Oathsworn

The Fall of the Iron Star
Wherein the ruin of the Company is made apparent, and our heroes are nearly destroyed themselves...

The Citadel of the Iron Star had stood for a long time between civilized lands and the wild. The Company of mercenary heroes who made it their home and protected its secrets had become legendary in the Kingdom for their extraordinary ability to survive any obstacle placed against them. All the more surprise when the seven newest recruits to the Order of the Iron Star, returning home from a three day patrol in the wild, found the Citadel utterly destroyed.

They were bringing word of troubling signs in the forest, signs of orcs and their kin on the move. But it would have taken an army of beastmen to breach the defences of the Citadel, and no traces left by such a force were to be found. Only a few walls were left standing, and these were blackened by intense fires. No survivors or even bodies of their fallen comrades were found either, just charred bones. None of the treasures and lore of the Order remained, unless it was buried beneath tons of crumbled stone.

These new recruits had been warned of the destruction they would find by the pillar of black smoke rising into the sky from the smouldering ruin. But so too were scavengers from the wild made aware, and they moved to pick at the bones of the fortress. Thus, in the time of their grief, the last remaining members of the Order of the Iron Star were forced to fight for their lives.

As the last light of the sunset filtered through the smoky air and broken walls of the Citadel, our heroes were set upon by a band of wilder orcs and their starved wolf slaves. The battle was fierce, but the company showed it’s mettle. Renuk and Whot were a bulwark against the enemies advance, slaying multiple foes each, though gaining new battle scars themselves. Tyr fought hard while channeling healing energies through the earth to keep the warriors standing. Filbert Quickfoot, stood atop a pile or rubble, taking shot after deadly shot with his crossbow. And Tristem Tsara, the bard, all the while played strident battle-music on his viol, bringing courage to his fellows and despair to his enemies.

But then as night fell, the chief of the orc band, a huge beastman wielding a terrifying spiked maul, came forth to challenge the wounded company. He drove straight for Renuk and the two mighty combatants, slipping in the entrails of slain orcs, fell upon one another in a fury. Both raged and bellowed as they tried to gain the upper hand on their foe. As fate would have it, Renuk took a vicious blow to the head and was brought down. Whot, too, was felled almost simultaneously, and it looked as if the tide of battle was turning. In desperation, Tyr brought his greatsword to bear on the mighty beastman and opened the foe’s belly, bringing forth a howl of pain and rage from the enemy. This was not enough however, and Tyr was brought low as well in the next instant.

Tristem and Filbert had been busy with their own enemies during this, but now realized that the time of glory or defeat was nigh. Tristam, still playing the viol, began to taunt the wounded chief. Leaping about and hurling insults, he led the great beast away from Filbert and on a desperate chase around the ruins. This was all the sign Filbert needed. He disengaged from the wolf he was fighting just long enough to put a crossbow bolt through the back of the distracted monster’s skull and into it’s brain, dropping it like a stone. The last wolf, seeing it’s masters defeated, fled like a shot though the broken walls and into the night.

Miraculously, Renuk, Whot, and Tyr were found to be still alive but barely. They were tended to by Tristem and kept from slipping into death. Tristem and Filbert knew that they would have to hold the ruins until the wounded could be moved, and so were overjoyed at the return of Misrani Karaquazian and the Lady Jenaga, the final members of their company, who had been scouting on their own and only just arrived to find for themselves the horrors of the fallen Citadel. Joining together, the four held the ruins against other scavengers, using magic, guile, and orc heads on stakes to create the illusion of more than four guardians. All the while, Filbert tried to coax the last wolf, still lingering nearby, into friendship with gifts of orc-flesh.

Two days later, Tyr became conscious and after thanking his allies and his gods for his life, set to work healing the two other wounded, instilling in them lifeforce from the old powers of the earth. They soon were all healthy and very hungry, and seeing as they were out of supplies, decided with heavy hearts to abandon the ruin and head for civilization. There they could eat, drink, and find out if they were truly the last alive to swear the Oath to the Order of the Iron Star.

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Seeking Provisions
or "Just how alone are we?"

In their weakened, hungry and downright filthy state, the members of the Company headed for Fallenrock. By custom, folk in the little town had traded supplies to the Iron Star in exchange for the mercenaries’ protection. Their destination was not very far away, and they reached the town easily before nightfall, breathing sighs of relief that it was not burned as well.

Along the way, the companions noted (with differing levels of enthusiasm) that the wolf from the attack on the Citadel was following at a distance. Indeed, Filbert Quickfoot had been feeding the starved creature, and on the occasion of it’s continued lurking, Whot took it upon himself to approach it. Now, the dwarf had some skill working with beasts, and softened by the halfling’s gifts of food, the wolf proved to be surprisingly non-hostile. Whot was able to convince the creature to keep outside of Fallenrock, and with luck, to await the Company’s return.

The party entered the town and made for the Dancing Dryad, a public house and inn with a friendly proprietor and clientele. Hot baths were taken, good food restored their strength, and the house ale restored some measure of good spirits. Tristem Tsara chose the moment to tell the townfolk the Tale of the Ruined Citadel, but to assure them that the Order of the Iron Star would survive the devastating attack.

