"A Change..." - Part Two
The heroes took the next exit from the central chamber and emerged into a small alcove with a low roof, whose walls had been decorated with hand-painted images in vivid colours … the history of the orc tribe. The painter, though his style was basic, had portrayed the tribe of orcs through various battles and journeys, several dozen proud orc warriors, plus their chieftain (larger than the rest), and to the characters surprise one figure who appeared human. Wherever this individual appeared he was resplendent in flowing robes, each time a different but striking colour, with the tribe's wokan at his side. In the most recent scene, the tribe was shown descending from the mountains toward a town, with a large section of the tribe being urged to retreat by the chieftain. Back in the mountains, the human wizard was seen to be enraged at the chieftain's actions, and was portrayed throwing coloured streaks of magic in the chieftain's direction… As the heroes' eyes followed this chain of events, they reached an abrupt end.
The treasure trove
Returning to the central cave, the final exit led along a narrow and winding path to a small and seemingly empty cave. Planks covered part of the floor, atop these lay a simple rattle and nothing more. Antonius stepped forward to investigate the flooring, inserted the blade of his sword and twisted. The boards fell back, and beneath was the orcish treasure hoard! In the hollow beneath the boards lay 800gp, 2000sp, 300cp, a silver chalice (600gp), a golden necklace (1,000gp), an emerald brooch (1,200gp), a bronze pendant (200gp), a tapestry depicting a springtime mountain scene (200gp), one opal (1,000gp), a jeweled two-handed sword (garnet in hilt - 500gp) and finally, wrapped in rags in one corner, a steel hammer bound in leather, bearing a hammer and shield motif. Natalya's hammer!
Stuffing these treasures into sacks they had raided from the orcish equipment store, the heroes made their way out of the wokan's quarters and returned to the shore. Lucius was eager to row back across the lake, his nerves playing up, but both Conor and Lassandra wished to be thorough and investigate the second passage. Heading down this passage the four emerged into a surprisingly homely chamber, with a well-stocked fireplace, a writing desk and comfortable armchair. Upon the desk sat a large golden key. Pocketing this, the heroes checked the only exit, a doorway leading into sleeping quarters - a smallish room with a bed and empty chest. Three walls were plain and unadorned but the fourth had been adorned with artistic skill and bore a mountainside scene. Curious, Conor drew out the tapestry and held it against this wall. Nothing happened, but as the barbarian moved forward slightly, he passed through into a hidden portion of the room. This narrow strip beyond the wall bore a single small chest. Conor angled open the lid from a distance using his halberd. Inside lay a wooden figurine in the shape of a man, atop a bed of papers. Bemused, Lucius drew near and leaned close to inspect the papers underneath… BAM! The figure's wooden arm lurched upright, nearly breaking Lucius' nose with its fist.
The wooden golem leapt from the chest, standing three feet tall, and closed for battle. After two thrusts from Conor's torch, Lucius' broadsword splintered the thing in two. Free to examine the chest, it was revealed that most of the papers were blank, or bore inane doodles or sketches. Some-one had cleared the chest in a haste however, and had missed one paper… a scroll of Protection Against Lycanthropes.
Satisfied that they had thoroughly explored/ransacked this side of the lake, the heroes boarded their boat and rowed back across the lake. Lassandra, shivering in the rear of the craft kept lookout for the red outline of the Wokan, but saw nothing. Lucius and Conor both suspected Brownbeard, and feared for Natalya. What might have happened in their absence, they wondered. The shoreline grew near and anticipation swept across all four. Natalya waved from a distance, the dwarf lying prostrate at her feet. As the four drew close, the cleric put a finger to her lips. Brownbeard was asleep, he had not slept in days. Natalya patted his soft beard as he dozed. She too however had been giving thought his tale and found it strange that no sign of a dwarven presence had been found.
