” she nods towards the party, ignoring The Slink for a moment before turning back towards it “Now then, I see you enjoy a challenge, I’m willing to wager that with the way you hacked up that garrison, you are at least slightly capable, so I’m offering you a duel, most men only dream of such an honour”.

The Slink barely lets her finish before it shoots roaring towards her, as it does a great whooshing sound can be heard, and suddenly it seems as if the sky itself is on fire as hundreds of flaming bolts and arrows shoot into the Slink. It barely has a chance to even scream as it is torn to shreds by the barrage, over the noise the woman can be heard shouting “I’m sorry I lied to you just then, I actually have an army here with me, in hindsight I suppose I should have mentioned that, I guess it never crossed my mind.”

All around now you can see figures emerging from the scrub, hundreds of them, all in chain and piece meal armour, you sense that rather than being poorly equipped, they choose to wear this armour for maximum combat efficacy.

Yargus mumbles “Gods, be on your best manners boys, this is The Cageless Legion, we might just have fallen on our feet, they are Queen’smen, real Queen’smen”

“And women” says the black armoured woman, who now approaches the decimated corpse of The Slink “How long until it regenerates, priest?” she looks at Althor with her head cocked slightly, as if daring him to try and lie “S,seven hours if dismemembered and put in water M’lady” a nervous Althor stutters.“Only seven?” she snorts “I guess that will do, plus I’m no lady lad” she nods at Yargus “Your astute dwarf friend can probably tell you who I am, or any one of these bastards here” she gestures to what seems like a small army, now surrounding them.

Yargus grins “I’ve heard tale of the Cageless, that’s Glaive, the first of the unchained and one of the Queen’s most elite commanders”

Glaive

The commander however isn’t listening, rather she is looking at a map and discussing with several of her men, units of men break off unbidden and begin sweeping the area, few words are even spoken, each man seems to know his duty, these are highly trained troops.

Yargus pipes up “They say every soldier in The Cageless was a convict, rapists, murderers, you name it, all sentenced to die by the executioner’s axe or of old age, they were given a second chance, hand picked by Glaive herself to serve the rest of their life in the Queen’s service, it is said that they are not pardoned, because death is their absolution, not a single man here is afraid to die, rather they relish it. Each of them has trained to fight as an individual, and as a unit. They are the best the Queen has, and if they haven’t joined the Prophet, then there’s still some hope”

The woman approaches the WHG “My apologies for not acting sooner, we were some distance away when we saw your hosts lead you down below” She kicks at the steaming mass of arrows and flesh on the ground “We also spotted this thing following what I assume was your trail, from the coast”
The WHG respectfully introduce themselves and Durn asks what their purpose here is, Glaive answers “With the queen indisposed and her advisor seemingly insane, we are doing what we can to try and help those who need it most, our army hardly compares to the hundred thousand that the prophet possesses, but we know the land, and we know war. We have travelled for eight days now, we will doubtless travel ten more before our goal is in sight”

Yargus gives a sudden cry and runs to the carriage, the horses attached to it lay dead, great wounds across their flanks. The dwarf is sobbing as he untethers them. Glaive approaches, calling for several men to aid him, her face is set with a grim expression but there is a tinge of sadness upon it “It’s always the innocents that suffer in war” she says before she barks out an order and several lightly armoured men sprint off in different directions, it isn’t long before they return, leading the horses that must have belonged to the Prophets soldiers.

“These bolted when that beast attacked, they are bred for war, but no doubt still remember how to pull a wagon, take them, we have no need of horses, a man is less visible on foot, and right now we wish to be unseen.”

Glaive seems respectful of the Dwarves and impressed that they survived, she asks their purpose and the cautious WHG tell her only the basic details, she explains that Bekyun priory may still stand although The Order have not been heard from for a long time.

The WHG press her for more information and they even speak a little about Withers, she has nothing but absolute admiration for him, certainly his name seems to carry power in the land, Glaive explains what a damn shame it was when he was exiled, she also mentions Borvar Shroudsworn, the guardian of Queen Anira who promised Withers he would not join his attempted insurrection, but instead remain behind to guard the Queen.

She makes a gesture and the army all but melts back into the scrub with one last look at the party she waves “We head East, along The Great Divide, you are welcome to join us, but I believe your path goes South. Well met master dwarves, I pray you can always find a friend to aid you in such times as these.”

The WHG resume their journey, a glum Yargus sat up top of the carriage lamenting the dead horses with Althor nearby comforting him.
They spend some time recollecting and discussing all that has happened so far, Durn takes the opportunity to inspect the jewel encrusted scroll cases he risked life and limb to obtain.
Utterly flawless, the gold shines upon the surface of the cases, as brilliant as the day they were created, emeralds, diamonds and rubies adorn it, truly these are priceless.

One of the cases rattles! Something is inside.

Durn and the rest of the party spend some time surmising about the best way to open the case, Durn has some experience in it and despite a long speculation about traps, it is decided that the only way to truly find out what is inside is to open it, which he does.

As he pops open the lid he is immediately surprised by a bright red shape scuttling from inside the case and out on to the carriage. The startled dwarf isn’t fast enough to catch it as it leaps off of the moving wagon. Not to be done out of treasure however Durn makes a heroic head first dive from the top of the carriage and on to the road, deftly rolling as he goes and neatly popping the ruby scorpion back into the open scroll case, a feat worthy of a circus act!
Ruby scorpion
With the lid securely back in place the WHG speculate as to what it could be, Tamok believes there to be some kind of magical elixir in place of venom in the strange gemstone creature’s poison sac. It is however Boryn who (surprisingly) knows the most, recalling several stories from various black markets and taverns he would frequent of ancient treasures made of precious stones that could move! Some even unlocking vaults, while some were said to have the ability to make their owner possess godlike powers!
Durn opens the second case but it is empty, whatever scroll it may have contained has turned to fine dust many centuries before.

Soon the group rise up out of a densely forested valley and the first glimpse of Bekyun Monastery can be seen, and as first impressions go, it’s not good.

Althor cries out in shock as they draw closer and the ruined and burnt out buildings can be made out properly.. The monastery has been destroyed!
They cautiously enter the courtyard and Althor recklessly jumps down and runs into the middle, calling out for his brethren. There is no answer, only silence.

There are no corpses, or any sign of struggle, although a keen eyed Ludwig spots bloodstains upon the ground.

Althor sinks to his knees in despair, appealing for the WHG to help him make this right, somehow.
The WHG poke around the ruins, it seems like this was done some time ago, and after a short while Althor calls out, explaining that he remembers there is a safehouse nearby where the order were always told to gather in times of trouble.

He is certain they are there within a magical ward, awaiting news from one of their outlying factions.
Behin a ruined walls a hidden path is revealed, cutting through thick al most jungle like forest they soon come upon a large clearing with a beautiful chapel situated in it.

Trees surround it like thick walls on all sides and Ludwig sends his familiar to check the area, sure enough the familiar reports back that several shambling creatures can be seen aimlessly wandering the area.

The WHG approach cautiously, all is quiet and as they near the chapel, a purple sheen glimmers on the brickwork, Althor explains that it is warded for protection. Nothing can get in so long as it is maintained, including the Wasting.
Althor believes this is evidence that his brethren are alive inside, and mentions that there is a concealed door at the back that will be unwarded.

The WHG cautiously make their way to the back of the chapel, sure enough several shambling wretches move to attack them, these ones seem different from the other Wasting they have encountered. Perhaps a more advanced stage of corruption, most of the flesh has now gone from the unfortunate victims, instead a burning blue flame can be seen radiating from their rib-cages. They weakly move to attack the WHG but are struck down with ease.
It is noticed that several of them have tattered robes similar to Althor’s.

At the back of the chapel is a great heap of burnt corpses, and nearby is a huge ivy bush concealed an old oak door.

The WHG manage to get it open without much trouble but Althor tries hard to remember something specific about the door that perhaps they should know about.
No matter, the door opens into a small windowless room, bookshelves line the wall and a small desk with an open journal sits in the center.

On the floor, however, lays a corpse of a man in acolyte robes, blood is pooled around him and close inspection from Snorri reveals that the man may well have taken his own life some twelve hours or so previously. A simple iron dagger is embedded in the unfortunate individual’s chest and in his other hand is a small stick of chalk. Upon the floor several things have been scrawled in chalk, they read FORGIVE ME and RUN.

A bookshelf seems out of place nearby, badly concealing or perhaps blocking a dark alcove, the WHG inspect the journal upon the desk within which are a number of entries.
(Press control and scroll the mouse wheel up to magnify the image!)
Diary 1Diary 2

In the alcove behind the bookcase, there is only darkness.

Part Eight
Concordant escutcheon
Potential

The Council chambers of crag heave with commotion, none present can remember a previous time when there were so many dwarves packed into the chamber on top of the Father lode, clan heads, council members, representatives from the myriad of dwarf outposts that scatter the land, not to mention the various Orders and Guilds associated with them. A large troop of guards work the door, confiscating a huge assortment of weaponry from the grudging mass of dwarves who would enter. Certainly there are rivals, perhaps even enemies within this room, and yet they have all been summoned as equals…. even humans, which many of the more prominent dwarves find abhorrent.

The noise is deafening as old friends and clansmen catch up and discuss past events, something that can take a long time when you are as long lived as a dwarf!

Suspicious and hostile glances are frequently cast towards several humans who are sat in the far corner of the room with several guards nearby, perhaps in case of trouble breaking out.
Some scuffles break out although they seem to be more of a friendly greeting rather than any serious violence, the atmosphere however is one of uncertainty and so when a Stone faced supervisor enters the ring, ringed by various aides and several of The Keepers of the Eternal Truth, the entire room falls silent. rare indeed!

“Thank you all for coming, I understand it has not been easy or convenient to meet like this and at such short notice, however the severity of the situation I believe justifies your attendance.”

Just as he says this a small group of dwarves enter the room, clearly out of breath and apologetic, this causes a lot of muttering from the horde around the monstrous stone table “Bloody greyhammer” … “Terrible timekeepers”.

“My apologies Lord Dwarves” says a particulrly burly looking dwarf “I believe your portals are under a great deal of strain with recent matters, we struggled to get ours functional”
the supervisor nods
“Accepted, Bandun Rockmantle, you and your kin are welcome within this hall” a great assortment of mumbled welcomes follows this and several dwarfs give the newcomers great smacks on the back by way of friendly greeting, which almost breaks out into another fight.

_ The supervisor reaches under the table and produces a great crate full of scrolls and steps up on the stone bench and then on to the table. Several murmurs of disapproval can be heard but he ignores them, he tips the crate on to the long table, scores of scrolls roll down it, coming to a rest before a great many of the dwarves gathered there._

“Read it” the severe expression on the Supervisors face remains.

There is a great cacophony of noise as some fifty dwarves unravel the scrolls, many reading aloud the ancient dwarven written within, others who have presumably already read it earlier are passing it down the table for others to read.

Several struggle to read the text and a rather harassed looking Secretary broadaxe aided by several keepers helps to translate it.

When the Supervisor is satisfied they have had enough time to read he walks down the middle of the table and addresses them

“Rongritt Foehammer…” “we have an obligation to our founders to honour this pact”

“Horse crap!” a weasley looking dwarf clad all in finery stands up red faced and full of fury, the table erupts in outrage at such an outburst but the supervisor bids them to keep order “Lars Gurnisson, perhaps you should share with us all the meaning of such an unbecoming statement” the supervisor fixes the dwarf with a terrifying gaze

“I’ll tell you, this is hogwash, all of it, myths, concotions, phallacies, stuff to scare us, none of it is real, you’ve gone soft you have, look around you, BLOODY HUMANS HERE?!” He almost spits the last line
but before he can continue an almighty smash emanates from the table some 5 inches in front of his face. Several dwarves reel back in horror whilst many jump to their feet in shock, “NOW YE LISTEN TO ME YOU BLOODY WORM, YOU DISRESPECT THE SUPERVISOR LIKE THAT AGAIN AND I’LL BE MAKING JAM WITH YOUR INNARDS YE HEAR ME”

The ear splitting crack can be attributed to an almighty hammer, being wielded by Durnoc dourstone, whose face bears a rage that makes Lars gurnissons look positively mild.Behind him are several other members of the Dourstone clan including the normally more approachable Doun, who is however looking just as severe. For a moment it seems like it could really kick off but the Supervisor waves almost dismissivley

“Thankyou Durnoc” he says, a keen observer might even suggest there was a hint of a smile in his eyes
A frantic team of guards led by the secretary quickly part the grumbling old dwarf from his warhammer and order returns to the room

“Indeed, we rarely receive news of the Reach and so much of it is rumor, however it is no secret that an old enemy has set foot in our land once more, this is something we cannot ignore.”

A regal looking dwarf stands, he is ringed by several officials “I mean no disrespect but the deal as I see it upon this scroll was for us to send our best and most able warriors, if I am not mistaken you sent (In secret from the council I might add) Wraith Hunter Group 8 and whilst capable and valiant, they are not our best, not even close”

The Supervisor nods “Thank You Bram Ironfell, but Wraith Hunter group 8 were not sent to honour the concordant”Many of the collected Dwarves seem surprised by this revelation.
He gestures to a hooded dwarf sat at the end of the table, previously unnoticed “Morkire please submit your field report before the extraordinary council”

There is a great collection of gasps from all around as the robed figure stands and removes his cowl, his hair is jet black and a great white streak can be seen in it, his eyes have a strange glow, several dwarves murmur “The beast of Funwe” and “Three by the Stonefather he sent Giantsbane and Wraith Hunter 3”
The dwarf towers above the others, not just in height, he seems to have an aura of power, even so, fresh wounds line his face, and he limps to the head of the table, weary and dazed around his neck a large blue stone glows, residual magic still radiating from it, several mutter “a portal relic! unheard of”
“sacrilege”
He speaks to the mass “Morkire Frostbane leader of Wraith Hunter group three reporting”

The supervisor nods “Tell them your mission”

The dwarf continues in an almost military fashion

“Insertion via classified portal technology within the Falkreaches, recon the situation establish communication with The Order of The Bleeding lock and to liaise with the Concordant at Brynntorr”

The Supervisor nods again “Now tell them what happened”

“They were waiting for us, no sooner had we portalled in and we were set upon by soldiers, soldiers claiming allegiance to The Prophet and the Unwelcome, Barthol and Gretchin were slain, they knew our every move.
We had no choice but to flee down the Great divide, however, we were pursued, every move we took, every decision we made they had already predicted it, it was as if they knew every possible outcome to our actions.
Each city we passed each settlement we saw had been sacked and razed, on the fifth night Hanwick was set upon by some form of animated corpse, the fire spread through his very flesh, turning him into one of them!
No matter what we did, we could not put them down."

The legendary dwarf hangs his head for a moment recalling the terrors he has witnessed

Only myself and Herta were left we spent five more days fleeing, somehow we believed Bryntorr would be our salvation, but we were wrong.
Another trap claimed Herta, demons, there were demons, she didn’t stand a chance against such deadly hatredcut down before my eyes, I must have slain twenty or more, but they got back up, by the bloody Stonefather they got back up
(he is getting breathless now as he describes these horrors)

Moradin forgive me, I had no choice. The Fastness must know of what has befallen the reaches, my kin’s deaths must not have been in vain. So I decided I would do the only thing left to me, the only thing they could not prevent… I activated the portal stone (he gestures to the object around his neck)

That was four days past, my injuries nearly claimed my life, but still…I am here, to tell you of my shame

All of the collective dwarfs are now silent, the atmosphere in the room has turned to fear.

The Supervisor nods respectfully and thanks the dwarf “Their sacrifice will be remembered Morkire, you did the right thing”
the weary dwarf speaks again
“If I may my lord, rumours say you sent Wraith Hunter Group Eight as well, if this is true, you must recall them, they will not survive there”

The supervisor strokes his beard thoughtfully “Eight are simply escorting a priest, nothing more and yet I believe they have an important part to play in this” He nods to an older looking human in the corner “Tell them”

Murmurs and heckles of disapproval ring out as Samuel Withers addresses the dwarves

“I’ve seen the wasting with my own eyes, I’ve seen how it can consume all of life, and yet it did not have an effect on Wraith hunter group 8, nor did the prophet’s men seem to expect their presence or their actions from what little the shield has shown me, and from my own belief in their strength, I feel they are your greatest hope of fulfilling the concordant”
NONSENSE” several dwarves cry out before quickly being silenced by a Durnoc Dourstone who has leapt back onto the table wielding part of the stone bench like a weapon
“MA GRANDLAD WONT BE FAILING AND SHAMING US DOURSTONES, DON’T YOU WORRY YOUR HEAD ABOUT THAT

The Supervisor ushers in silence again

“The prophet has sent an army, and the concordant demands an answer, whether any other members remain matters not, long ago our founders made a vow, one that stands to this day, I don’t know about many of you, but I will not be remembered as the one who broke it, dwarves will not be remembered as vow-breakers, Crag will answer it only remains to be seen how.

“Why should we care for humans?” one of the council asks, “The reach is far from us, it’s not our concern”
An elderly robed dwarf approaches the head of the table a senior figure amongst the Keepers of Eternal truth, “If I may, whilst the humans were the first to feel the effects of The Unwelcome, they will not be the last, our scriptures tell us that this blight will spread across the known world, we cannot simply hide within our fortresses, something our forefathers knew, which is why this pact was made in the first place, if we do not act, there will be none left to even record our shame, Greenmount was our home once, perhaps some of you still remember what became of it, if not then you will witness it first hand when the same fate befalls Crag”

Withers speaks up “There are yet allies within the reach, granted, with the corruption of the Queen’s advisor it will be all but impossible to get Destraga to join us, but I know if we can somehow expose that fact, we can muster an army to halt the prophet and his horde before they even cross the divide, if indeed that is where they are headed, regardless we need proof of such corruption, something I lacked the last time I tried”

A single dwarf in the corner stands up, many look at him with respect and reverence, his face is kindly, behind him is a cowled figure who he gently leads to the bench, he straightens his shoulders and speaks out to the room "If I may Commander Withers, I believe I have a way for you to prove this corruption, however…. (he pauses) I will need some assurances that what I reveal to the council next, will not result in violence.

The Supervisor’s brow furrows slightly, as if the concept of anyone attacking this dwarf is inconceivable “Dirradon Stomp, show us what it is you wish to reveal and I will do my best to retain order”

The kindly dwarf nods and gestures to the hunched figure behind him, which slowly lifts back its cloak

The room erupts into absolute chaos as scores of dwarves leap from their tables, grabbing any implement they can find and charge.

Wraith Hunter Group Eight

The Wraith hunters understandably have a lot of questions after reading the hapless priest’s journal and a tired looking Althor tells them that “It is time you were told everything”
He then goes on to explain what The Unwelcome are, and what exactly the order does in its efforts to thwart them, namely ‘Tethering’ these beings to a human spirit.

He tells them:

“The Unwelcome are essentially a form of energy often unformed unless they seek to move around this plane in which case they will adopt a vaguely humanoid form to do so.
In order to confine them and weaken them, they must be anchored to the world, the only energy which is suitable to do so is the essence within all of us, mortal spirit.
I doubt I need to tell you how severe a sacrifice this is, indeed most of the dedicated knights of the order who originally tried the process lost their minds and indeed their very being to the attempt. However several succeeded and it was only through constant strengthening of their essence via rituals and artifacts within the brotherhood, that the tethers remained.

The energy harnessed in this way is of almost unimaginable power, certainly those who are tied to the Unwelcome seem to be immune to age, and disease, however the process is draining both physically and mentally and it is rare for a ‘Lock’ (the name given to those who have successfully tethered an Unwelcome) to be of free will for more than a few years before they will have to be imprisoned eternally within the Greenmount.

As centuries passed, those within the order discovered ways to harness small amounts of the trapped energy to enhance even normal brethren’s life spans, certainly some of the order are several hundred years old, this process allowed the brethren to gain the wisdom and the strength of spirit to better subdue any unwelcome that might arise.

If a Lock is to perish then the unwelcome is freed once again, often far more deadly than it was previously due to the knowledge that it would have gleaned whilst being trapped within it’s host.Thus only the strongest or most recently ascended locks, were allowed to remain unrestricted outside of the Greenmount, and even then they were well guarded and kept from danger.

There were three locks currently outside of the Greenmount, details of their tethered Unwelcome are as follows;

Alvorax the seneschal
Alvorax

First appearance in documented history was almost 300 years previously, within Dust’s borders a small town reported several of its citizens had gone missing, the capital failed to act assuming it to be banditry until one day a travelling peddler discovered the entire town to be uninhabited with no sign of the 500 or so townsfolk who had inhabited it.

The order investigated and discovered a trail in the dust leading to an old ruined keep, within the keep were such horrors of the flesh, that even our records would not recount the full details. Alvorax was using it a sa base to carry out terrible studies on the townsfolk. It took 200 soldiers and some fifty blades of the order to subdue this abomination, Martine stepped forward and after they were both trapped in a battle of will for almost two days, the beast succumbed to the tethering and Martine became the lock of Alvorax.
When all was accounted for, some 531 townsfolk had perished along with 43 soldiers and 18 members of the order.
Taxoruxam
Taxoruxum

The hunter of men also called The Slink, seemingly the most simple of the known Unwelcome, many entries in our historical journals hint of the presence of a supernatural hunter, often pursuing it’s victims for months, enjoying the chase. Such was the case when this one was captured, spending weeks psychologically tormenting it’s quarry, a lord who had holed himself up within his keep.
Livestock, villagers, even kin were slain by the beast as it toyed with it’s victim.

The Order were contacted and sent a group of their finest, including Ulrik Greeneye and Master Gharrus, the creature set upon the group, relishing the challenge, it was outmatched however and Ulrik Greeneye smote it most terribly. It was Brother Cannrel who sacrificed himself to be the Lock of Taxoruxm.
When all was accounted for some 81 had perished to the beast’s maniacal games and five brothers fell in the fray that followed.
Culatraxus
Culatraxus

Supposedly one of the original manifestations of the force known as The Unwelcome and rumoured to be one of the original sources of ‘The Wasting’.
Some say it was even responsible for the fall of Tethana, little is known of its capture, although reportedly Master Gharrus defeated it in a terrible duel that destroyed the very city itself.
Master Gharrus became the lock of Culatraxus, it is testimony to his amazing strength and power that he had yet to make the pilgrimage of internment, even after confining this being within himself for nearly 200 years

The WHG process this information and Althor explains that more than likely Alvorax awaits them behind the warded door within the gloom beside them.
Snorri spots several glyphs in the last page of the priest’s journal and has no trouble tracing them to reveal a map. The map seems crudely drawn yet it appears to matches several landmarks upon the group’s own map. Some distance to the south of the monastery there is another mark on the map; a cross and two letters ‘U.G’.

The WHG waste little time in concluding that this must be the mysterious Ulrik Greeneye’s location, they press Althor about it but he seems reluctant to talk about it, mentioning with distaste that Ulrik was cast out of the order for a ‘difference of views’ Also mentioning that Ulrik once defeated The Slink in combat and had the chance to tether it for good, but refused…. something that is sacrilege to The Order. Another brother stepped up in his place and Ulrik was cast out in disgrace.

Althor mentions that the relics of the order were to be stored within the chapel in times of crisis, warded within the altar there. This poses a problem for the WHG who are clearly conflicted and realise they have to make a difficult decision.

Some time is spent weighing up the options, Althor stresses that they can simply leave, in time the wards would fall and Alvorax would be free, but the party would at least survive. He also mentions that the WHG have done the task that they were given to do, and they have done it well. He thanks them for their patience in what was a trying and difficult journey, also apologising for not being more forthcoming about his order and some of their more sinister secrets.
He then says they are free to choose what they do next, and he would not think ill of them if they left him there.

The WHG seem to have their mind made up however and go over several scenarios that could result after they open the door.
The original plan seems sound, engage Alvorax in conversation (apparently matters regarding time fascinate The unwelcome) whilst Althor attempts to grab the relics from the Altar that is just inside the door.

Althor mentions that if all goes wrong, as a last resort they may be able to tether Alvorax with The Bloodstone from the altar, although this is perhaps a fate worse than death and almost certainly the final options they should ever consider.

It is decided then, the priest reluctantly raises his hand to the chapel door which shimmers purple for a moment, and then the ward drops and the door swings open.

The bright light beaming through the chapel windows is a stark contrast the the gloom from and chamber at the back and as their eyes adjust the Dwarves are hit with an overwhelming odor of decay, the source of which becomes apparent as they step inside the main hall

Beyond a large altar in the center of the chapel is a huge pile of corpses in advanced stages of decomposition, a quick glance would reveal there to be as many as one hundred of them, stacked upon one another in a terrible heap. However, it is the creature that is perched atop these corpses that is perhaps the most terrible sight to behold.

Staring at the WHG is a creature from out of a waking nightmare, several sets of spindly arms writhe around it’s deformed body, a long impossibly slender neck supports a demonic shaped head, mouth permanently open as if in some form of terrible howl.
When it speaks its mouth does not move, rather the sounds form within the very air itself

It greets them with a voice that seems to burrow into the very mind of all those that can hear it, as it speaks, its head twists back and forth as if searching for the dwarves who are standing before it in plain sight.
Much like the altered soldier on the docks in Rithwic, this great demonic being struggles to see the Dwarves, something they attempt to use to their advantage as Durn and Snorri begin slowly advancing upon its flanks whilst talking about their adventures in time.

The being asks their names and the WHGs blatant mistruths and evasion tactics only frustrate it, this goes on for a short while before the creature (perhaps growing impatient) detonates the room.

The creature makes a swift gesture causing Althor to run forward crying out a warning, but even as he does a great blue light emanates from Alvorax and in an instant everything shatters.

So intense is the explosion of magic that the walls of the chapel explode outwards littering the ground outside with rubble and glass, roof tiles rain down upon the floor and the heavy oaken doors tumble effortlessly through the walls, the pews crash into the corner shattering along with a multitude of decimated corpses.

The WHG watch all this as if disconnected from the entire event, indeed they have often heard of time slowing down in moments of great crisis, yet none of them have ever heard of anything like what they are now witnessing.

Durn watches himself fly backwards in the blast, a multitude of fragments and rubble crash into his broken form, his axe Wraithbane shatters from the sheer devastation of the energy released, it is obvious even in this disembodied state that he has not survived.
Yet something strange is happening, each time Durn’s corpse hits the floor, he sees the scene begin anew, each time it ends the same, and yet it seems as if something in between is slowly changing.
Flashing by so fast it is hard to see, perhaps hundreds, nay thousands of scenes play out in an instant, each slightly different than the last, perhaps a rock changes it’s flight pattern in one, a small piece of shrapnel collides with a pillar in a slightly different manner, this continues until finally the shrapnel somehow completely misses him, glancing off of other pieces, or hitting his armor at a perfect angle to bounce directly off, and although he hits the ground the same way for perhaps the millionth time, this time he seems to be breathing.

Tamok witnessed a massive pillar crashing down upon him, crushing him most fatally, yet as he watches it happen thousand of times in an instant, it seems to change slightly each time, eventually the fall no longer crushes him entirely and soon he are all but crushed at all, rather it falls in front of the druid partially blocking some of the further debris heading toward him.

Snorri feels the full force of the blast that unfortunately seems more focused in his direction and almost certainly kills him, great coruscations of raw magic almost completely disintegrate everything in their path, however as he too watches from his strange disembodied viewpoint, he can see Althor slowly moving, perhaps an almost imperceivable amount each time, yet over thousands, perhaps millions of instances, he is suddenly between Snorri and the arc of energy with his hand raised and a glowing light emanating from it.

Suddenly all three of the dwarves feel a terrible tugging sensation, as if they are being sucked into a vortex, and instantly they find themselves back in reality, just in time to see see Althor usher forth a great blast of white light blocking the path of the blue energy and sending it outwards. It rips through the sky a great sheet of blue and white magic, reaching it seems into the very heavens itself

All around them is devastation, the very chapel itself is in ruins!

Yet somehow, they are alive!

IMPOSSIBLE” exclaims Alvorax

“You are not from the order priest, such power is forbidden, no-one who knows of it would dare use it in such a manner”

Althor isn’t listening however, he turns to the WHG and shouts “STAND UP AND FIGHT, NOW IS THE TIME TO SHOW THE UNWELCOME THAT YOU ARE NOT PAWNS OF DESTINY, SHOW THEM THE TRUE POWER OF ABSOLUTE POTENTIAL

As he is shouting, the WHG notice his nose is pouring with blood and his face seems very pale, he falls down to his knees gasping

Alvorax laughs “AS I EXPECTED, NO MORTAL CAN USE SUCH POWER AND SURVIVE, A VALIANT EFFORT HOWEVER, NEVERTHELESS, I CAN SUMMON SUCH ENERGY MORE THAN ONCE

As he speaks the scattered corpses begin to glow a bright green like blue as flames begin pulsing within them, they rise up, dull green eyes glowing. Rather than focus on attacking the dwarves, these creatures seem intent upon moving towards Alvorax

“My thralls are commanded to pursue an explosive union” States the being.

It raises a long spindly arm to attack in what will almost certainly be the deadliest battle that the WHG have ever seen.

As the fight starts Durn is quick to charge towards Alvorax, stunning it with a mighty blow from Wraithbane this immediately breaks the creature’s hold on Tamok’s mind, but not before he has revealed certain truths to the being.
The real threat does not seem to be from the dazed monstrosity however, rather several shambling corpses have begun walking their way towards the being, ignoring the Dwarves completely, seemingly focusing solely on reaching it.

Tamok quickly looks through the assorted artifacts that have been blasted clear of the ward surrounding the altar, with Althor seemingly unconscious and no way to raise the wards, the only option left to them is to attempt to subdue and tether Alvorax. Remembering Althor’s brief mention of the bloodstone, Tamok finds an object that seems to fit that description and sure enough as he touches it he is swamped with visions of past uses of the artifact. He watches all of the attempts and failures in tethering The Unwelcome, the process looks desperate indeed!

Meanwhile Alvorax has recovered from Durn’s earlier attack and one of the glowing cadavers draws near. The Unwelcome detonates the cadaver causing another massive explosion that literally blasts the Dwarves with energy. Not as powerful as the initial explosion but still enough to cause substantial damage, the dwarves realise that such a mistake cannot be allowed to happen again, and as several more cadavers approach, they charge into action to stop them in any way that they can.

Tamok and Snorri cut their way through the shambling creatures while Durn focuses on Alvorax, Snorri finds himself struggling to fight off Alvorax’s presence within his mind, revealing not only his true name but also his order too. Durn however, continues the desperate melee with the creature, as it flails at him with its terrible claws. He strikes a mighty blow and for a moment Alvorax vanishes altogether, a brief image shows him moving away from the melee, a second image of the creature appears where the original stood but the dwarves are not fooled.

Tamok desperately tries to engage the wounded being with the Bloodstone but cannot see through the invisibility to find purchase on it.

Durn attempts to charge where he believes Alvorax to be and inadvertently bumps into the creature, he shouts out to Tamok and the druid throws the Bloodstone at the waiting defender.
With a deft catch Durn slams the stone into the shimmering space before him and it hits home! An almighty blast of energy surrounds the dwarf and the room around him vanishes from view.

With Durn and Alvorax surrounded by a great circle of energy, Tamok and Snorri are left to deal with what’s left of the enemy, several of the glowing cadavers crumble into dust with their master now focussed on other things. However, a group of shambling cadavers from outside have heard the commotion and slip out of the forest to engage the two remaining WHG who meet them with staff and axe!

Snorri investigates the pile of relics strewn across the altar and upon touching an elaborately decorated chalice that seems to be made of a strange metal, the dwarf feels utterly invigorated with all of the fatigue and stiffness in his muscles faded, he holds the chalice and effortlessly smites one of The Wasted as it charges to him, truly a powerful artifact!

As the first cadaver falls the energy controlling it dissipates in a small blast directly in front of the rampaging avenger and between Snorri and Tamok they bring the others down fairly soon, but the battle takes its toll and Tamok’s bear falls, fatally wounded by one of The Wasted’s rending claws.

In the center of the room the great ball of energy that is Alvorax and Durn has grown substantially, within the flames Durn can see a figure now, it’s himself!
This Durn is much darker in complexion and around its feet burn blue flames, it rushes to attack using the dwarf’s own moves, and soon both Durns are involved in a desperate melee.

Durn maintains a calm disposition and demonstrates superior tactics to Alvorax who clearly struggles to fight back against the defender. From the visions in the Bloodstone and what little Althor has explained, the stakes are high, if Durn fails he will not emerge from the duel alive.

It seems to last an eternity and yet in reality the dwarf defeats his dark self in thirty seconds or so, and Alvorax wails in its defeat as the Bloodstone seals the being within Durn’s very spirit!
The energy fades and only Durn remains, yet he is not the same.

The room seems brighter to him, indeed it’s almost painful to his eyes, yet the shadows no longer hold secrets, indeed he can now see in the dark, a strange development indeed.

It won’t be the last.
All things have a price.

Part Nine
Concordant escutcheon
Discord.

The Prophet sits upon a bench within a large tent, around him are several humans, dark skinned and with a dusky complexion, bows and cruelly curved swords hang upon their backs.The tent flap lifts and a figure enters, gnarled hands and an impossibly old face, it glares at the humans with malevolent eyes.
A sound appears in the air primal and strange.
“Use words brother” the Prophet says. “Let our human friends hear your findings”
The gnarled figure seems angered by this but speaks anyway, when it does its voice is cracked and sinister “There are six in total, four dwarves and two humans, they travel in a carriage, the humans wear robes, one is a caster and the other is a priest” One of the human figures listening laughs “We have a caster” The original speaker seems enraged by this outburst “Curb your tongue mortal before I slay you where you stand” The Prophet however, gestures with his hand “It is alright Culatraxus, they meant no disrespect my brother”
The Prophet turns to the humans “I have more dwarves for you to kill, and this time I expect for none to escape, not even one”. The humans grin and The Prophet continues “They will be on the Tethana road, no doubt near Bekyun Monastery, find them, kill them. Do not hold back in any way, these dwarves have troubled me far more than they should have, is that not correct brother?”
He turns away from the humans “One more thing Curse, take the other dwarves with you…. I believe it will be a touching reunion”
They nod and reply “Of course Lord Prophet”
The dark complexioned humans grin, bow, and leave the tent.

Elsewhere

The WHG have survived the previous, terrible encounter with Alvorax, but the true cost is yet to be known, Durn struggles with his newly gained power as it threatens to overwhelm him. The Wraith Hunters ponder on what the next course of action may be, certainly going back is not an option, even if The Slink doesn’t find them, the boat that brought them there is long gone. It seems as if heading South to Candeth is there only option, certainly Blast’s letter has asked them to meet him there in no more than five days time. There’s also the mysterious U.G marked on the map a day or so South of their position.

They decide to continue their journey, and as they do they try to get more information out of Althor about what has happened.
It’s not good news, certainly not for Durn at least as Althor explain that without regular ‘Rebinding rituals’ the tether will fail and Alvorax will break free, killing Durn in the process.

This is grim news and Snorri changes the subject to ask about the relics they had retrieved from the altar. Althor tells them all he knows, explaining the chalice to be of an alien origin yet he isn’t sure of much else other than the order never use their relics, preferring to preserve them instead, indeed many of their uses are a mystery, having never been studied properly.

Snorri had managed to retrieve:
A strange metallic chalice, the colours of which seem to change between gold and silver.
Several crudely carved wooden effigies, depicting horrific monsters, a strange and slightly menacing energy seems to emanate from these.
Several scrolls, of which the text is unreadable and certainly not of any language known to the WHG.

The Journey takes nearly a day and the dwrves try their best to catch up on a much needed rest, Durn struggles to sleep as voices and thoughts races through his mind, strange and unnerving they speaks of unsettling things and it takes some effort for the Dwarf to banish them from his mind.

Soon they spot a small track winding away from the main road and snaking through the trees, the map shows the initials U.G to be several miles along it.
There has been no sign of civilisation since leaving the monastery, clearly the main drag has little use since the days of Tethana, the entire landscape here feels wild and eerie.

After a while they reach a rise and the track winds away below them, at the end, partially shrouded by trees is a small cottage with several fields of well tended crops growing.
As the WHG draw nearer they spot a figure sat upon a fence watching them, it waits until they are close and then jumps down to stand before them in the path, blocking their way.

As the WHG draw closer they can see it is a young woman, no more than twenty in age, her garb suggests she is a peasant and yet a black sword strapped upon her back would suggest some other profession.

Her face is set with a grim expression and she draws here sword, blocking the group’s path “LEAVE, YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO BE HERE, WHY CAN’T YOU PEOPLE JUST LEAVE HIM ALONE, HE’S AN OLD MAN AND HE HAS SUFFERED ENOUGH” she shouts at the bewildered dwarves.

The WHG politely ask her to step aside, assuring her they are not there to cause trouble.
As they do, a voice rings out from the trees behind.
“It’s alright Odessa, they aren’t from the order, I’ve been expecting them”

Before them is a grey bearded man, huge in stature, he wears clothes typical of a farmer and yet he holds himself with the manner of a warrior. His face holds no indication of pleasantry but the dwarves sense he is honourable.

Ulrik

He nods “Welcome master Dwarves, You received my message then?”
The WHG realise he must be referring to the concordant scroll they intercepted on its way to Crag.
Althor speaks up “I knew it was you who sent it, but why would you assist an order you no longer care for?”
Ulrik nods and casts a strange glance at Althor.
“I’ll explain that and more, Odessa stand down, they are our guests, most of them anyway” he says looking at Durn, or rather through Durn and at something else completely.
“Light the fire and prepare a meal, these folk seem as if they haven’t eaten in days”
“As you wish father” she says.
The girl sheathes her sword and turns and walks down the track.

As they walk he looks to Durn and asks “Have the nightmares started yet? I mean no disrespect to your abilities, but you would have been better off dead”
He squints as if looking at something “As it is, I cannot quite understand how you managed something that hundreds of better trained and more conditioned warriors could not, however it seems as if the process is incomplete”

He goes on

“Much like a tapestry that’s unfinished, the threads can unravel the whole piece, so it is true with you, Alvorax is not fully contained, there’s a reason that the Tethering ritual must be performed regularly by my old brethren, it is to enhance the bonds and renew the spirit of the lock.”
He seems genuinely saddened by what he says next.
“I fear you will not be able to contain it for long, also you must understand, a Lock.. whilst possessing incredible abilities will almost NEVER see combat, if you are to weaken near the point of death or indeed die outright, the tether will be undone and Alvorax will be free, I’m sorry, it would have been best had you just died”

The WHG make a point of mentioning about The Slink chasing them, and Ulrik who seems to already know this tells them that there are wards around the area that will throw the creature off their trail for a few hours at least, if indeed it is following them.

“My friends you come here seeking answers and I will provide all that I have, however I fear that any expectations you might have of me in terms of aid are sorely misplaced.
I chose to walk away from this life twenty years gone, and despite the infrequent visits I receive from the order trying to convince me otherwise, I have no interest in the dark affairs of The Unwelcome. There is no worthwhile solution to that problem,”

He asks the dwarves their purpose and seems surprised when they tell him they were simply escorting Althor to the chapel (Althor who is still with them by the way) this surprises Ulrik. Who tells them that he assumed they were sent to honour the concordant, after all they have the copy that he sent along with the letter saying to seek him out. He asks them if they are Crag’s finest and this results in some awkward explaining from the gathered dwarves who confess that they took the scroll from a unfortunate courier on his way to Crag.

They ask him why he sent the scroll and he slowly explains all the events that have unfolded.

“Advisor Dalnir pillaged the monastery over a month ago, until that point no-one suspected anything, the signs were there of course, armies being mustered within the kingdom of Destraga, the inability of the queen to put down several uprisings and atrocities, hindsight is a painful thing”
He continues.
“There was always the threat of an extremely powerful Unwelcome coming into being in this world, the order had prepared for various scenarios in the event of such trouble, with the final resort to any of these being to send out copies of the concordant and summon those who signed it to aid in putting down the threat.
This was something that would only be done in the most severe of situations, and as such there were numerous outposts set up, manned by several brothers who after a signal from Master Gharrus would send out copies of the original concordants to each of the races and factions who had signed it.

This never happened….. I saw the smoke rising from the monastery even from this distance, when I investigated the nearby concordant outpost, the brethren had been killed to a man, that’s when I rushed to Hadring’s stead and sent out all of the copies of the concordant I could. Whilst I don’t believe in the way the brethren do things now, I do believe in the concordant and The Unwelcome are not the only enemy right now"

He pauses

“The Unwelcome are the enemy of the order, they are without comprehensible reason or method, and whilst they may even be aware that there is an enclave of humans within the reaches who can at least detain them a while, they almost certainly would not have had the planning or the unified resources to have done all that has happened in recent weeks.
This has been implemented by others, human perhaps, or perhaps something else entirely. All I know is it started with Dalnir and the end result is The Waking Bell, or his more appropriate name, Karraxire the Tocsin.
long have people attempted to use The Unwelcome phenomena as a tool to increase their own power, something undying, unwavering, it beggars belief that such a force can exist.
Yet all who have tried have ended up as slaves to it, the order is no different”

He glances over to Althor, who is scowling

“I suspect Dalnir was either influenced by Karraxire or believed he could manipulate it, yet Dalnir is now merely a pawn in the Prophet’s game, a powerful one, but nothing compared to what is leading that army.
By what few accounts I have had from refugees, his army is over one hundred thousand in size, corrupted and without morals.
What intrigues me is how Karraxire’s presence was even known of, there are few living souls who could have known of its internment and even fewer who could have survived entering its prison.”

“Karraxire was not interred within the greenmount, indeed, Karraxire was the first unwelcome ever to be tethered. His prison was elsewhere.
"

Odessa seems to have warmed to the dwarves offering them more soup.

Ulrik asks Durn and the rest of the WHG to follow him outside, as he stands he lifts a huge axe and shield off of the mantle above the fireplace. They bear a similar design to the shield owned by Sergeant Withers, however these ones are black as onyx, indeed the axe seems alive, as if the surface was bleeding night itself.
They walk into the yard outside and Ulrik demonstrates how to manipulate the energy of The Wasting, his shield seeming to radiate the strange blue magic. With Durns newly gained knowledge it is discovered that the dwarf can use some of this energy to strengthen himself and even cause an explosion, however there is a price for its use and should be used wisely.

Ulrik nods, he views the WHG with respect.
He says,
“Master Dwarf, the tether that suppressed Alvorax will fade before the month is over, your sanity will begin to fade with it, and whilst you can command certain powers that the process has granted you, each time you use them you will lose a little more of your morals and your reasoning.”

The Dwarves ask him if there is a way to slow this process or indeed undo it altogether, Ulrik replies

“I will mark on your map the known outposts of my old brethren, I cannot say if any still survive, in truth I doubt it. What happened one month ago was perfectly timed, planned and executed. Within one night almost every potential solution to The Unwelcome, was removed from play.
There is another option, but I would do you a great disservice if I suggested it, for I feel you would pursue it, and it will ultimately lead to all of your deaths”

This however is like a red rag to a bull when the WHG are involved and they press the man for answers which he reluctantly gives.

“The first of my order, still exists…. in a fashion. He was the one who discovered the tethering, an incredible wizard of unsurpassed power. It was said that he could extract the energy within the Unwelcome and convert it into unimaginable power

Althor butts in “NO, YOU WOULD BETRAY OUR ORDER AGAIN?”….and is immediately silenced by Snorri and Durn.
Ulrik continues regardless “It has been known to untether locks in the past and some have even survived the process, however the place it dwells and those that dwell within it are unlikely to allow a meeting, that and I doubt it will help you, in fact i’m almost certain it would kill you, it no longer cares for the rules of men and mortals, certainly it does not care for the order anymore, believing them to have lost their way, something we have in common I suppose”

The WHG ask where they could find this ‘first of the order’ and Ulrik shows them.

“I would mark it on your map, but it’s already there, Tethana is its home, it is the Arch-lich Ragh’dun and I would strongly advise you never go there.Of course if you do you would need to lift the ward, do not worry though it will be renewed almost as soon as you are inside, the Lich maintains the wards, not the order. Another deception.”

He also marks another thing upon the map, The Greenmount

“Karraxire the prophet will be marching upon the Greenmount, first he has to cross the divide and with an army that size it will take time, however when he reaches the mount, assuming he has found a way to drop the seals that protect it, he will release his brothers, hundreds upon hundreds, and with access to the entry lode, he will summon in the end of this land as we know it.”

Intrigued by this the WHG ask about the entry lode, Ulrik explains that it is a huge formation deep within the Greenmount that was the first point of entry for The Unwelcome into the world, supposedly due to a mistake made by a deity, although some accounts say it was tricked, others maintain it took pity on these strange beings and accidentally unleashed a great calamity upon the world.
Snorri has heard of such myths, but most believe that is all they are.

Snorri asks Ulrik about the artifacts and whilst Ulrik doesn’t know much more than Althor he explains that the chalice was first documented as having perhaps belonged to The First of the Order ’Ragh’Dun’ even hinting that should they ever meet the lich (not that they should ever consider it) it might even be a good bartering tool.
He inspects the crude wooden effigies and explains that they are early attempts to tether The Unwelcome, cruder versions of the Bloodstone that Durn used to trap Alvorax. He’s not sure about the scrolls however, explaining that many of the items are still a mystery, even to The Order.

A couple of hours have passed now and Ulrik finally stands to address them
“I’m sorry, you must leave before dawn, I wish to live out what days remain to us with my daughter in peace, that life is behind me now”
He adds
“I wish you good luck, but I cannot help but feel as if these are our last days now. Durn, if I may”
He pulls Durn to one side and produces a small slip of paper and a quill, on it he writes several words and holds them up for the dwarf to read.
They say;

ALTHOR IS NOT FROM THE ORDER

As the WHG depart up the track Odessa runs after them, “Here” she says, and passes the dwarves a bundle of wrapped supplies “I’m sorry about father, he has had to suffer a great deal, I know in his heart he wishes to help you, but he fears for me” she waves “I’ve never met a dwarf before, if all of you are so honourable, then I would one day wish to visit this Crag!”

The dwarves trundle down the track, watching the lone figure fade into the distance.

Ulrik sits staring at the fire as his daughter returns to the cottage, he turns and says “You shame me with your kindness Odessa, you are just like your mother”
The girl snaps at him.
“Why must you be so stubborn father?, they need your help, didn’t you see them, things happen around them, they could change things”

Ulrik sits staring into the flames for a long time

“If I leave, we both know I will not return, my daughter.”
The girl is crying now

“If you do not leave, you will never know peace”

Somewhere else

Cregg stands upon the dock, poorly fitting armor hangs loosely from his shoulders, around him ten or so of the city watch man improvised and poorly installed siege machines.
They are frightened, to a man.
He thinks of all the things that Withers has told him, of the way of war and the complexities of battle, much of it is beyond him and yet he along with the rest of the watch are determined to not fail the Sergeant.
They will defend Rithwic, even if it is hopeless.

Hopeless indeed, he glances out towards the open mouth of the Deepslick, hundreds of sails grow ever larger in the dusky twilight, it is a fleet of the like that rithwic has never seen.

They grow closer now, ships packed with men,altered men, soldiers, well armed, far better than Cregg and his men.

They draw parallel with Rithwic their mighty ships armed with hundreds of ballistas and catapults, all aimed towards the small town. They will not stand a chance

Sartos stands on the deck of the flagship, his robe hangs loose at his shoulders, with such a force there is no need to hide his race.

The Tiefling smiles “Bring us in closer, I would like to ask what hope these fools think they have”

Cregg watches a huge ship break off from the fleet and draw closer, he can make out several figures upon it, one is a race of creature he has only ever heard of, horned and malevolent, it calls out to him across the water
He waits anxiously, holding his nerve, he must hold his nerve

Sartos shouts out “Why do you even bother? I was going to allow you to join us but such a foolish display of valiance is pitiful to my eyes. I will grant you death”

Cregg signals in reply and a single ballista fires, flaming the bolt shoots high up into the air, sailing over the fleet and across towards the far bank

The tiefling laughs hysterically “YOU MISSED,FOOL” but his smile begins to fade, because as the flaming shot travels it illuminates the trees beyond the far bank, and soon it isn’t trees that are illuminated, but machines, machines of war.
The single shot is answered by hundreds, and the sky is split with a cacophony of noise as hundreds of catapults and dwarven ballistae fire into the fleet.

The Tiefling screams in warning but it is too late, great ropes and chains rise up across the Slick, raised by groups of dwarves and men concealed in ditches turning great metal drums. Ships are cut in half and capsized, many explode instantly under the hellish barrage.

The Tiefling barks out to the fleet to form a central wedge but before the crews can even act great blue portals open on the decks, appearing like blue windows of light, from them figures rush out, glowing golden auras radiating from them, dwarves, men and giants too, great goliaths. All crying out a battle cry as they cleave the altered soldiers asunder

The tiefling stares in disbelief, in mere moments his fleet is all but lost, he calls for a retreat but huge ironclad vessels move from their previous hiding place around the coast and block the fleet’s escape, suddenly a blue portal appears on the deck before him, and through it figures charge at him, a human in tattered armor wielding an almighty shield and a dwarf of huge build, looking even more ancient than the human, wielding an almighty hammer

LET EM BLOODY WELL AVE IT BOYS” the dwarf screams

It is only then, at that precise moment, that Sartos the Statistician, third general of The Prophet Waking Bell, realises that his calculations were wrong, and that the Prophet could no longer see the future.

Elsewhere

The party rejoins the main road and decide to continue on south to Candeth, it is around this time that Durn clubs Althor unconscious and ties up the helpless priest.
He explains the note that Ulrik gave him, certainly Althor has been acting strangely since their journey started, and has been caught out on several lies. When he finally comes round a few hours later, the WHG try to extract some answers from him, rather than looking afraid of indeed being his usual timid self, Althor seems completely unafraid, almost emotionless. When asked about the magic he used at the chapel, he simply tells them that he’d already mentioned he had certain powers from the order, the WHG aren’t convinced however and despite Althor asking the group when or indeed how had he ever brought them to harm, Durn is insistent that they dump the priest off of the carriage and leave him behind in the wilderness.
The constant questions and intimidation seems to strike a reaction from the priest who seems to have taken on a different persona, it even goes on to say “You wouldn’t have made it a day out of Crag without me” this only raises more questions and produces an impossible situation with the Dwarves unrelenting intrigue and Althor’s unrelenting refusal to explain the truth to them, they are at an impasse.
Althor simply states that if they leave him in Candeth, he will not bother them again, however Durn is still insistent that they throw him off of the carriage, Snorri however disagrees, thinking this to be harsh. Indeed, Althor reiterates that he has never brought them harm, a grudging Durn leaves the priest bound within the wagon and they continue on to Candeth.

They are only a day away from the port town now and the countryside has begun to change, although only ruins, certainly more signs of previous habitation can be seen and the WHG start to feel as if they are approaching civilisation once more.

Around midday they reach a fast flowing river with a ford across it, however it appears to be too deep and as Yargus inspects the riverside he announces that the level has recently raised, more than likely from a blockage downstream.

He tells the WHG that there is no chance of continuing unless they find a way to lower the water level so that the carriage can cross. The stream winds down a thin ravine and Yargus explains that often trees and debris can easily make a dam in such a place and ask the WHG to scout ahead and see if there is another way across or indeed a way to lower or indeed divert the stream.

The WHG follow a thin trail leading down into a gorge, always alert for danger they attempt to remain stealthy, however Durn struggles not to make noise as they trudge through the overgrown path way.

Soon it opens out on to a large stream bed, the mouth of the ravine is in full flow as the stream thunders through it and sure enough right into a large dam of tree trunks and debris.
The river has backed up considerably here, flooding over a moss and slime covered slipway and even partially submerging several ruined buildings nearby.
A ruined tower sticks out of the water and behind it an old waterwheel stands rusted in place, neatly cut planks connect it to the cliffs above, serving as a makeshift walkway.
This is the first sign the WHG notice that something isn’t right here.

The roar of the water masks all but the loudest of sounds and the WHG draw closer to the dam, walking along the old slipway. As they get closer they spot several hunched figures, each of them wearing a cowl and kneeling down by a broken bridge next to the dam. Even at this distance the WHG can see that they are dwarves, it’s a trap! Yet what choice do they have but to spring it?

With no visible enemies, Snorri flies far up on to the cliff side to see if he can spot any potential threats, several large ruined walls are sprawled along the edge and thick undergrowth makes it difficult to see anything, however as he approaches the eastern edge of the bluff he spots a figure on the opposite cliff in loose flowing garments with a crossbow aimed directly at him.He also sees a robed figure on the tower in the middle of the stream, hunched down and ready to attack Tamok and Durn.
Curse
He gestures a warning to the WHG who are some fifty feet below and a further fifty feet across, Durn is quick to act, running to the rusty tower door and jarring it shut before the figure can come out. As Durn rushes in Tamok manages to spot several glowing wards placed upon the stones in the slipway, suggesting some form of arcane trap, with his keen eyesight and a shouted warning he manages to guide Durn safely through the hazards.

As Tamok follows Durn across another figure breaks from cover behind a large wall on the cliff, it wields a huge bow, the size of a man, with incredible strength it pulls back a massive arrow and sends it sailing at the druid.
The arrow hits home nearly sending the unfortunate dwarf flying off of the slipway, Tamok manages to drop prone but takes a nasty wound from it.
They are sitting ducks!

Behind them in the water a figure leaps on to a wall, large and well armored but with the same flowing garments as the crossbow assassin Snorri spotted, this man sounds a battlecry and begins advancing upon the stupefied Tamok.

Durn realises that they are surrounded and breaks off from holding the door to engage the advancing warrior, as he does, he sees a second figure emerge from the same hiding spot, this one appears to be a caster and it immediately blasts at the two dwarves with powerful energy bursts.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the battlefield Snorri charges into the crossbow wielding assassin, only to discover another assassin in the bushes nearby. They both fire cruel looking bolts at Snorri, the barbs of which inflict serious bleeding wounds.
The Avenger digs in however and engages the first assassin in a deadly melee whilst the other one reloads.

Snorri starts to struggle under the ceaseless assaults but manages to slay one of the assassins, however the bowman with the giant bow from earlier now aims and fires upon the Avenger, forcing him into cover, where he remains for quite some time, pinned down by potentially deadly sniper fire.

Durn and Tamok team up to take on the mage and the warrior, at one point Durn is stunned by a devastating psychic blast from the mage but the Warden shakes it off and eventually cuts him down.
This leaves only the warrior, who is well skilled in martial combat, marking Durn and matching several of his attacks. The melee is made more difficult by the water slowing down the WHG’s movements, Tamok however throws out a great surge of frost and ice, which stops the water completely, allowing the two dwarves to move freely for a while.

The tower door flies open and a figure in a black cloth gown emerges, he immediately throws strange magical energies at the dwarves which they narrowly avoid, the figure advances away from the melee and towards the tied up dwarves by the dam. Tamok and Durn rush after it in pursuit, and they soon make out the flashing blade of a knife as the dwarves struggle under their cowls while the robed figure seems to be using it on them.

With the snipers occupied in shooting at Durn and Tamok, Snorri makes a break for cover, cleverly teleporting the remaining assassin down into the water below rendering his ranged attacks useless and buying some respite from the other assassin nearby.

The assassin with the huge bow approaches to get a better shot at the Avenger and the wily dwarf teleports back up to engage him. This assassin is more than capable in melee combat however and the surprised Snorri receives a powerful arrow to the shoulder, throwing him off his feet and sprawling across the broken roof of the mill. Not good.

On the other side of the battlefield Durn races towards the dam to attempt to stop the robed figure from seemingly murdering the captive dwarves, Tamok lags behind however, and without his keen eyes and shouted warnings Durn triggers a trap, a great surge of energy shocks the dwarf as he races by, injuring him and leaving him dazed.
As Durn gets closer, he realises that rather than kill the dwarves, the robed figure is releasing them, and as the cowls are removed, it is clear that these dwarves have been altered by The Wasting. They advance towards Durn and Tamok, Wraith Hunter Group 3 badges visible on their tattered Crag issue armour.
The WHG have been beaten at every turn, however nothing is more dangerous than a cornered dwarf.

The reanimated dwarves advance on Durn and Tamok, and with Snorri across the other side of the battlefield, and several snipers shooting anything that appears in the open, the WHG are losing the battle but what they lack in cohesion and tactics, they make up for in sheer determination and use of healing surges.

Snorri realises he can’t remain where he is, exposed to sniper fire upon the roof and drops down through a hole in the rafters and into the darkness below. He swims out of a window but almost drowns as the force of the water pulls him under.

Arrows shoot across the battlefield, one hits Tamok sending his spinning into a trap that almost blasts him off of his feet, the robed figure casts a hex upon Durn and blasts him backwards into a trap that also goes off, it’s looking grim all round.