Their plan was to travel beyond the town to the Iron Star Outpost, in the hope that mercenaries still stationed there could help them to rebuild the Order. This course was made all the more urgent when they met the wife of a man stationed at the Outpost. She begged the party to make haste, as she feared for her husband’s life. It was decided that they would set out at dawn on riding horses loaned by the concerned townfolk.

By mid-day, the Company arrived at the Outpost. It was really an rather unobtrusive site, as the Order had utilized existing tunnels cut into a low hill for their cache/bunker. All was clearly not well from the beginning, as no guard was set, and the door into the hill was not even locked. Lady Jenaga’s fine hearing made clear the apparent invader’s careless snoring from inside.

Filbert and Jenaga crept into the dark hall, but a misstep betrayed them. The miserable goblin scavengers, who had been sleeping within, arose screeching and leapt to attack brandishing jagged knives. Now past the time for subtlety, the Company surged forward and made short work of the invaders, leaving a single foe alive for questioning.

To the surprise of most, Tristem the scholar spoke the shrieking prisoner’s language and began to interrogate it. Renuk the half-orc, who knew the goblin’s language all too well, punctuated Tristem’s questions with threats of finger and limb removal. The terrified creature informed them that the goblins had stumbled onto the Outpost already abandoned, and that they had helped themselves to the unguarded food and wine, consuming it all, and passing out before they could raid the rest of the hill.

Tyr was already lighting candles and searching the sleeping chambers off of the main hall. He found nothing left,… no supplies and no sign of the Order members who had been stationed there. He did however find a single unopened trunk. As it appeared to be locked, those in the party skilled at opening things without the need of proper key were called for.

Upon their arrival, a most unexpected thing happened. The trunk began to shudder, then bounce violently up and down, and even open and snap shut it’s hinged lid like a set of wooden jaws. Naturally, the party quickly decided to smash it to kindling, but it proved quite resistant to their attacks. After much frustration, a lucky blow finally smashed off the trunks hinges and the whole thing collapsed and didn’t move again. Clearly, sorcery was at work, and the Company proceeded with more caution from here on.

Continuing to explore the last halls of the Outpost with their goblin prisoner in tow, the party did indeed encounter more evidence of magical goings on, in the form of more animate objects. This time, it was in the armoury itself, and the objects were deadly weapons! A battle was joined, and despite inflicting many small wounds, the magic guiding the weapons did not match the skill of the Company. The swords and axes were smote to the ground and drained of their spectral power.

Upon leaving the tunnels, having fully explored them, the party was forced to admit finding no sign at all of members of the Order. They were a few coins richer, but now bore the added concern that sorcery was somehow involved in their fellows disappearance. The goblin prisoner, named Skyzx, was given his freedom under the threat of instant death if he was ever seen near a site belonging to the Order of the Iron Star.

With much to consider and plans to make, they rode home to Fallenrock…

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Setting Watch in Fallenrock
or "The Circus Comes to Town"

Upon their return, the Company decided that Fallenrock was as good a place as any to set up a new base of operations, if only temporarily. It made sense that here, they would have access to immediate supplies and be able to protect the townsfolk, should whatever laid low the Citadel decide to turn it’s eye on the town. To this end, they set about constructing a watchtower at the edge of the settlement. It would also serve as a roof above their heads, so that they did not wear out their welcome at the tavern. Using timber from the nearby wood, the crude but effective structure was built within a week, hardly the Citadel of the Iron Star, but a servicable watchtower nonetheless.

During the construction, they overheard the worried voices of townfolk speaking of bandits who prey on farms and traders along the road, but when they sent out patrols, they found no evidence of such attacks. They also heard rumour of a travelling circus making it’s way toward Fallenrock. Indeed, this tale turned out to be true, and when the entertainers arrived, the mercenaries of the Iron Star were on hand to make sure the travellers were, in fact, what they appeared to be.

Their caution did not prevent them from taking part in the festivities, and some members of the Company decided to try their hand at games of skill and wits. There was a moment of some concern when an imprisoned “baby dragon,” which was on display for townfolk to marvel at, somehow managed to open it’s cage door and escape into the crowd. Fortunately, it was well known to Renuk (who knew something about dragons and longed to meet one someday) that this was merely a great lizard and not really a threat. Tyr calmed the crowd, while Filbert Quickfoot lured the beast back into it’s cage with some meats from a vendors stall.

All in all, the whole of the Circus was deemed not much of a threat, and the festive atmosphere seemed to lift spirits in the town. The Company, with the notable exception of the elves (Misrani Karaquazian and the Lady Jenaga), followed the revelry to the Dancing Dryad. Renuk was quite amazed to find, among the performers, another half-orc. This was the Master of Beasts for the travellers, but he did not offer much in response to Renuk’s questions during his bestial quest to get as drunk as orcishly possible. It was not long after Renuk’s drinking partner passed out at the bar, that the noises began in the street.

