Ambercrest Rising

Session Three: Hongry Man
The party encounters a hungry orc with a mysterious brain injury and his food-pilfering minions

The sun rose on the second day of the intrepid group’s adventures to see them on their way to recovering Dirk’s missing cargo. They left the city’s southern gate and it was not long before they detected a well-worn dirt path veering east off the main road. Mognyr led the way, Ugarth’s tracking skills helping them stick to the path, and as the party followed its northeast trajectory around the edge of Ambercrest they came to a bend in the road nestled between trees and boulders.

Ugarth continued his scouting and ducked into a cluster of trees. If not for his keen eyes, he would have tripped right over a goblin hiding there.

“Aaarrgh! They found me!” the goblin squealed.

A brief moment of dead silence followed. If he expected any listening companions to come to his aid, he was sorely mistaken. Ugarth drew his bow and held it ready to strike the goblin.

Before he had the chance to attack, Idria called out from the other side of the trees, “What do you want?”

“Uhh, food!” he squeaked hoarsely. “Give us your food!”

Ugarth raised an eyebrow; the goblin was hardly in any position to make demands.

“What for?” Idria asked.

“To eat!”

The conversation was going nowhere, a fact made even clearer by the emergence of a large, club-wielding bugbear from behind a boulder. He was quickly joined by several smaller goblins. The bugbear charged, wearing a fiendish grin that suggested that he could make a meal of the party whether they were carrying rations or not.

Mognyr met the bugbear, deflecting his attacks from the smaller and weaker members of the group. While Gdom and Maruk came to his aid, Idria and Ugarth concentrated fire on the attacking goblins.

Then, out of nowhere, a projectile crashed into the middle of the group and burst into flames, followed by a second rain of shot: two hostile kobolds and a halfling revealed their positions hiding amongst the tree branches above.

Thia summoned her spirit companion in the form of a koala. It battled viciously, striking one of the kobolds and knocking its corpse from the tree. The second fell with a swift arrow loosed from Ugarth’s bow.

“Leave them alive, we may need to question them!” Idria said.

“Useless vermin,” said Ugarth shortly, watching with satisfaction as his quarry fell to earth. “No point.”

As Gdom watched the mighty bugbear fall to the ground, Mognyr turned his gaze on the halfling hiding in the tree branches.

I’ll crush the tiny pest,” he growled confidently, striding up to the tree. His hulking form slowly lumbered up and he flailed at the halfling above. His flail fell short.

“I’ve got it!” Maruk cried. The mul charged at the tree, knocking both Mognyr and the halfling to the ground. A loud thud resonated as the huge gnoll hit the ground.

Uhhn,” Mognyr grunted.

The group moved in to attack the halfling, the sole survivor of the bandit group. After suffering a few blows, he scrambled to his feet and, in the proud tradition of halflings everywhere, made a break for it.

A small orb of pure arcane energy shot after him like an arrow and brought him down with a sizzle.

Ugarth made a quick round of the battlefield, dispatching any of his enemies that had not already met their maker. Idria glowered, but Ugarth’s search yielded a very primitive map — property of the late bugbear.

Labeled “MAPPe”, the crumpled and apparently chewed piece of paper illustrated a path along the northeast dirt road they had been following. It included landmarks such as “fud/ FOODe”, “ciddy”, “stompss”, “bigge raak”, “caev”, and at the end of a marked trail there was an illustration of a humaniod holding dining utensils, labeled “me” and “HONGRY”. The “bigge raak” was accompanied by a picture of what was presumably a boulder with an angry face drawn on it.

The other side of the paper was adorned with writing of a much neater and more eloquent style, though it had since been heavily smudged and wrinkled. A keen eye could make out simple script detailing what seemed like droll training exercises and guard patrols.

The group gathered around the bizarre map and pondered its implications.

“Maybe we should go take a look,” Gdom said, thinking back to Daggerpalm’s warnings about bandit activity outside the city. But then, he thought, Daggerpalm had never mentioned anything about the area to the northeast, only the southern route between Ambercrest and Moorhaven.

“We need to go find the ore carts, right now,” Ugarth insisted.

“There could be a connection, though,” Thia argued.

“That’s what we’re getting paid for. The map is irrelevant.”

“Dirk did ask us to find the source of the problem,” Thia continued, “and to stop anything dangerous from attacking his shipments.” Her voice carried a tone of disapproval for Dirk’s unsafe shipping practices, but she figured that if he was going to carry on with them anyway they may as well try to prevent anyone else from getting hurt on this path.

“We can always go back and look after we find the ore,” Maruk offered. This compromise seemed to settle the debate, at least for the moment.

“Mognyr, what are you doing?” Idria asked, suddenly noticing that the huge gnoll was leaning over the fallen bugbear’s corpse.

Saving for later,” Mognyr answered as he stoppered a flask freshly filled with blood.

The party decided it was time set out again along the worn dirt path.

They walked in relative peace for a few hours, and the only sounds they heard were those of nature: the rustle of a small animal dashing for leafy cover or an occasional murmuring brook. The grass grew thinner, and the sparse hills began to give way to rockier and ever greater and more frequent mounds. Finally, as the afternoon was wearing on into evening and the howls of larger animals began to resonate across the land, they followed a bend in the cracked dirt pathway and came upon an eerie sight.

