The three companions trudged out of the forest, exhausted to a man. The ex-gladiator Conor, having gained his freedom from the Arena of Thyatis had received a gift from an old comrade - a treasure map, marking the location of a magical treasure far away across the Empire, in the Vyalia Forest. Conor alongside his trusted companions Antonius and Lucius had set about laying his hands upon the treasure which lay within a makeshift complex - several sacks brimming with gold lucins. The treasure had not been without its guardians; the barbarian's enchanted battle axe, a parting gift from his old dwarven trainer Dona, had served him well. Conor swung the magical blade playfully from side to side as he walked, marvelling how the rays of the sun played upon the curving blade.
A Change Would Do You GoodOur Thyatian party's first adventure
The sun was low in the western sky, and the three would be hard pressed to reach town before nightfall. Onward they trekked and sure enough as the sun set into the lofty treetops of the Forest, walled defenses came into view… they had reached Bumbleton. Nestled at the foot of mountain peaks which served as home to a great many humanoid tribes, the companions thought it odd that the fortified town's gates were wide open, as if to welcome any newcomers. Two guards atop the wall waved the travellers merrily through the gates; not only did the guard appear unconcerned as to whether these newcomers posed a threat to the town, they might even have been inebriated. The whole town was clearly in high spirits and celebrating some recent event. Defences on this night were at an all-time low.
Walking through the streets, there was open singing and dancing, and the town's magicians had set coloured lights dancing here and there. The three companions made their way to the Tipsy Beaver Inn in the centre of town. The halfling proprietor Bruce extended a hearty welcome, found his guests seats at a small table by the fire, and his floury-armed wife Frillda insisted that the guests sample her fresh-baked meaty pies. Celebrations continued all around, as Bruce explained recent events in full. A tribe of orcs had descended from the mountains, set on raiding the small town for all its worth. Local rumours spoke of fresh ores having been located in the mines to the east, perhaps it was this which had spurred the orcs into open assault. The orcs had underestimated the townsfolk's ability to defend their homes. The tide of battle had turned against the humanoids at any early stage; the humanoids were routed before they even reached town, and retreated in shame.
Later into the evening, the door of the tap room opened and a cloaked figure emerged from the cold outside into the bright interior. The newcomer spoke briefly with Bruce, and was directed to a seat alongside Conor, Antonius and Lucius. Easing back her green hood, the Inn's patrons gave murmurs at the sight of a beautiful young elfmaiden in their midst. Many folk wondered whether the town had committed some wrongdoing to have prompted the appearance of a Vyallia elf, but no ill feeling was directed toward her. Within a few moments the patrons' conversations and merry-making resumed.
Lassandra explained that she had been sent from the Forest by her father, an elflord of the Diamerak clan, to deliver rare herbs to a herbalist in Bumbleton, in return for a pouch of quartz pieces. These gems would serve as funds for Lassandra's travels; she had outgrown her sylvan homeland and had been urged to explore the greater Empire. She planned to spend a few nights in town, then be met by her companion Dallus, a human fighter. The four fell into conversation together and the night passed in pleasant and easy company.
The four were approached a while later by a venerable old man, resplendent in white robes and sporting a long flowing beard, braided to either side. Setting down his tankard on the companions' table, the cleric introduced himself as Lord Trepicius, a cleric and the overseer of Bumbleton. Despite the town having dispersed an orc horde only the day before, the Patriarch feared the surviving humanoids might have regrouped in their homeland, the northern mountains. He was therefore seeking a small company of adventuring types to trek into the mountains and scout around for signs of activity. A pouch of gold was up for gain should the heroes return with a map of any orc lairs, and further reward would be bestowed should the heroes actually confront any orcs on their travels. Suitably tempted, the heroes were left to consider the offer.
Early the next morning Lassandra and Lucius visited the Patriarch in his temple, and over cheese and biscuits (magically conjured) stated that they would accept his offer. Delighted, the merry old cleric was donning his ceremonial plate to accompany the whippersnappers on their quest when a personal aide reminded his Lordship of his clerical duties for the day (they were having problems getting the town's famous cheese to set), and so Lord Trepicius was obliged to remain in town. As a gesture the four companions would be decked out in whatever equipment or supplies they might need from Master Wensleydale at the local store, all to be paid for out of the town kitty.
