“A silver stair of bears leads to a parted silver curtain that may pave an easier way to a major restoration.”Mestarine prophecy
This epic adventure of orcs, blood and mayhem would go well with a spot of Peer Gynt. Press play, then read…
We left poor Brosia, stone cape draped from their stone fingers, amid tumbled rocks and scrub on the mountain road. We’ll return someday soon with a means of transportation and restoration. I hope Brosia cannot think and feel while trapped in stone; I hope it will seem no more than a heartbeat in time for our friend.
Our sights turned to the orc stronghold, a keep built into the mountain at the far end of a plateau. It looks impenetrable with guard towers and many sentries.
We tracked the orcs here, all the way from Gable View. Our primary goal was to find TJ, but we also want to liberate the humans they took as slaves. Getting into the keep was always going to be a challenge, especially without Brosia.
There’s a waterfall near the keep, splashing down into a river that skirts the base of a spur bordering the plateau, then it tumbles further down to flood the road. Closer inspection revealed the watercourse obscured a forgotten staircase leading up from the road, carved into the side of the mountain. Although flooded, the ancient stair is still marked with the stone symbol of the bear claw clan.
Full of trepidation and anticipation, we ascended this “silver stair of bears” to a hidden corner of the plateau. We followed a path along the river towards the waterfall, certain it must be the referenced “silver curtain” in the Mestarine shaman’s prophecy…
Through the tunnel
Alas, our presence was not hidden from the orcs for long.
The keep was still distant when we found ourselves fighting orcs who guarded the entrance to a tunnel…
We dealt with them and entered, thinking it might have been an outer entrance into the stronghold. But instead of taking us deeper into the mountain, the tunnel emptied us out into the brilliant sunlight of a rocky canyon.
To be met by a semi-circle of spears.
Spears wielded by troglodytes, weird and stinking little creatures. There were gnolls in the canyon too, and human slaves.
Trogs and gnolls before us, hordes of orcs at our back. Things were starting to look grim. We killed a few trogs, but eventually their superior numbers overwhelmed us.
Thus began our uneasy dealings with the troglodytes, whose leader was willing to overlook many evils in return for gold and our promise to help liberate them from orc dominion. They took a downpayment and shoved us into a shallow cave under guard.
The canyon is roughly U-shaped, ringed by sheer walls and caves, except for an opening at one end where a road comes in from the Black Tower. We watched, listened and waited as the human slaves were herded into a cave near ours, then as the gnolls (who had clearly not forgiven us for the Black Tower) and trogs debated our fate.
Inevitably, a band of orcs soon arrived out of the tunnel, demanding we be handed over to them.
Then Justin, our companion since the ransacked town of Gable View, burst out of our cave. Justin, the traitor, started yelling in orcish to reveal our location.
And then, impossibly, TJ was there. TJ, that resourceful boy, running towards us from the slave encampment, beckoning us to him.
A moment of shock, then we were running.
We ran towards TJ, Justin’s antics the perfect distraction.
We ran to the slave caves, where several humans had overpowered their troglodyte guards.
We ran through a secret door into a long dark tunnel, accompanied by TJ and some new companions.
Night of blood
In the deep halls of the mountain, it was a night of blood. Of desperation. Of dubious decisions.
This new tunnel turned out to be a dark conduit between the troglodyte caves and the orc keep — a direct path to our destination. But the orc halls beyond were unknown. And we were weary and injured and sorely in need of rest. We failed to press our advantage and paid for it dearly.
The trogs chased us through the tunnel at first, then receded. They’re pragmatic creatures, and in this case they were content to leave our fate in the hands of the orcs and their vastly superior numbers.
It started with the perfect ambush, Justin the treacherous assassin. He almost killed Aramil, before I got my dearest friend to safety. Then I brained Justin with my quarterstaff.
But that was only the beginning.
There followed wave upon wave of orcs and dogs in the darkness. Arrows flying. Blades swinging. Steel-tipped javelins thrusting. No sooner did we stop for breath than another platoon arrived. Relentless. Unyielding. It felt like it went on for hours.
So much blood and death. The air reeked of it as the bodies piled up in the tunnels. More than 60 orcs slain and half as many dogs. Also, alas, a few of our new companions.
Until finally the halls rang silent. Thrull, the orc commander was dead.
In defeating Thrull, aid came from a surprising source. A Fedulian woman had been dragged into the tunnels, perhaps to witness Thrull’s great victory. As the tide of battle turned in our favour, she turned on the orc commander and stuck him in the kidneys. The troglodytes, those fair-weather friends, swarmed the remaining orcs and we prevailed — though both Alek and Aramil were gravely injured.
The Fedulian woman turned out to be the long-lost Aramina Kidari, daughter of the Fedulian overlord who disappeared a decade or so ago. She’s been a prisoner all that time, yet somehow grew up from a lame child in captivity into a haughty young woman who seemed to believe we’d come intentionally to rescue her. (We didn’t disillusion her.)
It was Aramina who told us we’d killed the orc commander, but she says there are still many orcs in the keep, where the slaves are still imprisoned. She also told us of strange, creepy emissaries who have been taking slaves and gold in tribute…
For TJ, if not our own consciences, we must try to find his parents and grandfather and liberate as many slaves as we can.
Aramina offered to guide us into the orc keep immediately. She now has the keys to Thrull’s treasure chest… naturally that is also of interest to us.
However, we were exhausted, bleeding and not prepared to fight more orcs. More to the point, Aramil and Alek were completely incapacitated and couldn’t easily be moved. So the lady guided Dixxon, Tas (one of our new companions) and me into the keep, where we ransacked the priest’s quarters for healing potions.
We saw no one on this journey and returned to our companions safely. But what would have happened had we transported our companions, and hidden in the priest’s room? We’ll never know.
Instead, we rested in the tunnel, and by morning the orcs had built a barricade to keep us out of the keep.
To the keep
Negotiating our way out of the canyon, past the troglodytes, was expensive (and bloody). Perhaps we’ll go back through there to liberate the rest of the slaves and recover our gold and possessions. But first we need to take care of the orcs.
We found a hut on the hill with a perfect view of the stronghold and watched the orcs for the rest of the day while we regathered our strength. They are clearly depleted in numbers — and perhaps, oddly enough, a little terrified. They’ve pulled in all their herds and the human slaves who tend them. But they still have plenty of sentries along the palisade to block our entrance.
The waterfall glints in the morning sunlight as we approach.
It’s been a while since I posted, as life got busy. As a result, the above covers a fair bit of game time… There’s plenty more to come as we storm the keep and see what’s behind the waterfall.
Orcs beware. Huzzah!