Dirk’s two wagons of ore stood pristine and untouched in the shade of a large, rocky hill. Thousands of gold worth of materials, but not a guard (or the corpse of one) in sight. Even the horses had vanished without a trace; the reins hung empty and completely intact from the spotless wagons.

The group agreed quickly that the ore was too valuable to leave out in the open. They dragged them off the road and under the cover of hills and shrubs. During this process Thia and Ugarth noticed some worn paths going away from the carts. They seemed to follow the pattern of one or two sets of footprints alongside a long, steady streak, like one left by a body being dragged. All of them made for hidden spots behind ditches or shrubs, where the fate of the guards became gruesomely clear.

Several armored bodies had been beaten and mangled, their armor torn away to clear a path to the now rotted remnants of their flesh. A few seemed to have been gnawed on, and most were missing limbs and meaty chunks.

Thia backed away, disturbed, while Ugarth’s gaze followed the footprints leading away from all of the rotting bodies, or what was left of them. All converged and led northeast along the roadside. More noticeably, there were hoofprints leading from the area along the same basic pathway.

Considering that the missing horses would play a very significant role in returning the ore carts to Ambercrest, the group set out immediately to track them. Maybe, in the process, they could discover who had attacked the caravan… or what had attacked the caravan.

As they walked north the terrain grew slightly rockier still — they were now clearly in the mountainous terrain of the remote Dwarvenlands, though the grassy hills and pastures native to Ambercrest were still in sight on the horizon.

Passing a particularly large boulder, Idria thought to herself that its lines and indentations gave it the appearance of a very angry humanoid face. She mentioned this to the group, and when they referred to the map it seemed that the hoofprints followed along the path marked on it. It seemed that they would soon meet the “hongry” man, whether they were looking for him or not.

Not long after passing a clearing of tree stumps (presumably marked “stompss” on the map), they began to hear distant wailing. As they drew nearer, it grew louder and more distinct. Soon they could distinguish the words.

HOOOOOONGRY,” it whined, “Hungrrrryy! Hongry, hongry…. but, but hoooongry!”

Stealthily they crept up to a clearing in the forest and peered out from their hidden spots behind the trees. The clearing was mostly natural, but several trees had been recently knocked down or uprooted. The trees now formed a crude blockade in the mouth of a nearby cave, which was drawn on the map and marked with an “X” where the trees barred its entrance. There was a large boulder to the side of the clearing which had left a trail of unsettled earth and plant remains that indicated it was being dragged slowly towards the cave mouth, perhaps as a more permanent blockade.

Gnawed and rotting corpses lay strewn about the edges of the clearing, along with bags and crates that had been ripped apart, leaving fragments of foodstuffs on the ground. The corpses were primarily humanoid, some armored, some in plain peasant clothing, and some unclaimed limbs. However, there were a number of animal corpses about: rabbits, foxes, small wolves, one rotted goat, and, to the party’s dismay, four horses.

The clearing’s living inhabitants were a motley crew indeed. A small number of goblins milled about the area, looking on edge. One man and one half-elf, each clad in respectable armor and wielding a fine longbow, stood on either side of the blocked cave entrance as though guarding it. Their attention was set on the source of the wailing — a large orc with a terribly disfiguring injury.

The orc’s armor, or what was left of it, was very fine, well-crafted, and battle-worn, but more noticeable than anything was a large crack in his skull. The wound exposed the orc’s brain, which was swollen, bruised, and painted with glistening red blood.

“Hungryyyyy,” he moaned pathetically. “Where food?”

A small spiretop drake looked up from its perch on one of the horse carcasses. It rooted desperately through the remains and picked off a small fragment of raw meat, taking flight to carry it over to the orc, who nibbled at it desperately.

“The hunting party should return soon, sir,” the half-elf replied.

“And, sir, Raptilian can scavenge if they are kept away too long,” the human added.

“Rapty!” the orc cried joyfully, stroking the drake’s beak with overzealous affection. Rapty nuzzled his hand with a screech that sounded happy, though it was hard to tell with drakes.

The goblins seemed to regard the wounded orc with a careful awe that posed a constant struggle between their desire to stay close enough to warrant his protection while keeping enough distance to avoid unexpected rage and flailing. The humanoid guards, however, did not seem at all bothered by his injury or strange behavior, and treated him with great respect.

The tender moment between the orc and his pet lasted all of about two seconds before he seemed to suddenly remember that he was still very hungry.

“But, but food! But HOOOONGRY!” he wailed angrily. The goblins took a wary step back.

The adventurers exchanged glances. They had seen just about enough of this. The horses were dead and it was clear that, directly or indirectly, this group was responsible for both the attack on Dirk’s cargo and the poorly executed ambush they had routed earlier that day.

A blast of arcane energy engulfed the cave mouth as Idria took aim at the guards from behind a tree. Mognyr charged the enraged orc, followed shortly by an arrow from Ugarth’s bow and the onslaught of Maruk’s longsword. Rapty screeched furiously and flew up into the sky, descending again in a quick divebomb that slashed through the gnoll’s defenses and left him flanked between the drake and his master.