Rushing to the door upon hearing smashing sounds and then screams from outside, the Company looked out onto an unpleasant scene. Several ruffians were surrounding a pair of young ladies from town. It was unclear if these men were members of the circus or just nasty sorts from outside Fallenrock. What was clear was that the ladies were in distress. One had been thrown to the cobbles with a torn dress, while the other had broken free to run in terror, only to be pursued by one of the men who was clearly brandishing a glittering knife.

It took no time at all for Renuk to rush out, intercept, and cut down the knife-wielding man with his greatsword, allowing the fleeing woman to escape. But now the other toughs took notice of the Company and weapons were drawn. Their clear leader was a scowling, muscle-bound dwarf, who the party thought they recognized as the circus strongman, seen earlier that afternoon wielding a wooden mallet in feats of strength. He had now exchanged mallet for a huge steel warhammer, and looked ready to crack skulls.

Tyr felt that fearsome hammer when he rushed the dwarf in the hope of dropping him quickly. His quarry proved nimble and dodged below the attack, swinging the hammer up to glancingly connect with Tyr’s head and send him reeling to the cobbles. Renuk was on the dwarf strongman then, and tried desperately to fell him. Unfortunately, his adversary’s prowess was formidable, and while scoring a few hits, the half-orc was forced to fall back, also wounded by the whistling great-hammer.

At the same time, Filbert was taking shots at some of the other ruffians with his crossbow, and at least one of the men broke and ran for it. However, another among the sinister band raised a huge crossbow of his own and prepared to fire a bolt that would surely impale the halfling if his aim was true. Tristem Tsara would not see this mis-deed done. He raised his voice in magical verse and hypnotized the crossbowman, eventually lulling him into a comatose slumber. Throwing the sleeping man’s giant crossbow to Filbert, Tristem rushed to Tyr’s aid and helped him to shake off the ringing effects of the hammerblow.

Meanwhile, Whot had brought his axe to bear against a distubingly fat, blotchy-skinned man wearing a black mask. Something strange began to happen to the fat man then, as he began to shake and his skin began to ripple. He rushed at Whot, tearing into him with strangely angled arms and hands that seemed to have formed bony claws. In horror, Whot gave in to his rage. He had learned the ways of the northern berzerkers and in a fury, struck blow after blow at the bloated monstrostity, finally bringing it down by spilling its still twisting black guts onto the street.

Tyr and Whot joined Renuk against the hammer-wielding dwarf strongman, but all three were already wounded and they began to feel dismay setting in. Even Tristem’s magic seemed useless in this case. Luckily for them all, a huge crossbow bolt suddenly came flying between them to drive itself into their opponent’s eye socket. The strongman crumpled to the earth, dead, and when they looked behind them, they saw Filbert the halfling waving to them. He’d managed to brace the huge heavy crossbow against some barrels and fired it like a ballista. Of course, his aim was true.

Just then, all heads turned again, as rushing forth from an alley was another warrior, all in travelling clothes and nimbly wielding a quarterstaff. She was engaged in deadly combat with one of the ruffians who had fled the melee in the town square. The companions rushed to her aid, and she and Renuk dealt the battle’s final blows together, sword impaling the man and staff caving in his skull. Nodding to her newfound allies, she introduced herself as Mara.

It seems that Mara was a traveller in these lands, though with no association to the circus. She had come to the region just a few days ago and had seen for herself the ruination of the Citadel of the Iron Star. Astonished at the fall of such a storied band of warriors, she travelled to Fallenrock in the hope of learning what had happened. All that she had found so far, on her way to the public house, was a bitter fight and couple of nasty knife cuts. The Company saw in her a kindred spirit, and offered her their aid and a place in their number for the time being…

Eventually townfolk wandered warily into the square, the ladies in distress thanked the Company profusely, applause broke out, and much patting on the back commenced (not to mention the healing of wounds and the burning of the fat man’s body, as his black innards continued to twitch and curl with life of their own…) The crossbowman was taken to the local stockade as a prisoner, and the town was safe for now. Next,… to question those travelling circus folk!…

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Conflicting Allegiance
Strange days in Fallenrock

Upon questioning the next day, the circus-folk claimed to have had nothing to do with the events outside the Dancing Dryad. In fact, the leader of the thugs, who was thought to be the circus strongman, turned out to be a different dwarf entirely. Was someone trying to frame the carnival or just keep their own sinister agenda under the cover of circus revelry? It was not to be known. To emphasize the point, it was found that the prisoner had died (of natural causes?) in his cell during the night.

Frustrated and suspicious, but in need of coin, the Company agreed to guard the circus-folk for the two day remainder of their stay in Fallenrock. There was an understandable concern that the townfolk might be looking for an excuse to blame the outsiders should anything else go wrong in town. It seemed a simple job, below the usual standards of the Order, but it paid and allowed the Company to keep an eye on the carnies as well.

During their time among the tents, they discovered a most unusual performing attraction which they had not seen the night before. It seems that the circus had a genuine creature of myth in their employ after all. They called it a sphinx, part woman and part lion with the wings of a great eagle, and it called itself Jerizana. It spoke fluently and intelligently, and the cage which it inhabited was a false one that seemed only for show. Many members of the Company were truly astonished to see such a creature, and Tyr called it sorcery, a creation of wizards. Misrani Karaquazian claimed that such blendings of man and beast were not uncommon in his experience, but the others seemed skeptical.