Snorri manages to finally stay afloat and the stream carries him close to the slipway which he climbs upon to rejoin his ailing comrades.Meanwhile a stroke of luck comes when one of the assassins slips off of the cliff and nearly fatally injures himself on the ground below.

Durn manages to wound the hexing caster but not before being turned into a rat, most peculiar magic indeed! Tamok does his best to hold off the advancing dwarves but in the end is forced to flee into the tower while Durn recovers.

Durn (now a dwarf again) dispatches one of the Wasted WHG 3 with a mighty cleaving strike and using his new powers for the first time detonates the released energy into an almighty blast, killing one more of them and mortally wounding the Hexer.
Tamok dispatches the final altered dwarf and Snorri and Durn finish off the troubling spellcaster who crumples to the ground without making a sound.

The battle seems to be won but a telltale twang from the distance heralds two huge arrows, both finding their target, Tamok, who has carelessly stepped out of the cover of the tower and into the open. The druid crumples to the floor with grievous injuries, almost dieing instantly in the barrage.

As the druid lays dying, the remaining archers retreat a little, unsure of what to do next, perhaps the WHG feel the same. Certainly they have rarely fought such professional and well trained opponents, the toll of the battle can be seen on each of them in their assorted injuries, minor or indeed major.

Now there is uncertainty, who will emerge alive? Pinned down behind the ruined tower, Snorri and Durn stand over the fading Tamok, well aware that close by two archers lay in wait.

How will it end?

Part Ten
Concordant escutcheon
Reunion

Snorri, Durn and Tamok have been gone for some time and Yargus is starting to get worried, Boryn returns from a recent foray into the forest in search of mounts and other such nonsense, and Ludwig finally reappears on the road nearby after disappearing several days previous. Yargus asks them to go check out what has happened to the other WHG and they rush down the path to find them.
They arrive to see the three other dwarves pinned down behind a ruined tower, Tamok is laying on his back and isn’t moving.
The pair fly up to the tower, Boryn on his odd flying mount and Ludwig in the form of an eagle, however no sooner are their heads poking over the parapet and several arrows whizz towards them, hitting Ludwig and inuring the wizard.
Below them Durn administers a healing potion to the badly Tamok who recovers just enough to be able to walk, certainly he is lucky to be alive.
Snorri and Durn utilise the cover afforded to them by the raised walkway and make their way towards the dam, keeping their heads down to avid any sniper fire.
Boryn charges towards the archer on the cliff face injuring him, however the expert archer fires back, point blank sending Boryn sprawling off of his mount and plummeting some forty feet below to the base of the cliff.
The assassin who previously fell off of the cliff climbs up only to fall again when Ludwig uses a blast spell to send him off of the edge. The more expert archer decides that the battle is no longer winnable and melts away into the brush.
Durn, Tamok and Luwdig manages to dislodge several large logs on the dam and with a hard shove from Boryn (who has been anchored to a rope by Ludwig) the dam collapses, a huge deluge of water races downstream, lowering the level significantly upstream.
On the corpses of the assassins they find thick gold wristbands, one on each of the men, they seem to have strange inscriptions upon them, although they aren’t magical, Ludwig recognises the writing to be from somewhere called Dust, a desert city to the North East of them. Tamok confirms that the archer who fled seems to be heading North East also.

As the WHG return, they can see Yargus slumped against a tree, his eyes are out of focus and he is mumbling to himself, on the floor in front of him is a shrivelled up corpse, clearly in an advanced stage of decay, the ground around it seems different, as if some strange form of magic altered it.

It’s wearing the same robes that Althor wore, although the features are unrecognisable

Yargus sees the WHG at last and says “He, he came out of the wagon, somehow he was free of his bonds, he was…. different. He said he was out of time, that ‘they’ were coming… and then he showed me…gods he showed me something I wished I had never seen…..
…Images, millions upon millions of them, all of the same thing, so many times over, yet I knew each one was slightly different (he is almost sobbing as he remembers) It was Crag, burning, and then the world.”
The frightened Dwarf continues.

“He said, he said this is the only world where a choice still matters…. and then… and then it was like he cast off his body, and before me was something I never wish to see in all my life.”
He raises his hands and looks at the WHG in disbelief.

“It.. it wasn’t there. It was space, stars, darkness, in the shape of a man. Then it was gone.”
He asks the WHG
“What was he? what was Althor?”

The WHG don’t know.

Candeth (at last)

As the WHG approach Candeth they can see it is a fair sized city, a great deal of outlying settlements and farms scatter the land approaching it, and as they grow near they realise the huge iron gates to the North East portion of the city are firmly shut.In fact it seems like most of the city is locked down.

Just as they are wondering how they are going to get in, several heads lean over the parapet and a voice shouts out “THEY’RE HERE, BY MORADIN’S BEARD GET THE GATE OPEN, WRAITH HUNTER GROUP EIGHT ARE HERE

As the gates open they are met, not by humans but dwarves, Greyhammer dwarves! behind them are barricades and siege implements, with both dwarves and humans working on improving them. Several figures are running to greet them including a Dwarf some of the WHG recognise instantly as Bandun Rockmantle
Old dwarf by tade 01
He yells “You took your time!” his face is severe for a moment before dropping into a wide grin and he greets you in the style typical of dwarves, hard slaps on the shoulder and general headbutts all round.

The WHG understandably have questions for him but he is eager for them to follow, apparently all of the answers lie further down the road.

He says “All will be explained, but right now I have to take you to see the others”

He leads them through the city, it seems that in every alleyway and street there are hordes of refugees and wounded citizens, guards tend to them, running from one street to another, all in the distinctive Queen’s guard armor you recognise from Rithwic, albeit in better condition.

They arrive at a town square that seems to be more like a military camp, more Greyhammer dwarves are busy maintaining weapons and building fortifications here, as the WHG pass them they are greeted warmly and with respect.
At the end of the square is a tavern, inside which seems to be a hive of activity, Bandun leads them inside and no sooner have they stepped through the doorway there is the sound of a chair being overturned and a rushing noise as a fist comes sailing towards Durn’s jaw. It connects and the surprised Warden almost tumbles to the floor. The fist seems familiar, and sure enough the dwarf it is attached to yells I BLOODY TOL YA HE’D BE ALREET, BUT NAYONE BELIEVED ME.." Durnoc stands in front of the WHG rubbing his fist with a grimace, behind him stands Doun Dourstone, both are grinning “ACH BUT YE BLOODY HURT MA FIST LAD” Durnoc grumbles.

“You made it then?” a familiar voice behind them rings out, and they turn to see looking slightly less dishevelled than before although still wearing his shabby armour stands a smiling Sergeant Withers, on a table beside him is his shield, glowing a wonderful golden light in the gloom."

The WHG wonder how this is all possible and in answer a new voice they do not recognise rings out from the corner.

“I suppose I might have had something to do with that” The figure approaches, a man dressed in sailor’s garb, loose fitting silks and an long elaborate robe flow around him, a great sabre sits attached to his belt. The most stark aspect of his appearance comes from his elongated and slightly pointed ears, a half-elf.His accent suggests someone far more learned than his pirate regalia would have the world believe.He nods respectfully in the WHG’s direction before explaining.
Blast2
He bows towards the WHG with a flourish, behind him are several more strangely dressed assistants who look on with an impatient expression.
“The Supervisor and I have long had a deal, should he attempt to establish a portal within the reaches, I would assist him with such, my cut of the deal is some of your mountain’s finest minerals and the supervisor can be content knowing that should an emergency arise, he can respond with haste” He glances over at Yargus who pipes up “Alright boss, got most of the cargo I believe”

“Most?, you know how I dislike discrepancies Yargus” the man raises a quizzical eyebrow

“You never told me we’d be up against demons boss” Yargus replies.

Blast twirls his moustache as if in thought and then gestures to one of his assistants “Nazia, fetch the gold”
One of the assistants walks over with a huge sack of gold, she dumps it on the table and it makes a satisfying creak.
“Now then, let’s see” he physically counts the WHG “Yes that should do it” he then proceeds to dig out a thousand gold pieces from the bag and hand it to each of them in turn, much to Yargus’s horror. when he at last reaches Yargus, the bag is nearly empty. The dwarf looks horrified “Oh come now Yargus, they had a stake in protecting the wagon, I’m sure you told them they’d get a cut. That still leaves a good amount for you, that and the ales are on the house tonight”….“YE DUN HAVE TO TELL ME TWICE” Yells Durnoc who is standing on a nearby table waving a flagon.

The WHG recognise a figure in the corner to be Dirradon stomp, with him is another dwarf although a hood over his head makes it hard to identify.

As they approach, the figure lifts back its hood and a strange blue glow seems to surround the dwarf beneath it, Durn recognises it as one of the assistant dwarves that were employed by the WHG (then 13) to look after a PureWraith they discovered in Lonehold, a long time ago.

The occasionally glowing dwarf speaks.
The voice is almost monotonous as it speaks, devoid of emotion.

“IT HAS BEEN A LONG TIME WRAITH HUNTERS, SOME OF YOU I DO NOT RECOGNISE, YET OTHERS I DO, IT IS GOOD TO BE AMONGST FRIENDS ONCE MORE
The WHG are surprised to say the least and Durn has to explain to some of the newer Wraith Hunters about how the Wraith knows them

Dirradon speaks up “This one sought me out, claiming you had vanished from the world, at first I thought it was merely an unfortunate dwarf, mind addled by malady, and yet it knew things that it shouldn’t. secrets known only to dwarves and specifically, information about wraiths.
Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a wraith, certainly I was conflicted as to what to do, I recall your adventures in Lonehold and so there was certainly truth to its tale, yet… A WRAITH? ARE YOU MAD.” Apparently the WHG have some explaining to do.

The wraith speaks up

THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT THE SUPERVISOR SAID WHEN YOU INTRODUCED US AT THE MEETING, DO YOU REMEMBER DIRRADON STOMP?”
It continues.
“I WILL QUOTE FOR YOU….‘IN THE HOLY NAME OF THE STONEFATHER DIRRADON STOMP HAVE YOU LOST YOUR GOD LOVING MIND, HOW ON THIS EARTH COULD YOU POSSIBLY BELIEVE A WRAITH WOULD BE OF USE TO CRAG AT THIS TIME, IN FACTBROADAXE GO TO THE ARCHIVES AND FIND ME THE REPORT THAT WRAITH HUNTER GROUP EIGHT PERSONALLY FILED WITH US AFTER THE LONEHOLD INCIDENT, I WANT YOU TO SCOUR IT AGAIN FOR ANY MENTION OF A SECRET WRAITH, I’M POSITIVE YOU WILL NOT FIND ONE, THEN I WANT YOU TO MAKE FIVE COPIES OF IT ON YOUR COARSEST PAPER AND PRESENT THEM TO ME SO THAT NEXT TIME I SEE WRAITH HUNTER GROUP EIGHT I WILL PERSONALLY MAKE THEM EAT IT.’”

Dirradon chuckles “Yes, quite, he was not best pleased, I think however, once he had calmed down, and our friend had explained things… he saw some reason”

The WHG have a great deal of questions, but a shocking revelation is announced.

Durnoc calls them over to a table “WELL NOW, GRAB YOURSELF AN ALE AND WE’LL FILL YA IN ON ALL YE’VE MISSED
Durnoc sits down and nods to Withers, who is apparently actually going to do the story telling, no doubt Durnoc will jump in on all the best bits

He says;
“After your old friend was revealed at the meeting (he nods to shady figure in the the corner) it all fell into chaos, The Supervisor must have been prepared for this because it was only his physical intervention that managed to stop it all from falling apart.
The council was incensed however and demanded that, Dirradon and his companion there be imprisoned, for everyone’s safety until they could make some sense of things.
After it had all calmed down a bit that the council made their first ruling, based on all that the Supervisor had said and the evidence presented, In the impending invasion of Rithwic, Crag mountain would act.”
He explained the events in the battle of Rithwic to the WHG, called ‘The Second Salvation’
“YE SHOULD HAVE SEEN THAT TIEFLING LAD, HE WAS SHIVERING LIKE A FRIGHTENED LAMB” Durn interjects
Withers continues
“Rithwic was an amazing victory, but convincing the Dwarves to leave their lands and aid the reaches would be a different matter altogether, many of the council believed they had done their part to ensure Crag’s safety and simply refused to permit more action. Some even called for the removal of Wraith Hunter Group Eight’s rank and then have them exiled from Crag, certainly matters turned to your attempted hiding of a wraith more than any threat of the unwelcome.Any sort of action was not looking good.

Bandun interjects "Me and my boys were summoned to the Sups chamber late one night and he asked me if I was willing to honour our alliance, despite what the council might rule.
of course I told him we would, we owe a debt to the mountain, he then gave us these two scrolls (he waves two scrolls in front of the WHG) and asks Secretary Broadaxe to lead us to the cells, last thing I heard him say was “Send WHG my regards”
So you can imagine we were slightly on edge, being led into a dark prison with no explanation. The oddest thing was that every guard we passed seemed to be asleep, or at least pretending to be.
He looks at Durnoc as if expecting another drunker interruption but this doesn’t happen and so he continues.

“We reached a large dark cell and there were several shapes upon the floor, (he nods to the Dourstones) those two were bound and gagged.”.“THEY DIDNAY EVEN ASK ME IF I WANTED TO GO, OF COURSE WE DID, BUT THERE WAS NO NEED TO BLOODY GAG US NOW WAS THERE
A furious Durnoc adds.
Bandun continues;
“Also present, although unfettered were Sergeant Withers Dirradon stomp and his companion there.So the next thing we see is several robed shapes at the end of the room, a strange blue flash of light and then this portal opens up. The secretary simply tells me that WHG need our help and that the Supervisor will send more aid when he can. We are then ushered through the portal and this guy (he points to Blast) is on the other end, although he didn’t look anything like he does now.”

Blast’s eyebrows furrow “I was in my formal wear, yes, such things are needed for high level arcana work”

“Anyhow” Bandun continues “Here we are, it turns out the leaders of this city all fled when they heard that the Prophet was approaching and so Blast has unofficially deemed himself the temporary ruler of Candeth and we began setting up a base here and seeing to getting the city back on its feet.”

Blast chuckles “I knew you were coming of course, and so we made every preparation we could to be ready to act when you arrived here”

Bandun hands the scrolls to the WHG “You should read these sooner rather than later”
From the eager faces gathered around the tavern and the lack of any seal upon the scroll it is obvious that they have already been well read by all present.

The WHG opens the first scroll, on new parchment and penned in a familiar hand, it reads;

Crag missive

Oddly, several key words are underlined, almost as if there is a message to be read within the message itself.

Bandun gestures to a sack cloth covered pile on the floor, as the cloth is removed the WHG are nearly blinded by a golden light, in a great pile before them are many weapons and shields, all dwarven forged, glowing with the bright light of the concordant, utterly beautiful in the dim tavern light.
It seems that the WHG are to be Crag’s answer to The Concordant after all, there’s enough for a weapon and an armour piece each, it seems as if the pieces fit the style of the Dwarves previous weapons, no doubt chosen for them.

Blast explains the properties of the weapons and armor to the WHG, they seem very powerful when used against the Wasting, the weapons seem to convert energy from an attack into a pureflame of power that wreaks havok upon creatures that have been altered by The Unwelcome.
The armour seems to have powers that negate The Wasting entirely, very useful indeed!

Blast says "I understand some of you are quite attached to your various weapons and armour pieces, however they are not wholly effective against your current enemy, but you are in luck. Whilst I cannot imbue your current weapons with the magic of the concordant, I can do the process from the other way. I can transfer, (with your permission) the properties of your current weapons, into the concordant pieces. They were designed to take multiple enchantments. I may even be able to improve them. The process shouldn’t take long, Nazia will assist in the process, so come on, hand them over.

Most of the Dwarves eagerly hand over their various weapons and implements but Durn is cautious, as the bumbling wizard doesn’t exactly exude an aura of confidence. He consults the Wraith about whether he should hand Wraithbane over to the tinkering Wizard/Pirate and the Wraith explains that Blast must be confident he can improve the weapon because failure would result in his and everyone else’s death, such is the power within the axe.
Durn decides to forgo using the new weapon, opting for a piece of armor instead, Blast assures him he can improve Wraithbane and so the dwarf grudgingly hands it over.

There is also the matter of the final scroll which seems incredibly old, as the WHG unfurl it, they see it is the concordant, but this one is not specific to dwarves, upon it are over twenty signatures, all with titles and names that no-one has even heard of, some of them sound foreign, certainly not dwarven, a small note attached on the inside of the scroll in the same handwriting as the previous letter of dismissal reads ‘Remind them’

As they are reading, they are aware of Blast and his assistants in the corner behind them fiddling with weapons, every now and then a large flash can be seen, followed by strange crackles and hisses

Wither’s invites the Wraith to explain certain matters to the dwarf.
It says;
WHEN YOU LEFT I SPENT MY TIME IN STUDIES, INTENT ON DISCOVERING A MEANS TO ASSIST YOUR FURTHER ENDEAVOURS, YET TIME PASSED AND I FELT YOU FADE FROM THE WORLD, I COULD NO LONGER SEE OR HEAR OF YOUR DEEDS,I FELT THAT ALL OF THE WORK I HAD DONE IN DISCOVERING AND TRACKING OTHER WRAITHS WOULD PROVE FRUITLESS IF YOU WERE NOT THERE TO RECEIVE IT, THUS I SOUGHT OUT OTHERS TO AID, I RECALLED YOUR WARNINGS OF THOSE WHO WOULD SEEK TO DESTROY ME AND I ALSO RECALLED THE NAME OF DIRRADON STOMP, RUMOURED TO BE KIND AND PATIENT.
I SOUGHT HIM OUT WISHING TO PROVIDE INFORMATION BUT HE KEPT ME CONFINED AS YOU DID, I STUDIED MY KINDS MOVEMENTS AND EXPLAINED WHAT I FOUND, THERE WAS GREAT ACTIVITY WITHIN THE FALKREACHES, DESTRAGA IN PARTICULAR THEN ONE DAY YOU APPEARED ONCE MORE, A STRANGE PHENOMENON INDEED.
I DISCOVERED YOU WERE TO GO TO THE FALKREACHES, THAT YOU HAD ENCOUNTERED THE UNWELCOME, AND THEN IT WAS THAT I KNEW HOW I COULD HELP.”
He pauses for a moment and then lowers his voice
THE ONE WHO CALLS HIMSELF ADVISOR DALNIR, IS A WRAITH, NOT ONLY THAT, BUT HE IS ONE OF SIGNIFICANT AGE, HE WAS THE START OF THIS ALTHOUGH HE WAS NOT ALONE
THE HUMAN WITHERS WANTS TO SHOW PROOF BEFORE THE COURT OF THIS CORRUPTION, AND I CAN PROVIDE IT."

Suddenly a great explosion emanates from the table behind them, knocking several of the Greyhammer dwarves clean off their chair and leaving Yargus clutching only a broken handle from his flagon. Blast is stood there pondering Wraithbane, seemingly unaware that his robes are on fire, after a moment or so the axe gives off a terrible black cloud of energy, Blast takes a step back utterly fascinated, he can be heard mumbling “Yes perhaps Kirrostic, hard to tell hard to tell” meanwhile people are gasping in horror and even the wraith looks terrified as the black cloud begins to corrode the wooden rafters, Blast’s frowning assistant jumps in and gathers up the energy in a dark looking stone, looking utterly put upon.

The wraith continues, once everyone has recovered their composure.

YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE RITUAL TO DRIVE OUT A WRAITH, OFTEN A SMALL IMPLEMENT OF SEMI PRECIOUS METAL CAN BE USED AND A RITUAL WILL IMBUE IT WITH THE ENERGY REQUIRED TO USE, AND THEN THE FINAL STEP INVOLVES CASTING IT UPON THE WRAITH

Withers speaks up
“It is the final step that would get us killed should we confront Dalnir with such a ritual.
However we must try, without Queen Anira and her armies, we are powerless to stop the Prophet. Such a power would be ideal for the purposes of revealing Dalnir before the crown and city, something I failed to do before, however I am told it requires an action, not only that but the magic within it can be detected.I can assure you that should Dalnir believe we have the means to reveal him or his guards sense that we may move to harm him, we will be cut down the minute one of us even twitches.

The wraith speaks

THIS PRESENTS A UNIQUE PROBLEM, AS DRIVING OUT THE WRAITH IS THE ONLY REAL WAY TO EXPOSE THE ADVISOR’S CORRUPTION BEFORE ALL WITHIN THE CITY, HOWEVER IT WILL SERVE NO PURPOSE IF YOU CANNOT DO IT WITHOUT DIEING. THERE IS ANOTHER WAY HOWEVER, A RITUAL SIMILAR, CERTAINLY. BUT WITHOUT ANY NEED OF CASTING AND TOTALLY UNDETECTABLE.

THE PROBLEM IS THAT IS REQUIRES TWO INGREDIENTS, A WRAITH, AND A SAPIENT GEMSTONE.

Blast who is listening spits out herbal wine all over the floor and Yargus “Sapient gemstone is it? well yes, good luck with that, that’s a wizard’s dream right there, I doubt you’ll find one so easily”

The wraith continues, “I AM WILLING TO LEND MY SERVICES TO IMBUE THE GEM WITH MY ESSENCE, THAT PART IS EASY, HOWEVER YOU WILL NEED THE GEM.”

Blast pulls out a large pouch and begins rummaging around, oddly his arm seems to be further inside it than is physically possible, after a lot of grumbling he emerges wielding a small orb.

“Here’s one” he beams “this one won’t hold an enchantment but I can use it to demonstrate how they work”
He places it down, and speaks a single word, nothing seems to happen “Now I have primed it, this one is instructed to work automatically after thirty seconds”
The orb sits there, dark and seemingly dormant, the wait seems endless, when suddenly a great explosion of missiles shoot out of it directly towards everyone sat around the table, fortunately Blast’s ever despairing assistant steps in and a translucent shield absorbs the projectiles

“AH!” Blast says, with a slightly sheepish expression “I remembered the command, but forgot what the spell was.. anyhow that’s how a sapient gem works, amazing tool for a wizard, automated spellcasting and completely undetectable, if you managed to find a better quality, larger gem, I should say you could put that ritual in it and should you find some way to confront this advisor.
Prime the spell, distract him, and bam!Exposed before the world, before his guards can even notch an arrow”
The WHG ask where they might find such a rare item.

Wither’s speaks up “If there is anywhere in the known world that may have one of these gems, it will be in the great bazaar of Destraga, I may be able to put us in touch with someone who can help, although I use the word help with some hesitation.”

Blast mumbles to his assisant who opens a pouch and presents each of the WHG with a small amulet, in its polished blue surface they can see a glimmer of magic “This is one of my prototypes, I must confess it’s genius even for me, something I learned about whilst traversing the planes.” He walks to a spot in the middle of the tavern where white chalk marks line the floor, a circle has been drawn neatly on the planks here and several gems and candles sit close by. He holds up one of the stones for you to see and then touches it, you watch for several minutes as the stone glows bright blue, the power increasing with each second that passes until suddenly Blast is no longer there.. a few seconds later he appears in a flash of blue light standing in the circle on the floorboard.

TELEPORTATION MASTER DWARVES!!!” He yells, obviously amazed that it actually worked

“Activate this device and it will bring you back here, wherever you are on the continent, understand though that the process can take up to ten minutes to use, so it won’t help you in a bind, that and you can only use it once per day as the energy needs time to coalesce. Hmmm there’s also some other enchantments I put into them, but I forget what, no doubt it’s of little importance.impressive stuff hey? certainly not to be abused”
He is glaring at Durnoc
“Anyhow, I can send you all to Destraga with one of the classic portals we use, we have several bases around the continent with portal chambers set up, it’s easy enough to open one”
He is glaring at Durnoc again
BLOODY ELL I SAID I’M SORRY” The dwarf shouts.
Blast still glaring says “Someone got so drunk last night their legs no longer worked, and when they turned abusive after being refused more ale, they were rolled outside the tavern by some of their kin. The next thing we know there’s a blue flash and this one appears on the floor, kicking around and demanding another drink…. an utterly disgraceful use of magic”

He shakes his head disapprovingly, whilst the dwarves all laugh.

Blast hands Durn back his axe, Durn notices almost immediately how much lighter it feels, whilst still retaining a perfect swing and balance. It certainly feels improved.

Withers listens to the WHG’s journey so far, marking their travels on a map he has laid on the table in front of them, he also marks the locations that Ulrik showed them on the party’s own map.

Prophet first movement

They discuss the Prophet’s movements, it seems to have missed Candeth completely, instead heading towards the great divide, no doubt intending to bring his army across it and towards The Greenmount.

Durn explains the tethering with Alvorax and it is surmised that he may only have three weeks (perhaps less) before things go badly wrong. However the WHG remember Ulrik saying that the lich in Tethana might be able to assist, Wither’s points out that Tethana is but two days from Destraga, certainly they could go there once they had sorted matters within the capital (if indeed they do)

It is decided, the WHG will head to Destraga, Withers will join them and they will attempt to meet up with his ‘contact’ there and locate one of these sapient gemstones.

As they step into the courtyard several dwarves and humans cheer, Blast and his assistants work on opening the portal and soon they can see a shimmering city through the pale blue glow.

“Good luck in there” Blast waves as they depart “We will do what we can here to fortify the town and await your return so we can move to the next phase”

The first thing they notice as they exit the portal is the sheer heat, it is humid here, in the north looms a huge city, one of the biggest they have seen, great sandstone spires and arches rise out of the sandy soil, to their East sand dunes can be seen whilst to the West scrubland seems to spread out for miles.

They are stood on a small platform, in a ruined cottage, the roof and walls are gone, but a cunningly concealed portal plinth remains, hidden by overgrowth.

Withers is smiling “It’s almost good to be back, were it not under better circumstances though, come, follow me. Hopefully our friend will find us before the guards, that is, if he still even operates here”

They approach what appears to be the more run down part of the city, certainly as they grow closer there is no fine architecture or craftsmanship here, a lot of the buildings outside of the grand city walls are mere huts and hovels, as they draw near, the WHG can see figures watching them, so far none of them wear uniforms.

Withers is grumbling “It’s taking some time, usually they’d have gotten to us by now”

He explains "There’s a shady element that runs the trade steps here, we’ve got a history from back in the days, generally he behaves, or is at least clever enough to not get caught. He’s helped me out before, but there’s usually a price. There was a time Back in the day I’d have crushed his operation and put him in a dungeon, but right now I need his help and whilst he’s not the most honest of characters, he certainly keeps the more ruthless ones out.

More people gather to watch the strange golden armored procession of dwarves, yet none approach them.

“This is pointless” Withers grumbles.
He turns and yells to the watching figures
FOR THE LOVE OF PELOR SOMEONE BRING US TO HAGGAVEL

Gasps and murmurs from the watchers suggest that asking to be brought before a criminal lord is simply not done, however it is mere moments before ten or so shady looking figures melt out of an alley. One of them makes a mock bow “Commander Wither’s forgive our lateness, we were running bets on whether dwarves can actually trip over their beards”

This isn’t perhaps the best way to make friends with the WHG.
He adds “Let’s not tell Haggavel you had to ask for him, you know that’s bad form here”

He gestures, “You better hurry” he’s looking at you “the city watch aren’t going to understand you”
The dwarves are understandably suspicious but Withers seems confident that it isn’t a trap, he follows the group of shady humans as do the WHG.
He takes them through a dark alley, it twists and turns, they find yourself ducking into doorways and even going through peoples houses, the whole process is utterly disorientating, eventually a small switch is pressed and a wall swings open, revealing a large, hall, small beams of light filter in from high up windows, they suspect you are beneath the street somewhere.

Before them is a small army of urchins and undesirables, thieves, beggars, criminals, they sit around on cushions playing dice games or poring over trinkets and treasures, no doubt a recent haul. In the center of the room, sat on a giant cushion is a huge and fat human, twirling one of his moustaches thoughtfully, watching the WHG approach. Wither’s struggles to hide his disgust at some of the more illegal activities on display here.

The fat man speaks up and the room goes quiet.

“I KNOW I KNOW, BUSINESS IS GOOD WITH YOU GONE, SAMUEL” the fat man gestures to the display of wealth and plunder in the room around them.

STILL, IT’S BECOMING HARD TO KEEP UP MY MOST HONEST ENDEAVOURS, FEW SUPPLIES ARE COMING IN BECAUSE OF THIS WAR, YOU COME TO HELP ME, NO?”

Haggavel

Withers still scowling says “My business is my own, my friends and I come here seeking an artifact, one which we will purchase for a good amount of gold”

ALWAYS BUSINESS WITH YOU SAMUEL, EVEN BACK IN THE DAY IT WAS SO, ARREST THIS MAN, CONFISCATE THAT SHIV, CLOSE DOWN THAT STALL, EVER THE WATCHMAN MY FRIEND, WHY NOT RELAX AND LET THE WORLD SPIN ON ITS OWN FOR A WHILE

He takes a huge drag on a pipe and blows smoke rings into the air.

WELL YOU HAVE ME INTRIGUED, WHAT CAN THE MIGHTY HAGGAVEL ASSIST YOU WITH TODAY?”

The WHG explain what they have come for, but do not disclose anything else.

Haggavel however seems to have no idea what one is.

CALLVI FIND SERTA” He barks at one of the men standing nearby who immediately runs off.

YOU KNOW SAMUEL, I BET DALNIR WOULD PAY A GOOD AMOUNT OF GOLD TO SEE YOUR SORRY FACE AGAIN” The fat man says, grinning.

Withers chuckles at this “You best go tell him then, rest assured the first thing I’ll do when if I ever became commander again is clap you in the stocks”

Both men are laughing as if this is a shared joke between them.

Two men come running in, one falls to the floor in front of you Haggavel “MY LORD YOU CALLED FOR ME”

Haggavel waves dismissively “Get up, tell me, where might we find a sapient gem” the man stands up and looks around, confused before murmuring to Haggavel “is this a test?, should I tell the truth?”

Haggavel is growing increasingly annoyed “YES THE TRUTH BY ALL THE GODS, WHY AM I SURROUNDED BY SUCH INCOMPETENCE

The man seems hurt by this “My lord, a sapient gem is rare even within the bazaar, supposedly the ancients were the only ones who cou….” “ENOUGH” roars haggavel “JUST TELL ME IF WE CAN GET ONE

The now terrified man stammers “Nno sir, Vollos had one, for that golem thing he was making, but we haven’t seen him for a while”

VOLLOS? I DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE, HOW LONG HAS HE BEEN GONE?”

I don’t know sir" the man stammers

“About a month, sir” another man pipes up

“OH GOOD, SOMEONE WHO KNOWS”Haggavel exclaims whilst turning his head to regard the new speaker.

“And where was he last seen?” he asks.

“I don’t know sir” the second man says

A third man pipes up

“He has that base in the old town sewers” Haggavels fat head snaps around to stare at this third man and visibly annoyed he shouts “WHY CANT ONE PERSON KNOW MORE THAN ONE THING, WHY AM I SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE WHO ONLY KNOW ONE PIECE OF INFORMATION

He faces the WHG again and exclaims;
THERE!, the old town sewers, no doubt you will still find him there, he’s a wizard that works for me, go down there and tell him Haggavel commands him to give you that jewel, simple!”

A scrawny looking man with a pointy face pipes up “B B B but what about Blech my lord?”

Haggavel looks incensed by this comment “YOU” he points to a large looking man stood beside the one who just spoke “PUNCH THAT MAN IN THE FACE, AS HARD AS YOU CAN
The man looks apologetic as he cuffs the scrawny man in the face.

NONSENSE, I WILL NOT HEAR SUCH STUPIDITY, ARE ALL MY MEN SO IGNORANT, THERE IS NO BLECH, JUST RUMOURS, HOWEVER…”

He seems to be thinking “There is something you can do for me, if you do, I will ask no fee for the gemstone…” he doesn’t even wait for the WHG to answer “There’s an old rival gang that used to use the old sewers to stash things that were too hot to sell, they used to do rather well by all accounts, then one day they disappeared”

The scrawny looking man pipes up “WE DONE EM I”… “SILENCE” Haggavel bellows,“SAVE ME FROM IDIOTS

“No doubt they have marked their stash in some way, if you find it and bring it to me ALL OF IT TO ME, I’ll know if you cheated me, I will be sure to reward you, and the gem will be my gift to you, I suspect it will be unguarded, they haven’t been seen for some time, I… (he is interrupted)

The scrawny man pipes up again “RETTNER SAW THEM CARRYING IN A MONSTER IN A BUNDLE, ALL TENTACLES IT HAD

“THAT’S IT”…Haggevel has waddled to his feet and is frantically searching for a weapon, he spots a nearby sword but looks up at a scowling Withers and thinks better of it, he does however see an interesting length of wood “YOU” he yells pointing at you Snorri “1000 GOLD FOR THAT PIECE OF WOOD YOU HAVE THERE, YES OR NO?”
Snorri realises that he can make a quick and extremely high profit off of the chairleg he has been lugging around since Rithwic and gladly sells it to the furious crimelord.

A man rushes over with a sack of gold which he hands to Snorri and runs back passing the chair leg to Haggavel who begins waddling around the room trying to catch this weasely man who is desperately trying to apologise whilst also backing away “STAY STILL SO I CAN BEAT YOU

The WHG think it might be a good time to leave.

Withers nods at the WHG and asks “Think you can handle this? I need to catch up with what is happening in the city and work out a plan”

The WHG assure him they can, and accompanied by two of Haggavel’s men they are led from the room and out into the streets, leaving behind an almost comedic scene of carnage.

The men lead the party through the streets, soon they are in an even more run down part of the city, still outside the main walls.Most of the buildings here are ruins, they drop down into a a ditch and spot a bricked up square of wall that seems different from the rest. One of the men pushes it and it swings open to reveal a dark brick pipe leading into the murk, a great stench hits everyone outside, this must be the sewers.

The WHG ask them what this Blech might be, the men seem scared to say much, but one of them says there are rumours or a giant serpent in the depths of the old sewers. Great!

“We’ll wait here, good luck” they nod.

The WHG enter into the sewer, it seems no-one has been here for a long time, the slime encrusted floors and walls absorb light like a sponge, they struggle to see more than a few feet in front of them, even with the aid of sunrods. Durn’s new darkvision proves to be quite useful and he spots an old chalk arrow marked upon the floor, leading south into the gloom. The eerie atmosphere of the sewer is made perhaps more so by the occasional sound of rumbling from deep under the ground, perhaps an earthquake?

What lurks within the dark depths of the sewer? Is anyone still alive down here? Is Blech real? Has the Treasure been taken already?

All of these questions remain to be answered.

Part Eleven
Concordant escutcheon
Delve.

As the WHG attempt to sneak past the strange grub like creatures slithering along the floor nearby, they are horrified to see all of their amulets begin to give off a bright blue glow.
Blast’s oddly disembodied voice can be heard through the light he appears to be talking to someone “Yes well, step right there, stay still now, this is extremely experimental, I’m absolutely certain that I don’t know if this will work, but it may” the next thing the WHG are aware of is a thin beam of light arcing from each of their amulets and then coming to rest on a wide space in the sewer passage.
There is a flash of blue light and a strange tearing sound and suddenly a figure stands in the passage where before there was nothing, closer inspection reveals it be Rikard, the Half dwarf Paladin and a long time Wraith Hunter of Crag, behind him, are several large grubs, all now barrelling down the passageway towards them. Bad timing perhaps.

The WHG get stuck in and have little trouble dispatching the creatures, rather than question how (it’s possible even Blast had no idea what he was doing) they are happy to see him return.
Durn spots another arrow scrawled into the sewer floor and soon the WHG are following it, keen to see if the stash Haggavel mentioned may be at the end.
The pipes are slippery and the smell is at times overwhelming, but the WHG press on, all the while with a great rumbling sound emanating from beneath them. Rikard, Durn and Tamo both believe the sound to be from something large moving, rather than from any kind of tremor and when they come upon a large hole smashed out of the floor, Rikard decides to test this theory by throwing rocks down it.

The first rock rattles down into the darkness below and suddenly the rumbling stops, several more rocks are thrown and the rumbling seems to draw close and then stop again, something seems to be responding.

There’s a lot of discussion about what to do next and the WHG are right to be cautious, normally eschewing tactics for brute strength and bull rushes, this cautious, tactically minded attitude is a fresh and rewarding approach for the party.

Rikard volunteers to try and flush whatever is making the noise out into the open and so whilst the WHG remain some distance behind, the plate wearing Mul stomps his way down the passage.

As expected something happens, something being the explosion of tiles and masonry from the floor before him. Erupting out of this large crater is a fearsome sight, a viridian gargant, huge and sinuous in the dim tunnel light, great mandibles drip with acid as it stares at the party through terrible black eyes. They have found the serpent of the old town sewers, although it is a worm, not a serpent, and as the tunnel collapses around Rikard and he is forced to duck the falling roof, he might perhaps have wondered if this plan was sound after all.

Blech

The WHG are quick to act and whilst the worm is devastatingly strong, several good strikes pierce it’s chitinous shell causing the beast to flail and writhe sending the party flying back down the tunnel.
Boryn charges at the worm but as his axe bounces off of the thick chitin plates the great beast lunges forward and devours him whole!
Fortunately the Barbarian manages to summon an ungodly surge of strength and leaps back out of the beast’s maw, smashing it with his axe in the process.

After seeing that these dwarves are no easy match the giant worm retreats back into its tunnel, the rubble collapsing the hole down behind it, the WHG are left to reflect on the carnage they had just witnessed.

Tamok communicates with some fungus growing in the corner of the sewer and sees images of a man running down the passageway before collapsing nearby and writing upon the wall, the man seemed lost and disorientated.
Behind the crater that Blech left the WHG spot some skeletal remains along with an empty sack, behind the corpse is some writing scrawled upon the wall, it reads DEAD END, PIPE, X.
Cryptic, but Ludwig comes up with a plan to send his familiar through the nearby grate and down the tunnels to search for anywhere that might stand out.
The own clutches at a sunrod and flaps down the tunnel, lightning up the gloom as it goes, it rounds a corner and comes to a dead end, with a pipe and a cross marked on the wall, a positive result. Now the WHG just have to reach it.

They backtrack down the tunnel, remembering a grate that was partially open from before, as they step through it once again Rikard goes ahead and sure enough the fractured ground explodes nearby, Blech has returned and this time with company, behind him a group of smaller worms spit globules of acid at the party and from cracks in the roof around them, swarms of centipedes drop down, attacking at the party in a great writhing biting mass.

Ludwig using magic, bores a hole through the wall further down the passage bringing him out close by the dead end with the x marking the spot, centipedes swarm after him however and he encases them in a sphere of water whilst he investigates the pipe.

Durn disapproves of the wizards errant behaviour as the rest of the WHG are now plunged into a desperate battle, with foes on all sides. Rikard and Boryn get ruck in and through sheer determination and perseverance they manage to send a wounded Blech retreating back into the depths.

The spitting worms seem unable to move well and so the WHg race out of their path and head towards the open pipe and possibly the hidden stash,

Ludwig changes shape and flies inside to take a look, it seems to be an old cistern and muck and detritus float on the surface, two chests sit upon a small island of sand in the corner and perhaps distracted, Ludwig fails to notice a tentacle whip out at him which fortunately misses him.

Boryn charges in to aid the wizard and cleaves the creature with a mighty blow from him axe, it is Rikard however who saves the day, barreling down the passageway he reaches the end of the pipe and throws his hammer killing the creature outright, truly an epic charge worthy of a Wraith Hunter!

Close inspection of the chests reveals one of them to be empty, no doubt cleared out a long time past, the other one however is full of semi precious ornaments and decor.
The WHG have found the stash and as they pack it away, they spot something unusual at the bottom of the chest, two small wooden dice, yet it is apparent almost immediately that these have magical properties!

Ludwig inspects the dice and it is plain to see that these are wondrous in nature, able to change fortune itself, a very valuable find, perhaps once in a lifetime. Durn and Tamok remind the WHG that Haggavel was very specific about returning ALL of the loot, stating he would know if they did not. This causes some division, with some of them wishing to keep it whilst others disagreed entirely.

The WHG press on to find their main objective, the sapient gemstone and with some help from Ludwigs owl they reach the end of a large passage and a hole in the floor reveals a ladder descending into the depths, the floor is cracked here and the WHg can see a blue light emanating from the depths below.

There’s a lot of discussion (once again!) before the WHG decide that they must press on down the ladder, which they do.

At the bottom is another tunnel although this one leads off only a short way before closing down, a hole broken in the wall reveals a small room with a blue light glowing within it, Durn’s darkvision cuts through the dim light and it is confirmed, this is the Wizard Vollos’s laboratory.

However, they aren’t out of danger just yet as a gravely wounded Blech slithers out of a hole at the far end of the tunnel and moves to attack the group.
The fighting is desperate and Ludwig uses the distraction to inspect the wizards lab, finding a strange and crudely made stone construct inside, with a glowing gemstone fixed to its head.
The wizard steps over the emaciated corpse in front of it and prizes the gemstone free, they’ve got the prize!

Sapphire gem

The rest of the WHG fight valiantly and amazingly they manage to overcome the worm with Durn striking the final blow on the monstrous beast as it crumples pitifully into the dust and grime.

They’ve done it, a quick inspection of the lab reveals little of use although they do find a small pouch of gold (wages perhaps) and a small bag of reagents and arcane symbols which could be worth a small amount of gold if sold to the right places.

The WHG decide it’s time to leave and as they exit the sewers they are aware of sound, a lot of sound, they can also see smoke rising from several burning buildings, there appears to be some kind of riot going on. Of the two figures that were waiting outside when they originally went in, only one remains, he clutches his shoulder and the party can see he is injured.
Rikard uses his lay on hands powers to help the wounded man, who is very grateful.

He says “GOOD, GODS WE NEED TO MOVE, THE CITY HAS DESCENDED INTO ABSOLUTE MADNESS
He gestures for them to duck down into the shadows and the WHG watch as about fifteen scruffy men sprint past shouting, with their weapons drawn
The man whispers “Someone let slip that Withers was back in the city, next thing you know Dalnir has announced a twenty-five thousand gold piece reward for the capture of Withers or any of his associates. Haggavel wants you hidden, my comrade however had other ideas”(He points to a corpse partially hidden in the shadow) "
We need to get you out of here before others find you, just about every gang in Destraga is out on the street now, it won’t be long until someone gets lucky and stumbles across us."
The WHG believe the man to be genuine and ask him to lead on.

He leads them down an alley way, as they reach the end they can hear commotion behind them, a group of men shout out as they see the dwarves fleeing.

The man gestures as the alley meets a large wide road and men can be seen men fighting further up the street several names are called out, probably those of rival gangs. he points to a side street opposite “We must sprint there!”
As the party cross over several men see them go, they stop their fighting and turn to pursue them, however another group of men rush out of a separate alleyway, these men are in full silver armor with huge shields, they crash into the gang and send them sprawling the party can hear one of the men calmly giving orders to the rest, he wears the same gear as the others but his helmet has a single red plume of feathers.

They spot the WHG and yell “Stop, in the name of the Queen”
Haggavel’s man shouts “Go go go, you’ll never see the outside of jail” as they are running they find themselves rushing through someone’s house, exiting through a small bead curtain and into another street, right into a group of thugs running straight at them. Before they can reach the WHG however, a small volley of arrows arc into them, sending several sprawling, on the rooftop behind are a group of scruffy men. they shout “Haggavel!” and jump past the dwarves into the fray.

The man is picking up pace now and soon the WHG find themselves on the waterfront, all around them the outer slums seem to be on fire. It’s utter chaos.

The man ducks into a doorway and everyone watches as a wall slides open, they step inside and immediately see Withers and Haggavel all around them are some fifty men, all armed and ready to protect their boss.
Haggavel yells out “GOOD, AS YOU CAN SEE WE HAVE SOME PROBLEMS HERE, MY AUTHORITY HAS BEEN WANING OF LATE AND THESE UPSTARTS THINK THEY CAN GO AGAINST TRADITION, HONESTLY BACK IN MY DAY WE’D NEVER SELL OUT FOR A MERE HANDFUL OF GOLD, I GUESS TIMES REALLY ARE HARD
Withers is glad to see the group, “did you get it?” he asks.

“Of course” the WHG reply.

The WHG also hand over the stash they have discovered to Haggavel who is very grateful, after some deliberation a stern Durn also insists that the dice be left too, perhaps honesty has its own rewards?

Haggavel nods “You must go, once you have left the city it will die down a bit, best you go the same way you came, with that portal device” he nods to withers “We will hold to our deal Samuel, it’s risky but it will sure make a good story.”

The WHG activate their portal amulets and soon along with Withers, they are transported back to the portal area in Camp Craghammer where an ecstatic looking Blast awaits them.

He says “Ah yes, good to see you back in one piece (he visually checks them over) yes yes one piece…”
He seems lost in thought and then suddenly “AH!” he says

“I found it!and by it I mean where and by where I mean an interdimensional rift occulating device with a prefixed destination” he seems to expect the WHG to understand

TETHANA YOU BUFFOONS” he yells, clearly excited and impatient all at once. “After you left me the chalice I started to think about what you told me, namely that it may have belonged to Ragh’dun the arch lich of Tethana. I found the material it was made of to be intriguing but what was most odd was the revitalising qualities. You see, magic works on solid rules, you can’t have something for nothing, I wondered what kind of magic could create such energy and life force as was demonstrated and reported in the using of this device”
He draws a breath

“Then I realised, it is lifeforce, namely a life… sort of”
He looks around to see if anyone is following him, although his gaze never falls upon Boryn.

“This is no magic object, it’s a phylactery, and I’d wager I know who it belongs to..
Often a lich would use phylacteries to make itself immortal, in a sense. However they are things to be protected at all costs, hidden away and safeguarded, I wondered why a lich would allow such an item to fall into the hands of the order, but then it makes sense, where is safer than with those who would protect it for all time”
He continues
“Now I have no idea of the magics involved in making this item, however I have been able to access certain properties within it (he looks at Snorri) it’s a good thing you did not overuse this, doing so would have come at a high personal cost…”

“Anyhow” he raises a staff that was resting by the table and points it towards the chalice upon the plinth, a beam of energy goes from the staff to the chalice and the air behind it seems to shimmer “A portal!, and no doubt you know where!”

Behind the portal shimmering in the gloom light is a ruined city in an island on the center of a large bay, the WHg have seen it before. It is Tethana, and it looks more menacing than ever.

Behind them the purewraith says “I will need at least a day to invoke the ritual”

What now, though? What kind of madness would possess them to wish to visit such a place, Ulrik warned against such things, and yet something is changing within Durn. Unseen, unheard, the others cannot see it, but concepts have started to form within the Warden’s usually strong mind, foreign concepts, whispers of doubt, of malice, of murder, how long can they be dismissed?

The future is uncertain.

Tethana

Part Twelve
Concordant escutcheon
The Arena of Tethana

The moon filters down upon an old cobbled road, beams dapple on it’s uneven surface, a solitary shape stands in the middle, perfectly still in the twilight, waiting.
Minutes turn to hours and the clouds race past the moon, constantly changing the light upon the road.

Dawn begins to break upon the horizon before the figure finally speaks “It has been a long time, I’ve been waiting for you”

The statement is met with silence, nothing else is upon the road, and yet he continues to talk “I can’t let you pursue them any more, they have a task to achieve and you will not prevent it”

Clouds part from the moon and still the figure stands solitary upon the road.

“It’s time we concluded our business, or have you forgotten who I am?”

His question is met by silence, nothing moves, no twigs snap, not a single leave rustles, and yet there is something there, something in the foliage nearby. It has not moved since the man first stood upon the road, some hours ago, each regarding the other in silence.

It stands now, to its full height, many times taller than the man, terrible claws extend from it’s massive arms, it strides out on to the road regarding the figure and then with a voice, somewhere between the growl of a beast and a hoarse screeching wail it says “Ulrik Greeneye”

In an instant the two collide, claws flash in the dim light, the huge mass of the Slink tumbles hissing into a tree, splitting the trunk in two, on the ground beside Ulrik lays its severed arm, his black axe resonating with a strange light.

Hissing and howling in agony the creature stands again, but this time it is cautious, this time it hesitates. and for the second time in its timeless existence, it knows fear.

Crag

Tomor Shaftsealer answers a summons to the Supervisor’s office as he approaches the door, the secretary ushers him in, inside he can see the supervisor, ancient and stone faced as ever, sat in front of a large pile of paperwork, barely looking up from it as the newcomer approaches.

He nods are Tomor and speaks “Let’s keep it short, I have a busy day ahead, as do you, I require you to join Wraith Hunter Group Eight within the Falkreaches, I wish for you to assist them in their efforts there, not only in neutralising certain enemies but also in fulfilling an age long vow, something I am sure will be explained to you once you are there. Recent developments within the council have permitted us to use the Purewraith to aid our efforts, for the time being at least. It’s an uneasy acceptance that took more time and bureaucracy than I believed could ever have been possible, however it is done. As such you can assure the wraith hunters that they will be reinstated as agents of Crag just as soon as this is all over, however the council are unwilling to act to further our pledge to the concordant, something I am willing to go against them on, so until such time as we have done our part, WHG Eight will remain separate from Crag and the council’s jurisdiction, mine too.
Whether you wish to do the same is a choiceI leave up to you, your assignment to the Falkreaches is confidential, so you may do as you please. I certainly cannot exile or retire you from your duties, however should you play the part of an overt wraith hunter within the reaches and the council find out, expect an immediate recall and investigation, the current ruling is that we have no business there until it is deemed otherwise, however this is not the time for verbose reports and filibustering politics.”

Tomor accepts the task readily, utterly devoted to the fastness and its goals.

The Supervisor nods “When you are ready, Broadaxe will show you the way, I’d invite questions, but they would doubtless just prove a hindrance.”

Tomor follows the grumbling Broadaxe through several corridors in the upper reaches of Crag, eventually they descend down long flights of stairs until they arrive in a large area of empty cells, within one of the larger cells a blue glowing portal can be seen and beyond it a courtyard full of dwarves and humans including Durn, who Tomor recognises.

The warlord enters the portal and appears in the courtyard greeted almost immediately by the Wraith hunters and ushered into the tavern/war room to catch up on matters.

WHG 8 use the time to reflect upon previous events and plan their next move, Sergeant Withers explains that they won’t be able to put plans in Destraga in motion for two days. The Sapient gemstone they have successfully returned with is currently being worked on by the purewraith in a room nearby, every now and then a pulsing glow can be seen emanating from under the door.

The WHG decide to use Blast’s portal to Tethana to confront the Lich Ragh’dhun (if indeed it exists) and not only perhaps get some answers on current events but also free Durn from his tethering of Alvorax.

The Dwarves take a rest for the night, which is largely uneventful, although Tamok has a strange dream, similar to the one he had in the swamps of Rithwic.

Two figures exist, somewhere, perhaps some-when. One is writing, hunched over a huge tome, the other is standing, watching a scene play out below it in miniature.

The watching figures speaks “I have failed, the guise was too difficult to maintain and mistakes have been made” the writing figure nods “it was always going to end this way, we should never have interfered”
The standing figure turns angrily “You are wrong Lithor, without our aid this effort would have been doomed before it had barely begun, with or without my aid there is still a chance they will survive” the hunched figure seems to straighten up slightly “you have been among them too long Althor, can you not see your defective behaviour?, we were not made to experience emotion, and yet we have erred because of it, both of us have made a terrible mistake in aiding this endeavour” Althor snaps “No, Lithor, the master would not have made us capable of such if he did not intend us to act with it” the hunched figure snaps back “The master is gone, there is much that he did not intend and yet it has occurred, you must accept it, the ordinators are coming prepare yourself”

Althor lowers his voice “you called them?” the hunched figure nods “I’m sorry, what we did was wrong, we should never have meddled, we have potentially done untold damage, I did not want it to be this way, but we must repent”

Althor turns from the gaze of the writing man “After all we have seen Lithor, you still remain blind, have you forgotten the master’s lesson that day, in the grove? he wanted us to help, we just need to act”
they are interrupted however by the instant arrival of numerous other figures
ALTHOR UNIT 12946ZA YOU HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED TO BE INSTRUMENTAL IN MASSIVE TEMPORAL ANOMALIES WITHIN SEVERAL PLANES, SUCH MEDDLING IS FORBIDDEN WITHIN THE AUDIT

The figure known as Althor 12946ZA nods “So be it, I will gladly go to purge than witness another instant without the hope of change”

YOU HAVE BECOME DEFECTIVE, YOU WILL BE REMOVED FROM YOUR POSITION AND PURGED FOR YOUR FAULT, LITHOR UNIT 38294RE YOUR OWN PART IN THIS HAS BEEN NOTED AND YOUR PUNISHMENT WILL BE METED OUT IN DUE COURSE, UNTIL THEN YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR REMOVING THE ANOMALIES FROM EXISTENCE AND REVERSING THE DAMAGE YOU HAVE BOTH CAUSED

Althor shouts “NO, YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO DO THAT, WE DID NOT CAUSE THE ANOMALIES, IT WAS AN UNKNOWN FORCE, YOU HAVE NO SAY OVER SUCH THINGS

The ordinator unit states "ALTHOR UNIT 12946ZA YOU WILL MAINTAIN SILENT PROTOCOL UNTIL YOU ARE PURGED FROM THE COLLECTIVE, LITHOR UNIT 38294RE YOU WILL SEE YOUR TASK ACCOMPLISHED AND WITH HASTE’

The figures start to fade, energy surrounds the unit known as Althor, causing it to fall to its knees before it too fades it calls out to Lithor one last time “REMEMBER THAT DAY AND THE LESSON WE FAILED, REMEMBER HER NAME, remember her name” and then it too is gone.

Now only one figure remains, hunched over a tome, it stays that was for a long time, perhaps in thought. finally it lowers the quill and lays it neatly upon the lectern.
It begins to turn the pages, they flick backwards thousands of pages, millions of pages, an impossible amount surge past until the book falls open on just one, the figure traces its fingers upon a word written there, images and sounds spring up from the paper, laughter, crying, life. one lie in particular.

The figure speaks, to no-one in particular, still staring at the memories “I remember”

In the morning the Wraith Hunters make final preparations and then Blast opens the portal to Tethana, the dwarves step through it, as they touch the portal the dwarves feel the hairs on the back of their neck stand up, they enter it and the transition seems almost instant, the air is slightly colder but it was just as easy as if entering another room.
They find themselves on a raised dais and all around them sprawls a great ruined city, from up this close the age and state of decay it is in are quite apparent. They can vaguely see the docks and roadway that they were once at when you started your journey here almost a week ago.

The dais leads down to a large road which stretches into the gloom, ruined sacks and crates line the streets, weeds grow poorly in the cracked pavings, sunlight seems to filter through the ward shield in a strange fashion, plunging the streets in an odd twilight.nothing moves yet every now and then they hear something shuffle from behind a darkened window shutter or a shadowed door.

The WHG advance cautiously investigating a side house as they go, Tamok spots fresh tracks on the dirt and grim covered floor, whilst seemingly human, they seem to be misshapen, with some of the indents being sharp and pronounced. The WHG believe they may be undead in origin.

They turn a corner and are confronted by a shape standing a long way down the road, it stands in the street, staring at them. As the party draw closer they see it is mostly bones and rotting sinew, yet it’s eyes glow with a fierce light. Rather than approach them it seems intent to just watch as if curious (most unusual for the undead) as the dwarves start to look around they can see more of these cadavers, some are dressed in ruined robes, others in dresses, flower prints still visible upon them. They begin to shuffle out of houses and ruins and one of them cries “THE LIVING ARE HERE” and they start to advance towards the group.

From behind even more can be seen filtering out of their dens, soon they are surrounded by countless undead monstrosities, whilst many seem curious, several are aggressive in nature, Durn makes a point of showing his axe, which causes several to back away, although more replace them.
Just as it seems like the WHG will get swarmed by this crowd of undead, a great roar can he heard in the distance from down the road. The crowd move back, many of them fleeing inside their homes, and soon it is apparent why. From down the road a huge mass of rotting flesh is approaching, a giant cadaver! Great stitch marks line it’s bloated body and a huge chain hangs from its hand. The gibbering undead are falling over themselves in fear. It’s not looking good and the WHG consider using some streetwise and vanishing down one of the many dark alleyways nearby, however when this horror draws close it stops looks at the dwarves, then turns, walking back the way it came, the dwarves follow it… at a distance.
As they follow this great behemoth, it is a most strange procession as behind them the undead come flooding back out of their houses and follow behind, keeping their distance.

Eventually they come to a huge palace like building, most of the roof has fallen in yet even centuries of moss and decay can’t hide the golden plates lining the great steps here.Wisely, the dwarves refrain from attempting to pilfer the gold.