Gdom bowled into the lesser goblins, his falchion cutting into them as his imposing figure blocked their path to aiding their orcish leader. Thia’s spirit companion took shape beside Mognyr and Maruk as a great, shining bear. While her companion guarded the melee combatants an arrow flew from the half-elf guard’s bow, striking Idria, and Thia moved quickly to aid the wounded wizard.

Maruk took a swing at a nearby goblin and cut him down neatly. The orc raged, ramming Mognyr painfully with his club while Ugarth tried again to strike him down with an arrow. It sank into the orc’s shoulder, and he battled on unfazed. Mognyr suffered another divebomb from the drake, who this time plucked Mognyr’s flask away from him.

The remaining goblin struck Gdom, who retaliated swiftly but inaccurately as he attempted to shift closer to the agile archers attacking Idria. She struck back with another burst of arcane energy. Thia shouted an order, and the glowing bear struck the orc. A small burst of energy flowed out of its paw as it made contact, and Mognyr and Maruk felt reinvigorated.

Mognyr took a powerful strike at the drake as it passed. His flail connected, damaging it brutally, but Rapty managed to struggle to his master’s side and deposit the flask in his hand with a weak cry.

“Rapty! Yay!” cried the orc. He undid the stopper and poured the warm liquid down his throat. His eyes widened at the putrid taste and he spat vehemently. The blood sprayed over Mognyr, who looked livid.

“Bleeghhh! Ugh,” he said. Rapty sank sadly.

As the last goblin fell, Gdom rushed to strike at the bowmen. Free at last from the archers’ gaze, Idria lashed out at the drake with a glowing bolt of energy. It struck his wing, singeing it painfully, and he spiraled down to the ground.

RAPTYYYY! NOOOOOOOOOO!” the orc raged, his cries turning to grotesque roars of bloodlust and revenge. He lashed out at his assailants, striking Mognyr powerfully.

The bloodied adventurers battled desperately, and while Gdom struggled to keep the bowmen’s fire off Thia and Idria they drew shortswords and struck him down. When the last archer finally fell, the orc still fought furiously to avenge his pet. Ugarth drew his bowstring and took careful aim, then loosed a final arrow. It struck true in the orc’s exposed brain, and he crumpled to the ground, dead.

As Ugarth made his usual rounds to dispatch the fallen goblins, Thia rushed to tend to Gdom’s wounds. The two guards were left alive and bound for questioning when they awoke. Ugarth advanced upon the fallen drake.

“Do you have to? I feel bad for the poor thing,” Thia pleaded.

“His master is dead,” Maruk said, ending Rapty’s life with a swift chop. “He’d only wish he were dead, or worse, wake up and attack us.”

“Better to save it the misery,” Ugarth agreed.

The group turned to the bound half-elf, who was beginning to come to.

“Uhh… what… what happen… uhh,” he mumbled, in a daze. Mognyr slapped him across the face.

“Uff! Y-you monsters! What have you done to the captain?” the half-elf demanded.

“Captain?” Maruk asked. “The orc?”

“Yes! Captain Magruk is an orc of honor! Where is he?” he asked defiantly.

“Dead,” Ugarth stated shortly.

The half-elf looked shocked. “How? What have you done to him, you monsters!”

“What have we done?” Thia asked. “Did you see his head?”

“There is nothing wrong with the captain’s head,” the half-elf recited. Thia and Idria exchanged worried glances, noticing that his eyes seemed unfocused and slightly glazed. He stated the phrase with precision, as though he had worked to memorize it, and seemed to believe it as absolute truth.

His response unsettled the group, but their questioning pressed on.

“Did you attack a caravan carrying metal ores southwest of here?” Gdom asked.

“Hunting parties went all over… found some humanoids, what looked like ore,” he admitted, suddenly sounding less distant. “The captain did not approve. Said, ‘Big shiny rocks not tasty.’ But he loved the horses….”

The man trailed off, the thoughts of his former captain spurring him to shake with silent fury. He was dispatched before he had a chance to retaliate.

“There was something not right with him,” Idria said.

“Magic?” Ugarth growled superstitiously.

“I’m not quite sure… there was something unnatural about him, though.”

They woke the human guard, but upon questioning him he responded exactly as the half-elf had: with fierce loyalty to his fallen captain, outrage, and the vague and distant statement that “There is nothing wrong with the captain’s head.”

As Mognyr cheerfully caved in the addled guard’s skull, Ugarth noticed tattered pieces of cloth hanging off his armor. They matched similar scraps on the half-elf and Captain Magruk, and all seemed to have been ripped much more precisely than any beast in the wilderness could have managed.

It had been a busy day indeed, and night began to fall as the adventurers ended their questioning. The weary travelers decided to wait until the morning to investigate the cave and decide what to do about transporting Dirk’s cargo. They set up a small campfire in the cover of the trees and lay out their bedrolls for a sleep well earned.

However, it was not long into the first watch that a loud crash interrupted their rest. Idria and Mognyr stood and swung around to look for the source of the noise. The trees blocking the cave entrance had been splintered and scattered.

There, in the shadow of the cave, stood an enormous, frenzied troll. And he looked very hungry.

Session Two: Daggers, Dirk, and the Drunken Gnoll
The group meets Daggerpalm, receives their mission from Dirk, and meets the newest member of the party--a gnoll who makes a startling discovery....