It was that night that the murders began. The proprietor of the Open Hand pawnshop, a man named Valdo, to whom the party had recently sold goods, was found slain in a back alley, torn open as if by the claws of a great lion. The mayor of Fallenrock, a woman named Varis Welldrake, sought out the party to ask for the protection of the Iron Star. It had always been that the Order protected Fallenrock and the town supplied them in return. When the Company arrived in town, it was assumed that the arrangement still held true. This made things difficult when it began to look as if the sphinx was the agent of Valdo’s demise.

Torn between loyalty to the town and contract with the circus, the group set about investigating the murder. When several thieves were discovered trapped in Valdo’s vault beneath his shop, new plots were brought to light. Upon questioning one of the drug-addled thieves, it was revealed that he was from the city of Phaestia and had been promised his fix of “shiver” if he raided the vault and turned over the goods to his patron when contacted. All, including the murder, had been arranged by this patron, who the shiver addict could only decribe as a man in a black cloak.

The Phaestian was released so that the group could observe him and secretly await his contact with the black cloaked man. Tristem Tsara disguised himself and followed him to his common-room lodgings. The rest of the Company lurked nearby, while Renuk returned to the circus to have words with the ringmaster. Just as the party was attempting to be inconspicuous, the mayor arrived with her entourage of town matrons in tow, and demanded a report. Cover mostly blown, the group made for the circus tents outside town, leaving Tristem to watch his charge at the halfway house.

This night would be the Circus’ final performance. As the Company observed the big show, it was easy to sense tension in the crowd. At the end of the performance, the sphinx was supposed to appear. It didn’t. And then panicked word arrived in the great tent that there had been another murder. This time it was Sister Marigold, a priestess met earlier with the mayor’s entourage. Once again, she had been torn apart by claws and huge leonine paw prints were found around her body.

The crowd went mad, and it was all the Company could do to hurry them toward the exits. The mob was not so easily quelled however. Failing to find the sphinx, a number of angry citizens began to take out their rage on other circus folk. One of the dancers and her small baby seemed in imminent danger, so the party came to her defence. Things got extremely ugly, and before the mob could be dispersed, four townfolk lay dead at the hands of the Iron Star.

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Outside Influences
Best uprooted before they grow into something really nasty...

The Circus Marximus was already packing up to leave. Soon enough they’d be gone, but if something sinister remained in Fallenrock, it needed to be found. To that point, even as chaos still reigned about town that night, the Company returned to check on the thief who’d been under Tristem Tsara’s watch at the halfway house. Tristem had left his watch to help his fellows during the mob.

Unfortunately, they found the thief dead outside the building, not far from the body of his killer, a man in a black cloak who had apparently been knifed by his target during the assassination. Quickly rummaging through the assassin’s belongings, the party found a map to a location just outside town, the home of Barto the Riverman, who controlled much of the shipping and river travel between Fallenrock and the city of Phaestia. They decided to pay a visit immediately.

Upon reaching Barto’s abode and finding no answer, the party forced their way inside only to disrupt a meeting of sinister cloaked men. The battle was joined and even though the leader of the cloaked men was a deadly swordfighter, the prowess of the Iron Star prevailed and their opponents were all slain. The dead bodies of the Riverman and his wife were found gruesomely displayed in their bedroom, while their children were found locked away in another part of the house, terrified but alive. Sending the children to safety with Mara, the Company considered their next move.

On reflection, someone in the group recognized the swordsman leader of the black-cloaks as someone they’d seen about town. He was most assuredly the husband of Doctor LaBella, Fallenrock’s practicing alchemist. In the dark pre-dawn hours, the party returned to town that they might confront the healer and discover her connection to the nasty work about town. Unfortunately, she was not unaware and was waiting for them.

It seems LaBella was not only a practitioner of the healing arts, but also a quite competent killer, as the Company discovered to their dismay. Upon their arrival at her townhouse, she imbibed a foul concoction of her own make and shifted quickly into a vicious bestial form intent on tearing the party to ribbons. But luckily, after a desperate battle involving exploding projectiles, more black-cloaked cronies, and the wicked claws and fangs of LaBella herself, the Iron Star was again victorious.

The crazed doctor, beaten but still alive due to her beast form’s disturbing ability to withstand punishment, proved a font of information. The plan to move her gang of Phaestian criminals / shiver addicts into Fallenrock whilst killing the opposition and blaming the Circus was laid bare. Her husband and co-conspirator was dead. The sphinx was revealed to be innocent, as the murders had surely been committed by LaBella herself in leonine form. All in all, the mystery was solved and those responsible were either dead or imprisoned.

Upon being rewarded by both the town and the circus, and receiving much praise from both, the members of the Order of the Iron Star had only one thought. We’ve got to get out of this town as soon as possible!

