Our cast of characters…
Dracon, human initiate of Obad Hai & Beastmaster of the Wegwier;
Kalik, halfling initiate of Avoreen;
Kendradell, female half-elf bard & initiate of Lydia;
Marcus, half-elf initiate of Heironeous;
Milik, halfling sorcerer;
Murray, human wizard;
Naazi, chenxa (centaur) warrior of Tenh;
Nikolai, Suloise human initiate of Lendor;
Tarqualan, high elf mystic (Vesve Forest).
We began the evening with the party exiting the ruined keep they’d secured last time we’d met, and venturing out to a stand of dead trees to recover the ore’s horses. From the vantage of the ruined tower, they’d been able to make out several prominent features of the valley, including the forest that ran along the northern slope and the distant village perched atop a small hill near the center of the valley. A large sinkhole was also found just beyond the acre or so of dead trees, and Dracon cast flight upon himself to further explore it.
The bottom of the sinkhole proved to be of soft earth, in which no tracks could be seen. A number of small caves could be seen along the edges of the bowl, and one of these proved to contain the skeletal remains of a follower of Ilneval chained across the passage, as if in warning to others to proceed no further. Marking this passage for future exploration, Dracon returned to the group and they began heading north-west.
As the party moved along the edge of the forest, they came to a region where all of the local wildlife seemed to have died off, leaving only empty trees and the occasional skeleton poking up through the dead leaves that carpeted the area. The remains of a small stone building could be seen among the trees, which upon investigation proved to house a shrine to Yutrus, Plaguelord of the Orcs.
Making their way out of the dead zone, they encountered another ruin near where the forest began to reassert itself, but found nothing of interest there. When the forest finally ended, they were just slightly north of the village they’d spotted, and Murray made himself invisible to better scout the area.
Since Murray had once been a nalshavel (gray orc), he had a passing familiarity with the orcish pantheon and orcish works in general. The first thing he encountered as he crept up towards the hill was a large stone monolith, which seemed to serve the same purpose as a totem pole. At the top of the pole were carvings of Ilneval, followed by subordinate carvings of Bahgtru and Yutrus (which Murray thought strange, as few orcs would openly advertise such an alliance). Further down the pole, in an aspect that indicated a somewhat shaky alliance of forces, was an actual enameled carving/painting of a formless creature made all in black.
A further survey of the area around the base of the hill indicated slave labor working some meager fields, while young orcs moved about the top of the hill. The hill itself proved to be a massive lump of piled earth, certainly not natural, with numerous positions from which archers could easily fire downwards on any enemy who sought to reach the village above. By Murray’s estimate, perhaps as many as 100-200 orcs might live there, perhaps more if the hill itself contained living quarters.
Returning to the group, Murray relayed most of the information he’d gathered (though he neglected to inform the party about the configuration of the totem poles). Deciding that daylight was better cover than darkness where the orcs were concerned, they began a slow, steady ride towards the exit of the valley, noting as they did a number of caves situated both at ground level as well as higher up along the walls of the valley.
Eventually as they neared the exit, they spotted another sinkhole and a stone watchtower that clearly stood in their way. The northern sinkhole proved to have a muddy bottom, with occasional pools of stagnant water in the open. Near the base of the tower one cave in particular seemed to have evidence of use, and rough steps seemed to lead down to the base of the sinkhole from it. Once again Murray employed invisibility to scout ahead, and detected the sounds of horses within the tower (which he also decided was distinctly not of orcish or even human manufacture; the size of the stones used alone indicated that giants had aided it’s construction). The path that led upwards towards where they knew the temple they sought looked to be in somewhat heavy use, as well.
The party decided that while the orcs of the village might be mostly asleep, those in the watchtower were almost assuredly not, and that the placement of the tower almost ensured a deadly hail of arrows to anyone attempting to pass it. So they retreated to one of the caves they’d passed earlier, to recoup the magic they’d spent at the first ruin and to heal the wounds they’d received there as well.
Once night fell, the valley seemed to come to life, and shortly the sound of a signal horn could be heard coming from the direction of the ruin where they’d slain the priest of Ilneval. Patrols were heard riding past their hiding place, and it was eventually decided that they must make a run for it before they were discovered. The rest of the group then implored Murray to place the benefits of his invisibility spell on them and their mounts, so that they might escape without a battle none of them felt they could win.
Though it took nearly six hours, Murray eventually completed the lengthy rituals required for so many castings, and the group slowly rode out of the valley, thumbing their noses at the bleary-eyed orcs who held the pass. Their invisibility held throughout most of the rest of the day, enabling them to avoid at least one other ambush along the road, and as they made camp that night, they knew for certain that the next day would see them at the temple at last.
The following morning dawned rainy and cold, but the party drove onward. As they rounded the final turn in the narrow crevasse that led to the temple proper, Nikolai spoke up, voicing his hopes that they could capture Flavius rather than kill him, for his uncle, the High Priest of Lendor in the Duchy of Umst, had confided in him that Flavius, if he could be turned from the dark path he had set himself upon, might be instrumental in somehow healing the rift between the cults of Lendor and Darkon (IMC, Darkon is the son of Lendor and Istus, who was kidnapped as a babe by Tharizdun in the days before he was bound…). Marcus, however, held firm to his position that Heironeous demanded nothing less than the death of his brother for the crimes that he had committed.
As they drew around the final comer, though, gnoll archers appeared along the top of the crevasse and began firing down among the party. Most managed to spur their horses into charging across the bridge, but those in the back were startled as a large ogre dropped down behind them. Seeing the wicked two-handed blade the ogre wielded, Murray attempted to climb over the head of his horse and onto the back of the horse ahead of his own…. but failed, managing only to fall between his own horse and that of Kendradell who rose beside him. The ogre then struck Kendradell’s horse’s hindquarters a massive blow, but Kendradell managed to remain upright as the horse when down beneath her.
Meanwhile, the rest of the party (who had ridden across the stone bridge that separated the temple from the crevasse they’d just exited, began their counterattack. Nikolai commanded one of his temporal spirits to freeze one of the gnolls in Time, while Dracon took over the body of one of the gnolls and commanded it to fire upon his fellows. Tarqualan chose to dominate the ogre, and turned it against those gnolls it could still reach. Though it took several rounds, eventually the group was victorious over their foes, and Kalik spotted the hilt of a sword he’d heard described only in stories on the ogres belt… the fabled Sword of Nogre, a famous hobniz hero. Under Tarqualan’s command, the ogre dropped the sword literally at Kalik’s feet before stepping into the gorge between the crevasse and the temple….
The group did a short reconnoiter of the exterior of the temple, at one point tossing a coin with the Light spell cast upon it within, but were disheartened to see the radiance of the coin visibly diminish as it lay upon the stones within the temple….
And so we ended another evening….