We talk around for a few days to get the lay of the land.
Coastal town, first town in the region south of Negdenburg’s influence.
There are 3 major towns here.
Besestein is largest and most important and the ‘county seat’ so to speak.
The 2 most influencial families in area live in the other 2 towns:
Erberruck: on edge of hills west of Besestein. Home of current Baron of area, Jonas Freeman.
Walleheim: in valley south of Erberruck. Baron’s couisin lives here, very influencial family.
Baron spending more and more time only at home because of the recent problems. Lots of raids on homesteads and loggers, miners, etc. by orcs in counryside around Erberruck. He has been trying to marshal forces and trying to figure out what is going on.
His cousin, Wilford Bremen, has been spending a lot of time in Besestein pointing out that his brother is not a very good Baron.
We pick up some chics too.
We decide to go see the Baron first, and go through official channels to get a guide, a local member of the constabulary.
He is happy to see that we are all well armed men, for “it’s rough country out there nowadays.” Several times recently, groups travelling through that country have been hit by groups of orcs. Varying and unsubstantiated reports of raiding party numbers and other specifics. From most reliable reports, they max at 25 when attacking a hamlet and such.
Tom “Have there been multiple raids in quick succession far enough away from one another that they were different warbands?” Yes, there are at least 2 parties of that size going by that.
We buy provisions for the ride and ride for Erberruck. We arrive after nightfall uneventfully. The town has a pallisade, couple guards at gate recognize our guide and let us straight in. Normally, they wouldn’t let strangers in after dark; same with Walleheim.
He takes us to the inn, and will take us to see Jonas in the morning.
We eat and drink and gather some info.
Dareth and Blackpool get the goods:
Baron is in good health, about 40; lives with mother, wife, younger brother who’s a simpleton. Often with his troop head Sir Langlee, who has been so for years since Baron’s dad was in charge. In early 30’s. Has good relationship with late father and son, very loyal. Langlee is out daily with contingents searching for the orcs. Response to an attack is impossible, its over before word can get here then the soldiers can get there.
Here and there they run into a couple orcs but no large confrontations. Attacks are regular, one or 2 a week.
It’s assumed its the orcs as well.
Attacks are evenly spaced, and no detectable patterns. But, they never extend further than halfway to Besestein. Nor further than the northern border of the province. Also, though lots of theft and burning, they only seem to attack those who fight back nor are they taking prisoners.
Mining guilds have satellite office in each of towns, though main one is in Besestein.
We also get meetings arranged tomorrow with several survivors of raids now living in town so as to get first hand accounts.
We are told orcs have not been seen in these lands for a very long time.
Baron’s relations with cousin: always seemed amiable. Jonas is poplular leader, good man, smart. Baron did some things in his youth, but was primarily always groomed as next Baron. Wilford is a noble knight with such training, but is much more of a worldly warrior, and only about 30 so much younger. Spent years off ‘sowing his oats’ with his best friend Sir Branson, knight of the region; friends since childhood. Been back for just over a year. First orc attack was about 4 months ago. 6 months ago is when Wilford’s dad died.
Tom thinks perhaps Wilford et al cleared an old tower or keep or the like and set the orcs up in it.
Food and drink is of high quality here. The farmland is lush in this region, as well as fine pasture so its very well off. Its all fresh and local.
We meet our guide Franz at the constable’s office where he stayed. People in town seem fine, not afraid within the pallisade. The Baron’s personal troops patrol constantly. Franz takes us to the Baron’s mansion, he has given word of our presence already.
The butler leads us to the meeting chamber with Jonas. Jonas is a healthy but slight man, of good height at 5’10". Welcomes Franz with a hearty hello. Franz introduces Dareth to Jonas, Dareth intruduces the rest of us. Jonas welcomes us, provides drink and a bit of food.
“Anything you wish, let my man know and it shall be yours.”
We explain why we are here and discuss the orcs. Tracking in this area is too difficult for his men.
Franz “And we have sent a couple good scouts to search and never returned.” Both were skilled and knew the local geography superbly. There was not a common direction both went. They went out w/in a day of each other. One west, the other south. Their plan was for the frst to go west a way and turn south, and the 2nd to go south and turn west, then keep going south until Walleheim and report any findings to constables there. They moved on foot. Walleheim knew this plan ahead of time.
Jonas appreciates any help we can give. The Thorangian court has deemed the trouble small enough for the local authorities to handle.
Last word of each was only on their first day, day and a half, by loggers/minors and such who they passed. No orcs at those points.
They each had alchemical signal flare.
Just then, a fairly well built soldier enters. The aura of a professional. He apologizes for interrupting but Baron calls Langlee in. He is about to leave on patrol. He has searched the presumed paths of the scouts already, but his men are no trackers.
“It’s difficult for even a good tracker in that terrain.”
Evan “That’s because you have had no Dreyan tracker until now.”
Garth, Damon and John join him. Dareth, Evan and Tom and his crew go west. Franz takes them on the right path.
Off we go.
Langlee has 27 cavalry joining him. Primarily light cav.
They all carry horns for signals, and go over their signals with us.
Langlee wonders how the orcs always seem to be in the exact opposite place we are.
Langlee has a position in Tharangian army, not standing but in reserves. Has fought with them in the last decade.
He finds WIlford to be a conniving whelp! Has known him since young men, both are around the same age. Even then, for as large of a man as he is, Wilford tended to use his cunning and personality more effectively than brawn. Not likable, per se, but very intelligent and always with a plan.
He has thought about the timing, but can’t bring himself to believe Wilford would blatently hire orc brigands to do such things. He mentioned the idea to Baron once, and was laughed off. Branson is a very capable warrior, not bright enough to engineer such things. Very straight forward brute and killer. Would follow Wilford through gates to the hells.