Heading north the path led from lush pastureland to forest, then hilly terrain, and finally into the rocky slopes of the Peaks ahead. A chill wind blew down from the summits, freezing each character to the bone, and on they pressed.
Following the course of a ravine, Lassandra's keen hearing picked up sounds of shouting from further up the trail - rounding a corner the companions came upon a lone dwarf battling a half-starved mountain lion. As one Lucius and Lassandra sent arrows whizzing at the great cat, while Conor and Antonius closed with blades drawn. The dwarf scarcely acknowledged their presence, but as the cat was crushed beneath Conor's axe his curse resounded along the ravine's walls. Why had these interlopers ruined his enjoyment, he demanded to know. For crying out loud, what other entertainment was there in these frozen peaks to keep a dwarf occupied... Lassandra bit back a smile as the old dwarf rolled his eyes and tried to hide bleeding fangmarks on his forearm. As the elfmaiden tended his wounds, the four newcomers introduced themselves and stated the reason for their mission. Upon hearing mention of orcs, Brownbeard (for t'was his name) was moved to drop his sullen façade, for he too sought orcs who had recently driven his kin from their ancestral home within a nearby mountain. After a bloody skirmish the tribe had slain all the males of the clan save Brownbeard who was left for dead in the snow; the women and children were believed to have fled for the hills to the west. The dwarf had awoken with a ringing in his head and only hazy memories of what had happened. It was likely they sought one and the same band of orcs, therefore so the party became five. Brownbeard agreed to lead the companions to his home in return for their help ridding the place of the blasted humanoids.
Trekking onward the dwarven home came in sight - a distinctive mountain whose peak had been split in two by some ancient force. Ascending the steep slope, the five found themselves on a ledge before a cave which extended fifty feet into the mountain, then stopped. Brownbeard scratched his nose in dismay, having been sure this was the way in. When Lassandra stepped forward to inspect the rock face, her hand passed through the wall. Thinking at first that her forearm had been disintegrated, the elfmaiden was glad to discover that the wall was merely an illusion.
Antonius took the lead and stepped through the wall, feeling a tingle across his body as he passed through but no ill effect. Inside was dark, but a spell from Lassandra soon illuminated a broad passageway, sloping down into the mountain. After a short distance the five had to clamber over a pile of rubble, and faced a sheer drop on the other side. All made their way safely down, save for Antonius who stumbled but with an impressive display of acrobatics managed to avoid much damage from his tumble.
Onward into the caves, the passageway opened into a vast cavern but then dropped away beneath the heroes' feet. Bats fluttered above as the companions lowered themselves down the twenty foot drop, to the cavern floor. Moving forward the magical light fell upon a huge white mushroom directly ahead, from which the party moved to keep a safe distance, edging cautiously along the left-hand wall of the cave. They came to a small alcove, into which Antonius stepped to investigate, and in the dim light made out the forms of two leather sacks hanging from the ceiling. Could these hold treasure, the rogue wondered? Creeping forward he squinted to inspect how the bags were attached to the ceiling, and revealed two sets of... claws. These were no normal bags! Backing off the thief made every effort to move silently, but trod on a loose pebble. The disturbance caused the bats to detach from the alcove and set upon the party. All members avoided harm however, and were rewarded with a muck-encrusted copper bracelet for their troubles.
Progressing along the cavern wall, a second mushroom could be made out, and the party members froze. Conor and Lucius had had enough of skulking and marched boldly in the direction of the fungus. The resulting screech split the skulls of all present, then gave way to an eerie silence; even the bats a hundred feet up stopped their motion. Antonius threw his cloak over Lassandra's glowing shield lest any nearby creatures should spot the party, and the five stood immobile for a long while. Just as all seemed safe, the elfmaiden's infravision picked up a red outline heading in their direction. The hulking mass was allowed to draw closer, until Antonius drew back his cloak at the last moment. The bear reared in anger at the sudden blaze, covering its face with two immense paws. A moment later the paws withdrew to reveal a long, curving beak - an owlbear. The party members rushed into combat, both Lucius and Conor were caught by the immense paws for massive damage. Brownbeard was badly bitten by the horned beak, but at last the five were victorious, and pressed onward. The owlbear's lair was uncovered, a small cave which contained only scraps of fur and bone.
