“The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.”
1st of Hammer, 1049 TR : Leaving behind a noble lord of the elven tribe bound to The Phooka, the group slowly wound their treasure- and supply-laden caravan of horses through the Gate of Winter, single-file.
Beyond the Gate of Winter, the group encountered a snowy, hard-blowing storm across a high mountain valley, somewhere south and east of The Trackless Heights. Located just north of a broad forest vale, the stone archway faced a rugged series of stonelands. Far to the north, west and south lay a series of harsh snowy mountains, while east were the vast stretches of a thick pine forest. Off to the south-west could be seen, however, a pass rising into the vastness beyond.
Making camp around the portal, the group placed their horse-lines inside the woods, and sent Fangrik off to investigate the nearby terrain. He returned a couple hours into darkness, with a report of ruined warmachines, bits of rusted weapons and bones to be found everywhere; they were at the site of a great battle fought many centuries ago. The group settled down, and placed guards.
Less than an hour later, a pair of slavering trolls burst into the horse-lines trying to take down a meal. They were attacked, but the PCs found they ignored most wounds, healing almost as soon as they took damage. Eventually Lord Taumus of House Daure discovered the value of his fire spells, and once bloodied, the starving trolls turned and ran. Fangrik loped after one, however, and slew it, and the group burned the corpse with torches, slaying it utterly.
2nd of Hammer, 1049 TR : Travelling up into the pass to the south-west, the group soon encountered a pair of stone giants playing “catch” with immense boulders. Lordship of Frisia, located some three days journey south through the pass.spoke with them in Giant, and the group quickly became friendly enough with them, by sharing food and drink. Gromm and Islander were young, but had chosen to leave their homes deep in the Trackless Heights, searching for a place to call their own. They gave directions to the nearest human community, the
4th of Hammer, 1049 TR : After another couple days of travel along the faint trail leading over the pass, the group camped over-looking an unknown forested valley. Snow continued to fall., and the weather remained harsh, with icy winds blowing up from the south-east.
Once more, during the night, a pack of four trolls tried to slip into the camp to get some horses, but Fangrik sniffed them out. Fireballs, Burning Hands and hard driven melee assaults proved enough to bloody three and chase them away, while one fell to the axes, spears and guns of the players. While the corpses burned, the group decided to hunt the others down, and forestall any other nightly attacks (plus the chance of loot).
Tracking them to their cave lair, they found a rudely appointed place with leaf and hide beds, and smelling of carrion. The group continued to employ fiery attacks, and carefully cornered each one, slaughtering the lot and burning their corpses with flames. It was noted that the trolls all seemed unusually gaunt and starving. Located in a large trunk half-buried by debris, they found a mass of gold and platinum coins, and an unknown potion bottle. The group returned to their camp and their servants, and slept quietly the rest of the night.
5th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Another exhausting day of travel, highlighted by crossing the main pass around mid-day, the Fierce Creatures managed to find their first real site of civilization, the town of Frisia. Nestled on a ridge just below the pass, but above a vast swath of pine woodlands, the town’s smell of woods smoke and flickering fires in the fading daylight were so welcoming.
Approaching across the frozen moat, they encountered a pair of guards at the gate who asked their business. Lord Taumus presented their charter, explaining he was seeking lodging for the night and trade with the town’s craftsmen. The guard looked over the charter, and quickly organized an escort to the lord’s keep, taking them directly there.
They soon met with the local lord in his own hall, one Lord Niklas Friger, and his retinue, including the enigmatic Milkan Federman, his advisor and court mage. The group were warmly welcomed, fed, and given lodging in his hall for as long as they might need. In particular, he related to them the trip they might need to claim their holdings at Stonefist – Gateway to The Mark. He mentioned a tradepost two days south, at Fort Vakhund, followed by a three day trip west to Tir Feldar. Beyond, they were informed, lay the villages of Havenford and Fellwater, and then numerous small thorps and travel inns until, seven days later, you could reach Pelargir – City of Ghosts, capital of Cygnus – The Swan Kingdom along the Darkwine River.
6th of Hammer, 1049 TR : The group gathered supplies in the early morning, and then left Frisia early enough to get a good start on the trip south. Numerous woodsmen were encountered, heading along the road before travelling into the woodlands, but the trip proved quiet.