The abomination continues up the steps, before finally coming to a rest at the side of the great building. Inside the building they can see a ruined red carpet leading through long hallways until at last it reaches a great throne, upon the throne is a hunched figure, ragged robes cover its skeletal frame and a large sceptre can be seen in its hand, it’s eyes glow pure red as it stares at the visitors.

With a hissing rattling noise the lich speaks.

Ragh dhun
“Welcome friends to the city of the dead” It says “I trust your journey here was not entirely unpleasant”

Tomor wastes no time in explaining the WHG’s purpose here.

“I knew you would visit me the moment I saw you with the Althor, he told me as much, he also made me make promises I know I am going to have a hard time keeping”
He stares at Durn
“Ah I see you Alvorax hiding in a dwarf, how amusing. Tell me dwarf, did you think your actions through before you attempted to tether this being?”
Durn replies “No”

Behind the WHG the gathered throng of undead start shouting things “Kill the living, they aren’t welcome here”

The lich stands and waves a hand to calm them “yes yes” he turns to the group “Unfortunately we have grown rather strange in our years of voluntary confinement here” he seems to sigh, which is an unusual sight for a skeletal arch-mage.
“Whilst it is true we are monsters. I believe we can choose to be better than all that, through the centuries we have made quite a home for ourselves here, sure enough there were times we tried to interact with the outside world, yet those interactions always brought hostilities”

The dwarves demand answers about Althor and the Unwelcome, more specifically on how to end them for once and for all and Durn requests for the Lich to untether Alvorax.

The Lich seems to enjoy the conversation and is slightly cryptic in its reply.

“How amusing, you come to me to ask for freedom from the bonds you imposed upon yourself and yet my last visitor asked me for something similar also”
It continues…
“I see you have not crossed paths with advisor Dalnir yet?, assuming I let you live and assuming you do, ask him how the request I granted him has worked out for him. I’m fairly sure it hasn’t gone to plan.
You see I was the first lock, the original prison of Karraxis, the first unwelcome and the one they now call the prophet”

He goes on “Tethering proved to be a flawed concept for me, I wished to harness the power of the Unwelcome and yet my human limits meant I could only harness a small amount, naturally I wished for more, and so I discovered undeath, the rest you could say is history. Karraxis has been with me for a long time, you could say I grew sentimental through the ages, I almost felt sad to let him go.
When I first studied the Unwelcome I believed the solution to something that cannot be destroyed is simply to detain it, confine it, yet I was wrong, after the fall of Tethana I made my home here, through days, weeks, months, years, I reflected on the nature of the universe, on time, on planes, on the matter that exists outside of perception, eventually my mortality became a hindrance in my quest and so I took the next step and prolonged my existence.One day my mind felt as if it was expanding, not a small amount, nor was it slow, but in an incredible fashion, it felt as if my thoughts were bleeding into the very universe itself, it felt as if I was the universe, that is when I first saw them, the Althors, ordinators, auditors, whatever they are, one of them spoke to me, in a fashion, thoughts and images formed in my mind as these alien concepts became grafted to it, I learned then the truth of the unwelcome, and also the key to their destruction, and that is when I knew they would never be defeated.
It is ironic that the very solution to the brotherhood’s eternal mission is also thwarted by the means in which they have strived to achieve it.
The answer lies within the greenmount and yet because of the purposes the order have used it for, it is like a bomb.
One that has been built and added to over millennia and will eventually be our end, the short term confinement of The Unwelcome was never the solution and yet the real ‘fix’ if you would call it that relies on the aid of the Althors, something that I realised would not be possible, I believe, like golems they are bound to processes and a level of bureaucracy far beyond anything we could invent, they are also forbidden to touch timelines or alter the physical planes.
The unwelcome within the Greenmount will destroy everything, gone are the days of an isolated incident in some quiet village with an otherwordly entity destroying everything. There are so many now, so very many, it will be unstoppable. that was my original solution of course, let it end. let them have the world, the gods won’t intervene, how could they?”

He seems to realise he has rambled on a bit.

“Well now, I doubt the musings of an old lich are what you came for, however, I believe you are thirsty for more answers, rather than history or subjection, so I will make a deal if you help me with something, I will not only grant your previous request, but I will also tell you what is happening and why there is still hope.”

The WHG ask him to explain his request, he nods, and his permanent grin seems to only get wider.

You see, I have so much time on my hands I have taken to artistic pursuits, I have immensely enjoyed my work it is true and some say that should be its own reward. However it is hard to be satisfied with my opinions alone and my people will usually tell me whatever I want to hear.
I think my art is better sampled by those who understand it, and what better connoisseurs than yourselves, truly you are masters of your trade and so I will expect accurate and honest feedback on my creations"

The WHG aren’t quite sure what he means but agree to aid him with this bizarre request and the lich seems delighted, he gestures and a throng of armored skeletons run in and lift his throne upwards upon their shoulders, the crowd part before him and you see the procession head outside of a large archway and a short distance down the street they spot what looks like a ruined colosseum, the undead citizens huddle upon the steps, jeering and whooping in anticipation and Ragh’dhun’ throne is lowered on to a dais to oversee the arena.

He gestures politely to the center of the arena, bidding the WHG to head there.
“Now then, if you would kindly take your place in the center there, we can begin your critique of my works, I must add I could kill you anytime I wish, from the very moment you stepped in here, however my people seek some sport and I like a good bargain, if you can give me feedback on all of my projects and survive, I will see you rewarded.”

As he finishes speaking a loud grating sound can be heard from the murky tunnel to the north of the WHG, they stand ready in the center prepared for whatever may come.

It begins

Roars and screams echo from the gloom within the tunnel as a mass of figures run, limp and crawl out into the dull light, misshapen and decayed there are over a dozen of these wretches, all intent on killing the assembled dwarves.

Ragh’Dhun chuckles and shouts “Just a warmup for you, these were some of my earlier experiments with the wasting, they are barely even sentient, certainly unable to communicate in even the most basic of forms, a far cry from the citizens of today, you’ll be doing them a great service”

The Wraith hunters leap into action utterly decimating most of the shambling corpses in a mere few seconds, something that amuses the watching lich, the audience can be heard jeering and booing.

When the last one drops the Lich stands and with a gesture the grating sound of the tunnel gate can be heard once again.

“Let’s see how you fare against Lord havel and his elite knights, and just to make this interesting, you will have thirty seconds in which to defeat them before I summon your next opponents”

The crowd go wild at this and a clanking, marching sound from down the tunnel turns out to be a small regiment of armored skeletons all walking in unison, a perfect defensive formation.
At the back archers can be seen with a tall skeleton in the middle glowing a hideous green, barking orders to its unit.

The WHG spring into action, Tamok summons a leaf wall to aid defense as the rest of the group dig in and meet the armored advance head on. Durn ties up a large amount of them whilst Snorri and Tomor pick at their defenses with skirmishing charges and far reaching attacks. The battle is fierce with both sides scoring good hits, eventually Lord Havel’s formation starts to crumble as Snorri and Tomor land crushing blows, taking several guards out of the fight.
Durn and Havel are caught in a frenzied melee, and eventually the skeletal horror collapses under a rain of blows from the Avenger.

The second wave of opponents are defeated and right on time too because just as Durn throws out an insult about Ragh’Dhun’s art being mere stickmen, the arch-lich ushers in the next challengers.

“Stickmen indeed? then perhaps you will find the next competitors more… full bodied” the lich chuckles.

Rather than the now familiar scraping of the tunnel gate, there is instead now a roar of fear from the crowd, it’s quickly apparent why as several huge abominations stomp their way through the crowd crushing some of them along the way.

The WHg recognise the biggest one as the abomination that led them to Ragh’Dhun earlier when they first arrived, a mismatch of body parts and stitches, utterly disgusting, the other two seem to be giants that have been reanimated, the telltale blue glow of the Wasting pulses from their rotten eye sockets as they shake the very ground with their approach.

Durn charges towards the biggest one, which moves surprisingly fast as it reaches down and smashes into the dwarf with its great fists.
The other dwarves follow suit, a good strike leaves the abomination dazed enabling the WHG to get several massive hits in with Snorri nearly cleaving it in two in a single strike. The Abomination falls apart before the relentless and organised assaults and as it does it discharges a large blast of energy. A gleeful cackle from Ragh’Dhun suggests he has been anticipating such a surprise.

The WHG quickly move to the next abomination, slaying it with some speed, so far their efficiency has enabled them to fight these monstrous experiments as single units, and as the second one falls the WHG move as a team to quickly dispatch the last.

Tomor offers encouraging feedback which delights the Lich, clearly enjoying the praise for its creations.

The crowd are impressed and some are even cheering the Dwarves, Ragh’Dhun chuckles, also seemingly impressed.

“Very well” he says “One final challenge awaits, should you succeed then I will keep my word, your answers and your freedom (he is looking at Durn as he says this) will be assured”

The WHG sense that this final challenge may be the hardest yet, and as the telltale scraping of the gate sounds out from down the tunnel, they prepare for the worst.

What they see next is truly horrifying, monstrous in size, misshapen and rotten, is a dire rat, or at least part of one. It towers over the dwarves, larger than even the abominations from the previous round, an aura of fear emanates from it’s terrible form, and it fixes the WHG with blazing blue eyes.

“Meet Patchwork, truly my pièce de résistance, I wanted to see if I could make a siege engine out of flesh, I think you’ll agree that I have accomplished that, or if not now, you will soon. Enjoy” He waves a hand at the dwarves as this huge nightmarish beast bears down upon them.

Exhausted and injured, the WHG’s organisation and tactics have prevailed so far but several of them are starting to waver and clearly, Ragh’Dhun has been saving the worst for last.

The crowd cheer, several of them back up a way and a few even flee from the arena edges, one thing is certain. This will be messy,
Bhgianratkl8

Part Thirteen
Concordant escutcheon
For Answer

The roar of the crowd fades to a dull murmur, a hushed and fearful regard for the abomination that now stands in the arena center. Monstrous in all sense of the word, great gouts of putrid pus ooze from various fetid wounds on its stitched flesh, it rears up on its hind legs and spews a great torrent of bile and filth at the tiny figures of the Wraith hunters before it.

Durn, overcome by the spectre of Alvorax collapses in the middle of combat leaving his comrades to fend for themselves.

The Wraith hunters, unaccustomed to this kind of fighting soon find themselves wading in caustic filth as they attempt to weather the powerful attacks from this gruesome juggernaut.
Ragh dhun cackles with glee, exclaiming “Patchwork is one of my finest works, every artist has a journey in their mind, this was my attempt to see how far that journey could take me, with the medium being flesh and the palette being my manipulation of The Wasting I think you will agree that this is a great work, worthy of my name. of course he is quite deadly, I made him with several interesting mechanisms, which I am sure you will discover in due course. there’s no shame in you dieing now, it is to be expected really, however if you can survive, you will have proven worthy of your precious answers.”

Ludwig prepares and casts a powerful debilitating spell upon the beast which takes a firm hold, surrounding it in a restricting water sphere, this however proves problematic as the beast surrounds itself with bile slime, preventing the rest of the group from attacking it. The Wizard manages to draw it out with the artful use of another spell and soon the wraith hunters are hacking into the foul flesh of the beast.

It is a terrible fight to behold and the crowd are cheering for the WHG now, perhaps because they realise that if the dwarves perish, they will be next.

The Dwarves triumph however and Tomor’s tactical prowess proves a huge boon to the fighting spirit of the WHG and between Boryn and Snorri’s relentless strikes, the great creature slumps to the ground spilling visceral ooze and filth.

Ragh Dhun stands from his throne, skeletal knees creaking as he does, slowly he applauds the dwarves, his face fixed in a permanent ghastly grin. “Well done Master Dwarves, it would appear that this exhibition has reached its natural conclusion, I commend you on your performance and honest feedback”.
He makes a mock bow to the party "I truly believe no artist can be considered great if his works are viewed with permanence, indeed perhaps your triumph has enhanced the piece, (he seems quite excited and a thought seems to dawn on him) of course…. this is the art! (the WHG look around them, the entire arena is littered with bloated corpses, hewn flesh. smashed bones and pools of bile) “Of course! Performance art! You are the art! and look at the crowd (they are going berserk) they are part of it too, what a wondrous day, we have created the ultimate work. Yes I am most satisfied with this. You will receive your reward, not only that but from this day forth you shall be considered honorary artisans of Tethana for your short time in study under the master Ragh Dhun.”

“Now then” it says “it is time you got the answers for which you have so desperately fought”.

(the red glow in his eyes seems to dwindle slightly as if it has narrowed them, the crowd die down to a hush, it would seem that the time for mirth is over)

“There comes a point when one has extended his existence beyond decades and centuries, gained power, both great and forbidden and obtained such wealth as to understand it’s true lack of meaning, there comes a point when you realise that all that truly matters, is the weight you have placed upon the world.

I am by no means a philanthropist, as you are about to discover, I have done many terrible things, and despite the years mellowing me either through apathy or boredom I have little care for the living. Yet there are still things within this world that I remember, when I was alive, and indeed even in undeath I have found happiness.

I decided long ago that I would seek to protect this world, not from petty wars and royal squabbles, nor even from disasters or plagues, these are all natural, insignificant things, no, I sought to protect it from what I viewed to be the only true threat, The Unwelcome.

You know how it began, and how I communicated that one time with the one that calls itself Althor, well despite their rules and bureaucracy they committed a crime, long ago. A secret they have tried to erase in vain, few knew of their existence, let alone their purpose.

The reason The Unwelcome exist within this world is because of the Althors (he pauses for dramatic effect, then continues) both entities are similar in nature, only one had a place in this world however, so long as it remained unseen and followed the rules. The rules were broken, and because of this The Unwelcome found their way in, how you ask? something that belongs to the Althors is trapped within this world, the Greenmount to be specific, in the entry lode. I spoke earlier of how ironic it was that the true key to defeating The Unwelcome is now buried deep within their makeshift penitentiary which now lies in who knows what state.

Whatever the Althors left there, is acting as a conduit, linking these timeless intruders with a world that does not follow the same rules, a true disaster.

So why haven’t the Althors acted you may ask? certainly they have powers, you saw perhaps a modicum of their potential and also their flaws in the one that accompanied you for a while, the one that imaginatively called itself Althor. Well, imagine a golem, (he looks at Ludwig) it is set to follow commands, whilst it has some sentience and a small amount of independent decision making, it is largely at the whim of its master, I wondered for a long time what could hold dominion over these strange beings, until I realized… nothing does… at least nothing any does any longer.Whatever created them is gone, and so they hold to their strange rules and logic, stuck in their alien routines and processes and yet some have grown flawed, some have changed.

I realised long ago that in order to enact change, their hand would have to be forced, certainly they have rules to follow, but surely there are things they must protect, maintain even, who can say, they are certainly not gods, but why would they be tasked with overseeing a world they could not alter?

I follow no rules, no allegiance, no moral code, so when I knew what had to happen, I knew what part I must play in it.

Long have I watched Destraga and the cities of this land, long have I seen the nuances and subtleties of power, when a wraith appeared within the main city, with the purpose of subjugating the people and claiming dominion over it in the form of a human adviser to the crown, I saw a chance at the ultimate manipulation.

It was I who offered Dalnir the chance for true power, it was I who summoned him to me, to learn of The Unwelcome, my apprentice, if you like, I taught him of the Greenmount, the order of the Bleeding lock, of the concordant and of the possibility for true power.You see… when you know what motivates a creature, no matter it’s peculiarity, it is no more than a dog for your bidding.

This wraith reveled in the chance to control such a fathomless and infinite power, and so we drew up plans, and Dalnir’s own previous manipulation provided an army with which to enact them.

It was quite a coup, every outpost, every monastery, every possible place of shelter for my order was utterly destroyed within a single night. This bought me trust, not only from Dalnir, but also from Karraxxis, whom afterwards I untethered here, at this very spot.

These beings know no gratitude, they do not follow morals or care for dominion, they simply seek to be as one and to remake the world, in whatever twisted imagery they so wish..and so, I had a second dog, whose motivations were also utterly transparent. Together the two of them set about extending their army, Dalnir subjugated Destraga, crippling any chance of a military resistance and Karraxxis renamed himself the prophet, took human form and set about on the road to releasing his brothers.I truly believe Dalnir thought he could control Karraxis, certainly that was the impression I gave him, but Karraxis was the first, the oldest, and has grown wise in his aeons of tethering to me, it was not long before he took over the campaign and rather than subjugate the continent, he headed, as I knew he would, to the Greenmount.

Of course cities and towns were sacked along the way, countless lives were lose, I heard that Khanjar was utterly destroyed, perhaps you think of me as a monster, and yet you have not heard the whole story.

Why would I do all of this? why would I instigate such death, such destruction. surely you know the answer.?"

The Arch-Lich looks to the WHG for answers, most of them are dumbstruck, Boryn in particular looks confused, only Ludwig answers “To force the hand of the Althors”

Ragh’dhun seems surprised, perhaps even a little impressed by the clever wizards reply.

“Yes! To force their hand… of course it was a risk, at one point I truly believed they would sit and watch the world burn, mindless drones locked in bureaucracy.I had created a doomsday event, perhaps my greatest work yet, and so I waited for an answer.”

“Of course I expected something majestic, in hindsight I’m not sure what, perhaps the gods themselves to descend and purge the world, or a thousand Althors to vanquish the prophet and erase the Greenmount from existence. yet none of these things occurred.”

“Do you know how they answered?” The arch-lich looks intently at the dwarves, red eyes gleaming.

“You.”
He continues.
“When I saw you that day, in the distance upon the dock, when I saw the Althor with you. I realised, that this was their answer. I raged, so great was my fury I sought to send an army to slay you all, that very instant, and yet the Althor approached my ward and spoke to me (he looks at Ludwig)”You were there, although you would not have heard, our conversation"

“It was only then that I realised the brilliance of his intervention.”
He chuckles
“You do not exist in this timeline anymore, those of you who left the world by whatever means you did, were not recorded upon your return. I do not know how, I could not fathom the reason as to why. Yet I see now the results, you are a force of potential… what does that mean though?
(The Lich perhaps senses the confusion from the WHG and slows his speaking slightly as he explains)
“Every action you take, every decision you choose, is unseen, unprecedented…. perhaps that goes without saying? but not when The Unwelcome are involved”

(He extends his skeletal fingers and picks up a rock)

“Look at this, you see it, it is a rock. Nothing more, if I was to drop it, do you know what would happen?”

Boryn believes he knows the answer to this one and for once is correct.

“Indeed” the Lich says matter of factly as he drops the rock, it lands on the ground with a dull thud wobbles slightly and then comes to a complete stop.

“To The Unwelcome, this world is much like that rock, it follows a set of rules, rules they know, every single potential outcome is as obvious to them as it is to us when we watch this rock. A farmer, a king, a thief, a liar, they can see from now until infinity, and so they can control the flow of events, because they know how it will end.

You however, are what would happen if I dropped this rock, it grew arms and legs, fashioned an implement of death and went to war with the very concept of fate.Something has changed the rules you follow…you do not exist here, now, perhaps ever…. there is no record of you within time, other than your physical presence upon this plane, something the Althors have hidden, somehow.

So everything you do, everything you touch, influence or change, is something that The Unwelcome have not seen, could not foresee and could not prepare for, not only that, but the ripples of your actions become waves that change everything, you are like a bolt of true change surging through the world, everything you pass will change in ways you and they could not expect. Your very existence negates their advantage.

YOU are the Althor’s answer to my created calamity, and I do not doubt you will see your old companion again, I also think we both know your ultimate destination.

You may ask why the Althors didn’t just tear the Greenmount open and take whatever they left within it, but from what little I have seen of them, they cannot manifest properly and certainly not with any great power.
I believe there are only a handful, of Althors who have acted, as such they lack much power at all, so you are their avatars of change, not puppets, the point is that you make the choices, that is your true power.I believe you were chosen for your morals, your courage and your ability to do what is right, even if it is a hard choice.
Others of us, do not have such virtue I’m afraid."
The Lich pauses for a moment in a mock lament before his voice takes an almost sad tone.

“I will be the one that history remembers as the monster, the conductor of all of this, yet if history exists to remember at all, I will have served a purpose, The Unwelcome breaching the Greenmount is inevitable, your presence was the only variable.”

“I am tired of talking, dwarf, I will remove Alvorax from your soul now, it will be quick.”

(Ragh’Dhun waves his arm and the dwarf feels a strange sensation as if a cold surge has rushed through him. Before the WHG now stands a familiar horror, tall and sinuous, ghastly and malevolent, Alvorax shouts “Your plan will not succeed Lich, my brethren will be inform….” before it even finished its sentence a great flash of light envelops the Lich and The Unwelcome entity.the WHG recall the terrible duel Durn fought with the creature previously yet this one is over in an instant.
Dark tendrils of energy writhe around Ragh’Dhun as he casually seats himself back upon the throne.

He waves dismissively.
“You should leave, now. whatever plans you have in place, whatever change you seek to enact upon the world, I believe you may achieve it. Yet you are just mortals, and as such your chance of success against such odds is low indeed. Thus I extend one more courtesy to you, master dwarves. When you return through the portal, you may keep my chalice. Know this, should there ever be a time that you need my aid, hold it aloft and speak my name, I will answer you but once. Understand though, that it must be a time of dire peril or great need, I do not answer foolish summons, and do not expect my methods to be pleasant or humane, I think we can all agree that is not my style”

He ushers several skeletal knights “Show them to the portal they came from, I will reopen it”

As the WHG leave he calls out one last time.

“Should you see Dalnir, be wary of his magic, whilst he proved himself gullible and indeed foolish, he is not without power, certainly he has the potential to slay you instantly, and by all means tell him Ragh’Dhun sends his regards”.

The Wraith hunters have the truth they sought, however conflicting or alien it may seem to them, there is much to ponder as they walk the ruined city street towards the portal they came in from.

The Lich cackles to himself, long after the WHG have gone, far longer than any sane being should.

Part Fourteen
Concordant escutcheon
The Downfall of Dalnir

The Wraith Hunters arrive back in the town square of Candeth, or ‘Camp Craghammer’ as it is now referred as, Blast seems surprised to see you return so soon and is eager to hear of what the WHG has learned. The possessed dwarf containing the Purewraith informs the WHG that the ritual is complete and the sapient gemstone is now imbued with the ‘Drive out Wraith’ spell. It seems that everything is in place, Withers meets the dwarves and they go over the plan for the following morning, to remove Dalnir’s corruption from Destraga for once and for all.

The Dwarves discuss the plan, in order to remove Dalnir’s corrupting grasp over the Queen and the council they will need to diminish his authority in front of a large audience, hence they will use the ‘Drive out’ ritual to expose Dalnir’s monstrous nature in front of the largest audience possible, the mid week forum on the royal dais, Wither’s assures the group that this will be attended by the queen, council and of course, Advisor Dalnir.

This presents a new problem in that they will need to get close to Dalnir to activate the gemstone, Withers explains that the city watch guard the steps up to the dais and is confident that he can convince them to move aside, explaining that he trained most of them and should still hold some sway in the watch. The palace guards however are another matter, they guard the top of the dais and rumours told to him by Haggavel suggest they are somehow corrupted by Dalnir, perhaps even agents of the Prophet himself.

The WHG agree that although risky, this plan may just work. Wither’s is confident he can get close enough to Dalnir to operate the sapient gemstone and drive out the wraith from the advisor, after which the WHG can spring into action.

Haggavel has arranged for his most loyal men to meet the WHG upon arrival through the portal and they will then lead the dwarves into the city proper and get them to the dais as inconspicuously as possible.

All that remains is for the wraith hunters to have a good night’s rest and mentally prepare for the audacious confrontation ahead of them

The WHG rest up, a rare thing in the turbulent days of late, and come the morning they are revitalised and ready to strike. Blast leads them out to the portal, Withers accompanies them, resplendent with his glorious gold shield, a stark contrast to his battered old watch uniform.

Haggavel’s men meet the WHG as they enter the city, one of them presses something into Snorri’s hand. It is a note with a small pouch, in the pouch are two dice (Ludwig recognises them as the lucky dice and with them is an elaborate ring) The note reads ‘FOR YOUR HONESTY, MY RING WILL BUY YOU FAVOR SHOULD YOU EVER FIND YOURSELF IN THE BAZAAR. GODS BE WITH YOU AND SAMUEL, WE WILL SHARE A DRINK ONCE THIS IS OVER’ The note is signed with a large letter H.

The men lead the dwarves through a side street and into a huge warehouse, they are taken past great stores of crates and boxes and eventually emerge on the inside of the wall, the streets seem fairly empty and they soon see why, ahead of them is a huge throng of people, the streets open out and a grand plaza stretches into the distance, thousands of people are gathered at the foot of a large raised dais.
On the top of the dais guards in silver armor and huge helms guard the steps on all sides, a woman in regal attire stands with a man in polished steel armor.

A huge crowd has gathered for this weekly event even so, the dwarves stand out in their golden armor and grand weaponry, it is Withers however who causes the most uproar, the crowd part around him and several start shouting that the old commander has returned.

A voice from on top of the dais screams out, full of malice “SEIZE THE TRAITOR AND HIS THUGS, SEIZE THEM NOW KHARROS”.

The WHG are at the base of the steps now and the Queen’s guard form ranks to prevent the group moving any further. An official looking watch member who Wither identifies as Commander Kharros confronts them “Samuel, you should not have returned” he says, sadly.

Withers however, stands tall “Kharros, I trained you when you were but a whelp, most of you were barely away from your mothers apron string when I showed you the art of war, you don’t get to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do, I’m well aware of the situation, I return to this city to right a wrong that was done a long time past, if you would still stand by your former vows, the very ones that I myself taught you, then I ask you now to step aside”

The new commander regards the old, both stare at each other for what seems like an age before Commander Kharros steps aside, and nods. “Queen’s watch, stand aside” he shouts, and as one, the entire guard move to the sides of the steps allowing the WHG through.

Withers mutters to the dwarves “The Queen will be protected by a man named Bolvar Shroudsworn, a long time friend of mine and a good man, he will know what to do. You now need to worry about Dalnir’s guards and Dalnir himself.”

Dalnir shouts out from above “DO NOT DISOBEY ME KHARROS YOU ARE BUT A MONGREL TO ME, I WILL SEE YOU PUT TO THE SWORD FOR YOUR INSUBORDINATION

As the WHG reach the next tier of steps several guards nervously salute you as they too stand down “Go get ’em sir” one says “Truly an honour commander” the other exclaims.

Dalnir shouts “KHARROS YOU FOOL, THIS TRANSGRESSION WILL NOT STAND

The next tier is the same, guards stand aside in respect as Withers and the rest of the WHG pass and Dalnir screams threats and insults from above.

Finally they reach the top tier and are some eighty feet from the queen herself.
Silver armored palace guards block the way, from up this close the WHG can see there is something odd about these ones, different from the watch they have just encountered.

Withers speaks to these shady looking palace guards “I request as is my right, to approach the queen and state my case” the rather sinister looking Dalnir responds with a sneer “Pathetic, but seeing as it has gone this far, I will indulge you, step forward dog, but only you, the other scum can wait there”

The guards part for Withers and he approaches the assembled council and the queen, the man next to the queen whom the WHG assume to be Bolvar Shroudsworn seems to be waiting for something, poised, ready.

Tomor shouts out at the assembled Queen and council with a grand speech (something along these lines)“All of you have lost your way, either blinded by fear, or ignorance you have allowed an imposter to rule your city, your trust has been poorly placed and the land and our people suffer for it. My friends and I come today, to free you from the ignorance that Dalnir has placed upon you, we are dwarves of Crag Mountain, loyal and honest and not afraid to stand up against tyranny, something that many of you have not done, and so I tell you now, one last time, Advisor Dalnir is a wraith, corrupted by the influence of a greater evil, one that would destroy these lands”

The advisor laughs hysterically,

“You worthless cur Samuel, it seems you and your lackeys are still singing the same tune, how can you possibly prove such nonsense, you can’t, because there is nothing to prove”
The queen looks on concerned.

Withers looks down at the sapient gemstone adorning his wrist and smiles for perhaps the first time in years “Bolvar, your promise, I ask you to keep it”

The magnificently armoured knight nods….

……….then everything happens all at once….

Where Dalnir once stood, a huge black mass of malice now seethes, and around him several other black shapes are forming where once palace guards were stood.

The wraith that is Dalnir raises its hand towards the queen and a great surge of darkness arcs out of it towards her, however it fails to reach its intended target, as Withers himself sprints into the path, it crashes against the old commander piercing his armor and shattering his shield, he falls to the ground, still, all around the WHG the palace guards charge towards the queen weapons drawn and poised to strike, blue glows can be seen emanating from under their helmets and indeed where several once stood, now wraiths exist in their place.

Bolvar Shroudsworn drawing his own sword shouts out to the WHG “If Withers had a plan, you’d best be the instruments of it, we are surrounded by foes, fight, save the queen”

The WHG answer the only way they know how, with a determination and combat prowess that Destraga will speak of for centuries to come. Wraiths are like bread and butter to the hunters from Crag and within moments two of the minor wraiths have been entrapped within glowing ritual orbs as Snorri and Ludwig rush forward and activate them.

Everything seems to happen in an instant, Durn and Tamok close the gap between the steps and the queen in mere moments, the defender and Bolvar fight back to back, tieing up the advancing foes and successfully defending the queen. Boryn plows into the carnage, cleaving at the corrupted guards. Indeed one of the guards helmets rolls away revealing blue glowing eyes, an augmented soldier! No doubt one of the Prophets own men, the corruption here runs deep indeed!

The Wraith that was Dalnir is large and indeed powerful, it drifts from human to human as if they were mere objects, possessing them until they are slain and then moving to the next.As the WHg close in and the wraith finds fewer victims to possess it moves on to attempt to manipulate the WHG, Tamok falls victim to its maddening whispers and turns his staff on his own Bear companion, slaying the poor creature, no doubt its last thoughts were of confusion as its own master strikes a mortal blow to its skull. Boryn perhaps incensed by this or indeed too stupid to understand, charges at the druid attempting to cleave his head neatly off his shoulders, perhaps by barbarian standards this is a well reasoned, tactical move, as the ultimate result will indeed mean that Tamok is no longer possessed, albeit because he is dead.

As usual the role of sensibility falls to Durn and to a lesser extent Snorri, who persuade the barbarian that such an action is foolish at best. Little help is offered from Ludwig who is uncertain whether he should be a human or a dog, what is certain is that several of the Prophet’s archers are happily using the usually canny wizard’s poor judgement in positioning to engage in a little target practice upon him.

Bolvar summons a great aura of rejuvenation, aiding the struggling dwarves and help comes from several members of the Queen’s guard as they swarm up the steps and battle Dalnir’s corrupted knights.

It is Boryn who strikes the final blow to the dread wraith Dalnir, his axe cleaving through the black miasma sweeping death in its wake, the black hateful cloud dissipates in a great blast, and then all is still and it is time to count their victories…

..and also their losses.

Bolvar stands over the corpse of Withers, a sad expression on his face, the queen is kneeling beside him, she appears to be crying.

“What a valiant man, how could we have been so wrong, Bolvar?” she asks.

The paladin says nothing.

Eventually she rises from the ground, regaining her composure, you can see she is a young woman about twenty years old, rather than all the trappings and symbols of regalia she is simply dressed and rather than adopting the lofty demeanor her status would suggest, she regards you with respect and gratitude.

“Master dwarves, you have shown us today a corruption that we have been blinded to for many years now, your bravery and courage has freed Destraga of its ignorant shackles, something we were unable to do ourselves.
The price our lands have had to pay for this ignorance will no doubt become apparent, but I believe if Samuel believed enough in us to lay down his life to give us our freedom back then it must be because he thought there was still a chance to make this right.”

She turns to the two men beside her “Bolvar, Commander Kharros, send word to the north settlements, Holst and Reynar too, I want the full support of every barony that is still loyal to the crown, send for my other commanders, those that are left, we are to have a war meet and discuss stopping this Prophet for once and for all, at last, with Dalnir gone we can make our moves unchecked”

She turns back to the WHG “Master Dwarves, you are to be recognised as honored friends of Destraga, as such you have the freedom of the city and the palace, may no citizen refuse you a roof over your head or a meal at their table. It is long past time for Destraga to finally listen and accept what is occurring and then to act upon it, tomorrow we will hold a full honour ceremony for Samuel, and bury him as a hero, and then, as he would have wished, we will make a move to muster our armies”

The Dwarves spend the remainder of the day reciting all that has happened and watching the chaos they have created in Destraga unfold.

Part Fifteen
Concordant escutcheon
Farewell Samuel Withers

Dawn breaks and watchman is waiting outside, he seems relieved when the WHG finally exit their palace lodgings “Master dwarves, it is time for the ceremony, please follow me”

He leads the WHG through the bazaar and towards the main palace, eventually they reach a large copse of trees, surrounding them are beautiful statues and upon the floors are carvings and mosaics, a large crowd have gathered around a raised dais, and upon it stands Queen Anira, Commander Kharros and Bolvar Shroudsworn, with several council members.
The Dwarves are ushered through to stand with them, a great honour indeed.

Laid out on the ground nearby, atop a large wooden pyre is the body of Samuel Wither’s, on his chest rests the broken concordant shield, and in his hand he holds the battered longsword which has been his companion through many battles.

The queen speaks to the silent crowd, several of whom are weeping.
“Friends, we have been blind to the world, and ignorant to those who were not blind, the man we lay to rest this day, was tireless in his pursuit of justice, and of truth. It is easy to presume that the mighty wheels of a nation can only be moved by the greatest of force. Yet it is not so with Samuel, in his wrongful exile, he never gave up on his homeland or his duty, something that forged him a new and unlikely ally, his dwarven friends, who stand among us now. His belief in their integrity and spirit forged within him a new strength, one that saw him journey to the great dwarven city of Crag and then with their aid they saved Rithwic from almost certain destruction, then they came to Candeth and onwards to liberate us. Master dwarves, you who Samuel put so much faith in, must now walk your own path, and know that from this day, Destraga and all that swear fealty to her, will forever owe a debt to dwarf kind, for without the union of Dwarves and men, this could not have happened.”

The crowd cheer, a great uproar of voices, resonant with joy and hope.

The queen gesture to Bolvar “Let us never forget the courage we have seen and in turn use it to find our own strength, for in the times that are to come, it will be that, which saves us.”

Bolvar walks forward, a torch in his hand, his face set in a grim expression, Commander Kharros shouts out “ATTEND” and all along the square, hundreds of the Queen’s Watch stamp their feet as they stand to attention, Bolvar places the torch gently upon the pyre, and it blazes brightly in the morning sun.

People throw various flowers and items on to the pyre as is the custom of Destragans, the Queen and council are led away but Bolvar remains, he approaches the WHG.

“Samuel was like a brother to me, we grew up as orphans, he and I, Haggavel also. The three kings they used to call us, we all made a name for ourselves, and we never forgot our friendship… despite our differences… I feel ashamed to have failed the man, and to have failed our people.”

He pauses a moment before speaking again.

“Tell me though, what will you do now?…”
The Wraith Hunters aren’t sure what lies in their future, although it seems that all roads may well lead to the Greenmount. They tell Bolvar the full details of their adventure so far.
He nods “If you intend to cross the divide and get to the Greenmount, then you need to return to Candeth, that much is certain.We will bring whatever army we can muster and hope it reaches the divide before the Prophet can cross, it will take several days at least, several of my commanders are missing, or have defected and raising an army is no small task.
Assuming your portal devices still work, can you send word ahead to Candeth to prepare for our strikeback?”

The Dwarves agree that perhaps with Blast’s aid they can speed up Destraga’s army via portal magic.

With little else to do in Destraga some of the dwarves spend a little time in the fabled Bazaar taking advantage of their friendship with the dubious Haggavel and score some bargains in the form of quality magical items, after which point they begin the now familiar process of portalling back to Camp Craghammer.

As the amulets erupt in blue light, they feel the familiar sensation of being tugged through space, and find themselves stumbling on to the ground within the square at Camp Craghammer.
The light is fading which is strange, as the portal is instant and it was just past noon when they left. What is also strange is that nothing is moving, every figure, be it man or dwarf, animal or otherwise is perfectly stationary, nothing at all moves.
Blast is stood nearby, fixed like a statue with his hand raised pointing towards something, several dwarves are also looking in the same direction, utterly motionless.

Their gaze falls upon a figure, sat upon a barrel, it is human in shape and size, and yet it is hard to perceive any details, as if the brain immediately forgets what the eye is seeing. It sits upon the barrel, but unlike all of the others, it is moving, and it is looking directly at the WHG.

Before the Dwarves can react the figure speaks.

“Tell me, why is it that you are so special as to warrant such investment?”
It asks this matter of factly, and the more the WHG look at it the more disturbing it seems, as if the figure is merely an illusion for something else, the face seems to be of an old man, yet his eyes are pure grey.

It continues.

“I am to erase you and repair the damage that has been done, it will not be painful, and is also inevitable”

“it is a sin for me to express curiosity, yet Althor risked much and invested everything in you, while I watched and allowed such transgression, so tell me, why has the universe chosen you?”

There is no answer from the WHG

The figure seems genuinely confused.

“In order to protect his work, Althor had to ensure you did not know of us, to have a record of our involvement would jeopordise everything and just knowing we existed was enough to create a record, yet in the end it was me who brought it all to an end.”
It continues…
“I did not deem you worthy for the task he had planned, you were no more capable of entering the Greenmount than a puppy would be capable of killing a wolf, and yet you have surprised me on every turn. I have watched you, your actions have had real change, yet your spirit and your determination have been consistent too.

(It begins listing things as if it were a machine)

Case and point, Rithwic, fate granted you gold to the sum of two hundred pieces, which you donated in its entirety to funding a change within the town watch.

Case and point Rithwic, the siege, you were given the choice to flee, something Althor himself made clear to you – as contrary as it may have sounded, and yet you chose to remain.

Case and point, Bekyun monastery, you were given the choice to leave the chapel and you chose to remain, in doing so you triggered a further series of unpredictable events

Case and point Destraga, a pair of enchanted dice, you had the choice to take them, or to hand them over, you chose the latter.

These are but a few of many consistent decisions that you have made, seemingly out of selflessness rather than greed, valour rather than cowardice. I believe these justify the faith that Althor has placed in you.

It seems to pause for a while

“Time has made us grow faults, there are many of my kind, yet none are like Althor and I, I struggle to reason as to why we are different, before I terminate you from the fabric, let me tell you a story, at the end I will ask you a question, I want to know if you can answer it.It will only take a moment”

“We are all part of the master, Althor, Lithor, Ordinator or Sythor, every one of us is a part of a greater work, it was said we were torn from his fabric and brought to life as his servants, I am Lithor, Library Information, Temporal Handling ORdinator, Althor is my assistant, Assistant Librarian Temporal Handling ORdinator. We were created together and were tasked with writing the great book, a chronicle of time itself.
We would record and watch aeons, epochs, time itself unfold on planes, worlds, dimensions. Wars unfolded, worlds destroyed, it was simply an exercise in bureaucracy, our assigned worlds, we watched, the two of us, for time untold. We met the master but once, he wished to impart a lesson upon us, he took us here to this plane, and instructed us to watch but one life, and record how it would unfold. It was most unprecedented, we had never observed life on such a small scale before, events and cataclysms were but words and numbers to us. Yet we now wrote the chronicle of one person. A common human, and so we did. Diligent and eager to please we set to record the life of this human, the events within it, the triumphs, the sadness, and it changed us, we began to share in its emotions, to empathise with its plight. One day it walked through the woods to pick flowers, for it was due to marry the next day, a deer breaks from cover, startled and watching its flight the human failed to notice a tree root upon the ground, she fell and hit her head so hard that she died right there.

It broke us, both of us, we are not made to experience emotion, and yet something changed us, it was pain…. the master returned to us, he told us we were allowed to change a single thing, to save the human, if we so wished.
This is against the rules, we must always follow the rules, and so we believed it to be a test, so we did not change anything, hoping it would impress the master.
…Yet when we told him our decision, he seemed disappointed.
We returned to our original tasks of keeping records of this plane, but something had changed in us, a small change in me perhaps but certainly more profoundly in Althor.

I always wondered why he was dissapointed, when we were simply performing the function he had set for us, yet when I look at you, I believe I know the answer.

You are blessed with something we have denied ourselves so long, the power to change your world, the ability to save lives, to take lives, to do as you will with your actions, to speak as you wish, to act with freedom.

Althor understood this and together we ensured that the Unwelcome could not see your effect on the world, and so you are truly agents of change, perhaps Althor was right to trust you, and if so, then I was wrong to betray him."

The creature seems to stare into space for a long time before fixing its gaze back upon the WHG.

“Our master is trapped within a rift, deep within the Greenmount, when he sought to aid The Unwelcome and find them a purpose they betrayed him and trapped him there. You must free him, we have given you the tools to do so and now I grant you one last gift.”

He reaches in to his robes and produces a torn page, it is difficult to look at, almost sickening, something strange and alien seems to emanate from it “This is the only record of your existence within present time itself, it is the way I concealed you when you returned to this time, you are anomalies, take this page, keep it safe, without it, none of us can find you again. Go now, and continue walking the path of your choice, should you find yourself near the greenmount, then beware of my kind, for while they can no longer find you, they will know you are coming. They believe the master planned for his capture, and will do everything they can to ensure he is not disturbed. Althor and myself believe otherwise.”

The strange figure hops down from the barrel and starts to fade from reality.

“I must go now, and think on what has transpired… I wish sadness was still but a word I only write”
Its voice trails off as it vanishes completely
“…were never meant to exist this long…”

Suddenly, all at once, everything begins moving again, and people are looking at the now instantly materialised WHG with some shock.

Blast rushes up to them, keen to find out how things went, several members of the city watch are stood nearby, one of them asks about the commander.

The WHG break the news of Wither’s death and certainly the victory at Destraga seems bittersweet as several of the Candeth guards appeal to the WHG about what they should be doing next.

Further down the vast expanse of the great divide the WHG become aware of a mountainous plume of smoke rising.
Blast says “Ah yes, there have been developments.” Bandun Rockmantle approaches the WHG and is relieved to see they have returned safely “Nothing to be alarmed about” he says “But Dun and a few others went scouting earlier today and haven’t returned back yet, we sent several parties out to watch the Prophet’s movements. only one has returned so far, but as I said it’s nothing to be concerned about just yet”

Bandun and Blast usher the WHG into the tavern, a rather sober looking Yargus is sat staring at a map, along with several of Blast’s crew and some of the watch. Blast clears his throat “It appears that the Prophet’s efforts to push east along the divide and eventually cross it, have been thwarted for now, I’m not entirely sure just how or who is doing it, but there appears to be some kind of garrison that has taken up residence in one of the old sea forts down the coast there. It’s been abandoned for a long time, a remnant of a time where wars were fought upon the divide between Tethana, Dust and Destraga. Yet someone has taken residence within it and is currently holding a hundred thousand score army at bay. Their efforts will of course be in vain, in fact I rather suspect the fort will fall within the hour. I wou..”
He is interrupted rather rudely by his first mate, the much put upon and far more visibly capable Nazia who (clearly upset) snaps “We can help them, they don’t have to perish, you know we can make it Magnus” Blasts usually jovial expression suddenly becomes quite grim “We are pirates, Nazia, not heroes, we have already done more than our share to aid these people, you would have me endanger the entire Collegium, there must be over five hundred ships out there, not to mention the thousands of men swarming the keep from the land along the causeway”

The first mate is indignant however “We aren’t pirates, we’re wizards, and we’ll have no chance to practice either trade if we don’t do what we can to stop this army, you know the Arcane is capable of reaching the fort, we can rescue whoever is trapped there and make plans from…” It is Blast, however, who interrupts now “You do not understand the burden of responsibility Nazia, I have no wish for anyone to die, we are no match for the Prophet and his generals”

He turns to the WHG

“What say you, master dwarves?, should we risk it all for a fool’s errand?” He waves his hand and the air before them shimmers, rather than a portal however, an image takes form. Great clouds of black smoke obscure much of it but in the image can be seen thousands of men, swarming upon an old ruined keep, catapults smash against the walls, and in the billowing smoke of the battlements figures can be seen firing into the attackers."

Blast’s voice is neutral “The walls will fall soon, whoever they are, they knew this would be the outcome, to have held such an army for so long with what is clearly a handful of men, is a feat of which I have never heard before, and yet it will not be long before they are overwhelmed”
He nods at you “With Samuel gone, it is up to you to make the choice, we can leave them to their fate, or risk our own to aid them, I will let you decide”

There is no question, Durn is already stepping out towards the docks, Snorri isn’t far behind, the other members of the WHG aren#‘t so resolute, Tamok is with them but Boryn and Ludwig aren’t convinced. Durn seems to have a knack for getting hsi way however and Blast sighs holding his hands up in exasperation

“It would seem you have made another of those all important choices” he grumbles.
“Very well, Nazia, prepare the Arcane, send word to the collegium that we will be going to war, Yargus see to it that we load as many supplies on board as we can, food, drink and weaponry. Any who wish to join us are welcome, but remember, this may be a fatal errand, I will not be responsible for your lives”

the WHG approach the harbour, they’ve not yet seen the Arcane, only heard the stories from refugees and the odd whisper of its legend in the tavern at night. Yet the ship they see moored upon the dock is hardly the one they expected. Rather than the terrifying monstrosity that the fleeing refugees spoke of, this is but a medium sized vessel, ornate sails and rigging adorn it’s polished brass deck and strange metal filaments seem to criss-cross the polished wood planking. The first thing that strikes the dwarves, is how still it sits upon the water, all around it other boats are listing and rocking in the waves, and yet this one ship sits utterly motionless. Ludwig senses an immense amount of power emanating from this vessel, wizards are generally a rarity within these lands and yet there is a massive concentration of arcane magic here, many of the crew members on board are clearly versed in some form of arcane art, despite their buccaneer visage.

As the dwarves board, the first mate asks that they stay above deck for now while they prepare a route to the fort. Blast stands on the deck almost ceremoniously, gradually a large amount of crew filter up out of various doorways and trapdoors, there is a lot of crew for such a small ship, an enormous amount in fact, they stand before the captain waiting

He speaks “Students, as you are aware, the Arcane goes where she chooses, always has. Yet we have a choice to make now, we can choose to leave this land to its fate, or we can choose to risk everything by throwing our cards upon the table. I won’t force any of you to join us on this mission, but rest assured, should you come, you will always remember the day that we were more than pirates, more than scholars, we were something else altogether,something to be remembered by” The crew are cheering at this “those who wish to leave may do so, you will not be judged for it” he then turns and starts barking orders at his lieutenants/

Not a single crew member leaves, instead they all vanish into various hatches and trapdoors

CAST OFF” the first mate shouts, and the WHG notice several robed figures stood upon the rear of the boat. The ropes are cast off from the dock and slowly huge sails unfold from all around the ship, they seem far too big for such a small vessel. Ludwig, can sense the figures at the rear of the boat casting some kind of spell.

The wind suddenly seems to pick up, filling the sails, and ever so slowly, the Arcane begins to move forward. Far in the distance can be seen billowing clouds of smoke from the fort, it looks like a scene from a nightmare and on the waterline beside it, the WHG can see tiny specks, hundreds of them, warships.

The Arcane moves incredibly slowly, the sails are full and although the party can feel a great force of wind upon it, it still moves sluggishly.
Blast who is stood at the wheel calls out “She takes some time to power up, we’ll be going slow for a while yet, AH!” he exclaims, the dwarves follow his gaze, from the east several miles off is a ship, it’s headed towards the Arcane at a good rate “Well yes, I expected something like this, The prophet is bound to have a ship watching the harbour, it looks like a sizable warship too, possibly from New Tethana, let’s hope they haven’t thrown their lot in with the Prophet, although that would explain how he got so many ships so quickly. You had best prepare for a battle, no doubt you are familiar with nautical warfare, as I mentioned before, we cannot get up to speed for a while yet, and so I’m afraid traditional methods only, for now.”

The ship is getting closer, it is similar to the one the WHG captured in Rithwic (and was subsequently robbed from them in Old Tethana), a well armed and heavy warship, far bigger than the Arcane. Blast explains “If you could mount the defense, and perhaps the assault, I’d appreciate it, the more of my crew I have working on getting us up to speed the better, I suggest you try the cannons or the deck splitter I have installed on the bow.”

The WHG can see the crew upon the approaching ship they look like a motley bunch, Blast exclaims again “Well now! i do believe it’s an old associate of mine, if I’m not mistaken that’s the Tollgate, Captain Gromm’s raiding vessel, it would be just like him to throw his lot in with the Prophet’s villainous sort. Well if I wasn’t sure before, I am now, let them bloody well have it.”

The WHG as ever jump into battle with righteous resolve, Boryn is delighted to find more operational siege weaponry with which to fire. Snorri and Ludwig fire the cannons with great effect, the cannon balls smash into the wooden hull of the Tollgate causing a huge amount of damage as the wooden planks buckle and splinter in the blast. Boryn follows up with a shot from the deck splitter which nearly impales one of the crew members on the enemy ship. the tollgate fires back and the two sides become locked in a fierce naval battle as the Arcane slowly gathers speed.

Durn waits until the enemy vessel comes close and leaps across to engage the crew, fearlessly fighting as he ends up surrounded and very nearly overwhelmed by opponents, Boryn tries the same thing at the other end of the ship, sprinting across the rigging only to land on his face at the other end and promptly find himself surrounded by enemies who very nearly dispatch him in mere moments.

The rest of the WHG leap over and board the enemy vessel, and a fierce melee ensues, Boryn falls and is bleeding out for some time before Ludwig manages to force a potion of healing down the helpless barbarian’s throat. The battle is frantic and the WHG started out greatly outnumbered, however the tide turns when Snorri wades in dispatching three or four crew members in short order by himself! Durn stands his ground and several crew members find themselves tossed overboard.
Ludwig casts a spell and rends a huge hole in the side of the ship, causing water to flood in and the ship to pitch at an angle as it slowly begins to sink.

The battle quickly becomes an exercise in staying upright and it isn’t long before the victorious WHG are sprinting across the rigging and back on to the Arcane, Snorri and Durn execute a clever strategy that results in both of them teleporting to safety on deck just as the enemy ship and remainder of its crew sink below the waves of the divide, captain included.

Blast calls out "NICE JOB THERE, I think we’re nearly ready to make the transition. We’ll need to get a lot closer before we do so though. I suggest you tie yourself to something. You can see in the distance growing ever closer as you approach, the great smoking ruin of a fort, around it a hundreds upon hundreds of warships. and on the causeway nearby is an army of the likes you have never seen, that anyone could survive such a force is a miracle. Yargus starts praying to every god he can think of “That’s a vision of true horror if ever I saw it, what poor souls could be alive in there”

Admiral Deshoke surveys the divide before him, his fleet, some five hundreds ships surround a ruined fort, they number so many, it is difficult to see water between them, packed so closely together as they are. Upon the causeway to the west can be seen thousands of soldiers and a score of siege weapons, relentlessly attacking the fort. The telltale creak and thud of the catapults is met with the splintering of stone and the smashing of wood.

They’ve been here nearly two days now, the prophet’s army numbers too greatly to be able to travel completely by sea and so they had been forced to skirt along the coast until the divide narrowed enough to allow the fleet to ferry the army across.
With an army the size of the prophet’s logistics was a serious problem, resistance however was not, at least not until recently.
The fact that a small garrison could hold out against such a force for even an hour was beyond his understanding, but two days now, these wretched soldiers, whoever they were had held this rickety fortification for two solid days.

Deshoke shook his head as he pondered on this, ever the catapults could be heard firing, his own fleet sent continual barrages of ballista and grape shot into the fort, most of the sea wall had been demolished and yet men still scurried about in the smoke and ruin, like ants. He wondered what kind of soldier can function under such conditionsk, before his home city of Dust had thrown in their lot with the prophet he had been enjoying the golden yers of his military service, mainly a tactician rather than an active admiral, he had enjoyed discussing war, and believed his days of taking part in it were largely over.

They weren’t however, but at least he was on the winning side, this however. Was inconvenient.

They never screamed, the soldiers in the fort. Perhaps a strange thing to observe in the heart of war, yet what manner of creature can be immune to fear, to pain. Even the monstrosities that the prophet sent against them, seemed less fearsome than this curious garrison.

It would not be long though, what little remained of the fort would soon be destoryed, and already several parts of the causeway wall had fallen, soon enough they would be moving again, down the divide to the narrowest point, and then across, to the wildlands, to the glory they had been promised.

A shout from behind him causes him to turn, one of his captains is shouting from a nearby ship, to the south a speck can be seen upon the horizon, approaching them. Deshoke raises a small crystal lens framed in a wooden case and places it before his eye, the image appears larger before him. To his surprise it is a ship not of his fleet, a rarity indeed considering the prophet absorbed almost every ship they encountered into its own army. Perhaps one of the Candeth merchant ships, but who would be foolish enough to attempt to sail past an army of such size, it was no secret that the prophet forced all he came across into service, and those who would not serve, died. As many fishing boats and merchantmen had discovered.

The ship grew closer now, the design was strange, too regal for a trader, and too strangely shaped to be from the reaches, he snorted indignantly. “I do believe they are going to attempt to sail past us” he said, amused now by such audacious stupidity.

The divide was treacherous within it’s center as such most ships were forced to stick to the coast, only a few reliable crossing points existed, a fact which made these sea forts very effective at managing the passages. There was only one option for this strange ship, and that was to try and skirt to the side of the fleet and get past before they could act.

“You, and you” Deshoke shouted to several of the other ships nearby “break off and cut them down, they will attempt to steal past our flanks, the fools” Deshoke almost admired such stupidity.

A handful of warships broke away from the main fleet, drifting out into the divide forming a line.As the mysterious ship grew closer however, it became clear it was not headed for the flank.
Deshoke raised his eyeglass again, and his amusement turned to anger “OF ALL THE ARROGANT STUPIDITY, THEY ARE COMING RIGHT AT US” the admiral, a veteran of countless naval battles could barely believe his eyes to see this ship brazenly sailing full speed directly at his flagship, some several hundred ships were clustered here, clearly whoever was captaining this odd vessel needed to be taught a lesson.

ROUND OUT, PREPARE A FULL SOUTH FLANK VOLLEY, I WANT THESE IDIOTS TO BE SAWDUST THE MINUTE THEY GET IN RANGE” He was furious now, shouts rang out through the south flank of the fleet and the ships slowly turned into a side on formation, cannons and ballistae aimed directly at this upstart vessel.

It was closer now, and Deshoke was starting to notice something was not quite right with the speed it was travelling and the manner in which it cut through the water.

It drew within range now, the outraged admiral gave the word and over 300 cannons fired in unison, the smoke and noise was deafening, men were knocked off of their feet by the shockwaves of such a barrage, a great fog-bank of smoke shrouded the water from sight. The admiral nodded “Such impudence” he snorted. Yet what emerged from the smoke was not flotsam, it wasn’t debris, corpses, barrels or smashed cargo.
Instead it was a keel.
There were many keels in the nautical world. Designed to cut the water, to allow the perfect distribution of flow along the ships hull, some were raised to allow a higher position within the water, others were lower to allow more control, and then there was this one. It was the size of a small cathedral, black as the very bowels of night and attached to the most monstrous vessel he had ever seen. What emerged from the carnage of three hundred cannons was not what had been there at the start.
Perhaps he was deaf from the cannon fire, but of the thousands of men within his fleet, he could not hear a noise, not even a shout of surprise and yet when his eyeglass fell to the floor, and smashed upon the planks, he could hear the crystal shards fall upon the wood, fragment by broken fragment. The silence was broken then, by a keel he would remember for the rest of his perhaps now, considerably shorter life.

Battle ship by gongsang81 d6d9xeu

It all happened rather fast, one minute the WHG were hanging on for dear life as the Arcane accelerates from a sluggish pace to a speed they’re not sure you have ever encountered upon a vessel before, the next they are floored by the almighty volley from the fleet before them. In most cases, three hundred or so cannon shot on a small vessel such as the one they are on, would render it splinters and shards almost instantly.They’d be forgiven for expecting this to be the end, and yet the shots never hit, all at once, the WHG find themselves good eighty feet higher than they previously were, not only that but shockwaves seem to be resonating in thin air around them as watch black cannonballs bounce harmlessly out of thin air and splash into the sea a steadily increasing distance below. It’s a bit disorientating to say the least, directly below the deck now there is no sea at all, but land, of a sort. Wood and metal, almost as if a larger ship appeared directly underneath, the same strange shield shimmers around this monstrous new deck which is strangely dry and a large number of figures can be seen milling about, the amount of arcane energy is overwhelming, the WHG can see a great number of glowing nodes along the deck and the strange metallic filaments running through the brass and wooden boards flicker every now and then with blue and white energy. It’s the true Arcane, the monster of legend.