He offers another possibility as well, not so much a suspect but for insight: an old warrior has a home to the south, name of Bucholtz. Old man, lived in area for many years. Good friends with the old Baron. Very private, only sporadically leaves his home and receives few visitors. But, when he speaks, people listen. He explains the route, further south along the hill line. Its a day to day and a half ride there.\
So, we cut west into the hill country.
About a mile into the hills, Sir John stops and dismounts, noticing obvious boot tracks in the soft earth here. Garth checks. They were going north. But not good enough to follow. Garth is fairly sure they are not orcs, unless they are well equipped. The boots are in prime contdition and all the tracks are such. We show Langlee, he says there should be no one in this area for a group of people to be moving as such.
Garth suggests we head in that direction, Langlee agrees. He sends a squad to scout ahead of us.
After a ways, we hear a single hornblow warning. The squad are dismounted, at a small campfire set so that the smoke would not be very visible. Not more than 10 guys. Now, definitely human. Not trying to hide activities either. Garth easily finds their latrine pit and food remains et al.
They stopped to eat! We may have caught up some! We move faster now. Soon, we see guys walking ahead of us. They stop upon noticing us, 9 men. Looking at each other nervously. We approach with purpose. All light armored, trained soldiers; no heraldry.
One steps forward and hails us. Langlee questions them first.They claim they are scouting and foraging from a merc band camped in the woods: Ramirez’s Rangers. None of us have ever heard of them. There are several groups doing so, main camp is several miles south. They were moving north to the sea, to look for work. But, got an offer to protect the lands around a town to the south called Wallenheim from rampaging orcs. Ramirez took the job temporarily couple weeks ago. The ruler can’t afford to pay the wages for too long, but he seems convinced he only needs us for 2 more weeks.
Langlee is starting to crack under pressure of the evidence now.
Langlee lets the men go on their way, they head back south.
Langlee insists on going back to town immediately. We agree.
We go to the last place the scout was seen, a small mining camp and talk to the guys there. Using their local knowledge about the path of least resistence to go west then south. The border to the next country is just west. He cut south prior to the border soon after he left the camp, following a trail to a couple other small settlements. We continue to the settlements. We take our time more on this path. WE get to the last logging community, who did see the scout. We go south.
Dareth notices a conspicuous lack of wildlife suddenly compared to before.
Black Tom dismounts once just into the tree line spotting something, a spot of dried blood! Not fresh. Not enough visible to kill, but obviously human/humanoid violence took place here. The fold mentioned no such attacks nor missing locals.
Evan takes a close look around the spot, and finds a feint trail of blood falling, getting smaller as it goes. Finally, couple hundred yards from the last town, he finds the skeletal remains of the poor scout. Franz can ID from the clothing its one of the scouts for sure.
Evan searches the area for tracks of the attackers, and finds some too fresh to be from the attack, barefoot orc!!! At least 10 or 15.
Evan picks up the trail moments later, we follow.
We are on full alert.
About 7 miles later, its dark now. Ahead, Dareth spots a good sized cooking fire through the foliage. For 10 or so orcs perhaps.
We form a perimeter around them at this distance and close in fast. All but Tom and Evan dismount for the attack in this terrain. Franz will stay with the horses which we don’t take in.
Tom and Evan will charge in opposite one another.
The orcs aren’t being what one would call quiet so we get close with no problem as they roast an unskinned dear on a spit.
Tom and Evan charge in first, both killing 1 as well as Tom’s horse killing one. The footmen move in during their shock, Dareth killing one. They arm themselves and attack, as Ulik moves in to Dareth and breaks the arm of one of his 2 foes.
Then the fight becomes general.
We finish them off easily.
A search of their camp yields nothing of interest.
We camp here.
We cut east, where they were heading, to search for orc evidence.
Soon after we start, Evan and Tom notice that someone was watching our camp last night and started south. before morning. Booted prints but not human. We follow that guy. After about 10 miles, near the flatland north of Walleheim, we see it may have been up to 3 men moving in single file. It leads to a cave!! Busted fools!!!
Franz "Uh, I recommend we go back and get more soldiers, we don’t know how many are even in there.
Tom derides that idea, pressuring to enter the cave now.
Dareth orders Evan to stay with himself here and watch the cave, the rest make it fast east into the clear full speed to town at Franz’s recommendation. It’s hard riding to get home by night but they do with exhausted mounts.
Franz takes us to Jonas immediately.
Meanwhile, the others had reported to Jonas what they found. Langlee brooches the subject with us backing him up.
The next day they went out on patrol with Langlee again, going straight into the hills eastward, passing through the same camps and getting word Dareth/Tom passed by but find nothing of interest.
They were starting to get nervous about Dareth/Tom et al until our arrival.
We rest up tonight.
At first light make for Dareth and Evan by the open route around the hills.
Langlee will take his cavalry with us!!
“We’ve been itching for a straight up fight.”
We tell him it looks for like ground fighting, so his men take heavier foot armor.
We arrive before nightfall.
Meanwhile they have been watching the cave from a safe distance.
Couple times, Dareth sees orcs coming and going, well camoflaged with proper wilderness outfits. They are trying to be sneaky, and in small groups of a few rotating in and out, going in different directions every time. It’s constant, in about 4 hour scouting forays. None appear to have noticed the 2.
We meet our group prior to them getting w/in view of the cave so they aren’t spotted.
Langlee thinks we should dismount here, walk our horses the mile and set up a camp about half mile from the cave mouth. He’ll leave a contingent to watch the mounts while the rest of us attack.
Dareth “Sounds perfect.”