7th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Arriving in the dark, dragging their carts and string of horses through the snow, the PCs managed to reach Vakhund. The trade site was open, and after paying a small fee (4 gps!), they were given a clay token stamped with the date, showing the payment was complete. The group chose a spot “less filthy” than most, and arrayed their horses and carts around their camp.
Eventually, another caravan arrived from the west, coming in late, but they were known to the guards at the tower, and after some talking, settled in for the night. Squirrel tried to sneak close, but wasn’t able to hear much beyond casual talking about happenings to the south. Just as the PCs put down their heads, a shadowy figure appeared at the edge of their firelight, revealed to be a gray-skinned, pale goblin, named Mortzva. After quick introductions, (and food!), they spoke with Mortzva about their travels, and he sagely warned them against hunting trolls. He told rumors of “…fire demons raiding Tir Feldar on Nightmares!”, but the group dismissed this fact as fancy. He also claimed a local band of orcs were raiding the area, known as “The Swift Axes”. The group then settled in.
Suddenly, Fangrik noticed Mortzva sit upright, nose and ears twitching. He looked at Fangrik with alarm, and then scampered into darkness, with a whisper of “Ocrses Comes!”. Suddenly, two bands of orcs broke into the clearing, one aiming towards the caravan, while another charged into the players. A sudden fireball from Lord Taumus slew many, and a sharp skirmish ensued, with the slow death of the raiders. Taumus noticed human archers among the raiding orcs, who quickly slipped into the darkness. Among the other caravan, the attackers broke away suddenly, and when the PCs arrived, they found the caravan master, one Master Rothammer dying from a poisoned wound, which no one was able to help stop. They had taken his daughter.
The players quickly found that the caravan was headed to Frisia where the master’s daughter was to marry a local merchant’s son, securing an important trade deal, and binding two important merchant families. The group spoke briefly with Sir Stiegler Stalwart, the local noble lord, and when they expressed an interest in pursueing the raiders, he promised to look after the group’s servants and stock for three days, before he would send them back towards Firsia.
The group set-out almost immediately, leaving Squirrel, Aaron and Kruck behind to watch the groups belongings, while Fangrik sniffed after them, leading Ash and Lord Taumus in pursuit. They travelled quickly (at least as fast as Cog would let them) along the frozen stream, that led back deeply into the woodlands for several hours. Eventually they reached Mejketek, close on the heels of the orc raiders.
Approaching the three goblins in heavy furs on watch, the group asked after the orc raiding band, and was ushered in to see the great goblin chief of the Mudroots, Cherktrag. After concluding the PCs would pay to follow after the orcs, the old maester summoned a pair of large mammoth tusks, and proceeded to (for a handful of copper and silver coins) summon a ritual linked portal.
8th of Hammer, 1049 TR : As dawn was breaking, the group watched a portal appear between the tusks, and the three slipped inside. Beyond was another snowy forest glade, and the portal had opened between the massive skeletal remains of a mammoth. As though keeping watch over the portal, its bleak bones were festooned with tied ribbons of cloth and feathers. The tusks provided the gateway into the rest of the world. Beyond, a trail led off into the forest.
Following the only trail they saw, the group quickly entered another clearing, this one dominated by a massive earthen, snow-covered mound with a central pillar of raw stone. On either side were smaller stone barrows, and beyond lay a crude wooden building with a mud and stone chimney. On the far left of the mound, lay a barred prison wagon, its wheels removed and placed on stone blocks. Several guards kept watch on the opening to the large earthen mound, eyeing the party.
Fangrik charged to the attack, the others following suit. With more orc warriors appearing from the barracks (?) building, along with a horde of skeletons from the left-hand barrow, and then soon more orcs and leader types from the other barrows, the group was quickly swarmed and overwhelmed. Try as they might, they could not get away. Eventually, Ash turned invisible and slipped away to the west, while Fangrik managed to lope off into the eastern forest. Taumus fell to orcish mangs, and was captured. Collectively, the group was eating their carefully hoarded Norish Apples at an incredible rate, and one of them saved Taumus’ life, bringing him back from near death to unconciousness.