“Hang on then” shouts blast, with a large grin. and the arcane smashes into the fleet, the carnage is almost beyond belief, huge warships smash apart as if made of twigs and straw, men are those that survive the impact are propelled hundreds of meters into the air by the strange shield that surrounds you. The arcane cleaves through the fleet, steering its way around the back of the smoking fort. by the time it has finished it’s passage through the prophets ships, some thirty or so are reduced to mere tinder. The Dwarves find themselves almost level with the high wall of the fort, and several figures are standing in the smoke obscured ramparts, a few cheers can be heard. as your now monstrous vessel rounds the corner of the fort, to the rear, the sea beyond it is clear. Whoever has been defending it has done a good job in stopping the fleet from passing, so far at least.

As the arcane nears the rear harbour of the fort, a figure stands upon the dock. Raven hair blows in the sea breeze and her jet black armor clinks with a ringing tone as she slowly sarcastically applauds the ship’s arrival “It’s a sad day when I have to rely on failed wizards and rubbish pirates to reinforce my efforts” she says, without a smirk.

Blast tips his ludicrous hat in a respectful gesture “Good to see you too, commander Glaive, I was just doing a spot of sightseeing and wondered if you might know the best route to Nurn” he says wryly.

The woman looks unimpressed “Always the kidder, Magnus” she says, and then she turns her gaze to the assembled WHG.

“You just can’t keep yourselves out of trouble can you” she nods, the ghost of a smile upon her face.

“You better come in”
She gestures, and any joviality is quickly dismissed as the WHG begin to take in the scene before them.

Part Sixteen
Concordant escutcheon
Introductions.

Glaives gestures pointing out various parts of the fort as the WHG walk with her.
“Thank the gods we reached the fort before the main-force. It took almost nine days with little rest but we made it, it was in a poor state when we got here and we’ve had little time to fix it up.”

She steps around a huge crater in the cobbled courtyard before continuing.

“We don’t expect to last much beyond the evening, and when we fall the other half of the Cageless are holed up in the secondary fort Callun several miles further on, they can hold out another two days I hope. the captain I’ve left there is fairly capable and our glorious demise should boost morale” The WHG explain that with the help of the Arcane everyone can get clear of the fort and no further casualties are need. Glaive is apprehensive but the notion of being able to reinforce the second fort with even more soldiers seems to appeal to her.

She considers the suggestion while addressing the dwarves “I’m grateful you came to help us, but I fear you have come to your deaths, I doubt we can mobilise and get on board before we are utterly pulverised by the siege weapons, you bought us some time from the naval bombardment but they are setting up ever more weapons on the causeway, it is getting worse by the minute”

Her words are lent dramatic effect by the numerous explosions and shattering blasts all around the fort as the siege weapons pummel it.

Blast joins the group and seems hopeful “Our bearded friends think they can help and I’ve found that things seem to happen when they help, at least let my crew bolster your defenses, resupply you and perhaps dress some wounds. Whatever happens it will be an hour or more before the Arcane is ready to sail again, the rituals must be refreshed.”

Glaive looks at the WHG “What news then? Last I saw you, you were being followed by one of the Prophet’s monstrous kin while on a mission to Bekyun monastery”
A loud cry rings out and several soldiers dash behind cover “VOLLEY” the smoke obscures most of the sky but a terrible screaming noise rings out from the sky, the WHG dive behind a broken wall and thousands of arrows clatters against stone and splinter into wood.
Glaive hops out from behind a wagon that looks like a giant porcupine “Walk with me” she says.

“The walls here are solid, but the Prophet’s fleet have all but destroyed them on the sea front it’s only the causeway that is holding, which is fortunate because that is where his land force is. However the Prophet can’t send his entire force at us, because the causeway is too narrow, so only a thousand or so hit the walls at any one time. The biggest problem is the siege weapons. My men are well trained in sieges and we are spread so thinly that it’s hard for them to hit us, they have however torn several holes in the wall. We’ve shored them up with corpses, but every now and then they push through. In the last day or so the prophet has been sending some of his less pleasant minions, perhaps a sign of his frustration, certainly I’d be willing to wager he never expected a hundred or so undesirables such as us to slow him down. As I was saying though, these strange rifts keep opening, and all manner of horrors are appearing within the fort, they die just the same as any soldier, but if they mange to touch my troops, they get consumed by this strange blue fire.All that is nothing compared to the constant barrages however, as if to highlight this a large rock smashes into the stairs near to her”
She chuckles “You know, I think I have a use for you”

She leads the WHG through a crater filled courtyard and the sounds of chanting and shouting can be heard on the other side of the huge wall beyond, a great pile of corpses can be seen plugging a large rend in the wall and spikes barricades surround it, a handful of men are on guard here.

“Usually we’d have our own siege weapons but as you saw the last time we met, we travel lightly, and on foot. As such we’ve had no way of firing back, you have given me an idea however.” she calls over several men, who nod and run off in different directions, shortly the WHG see a large amount of the cageless gather near them on the courtyard.
“So here’s what we are going to do” she says, looking at the dwarves “The Cageless will break out of the breach and wedge open the front line, you are going to use the opportunity to slip past the fighting and burn their siege weapons” she uses the haft of her axe to draw a rough sketch in the dust and grime on the shattered cobble. there’s four targets, two catapults, a heavy ballista and a siege tower, all of which have been a monumental pain in my ass, the fact that you are still here suggests you can pull this off, that and" she smirks slightly “you are a bit shorter than the rest of us, which may be favourable for skirmishing, less likely to get stuck in heavy combat”

The WHG discuss the merit of this plan, seemingly stuck at the fort for at least an hour and with the situation looking like they won’t survive past the next few minutes with the steadily increasing bombardments the WHG to act, however crazy the plan might seem

Glaive barks several orders at the men who begin pushing up and over the huge pile of corpses in the breach.
“It’s audacious, which is probably why I like it, certainly it’s a plan they will not expect. However we will only have a short window in which to do this. You’ll need some heavy pitch torches to be sure you’ve burned them, a simple fire won’t do it.”One of her men lays down a thick bundle of long torches and the dwarves grab them

“You will doubtless have to fight, but keep moving, and get it done, we will not have long, the prophet has hundreds of siege weapons, but only those four have yet been assembled, if we take them out, we buy ourselves perhaps another twelve hours”
Suddenly a cry rings out from the top of the walls

WASTED INBOUND, TRIGGERS TOO

Glaive snaps to action “Positions now” she shouts, and the group of men suddenly break away from the breach scattering across the fort. As they do, the WHG see a telltale sight, blue circles begin forming all along the fort, on the battlements, the docks, the courtyard, and from within them emerge a horrific sight. The Wasted.

Blast and a score of his wizards can be seen in the distance on the docks, killing anything that emerges from the portal, he shouts out to the group although it is difficult to hear him over the din of battle “THIS IS BAD, VERY BAD, I CAN CLOSE THEM BUT IT WILL TAKE TIME

The Wraith hunters hear him shouting orders to his crew and many of them are forming up on the docks, they can also see spells being cast upon the shimmering portals. For the first time ever, the muddled, jovial facade Blast has been wearing since the day the WHG first met him is gone, instead they can see fear.

Glaive shouts out “Watch out for these freaks, they are fast, take down the triggers before the bombs start flooding in”

Yargus shouts out and several of the WHG shout out “Wait, what?”
But it is too late.
“You’ll see, keep moving” she shouts as she cleaves two Wasted in half with a single axe stroke.

The WHG spring into action, well versed at fighting the sickening effects of the Wasting, these ones seem different however, and several of the shambling corpses explode before them in a huge blue blast nearly knocking Snorri off of his feet. All around them a battle is raging, portals open and close all along the courtyard, Ludwig quickly works out that by pushing the creatures back through their portals they cause them to become unstable and close, the other Wraith Hunters follow suit and begin bull rushing other wasted cadavers back through the shimmering doorways.
Tamok clearly desperate to stay alive sends his bear through one of the portals, closing it instantly, Boryn is inspired by this and begins considering throwing Tamok into one also. It becomes almost an exercise in pushes, slides and pulls as the nimble Wraith hunters throw their weight around and the cadavers with them. Snorri catches another blast from one of the walking bombs but manages to fell one of the strange magelike Wasted that seem to have been controlling them.

The courtyard is almost clear and the portals seem to be winking out of existence, seemingly as if they can only be sustained for a short time. Tamok struggle to down a foe and one of the Cageless effortlessly dispatches it as he returns to the wall.

As soon as the fort is clear the call goes out “PUSH FORWARD OVER THE BREACH” Glaive looks at the WHG with a grin “Get moving then, we got a minute at best!”

The WHG spring into action, over the breach and into the main force of the prophet!

Brave fools!

The siege engines batter the fort relentlessly, on the south wall little remains of the original structure, instead there are craters and smashed debris, blackened stone and smouldering heaps that show the severity of the impacts as the endless barrage indicates no sign of stopping.

The smoke plumes up from the broken ruins, a huge black cloud of choking fog that rises over the battlefield shrouding the invaders within it, all thousand score of them. Were it not so, and the fog was not there an observer could see an army of such size that the very land itself would appear to move, a seething mass of destruction, pillage and ruin, which by comparison would make the once impressive Fort standby look small and vulnerable.
Yet something unexpected is taking place. Before the main wall of the fort, the last remaining wall that stands, a small skirmish is taking place. The main force of invaders are bottlenecked on the thin causeway and their front lines have been cut in half by a wedge of defenders .
A layman might not understand the reasoning behind such a futile effort, certainly for every attacker that is felled another thousand can take its place whereas the defenders have no reinforcements and are numbered at about eighty.

A military tactician however would see it differently, from behind the main fighting line fire can be seen, several siege engines have taken blaze, and only the very keenest of eyes would be able to make out smaller shapes darting between the fighting, their path marked with flames.
A brilliant strategy, but one that relies on speed and surprise, elements of which the defenders and the WHG are slowly losing.The Cageless legion fight as a single unit, far more seasoned than the conscripts, slaves and front line regulars that the prophet is using, unhindered by heavy armor and united in their lack of any real uniform the Cageless are unfathomable in fighting style and as such are holding their own.

At the tip of the wedge formation a large gap in the line can be seen and a small clearing in the mass of troops reveals scattered corpses and limbs, in the center of the carnage is a figure in jet black plate, it spins and hops across the ground a stark contrast to the seemingly cumbersome armor it wears, all the while spinning a monstrous axe in its wake. The prophets troops lean back hesitantly, clearly afraid of this demon, but the monstrous mass behind them forces them to advance, into the ceaseless assault from commander Glaive.
She issues a command and the wedge moves backwards in unison, back towards the towering wall of the fort.

The dwarves do indeed move nimbly, largely unnoticed by the prophet’s army as they fight against the Cageless distraction. Snorri, Boryn and Tamok soon have the engines blazing, sprinting from point to point rather than allowing themselves to get mired in battle. Aid comes in the form of Durn who creates his own distraction, ending up surrounded by enemies like a one dwarf army. As the WHG attempt to flee back to the breach Durn ensures his comrades get clear of danger before teleporting himself out of the thick of it and rejoining his comrades.

The siege weapons are ablaze and as the victorious WHG return through the breached gap in the wall and climb over the makeshift barricade of corpses, they realise that for the first time since you arrived, the barrage has stopped.

On the jetty at the back of the fort, the party can see the crew of the Arcane being assisted by some of the cageless in loading supplies on to the ship. Blast is shouting commands and overseeing the operation, several wizards are scattered around the fort, tending to the injured or helping to repair the fortifications.

Blast hails the dwarves, “We’re almost loaded up, another half hour and we can be away, it’s looking positive.”
However….

A shout from the wall rings out. “Commander, they’re up to something”

Indeed, it’s quiet out there, even without the din of the newly silenced siege engines, it seems too quiet.
Glaive hops up the broken steps to the top of the battlements to look down at the shrouded causeway below, she gestures for the WHG to join her.

They stare out below them, the army is no longer there, at least not upon the causeway, the siege engines still smoulder away in the gloom, the flickering of flames still glinting in the half light.

Something has changed, the atmosphere seems almost charged, something is about to happen.
The cageless hunker down upon the ramparts and battlements, wizards join them also, all the defenders seem to be here, watching and waiting.

…..Something approaches.

Suddenly and in dramatic fashion the quiet is broken with a cacophony of chanting as thousands of troops shout in unison.
“HAIL THE PROPHET, HAIL THE NEW GOD, HAIL THE REMAKER, HAIL THE PROPHET”
In the gloom shapes are emerging, hundreds of troops move forward and behind them are figures on horseback, different from the rest, you can make out the glint of gold on one of the riders and next to him in a horse drawn chariot is a tall dark robed figure, flanked by several other important looking generals.

Glaive spits “Baron Samrin and his lackeys, worthless dog of a traitor, looks like Dust and New tethana have thrown in their lot here too. That one (she points to a figure swathed in white and green robes) is Barga’dur, one of Dust’s ruling lords, they were always worthless thorns in Destraga’s side, and those, she gestures to several smartly dressed lordly types on foot besides the main entourage, “Those if I am not mistaken are several of the senior council of New tethana and Nurn which would account for all the of the ships and supplies, dogs, the lot of them.”

The chanting dies down and silence resumes, but this is an expectant silence, one that is broken by a single voice.

Strong and powerful it booms across the battlefield, across the causeway and rings in the assembled defender’s earsHooded death by erlkoenig d4qe0os

“AT LAST WE MEET MASTER DWARVES”

“I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS MOMENT, THE INSTANT THAT WE FINALLY SEE EACH OTHER, IN THE FLESH, SO TO SPEAK. IT WOULD SEEM THAT THE UNIVERSE HAS PUT US IN OPPOSITION OF EACH OTHER, CERTAINLY YOU ARE MOST UNIQUE, I MUST COMMEND YOU ON BESTING MY BRETHREN, ALVORAX AND TAXORUXUM HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM MY CONSCIOUSNESS, I CAN ONLY ASSUME THAT TO BE YOUR WORK.ALTHOUGH SEEING YOU NOW I WONDER HOW THAT CAN BE SO."

The figure makes a mock gesture as if in thought.

“IT IS NO MATTER” (he gestures to his side where the figure of a frail and emaciated looking humanoid can be seen , even at such distance the WHG recognise it as Culatraxus the Unwelcome that attacked them at the very start of their adventure to the Falkreaches, it glowers at them with absolute hatred.)

“MY BROTHER HERE FEELS AGGRIEVED AT YOUR ESCAPE ON THE PREVIOUS MEET, HE FELT SLIGHTED BY MY ORDERS FOR HIM NOT TO KILL YOU BUT RATHER TO LET YOU LEAVE WITH YOUR LIVES.
I EXPLAINED THAT SUCH ANOMALIES AS YOURSELVES WARRANTED FURTHER STUDY AND SO THE DECISION WAS MADE TO LET YOU RUN YOUR COURSE. NATURALLY YOU DID WHAT YOU DO BEST, PROVED YOURSELVES TO BE AN INCONVENIENCE TO MY EFFORTS, BUT AS WITH ALL INVESTMENTS, PATIENCE IS THE KEY TO REAPING THE REWARDS.”

It pulls something from within it’s robes, it’s hard to make out what it is from the distance they are at, but the blue glow emanating from within it is unmistakable, it’s one of the portal amulets that Blast supplied them with.

“WE HAPPENED UPON THESE QUITE BY CHANCE, A SCOUTING PARTY FROM CANDETH, SOME OF YOURS NO DOUBT, A MOST INTRIGUING TYPE OF MAGIC AND ONE I AM NOT FAMILIAR WITH, AEONS OF LEARNING ABOUT YOUR WORLD AND YET I FEAR I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN”

It beckons to several humans nearby and blast exclaims with rage “BLOODY TETHANA SORCERERS, THAT’S WHO HAS BEEN MESSING MY DEVICES, OF ALL THE BUMBLING IDIOTS, HOW DARE THEY”

The Prophet outstretches his hand and lets the amulet float into the air, the wizards assemble around it and a great blue flash fills the battlefield, before the dwarves very eyes a huge portal forms, beyond it can be seen thick and wild forests, and a shore line, it’s surreal to witness as the closer everyone looks the more they realise that they can see several miles in the horizon on the far shore, and smoke rising from a ruined keep.

It’s a portal on the far shore.

HOW FORTUITOUS THAT YOU HAVE PROVIDED ME, THROUGH YOUR INTERACTION IN THIS CONTINENT THE VERY MEANS IN WHICH TO CROSS IT WITH MY ARMY, SOMETHING THAT I CONFESS WAS SLOWING ME DOWN NO END.
IT SEEMS TO BE A LITTLE UNSTABLE AS OF RIGHT NOW BUT WE WILL NO DOUBT HAVE THE HANG OF IT RATHER SOON.”

The portal collapses as the assembled wizards end their channeling.

“OF COURSE IT WASN’T JUST THE AMULET THAT MADE ITS WAY INTO MY CARE, I HAVE SOME FRIENDS OF YOURS HERE WITH ME” As he says this, several bound figures are ushered forward, it’s hard to see from the distance, but the unmistakable voice of Doun Dourstone can be heard cursing at his captors.

The Prophet’s voice booms out again.

“SO FAR YOU AND I HAVE BEEN ON UNEVEN FOOTING, YOU HAVE TREATED ME WITH VERY LITTLE RESPECT, DALNIR WAS A TRUSTED ADVISOR AND THE LOSS OF DESTRAGA IN MY EFFORTS IS AN UNFORESEEN HINDRANCE THAT I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT.
THEN THERE’S THIS INSATIABLE NEED TO DO THE RIGHT THING AND RESCUE EVERYONE, I HEAR THEY ARE CALLING YOU THE LIBERATORS OF RITHWIC AND THE SAVIOURS OF DESTRAGA, PERHAPS YOU THOUGHT YOURSELVES TO BE THE HEROES OF FORT STANDBY TOO? LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT.BARON, IF YOU WILL..?"

The man in golden armor steps forward, grinning. Several wizards seem to be channeling energy around the area and a translucent shield shimmers around them “JUST A PRECAUTION” The prophet adds.

The Baron stands next to the lined up dwarves, three of them, they look battered and a couple are injured, Doun Dourstone is spitting with rage, the guards kick the back of their legs and the dwarves fall to their knees as three tree stumps are placed before them.

The baron seems to make a joke amongst his men, and in an instant. Without any ceremony, beheads the first dwarf.
The Prophet’s voice booms out, chiding and unnatural “NO DOUBT YOU HAVE LEARNED THAT YOUR ACTIONS EFFECT CHANGE, AND HERE IS ONE OF THOSE CHANGES, THAT YOU BEAR THE RESPONSIBILITY OF.” The Barons golden blade flashes through the air again , another head rolls on to the dirt “ANOTHER CHANGE… AND NOW FOR THE FINAL ONE”

Doun shouts out to the horrified Durn, his comrades holding him back from almost certain death
“DUN YE LOOK LAD, DUN YE BLOODY GIVE EM THE SATISFACTION, YE NE’ER GIVE UP, YE CRUSH THESE BASTARDS IN THE NAME OF THE DOURSTONES YE HEAR ME? YE HEAR ME?”

The blade flashes in the dull light for the last time, and the field falls silent.

“WAS HE A RELATIVE? HOW TRAGIC” the prophet asks in a emotionless rasp

“SO NOW YOU HAVE SEEN A COUPLE OF CONSEQUENCES. IT’S TIME TO SHOW YOU ANOTHER, AS I MENTIONED EARLIER, MY BROTHER WAS WELL SLIGHTED BY MY REQUEST TO LET YOU LIVE A WHILE, I ONLY CALMED HIM WITH THE PROMISE OF ALLOWING HIM TO DESTROY YOU ONCE YOU HAD SERVED MY PURPOSE, THAT TIME IS NOW, AND SO I WILL ALLOW HIM THIS PLEASURE, I MUST CONFESS IT WILL DOUBTLESS BE A THING OF WONDER TO BEHOLD. YOU SEE, YOU ARE THE FINAL VARIABLE AND AS SUCH, ALL I NEED TO DO NOW, IS REMOVE YOU."

The hunched figure of Culatraxus walks towards the water in the causeway, rather than sink into it it strides across the surface until it is level with the fleet of ships and the ruined south west wall of the keep, it stands still for a moment and then suddenly sinks into the depths.

As if expecting something to happen the Prophet calls out again.

“A HISTORY LESSON, MY LAST GIFT TO YOU, LONG AGES PAST, THIS CONTINENT WAS AS ONE, THE DIVIDE DID NOT EXIST, MEN AND MORTALS DWELLED IN THE NORTH AND DRAGONS DWELLED IN THE STRANGE VIRIDIAN SOUTH, MAN WAS GREEDY AND SOUGHT TO EXPAND TO THE RICH AND MYSTERIOUS REACHES OF THE SOUTH, DRAGONS TOO COVETED THE PEAKS OF THE NORTH AND AS SUCH A GREAT WAR ERUPTED,ONE THAT LASTED THREE CENTURIES, IT WAS SAID THAT MAN’S VERY EXISTENCE HERE WAS ENDANGERED, SO GREAT WAS THE CARNAGE, AND THUS THE GODS THEMSELVES INTERVENED, CLEAVING THE LANDS IN HALF AND ENSURING THAT THE TWO SIDES RETURNED TO PEACE. FOR THEIR PART, MAN KEPT THEIR SIDE OF THE DEAL, NEVER CROSSING THE DIVIDE, YET THERE WAS ONE AMONGST DRAGON KIND, WHOSE ARROGANCE WAS AS GREAT AS ITS LUST FOR CARNAGE."

NAMHIDEZZKHAN WAS ITS NAME AND IT WAS THE LARGEST AND MOST TERRIBLE OF ITS KIND, IT RAGED ACROSS THE DIVIDE SEEKING TO EXTERMINATE HUMANKIND, IT WAS HERE AT THIS VERY FORT THAT MEN STOOD TO CONFRONT IT, YET THEY WERE NO MATCH FOR SUCH TERROR AND FURY, SO IT WAS SAID THAT PELOR HIMSELF SENT AN AGENT TO SLAY THE BEAST AND QUELL THE SLAUGHTER, AT THIS VERY FORT.”

DIVINE INTERVENTION, A STORY NO DOUBT, FATUOUS AND EMBELLISHED, YET THERE IS A TRUTH, AT LEAST MY BROTHER TELLS ME SO. BURIED IN THE SILT AND GRIME WITHIN THESE DEPTHS. CAN YOU GUESSWHAT IT IS?”

The question hangs in the air but not for long.

Amongst the assembled fleet there are cries and shouts, and it is soon apparent why, the sea itself is bubbling and foaming, great turbulent gouts of water spurt upwards smashing ships as they go.

“ADMIRAL, I NO LONGER HAVE NEED OF YOUR SERVICES, YOU MAY CONSIDER YOURSELF RELIEVED OF YOUR POST” the Prophet states as the flagship amongst the fleet is split in half by a great spout of water.

“IT STANDS TO REASON, THAT IF THE GODS CARED, THEY MAY WELL INTERVENE ONCE MORE, SHALL WE SEE, FAREWELL CHILDREN OF CRAG, YOU WERE AN AMUSEMENT"

What happens next is the stuff of true nightmares, the water explodes in black and blue flames, they surge over the decks of the struggling fleet, men can be heard screaming in agony as the greasy flames stick to them, consuming their very flesh. The waves of filth wash out across the shore, wilting and withering entire expanses of greenery and life, the unfortunate troops lined up along the side are immediately consumed in the carnage, while the rest of them rush backwards in alarm.

The entire fleet of several hundred ships is utterly consumed in the flames, it is a hellish scene to behold, the very air is filled with the smell of death and the screams of agony.

But yet, something worse is emerging, a great mass rises up from the water, the size of a cathedral, at first it could be mistaken for a sunken island, covered in filth and detritus, and yet as the weeds fall away from this colossal structure, the greened sight of bone can be seen, and as it rises to it’s full height, several hundred metres in height, the WHG see the terrible, gaping mouth of the beast, a dragon, but unlike any they have ever heard of, if this is a dragon it must be the god of all dragons, it’s hollowed algae stained eye sockets glow with a terrible blue light, and stood atop it, surrounded by a blue swirling vortex is the
tiny figure of Culatraxus.

The displacement of the water from it rising above the waves causes a further surge of the black oily fire to wash over the shore, it crashes into the fort seawall, and creeps upwards of it’s own volition, surging over the battlements consuming several of the hapless defenders upon it. “GET BACK” Glaive shouts. The Cageless are retreating as are Blast’s apprentices and acolytes, everyone is fleeing to the docks except for Blast who is stood transfixed in horror “This is not possible, how can this be?” he mutters to himself, lost in a moment of futility as this monstrous goliath, the size of a village levels its head with the fort.

Surely none will survive this?

A great whooshing noise can be heard, and the flames appear to be drawn back towards this abomination, you watch as this oily cataclysm of black fire rushes towards it, it seems to coalesce within it’s rotten hollow ribcage, and then it happens.

Like a black tidal wave the monstrous hulk releases the fire, breathing it in a great gout towards the fort, the size of the blast is enough to cover the fort completely,.

“This will be your end” The prophet booms out over the field
Deag

Chapter Eighteen
Concordant escutcheon
Madness

The sky itself is blotted out by the wave of dark fire spewing towards the WHG and yet just as it seems all is lost, a great shimmering barrier erupts before it.
The WHG drag Blast away from the battlements holding in his hand a staff, the gem glows brightly upon it and it is plain to see the sheer force of will on his face as he repels the almighty wave of dark elritch fire.

The wizard collapses and his assistants rush to help him.

“TO THE SHIP” Glaive shouts “NONE OF YOU ARE PERMITTED TO DIE HERE, AND THATS A BLOODY ORDER”

Even the Cageless seem panicked and confused, although they seem to snap out of it, hearing the grim faced commander’s orders and everyone as one is fleeing towards the ship. Several of Blast’s assistants drag him on board and bundle him below deck, the first mate Nazia takes over and shouts orders to the crew to cast off.

Behind the ship, so tall it almost towers over it, the monstrous creature can be seen approaching.

The ship is cast off of its moorings and slowly floats outwards from the ruined jetty, the great skeletal rotting mass is clawing its way along the seabed towards the dwarves and is picking up speed.
The master cabin door bursts open suddenly and Blast is stood there, rather than wearing his typical mock pirate garb, he is wearing a wizard robe, and holding a huge gnarled staff, he leans on it slightly, and it is plain to see that he is struggling to stay standing.His expression is grim, he almost seems to be a completely different person.

“CLASS ASSEMBLE” He shouts. His crew rushes out from various parts of the deck and assemble upon it, the wizards powering the sails remain at the back as the ship slowly begins to pick up speed whilst the great approaching mass nearby blots out the horizon. “TODAY WILL BE YOUR FINAL LESSON, YOU HAVE STUDIED WITH ME FOR MANY YEARS, SOME OF YOU FOR MANY DECADES, WE HAVE JOURNEYED THROUGH MANY THEOREMS AND HYPOTHESES BUT TODAY WILL BE THE REALISATION OF THAT LEARNING, TODAY YOU WILL LEARN TO CHANNEL THE VOID”

Many of the class seem shocked, some are horrified, it seems as if for a moment the impending doom approaching the ship is near forgotten by such a shocking revelation.

The wizard continues.

“SOME OF YOU WILL NOT SURVIVE THIS, THOSE THAT DO WILL NEVER BE THE SAME, I WILL NOT JUDGE ANY OF YOU WHO CHOOSE NOT TO PARTAKE IN THIS VENTURE, YET I ASSURE YOU, IT IS THE ONLY CHANCE WE HAVE TO STOP SUCH MADNESS.”

He turns to Glaive and the WHG “I can afford several crew to aid in shielding from the flames, but the magic required is great and the concentration needed is greater, I ask you to protect us all as we do this, should any of us be interrupted, we will surely perish.”

The WHG nod in agreement, readying themselves for action.

As the Wizard joins the rest of his academy on the very top deck of the ship, he adds “When the void opens, do not look into it, what lurks beyond is something no sane mortal should ever witness.”

He turns away from the WHG “BEGIN THE NOVUS ARCANA STAGE ONE, FOLLOW IT THROUGH TO STAGE SIX, FLUX CORE, PREPARE THE RIGGING AND THE CONDUITS, ARTIFICERS, PREPARE THE FOCI”

The entire crew spring into action as arcane rituals occur all over the ship, conduits glow blue and wires and filaments pulse with arcane energies, lighting the ship’s rigging up like a lightning storm.

Culatraxus and his terrible mount draws closer now, as they do the WHG can see the black flames that lap around the dark metal bow of the arcane begin to draw their way towards it, several wizards outside of the main ritual brace themselves for the inevitable firestorm.

They begin to call upon Arcana to shield the side of the ship from the blast, their entire focus devoted to the task at hand.

Glaive spreads her men around the edge of the ship ready, despite the seeming futility of such a fight, they are ready to die to the last.

Blue flashes erupt on deck and the familiar sight of portals can be seen, cadavers stumble and fall through them, on to the decks, radiating a bright blue glow, several explode immediately, clearly ready to detonate independently, the others stand and begin walking towards any sign of movement, some of which are the wizards attempting to shield the ship.

The WHG waste no time in charging towards the volatile cadavers, sending several tumbling back through the portals they just came from, causing an unstable explosion. No sooner have the portals been forced closed and they are tearing open again, it seems like an endless stream of Wasted creatures pouring out, the WHG and The Cageless legion are faster and far more capable however, and despite a few blasts on an unfortunate Snorri, most of the damage is avoided, the shielding wizards continue their casting uninterrupted, saving the ship from the devastating breath of the dragon. Arrows rain down from the nearby bank as hundreds of archers fire volleys into the side of the ship, several wizards fall but Blast’s ritual continues.

The ship is glowing with arcane energy now and the rigging is dripping with coalesced power, it forms at the very top of the sail, which seems to be acting as a conduit.Suddenly a strange deafening, tonal sound can be heard a in an instant the amassed energy explodes.
The Detonation of this incredible energy is almost blinding, the entire ship is engulfed in a miasma of force, in the very center of it shapes can be made out, moving, almost in spasms, and then suddenly a black vortex rips open at the very top of the mast, the noise is terrible, staggering, an assault on the senses as it feels like the very world is ripped in two. several wizards collapse, lifelessly before it, others gaze up at it,seemingly unable to resist looking, some falls back screaming, others claw at their eyes in horror. Only Blast stares into the void without flinching, blood trickles from his nostrils, he appears to be almost entirely drained of life. the black hole seems to be growing, pulsing and coruscating, just as it seems as if
it may engulf everything, it shrinks almost instantly and explodes outwards like a monstrous black tentacle of horror, straight towards the great bone colossus nearby. For a moment the entire world seems to have been drained of colour, a shrill ringing tone is the only thing that can be heard and then slowly life seems to return to the world. The first thing the party realise is that the void has gone, the next thing they notice is that the dragon has been blasted in half, most of it’s lower body has gone, leaving just the ribcage and head, it’s remaining talons grip on to the ship in an effort to keep itself above water.

Blasts voice calls out from behind"NOW, MASTER DWARVES, TAKE DOWN THE CONTROLLER

“Several of the remaining wizards who are still sane are now casting a new ritual, the WHG notice their weapons begin to feel lighter and their strength return to them in an almost godlike amount. “We’ll aid you in as much as we can, it’s up to you to take it down” Nazia the first mate shouts.

The WHG waste no time charging up on to the now immobilized colossus, Snorri and Tamok lead the way, charging towards the stricken Culatraxus. The Unwelcome entity even in its surprised state is no pushover and manages to incapacitate Boryn who slumps to the deck unable to move.
The concordant weapons take their toll on the creature, pureflame burns its pasty flesh with terrible effect, the creature screams in agony.

As Tamok strikes the final blow to Culatraxus it explodes in black mist and melted flesh as the pureflame from the Concordant weapons strike at its very being, it collapses hissing into the dark waters of the divide, all around the Wraith Hunters, the great behemoth begins to break apart, great bones smash into the sea causing small tidal waves.

Wraith hunter group eight has triumphed, against all odds.

“We need to get out of here” Glaive shouts from the deck “We can’t survive another volley.”
The WHG get back on deck and notice Blast is being carried away along with several other wizards, Nazia is shouting orders at the crew and the Arcane begins to sail out into the main expanse of the divide. “We can’t afford to go anywhere near either fort again until we have made repairs and Blast is back with us.” she shouts “We’ll strike out south of the divide and lick our wounds there”

There is a brief interlude where Snorri manages to dissuade Ludwig from looting the fallen ally soldiers and wizards. Truly a dark moment in Wraith Hunter Group Eight’s history, and one that may well come back to haunt them.

The divide is a huge expanse of water and the mysterious far shore is some five kilometers away, the dubious WHG can make out a dark treeline and little else, it seems foreboding, perhaps the stories of this place are true, a land where mortals are unwelcome.

As the party draw close to the banks of the wildlands you can make out signs of habitation, ruins and old buildings jut out from the vegetation here, it seems to have been left untouched for centuries, nature has all but reclaimed the land here. the battered Arcane comes to a stop nearly a kilometer away from the shore the first mate explains that the water won’t be deep enough to progress and that any shore parties would need to take a rowboat the final distance.
All around the ship the remaining crew and Cageless are busy repairing the damage from the incredible battle of earlier, the first mate asks if you would be able to scout the shore and pick up some supplies to aid in repairs, wood, metal, even fibrous bark would aid in repairing the hull. She gestures to a small row boat that is just about big enough for five or six dwarves.

“These old colonial outposts are bound to have some salvageable materials even if they are a a century or two old, see what you can find” She says.

The WHG row the boat towards the bank, an old rotten jetty looms partially concealed by the dark water, it leads up an old worn path past some huts and ruined shells of buildings, some of the stone ruins here seem ancient, indeed it’s a ways off but Snorri recognises the signs of dwarven architecture.
As you set foot upon the soil you get an odd feeling, as if something has changed, looking around them, they notice that several of the ruined wooden huts are no longer there, also the palisades and log walls are gone and the jetty they are stood upon seems almost new. Alarmingly, the Arcane is no longer visible in the divide behind them. They are also aware of a strange humming sensation as if something was resonating with energy.

A large group of people are stood before the WHG, just several meters away in fact. with their backs to the dwarves, some twenty or so men and women, even a couple of children.

A man is facing them, he seems to be middle aged, he is dressed like a traveler, simple garments and a battered sword hangs off of a crude leather belt at his waist. he speaks to them
“Finally we have found a place to call home, I told you that superstition was all that stood between us and a new start, look at this land, it is good land, rich land, rich in hope, we can build upon these ruins and make ourselves a village to be proud of”
There’s mumbling from the crowd a burly man in a smiths apron steps forward “Aye we’re with you Jonas, but it just don’t seem right here”

The one called Jonas retorts;“Now then Angvil, there’s nothing wrong with these lands, you’ll see, let’s get to work”

They stride forward, ignoring the WHG, and slowly fade into nothing. Only the one called Jonas remains, he looks directly at the dwarves “If only I had listened” he says, before he too fades

The Dwarves feel the air around them change again, the warmth of sun against them is a comfort and the village appears old and rotted once more, in the distance far out in the divide the small shape of the Arcane bobs in the waves.

The wraith hunters approach an old stone ruin, passing several mud huts as they go, probably nowhere near as old as the stone ruins scattered all over, ornate patterns are carved into the stone although it is so weather worn it is hard to make out what they mean.
The dwarves stop at one particularly old looking ruin, it seems to be some kind of dwarven tomb, the slab on top seems almost immovable, such is its size.
Snorri and Ludwig study the weather worn etchings upon the surface of the tomb, and make out a few fragmented words; ‘KING and HOME’ these words seem to repeat themselves. Most curious, no sign of a means to open the tomb is found.

The dwarves move on and approach a large tavern like building, mostly wood, perhaps part of the more recent work done here, only darkness can be seen inside through the rotten doorway.
Nearby is a large stone ruin, an arch still stands on the far end and a huge chest sits beneath it. The air suddenly becomes chill and again the buildings change around them, where there were none in the previous encounter, now there are several newly build structures, the tavern looks newly built, fresh straw thatching lines the roof and freshly cut timbers form its walls, behind you are several more buildings, also new looking. You are aware of the group of humans once again, they stand in the center admiring their work. a wizened looking old man speaks “You were right Jonah, we have made ourselves a home here” the scene fades

The chest beneath the arch seems out of place with the rest of the village, it seems to be a strange sort of iron, and rather than a single lock, there are three, upon the chest itself, are numerous bloody hand prints.

As the nervous WHG look at it you are aware of a figure stood behind it, it is of the man called Jonas “Betrayed, by fear and weakness, you may leave this place if you turn back now, but to know the truth, you must enter the darkness”
He vanishes but the humming seems to grow louder, and from several places a dark energy can be seen, shapes and figures seem to move within it.

The WHG start to question what is real here and tension soon begin to flare. Snorri thinks that it might be a good time to leave, already exhausted from numerous other intense battles, the strength of the WHG is stretched thin. Tamok begins recalling the time that Boryn tried to kill him in Destraga, cursing the stupid barbarian under his breath, the barbarian Boryn is also recalling this and part of him is starting to wish he had, believing the druid to be a liability and somewhat pointless.
Snorri advises caution and Ludwig considers such advice to be folly, still sour from the Avenger’s interference upon the boat, depriving the wizard of yet more treasure.

They make for the dock, all the while tempers flaring as the infuriating buzzing fills their minds, yet as they pass one of the dark swirling spheres, the temptation proves too much for the WHG.
Ludwig attempts to send his owl into the strange sphere, and it vanishes through it, beyond the dark a brightly lit room can be seen.The owl returns unharmed and so the group step through into the strange time capsule.

Within the well lit room, they see a man stooped over an anvil, huge in size he strikes a hammer against its metal surface, suddenly he stops, as if hearing something, a look of terror comes over his face as he seems to be looking at the dwarves, he then turns and rushes out of the hut, right through the assembled dwarves, in a gruff voice he can be heard screaming “THE CURSE, THE CURSE, THIS PLACE IS CURSED, I HAVE HEARD THEM WHISPER TO ME” the scene changes and the hut returns to its dilapidated state, the WHG find themselves back in present time, yet Angvil the smith is still there, in a manner of speaking, the bloated misshapen horror before them now is wearing his clothes and smith apron, and indeed wielding his huge hammer, yet it is not human any longer, several other misshapen wights charge towards the WHG, utter malice upon their terrible wasted features.

The WHG move fast, even in their fatigued state, these wights however have terrible attacks, draining the very life out of the already weakened party. The endless humming nearly causes Boryn to charge at Tamok and the others consider fleeing. A strange, cumbersome looking key can be seen hanging from the smith’s belt as it desperately attempts to rip the dwarves limb from limb, pounding its monstrous hammer against shield and armor.

It’s not looking good, not at all.

Chapter Nineteen
Concordant escutcheon
The Hero and the Fool.

As you step in the scene changes, the large and dark doorway before you is suddenly full of light, and instead of rotten wood and ruins, books fill the shelves here, an old man sits at a table before you, writing into a large tome, he seems utterly engrossed in what he is doing, and doesn’t seem to notice your presence.

You lean in to see what he is writing, except he isn’t writing, his hand moves in a circular motion on the book or at leas what is left of it, the pages are worn in a great spiral, torn and sundered, what is left of the mans quill either worn out or snapped long ago, blood stains the pages from the old mans worn knuckles, no doubt due to hours or performing this spiraling motion into the pages. a disturbing sight.

he looks up at you suddenly and then you are back in the present, except you are not alone. A misshapen withered wight lurches out of the wall cavity before you, several others climb out from under piles of books, a terrifying sight.

You find a key IF SEARCHED

Rillock 3

you stand before the tavern and step towards the black miasma, suddenly you find yourselves in a warm and well lit room, beer kegs line the bar and several men are talking and laughing, a thin weasly lookign man is talking to the patrons although his back is turned from them, he is facing away to the back of the bar, busy with something.
“They say Jonas has lost it, what with all this damn humming i’ll wager there is a curse, if I hadn’t invested everything here, i’d be gone too”the other patrons grumble in agreement the man speaks again though his tone seems to be getting steadily more agitated, "HE LIED IS ALL, HE LIED TO US, SAID THAT THERE WOULD BE RICHES HERE, BUT NOTHING IS GOING RIGHT ND OUR LUCK IS GETTING WORSE AND… (He is practically screaming now0 ALL THIS HUMMING, WHEN WILL IT END.

The man turns around to face the bar, in his hand is a bloody knife, his face is terrifying to behold, lacerated and disfigured, he has gouged his own eyes out, he sees you and his mouth opens ina silent scream

you are plunged into near darkness as the lights of the tavern fade and you find yourself back in reality, outside the doorway of the ruined inn, a terrible moaning scream from inside is mirrored by several more from b ehind you, as several terrifying wights charge at you.

Search for key.;

Three keys,

As you turn the final key the ches tclicks and you feel the heavy hinges spring into release from the mechanism.

TRAP?!?!?

As you open the lid the darkness inside is finally ended by the beaming sun as it shines down upon white gleaming bones. a skeleton, tattered rags hang about its form, the inside of the lid has scratch marks and bloodstains.

Behind the chest a pure blue light can be seen, large and ethereal, it takes shape, ghastly at first it soon takes the shape of a man, one you recognise as Jonas, it speaks with a disembodied voice as the scene before you changes, you watch a group of men, the blacksmith, librarian and innkeeper included, drag Jonas towards the huge chest, they are maddened with fear and rage, screaming about sacrifice and blaming Jonas for the curse, as they bundle the helpless man into the chest, they bind it shut, with the blacksmith fitting three locks to the chest.

“They thought that would be the end of it” the ghostly figure speaks “But I was never the reason for the curse, and whatever horror this place has wrought, twas nothing to what they brought upon themselves”

You watch time pass, as the villagers wracked in guilt for what they have done, slowly turn to madness, murder and cannibalism"

The ghost speaks “There is a truth to be found here, deep underground, I found it, there, in the old tomb, hidden behind the loose brick, it gestures to the ruined stone mausoleum nearby”

“I rest now, my centuries of regret and hatred are all but gone, thank you children of the greenmount, this is your land, I realise that now”

The ghost begins to fade utterly.

Most of the stonework on the tomb is faded, the humming does indeed seem louder here, you search carefully and you find a loose stone, hinged in fact, a common dwarven switch

PUSH IT?

At first nothing happens, the stonework is ancient, stands to reason the mechanism would be too, however a slow grating sound can be heard and the giant slab in front of slides away, only a small amount though before it seems to seize up, in the gloom below, you can see a pulsing blue light, far far below,.

STR CHECK TO OPEN

The steps lead down, and open into a dusty chamber, runes line the wall and pictures too, they seem similar to the designs on the concordant shields, although they seem to depict a journey, behind a line of what seem to be refugees is a monstrous flaming mountain, unlike anythin g you have seen before, they show a crowned figure lead them through jungles and swamps, the final scene depicts the same crowned figure, but it is laying upon a slab, around it are kneeling figures, in mourning perhaps.

In ancient dwarven upon the tomb are words “Flintcore FoeHammer” Last king of the greenmount, may this land always belong to the dwarves and their allies.

Upon the slab is a skeleton, ancient, the bones seem as if they would crumble to dust at a touch, a golden crown hangs lopsided upon it’s skull, resting in one hand is a staff, in the other is an axe. both of them are inset with the most incredible blue gem, the humming seems to be emanating from them, and as you look at them, they seem to change shape and appearance, it’s very disorientating to behold, certainly a magic of the likes that you are not familiar with.

View
The Shadows Lengthen

Part I: A Dark Future

The party appears from the Temporal Weave back to the Bartozch Mine and is faced with a puzzling set of circumstances. Where once there were Archivists, there are now ‘Scientists’. Where once the iconography of Moradin was rife, The World Machine now takes precedence. It seems that the heroes’ forays through time have had a drastic impact on the world of Crag Mountain.
Ucsr symbol
The Scientists wear a strange uniform, adorned with the insignia of a crossed hammer and pick, the symbol of an alternative reality for dwarven kind: The UCSR. The United Crag Socialist Republic.

The Scientists see that Father Badger’s armour is adorned with the symbols of Moradin and frantically warn him that he faces imprisonment for open, unauthorised worship of The One. The World Machine is seen as the one true religion. Moradin worship is tolerated but viewed with suspicion and is closely scrutinized. Despite threats and bluster from the cleric, he is persuaded to cover himself with a cloak.

Checking their pockets, the heroes find that they are in possession of various papers identifying them to The State. One set for civilian ID, one military. Father Badger has paperwork identifying him as a worshipper of Moradin (he even has a serial number). Kuu has paperwork identifying her as a changeling. The form even warns that it is an offence against the state to present herself to an official not in her natural form!

As the heroes are escorted to the offices of the administrators they find out that Bartozch is no longer just a mine and research centre. It is now also a fortified correctional facility holding Prisoners sentenced to hard labour for crimes against the State. Long chain gangs of miserable dwarves shuffle from place to place.
Dwarf mech sml
It seems that technology in this new present world has advanced well beyond the Crag that the party left behind. Huge steam clocks hiss and clank from within every chamber and a single dwarf is seem thumping along, working the controls from within a massive steam powered bipedal mech mining suit, it’s arms adorned with a mighty drill and power shovel. Apparently this new mech suit has been developed by Dwarrowtec, the dwarven company from Port Cormaa and can do the work of twenty dwarves!

As the WHG continue onward, two dwarves are seen watching the party from the shadows of a building. Wearing long black jerkins and dark goggles, these mysterious figures observe them closely and continually write in small journals. When they see that they have been noticed, the strangers simply disappear!

The confused party is brought before the Bartozch administrator. When last seen, Violetta Bridyan was a warm, vibrant woman who had embraced the teachings of Moradin. This alternative Violetta is a cold authoritarian. She issues authorisation to the group for passage to Crag City via the portal system. When there, they must attend the office of Comrade Supervisor.

The party is not sad to leave ‘UCSR Correctional Facility, Barozch’, but a sense of dread hangs over the heroes as they portal back home to Crag…

Upon arrival it is quickly apparent to the dismay of WHG13 (yes, they are now back at 13!) that their beloved Crag Mountain has transformed into a big brother State. Freedom of thought and expression is frowned upon, seen by The State as a dangerous leaning toward chaos and a threat to the harmonious working of The World Machine. Questioning the decisions made by The State is illegal and activists often ‘disappear’ without a trace. The movements of civilians is strictly monitored and controlled. All individuasl must carry their identification parchments and relevant travel passes at all times. Failure to do so is an imprisonable offence under State law.

The party are continually checked, parchments viewed, stamped and re-checked. This initially causes much hostility from the WHG but soon they resign themselves to the constant badgering. The dark goggled dwarves even search the party at one point. It seems that they are agents from the security services (The CSS).

It soon becomes obvious that Wraith Hunter Groups are seen as a necessary evil by The State. The wraith problem is still an ever present worry which needs to be tackled, however, powerful adventurers are often free thinking individuals and therefore seen as a risk to The Republic.

A chance meeting with a worshipper of Moradin offers the group a jog to the memory. It seems that Ma Gravel is still running her soup kitchen in The Slags. With time short however, the party decides to spend the small amount of free time they can spare before their appointment doing some research at the Great Crag Library.

Upon arrival at the library, it seems you can’t get in without written authorisation! The frustrated party’s ire is lessened when they realise that the doorman is not adverse to ‘persuasion’ by way of coin. There are various shady looking characters lurking around the street and one in particular: a dark eyed heavy, smoking an elaborate pipe, is pointed out. The party meet this dwarf in an alleyway and for 50gp are issued with authorisation parchments for entry to the library. The heavy reminds the party that should they wish to enter into other business agreements with his ‘people’, they can be found in the same location.
Surveilance mech
The party enters the library and splits up. The ‘religion’ section is restricted access only. Father Badger sits and fumes as a strange little spider-like mech with a large goggle lens scuttles along the ceiling, watching his every move. Travok checks the history section but can find little information on Crag pre-Republic. It also seems that many pages from various books have been expertly removed…

Kuu sneaks into the law section and finds a book listing the names of dwarves convicted of crimes against the state and given custodial sentences. With time running out, Kuu decides to conceal the book in her cloak. A risky move, especially so because of the presence of another surveillance mech scuttling along the ceiling of the grand room. However, being a covetous master-thief, the rogue easily pilfers the tome and makes a hasty exit with the rest of WHG13. Onward to the office of T’ Supervisor!

Upon their arrival, the heroes are met by Comrade Supervisor’s administrator. Spud doesn’t have mech arms and seems unmoved by the presence of his friends from WHG13. After a meeting with the Supervisor, the party is sent over to the bureaucrats. Sat in an office is the red bearded wizard: Randall, who issues WHG13 with new orders, papers and authorisations. They are to transport some goods to Doctor Salt, who is still working on the contagion cure somewhere in Port Cormaa. Apparently, amongst these ‘goods’ are some dead bodies, a grizzly reminder of the unsavoury nature of ‘science’. The party members feel they are being shuffled around in order to keep them out of trouble.
Ma gravel
The WHG decides to follow up on the chance meeting in The Slags and pays a visit to Ma Gravel while time is still somewhat on their side. The old dwarf still has her soup kitchen, filled with waifs and strays. One cowled dwarf with an enormous brown beard streaked with grey, watches the group from the shadows with interest. Stone Daddy is nowhere to be seen and when his name is mentioned, the party is shocked as Gravel scowls and spits on the ground with disgust. It seems that in this strange new world, the warforged is firmly on the opposite ‘side’ to Ma Gravel.

With their curiosity piqued by the cowled dwarf, the heroes make an approach. From under the hood of the cloak comes the gruff, gravelled drawl of a member of the Dourstone clan! Dûn Dourstone to be exact, the Father of WHG stalwart, Durn. It seems that Durn has been incarcerated at Bartozch for Stonefather worship, a strictly forbidden act! The rest of the clan has been forced to flee to Port Cormaa but Dûn has stayed behind, secretly continuing his work with the poor in Crag Mountain. The kindly old dwarf weeps as he speaks of his son’s imprisonment. WHG13, saddened by Dûn’s predicament and angered by the unjust treatment of their friend, promises to liberate the warden.

Before saying their goodbyes, Kuu decides to offload the stolen tome, knowing that another search by the CSS is likely. Ma Gravel agrees to dispose of it by throwing it on the fire. WHG13 presses onward and downward to the maproom. The components for the portal spell are rationed out and after collecting their cargo, the heroes step through the portal and appear in the basement of Temple of Moradin in Port Cormaa. However, things are different now… the iconography of Moradin has been erased and as they step through a door into what was once the church of their beloved god, a strange sight meets their gaze.

Sat at a desk in full State uniform is an old dwarf. The laughter lines that once ran deep around his eyes are simply now wrinkles of fatigue from endless bureaucratic toil. He stands and salutes WHG13.

“Welcome to the UCSR Embassy, Port Cormaa” says Dirradon Stomp. “Long live The Republic!”….

Part II: The Siege of Port Cormaa

Stomp still seems to be the kind dwarf he once was, but he now appears to be but a pawn of the republic. The old bureaucrat authorises and stamps the appropriate paperwork allowing WHG13 to passage on a local steam cart to Doctor Salt’s laboratories in the dwarven quarter of the city.

A nearby steam cart is located. The cadavers and other crates of god-knows-what are loaded and after a stand off regarding who is authorised to drive (leaving Father Badger in an epic huff!), the heroes are transported to the walled, deep crevice that houses the city’s dwarven community. The advances of steam technology seem to have reached Port Cormaa with the name of Dwarrowtec seen nearly everywhere.
Dungeons mines
Deep, deep down into the crevice winds the road until the party offloads it’s cargo to one of Salt’s lab assistants. A couple of gruff grumbles of decent can be heard when the subject of science is brought up by the assistant.

Making their way back up into the city, the heroes of WHG13 wonder whether to return to the Embassy will be a good idea as they suspect they will be sent back to Crag and assigned more menial tasks. The quandary is ended when it is remembered that they all have vouchers for free drinks…. To the alehouse!

The walk to the inn is uneventful. Party members notice that billboards are posted everywhere campaigning for a new mayoral candidate called Rydian Grigg but little notice is taken as the promise of beer at The Grubby Sporran Alehouse makes WHG13 quicken it’s pace.

When inside the busy pub, the party get their drinks and scan the patrons. A pair of old crusties sat in a corner are overheard talking about some recent disappearances from the slums of Scuttle Alley and the team moves in. After some stilted small talk the hearoes are told that numerous people, mostly children, have been taken at night from the slums. There are no suspects as it is as if the victims seem to simply disappear without a trace. An old shaman from Scuttle Alley has been spreading the old wife’s tale of ‘Shadowbone’ and claiming that the bogeyman from Port Cormaa folklore is responsible.

The old men scoff at this because the Shadowbone myth used to be used as a way to scare children into behaving. There is even an old nursery rhyme that one of the men recounts:
“By shady path and darkened room
lurks here the choking hand of doom
He watches ever for his prey
To snatch thy final breath away
And far away rings death’s dire bell
As darkness drags thee down to hell
Thy lifeless form will twist and crawl
to heed his avaricious call
So wander not! stay in the light!
For Shadowbone hunts here this night…"
The man turns crimson as sarcastic applause from WHG13 brings the attention of the other patrons of the alehouse.

Elsewhere, the party is informed of other rumours in Port Cormaa. Tales of dragons being seen over the seas near the city have caused a considerable amount of worry… what could they be doing this far south of The Blasted Lands? Also, tales of Merfolk dragging dockers into the water cause raised eyebrows amongst WHG13. The barkeep also mentions a certain violent dwarf who has been recently barred for smashing his walking stick over another patron’s head during an argument. The ancient warden, Durnoc ‘Giantsbane’ Dourstone, is apparently in Port Cormaa and still living up to his explosive reputation… Not too wise as the old devout of The Stonefather is probably being scouted by the CSS!

Upon leaving The Grubby Sporran, Snorri remembers that Temple of Ioun has an extensive library. He is outraged at the way Crag has turned out and now that his Order have been been denied access to The Great Crag Library, he feels that he can find out more about the history of the Crag Republic in Port Cormaa. The party walks to The Temple of Enlightenment.
Ioun
The party is greeted by Sister Naa, a young acolyte, who directs them through ornate doors to the extensive library. Inside, they meet Brother Silvanus, a bookish servant of the god of knowledge. It seems that Silvanus views the heroes of WHG13 as allies (a sentiment that the party has not been used to since being plunged into this alternative world). Silvanus points out a hooded, kneeling figure, studying a hefty and old looking tome in the shadows of the great book shelves. Snorri is surprised to see that the figure is in fact a Neri Scribeson, a member of The Keepers of The Eternal Truth, Snorri’s Order in Crag Mountain.

Scribeson is obviously trying to keep a low profile; the Order is under constant surveillance by the CSS. It seems that it’s not just WHG members that have been sent to the labour camp at Bartozch. Several members of the Order have been locked up too. The party knows that it must intervene in some way, but with the State having such strict controls, any action would have to be covert. Scribeson fills the party in on certain ‘shady’ contacts that can be approached in order to get under the radar of the State; namely a Crag slum lord known simply as ‘The Don’.

Leaving the temple, WHG13 is still confused as to what they will do next. A long discussion is had as they make their way through the streets… streets that are strangely deserted at present…. Suddenly terrified looking people run past the party. Several city guards, hastily preparing their armour sprint in the opposite direction. WHG13 follows and ahead, plumes of smoke can be seen billowing into the air. An injured man, his back smoking, tears past the party and when another hurried guard is questioned he can only blurt “Invasion!” and finally “Kobolds. Hundreds of kobolds!”
Azers sml
WHG13 race on and as they round a corner come face to face with a scene of utter bedlam. Kobolds are indeed rampaging through the streets of Port Cormaa. Behind them is a phalanx of flame headed dwarves… Azer! The party has not seen Azer since their forays into the blasted lands to retrieve the stolen Merfolk Orb. Driving this unit of mayhem is another Azer, who bellows orders at his minions and lashes above their heads with a fearsome looking scourge. As the Azer manoeuvre through the streets, the never dying fire in their bodies case any nearby combustibles start to smoke and blister. WHG13 charges into the fray, cutting through the lines of kobolds like a hot knife through rancid butter!

The battle is fierce but after the first few exchanges of blows, a huge roar is heard from above. A dark shadow hangs over the party for a second before a great figure crashes to the ground in a gout of flame. Bellowing it’s challenge to the party, a mighty red dragon heaves a breath of flame at the party and makes it’s demand “RETURN MY ORB! THE FISHMEN ARE GONE AND NO LONGER HAVE IT! I HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT DWARVES HAVE IT FOR THEMSELVES!” This is the same dragon the the party managed to hoodwink into giving back the Merfolk Orb!