Franz is here as well.
We find a good spot with cover and set up a camp. Franz stays with a squad of 5 of Langlee’s men (4 soldiers and 1 sgt).
The PC’s and Langlee move in. His men stay outside the cave mouth watching for any patrol. Tom, Garth and Fritz take the lead. Max, Evan and John next; Langlee and Dareth; and the rear Damon and Ulik.
The cave has a slight downward slope, soon branching into 3 tunnels. The main tunnel remains the largest, the flanking branches are slightly smaller. Garth thinks there has been some workings to these tunnels. How long ago he does not know.
We call in 1 squad for each flank, with the Lt to command, We all continue straight.
We hear something quickly, a general sound but not a naturally occuring noise, like a clicking from behind them. Our rear 2 ranks turn, Dareth think it sounds like a device from behind the intersection. Dareth calls for the Lt to be on guard. All but Tom’s front rank stay put. The noise then stops.
Dareth calls to pay attention to the ceiling. He walks back toward the entrance looking up at the ceiling with a torch, John at his side.
Back at the front, Garth thinks he hears some clicking ahead of us now. Just for a brief second though.
From each side of Dareth and John, no idea where they came from, 2 skulls glow in Dareth’s torchlight suddenly and attack. 1 from each side wielding great axes. John is caught off guard totally. They look like orcs, but not the typical type. Faces painted like skulls.
Dareth quickdraws his blade and drops his in 2 quick strikes. John hits with his lucern hammer twice as well, killing his.
Dareth yells a warning forward.
We reform and continue forward.
Dareth “Our element of surprise is probably already gone. Be fully on guard.”
Still gradually downward but straight.
Arrows fire at our front rank. Tom charges, so Garth and Fritz follow. Max follows behind, so Dareth orders Evan and John to follow. As they charge forward, they se 6 orcs turn and retreat, each with a xbow. Tom continues chasing. The rest of the group follows in line.
Ahead the cave opens into a larger cavern 30’ ahead. Garth lobs his torch ahead of Tom to the opening.
Now, from far behind us at the intersection “Here they come, men!”
Ahead, we see no orcs waiting. Tom slows down to peer in first. Fritz sees strung along the cavern mouth is a trip wire!
We get to the mouth and peer inside. Its about 50’ diameter roughly with a natural pond. Its an encampment area, lots of bedding and food scraps. Also approximately 25 orcs prepared for battle.
We hear a voice in orcish bark commands.
Langlee “I need to go back and help my men, we have no idea who many there are.”
Dareth sends John and Ulik back with him and himself as well run for the rear fight.
Tom slices the tripwire with his axe. There are 2 formations of the orcs in the room: both similarly organized. Melee lines at the front and archers behind them. 1 group on each side of the pond straight ahead.
Tom and the blue crue take one side, Evan, Garth and Damon the other. Armigers take the lead trying to take most of their missile fire of both bows and crossbows. With no cover to trade missile fire, we charge into them as fast as possible. Tom gives a rousing speech first. A gravelly orc voice yells “What’s wrong human, you afraid?”
We charge in lines, Tom and the blues to the left, the Crimson Knights to the right.
We charge. Arrows and bolts bounce off off of Garth like sticks. Fritz however is hit multiple times. Then we hit their front ranks.
These orcs are well trained and organized for primitive humanoids.The knights are a hair faster at taking out their melee and xbows. The knights are a hair faster in taking out he melee and xbow ranks. Then, behind, several skull face orcs attack from surprise! Tom, both blue crew, Evan and Garth are each ambushed by one. Evan ignores the pitiful backstabber and goes after the bowman, leaving his slightly lower class non Dreyan friends to deal with the assassin.
Tom and his crew have 3 assassins to deal with, plus 2 others and the archers at this point. The knights have one orc on his knees holding his gushing throat thanks to John’s crit, plus the 2 assassins and archers.
On the other side, Tom and Fritz take on the assassins while Max assaults the archers.
The knights have a more difficult time with the ambushers though as Tom cleans house on his side.
Max’s archers withdraw.
Tom orders a volley of missiles as Garth and Damon finish off the assassins on their side and Evan vorpal hurricanes the archers. The last one alive runs away down a small crawlway tunnel at the far end of the room.
Tom offers them the opportunity to surrender and they do as Garth picks the throat bleeder guy in the head.
Meanwhile, when Dareth et al get to the intersection there is a pitched chaotic battle. The cavalry left at the entrance are engaged here as well. We wade into the mess of blood and grime.
27 orcs attacked via the left and right tunnels.
It doesn’t last much longer once we arrive to even the numbers and put bring our skill to bare. Langlee proves his mettle during the fight.
3 of the cavalry are killed, no officers. More wounded as expected.
Outside, we find that the orc patrol out attacked our camp. 6 forest orcs ambushed them, starting with bowfire. They then tried to release the horses to trap us here on foot, but Skyrling took the offensive, killing one. Ourmen attacked, killing another 2 and they fled.
No worthwile loot in the place. No looted stuff nor payment.
The crawlspace is narrow, not suited for armored men. Dareth strips and goes through, expecting it to exit to the surface as an escape tunnel, and that’s exactly what it is. It was well disguised.
The place is empty otherwise. Langlee wants to take the prisoners back to the Baron for questioning. Franz says we should take them to Besestein and have the authorities from Tharangia question them.
Tom reminds all he’s an professional Inquisitor.
Dareth says since Tharangia said screw off up to this point, Tom should inquisite 2 separately. We can take the other 2 back to the Baron. Only if we get info that may bring Tharangia in, should we take the otherwise senseless trip to Besestein.