Fangrik and Ash wandered the forest, trying to find each otehr, but failed, with Fangrik fidning his lone status disconcerting. He is, after all, a pack animal.. Eventually, Fangrik stole as close to the barracks as possible, spying within. He noted Taumus was being kept in the prison wagon along with an older couple and a dwarf, chained to the bars. Within the barracks, he found a single room filled with orcs, goblin servants, and a couple human archers. They were eating and drinking and gaming over handfuls of copper coins. Beyond, a large room held what appeared to be oxen. One side had a collection of trade goods. and ale.
By midday, Ash and Fangrik found one another again, and planned a raid to free Taumas and the others. They noted which orc bore the warning horn that seemed to summon the skeletons, and using the cover of the prison, they crept close to the three guards. Talking quietly toa bound and gagged Taumas, they slipped underneath the prison wagon, and while Ash fiddled with the lock, Fangrik charged the three guards to cover him.
They cut down the horn-orc, but he still managed to get a call out, summoning more orcs and the skeletons from the closer barrow.He got the door open, and went directly to Taumas, tossing the old woman a knife to cut his bonds and then moved to unchain the dwarf. Taumas slipped out, casting his few remaining powers to help keep the guards at bay, while more skeletons climbed out of the one barrow to join the fray. The dwarf quickly tossed the old man on his back and ran for the forest, followed by Ash. While Fangrik tossed the old woman on his back, Taumas cast one last spell and then the group ran fro the forest’s edge. Their enemies did not follow them. Prison-Break successful!
9th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Taking a long rest, the group made a pitiful camp off the east of the bandit’s holding, sharing their food and Norish Apples liberally. The prisoners introduced themselves as Marriana Applecross and her husband Ulrich Applecross. The dwarf was Nilfur the Bold. Needing rest afer their long ordeal, they camped for most of the day, healing wounds and planning on how to proceed.
That night, the group planned to steal the horn from the guards before they could warn the camp, with Ash proving his skills by stealing Fangrik’s own spear, right from his hands before he realized it. It was like magic, apparently. Endure Elements was cast on the prisoners and players to keep them warm despite a lack of blankets and real winter clothing. The older couple remained behind, while Nilfur said he would see about foraging for some berries or something to help.
The three adventurers slipped close to the three guards, and Ash quietly managed to grab the Horn from the guard holding it, before he noticed. A grand melee ensued, wth all three warriors falling to the player’s spears. Moving inside the larger of the mounds, they found a charnel house, and fought a couple more guards and a shaman, later identified as “Pejznog”. The fight was brief, but fierce, culminating in a fight over the bound person of Evanna RotHammer, the young lady they had intended to rescue all along.
Looting the chambers, they recovered an assortment of looted coins and jewellery, but little else. Their young captive revealed that the orc “chief” was actually a shaman, and the one they’d just slain was known as “The Flayer”, or his assistant.
The group returned back to their small camp, now laden with some supplies and blankets, and soon came upon a group of seven orcs holding the old senior coupe hostage, readying them to become a meal. The group charged, and in the opening round, Nilfur came charging from the woods brandishing a heavy club to assist the PCs. The fight proved relatively quick, wiht two trying to flee, but they were hunted down by Fangrik and slain.
Nilfur armed himself with orcish armor and weapons, while the group passed-out supplies and made camp. They soon returned back to the bandit’s camp, entering the small barrow where they knew the chief laired, and slipping down into its depths, past the door and into a series of cleared catacombs, now turned into a living quarters. They quickly cornered a pair of guards in a narrow chamber, and making short work of them, proceeded to killing the chief himself, Gnarg. In addition to several scrolls written in Giant, they recovered a Vicious Spear +2 wielded by the chief, and they secured another cache of supplies, including a large number of polearms, some gems and jewellery and a large collection of Arcane components for ritual casting (1500 gps worth!). In one small chamber was a permanent Linked Portal, but the group knew neither where it went nor had the means to activate it…
Returning to the barracks behind the main mound, they barged in, and discovered it was more like a mercenary tavern, run by a “retired” orc bandit and his companions, named Dzeegle. After some coins got them some roast pig and ale, the group returned to their camp, gathered their followers, and made their way back to the old chief’s lair, where they reted in relative security underground.