Ugarth stood with unflinching resolve, an arrow ready to fly into the eladrin’s face at a moment’s notice. She eyed the arrow warily, but remained calm and unmoved.

“My name is Silvia Feykin,” she said softly. “My master would like to speak with you. I ask that you come with me to meet him now.”

The group responded suspiciously. “How do we know we can trust you?” asked Thia and Idria.

“Are you not the ones pointing a weapon at me, while I am unarmed?” Silvia responded pointedly. Her voice remained entirely too calm for one with an arrow aimed at her face, but took on a hint of firmness.

Ugarth lowered his bow and Silvia stepped forward to return Thia’s purse. She then presented five thin strips of cloth.

“Unfortunately I am going to have to ask that you are blindfolded; the location of our rendezvous is to be kept secret. As a gesture of good faith, I will allow you to blindfold yourselves. I hope this is acceptable to you.”

The party grew nervous and even more suspicious, but agreed to wear the blindfolds. Some questioned how suspicious it would look to see a party of five blindfolded people being led through the streets, but Silvia assured them that they would keep to the shadows and alleyways of the slums where they were unlikely to be seen or questioned.

Several of the party members managed to stealthily and deftly tie their blindfolds so that they could still see a small area in front of them. However, despite Ugarth’s best efforts to navigate their path, the group soon realized they were being led in circles and could not identify their location. After a minute of walking, they were joined by a confederate of Silvia’s with a gruff voice and aggressive demeanor. He walked at the rear of the group and shoved Gdom roughly several times along the way.

After several minutes, Silvia halted the group. They heard several soft thuds and a low grinding sound. Though several tried to tilt their heads back and see what was going on from under their mis-tied blindfolds, Silvia spotted them and quickly stopped their efforts. The grinding stopped. Suddenly the newcomer shoved Gdom forward, knocking him into the rest of the group and down to the floor several paces ahead. The grinding resumed for a quick moment, then ceased.

“You may remove your blindfolds,” Silvia said, her voice straining with annoyance. Upon removing their blindfolds they noticed her glaring at a burly half-orc with unusually large and shiny grey canines. The half-orc looked pleased with himself.

They had arrived in a dark, dusty cellar lit dimly with a few ill-tended torches. Crates, kegs, and barrels furnished the room. Light flickered out from under the only door in front of them along with muted conversation and laughter. Behind them, the stone wall was perfectly intact, though they could now see the mechanism which would open the hidden panel they had entered through.

Silvia led the group through the door into a much better lit room, similarly furnished with dusty kegs and boxes (and a few dustless circles on the floor where more kegs had rested before their contents were drained). There were two doors: the party’s entrance as well as a door in the far corner leading upstairs.

A middle-aged halfling dressed in leathers and clothes fit for lesser merchants sat at the only table in the room along with two humans and a half-elf. They were playing cards, gambling with bread and cheese; despite the difference in height, it was immediately clear to the newcomers that the halfling was the most authoritative figure in the room.

“Sir,” Silvia greeted him with a brisk bow. “This is the party of adventurers I had informed you of.”

The halfling looked up from his cards with a shrewd smile. “Brilliant as ever, Silvia. Brok.” He nodded to the brusque half-orc guarding the door behind the party.

“Why have you brought us here? Who are you?” they asked.

The halfling grinned. “Mean to tell me you haven’t heard of Daggerpalm? In this city? Ha!” He chuckled darkly.

Thia and Gdom stared at the halfling in awe and scrutiny, trying to reconcile the dozens of conflicting rumors they had heard with the man before them. Every creature of the slums knew his name, but few had ever seen him in person. Many considered him a benevolent godfather with a morality outside the law, taking from the undeserving wealthy to give to the desperate and needy. On the other hand, there were those who feared and detested him as nothing but a corrupt and dangerous thug.

“I have a few choice words to say to anyone consorting with this Lord Crimonhelm,” Daggerpalm continued, answering the other question. "Busy day, this. Man loves to talk. But I haven’t seen a thing done since the coward took title but a bunch of posturing and castle acrobatics. Not a surprise from his family.

“But you all… interesting crew. Don’t look like pilfering aristocrats to me, so what I want to know is—”

The door to the upstairs creaked open and the half-orc Garun emerged carrying a goblet of dark red wine. He took one look at Idria and tripped, spilling the goblet’s contents as it fell to the floor with a clatter. Daggerpalm stared.

“Sorry— so sorry— I’ll go get— sorry—” Garun stammered, scrambling back up the stairs and slamming the door behind him. Idria smiled. Then she turned to Daggerpalm.

“How did he get out of Crimsonhelm’s dungeon?”

“He’s a thief, isn’t he?” Daggerpalm chuckled gruffly. Idria noticed there was none of the superstitious malice in his glance that all wizards had grown accustomed to. He turned to the rest of the group.

“Right. So what I was saying is, I want to know what it is exactly Crimsonhelm wants from you all.”

The group hesitated to answer Daggerpalm. He had hardly shown them the best of hospitality, and Ugarth grew angrier and more obstinate with each passing moment.