Dareth takes Evan to the escape tunnel to track the escapee orc. He turned south toward Walleheim territory.
We take the prisoners back to Erberruck. They are all greenskin forest orcs.
Back in Erberruck. Tom offers to the first person to crack and narcs out the others, help us find who is behind this and any other raiders, gets complete immunity for all previous crimes and will be under the protections of the Norris order. If none of you do so, I give no guarentee on your lives by the end of the night.
After some further ‘prodding’ one of them starts cracking. He wants assurances from Tom that he will never fall back into the hands of his masters.
He expains he’s just a grunt in this, knows not the master plans if any. His gang of orcs were hired to destabilize this area along with a the ghost faced orcs, and a bunch of regular orcs as muscle. Loot and pillage but no outright slaughter, ordered by the liaison to them. Looks like a man, but larger “I’m not really sure what he is” kind of half orc like but not. He came in with a group of his own orcs. They met and made the deal, giving said instructions to the orc leadership. All loot was taken to a central gathering point and they would get paid from it at a later date but for operating costs. He has the feeling this humanish guy was the muscle behind whatever grand plan is going on, but not the brains.
The loot collection point is further south in the hills, closer to edge of hills toward Walleheim, which he does not know the actual name of.
Evan “Since you had no loot, they wouldn’t be expecting you for a while.”
“Right, average was every other week. We deliverd a couple days ago.”
Reporting to the Baron, his first reply is “But, we still don’t know who’s behind this.”
Sigh from all.
He says he wants us to tack to Buckholtz, which we plan to do anyway. No one has heard from him since all this started. Also, go to Walleheim and see if we can gather any concrete information.
We decide to send half to each place. The team going to see the old warrior Buckholtz will then continue around the hills to meet the other 3 at Walleheim.
Buckholtz has a keep with is own men. They work some farmland there and keep to themselves. The compound is run like a military camp, always sentries, etc. The community numbers about 100.
Tom, the blue crew, Ulik and Evan go stright for Walleheim. Dareth, Garth, John and Damon go to see Buckholtz. That group will get a signed letter of intro to Buck with his seal.
We camp together at the split point the first night.
Walleheim arrive midday. Buckholtz evening.
Buckholtz: As we approach, we stay on guard since no one has heard of them for longer than usual.
The keep sits on high ground and the compound is walled and easily defendable.
There are guards on the walls as we approach. We pass some houses and fields, but no one is out here, yet no damage either to have forces them all w/in the walls.
They order to stop and order one only to approach the gate. Dareth rides forward. A speaking hatch opens and a guard asks our business.
Dareth intro’s himself and shows him the letter from the Baron. They let us all in. No visible damage to the outer walls.
Squires stable our horses for us once we are inside. Buckholtz arrives to meet us soon. A messenger already sent. Some 15 armed and ready men cover the courtyard; they aren’t taking any chances.
Old Buckholtz strides out of the main house. Mountain of a man. In his younger days, he must have been a true physical specimen. He invites us to sup with him inside.
Its us 4, him, and some of his top officers and advisors eating together. As we expect, no business while eating.
Soon as food is cleard and all have mead or wine to drink, the conversation turns to business.
We lay out the details.
He says its true, his men have not been venturing outward as much. He feels he does have some insight into the Baron’s problem. And it may not bee the Baron’s problem, but Buckholtrz own. Long, long story, but to get to the point after the boring details of his youth:“I have enemies, made over the years, adn about the time that the Baron’s problems started with orcs I started having problems here. There were several orc raids on my area, none of my people were killed nor property destroyed, but they were on the periphery killing livestock, destroying crops, occasional skirmish”. Then they stopped. He assumed they were only a wandering band, realized the resistance from him was too good and moves on. He then heard about the attackes around Eberruck. He was going to take men out to assist the Baron. Soon as they began to leave, a column of troops came into his land, odd to him for men such as that to come off the road in this direction. He rode out and spoke to them, noticing that one of them was a man he knew from his past. HE decided then not to approach them, as they heavily outnumbered him, and if they decided to not parlay like civilized men (like the man he knew would stoop to) it would be too much. He got his men back w/in their walls and hunkered down.
They never came any closer nor attacked in any way, only made their imminent threat obvious. His theory, w/o proof,
Damon “WHo is this scumbag you know?”
“An evil, evil wizard” whom he thought dead long ago. Once were travelling companions.
John "Does this wizard have a name?
“Well, he goes by many names, I knew him as Malenko.”
Dareth “Was there any oustanding issues among the 2 of you?”
“Not other than he was a dark treacherous scum. I don’t feel I did anything agregious against him personally, but it had reached a point where most of our group were at odds with him generally and were about to part ways with him.” They fought an ancient evil called a Lich, “a type of nasty undead wizard” which they defeated but the Malenko appeard to have been destroyed in the wizardly duel. His body was gone so we assumed him dead and never saw him again.
He brings up the same theory we did, this Baron’s cousin is not actually the Baron’s cousin, this Malenko has replaced him with something else.
Malenko’s troops he came with had a coat of arms he does not know, but they seemed like mercs.
He offers us safety any time we need it. We will keep him in the loop whenever we can.
When he knew Malenko, his primary ability was necromancy and deathly magic. Also accomplished with energy conjuring, especially fire.
Buckholtz knows Burns and Gretchen, she of the Rangers going to assist, also!! He adventured with them. We inform him of what we know of Burns and Gretchen.
Dareth “What kind of man do you know Burns to be? We’re new to his outfit.”
“I never had a problem with him personally, a bit odd though. Multi talented man: fighting skills, magic, sneaky. Good to have around for any situation.” Best thing he had was, he could talk his way out of anything. He details and has drawn up the coat of arms for the mercs: sword and axe crossed over each other, with a dragon head above between the weapons. All in black on a bright blue background.