Conor presented a bundle to Natalya. Tearing back the rags the cleric could not suppress a gasp of joy as she held aloft her treasured possession and relic of the Church. "Orcsmite is mine once more!" she proclaimed as she embraced Conor with force. The barbarian eyed the weapon with awe, wondering what powers it contained, and stated that Natalya must be a cleric of some standing in her Church to wield such a weapon. The cleric shook her head, telling the Hinterlander that the hammer had been bestowed upon her for this one mission. She was of little standing within her Church, but hoped one day to aspire to the ranks of a certain male cleric her own age, recently made Bishop and a child prodigy whom the Church considered to be Halav incarnate.
Brownbeard is suspected
Lucius took the moment's distraction to lightly kick Brownbeard, rousing him from sleep, to face questioning from himself and Antonius. No dwarven stonework so far, the pair pointed out. No veins of gold running through the rock, nothing! Lucius demanded that the dwarf explain himself. Brownbeard's mouth fell open, unable to answer. Eventually he broke down, his eyes growing moist as he apologised. Speaking with his hand on his heart, the dwarf confessed that these were foreign surroundings to him but somehow felt like home. A portion of his memory was gone, likely from a blow to the head during combat with the orcs, but something to do with a golden treasure held the key, that was he felt certain about. Sensing sincerity in Brownbeard's voice, Lassandra patted him on the shoulder and suggested they head on to the golden door.
Stepping up to the golden door, Conor inserted the golden key into the lock. Effortlessly the key turned, and the door swung open. Venturing in, weapons drawn, the companions found themselves in a square room with polished walls, and magically glowing stones fixed at intervals along the ceiling. In the centre of the east wall stood a gleaming golden throne. The companions made their way over to this seat, and eagerly Lucius moved to sit upon it. Placing a foot upon the stone lintel however, the ground gave way and Lucius landed badly at the bottom of a pit.
His companions called down asking whether he was alright. The fighter replied that he was fine, and that a low tunnel led off to the north. Lassandra was about to let down a rope when her keen senses detected motion. A scrawny orc was heaving the golden door closed. The elf lost no time charging toward the doorway but was too late. With a click the door locked itself; to the companion's vexation there was no keyhole on their side. The only way out was Lucius' tunnel.
Progressing along the tunnel the heroes emerged onto the sandy floor of a brilliantly lit, circular cave whose walls had been carved away to create seating rows… A chord struck at once within Conor - they were in an arena! Behind a tall partition sat over a dozen orcs, hissing and stamping, clashing weapons against their seats, their beady eyes fixed on a portcullis behind the heroes. The portcullis began to rise… out came a barrel-chested humanoid with the monstrous head of a bull, a cruelly-barbed trident grasped in his hands… Conor joined by Lucius gave a cry and closed to do battle with the minotaur, followed by the restof the party.
Lassandra's arrow and Antonius' dagger embedded in the creature's shoulder as it swiped at Lucius savagely with its trident. Lucius was caught and blood flowed from the open wound. Lassandra prepared a spell. Conor and Lucius stabbed, both striking the minotaur for damage. The crowd booed and hissed. The minotaur snorted and reared to retaliate, but not before Lassandra let out the words to her spell. A blazing light lit the arena, then seemed to intensify around the monster's eyes. When the blaze cleared, the foe was blind, stabbing madly in all directions. The battle thereafter did not last long - the minotaur was reduced to a fearful wreck, and a thrust of Lucius' sword ended its torment.
The wokan appears
A cry of rage sounded from the horde of orcs, and from their midst emerged an individual clad in tattered rags of many colours. "Kill the intruders!" The assembled orcs were keen to obey their wokan, and surged over the partition wall to engage the party. Missile fire felled the first humanoids, before Natalya hefted Orcsmite and cried "For Halav!!" The two sides clashed…
Lucius stabbed all around him, felling any and every opponent who closed to do battle with him. Seeing so many foes fall before him, there came chanting from the ranks which Lucius knew could only be directed at him. Within seconds darkness clouded his vision, the fighter shaking his head but to no avail… blindness had taken him. Lucius gasped in fear but was consoled by words of prayer spoken in a thick foreign accent. Natalya raised Orcsmite and through Halav's will the darkness lifted.