“I don’t have to answer to you,” Ugarth growled as he moved to the back door. Brok refused to budge, matching his scowl as the two half-orcs stood one insult away from battle. Ugarth turned away and walked towards the stairs.

In the blink of an eye, a dagger flashed through the air straight past Ugarth’s face. Daggerpalm did not miss. A jet of wine splashed all over Ugarth’s face from the hole in a keg where the dagger had hit it.

Daggerpalm laughed. Ugarth pulled the dagger out of the keg and licked the wine off its blade before pocketing it.

“Stand down, half-orc. All I asked was a simple question and I’m not about to let you go til I’ve had an answer.”

“There was a misunderstanding with Crimsonhelm’s guards! We had a mission from a merchant and Crimsonhelm sent us away to go help him and finish our job… that’s all!” Maruk answered in frustration.

“Hrm.” Daggerpalm contemplated for a moment, frowning. "This lord claims he’s going to change things, help the people… sends you off to run errands for some wealthy merchant don’t need it. You really want to help the people, you’ll know bread prices are higher than Crimsonhelm’s castle. But, ah, Crimsonhelm? What’s he need bread for? He’s got pheasants and cakes and his own private farmland. It’s the people down here suffering. Flagon of wine says he don’t even know it.

“You want to stop that, you’re going south, to the farms Moorhaven-ways. Bandits out the ass down there and I’ve got my hands full here as it is. You do that, you’re good by me. If not, then I’d kindly ask you to get out of my sight.”

Gdom and Thia heard the truth in Daggerpalm’s words: their own families were barely managing to scrape by in the slums and bread was more treasured in their households than coins. They turned and followed the rest of the group out through the stone panel in the back room. Ugarth glared at Brok as he passed. The panel closed behind them. It was no longer necessary to hide Daggerpalm’s location in the crumbled remains of a fallen lord’s house- the secret wall could only be opened from the inside.

“You know, Daggerpalm does have a point,” Gdom said once they were outside. Thia nodded in agreement.

“I want nothing to do with that man,” Ugarth glowered.

“Let’s just go see Dirk and see what his mission is,” Maruk said. “I know him through my uncle’s smithy and he’s not a bad merchant. We can decide what to do after we’ve heard both options.”

The rest of the group agreed, though Ugarth, Idria, and Maruk did not seem eager at the prospect of working with Daggerpalm, and they set out for the merchants’ section.

Soon the group found their way to Dirk’s shop. He sat bruised and bandaged next to a large gnoll. Dirk seemed very relieved to greet the rest of the party.

“Ah, yes, hello there. Maruk, nice to see you… Idria, Ugarth, Gdom, Thia… I apologize for my… tardiness… earlier.” Dirk attempted a smile.

“Not at all, don’t be ridiculous,” Maruk said.

“Are you alright?” asked Thia.

“Yes, yes… I will be fine….”

“Um… who is this?” Idria asked, gesturing at the large gnoll accompanying Dirk.

Grrr,” the gnoll rumbled.

“This, ah, charming fellow is Mognyr. He is the last member of your group. Unfortunately he had to be a little bit late and couldn’t make it to our meeting earlier—”

Mognyr growled.

“—but that’s fine! Fine! That’s perfectly fine, I was late myself, no harm done in that, none at all….”

“So, Dirk, what was the job you had for us?” Maruk asked.

“Yes, and what exactly do you sell?” Idria asked, observing that there was little of anything that could be called merchandise in Dirk’s storefront.

“I’m not so much of a merchant as I am an importer,” Dirk explained. "I import metallic ores from dwarven land and sell them to blacksmiths, weaponsmiths and the like. I suppose I’m something of a middleman.

“But I’ve asked you all here because something very troubling has come to my attention. I have not been receiving my shipments for a while, and when I sent a group to investigate they returned to inform me that my cargo was perfectly intact… but… the men guarding it had been… slaughtered.”

Dirk paused gravely, and when he finished he looked down at his hands and away from his audience. They exchanged questioning glances before Maruk spoke.

“Your cargo was left alone? Did the group who told you this bring it back with them?” he asked.

“No,” Dirk answered, “after witnessing the… remains… they became quite frightened. They returned here as quickly as they could.”

“How did the corpses look? Was there any sign of what killed them?” Ugarth asked.

Were they mangled?” Mognyr added.

Dirk grimaced. “Please, I have no wish to discuss such graphic and grotesque details.”

“It could help us prepare for what’s out there. Is there any way we could speak with the group who found them?” Maruk asked.

“No, no… I’ve lost touch with them, they were too nervous to stay involved… I suppose the remains must have been… savaged… a bit,” Dirk answered, straightening his sleeves to distract from the distasteful topic.

“I find this all very surprising,” Idria began suspiciously, “considering the security of the elven highways. I have traveled to the dwarven lands myself and can assure you that the elves keep the the road very safe and well-tended.”

“Ah… yes, that would be true…” Dirk hesitated, looking slightly abashed, “if my cargo traveled over the elven highways. I take a different route… off-roads, surpassing the forest and going straight through the mountains to the dwarven lands.”

The members of the group exchanged wary glances. The path Dirk described was notorious for the dangerous monsters and bandits lurking there, waiting for hapless travelers.

“It is not quite as safe,” Dirk continued quickly, “but, I do find it can be… advantageous….”

