Crag Mountain

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.

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tls56 DavidMurphy

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