The wokan watched as handful after handful of his minions were struck down. Enraged at Natalya having countered his magic, and as Conor's halberd skewered two orcs in the blink of an eye, he cast a second spell… Conor's eyelids became heavy and he sagged to the ground amid the heat of combat. Natalya with a half-spoken protest did likewise, Orcsmite falling from her grasp to land in the sand underfoot. She herself hit the ground a moment later.
With two of their companions down, the remaining four fought on valiantly. Lucius felled one foe, then reeled with shock as an ironshod staff swung in his direction. The wokan dropped into the centre of the clearing and closed to battle Lucius. Seeing Lucius with this foe, Lassandra slew her orc and raced to join combat. Brownbeard and Antonius were caught up in combat and could do little to help, so elf and fighter fought against their magic-using assailant.
Lucius dodged the blows of the wokan's staff, which was wielded with considerable skill and control. Lucius had little time to wonder what training the wokan might have received as he parried and thrusted. Small blows were landed but none seemed to tire the wokan. At long last both Lucius and Lassandra's weapons hit home. Shrieking with pain, the wokan gathered his robes and soared upward. Reaching the ceiling, he used handholds in the rock to pull himself across the arena with alarming speed.
All the other orcs had fallen. Lucius lost no time in sprinting to the arena wall, heaving himself over and moving to follow the wokan. A trail of blood from the orc's many wounds led the way, up the ranks of seating to an open corridor. The trail stopped at a dead-end, where a small pool of blood had collected. Lucius was momentarily baffled, glancing all about, but as he was joined by Lassandra the two began to hurriedly search for a secret opening. The elfmaiden informed her comrade that Antonius and Brownbeard had paused to rouse their sleeping comrades… for the time being it would be fighter and elf who pursued the fleeing magic-user.
At last Lucius' roving fingers located a catch, and the panel of wall slid back revealing the pedestal chamber from earlier. The trail of droplets led on, along the passageway and into the orc living cavern, then onward to the ropebridge across the gaping chasm. There the trail ended. The sound of chanting emerged from close by, the air around Lucius and Lassandra began to stick itself together… Acting on impulse, Lassandra sprang backward, and Lucius rolled nimbly forward across the bridge. A heartbeat later an expanse of sticky web sprang up across the midsection of the bridge, separating the companions. Then to Lassandra's horror, a wart-covered hand emerged from a shadowy alcove; the wokan set foot on the wooden bridge, his staff in hand. Lassandra set her gaze squarely on the wokan and closed with her sword in hand.
On the far section of the bridge Lucius could hear the clashes of sword against staff, and saw no other course of action. He thrust his torch into the strands of webbing, which caught instantly and shrivelled into nothingness. The flames carried on, playing along the sturdy ropes of the bridge. Putting this peril from his mind, Lucius ran toward the other side where Lassandra and the orc were locked in combat.
A blur of weapons ensued, the wokan's face possessed a snarling smile as the flame swept along the bridge to the point where the human and elf were standing. His smile faded when Lucius' sword ran the orc's midsection clean through. Barely alive, the silver flash of Ilsendel's Kiss moved across the wokan's throat and with a gurgling cry he staggered backward to fall from the bridge. His feet failing him, the enflamed rope bridge gave way and Lucius dove toward Lassandra, knocking the pair of them off the bridge and onto solid ground, in the nick of time.
The two were overjoyed to be still alive, as the burning remnants of the bridge collapsed into the chasm and appeared to fall for an eternity. Gazing down however, neither one of them could make out the body of the wokan, and both were confused. Then they glanced up and breathed a sigh of relief - the wokan's body was floating in mid-air, the magical Levitation still in effect. Lucius stripped the body of its treasures. On each hand the wokan wore a ring, one bearing a yellow topaz, the other a light blue stone. The sound of running drew closer as Antonius, Conor, Brownbeard and Natalya caught up with their two companions, and the four were overjoyed at Lucius' and Lassandra's success. The fight against the orcs, it seemed, was over.