Walleheim: Walled town, well defended. Lots of daily business going on. Gates are openh to all so we ride in. We are approached by couple town guard. One asks us to stop “You gentlemen seem to be heavily armed riding into our town here?” Evan says we are but wayward knights passing through. He says “Ok, carry on. Enjoy your stay in town. Just know, we do watch armed unknown men like yourselves.”
Evan “We have no plans to.” We ask him for inn and food recommendations. He gives us a couple names: The King’s Arms Inn on the main road, and also the Walleheim Inn and Tavern. Several other places offer more reasonable rates w/o the comfort “But you don’t seem like men interested in such low fare”.
Evan “Who is your lord?”
He says Sir Wilford.
“If we should wish to stay, does he need any hired men?”
“Probably not.” He has his own force of troops and a merc force camped outside of town for a few weeks now. There have been orc troubles, he says, so they have been hired as protection. They are a tight bunch, do not come to town too often. When they do, it seems like they all do cause every tavern in town is full of them. They cause little problems though, quite disciplined. The couple minor squabbles there have been on such nights, the enforcer for the merc leader shows up fast and deals with it.
This enforcer is a very large man named Grigg “Not sure what he actually is, looks like a man but too big and too ugly”.
The merc leader is named Ramirez. Runs a tight ship.
We thank him and ride foward to The King’s Arms Inn. It is indeed a fine choice. Largest such in town. Their regular rooms are quite nice, but also have suites, private guarded stables.
We get our rooms, Lord Blackpool a suite of course, and settle in. We dine here first then head out into the town for the evening to gather info and rumors.
Garth, the hillman, and John, the closest thing to a grunt we have, get drunk too fast and blackout. Garth barely remembers a spending too much alone time with a particularly dirty wench and getting sick afterward.
Evan and Damon stick to the job but find out nothing new and out of the ordinary. The mercs stay north of town at about the tip of the hills. We know the cache of plunder from teh orcs is just NW of that at the hills’ edge also, so its close together. Ramirez and his staff have meetings with WIlford regularly. The sheriff and dep’s tend to hang at Walleheim Inn and Tavern during off hours, its the oldest tavern in town and run by same family always. Lots of the old timers of town hang out there.
Buckholtz group leaves after breakfast, arriving Walleheim around dinner.
Walleheim group nonchalantly akes a ride toward the cache area after breakfast, wearing riding clothes only. Ulik stays to inform the others of our whereabouts if they arrive before we do.
On our way out we pass a contingent of the mercs coming in, guarded wagon on a supply run it it seems. They do indeed give off the feel of professional soldiers. The coat of arms will match what the other group has heard from Buckholtz.
We go easward before abruptly turning north.
Damon says we should actually hunt and get a deer or some sort, for our cover story.
Evan “Fine idea Sir Damon.”
He does find evidence of much movement off the natural trail at one point. All foot or mule, and attempts for some covering of it to someone not looking. He continues north to look for evidence of loot being brought down from the orcs. It gets to rocky for a bit, but again another side trail with a lot of activity, too much. He follows maybe half a mile to a large boulder completely out of place where it lies, to a trained eye. It was put here purposefully.
He goes back to follow the covered trail now. It cuts to the other side of the main trail, west generally toward the merc camp. Whoever has been using it has done an ok job covering tracks to the untrained eye, but it has been a couple dozen at a time. After about a mile and a half it intersects another established trail going north and south.
He returns to the others. Then right to the boulder. Searching, it appears it is covering up a hole.
Damon favors not going in yet. Evan agrees. Back to Walleheim we go with our stag!!
We plop it down and order the cooks to cook it up for everyone. A hearty cheer goes out among the crowd, and the rest of our team arrives and swap stories.
Probably a good thing we didn’t open that boulder, considering the necromancy involved.
Our barkeep says Wilford and Branson tend to favor an old sect, not the Return nor naturists.
Another night gathering more information. Dareth goes to the Walleheim Tavern. Tom visits the religious sect houses Wilson does not visit. John and Garth visit a few brothels with the blue crew, see what they’ve heard. Evan uses the venison as a draw for more people at our Inn and will gather info there with them all a big fan of his. Damon hits a few random smaller taverns.
The first visits are men too young to know any details of the area nor have inside info. The last 2 are old school locals with their long loyal flocks. Between the 2 of them, he finds out Wilford seems “different” somehow compared to before he left in his youth; to talk to the head priest at Wilford’s church, for while he always offers his tythes and attendance, he hasn’t been quite as devoted as his ancestors were, does only the superifcial stuff; no personal relationship with the head priest like his father and grandfathers did; has been an odd man seen with Wilford several times in black robes, no one really knows who he is.
Brothels: They find out that there are lots of good prostitutes in town; mercs frequent them on their allowed visit nights but none pay for themselves, its billed to Grigg who then collects from them all individually; brothels have a similar arrangement for food and drink at the taverns; tips however are done individually on the spot.
Evan: Its a good crowd; he runs into one of the local woodsmen who specifically came for the deer, asks who actually shot the deer and Evan says not himself but his friend John; he says its been difficult for locak woodsmen recently cause mercs are hunting and trapping a lot; all of the woodsmen have been specifically told not to go further north than a specific point north of the camp, might be subject to orcish attacks, as a “safe zone”. Mostly they have had to go to the lighter southern hills which is small game, or the SW hills technically illegal as its over the border.
Damon: runs into a couple wandering adventurous warriors, been using Walleheim as a base for months now. One night the mercs were in town, saw couple get into a bar brawl, moments later Grigg arrived and kocked them out cold with a sap and took them away. “Grigg is only half human, no doubt in my mind, from my xp, just not sure what exactly it is.” Warns us to watch ourselves around him, he’s a major bruiser.