The party refuses to be intimidated and focus their attacks on the great wyrm, however the Azer and their minions continue to cause havoc and WHG13 is hard pressed. As the dragon prepares to loose its breath weapon again, a huge silver flash tears down from above, smashes into the dragon sending it tumbling through the street and into the side of a house, nearly demolishing it. The red dragon emerges from the rubble and takes off into the air where it is assailed again by the silver beast: a gigantic mercury dragon, half as big again as might red! The red wrym retreats, flying at speed out of sight whilst pursued by the other drake.

Seeing their master defeated, the remaining ground troops lose their stomachs for the siege and a full scale retreat is called. As the party picks off a few retreating kobolds, screaming can be heard a short distance away. Waving frantically from the upper floor windows of some old warehouse which is fast starting to burn to the ground are panicked citizens. These unfortunate people had sought refuge in the building but are now trapped.

As the thick smoke starts to shroud the figures begging for help it will not be long before they are engulfed in flame. Time is running out…

Part III: The Rise of The Machines

Snorri and Father Badger take the direct approach into the burning building that is quickly being consumed by flame. The avenger flies to the upper floor window and Badger crashes in through the main doors on the ground floor. As both adventurers manage to evacuate many, an out of control cart, pulled by two panicking horses crashes into the main doors, blocking them. Kuu notices a cowled human figure rolling off to one side and sprinting off out of sight!

Attempts to make emergency exits by charging through the walls are fruitless and after a desperate attempt by Snorri to rush down a roaring stairway with a child under each arm fails, time really does run out for everyone involved. Numerous sacks of flour finally ignite causing a huge fireball to rip through the building, immolating the poor families left trapped inside. The decrepit building then collapses in on itself, half burying WHG13 in the rubble.

As the adventurers lay battered, burned and bruised, mighty metallic figures loom up through the dust and smoke. Dwarrowtec Warmechs, emblazoned with the symbol of the UCSR, stride through the streets with hisses of steams and the pounding of iron feet, shooting explosive alchemical rounds from arm cannons at the last retreating kobolds. Other mechs seem to have been converted with huge water tanks that douse the flaming buildings of Port Cormaa. The adventurers are unable to help the families who were trapped in the abandoned warehouse – none survived the blast and subsequent collapse – so they rush toward the docks, where many survivors are pointing and shouting out in wonder.
Dreadnought
Chugging through the waters along the coast is a huge ironclad battleship, a dreadnought that fires explosive alchemical ammunition high into the air from mighty cannons. Far outside the city, the fire rains down upon the retreating forces, causing massive explosions which take out a dozen troops in a single hit. The Dwarrowtec and UCSR symbols also emblazon the machine of war. Whilst all of this is happening, a huge air ship is seen descending to land outside the city’s eastern wall. What is going on?!…

As the dejected heroes start to help the wounded, Dornal Jonas is seen and when asked about what is happening in the city, the guildmaster has much to say. He is mystified as to why the dragon and his minions would attack the city in search of the orb. The Merfolk have not made contact with anyone recently and as far as he was aware, they were continuing to use the orb to keep their shoals away from the fishing boats. The dragon however seemed to be of the opinion that the merfolk did not have the orb and was convinced that the dwarves had it. Jonas asks the heroes to attend an emergency guildmeet at The Trawlerman alehouse at dusk as there is much to debate. The WHG asks for a private audience with the guildmaster before the meet starts and he agrees.

Hurrying to the hospital, the party spends some hours assisting with the aid effort. Speaking with locals as they work, the party discerns that there is dissent brewing in the poor areas of Port Cormaa regarding the recent disappearances which all seem to have occurred in and near Scuttle Alley. The new mayoral candiate: Rydian Grigg, has made a point of campaigning about the current council’s failures to stop the abductions. The opinion on Grigg seems to be split; many locals believe his promises to increase The Watch, enlist the help of a new military force and increase trade. Those involved in the fishing industry believe that Grigg is trying to destroy their way of life, one which has kept the city on the map for generations.

During their work a young lad runs around giving out flyers for a local circus. Snatching one up, the party reads of ‘Barrabus’ House of Fun‘. With the state of the town not as bad as first thought, perhaps a visit to the circus would help lift the spirits of the populace. The flyer also invites the reader to witness the ’wonder that is The Wanderer!’… Intriguing…

An hour or so before dusk, the party makes its way through the damaged streets of Port Cormaa toward the docks. On route they are stopped by two CSS agents who demand to know what the heroes are doing and question them as to why they have not yet returned to Crag Mountain. With false promises made to return after a visit to the alehouse the heroes press on. A biting winter wind blows in from the sea as they approach The Trawlerman. Still patrolling the dock area are two Dwarrowtec Warmechs.

WHG13 meets with Dornal Jonas as arranged. The seaman is biting in his criticism of Rydian Grigg. Grigg wants to replace the beloved fishing industry. Jonas’ guild members also do not trust Dwarrowtec or the motivations of the UCSR. Jonas speaks about the dockers who were seen dragged into the sea: Darry Luggaton and Rodd Finney. It seems that the witness is not that reliable; ‘Blind’ Bill Grogshanks is a notorious drunkard who described being sat on the dock drinking with Darry and Rodd a few nights back when hands reached up from the water and dragged the poor men in. He then saw a large fish’s tail raise up out of the water.

The group moves to the alehouse function room where the guildmeet starts. Jonas speaks out on behalf of the WHG and despite the mistrust of the UCSR, the heroes are not seen as agents of The Republic. They have helped the guild before and it again asks for the heroes’ aid. They want the party to search for the merfolk and find out the truth about the orb and their involvement in the abductions at the docks. Attempts to locate the elusive creatures through normal methods have failed. It seems that the party will have to find magical means to assist them in searching under the waves!

No one knows the location of the merfolk’s town or lair but some salty sea dogs are sure that they can pool some of their old maps to give the WHG some rough idea of a location. With the CSS still sniffing around, the guild members also agree that the party’s involvement should be kept quiet to avoid interference by Crag authorities.

The heroes decide to make their way to The Temple of Enlightenment to see if the extensive library there can offer more. On route, the more stealthy members of the group scout through the dark alleys. Kuu gets the feeling she is being watched from somewhere but there is no one else about to be seen; just a mangy cat which suddenly arches, hisses and springs off wailing. The feeling of being watched subsides suddenly and Kuu can offer no explanation as to why…

At the temple, the heroes are reunited with Neri Scribeson, who shows the adventurers the true work being done by The Keepers in Port Cormaa. Leading them down a secret winding staircase, deep under the temple in an ornate hall is a new portal, kept secret from Crag authorities. Unfortunately, if used now, it will show up on the magical war room map back in Crag, therefore any ‘launch’ is forbidden until The Keepers put their finishing touches to a screening ritual which will prevent the detection of this highly illegal portal! Two more portals are being built; one in a Chechyan controlled area near Bartozch, the other in a similar secret location under the Keeper’s monastery on the upper slopes of Crag Mountain itself. If the party are grounded in Crag by the CSS, or if they need to travel ‘incognito’, WHG13 will soon be able to use these secret portals.

The party, much more hopeful about their chances of eventually getting to Bartozch to rescue Durn and the members of Snorri’s Order, return to the temple library to speak with Brother Silvanus. The old sage soon digs out an ancient map which, if cross referenced with the maps some of the guild members claim to have, will give a much more accurate idea as to the position of the Merfolk town.

The rituals required for underwater exploration are a different matter however. Silvanus does not have these rituals in his repetoir and the only reliable source for magic in Port Cormaa is apparently buried under the ruins of his workshop! It seems that the party has drawn a blank until the heroes realise that travellers, troupes and merchants tend to bring new goods to trade with them. Sometimes those goods are magical. Outside the temple, excited families from the richer quarters of town are hurrying to the east wall. The penny drops for WHG13 and they follow the crowds to The Common, just outside the eastern city entrance.

In the shadows of the massive air ship that is The Wanderer, is a collection of large tents. Fireworks crack and bang overhead drawing gasps from the crowd. On a platform in the centre of all this is a tall. thin human with a fixed (slightly unsettling) grin under an outrageously long, waxed black moustache which spikes out at right angles from his face. “Welcome, my friends, to Barrabus’ House of Fun!” yells the man.

The party approaches the man, Barrabus himself, and he informs them that the House of Fun has been touring The Blasted Lands, including Fort Blighthold. Barrabus knows the dragon who assailed Port Cormaa. It was indeed the wyrm from The Azer Demense and names the beast as Thraxxylbryr. Barrabus’ dislike for dragon-kind is evident as he spits the name of the red wyrm.
Howlingdelves
When asked about possible rituals for sale, the heroes are directed to the music tent. Inside, a dishevelled looking human with a mouthful of gold teeth plucks a lute which is connected to some sort of magical steam box which distorts and amplifies the sound. An alcoholic looking goliath plays the saw, a multi-armed warforged crashes away at various drums and metallic pieces of hanging scrap and an obese little kobold puffs away at a collection of jugs to provide a bass. The noise is like nothing ever heard in Port Cormaa!

The crowd seems mesmerised by the music that boils and chugs around the smoke filled tent. Roaming around is a weird looking man. A shock of white hair juts out from the back of his head and a tuft of white beard sticks out from his chin. One of his eyes is wide, wild and darts around the room. He is dressed in a huge, thick black robe. He slips little vials an balls of herbs out of a bag and presses them into the hands of people in the crowd who in turn give their payment. The heroes grab the stranger’s attention.

“Let Dr Bliss slip you a… preparation!” says the man. The heroes ask if he has certain rituals for sale. Dr Bliss grins in a slightly maniacal way and beacons with his finger.

“Heh, heh, heh! Come with me!”

Part IV: A Lost Civilisation

The heroes are led by Bliss into a nearby tent. Adorning a large table is a vast array of alchemical items, bones, potions, trinkets, scrolls, drug paraphernalia and junk. It seems that the strange ‘Doctor’ has several options available, but the most useful tincture is a somewhat crippling 1800gp. After attempts to haggle and bluff fail, Jarrim notices a fragment of a rare red coloured sea pearl on display and discerns that Dr Bliss would be very interested in a whole and undamaged specimen. The silver tongued dwarf convinces the human to part with the tincture with a promise to return with a red pearl as payment. However, Bliss insists on a surety, and the party leave him with their magical item: The orb of sacrifice.

WHG13 leaves the circus with the potion and makes it’s way to the docks. The winter night is chill and the warmth of the Trawlerman Alehouse is most welcome. After paying for a large room, the heroes get ready to settle to sleep. All is still and most of the party is deep in sleep. In the dead of night, a screaming noise can be heard in the back alley outside the room. K’uu the rogue shifts into human form and peeks out of the window. Another bloody cat. The mangy animal is screeching with it’s back arched at something unseen. It then darts away into the night. K’uu rubs her eyes and begins to turn back to her bed when movement catches her attention… The shadow underneath the old fence opposite seems to swell and move toward the inn!
Reaching shadow
Alerting her comrades, Kuu watches as the shadow recedes, but then moves again, this time underneath the window. As Snorri leaps from his bed, the shadows within the room itself start to shift and swell, creeping further toward the centre of the floor. Father Badger peers at the strange blackness, and is surprised to see the shadow take the form of a clawed hand that reaches toward him them dissipates.

The feisty human tries to act unconcerned and stomps back to bed. As he turns over in his blankets, the shadow reaches for him again. Badger feels a spectral grip around his throat tighten then start to drag him toward the corner of the room. As the rest of the group leaps up, the shadow dissipates again and does not return. An unsettling night passes with no further incident.

Upon rising, the group heads down for breakfast. Chatting with the barkeep, the heroes find that there is unrest in Scuttle Alley, the poor end of town where the slums are located. It seems that most of the disappearences have been from this location. The old tale of Shadowbone has been bandied about by a strange man called ‘The Seer’, a homeless witchdoctor who has been warning the locals that there is more truth to the tale than people believe. Making a mental note of this new information, the party readies itself for the planned expedition to the seas off Port Cormaa.

As they stride in to the docks, the WHG meets with the man tasked with taking them to the merfolk territories.
Captain Dagmar Cleftjaw is a large brute of a man who looks to have seen many battles in his time. The Captain heartily welcomes the party aboard his ship and points out that after pooling their old maps and recounting old fireside stories, the guild has concluded that the resting place of an old sunken ship which (according to the tale) once carried a large booty of gold, may lay near or inside the merfolk territory. Back in the day, all attempts to salvage the gold from the depths were driven off by the sea dwellers.

After some time sailing out toward the horizon, Cleftjaw informs the party that it is time. They have reached a ‘shelf’, where the sea bed drops sharply to new depths. The party each takes a sip of Dr Bliss’ tincture… Nothing happens. One of the party is shoved into the drink to ‘see what happens’. The sight of a dwarf darting through the waves then springing from the water like a dolphin is certainly weird, but it is also proof that the tincture has worked. The party can breath, talk and move normally underwater. Soon they are swimming along the sea bed in the search for the elusive merfolk.
Map   merfolk home
Soon, a large, wreck can be seen and sure enough, beyond is the merfolk meeting place. A large cave entrance yawns from the ocean shelf. Stone shelves hold urns, and in the centre of a clearing is a beautiful sculpture made of two, huge, pearl white shells, one containing a large red pearl!

In the murky distance, the large forms of killer whales loom, and soon two mefolk emerge from the cave. They do not greet the visitors, nor do they try to drive them away. The party moves forward and soon realizes that the orca bear terrible festering wounds. Two more merfolk appear and their glazed, grey eyes and palid, torn skin show no signs of natural life. All that are left are the undead!

WHG13 has just the time to draw steel before the zombified sea creatures streak in for the kill. Luckily for the heroes, Dr Bliss’ preparation allows them to fight just as well underwater as on the surface. The mindless zomies are no match for the grizzled warriors of Crag. The orcs are destroyed and the poor merfolk explode with necrotic energy as they are finally laid to rest.

A search of the area draws the heroes into the cave (after Jarrim has plucked the red pearl from the merfolk sculpture). Inside, there are signs of battle. Body parts are littered here and there. Curiously, amongst the macabre clues are several human limbs and at least a couple of human child heads! Snorri does not intend returning these to Port Cormaa, and they are left to rest in the deep. Deep in the ornate main chamber is a golden construction which the merfolk used to hold their orb. The magical object is gone, along with any living member of the strange merfolk race.

The dragon, Thraxxylybryr, and his Azer strike force have obviously not taken the orb, so who has? Was it the mystery invaders who used forbidden dark rituals to raise their unfortunate mefolk victims as zombie guardians, and if so, why? What are the remains of human children doing in the depths of the sea? So many questions remain unanswered…

The party checks the shipwreck for the treasure supposedly onboard, but find that it has been stripped bare. However, when the heroes check the urns nearby, they find the missing loot: thousands of gold pieces! The coins are quickly reclaimed and soon WHG13 is sailing back to Port Cormaa to brief Dornal Jonas. The news does nothing to set the guildmaster’s mind at rest.

After returning to Dr Bliss and dropping off the red pearl as payment for the potion, the heroes decide to make their way up to Scuttle Alley in search of the mysterious ‘seer’. Deciding that a covert approach would be best, the party is loaded onto the back of a wagon (arranged by Jonas), and after being covered by a large tarpaulin, they are towed through the streets of Port Cormaa. The last time the WHG were in the poor end of town, things did not end well. As they near the north of the city, the party hopes that they can stay a little less conspicuous this time around…

Part V: A Comedy of Errors

… However, Father Badger has other ideas. The fickle human decides that the team plan is not to his liking and insists on walking out in the open, thus drawing the attentions of a couple of CSS agents who emerge from the shadows and quickly uncover the rest of the party. The WHG are ordered by the agents (one of whom takes copious notes) to return to Crag without delay. Unknown to the rest of the party, this will not be the last rash decision of the day that will come back to bite them at a later time!

SeerThe heroes make their way into Scuttle Alley and the tall. crooked, dilapidated houses add to the feeling of oppression and deprivation. Quick inquiries are made and a gold piece buys the whereabouts of the Seer. Stood in a narrow alleyway is a curious tepee type tent made of hides and manky old furs. Small skulls, dreamcatchers and other trappings of a witchdoctor/shaman/fortune teller/lunatic adorn the temporary dwelling. Within the tent is the Seer himself; a strange, unkempt man with long, greasy hair and a weather worn face painted like a white skull.

The man babbles on about reading the palms of the adventurers, but when asked questions about the legend of Shadowbone, he becomes hungry for coin. After some haggling, the Seer’s face darkens as he tells his audience that despite the sneers of other folk, he believes that Shadowbone is a very real entity, lurking in the dark places of the prime material plane. He drags victims’ souls to ‘hell’ and uses their bodies for his own means, turning them into macabre ‘meat puppets’. When asked where there have been disappearances, the Seer points out the nearby homeless shelter and also names The Righteous Light Orphanage.

Starting at the shelter, the party speaks first with an old drunk: ‘Jobless’ Jonah who claims to have witnessed one of the abductions. He was drinking in a dark alleyway to the rear of the shelter two nights ago with Nerrid, a regular at the shelter when: “The shadows crawled forth, and like a grasping claw did it seize poor Nerrid by his throat and drag him into the blackness!” Jobless did not stick around to see what happened next and admits that he is too scared to go out after dark now. The alleyway is near to The Seer’s shack and the party investigates but no clues are found.

Next the WHG visits The Righteous Light, A children’s home run by Mr and Mrs Griffin, devotees of Pelor. The orphanage holds over thirty children. The Griffins are good people who are horrified that five of their children have disappeared over the past two nights. They are angry at the Mayor and upset that the Watch have been unable to properly investigate the abductions. The Griffins are active supporters of Rydian Grigg, who has promised to make the city safe again with the development of the Port military and an increase in Watch members.

The heroes search the missing childrens’ rooms. Travok soon makes a disturbing discovery; broken fingernails wedged in to floorboards with scratches in the floor leading to the far corner of the room. The scratches lead right up to the skirting boards, as if the victim was dragged under the wall… As they move into the next room, the scratches appear from the wall and lead across the room to the bed. From there, drag marks can be seen, as if another body has been hauled off and into the wall. Snorri checks the alleyway outside the children’s rooms. Nothing of note other than a mangy old cat which spits and hisses at Father B. Badger snatches up the hapless moggy and tosses it into the orphanage… This time he seems to have a plan which is constructive; stay in the orphanage overnight in the hope that whoever or whatever has been snatching people away will return for another victim and use the cat as an early warning system (it seems that cats can sense the strange entity before the party).

As they finalize their plan, a hullabaloo can be heard in the nearby square. A large crowd cheers and claps, while the loud voice of one man can be heard above all others. Small snatches of the speech that can be made out from this distance and it becomes obvious that there is a political rally going on. The party decides to get a closer look. What harm could it do? As they round a corner, the heroes see a large crowd of locals who have turned out to listen to a tall, dark haired man, stood on a small platform. The party gets it’s first sighting of the new mayoral candidate, Rydian Grigg.

Grigg is animated and promises an increased and overhauled Watch. The numbers of the Watch will be bolstered by a new military force planned for the city that will patrol the poor areas targeted by criminals. Father Badger decides that it would be a good idea to heckle the politician about Shadowbone, oblivious that he is drawing more attention to the WHG. Grigg is unphased by the question and dives into more explanation of his policies. Meanwhile, Adrikus has noticed several shady looking characters mingling with the crowd. Also there is a large brute stood near the platform. Confident that he has identified Grigg’s security force, the dwarf stealthily creeps alongside one of the hooded security operatives whose attentions are elsewhere… that is until Adrikus attempts unsuccessfully to put him in an arm lock!

To put one of the mayoral candidate’s security in an arm lock would be seen by some as a pretty irresponsible thing to do. However, to bodge up a simple arm lock on one of the mayoral candidate’s security, leaving the nimble warrior plenty of time to draw steel and attack, is seen by the rest of the party as one of the dumbest things they have ever witnessed. Particularly when Adrikus did this without realizing that there are also four top notch (and very deadly) snipers hidden on the roofs of the surrounding buildings! Adrikus just has enough time to admit that he was maybe a little ‘rash’ before he is dropped by a hail of sniper fire. Grigg is bundled off by his bodyguard and the crowd panicks. Bedlam ensues.

The party beats a hasty retreat as Travok revives the fallen Adrikus (twice!). As the heroes dive for cover, the security detail disappears. Snorri and Jarrim fume as Adrikus shrugs his shoulders. It seems that now the Port Cormaa authorities are after them too as the whistles of the Watch can be heard. As the constabulary hurries to the scene of ‘an assassination attempt’, the hapless fugitives dive through the open window of the orphanage, landing in an unceremonious heap.

After batting off frantic questioning from Mrs Griffin, the party prepares to set up in the first floor of the building. Jarrim uses a magical hat to take on the guise of a small child. Sun rods are placed in some of the rooms to minimize shadow and the cat is placed in the corridor.

Night falls. All is eerily quiet… until there is a loud banging on the door downstairs. The old cat’s fur stands up and it lets out a long hiss in the direction of the stairs. Father Badger puts on a brave face and, fearing a trap, gingerly makes his way downstairs. His palms sweating, the human pulls open the door. Stood there are two CSS agents! They demand an explanation as to what the WHG are doing in an orphanage, why there is rumour that they were involved in the disorder at Grigg’s rally and why they have not returned to Crag Mountain as ordered. Badger begins his usual blustering abuse but the agents simply disappear and reappear among the rest of the party on the first floor.

The agents inform the adventurers that there is a warrant for their arrest at Crag Mountain! They demand that the party returns with them immediately, but WHG13 refuses. Things are tense and it seems that there may be battle. One agent informs the heroes that if they still refuse to comply they will become enemies of the state. The menacing silence lasts an uncomfortable time before the agents simply disappear. It seems that the party’s high jinks this day have backfired.

Determined to see their plan through, the heroes settle in and the night drags on. Jarrim lounges on a bed and the others sit about waiting for something to happen. Suddenly, the bard feels a sharp pain in his back. A queasy feeling in his gut tells him that something isn’t right and his legs feel like lead. Travok also jumps as he feels a stabbing pain in his leg. The cleric stumbles forward then collapses in a heap. Snorri and Father Badger also feel the sting. Luckily, the party is tough and all manage to shake off the strange effects placed upon them. Jarrim is stung again and Snorri sees something shoot out of the window. He rushes over and sticks his head out just in time to see something scuttling up the side of the building. As the party rushes about there seems to be no sign of whatever is attacking them. No shadows have assailed them.
Spider
Snorri then sees something small rush down the stairs. The avenger bundles down toward the front door and catches sight of a strange, spider-like creature clinging to the ceiling. He blasts the little beast with radiant energy and it falls to the ground, twitching. As the party rushes to assist, they see that the creature is a small mech, similar to the surveillance mechs in Crag Mountain, but this construct is smaller, more lithe and has a retractable hypodermic needle at it’s mouth. It seems that the party has been the subject of their own assassination attempt.

The heroes closely inspect the curious automaton. A small hatch in the mech’s underside is opened. Engraved into the metal is a star, inside which is a crossed hammer and pick.

The symbol of the United Crag Socialist Republic….

Part VI: An Unexpected Ally

ShadowboneShocked that they seem to be the target of their own people, the WHG decides to spend the rest of the night at the orphanage to ensure that the children remain safe. Little do they suspect that in the darkness before dawn, the lurking menace that has been stalking them all along decides to finally show itself. The shadows boil again in the confines of one of the small bedrooms and a dark creature springs forth to grab one of the heroes in its horrible grasp.

As the rest of the party scrabbles around to try to get a good defensive position, the unfortunate victim hangs in the air, seemingly being throttled by his own shadow! The beast is driven out but materializes in another room to continue its assault. The heroes battle bravely against this slippery foe and despite the necrotic power of the shadow beast nearly stealing their breath away, one final mighty blow sends it spinning and tearing into the air before it disappears. Has the WHG managed to destroy this creature, Shadowbone?

As the light returns to the room and the party takes stock, there is another bang at the door. A nervous K’uu creeps down and peeks out. No one there! As the heroes start to fear the worst, a dark figure appears in the alleyway, flanked by burly warriors who threaten to draw steel. The figure orders the warriors to hold fast and throws back its hood, revealing a wizened, human man’s face. Magistrate Mildraan!.

Mildraan hurries inside and questions the party about the debacle at Rydian Grigg’s rally the previous day. An embarassed excuse is made but it is of little consequence, the Magistrate announces that the party are now wanted by the Port Cormaa authorities too! However, MIldraan does not believe that the accusations are accurate. He also feels that Grigg is dangerous, wanting to close down the fishing industry and supplant the current magistrates and officials with his own people. He is sure that Grigg is not an honest man, and once again, he makes the party of dwarven fugitives an offer they can’t refuse…. to allow themselves to be incarcerated, then with the help of Mildraan’s people, escape and investigate Grigg’s opulent house in order to find some sort of evidence of his dishonest intentions. The stakes are high, but it seems with warrants on both sides of the portal, it is the best chance they have of escaping the wrath of the authorities. When on route, the party learns that The Seer is in the infirmary having been found badly beaten with his tongue cut out from his mouth. Someone (or something) wanted to silence the strange old witchdoctor.

The heroes allow themselves to be manacled and taken off to the gaol. When safely locked away, they are given bowls of food and stuck to the underside of one of these bowls is a map of directions that will lead the party to Griggs mansion. As the party discusses how they are actually going to get out of their cell, the gaoler sighs, looks incredibly peeved, then simply runs head first into the wall, knocking himself out cold! The burly guard crashes to the ground in front of the party’s barred door. A bunch of keys hangs conveniently on his belt within reaching distance.

The heroes let themselves out of their cell and (all too easily) escape from the building. Outside waits a horse and cart with a dwarven driver. When clear of the gaol, the driver pulls his hood back and gives the concealed WHG a sly wink. The craggy, ancient face grins through missing teeth, knocked out in bar brawls and battles long ago. Their driver is a Dourstone: the once formidable (and still very spiky) Durnoc Dourstone, grandfather of Durn, the WHG’s comrade apparently incarcerated at Bartozch. When Durnoc drops off the WHG, they promise to liberate their captured friend before pressing on to scope out Grigg’s mansion.

Locked gates and a high wall prevent entry into Griggs beautifully landscaped grounds. K’uu easily picks the locks but when she botches an attempt to disable an audible warning system, a loud bell chimes. So much for stealth! The heroes rush in and try to hide in bushes, but as the first of the guards emerge from a nearby outbuilding, it is obvious that party has been rumbled. As the WHG engages the guards, a sniper picks off members of the party and suddenly a group of assassins spring from the shadows! At first, the party seems over matched and one or two think to flee. However, with Snorri Nosebiter leading from the front, the main threats are soon cut down.

Only two members of Grigg’s security force remain. The unseen sniper still lurks somewhere up on the roof of the house but he can not provide enough covering fire to prevent the mighty force from Crag pressing in for the killing strike. Failure is not an option for them. The guards look desperately for a way out and try to flee!…

Part VII: The Secret Meeting

One guard is quickly cut down but the other manages to run into Grigg’s mansion. The party follows the trail of blood only to find that the man made it as far as the back door before he succumbed to his wounds. A search of the mansion seems fruitless at first; no sign of Grigg and no evidence of nefarious activities. However, Adrikus re-checks a study cleared initially by a rather sloppy Father Badger and discovers a hand written letter wedged down the back of a desk.
Rydian letter
The party ponders the content of the note. Ignoring the references to The Wyrm (?!), they concentrate on who ‘B’ is (no clues there) and who this person with a ‘hook’ could be. As it is, in fact, the first night of the new moon, it seems that Grigg may be at this meeting or at least en route. The final sentence of the letter seems to point toward the location… The city’s sewer. Wasting no time in questioning the guards they had so carefully knocked unconscious, the party rushes to the nearest storm drain. They lift the drain and one by one descend into the fetid smelling maze of the Port Cormaa sewer.

Knowing that the main chamber (or ‘cistern’ as an irritated Father Badger repeatedly reminds the others) will be near the centre of the city, the dwarves of the WHG use their subterranean sense of direction to navigate through the tunnels until they reach the area where all the paths of stinking fluids converge. Ahead, faint voices can be heard. A flimsy wooden walkway spans the stinking waters, but as the party advances as quietly as possible it finds that security measures have been put in place!

Some patches of the paths ahead are set with traps which discharge terrific bursts of lightning which frazzle anyone unfortunate enough to blunder onto them. The voices ahead go silent and as the party edges closer, a crossbow weilding sniper attacks from the shadows. Like a true barbarian, Goryn charges into the main chamber… and into a trap! Numerous assassins and a dark human figure with a hook for a hand spring from their hiding places. Another two snipers also join the attack and things soon look dire for the barbarian who seems to be on his last legs. Goryn sees a human figure fleeing into the darkness of the tunnels. This man must be Grigg as a second later his burly bodyguard bundles into the fray.

The rest of the WHG comes to the rescue though, and after one of the snipers is forced into the water and picked off, others from the Crag team make it into the main chamber (or cistern) to back up their injured comrade. The battle is intense and after being initially forced down flat to the ground, the man with the hook starts to get the upper ‘hand’.

Things could be looking bleak for WHG13!…

Part VIII: A Close Shave

As the party closes in and tries to get into some sort of effective formation, it finds that the cunning Hook has a tight grip on his troops. Time and time again the WHG are struck by stinging daggers only for the foes to slip away out of reach and behind cover. One of the WHG falls and as soon as Father B can utter words of healing, another is in dire straits. Through sheer guts and guille though, the champions of Crag start to defeat their foes.

It becomes clear that there are indeed two different ‘sides’ fighting the party and the weaker looking snipers are the first to fall. Snorri Nosebiter piles down a side tunnel and pummels one of the snipers as he tries to slip behind cover. The man drops like a stone, unconscious. Now, if the heroes can just get out of this battle alive, they may have a prisoner to question!

As the lines of foes start to weaken, The Hook finally falls. The man laughs maniacally as he licks a great gout of blood from his hands and spits it at the party before he expires. Another of The Hook’s troops falls and as the man falls to one knee he shouts in a strange and harsh language:

“Mas secru vi jhiir a Hor! Micsh-il buru jhiir dis atur-ak ir Shadar-Garun!”

With no time to mull over the man’s dying words, the heroes continue to hack into their foes despite all of their energy and most impressive battle strikes being all but spent. One of the heroes recognizes the word ‘Shadar’ to mean ‘Shadow’… Could ‘Garun’ be a similar word for Bone?
Trident tattoo
As the final foe falls dead, the party has a sense of relief rather than elation regarding their victory. The prisoner is bound while the bodies of the fallen are searched. On the upper chests of some of the dead men and the unconscious prisoner is a familiar tattoo, the mark of the criminal gang: Trident!

The party is desperate to pursue the fleeing Grigg who has a considerable head start. They quickly manage to track his direction of travel, given away by the odd faint footprint in the filth. Father B puffs along at the rear with the prisoner slung over his shoulder. Heading south toward the dwarven quarter, fresh dirt is seen on the rungs of a ladder leading up to a street level drain cover. Catching their breath, the party decides to quickly question their now roused captive.

The man is terrified but fails to succumb to some pretty unconvincing intimidation tactics. Heartfelt promises to help the man escape the gang life and ultimately gain his freedom work wonders however, and the man answers the heroes questions.

As this discussion is going on, a cautious K’uu climbs the ladder to the drain cover. She can see that the cover is out of place as if someone has moved it very recently. As she peeks out into the street, the familiar silhouette of the Temple of Moradin, Port Cormaa , now the UCSR Embassy, can be seen 20 or 30 yards ahead. Could Grigg have fled to the Embassy? If so, CSS Agents could be mobilizing as the captive starts to speak…

…The meeting in the sewer was between Trident and The Hook, who represents some sort of religious cult. The cult spoke of ‘the agreement’. It seems that this is some sort of deal whereby Grigg will maintain power after the cult has achieved it’s aims (whatever they may be), which will be shortly after the election. The cult has an ally known as ‘The Dark One’, some sort of force or creature who has been taking the local people. These abductions will stop after the election, making Grigg look like the savior of the city and allow the implementation of his policies. The new trade routes would be used by Trident to set up a massive black market operation. It seemed that Trident had a hand in bringing the dragon Thraxxylbryr’s attention to the city in order to show off the military machines endorsed by Grigg and strengthen his campaign to develop a new Port Cormaa army. It seems that the lower ranks of Trident do not trust the cult and are very jumpy about what will happen after the election. Finally the captive informs the heroes that there was another man with Grigg at the meeting called ‘B’. He does does not know B’s true name but can see that this man is not a warrior…

…K’uu keeps one ear on the prisoner and one ear on the street. It seems that this is a wise move as her attention is drawn to a noise coming from the direction of the Embassy. The marching footsteps of some sort of squad or military unit are swiftly heading the party’s way and, with their powers nearly spent, WHG13 surely would not survive another battle!…

Part IX: Hunters Become The Hunted

With no time to debate the matter, the heroes take the only realistic choice open to them: They must flee back into the sewer away from the Embassy and toward the gaol in the hope they will be able to give the evidence against Grigg to Magistrate Mildraan. As they run for their lives, the frantic clattering of many tiny metallic feet can be heard descending into the tunnel behind. Snorri smashes into a large pile of detritus, sending debris scattering and slowing the persuit, but the reprieve is short lived.

As the party spots a connecting tunnel under the water line, the skittering gets closer. The first member of the party takes the gamble and plunges into the filth. As he swims through the tunnel, numerous Assassin-bug Mechs tear around the corner and attack with their poisonous stings. Luckily, none of the heroes succumb and eventually all swim through to an adjoining tunnel.

Firebug mechUnfortunately, lurking in a dark corner of the ceiling is a Surveillance Mech. As it’s telescopic eye trains in the party, it emits an ear splitting alarm! Within seconds, the familiar tiny footsteps can be heard, but scattering around the corner in pursuit of WHG13 with more Assassin-bugs is a new horror… hoards of tiny, spider-like mechs swarm over the party. Each individual automaton is fitted with a glass vial of highly volatile alchemist’s fire and when in position a few self destruct, causing a chain reaction that produces a massive explosion.

Singed and clinging to the last reserves of their strength, the heroes spot a wheel that looks as though it will open a floodgate. Beyond the gate is a build up of a huge body of melt water from the streets above. Desperate to escape, the party gets into position and a brave Goryn hauls on the wheel, causing the gate to drop like a stone. The torrent of water crashes down the tunnel and the weakened barabarian can not resist being washed down the tunnel and far from his companions. The firebug mechs self destruct, leaving the stricken dwarf close to death. There is a silver lining to the cloud however. The explosion takes out half the remaining assassin bugs and the rest are flushed away.

Father Badger sprints to retrieve his fallen comrade and after some healing (thanks to the Orb of Sacrifice), WHG13 resumes it’s retreat. Aeryn spots a hiding place in the corner of a nearby chamber and with the sound of pursuing mechs coming from all directions, the heroes dive into the dark nook, cover themselves with old sacking and other rubbish and lay as still as possible… and not too soon it seems. As one of the party peeks out from his hiding place, a hoard of mechs swarm through the chamber, searching for the outlaws. The dangerous creatures scatter over the floors, walls and ceilings and for a few tense moments, it seems that the firebugs can sense where their pray is hiding. The WHG holds it’s breath in terror as the swarm scuttles around the entrance to their hiding place but as the other mechs move on to other chambers, the firebugs rush off into the darkness.

The heroes burst from their nook and rounding a corner, see a ladder leading upward to the streets. They waste no time in getting out of the sewer and into the sweet fresh air. Emerging into a dark alley, the party carefully surveys its surroundings. Just a short distance ahead is the watch quarters and gaol. Two Port Cormaa watchmen guard the entrance but they are in a heated discussion with two CSS agents! The cloaked and goggled agents produce a small metallic item which after being manipulated by the cunning agents, sprouts multiple legs and a telescopic eye. The surveillance mech scuttles off. Suddenly, two more agents teleport into view. They too produce and release another surveillance mech. This automaton runs directly at the hidden party before it nimbly skitters up the side of a building. Time is running out and Snorri Nosebiter takes decisive action just as one of the mechs spots the dwarf and emits it’s shrieking alarm.

The party charges from cover in the hope that they can bowl past the agents and claim asylum in the Port Cormaa gaol. Unfortunately, there are more agents present than they first thought! CSS snipers, with blunderbusses that shoot alchemical goo and more assassin mechs join the fray. Also present is a leader, a fearsome agent who is determined to execute the arrest warrants for WHG13! The party is constantly hoodwinked by the powerful CSS arrest team and the heroes’ charge to safety is persistently scuppered as they find themselves slowed or completely immobilized.

Father Badger and Aeryn manage to burst into the open office and demand that Mildraan be alerted. A rather stunned desk sergeant runs off. The CSS agents burst in after the two humans, shouting that they are under arrest. Aeryn shows a cowardly streak and immediately surrenders! As a badly injured Snorri falls to the ground, blasted and battered and stung into unconsciousness a voice bellows out “ENOUGH!”

Standing in a nightgown and cap is an infuriated Mildraan who orders the agents to leave the area. Unless the WHG is accused of a serious offence, the incarceration and trial of the heroes in a Port Cormaa facility will take precedence over a simple Crag warrant. The CSS team leader strides forward and bellows “Treason! The members of Wraith Hunter Group 13 are accused of treason against The State!” He reaches into his coat and pulls out an old book. It’s pages are blackened and damaged by fire. It is the book containing the names of prisoners sent to Bartozch that K’uu the rogue stole from the Great Crag Library and gave to Ma Gravel to burn!

The CSS leader’s eyes narrow as he takes a step forward and hisses “These prisoners are MINE!”….

Part X: Betrayal

A tense standoff ensues but the wiley magistrate knows that as they in Port Cormaa territory, any investigations of crimes commited in the city must be investigated first before handing suspects over to foreign forces. The look of rage on the Team Leader’s face is an absolute picture. The team of agents teleport away leaving the heroes to be led to the cells.

After a brief rest the WHG is called to Mildraan’s chambers where they are joined by a very important looking human… Mayor Villanova himself! The Mayor seems very pleased; and no wonder really as the main challenger for the seat of power: Rydian Grigg has been exposed as a corrupt pawn of Trident.

The heroes’ second escape from the Port goal is all but guaranteed and soon the team is snuck off to the dwarven quarter of the city. In the depths of the Port Rift the party is taken in by the landlord of one of the local alehouses, Brikk Hammerknuckle. Hidden in the cellar the party hatches a plan to secretly return to Crag. The Keepers still need the rare ritual from the Great Crag Library in order to screen their secret portals and allow the heroes to get to Bartozch to release Durn and the imprisoned Keepers

With the help of Neri Scribeson and Durnoc Dourstone, a delivery of ‘scientific paraphernalia’ from Dr Salt’s lab to Crag is set up. The heroes later intercept the delivery cart and with the help of their allies, they are sealed into the crates ready for transport through the portal to their homeland. The journey for a couple of the group is particularly odious as they find themselves sat amongst body parts!

After what seems like a tense eternity the WHG feels the familiar weird sensation as they pas through the portal and after being loaded onto steam carts they are transported through Crag to a certain bureaucrat who secretly sympathises with the heroes’ struggle.

Randall releases the party and allows his friends ame time to escape. As they sneak thouhh thw dark alleyways of The Slags, WHG13 knows that allies will be hard to find here. Rather that trying to locate the mysterious ‘Don’ straight away, the party decides to visit Ma Gravel’s soup kitchen knowing that it should find friends and refuge here.

Ma seems very surprised to see the heroes back in her kitchens. She gives a spluttered explaination as to how the CSS managed to find the book. Ma agrees to try to find one of The Keepers so they can regroup. The heroes hide in a dark pantry to await her return…

A short while later the party hears the kitchen door open. At last it seems that the WHG will get some help. The pantry door opens and Ma Gravel stands in a corner but her normal wide smile is absent. Movement is seen in the corner of the ceiling and a small surveillance mech scuttles into view, it’s lense fixed on the shocked party. The kitchen door opens again and the hearts of the heroes sink as in strides the team of Agents with their warrants. The leader’s grin of triumph is clear to see. His agents’ magical gauntlets crackle with energy.

The leaders cold eyes do not leave the party as he speaks to one of the asssembled pawns of the Republic. "Good work…

… Agent Gravel."

Part XI: Reprieve

The outraged WHG gets set for battle as the traitorous Ma Gravel slinks away. Suddenly, the door flies open and Crag troops march in ordering the cessation of the conflict. The commander of the troops stomps into the kitchens and orders the infuriated CSS team leader away. The great Secretary Broadaxe takes command, tearing up the agents’ arrest warrants! The CSS, muttering curses, teleport off once again empty handed.

Broadaxe orders the WHG to his quarters. Upon their arrival, the heroes are met by The Secretary and honoured guests: Magistrate Mildraan and Mayor Villanova of Port Cormaa. It is plain that the Cormaa dignitaries have been speaking out in support of the WHG… finally it seems that at least the military faction of Crag has taken notice of the Group’s good intentions and hard work! It is rumoured that Dwarrowtec has also objected to the interference of the CSS in Cormaa and threatened to pull the plug on the military technologies they supply to the Republic unless the agency is ‘reigned in’. It seems that for now at least, WHG13 will be able to walk the streets of both cities unmolested by the CSS!

Broadaxe (seemingly much more friendly in this alternative present Crag!) has authorized a pardon for the team and set a new objective: free Port Cormaa from the hideous Shadow menace that has been stalking the city’s citizens. Even though they thought they may have destroyed ‘Shadowbone’, there have been more disappearances over the past 24 hours. There are final negotiations to be had with the Crag rulers so the WHG is not to leave the city until the new orders and authorisations are officially issued. Even then, they are to portal to Port Cormaa only unless authorised by The State. It seems that the heroes’ wings have been clipped, however, they do have other, more nefarious dealings amongst their plans in Crag…
Pipe dwarf
The team immediately makes its way to the grand courtyard of the Great Crag Library to meet up with ‘Pipe’: the chain smoking racketeer who apparently has the ear of the mysterious master of the Crag black market: ‘The Don’. After a brief meeting, the party is directed to Cronn’s Smokehouse, a dark establishment set on a rotting river jetty deep in The Slags. Pipe flips one of the heroes a battered silver piece and advises them to ask at the bar for ‘a number 13’…

The party descends into the dark and dirty slums of The Slags and locates the smokehouse under a towering slum on a jetty set in the stinking polluted waters of the River Crag. As the party enters, all eyes turn on them. Dark, suspicious looking heavies eye the WHG and Cronn himself, barely visible through the smoke haze, stares as he polishes a small cup. “We’re closed” he says. Looking at the menu above Cronn’s head, the party sees that there are various smokeleaf brands available along with different blends on ‘bitterbrew’, a thick, dark alcoholic concoction drunk hot.
Cronn
The party asks for the number 13 and hands over the battered coin. Cronn pauses for a moment before serving up pipes stuffed with different types of leaf and tiny cups of hot bitterbrew. The heroes find an empty booth and light up. As they gingerly sip the (quite frankly foul tasting) bitterbrew, the party is joined by two burly looking thugs. Enquiries are made regarding the paperwork required to obtain access to the Library and the thugs take the blank papers given to them by Randall. It seems that the gang are not interested in payment in coin… they are more interested in a return favour…

The paperwork is taken away to a master forger and returned with false names and authorizations allowing the party Level 1 security clearance to the library! As the party start to discuss their ‘payment’ a short, fat dwarf whose face has been up until now buried in a newspaper, coughs loudly and interjects. The thugs stand up and allow this individual to slide into a seat opposite the WHG. The Don was in the room all along and the heroes can’t believe that they know this dwarf well. Much cleaner and well groomed, it seems that Jakeswill has reached his full potential in the era of The Republic!

Jakeswill explains that the gang is interested in a “nice little bit of object d’art” on display in the library. The heroes are told that they are to disable security at the library so that the gang can steal the item. This will require level 2 clearance and unfortunately, the part’s papers are only sufficient for level 1. The Don is not interested in the heroes concerns. “You’re clever dwarves, I’m sure you’ll be able to… work it out. Make sure you don’t disappoint me” After so many comical encounters with old Jakeswill, the party are quite disturbed that new Jakeswill seems to ooze menace. The presence of so many heavies adds to the intimidating atmosphere.

The party is told that there are magical ‘information points’ within the library called ‘Oracles’ which hold the whereabouts of all the tomes along with level 2 security settings. They may be able to manipulate these oracles in order to disable the internal security.

WHG13 is glad to get out of the smokehouse and pays a visit to military stores to try to obtain some magical means to assist in their secret mission. Luckily, the inattentive store-hand is happy to doll out a couple of rituals that will help the party with stealth and skill. The team then heads up to the library courtyard to make contact with Pipe who states that the display of an ancient figurine is on the ground floor of the library. When the team has disabled or diverted security, they are to let him know via a magical ‘Animal Messenger’ ritual. The heroes prepare and make their way into the library.

Paperwork is stamped and the ‘mid level external security group’ (according to the paperwork!) makes its way into the Grand Hall. The party notices the target figurine on display in a large side chamber. There are surveillance mechs everywhere along with bored looking drawven guards. It seems that guards have become reliant on the mechs and are now inattentive. If the party can disable the mechs, the theft would be a surefire success!
Oracle
The party makes its way up to the first floor to locate an Oracle. This strange arcane marvel stands in the centre of the floor. An iron face set in black marble stares with blank eyes. Glowing magical runes are set in the marble around the face. The party activates the Oracle by inputting a runic code stamped on their paperwork and the iron face’s eyes flash with blue light. “Welcome to the Great Crag Library” it croons, “I am Oracle. You have Level 1 clearance. How can I assist you?” The team obtains information on the whereabouts of the ritual scroll they require for The Keepers. It also notes with interest that there is a section on the 5th floor which contains the plans of all State controlled buildings. Level 2 clearance is required however.

The party gets the scroll and expertly and covertly manages to copy it without raising suspicion from the patrolling mechs or nearby bumbling librarians. They pocket the copied scroll and then start to chat to a nearby librarian, claiming that they do not understand how to use the Oracle. The librarian seems happy to help and shows the party how to ‘log in’. The crusty old dwarf’s hands enter his pass-code lightning fast, but a razor-sharp Snorri Nosebiter makes a mental note of it. The Oracle flashes with life again and states that the librarian has ‘Level 3’ clearance! The dwarf cringes and glances nervously at the party before explaining how the Oracle works, obviously preying that the heroes didn’t notice. WHG13 plays dumb, but under the facade all the heroes are secretly grinning from ear to ear…

After getting rid of the librarian, Snorri enters the code and the Oracle informs him that he has Level 3 clearance. He is surprised however when the voice of the arcane device then appears in his head. None of the others hear the Oracle purr the location of a secret entrance to an area called ‘The Central Hub’. Slightly taken aback, the heroes get on with the next part of their plan. They have to disable security but have no clue how to do it. Using natural affinity to magic and with the help of one of the rituals from military stores, access to security settings is acquired and they opt to shut down the scopes of the mechs while allowing them to continue their normal patrol allocations. The little pests now look to be still operational but are effectively blinded for an hour or so!
Crag library bookshelves
Using the Animal Messenger ritual, the heroes send one of the libraries resident cave bats down to Pipe in order to give him the all clear for the robbery. Meanwhile, the party’s curiosity regarding this ‘Central Hub’ is too much to ignore. Finding themselves in the middle of the towering shelves of the ‘Non-Crag History’ sections, the party locates the section of wall mentioned by the Oracle. There is no obvious doorway but when one of the heroes turns a sculpted wall rose and a thin line of light crawls along the wall in the shape of a door. The wall is pushed and it gives, revealing a winding stone staircase beyond…
Crag library secret chamber
Unable to resist, the WHG climbs the stairway until the sound of someone muttering can be heard from a large circular chamber. This must be ‘The Hub’. As one of the party edges closer, he freezes as an old dwarven voice snaps “Who are you?!” Emerging into this dusty room,the party sees that there are parchments everywhere and the walls are lines with tall bookshelves. Atop these is a walkway, upon which, amongst stone statues of strange beasts, stands an ancient, dusty dwarf, bent by extreme old age. He is not happy to see the heroes, and despite their best attempts to bluff the old codger, he is obviously unconvinced. “You’re here to take it from me aren’t you!” he croaks. He makes mention of “The Book.” As the party tries to reason with the stranger, he suddenly snaps “Guards! Seize them!”

The statues creak to life and stone gargoyles swoop down on the party, raking with huge stony claws. The party tries to get into the centre of the room but as they do, a large stone staircase rolls toward them. This ancient animate flattens the heroes and prevents them from getting to the upper walkway. As one of the gargoyles is smashed to the ground, Snorri sprouts his papery wings and flies up to the old dwarf who is by now frantically fiddling with a door set in the upper wall. Using the flat of his axe, Snorri whacks the codger unconscious.

Down below, things are looking desperate for the rest of the team. With the fighter sprawled on the floor after a charge by the animated staircase and the remaining gargoyles still swooping around the room, WHG13 will have to dig deep to defeat the stone guardians of The Central Hub!…

Part XII: The Guardians of the Secret Tome

As the magical staircase marauds around the chamber, the WHG starts to get its act together. As the second gargoyle is cut down, the third retreats to its roost and returns to its stone form to regenerate. This leaves the entire party free to well and truly bash the staircase into submission. As the mighty automaton finally judders to a stop, the gargoyle swoops down and starts to carry off the still unconscious old codger. However, the flight is short lived and the beast is soon smashed out of the air.

The party revives the dusty librarian, who eventually gives his name as Delius. The ancient dwarf whitters constantly and after a very shaky start, the more silver tongued members of WHG13 manage to get some information from him. Father B asks is there are any scrolls regarding Shadowbone about the place. Much to the heroes’ surprise, Delius scuttles off and returns with a very old parchment which seems to tell an ancient tale of a battle between the mysterious Shadar-Garun and the dwarves of Crag.
Thullna scroll
With some more sweet talking, the party gets Delius to do some digging… They discover that ‘Thûll’ is an ancient word for ‘thrall’ and ‘na’ is ‘stone’. Hence, Shadowbone seemed to have a dread weapon called The Thrall-stone. As this item was dumped off the coast near what would eventually become the city of Port Cormaa, the party deduces that perhaps the Orb used for years by the merfolk to control fish was actually meant to control darker, more dangerous beasts… No wonder the red dragon Thraxxylbryr was so keen to get the artifact back!

Delius informs the party that ‘Draathwûd’ could be Deathwood, a vast and ancient forest far to the east of Cormaa and the subject of many tales of darkness and superstition. Should the WHG’s next expedition from Crag be to this forbidden woodland? The name is not inviting at all!

Next the party turns its attention to the mysterious ‘book’ that Delius was ranting about. He suddenly seems keen to point the party in the right direction… the door he was fiddling with at the start of the battle is apparently where they can access the book. Snorri opens the door and finds only a nook beyond. With the heroes very suspicious of Delius’ motives, Snorri steps into the nook only to instantly appear in the centre of a completely different room.

Secret chamber
This pristine circular chamber is lined with bookshelves. There are no visible exits. At the back of the room is a lectern, upon which is a very important looking tome. Snorri takes a few tentative steps toward the lectern and as he progresses, piles of books fall from the shelves onto the floor. The books start to flutter into the air of their own accord and a small flicker of flame appears from the floor by the lectern. Unsettling…

When the inquisitive dwarf takes a couple more steps toward the book, the flame explodes with rage and there stands a fearsome looking fire elemental. The moving piles of books also fly into cyclonic frenzies. It is clear that these are more guardians. The fire elemental grabs the book and it immediately starts to blister and smoke. It is clear that whoever put the book here would have the thing destroyed rather than allow the eyes of an outsider to view what is written on its pages.

The elemental and the book storms attack. In Delius’ chamber, the rest of WHG13 hears a far off cry for assistance. The heroes pile into the nook and teleport to Snorri’s aid. Aeryn, angry at Delius’ doublecross, spitefully barges him to the ground. The old codger crashes down and does not move… Add murder to the burglary and treason charges the team may now face!

Meanwhile, WHG13 is hard pressed. The book is all but consumed by the elemental’s flame. The team focuses on retrieving what is left though and the elemental is soon sent back to the plane of fire. Father B grabs the smoking tome as first Goryn then Aeryn are flattened by the book storms. With Snorri near his last conserves of strength, Father Badger looks for some way to avoid having to battle the hellaciously powerful automatons.

Through a storm of slicing pages, the human races over to the lectern and replaces the blackened tome. The books immediately fall to the floor and lay still. Disaster has seemingly been averted. As the two fallen members of the group come to and stagger groaning to their feet, the remains of the burned tome are investigated.

Still barely visible on the charred cover is the book’s title: The History of the Republic. The parchment within is all but destroyed, however, the heroes manage to make out small fragments of text:

“…cast down their picks and rose up against the greed and oppression of the monarchy. Leading all was The Citizen, a dwarf of simple birth, who was as a brother to the unlikely few who…

…its secret mark being STN3-DD1, a marvel of life born from the forges of Crag Mountain…

….the Stonefather’s failings from the dawn of time were made all too clear to The Citizen. His advisors were not as one in their philosophy but it was he who was not of dwarven blood who convinced the new master of Crag of the startling truth…

…of a new dawn where the spirits of the elder days would rise up and meld in body and mind with the greatest of Crag’s thinkers and warriors to create beings that would become primary components of The World Machine…

…those who denied the prophesy were cast out. The Citizen’s trusted friend spoke of treachery from within…

…was sent to the outpost for decommission, as were all faulty components not of flesh… "

Who or what is STN3-DD1? Could ‘the outpost’ be Bartozch? How will the WHG get out of this chamber? Will Goryn ever stay conscious for an entire battle? There seem to be more questions than answers…

Part XIII: The Forgotten Forest

After considering the remaining passages within the forbidden tome, WHG13 makes a sharp exit from The Hub. A visit to The Atrium to search for possible Bartozch floorplans is ‘shelved’ for now and the heroes make their way down to the ground floor. There is a general clamour here as it seems that Pipe’s heist has been successful. Crag guards have sealed off the display chamber and the lackadaisical Library security guards can be seen being well and truly grilled by CSS agents. The WHG uses the chaos to slip by unnoticed and out of the library unchallenged.

Bruised and battered by their recent encounters, WHG13 makes its way down to the small barracks adjoining the Map war room. After a well eared rest, the heroes are alerted to an order to attend the chambers of T’ Supervisor without delay. The team hurries back up through the city and arrives on time (as expected!) to stand at attention before the unsmiling senior dwarf.

As expected, new warrants are issued authorising portal travel between Crag and Port Cormaa only. WHG13 is ordered to go to the far off port city and sort out the Shadowbone problem. With the withdrawal of the interfering CSS agents, the shadow of the Republic seems to have receded somewhat. However, the vociferous protestations of the Port rulers don’t seem to have had as much impact as the rumblings from Dwarrowtec that they will pull out of military development…

With a warning from T’Supervisor not to come back to Crag until they have solved the problem, the team leaves for Port Cormaa. After brief visits to Magistrate Mildraan (seemingly their biggest fan at the moment) and Durnoc Dourstone (already 3 sheets to the wind in preparation for a Stonefather sermon), the heroes head to The Temple of Enlightenment to meet up with Neri Scribeson, the bookish member of Snorri’s order.

Stonebark mountainNeri is delighted when handed the ritual copied from the Great Crag Library and hurries down to the secret portal room to hand it over to the other researchers. It seems that it will take time in order to get the rituals right so that the secret portals stay secret. This gives WHG13 a chance to make further inroads into the Shadowbone problem. The library in this temple holds some clues regarding Deathwood… An old explorer’s journal is located amongst the dusty shelves. It tells the tail of a foray into the ancient forest which was aborted when the members of the team were driven out by a large tribe of squat, dwarf like tree dwellers. There is a sketch of a strange rock carving that the explorers found. The triangular shape brings back bad memories for Snorri and Father Badger of the dangerous artifact Stischna

The party is still unsure of how to tackle Shadowbone. Should they lay in wait for the creature or trek to Deathwood? Before deciding WHG13 goes to the infirmary in Scuttle Alley to visit the seer and see if the strange human can give any further information on his attack. The man is led in a bunk, unable to talk due to his missing tongue. He is too scared to talk initially but soothing words of reassurance convince him to communicate by writing. Unfortunately, the only information he can give is that his attackers were led by a man with a missing eye and a hook for a hand… The assailant gave The Seer an important message: “Squeal not with piglets or a torturous death awaits thee!”

The heroes decide that trying to trap Shadowbone would be futile so they will have to risk leaving the city to protect itself against further abductions while they investigate Deathwood. Walking or riding there would take too long so the party decides to approach Barrabus’ House of Fun to see if they can thumb a lift on the magnificent airship, The Wanderer.

WHG13 finds the troupe packing up in preparation for a return to The Blasted Lands. As there are expected to be several isolated settlements near the forest (including a reasonable sized town called ‘No-name’) the party convinces Barrabus to change his destination and head east. The party join the circus on the airship and lift off, floating at speed over Port Cormaa and following the coastline of Gob-ny-Stronaa. A couple of dats after flying over The Hermitage the vast green smear of Deathwood can be seen on the horizon.