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A New Contract
or "Getting out of Fallenrock"

The members of the Iron Star were leaving. They worked with the constable of Fallenrock to organize a town militia, donating all of the weapons and armor they’d taken from the Phaestian thugs and the abandoned Iron Star Outpost. The townfolk themselves would complete and man the newly constructed watchtower and continue to build the town’s defences in the absence of their mercenary protectors.

Everyone was nearly ready to go when a strange man arrived at the edge of town. He came cloaked in grey and riding a mule, and upon seeing the adventurers gearing up to leave, he requested to know just who they were. Upon being informed that they were the Order of the Iron Star, he seemed surprised, having heard rumour of the Citadel’s utter destruction. He asked about LaBella and seemed pleased to hear of the group’s victory over her. In fact, he proposed that they hear him out regarding a contract, since they would be leaving town anyway.

Shortly thereafter, all reconvened at the Dancing Dryad and the strange man made his proposition. He said that he represented the Cabal Argentum, an order of mages which was rather legendary in it’s own right, their heyday being ages ago. The wizards had slipped into obscurity over the years and were now known to be hermetic and few in number. His group had apparently been considering hiring the Black Eagle Company, lesser rivals of the Order, thinking the Iron Star destroyed, but he claimed that the Cabal had tasked Iron Star mercenaries in the past and would happily do so again, if they were interested.

He proposed the retrieval of an artifact called “the Green Book,” which he said belonged to the Cabal Argentum, but was currently hidden somewhere in the tunnels beneath their long-fallen wizard’s tower. The place had been in ruins for a very long time, and the yawning hole in the ground where the tower had once stood now went by a new name, “the Pit of Maws.” During the reign of the King, and under the hand of the King’s Guard, one sentence handed down to the condemned was to be “thrown in the Pit.” Many convicts were left to wander through the Maws, tunnels and natural caverns which offered the weak hope of another exit, though no one knew if one really existed.

The wizard said that the Pit would not be so bad if those who descended had climbing equipment at hand, that they might return the way they’d gone in. He also offered a crystal amulet, which he enchanted so that it would glow green as they approached the Green Book. If the Company brought out the artifact, they will have passed the mage’s test and would be compensated with magical rewards. More importantly, the will have proven themselves worthy of future contracts with the Cabal Argentum. It didn’t take long for the party to agree.

Supplies were gathered for a caving expedition and horses were purchased for the road. The journey was expected to last less than three days on horseback. When finally riding out of town, the Company spied their patron, leaving town in another direction, his mule heavily laden with a wrapped cargo slung over it’s back. He waved, as if to wish the party good fortune, and was quickly gone.

The first day of the journey was uneventful, riding across farmland and weathering occasional drizzles of rain. The rain stopped for the night and the Company slept dry. In the morning, Renuk decided to do some hunting and check traps which he’d set the night before. He intended to follow the party to rejoin them for the following night’s camp. When the Company moved out, Tristem Tsara also stayed behing to study the tomes which he’d brought along and to “meditate.” He would keep Renuk company until the group came together again.

It was the afternoon of the second day, as the wooded hills began to get wilder, that bandits blocked the road. The brigand’s leader, a giant of a man wearing a filthy tabard, demanded that the party give up their gold to keep their lives and other possessions. Enraged by this demand, Whot spurred his horse forward, hoping to knock the three men in the road down the steep cliff to their right. Unfortunately, this was no warhorse and the brigands were skilled with their axes. They managed to step aside and cut down the poor horse as it attempted to maneuver around them on the narrow road, throwing Whot into the dirt. Archers revealed themselves on the other side of the road, and rained arrows on the Company.

The rest of the party dismounted and joined the battle both in the road and in the woods. Whot picked himself up and began to swing his hammer at foes beyond the axemen in the road. Unbeknownst to him, he was being aided by a mysterious benefactor hidden in the trees beyond the bandits. When the battle was won, the brigand’s leader knocked over the rocky cliff beside the road and the rest of the enemy dead, fled or surrendered, the party’s ally in the woods revealed herself.

Cindellian Thornbriar was an elf. Her people were distrusted by most and were quite rare in these lands (excepting, of course, Misrani Karaquazian and the Lady Jenaga). She had certainly helped the Company against their foes here, and now she expressed a desire to travel with them for a time. Misrani was all for it, having missed the company of his people since Jenaga had gone away on her mission. The rest of the party agreed, and it was decided that she would assist them during their descent into the Pit.

Meanwhile, Mara nimbly descended the cliffside to examine the body of the bandit leader. She found him to be still breathing but quickly ended his life. She searched his body for valuables and retrieved his tabard, quickly and impressively scaling the 40 foot cliff back to the party. Upon examination, Misrani recognized the tabard as belonging to the King’s Guard, the protectors of the kingdom before the King died and his soldiery was disbanded.

The prisoners were questioned and claimed that many of the bandits were farmers fallen on hard times. They believed their leader to have had military training, as he’d taught them to fight and planned their strategy. They had apparently been moderately successful until they tried to rob the skilled fighters of the Iron Star. Finding the bandit’s camp and digging up their plunder, the Company decided to have mercy and let the two “farmer” bandits go with a gold coin each.