Dareth: finds the sheriff and 2 dep’s easily. He intro’s himself right away and starts talking very professionally and precisely. Convinces them rather quickly he is looking out for the best interest of the Baron and the region. They work for the Tharangian gov’t. Sheriff has been here for years now. Found Wilford an uppity brat then and now, concerned more with personal issues. Wilford’s father went out with him and Branson and a few of retinue to hunt, had accident fell off horse hit head on rock and died soon after they brought him back to town. They know the man in black is named Malenko, but he’s had only one interection with him. Brief, but “left a mark on me; if I were to never see him again I’d be happy”. Wilford will have him sit in on his meetings with Ramirez at least some of the time. Has no idea where this Malenko lives; not in town, sheriff and dep’s are certain, and does not seem to be camping with mercs. "Malenko is typically in town about every 3rd day unless for a specific meeting otherwise, and shops for odds and ends for whatever he does. I haven’t seen him in town these last 2 days. He’ll likely be in the shop district tomorrow. Dareth says he may see the sheriff at his office tomorrow for further private word on these matters.
Dareth and Tom to Sheriff, with blue crew. The others go to shopping district before opening time. THey walk around, getting lay of the land, then use the local kids and street urchins to find out where they have seen this man in black visit so as to watch strategic blocks for where he goes today. Perhaps even where he enters and leaves the city.
It smells like fresh baked goods all over, lots of craftstmen working already. It takes coin to get the urchins to talk but it works. He visits chemists and alchemists and herbalists mostly, but also random trinket shops for supplies. They show us the locations. They haven’t seen him with anyone else. He walks into town at one of the gates, could be any of them, shop, and leave by the same gate. Always on foot. We strategically position ourselves to hopefully get a few looks at him.
Before lunch, we see him walk down the street. People avoid him and move out of his way far ahead. Food vendors make no attempt to sell to him. Stops at apothecary first. Evan walks by and looks in. He hands the shopkeeper a list, who then gets about collecting with his assistant. He walks out with a good sized bag.
Next we spot him at herbalist shop. Repeats the process.
Then gets some food.
Lastly, the blacksmith, purchasing a set of manacles.
His build is exactly of our Malenko, but we never get a clear look at his hooded face.
Dareth and Damon sit with him in his back office, the blue crew guard out front. Then the 2 of them lay out the evidence we have gathered thus far, and our theories about Wilford.
“If the information is true, it would be a serious infraction to have hired an outside force to destabalize the local gov’t, then bring in a separate such force to ‘fix’ it and put himself in a position of authority.”
He wants to go and talk tothe count, but we don’t want him to tip our hand. Sheriff feels he won’t do anything to him as the Thorangian authority in this town. That would be too risky of a thing to risk Thorangia send troops and investigators to look into the sheriff’s death. He understands we don’t want them to know that someone knows something is going on, though. But, since we have seemingly eliminated the orcs, their plan must change. “If I confront them now, possibly they will make a mistake feeling pushed afterward.” He will tell him he received a letter from the Baron asking him to investigate these allegations, keeping us out it.
He will let all of the dep’s know, if something untoward happends to him, that they must immediately contact the Besestein authority.
Dareth insists he put this in writing, in the unfortunate event. One copy to us, one to his office to be sent to Besestein in such a case, a final one is sent by courier to sheriff in Urberruck.
Evan suggests he wait until tomorrow, day after Malenko is out of town.
He agrees that’s a good idea.
We set up a code phrase as a reply to something we say first, so we know its him.
The reply is a scheduled appointment, noting that Ramirez is coming in for a meeting as well.
Tom to head priest:
He says its been a rather trying year for the church here. The former ruler was such a good friend to church and priest personally. Wilford is just not his father, nor the same as the child he was. His travels seem to have changed him. He was never overly religious to start with, but he did believe in it. Now, he only keeps up appearances. Even seems somewhat anti religious as a rule. His dad would promote religious festivals of all sorts as public affairs. Wilford these last few months has been insistent upon them keeping such things to their own property in their own walls.
Malenko has been in the church once with Wilford for a service “I could feel his gaze upon me the entire time, I could not bring myself to meet his stare”. Felt a kind of tug on his spirit even.
Branson, the priest says was not from a religious family. His father was a personal guard of Wilford’s dad. Became Wilford’s best friend and protector. So far as the priest can tell, same man as when he left but does not know him well to begin with. Keeps to Wilford and other soldiers in the retinue.
Later, we check around about Branson with the cops: Branson does not have much of a social life, never has. Wilford and sons of other guardsmen. Most of those boys grew up to be guardsmen in town. Out of those, only Branson was close with Wilford. We likely have only 2 options to catch Branson by himself: brothel, which he does visit and often; sometimes he will train on his own but its at barracks or Wilford’s house, both difficult to have reason to be allowed into.
Could be that he’s just so simple minded, he’s willing to follow who he thinks is Wilford to anything.
We ask more specifics on the hunt: the group was split up at the time of the dad’s death. From what the sheriff was told, Wilford and his dad and 2 of their men were there when the accident happened. Branson was off with some other men chasing a deer.
Tom gets us stocked up on holy water.
We ride out for the boulder, staggering our exit at different gates, arriving uneventfully.
We move the boulder revealing a hole, Ulik at the ready with his shield.
Opening is large enough for a full grown man to easily pass through. Hole is at an angle. Dareth looks inside with low light vision, a good size shaft slants down only about 3’ where it opens into a small room.
Dareth recommends big Black Tom go first.