Making their way up a small cliff, the companions found themselves in a wide passageway and pressed on. At a T-junction their chosen path led to a dead-end, so they backtracked to a small square cave, with a wide pit in its centre. In one corner an iron spike had been hammered into the floor; attached was a thin rope, leading down into the darkness. To another side stood a wooden sign bearing words in the orc tongue, which Lassandra translated for the group - "no more than three". Dubious as to what the sign meant, Conor decided to lower himself into the pit, and tugged on the rope to test its strength. Immediately below, a small tinkling sound was heard, and a moment later a clanking began… Conor backed away from the pit, as a wooden platform ascended into view, held on each side by a rope and pulley attached to the pit walls. Conor, Lassandra and Lucius stepped onto the platform, waited a moment, then rang the bell. The clanking resumed as the trio descended into the darkness. Reaching the bottom after a descent of over fifty feet, a bulky humanoid turned from the huge wheel he had finished heaving, and scratched his bald head in confusion upon seeing three non-orcs. The ogre grabbed his club and closed to battle the intruder.
Conor's axe swung twice and the battle was done. The platform ascended, powered by the hinterlander's muscles which were enough to rival any ogre, and returned bearing Brownbeard and Antonius. Relieving the dead ogre of a small sack attached to his belt, the party uncovered 150gp and a yellow potion of ESP. Stepping over the body, they made their way along a narrow winding passage, and emerged into a smoke-filled cavern, a large fire burning at one end. Conor was disturbed to note two makeshift beds by the fire, and suspected the presence of a second ogre. Searching a pile of old sacks produced nothing, nor did the first exit which turned out to be the ogre latrine. The second exit led to a heavy iron portcullis, secured firmly to the cave floor by a sturdy padlock. Antonius' attempts to pick the lock proved fruitless, and so a key was to be sought elsewhere.
Returning to the main cave, the party followed the third and final exit, heading north before reaching a junction. Turning left they entered a store room and were able to help themselves to a quantity of torches just as the enchantment on Lassandra's shield failed and dimmed. Vials of oil and other supplies were also raided. Returning to the junction, the path north widened into a large square room - in the centre was a sturdy oak table, littered with cards, dice, bones and broken bottles, along with one dozing ogre, snoring loudly with its boots resting on the tabletop. Saying nothing, Antonius unsheathed a dagger and tip-toed across the room. Drawing close, the thief was reaching for what he thought was a ring of keys, when... BAM! The thief's attempt to remain silent had failed, and the crafty ogre lunged for Antonius' throat. Antonius dodged at the last moment and avoided being throttled. His companions closed and the ogre was defeated. A sack under its chair revealed 150gp and five pieces of quartz, plus the ring of iron keys from its belt.
The companions noticed that the eastern wall of the room was lined with iron bars, with a small hatch at one side, held in place by a rusted padlock. Conor's axe shattered the ancient lock, and the barbarian stepped into what he thought might have been a passage onward, but was in fact a prison area. The floor was littered with rags, and in one corner a female figure rose to her feet, dusting down her chainmail and once-white robes. "I appreciate the rescue," she smiled, "but the noise of that axe was enough to rouse the dead."
The accent was thick, slavonic and strange to these lands. Shaking cobwebs from her shoulder-length dark hair, the lady introduced herself as Natalya, a cleric of the Church of Traladara in the city of Specularum. Conor bowed cordially, offered the lady his arm as she stepped out of the prison cell and introduced his companions. Natalya smiled once more and she remarked how such well-developed muscle might work wonders in the service of her patron Halav. However, a stern look possessed the woman's face as she addressed each companion in turn, speaking of how she came to be trapped in this place. Her party had ventured to this corner of Thyatis, having heard how the fringes of the Empire were beset by humanoids. The party had been captured by the orcs and put to death. Natalya was spared for the use of her clerical powers; the orcs had confiscated her holy hammer, which she wished to recover at all costs. The party invited Natalya to join them in their quest against the orcs, and so became six.