10th of Hammer, 1049 TR : After a peaceful night, the group discussed their options. Deciding to get more information, the group used Taumas’ Comprehend Languages ritual, and deciphered the scrolls. One was a Ritual – Raise Dead, while the other was Ritual – Linked Portal. Both scrolls could be employed as books, but were written in giant and slightly above the player’s levels. The other was a letter written in Giant that was from one Vistoli to Pjznog, talking about their communal successes in raising undead forces in The Master‘s name. It discussed, in a formal manner, the various herbs and materials recently found useful (wherein Nightshade featured prominently), and related _Vistoli’s_ efforts in creating a “Shield” ritual.
After Taumas managed to stop choking on his tea, the group realized this might be the same “Master” they’d encountered on the other side of the mountains…
From there, the group investigated the portal link at the mammoth, where they came in, and then returned to the barracks. The denizens of “Dzeegle’s ignored them, mostly concerned with their gambling and drinking. Dzeelge himself was approached and informed of the recent demise of the local “landlords”. They all seemed rather uninterested. They discussed where they were, exactly, discovering they were i something called “The Tassel Forest”, about four day’s ox-wain journey north-west of Frisia. Yes, that Frisia.
Eventually, they managed to negotiate buying the prison wagon, some supplies to turn it into a sledge, and a pair of oxen for two platinum coins. Fangrik gave them a handful of coins for some blankets and ale to assist their followers in their trip. They spent the remaining day turning the wagon into a sledge with pine runners, and rested that night in the chief’s lair, once again.
11th – 14th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Travel through the forest was hard, but uneventful, amidst the constantly falling snow. By the 14th, they reached Frisia, and again spent the night in the local lord’s hall, reunited with their servants and friends. Apparently, Kruck had grown weary of waiting, and had chosen to wander east, looking for clues about his kin. He promised he would return when he had some answers… They expained the destruction of the orcs in the northern woods, and were rewarded with a scroll from the Frisianfor 100 gps in local services and supplies for destroying The Swift Axes.
15th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Using their reward, they resupplied and stocked-up in foodstuffs, blankets and other goods, adding to the pile of supplies they had on the sledge. Nilfur offered to stay as a guard, and the old couple promised to help cook and do basic chores for the band until the adventurers claimed their landhold at Stonefist – Gateway to The Mark. The group then set forth down the trail they had come previously, several followers and an oxen sledge richer.
16th – 17th of Hammer, 1049 TR : The trip had been uneventful, with no traffic due to deepening snows. Despite the danger, they encountered a deer herd around noon of the 17th, and Fangrik returned with a buck for dinner that night.
Reaching Vakhund again, they managed to convince the guards they were who they said they were, paying an additional 13 sp for the ox-wain and other passengers. Their camp was cold, but uneventful.
18th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Travelling on across the Treecut Creek and its toll bridge, they made good time making camp without incident. That evening they met Mortzva again, who talked about the dangers in Tir Feldar, and pleaded ignorance regarding “The Master”, but cryptically stated that sometimes it was best not to look too deeply or ask too many questions… He happily shared their venison and made pleasant small-talk about the weather, eventually being shown Fangrik’s new spear, and offering to “decorate it” with some goods from his pack for a small fee. Fangrik bought various feathers, beads, and colorful leather strips for a handful of coins, while Ash bought the goblin’s _Potion of Healing. It proved to be a restful, dreamless night.
19th of Hammer, 1049 TR : The group managed to travel without incident, passing traces of a herd of elk. The group contemplated how many deer and other wildlife were travelling from the mountain heights, searching for food.
20th of Hammer, 1049 TR : The trip to Tir Feldar finally ended as the sun was descending into the distant mountains over Pelargir. The small village seemed smoky with fires from its stone hearths, and was surrounded by snow-covered terraced fields of grapes and numerous stone-marked pastures for its local goat herds.