Tom orders Max to go first with a torch, but he sees no exit visible, but lots of movement on the dirt floor. Flattened areas where something obviously sat for a while; several loose coins on the ground. He pockets them.
Max “Looks like only a temporary dropoff point. Nothing more.”
Dareth drops in and makes a good search of the floor and walls but finds nothing.
We go and follow the other path again, Evan leading the way, to the N/S main trail. We follow it south until we are approaching the mercs by a couple miles or so. Evan goes ahead on foot by himself.
He gets close enough to hear the sounds from the large encampment; and also voices that aren’t human from the camp direction but closer. Sounds like orcs. He real cautiously edges forward until he definitely knows they are separate from the camp. He goes back and gets Garth to go further forward.
Garth creeps up and sees an area clearer of underbrush and trees. Further down is the human merc camp. Right in front of him is an orc camp, big enough for maybe 3 dozen roundabout. Grigg is here talking to them in orcish. He is pointing around at different orcs in camp then at the humans, and they all have a good laugh at whatever joke it was. He then goest to the human camp. His voice is booming. He starts speaking in human once there.
Definitive proof the orcs and mercs are in cahoots.
Back to Walleheim.
We find our woodsman buddy during the night out, find him with some other woodsman friends at a tavern, and ask him about any ruins or large cave complexes in the area. They come up with 2: a caves in woods to the south, and in hills to north there is an old ruined keep about 25 miles or so north of town. The caves are about 12 or 15 miles from town.
We see sheriff first thing in morning to report about the orcs. We hang out at his office to wait and see what happens when he returns.
Around lunchtime he returns. He gives back the correct code line.
The meeting was with Wilford and Branson. Wilford said if there is a connection tween the orcs, Ramirez/Malenko he’s not sure. Malenko was travelling with the mercs when he arrived but not truly part of their ranks. Wilford claimed they met at first, had nice conversation, came across as very capable advisor so he has been using him in that capacity since. Wilford is concerned about orc connection and promises to talk with Ramirez at their meeting today. He knew nothing about orcs. They feel there was nothing nefarious about his dad’s death. Same story of falling off horse and cracking head on rock. When asked about the mercs threatening Buckholtz, Wilford feels that ‘crazy old man’ misinterpreted them marching near his keep.
Sheriff really feels like none of this has to do with WIlford. Something else going on.
We leave in afternoon north for the ruin. We get our woodsman buddy and pay him to be a guide.
We will ride west over the border and then north into the hills, around the merc area.
None of the priests Tom spoke to have any xp fighting and especially vs undead, so no help from them but for stocking up on holy water.
We decide to spend the rest of the day checking around town for an xp’d holy man/warrior, starting with the temple heads. We get a few names that may be able to assist us. One, if this was 20 yrs ago, would have been perfect. But older now so might not be interested.
While we are in town that afternoon, Ramirez and Grigg enter for their meeting with WIlford. Malenko is not with them.
Dareth and Damon talk to the older man first, named Argehrt. He lives comfortably, obviously quite successful in his youth. Has a servant even. He invites us in. 65 years old! He has lots of quality decorative loot from his prime. He has never heard the name Malenko. He recommends holy water, which we have in plenty, holy symbols, and silver wpns. We lack those, but ask if he has any we could leave collateral for. He does, as well as cold iron!! Concerning a necromancer involved, we should prepare for skeletons, zombies first. More dangerous, ghouls and ghasts and wights. He tells us their strengths and weaknesses.He is skilled vs disease, which could be an issue, and he is willing to help if we return alive. Next up the scale are the incorporeal wraiths and shadows.Anything greater than those subservient to this necromancer, just get out. He’s probably too powerful for only us to deal with. Silver and cold iron have the chance vs the incorporeal. Otherwise, magic wpns or spells. Lacking that, holy symbols to keep them at bay then hit them with the holy water for a chance to hit it as well.
He has his manservant bring out 4 weapons: cold iron mace; silver longsword; silver shortsword; silver dagger.
He leaves and returns himself with and amulet that casts a daylight spell with a command word. It takes some magic power from user to wield it properly.
He surprisingly asks for no payment nor collateral “I can tell from your auras you’re good, trustworthy men.”
He tells us there is a private tavern in the cheaper section of town that is an adventurer’s club essentially. Look there for divine assistance and tell them he sent us and they’ll let us in.
We thank him graciously and take our leave.
We collect Tom and Evan and go to said tavern, drop his name, and the doorman invites us inside but checking our main weapons at the door.
We order drinks and some food. Maybe a dozen guys in here currently. One guy sticks out to us, wears armor but also a large holy symbol around his neck, sitting by himself.
We go over and introduce ourselves, ask him if we can sit. His name is Kristoff. We tell him our basic situation. He does have xp vs undead. Another guy nearby says “don’t listen to that blowhard. He tells everyone who asks him he’s fought whatever they ask about.”
He insists he just ran into a pack of skeletons last week, killed them all. He was in the hills to the SE across the river, investigating an old ruin. Half dozen attacked him in the ruin. He crushed them with his hammer. He says, in truth, he has exaggerated in the past to get jobs but not in this case!
The other guy, robed, says he exaggerates everything. He says we need a caster, and he knows the guy. HImself.
Kristoff admits he can’t cast, but his holy symbol is a family artifact that he knows is effective vs undead.
The robed man volunteers to join us for the right price. His standard is 10gp up front plus travelling expences, and an equal share of treasure. He says he’s an arcanist, specializing in healing and undead. We’ll hire him on. Kristoff too, for just equal share of loot.
Arcanist name is Joseph.
We tell them to meet us at our inn tomorrow morning prepared for at least a few days ride. They accept.