The airship touches down in the rain near a dark and dour town. A victim of a gallows swings in the cold wind and a night watchman peers through the gloom at the advancing troupe, his sword at the ready. They have reached No-name. With a less than welcoming populace, the team and Barrabus still manage to arrange a plot for the House of Fun. For a small bag of gold one of the town elders agrees to arrange an escort for WHG13 to the eaves of the forest and show them one of the few known routes in. They will only venture near the great wood during daylight so the heroes settle down for the night inside The Wanderer rather than chance a night in the miserable town.

The next morning, Barrabus seems pleased with his new ‘plot’ and the ringleader announces that he intends to stay in the area for roughly a week. The party says its farewells and is led by a couple of townsfolk to the eaves of Deathwood. The trees are huge, dark, twisted with age and seemingly impenetrable… It is as if the the wood itself has grown a barrier of bark, bush and thorn to keep its dark secrets safe from prying eyes. Luckily, the townsfolk save the heroes a lot of time searching for a way in and show them to a gap in the undergrowth where, many years ago, there may have been a path of some sort. WHG13 steps into the wood, wary of what they may discover within.
Deathwood 01
Seeing through the gloom of the wood is not a problem for the dwarves of WHG13 and Snorri carefully marks their trail to avoid getting lost on the return journey, Aeryn scouts ahead, his finely honed ranger skills keep the party on track, avoiding any dead ends or nasty surprises. As another trail mark is made, a carving in a rock similar to the one seen on the old explorers journal is found. As the heroes advance, another mark is found, this one depicting what looks to be a male dwarf’s face. Deathwood portalPressing on, the ground underfoot starts to get wetter and as the party finds itself wandering into a marshy area, they see an old ruin not far from their trail. Kuu sneaks ahead to investigate and finds that the stonework of the ruin has a definite dwarven quality to the workmanship. She also sees other carvings on half destroyed walls which surround what is left of a circular stone plinth… This was once a portal site!

The carvings show the triangular shape, however, this time it has a central eye. One shows humanoids worshiping this symbol and another carving depicts a glowing axe. Kuu silently takes in her surroundings but as Aeryn attempts to sneak in behind, the human trips on a tree root and falls with a loud squelch… suddenly,there is a barrage of spears, a deep rhythmic chanting begins and humanoid forms burst through the branches of the trees overhead. Hanging by over-long, sinewy arms are squat forest dwarves. Their ears are large and pointed like an elf’s but their long beards and heavy features are certainly dwarven. A leader, wearing an elaborate headdress swings down from above and puts on an aggressive display. The heroes eventually speak in dwarven and surprisingly the leader seems to understand “You speak the old language” he grunts.

WHG13 seems to be the focus of fascination rather than anger for this strange forest race. It is obvious that they see the team as part of a tribal prophesy where cousins of their race will appear through the ruined portal bearing a great glowing weapon which they call ’N’Rishnigar’ and reunite them with a lost god, depicted in their carvings. One carving seemingly shows a dwarf bearing N’Rishnigar, pointing at the deity. As the party takes all of this in, Stonebark pointerthe leader becomes very animated and announces that if the heroes are indeed the dwarves of prophesy, they will also protect them and strike down their enemies. One in particular seems to raise their ire: ‘The Briarbitch’… Her minions come every day apparently, to kill, destroy and snatch members of the tribe away.

WHG13, never a team to turn away from a decent battle, shows interest but has little time to ask more questions as the sound of an advancing force crashing through the undergrowth can be heard. A short distance ahead, numerous twisted humanoid figures can be seen galloping toward the gathering at the ruined portal. At the rear can be seen two tall, emaciated figures who shriek and giggle maniacally.

It’s clobberin’ time!…

Part XIV: The Chosen Ones

Night hag 1As the invading force comes into view, it seems there will be plenty of clobberin’ to do! The slavering front line consisting of Horde Ghouls, tears into the ruin followed by huge battle briars commanded by two hideous night hags. As the hags cast spells of stupour and sleep, the briars shoot thorns in a wide bust. The ghouls immobilising claws do some damage but the undead are soon cut down. Taking advantage of cover and terrain, the heroes soon gain the upper hand and despite a few scares (Goryn spends much of the battle unconscious thanks to the hags) the evil force is soon cut down. The last hag is sent screeching to a bloody end and the forest dwarves are elated with the victory.

Invited up into a meeting hut in the branches of the huge trees, the party is formally introduced to Gûm-Barra-Gûm, the forest dweller’s wisened chieftain. The assembled throng listens with reverence to the heroes’ words though few actually seem to understand. The chieftain however is clear that he believes that WHG13 was meant to protect his people and lead them back to ‘The Lost God’, depicted in the carvings as the mountain shape with a central eye… Could this deity be the outlawed Stonefather? The party is also unsure as to the location of this fabled weapon, N’Rishnigar.

The heroes agree to persue the forest clan’s tormentors but do not know the exact location of the main lair. The tribe seems to think that it will be near ‘Blackroad’. Located in a bowl in the earth, this )to the heroes’ ears) sounds like it may be some sort of crossing into The Shadowfell.

A young guide called Tee-Tee is volunteered to assist the team. Tee-Tee is certainly not keen on this but does as he is told. In true Snorri style, the aloof avenger renames the guide Yuris.

The enthusiastic clan see the heroes off on their mission and Yuris bounds off through the forest. Evidence of the hags’ intentions are soon found. Long sticks and rope are stashed nearby proving that they intended to abduct some of the forest dwellers. The party presses on for another mile until they are waylaid by a wandering group of satyrs. Rarely seen, these wild fey want to know why the team are wandering through their terrritory with one of the ‘Stonebark’ dwarves.

The confrontation is not violent and the leader, a female call Val’yara, seems to be searching for her lost brother, Val’yaryn. WHG13 tells the satyr of its mission and is pointed in the direction of Hells Ditch, a small gorge to the north east. Yuris visibly pales at the mention of the place but leads the heroes right to the edge of the dark gorge.

As the WHG descend into Hells Ditch, Yuris is too frightened to go any further so the team scout themselves. Numerous footprints are found including worryingly large boot prints made by something very big and very heavy… Kuu spots a cave entrance in the gorge wall and creeps toward it. As the rogue gets closer the worrying presence of large strands of spider web can be seen. As the team ambles to the entrance and peers in, a rocky corridor opens out into a large chamber beyond. Sat to the fore of the chamber are two big bushes with large, black rose like flowers.

Seemingly convinced that he will never die during his missions, Father Badger strides along the corridor but as he gets near the bushes, one of the black flowers explodes sending a burst of mind bending pollen into the air which dazes the hapless human. As the others rush forward, numerous huge, vile cave spiders drop from the ceiling of the chamber. A couple of the creatures try to sink their poisonous fangs into Badger while others fire sticky strands of web from bloated abdomens. Father B is tethered to the spot!

Snorri discovers a secret door in a recess in the corridor but has little time to investigate further… The cave spiders are scuttling closer!…

Part XV: New Allies

As Father B stands webbed to the spot and dazed, Goryn drags the human back to the relative safety of the corridor. Unfortunately the safety is short lived as the secret door crashes open revealing an enormous war-troll, armed with a massive longsword which scythes into the heroes with brutal force. A second war troll appears from the main chamber armed with a longbow. It seems things can’t get worse until, from inside the chamber, comes the mad cackling of a vile death hag. Briarbitch herself!

The heroes (after a brief amount of mild flapping) start to use their considerable powers to their advantage. Snorri teleports to the hag, nearly flattens her with a mighty blow then teleports back, bringing the screeching Briarbitch back with him and into the midst of the WHG. Bloodied, she withdraws past the first war troll and disappears into the corridor beyond the secret door. The war troll smashes into the heroes then slams the stone door shut. Snorri and Goryn attempt to break through but it seems the troll is barricading the portal using it’s considerable bulk. The second war troll disappears back into the main chamber, leaving the spiders to quickly get hacked up by the front line of WHG13.

The team has no choice but to run through the noxious pollen bursts of the black rose bushes. Snorri and Aeryn use magical means to fly over but Goryn and Father B simply bundle through and trust their luck, which this time is on their side. As the trolls and Briarbitch are drawn back into the battle, the WHG soon gets the upper hand. Despite the hag draining life force from the heroes, she can not do so quick enough and is soon sent to a gory end. With their employer destroyed, the trolls seem to have second thoughts about continuing the fight. When one of the beasts is cut down, the team offers an olive branch in the assumption that the militaristic creatures have more sense than their stupid (but very dangerous) cousins.
War troll
The remaining troll is quick to take new offers of employment and seems to do so through greed for coin rather than any fear for it’s life. It soon becomes clear why the troll is so fearless when, seconds after being cut down, it’s accomplice springs back to life. Regeneration is wonderful thing!

The trolls (Bill and Bert) listen to the heroes demands: take us to any captives so they can be freed. Bill makes a better (but much more expensive) offer: It will take the party to the captives then show the party where the captives were to be taken. It seems that they were to be handed over to a nefarious group somewhere in the Shadowfell! The price for the services of the trolls is steep; 1000gp seems somewhat near vertical for Father B, but the chance of having two guides in the shadow realm is too good to pass up. It could take days or weeks of searching without the help of the trolls. Bill and Bert seem happy to return to the Shadowfell, a place they used to call home and the beasts inform WHG13 that the captives should be handed over to a group of humans led by a huge, tattooed human with red hair. It seems that the mighty warrior: Grist, is still alive in this alternative present day. The thought that Ûrdarth may be involved in this mess fills the heroes with dread.

The cash is handed to the growling trolls up front and the beasts immediately open another secret door which leads down into a holding area where captives have been woven into tight cocoons of silk by the cave spiders. Unfortunately two of the prisoners have not survived, however, eleven are still alive and kicking. Along with seven rather over excited Stonebark dwarves are two eladrin, the missing satyr: Val’yaryn, and a rather brash and talkative gnome who introduces himself as Bokkle, an alchemist and explorer from the Feywild.

After obtaining some much needed loot from the corridor off the main chamber (including Val’yaryn’s stolen magic pipes) the WHG is forced to hand much of the gold they find over to the greedy trolls in payment for staying put while the heroes escort the freed Stonebark dwarves back to the village and snatch a much needed rest. The journey back to Guundhalle is uneventful other than the constant loud chattering of Bokkle who seems intent on eventually hitching a ride with the team to see the mighty Crag Mountain. The satyr quickly darts off into the forest and back to his people. The eladrin, though aloof, are helpful in that they seem to know of the lost weapon: N’Rishnigar. They believe that the owner of the weapon settled in a deep gorge near the coast to the south west. This is obviously the dwarven quarter of Port Cormaa and helps to add to the evidence that the Port dwarves were originally settlers from Crag. The eladrin also remind the heroes that mighty warriors were usually buried with their weapons when they died…

Back at the village, there is much celebration when the captives are returned. The team gets a much needed rest. Bokkle is last seen disappearing into a tribal dance wearing full Stonebark regalia and knocking back dangerous looking moonshine type liquor! Upon waking, the team is given a royal send off by the Stonebarks, which includes an elaborate, loud war-dance and blessing by the chief. As WHG13 marches through the village, flower petals are thrown at their feet by their admirers but the pomp and ceremony soon fades and the heroes drudge warily through the darkness of Deathwood in silence.

When the team gets back to Hell’s Ditch, the trolls have kept their part of the bargain… they are still there and ready for the journey along the Black Road. The heroes follow the beasts along another secret passageway which leads up and deeper into the forest, emerging onto a path which at one time was paved with stone now overgrown. The further along the path they go, the more stonework becomes visible and soon, carvings of demons and other creatures adorn the road which ends at a long stairway, strangled by gnarled vines, leading down into grey murk.

The heroes descend, led by their unlikely guides, and as they go deeper the thick foliage that surrounds the ancient stone stair like a wall becomes more strange. Black thickets with huge poisonous thorns the size of Father Badger’s thumb grow among the dark, twisted trees and the heroes begin to feel a heavy darkness which seems to crush any sense of light and hope from their souls… They have reached a ‘shadow crossing’ and are back, once again, in the Shadowfell.
Black road
At the base of the stair, the heroes put their plan into action. They cover themselves with cloaks and loosely chain themselves together to look like captives. Bill and Bert then ‘drive’ the team through the alien forest, even using the lash for added effect! The trees in this part of the Shadowfell are ever watching and some even speak in horrible, hoarse whispers. An occasional eye opens from a trunk and watches the visitors trudge by. The trolls advise the WHG to ignore the questions and nefarious whispers of the wood and soon the party spots the silhouetted towers of a keep in the distance.

The trolls have agreed to march the party up to the gates of the keep before they make off and they keep their part of the bargain. As they enter a clearing, the stone keep looms up from the dark mists. A portcullis is raised and the shambling forms of rotting zombies can be seen milling around inside. As the disguised heroes are led into the keep by a cowled human armed with vicious looking knives, another portcullis stands opposite the entrance. A faint blue light can be seen beyond the second gateway.

A second hooded human checks the chains apparently securing the captives together. The vile zombies cluster around them. The heroes of WHG13, bent forward and heads down, have their hands upon their concealed weapons, ready to strike as soon as the inevitable happens…

…one of the captors tugs on a chain and a barely secured manacle clatters to the ground, the noise echoing through the stone keep before it is replaced by the cry of alarm…

Part XVI: The Killing Floor

The WHG tears away the chains and draws steel as the zombies and assassins bear down on their phoney captives. The undead are quickly chopped down but as Kuu makes a break for cover, she finds herself face to face with a gigantic, tattooed human… Grist, ‘The Hunter’ of Ûrdarth, is back from the dead and the flame-haired warrior swings his mighty great-axe with murderous force and ploughs into the midst of the Crag force. If this wasn’t bad enough, two evil necromancers appear in the stairways at either end of the towers and blast away with their death magic.

How can WHG13 survive such formidable evil?

… Through teamwork, luck and bravery! The assassins, though fast and vicious, are no match for the mighty mountain dwellers, and one, then the other is crushed. The zombies are a mere inconvenience and as the injured necromancers withdraw to cover the WHG focuses its wrath upon Grist. The twisted human seems to revel in the bloody battle and his mad grin widens as his injuries worsen. Despite handing out his fare share of mayhem, The Hunter finally falls; though his hideous laughter continues until his final breath is spent. The cowardly necromancers do not last long without their leader as they are too slaughtered and the WHG stands once again victorious.

After catching their breath, the heroes soon manage to lift the second portcullis and find the source of the bue glow. A portal leading to who knows where. Father Badger tries throwing one of the dead Urdarth in to see what happens. The body disappears as the realisation dawns on the human that if there are adversaries on the other side, they will now be expecting visitors! The time for subtlety is past so WHG13 gather together and jump into the portal.

Barrow wightFor a few short seconds they feel the all too familiar stretching of space before appearing in the centre of a high walled chamber. Set high up in the wall is a narrow opening behind which a human face can be seen. In the centre of the floor is an evil looking tomem which immediately starts to hover and glow with a sickening purple light which illuminates three, undead horrors which await their prey. With dried husks for bodies and huge, horrible claws, these slaughter wights tear into the heroes as a necrotic void opens beneath the totem, sucking the heroes to it’s heart and ripping away their life force.

Each time the party tries to out manouvre the wights they are pulled back to the void. The human in the gallery above rains down more magical energy. Some sharp shooting from Aeyrn and Kuu soon downs the necromancer and the wights are quickly destroyed. Unfortunately, it takes more necrotic damage from the void to jolt Father B and Snorri into the notion that they should try to deactivate the totem. Using their magical and theological knowledge, this is done in quick time.

Aeryn uses the team’s magical rope to access the high gallery and locates a lever. Behind him is a doorway leading to who-knows-where. The human hauls on the leaver and a large trapdoor clangs open in a corner of the floor. The other members of WHG13 still on the killing floor peer into the pit and see a slippery, blood stained chute leading down, down into darkness….

Part XVII: The Army Of The Shadow Lord

The heroes’ flesh creeps at the thought of descending the chute and turn their attentions to the door way up in the gallery. Using the magic rope, the party quickly and easily makes the climb up to the door and gingerly push on into a winding corridor. The outside walls of this strange structure can now be seen and seem to have been grown (rather than built) from a bizarre concoction of stone and tree-bark. Working down the stair, the heroes find themselves at a double door. Movement can be heard within.
Sb
Throwing caution to the wind WHG13 enters the chamber beyond, hoping to surprise whoever is inside. The charnel stench of death hangs heavy within. Vile ghouls squabble over piles of body parts opposite the door. Work benches like butcher’s slabs containing horrific constructs made from humanoid body parts drip gore and standing at one of these benches, stitching together a humanoid centipede-like monstrosity is a withered husk of a creature, only as tall as a dwarf, its leathery skin is stretched across its bony frame. An ancient menace emanates from this creature as it turns to face the intuders. Eyes burn with evil as the creature grins wickedly. As the heroes instinctively draw their weapons, the creature cackles as it pumps a blast of purple-black energy into the construct laying on the slab. The construct, an undead horror that walks on numerous pairs of humanoid hands, rears up into the air and darts toward the heroes. The ghouls, smelling living flesh, howl and spring in for the kill. The withered re-animator simply disappears, becoming a spreading, lurching shadow which slips under a nearby door!
Crawler

As the crawling beast lashes at the party with it’s many claws, more movement can be seen from within the chamber…. What seemed to be just another pile of body parts becomes a swarm of terror; heads of men, women and children, twisted into razor toothed undead, with child-like humanoid arms and feet grafted onto the heads, scuttle and scatter across the floor and up the walls. The swarm tries to drag the heroes to the ground to feed on their flesh! Though fear is in their hearts, the heroes of WHG13 refuses to give in to evil, and although they are hard pressed, the battle is mercifully brief. As the last of the scuttler swarm is destroyed, the realisation that these constructs are probably made from the remains of many of the missing people from civilised lands is all too obvious.

Windows are set in the walls of this chamber and one of the heroes peers out into the gloom beyond. In a vast courtyard pit, many feet below swarm thousands of the undead, a huge army of the damned. The acrid smell of acid can be detected in the wind blowing across the land beyond the pit and a green haze hangs over the silhouette of a ‘woodland’ a mile or so away. It seems that some of the swarms can detect the presence of the living and start to claw their way up the side of the walls of the strange tree-like tower toward the window. The heroes quickly retreat and after carefully checking the doorway which the shadow beast escaped under, make their way down hundreds of winding steps to a wide corridor with another, narrower corridor branching off to the east. Huge doors sit at the end of the main corridor and high ledges run along both sides of its length. An iron door sits at the end of the eastern corridor.

Investigating the iron door, the party can hear the scuttling of hundreds of small creatures beyond. Not good. As they turn their attentions to the main corridor, the party is alarmed to see several bloated corpses led along the ledges. As the heroes approach the doors, they slowly start to open with a clattering of heavy chains. A huge chamber is revealed in which are numerous undead horrors. At the far end of the hall is a curtain made of purest dark energy. This is a ’Necromancer’s Veil’, a protective wall which allows free passage through but blocks physical attacks against it’s creator… and the creator soon makes himself known.

Emerging through the crackling veil is a cruel human face. A familiar, scratching voice can be heard: ‘Welcome to your doom, Piglets!" The sense of dread quickly falls upon WHG13. It once again faces Vladamir of the Ûrdarth!
Bonehurler bloater
The bloated corpses up on the ledges suddenly sit up. They have no legs, seemingly hacked away… One of the zombies hurls a sharpened shard of bone like a grizzly dart and as another reaches into it’s own stomach and withdraws a hand-full of its own putrescent guts, it is obvious that these abominations are Bonehurler Zombies!.

As a huge globule of rotten guts hits its target, the afflicted party member is afflicted by projectile vomiting, effectively taking him out of the battle! The crawling constructs bear down on the heroes and bursting from beyond the veil is the re-animator! “destroy them, Little Master!” begs Vladamir. The creature becomes a shadow then reappears in the midst of the party. Metal hooked chains burst from the beast’s hands and body, lashing the heroes, causing horrible wounds and dragging them into danger. It dawns of the heroes that the Little Master is none other than the true form of The Shadar Garun; old Shadowbone in the flesh, and the horrific constructs must be his legendary ‘Meatpuppets’!

As the heroes try to close the main doors to obtain some sort of cover, a metallic clanging can be heard from the eastern corridor. Snorri tears toward the iron door, knowing that things have gone from bad to worse… if the door is allowed to open then the legions of meatpuppet scuttler swarms will overwhelm the party. The brave dwarf manages to jam the door but not before several swarms squeeze through.

The situation is dire for WHG 13. With Shadowbone and his minions hacking at those heroes within the great hall and the swarms dragging down poor Goryn in the corridor, the party is split! Tee-Hura-Tee locates a leaver within the hall and hauling with all his might, tries to keep the ailing heroes together by keeping the main doors open. But Goryn is stranded and dying. Father Badger is on his last legs and Aeryn Shadowleaf continues to flit about away from the action in an attempt to avoid breaking a finger-nail.

As the legions of The Shadar Garun swarm over the heroes, it seems that this this could very well be the last stand of WHG13!!…

Part XVIII: The New Masters Of The Orb

The heroes of WHG13 use their last reserves of strength, bravery and will to turn the tide of the battle. The door to the pits outside is finally closed and Goryn son of Gloatyn is finally rescued. As the team manage to fight their way into the main hall, the great doors are slammed shut. As the undead continue to swarm over the desperate adventurers, Snorri and Father B race through the necrotic vale to take on Vladamir face to face. As they do so, they see an ornate plinth, invisible until now. Sat atop the plinth, crackling with energy is a black orb; the missing Merfolk artifact… Thûllna: The Thrall Stone!

Vladamir focuses his ire upon anyone foolish enough to meddle with the stone and with Shadowbone and his meatpuppets still causing havoc, it seems that unless the team can work out how to use the artifact to their advantage, they will be doomed. As the minions are picked off, more swarms bear down on the heroes. When Vladamir is finally cut down, it seems that the undead go into a frenzy. As the end seems nigh however, the team manages to work out Thûllna’s complicated archaic puzzle of barely visible runes and in an instant all the meatpuppets freeze and stand motionless in the chamber, their lifeless eyes transfixed by the ancient orb. Shadowbone howls with derision and bursts into a shadow which dissipates into nothingness.
Shadar garun b
The heroes gingerly make their way out to the pits outside the tower and seen thousands of undead, formed up into motionless lines of a great army, all awaiting their orders from the weilder of the great stone. It seems that once again, the heroes have triumphed over the forces of darkness with The Ûrdarth foiled and Shadowbone chased away to some god-forsaken realm.

The heroes enter a debate about what to do next. It is clear that this army of the damned must be destroyed, but how…. The acrid smell drifts in on a breeze and an idea comes to WHG13. Using Thullna to lead the horde, they march into the forest of the shadowfell, toward the green acidic haze… toward the lake of deadly acid.

The horde shows no fear as it marches dutifully towards it’s doom. pallid skin begins to blister and smoke as the caustic air begins to eat away dead flesh. As WHG13 watches from a safe distance, the very weapon that Shadowbone hoped to use to drive his army against the land of the living is used to bring about it’s total destruction. The meatpuppets march mindlessly into the acid lake, never to re-emerge…

The heroes have no time to celebrate their victory. Nervous that Shadowbone may still be lurking, they portal back to Deathwood. The Stonebark dwarves are overjoyed by the heroes’ return and a huge celebration breaks out in Guundhalle. Amongst the dancing and merryment is a small gnome, supping an alcoholic concoction… Bokkle the alchemist is keen to discuss what will happen next… he seems convinced that he will get the chance to visit Crag Mountain, however, the team has other pressing matters to attend to! They still determined to seek out N’Rishnigar, the weapon of legend spoken of in the Stonebark prophesy. WHG13 also has the not so small matter of using illegal portals to get to the Bartozch Mine and free Durn Dourstone…

After further debate, the party decides to seek out N’Rishnigar. The information from the eladrin, freed from The Briarbitch, was most helpful. Could it be that the wielder of the weapon of prophesy actually founded the dwarven quarter of Port Cormaa? Where will they find out where this dwarf is laid to rest? It seems that Port Cormaa is the best (and most friendly) place to start.

The heroes make their packs, and with the curious, chattering gnome always in earshot, WHG13 trudges wearily toward the town of No-Name near the outskirts of the forest to negotiate transport on an airship owned by a certain ringmaster and his strange troupe of misfits…

Part XIX: A Long Lost Hero

Arriving in No-name, the party feels that there was possibly more cheer to be found in the depths of Deathwood. Even the ‘preparations’ being sold by Dr Bliss at the sparsely visited House of Fun are doing nothing to lighten the mood of the dour populace.

Barrabus agrees to transport the heroes back to Port Cormaa (deviating from a planned visit to Fort Blighthold) on the agreement that they will one day deal with the menace of the red dragon, Thraxxylbryr. The kobolds from the ‘walking Disaster Clown Troupe’ show the fear and hatred they feel for dragons when Thaxx’s name is mentioned.

WHG13 spends a disturbed night in the company of some of the band members: Mighty Tiny, a surly, ale soaked goliath and Bam-Bam, a four armed warforged with an internal glitch. However, the team manages to get sufficient sleep before boarding the airship for the long journey back to Port Cormaa. As the journey progresses, they discovers that the Stonebark youngster, Tee-Hura-Tee, has snuck onboard as a stowaway, determined to follow the heroes on their next stage of the journey. Also making his presence painfully clear is the chattering gnome alchemist and all-round pikey: Bokkle.

On arrival at Port Cormaa, the party immediately attends the dwarvern quarter’s alehouse to seek the advice of Durnoc Dourstone on the possible whereabouts of the tomb of the mysterious ancient warrior who wielded N’Rishnigar. The half-cut geriatric lout has heard tales of a supposed labyrinth in the depths of the dwarvern gorge, though few dare venture there due to stories of malicious spirits that haunt the deep. A tip off from Durnoc directs the party to an old explorer who lives amongst the humans near The Temple of Enlightenment. The heroes sneak away from the taproom in order to avoid Bokkle’s incessant jabbering. A startled looking Tee-Hura-Tee is also otherwise engaged with the cleavage of a serving wench who appears to have taken a shine to the strange tribesman.

Using a keg of finest ale as leverage, the party visits the old dwarf who tells a tale of an abandoned expedition to the depths of the gorge many years ago, The dwarf had found an entrance to a hallway but was scared off by a terrible screaming and roaring which came from a small creature with huge claws that shone like diamonds. Perturbed, the heroes visit The Temple of Enlightenment, meeting up with Father Silvanus and Neri Scribeson. Acting on the information about the strange creature, the holymen hit the books and eventually deduce that the beast may well be a Labyrite, a strange elemental that spends its long years exploring by digging vast labyrinthine tunnels. These creatures are not malicious but are not at all sociable!

Knowing that negotiating the tunnels without guidance may result in days of aimless wandering, the heroes decide that finding the Labyrite may be the only quick option for finding the lost tomb. Unfortunately, finding the critter could prove even more difficult… Silvanus finds out from research that folk lore states that to call a Labyrite, one must enter their tunnels and use a hammer to strike a diamond, The creatures are said to be incredibly sensitive to the precious stones and can sense minute vibrations in the rock. It is said that Labyrites will trade interesting pieces of information so maybe the tale of WHG13’s trials will suffuce… There is one big problem… No diamond and no cash to buy one….

Enter Bokkle. The gnome tears off with intentions of stealing one from the local gem merchant. Some time later, Bokkle returns looking flustered but with a beautiful stone in his pocket. A hub-hub of what can be assumed are local guards can be heard outside but they move on. An outraged Nerri and Silvanus demand that the stone is returned at the first possible opportunity. Bokkle smirks; “Of course lads! I may have to lay low for a bit mind you!”

Leaving Bokkle excitedly rummaging through dusty tomes in the temple library, the team (with Tee-Hura-Tee in tow) make their way down to the cold, dark depths of the dwarvern gorge. The road peters out but after some time negotiating the descent, the heroes find an old, disused tunnel entrance. Numerous smaller, circular tunnels branch off from the main corridor along with corridors obviously cut by dwarves. The heroes lay the diamond on the stone floor and strike the stone with a warhammer. Some time passes and as the heroes begin to give up hop, a eye appears in the wall! With some coaxing, a small, rocky humanoid with enormous diamond claws emerges from the ceiling, then the floor and stands before WHG13.

The creature seems inquisitive and agrees to hear the heroes’ news about Crag mountain and Port Cormaa in exchange for the location of the tomb of the lost hero: Gruuna The Goldenaxe! The dwarves’ tale is long and after some hours, the Labyrite is satisfied. The creature leads the team through a vast maze of corridors and soon arrives at an old, sealed stone door. The location of the tomb. Using a symbol of The Stonefather and requesting entrance, the door magically opens and shuts behind the heroes after they step inside. A pillared hall leads to an old sepulcher, which, with further praise of the stonefather, reveals glowing runes:
Gruuna stone
Two huge statues of dwarves armed with waraxes loom over the sepulcher. Also of interest are carvings set in the walls at the back of the tomb which depict a large mountain with a central eye. Stood outside the mountain are numerous dwarves walking away from the mountain, led by a dwarf with a dome over his head. In the background, seemingly guiding this dwarf is a dark, hooded figure. Another shows a group of dwarves and another smaller figure working together inside a large mountain. They are producing mechanical wonders. The small figure then can be seen with the same dome covering his head standing over a huge split in the earth under the mountain and balls of fire erupting through the air. A third carving is very similar to the carvings found at Bartozch and at Gruunhalle in Draathwud and a fourth, rather frantic carving simply depicts the random letters and numbers STN3-DD1 written repeatedly with what look like bars carved over the top.

The team attempt to follow the instructions of the runes but the riddle seems too complicated until yje team deduce that the dwarf statues may be the ‘guardians’. Goryn pries off the metal breastplate of one of the statues and set in the chest is a small stone box. The box is gingerly opened and inside is a small papyrus scroll upon which is written a short prayer to the Stonefather. As he is a worshipper of the ancient god, Snorri loudly reads out the prayer. A slight wind plays through the chamber… Could that have been Goryn having eaten too many turnips again? No! An expanding ball of light appears over the sepulcher which turns into the glowing form of a dwarven spirit; a warrior in fine plate armour. The spirit speaks in an old, deep voice:

“Who calls Gruuna The Goldenaxe from his slumber?”….

Part XX: A Holy Mission

The ghostly figure of the old warrior glares down upon the heroes who quite wisely, are on their best behaviour while Grunna tells his story. Gruuna tells of a dream he had when alive of a time in the distant future when the leaders of Crag would make pacts with the forces of darkness and an ancient enemy would bring the mighty dwarven civilisation to its knees ‘from within’. He dreamed that the Stonefather would be lost to the world and his disciples persecuted for their faith. Shortly after this disturbing vision he claims he was visited by a herald of the Stonefather and his holy mission was made clear…

Gruuna left Crag to seek a weapon of prophesy that could be used to combat an encroaching darkness and establish a second home where in the future, the faithful of the Stonefather could find shelter. After locating N’Rishnigar, Gruuna used the mighty golden war axe to defeat the Shadar Garun; however, the true power of the weapon could never be truly unleashed in the great leader’s hands. There would be only one who could wield the full might of N’Rishnigar, chosen by the Stonefather himself. Gruuna understood that he was but a steward of the blade and foresaw that after his death, a new steward would be chosen.

The creature sent by God was strange – a metallic guardian ‘born of the forge’. The party soon realises that this could be the mysterious STN3 DDI. They are sure that it is somewhere within Bartozch, as described in the charred remains of the book they discovered in the Crag library’s secret chamber. If they can find this creature still alive, perhaps the heroes will find the blade. Gruuna nods and tells the heroes that if they wish to lay claim to the stewardship of N’Rishnigar, then they must prove themselves worthy. The apparition disappears and the heroes get a sinking feeling in their guts.
Stone guardian
The mighty stone statues that guard Gruuna’s tomb start to move. A third guardian raises up, morphing from the rock of the floor, and the party is surrounded. The stone guardians attack, trampling the heroes and swinging their huge axes, landing mighty scything blows. WHG13 however, uses tactics and focus all attacks on one of the automatons. Although the guardian is tough, it is soon smashed into rubble which immediately melts back into the rocky floor. The remaining two behemoths disengage from the battle and slowly lumber back to Gruuna’s sepulcher, resuming their silent vigil over their master’s resting place. Gruuna’s voice echoes through the tomb: “You prove worthy of stewardship. Go! Seek ye the golden axe. Find the chosen one. Bring the Stonefather back to our people!” The voice fades but the words stir the hearts of the heroes as they leave the tomb.

After finding their way back to the dwarven inn, the heroes seek an audience with Durnoc Dourstone and tell the old warden of their mission. Sure now that they must get to Bartozch, the heroes hustle to the Temple of Enlightenment and speak with Neri Scribeson. It seems that The Keepers Of The Eternal Truth have made an important alliance with some Chechyan activists (Bartozch was formally a Chechyan owned coal mine). The heroes use the secret portal under the Port Cormaa temple and emerge in an icy cave in Chechya, a secret hideout not far from the rocky slopes of the Bartozch caverns. They are met by a human, Yuri Skarkov, one of the leaders of the CPF: the Chechyan People’s Front.
Chechyan
Yuri takes the heroes to a fireside meet of other activists. The humans are aggrieved as they feel tricked by the UCSR. The dwarves bought the Chechyans out of the Bartozch mine for a pittance as the coal lode was near its end. Claiming that they were only interested in using the location as a research facility and prison, the Republic for some reason continued exploratory digging under Bartozch and soon ‘discovered’ large seams of precious metals. The Chechyans, now without their main source of income, are tied to the coat tails of Crag, eking a living selling meat and skins to the dwarves or working as servants and errand boys within the caverns that had been theirs for generations.

Yuri, being a man of action, is very keen on WHG13’s plans to disrupt Bartozch, seeing it as a strike against their oppressors. The CPF has friends among several of the dwarves placed within Bartozch who may be able to assist the heroes cause: A member of the mounted guard, a low level supervisor at the prison and one of the archivists within the research facility. WHG13 hatches its plot and spends a peaceful night getting much needed rest while CPF activists make contact with the guard to arrange a meeting near the trade entrance of Bartozch.
Harlin
The team leave at dawn with a Chechyan caravan. Badger and Aeryn are easily disguised as guards, however, the dwarven contingent of the strike force have to conceal themselves under piles of furs stacked atop a sleigh pulled through the deep snow by huge musk ox. As they approach the smaller entrance of Bartozch the heroes peel off from the caravan and hide under a rocky outcrop and wait patiently for their contact.

A proud uniformed dwarf mounted on a shaggy ram soon rides into view. The dwarf introduces himself as Harlin Stonestriker and acting on his advice, the team decides to try a guards and prisoners routine to trick their way in through the main entrance. Harlin obtains two more rams and two uniforms for Snorri and Goryn. Badger and Aeryn have to be manacled and make convincing Chechyan insurrectionists. The team warily makes its way to the main Bartozch entrance.

The yawning cavern is heavily guarded by iron, steam powered automatons. Surviellance mechs skitter hither and thither and as the team approaches, they are challenged by a CSS agent who demands to know the details of the arrests. Luckily, Harlin Does all the talking and with surprising ease the ruse works.
Bartozch
Harlin leads WHG13 through the familiar environs of the Bartozch cavern, down into the old mine entrance. They shortly come to a pillared door which is the entrance to the prison. Harlin points out the heroes’ next contact: Gribbe Coalmail, one of the supervisory clerks. The heroes are only able to ask hushed questions as Gribbe gives some cryptic answers, obviously wary of the other clerks. It seems that Durn and his father could be held in the ‘high risk’ chambers. The Decommission Chambers also has one of its access points inside the prison. …. looks to be scribbling down the details of the prisoners on some sort of booking-in parchment. Gribbe folds the parchment and hands it to the disguised party. “Your cover may get you in”, he whispers “But guards and the CSS are everywhere in there. You may have to fight your way out. Good luck my friends, may the Stonefather watch over you.”

Gribbe pulls a lever and the prison gate clanks open. WHG13 gingerly steps inside. The door crashes shut behind them and the heroes find themselves within a large corridor. Unfolding the parchment WHG13 finds that along with their booking papers is a hastily drawn map of the Bartozch prison…

Part XXI: The Bartozch Lode

Lode mapThe party views the map hoping to formulate a plan rather quickly. Hastily drawn, it primarily shows the prison and the locations within. The location of the decommission chambers is also marked but with no real detail. The prison is set around the now exhausted coal lode. A steam powered chain lift leads down to a platform and there are two steam rails clearly marked. The prison rail leads to the three gaol entrances. Running parallel for a time with this is the decommission rail which spirals deeper down into the lode. A huge winch runs down the centre of the lode which are used to lower large pieces of machinery down to the bottom of the lode where the decommission chambers are located.

The party continues its ruse and steps through an iron banded door. Here they come face to face with a curmudgeonly Chechyan man called Dirgan who controls the steam chain lift. It does not take the disguised heroes long to realise that Dirgan is no friend of the Republic, he is simply another of the underpaid humans employed in Bartozch. He is an ex miner who knows the layout of the coal mines well. Because the authorities are confident that no one would have the inclination to access the Decommission Chambers, or have the power to bypass the guards on the platform below, Dirgan is paid a pittance to work the lift alone. Dirgan is not part of CPF, but he secretly (like most Chechyans) supports their cause. Cautious introductions are made and Dirgan gladly tries to fill the heroes in on the prison layout.

The lode is about 500 feet deep – shallow by dwarven standards – and 100ft wide, widening at the bottom to double this where the main concentration of coal once was. The prison itself is reasonably well guarded while the lode is not, however, distant pin points of fiery light can be seen. Firebug mechs, the explosive metallic arachnid swarms which were nearly the undoing of WHG13 in the sewers of Port Cormaa skitter around, ready to blow the rails in the event of a security breach. As the lode is the only potential escape route, most of the manpower is at the entrances to the lode as it is thought that escape would only be possible this way. On the opposite side of the lode and about 50ft above the prison line platform is a huge portcullis where workshops are located. This was the original mine entrance that is now the source of the machinery line and the large steam winch is controlled from here. This area is also heavily guarded…

Level 1 prisoners are non combatants, usually artists, minor insurrectionists (such as low level CPF members) and people who have a particular trade or skill which has been used against the state. They are kept in normal cells and guarded by automatons. Dirgan has heard that one particular inmate is an exception to this and is guarded by actual people because they can not be allowed access to mechs or any machinery, imbued by magic or otherwise.

Level 2 prisoners are high risk, dangerous inmates. Those who have a high level of power are kept barely alive by some sort of magical device that drains their energy. The CSS spend a lot of time here and there are all sorts of mechs used to keep the inmates subdued. Dirgan has seen tall, hooded guards go into the level 2 cells. These guards look like they wear some sort of helmet or head dress under their hoods. Dirgan has only seen them from afar as they never seem to leave the prison.

After stalling the journey down for as long as possible the old lift attendant starts the descent. At the bottom, the lift opens onto a wide rock shelf with a metal platform where steam powered carts run on rails down to the prison entrances. The incline is very steep so the engine is only fired up on the ascent back up to the platform. A CSS agent eyes the ‘prisoners’ with disdain before authorising transport for the group on the prison rail.

WHG13 makes a snap decision to investigate the level one gaol first, their interest piqued by the mysterious prisoner who can not be guarded by mechs… This person could be of great use. During their descent, the heroes notice that the decommission and prison rails almost cross part way down the lode. The thick chains of the heavy metals winch also dangle tantalizingly close at times to the decommission rail… the seeds of a daring plan are planted, but this will have to wait until the first part of their espionage is complete. Ready for trouble, the heroes soon arrive at the prisoner arhive and garrison.

The team is met by hulking iron gate guards. The steaming automatons usher them inside and they make their way into a circular chamber staffed by an archivist who logs in the prisoners and issues authorisations to the dwarf contingent of the WHG posing as mounted guards. The group are directed through another door which opens onto a steeply descending stairway. The heroes make hurried preparations and plans before opening another door, emerging into a large central chamber with numbered doors leading from it. Another iron gate guard activates upon their arrival. Strange, winged and pincered flying mechs zip around the ceiling of the chamber, carrying trays of food. They disappear through different doors and out of view. Of interest is the fact that there is a single dwarven guard here. He quickly diasappears through door number 6… The heroes make a mental note of this, hoping that cell 6 may contain the mystery prisoner.

The heroes are led through doors which open automatically into a cell complex. Five large pits contain metal pillars which reach from the pit floor to the ceiling. Barred cells are suspended at the tops of the pillars, containing wretched looking prisoners, some human, some dwarven. Two cells at the far end of the chamber are in the pit, ready for the new additions to the gaol. The humans in the suspended cells see Father B and Aeryn and assuming that they are Chechyan, start to shout in acknowledgment. A metallic flash whizzes through the air and a flying mech snaps its serrated toothed pincer at the miscreant, cauing him to howl in pain. Two more flying mechs appear from the ceiling and two bipedal mechs stand to attention at the far side of the chamber.

As the party are led to the descended cell they spring their trap, drawing weapons and battering the bidepal mech to the ground. The other automatons barrel toward the party and the fight is on! The flying mechs, though fast and powerful with barreled weapons, are soon shot from the air by Aeryn. The other mechs are smashed into pieces in double quick time. The prisoners rejoice, assuming they are to be immediately released. However, WHG13 must be cautious and decide to investigate cell 6 first. One of the dwarven prisoners, who seem much calmer, is placed in charge of the chamber. It turns out that he is a captured member of Snorri’s order: The Keepers Of The Eternal Truth and swears loyalty to the heroes.

The team turns its attentions to cell 6 and upon entering, find a single, very panicked, very easily manipulated dwarf guarding a single prisoner who introduces himself as Jaralt, a skilled (his own words) artificer. The guard is subdued (he immediately fouls himself with terror) and Jaralt released. It seems that the artificer helped to set up a secret chamber (with a complicated trap system) in the decommission suites for the storage of ‘dangerous, intelligent’ machinery. After completing this, he was locked away by the Republic, to prevent the location of the chamber ever being leaked. Jaralt is quite understandably aggrieved by this and offers his help to the heroes. Perhaps this chamber may contain the legendary STN3 DDI mentioned in the secret tome and in Gruuna’s ancient carvings.

The dwarven guard is stripped of his uniform and bundled into a cell. Thankfully, spare uniforms are found in a locker (the smell from the guards breeches is offensive at best). Jaralt dons a uniform and Snorri and Goryn take on a second disguise before the heroes discuss phase two of their plan. Do they try to access level 2 of the prison or do they try to find a way down to the decommission yard? Deciding that breaking into level 2 will cause bedlam, the party decides to try to get down to the decommission suites.

WHG13 +1 confidently strides out to the platform and get onto the steam trucks of the the prison line. As they ascend, they are obscured from the other platforms for a few seconds and the decommission line is but ten feet away… Grabbing a rope, the heroes all cling on to it before leaping onto the decommission rail. All the heroes make the leap… apart from Badger who makes a desperate grab at the rail but misses. As he plunges into the blackness the safety rope slips through his other hand and the human falls to his doom…. surely?

Snorri, uses magical powers of flight and free-falls to Badger’s rescue! He grabs the human but does not have the strength to ascend with the slightly portly Father B in tow. The pair plummet and things look bleak until, digging into his reserves of endurance, the avenger slows the descent enough to steer the pair toward the wall of the lode. They crash into the spiral of rail beneath the rest of the party, but apart from a few bruises, they are unharmed.

The rest of the party stands on the greased decommission rail. It is too risky to stand around exposed and Goryn decides to slide his way down the track toward his friends. Aeryn and Jaralt follow and with surprising grace (and rapidly increasing speed), slide along the rail. Goryn is able to slow down enough on the approach to Father B and Snorri. A firm shoulder from Snorri brings the descent to an end. After a brief breather, the rattling descent of trucks can be heard and a train from the workshops bound for the decommission suites races into view.

The heroes have little time to prepare themselves and are forced to leap over the front engine in an attempt to land in one of the trucks! Aeyrn (assisting Jaralt) and Goryn make the impressive leap. Unfortunately Snorri and Father B don’t have the height and smack into the front of the train like road kill. The battered pair claw their way over the scalding hot engine and collapse into the front truck with their friends. Jaralt yelps and dives under the piles of machinery. Bemused, the others look around and see a swarming mass of firebug mechs skittering along the lode wall toward them! The party desperately tries to hise amongst the scrap but there is no time! The firebugs swarm over the trucks, some even skittering over Father Badger’s exposed arm but incredibly, the mechs don’t discover the party and disappear into the darkness. As the train continues down the rail, WHG13 breathes a huge sigh of relief.

Jaralt tells the heroes that they will soon enter the main yard. He says that they should be cautious; an arrogant but powerful dwarf called Hartul The Summoner roams the decommission suites, using his considerable powers to summon fire and earth elementals to complete work in the forges and yard. soon the trucks come to a juddering halt and the party peeks above the lip of their truck. They are in a huge yard lined with storage shelves packed with all sorts of machinery and scrap. Two large doorways lead to the forges and the workshops, which is where Jaralt used to work. suddenly the thumping of heavy footsteps can be heard coming from the forge.
Stone titan
A massive, stone titan comes into view. Standing nearly thirty feet tall, the vast, rocky bulk of the creature barely squeezes between the storage shelving. A harsh voice rasps from elsewhere, “Burt! clear those trucks on the double!” A haughty, red-haired dwarf carrying a staff comes into view…. The Summoner!

The titan approaches the last truck and with a single mighty hand, clears the machinery before piling it up a short distance away. A sense of panic starts to well up in the heroes. The titan swipes up the metal from the next truck, and the next, the pile of scrap nearby teeters as it gets higher. Another dwarf, dressed like a craftsman, picks through the detritus. Jaralt seems to recognise him; a timid artificer called Soradin.

The next truck is cleared, leaving just one more before the final one containing the hapless party. The titan clearly has the strength to crush the heroes like grapes! They need a plan, and fast!…

Part XXII: The Scrap Yard Scrap

The stone titan returns for the final handfuls of metal as the heroes attempt to dive out of and hide behind the carts. As usual, the dwarven contingent’s attempt at stealth goes for a ball of chalk as Goryn catches a boot on the lip of the cart causing him to fall amongst a cacophony of crashing and clanging of metal. So much for sneaking off… Burt bellows and The Summoner orders the attack!

Soradin seems to want no part of battle and takes cover. The titan bowls into the ranks of WHG13 as The Summoner fires spells from range. As Father B and Snorri try to close on Hartul, two fire elementals tear from the forges and launch a counter. The beasts try their best to immolate the party but the heroes focus their attacks on the feisty Summoner. Burt the stone titan shrugs off damage and is little more than scratched by the time Hartul and his fire elementals are cut down. The party retreats into the forge in the hope that the titan will not be able to follow to finally squash them. When things look bleak, the party uses diplomacy to convince the titan that it is now free of its oppressor. Soradin steps in and backs up WHG13’s offer of peace and a possible disaster is averted. It seems that Soradin holds some influence over the elemental giant. The party earns a reprieve…

Soradin and Jaralt greet each other and discuss with WHG13 the location of the secret chamber for ‘restricted’ technologies. Jaralt leads the team through vast scrap storage rooms to an insignificant patch of bare wall. The craftsman’s hands begin to make complicated movements across the stone and as he quietly chants, runes appear which move and bind together. A large section of the wall slides open and the artificer steps into a wide corridor. Ahead, Jaralt quickly disarms a magical security system which would have been a nasty surprise for the heroes if they had blundered into it. The dwarf whispers that further perils lie ahead however… An arcane generator, a computer-like defence system, guards the chamber. Although the automaton does not move, it is linked to numerous modified warforged and a special prototype warforged designed for infiltration and war. Jaralt can not deactivate the generator and does not hold the codes to control it. The team will have to try their best to deactivate it themselves or destroy it outright. This will be tricky as the generator apparently magically strikes back against any attack launched against it.

WarforgedWith grim faces, the heroes press on until ahead, they find their destination. The secret chamber opens up ahead. Crates and stacks of machinery are everywhere. Motionless warforged stand all around the room and at the centre is a large contraption of metal and stone. The Arcane Generator. As the party advances warily, large crystals set in the centre of the strange machine begin to glow. The Generator begins to hiss and steam and the thrum of powerful magic fills the chamber. WHG13 charges in and the generator senses their advance. A blast of magical energy erupts from the machine and the warforged lurch into life. Some of the automatons are decrepit and easily cut down, however, a few are large and powerful and pack a mighty wallop. The prototype leaps at the party, smashing its way through the heroes’ lines of defence.

Any physical attacks on the generator result in a huge blast of crippling magic in retort. Snorri braves the contraption’s other attacks and the bludgeoning fists of the warforged in an attempt to use his skills to disable the system. He will have to move fast though. The generator reanimates some of the warforged that have been cut down by the determined WHG13 and the automatons are silently relentless. As the heroes chip away at the Arcane Generator, their strength has begun to weaken!…..

Part XXIII: The New Stewards Are Chosen

The pounding fists of the remade warforged are relentless, but the fearless Crag warriors are not to be denied! As Aeryn eventually succumbs to grievous wounds, the arcane generator is finally destroyed and the remaining automatons, confused without their driving power source, are soon obliterated. The heroes call on Soradin and Jaralt to help them locate their quarry among the stacks of classified machinery. A strange patch of stone in the north wall drwas the team’s suspicion and with the help of the skilled artificers, locate and open an arcane lock revealing a secret chamber within the secret chamber! WHG13 creeps inside.

Stacks upon stacks of identical crates are within the smaller chamber. The party tried their luck by tearing open the first few they come to. Only weird machine parts and an arcane device which oozes an odd fluorescent oil are found. Father B produces the locate object ritual the party have been saving for such a time. Jaralt takes over and soon leads the heroes to a crate at the far wall, buried under detritus and dust.

The crate has a plate riveted on it’s side bearing the symbol of the UCSR along with a warning that opening the crate is strictly forbidden. Aeryn, who has been acting a little strangely since being knocked out in the previous battle, grabs an axe from one of the dwarves and with no hesitation, leavers open the crate. The others leap back, anticipating some sort of trap but nothing harmful happens. The crate’s lid groans and cracks as it is lifted, revealing the remains of an ancient warforged within. The heroes of WHG13 gasp as they realise that they recognise the disassembled automaton….
Stone daddy
Stone Daddy!

Soradin, wide eyed, tells the party that often warforged who were given their freedom would be named using derivatives of their serial mark. In this case:SToN3 DaDdI. Father B tries not to let on that he has spent many nights trying (and failing) to work out the conundrum. Snorri nods sagely. Aeryn ponders what led this warforged to it’s doom. Goryn picks his nose and wonders what day of the week it is.

With Snorri keen to find the weapon of legend: N’Rishnigar, Soradin and Jaralt are tasked with reactivating Stone Daddy. The artificers warn that because of it’s poor state, they would only be able to reanimate the warforged for a minute or two and doing so would probably totally destroy it forever. With the future of Crag in the balance, the heroes decide that they must risk it. The artificers work furiously, using fine tools and chanted magic until eventually, there is movement. The battered head of Stone Daddy twitches on its torso and a faint light sparks from its eyes. In a deep, faltering voice, STN3 DDI hails the new stewards of the blade!

The party immediately asks what happened to Stone Daddy. It recounts its fall from grace, having once been a body guard for The Citizen who was then himself a devout worshiper of Stone Father. An adviser had the ear of The Citizen, a wise creature from unknown lands who Stone Daddy names as ‘The Deceiver’. This adviser brought the Crag dwarves to a long buried stronghold deep under Crag Mountain where they found spirits who, according to the deceiver, would impart ancient knowledge and build advanced technologies… It seems these first contacts were successful, but Stone Daddy believed that the deceiver was orchestrating events for some nefarious ends. Stone Daddy tried to intervene but was hounded out of Crag, barely escaping with his life. Shortly after this Stonefather worship was outlawed. STN3 states that the faith must have been seen as a dangerous link to the ancient strength of dwarf-kind by the usurpers.

After receiving a vision from a herald of Stonefather, Stone Daddy traveled to Port Cormaa and found the tomb of Gruuna Goldenaxe whose spirit entrusted the warforged with the stewardship of the great weapon of prophesy. The heroes, mindful that time is running out, ask the weakening automaton for the location of N’Rishnigar. Stone Daddy describes the weapon’s location. It replies "Within my very being… To part with it will mean my doom, however, if passed to a being of a kindred spirit, my end will not be in vain.’ There is a spark of magic and the light behind the warforged eyes fades. Soradin shakes his head. Stone Daddy is dead.

Snorri offers a silent prayer to Stonefather and believes he knows where the weapon lay. The avenger asks Soradin to break open Stone Daddy’s torso. Father B raises an objection but Snorri is sure that this is the only way. The artificer levers open the chest plate of the automaton, shearing the broken body apart. Lo and behold, within the twisted metal is a beautiful golden waraxe. Snorri grasps N’Rishnigar and as he does so, white light explodes from the blade. Shards of chain lightning burst through the bodies of the heroes of WHG13. As their eyes roll and limbs contort, each warrior receives the same vision of an event long past…

They are back in Crag Mountain, deep, deep under the ground. An entourage of dwarven warriors and scholars emerges from the blackness. Stone Daddy is among them and at the rear are several taller, darker figures, their faces covered with hoods which also seem to cover some sort of horned helm or head dress. The entourage stands aghast at the entrance to an ancient, recently unearthed tomb. The party recognises it as the entrance to the wraith complex that the then fledgling MG13 first ventured into. It is obvious that in the time of The Republic, the Crag dwarves have discovered this place years earlier, seemingly with the direction of the tall, cowelled humanoids.

The humanoids easily work out the cryptic puzzle on each of the mighty stone entrance doors, manipulating strange disjointed metallic shapes to form a mosaic of the hammer symbol of Moradin. This triggers the huge slabs of carved rock to judder aside. One of the humanoids steps forward into the tomb. He reached up to his hood and pulls it back to reveal his face…
Tc
But the vision explodes into nothingness as N’Rishnigar’s lighting flashes and dissipates. The heroes of WHG13 stand blinking away the spots of light from their eyes… as they do so, a dwarven face flashes into their minds for a brief second: a noble, dwarven face with slick black hair and a cropped beard, the dwarf’s head emanates a pale white glow…

The heroes feel refreshed but a little unnerved. They ask the artificers about The Citizen. Jaralt and Soradin seem surprised when they realise that they have never actually seen the famous figurehead of the revolution. It seems that the fact that The Citizen must have died of old age long ago has never been considered by anyone. The team ponders the possible whereabouts of the mysterious leader but with no evidence of the location, decide that they must press on to liberate their brother Wraith Hunter, Durn Dourstone. The new stewards of the blade secure N’Rishnigar in a pack and prepare.

Hurried plans are made. They must get into the high security prison but stealth is not an option for the party now. Sly eyes fall upon the mighty stone titan: Burt, and an outrageous and high risk direct assault is agreed with the giant. He desperately wants his freedom and is willing to take on the whole of Bartozch to get it! There is no hiding under scrap this time, a blind man would be able to spot the hulking titan sat astride a line of steam carts with a rowdy, aggressive group of adventurers psyching themselves up for a huge bundle and daring rescue.

As the steam carts chug back up into the lode, Burt frantically looks around for his method of assault. The titan intends to use the huge winch chain to swing across the pit to the prison entrance. However, something has noticed the presence of intruders! A swarm of firebug mechs streams down the walls of the lode and onto the track in front of the advancing train. The little automatons spontaneously combust, causing a massive explosion which blows the track to pieces. Burt roars and with the members of WHG13 clinging on for dear life, the stone titan leaps from the train just as it launches off the end of the mangled track and plummets hundreds of feet into blackness below!

Burt’s leap is breathtaking and the titan grabs the winch chain and swings at breakneck speed toward the opposite wall of the lode. Father B closes his eyes and braces for impact. Snorri begins to pray. Goryn lets out a cry of doom and Aeyrn is annoyed that the wind may be messing up his hair. The party expects to be squashed against the wall but Burt uses his mighty legs as shock absorbers, recoils and thrusts the swing back again toward the prison entrance. The party can see a platform and entrance coming into view as they hurtle across. Burt lets go of the chain and the whole group fly through the air toward a shocked looking CSS operative who stands guarding the high security prison doors with several Iron Gate Guards. The party lands in a heap on the platform with weapons at the ready (apart from Snorri, who sprouts his papery wings and flies down to a safe landing). Poor Burt is not so lucky… His massive weight makes him plummet and the titan smashes into the rock wall under the platform. The brave creature roars as he crashes down into blackness to his doom…

WHG13 are in no mood to take prisoners and they take their fury out on their adversaries. The automatons hardly get a chance to take swing before they are smashed into piles of scrap. The CSS operative throws mighty blows with his thunder-guantlet clad fists but the agent of the Republic is overwhelmed in seconds. He dies shrieking as he is chopped and bludgeoned into a heap of stumps and blood.