The rope-bridge which led back to the entrance had burned away, and nobody, despite some adventurous suggestions from Lucius (involving spears and ropes), could think how to cross the gaping chasm. Instead, Natalya suggested, the party might dismantle one of the barriers into the ghoul section, and try to reach the other exit. Seeing no other alternative, the others agreed to this plan.
One thing was playing on Lassandra's mind. The pedestal room had not been fully explored, she thought. The complex was now depleted of foes, to the best of the party's knowledge, and so they returned to the pedestal room. Antonius was unable to scale the slick side of the pedestal, and so instead Lassandra convinced Lucius to hand over the potion of Levitation the party had uncovered in the wokan's lair. Draining the vial of its contents, Lassandra floated to the top platform with ease, and called down to her comrades that she saw a scroll, floating a few inches off the wooden surface, and emanating a golden glow! As the elf cautiously approached, it crossed her mind that the display of this scroll almost seemed tacky somehow… In any case, Lassandra dared to pull apart the golden ribbon holding the scroll together, and revealed the magical script within… A spell scroll! The brilliance faded. Floating back down to rejoin her companions, Lassandra could not help but turn something over in her mind… Whatever did that motto signify?
Leaving the complex was no problem. Conor and Lucius dismantled a portion of the barricade large enough for them all to step through. Inside was chill and calm, Natalya took the lead along the winding passageway and when the undead brutes revealed themselves, the will of Halav presented through Orcsmite was sufficient to clear the companions a path through the short complex. Following the chill draught of the place, a small hole was located, through which the last rays of the setting sun were poring. Each companion eased himself through onto the side of the mountain, then the party made haste down the slopes and away from the double-peaked mountain. The quest was over!
Weary as they were, the heroes had no wish to camp in the bleak chill of the mountains, so marched on through the night, arriving back in Bumbleton as the sun was rising the next morning. To their surprise, standing at the gates was the familiar form of Lord Trepicius, who welcomed the heroes back and bid them accompany him to the temple where they might find warm beds and food and drink. To Natalya he paid a solemn welcome (despite her being a follower of a rival, and non-comedic, church), and he shook hands with Brownbeard in an almost sad manner. Still, they were all heroes of Bumbleton and were made welcome in the Temple. Wounds were healed, information exchanged, and the heroes received a reward from the Patriarch for their services to the town.
The next day Natalya took her leave of the party. She thanked each in turn for the honour of having fought alongside them in battle, and for having returned Orcsmite to the Church. For this she bestowed the blessing of Halav upon each companion, including the dwarf Brownbeard. Embracing Lassandra and Conor she beseeched both to stop by the Church of Traladara if they ever travelled to Specularum.
For his part, Brownbeard was seen over the course of the next week in a corner of the Tipsy Beaver Inn, sitting alone and staring into the bottom of an ale tankard. Many felt moved to extend friendship to the dwarf, who alongside the five other comrades was a local hero, but the dwarf longed for space and quiet reflection. He had lost the most part of his memories and felt lost. Rising one morning, the dwarf packed his few belongings and called to visit Lassandra. He apologised for having misled the adventurers in that dungeon, but in his heart of hearts he did not know what had gone wrong. His home had to be out in the world somewhere, the dwarf decided, and he would devote the next part of his life to seeking that place out. Even if it did not yet exist physically, he would build a new life with new friends and new experiences. He bid the four companions farewell and departed in search of his new calling. While munching on a wheel of cheese (a present from Lord Trepicius).
The next day a young man came to town, strolling out of the Forest, his tousled blond hair pulled into a short ponytail, with a longbow slung casually over one shoulder. The green-clad youth surveyed Bumbleton with approval, made his way to the Tipsy Beaver and there ran to meet Lassandra, lifting the slender maiden off the ground and whirling her in an embrace. After being introduced to Lucius, Conor and Antonius, Dallus joked to Lassandra, "I let you out of my sight for one day and you take on an orc tribe?!" Many smiles were exchanged between the party members. Later that day the party of five took to the road in search of adventures new.
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