Our new friends meet usand the woodsman Ichabod at our inn and we depart. Joseph gets to use the daylight amulet.
Tom organizes a watch at our camp: Blues; Tom/Garth; Dareth/John.
Dareth takes the longsword; Fritz the mace; Tom the shortsword, Evan the dagger.
The night goes uneventfully until the last watch nearing morning when Dareth hears some noise, like wings flapping. He alerts John and looks upward to see a giant bat flying above the camp going north, in the dark sky above he still thought he may have seen a figure riding the bat. They were just above the canopy.
We arrive afternoon. We stay much more on alert as we close in in the area. Its an old ruin, quite overgrown. There is a main tower in the center, completely overgrown with ivy and such.
Ichabod makes a check of the area. He finds nothing that sticks out to him as unusual. He then stays back a safe distance with the mounts, and we walk to the complex. We enter through the ruined main gate in the square outer wall. The main central tower is squared, not circular. Ruined outbuildings throughout the grounds. Our trained military eye, we think a fight happened here long ago and the place lost. There is a large hole in back wall,and one on the left side of outer wall as well. A well front right of the tower.
The courtyard is very overgrown with brush, slowing us down. Tom and Max start cutting a swath forward to the tower door first. Dareth and Damon right behind.
Evan and Garth are next, looking for evidence of activity within the foliage but find none.
Kristoff and Ulik are to guard Joseph. John and Fritz watch our rear.
Both Dareth and Damon stop everyone, seeing something moving in the brush just ahead.
Tom and Max ready. Damon realizes what it is just in time to warn Max and Tom “It’s an assassin vine!” and it attacks, as do the vines around us to entangle.
The first 4 are able to dodge the initial entanglement, but we are back to being slowed down there! The actual creature is still 20’ ahead of Tom and Max, and grapples Tom.
He escapes and he and Dareth move toward it.
It goes after Tom again as skeletons start to stand up on either side of our column all over. Max tries to move forward but gets engangled. Damon moves up to try to free Max.
Evan draws his warhammer and moves to block skeletons, Garth readies his shield. JOhn and Max move in to fight them as well.
Ichabod moves up to just outside the entangle area, Ulik and Kristoff guarding him, behind Fritz and John supporting Evan and Garth.
Tom kills the assassin vine after a few hits then turns on the skeletons with everyone else engaged with skeletons. The Joseph lays down positive energy killing 3 skeletons.
WIth the entangling now gone, we are able to concentrate on the skeletons freely, Even requests Joseph to conserve his power and we clean house from there.
Just as we get to the tower, a vine reaches down from the wall of the tower above for Max and grapples him around the neck!
Dareth cuts him free with 2 strokes.
John reaches over and finishes it off with 2 attacks of his pole weapon.
Max and Tom hack our way through the foliage covering and sealing the door itself.
Garth thinks he hears a faint cry for help from the well.
The knights, being a cry of distress, go to investigate.
In the well is a small mouth on the side of the well making the cry.
Dareth “Back, shields up!”
The assassin vine casts its entanglement around us. We all avoid and back away!
Then more skeletons rise from the undergrowth around us all.
Garth is grabbed.
Max and Tom finish cutting the door open. The foliage entangles Damon and the fight starts.
It tires to pull Garth over as it constricts, but he hooks his pick on the side of the well to anchor himself.
Inside the tower is plant free, very dusty.
As the fight wages on, its a titanic grapple battle tween it and Garth trying to not be squeezed and dragged to it. After several attempts he finally escapes as Dareth reaches the Vine.
Dareth engages the vine. Evan and Garth become entangled, but Damon frees himself for the first time and assists Evan. John has been laying waste to a gang on his end.
Dareth finishes it off, and we easily take out the last 3 skeletons.
After a quick breather, Tom and Dareth lead us into the tower. 2 sets of stairs go up to landings, a door left, right, and straight ahead as well.
Tom and Dareth go left first, door is stuck. An armiger at each stairway, John and Max watching the other doors. Damon and Evan backing up Dareth and Tom.
Tom bashes the door open to a long dining hall. A door at the far right end cutting back. There are signs in here of movement, footfalls.
The 4 in the lead enter the room, Joseph moves to the doorway with his 2 guards Ulik and Kristoff.
They walk the length of the room and open the door. Damon’s torch illuminates room that the forward door in the foyer enters into. It’s the kitchen, fireplace on the tower’s back wall in here. Teaming with zombies. Dareth order a step back to use the door as a bottleneck, puts Tom in front to cleave away with his greataxe with Evan backing him up on the flank next to the end of the table. Dareth gets atop the table to cut from above.
Damon runs back and tells them to open the central door to take some heat off of us as they poor through the open door. Tom, Evan and Dareth start hacking away.
The other team forms a wall and lets them into the foyer.
Joseph stands in the doorway to the dining room to react both directions if need be. When Garth opens the door, they are already all stacked up at Tom’s door and pooring through to overwhelm! Tom and Evan are both taken to the ground!!
Ulik yells to John et al “They’re being swarmed!”
Garth sends Max leading them in to hit their rear. Tom is able to stand up immediately, Evan lashes out from the ground as Dareth drops one of his. We finish them off w/o much damage, but we didn’t expect them to act as such a mass. Even Joseph is surprised at the tactic.
We take the door at the far end of the zombie room.
Ichabod: woodsman; expert 5/warr 1 thereabouts
Joseph: arcanist 8
Kristoff: MaA 5, chain, hvy st sh, warhammer
Walleheim: in valley south of Erberruck. Baron’s couisin lives here, very influencial family. Baron’s cousin Wilford rules. Knight best friend: Sir Branson.