A series of screams reached the ears of the party, revealing trouble ahead. About a mile off, they saw a woman come running from the broken western gates, followed promptly by a horseman, wreathed in flames and riding a white-glowing black horse with a skull for a head. The beast rode down the woman, lancing her, and then wheeled and rode back into the village. Leaving the servants and wagons behind, Ash and Taumas dismounted and tried to help the woman from death’s door, while Fangrik loped into the village. Passing into the center of town, he found things broken-up, screams and sobs from various houses, and five women tied by their hair to the central well. In the distance, about a dozen flaming figures could be seen riding hard for the eastern pass up The Howling. Their speed was immense (24"!), and they quickly rode out of site.
While the others entered the village, and began taking in the situation, Fangrik cut the women from the well, and asked what was going on. “It’s The Ghost Riders, my lords… please don’t eat me…”. The group managed to get the attention of Dierdrui MacFeldar, who brought them to the side of her dying father. Having taken a wound early in the bandit’s raids, in early Echos, it had gone septic and was poisoned. There proved to be nothing the adventurers could do (a frelling 1 – critical failure on a Healing Check), but they made him comfortable, and gathering their servants, left for a night in the inn to rest.
21st of Hammer, 1049 TR : The group awoke the sounds of a loud clamour and the inn abuzz with word of Reeve Fionn’s death last night. Some glanced at the adventurer’s with fear, but none said anything openly. After breaking their fast on cold roasts and tea, they began to plan for the following night’s attack.
Fangrik scouted off towards The Howling, but found no tracks of any kind, hinting the skeleton horses rode above the ground. Taumuas noted they raiders didn’t leave any melted snow behind, hinting their flames weren’t real, and they realized demons wandering into town every other night to tie up people, take some away and torture the others was odd demon behaviour. After talking to the others about the bandits, particularly to _Diendrui after her father’s death, they learned that the radiers only killed people who fought back, and had long since slaughtered the town’s militia and almost anyone who had the desire to fight. Active resistance to the threat was limited to barricading themselves in their homes and repairing the gates every so often. The raiders took whatever they wanted; foodstuffs, ale, textiles, and sometimes, maidens from the houses they robbed. They came almost every other night…
Plans were made. It was decided to use one of Ash’s Magic Circle rituals to seal the western gate, and bottle them with an ambush at the eastern one. Discovering exactly what they were was difficult, but Taumas’ superior knowledge of undead hinted that making the circle impervious to “Natural” creatures probably covered everything. The group spent a couple hours preparing for the fight, and made sure their followers were safely secured in the inn.
Hours passed, and eventually when the sun began to go down, sending its light across the western mountains, a group of riders quickly approached from The Howling, using their “floating” ability, and leaving a trail of snow behind them. As they approached the village, they split into two groups, probably to best to hem their prey in, by entering through both gates. The group on the west side approached the gate carefully, gabbling back to each other in vaguely Goblin speech. The group noticed the “falmes” were orange cloaks and brightly colored feathers and cloth that waved and moved with the movement of the horses, making it seem like they were on fire.
As they entered the village gate, they dropped a ram being held by the two front riders, and rode forward with some degree of caution. The group leapt out and attacked them with spear and spell, blowing their Horn of the Horde, which confused the skeleton horses severely. Dropping a fireball and opening a Fountain of Fire among them, they quickly chewed into their ranks, taking out first one rider, and then severely wounding and slaying the leader in their midst. As their riders fell from the saddles, each mount ran back to The-howling, abandoning the battle. With all three remaining riders aflame (for real), and bloodied, they fled back after the riderless horses. To the east, they tried bashing in the warded area with their own ram, but quickly abandoned the ram and the idea, and fled back up the valley.
The adventurers stripped off the armor and weapons of the leader and his warrior, and revealed to the local villagers that the “fire demons” were just cleverly disguised hobgoblin warriors. Lord Taumas offered the weapons and armor of the fallen to whomever wished to take up the mantle of a warrior and bring the fight to the bandits… Silently, everyone stared down at the ground, weeks of desperate fighting having battered the spine from them. Eventually, his rousing speech led one lone young man to take up the fallen troopers weapons and armor, and the local militia now had a single recruit…
The village gathered together at the inn for a night of celebration, each one thanking the PCs for tehir efforts. But the Fierce Creatures knew this might only be a lull before the full might of these bandits came down upon the adventurers and the village like a Hammer. They needed a plan…