“To avoid elven taxes,” Ugarth murmured critically.

Dirk hesitated for a moment, but chose not to respond. “I am really a bit desperate…. Knowing the risks, no one is willing to work for me, in spite of the high rewards I have to offer….”

“Yes, and how much are you paying us?” Gdom asked.

“Well… I had planned to pay you each fifty gold pieces…” The group’s eyebrows collectively raised; it was a considerable sum. Dirk sighed, continuing, “but since the five of you saved me earlier today, I did promise I would double your pay… and I’m a man of my word. You five will each be paid one hundred gold pieces, and Mognyr will receive the expected fifty—”

Mognyr’s voice rose in a fiercely intimidating and indignant rumble.

“Fifty, did I say fifty?! I mean a hundred, of course, anything less would not be fair—”

Dirk took one look at Mognyr’s bared teeth.

“One hundred twenty five, I mean! Yes. Mognyr shall receive one hundred and twenty five gold pieces,” Dirk ceded, his voice an odd mix of terror and resignation.

Hm.” Mognyr settled back into his entirely too-small chair, looking quite smug.

Thia raised her eyebrows. Considering the hard times, she knew that there were plenty of people in Ambercrest who would be willing to go face to face with death for a reward that high. One insightful glance at Dirk told her that he knew this as well, and there was something more he was not telling them. It was equally clear that he did not want to discuss it. She, Maruk, and Idria also noted that Dirk was uneasy: his words sounded rehearsed, he was slightly twitchy and startled easily, and his mind seemed to be elsewhere.

“Have you considered just using the elven roads?” Thia asked, her voice full of concern.

Dirk avoided her gaze. “Perhaps, but at such a great financial loss… hardly… well… at any rate, I’ve lost so much cargo on the road it won’t do to simply leave it there….”

“But at the very least you should make sure the people transporting it are well protected,” Thia continued.

“Yes, I certainly will… I do now. Even though it’s certainly not the safest of roads, this level of violence is unprecedented… but you are right, I will try to be more careful in the future….”

“What do you want us to do once we find the ore?” Gdom asked.

“I… well, put simply I would like you to investigate. Discover the source of the trouble once and for all and put an end to it,” Dirk answered. He continued, slightly embarrassed, “And, um, while you’re there, if you would bring the cargo back with you… I expect there are at least two carts on the road now.”

They nodded and agreed to this plan, bidding Dirk farewell. After stepping outside, they briefly discussed whether they would rather complete Dirk’s mission or search the area to the south for the bandits Daggerpalm had mentioned.

What? Who’s Daggerpalm?” Mognyr asked.

“It’s not important,” Ugarth said. “We’ll go northwest to the dwarven road as Dirk asked.” The group agreed that it would be better to complete Dirk’s quest first, if not instead of Daggerpalm’s.

It had been a very eventful day in Ambercrest, but the sun was setting and darkness falling. The group decided to set out in the morning. Ugarth, Idria, and Mognyr had no place to stay in the city, and Thia made the mistake of offering her house.

I will stay in the lady’s room,” Mognyr declared.

“Oh no….” Thia whimpered. She shrunk away to hide behind Idria.

It was soon agreed that Idria would stay with Thia, while Ugarth and Mognyr would be staying with Maruk. (They tactfully declined staying in Gdom’s ramshackle slum house.)

First I will go out tonight,” Mognyr said. “Where is a good tavern?

The group recommended the Wheezy Warden, and Mognyr set out on his way as the remaining five decided to retire.

But the night was not yet over for any of them.

Mognyr soon arrived at the tavern. It was much livelier than it had been when the rest of the party arrived earlier in the day. Commoners and soldiers filled every corner, and Mognyr could not see through the crowd.

Drinking was not Mognyr’s sole agenda in the tavern: he had recently gambled his family crest away to a mysterious, cloaked figure. Without it, he could not take the position as chief of his tribe. He had come to the Wheezy Warden in hopes of getting information about the seedy crook. However, that did not mean drinking was not on the agenda.

He made his way to the bar and ordered an ale. After having his fill of alcohol, he turned to the soldier next to him at the bar, one of Lord Hallodawn’s guards.

How’re you doin’?” he asked jovially.

“I’m doing alright, man, I’m doing alright!” the soldier responded enthusiastically.

That’s great to hear!

“Thanks man, you too! You too!”

You’re a guard! That’s great. How’dya like it?

“Eh, it’s alright, man. Not, you know, not what I expected. Juss, paradin’ around. Few pickpockets now an’ then. But when I signed up, I thought it was gonna be real. Like killin’ bandits.”

Killin’ bandits!” Mognyr echoed enthusiastically.

“Yeah, man. Thass the life,” the guard said wistfully. “How ‘bout you? Whadda you doin’?”

Killin’ bandits!

“Killin’ bandits! Thass the life. You’re livin’ the dream, man! Livin’ the dream!”

Livin’ the dream!

“You’re great, man, you know? You’ve, like, inspired me. ‘Morrow mornin’, I’ma go out, and I’m gonna kill some bandits!”

Yeah! Killin’ bandits!

“Killin’ bandits!” The newfound drinking buddies clinked two overflowing pints together. Ale sloshed onto the bar.