Weary from the battle, the party decided to use the bandit camp as their own for the night and were eventually reunited with Renuk and Tristem. Cindel proved a pleasant companion, but forewarned them that the lands they would enter near the Pit of Maws seemed “strange” to her and that the animals seemed “affected” by something unseen. On the morrow, the Company would see for themselves…

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The Pit of Maws
Wherein skills are tested and rivals are bested
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Dragon Foe and Undead Woes
Mara's View of Ghost Town
The day after my companions returned, we set about scouting this new area we’d found ourselves in. After having spent a good amount of time convalescing, trying to busy myself in watching the horses while the others escaped doom in the pit below, I was ready to do something that would help. I failed to be there to help recover this strange book now in our possession, and was quite put off at the strange wandering magical rat man who had put my new friends in such danger. I felt quite keenly the need for light exertion of the killing persuasion. If we also learned something new about this surrounding terrain, so much the better.

To this end I found myself in the company of the battle-scarred dwarf Whot, nimble Filbert, and the fearsome half-orc Renuk. As we settled upon our mounts (in Whot’s case, borrowed due to his stead’s unfortunate end), I thought we should probably not be so lucky as to find any action on a scouting expedition such as this. I should have learned that while traveling with this order to be complacent about the possibility of danger is very much akin to inviting it.

After scouting awhile we found ourselves looking at the odd sight of an old, bony peasant woman running towards us across a field, screaming for help and babbling about a nearby ghost town. Catching her breath, she told us a steep wall had encircled the town overnight, which had frightened the village since this town had been long abandoned. When pressed for details, she told us her husband knew more and led us back to her small home. Her husband, in a wheelchair and with many proffers of moonshine, told us much the same story, adding that they could not afford to pay us to check it out but the town supposedly contained many riches. After directions which were both specific and vague, we set off and came upon a huge wall. Using my newly acquired spy glass and climbing a tree, I found there were no signs of life, not even birds. Leaving the horses, we approached. Whot noticed that it was made out of marble, which is very rare. I tried to climb it but failed miserably (perhaps I should not have secretly taken some moonshine), which left us the option of the old, deteriorating mine entrance we discovered nearby.

With Renuk’s keen night vision leading us, we entered to find a chamber containing scraggly evergreen plants and oddly-alive looking weeds, with a few coins glittering near some mounds and an unnatural, heavy smell in the air. A narrow tunnel, dug by some animal, wound off at the far end. Following a movement we found what appeared to be a small dragon! We were surprised, skeptical (remembering the “dragon” at the circus), and curious- Renuk was downright excited, having never come across a dragon before. After we tried to throw Whot’s cloak over it, it turned to sniff at the cloak, revealing wings- it was indeed a dragon, if only about 2 ft tall. Grabbing the cloak it ran off down the tunnel, with Renuk running after it shouting in rusty draconic to see if it understood. The dragon then emitted a noxious gas which proved to be the odd smell’s source, as well as harmful- Filbert and I took it quite badly. Luckily Filbert used his wand of cure light wounds to renew us.

Taunting us, as Renuk told us later, the dragon Suetreth continued to flee down the narrow tunnel, with the smell growing stronger. With much fire breathing, fire dodging, arrow-shooting, and sword-swinging, neither we nor the dragon gained advantage during the flight down the burrow. I decided that personally, I’d be fine with studying this dragon whilst dead, though Renuk took another try at its capture. After losing a chunk of his arm as well as having some dragon teeth stuck into it, he finally caught his prey, grappled with it, then succeeded in tying it up with the help of Filbert’s rope. Practicing his draconic, Renuk told the dragon, being so uncooperative, that if he blows fire or gas again, he’ll chop his head off. Finally we carried the smoldering little dragon out the other end of the tunnel.

Despite the tunnel being made by the dragon, the stone entryway to the town was manmade. When we entered we saw that the town was quite abandoned- holes in tarps, faded colors, wood rotting. However, through the thick dust on the paved streets we saw footprints, easy to follow but very randomly set. I scrambled up onto a rooftop to scope out the place- nothing except for shadowy figures passing beyond a store’s window panes across the square and rotting vegetables in carts. I jumped down and we moved forward, but the silence was broken by the sound of Whot and Renuk trying to creep around. At the sound of Whot’s axe clanging, out of the quiet shuffled a host of what seemed to be the undead! Humans, dwarves, goblins- all kinds were moving towards Whot and Renuk, shuffling quickly and clearly decomposing. Renuk charged a group, struck a mighty downward blow and decapitated one, splitting him in half and raining down guts. The head rolled away, still gnawing on air and serving as a notice that we must strike their brains. We became surrounded and I saw Whot in a bear hug with one, taking a grievous wound to the neck. As Whot moved away I took out my bow and aimed, hitting one’s throat and taking off its head but thus failing to kill it absolutely. While Renuk fought with a zombie who had its spine showing, and Filbert was wounded by another with a gash to the forehead, Whot was struck again, this time in the ankle.

