We’re really getting into the meat of this campaign now. Sent by our Watch commander into the mountains could be a dream come true… Bring on the adventure!
I first met TJ during my first night on the Watch in Rivermeet. We came upon him and his grandfather, Thomas the fisherman, while we were on patrol. TJ, who is around ten years old, begged me to visit him later to tell stories to drive away nightmares.
How could I refuse such a request? Later that evening, I went with Aramil to their humble dwelling and sang the boy to sleep — but not before he told me of his troubles. He dreamt of his parents, he said, who had gone up the Whitewater River to seek gold. They were troubling dreams, filled with fire and skulls and spiders; TJ was clearly worried for his parents’ safety.
We saw him a couple more times before Thomas came to tell us TJ had vanished. It seemed the enterprising boy had taken a canoe and all his camping gear, then headed upriver in search of his parents. I wanted to help so badly, but we were already bound for the Mestarine healing temple to help Erwin. We promised to help find TJ when we returned.
I have already told of our adventures at the temple of healing (a marvellous night raid) and then our detour to Black Rock keep to overthrow the baron. Afterwards, we were heading back to Rivermeet, when one of the Watch commander’s messengers intercepted us in the village of Black Heath. Contrary to expectation, we were not reprimanded for getting sidetracked and staying away too long; we were instead handed gold and a missive that bade us head upriver to attend to rumours of orc skirmishes.
We could hardly believe our luck.
Whatever reasons our Watch commander had for sending us upriver, it was exactly where we (or at least some of us — I’m not sure about Brosia and Alek) wanted to go, having developed a taste for adventure beyond our Watch duties…
Aramil almost fainted with glee at the prospect of hunting orcs. As for me, well… I wanted to save TJ and his family from the wretched creatures.
Our first destination on the river was some strange settlement called Rat Portage. It took several days to get there —
(and on the way we met the wondrous cloud giant, Kekooza Gullymist. Oh, she was beautiful, and a bard to boot! Her instrument was tragically broken by the goblin horde we saved her from, and such a sad tale she told us. Her people are almost as mythical as the humans believe, hunted to near extinction by frost giants. Mistress Gullymist is seeking refuge in these lands of the Vanya. We gave her directions to the Mestarine healing temple; I hope she may find her way untroubled.)
Rat Portage turned out to be where the fur-traders trap and hunt. We reunited with Gregor, a furrier we encountered on our second Watch patrol, and met a burly druid called Grey Knuckle and his badger companion.
They had seen TJ! The boy came through in his canoe more than a week earlier, followed by his grandfather some days after that. They each continued upriver towards the gold mining (picker) settlement of Gable View. It eased my heart a little to know that Thomas was on the trail of his grandson. But we also heard more tales of orc incursions and Gable View had been silent for three weeks.
It took us five days on foot, hacking through dense undergrowth, to reach Gable View. From a hilltop we looked down upon the timber settlement, searching in vain for signs of life. Foreboding slithered down my spine.
The village was all but deserted. Ransacked and partially burnt. Several corpses lay pricked with black orc arrows bearing the insignia of a bear claw. A disembowelled priest was strung from a tree.
I never saw the carnage at Azan Gedat after my family was savagely murdered by orcs, never once returned to the place I’d been so happy as a child; but my mind went there anyway. I’d always assumed my village had been strewn with corpses, hacked and bloody. (I still don’t want to know the details.) But the weird thing about the village of Gable View was the lack of corpses — only six all told, in a settlement of perhaps ten times that number.
The place gave me chills.
Inside a cellar we found one survivor — Justin, a young man who had been hiding down there for more than a week. He confirmed the settlement had been home to some fifty pickers. The signs pointed to them having been carted away by the orcs into the mountains.
Of TJ and Thomas, Justin knew nothing. I like to think they arrived after the orc raid. (There were two canoes pulled up, although we found no sign they belonged to our friends.) I like to think Thomas has caught up to TJ by now, whether at Gable View or later — for if they did arrive after the orcs it seems likely they followed their trail into the mountains.
Into the mountains
We burnt the corpses and headed after the orcs the following morning. The trail took us across the Cold River, then northwest along a ridge line. The mountains loomed high above us, ever closer. The trees grew gnarlier.
This morning, the third since leaving Gable View, the road forked around the mountain. The orc trail headed southwestwards, along a well-marked road; the other road led north to a tower overlooking the east with the mountain at its back.
My heart longed to go southwest after TJ and Thomas (we hope), but the tower posed a possible threat. So we approached it cautiously. There were a few guards on crumbling stone ramparts and the glint of steel high in the overlooking tower.
Not orcs, as it turned out. Gnolls — with grey skin, snouts, and red and yellow hair. They yelled at us to leave. We waited out of shortbow range to see what they would do.
Then the battle was on. Brosia cast a web to immobilise one section of wall sentries, Aramil charged the gates with Dixxon and Alek. I stayed back, picking off the sentries with Orc Biter… until Brosia, who had scaled the wall, slumped unconscious and I was forced to move into the fray.
I leapt onto the wall and tipped a potion down Brosia’s throat, dodging arrows and swords coming at me. Until one too many pierced my skin and the battle faded into blackness.
By the time I came awake, Dixxon hovered over me and the battle was over. From the tales of my companions, Justin gave good account of himself to save Brosia, me and Alek. (Apparently Brosia dragged me behind cover and tipped a healing potion down my throat — so now we owe each other our lives, maybe we can be friends? I hope so.)
Anyway, while the three of us slumped, broken and bleeding, in the ruined guard tower atop the wall, Aramil and Dixxon charged up the main tower and took out the rest of the gnolls. I wish I could have seen it.
The black tower
So the tower is ours! What is more, according to local legend, this is known as the Black Tower and is said to guard the path to the healing pool of Labelas. Or so Justin says. There is a mural on the wall here, a map, that suggests this is true.
Imagine. The pool of Labelas less than a day’s journey from here! I have heard of the healing temple deep in the mountains, founded long ago by my Sularine brethren. It is a sacred place, dedicated to Labelas Eronath. Miracles have happened there. But I remember hearing that communications with the temple were severed over a decade ago, possibly due to orc strife. It makes me doubly yearn to go there.
But I cannot; not yet. First we must go after TJ and Thomas and those cursed orcs who savaged Gable View. The map mural shows the road we believe the orcs followed, and it is in the opposite direction to the pool.
I will return here, though. I must. I cannot pass so close to the pool of Labelas and not attempt to find it.
In our next session, we will lay siege to the orc stronghold… Hopefully we’ll be able to save TJ and Thomas, although I don’t hold much hope for poor TJ’s parents. I guess we’ll see.