Hey, man. Can I ask you something?

“Anything, man.”

You seen a guy in a black cloak around town anywhere?

“What,” said the guard, “you mean that sketchy motherfucker in the corner?”

Mognyr’s eyes widened. The guard pointed at the far corner of the tavern. The crowd had thinned since he first arrived, and now Mognyr could see the cloaked figure sitting there, still and silent.

He pushed through the crowd to the back corner and delivered a strong punch to the cloaked face.

The form fell limply to the floor.

“Stop! Stop! What’s going on?” the bartender cried, making his way through the crowd. He gasped at the sight of the unmoving figure on the ground. “Oh my lord—”

He turned to Mognyr. “Quickly—get this to the back room….” Mognyr and the bartender moved the body into the back room before the halfling ran back out into the tavern to salvage the situation. Mognyr’s guard friend agreed to go find the rest of the group, and after about forty five minutes of drunken stumbling he retrieved them.

“What happened?” Maruk asked.

“That’s the same man that was here earlier,” Gdom recalled.

He’s been here all day?” Mognyr asked. The rest of the group nodded. However, this was not the man Mognyr was looking for.

It was obvious to even the least perceptive of the group that the man was dead. Thia and Ugarth attempted to use their knowledge of healing and nature to discover the cause of death, but there was no identifiable mark of injury or reason for him to be dead. He had been dead long before Mognyr struck him, before the rest of the group ever entered the Wheezy Warden that afternoon. There was nothing on his person but simple, everyday clothing—nothing in his pockets to identify him.

They did, however, discover that his left eyeball was made of glass.

It popped out easily, and Idria immediately recognized that it was giving off arcane energy.

“It’s very advanced… there are wards stopping me from deciphering the magic. I can’t tell exactly what it is, but I think it’s connected to another location,” she explained. She looked very interested. “I’ll keep it with me and study it more later.”

Ugarth stared in horror. “I don’t want that thing anywhere near me. We should bury it. Now,” he said, his voice intense with the gravity of the situation. The rest of the group seemed wary as well.

The bartender returned, exuding stress and confusion. When asked how long the cloaked man had been in the tavern or how he had gotten there, he replied that he had no idea.

“I… for the life of me, I can not remember….” the halfling mumbled, his eyes wide with bewilderment and a flicker of fear.

“Please,” he continued, “I won’t ask any questions, just, get it out of my tavern. Get—the body—away from here.”

Mognyr growled. “Why should we? It’s your tavern.

The halfling stared up at the hulking gnoll above him, stress banishing fear, and replied sharply, “Because, good sir, I seem to recall seeing you punch this man in the face in front of a tavern full of witnesses, and now he is dead.”

Mognyr stood down.

“Point taken,” Maruk said. “We’ll take care of it.”

“Mother will be so happy to have food on the table,” Gdom said cheerfully.

They disposed of the body and it was finally agreed upon that Idria would carry the magical eye, wrapped in a cloth pouch and hidden away. The eventful first day of their adventure finally drew to a close and they retired to bed, ready for the journey in the morning.

Session One: The Rise of Crimsonhelm
The adventure begins as a mansion ascends into the sky and a group of adventurers meets the bizarre Lord Crimsonhelm.

Our story begins in Ambercrest, a decrepit city that was once ruled by great and powerful lords but has since fallen into a state of darkness and neglect. Six letters were sent by the merchant Dirk requesting assistance with a startling problem which had recently come to his attention. Each was addressed personally: one to Thia, a half-elf shaman living in the crumbled Ambercrest slums; another to Gdom, the bugbear fighter and Thia’s neighbor; one to the deva wizard Idria, thought dead after 50 years spent studying in a secluded forest monastery; another to Maruk Forgeborn, a mul barbarian working in his uncle’s Ambercrest smithy; one delivered to the half-orc ranger Ugarth at the gates of Ambercrest as he coincidentally arrived from Moorhaven; and the last to the gnoll fighter Mognyr, native to the plains surrounding Moorhaven.

Thia, Gdom, Maruk, Idria, and Ugarth made their way to meet Dirk at the Wheezy Warden tavern, only to find that he was not there at the time of meeting. Wary of the other patrons, including three tipsy soldiers, an eladrin woman, and a silent cloaked figure in the corner, they were able to identify each other with the help of the halfling barkeep. He assured the party that Dirk was on his way, but after a half an hour the merchant had still not arrived. They had just decided to leave the tavern and were on their way out the door when a loud commotion brewed outside.

From the window they saw the townspeople of Ambercrest running about in a frenzied panic, bumping into each other and pointing, terrified, upwards. The adventurers rushed outside to see what was happening and immediately noticed the house of Lord Crimsonhelm uprooted and rising straight into the sky.

Compounding the confusion, a struggle broke out in the crowd nearby and the party observed a balding, blond human man struggling against five guards bearing the green raven crest of Talonguard. He immediately recognized the group and called for help — the man was none other than Dirk. Accused of treason and conspiring against the aristocracy, Dirk begged for mercy and claimed innocence. When he finally offered to double the group’s pay, they rushed to his aid and into battle with the Talonguard soldiers.