Missing a chunk near his Achilles’ tendon, Whot summoned the strength to vault over into the square’s livestock pen where he started to bleed profusely. As Filbert fended off his attacker, I attempted to jump into the pen with Whot; instead of landing nimbly, however, I ended up stumbling to my knees. This, unfortunately, drew the zombies’ attention towards me now. Suddenly a head was in there with us, which had flown off at a mighty blow from Renuk, followed by the half-orc himself. Looking out I saw that Filbert was still struggling out in the open and that the bound dragon had been set down in the square as Renuk came to our aid. With my rudimentary knowledge of healing, I tried to tend Whot; I was successful in at least slowing the bleeding. Things seemed dire as Renuk continued to battle with the hoard and Filbert was attacked again. I could see him down on the ground, another zombie gnawing on his leg.

Seeing this, Renuk flew into a rage, vaulted over the side of the pen and yelled ferociously to draw their attention. Leaving Whot, I chopped off the head with my short sword of one nearing the pen, seeing that the zombies had finally noticed the dragon and started to feed on it. I did not like that creature, but I certainly did not want it to suffer like that. Still, there was little I could do as my companions’ survival was what mattered then. I aimed at one attacking Renuk, but failed to do more than put another arrow in it. Renuk then struck it viciously, eviscerating it completely. Covered in gore, he tended to Filbert and stabilized him, barely noticing that the dragon had now been almost completely consumed. I saw that one felled zombie was closing in on them again, and took aim, only to drop my arrow! I checked quickly to see if anyone saw (luckily, Whot was unconscious) and tried again, this time managing to explode the arrow through its head with such force that Renuk and Filbert are covered in more guck. Another came to attack, but Filbert, rallying what strength was left to him, grabbed one of my shot arrows nearby and shot the zombie while it approached Renuk’s back. Angered at its still being alive, I took aim and finished it. Filbert staggered over to Whot with his wand, healing him to a more stable condition.

I looked around at my battered party, worried at their condition, in an almost fearful awe at seeing a half-orc’s rage, and ashamed I was not able to aim more true. We stared around at the buildings surrounding us, seeing the humanoid forms wandering across the window panes. We decided this mystery was not going to be solved today, not without the aid of more of the band, particularly those more adept at magical workings. We stumbled through the tunnel once more, and stopped in the original chamber where we found Suetreth. On closer examination we found the coins among the plants- as well as four chests! Filbert, trying to pick the lock, discovered they are magically strengthened. Whot perceived more treasure, being a dwarf attuned to earthly wealth, and found us a large hoard of gold, silver, platinum, copper, and, most oddly, one black pearl. We loaded the chests and treasure onto our horses to be divided up by the band later. Now I am in camp again, reunited with the noble Band I wish to join, with Filbert stabilized and Whot in a more dire state due to what I have learned is called zombie rot. My fears have become realized- in finding friends, you also find fear of loss.

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Worms, guts, and goblins
We find some disgusting shit.

Renuk’s point of view:

After our skirmish with the walking dead, we’d managed to make it back to the others in mostly one piece. Whot was hurtin’ and lookin’ a little pale, but I guess having a chunk taken out of your leg by a corpse’ll do that to you. Tyr tried all the healing magic he knew, but the dwarf didn’t look any better. In the morning we packed and rode out to meet the wizard that’d sent us into that damned pit, hopefully to get a substantial amount of pay. I figured this wasn’t gonna be the case when I saw the hovel the old man lived in; a round shack badly in need of thatching, with a stone turret piled at its side. This is the Cabal Argentum, eh? Standing outside the wizards shack was not at all what I expected to see; a powerfully built she-dwarf and…I couldn’t believe it. Skyzx.

“What’s that little shit doin’ here?” I ground out. The goblin jerked like he’d been struck and his face slid from boredom to terror in a heartbeat.

The dwarf looked us over coolly, keepin’ a firm hand on the leash she had ‘round the goblins waist as he cowered behind her.

“Who are you?” Mara asked, more politely.

The dwarf introduced herself as Kindra and explained that Skyzx was in her employ. I was spared havin’ to think on that when a half-mad lookin’ human walked out of the hovel. This had to be our wizard. He asked if we’d found the book and the elf handed it over to him. He snatched it up greedily, eyeing it like an orc with a shiny new halfling to play with. Whot brought up the way he’d pitted us against our rival mercenary gang, the Black Eagle Company; said we didn’t do business that way. We had morals. I laughed inwardly. I guess I had morals. The wizard seemed amused too, said that of course we were ‘welcome to seek employ elsewhere’. This one knew the game. I asked for his name and he paused, eventually saying “You may call me…Zed.” If that was his real name, then I’m an elf.

Zed said that for payment, he could ‘enchant’ our weapons or armor. I’d rather have coin any day. He did, however, make Whot a disgusting brew that seemed to give the dwarf some strength back. Kindra the she-dwarf stood near and Zed said that she had a job for us. She told us how her brother’d gone missin’ 40 damn years ago in an old mine and now she wanted help to go find him. Said she’d found Skyzx lurkin’ around and caught him to use as a guide. Skyzx was almost cryin’, beggin’ not to go back into those mines. Hell, watchin’ him blubber his way through the mines would almost be payment enough. We agreed to help her.