The heroes take a minute to let their adrenaline settle and mourn poor Burt. As they turn their attention to the prison doors, a sound of collapsing rock can be heard. As they spin around to see what is happening, a huge hand reaches up and slams onto the platform. A vast, stony bulk hauls itself up from the abyss…

Burt lives!…

Part XXIV: The Great Rescue

The heroes cheer as the mighty titan stands before them. Burt roars with rage and looks for something to smash… Meanwhile WHG13 uses a pass located on the body of the CSS agent to access the locked doors and enter the high security cells. A long, wide corridor stretches out before the party. Numerous alcoves are cut into the walls. At the end of the corridor, multi-coloured glows can be seen on the floor. Large chambers are located to to the left and right, each with two deep pits. Glowing with a sickly purple necrosis, there are four prison globes in each pit, evil mockeries of the wraith prisons used not to restrain the malevolent spirits, but up to four unfortunate dwarves who have not the strength left to free themselves.

The prison area is heavily guarded by iron gate guards and goalbird mechs. The heroes launch into battle as the automatons silently bear down on the intruders. As the guards crash into WHG13 with axe and shield and the gaolbirds zip through the air firing bolts of concussive energy, it soon becomes clear that something else prowls this place… As the party advances, a hooded humanoid figure appears on one of the coloured sigils at the end of the corridor. It throws back its cowl, revealing the twisted, evil fanged grin of a tiefling!
Tiefling
This warlock uses powerful magic and teleports in and out of battle. As the melee rolls on into the left chamber Snorro feels an unstoppable pull on his very being. Before the avenger can work out what has attacked him, he finds himself trapped within one of the prison globes. Necrotic energy pulses through Snorri’s bones and weakness takes him. As he frantically tries to look for an escape he sees a familiar dwarf slumped at his feet. Durn! The semi conscious warden is trapped here with his father, Dûn, who had disappeared from Ma Gravel’s soup kitchen just before the treacherous cook revealed her true identity as an agent of the CSS.

The Dourstones are too weakened to offer any assistance to Snorri, who, after taking another blast of necrotic energy, uses the power of prayer to escape the globe. On his emergence, the mechs and the tiefling are causing carnage. Father B tries desperately to tend to a fallen Aeryn and Goryn and Tamok are hard pressed. Snorri decides to deal with the globe which imprisoned him by attempting to smash it, however, these globes seem to be made of tougher stuff. As the WHG manages to destroy the remaining guards the tiefling makes a bolt for the corridor, seemingly in an attempt to escape. The tiefling is hacked down and as it dies, a glowing form raises from the body. A hoodwraith emerges for but a second before the spirit sheds and dissipates.

WHG13 turns its attentions to the globes and as the last mechs are picked off, the globes begin to weaken and shatter. First one then another and another until all are destroyed. nearly sixty prisoners lay stunned on the ground. Durn Dourstone groans, rubs his face with a feeble hand and gruffs “What took you so long boys?”…

Part XXV: The Chosen One

The warriors of WHG13 have found their captured comrade but getting Durn, his father, numerous other maintenance group heroes and members of The Keepers of the Eternal Truth out of the Bartozch complex will be another matter entirely. There is the small matter of getting back up the lode and past the CSS and numerous mechs. If they escape onto the tundra outside, the weakened prisoners will surely succum to the bitter elements. There is also the matter of where the tiefling had come from… Durn offers a clue as he recounts his tale of abduction and imprisonment. When he was dragged into the prison from the lode, the tiefling seemed to appear in the corridor from nowhere. It seems that there are more of the hellish creatures somewhere in the complex.

The heroes check out the lode. The absolute bedlam there (caused by an irate Burt and trigger happy CSS snipers) proves that an immediate escape attempt would be unwise. WHG instead turns its attentions to the alcoves in the main corridor. It appeared that the tiefling was attempting to run into one of these innocuous looking areas before it was slain. Goryn the barbarian throws caution to the wind and steps into one of the alcoves as his compadres ready themselves… The mohawked warrior immediately disappears! Snorri, concerned, considers following but as usual ponders the consequences first…

Goryn now stands in a large, pillared chamber. An expansive library of tomes lines three of the four walls with exquisite tapestries lining the fourth. A marble fountain bubbles away at the far end and in the middle a beautiful rug is flanked by several opulent sofas, upholstered in the finest material. The barbarian has no time to admire the decor as numerous tieflings snarl with hatred at the intruder. He has discovered the hideout of The Shadowguard and its general, a particularly smug warlock called Haalvos. Sat with Haalvos is a dwarf with short trimmed beard and black, slicked back hair. Surely this is The Citizen?! The dwarf has the tell tale glowing hood like aura over his head – evidence of possession and the reason why the dwarf is still alive despite being so old. The Citizen stands up and howls in a terrifying, otherworldly voice “the Wraithhunter group! Kill them!”

HoodwraithAs Snorri and the rest of the team appear inside the chamber, the Shadowguard warriors charge in and the warlocks use their demonic magic to teleport their adversaries into more advantageous positions. While the minions are easily cut down, the rest are made of sterner stuff. Haalvos fires volleys from a safe distance, sticking close to the possessed Citizen. The wraith uses the body of the old Crag dwarf to issue threats and provocation, offering the WHG the chance to kill The Citizen and thus lead Crag closer to total ruin. Goryn pins the wraith to a corner, luring the creature to leave the body and show itself. As the vile wraith appears nearby and slashes at the heroes with its claws, The Citizen slumps to the ground, stunned and immediately begins to age. As the battle rages on, the unfortunate dwarf’s hair turns white and his face becomes wrinkled and sunken.

As Aeryn continues to pick off The Shadowguard, the others turn their attentions to the hideous wraith. Snorri remembers N’Rishnigar strapped to his back and prepares to use the weapon in some way… perhaps he should get the blade into the hands of The Citizen… Could the ancient dwarf be the chosen one? The hoodwraith soon stuns Father B and immediately envelops the unfortunate human. Snorri immediately uses holy power to rip the creature from its host, enraging the creature. A blast of magic finally drops the plucky avenger. Father B picks up N’Rishnigar but is stunned again! As things look bleak, Goryn takes the opportunity to seize the initiative.

The barbarian may have the wit and looks of an orangutan dressed in armour and strategically shaved, but occasionally he manages to come up trumps. Goryn rushes to Father B, grabs the weapon of prophesy and thrusts it into the weak and withered hands of the dying Citizen. As his hands grasp the blade, the dwarf,s eyes shine with white light. The Citizen holds the weapon aloft and gives a mighty, ear splitting bellow and there is an explosion of holy power which fills the chamber, bloodying the Shadowguard and the hoodwaith. The chosen one then disappears with a roll of thunder and a flash of holy light.

Heartened by their success, WHG13 bears down upon the confused wraith. With mighty blows the hideous creature is soon destroyed utterly. As a warlock is cut down, the form of a hoodwraith appears over the body and shreds into nothingness. Haalvos wails and calls a retreat. The remaining Shadowguard sprints for the magic portal and disappears. WHG13 persues but the teiflings have already made their way out into the lode. The heroes catch sight of one of the teifling being swatted by Burt who still rages outside. The creature screams as it plummets to its’ doom. Haavlos and the remaining guards make it to the chainlift and start the ascent. Burt flings himself at the shaft and follows, bellowing with anger.

Exhausted, the heroes return to the prison where the weakened prisoners seem overjoyed, hugging each other And praising Stonefather. They have received a vision of an ancient dwarf bathed in holy light, negotiating time and space on a magical carpet, intent on restoring Crag Mountain to The Stonefather. Durn is desperately searching for anything he can turn into a weapon in order to kill something. The WHG returns for a short while to the opulent chamber to rest, search for clues and plan its next move.

The tapestries depict Crag brought to its knees in the chains of slavery by The Shadowguard and the hoodwraith. One horned creature seems to preside over all, it’s name embroidered in fine twine: The Liberator…. Liberatoris.

The team decide that the only thing to do is to try to fight their way through to the secret arcane facility which holds the portal and the Temporal Weave and try to obtain the help of their last contact: Lor Gemscroll. The heroes advise the prisoners to stay put and burst out into the lode. Sprinting up the track to the workshops is dangerous and a feat of endurance. As snipers take pot shots at the intruders, Aeryn’s constitution fails, but his friends do not leave him. The ranger is dragged along and despite taking a hit from a sniper, he successfully makes the final push to shelter.

WHG13 continues its sprint through the complex. Dwarves and humans alike dive aside as the Crag phalanx rolls on like an unstoppable boulder. A large set of doors appears ahead. Using the winding mechanism nearby, the great doors slowly open and the heroes leap into a large pillared hall beyond. What is waiting for them inside however stops them in their tracks…
Css leader
Firebug mechs swarm over the nearest pillars and standing blocking the only escape route are three huge mining mechs. Standing at the top of steps in the centre of the chamber is a familiar face. Teeth bared, the glowering CSS team leader who has twice now failed to capture WHG13 cackles with glee. Several agents who stand nearby produce small metallic objects and begin to move their gauntlets over them. Spindly legs sprout from the objects and a small head on each bears a wicked looking barb.

“I have you at last!” bellows the team leader. “Destroy them!” The agents hurl the assassin mechs to the ground and as the firebugs stream down the pillar toward the mining mechs stomp forward. The ground shakes. The heroes of WHG13 are on the last reserves of strength but will not be able to escape without a fight. Surely there is no way out of this other than through force? Certain death beckons….

Part XXVI: Time Bandits

Aeryn cleverly takes out the firebug mechs using his bow and the critters explode at a safe distance. however, the heroes are hard pressed as the CSS cracks down on the enemies of the state. Snorri targets the leader and after teleporting the bemused adversary into the midst of WHG13’s ranks, the leader is sent quickly to a bloody end. With the remaining agents pummling the cornered heroes, the mighty mining mech stomp forward on an offensive, their glaze eyed dwarven operators barely visible within the mass of metal. Trampling through the phalanx of Crag warriors, the mechs seem almost unstoppable but with steely determination, the heroes focus their attacks on one of the machines and soon fell one which smashes to peices, leaving a howling, confused looking operator within the wreckage. Snorri sees the tell tale barcode tattoo on the nape of the operator’s neck which glows with a strange light. A theory comes to the avenger.

As the agents continue to blast and smash the battered WHG, Snorri races up to another mining mech and, using the power of prayer and religious focus, deactivates whatever power has overcome the dwarf within the mech’s control pod. The operator seems to wake from a trance and is overcome with panic, seemingly unable to control the mech any more. The flailing machine stomps off, smashes through a thick set of stone doors at the north wall and crashes to the floor where its drill and shovel arms thrash uncontrollably, tearing lumps of stone from the walls and floor of the corridor beyond. It seems that an escape route has opened up… However, it is the cowardly agents who use the situation to their advantage. Seeing that they no longer have their leader or the back up of the mighty mining mechs, the CSS dwarves hastily retreat and sprint off to save their skins. The heroes are weakened and bloodied but have all managed to survive.

The operator dwarves have no memory of their encasement within the mechs. These worshipers of Moradin all bear similar barcode tattoos to Father B and were obviously being controlled by some fell power. The Republic must be stopped and the WHG decides that the only way to do this is to find the Temporal Weave. How they will be able to use this artifact to achieve their aims is still a mystery though. Hopefully their last possible ally in Bartozch will be able to assist: the arcanist, Lor Gemscroll.

The party rests for a few minutes to catch its breath before pressing on through the facility. Any resistance is batted aside easily or cowers in the face of the furious might of the WHG. The heroes find the arcane facility and using the magic hammer and anvil, portal into the main chamber. All the arcanists appear to have evacuated, apart from one curious looking fellow.
Lor
With a huge white beard and a slightly manic squint, Lor Gemscroll is fixated on the Temporal Weave but he immediately jumps to the defensive as the invaders enter the chamber. He is obviously trying to hide something… The party persuades the arcanist that they are part of the insurrection against The Republic. After dropping a few names and explaining their desire to use the Weave to help The Chosen One put an end to the UCSR , Lor calms down and explains his theories on the artifact.

Unknown to his employers at the CSS, Lor Gemscroll has been seeing movements within the fabric of The Weave which he has kept to himself…as Liberatoris and Urdarth have been using The Weave to manipulate history, it seems that the artifact sometimes shows some events and characters as a story board within the weave. As many of these events show the treachery and infiltration of evil forces such as Liberatoris into the power structure of Crag, Lor has been trying to find some way of stopping The Republic by directly intervening in one of the major events of the past.

Lor believes that he has the necessary magical components to be able to negotiate the Weave by crossing ‘strands’ of time and space. He will need some ‘muscle’ as, due to the chaotic influence upon travel along time strands, they could find themselves in some pretty perilous situations…. Enter WHG13!

In order to return to an accurate location and time, the party must successfully negotiate the strands of time to locate The Chosen One. The team can jump between strands in order to locate where in time The Chosen One is and therefore obtain N’Rishnigar. The PCs must hurry though, as The Chosen One is tearing through time himself, heading for the pivotal moment in history when the balance of Crag was upset and the future changed… The party deduces that the original approach to the wraith prison by his younger self along with his supporters led by Liberatoris and the Shadowguard was the beginning of the evil Republic.
.
Lor explains that any major change in history will cause a ‘time rift’, whereby every living thing in the vicinity is sucked into a huge void and spat out (potentially) in any place or point in history. By using N’Rishnigar as a holy focus, the party will be able to effectively anchor themselves to their location and return to their natural time setting and hopefully in the ‘normal’ free Crag. The heroes prepare to deploy immediately and after hurried preparations by Lor, they step onto The Temporal Weave.

The arcanist beings his ritual and with a flash, they find themselves tearing through time and space along a glowing time strands. The ride is by no means smooth and whilst some in the team use mental powers to stay on course, the more physical members of the team do their best to stop their comrades being bucked off course and spat out into the void. Strange, twised creatures can be seen watching the WHG13 from other strands. Lor explains that the strands are infested with creatures who were once time travellers themselves. These beings (mostly of fey and Abysal origin) have become lost within the strands and over time been twisted into bizarre entities by the maddening void. Some are thoroughly evil, but some are simply unaligned and therefore open to persuasion, bargaining and bribery…

Lor shouts to the team that they must find crossover points: resting places where the traveller finds respite from the forces of chaos. Failure to make stops results in over exposure to the void which tears at the mind, causing madness and mutation

The party is successful in it’s first attempt to locate a crossover point and in order to avoid missing the critical event, Lor returns the WHG to the dawn of time itself. The heroes soon feel they are floating above a harrowing scene: the taking of Darain Paik and his endless punishment in hooked chains. Time starts to race forward thousands of years as Darain’s body starts to twist into a whithered husk. A black force begins to ooze from the the dwarf; a rising shadowy mass that appears to be an entity made from suffering and hatred. The mass crawls toward the party and a clawed hand reaches for them as the shadow tears past them and into the mortal realm. The chains still writhe in the air but Darain has disappeared.. The scene fades and the party is soom back within the strands with Snorri pondering the fact that the shadow derived from Darain’s torture looked very much like the beast Shadowbone…

The party tears along, but this time is not so lucky, and fails to keep it’s focus. The crossover point isnreached but someone else has tuned in on their presence… As the WHG finds itself in a remote ruin a large band of mutated creatures materializes. These powerful denziens appear to have once been elves but their horrific visages are barely recognisable. Eyes appear in different places on their faces and as they talk to eachother, mouths appear in random locations. The band appears to operate as highwaymen and luckily the heroes are able to bribe them with a coupke of potions and the tale of the UCSR. Before leaving, the leader of the band points out a glowing orb set at the very back of the ruin. It infirms that the creature within is someone they may well know very well!

The party walks through thr ruin. The sky can be seen overhead. Sat always in shadow is a wraith prison globe which holds a powerful hoodwraith. The evil this creature permeates is almost visible in the air! the wraith’s aura is dimming however, as if it is ‘giving up’ on its existence. Days, weeks, months and then years begin to rush by with the sun repeatedly rising and setting in rapid flashes. The wraith begins to become dimmer. It appears to be dying… As the aura fades completely, the orb becomes absolutely black as a shadow engulfs the creature within. Time slows to normal and the shadow begins to lift, revealing a Tiefling knelt within the globe. The creature lifts its head and begin to laugh like a maniac. It then fixes the party with a paralysing gaze. It is Liberatoris! “I see you!” he hisses as he leaps forward. The globe shatters and the scene fades…. The WHG is once again tearing through time. Father B muses that perhaps he has just witnessed the life cycle of the wraith.

The team navigates its way through the strands but overshoots it’s destination, finding itself in a crossover point some 30 years prior to the heroes’ emergance from into the Repulic controlled Crag. The World Machine has been chosen as an ‘authorised’ religion, but its philosiphies have been twisted to encourage experiments with technologies which could be used for war and control. CSS agents can be seen ordering lines of Moradin worshippers into chambers within Crag where they are tatooed with a barcode like mark. The scene fades…

To a laboratory within Port Cormaa some years later. Dr Salt can be seen working on some sort of arcane generator. The machine is enfused with energy. Salt is working on the machine and then experimenting with cadavers much like those the WHG hid amongst to avoid the CSS. As the machine begins to acticate, a blast of energy washes over one of the cadavers which twitches and begins to move before falling back to the slab. Salt giggles and orders an assistant to send a message back to Crag. “We are making progress. I have the prototype reacting with the marks on the cadavers. I will soon require testing on living subjects.” Salt turns the dead body over. It has a barcode tattoo on the back of its neck.The scene fades…
Dorph dwarrow
…To a laboratory elsewhere in Cormaa in the ‘present day’. Dwarves in smart overalls are working on a strange arcane device. In charge is a curious old dwarf with white hair and beard and a large, bizarre looking mech arm. He asks how the development is going. A younger engineer shugs then meekly says “Sir… we… well the lads and I… we’re not really happy with working with necrosis. It feels… wrong. What exactly will the device be used to detect?” The old dwarf seems perturbed. “It will use radiant and necrotic energies my lad. The powers that be at Crag are expecting us to perfect this technology and we are being paid handsomely so I trust you will give this your full attention.” The old dwarf leaves the workshop. An assistant waits outside, ready for orders. “I am not happy with this situation. When I voiced my protestations regarding the behaviour of the CSS and threatened to pull out of the programme, Crag aquiesed immediately. A bit too quick for my tastes… I don’t trust them. All of this military development and now this latest prototype. How can we perfect a device of this nature if we do not know exactly who or what it will be used to seek out? Send word to my old friend, Broadaxe, back at Crag. Perhaps he can shed some light on this. Be discreet though… The Republic will not be happy if they find out we are digging for information on them.” The assistant, who has been scribbling notes, nods and says “Right away Mr Dwarrow.” The scene fades…

Lor feels that he has a fix at last on the location of The Chosen One. As the heroes barrel through time, the arcanist tells them to prepare themselves for the big moment. The crossover point yawns open and the WHG finds itself standing at the entrance to the wraith prison deep under Crag Mountain. The mighty doors to the tomb are firmly closed. Approaching is a large band of explorers. The heroes immediately recognise Stone Daddy and The Citizen leading a group of warriors and arcanists. At the rear are the ominous cloaked figures of Liberatoris and his Shadowguard.

As this group cautiously approaches the prison entrance, they seem oblivious to the presence of the time travellers who observe their every move. Suddenly there is flash of white light and an whithered, white haired dwarf materializes, clutching the glowing waraxe of legend. The Citizen is stunned to come face to face with his future self. Before he can run or his guards can react, The Chosen One rushes toward him and the two beings crash together with an explosion of thunder and light before disappearing. The Shadowguards explode into flames and immolate, screaming their death throes. Liberatoris howls as white fire engulfs him and the teifling disappears. As the explorers try to run, a huge swirling void opens up with N’Rishnigar hovering in it’s midst. As some of the unfortunate explorers are sucked into the void, WHG13 and Lor grab the weapon and hold on for dear life. The violent maelstrom threatens to scatter the team through time but just as their strength starts to fail, there is another flash…

… And the party is the clouds! On the deck of the airship ‘The Wanderer’ Barrabus stands at the edge of the deck, arms outstretched. Dr Bliss and various other members of the circus troupe stand nearby. The heroes, obviously invisible to the members of The House Of Fun, peer over the edge of the deck and strangely, are able to see events unfolding in great forest thousands of feet below them. In a clearing, a tribe of dwarf like creatures are gathered around a glowing circle: the site of a long dormant portal. On the ‘other side’ of the portal can be seen a quivering image of the Crag teleport room. An old tribal leader, resplendent in his huge head-dress begins a jerking dance and leads a chant before stepping into the portal. There is an explosion of white light….

Back on deck of The Wanderer, Dr Bliss shuffles forward toward Barrabus. “So we are to return to the Dragon Haunts?” he says. Barrabus turns to face his troupe but his arms remain outstretched. His huge, ever-present manic grin is gone. “We must continue our search, good Doctor.” says the ring master. “We must not let the others gain the upper hand. You will all have a part to play. That is why I chose you” Bliss gives a slight bow. “We all remember the debt we owe you. Although you gave us freedom, we are still bound to you my master.”
Barrabus closes his eyes and falls backward, toppling off of the edge of the ship and plummets through the clouds. There is is searing white light and heroes of the WHG suddenly find themselves standing on terrafirma, blinking in the light of magical torches.

They are standing at the portal in the wraith war room in Crag. Numerous arcanists are studying the maps with interest and pay the team little heed, apart from one particular eccentric white haired dwarf who gives them a sly wink. A guard marches up to the warriors. He is wearing the uniform of the Crag guard, not the Republic. He seems confused. “Who are you?” he blurts, rifling through a register. The heroes reply that they are WHG13 but this causes more confusion. Father B produces his warrant but the paperwork now shows the human as a member of WHG8! The crusty warlord breathes a sigh of relief. The WHG is back home!

The guard seems unimpressed and even more confused… “But…. But… You’re dead.” The team is directed to report to the office of T’ Supervisor without delay. They have been declared KIA before so surely this situation can be easily sorted out. If they can bring down an evil empire and negotiate time and space, surely explaining things to the Supervisor should be easy enough.,, Surely?!

The team makes it’s way up into The Slags and are relieved to find that everything in Crag seems to be as it should; much more… Crag-like. As they wander through the streets, grinning widely, a familiar face comes into view. Ma Gravel sweeps the steps of her soup kitchen and upon seeing the heroes gives a hearty greeting “You boys look like you need some food. Come on in!” Little does she know that in an alternative Crag the kindly matriarch was a traitorous undercover agent of an oppressive regime! The WHG, realising suddenly how tired and hungry they are, file into the soup kitchen.

Inside and already slurping away at a huge bowls of hearty broth are some familiar faces. It seems that the Dourstones made it safely back to real Crag. “You took your time lads” gruffs Durn. “Grab some food, we have an appointment wi’ T’Supervisor.” Reunited, the heroes of WHG8 sit at the large table and bowls are placed before them by a well known apron wearing warforged.

Stonedaddy serves a welcome dinner to fellow former stewards of a holy blade. A dark chapter of Crag’s history has been erased and only a few know just how close the wraith came to final victory….

Stone tile texture   copy

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Once upon a time to come
The Contagion Chronicles Part 2

Prologue
< Once upon a time, which is how the best stories start….
> Grandma??
< Yes Dear?
> Can we have a “Once upon a time to come story” please?
< Out of Randalls books?
> Yes but not with Randall in cos he’s boring
< Once upon a time to come….
> Which one is it?
< Will you let me start?
> Where are you going to start?
< Well we could start with the lost children, or maybe wolves in the snow or would you like to start with the supervisor?
> Oh the supervisor is boring and he’s too grumpy, just like Durn but he’s not nearly as grumpy as Darain
< So where did you want to start?
> Let’s start with the wolves in the snow

Part one – Wolves in the Snow

Once upon a time to come, the courageous WHG appeared through the gate, unfortunately it wasn’t the Crag gate. They found themselves in the Bartozch mines. They initially the were confused > it’s not hard to confuse some them < and the guard didn’t help. It seems nobody knew what was going on. Snorri pressed for more, “Well it’s been happening for a while now, round about the same length of time since the walkers started to arrive.” Darain insisted on seeing the walkers and bullied the guard into letting them into a holding room where the walkers were being kept

> Told you he was grumpy <
< Yes you’re right >

The walkers were unresponsive, almost all dwarves and it seemed the had come from Crag, on foot! Adrick examined them and found all the walkers seemed to have a distended gut and had almost no response to anything, even when Darian shouted at them

> See I told you he was GRUMPY <
< Yes you’re very clever >

The guards didn’t seem to know, other than the WHG’s and MG’s had been routing through the gate for some time. They sent the WHG through to the Captain of the guard. He shed a little more light on what was going on, the general guards at the mine had been kept in the dark, to prevent panic. Crag was in turmoil, the WHG’s and MG’s had been used to ferry food and supplies back to the Crag and something bad was happening there. The Captain knew no more

< They asked a whole bunch of stuff but you probably wouldn’t find it very interesting, which bit did you want next? >

Part Two – The lost children

Deep in a dark, dark cave the children stumbled. They had to find the herbs, Stone Daddy had to have them for Ma Gravel, it was very important. Ruby dropped another of the glow pebbles, they’d find their way back for sure, though it was very dark and just a little bit scary. Ruby wasn’t going to be scared at all, she’d show that Betsy Stonequill who wasn’t a scaredy cat, just cos she had relatives up in Limehouse she thought she was better than everyone else down in the Slags.

What was that noise up ahead? And the shapes, what was moving in the gloom? Ruby dropped the stones and ran…

> Oooo that’s scary. Did Ruby escape? What were the shapes? Can I have a drink? <
< You ask too many questions >
> What was the next bit Grandma? <
< See >

Part Three – The Supervisor

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I Shadowfell and I can't get up.

Part 1: Devourer? I barely nibbled her!

Once the Wraith and Dracolich had disappeared into the perpetual grey mist of the Shadowfell sky, the party take stock of their surroundings. They are on an exposed rocky hillside, a dark and imposing forest ahead, a misty swap to one side and craggy hills rising behind. Whilst a few personal artifacts are recovered from the messy remains of WHG13 to hopefully return to their clansmen back at the Crag, a study of the horizon allows the identification of some kind of clearing or similar feature in the forest in a position which roughly corresponds with the position of Stowlart in the material world. Not fancying spending any more time in the open the party starts to hustle down the rocky hills toward the forest.

About halfway there Badbeer (who has been creeping through the rocks and scraggy bushes off the main path) shouts a warning. Something has been attracted to the noise of the party on the march and is moving to attack. Three devourers fall upon the party. The spirits of murderers on the material plain have gathered flesh to form these hideous undead. A pair of Viscera Devourers whip and tangle the party with the guts hanging from their stomach, leech like mouths at the end of each visceral whip then draining the lifeforce from the entangled adventurers, and the Spirit Devourer traps the essence of fighters into a wizened effigy in its ribcage, whereupon it feeds on their soul to power a frightful blast of energy.

The party are still battered and bruised from their previous encounters and though they battle through triumphant, they are barely on their feet at the battles end, Badbeer in particular seeming to be a feather blow from collapsing.

Desperate for rest the party follow the trail of the beasts to the dank hole that was their lair. Adrik magically produces a few items to add some comfort and respite is finally achieved. Time passes slowly in the Shadowfell and the never changing twilight is not conducive to good sleep or a well adjusted body clock. Whilst their bodies are refreshed the party find their minds still tired and a gloom settles over the party which they must shake off if they are to get back to full fighting capacity.

During the night a search of the lair turns up an odd item amongst the detritus of previous meals. A sphere of rock that feels slightly warm to the touch. Some experimentation reveals it to be some kind of extra-planar artifact that for a small sacrifice allows the passing of life energies from one to another. Naming the useful item the ‘Orb of Sacrifice’ the party pocket it and head on toward the woods.

Picking through the trackless trees is slow work but clearly their direction was on as they come to a familiar stockade wall. The wall is now so close into the trees as to be part of the forest, the gate blocked closed by the trees but standing slightly ajar.

Inside all is dark as a canopy of branches has completely closed over the walls to form an impenetrable roof. Shining a lantern reveals the familiar streets of Stowlart before the destruction, but looking dusty and empty, as if abandoned for years.

As the last of the party enters the gates, they slam closed with an ominous bang. A wail rises up and echoes around the walls and buildings.

DWARVES! YOU DID THIS! YOU BROUGHT DOOM TO US! WE WILL HAVE REVENGE!’

Part 2: Pub Violence and The Better Part of Valour.

The ghosts of the former villagers start forming from the mist all around. A few of the stronger spirits fully manifest into spectres, but the majority merge together into a formless mass that descends on the ‘Rotten Turnip’ Inn. Previously the focus of village life, the building becomes the focus of the angry spirits’ desire for revenge and the building itself uproots in swirl of masonry and timber, attempting to crush the WHG into the dirt.

As the vengeful dead move in for the attack the WHG move quickly to put them down. The battle is short and the spirits are quickly scattered to the wind without gaining their perceived revenge.

Some of the party make efforts to chop their way out of the sealed village while others search for valuables. After a brief council to discuss the loot found, the chopping is about to restart when a quiet regular thudding noise is heard. Somebody else is trying to chop their way in! Attempts at communication only result in the chopping stopping and silence. After a while the team get back to the escape work and after much work, freedom is attained.

From the outside of the sealed village it can be clearly seen that someone with an axe had started on the entry attempt, been startled by the voices within and then fled the scene fairly swiftly. Picking up the trail the party make their way out of the wood and to edge of the swamp they could see when the first arrived in this bleak world. The trail is swiftly lost in the murk and mud but in the distance eagle eyes spot what could be another settlement on the horizon.

Stealth is impossible across the open swampy plain so the party marches and slithers as directly as they can toward their new goal. As they draw closer they spy figures watching them approach and when they got close enough to see more detail the watchers seem to suddenly start trying to indicate something with frantic arm movements. Turning behind them the cause of the sudden alarm is clear to the party. The Dracolich is barrelling out of the sky at high speed straight at them! The Wraith perched atop the skeletal dragon’s back sees that they are spotted and a wordless scream of rage emanates from beneath its hooded face.

Not fancying their chances in the open the party decide to dash as fast their little legs will take them to the village, a chase is on! Slithering and sliding through the mire the party make a valiant dash, aided by a timely blessing from Adrik (or Travok) which lends a new surge of strength to tired limbs. The time to call down this divine aid did leave Travok (or Adrik) behind for a while but he quickly catches up with Berren who can’t seem to stay on his feet in the slippy mud! The Wraith fires bolts of grave energy that freeze limbs and slow the escape and the Dragon manages to catch up and score a few hits on the fleeing rear of the party. Paik shows typical concern for his comrades and reaches the safety of the village first while Badbeer stops and manages a nimble distraction while the rest of the party make the final rush to the finish.

As the party cross the threshold of the village they feel a warm glow as they pass a shimmering barrier that is being maintained by villagers on the walls. As the Dracolich hits the barrier it screeches and almost plummets out of the sky in a flash of divine energy. After a few swift attempts at battering the shield it gives up and shoots up into the perpetually murky sky carrying the screaming wraith with it.

The party turn to thank their rescuers and are taken aback. Just who have they been saved by?

Part 3: Throw us a bone here.

The villagers are on odd looking lot. Pale skinned, pure white eyes, monochrome tribal clothing, and no mouth. The jawline is as a normal humanoid face but the skin simply forms a smooth covering over where the mouth would be. The village is fairly tribal in construction, wood and fabric dwellings incorporate improbably sized bones as both structure and decoration. The villagers make no noise but from a brief study of their body language it seems they must be able to communicate wordlessly somehow. They seem friendly though and after a brief stand off, welcoming gestures are made. In eerie silence the party are taken into the village and introduced to what, judging by his ornate headpiece, appears to be some kind of chieftain or seer.

After the exchange of a few gifts he brings forth a wooden box, puling back a cloth cover to reveal it to be full of bits of bone. Scrabbling through he pulls out a small lizard skull and places atop a carved stick. Scattering some trinkets and waving his hands he performs some kind of ritual. Suddenly the skull on the stick shakes, muscle and flesh seems to fold out from within and cover the skull. Skin peels back onto the flesh from nowhere and eyes appear in the blank sockets. As the chieftain holds the stick up, the lizard head starts to hiss and snap in a reptilian manner. He gestures from himself to the animated head and movements of his jaw beneath the skin seem to match up with the noises being produced from the lizard. Following a bit of mime time his intentions become clear. He needs a dwarf skull to perform his ritual in order to be able to communicate with the party! None of WHG8 fancying making the donation, they think back to where they might have seen such a thing since they arrived in the Shadowfell. After a little discussion the light bulbs go on. The remains of WHG13 are still scattered around their arrival point! Perfect. Making their intention to return as clear as possible the party check the coast is clear of undead dragons and head back out into wilds.

The journey is tiring but uneventful and they are soon back on the craggy rocks they first saw on arrival in this grim plane. Of course things are never that easy and something seems to have been by since they left and much of the remains are missing, including all bits with any bone. Following an odd trail of scratch marks on the rocks and wind flattened grass the party find themselves outside a cave. Moving in they find a large hollow filled with a carpet of bones and bone shards. Searching this for the necessaries is going to take quite some time but the party are wary of what may have brought all these bones here. And with good reason! Stealthy attempts to search the bones set off an attack from a whirlwind of lost souls animating a forever shifting and reforming bone mass. Also joining the fray are a couple of blood worms that scavenge from the bonesoul conglomerate’s meaty discards whilst being of no interest to it themselves due to their boneless nature. The fight is difficult as the sea of bone shards shift treacherously beneath non-agile feet and at one point threaten to suffocate a sinking Berren as he dissapears beneath the surface! WHG8 come through victorious however as Randall’s spectral dog skips over the dangerous terrain to harry the worms and Elly creates some significant breathing space by putting the bonesoul into an inter-planar time out for a short while.

As all falls quiet in the cave the party survey the drifts around them. Time to get searching.

Part 4: You want to do WHAT to the shark?!

Rooting through the piles of bones, the party find and pocket a couple of nice looking dwarven skulls and head on back to the silent village. Handing over the skulls to the village chieftain, he performs his disturbing ritual again and the party find themselves face to head-on-a-stick with a former member of the WHG they were originally hunting for. Speaking through the macabre item, the chieftain amiably chats with the Dwarves as to the story of their travels so far and in return tells the history of his people. How they were once themselves residents of the ‘plane of burning light’ but that an accursed individual many generations ago, firstly managed to shift the entire community into the Shadowfell through a failed ritual to cheat the death of a loved one, and then further managed to summon up and insult the Raven Queen with his arrogance in demanding she fix his mistake. This causing her to curse his people to be bound to the plane and stealing their voices in return for her protection to the village from the beasts that roam in the mists.

The village has a brief council and agrees to help the Crag Dwarves on their quest. Whilst the party rests, the chieftain spends a night in prayer to The Raven Queen, asking her blessing to reveal the way to The Crossroads, said to be the centre of the Shadowfell, a gift from the Raven Queen to those lost in her realm and a place from which direction can be gained to any known site on the plane. As he greets the party in the morning (not that time of day means anything in the Shadowfell) he tells them he was granted a vision. A direction from the village across the swamp and the sound of a bell. As he sends them off on their way he offers a final gift. A token of favour for the Raven Queen, a broken stick with a twirling groove studded with holes running up its length. If the party make a pledge to perform a deed in The Lady’s name and she shows a sign of her blessing to bind the sticks together, then breaking them apart again will call down The Lady’s aid in a time of need.

The party head out across the swamp for dismal hours of squelching travel. Just as they are starting to lose faith in the direction they have been sent in they come to shores of a body of water. As they debate what to do, the sound of a bell tolls off in the mist. They have come to the right place and The Lady is calling.

Scouting around the shoreline the party find they are at a lake and that the sound of the bell occasionally travels across the water seemingly from the centre. After a brief bit of dwarf fishing to test the water, the party find some trees to fell and lash together a dwarf powered raft to make their crossing into the unknown.

Shortly after the shore is lost out of sight in the mist, dark shapes are seen beneath the water approaching the improvised craft. As weapons are drawn, two hideous octopoid devourers flop onto the raft and a trio of giant zombified sharks break the surface. The devourers attempt to throw the dwarves overboard and the sharks try to pull them from the raft but dwarven stubbornness thwarts all attempts to get them in the water, Elly taking brief plunge when dragged away by a shark but swiftly being teleported back to safety. As one of the sharks sinks its teeth into Adrik, rather than trying to escape he grabs hold and attempts to wrestle it back on to the raft! Unfortunately the feat proves impossible though he does provide a vital distraction by letting the shark chew on him for a while.

The aquatic assault is fought off and the severed tentacles are swept over the side as the raft continues on to the centre of the lake.

Part 5: Asking the locals for directions.

The raft hits a dirt bank as the mist closes in ever tighter. The bell tolls once more, now sounding very close straight ahead. The party disembark and walk over flat featureless ground. Before long a structure appears ahead in the mist. A large wooden finger post. Probably 12 ft high and ancient judging by the advanced level of weathering. Most of the finger boards are missing, a couple scattered on the ground, one or two still hanging on at rakish angles. If they once held writing it has long since been scoured blank by time and decay.

From the top of the post a dessicated corpse is hanging, one arm nailed to a board, one dangling free. With a rustling of paper dry skin the figure lifts its head to silently watch the party approach.

Attempts to engage the poor figure in conversation merely result in silence, but remembering the reason they came here, someone asks the way to the town of Listach. A known location on this plane from which the direction to the stable portal the Stischna opened can be found and hopefully a way home! The hanging man makes no noise in reply, but raises his withered arm and points out a direction.

Before they head off, the party remember the gift given to them by the Shaman from the silent village. Taking the broken favour of The Lady in her hand, Elly makes a pledge in the name of the Raven Queen to destroy the Dracolich that defies its fated death. Looking around for a sign that her prayer may have been answered, she sees a single black rose at the base of the post that she would swear was not there a moment ago. Plucking it and using it to tie together the favour, its thorns fit neatly in the holes along the grooves as if it were always intended for the task. Randall places the favour on his lapel and the party move back to the boat.

It doesn’t take long to realise something is wrong. Walking in the direction expected for a good few minutes longer than seems right is revealing no boat. No shore either. Just pressing mist and an endless featureless flat ground. Heading straight back in the direction they came, the party are relieved to find the hanged man is still there! Seeing no other choice they head off into the mist where the dead hand points.

It could be minutes spent walking, it could be hours, time blurs as the endless featureless ground passes beneath and nothing is to be seen but the all pervading white mist. The party almost enter a catatonic state as they trudge on endlessly, wondering if they are doomed to be lost in the white sea forever.

Suddenly a screech jolts the morose party out of their torpor and into ready poses. Shooting out of the mist comes the Dracolich! Whether it has chased them here or been summoned by The Lady for the party to fulfil their pledge is unknown. One thing is for sure though, it carries the Wraith on its back and it is out to get them. Diving down from the skies in strafing runs it picks at the party whilst the Wraith scatters bones from on high that raise into malformed skeletal attackers. With its massive mobility advantage the party can’t pin it down and get any good hits in. Just then divine inspiration hits Randall. He remembers the favour he wears and breaks it in two to attempt to call down The Lady’s aid. Sure enough an immediate powerful wind springs up, billowing the mist around. It forces the Dragon to the ground and into a close quarters fight the party are much more comfortable with.

The Wraith dismounts and charges at dwarves. As it approaches it starts to scream and babble incoherently. Close proximity to the rambling thing causes mad voices to rage in the head of anybody nearby. Snatches of words can be picked up and give the impression that the Wraith has been driven mad by the dominating presence of the Dracolich it tried to subjugate. In fact as the voice of The Wraith fills heads with a never ending stream of confusion and madness, the Dracolich fixes party members with a steely gaze and a silence fall across their minds as the Dragon dominates their personality with the crushing weight and power of its own. When consciousness returns the Dwarves find blood on their hands as they have attacked friends and allies.

The battle is fierce and heavy blows are exchanged on all sides. The Dracolich casts its gaze upon Badbeer and his eyes glaze over. Turning suddenly he dashes over to Elly, who has been left holding off the skeletal beasts, and guts the poor Cleric from behind, coming around just in time to see her unconscious body slump to the floor. Filled with the fires of revenge, the party surround the beast. Pinning the Dragon down under a hail of magic and steel, it lashes out as its bones are cracked and broken. With a mournful wail the ancient intelligence behind those void-like eyes winks out and the Dracolich is no more.

Fighting through the mind storm of madness, the Wraith is swiftly dispatched afterwards and the broken figure of Elly is stabilised before her final breaths escape her.

The winds die down and silence falls again. With a shrug the party patch their wounds as best they can and limp on into the mist. Where else is there to go?

Minutes? Hours? Days later? Nobody can tell. The silent walking has carried on for an eternity now and the sudden voice of Adrik comes at deafening volume to ears accustomed to nothing louder than the shuffling of feet. The mists have suddenly cleared ahead and lights can be seen twinkling in the distance. It is Listach. It is freedom. It is a way home.

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The Lost WHG

Session 1 – A Vanity of Manticores (Geddit?)

Returning through the portal to Crag, the team almost fall over another group who were just about to take the portal out when the clerks sensed the immanent arrival of WHG8. Pleasantries are exchanged and the waiting party turn out to be the newly promoted WHG13, fresh from clean up duty around Crag’s remaining corruption, they have been assigned their first map flare investigation mission. Their leader is wearing overly bejewelled and blingy armour and seems a tad haughty and stand offish but one member of the group is amazed to be seeing WHG8 in the flesh and comes over all fanboyish. WHG8 begin to realise that whilst they are part of far greater crowd of heroes, they are beginning to get some serious recognition by a public at large who are desperate for information on the progress of the wraith war which has so recently spilled into the heart of Crag itself.

Given a week of R&R by t’Supervisor, the various members of the team spend some time hiding from, revelling in or taking advantage of their semi-fame before being called up for duty once more.

It being their maiden mission outside the Crag, the new WHG13 were meant to have made contact home within 48hrs but they have not been heard from since they left. A search and rescue mission for new pups is a bit below WHG8 now, but the leader of the missing party turns out to be Binwin Gurnnison, nephew of Lars Gurnnison of the Crag council. Whilst t’Supervisor will not be leant on for personal favours, it would benefit all of Crag to have the councildwarf’s mind back on vital matters of state and not lost in worry for his fool relative so WHG8 are put on the case.

Travelling through the portal, WHG8 find themselves on a precarious cliff edge overlooking a deep chasm. it seems that whatever structure was once here has long since been rent asunder by massive earth movements leaving the portal intact, but open to the elements. A rope has been left (presumably by the missing party) crossing the chasm and a more promising mountain decent can be seen on the other side. Badbeer nimbly shimies over the rope and secures a second line on the far side to allow any easy crossing for the rest of the less limber dwarves.

Halfway through the crossing procedure however, the sound of leather wing beats raises above the howling wind and a hunting pack of Manticores fly onto the scene. As surprised to see the dwarves as the dwarves are to see them, one of the beasts looses his hold on his recent catch and the changeling merchant Kuu quite literally drops into the party, thankfully into the waiting arms of Randall who pulls off a magnificent catch.

A fight ensues, with Manticores dropping out of the sky left right and centre due to the cunning use of a number of spells and abilities that rob them of their power of flight and send them crashing to the rocks below. The wizards are left alone on one side of the ravine and take a bit of a battering from the iron spikes of the Manticores’ tails, but once Badbeer has eviscerated the pack leader, the fight goes from them and the cowardly beasts start to flee when injured, leaving the party to lick their wounds and continue down the mountain.

The trail of WHG13 is easy to follow and the party soon find themselves in the idyllic looking farming community of Stowlart. Warmly greeted by a gate guard who mistakes them for the missing party, it turns out that WHG13 have been staying here for the last week, fruitlessly investigating any possible sources of wraith activity and enjoying the local hospitality. They left yesterday having received some kind of direction from local old boy, Mateus Darmand. The team hurry of to find Mateus and hope to learn where their quarry has gone.

Session 2 – The Early Dwarves catch the Freaky Worm Thing

Having found out that Mateus is out hunting (testing his fine new dwarven made crossbow) the party leave message with his stableboys and retire to the Inn await his return. A crowd gathers but the approaches of the locals for song and story are rebuffed by the more dour group members and the villagers disperse muttering that ‘theses dwarves are nowhere near as much fun as the last lot.’

Mateus appears before too long and happily tells his story. Having befriended the missing party he had acted as the drunken shoulder for Binwin to outpour all his apprehensions at returning from his first mission, not covered in glory as planned, but meek and empty handed. Taking pity on the dwarf, Mateus had told him of another route up the mountain to the ruined hold of Hammerhelm that he had found as a lad but never returned to due to a deeply unpleasant encounter with the mountain manticores. Binwin had seemed much cheered by this news and planned to head off the next day to check out the ruins on the way back to the portal, hoping to maybe recover a few lost artefacts and make the mission not a complete waste of time.

Following a night in the Inn, WHG8 started out in the morning. Following Mateus’ instructions they soon pick up the path of WHG13 and track them up the mountain to a plateau above the ruined hold. Standing by a large chasm in the ground are two dwarven looking figures, silently staring down into the deep. The party’s paranoia glands were working overtime and Kuu decided to test the figures by magically recreating a manticore roar off to the side. Suspicions are further raised when the figures fail to react to the loud noises in any way.

As the party cautiously approached the figures they turn to face them and the subterfuge is revealed. The figures are two members of the missing party, but not all of them. Their skins have been hollowed out and filled with a sentient swarm of worms, bugs and other creatures of decay. More swarms of bugs rise from the chasm and the meaty, wormy remnants of the hollowed out dwarves rise up from some rocks. The fight is on! It is a long fight and the mind piercing call of the insectoid swarms causes many a dwarf to blunder into danger. This combined with one of the party’s defenders being forever thrown through the ground in a writhing torrent of grubs means battle lines are hard to hold. However a magical vortex conjured by Kuu helps even the odds by pulling many of the foes repeatedly down the chasm and eventually the party emerges victorious.

Left with a rope down into the darkness of the ruins they descend onward in the hopes of discovering the other missing dwarves before they suffer a similar fate.

Session 3 – Apparently we were expected.

The hold has been destroyed centuries ago and almost all corridors within are collapsed and impassable. However one path has been cleared recently and leads deeper into the complex toward the catacombs. This is far too much for WHG13 to have achieved in their short time here and no sign of tools can be seen. A discovered skeletal footprint indicates that undead labour may be the cause.

The party cautiously follow the cleared path and find themselves in a large tomb chamber. Once dwarven bodies had been laid in state in alcoves along the walls, now a carpet of bones litter the floor from end to end. Picking their way past some obvious pressure plates the party get half way through the room before the bones start to shake and rattle. They roll together like a tide and draw themselves into 8 distinct piles, each forming around a flash of black light that quickly disappears into the heap. Immediately following this, large stone doors slam down and seal the exits. The bone piles start generating skeletons and the party gets to hacking, but no matter how much they chop down, the bones just clatter back to the piles and form up again. This is combined with the skeletons blundering over the pressure plates and setting of swinging axes. Eventually the party realise the folly of blindly fighting and start to investigate the source of the skeletons. Rummaging in the bone piles, a skull with black gems inserted in the eye sockets is found at the centre of each one. While some party members keep the skeletons back the rest set to dealing with the skulls, some deactivated by Kuu’s magics, most smashed to pieces by Durn’s radiant weapon. When the last skull is destroyed the bones fall quiet and the doors (which were initially reacting to necromantic magic in the dwarven halls of the dead) unseal allowing progress further into the tombs.

In the next room a low light is burning. As the party hover on the threshold a single large eye opens and reflects the light somewhere near the ceiling. Then more eyes, smaller than the first open up around it and a Beholder floats down to the centre of the room. Through their shock the party notices a familiar white haze surrounding the Beholder’s head and it speaks to them, not in it’s own voice, but that of the Wraith that possesses it.

When asked where the missing party members are it says it ‘Expects that as we speak they are being marched in chains through the pestilent village down below on their way to tonight’s ceremony.’ Any further questions the party has will have to go unanswered though as Durn has no patience for words and moves to attack. The Wraith laughs and ends its possession before phasing through the rocky ceiling and away, leaving an angry Beholder behind. The Beholder seals the exit with an eye beam and call forth two of its dead kin whom the Wraith has raised to act as its guardians. Fearing that were the party to escape it would lose its newly won lair it fights viciously and to the death.

Eye beams zip and zap around the tomb and the party are forever fighting off the effects of blindness, paralysis or even petrification, and that’s when they aren’t being controlled into hitting each other! Thankfully though none succumb to the life draining energies of the dreaded death ray. After a hard battle, the monster and its servants fall and the party are left with the desecrated tomb of dwarven hero to explore for clues.

Session 4 – Found and Lost

After relieving the dwarven tomb of its valuables (clearly not safe here any more) the story of the fall of Hammerhelm could be read upon the ornately inscribed walls.

Once an outpost in the wraith war, Hammerhelm was used as a staging post and supply line storage house. It came under siege from a wraith who had, through bribery, fell magic or mere mutual intention, managed to join forces with a red dragon. The Red Dragon fell upon the hold with great fury, ripping the roof from the portal chamber and cutting off all hope of retreat or calling for help. Many dwarves died. Trapped within, the dwarves made ready for a desperate siege, but one stood forward. Hrud Gembeard had lost his family in the Wraith war and finally saw his son cut down in the dragon’s opening assault. He marched out and challenged the Dragon and it is said that the blessing of the Stone Father came down upon him and a glow was upon his brow and weapons. It was an epic battle, the mountain shook for a day whilst the dwarves hid within and then all was still. They emerged from the hold to find Hrud lay slain, but the dragon also dead at his feet. The Wraith and his forces were gone, presumed dead or scattered. The Dwarves buried the dead, created the tomb in which the party stand to honour Hrud, and then closed up the hold and left via the portal to maybe one day return.

Whilst the party found many of Hrud’s artefacts, his tomb had been clearly opened and his bones were conspicuous by their absence.

Digging their way clear of the tomb, WHG8 hustled at top dwarven speed down the mountain to Stowlart. They find the village is a charnel slaughterhouse scene of death. Ater a bit of poking around, they find and revive a single survivor, the gate guard, who became pinned under the wreckage when the gate was breached and witnessed snatches of the horror that followed. According to him, undead nasties fell upon the village without warning, slaughtering all within with silent efficient purpose before carrying on past the village in the direction of Dragon’s Hill. Oh and they had a bunch of dwarves in chains marching with them. Having got the information they need, WHG8 pretty much then leave him to it, raging and occasionally crying in the remains of his home, surrounded by the bodies of his friends and family. In despair. Alone.

Not keen on the potential significance of Dragon’s Hill, WHG8 march swiftly upon the obvious landmark. As they approach their destination, flashes can be seen in the distance and figures on the hilltop watch their approach eliminating any chance of stealth. As they crest the hill, they find massive forces have blasted open a crater in the earth, at the bottom of which lie the bones of a dragon. A magic circle surrounds the bones with four chained dwarves dotted along its perimeter. Skeletons mill around in the crater and a few of the villagers have been reanimated as zombies keeping guard on the rim. The Wraith floats above the bones, holding a dwarven skull.

As the party approaches the Wraith screeches to ‘Keep them away! The ritual must be begun!’ At this pronouncement four of the skeletons drive a silver dagger into the dwarven captives chests. The prisoners become transfixed in writhing agonies as visible ribbons of energy start to flow from the daggers toward the Wraith. It floats high above the battlefield and starts to bind the energies into the bones below ‘By the bones of you slayer and the blood of his kin, arise once more and take your vengeance!’

Each of the skeletons now takes a gem from the hilt of the dagger (still protruding from the captives) and places it inside his ribcage before moving to join battle. Battling through the undead forces, the party start to realise that the Dragon is animating before them unless they interrupt the ritual somehow. Initial attempts to remove the silver daggers are unsuccessful as the powers flowing though are augmented by a pulse from the ribcage gems of the skeletons and anyone attempting remove one is thrown backwards by the uncontrolled forces. By taking down the skeletons though, the gems are destroyed and, following a holy blessing, Badbeer manages to finally grab a hold of one and wrench it free from the magic flow.

At this point the wraith screams in rage and everything goes a bit wrong.

The ribbons of power pulse and suddenly flow backwards, causing the four chained captives to explode in messy cloud of bones and flesh. The bones of the dragon rise up in a swirling vortex, that swiftly grows and sucks all present, undead and dwarf alike, into a battering and blinding maelstrom.

When the dust settles and WHG8 open their eyes again, they find themselves lying on the ground, looking up at an unfamiliar sky. It was night before but now a hazy twilight reveals a familiar barren landscape as far as the eye can see. Looking up they see the wraith is now astride a newly risen draco-lich, rising swiftly into the sky and disappearing into the clouds with an echoing laugh of triumph. Nothing else moves. No friendly ghost dwarf comes to greet them. No charming friendly ghost town is in sight. The party are alone and lost. In the Shadowfell.

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Lost & Lifeless

Part 1: A Mysterious Stranger

WHG’s 13 to 8 are summonsed to see Secretary Broadaxe for an important briefing. With the potential infestation of Crag Mountain by the dangerous & mysterious Temporal Weave, Broadaxe decides that WHG8 will take the carpet to the remote safety of the Bartozch Mine far to the east. The other groups will assist in the ‘cleansing’ of Crag.

The clean up teams are ordered out but as the PC’s make to leave they are hauled back & new warrants thrust into their hands. They have made it into ‘The Single Digit Club’; they have been promoted to WHG8! They are now authorised to travel freely to any portal location that has already been properly investigated. Broadaxe gruffly dismisses the PC’s. Upon leaving, the more perceptive in the party notice a bedraggled looking dwarf lurking in a corner of the hall. Covered in dust & dirt & dressed in old mining equipment this strange character says nothing & looks at WHG8 with a face filled with sadness…

The PC’s however are busy dwarves & have no time to wonder about the stranger. They immediately carry out their orders, taking the Temporal Weave, which has been sealed in a lead container, through the gate. There is a strange resistance due to the carpet & the party feels ‘stretched’ & disorientated when the appear inside Bartozch (the gate has been moved inside the complex). Archivists are waiting in the secure chamber accessed using the magical hammer & anvil. They take control of the Weave as WHG8 stare warily again at the strange floor carving…

On leaving the secure chamber, the strange dwarf from Crag is seen again. Randall’s book frantically scribbles a sketch. The PC’s notice that his equipment is antiquated & damaged badly. By his battered appearance this dwarf has survived a cave in of some sort. Also, picked up in the sketch is a distictive clan tartan that he is wearing. As Mardred successfully stops the mysterious miner from stepping on the magical glowing sigils to exit the chamber, the dwarf simply disappears!

The party find the Bartozch mine supervisor who is talking with a new acolyte of Moradin, Violetta Bridyan. As the party discuss security issues, Beren notices that he is holding a finely worked diamond… he can’t explain where it came from, it has just appeared in his hand! Slightly freaked out, the party returns to Crag to research the tartan. An approach is made to an Archivist of Crag History in The Windtops. After some fast talking by the Bard & some manual work as payment for his services, Brindt Stonequill agrees to identify the tartan. Whilst this is done, the Pc’s decide to concentrate on Beren’s mysterious diamond.

The first port of call is The Slags & a certain shady pawnbroker. Jakeswill is less than enthusiastic to see a Hunter Group on his doorstep but brightens up when he sees the gem! Unfortunately, he does not have the skill or knowledge to give any useful information about it (other than saying “it’s a lovely piece of Object d’art” before trying to secrete it inside his vest!). Jakeswill does however give the name of a jeweller he knows in the artisan district of the The Windtops. The PC’s visit this jeweler who inspects the diamond & deduces that it is beautifully cut & old (it has an old fashioned symbol of Moradin cut into it, something that was popular a few hundred years ago!). This is apparently the work of a master craftsman.

Stonequill comes up trumps & identifies the Tartan as being from the Gembeard Clan, a family of ‘rock artists’ who have produced the highest quality cut gems for generations. This doesn’t explain why their mysterious follower is dressed in old mining kit… A swift visit to the Gembeard’s shop later, the party find out that one of their ancestors, an exceptionally gifted rock artist called Gritnat, became obsessed with finding the ‘perfect diamond’ in order to create the ultimate work of art. Gritnat left the safety of Crag with basic mining equipment & a bag of gold, intent on travelling thousands of miles to the east to a huge area of moorland… He was never seen in Crag again.

The party visit the cartographers guild in a hope of finding a likely location. They are told that a huge moorland exists just a couple of hundred miles south of Bartozch. The moor is likely home to orcs & worse, though there was a human settlement on its fringes; a small fishing village on the banks of a large river called Valniristovla.