After successfully defeating the soldiers (in spite of some drunk reinforcements from the tavern), the group faced a much greater surge of warriors as the forces of Lord Crimsonhelm arrived on the scene to restore order. Just as they arrived, a booming voice spoke from the floating Crimsonhelm mansion itself:

“People of Ambercrest, calm yourselves. There is nothing to fear. It is I, your ruler Lord Crimsonhelm speaking. News of discontent has reached me here at the noble House of Crimsonhelm, discontent with inaction and stale leadership and policies. Out of respect and mourning for my late father Lord Gregory Crimsonhelm, I have waited the appropriate two month period to begin my time as Lord of Ambercrest. Today marks the dawn of a new era. Today begins the rise of Ambercrest to new heights and a glorious new age. For too long brute force and corruption has ruled this city. Today, it stops. Today, Ambercrest rises and the people will know true glory.”

The mob was silenced, if only by shock and awe. Dirk, Thia, Idria, Gdom, Maruk, and Ugarth agreed to come quietly with the Crimsonhelm guards. They were shackled and led through the streets of Ambercrest, past the arcane Academy and through the slums to the crumbling remnants of an old lord’s house. Thia and Ugarth, the more perceptive members of the group, noticed that the eladrin woman they had seen in the tavern was watching them from the shadows. There they were led into the basement and through a glowing blue archway marked with runes. Dirk was led down another hallway, and the rest of the group was taken to a dungeon and locked together in a cell.

The dungeon was deserted except for the party and another cell, occupied by a sleeping half-orc. After several unsuccessful attempts to wake the sleeping half-orc, Idria traumatized him with loud arcane noises and kept him from sleeping. Named Garun, he could unfortunately be of no help. Ugarth noticed that the cell they were being kept in was considerably weaker than the other cells and attempted to break out with some small success before the rest of the party convinced him to simply wait for someone to come.

After a short wait, the party was greeted by a tall, slim man who introduced himself as Katu, adviser to Lord Crimsonhelm. He was foreign, with pointed ears and skin that was sallow and tattooed around his temples, but none of the group could identify his race. Katu answered the party’s questions cordially, but otherwise remained quiet as he led them to Lord Crimsonhelm’s chambers. On the way they passed tapestries depicting scenes of glorified battles, all featuring red-helmed knights wearing a red four-pointed star on their tabards, and polished suits of armor on display.

They met Lord Crimsonhelm contemplating a similar tapestry hanging in his chamber. He wore a long, deep crimson robe over garments more suited to a casual merchant than a lord, with a slightly too-large cap perched jauntily on his head. After a moment’s delay he turned to speak:

“Ah, welcome, my guests! I am deeply sorry indeed for the misunderstanding earlier; you were not to be kept waiting in the dungeon. Dirk has explained everything… the incident was nothing more than miscommunication between lords. I do hope you understand.” He glanced at Katu, who nodded placidly.

“Who is that knight in the tapestry?” asked one of the party.

“Yes… that is my late father,” Crimsonhelm answered with a grim smile. “He was indeed a strong man.”

“Where is Dirk?” the group inquired with a hint of suspicion. “Is he alright?”

Crimsonhelm replied, “Yes, Dirk has just been sent back to his shop. A little worse for the wear, I’m afraid, but we have done our best for him.” His response proved sincere even to the most insightful and suspicious members of the party.

Idria then inquired about how magic was being used to keep the mansion afloat. Crimsonhelm insisted that the magic was too complicated to explain in the time that they had, and that even he did not fully understand the intricacies behind the rituals, but regarded the wizard with great excitement and admiration.

“I am always eager to discuss the arcane arts with other enthusiasts,” he said, "but I’m afraid I can get quite carried away, and we have other business to attend to. I am very impressed by the skill you all displayed in battle today… though not as impressive as my own guard, Lord Talonguard’s men are not a force to be taken lightly.

“I am prepared to offer you work myself: prestigious work that will greatly benefit Ambercrest. Now, I understand that Dirk has offered you all work with him. Let us consider Dirk’s mission a little test. When you have completed his task, return to me and we will speak further about this mission.”

Maruk and Thia were particularly enthusiastic during their discourse with Crimsonhelm and were very interested in his offer. The rest of the party agreed that they would go see Dirk and complete his mission.

“Thank you, good gentlemen. Ladies. It is always reassuring to know one has competent friends. After all, the world is changing….” Crimsonhelm bid the group farewell and Katu led them back out through the glowing, blue archway.

They emerged on the ground in the slums near the crumbling remains of southwest wall. As they made their way towards Dirk’s shop in the merchant’s quarter, suddenly Thia felt an agile form push past her and slip her purse into its hand.

“Hey!!” Thia cried, turning towards the culprit. A shadow bolted down into a nearby alley and around the corner, out of sight. Thia and the rest of the group gave chase. Just before going down the alley, Ugarth spotted a burly half-orc turning the corner into a neighboring alley.

As Thia turned the corner she saw the same eladrin woman from the Wheezy Warden standing before her. She was unarmed to the best of the party’s perception and she held hands up in a gesture of surrender. Thia’s purse lay on the ground before her. Ugarth drew his bow with an arrow pointed directly at the eladrin’s face.

“I wish you no harm,” she said calmly, “but you are going to have to come with me.”


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