Zed added on that he wanted samples of anything ‘unusual’ we might find inside. Which reminded me of the fat man full of wigglin’ guts back in Fallenrock. I told him ‘bout this and his eyes lit right up; said that was exactly what he was after. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess.
We followed Kindra and the goblin into the woods on foot; it was too rocky for the horses. Filbert, Tristem and the other elf stayed back at the wizards shack. After a few hours march we reached the mouth of the mine. Looked like there’d been a cave-in some time back. We picked our way inside.

“Ohhh, I don’t want to go back. There’s just bones…all my friends…” The goblin whined. Kindra tugged the leash and I grinned. I led the way with my night-eyes, the others filin’ behind me. The tunnel walls opened out into a massive room and the air smelled thick and rotten. Somethin’ very wrong lurked somewhere just outta sight, maybe behind the piles of rock that’d tumbled down from the ceiling. There were low scrapin’ sounds, and a drawn out, moaning growl. Sounded like a bear…but not. The goblin shook so hard I could hear his fangs chatterin’.

“It’s behind those rocks.” I whispered to Tyr and Whot who stood closest. Mara bent and picked up a few stones, tossin’ them at the source of the sounds. She drew out somethin’ monstrous. It might’ve been a bear once, a long time ago. It was covered in a thick, black slime of worms, bone jutted up out of its spine and massive shoulders. Its jaw gaped open like a snakes, skin tearin’ and worms fallin’ to the ground. The roar it let out shook the room and sent rocks clatterin’ down on us. I recovered from the shock first and flung myself at it, greatsword ready, screaming a mighty battle-cry: “OH SHIT!”

I missed the first hit, Whot and Tyr tried their hands at the beast next, and Mara loosed her bow. We were whipped up into a fear-fueled frenzy. We beat the shit out of that worm-bear, Whot landing the finishing blow. Reeking guts and slime and worms spattered out and the beast slumped down to the ground, lookin’ pretty dead. I could hear Mara retching as we gathered up a sample of the worm guts (in her wine skin no less) for the wizard.

We searched the room for some sign of Kendra’s brother and found nothin’ but goblin bones. Skyzx whined and cringed and begged to be let go. ‘Course we didn’t oblige him. We headed into the next room and this one had caved in so badly that most of it was a pile of rubble, with only a thin trail ‘round the edges to follow. Mara decided to take the high ground, pickin’ a way through the tumbled stones…and tripped and fell with a curse, knockin’ them loose. The room seemed ‘bout to give way, stones and dust rainin’ down on us. We ran for the door, wrenched it open.

Oddly enough, Skyzx seemed a bit more at ease in this chamber. Bats were flyin’ about and he said somethin’ bout his ‘boss’ having had one for a pet. Far off in the corner we could hear somethin’ leathery floppin’ about. Somethin’ big. Skyzx screamed and would’ve run, but Kindra handed his leash over to the elf as a ball of wings and bone and gnashing teeth flung itself out of the darkness. Like the bear, it was a mess of black worms and slime. I landed a hit, as did Whot but the creature turned on Kindra, knockin’ her down and wailin’ on her. I figured she was done for, but the she-dwarf let out a mighty roar and hit the creature so hard that it damn near exploded. Whot finished it off. Kindra was covered in wormy entrails and looked disgusted. Whot suggested she take off her clothes…then realized how that had sounded.

Wantin’ to get the hell out of the mines, we quickly searched the room and again found nothin’. We entered the next door. Near a forge, there were buckets full of shinin’ ore and fine weapons and armor still hung on the walls. Skyzx perked up at something; a hunched figure sitting in the corner of the room.

“Boss?” the goblin asked. He crept as close as the leash would allow, paused and then scuttled back in panic. The figure didn’t move. Mara strode forward and poked the thing a few times with her quarterstaff. It spun about with a gurgling yell. It had been a goblin, but now it was covered in the same black, worm-mess and two long tentacles grew out of its body. It lashed out, catching Mara by the arm with one tentacle. Whot darted in and hacked it off her. Mara tried to strike it, but the thing grabbed her again with the remainin’ tentacle. I went into a rage and sliced that one off. We destroyed the thing quickly, not givin’ it much of a chance to fight back, and then searched the room. Skyzx had run; the elf must’ve let go of the leash. Kindra gasped; tucked away in an alcove was the still-armored skeleton of what could only be her brother. Around the alcove were old runes that I couldn’t read, but the spell of them must’ve protected the body for decades. Kindra crossed over to him and took an old, tattered book from his bony clutch.

The rest of us set about takin’ armor, weapons and all the mithril we could carry. Kindra wanted to take her brothers bones out of the mine, so I gave her my jacket to bundle them in. We loaded up and set off quickly; the mine looked like it was goin’ to collapse any second. As we ran through the chamber of the worm-bear, we saw that bits of it were beginning to ooze back together. My stomach churned. Once out of the mine, we blocked up the tunnel as well as we could, shouldered our burdens, and started back towards the mad wizard.

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First Trip to Phaestia
Wherein five among the Order meet Zallara's ghost and receive a harrowing
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