Before leaving, Natalya asked leave to heal her new companions, who had been badly hurt in the fights against the owlbear and the second ogre. Both Conor and Lucius benefited, but the cleric had no more healing for the dwarf, whose wounds were equally severe. Seeing this, Lassandra took Brownbeard to one side, and laid the flat of her sword, Ilsundel's Kiss against his wounds. Returning to the others, Natalya caught sight of the dwarf's improved condition and cast a nod of appreciation toward the elfmaiden. Lassandra gave a smile in return, and the six got back on their way.
The iron portcullis was unlocked, then required the combined might of Conor and Lucius to lift. Lassandra and Natalya stepped through, followed by Antonius and Brownbeard, then finally as Conor's muscles strained, Lucius, then the barbarian threw himself forward, narrowly avoiding being beheaded as the portcullis dropped with a clang. Lassandra and Natalya winced at the loud sound, then the party pressed onward.
A set of natural steps led down, deeper into the mountain, as finally the party emerged at the top of a gaping chasm. Far below the chasm descended, not into darkness, but into a strange ever-changing glow, pink one minute, then interspersed with blue, then became greenish, and so on. Marvelling at this phenomenon, the companions approached the rope bridge spanning the thirty-foot gap between them and the far side of the drop. Lucius used his smithing know-how to inspect the iron poles which supported the ropes, and pronounced the bridge safe. Indeed, despite missing the odd plank here and there, the handrail-less bridge barely gave an inch under the party's weight as they crossed one by one.
On the other side, the passage led to a T-junction. Heading north, a second junction offered choices of north or east. Natalya shuddered, informing the party that the northernmost section of the complex had been infested by foul undead - ghouls. The fiends had uncovered a small opening on the exterior mountainside and penetrated inside - occasionally they broke into the orcs' quarters and so Natalya was kept to hand to repel the invaders with her clerical powers. Indeed, investigating north led to a makeshift barricade of rubble and broken furniture, in addition to boards adorned by a huge red "X". The companions decided to leave well alone, and headed east.
The passage broadened into a long cave dotted with campfires here and there, and around these fires sat groups of orcs. The party silently drew out missile weapons and launched an attack. Ten orcish warriors fell, but searching the cavern produced no items of any worth. A passageway to the north again resulted in a barricade, evidently cordoning off the ghoul area, but this time to the party's shock, noises could be heard coming from the other side. Ghouls ordinarily would make no sound, Natalya informed her comrades, but in this case they must be dismantling the barricade!
Returning to the cave there was a choice of heading south or east. East was selected, and the six entered a round cave whose walls had been polished to a smooth sheen. In the centre of the cave stood an immense pedestal, at whose twenty-foot-tall top was a platform of sorts. Most remarkably, something atop this platform was giving off a golden glow, and underneath the platform, a golden banner held a motto in orcish, which Natalya and Lassandra deciphered for the group. The banner read: "A Change Would Do You Good. The Punishment You Can Never Hope To Undo. B." Baffled by these strange words, Lassandra urged her companions to leave the chamber, since no-one had means to climb to the top. To the east was a solid, golden and locked door. Antonius' attempt to pick the lock resulted in nothing more than a broken wire, so the companions turned south.
The party emerged into a second fire-lit cavern, here were a half dozen female orcs bearing their whelps. The party lacked the heart to slay such pitiful creatures, and instead called out a stern greeting. Lucius and Lassandra stepped forward as spokesmen and conversed with the females in the Common Tongue, ordering the females to leave. The orcs protested, claiming that this was their home. Lucius disagreed, pointing out that the dwarves who had dwelt here and who had been unfairly chased, were set to return. The orc women appeared confused but fell dumb at the mention of dwarves, and agreed to leave. One ill-tempered sort spat at Lucius as she left, muttering how the Great One would deal with these intruders.