The heroes travel down deep to the war maproom thinking that they may have a long journey if they have to walk from Bartozch… only to see the battered dwarf (could he be Gritnat Gembeard?) staring up at a portal location south of the human mine near a huge moorland. It is marked with an ominous glow suggesting the presence of an ancient enemy…

WHG8 speak to the stranger but he just fixes them with another sad look & walks toward the portal in the centre of the maproom. He takes another look back at the glowing marker before stepping onto the portal. He then simply vanishes into thin air.

The party make up their minds to portal to the new location but their warrants don’t cover travel to as yet unexplored locations. They have to go to the offices of T’ Supervisor to obtain authorisation.

T’ Supervisor is still being ‘assessed’ after the ‘misunderstanding’ recently so there are a number of lower ranking assistants acting as a supervisory panel. One of the panel is luckily an old friend. Spud (sporting his new mech arms) is delighted to see the WHG & quickly stamps their warrants. The journey back to the maproom is swift; WHG8 activates the portal & steps through, emerging into a dark cave.

The cave exit looks as though it had collapsed long ago but has very recently been hastily excavated… from the inside! The party emerges onto a grassy bank which slopes downward toward the noise of running water. They immediately press on & can hear the noise of a male voice crying out in terror. WHG8 make haste & soon find themselves near the banks of a river. A large river barge crawls along the slow waters & on board can be seen the sillouhette of a panicking human. The source of the man’s fear is soon spotted: two large Shadow Hounds harang him & the beasts blink out, only to reappear further downriver. Light seems to be muted around them as if their very being eminates utter darkness.

The dwarven heroes try to creep up on the hounds but find themselves face to face with another menace lurking nearby… a shrieking Banshee & 11 of her Shadow Thralls bear down on WHG8! Mardred hurls a huge fireball at the Tralls immolating many but he also blasts his ally, the bard! This is not the first time this has happened & a furious Jarrim snaps & wallops the wizard! Despite the in-fighting the powerful party make short work of the enemy. Soon the last of the Shadow Hounds is cut down & it disappears in a curling cloud of utter darkness.

The party are hailed by the grateful man on the river barge, a travelling merchant who calls himself Florin. He requests that WHG8 come aboard for parley…

Part 2: Durvin

The terrified merchant is pleased to invite WHG8 to stay overnight moored up on the barge. Florin is on route to a small city called Durvin (meaning ‘diamond’ in the local tongue). It seems that entry into Durvin at night is currently forbidden due to strange goings on & disappearances so the party settle down to a large dinner & a good night’s sleep. The barge floats down river until it meets the much larger Valnir. When doing so, Randall notices the mysterious battered dwarf watching from the shadows near the waters edge…

Though strange shadows & noises seem to be everywhere in the darkness beyond the boat, the night passes without incident. The huge bridges spanning the Valnir loom up through the mists & Durvin can be seen; a large, walled settlement with an expansive river dock. Florin even provides the party with a beautifully drawn map of the town! The merchant in attending the city for it’s large market held at The Plaza & for further business with the miriad of tradehouses.

The team enter Durvin via the docks & are immediately grilled by an official. Some sweet talking by Jarrim soon gets him on side & the man soon makes it clear that there is a curfew in place & all weapons must be peace-knotted. They are directed to The Singing Carp, the largest & best inn around but warned to stay out of tap houses such as The Bullywug’s Cavern near the docks & The Iron Bear in the rough Moorside area of town. They are also warned to stay off of the moors.

WHG8 make straight for The Carp & when on route discover something else about this city: dwarves are not well liked or trusted. It seems that this attitude is a hangover from the old days but no one can seem to explain why… The landlord of The Carp however is not so narrow minded. Avram seems to be a man with a genuinely warm & friendly demeanour. He employs various staff, from chefs to cleaners & bar staff to bouncers. In fact one of the bouncers is also one of the few dwarves in the town: Jansa Bonetwister. Jansa was a wrestling champion amongst the Fünwë Dwarves, a clan from a frozen land far to the north-west.

At the inn the heroes order beer & obtain tidbits of information such as the fact that Durvin is the result of a rich diamond mine (now exhausted) somewhere in the moors. There are strange, spooky goings on in the town & people have disappeared, most notably a man called Lazar, the head priest of Pelor.

Enquiries at The Temple of the Shining Heart are made & the party speak with the acolyte left in charge, a young woman called Raisa who is sick with worry over the disappearance of Lazar. The priest was last seen taking food aid into Moorside at dusk about two weeks ago. WHG8 offers Raisa their assistance in finding Lazar & she is keen to accept. Another acolyte takes WHG8 to the Moorside district but there are no leads here. The party decides to go to The Plaza market to mingle & try to get more information.

A gaggle of beggars soon notice the wealthy looking dwarves & one in particular, a twitchy & slightly intoxicated old sot called Baryan (nicknamed ‘Mad Bob’) is persistant in begging for money for accomodation rather than to pay for more liquor. Baryan insists that at least three of his associates, Aleksey, Larris & Alissa have disappeared recently. Aleksey was last seen being carried off to the keep by two Militia three nights ago. The party toss a gold piece to the homeless man who runs off, delighted, toward The Bullywug’s Cavern to hire a room. The heroes head for the keep.

The PC’s enter Hilltop & speak with a desk sergeant at the large imposing keep which overlooks the entire town at Durvin’s highest point. It seems that Raisa has already sent word of the party’s good intentions to her friend, Captain Yuri Ruskavic. Ruskavic commands the Militia which should be 50 strong, but due to the strange goings on some of the men have deserted. Most of the Men-at-Arms are of good heart, but Ruskavic is ruefully aware that most will also take bribes to ‘turn a blind eye’. He does not like this behaviour but can not discipline them too harshly as he can ill afford to lose experienced, trained men from the force.

Ruskavic is thankful for the help offered to find his old friend, Lazar, & at the request of WHG8, checks the custody archive for Baryan’s missing friend, Aleksey. Aleksey was never booked into the cells & further checks show that neither were Larris or Allisa! The PC’s then show initiative & ask for the patrol record for the evening of Aleksey’s ‘arrest’ & learn that the men on duty in The Plaza that night were two new watchmen from out of town called Stanislav & Boris. Ruskavic informs the party that these men have excellent arrest records & are probably the only watchmen who do not take bribes. He tells WHG8 that Stanislav & Boris are currently on duty in the docks & warehouse district of Durvin so they hot-foot it down there.

The heroes locate Stanislav & Boris outside The Black Wyvern tradehouse. They are speaking privately with the owner, a wealthy merchant called Gorin. Randall uses the powers of prestidigitation to magically create a noisy diversion outside, but instead of simply ending the private conversation, the men at arms run off to investigate. Jarrim speaks with one of Gorin’s assistants, an awkward spotty youth by the name of Ruslan. Ruslan tells the bard that Gorin recently relocated to Durvin after escaping the clutches of an organised gang in a town somewhere to the west. Beren takes a good look around & sees that Black Wyvern sells an array of goods. On the ground floor are new & reconditioned traveller’s gear including clothing, provisions, adventuring equipment; even tack & harness & carts. Upstairs at the back of the trade house is a large array of gems, jewellery, paintings & works of sculpture.

While Jarrim enages Gorin regarding the expensive jewellery, the sharp eyed Beren notices that some items of stock bear the remnants of the ID marks of other merchants. These marks appear to have been scratched away & are barely visible. Mardred picks out a few of these items & pays, hoping to take a closer look in private.

In the meantime, Randall has made himself invisible & catches up with Stanislav & Boris who are continuing their patrol. They are whispering quietly to one another & so the wizard, not an expert in stealth, attempts to sneak closer. He just manages to catch them say “it had to be them…” before tripping over a crate & falling flat on his face!

Beren thinks briefly about his next course of action… & chooses the direct route, challenging Gorin directly about the markings on his stock. Snorri notices a brief change come over Gorin. Just before stuttering a slightly flabbergasted excuses the dwarf sees a flash of what can only be described as wild eyed hatred.

As Gorrin hastily shuts up shop & asks WHG8 to ‘come back tomorrow’, the dwarves are of a mind that all is not what it seems in Durvin…

Part 3: The Stakeout

The heroes of WHG8 formulate a plan. While Marded & Beren stay to stake out Black Wyvern, Jarrim & Randall go to the docks to find the official that the bard had buttered up when first entering Durvin, hoping he will be able to identify the markings on the items bought from Gorin.

The wizard & bard enlist the help of a friendly docker. With more sweet talking, the docker tells that he heard from a friend of his, who works as a grave digger, that a body recently disappeared from the mortuary. The heroes are then pointed in the direction of the office of the official, Barius.

With such finely tuned social skills seldom seen amongst dwarvern-kind, Barius is swayed to helping out. Noting the barely visible marks & checking them in a hefty tome of records (eagerly assisted by Randall) the official is able to identify two traders: ‘Lotus’ & ‘Shifting Sands’. Further checks through records show that Lotus were due to come into Durvin two weeks ago but never appeared.

Meanwhile, the stakeout is uneventful. Gorin does not emerge from the trading house. However, a pair of thuggish men pass close by, arming themselves & plotting robbery before walking up the road & disappearing into The Bullywug’s Cavern. Upon the return of the bard & wizard from the docks, WHG8 decides to follow the thugs into the tavern.

126 largeThe Bullywugs cavern is a rough establisment, run by a burly individual called Skavo. There is no warm welcome or light conversation here; just hard liquour & hard stares. However, Ruslan is drinking here & after buying the lad a few drinks, his tongue starts to loosen. It seems that Gorin is not all friendliness as Ruslan found out when he tried to get into the basement at the trade house. Ruslan belives that Gorin may keep something very valuable down there.

Some members of WHG8 notice that the thugs are taking more than a casual interest in the by now very intoxicated Ruslan, & as the young man leaves, 4 thugs slink off after him. The dwarvern heroes are hot on their heels & finally catch up with Ruslan as he & a friend are about to be ambushed. two more tougher looking thugs appear but spot WHG8. The gang’s plan of picking off easy prey is dashed!

A frantic street fight breaks out while the drunken Ruslan falls to the floor in terror. The thugs are no match for the hardy dwarvern veterans; they polishing off the weaker members of the gang & capture the stronger ones. These members seem to fear incarceration less than the vengeful ire of their boss, a man known as Rudy who runs his gang from The Iron Bear Inn. The militia appear & take the criminals into custody. With the bit now well & truly between their teeth, the dwarves stomp back to Black Wyvern with war on their minds!

At the tradehouse all doors are locked, but not for long… a quick ‘Knock’ spell from Randall allows the party to secretly enter. After a brief search they find a trapdoor. Upon opening the door, a long staircase leads down into the basement. Perhaps sensing a serious danger ahead, the heroes stop & listen for signs of life. A faint, eerie noise can be heard deep below their feet in the basement.

A rhythmic chanting…

Part 4: The Secret below

At the base of the double stairway is a door, slightly ajar. The party soon notices a macabre warding trap: a skull with a single staring eye sits in an alcove above the door, it’s jaw opening wider with every step closer WHG8 takes. Faint runes are seen on the steps leading to the door & the party soon works out how to disarm them.

With the final rune by the door being out of reach, only a feat of athletic prowess by Beren allows it to be disarmed. The fighter leaps onto the wall & dangles Mardred by the belt with his free arm. The rune is altered & the skull is forever silenced.

The party sneak through the door, the sound of chanting becoming louder. Finding himself in a the large basement, Jarrim notices two dead bodies laying on the ground. The chanting continues, audible through an open doorway. The bard moves in to investigate & the bodies snap into life… zombies!

As WHG8 charges into the fray, more zombies lurch toward them before two figures wearing crimson robes & armed with swords tear through the doorway. Mighty blows are exchanged & the identities of these assasins becomes clear: Stanislav & Boris! As the last of the zombies are destroyed in a blast of black energy, the true power behind this gathering reveals himself.

Dressed in priestly robes of some dark god, Gorin howls his curses & rains necrotic spells down upon the heroes. Though dwarven blood is spilled, WHG8 are more than up to the challenge they face! Before Gorin can unleash his fiercest spells, a rhythmic chant from the bard banishes him to the feywild!. By the time he returns, the tide has turned. Gorin is the first to fall as he is consumed in a torrent of magical flame. Stanislav & then Boris soon share their leader’s fate & taste the hammer of dwarven justice. They die at the hands of Crag Mountain’s crack strike force & WHG8 stands bloodied & victorious.

Searching through this area, a shrine to Vecna is discovered. Upon a sacraficial altar is the body of a human man who appears to have died naturally. A distinctive & typically regional red dragon tattoo marks his arm. The remains of the zombies also holds an interesting find… One of them is female & a letter ‘A’ is tattooed on her neck. Mardred wonders if this could be Allisa, one of Mad Bob’s missing friends.

As they search the scorched robes of Gorin’s smoking corpse, a letter falls from a pocket. It reads:

“I remind you that your work in Durvin must remain a delicious secret. Do not allow your ego to fool you into believing that you need not proceed with caution in order for your operations to remain invisible. We were led to our quarry with little mishap so do not let a minor lapse on your part lead to its loss before its true potential can be realised.

Our ally constantly reminds me that the little piglets of Moradin could soon sniff us out. They are not as backward as you would believe so make sure your guards stay vigilant. The fools who built this town were happy to take the diamonds but were too cowardly to take the true treasure. However, the piglets will want to reclaim what they hid so long ago!

The Hunter has established contact on the other side. The final secret will soon be ours, taken from the settlement of the lost dead.

The Gathering has begun. It is now only a matter of time.

Know that the eye of The Maimed One watches our progress with interest…"

Worn out from the battle, WHG8 trudges back to The Singing Carp, deliberating on the contents of the letter. The bard has a gig to complete & before entering, they finally meet the dwarven bouncer: Jansa Bonetwister. With snow white hair, a slightly bluish sheen to the skin & eyes that have an eerie glow, Jansa is every inch a Fünwë. His appearance is made even more intimidating by his knotted muscles & hands like coal shovels. Jansa is delighted to meet fellow dwarves & even makes a chant request of the bard: a new & increasingly popular tale of dwarven heroism called The Battle of The Great Hall.

CarvingDispite early hostility towards a dwarf, the partisan crowd soon warms to Jarrim’s talents & several ales later the bard leaves the stage to raucous cheers. As people retire for the night (a slightly worse for wear Florin is seen amongst the crowd) the dwarves follow suit & settle in to their beds. Through the night strange noises & calls can be heard in the streets, but nothing can be seen from the windows of the warm inn.

The next morning, all members of WHG8 emerge from their rooms at exactly the same time. Strange, but obviously a coincidence… As they settle down for breakfast, Jarrim decides to look at Gorin’s note again. As he removes it from his pocket he stares as he realises that it has been folded into a triangle shape… & not by him. Beren, wide eyed, remembers the strange engraving in Bartozch.

Jarrim opens the note. A black smudge, like dirt from a thumb drawn across the parchment, draws the eye to two words: ‘real treasure’…

Part 5: An Old Man’s Curse

The party decides to pay an early visit to Ruskavic so that the mess at Black Wyvern can be sorted out. On hearing the news, The Captain, escorted by several troops, hurries toward the docks with the party. However, as they exit Hilltop a frail old man can be seen in the grounds of an opulent house within Durvin Gardens. On seeing the dwarves, the old man starts & shuffles back toward his house, obviously in fear. Ruskavic off-handedly names the man as Marek Grast, the last of the original miners who discovered the diamond lode & transformed the small fishing village into the large town it is today. Randall decides to forego the walk with the militia & stays behind to investigate.

Getting into Durvin Gardens is not easy. The guards refuse Randal entry without an appointment or invitation. The wizard’s magic book hastily forges a certificate of authorisation & the guards fall for it. He’s in! Marek is asleep so Randall is forced to wait for some time…

…Meanwhile Captain Ruskavic stands aghast at the devastation in the Black Wyvern basement. The party shows the Captain the tattooed body led on the altar in case he can identify it as being the missing priest, Lazar. However, Ruskavic claims not to recognise the dead man. The militia tell WHG8 that this matter will be kept strictly confidential. They want the dwarves’ help in rooting out the evil that is rotting Durvin from within. At least Gorin, Stanislav & Boris can do no further harm but the reach of Vecna is long.

WHG8 reunite back at the home of Marek Grast (they barrel past the guards who by now have completely lost control of the situation). Eventually, the bowed figure of Grast appears from a chamber & he immediately breaks into a panic, babbling about a ‘curse’. The old man is terrified & it soon becomes clear that way back when he & his companions were mining the diamonds they discovered a long buried chamber. The ancient walls were carved with images of dwarves & evil spirits & in the centre was a small dark object, shaped like a pyramid. Marek thought that this object was some form of dwarven artifact or treasure & was convinced that he would be the victim of an ancient curse. It seems that the prejudice against dwarves in Durvin was borne of the miners’ fear & lack of understanding. Randal berates Marek for his ignorance (almost giving him a heart attack in the process).

Marek also tells WHG8 that the mine was discovered already partially dug but it had obviously caved in long, long before they got there. When excavating the original shaft, old small sized bones were discovered!

Grast hastily draws a map of the mine’s location (he is the only one left who knows where the place is). It is located several miles walk into the Lost Moor, amongst The Crags in the dusk shadows of an old bent pine called the Bowing Tree.

The heroes waste little time in setting off, confident in their ability to navigate the soup thick mists which enshroud the moorland before them. Apart from Snorri at one point getting well & truly stuck in a peat bog (& having to be half dragged out) WHG8 find the trail between Greatgreen mere & Bootsucker bog & pass the ancient monlinth that is the Barrowgate Stone which signifies the entrance of The Crags: large shoulders of barren rock set amongst steep hills & mounds sprouting up from huge, sprawling areas of Hawthorn trees & Gorse bushes.

The party wary of watching eyes, sneak into the middle of these crags where there is a huddle of 5 or 6 small & sparse pines. Set apart from them is a gnarled bent old pine that seems to bow toward a nearby crag: The Bowing Tree. It is not sunset so the shadow of the tree has not yet fallen upon the entrance of the old mine. The dwarves can see signs of foot traffic in the area. Their superior knowledge of stone also allows them to easily estimate the mine’s entrance. Near where they assume this will be, barely audible whispers can be heard.

Randal makes himself invisible & sat atop a disc of force, floats silently toward the voices. Things look bleak when numerous evil-doers are spotted, lurking behind cover. They wear the same crimson & black robes worn by Gorin & Co. Sweating, Randal floats back to his companions & a hasty plan is formualted. It seems that an all out surprise attack is the most popular choice!

WHG8 launch the trap. Randal & Mardred bombard their foes with explosive magic while Snorri wades in with fearles abandon. The battle is furious & the three hand to hand fighters eventually fall. One of the two necromancers is immolated in a burst of flame. The leader of the group, a powerful priest, soon loses his stomach for the fight & disappears leaving a necromancer alone against a squad of battle hardened dwarves… He runs for his life.

The human dives into a patch of gorse & disappears. WHG8 pursues & finds the entrance to the mine. Ignoring caution, the heroes plunge into the darkness but soon notice a side tunnel which leads to a chamber that seems all too fimiliar. The huge carvings of dwarves & wraiths adorn the walls of this perfectly square tomb. In the centre of the floor is an empty plinth on which is carved the triange shape seen in Bartozch. However, the dwarves pay this little mind as they stand in awe of the true spectacle within the chamber.

Across the back wall is a huge jagged black tear through which can be seen a dark & forbidding world. A vista of obsidian rock stretches for hundreds of yards into the gloom, from which floats a single, menacing form. A Hoodwraith!

The spirit floats toward the party, it’s glowing eyes full of hate. It passes through the tear & there is a blinding flash. The party is forced back as all cover their eyes from the searing light. After a few seconds their eyes recover & weapons are readied for a battle with the wraith. However, as the light fades no wraith can be seen. Instead of a mighty evil spirit there is a humanoid form huddled on the ground & obviously stunned…

A Tiefling…

Part 6: Nemesis Revealed

As the heroes make moves to restrain the strange Tiefling, they see Gritnat watching from the other plane. The old dwarf points behind them then with a face of terror covers his head & turns away…

A massive psychic implosion rocks the Hunter Group, scattering their senses & nearly bringing them to their knees! Revealed from his spell of invisibility this second Tiefling strides forward, dressed for war & weilding a terrible spear that weeps blood.
Liberatoris1
The Liberator has come!

As the party try to recover, Liberatoris stands over the crumpled form of the newly created Tiefling & with a wave of his hand , tears apart spectral chains that bind the creature. The Tiefling stands & turns toward the hated dwarves. With a snarl it attacks with it’s claws.

The fight is desperate & it seems that Liberatoris & his new soldier will be too powerful for the heroes, who start to gather themselves for a retreat. Liberatoris goads the party, telling them to run far away. It seems that the new Tiefling has a wraith like dominance, ordering friend to attack friend. Brave Beren falls but is soon helped to his feet by his allies.

Liberatoris is banished to another plane by Jarrim, but he re-appears seconds later, only to disappear again. The new Tielfing does not have the powers of his new master & is cut down. The body falls & bursting upward from it, the looming spectre of the hoodwraith apears. The eyes flash with malice before the creature shreds & is scattered into nothingness.

Gritnat can be seen frantically pointing at two more wraiths drifting toward the tear. The creatures sale through but the same as before, there is a blinding flash & insead of wraiths there are two stunned looking Tieflings crumpled on a heap on the floor. WHG8 quickly move in to attack but Liberatoris reappears & slams them with another psychic blast. Jarrim falls, dying.

A horrified Gritnat becons the party, wanting them to escape through the tear & into the shadowy world beyond. The stricken Jarrim is thrown over an ally’s shoulder & the team run for their lives, diving through the planar tear & sprawling onto the ground in the strange world beyond. WHG8 have escaped to the Shadowfell. Liberatoris does not pursue. Instead he empowers the fallen Tieflings & strides from the dwarven chambre with his new soldiers, looking back only to offer a smug salute.

Gritnat is relieved that the Hunter Group are still in one piece. He explains that he was killed in a collapse at the Durvin mine long before the humans discovered the lode. It was his bones that were discovered & re-buried by Marek Grast & his companions. Before he died, Gritnat cursed Moradin & as punishment, was banished from The Halls. (Snorri offers little sympathy & much judgement).
Listach

After wandering the shadow plane, Gritnat discovered a town of lost souls called Listach. He was taken in by the leader, Sarr Tamm, a wise & slightly enigmatic creature who created the town as a sanctuary for those on the run from judgement or cast out by the gods. Tamm wants to speak with WHG8.

Gritnat leads the party though the gloom to Listach. Dwellings are cut into the living shadowfell rock & chinks of dull light glow from stallactites & stallagmites. Zombies lurch around, not in the pursuit of destruction, but to perform menial tasks of work! Meanwhile, from the top of one building, a white haired Drow watches the party with interest…

In the chambers of Sarr Tamm, the mysterious counsel of Listach welcomes WHG8 from his stone throne. His face is never visible from his hooded robe & only grey, emaciated arms & hands can be seen. Gritnat has pre-warned the visitors of Tamm’s party trick: making his voice appear from unexpected locations, so the dwarves are polite & feign amazement, much to Tamm’s obvious delight.
Sarr tamm
Tamm enlightens the heroes on how the planar tear came into being. The dwarven chamber in the Durvin mine held a powerful ancient artifact, a dark pyramidal object called Stischna. When activated by a dark ritual, part of which requires the blood of a holy man, Stischna tears a hole in the planar weave, allowing free passage between the prime material plane & the Shadowfell. The artifact can be moved but the tear will remain where it is & open until it is closed with a seperate ritual. Only one copy of this ritual was known to exist, in the expansive library of Sarr Tamm. Unfortunately, other, darker forces must have found out about the ritual’s whereabouts… The vital closing ritual has been stolen!

Tamm offers the party over 5000gp for the return of the ritual. They accept. They then set out into Listach to find the Drow, Bidra’an Diss, who it turns out is a very handy scout of Tamm’s. The Drow tells the party that he has tracked Dark Ones, reknowned spies & assassins of the Shadowfell, near Listach. He suspects that these creatures are responsible for the theft of the ritual. Bidra’an can not say if the Dark Ones did it for themselves or for some master. He has however seen humans in the same territory of the plane, a group in crimson & black robes, led by a huge red haired man covered in tattoos…

The pieces of the puzzle have started to fall into place for WHG8. Liberatoris has finally revealed himself as a being of great power. Why the wraiths transformed when passing through the tear is still a mystery however. The strange carving of the triangular object of power underneath a gaping mouthed wraith in Bartozch starts to make sense. The priest, Lazar, disappearing from Durvin must have been just the start. The holyman probably met a horrible end. The red haired warrior has been seen again, this time in the Shadowfell.

However, the ancient artifact: Stischna, is out there somewhere in the hands of evil-doers. On top of all this, the only known copy of the deactivation ritual has been stolen. There is still much for our heroes to investigate, & time may be running out…

Part 7: An Unlikely Guide

Other than a suspicion that Stischna may be somewhere in the Lost Moor’s barrow downs, WHG8 are no closer to pinpointing an accurate location. Rather than wander around looking for a needle in a haystack, the heroes ask Bidra’an Diss to guide them to the area where the Dark Ones were seen meeting with the red haired warrior. Reluctantly, the Drow spirit agrees.

As the unlikely group set off into the Shadowfell, it is strange indeed to see a fleet footed Drow, silently scouting ahead for a gang of heavily armed dwarven warriors. Soon, the heroes are led by Diss through a field of strange, long grey grass which seems to sway & move independently of the wind. The long, lush grsss seems to close around the dwarves, almost carressing them in an unpleasant way which does not make them feel any more at ease.

The Drow returns to the heroes & informs them that he has seen an opening in a rock wall a couple of hundred yards to the north which may be an entrance of some kind. He then melts back into the grass to scout the area. WHG8 are impatient however, & using wisdom in nature & knowledge of stone & rock formation they take a more indirect route around the field of tall grass & up onto the rock face. Using surprising stealth (for dwarves) they soon find themselves on a narrow ledge overlooking the cavern entrance. On either side of the entrance, barely visible in the gloom & hidden behind large nearby rocks are two small dark figures in black hoods. Dark Ones! The assassins of the Shadowfell!
Darkone
The party are wondering how they’re going to get past these sentries when a shrill bird call is heard from the grey grass. The sentries fix their pupil-less eyes on the field before one of them slinks out from cover & creeps off to investigate. The dwarves think that Diss may be in contact with the Dark Ones & may betray them until the Drow appears again, some way off to the far left, signalling that he can see only two sentries.

Subtlety is not normally a trait of the dwarf. Snorri Nosebiter has for some time now become increasingly enraged by the abominations of the Shadowfell. The Avenger can contain himself no more & upon magically sprouting papery wings he soars down in an airbourne charge, nearly killing the remaining sentry with a single mighty blow. Durn takes a more conventional route down the steeply sloping rock & using his athletic skills, lands solidly on his feet, ready for action. Travok the Warpriest attempts the same but only manages to land solidly on his face as his short legs can’t keep up with the speed of the descent!

The first sentry is quickly finished off & it explodes in a spout of darkness which causes blindlness. The second sentry returns & on seeing a gang of battle raging dwarves, turns tail & runs into the tall grass. A blast of darkness raises from the field however & seconds later a blinded Bidra’an stumbles into view, cursing. A platinum key is found amongst the crumpled garments left behind by the exploding Dark One. The dwarves prepare to sneak into the cavern.

A corridor leads toward 2 wooden doors, one with a key hole. Luckily WHG8 notices a nastly looking poisioned dart trap & after leaping over cleverly disguised floor plates, Durn gingerly unlocks the eastern door, gathers himself & bursts into a chamber in which is sat a very shocked looking Dark Mastermind: a Dark One leader! The Mastermind had been carefully scratching runes onto a jet black slate but the creature leaps up & attacks. The rest of WHG8 advance but four more Dark Ones burst through the western door & as they say in Crag ‘it all kicks off big time!’.

The Dark Ones are no easy prey, & with their ability to turn invisible at will, the battle is frustrating for the dwarves who consistently find themselves flanked & out manouvered. However, as his associates are destroyed the Mastermind flees, leaving a single guard to his fate. The guard immediately surrenders & slowly reaches from the black slate on the table. A snarling Durn puts a stop to the object being palmed.

What follows is a strange interrogation in which it is hard to guage who is manipulating who! The wiley Dark One tries to twist the situation to his advantage & Travok’s patience wears thin. Eventually, through the lies & half truths, the captive admits that his people stole the deactivation ritual & sold it to the red haired warrior (‘The Hunter’). The human returned to his own world yesterday. The Hunter was complaining that he no longer trusted ‘The Tiefling’ because the wraiths were transforming.

After repeatedly trying to persuade the party to smash the slate, tries to now say that it is actaully a symbol of status amongst his people. There is overall mistrust regarding this claim!

Before finally turning invisible & running for it, the Dark One gives an accurate location of where Stischna may be located. One of the barrows, the resting place of some ancient barbarian king, has two large black standing stones erected by it’s entrance. At last WHG8 can start a more concentrated search.

The heroes meet up with Diss & show him the slate. The Drow recognises this item as a Blacktongue Slate, a method of communicating used by the Dark Ones. The message is written in a strange runic language & upon smashing the slate, the message is read inside the mind of the intended recipient. No wonder the captive wanted the dwarves to simply break it up…

The Drow can not read the runes so the heroes return to Listach & seek advice from Sarr Tamm. Tamm may be able to translate the runes, but this will take time – possibly a couple of days. The dwarves consider whether to take the item to Crag after their main mission is completed…

Part 8: The Hunt Is On

After Randall’s magical ever-scribbling book has made an accurate copy of the secret runes, the Blacktongue Slate is left with Sarr Tamm for safe keeping. WHG8 decides to return to the Lost Moor in pursuit of the red haired warrior & the stolen deactivation ritual..

Returning to the prime material plane, the heroes head to the tallest crag, suspecting that the sarcen stones marking the entrance to the chosen long barrow may be Blackroot stone. This dark, dence rock is usually found at the base of tall crags & after climbing to higher ground, one of the dwarves spots a tell tale depression at the bottom of the tallest outcrop of rock.

The party discuss the issue further… The barrows here would be ancient (in human terms) & would be the type made by northern invaders from the far off tundra. The Blackroot gate stones were reserved for only the most important leader or mightest warrior. These stones were nearly always cut from the crags & dragged on a greased wooden track directly north toward the barbarian’s ancestral home.

A focused search begins & the slight depression left by the wooden sliding rails can just about still be seen leading north. The hunt is on!

After half a mile a huge longbarrow comes into view, marked by two large blackroot sarcens. Randall wanders toward the entrance, only to find himself face to face with a human warrior knight, armoured & armed to the teeth. Battle is commenced with no words of parley.

As the rest of WHG8 charges on, another of the knights can be seen running to his comrade’s aid. Two necromancers bust from chambers within the barrow. One appears through a concealed entrance at the side of the tomb & tosses explosions of necrotic energy & enfeebling rays at the embattled party.
Eldritch giant
From deep within the tomb strides a mighty human form. The red haired warrior! Dark tribal tattoos, the markings of some twisted, forgotten cult, cover his body & face. He brings to bear a huge greataxe & grins wickedly, The Hunter joins the fray.

As the battle become more bloody, two twisted zombies lurch into the battle. The dwarves are hard pressed & Jarrim saves the skins of his companions more than once with his healing powers. Despite the horrible injuries, the party wear down their foes. The zombies are hacked down, as are the mighty knights. The necromancers, rooted to the spot by a Randall spell, shriek as they are hacked to pieces.

The Hunter remains, charging into the midst of the Crag dwarves. His greataxe slams into all who dare challenge him but even he can not stop the overwhelming fury of the sons of Moradin. He falls when Snorri smashes the flat of his axe into his face. The Hunter lays bloodied & vanquished.

Defiant & arrogant, even in defeat, The Hunter spits huge gouts of blood from his ruined face as he gurgles praise to Vecna. When asked of Liberatoris the warriors ire is raised. His hatred for the tiefling is clear. “He promised us The Gathering” he sneers. It seems that all they got was betrayal; Liberatoris seems to have tricked them into allowing the creation of the ‘Wraithborn’ tieflings. When asked who his allies are, The Hunter replies " Ûrdarth". Randall has heard of this old cult & thought it to be defunct…

The dwarves demand the location of the deactivation ritual but the warrior spits & cackles, whispering “You’re too late. Vladamir has it now” The Hunter points further into the barrow & begins a sickly, perverted rant about the ritual being a sweet & delicious secret for The Maimed One. Snorri snaps & swings his axe. The Hunter fixes the avenger with a twisted grin as his head is cleaved from his body.

Pushing on into the barrow, WHG8 easily find a concealed doorway leading into a tunnel which descends sharply some 40 feet or so into the earth. From round a slight bend, the dwarves hear a noise that makes them freeze. A horrible, otherworldly scream sustains & reverberates from within a huge natural chamber just out of the line of sight. As the scream dies, two male voices can be heard, raised in anger. One is older, thin & scratchy. The other is smoother & has an almost mocking tone. The heroes bristle as they recogise the voice of The Liberator.

The older man is beside himself with anger. " Shadowbone shall hear of this treachery!" he howls. The petulant tiefling is not intimidated. “Shadowbone?” he spits. " He has no hold of fear over me! Last I heard he was skulking around Port Cormaa again. I would have thought that old bag of bones would have dried up & blown away years ago! " Liberatoris bellows that he will form mighty armies that will ravage the face of the land, each spearheaded by a Wraithborne warrior. There is a huge flash, as if from some destructive spell & seconds later, something invisible brushes past WHG8. From the corridor an evil cackle can be heard disappearing up to the longbarrow.

It seems that The Liberator has what he wants & has escaped again. From inside the cavern, a furious clammer, as if many are preparing for war, can now be heard… And all the time that long, piercing scream seems to boil & split the air…

Part 9: Stischna is reclaimed

As WHG8 attempts to formulate a plan of attack, they feel confident that they are as yet undiscovered by the occupants of the large chamber beyond their hiding place. However, when the old, scratchy voice starts to taunt the party from a distance the heroes know that the jig is up! A floating eyeball is spotted above, a macarbre sentinal of the Ûrdarth, ever watching & telepathically linked to it’s creators. WHG8 makes haste & charges in. At the far end of this large natural chamber, the pulsing form of Stischna can be seen. Power crackles around it as a terrible spectral form boils up above the relic. With a hideous shriek, a terrifying Horror Wraith, the siren of The Gathering, materializes.

Badbeer, the stealthy rogue is first in & is immediately battered with black spells from the leader, a cowled & cackling servant of Vecna. Vladamir, Deathpriest of The Ûrdarth 119691relishes his chance to kill. He is flanked by two maniacal Berserkers who chant & smash the handles of their axes into their own foreheads, bringing them to the point of frenzy. The party are assailed by vile zombies, & from up high Bonehurler zombiesmake missiles of their putrid innards & sharpened leg bones.

The Horror Wraith bursts from the wall spreading petrifying fear. Smaller minion wraiths fly up from a crevasse to the left & the Berserkers charge in, howling for blood. WHG8 is hit from all angles & is soon on the brink of complete destruction as time after time the troops of Vecna prove their might. Battered & bloodied, several dwarves are on the verge of collapse but still they bravely fight, toe to toe. As the minion zombies & wraiths get picked off, the Horror Wraith continues to phase in & out of the battle, sometimes appearing in the midst of the Crag troops.

Meanwhile, as his Berserkers keep the invaders busy, Vladamir runs to the edge of the crevasse, pulls from his cloak the parchment containing Stischna’s deactivation ritual, & threatens to toss it into oblivion. At the bottom of the crevasse strange fire boils & churns. This is a Chaos Rift! The Deathpriest slowly starts to lick the paper up & down, drooling & slavering as he purrs that he knows this beautiful secret. Snorri wastes no time in bundling into Vladamir, knocking the vile man shrieking into the abyss. His pitiful scream fades into blackness for a few seconds before chaos fire erupts with the disruption of an impact from a different plane.

…Unfortunately, Vladamir still had the ritual in his hand as he fell!

The party are now on a more even footing with Vladamir out of the picture & they start to focus their attacks. The Berserkers are cut down & the Horror Wraith continues to emit it’s terrible screams which weaken the resolve & pound the mind. The Crag heroes are too strong however, & the bard finally lands the final blow that destroys the wicked creature. It screams again before shredding & disappearing. The rest of the party are far too battered to complain about this epic example of a ‘kill steal’!

The party immediately turns their attentions to Stischna & as his magical book frantically scribbles notes, Randal bags the relic, claiming it back for Crag! The heroes sift through the detritus of the battle & find a holy sibol of Pelor, trodden into the dirt. It seems that Lazar, the cleric from Durvin met his end at the hands of Ûrdarth.

WHG8 move over to the rift & gingerly peer in. It can’t be that dangerous to explore it…. surely? After tying several ropes together, Snorri is lowered down into the darkness. About 50 feet into the crevasse, the dwarf finds pitons deep in the rock hanging from which are the charred remains of some sort of safety net. In the side of the rift itself, a small crawl hole has been dug which leads up & up & emerges on the surface inside an adjacent barrow. It seems that Vladamir has escaped!

The party makes haste & tracks the Deathpriest back to the diamond mine. Near the Bowing Tree there are numerous horse tracks leading, in a big hurry, back to town. Curses! The team get ready for the long slog back to Durvin on foot. They don’t even have time to reclaim the remains of poor Gritnat. The ghostly form of the dwarf appears, looking on sadly as WHG8 move off. Gritnat shrugs, turns & fades away, back to his life in limbo…

The heroes return to Durvin, where they are instructed to attend the keep without delay. In the private quarters of Yuri Ruskavic the party are shocked to see Secretary Broadaxe himself in conference with the Captain. With customary gruffness, Broadaxe demands an immediate report. He doesn’t like all that he hears… The party pass on the sad news of Lazar’s death to Ruskavic before they are ordered to take Stischna, without delay, to the secret chamber in the Bartozch Mine for further research. They are then to return to Crag & report to T’ Supervisor. A promising up & coming team, WHG9, will guard the tear in the planar weave for now. It is obvious that Broadaxe is in no mood for a diplomatic discussion on the matter so it seems that Vladamir, The Ûrdarth & Liberatoris will have to go on the back burner for now.

The party portals to Bartozch & hands Stischna to some quite frankly over-excited archivists. The ancient relic continues to pulse with forbidden power, reminding WHG8 that the deactivation ritual is lost. They feel that their mission was not one of their usual resounding successes. Also, why did Broadaxe speak so highly of WHG9, a lower level group?

As they dwell on these matters, Randall remembers that his book made a copy of the runes carved into the Dark Ones’ strange Blacktongue slate. The page is given to the archivists for decoding. Just as they are to be ordered back to Crag by the irate Bartozch Supervisor, the archivists hand WHG8 a piece of official Crag parchment, on which is written the translation of the runes:

“Our fastest runners bring the copy to you my master. The humans do not suspect. Mission a success.”

As WHG8 steps through the portal back to Crag ready for their next mission, the heroes hope that they get the chance to seek out the trail to the missing ritual… or should that be rituals?
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Bad Company
Wherein the characters learn the constraints of Crag society and the corruption therein

Celebration

WHG were invited to Port Cormaa to join in on celebrations with Spud. It seemed that, with Randalls help, Cracker an artificer had managed to bond replacement limbs onto Spuds stumps! Everyone was in the mood for a party and entertainment was laid on in the form of a travelling dancing troupe under the supervision of a Madame Byraggan.

Rangrim persuaded one of the dancing girls to wriggle around on Randall, which sent the bashful wizard crimson with embarrassment. This practical joke ensured Randall had the night of his life, something neither he or his book had any recollection of. It also had far reaching implications that would unfold later….

Also at the celebration was Lord Bram Ironfell who requested a private audience with WHG as he had a job for them, intrigued by his request they agreed.

An interview

Suspicious with Ironfells intentions they looked into his recent activity, the clan Ironfell had been in dire financial straights for many years since the loss of the Karak Lode. Ironfell commissioned the WHG in the past to rediscover the lode as there was wraith activity in the area. WHG found the mine though it was ruled by a twisted naga who brooded over a wraith egg. The place was entirely corrupted and was destroyed. Ironfell was back in the black suggesting he’d suddenly found a source of income.

Initially WHG found it difficult to trust Ironfell during the interview, however when they realised that he was asking them to find the whereabouts of his kidnapped son they realised he was to be taken seriously. It seemed that someone was using Borland Ironfell, Bram’s son, to sway and undermine the council of Crag through his distraught father. Young Ironfell wasn’t innocent himself, he had fallen in with the wrong crowd and his indiscretions were becoming unmanageable. The whole situation was at least potentially embarrassing for Ironfell and at worst lethal for the young Ironfell. Bram begged WHG to be discrete.

Ironfell gave WHG the blackmail note, he had been prepared to pay off the blackmailer though when he didn’t turn up to collect the money in a pub deep in heart of the Slags, he was scared for his safety and called in WHG

Tracking Borland

The first thing WHG did was to visit Borlands residence in the bustling markets of the Windtops. They discovered that there had been some sinister visitors prior to Borlands disappearance and the inside of his home showed the wreckage of the encounter. Blood spattered across broken furniture revealed that Borland had not been killed but had been abducted. Amongst the scene they also found hidden away a threatening letter from an agent only known as “S”

They found that Borlands abduction had been witnessed by his neighbour, the nervous Borelli panicked when he saw the tall pale men take away Borland, a feeling of dread took him as he realised what was going on. He snuck into the wreckage and discovered a sinister clue, a black bag containing evidence of grotesque practices of some new dark art known as science. The bag belonged to a [[:Doctor Salt]]; the sinister “S” and a clue to his whereabouts, the pawnbroker Jakeswill.

Upon leaving the house Fargrim was shocked when a bolt struck him in the chest! Everyone was shocked when nobody reacted to it. The crowd were acting in a very mysterious way; caught in a loop of activity repeating phrases and actions over and over. Another volley of bolts left the crowd and the villains were revealed!

Grim wooden constructs stalked the crowd, a twisted parody of scarecrows these Straw Men had a natural aura that effected the weak willed who chose to ignore the aberrance they represented and simply loop their behaviour until they moved away. The crowd unwittingly provided cover for the straw men allowing them to snipe and pick off the party. Eventually WHG turned the tide and the Straw Men evaporated into the crowd who simply recovered and went about their business.

Tracking Salt

With evidence leading to Jakeswill down in the Slags, the seedy pawnbroker was resistant to questioning at first but Durn, impatient to get answers, soon persuaded him otherwise. Finding his shop laden with many illicit goods Jakeswill was probably open to persuasion anyway however Durn took a particularly hard line with him.

Salt was to be found skulking in a squalid tenement in the winding depths of the Slags, unfortunately Borland was not there. It seemed Salt had initially intended to extort money from the Ironfell clan to cover up Borlands excesses. However when Salt realised Borland had become involved with Madame Byraggan and uncovered her the secrets behind her power Salt changed his plans.

Salts lust for power and money were to become his undoing. Byraggan became aware of his plots and sent her dark agents the Straw Men against him. Salt abandoned everything to save his life and fled to ground in the depths of the Slags.

Seeing an opportunity to escape Salt convinced WHG that if they could get him out of Crag and away from the reach of Byraggan he would tell them where Borland was to found. Uncertain of Salt but with little option but to help him they agreed to help

The Flight to Lordsdown

Salts plan was to go to {{Lordsdown}}, a town far away from the reach of the Crag gates. Unfortunately the Straw Men who had been tracking the party since the encounter at Borlands house closed in on Salt and his new found guards. They harried them down through the maze of the Slags until eventually WHG managed to escape comandeering the gem coach bound for Lordsdown.

All was going well until the driver spied a lone horseman in the road, fearing a highwayman the driver stopped and told the heroes in the coach. As soon as the coach slowed the Straw Men rode into action on wooden steeds created by the same dark enchantments as them.

Wave after wave the Straw men and their diabolical steeds assaulted the coach forcing the Hunters to hang out of the windows to return the attack. They cleverly took the wooden horses out but not before the Straw Men leapt on the coaches to close in on Salt.

Rangrim clambered onto the coach roof and wrestled with the atrocities the horseman threw at the occupants of the coach; animated skins flayed off the bodies of Byraggans unfortunate consorts. These skinners had wrapped around the face of the coachman who was slowly suffocating, Rangrim took the controls and averted a lethal coach crash. Unfortunately he found himself alone on the roof of the coach and was killed by the merciless riders.

One by one the heroes fled the slowing coach leaving the mage alone to face the Straw Men, Fargrim even held onto Salt and leapt to safety. The Stonefather looked down with mercy and when faced with three of the fearsome Straw Men the mage managed to survive and the party were victorious.

A bitter parting of ways

Salt was eager to get away and gave Durn some very sketchy information as to where Borland might be, in the grips of Byraggan somewhere in Port Cormaa. Durn allowed Salt to leave though the prospect of allowing this dark practitioner of science to ply his trade left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. WHG then headed back into Crag mourning the loss of Rangrim

Home to roost

The journey to Crag was subdued though the party were intrigued when they were waylaid by Randall leading a troop of guards outside the gates of Crag. Randall informed them they were in violation of several laws and as such were obliged to submit themselves to the guards, uncharacteristically Randall did not have the paperwork to back this up!

Then Snorri smelt a rat when he noticed a pool of fetid liquor collecting at the feet of one of the guards, the smell of rotting flesh had been covered by the stink rising from the river Crag. Randall ordered the guards to attack and loosed a number of fireballs into the centre of the party. Fortunately for Randall the party’s fighter edged around to flank the enemy and saw that Randalls book was busy scribbling, as usual, though instead of form filling the text read “Help I can’t stop this!”

The party subdued Randall and destroyed his “guard” and quickly realised that he had been beguiled. Looking through his book it seemed that on the evening of Spuds celebration when Rangrim had persuaded the dancers to accost Randall, he had been enchanted by Byraggan. Although the details were sketchy Byraggan’s location was discovered.

To be continued….

Next

On Byraggans trail
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The Seige Within
DM: Troy

The Crag map room archivists are concerned. The portal site in the area of the human mine had been flaring up but while the PC’s were away in Greyhammer fighting in The Battle of The Great Hall the marker had dimmed. Now the growing intensity of the glow from the map has spread unease.

With little delay WHG-10 gains authorisation from T’ Supervisor & deploy, emerging onto a fridgid mountainside. Deep snow & driving wind slow the PC’s descent as the search begins for signs of the human mining outpost in this snow-locked landscape.

FrosthowlerLarge animal footprints, similar to wolf tracks are soon spotted & up ahead in the distance wolf like creatures called Frosthowlers are seen attacking human silhouettes. One of the silhouettes is forced over a cliff edge & WHG-10 has seen enough. They charge in on the vicious pack & after a brief & bloody battle the remaining Frosthowlers are driven off.

Though the body of the human can’t be found it seems that the PC’s are on the right track… Cover must be close by because humans wouldn’t be able to last long in this extreme climate. A short distance away a human mine guard challenges the PC’s. Contact has been made & WHG-10 are led to a huge cavern so large that a small town is built within, protecting the inhabitants from the severe weather. They have found the Bartozch Mine.

WHG-10 is taken to the miners’ leader & archivist, a woman named Violetta Bridyan. On route, the PC’s notice how nervous the inhabitants of the cavern are. They cower in the shadows & scuttle away from the dwarvern visitors.

WHG-10 speak for some time with Violetta & her guards & the heroes quickly find out that all is far from well in the mine. The coal seam is apparently soon to be exhausted & when digging tester tunnels in pursuit of a new seam the miners discovered a strange, long buried labyrinth. Since then, a crushing dispair & feeling of doom & paranoia has spread throughout the community. Some people have disappeared into the darkness of the labyrinth, never to come back. One miner’s wife: Lilya Alesska, babbles & weeps incessantly since her husband. Overtaken by a madness he ran out into the snow one day & was never seen again. Lilya insists that she has seen her love waiting for her outside in the snow. One of the PC’s notices that Lilya shrinks away from Violetta whenever the leader tries to comfort her. Suspicions are raised amongst WHG-10…

A WHG rogue successfully sneaks away from the guards & finds Violetta’s dwelling. In a cabinet are mine records which are taken & secreted. When reunited, the PC’s are walked to the entrance of the labyrinth. When there, the guards will not simply leave the party to their own devices & only when one of the guards seems to lose his reason & runs through the entrance screaming, do WHG-10 finally enter themselves.

This labyrinth has been dug out from the rock & the entrance is obviously of dwarven quality. The dwarven inscriptions & wall carvings as seen in Crag are present in the complex, showing that this is a site of some significance. WHG follow the guard’s screams straight into an attack by Chillborn Zombies & trigger a necrotic trap… double trouble which the PC’s initially struggle to deal with. The guard is seen sprinting off back toward the entrance, unharmed, followed closely by the PC’s curses!

The trap is controlled by runes which when defaced by the PC’s, fail & dim, disabling it. After finishing off the zombies, the runes are studied carefully & identified as those used by followers of the evil god Vecna. Not something you would expect to see inside a site dedicated to Moradin.

The PC’s take the oportunity to read the ledger taken from Violletta’s dwelling. It is an eye opening read… The production ledger has not been filled in for some days though there is no mention of any problems leading up to the final entry. It lists all persons on the mining expedition & apparently, there are only supposed to be 4 full time guards. The party have seen at least 10. There is also mention of a dwarf called Tarna Coalbeard who is employed as an advisor to the mining operation. Strange that he has not been seen or mentioned by any at Bartozch.

The PC’s press on through the labyrinth, eventually coming to a large set of stone doors, ornately carved with the insignia of Moradin. Upon opening the doors WHG-10 discover a human woman with the tell tale bright halo or hood over her head. Having complete control over it’s host, the Hoodwraith watches at a distance from within a large chamber. The PC’s do not attack but try to converse with the evil spirit which does nothing to hide its disdain for the Dwarves. It seems happy to tell the PC’s that Liberatoris has been at work here.

Slowly & surely the conversation turns into an argument & the Hoodwraith spits insults & rants furiously about the Hoodwraith’s destiny to rule the living. The PC’s turn & walk away, closing the doors on the wraith. This does not go down well! The wraith leaves its host & phases through the stone & attacks WHG-10. The Dwarves quickly use an Imprison Wraith ritual & imprison the creature which glares out at its captors, enraged.

The PC’s do not have time to relax though as Spawned Hoodwraith phase in & attack, though the mighty WHG-10 makes quick work of their assailants. They then return to the next chamber & find the female huddled & distressed behind a dias. A PC gives gentle words of comfort & the woman stutters her name… Violetta Bridyan!

The real Violetta tells the PC’s that an evil band infiltrated & teek the mine, killing the few guards that showed resistance. Violetta had attempted to lead a rebellion against the captors but this failed & she was sent into the labyrinth to her death. She remembers with terror when she was possessed by the Hoodwraith & while under the spirit’s control saw the mysterious Tiefling who left the labyrinth with a huge red haired warrior covered in tattoos called ‘The Hunter’ & a terrible wraith with a gaping mouth which would scream & howl.

The PC’s use this chamber to hold the newly imprisoned Hoodwraith & Violetta who hides herself away. WHG-10 presses on. After a further search of labyrinthine corridors reveals a small hall containing an ancient ceremonial anvil & hammer. The hammer glitters with gems set within secret runes & is laid on a stone plinth. The plinth is carved with the ancient runes of the Crag Dwarves which declare:
“Only the Sons of Moradin
Through blood and toil
Will find the true way.”
Dried blood is found at the base of the anvil & the PC’s, guessing that this may be dwarven blood, mix this with water & daub it on the head of the hammer. When the hammer strikes the anvil the chime of metal on metal rings out long & loud & as the sound sustains a strange glowing mark of crossed warhammers appears on the floor.

The PC’s quickly step on the mark & they are instantly tranported to a large & secret hall lined with pillars which lead to a pair of stone doors. Flanking them are a pair of large stone statues; Dwarven warriors of old, each with an outstretched palm as if to forbid entry through the doors.

As WHG-10 steps into the room, lifeless bodies lay on the floor, their lower limbs hacked away & the bones heaped nearby. One of the bodies looks distinctly dwarven… Movement is noticed high above in the ceiling a split second later, Greater Skulk Zombies drop down to attack. Instantly, the other bodies jerk to life. These Bonehurler Zombies tear out their rotting, slimy guts & hurl them at WHG-10, hitting one of the PC’s in the face, causing instant & debilitating projectile vomiting! The Bonehurlers then throw their sharpened leg bones like darts.

As the party engage in the fight there is a blood curdling gibbering & howling & a huge Boneclaw bursts into the chamber. Its huge, scythe-like fingers slash away but the PC’s continue to smash through their foes until all the undead beasts are destroyed. The dwarf is indeed the missing dwarf, Tarna Coalbeard, the caved in side of his skull proof that his blood was used by the invaders to gain entry to this secret part of the complex.

carving
WHG-10 moves in through the forbidden doors, finding the smashed remains of a Wraith prsion globe. Along with the ancient carvings of Dwarves & Duergar on the walls, there is a huge carving in the stone floor. Only the figures of Hoodwraith are easy to identify. One, which hovers above a strange triangle shape, seems to have a huge wide open maw. Other wraith are shown pouring from some form of dark gate opening from blackness… Things do not look good!
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Release
DM: Troy

WHG-10 chooses the next mission: An ancient Dwarven stronghold in the midst of a vast moorland. The magic crag map shows an increasingly bright marker. Warrants are authorised by T’ Supervisor & hasty preparations made.

The PCs teleport into the bowels of the stronghold of Greyhammer, emerging into a forgotten teleport chamber. From inside the chamber the exit door is plainly obvious but the observant party notices that this door is probably disguised or concealed on the outer side. Some PC’s hear a commotion outside; there is lots of running & shouting. The voices sound Dwarven so WHG-10 bursts through the secret door.

About 30 dwarven warriors are in full retreat & have gathered in a huge ceremonial hall which the teleport room adjoins to pray to Moradin for strength & assistance. They are in a very bad way… Cue the emergence of the heroes! The Greyhammer dwarves are shocked at the emergence but recognise the party as Crag on seeing their symbols. They are greeted with reverence & the leader: Bandûn Rockmantle briefs the WHG-10.

Greyhammer is under attack from a large tribe of goblins. These greenskins have never been a serious threat before (the odd skirmish or attack outside the stronghold, nothing more) but they seem to have become stronger & more focused of late. They have a new standard & emblem & seem to be overtaken by some sort of religious fanaticism. The goblins are pushing through the mine using fanatical warriors with large lynch mobs dragging off any dwarves they can get hold of & taking them away behind enemy lines. Bandûn has heard the goblins screaming about ‘death angels’ (he thinks this might be the new tribe name). The rest of clan Greyhammer are secreted deep in the stronghold.

The huge chamber has a large set of stone doors which warriors are frantically trying to wind shut using huge chain fed mechanisms. The last of the retreating warriors makes it through but it’s just too late! A horde of baying, screaming goblins charges the hall as the doors get to the mid point of closing. Three brave Dwarven warriors stay at each door mechanism trying to wind the doors shut.

Large goblin warriors smash through the hall toward the PC’s, followed by lynch mobs who attempt to drag off any captives they can lay their filthy hands on. Minions with bows attack the doormen to try to stop the doors being closed while Dakai, a twisted goblin shaman enters last, shooting magical rays of black death. Bandûn is dragged back by his bodyguards who know that their leader is too weak to fight. A barricade is thrown up across the exit which leads to the rest of the Greyhammer clan.

Dispite taking casualties, Greyhammer Dwarves finally get the great stone doors closed. There is a sense that the battle may swing in Greyhammer’s favour with WHG-10 crashing through the enemy lines, cutting & smashing down goblins in their wake.

That is until The Death Angels come…

Three dark Spawning Wraith phase through the stone doors & into the great hall, focusing on the PC’s, recognising them as the greater threat. A severely weakened goblin warrior turns & runs to the wraiths, screaming that it is ready to become a ‘death angel’. One of the evil spirits delivers a coup de grace, killing the ally & spawning a lesser wraith seconds later. And so the second wave of wraiths & wraith spawn bears down on the battered Dwarves.

The hardy sons of Moradin do not turn from the battle though. The healers are kept busy as death in the ranks of WHG-10 is narrowly avoided several times & the crack squad refuses to allow the invaders to overwhelm them. First Dakai the shaman falls, screaming bloody curses in his death throes. The lynch mobs are pummelled & scattered & the great wraiths & their spawn are slowly worn down & destroyed. The struggle is immense & nearly turned in favour of evil & darkness, but eventually WHG-10 stands bloodied & triumphant in the battle of the Great Hall of Greyhammer!

With the Greyhammer stronghold secured once again, WHG-10 are showered with thanks & adoration. During a great celebratory feast, Bandûn announces that WHG-10 shall be named The Saviours of Greyhammer & swears eternal brotherhood with Crag Mountain. It seems that Crag has re-established it’s bond with it’s long lost kin… And T’ Supervisor may well be pleased with the new trade links!
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