Heading east the party came to a junction and discovered a second golden door, locked as before. Unable to open this, the party pressed on, descending a set of natural steps once more and found sand beneath their feet. The six stood upon the shore of an underground lake, from whose still surface radiated an eerie chill. Nearby was moored a wooden craft just large enough to bear six people. Conor stepped forward to take up the oars. As the party boarded the boat however, Brownbeard eyed the freezing waters with suspicion. The dwarf cleared his throat and announced that he would stay on the shore to keep watch. Natalya decided to keep company with the dwarf, and settled down on the shore. The two waved as Conor and Lucius pushed off, rowing into the darkness of the lake beyond. Natalya's voice carried across the chill waters of the lake, her Traladaran accent carrying through the dark. "Please bring back my hammer…"
Across the underground lake
The lake was vast and the rowers' muscles soon began to ache, not knowing how long they had been drifting. Sheets of ice floated past from time to time, and the occasional splash of water from the oars froze whoever they touched to the bone. Lucius took the opportunity to speak of his paranoia about the place, suspecting that Brownbeard or Natalya might have led them into the complex for some unknown reason. Conor nodded in agreement. There had been no sign of any dwarven stonework, perhaps they might find some deeper in the complex. Both cleric and dwarf seemed pleasant and honest sorts, but parts of the dwarf's story did not seem to fit. Finally Lassandra announced that the far shore was in sight. Picking up pace, Conor and Lucius pulled hard on the oars, but to the surprise of everyone on board the boat rocked violently. All save Conor were able to keep their seat; the bulky barbarian was hurled overboard into the freezing water. A second impact was felt, and as Conor edged around the side of the boat a white mass was made out, its paws shaking the boat with furious strength… a polar bear.
Lucius and Lassandra grabbed the oars and made haste for the shore, leaving Conor to swim as best he could. The bear gave chase, but Conor had a headstart and was almost at the shore. A last-minute dodge allowed the fighter to avoid a swipe of the bear's paw, then all the companions were on dry land. As the bear emerged from the waters and shook itself, Lassandra noticed an almost glazed look in its eyes. Seconds later the bear was upon them, as elf and thief launched missiles and the two fighters closed for combat.
Having felled the beast a while later, the companions surveyed their surroundings. They were on a shore similar to the far side of the lake, but here there was a choice of two passageways, one whose walls were rough and natural, the other smooth and straight. Between the entrances was a wooden sign, bearing script in orcish, which the elfmaiden translated as "Leave All Here. Come No Further. Turn Back Now." A hollow had been scooped from the ground in front of the sign, but as Conor and Lucius debated the sign's meaning, Lassandra caught sight of movement on the lake. She covered her eyes from the glare of the party's torches, and in the faraway darkness she glimpsed a solitary red outline float across the surface of the water. A heartbeat later the glow vanished. Lassandra was left wondering whether she had imagined the sighting but confided in her companions all the same. Conor feared for the safety of Natalya and Brownbeard on the far shore, but knew that the stranger had a headstart on the four and could be anywhere by now.
Unsettled though the companions were, they pressed on. Choosing the right-hand, roughcut passageway, they followed the narrow, winding trail until they entered into a round, small chamber whose walls were covered in chiselled and painted runes. A fire was burning in the centre of this cave, its flames giving off a heavy smog of incense. Conor backed away at once, sensing the presence of dark magic, but was held in check by Lassandra's logic. The townsfolk had spoken of a magic-user among the orc horde - could these be the quarters of an orcish spellcaster… a wokan? What if this wizard was close to hand and ready to spring some trap? Lassandra explained that the figure she had seen had been retreating from the party after all. They should explore the quarters for a clue as to where to go next.
Three exits led from this chamber. The first led into a similar round room, whose floor was painted with an eight-pointed star, with a crude ceramic pot at the tip of each starpoint. Lucius was keen to investigate and lifted the lid of the closest pot. Inside was the sheening surface of a liquid! The fighter dabbed some liquid on his lips and felt himself grow light for a second… a potion of Levitation! Eagerly the others uncovered the remaining pots. Antonius uncovered a larger pot containing enough liquid to make four draughts of healing potion! Both he and Conor drank from this pot, then flasks of oil taken from the orc strongroom were emptied to transport the remaining draughts. The next pot was empty, despite Lucius rummaging with his hand inside. The next was empty also, the next bore a potion of Speed, and from the next a Cobra reared up, ready to strike through Conor's leather thigh guard, but the barbarian's reactions proved swift and the snake found itself skewered on the man's cestus.
A final pot uncovered by Lassandra seemed to contain pebbles, but when a torch was shone more closely they were in fact gemstones - ambers, citrines, garnets and a topaz were pocketed by the delighted elfmaiden.
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